18 things I am looking forward to in 2018

I love a list and that hasn’t changed just because the year did, so here we go!

  1. Living fearlessly
  2. Loving myself better
  3. Falling in love
  4. Finding a career that allows me to use my talents, make a positive difference in the world, and earn enough money to save, invest, travel, go out to eat, and cover all of my bills/living expenses
  5. Forgiving everyone for everything
  6. Learning to enjoy eating and cooking healthy foods
  7. Being self-assured
  8. Seeing my friends and family grow, love, and live their dreams
  9. Reclaiming my time
  10. Finishing the play I am writing
  11. Going on a Caribbean vacation
  12. Moving back into my own house
  13. Continuing to review and write about art that matters
  14. Teaching arts criticism workshops
  15. Getting a good night’s rest
  16. Forming my business
  17. The Black Panther movie
  18. The return of House of Cards starring Robin Wright
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The year in sadness

Good morning heartache/ Here we go again/ Good morning heartache/ You’re the one/ Who knows me well/ Might as well get use to you/ Hanging around/ Good morning heartache/ Sit down -Billie Holiday

It is often said that it is impossible to experience joy without sadness. I don’t believe this; I think that it is more accurate to say that it is impossible to appreciate joy without sadness. I believe that the full range of human emotion is possible from the womb, but experiencing the kind of sadness that you’re not sure you’ll ever get up from makes every moment of joy and happiness all the better. Sadness is my least favorite emotion, mostly because I experience sadness as a result of disappointment and I have a love/hate relationship with disappointment. It loves me; I hate it.

In the past, my method of dealing with disappointment was to not deal at all. To keep moving, keep pushing, pivot, make split second decisions, to always have a foot on the gas. The only time I ever slowed down was in the event of illness or being entirely too overwhelmed by disappointment to move on. But, those moments never lasted long and I just kept going. The problem is that the sadness that came on as a result of experiencing disappointment kept on as well.

Then, all at once, in 2017, came the flood of sadness. It had nothing to do with the results of any election or the turnout of any rally. Every relationship that didn’t work out, every job that didn’t pan out, every word that ended a friendship, and every moment where I wish I had made a different decision crawled up next to me and demanded to be acknowledged. By that time, the disappointment of every dream I’d built, and that I’d subconsciously worked at not seeing to fruition, had broken me so that all I could do was let it be. And eventually, we had to look each other in the eye and address every disappointment one-by-one.

You see, I struggled with letting the fantasy of what I thought my life would be like in my head go, and so everything that wasn’t that fantasy came up short every time. My mind constantly wandered back to 18-year-old me– so sure and so full of possibility. I knew I was going to be a magazine editor, New York Times bestselling author, wife, mother, and philanthropist before I was 30. I built a fantasy and was disappointed when it didn’t realize. My ego was bruised and I felt silly for thinking that all of those things were possible to have in the 10 years since my high school graduation. This was not a sustainable way to live, and so the Holy Spirit decided that since I wouldn’t stop or slow down, it would make it too heavy for me to move past it. The only way out of sadness is through it.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, after sitting with, in, around, and across from sadness, I can say that it has taught me five new interpretations of some very important lessons:

  1. Gratitude. Some may call it a coping mechanism, but the best pick-me-up I’ve found is sitting down and forcing myself to make a list of 10 things I am grateful for at any given moment.
  2. Release. Letting go is both easy and hard, but it’s most necessary. The book A Course In Miracles repeats the sentence “Nothing real can be threatened and nothing unreal exists” over and over again. The meaning behind this sentence in the context of the book is that fear is unreal because it comes from the ego and love is real because it comes from God. Disappointment is too much to hold onto, and it is nothing at all, and so it must be released.
  3. Stamina. As someone whose default emotion is happiness, for me, wading through sadness is like ice skating in mud. However, I was still able to live my life and even see some of my dreams come true not being at my happiest self.
  4. Obedience. Sometimes all you can do is own your purpose and follow the universe’s instructions. The only place I could look this year was up.
  5. Discernment. What I learned from sadness is precisely what Paulo Coehlo wrote in his book The Alchemist, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” Sadness felt like an emergency but it wasn’t.

This year, I have experienced moments of elation and moments that felt so heavy that I couldn’t keep my knees from buckling while I prayed. But, I am here on the other side of sadness with the knowledge that joy is always within reach. On this last day of 2017, I can say that I know for sure that there is not permanent eraser for sadness, but it is not the beginning or end of anything. Carrying this lesson learned is all I could have asked for, and I know that 2018 will be all the better because of the experience.

 

 

 

Rape is always unexpected

This week, we have been barraged by news of sexual assault and rape. Harvey Weinstein has been accused by several Hollywood actresses of inappropriate contact. Audio was released by The New Yorker of a very uncomfortable confrontation between the media mogul and an undercover investigator. Rapper Nelly was also accused by a young woman of rape. The charges were dropped, but then video emerged of the rapper getting close to a teenage girl onstage in a way that appeared overtly sexual. These two incidents occur after Bill O’Reilly was let go from Fox News for multiple incidents of sexual harassment and after a Bill Cosby went through a grueling trial where 60 women came forward and accused him of drugging and raping them.

But, that’s Hollywood. Let’s bring it closer in.

This morning, an email was sent to students on the UGA campus about an incident where a freshman female student was waiting for an Uber at 2:30 a.m. A car pulled up. The young woman asked if the man driving was her Uber driver. He said no, but offered her a ride. She got in the car and he drove her to her dormitory. But, before he let her out of the car, “he reached and touched the inner portion of her thigh and demanded she give him a kiss before he would let her out as he locked the doors to the vehicle.”

I was in a meeting and one of my colleagues brought up the incident. She said she couldn’t believe how stupid the girl was to get in the car with a stranger at 2:30 a.m. She went on and on about how the girl was irresponsible and that she should have used common sense. In my mind, I thought to myself ‘don’t be that person in the meeting.’ Then I thought, ‘we all need to be that person.’ So, I said something. This is how that conversation went:

Me: How was she, as a 17 or 18-year old supposed to know that he would do that?

Colleague: Common sense. She was taught from the time that she was little not to get in the car with strangers.

Me: How do you know? You were taught that. You don’t know what she was taught.

Colleague: She got into this school. She’s smart enough to know.

Me: That has nothing to do with anything. She’s a teenager–

Colleague: Who was probably drunk–

Me: It doesn’t matter. That doesn’t give someone the right to hurt her

Colleague: You are responsible for your own body. You wouldn’t stand in the middle of a median and blame a car for hitting you.

Me: He should not be driving around picking up teenage girls and luring them into his car. There’s no excuse for that.

I was appalled. Of course I shouldn’t have been, because this same colleague once said that stay-at-home moms were not successful in their own right. Her brand of feminism comes from a place of oppression, and she is not alone. Wendy Williams apologized (or apolo-lied) on ther talkshow this week for saying that women who go backstage or get on tour buses following musicians put themselves in a compromising situation. I call bull. Sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, molestation– these are not things that can be invited. These behaviors are the result of hurt people hurting other people and it is unacceptable.

As women, it is not our responsibility to temper who we are to make men less-likely to hurt us. It is not on us to be perfect all the time, never get drunk, never stay out late, so as to not invite perversion. We are humans and our only job is to show up as our best selves everyday. I would like to see more women make advocating for each other a part of their way of showing up. Be that person who says no, you’re wrong. She didn’t deserve that. Risk being unpopular in order to grab hold of your own freedom, because the statistics are one in three women, which means that in broad daylight, fully sober, it could still be you.

12 Quotes to inspire hope

In light of the recent alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think it’s clearer than ever than the world needs more love. I’m uninterested in writing a think piece that analyzes the motivations of people who see other people as beneath them. There enough people doing that. I am uninterested in condemning the president for what he could have done. The truth is that we the people hold the power, and we wield that power in our thoughts, words, and deeds everyday. So, below I am offering some thought/word jewels. Think these words every time you get angry. Speak these words whenever you feel rage. Watch the world around you, and within you, succumb to peace.

To get up each morning with the resolve to be happy is to set our own conditions to the events of each day. To do this is to condition circumstances instead of being conditioned by them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Words are things. You can put a few words together and make people want to go to war. Put a different set of words together and make them long for peace. -Maya Angelou

Hope for good. Allow for better. -Christina Wong Yap

Grace is always sufficient. -Anne Lamotte

There are no prerequisites to worthiness. -Brene Brown

Love is what were born with. Fear is what we learned here. -Marianne Williamson

Correction is the job of the Holy Spirit. –A Course in Miracles

Faith is a living daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. -Martin Luther

No hater can block a blessing. -Kelundra Smith

Absolute surrender is not about me getting closer to God, but allowing God to get closer to me. -Josh Belvins

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in the end. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

You loving me. Me loving you. God loving us. There is nothing more powerful than that. -Iyanla Vanzant

Fake News and the art of doubt

I’ll start this the way that most of these types of posts start. I normally don’t write about politics, mostly because I don’t want to add to the noise and I’d rather spread joy. But, also because having an outward political opinion and keeping a job usually don’t go hand-in-hand, and today happens to Amazon Prime Day, so…yeah…(I needed those makeup brushes y’all, all 32 of them). However, what I will speak on is a conversation that I have been having with journalists since the phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts” entered our vernacular.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article called “Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign.” The article alleged that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged emails with Russia before agreeing to meet with a representative of the Russian government to discuss ways to sabotage the 2016 Presidential Election. And today, Trump Jr. tweeted screenshots of those emails for the world to read. However, I am not interested in discussing these emails, their relevance, impeachment, or collusion. I want to talk about not being able to believe what you see.

The Trump campaign, and subsequently the Democratic and Republican parties, has done a masterful job of disseminating doubt. From the moment Trump questioned Obama’s country of birth to today, he has leveraged the power of the media, on every airwave and every screen, to cast doubt in people’s minds about the messages that are being pushed in their faces in our 24-hour news cycle world. Other politicians, in both parties, have followed suit in order to win recent mid-term elections. As a freelance journalist who primarily writes about arts & culture, I’m used to people not believing what they see, but when we’re talking about domestic and world news it becomes a different story.

When I heard about the Times article and read it, honestly I thought, ‘what difference does it make?’ The reason why is because we have so allowed people’s perceptions to become their realities that nothing that does not align with that perception matters anymore. If you are a person who despises Trump, you will say “Finally! Proof for impeachment! They colluded with Russia. Clinton should have won,” and if you are someone who supports his presidency, you will say “The New York Times is an anti-democratic liberal propaganda machine that has it out for the President because they are mad that the former senator from their state lost!” And there it is. There are only alternative facts on both sides and no one cares about the truth, only what is true to them. Even with Trump Jr. tweeting photos of the emails, there’s a way to spin that. Those emails don’t really prove anything, his Twitter account was hacked, someone who hates Trump leaked them. He was smart to tweet them because he got ahead of the story. The ways to raise doubt are innumerable and so is the frequency.

Now, I’m not letting the media off the hook here. They helped create distrust in themselves, especially in the early 2000s when there were a handful of high-profile cases where journalists at reputable newspapers fabricated stories. Cable news (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc) is also a huge part of the problem as they have done another masterful job of conflating the words “news magazine” and “talk show” with actual news. Most of the time, these networks are obliged to advertisers, and the news they tell is the news they sell. Lack of diversity in newsrooms didn’t help, because people in marginalized communities couldn’t believe the stories they were reading about their own communities, and no one ever interviewed them. In addition, in all aspects of the news, the notions of objectivity and fair and balanced reporting are somewhere with the baby and the bathwater. As newsrooms began to shrink by the thousands 10 years ago, journalists did a piss poor job of advocating for, and helping the public to realize the importance of, journalism. They assumed that because they had always been there, they were entitled to be there, which is why they are now drawing pictures of Sean Spicer giving press conferences.

This brings me to the conversations I have been having with some journalist friends. As much as I give journalists a hard time, I also moonlight as one, and let me tell you that it is clearer than ever that people don’t understand what journalists do and how they do it. There seems to be this impression that journalists sit at their desks and create tales in the same way as novelists. This is fake news. Generally speaking, a reported story for a reputable news outlet has a minimum of three credible sources who have exchanged emails, had phone conversations with, and/or met in-person with the reporter. Sometimes, those people refuse to go on the record. At that point, most reporters try to find someone who will, but if they can’t, they use that anonymous source. Anonymous sources are only used when the information they have to offer is so essential that it cannot be attained elsewhere. An article can take anywhere from 12 hours to 12 months to write, depending on its scope, and in the end, the paper trail of spreadsheets, documents, emails, audio recordings, and notebooks is long and windy. For a publication such as the Times, the fact-checking process for an article like the one published yesterday, is probably grueling.

I’ll give you two examples from the world of fluff that I write in, and not to sound arrogant, but I’m a good reporter. I wrote an article for a local magazine about the National Museum of African American History & Culture. After reading it, my editor highlighted all of the sections where he either had questions, or thought we needed to cite the source. I then had to go back and answer his questions, add in a couple more sources, and even had to go back and do some extra reporting to answer one of his questions. From there, the article went to a copyeditor and a fact checker.

Another example is an article I wrote for a national publication about artist and arts administrator salaries in regional theatres across the country. I started off by asking actors in different cities which theatres paid the most and which theaters paid the least. None would go on the record, because they were afraid of losing work in the future, but they all gave me leads and tips (mostly through Facebook message conversations). I then interviewed artistic and managing directors of theatres across the country about the wages they pay actors. I checked figures to the best of my ability against their Form 990s, which are the financial forms that all 501c3 organizations must complete. Once I turned in the article, we went through three rounds of intense edits to ensure accuracy.

Those are just two examples, and journalists who work on politics, local government, education, and science articles can offer a whole lot more insight about how reporting works. That said, I also am sure that this pandemic distrust in the media is more rampant than ever, it’s not new, and it’s not going away. After all, how do you know I’m being forthcoming about my process if I haven’t published the notes from my interviews? There’s that doubt creeping in…

But, here’s the truth: Hillary’s emails, Trump Jr.’s emails, and who met with Russia or emailed Russia matters, but it is also a distraction. Americans will spend so much time outraged (4-8 years, maybe), that they won’t notice that healthcare, agricultural, environmental, education, and economic reforms are not happening. Who helped you when you needed time off to heal from a health crisis or care for a loved one? Where was your elected official when you lost your house and job and had to file for bankruptcy? What jobs that pay $15 or more per hour and don’t require a college education have come to your community? When did it become acceptable for the people who make between $65,000-$250,000 per year to have to shoulder the debt for everyone, with no reprieve? What laws have been passed to help your family in the past 15 years? Name them. The issue is not fake news, the issue is fake people making fake promises.

So, where do we go from here? To the polls in 2018 is a good idea, but it’s not where we start. We start with a recommitment to the truth, no matter how much it disturbs our perceptions. We start by bringing back humanistic value and truly believing that every human life matters. We start by seeking out information on our own and not believing only what we are fed. We commit ourselves to questioning why someone else’s perception disturbs our own. And most of all, we commit to valuing discernment (which is a measure of trust) over doubt (which is a measure of distrust). If we become a discerning public, instead of a doubtful public, we hold the power. Then, we can start a fruitful discussion about policy, instead of a flailing discussion about perception.

A Tale of Two Conferences

I have been away from home more than I have been at home so far this month (I am not complaining), because I have attended two different journalism conferences. Both gave me different views on issues facing our field and our nation, and I have recapped my experiences below.

EDUCATION WRITERS ASSOCIATION NATIONAL SEMINAR

The first conference I attended was the Education Writers Association National Seminar, which was held in D.C. May 31-June 2. The EWA is made up mostly of education beat reporters from newspapers, websites, trade publications, and radio stations across the country, as well as people who work in higher education communications and those who contract with schools to provide services. I attended the conference because my day job is at a university and I wanted to get a high-level view of the issues facing our education system, and I left knowing so much more than I knew before. There are more education reporters than I thought, and they are doing everything from attending school board meetings to interviewing parents and teachers about the education experiences students are having in their community. I was particularly impressed by The Seattle Times Ignite Education Lab, where they hosted a TED Talk-like event with educators, parents, and students giving fast talks on their experiences in Seattle Public Schools.

I was also impressed by a session called “Top 10 Higher Ed Stories of 2017” where the editor of Inside HigherEd gave a rundown of stories that he believes every higher education reporter should cover. Based on his talk, it looks like our nation’s liberal arts colleges are in trouble. Many of them are selling off land, discounting tuition, and eliminating tenured faculty positions in order to keep the doors open. The reason why is because with pushes toward STEM, students are afraid of getting a liberal arts education. They are afraid that the end won’t justify the means. To me, this is a dangerous attitude. I wouldn’t trade my liberal arts education for anything, and I am still clothed, fed, and able to go on vacations. We have elevated STEM at the expense of the arts and humanities, and we will pay for it in the future. Art is the cornerstone of innovation and the liberal arts emphasize empathy, which is something we can sure use a heavy dose of today. I hope that we can reverse this trend in order to create more opportunities for students to do what they love and know that money will always follow hard work.

I also must say that it was astonishing to me that in last year’s election, and even right now, education does not seem to be a priority for anyone. But, we have school systems in Detroit and Chicago– two essential American cities– that could barely finish the school year because they were so broke. We know that a good education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and therefore the school-to-prison pipeline and teen pregnancy, so why have we spent all of our time scrutinizing Betsy DeVos instead of demanding that she do the job she has been appointed to do? Secretary DeVos is the first sitting secretary of education to not speak to the EWA in the seminar’s 70-year history, though the seminar happened just after the Bethune-Cookman incident where Class of 2017 graduates booed during her speech and turned their backs to her in protest. When we talk about holding our politicians accountable, we must do more than criticize them, and instead challenge them to act. Make them earn those six-figure paychecks by working on our behalf. The leaders of tomorrow need you!

AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

A week and a half after I attended EWA, I flew to San Francisco for the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) Conference.  ATCA is made up of theater critics across the country, both retired and actively working. I have been a freelance arts journalist and theater critic for the past six years, and I entered the field at the height of the doom and gloom. Full-time critics and arts reporter jobs have been disappearing from newsrooms at an alarming rate for the past decade, and most freelance gigs pay between nothing and $200 for a review. My two favorite sessions at this conference were the sessions on reviewing Shakespeare and on how to include design elements (light, sound, set, props, costumes, etc) into reviews. I found both really helpful, especially since lighting design is, to me, the hardest thing to describe. I also got to see five shows in the Bay Area, which is always a treat: Grandeur (Magic Theater), As You Like It (California Shakespeare), Brownsville Song: b-side for Tray (Shotgun Players), The Roommate (San Francisco Playhouse), and You Mean To Do Me Harm (San Francisco Playhouse). There are more than 20 professional theaters in the Bay Area and only two full-time professional theater critics (who work for two different newspapers). That is more than one person can handle and they constantly have to fight to justify their jobs.

I know some people may say that if their beat does not get as much attention from readers as sports, world news, or education, then shouldn’t we take that as a sign that no one cares about theater? To me, the answer to that question is no. I remember in J-school one of my professors said of photojournalism “When the camera is pointed toward something, it is pointed away from something else.” News outlets are masters of directing attention, and if people’s attentions were directed to art more than the antics of celebrities, they would think it matters. When we talk about bringing jobs back home and economic growth, we would be remiss to not think about the way the arts positively affect both of these things. The arts employ a lot of people, because in art people cannot be replaced by machines. From customer service agents to marketing professionals to the artist themselves, the arts are an economic catalyst. Plus, arts patrons typically support local restaurants and boutiques while they are attending arts events.

The other thing that stood out to me at this conference is diversity (or the lack thereof). Most of the critics in the organization, and those who attended the conference, are white men over the age of 50. I might be the only African American woman theater critic in the country and I believe Karen D’Souza is the only Latina theater critic in the country. This is a huge issue, because it means that there is much work to do to bring communities of color into the theater, so that we can start grooming critics of color. I’m not for the extreme notion that you have to share the same ethnic background as the artist in order to review their work, but I know that our lived experiences affect the way we view a work of art. In order to provide fair and balanced criticism, we must have multitude of voices.

I feel more committed than ever to moving the needle any way that I can. I won’t stop documenting the work of the people who are holding up mirrors to our souls so that 100 years from now people will know that we did more than take pictures of our food for the glory of the internet. Journalism ain’t easy, especially because everyone thinks they can do it, but for my fellow storytellers out there, I encourage you to keep on keepin’ on!

Recapture your dynamism

I recently finished listening to the book Abundance Now by Lisa Nichols on Audible and I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the book below.

  1. The universe does not recognize someday on the calendar.
  2. Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Set believable goals for the state you are in.
  3. Treat your present career as an investor in your future.
  4. I am the first example of how the world is supposed to love me.
  5. It’s never crowded along the extra mile. -Wayne Dwyer
  6. It is easier to dream from a place of abundance than from a place of lack.
  7. Get comfortable with playing big.
  8. Abundant thinkers avoid spending their dollar time on penny tasks.
  9. Be willing to fall forward. Parachutists have to fall before they pull the parachute to soar.
  10. The universe celebrates what is already being celebrated.
  11. Be grateful for the small things and the spectacular things will show up.