Living Candidly #5: On constructing the narrative

I’ve had nothing to do but think these past few weeks about our bloody history. About the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6

These are tumultuous times. I scroll through my Twitter feed and it’s a cacophony of outrage, covering everything in venom from the Alabama abortion ban to the Georgia LGBTQ+ adoption ban to the series finale of Game of Thrones to my very own disgust at my taxi driver hocking a rather large loogie out the window of his vehicle. Occasionally, and very occasionally, there is a ray of sunshine. But all too commonly there is wonder at the downward spiral we seem too set in motion.

And while it could be incredibly deafening to have all these voices speaking out in digital megaphones, the effect is quite opposite in my opinion. It offers us a unique opportunity. We are given the chance to take what is otherwise a void and in its place construct a narrative of our own design — solo or in collaboration — that best reflects the world we would like to see. And yes, some can get lost in the din, but some are offered the chance to break through and make a difference in a way that they otherwise might not have been able to in years before.

About seventeen months ago, I released my first blog post on a public scale about mental health. I shared it on my personal Facebook account and left out no details — profiling the exact lows I sunk to and the medical measures that had to be taken in order to save my life from my own threats. I felt that an explanation on a major platform for the lifestyle changes that had occurred would not only exonerate me from residual guilt but also act as a catharsis. I did not, however, expect the outpouring of similar stories. I received several private messages from childhood and college acquaintances, sharing their own personal experiences with mental illness and their identification with my own encounters. I constructed my narrative publicly and, in turn, it allowed others to construct their own. Tyrion was right: stories unite people.

Today’s post is short, mostly a-political, and to the point: I want to encourage every person out there with a voice — and especially those who feel voiceless — to exercise their right to speak up. Construct your narrative. Make your story. There’s nothing more powerful. It can move an audience — the world — like no other. It has been proven to since before there was recorded history. Stories outdate every other invention, and they stand the test of time.

The magic is as wide as a smile and as narrow as a wink, loud as laughter and quiet as a tear, tall as a tale and deep as emotion. So strong, it can lift the spirit. So gentle, it can touch the heart.

I found the above quote almost a decade ago, and while I have long lost the source material now, I find it remains inspirational on the beneficent power behind true, authentic storytelling.

I hope some of what I’ve written today resonates with people to use their voices. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say, and I will defend your right to utilize your voice until my last breath.

All my love x

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Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

In Pre-K 4, my teacher would often hear me laugh in the back reading nook of the classroom with concern. Her concern stemmed from one simple question: was I laughing or crying? At times, it was indecipherable, the laughs shaking my body and tears streaming down my face.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but for the first eighteen years of my life, if I thought something was funny — really funny — I would tear up within seconds of the first chuckle escaping my lips. If it was a discreet laugh, in the back of a classroom or between me and my brother in the backseat of my parents’ cars, I would lose it faster. The waterworks were unintentional and 100% uncontrollable, to the point where I quickly invested in waterproof mascara when I reached a makeup wearing age.

But then, when I was eighteen, something shifted. With the end of my high school career came the end of my tearful laughter. At the time, I chalked it up to a biochemical alteration; I had started taking anti-anxiety medication. I became convinced that I had previously been somewhat uncomfortable in expressing complete joy, and that thought carried me to the conclusion that I was finally free to laugh with emotional abandon.

I did not cry-laugh again — until my twenty fifth birthday. A simple conversation between me and two friends regarding the practices of gynecology drove me to tears over the course of minutes. Since then in the course of two months, I’ve teared up over laughter, gripping my sides, more often than I have in the past seven years. And honestly? I’m so relieved to be tearful again.

Instead of considering it a symptom of discomfort at the display of joy, I’m viewing it more as an uninhibited celebration of joy. It’s a wantonness, a carefree element, a comfort level that maybe I’ve been missing for a while. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own exaltation.

I hope I continue to laugh like that four year old I once was.

Candidly Concerting #4: When Astrid S. Stole The Show

Despite my charming habit of getting to concerts early enough to stand three rows back from center stage — meaning I stand in line for an hour prior — I usually hate the opening acts. Vehemently, aggressively hate. At best I tolerate them. When there are two opening acts, I become irritable and antsy. And while, yes, I occasionally walk away with a new song to listen to by an artist I would never have found on my own, I rarely become a converted fan.

When I bought tickets to see Zara Larsson feat. Astrid S., however, I knew it was going to be different.

While a decently solid fan of Larsson, I have been pushing Astrid S. onto unsuspecting friends for two years now. The Lauv remix of “Breathe” was a staple in my Summer 2017 playlist (a time when I was also avidly consuming Larsson’s So Good album), and her new music constantly makes the rotation for whatever I’m currently listening to. So, yes, I may have been a bit biased when I was approaching the concert. But there was no way to anticipate the difference in authenticity of the two artists who performed that night.

Astrid S. performed a small selection of her work, as openers usually do, but her energy levels were high and authentic (video above). The crowd fed into it with an increasing pulse and hunger. When she wasn’t singing or dancing around the stage, Astrid S. was enthusiastically screaming, “NEW YORK!!!” with pure glee at a sold out Irving Plaza. While she might not have been headlining, she might as well have been.

With a heavily warmed up crowd, Zara Larsson took the stage for a perfectly polished and highly orchestrated set, with back-up dancers and projections of wildlife scenery. In the end, after a genuine and entertaining set from Astrid S., Larsson’s vocals — while her runs were more impressive — could not overpower the fact that the rest of her production felt forced. There was nothing ad-libbed or personal about the performance, because that’s exactly what it was — performative.

I don’t like giving bad reviews, and it wasn’t that it was bad, it was just that one star shone brighter in the setting and the atmosphere of Irving Plaza. Larsson belonged in an arena with thousands of adoring fans, but in the smaller venue she felt out of place. Astrid S. fit the setting and the vibe like a glove. That being said, both are incredibly talented and I’m excited to see what the future holds for both of their careers, even if I hope that it takes them in two separate tour directions.

Living Candidly #2: Thanking My Mom

I would not be exaggerating if I told you that my mom and I probably say “I love you” to each other approximately three times each per phone call. And there are at least three phone calls per day — one when I wake up, one on my way out of work to the 1 train, and one right before she goes to bed — so we’re looking at nine “I love you”‘s said by each of us to the other in a single day.

And while, yes, I absolutely love my mother, I was really looking for a way to make her feel that love this Mother’s Day.

With a lot of secrecy and coordinating group texts with my dad and brother, we managed to plan a surprise brunch for her in Baltimore. I would take the bus down the day before, hang out with two of my friends (post to come on why they’re #thebest), and secure a ride to the restaurant in time for the meal. My younger brother would be driving from College Park to north Baltimore and picking up flowers along the way (from a supermarket, let’s not get wild here). My dad would say he wanted to go to a War of 1812 reenactment at Fort McHenry, something that my mom would try to support and thus attend with him. Everything was in place.

Day of: I’m wildly hungover from a few too many drinks with #thebest, my brother is down with the flu and unable to make the hour drive by himself, and when 10:45 hits my mother and father are nowhere in sight of the restaurant. I took another sip of my ginger ale and a deep breath.

But when my mom saw me across the restaurant floor, her jaw dropped. She didn’t pick it up until she reached me, at which point it started wobbling and she cried. As she is wont to do, she enveloped me in her arms, but this time it was me holding her up instead of the other way around, as it has been the majority of my twenty-five years.

Everyone on Mother’s Day says they have the best mom and that their mom is their best friend. In addition to traditional motherly duties like changing diapers and breastfeeding, though, my mom was the first person to shave my armpits because I was afraid I would cut myself. She was the person who always did my hair before school dances and put up with my persnickety commentary the duration of the styling. She held my wrists overnight when I was in my darkest lows, sobbing and complaining that they burned for something that is today unfathomable. She has loved me at my absolute brattiest, my absolute most desolate. She has loved me when I’ve been incapable of truly loving anyone back in any manifesting ways because I’ve been too consumed with my own self. Most mothers would have stayed, sure, but none would have pushed through with the same ferocious love that she has displayed time and time again.

It is because of her and our closeness that if there is one thing I am certain of in this life that my future needs — it’s motherhood. If I can impart a morsel of the love that she has given to me in the likeness of her own mother to another generation, well, I’ll have done something good. It’s a big order, but a girl’s gotta have dreams.

Thank you, Mom. You are a heaven-sent inspiration of true and unconditional love.

Candidly Concerting #3: lovelytheband

“Hey, Ma, I think this year the band made it.” Those were the last words that the frontman of lovelytheband, Mitchy Collins, managed to say before he turned his back on a cheering audience with a reddening face to wipe his eyes. His bandmates, Jordan Greenwald and Sam Price, both stepped away from their instruments and went to celebrate and comfort him. After all, they had just shared with the crowd that the sold out Irving Plaza in New York City in three days, a stage the members themselves had been to see Billboard greats like FallOut Boy, Ed Sheeran, and Macklemore. Now it was their turn.

I remember the first time I heard lovelytheband’s hit “broken” on the segment “Ear Poppin’ New Music” on SiriusXM’s Hits 1. I was driving to Ocean City, New Jersey with my mom, freshly returned from my first year in grad school in London and finding myself surprisingly at a loss with what to listen to on American radio while, as I like to call it, “driving with Wendy” thanks to my increasingly eclectic Spotify tastes. But if there’s one thing I can never resist, it’s the opportunity to hear new music. I did not, however, expect for my tastes to shift into high gear. I don’t even think the song ended before “broken” was added to my Spotify summer playlist. And when the album was released, it was added to my saved catalog.

It’s now been a year since that highway listen. The band has received decent notoriety, and well-deserved. Their sound is widely appealing, with an audience on Monday night’s concert ranging from families with musically woke middle schoolers to late thirties groups of music enthusiasts. Personally, I went alone, wanting to fully dance and geek out when they played “pity party” (I did) and nearly cry at the end of “maybe I’m afraid” (there were witnesses). And while the opening acts were decent (Jagwar Twin and Flora Cash), if at times muddy, there was no chance of anyone stealing lovelytheband’s thunder that weekday night at Irving Plaza. They owned that stage and fully earned the Live Nation backing that they’re receiving for their finding it hard to smile tour.

I am a certified, cemented, rock-solid fan.

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.


Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?

Candidly Concerting #1: LÉON feat. Morgan Saint at Irving Plaza

Candidly Concerting #1: LÉON feat. Morgan Saint at Irving Plaza

Last night, I attended Ones to Watch Presents: LÉON at Irving Plaza. I’ve been onto LÉON’s music since hearing “Surround Me” on The Bold Type in 2017 (yeah, I joined that band wagon), so I was quick on the Ticketmaster trigger when I found out she was doing a tour stop in New York City. I dragged my dear and yet non-fan friend Rebecca along with me to the Union Square venue, paid way too much for those requisite vodka soda, and pushed our way to three standing rows back from the barriers blockading the stage.

I was completely and unabashedly way to excited for this concert. LÉON’s sultry vocals and ballads that, in my opinion, can rival Adele any damn day of the week had been teasing me since I purchased the tickets on February 4th.

I was not, however, equally enthused in anticipation for seeing the opening act. Don’t get me wrong, I typically experience excitement with opening acts — the possibility of witnessing a star on the rise. But I had done my research and been put off by the striking appearance of Morgan Saint’s alt-pop rock (?) album covers and and the synth heavy sound.

I was wildly underestimating the power of a true performer.

While it was clear that Morgan Saint was the real deal from the first step on stage — undeniable from the GaGa command of the space and the swagger of a true musician (think Lorde) — it was the introduction and performance of the song “Glass Houses” that sold me. Morgan Saint started by asking the audience to raise their hands if they had ever had their heart broken. Then Morgan Saint said to keep our hands raised if we had ever broken our own heart. My right hand remained over my head until the first chord rang out.

If I told you I was broken, would you love me still?
Shattered hearts, crossed stars, never saw myself…

Won’t you love me now? F*cking love me now
It’s all broken, unspoken
Just breathe me in, taste me on your lips
You can let me go, if you need to let me go

“Glass Houses,” Morgan Saint
Take a listen to this stripped down version.

There’s something incredibly powerful when a performer strips their experience bare and connects with an audience on a level of raw emotion. I don’t think Rebecca noticed but “Glass Houses” drove me to be misty-eyed. It permeated my skin and made my blood hot with memory of my darkest times. I related to the lyrics on a level I would never have expected, because I had a realization I could never have grasped before. In efforts to move forward from the darkness that was my first six months of 2016, I had made every effort to absolve all of those who had removed themselves from my life under the pressure of the events. But I had not forgiven myself for being the force that opened that door, for being the driving force asking for unreasonable salvation from individuals who could not offer me that rescue. And that is now a mission that I have given myself to work on. In the aftermath of Morgan Saint’s performance, her entire discography has been added to my arsenal of songs to listen to.

Luckily, although a true balladeer, LÉON’s set was filled with infectious upbeats and crowd engagement. LÉON focused on providing grounded, relatable anecdotes about the hardships in love that drove her to these songs of romantic woes — see: “Body” or “Pink.” Her carefree dancing on stage only encouraged the audience to dance more daringly and sing more loudly, even to the point where LÉON could stop singing and the melody would carry throughout the packed venue. While it might seem like I am shortchanging LÉON as the main event by giving her less text space than her opener, there really are no words to convey the contagious joy that spread throughout Irving Plaza as soon as the lamps lit up the stage. It was a shame to watch her go, but to close it out with “Surround Me” and enjoy the moment of communion not only with her as an artist but with the whole crowd as a gathering was the icing on the cake to someone who found her with that very song.

The track that LÉON and her band performed during the feature photo.

LÉON, keep shining bright. Morgan Saint, I’m grateful.