Sugar Can Unsweeten: My Kara Walker Exhibit Experience

My family comes from Barbados, a place that thrived for years from the mid 1600’s through the 1900's on the sugar industry.  Our carnival type celebration is called Crop Over and happens at the end of the sugar harvest season.  I’ve passed cane fields with people working in them since I was a child.  My mother bringing home stalks of sugar cane would incite excitement in my sister and I as if we were getting birthday presents for no reason.  My mother would hack the stalks into three to four inch pieces.  She would cut a T-shape into the top so that they could be separated into four pieces.  My sister and I would chew on each section sucking the sweet sugar juice out until each piece was dry.  We’d bop around with our pieces then go running back to my mother for refills.  My mother and father would both also take part in the sweet treat until the long stalk was gone.  As an adult, I have sipped on Barbados’ good sugar cane brandy.  Yet, behind all the joy of my memories of sugar is the history.  Barbados’ thriving sugar industry was run from plantations & slave labor.  The island at one point had about twelve plantations.  This is a tiny island which has a modern day population of only about two hundred and seventy-five hundred thousand people.

 

It is with all of this that I walked into the Kara Walker exhibit on June 22nd at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.  A group organized a “We Are Here” event on that day for women of color to experience the art installation as a majority in the space.  I’d seen the articles filled with disrespectful selfies and group pictures that white people took of the sculpture’s body parts.  They took the time to get precise placement to look as if they were holding, groping or poking fun at the sphinx’s nakedness.  “We Are Here” served as a support for the myriad of feelings and experiences we may have in the space.  Art moves us. 

 

Once inside, the pungent smell of an old sugar factory seeps into my nostrils.  Then I started to see the little boys, made of candy, carrying baskets.  The exhibit has been open since May 10th.  Some of the boys were melting.  Some had collapsed and lay in shattered piles.  The decay of the candy sculptures was difficult for me to see.  It made me so sad to see them shattered on the floor in pieces and piles.  At one point I looked up and there it was, the huge sugar sphinx.  The sun was shining on her creating a glare.  She was a massive presence, wide and tall.  Still, I slowly made my way to visit many of the little boys first before getting to her.  I have to admit visual art often makes me feel like I’m not smart enough to discuss what the artist intended through the creation of it.  I mentioned this to some friends that I came with then decided to not worry about that and just experience it.

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I peeked into their baskets.  I imagined them bringing her sweet treats.  I imagined them working for her in reverence.  I wondered about the babies that may have been strapped to their mothers as she worked the cane fields.  I marveled at the details and textures in the baskets themselves.  Something about the brown sugar sprinkled on the little boys heads made me smile at their sweet heads.  Then I end up in front of the massive white sugar sculpture.  I stared at the sugar and melting molasses like substance on the walls of the factory & thought about the way in which the past can endure.

 

I eventually end up right in front of her.  Her head wrap doesn’t make me thing of Mammy.  I think of the women I’ve passed working in cane fields with their heads wrapped much the same way to protect from the heat of the sun and catch their sweat.  I want to touch it.  I always want to touch art.  It’s always so textured and tempting.  This is no different.  But I don’t even want to get close enough to walk on the sugar at the ground spreading out from her.  I see the evidence of footprints telling me others did not feel this same deference.  I stay at the front and the side of her for quite some time.  I chatted with strangers and greeted friends as we took it all in.  Finally, I feel ready to walk to the back.

 

I’m standing back watching the crowd watch her.  I’m brought out of my people watching when a Black man announces loudly that before people take disrespectful pictures at the vulva of the sculpture they think about the very ideas that this installation are looking to make commentary about.  There was a group of people snapping pictures as he spoke.  They finished snapping quickly, awkwardly and scurried away.  But they made sure to get the picture of them by the sugar vulva.  Some people (of all colors) found his loud announcement to be disruptive to people having an individual experience of the art.  I felt better by him stating it out loud, myself.  Discussions started happening.  I think discussion is the point and is good.  

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It is right around this point that a woman with a name tag that said Arden starts telling the man who made that announcement to make sure that people knew that he wasn’t connected to the company Creative Time.  He had on no badge, isn’t carrying a clipboard or anything else that identifies him to me to be an employee or even a volunteer at the event.  A woman starts recording Arden telling him this.  Arden doesn’t want to be recorded.  She grabs the woman who is recording her to stop her.  Arden then sends over two security guards (one of which isn’t even on duty in the space) to remove the woman for causing a “ruckus”.  There was no ruckus besides the one Arden caused by trying to have a woman of color removed from the exhibit.  Arden physically grabbed her.  The woman was talking.  She said she was going to file a police report.  Was that the ruckus Arden meant?  Several women of color, myself included, wanted clarity on what exactly was the ruckus because we had all been there and hadn’t seen any ruckus besides a woman of color being grabbed by a white woman at an exhibit about a part of brown history.  Arden became flustered and could not answer the questions well.

 

Everyone that I saw speaking to Arden were clearly upset but talking in calm tones with their inside voices and best vocabulary words.  I know that I have long since learned that no matter how rightfully upset that I am as a woman of color if I scream or yell, I automatically become in the wrong.  I automatically become to blame for being an “angry Black woman with attitude”.  Arden even completed the exchange with what I’ve seen called elsewhere as the “white girl Waaaaaaaaambulance”.  Yep, this is a part of racial discussions I know all too well: the white woman who starts crying and bemoaning her victimhood.  “I believe in this work more than anyone, I am here every single day,” says Arden.  She also wailed something to the affect of us all coming at her. 

 

Yes, Arden, we are coming at you with words, questions, and requests for clarity that you became way to flustered to give.  Sorry Arden, but you being at an art exhibit each day of it’s installation & run does not trump the reality I live everyday as a Black woman in this world.  You cannot and don’t have to care more than the women of color standing before you hurt at the wrongful ruckus you are orchestrating in this space.  Here we are now watching you exert the very privilege, which proves how little you have to care as a white woman.  You physically touched someone, and then called security to have THEM removed for causing a ruckus.  You work for Creative Time so security seemed very willing to take your word over hers.  Were there not a slew of women questioning you, you would have gotten away with it no questions asked.  I was so saddened to see this happening in this space at all but especially on the “We Are Here” day.  I am so very proud of the grace, intelligence and power that the women of color took in speaking up for each other.  We Are Here. 

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Throwback Thursday

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On throwback Thursday, I’m thinking way back to ancestors. 

I laid on my back.  I closed my eyes.  I breathed and listened to his voice leading us into meditation.  I usually am alone in my happy meditation place in my mind.  I found myself standing in front of my Mother’s mother I was surprised to see her.  She never was a warm and squishy type of grandmother.  Her love was always shown in her own ways.  She never gave us candy.  Only healthy snacks were allowed.  We would get sandwich bags filled with peanuts and raisons.  I looked forward to it.  Her apartment was always quiet with yellow post it’s everywhere with facts from her nursing books (She was the first person in my family to graduate from college), inspirational sayings and Bible verses.   When I find out what a colorfully bold life she led (like, banished from a country colorful), I understand her militant protection of her right to quiet.  I get it Granny.  We look at each other speaking silently.  Finally, she says, “You got it honest.”  I laugh.  We laugh. 

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Then I feel someone standing behind me.  I turn and look and it is my Father’s mother.  All 4’11 of her put her hand on my shoulder.  I turn around and look at her.  “Wuck up does be good for ya,” she tells me.  I nod.  I remember her saying this when she was alive.  I look at her hands.  I remember looking at her hands when I said the final goodbye to her physical body.  I remember seeing all the hard work she did with them to take care of her family.  I grew up on stories of her legacy as “Doll Baby” because she was so small.  She had a reputation for wearing the highest heels in the dance hall & being a favorite dancer at the parties.  We all shift to form a circle.  We have an impromptu party of three.  Holding hands we laugh and smile and clap and dance.  I wonder if they had met each other in the spirit world but don’t want to interrupt our party to ask. 

I hear his voice saying that it is time to say goodbye.  Sigh…  Already? 

My two grandmothers walk off together hand in hand.  A small light glows around their hands.  It slowly grows bigger and bigger.  It eventually envelopes them and they are no longer visible.  I’m so grateful that we belong to each other. 

Here we go 2014.  I’m excited for the journey of another year.  May this be one of the best years you've ever had! 

 

 

Essence Revealed  is first generation Bajan born & raised in Boston.  She got her BFA at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and MA at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education.  Her writing has appeared places such as $pread Magazine, Corset Magazine, BurlesqueBible.com and 21st Century Burlesque.  She's been published in two anthologies: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/31/asian-girlz-video-music_n_3684577.htmlPros(e)Prose & Lore 2,  &  Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chicken Hawks.  She now performs & teaches nationally and internationally both solo and with Sweet Spot.  Her favorite thing to do besides reading is to lay on the beach in Barbados to rest up for a night of calypso dancing.

I Don't Identify as Feminist, I Identify as Me

Not only am I one of the only Black women that doesn't watch Scandal (but to be fair, the only TV I watch is The View because I love Whoopi) but I also have not listened to or watched Beyonce’s new album.  I like Bey.  Don’t worry this isn’t about the her or the album.  However, conversations about the album have caused me to have to clarify repeatedly that I don’t identify as feminist.  I was also asked if I identify as a womanist.  Nope, I don’t identify as that either.  I don’t even know the rules of these clubs.  However, I see clearly what happens to people who do identify as such when they break the rules.  YIKES!  These rules change depending on the beliefs of the person who is defining the term for you.  Ask ten feminists for a definition and well, you know.  I suck at rules.  I do.  So, I simply identify as me.

I have a difficult time fitting into neatly shaped labels.  In regards to feminism, I lose already because I choose to celebrate my sexual energy.  Then, again, depending on what feminist you speak to, I may also be a champion of feminism because of that same very fact.  Confusing, right?  I choose to move through the world from a space of being power filled despite, no, in spite of all of the isms I get hit with.  These isms are restrictive labels that someone else put on me.  I did not choose or make them.  They are not mine.  I do have to move through a world where they exist.  I do not, however, have to give them power over me.  They are not welcomed to live in the part of my being that defines me for me.

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Life is so much more peace filled this way.  I make up the rules for myself as I go along.  I don’t get pissed off at myself for not playing the game right.  I don’t have to get into debates about what anything means in terms of my identity because it’s all my own.  I don’t need anyone to convert to my way of being.  I don’t feel the need to label myself as narcissist for liking selfies.  Heck, I like other people’s selfies too.  I made up the rules to live my life by all by myself (well with many life experiences and experiments for flavoring).  I checked out the things I learned growing up to see if they were, indeed, a good fit for me.  I promise I didn't even need a conference call with myself to discuss the meaning of it all for the greater good of the world or anything.  I suffer from severe suffocation when it comes to being one of the cool kids or doing things the “right way”.  I simply believe that everyone gets to have their own ways of being on their life journey.  Like one of my favorite cousins always says, “It’s your journey.  It’s not my journey.”

Life is clearly a journey.  Living a life on the road of self definition is not always a smooth and easy ride.  Some days, by my estimation, I just do it all horribly wrong.  I still prefer where this self definition road seems to be leading.  Guess why?  On my best days, I accept this and everything else about myself.  On those days, I don’t need to go on passion filled rages about how, why and what I did was wrong for all womankind (well, cuz it isn’t).  On those days, I’m at a place of simple acceptance of my perfectly imperfect self and life.  Can we make up another label like unicornist or butterflyist where the rules are that you make up your own rules & no one gets to way in on your choice to live life by your own design?  In this new term, you prefer not be contained and held to someone else’s rules or standards.  I can make up my own standards and I won’t even care if I change my mind.  I allow me to do that.  

 

I’m endlessly fascinated by how invested in the life choices of others people can be.  Please know that I have quite a firm grip on what many of the isms are just by virtue of living life as me.  I am a part of several marginalized and stigmatized cultures and communities.  Furthermore, because I suck at rules, I am a further marginalized part within many of those same marginalized groups.  Did I mention that I have never been down with the cool kids?  Simply living life has shown me a myriad of ways those with power & access will attempt to diminish my existence and value.  Yet, I choose to move through the world with the idea that I am not less than anyone.  I do not think that I am better than anyone either.  I believe that we all are one.  Call me a hippie if you want, I choose love. 

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I choose not to have the actions of those outside of myself throw my mood off.  I can throw my own mood off.  I do not need to outsource annoyance.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I say your life choices are for you to make.  If I am moved to feel  strongly averse to your ways, I can simply choose not to engage you.  Sorted :-)!  I am more than happy to only worry about what I believe to be true of me.  I’m content to work on making choices that make the world a place I like to exist in.  I accept that those I enter relationships with (friendly or otherwise) will work with me to define what it looks like for us by us.  Clear communication with each other will be our key.  It’s no one else’s business anyway.  I choose to value life's little moments of joy:  like this weekend when I shared a moment of laughter about sucking the juicy pulp out of a mango from a small hole bitten into the skin with people from different parts of the African Diaspora.  There was joy for all of us in mangoes from home.  Joy can be a cuddle.  It can be learning something new.  It can be in doing the work I love.  I don’t personally find joy in being bound up by ever changing rules unless I make them up for myself. 

You, rock on with your bad self!  Choose your choices, ist your ists.  I’ll be over here outside of the boxes, not coloring between the lines, twerking to the beat of my own drum if you need me.  I swear if I could, I would thoroughly suck the juices out of my right to be self defined.  I’d deep throat it to epic orgasms & be sure to swallow so as not to waste the energy of those precious journey juices.  Purple unicorn, heart & butterfly coochie sprinkles for one and all! *throws it toward you from blog post*

Holiday Empathy

Orande’s been shot.  Ok…  What hospital is he in?  I grew up in a place where people got shot.  I assumed that he was home in Boston and it was a drive by or some other type of mistaken identity.  He’d be ok.  “No…  He didn’t make it.”  Life stood still.  Orande was one of my friends who was not in trouble.  He was in school at Morehouse College.  We were in activities together because our parents feared that idle time would lead us to all the gang and drug problems rampant on the streets.  We would complain about how the good kids like us never got any media time.  How could he be killed by being shot?  “He was on his way to a study group and got car jacked.  He was hit in the back as he tried to get away.”  This was my freshman year right around Thanksgiving time.  That’s when we all would hang out at home.  I think about how I had punked out that summer before freshman year.  I had called him to tell him that I had a crush on him.  It was the first time I had to go to a funeral.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at the casket.

My sophomore year, I was in long island at my aunt’s house.  I get a call from my mother.  My grandfather had passed away.  We had been watching cancer make him a shell of himself for a while now.  It still didn’t make it hurt any less.  He was one of my ultimate cheerleaders.  He supported everything I decided that I wanted to do.  I remember everyone being so concerned when he came on a bus from Connecticut to New York to see me in my first play ever.  I hadn’t yet been told that he had cancer.  Caribbean families have an iron clad way of keeping things from the children.  I’d call him and tell him about something I wanted to do.  If someone was around he’d say”The boys and nem say 150.” I’d know that he was gonna give me $150 towards whatever I was up to.  He was the first man that ever braided my hair.  I am so blessed for all the good memories with him.  I felt like I was hyperventilating when they were going to close the casket.  This time I looked.  It was extremely hard knowing this was the last time I’d see him.

My grandfather transitioned right around Christmas time.  I started to get scared when holiday time approached.  What was it about the holidays that made people special to me decide that they were going to leave for good?  These were the first two losses I ever had.  They came back to back one year apart.  They hit with force.  Holidays were filled with anxiety not celebration.

Years have gone by without anyone I love passing around the Holidays.  However, this year, I’m acutely aware of the fact that Holidays are just not fun for some folks.  It may or may not have to do with the loss of a loved one.  It could be any number of things:  not having loving family and friends, not having enough money for food, not having adequate work, etc.  This year was my first Thanksgiving EVER not with my family.  I wasn’t sad about it but I could see how others could be very sad around these times.  I chose to serve meals at a church then had a laid back, small fun gathering of performer peeps.  So, if you are one of the blessed ones, take some time to remember the not so blessed.  It can be as simple as a prayer sent.  Send a status acknowledging this and not just pictures of bountiful plates of food.  Empathy is something we all can practice more of not just during the holiday but extra doses during this time can’t hurt.   In fact, I dare say, it might make someone feel a little bit better.  

Posted on November 29, 2013 and filed under Essence Revealed, Advice.

Submission and Power Exchange

 

“I stand behind you because I trust you to lead the way.  I lead the way because; I know you have my back.” – The Dish with Ward & June

It’s been my experience that a good sub is hard to find but hard subs abound.  Every person exposed to “a million shades of what you will” is creeping slowly out of hiding to seek safe spaces to explore alternative lifestyles.  But are they really?  There is a breed of people calling themselves submissive.  However they are not looking for any type of power exchange.  Power Exchange can happen without there being any stereotypical “kink” involved.  Not everyone is into everything.  This is why it’s important to be clear about how you want Power Exchange to be played out on your relationships.

  

Or when she says Good Boy or when...  ;-)

Or when she says Good Boy or when...  ;-)

 

I’ve had some very odd approaches from potential subs recently.  One was just downright creepy and weird.  Several emails a day only about all the sexual ways in which he would please me (how would he know when we’ve never had that kind of conversation?).  Face to face he had a scary unwavering, stare that sent the warning sirens from the depths of my soul blaring.  Could I end up in Tupperware containers labeled by body parts???  …or something like that. 

I was perplexed why a submissive would assume that he knew what would satisfy a Dominant’s desires.  This is not “one size fits your limited fantasy”.  A Domme/sub (D/s) relationship is not about absolute rule like a Master/slave relationship (even within that BOTH parties have to agree to it).  It’s my personal belief that people in relationship with each other get to create their own unique “contracts”, so to speak.  There is definitely a mutual exchange that happens within D/s.  Everyone should be getting their needs met.  However, a basic principle of a D/s Power Exchange is the strong desire the sub has to please and be led by their Dominant.  Yes, submissives get to let their Dominant partner know what they do and do not want.  The Dominant partner should know the hard and soft limits of their submissive.  However, ultimately it is about the submissive deriving satisfaction from being of service to and guided by their Dominant.

 

 

 

There are no cut and paste ways to be a submissive.  Every relationship is going to have unique dynamics.  However, these are always five great elements for a submissive to consider within a Power Exchange relationship with a Domme:

1)     Integrity – Do what you say you will do.  Whether you deem the commitment small or a big deal, keep your word.  A good sub will own up to it to their Dominant, even if they would never find out.  Short comings should be addressed according to the agreement made between the two of you.

2)     Honest & Open Communication – Dommes are not clairvoyant.  Be open, honest and clear about yourself to your Dominant partner.  A small lapse in communication can easily be interpreted as purposeful insubordination.  Communication bridges the gap between what it means to be a sub behaving badly or needing a specific kind of guidance. 

3)     Trust – The space shared between Domme and sub should be the safest place in the world.  A sub should know for sure that only their best interests are being considered by their Dominant partner.  A Domme may push the edges of a sub’s comfort levels but never put them in harm’s way.  Part of leading the way is having a sincere interest in seeing your sub win.  Are their areas of improvement being worked on within this D/s exchange?  A sub may bring an issue to their Domme.  A Domme may initiate something that they think will improve their subs life: ie… goals, nutrition, making/breaking habits.  The sub knows that there will be after care, especially after intense sessions.

4)     Mutual Respect – None of the above is possible without a mutual respect of one another.  I suppose in commercial dungeons, these rules may or may not apply depending on the situation.  What I’m writing about in this blog are personal interactions.  It would be difficult to trust someone you didn’t respect.  It would be a waste of time to guide someone not worthy of respect.  With this respect comes the ability to lead and be led.

5)    Great Desire to Be of Service – Can a sub’s need to be of service be the intention behind any task their Domme asks of them?  The potentially menial task takes on meaning then.  A sub may despise doing laundry but because it pleases their Domme, it is done with an intention of care.  A sub pleasing their Domme should be satisfaction enough for them.  However, earning rewards for good behavior are a great motivation.  It can be extremely beneficial for a sub to be meticulous with the service they provide to their Domme.
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There is so much focus put on the proverbial “whips and chains” of BDSM.  It feels sometimes like there is more of an interest in a limited and particular “kink” related fantasy.  That type of curiosity could be explored with a pro Domme.  An equally curious partner may present themselves as you go thru your day that you can have occasional play with.  However, by my estimation, it is not satisfactory enough for an interpersonal D/s practice of Power Exchange.  One of my aunts always says, “Every pot has its cover.”  Therefore, whether Dominant or submissive there is no reason to be involved in relationships that doesn’t satisfy you.  Find your perfect match.

 

A Perfomer's Rant

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OOOOH how I wish my parents didn’t give me any home training or hadn’t sent me to Sunday school!  This is a performer’s rant.  Just giving you fair warning so that you can click off and away if so you choose.  This is the first time in over three years of doing burlesque I've been so moved to post a public complaint.  The majority of the people who hire me are great!  But one's like this one I'm writing about are the worst. 

I am more than a little bit annoyed by people who seem to think that all creative people are hobbyists.  It’s almost as if some people refuse to accept that there is a creature called the professional performer.  Welp, guess what?  There is.  This creature may not be a celebrity.  You may not see them on your television set every week.  They may not be on Broadway or in your mainstream movie house or major art gallery.  They probably aren’t filling arenas like Madison Square Garden.  But guess what, they are working professionals.  Let’s take a look at actors.  About 2% of them are celebrities (and often for a very limited time unless nepotism gave them an in).  The majority of actors in the US do not work as actors most of the time.  Somewhere in the middle is the working actor.  They can still do their own grocery shopping (and probably have to) without being mobbed.  They can roam freely around the world unrecognized.  However, if you were friends with them, you’d see them pop up every so often in a show, film, a commercial or hear them in a voiceover.  Perhaps, they ARE in the chorus or principal in a Broadway show. 

Being a creative person of any other type is much the same.  There are the “celebrity names”, the hobbyists and right in the middle are the working professionals.  Depending on their disciplines, they may do a combination of things.  Perhaps they also teach.  Maybe they do a few days or nights as a freelance something or nother.  They may piece together a few different creative careers vocalist and voice over artist, for example.  Perhaps they work in children’s television between creating commissioned paintings.  Perhaps wedding and journalistic photos to major publications fund their art photography projects.  No matter how they string it together, the bulk of their living comes from their creative work.  This is amazingly fulfilling and fun to do – except, when it isn’t.  For me, one of the most disrespectful things I have to deal with is lack of respect for my time as an artist.  It’s as if because I chose to do something fun with my life, my time shouldn’t hold the same weight as someone who clocks into an office every day. 

Here’s one of many examples I could use.  I get booked for a private event for a particular time – let’s say 10pm.  The day of the event I get called hours before to be there an hour early.  Oh, ya know, because I’m sitting around doing nothing else with my life besides waiting with baited breath to coddle clueless clientele demands.  I work it out so that I can leave the work that I’m doing earlier than I was supposed to in an effort to be a flexible, team player.  I arrive earlier than 9pm.  I’m told I’ll go on at 10pm.  There is a set list.  The set list is switched around after the show has started.  The set list is switched back about ten minutes later.  The event is not running on time.  I could have come at 10pm because it is running so late.  In the middle of the listed set an unannounced comedy act erupts on stage.  That act is disrupted by the host who goes on a diatribe in an effort to get the fidgety crowd to listen to said comic.  THAT comic then calls up two more comics.  Three comics do stand up routines in the middle of an event that is already running late.  An unannounced break happens after that.

Now, this is live entertainment and things happen.  Things often don’t go as planned.  I am well able to go with the flow.  I’m extremely easy going.  I, myself, have been on the other end of things out of my control causing me to be late (stalled trains, traffic and miscommunication, for example).  I felt horrible and was verbally and sincerely apologetic.  THIS however, was just a blatant disrespect of time.  Not once was there an apology or explanation.  The energy in the room shifted from celebratory to antsy.  “The host asks at one point is anyone in a rush to get out of here?”  I think he gets the vibe from the hushes murmur of a response that this crowd is not trying to party all night.  “I know some of ya’ll gotta go to work in the morning.”  Yep, and some of us are AT WORK right now.  In fact, those of us that are AT work right now thought that we would be OFF work already.  There is no overtime.  If I complain, I’ll seem like I’m being a diva, right?  I’m supposed to just sit silently smiling.  I’m supposed to be thrilled at any opportunity to do what I do.  How ‘bout you just pay me for my time, I go home and YOU go on stage and do what I do since it holds so little value? 

The part of it that really drives me crazy, though, is that at the end of the night:  After time jacking me from my first job, after having me perform hours after I was scheduled to perform, after having me on stage while people are walking out the door because they’re so tired of sitting there, I get asked if I have a PayPal account.  ...Pardon? 

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*moment of silence filled with curse words in my head that I am much too polite to say out loud*  

So, you mean to tell me not only did you blatantly disrespect my time but now you will also steal the service I provided?  I’m sorry, but “I’ll pay you in the morning, cuz, ya know, cash flow…” is NOT an acceptable answer.  “But you killed it!  My boyfriend, the tall light skin guy, was like she could get it.”  Perhaps, she could glean it from the look of disgust on my face.  I didn’t bother to explain to her the .000000000001% of f%#*s that I do not give about what her boyfriend thinks of my f*&^ing factor. 

When I negotiate events for myself I get a 50% deposit to hold the date.  I then have it in writing that I’m to be handed the balance once I arrive at the venue of the event.  I am doing this particular event as a favor for a favorite client and did not do the negotiating myself.  I think it is really unfair to be held captive at the end of the night waiting to be paid at a private event.  There are no tips to divide.  There’s no door split to calculate.  The fee is set ahead of time.  I've provided the service you've hired me to do already.  Now you want me to trust you to pay me via PayPal in the morning when we don’t have working relationship the first?  This will however, be the last.  Get me once, shame on you.  Get me twice, shame on me.  When I produce (and I have not done it much), I pay my performers in the dressing room while they are getting dressed.  I have a spread of healthy snacks and sweet treats along with drinks for them in the dressing room.  I provide a table with any toiletries they may need or have forgotten.  I try my best to create a relaxed vibe for the people (whom I know I cannot afford to pay their full value YET) because I appreciate their time and talent.  There are creative people who bless me with their talents for free and I try to show as much appreciation for it as possible.

Time and time again whether the creative person acts, sings, dances, takes photos, does visual arts, etc. they’re expected to work for little to nothing and be happy about it.  My landlord and other bill collectors will not be happy about it.  Therefore, I cannot be happy about it.  Yes, I would do this for free, if I had no bills, if I wasn't a full time freelancer.  Just because a creative person is not a celebrity does not mean that they are not a working professional.  When one negotiates a fee for work, one gets paid said fee asap.  Simple.  Easy. 

 

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Why do creative people constantly have to fight for this really simple concept to be understood?  It drives me crazy.  It’s not that difficult.  End Rant.

 

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Remembering September 11th

This day always brings up stuff for me.  This will be a short one.  There will be no pictures.  We don't need any.  We remember.  I don't even want to turn on my TV.  I remember all of it.  I remember all the emotions.  I remember a friend lost and others that were way too close for comfort.  I remember the co-worker who's Dad was a fire fighter and her distraught about whether or not he was alright.  I remember feeling like I never wanted to leave Brooklyn again.   I remember the post 9/11 smell in the air.  I could go on but I won't.

The good things I remember are spending more time with friends and strangers than I had in a long time.  I remembered having that shift in thought around what was/is important in life.  I remember New Yorkers being a little bit kinder to one another.  I remember the quiet within the chaos.  I remember one conversation with a stranger and often wonder how he is.  I wonder how being down there and seeing all that he told me about affected him.  So many of us that were nowhere that near remain affected all these years later.  

At the time, I was working as a realtor 7 days a week and dancing 3-4 nights a week. This night was the first night I'd gone back to work after the towers fell.  I felt strange going into a place to hustle dances when such a tragic thing had just gone down.  It was also the first time I was going back into Manhattan.  I was far from hard hustle mode.  Apparently, no matter what, a cold, strong drink & the company of lady is welcomed.  I ended up going to sit with this guy and his friend.  They had just returned from volunteering at the towers.  "I don't want any dances, just sit here and hang out.  I'll take care of you.  Just sit."  So, I did.  We talked for hours.  At first he kept saying, "They're not telling people the truth on the news.  it is not a search & rescue mission."  I'll spare you the details of what he'd seen.   

We then were able to move onto other topics.  Some serious, some silly, all human.  I was surprised when it came out in conversation who's son he was.  I remain surprised that it takes such drastic events for us to embrace the humanity in each other.  I remain not surprised that when things get crazy in some people's lives, they know that inside the walls of the strip club are ears that are not there to judge.  If you connect with the right one, you will have a friendly, listening ear dressed in sparkly spandex to hear all about it.   

As I walk through today, my silent prayer is that it does not take drastic events for us to remember that we are all people no matter where we come from, what we experience, who we love, how we choose live - No Matter What.  Much Love and Light to us all... 

 

Posted on September 11, 2013 and filed under Essence Revealed.

Black Female Bodies on the Street

I’m standing at the Goddess Walk (anti street harassment rally) next to its creator, Sweet Lorraine.  There were several Black female bodies on the street.  Actually, we were standing in a park at first.  An eight year old boy walked up and read the sign she was holding.  “I try to tell my Dad not to say those things to women.  You have to be a gentleman.  I told him if he keeps doing it, I’m writing him off my list!”  Moments later, his father walked up without knowing we had that conversation with his son.  He was bemoaning the plight of men “like him” who only say polite things as compliments to women on the street.  He refused to hear what the women at the walk were saying (as women who deal with it).  He cut us off and he wasn't listening.  Finally, I said, “You know what?  You’re a pretty man, I’d like to put you in a dress and wig and have you walk once around the block like that.”  He stormed off, arms in the air, exasperated that I’d even suggest such a thing.  “Come on, brother!  I’m just giving you a compliment.  Look at your face, it’s precious!”  He came back later and said with a serious face, “You turned the tables on me.  It hit like a boomerang.  I didn't like that.”  Yeah? Well, neither do we.  Point went to team woman.

Unfortunately, this was one of the few points earned.  On most days, I’m just trying to get to all of my appointments on time.  I’m really good at being over scheduled so it’s not personal if I don’t stop to engage everyone that makes a comment to me on the street.  Oh, and by the way, I don’t owe you any engagement.  This summer has been off the charts with street harassment.  Honestly, I feel a bit lucky, as if I have a remote control on street harassment.  For me, when I dress down, I don’t get harassed much.  However, I hear many women say that this makes no difference.  I am around two such women very often.  I’ve heard stories from these two women that are beyond anything that I have ever had to personally encounter on the streets.  Then just last week I bore witness to a similar such horrible incident of harassment.

Sweet Lorraine is another burlesque performer and also one of my closest friends.  She tends to dress up often.  I tend to dress down when not on stage.  It’s safe to say that I've watched many a human loose it in her presence.  I've watched people struggle to keep their eyes off her breasts as they speak to her.  I've also experienced walking with her when she is dressed down.  Clearly we don’t have the same remote control.  The comments and reactions from people on the street can be non-stop.  In fact, I believe she was dressed down on the day that her being harassed on the street ending with her being pushed by the cat callers.  These and experiences like these led her to create The Goddess Walk.

 

 

 

After watching her video promo for the walk, I had to admit to myself that dressing down is mostly about my being comfortable.  However, a big part of my dressing down is also to take a break from crazy comments like, “I’d bend that over and be all up in it,” while I’m trying to get where I’m going.  The walk has already happened but the conversation continues.

Toy!!! is my laptop buddy.  A fellow entrepreneur and primarily a vocalist, she uses her voice for many of her life’s passions.  She is one of the most passionate people I know.  In addition to using her voice for work and creative expression, she also does a great deal of charity work for the homeless and children.  She’s also a voluptuous red head.  When I say red head, I mean Crayola crayon, currently cut into a fly faux hawk, red.  When I walk down the street with her, I often hear people compliment her for how funky her whole style is.  If I hadn't actually had conversations with her, I’d never know about all the insults and street harassment that also come with that same packaging.  From a very young age, she’s had to deal with extra attention because of having full breasts.  For example, she’s long been given unsolicited advice as to what she should and should not wear.  She’s been coached strongly around how she should and should not act.  Often, it can be a challenge to grow into who we authentically are when others have taught us to believe how they think we should be.

She recently made her voice very heard in this Ladies Remix of the Robin Thicke & Pharell's Blurred Lines.

 

Just last week, I was headed back to Brooklyn with Perle Noire, who had just performed in a benefit show honoring the memory of burlesque legend, Dixie Evans.  We decided to grab a slice before getting into a cab home.  Many people in the pizza shop stopped her to compliment her performance.  There was a drunken white couple who stopped her as she passed their table.  The woman hugged Perle while she sang the praises of her performance.  The woman then decided to take a nibble of Perle’s nipple.  I was shocked and disgusted.  Perle handled it with way more grace than I could have mustered.  Clearly upset by it when she came back to where we were sitting she said, “I don’t know what it is.  My whole life, people just feel like they can just touch my breasts.”  I imagine that one reaction to this would be to try to hide her breasts at all costs.  However, just the inverse, she has won awards like Most Dazzling Dancer at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend Miss Exotic World Festival.  For many performers, the pasties are a reveal at the very end of an act.  Not for the Black Perle of Burlesque.  See her here performing a piece that is a tribute to the Nigerian Goddess of sensuality, intelligence and abundance - Oshun.

Soon after witnessing that incident with Perle Noire, I read When Your Brown Body is A White Wonderland by Tressie McMillan Cottom.  Please read it.  The three women I mention are beautiful by anyone's standards, so that element of the article didn't resonate.  It was the lack of reverence and value of her body that did.  It (and the comments of those who are trying to invalidate her particular experience) made me think about the ways in which women’s bodies are often removed from their humanity as a whole.  No, this is not limited to Black bodies but these are the bodies that I am speaking about in this post.  I, myself, have dealt with people in dressing rooms of strip clubs and burlesque shows grabbing at my behind.  It’s usually followed by a giggle and an “I just can’t help it…”  These are, however, women that I have a working relationship with (a working relationship that involves us being nude or near nude in dressing rooms together while enjoying the break from societies demands on how we should use our own bodies), not strangers on the street.

I am grateful that I have not experienced strangers on the street feeling at liberty to touch me.  So many people are asking why a white woman can’t do a particular dance. Beyond the historical African roots of our dances being ignored by many, it isn't just about that.  Google mapouka, soukous, soca and reggae dances. As a proud stripper, I’m here to tell you that no strippers or New Orleans didn't invent the moves.  What's really troublesome is that "Miley Gate’s" message is that my brown body is OK to be smacked and used as a prop devoid of full human value, yet again, for the sake of pop culture's gain and amusement.  Miley Gate be damned... Goddess bless the fool that now thinks they can grab my ass as if it's their own.

It just is not OK, period.

 

 

Hair Bump Chicken Skin Part 2

I have a dream that one day my legs will look this smooth...

I have a dream that one day my legs will look this smooth...

Technology ate my homework…  I wrote a few weeks ago about Hair Bump Chicken Skin on My Legs & Butt.  The scientific term for the bumps caused on legs, butt and back of arms from the body producing too much Keratin is Keratosis Pilaris (or KP for short).   I promised to report back on the results of the method I chose with before and after pictures.  Then, ALL the pictures I had on my phone disappeared (including the ones from my trip to the Milan Burlesque Festival) into the great cyber beyond, never to be found again.  It took me a few moments of silence, followed by a few cursing sessions (sorry Mummy) to get to a space of acceptance and move on.  I’m better now.  I am ready to report my results thus far, sadly sans pictorial.

My choice for the past few weeks has been option #5 from my first blog – 2% Salicylic Acid face wash (used on affected areas) & Amlactin Lotion.  I’ve been using it twice a day with an exfoliating scrubbing cloth.  From what I read, it would take about two weeks before any results would be seen.  It’s been just over a month and I can say that I do see some results.  The bad news is that the dark marks from the bumps are still visible.  However, the good news is that the feeling of the bumpiness is gone.  My legs and arms feel smoother than they have in years!  Also, there doesn't appear to be any new bumps forming.

 

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I have almond Dr. Bonner’s liquid soap on deck.  I’ve also been giving the coconut oil an apologetic side eye.  Everything I read about it is touting its antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal properties.  I’m debating between keeping the current regimen going for a few more weeks vs. going for the Dr. Bonners with gentle exfoliating and coconut oil route.  In my imagination the coconut oil would fade the spots.  The added moisture from the Dr. Bonners would keep the skin from hardening around the hair follicles.  Speaking of moisture, I recently was gifted a box of goodies from Soakology in Maine.  My favorite item is the balancing bath-melt and body oil.  It is a bar that you can either pinch a bit off and drop into the bathtub or rub in hands to apply to the skin directly as an oil.  Holy moisture heaven Batman!  I want to go to Maine now just to visit Soakology.  Special thanks to my fairy Soakology angel ;-). 

 Has anyone out there tried any methods out on their KP with favorable results?  Share!

I wanna know about it so write and let me know either in the comments or email me if ya the shy type. :-)

 

Sweet Lorraine Talks Goddess Walk

I got to sit down with Sweet Lorraine, Shades of burlesque producer and Brown Girls Burlesque troupe sister to talk about her up-coming event The Goddess Walk.  The Goddess Walk is an anti-street harassment rally happening Aug 24th in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn.  It is another part of her project called The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns.

I've been to a few events done under the umbrella of The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns.  What was your favorite one/why? What is the inspiration behind the festival?

This is hard to narrow down!  All of the events pushed me to a level of growth creatively, spiritually, personally that I am grateful for.  They are all my favorites in that regard.

But I’ll tell you 2 favorites J

1) Oshun Returns sessions are gatherings for women that incorporate yoga, discussion, meditation & creative activities that encouraged women to make time to appreciate themselves.  Topics range from how to enjoy pleasure to releasing painful memories from street harassment.  It was a space where women could be open with each other, share our experiences & celebrate ourselves.  At the end of the session I have the women walk around the space envisioning themselves as Goddesses, confident and loved.  During this, I drop rose petals at their feet.  This is something I think every person should experience!  This is where the Goddess Walk was born.  It’s a reminder that we are all worthy of the goodness life has to offer simply because we exist.  We should be treated as such!

I started this as a practice to be more caring to myself vs. being overly judgmental.  As women we’re taught that everyone else’s needs take precedent over our own.  I had to unlearn that way of being.  These sessions gave me and other women a space to do so.

2) Shades of Burlesque shows are also a favorite.  These shows feature Black burlesque performers in NYC.  There are a great variety in the performances presented, proving that there is no one “black woman experience.”  This show allows us all to define our sexuality while expressing it freely.  I even decorated the space with images of Black Pin-Ups.   Seeing yourself reflected in different mediums whether on stage or in the media in relation to beauty is important to me.  I wanted folks to know that Black women were there during the golden age of burlesque & pin-ups even though our images are rarely shown in historic documentation. 

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When was the first time you experienced street harassment?  What went through your mind?

The first time I was harassed as an openly queer adult was a few years ago when I was walking with my partner at the time.  A man threatened to rape me.  Another man threatened to kill me.  I had never experienced threats of violence associated with street harassment until after coming out.  The incident that prompted me to organize the Goddess walk was when I was harassed by a group of guys & eventually pushed.  I was on my way to the city and hadn’t even made it off of my own Block when a guy says “hey baby…”  I turned & said “My name is not ‘baby’ if you want to speak to me just say hello Miss.”  Then he and the rest of his group cursed me out.  I wasn’t afraid even though there were about 6 guys yelling at me, threatening to steal my phone. Probably because they were teenagers, I have a teenage nephew & 2 younger brothers so that’s why I wasn’t too concerned until one of them decided to push me. It was the first time I was physically assaulted in relation to street harassment.

So many things went through my head: Did someone really just push me, I’m going to call the cops, the cops won’t do anything because I’m dressed non gender specific today, would these young black men treat the white women who moved onto my block like this, Don’t cry, Don’t curse at them, I’ve been meditating twice a day for months, but I have zero compassion to show these kids right now, regroup you still have an engagement in the city… 

I was angry but more saddened than anything.  They were so young and had no respect for me as another human being, especially not me as a black woman.  This experience of lack of respect seemed to be a common experience in my community for Black women & queer folk.

Wow.  That’s pretty horrible.  I’ve had plenty said to me but I’ve not had anyone on the street touch me.  So, the Goddess Walk is approaching.  What do you hope to achieve?

The Goddess walk is an anti-street harassment rally specifically for black women, LGBTQ folk and our allies.  I make the distinction because, in my experience, negative stereotypes associated with Black women in terms of our sexuality influence how we are harassed on the street as well as one’s sexual orientation. 

I feel compelled to organize this event because I don’t want to be afraid in my own neighborhood.  I don’t want to hide who I am. I don’t deserve to be harassed because I am Black, a woman or queer.  I want to be the change. 

 

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Is there anything that you've ever wanted to say to men on the street as they comment when you walk past them?  

YES!  I usually say, “Respect me and respect yourself,” if they say something inappropriate.  I would also like to add please stop assuming things about me as to why I refuse to respond.  I don’t have to respond. Period dot, end of story.

And if I had their attention for 5 minutes I would say this & listen to their response: 

Are you familiar with Stop & Frisk?  Have you ever been stopped & frisked by the cops when you were on your way to work, or the gym, or a night out with your friends?  Did you feel angry that they imposed themselves on you with no explanation simply because they had a badge and a gun?  Can you recall how your body tenses up when you see a cop & you just hope they’ll pass by, but you know they won’t because you fit the description for those who they are supposed to stop & frisk?  Do you think this is unacceptable behavior?

Well that’s how I feel when you harass me on the street.  I hope you think about this before you catcall.

Huh, never thought about it that way, but you’re right about the parallel of imposition.  What advice would you give to "the good peeps" who may want to approach a woman but doesn't want to be thought of as just another cat caller?  I feel like the good folks end up quiet for fear of being disrespectful.  And the disrespectful people shout out loud. 

I think being respectful is always the way to go.  If you say hello and you want to continue the conversation, ask her if she’s willing to do the same if not let it go & move on. 

What are you up to when you're not helping women be able to move freely about the streets? Where can we find out what you're up to?

Performing burlesque, go-go dancing, making pasties, revamping a wig, styling a shoot, writing my solo show, ya know the usualJ  You can check out my comings & goings at sweetlorraineburlesque.weebly.com or find me on www.faceook.com/Lorraine.sweetlorraine 

  Speaking of Facebook here is the Goddess Walk Facebook Event Invite.  Are there future plans for The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns? 

Yes, besides the solo show, my goal is to make Shades of Burlesque a regular monthly show here in NYC.  Consistent visibility for Black women freely expressing their sexuality in their terms, from their many different perspectives is one of my greatest passions.  I can fulfill this desire & my love of performing simultaneously by producing this show :-)!

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