Saturday, November 24, 2012

How I learned to hate


I grew up in a vibrant, diverse, working class community in the suburbs of Boston. My neighborhood was overflowing with kids cutting through yards and filling up the local park at all hours. My parents rented the first floor of a two-family home from an angry landlord who had a fun playground in her yard that we weren’t allowed to play on but did anyway.

I was a loud, overactive student of the Butler Elementary School, where many of the kid’s parents were immigrants, minorities, and families just getting on their feet. I wouldn’t say I was poor by any means. Every morning I woke up in a warm bed, and every night I went to bed with a hot meal in my stomach. I was in a comfortable enough environment that created sufficient conditions for me to grow. But our parents were money conscious enough to remind us that there was a lot we couldn’t afford too.

Every parent worked hard, and the mothers set up a foolproof network to negotiate childcare, exchange babysitter numbers and trade outgrown clothing.  Through this strong community, us kids were able to defy our less than optimal circumstances and grow and learn as we should, while being blind to the reality that some families were struggling more than others.

I remember being so jealous of my friends whose grandparents lived with them. How lucky they were to have their family so close, I thought. Little did I know, many of the parents were really young and had to move in with their parents in order to secure a stable environment for the children.

There was one kid who wore the same sweatpants to school everyday, and when other parents found this out, they shifted their focus on his needs and offered his mom extra clothing in his size. In place of judgment was action backed by a genuine desire to provide where one could give.

I was hardly deprived of anything I needed, although with two diabetics in our family, I would like to point out bluntly that sweets in the house were scarce. I often reminded my mom that my lunches were lacking sugary apple pies. And I proudly adopted the nickname “garbage disposal,” because I would go from table to table at lunch asking for leftover sweets—particularly the sugary apple pies. This became my staple behavior. I had no idea that it involved implications of neediness for I lacked the knowledge that dignity could be lost. Soon, other parents would pack additional snacks for me in their children’s lunches.

I was a particularly zealous kid, who was proud of the fact that I didn’t fit in any particular category. I was a tomboy at heart, and found it my conviction to prove that I could do anything that the boys could. I once spent an entire summer playing basketball with my shirt off, because, in a seven-year-old’s eyes, all was equal. It wasn’t until my mom saw me playing on the playground that she put an end to it. But for me, I had won. I had shut up all the boys who said I couldn’t do something.

Growing up in a diverse community means learning that not every parent can or should pronounce your name as you do. And when you walk into another kid’s home, you shouldn’t expect their families to have the same routine as yours. My mom was a nurse and worked some odd shifts, but we made it work, just like my friend’s family. Her dad worked nights at a packaging warehouse. It was truly a blessing to learn that not every adult had a nine-to-five job as every 80’s sitcom suggested they should.

Butler Elementary School taught me a lot about how to treat people with respect, but it wasn’t perfect. Sometimes, there were factors that seemed extraneous to us that teachers would use to treat kids unfairly. It was as if the education of some kids didn’t matter as much as others’. But despite the values that the teachers brought into our environment, it’s important for me to note that the kids knew better. After all, we spent the earlier years relying on each other’s families for safety and support. Why would some kids matter less if they were part of the fabric of our community?

I spent my fourth grade sitting next to Jonathan. We sat so close to each other that when we took standardized tests, I once snuck a peek at his test just so I could see him check off “African American.” I had only taken a test in my name, and it was a novelty for me to see something other than “Caucasian” checked.

I didn’t cheat again until the division cards. Our goal was to answer all 30 division questions in the fastest time and I was the class winner, but another student was gaining on me, and my fast time had plateaued. In a desperate attempt to maintain my stance, I started the questions before the timer went off, and Jonathan noticed. When he raised his hand, my stomach was in my throat, and the blood rushed to my head. I had never been caught for something of this magnitude before. But when he told the teacher what had happened, somehow the teacher stopped listening to the truth, and she told Jonathan to stop lying, even after I had confirmed my fault. Her words didn’t make sense. Why did she not believe my friend?

I was stunned. I was also 9 years old and wasn’t going to yell, “I was wrong! Aren’t you going to punish me?” For whatever reason the teacher had to take my side, I knew what I did was wrong. Although, the teacher never acknowledged any wrongdoing, the disappointment that Jonathan had in me for cheating and not confronting her was far greater punishment than anything the teacher could have said or done. For the rest of that day, there was a fear and disruption of comfort within the class. This was not the atmosphere that we grew up in. I would discover, later in my years, that in many places, this behavior was considered acceptable.

That night, I confessed in tears that I cheated to my parents without mentioning how the teacher handled the situation. Through my guilt, I was seeking a fair punishment and feared that my parents would dismiss fairness if I brought up Jonathan’s role, just as my teacher had.

Though this was difficult to experience as a kid, this story is a reminder of how grateful I am that I grew up in a community where I learned to discern right from wrong. Of course to this day, I wish I told an adult the whole story.

The summer before fifth grade, my dad found out that there was asbestos on our pipes and lead paint on the walls. It angered him even more to know that our landlord knew this without telling us. He refused to pay rent until the landlord agreed to fix the problem, but instead we were evicted. As a child, I didn’t understand the importance of living in an environmentally safe home, but in hindsight, I remember beating the pipes with a tennis racket to watch the dust explode up into the air, and snacking on paint chips when I was bored.

My dad’s an entrepreneur, and luck happen to be on his side, when he landed some big start-up company role. With extra cash in hand, we were moving to the wealthy side of town.

Just as expected, friends from our community came together to help us move. My friend’s dad, who plowed our driveway every winter, lent us his truck. “Wow Liz, you’re rich," my friends said as we crossed the train tracks into the wealthy side. I ebbed back in the truck with my hands behind my head thinking, "yeah, I guess I am."

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new elementary school called WinnBrook. I was looking forward to being the new kid. My parents were happy to be sending their kids to a “better school.”

I had a good feeling about this new life we were about to embark on. The way my parents talked about the new neighborhood, it was as if they had spent their whole lives aspiring to live on this block and be amongst these people. I adopted their excitement.

My sister and I quickly dismissed the suggestion that our new school may not be as welcoming, when my dad recalled a time at the town pool when a parent whose children went to WinnBrook, struck up a conversation with him. After my dad told her that we went to Butler, she got up and left, mid-sentence.

My first day at Winn Brook fulfilled the glory that I expected it to. I was a new kid. Everyone wanted to know who I was and where I was from. I immediately noticed the lack of diversity in this new school, but figured it would be easier for all of our parents to make friends, since I was sure they all spoke English.

But day two took a dark turn when a girl named Kim asked me what my back-to-school budget was. Without caution, the free-spirited me shined through. When I started to brag about my hand-me-downs coming from the cooler older kids from my mom’s work, Kim’s mouth dropped. She blurted out that her budget was $600 and walked away.

With this and other information-slipping missteps, I had already established myself as the poor kid in the neighborhood, but one thing I was sure could not be doubted was my intelligence. I credit the warm environment of the Butler school, which served as an ideal incubator for kids of all backgrounds to grow and learn at their highest potential. But I didn’t take into account that WinnBrook was a “better school” and my high performance at Butler translated into poor performance, which only got worse as I began to identify myself as a “poor kid”, which in reality was far from the truth.

In Belmont and other surrounding Boston towns, there is a voluntary desegregation program called METCO, which gives African American students from underperforming school districts the opportunity to attend a high-performing school and decrease racial isolation within the school district. At Butler, METCO students were well integrated into the school and community, perhaps because the school was already pretty diverse.

Being different was not revered at WinnBrook. Even as a young kid in elementary school, one still heard the word “faggot” pinned on every tomboy and non-athletic boy in class.  Putting down and isolating those that weren’t like you seemed encouraged, and my next lesson proved to be damaging—

“If a community tells you that you’re a 'dumb, poor, faggot' long enough, sooner or later, you begin to believe them.”

What made the WinnBrook school so different from Butler?
Was it simply the homogenous neighborhood that led to fear of the unknown or was there more to it?
Is this community capable of changing this perception and corresponding actions?

When all of the elementary schools in the town fed into one middle and high school, the desire to be judgmental, hateful and hurtful was contagious and took over. Soon, even the kids from Butler were displaying this mean-spirited behavior, despite what they had been taught.

And I turned too.

One day, a confrontation with a kid, who I knew from Butler resulted with him throwing money at my face and telling me to buy myself a pair of pants that fit, because I dressed like a faggot. The spirit inside us both caved as our souls chased after the bills in desperation, before the wind took them away. But I just stood there, pretending that the five-dollar bill and the three singles were no more important than old cash receipts. And he just stood there with anger in his eyes, trying not to think about the government-funded lunch he ate earlier that day.

I would have kept standing, but this moment had piled on many others. This was my breaking point. I struck hard with the very insult that I knew would make him collapse, and it did. The open culture at Butler revealed secrets that the insecure high school environment would hound over. I belted out offensive rhetoric with conviction, and his angry eyes softened and teared up as the child I remembered before we learned to hate.

For the free-spirited, non-judgmental us were overtaken by fear. And fear destroys all.








***Afterword***
I know I am capable of transforming into a hurtful and harmful person. But love, honesty, non-judgment, inclusiveness, service and standing up for what I know is right, is the only way I have found to create and maintain the environment for which I want to live in.

For many years I rejected the American whitebread community, because that is where I first learned how to hate, but now I’m learning that being inclusive means including the majority too.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Esperanza Spalding -- Still too stunned to write a review

When I saw Esperanza Spalding perform last year with Joe Lovano's Us Five, I stopped writing music reviews, because there wasn't one word I knew that didn't now seem trite and dull, when placed beside their sound.

I've tried to describe what I felt when hypnotized by the melodic twists and rhythmic bouts of unrhythm--I couldn't explain it. I just knew that when the show was over, when the lights turned up and I recognized that I was back in Carnegie Hall, my friend and I asked each other what the hell just happened. What happened? Did everyone else in their chairs feel that? Is this what real jazz is? Still stunned, I rode the train home knowing how rewarding the gift of hearing could be.





Friday, September 28, 2012

Novel Pitch


Hey all,
I hate to leave my blog stagnant for so long, so I thought I would give you a taste of what I've been working on. I wrote out a one-minute pitch for my novel that should give you a sense of what the story is about. But I need your help. An ideal pitch must reflect the feeling of the genre. If you are not "thrilled", tell me why.

And thank you guys for allowing me to write "favored blogger" in my bio section.


Title:
Revel in Red
[ALT title: Red Revel Run]

Genre:
[Fast-paced] Psychological Thriller

Think:
Bourne Identity on speed

Pitch:
Revel Atkinson is found wandering the jungles of the Yunnan province in China. He tells his story of an unlikely athlete, accidentally recruited into an elite training program. When his team is kidnapped by leaders of the Caifu Zai Shuidao, the world’s most notorious Chinese Triad, he must use his wits to survive their torturous and physically demanding elimination process. His morals are tested as he fools the officers into believing that he wants to become a Triad member. The Interpol will call him a convict. Revel will convince them that he was a hostage—no matter how severe the crime or how open the road for escape. This 60,000-word novel has also been adapted into a 120-page screenplay.

The author has worked as a copywriter in advertising for the last decade, is a published author of short stories and narratives in online and print journals, and is a favored blogger. She has a B.A. in Screenwriting from Drexel University.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writing announcement

Hey my avid blog readers,
Thank you so much for supporting all my writing efforts. Every time the stat counter goes up, my motivation soars. As many of you know, I'm right in the midst of the Jamaica Travelogue series. Though I intend to finish this series in a timely manner, my blog presence will be slowing down as I work hard to finish my first novel. If you enjoy reading early draft novels and would like to read mine and give me feedback, you can email me at rokhoppr4@gmail.com.

Thank you all for your patience. Unlike many other bloggers, I value quality over quantity, which isn't the best way to retain heavy readership in the blog world. This is why I respect you guys so much.

-Liz Glines

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not an Olympian


Below is the testimony that I gave at a Wednesday Worship service at Marble Collegiate Church. 


In the Olympics, only one will get the Gold, but what does that mean for the rest of us?


I thought that one day I too would be a professional athlete and go to the Olympics. From ages 5 to 16, my entire life revolved around soccer. Some called it foolishness or unmedicated ADD, and others called it talent. I had this innate ability to charge the ball, face-first, which marked the beginning of my goaltending career. As I got older, I realized that being a scoring forward was the more desirable position, but that just made me appreciate what I did, knowing that others on my team could depend on me to take the position that no one wanted and get the job done.

My dreams of being a professional athlete seemed so realistic and practical to me, and my parents encouraged the dream by enrolling me in the local soccer league each year. When I outgrew my first jersey, I signed it in permanent marker thinking it would be worth something, someday.

I took my ambitions seriously and trained hard. Though there were limited spots for a goaltender on the high school varsity team, I was patient but persistent.

I remember the first time I played in a varsity game. The varsity coach sent someone’s little brother, Ricky, on his bicycle down the street to our JV field. Ricky stopped his bike and pulled out a note from his Doritos bag, which announced that the varsity goaltender had been injured and that I should be pulled out of my game and head to “the big field.”

Even though I only touched the ball twice and was forced by my teammates to hold onto the ball until the clock ran out, playing this game meant that perhaps my dreams were shared and encouraged by others.

The father of one of my teammates believed in me so much, he paid for me to practice and play with an elite club team. This was an opportunity to not only train with a better team but possibly catch the eye of a college scout looking to recruit an ambitious goalkeeper.

Although no one but soccer moms showed up to our games, club soccer opened my world up to other opportunities for exposure. A program called the ODP, Olympic Development Program, caught my attention. I learned that my idol, the US Women’s Olympic team goaltender (at the time), Briana Scurry, played in an ODP when she was my age. I was determined to try out for it the next fall, which would be my senior year of high school.  

I spent nearly every day, the summer before my senior year, running and doing keeper drills by myself, from morning until dusk, when the mosquitos came out. I didn’t want to be that unprepared girl thrown in a game, because there was no other option. I wanted to not only pull my weight but be depended on when needed most.

Pre-season was often nicknamed “hell week,” because anyone that spent the summer in front of the TV had a rough week of overtraining ahead of them, regardless of whether they were ready or not. But I was prepared, and this week seemed so easy, I could not wait for the season to start.

We were playing a scrimmage and were leading our league rivals by six points, which means I was bored silly. The ball hadn't been on my half of the field for a while, so I began to gallop side-to-side to keep my muscles warm. One minute I laughed and thought, “this is my senior year, I’m going to make this team no matter what I do,” and the next minute, I tripped over my feet and instantly broke my collarbone. In a snap, my high school season was over before it began, and I lost my chance of trying out for the ODP.

“There goes the season,” the coach said—the sad reality that I was, in fact, depended on.

As a 16-year-old kid, my whole world revolved around the grades I got and the team I played for. My life was over. I had a learning disability that I never really focused too much attention on. My grades weren’t as strong as they could be, but I was suddenly in a position, where I had to think about not being an athlete. I had spent my high school career avoiding the “how can I afford college” question, because I had depended on earning an athletic scholarship. I was relieved to get accepted to a school, where I could focus on my second passion, writing, but my family wasn't sure how we would be able to afford it.

During the first semester of classes, my life felt an unfulfillable void, but I soon discovered that this other passion would take over my life. I exerted all the energy previously reserved for soccer into improving my writing craft, and I gained the support of my professors, who knew of my financial hardship and encouraged me to apply for grants so I could stay in the program. By the end of my first year of college, I was rewarded a $20,000 writing scholarship. This was enough for me to stay and offered proof that perhaps this writing dream was worth pursuing too.

My writing passion blossomed throughout my college years and took me to New York, where I now work as a copywriter for an ad agency. Because of an injury that marked the end of my soccer career, God had put me on the path to begin something I loved even more.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned from this is to trust in what God has planned for you. Only one will get the Gold, but sometimes there is something better out there for those that fall short.


"I am" by Kirk Franklin

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jamaica Travelogue Part Two-- This day is not the everyday


There’s something about the morning sunshine in Negril that filled me up with this endless vitality. The watersports hut didn’t open until 9am, so I had to spill out some energy to calm down my excitement. I jogged the circumference of Bloody Bay, but I still felt so alive, I had to do more, so I swam a few laps. Within a few minutes of being in the water, I scraped the top of my foot on the rough coral reef. Although I was bleeding and in immediate pain, I shook it off to go windsurfing.

I met up with Sheldon and we both looked out at the bay. There was almost 5 knots of wind, barely enough to plow through the water. I trotted around in the rig that Sheldon fixed up for me, but it didn’t project the glowing moment that I thought it would. When I came back, Sheldon confessed that there was a much bigger sail at the other Riu location, and if I could sail there, I could get it.

After a while of trying to navigate upwind in a narrow channel, I got there just in time to see another windsurfer sail off with the bigger sail. But this journey wasn’t a wasted effort as I convinced the instructor at the other location to trade my magnum board for a short board (A short board sinks in light wind and flies in heavy wind). I spent the rest of my on-water journey trudging through the water with my board sunk past my ankles—the foreign salt pouring in and out of the wound on my foot. "Maybe the wind will be better tomorrow," I thought.

I met up with Ron for lunch at the pavilion, but he looked sick. He explained to me that there had been a banana-eating contest at the pool earlier. But they blindfolded Ron, and fooled him to believe that he was competing with others to eat as many bananas as possible, when in fact, it was only him eating the bananas. I couldn’t hold in my laughter—watching him grimace as he clutched his well-earned free T-shirt.

We were scheduled to board a catamaran at 3pm for a Sunset Cruise. I had time to get my foot checked out by the nurse on staff. The cut was already getting infected from the sun and sand seeping into the wound. I asked the nurse how much it would be for her to see my foot.

“30 dollars.” What? I wasn’t going to be spending 30 bucks for someone to rub Neosporin on my foot, so I kindly limped away and headed to my next undertaking.

I had already promised to bring coconuts for everyone on this sunset cruise. Naturally, if locals could shimmy up a tree to retrieve coconuts, so could I. I walked down the beach to the next Riu resort, Riu Palace, where the bigger, rounder coconuts were somewhat closer to the ground. Still, I had about 12 feet of trunk to get up. In my bikini, I had hardly prepared for contact with a tree trunk. Shortly after a few failed attempts, one of the scuba instructors approached me and demonstrated how to climb up the tree. He had learned when he was five. His daily practice had maintained a child suppleness in him, which explained his transparent movement around the tree. But it was not the stepladder, he made it out to be. Every step seemed to take every ounce of energy I had in me. After three steps, I was exhausted and disengaged my core muscles, which led to my full collapse, followed by the harsh punishment of sliding my belly down the gritty trunk.

I walked around looking for a shorter trunk, perhaps with a patch of grass underneath. Luckily, I found one with ripe, rounded, coconuts and “resort grass;” aesthetically pleasing and plush enough to take a fall if needed. I stretched out the terrified muscles of my torso and cleared the area. I made the first vertical step off the ground. “This isn’t bad,” I thought. I may have gotten the hang of it. I managed to make it up ten steps before realizing how high up I was. Two steps away from the top and the ball of my foot slid a little. Looking down, I realized that I was 20 feet up and the small little patch of resort grass wasn’t going to stop me from breaking my ankle—the fear—the moment where your arms act and contract—anything to keep from falling.

My tired muscles went into overdrive and found a way to the top. I embraced the thick leaves and rested, finding time to look down at the tourists and grounds men impressed by my accomplishment. Somehow, I assumed that a good smack would loosen the coconuts to the ground. I was so wrong. I was twisting and pulling and yanking forever. I managed to get just a few before I had to come down from being so tired. 

Coming down. I never asked the scuba instructor that. My legs and core were exhausted beyond quick recovery, and a safe jump was impossible. After an overcautious attempt to reverse the way I went up, I grit my teeth, as I knew what I had to do. My belly cursed me and my beachside bikini as I slid down the trunk to the ground.

I gathered my five coconuts, all honestly earned, and proudly yet arduously carried them down the beach. A woman at an illegal craft table saw me struggling and asked me if I wanted a plastic bag. The resort encouraged us to not talk to the people trying to sell stuff on the beach, so I ignored her. Then I dropped a coconut, and she picked it up and put it in a plastic bag. I put the rest in the bag, and it made a world of difference. Then she asked me for a coconut in return.

“No way. I found them. They’re mine.”

“And where did you find them?”

“In a tree.”

At that moment, a crowd came out of the woodwork to laugh.

“You climbed the tree? But you’re a tourist.”

“I earned them. They’re mine.”

I thanked her for the bag and carried on.

Out in the distance, I saw the sunset cruise with the wedding party on it about to leave without me. When I got closer, they collectively shouted for me to run. Luckily, I had just my bikini on, so I could run through the water and climb up the rope ladder to make the boat as it departed.

I exhaled with relief and held up the coconuts, which received a jubilant and drunk cheer from the crowd. We all quickly realized that no matter the setting, every well-prepared Jamaican always carries a machete, so thanks to the boat hand, we were able to enjoy our fresh coconut water with rum from the boat’s bar.

The first stop of the cruise was Rick’s Cafe, a tourist attraction, famous for its tall cliff where you can jump into the water. From the moment our boat arrived, we had already divided our group into those who were jumping and those who weren’t. As we climbed up the stairs, locals were asking for tips and donations for their hard work. Though I left my wallet at the boat, I did notice the level of safety that went into ensuring each jump was as risk-free as possible. There was a crowd at the top, which we assumed was the line, but in a blink, I was in front of it. We had to read a sign clearing the workers of responsibility and warning us of dismemberment, and then off I went.

I took a deep breath in before I jumped, and the scare of the drop made me exhale so quickly that by the time I hit the water, I had nothing left. I felt a slap on the arches of my feet, like a hot pepper leaving its mark in your mouth. When I came up for air, I swam quickly to the stairs, realizing now that I had been fed a steep dose of adrenaline.

The bride’s little brother wanted to jump, but couldn’t swim well. You could tell he had this unnerving drive that would never let him regret giving up this opportunity. His five sisters (God bless him) finally let him go. After his defiant jump, and a close watch from the divers, he never stopped smiling. His mission for this trip was accomplished. I had accomplished nearly everything I wanted to in a day, but of course there was something missing. Though what, I couldn't determine.

As we took the sunset cruise back, we stopped to swim through caves. The rocks inside the caves were slippery, but when the wave came in, the water carried us up the rocks to a series of dark hideaways that led to other cave exits. And when we wanted to come down from the rocks, we just waited for a wave to take us down. It sounds easy, but sometimes, if the timing was off, we got stuck trying to carry our weight on the slippery rocks for a quick scare until the waves would save us again.

Although the sunset on the cruise was a cloudy one, I was convinced that I made the most of my day.

This day is not the everyday. And my biggest fear was that this memory would blend into others.

"In a small place, people cultivate small events. The small event is isolated, blown up, turned over and over, and then absorbed into the everyday." -Jamaica Kincaid

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Jamaica Travelogue Part One: Yet I am who I am


Like many others on this trip, I came to Jamaica, fully-wound, stressed and concussed. But being the explorer that I am, I also came with an obscure list of things that I would never be able do in New York. Once we hopped off the plane, I was on the lookout for coconut trees to climb, cliffs to jump off and locals to chat with about politics.

We arrived at the Club Riu Negril Resort and were swiftly welcomed by a light breeze in the form of a collective exhale radiating from the place. Already half-drunk from the yellowbird drinks we were given while in line, we were greeted by Rochelle, who with her calming voice and endless smiles, paralyzed my memory, as I forgot the first half of my day. I involuntarily tested her with my ‘but what if’ rebuttals but was cooled off by the soft words “You’re in Jamaica. No problem.” At that point, all worry had evaporated into space.

I could have left my bags at the lobby, where a bellhop would take them to my room, but I was too impatient to wait for the real day to begin. I threw everything over my shoulder and sprinted to my room to simply dump it on a bed and head to the watersports hut.


I met Sheldon, one of the sailing instructors, and I began my plea to get the biggest windsurf sail and the smallest board available. I wanted to go fast and although I didn’t see a strong wind that would support my plans, I had to believe it was coming. After some smooth talking on my part, I was able to convince Sheldon to get me a 4.5 square meter sail (still too small) and a hi-fly magnum board (still too big and heavy) ready for the next morning. I walked out of the watersports area rubbing my palms together and licking my salted lips. I hadn’t windsurfed in over a year. My time to fly was so close.

Later, I met up with friends at the main dining room for dinner, when excerpts from “A small place” started to trickle in my ear.

“When you sit down to your delicious meal, it’s better you don’t know that most of what you are eating came off a plane from Miami. And before it got on a plane from Miami, who knows where it came from?”

I fell in love with ackee and saltfish. I spent the next week eating all the different dishes in the seafood buffet: red snapper, tilapia, steamed cod, and other fresh dishes that even if shipped from Miami could only taste as good as the chef makes it.

I passed up the buffet of buttered cakes and sweetened puddings—a miracle in many ways. I was drawn to the fruit table. Aside from the usual tropical drink ingredients, the mangoes, bananas and pineapples; there were fruits I had never seen before. Fruits that I assumed got lost in the floods under Noah’s ark. The starapples were an initial favorite and the easiest to eat—sweet and mushy with the texture of a dented pear. It wasn’t until someone from the waitstaff showed us how to eat a jackfruit that I truly appreciated it’s sticky yellow goodness. I guess I never really gave the white pineapple a fair shot, since none of us could figure out how to eat it. Imagine a tougher, stringier pineapple, where the juices and meat are nearly impossible to retrieve, but the taste is just good enough to want to figure it out. What a tease!



The first day of vacation, where everything is new, yet you still can’t erase from your mind that yesterday was less fun. There’s nothing better than today except tomorrow. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jamaica Prologue-- "I am an ugly human being."


Several years ago, I saw Life and Debt, a documentary about Jamaica and it’s struggle with capitalism and poverty. In an effort to maintain it’s independence, the Jamaican government made a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow money with a high interest rate with the additional stipulation of expanding their exports, so local farmers would be competing globally, which they weren’t capable of doing—globalization.

The film shed a dim light on tourism, taking quotes from Jamaica Kincaid’s essay “A small place” which penned US tourists as gluttonous and “incredibly unattractive, fat, pastry-like fleshed” beings, completely ignorant to the problems taking place outside the resort gates.

As a kid, barely out of college, this film was my first exposure to the complexity of economic problems, and the US government’s willingness to compromise the livelihood of others out of capital gain. (The US and Europe make up 80% of the IMF vote.)

I felt so angry at my country for continuing to have a major role in stealing others’ freedoms, and I was uncomfortable in my pastry-like skin, ashamed of the little money I had, and unworthy of my passport and my belongings: for whatever I had won along this life journey had been at the expense of others. Who was I to own it?

This feeling brought me back to the day I realized that life isn’t fair. The little league wouldn’t let me play, because I wasn’t a boy, and my parents couldn't fix it. It just was. But now, the feeling was much deeper and carried more layers. This wound didn’t heal over by throwing my mitt in the dirt and having a good cry. I felt responsible yet hopeless.

Time had gone by, and although the passion faded when others surfaced, I still carried this wound in my heart.

When asked if I would consider traveling to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for a destination wedding, I was thrilled to explore a new place, meet new people that I would otherwise never meet, but I feared morphing into what I’ve come to learn what every US tourist is, “an ugly human being.”

Monday, April 02, 2012

Jasmin gets inked!

[Jasmin's friends who we have nicknamed: Beyonce, Jay Sean and Jeremy Lin (we're focusing all our creativity on the illustrations right now)]

I'm in a daze where I can't believe things are actually happening. The words to this Children's book have been edited and polished, and I've spent the last few months watching the story come alive with the amazing illustration that's taking place in front of my eyes thanks to my genius illustrator, Brandon Engelman. This is just one of 20 inkings that will soon be colored in using a combination of watercolor and digital magic. We're getting closer and closer to publication.

I've already scheduled two readings in late June. The excitement has only just begun!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cassettes we broke; lyrics we lived by

How we discover music is evolving so rapidly, and thinking of these progressions,I am immediately drawn to my earliest music influences--before I realized I could discover music on my own.

My dad was a devout Beatles fan, who wouldn't give up on playing their music until my sister and I had memorized all the songs. One year for Christmas, our Aunt Tony recorded every single Beatles album from record to cassette tapes, where we found endless use. Thanks to my dad, my first CD was "Abbey Road" instead of "Very Necessary" by Salt 'N Pepa.

The Beatles remained the roots of music in our household--a good baseline standard-- but it was in my mom's car, where I became aware that it's not just about music being good. For it to really take hold, it has to reflect the mood you're in and draw genuine emotion from you. Only from there can you grow.

My mom kept her most prized collection of cassette tapes in her silver dodge shadow. It's from this collection of tapes, where my sister and I would find her in her most vulnerable moment. Her body had been possessed by 80's music, and when unleashed in the car, she produced signature dance moves that would terrify jazzercisers everywhere. As much as we mocked her for it, deep down, we were moved by the music too.

There were some albums with only a few good songs hidden throughout the tape, and for that my mom had memorized how many seconds of rewind/fast-forward time it took to get to the next good one. We played them so often, and rewound, fast-forward, flipped, clicked and rewound again, we never realized that cassette tapes were breakable until they were. And we broke a bunch. The tape sometimes snapped completely. So here, I present to you, our greatest accomplishment, for it took years of car trips and a little jazzercising to break all these cassette tapes. Also included are some quotes that are endlessly burned in my mind. Thanks mom.

1. Elton John- Sleeping with the Past
"...and we can dance real close beneath the pulse of a neon light. There's a downtown smell of cooking from the flame on an open grill. There's a sax and a big bass pumping. Lord have mercy!"

"We lose direction. No stone unturned. No tears to damn you when jealousy burns."

2. The Bangles- Everything
"Say my name
Sun shines through the rain
A whole life so lonely
And then you come and ease the pain
I don't want to lose this feeling."

3. Les Miserables Musical- Tape One (Tape Two is still silently intact in its casing)
"In the rain the pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight
And all I see is him and me forever and forever
And I know it's only in my mind
That I'm talking to myself and not to him
And although I know that he is blind
Still I say, there's a way for us"

4. Sandi Patti- Morning Like This
"He inhabits the praise of His people
And dwells deep within
The peace that he gives none can equal
His love, it knows no end"

5. Dick Tracy Soundtrack
"Encore, once again around the dance floor.
Romance is in the picture too.
Cause I'm following you"

6. La Bamba Soundtrack
"Para bailar La Bamba"

7. Madonna- True Blue
"Don't try to run I can keep up with you
Nothing can stop me from trying, you've got to..."

8. Jim Chappelle- Tender Ritual (instrumental)
Magic Sleigh Ride

9.George Winston- December (instrumental)
Variations on the Canon

10. Various Artists- Red Hot and Blue- Cole Porter Tribute
"You do something to me,
something that simply mystifies me."

11. Natalie Cole- Unforgettable
"That's why darling it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too"

12. Beaches Movie Soundtrack
"Oh, the sun beats down
and burns the tar up on the roof.
And your shoes get so hot,
you wish your tired feet were fireproof"

13. George Michael- Faith
"I won't let you down
I will not give you up
Gotta have some faith in the sound
It's the one good thing that I got"

14+ ...and a variety of mixed tapes, one titled "P'Town 1988" that is still considered "playable" although a few songs sound more tired and lapsed than others. This one album truly captures an era with artists like Anita Baker and Phoebe Snow.
"Gonna give it up tomorrow
Got to live it up tonight"

Everyone starts somewhere in their musical roots. I started here. With each artist listed as a seed, I grew, took detours, went through the 60's and 70's in five years, had a dark phase, a reggae phase, an indie phase, a bachata phase, and here I am now, somewhere in the middle of it all, nestled deep between House music and Basement Bhangra, returning sometimes to rest with my comfort food of tunes, the now invincible iTune files arranged in a playlist that I have titled, "Cassettes we broke".

WRECKING_CREW_ORCHESTRA 2012



Here's a dance recital I wouldn't mind attending.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What would your life movie look like?

1 Second Everyday - Age 30 from Cesar Kuriyama on Vimeo.


Cesar Kuriyama saved enough money to take a year off from his busy life in advertising to simply live life and enjoy it. For our benefit, he was able to capture a one-second video clip of each day in 2011 and string together this 6 minute short. This remarkable project landed him an opportunity to speak at TEDtalks on March 6th.

http://blog.ted.com/2011/05/25/the-power-of-one-second-qa-with-cesar-kuriyama

It really had me thinking what my one-year life film would look like. What would your life movie look like?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

He sees the world in color

Five years ago, some friends and I went to Venice Beach, CA, where we met some new friends with a refreshing perspective on life. They lived on the beach all day, surfing working out, smiling, but barely getting by. A simple verbal exchange led me to realize that our new shirtless barefooted friends lived in a completely different world than we did.

“Where did you get that shirt?” the free-spirited Kai burst out.

“Umm, I bought it in New York,” so boring, I had no interesting story behind this particular purchase.

“Wait! You bought it? Did you guys hear that? She said she BOUGHT it…” I felt increasingly uncomfortable, now.

…in NEW YORK.”

While they were sharing a laugh, I looked at their young eyes and dirty feet. In this moment, it became clear to me that we had chosen a different path in life. I chose education, a career and the endless circle of consumerism; while they chose to keep their young eyes and live completely detached of all material goods…and without shoes and shelter. But were they really so apart from my world that the simple idea of exchanging goods for money was so foreign to them? And would I ever understand? I couldn’t fathom what kind of answer they were expecting.

Kai stopped himself in his state of laughter and explained.

“I’m sorry. It’s just; we don’t get people from New York that often. In Venice Beach, we say BOUGHT.”

This is where I realized in my time in New York, I started to acquire a Brooklyn accent. I retraced my words that started it all.

“I BWOT it in New YOWAK.”

Despite these little misunderstandings, Kai and his friends became our premier tour guides, inviting us to local-only events that I couldn't find on web sites when I got back.

Although concerns of job security, career life, planning and societal pressure will always keep me from being able to live a carefree lifestyle like Kai's, there is that tiny piece of me that wants to surf all day, live off of breakfast burritos and not be so connected to money.

If I ever feel stressed out or anxious, I know that somewhere, Kai and his friends are sitting on the boardwalk telling some wound up tourist, "It's life. It's great. Relax and enjoy it. That's what it's for."

...
If you hang out in Venice Beach Park long enough, you’ll see Kai skateboarding, doing handstands and flips and just being happy. No education, no career experience, no tangible collections of a past, just a boy who always wanted to live on the beach and play all day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Racial and Faith Equality

I love that feeling of starting a project that’s your own and carrying it through to the end. I’ve decided to have Jasmin’s Summer Wish illustrated and self-published, so I can share it with more kids. Leading this project means that I can have the final word on both the art and the copy, which is so empowering. Since we’ve started the illustration process, the meaning behind the book has taken on a whole life of it’s own.

Jasmin, the main character, was initially set out to be ambiguously multi-racial to appeal to more kids in the city. I knew I wanted to have many kids identify with the main character, but recently, it grew more important that this book teach a lesson in racial and religious equality. Having a semi-brown main character only brushed over this issue.

I noticed that in New York, which has a relatively large Sikh community, there is very little awareness of who Sikhs are. If I didn’t have friends to help open my mind about accepting all faiths, I’m afraid I might also have made cringing judgments I’ve heard others make against people wearing turbans in New York. This fear of the unknown has caused much discrimination against Sikhs, and there is very little exposure to defend their community.

I thought it was important to show kids in New York that their neighbors aren’t so elusive and unknown. And I thought it would be important for Sikh kids to have a character they can identify with. So, that’s why I decided that Jasmin, as well as one of her friends in the book, will clearly be Sikh characters.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I dream big

I dream big. I dreamed last night that I sold my novel. Simon and Schuster had scheduled a meeting early in the morning, and they put me up in a fancy penthouse hotel room in Soho the night before, which was interesting since I live blocks away from that neighborhood. I pretended that I lived in the hotel room, which was several times bigger than my apartment, counting the square-footage in the fire escape. That night, I went grocery shopping, filled the fridge with fresh produce, and cooked dinner for my friends using the stainless steel Viking oven that I had stumbled across. I opened the large loft windows, exposing my view to other windows in the sky. This is when I got the first taste of real wealth in New York City. These large windows exposed me to happy families dancing around their spacious apartments—the kind of apartments that you look for in Halstead Realty, just because. Because, that’s what you look for when you dream. Then suddenly, their windows went static. I had been watching TV screens, and these happy memories I was growing envious of were actually pre-recorded, rehearsed memories that didn’t really exist. I woke up promising to finish this novel for myself and to dream big, stay foolish, but stay humble.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Oh my God, it's the Curry Smugglers-- A review


I'm sitting in a NYC coffee shop, listening to the Curry Smugglers Season 5 finale. I may be sitting next to a drafty door, but I feel like I've just materialized in the hottest club, drunk on life, rubbing against shirtless Goans, and hearing only the tightest remixes with all aspects of Desi flair.

DJs Paresh and Sachin have taken the time to sift through everything from Bollywood remixes to Bhangra and Goan trance, and they showcase only the artists they feel deserve the premier platform they have built together. They stand confident in their music selections and have a wealth of knowledge behind the effort put into the tracks.

After listening to five seasons of the Curry Smugglers free podcast, (also available on their website www.currysmugglers.com) I realized this show wasn't just made to fill the void for the bollywood meets hip-hop crossover. There is a whole world out there of talented artists who have perfected the details behind the melodic pull that can rock a club off it's foundation but don't necessarily have a voice in the commercial music world. The Curry Smugglers have stepped up to give these artists that voice, while being passionate about playing good quality music regardless of it's commercial success.

The Curry Smugglers defend a track from Raghav, who recently went under scrutiny for his new album being less traditional and too "commercialized" in an abridged excerpt below:

Paresh: He's not just Asian. He's an artist. He's supposed to try different stuff. Let him branch out.

Sachin: I don't think music needs to be seen as a commercial track or not. If you like it, you like it.

Paresh: At the end of the day, if people hear the song in the club, and there's some booty-shaking girls in the club, who cares?

Of course with this DJ duo, there is the "crack up in a public place" entertainment factor, guest interviews, blunt opinions about the Bollywood music industry not cutting it, and the human quality the smugglers bring when they melt in the presence of Honey, the Bollywood gossip guru from The Daily Honey.

As I break into Season 6, I have proclaimed myself a smuggler for life. And you will too.

Need more Curry Smugglin love? You can also follow them on twitter: @currysmugglers

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Number 81 CHECK

Number 81 on the bucket list- Help my dog catch a squirrel

So things are going to change on this blog. I'll be writing more often, You'll be happier and tell all your friends, and I'll be happier, because I get to share more thoughts with you. I'm looking forward to crossing more things off my bucket list, so stay tuned...

PEPPER'S STORY
When I first met my dog, Pepper, it was love at first sight. I was sitting alone in my apartment in South Boston in the beginning of 2009, and my sister, Kitty, called to ask if she could come over. I knew things were rocky between her and her boyfriend at the time, so I was prepared to put on my empathetic face. In about ten minutes, I was greeted by a severely underweight pointer named Pepper. I could tell that she hadn’t been bathed in months, and we laughed as we took turns holding our breath and hugging Pepper in a staggered rotation to ensure her that she was in a safe space.


“We have to save her,” Kitty said. She explained that after her boyfriend lost his six-figure salary job as a chef at a country club, he started canceling one luxury after another—his car, cable television, and later, the dog. He was now making 8 bucks an hour, cooking shitty bar food and could barely afford to feed himself. He grew depressed and crazy and expressed in passing that he was going to take Pepper to the animal shelter that puts dogs down, so that it would be a “clean break,” and Kitty dumped that boy, took her stuff, and dog-napped Pepper to my apartment.

And then I had a dog.

The most amazing dog really. She was so well behaved I thought. She was always leaning by my side. She knew all these amazing tricks that I didn’t have to teach her. But then I realized just how poorly treated she had been. She did whatever I told her to, because she had dependence issues and was beaten by her previous owner in shocking ways.

Every time I took her to the vet, I would discover the other methods of torture that she had endured in her past life: she had multiple Beebe wounds, was by a truck, had her ears chewed in dog fights, and was 20 pounds underweight. I had to feed her puppy food to fatten her up for the next 6 months.



She only smiled once, and that was when I took her on long walks. She would leave her stoic manner at the apartment and the creases at the edge of her mouth would curve up gradually as she led me on these expeditions. Pointers are working dogs by nature, which I learned quickly when she led me on these multi-mile walks with conviction. That was until Pepper saw a squirrel. And then all obedience, dependence and any memory of her frightened past would vanish, and she had determined that her life revolved around one thing, capturing that animal.

The proud foster mom that I was, I was determined to help her catch a squirrel, for I felt that achieving this goal would bring her complete joy and perhaps then, she would forget her past.

I would stealthily unleash her, avoiding the “leash your dog” signs, if I thought she was within biting reach of a furry creature. She only came close once, and confirmed that this was not a game of tag. A loud bite barely pulled out stray gray hairs from a lucky squirrel’s tail. She licked her lips. Her victory was so close.

Then, 2009 being what it was, I lost my writing job and was forced to take my old college job at the sailing center, where I got paid much less. At first, I cut my cable. Then I quit my gym…

Then I lost my apartment, and Pepper and I moved in with my parents. As I searched to find myself in the unfamiliar turf of depending on my parents, I was relieved to find that Pepper found pleasure in running around the acre long property, as well as the rest of the town.

I found personal defeat in Boston and sought relief in the New York industry, which had several job offers waiting upon my decision to move back. But how could I bring my now overweight and restlessly energetic dog to a tiny New York apartment? My parents agreed to take care of her. In fact, they had grown so attached to Pepper that they had their own aspirations for her. My mom enjoyed going on long morning walks with her, and my dad had plotted an evil plan to get back at the groundhog that had a vendetta against him and his garden.

But guilt still ensued. How could I have abandoned a dog that had been abandoned? I was finally back in New York making money, but I felt like I had pawned off something important to me. Furthermore, I could no longer give Pepper the opportunity to catch a squirrel, which had been a personal goal of mine. My dad would send me messages about how Pepper had adapted life in the country. Together, they flushed down a deer and sought revenge on wild turkeys.

A few months ago, while my dad was training Pepper to scare away the groundhog, she had cornered a wild rabbit that was 4 times the size of a squirrel, broke it's neck, and presented it to my dad as a present. This picture was texted to me during my lunch break at work.


Pepper found her catch, and from what I hear, she has been smiling ever since.
CHECK!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Jasmin’s Summer Wish


 Jasmin was a kid like you; she lived in New York City.
She loved warm weather oh so much that summers made her giddy.
But one hot day, the hottest day, there reached a record high—
a temperature of 102 was too hot to deny.

Jasmin still just skipped along, and when some expressed disdain,
She’d smile and say in a laid-back way, “It’s summer, don’t complain.
I’ve waited all year for summer to come,
and it breaks my heart that you wish we were numbed
by snow or slush, or by cold or rain.
Why would you wish for yourselves this pain?”

She made her point. She could have left, but instead she turned around.
“In fact,” she said as she swayed her head, “I wish it was summer all year round.”
Suddenly, the sun did something no one could foresee
when the thermostat crept up from 102 to 103.

A heat wave struck the city hard, and many dreamed of days
when rain would force them inside to play board games as they grazed.
“Jasmin!” they said.
“Don’t you wish the heat would fizzle,
or for raindrops, a sprinkling, a flurry, or drizzle?”

But Jasmin shook her head and said, “Summer should be forever;
to deny ourselves of sunny skies would simply not be clever.
And I truly doubt you want weather that causes such a bummer—
For you must admit, the only time you wish for cold is summer!”

From Indian summers to African winters—the heat wave lasted years.
And naturally, the city changed. To all but Jasmin, was it clear.
It finally came to her during a game of hide-and-seek,
When her friends sought refuge in the frozen food isle for a week.

A gasping realization came to her and made her say,
“The NYC I loved is now a boring place to play.”
Over air-conditioned spaces.
Empty parks and playground places.
No more relay-running races.
Endless frowning flower faces.

Confused by this, she wandered into Central Park to ponder
and remembered all the seasonal events she once was fond of.
They used to freeze this dried-up pond: a place that she could ice skate on,
and where she jumped in piles of autumn leaves is now a grassless lawn.

As she walked past faded gardens, little Jasmin pieced together
how the city is affected by these changes to the weather.
And most of all she understood that growing plants need rain,
and also cold—’cause everything must fall to rise again.

Jasmin closed her eyes and wished for seasons to return—
for snowfall, frost and chilliness, her lesson had been learned.
And just like that, the clouds rolled in and blew an autumn breeze.
Winter coats went back on sale so people wouldn’t freeze.

Jasmin was so happy to have seasons as before.
Still, when the summer months arrived, she smiled slightly more.