WHAT’S NEXT: Birthdays And The Promise Of New Days

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My mom tells me that she laboured for a fairly long time when I was born. I finally made my grand appearance on the evening of May 10th, then caught my first sunrise on May 11th, beginning my first full day of life.

Whenever I think about what some of the energy of that May 10th must have been like, I see how it recreates itself on nearly every birthday that has followed. The flurry of activity, the anxiety, the flood of emotion, the celebratory well-wishes, the love, and the wondering of “OK – now what? What’s next?” May 10th is always a high vibration day, but after that sunrise on May 11th things start to settle into whatever “next” is, the same way I imagine it did back when I was born.

It’s felt like I’ve been labouring for a while. Life has been hitting me with wave after wave of discomfort that must be pushing me towards some kind of breakthrough – at least, that’s what I tell myself to have made it through the last 4 weeks with my sanity relatively intact.

There’s been the disappointment of reaching the end of a contract at a dope job after hoping that months of renewal plans would pan out, then learning 2 days before contract end that everything had changed. There’s the effort it takes to get used to switching a side hustle to a main, and hitting a new stride with freelance and entrepreneurial work. There’s the panic that sets in when one of North America’s most prominent children’s hospitals calls and tells you something might be wrong with the baby still in your womb, the days of anxiety before testing, and the overwhelming relief when everything turns out to be OK.

There’s the guilt you feel when you decide to take your toddler out of her regular daycare routine to be financially responsible, knowing that kids are resilient and she’ll love the time with Mommy before her sibling arrives, but still wondering how you blinked and became a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom. Then, there’s dealing with the aftereffects of a car accident. Being rear-ended as a pregnant woman, even in less serious collisions, has a greater impact – thanks to changing centres of gravity and shifting organs and loosened ligaments that are more easily sprained. At least, that’s what my physiotherapist tells me, who I see twice a week to stabilize my body – something that seems like an oxymoron because my pregnant body feels anything but stable.

So, I’m here. I’m OK. My babies, both the one breathing oxygen and the one swimming in amniotic fluid, are fine. Nothing has been catastrophic or insurmountable. It’s just been a lot in a short period of time, and my true Taurean tendency to have difficulty with change is something I have to keep in check every day. Focusing on everything that life encompasses these days led me to almost forget my birthday – something utterly unheard of, since I generally start counting down on April 10th then celebrate for the whole month of May. Even with all the distraction, this May 10th was still full of those usual birth day energies, but the two that won out were love and “What’s next?”

Being reminded that there are amazing people in this world who love me is sustaining. I drank it in and was nourished by it all yesterday. Little Magician sang “Happy Birthday” to me more times than I could count, and every time sounded like the first time to me. And now, it’s May 11th. I’ve seen my first daybreak on this new trip around the sun, and I’m ready to think about what’s next. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone and out of alignment, and my plans for what the next few months look like before #BossBaby arrives have been thrown out the window too. Maybe my plans have been thrown away so that my hands are free to catch something else. Maybe my comfort zones needed new, broader boundaries and maybe my alignment will be better now than it was before. Time will tell, but through it all I’m learning more about myself and the people around me than I possibly could without all of these ups and downs.

I have life. I have love. I have another day and another year to do my best in all things and to see myself bloom from the tightly closed bud I seem to have become lately. May 10th was for me. May 11th is for the future. And what a bright one it shall be.

EASY & FLY: Bee’s Crochet Braid Experience

Crochet braids! (right photo courtesy of Jessica Laforet)

Crochet braids!
(right photo courtesy of Jessica Laforet)

If you know me, you know a few things when it comes to hair:

  1. I get bored easily.
  2. I love low-maintenance looks that don’t look low-maintenance.
  3. I like to give my crown a break every now and then.

Those points being said, my usual go-tos that satisfy all three have been box braids and Marley twists. They’ve both allowed me to switch my style up in various ways, they’re both low-maintenance with the versatility to be glam, and when they’re not too tight or left in too long and I take care of my scalp, my natural hair flourishes.

Last year, I wanted to try another protective style that would satisfy my three hair points, and decided to give crochet braids a whirl. I quickly fell in love – and because I’ve had folks ask a number of questions about my crochet braid styles, I thought I’d share in this post!

Now – crochet braids can easily be installed by yourself (visit YouTube University for tutorials), but my cornrowing skills are basically non-existent so I leave it to the pros. My pros in Toronto have been Hair By Glenna and V Crochet Braid Creationz (who did my hair at last summer’s Braids For AIDS braiding fundraiser).

The look basically consists of cornrowing your own hair, then hooking and looping extensions into the cornrows. The versatility comes in with your choice of extension texture or style – I’ve done crochets with two different types of curl (FreeTress Water Wave, and Outre Cuevana Bounce), but have seen people with straight styles, braids, twists, and locs. Aside from the usual loosening up of the fresh cornrows, I’ve experienced next-to-no pain or tension on my hair, making it a really comfortable style to rock.

FreeTress Water Wave (with some of the fabulous crew from Women's Health In Women's Hands Community Health Centre!)

FreeTress Water Wave (with some of the fabulous crew from Women’s Health In Women’s Hands Community Health Centre!)

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Outre Cuevana Bounce

Styling it over the weeks of wear can get creative too. I always ask my stylists to cornrow my hair in a way that allows me to do a centre or side part to switch things up, and as long as the parts and loops don’t look too obvious, I’ll pull the top back with a hair clip when I need to get it out of my face. Accessories also become my best friends. Gold hair clips and scarves have been my best friends, helping me to jazz things up when I need to. Depending on curl style, your look may get even better as it ages, or you can reset and retwist to freshen up your look. I usually leave my crochets in for 4-6 weeks, and even when I think it looks horrible by the end days, a fly sista will always compliment me – so I figure it can’t look that bad 😉

So, how do I take care of the crochet braids and my hair/scalp? Hair By Glenna gave me some great tips.

It’s important to keep the scalp clean without disturbing or ruining the texture of the extensions, unless you have a type that can be wet and refreshed. With mine, I’ve cleansed my scalp two different ways so as not to ruin my texture: either by putting a bit of shampoo or conditioner on an old toothbrush, scrubbing between the cornrows, spritzing the parts with water, then towel/blow drying OR by using daily sprays of rosewater (read up on some of rosewater’s benefits here).

rosewater

To moisturize, I’d apply my favourite light scalp oil like rosemary oil, and keep it movin’.

Depending on how your stylist finishes your cornrows, taking crochet braids out might feel a bit awkward until you get into the rhythm. I usually just start by un-looping or carefully cutting the extensions from my cornrows, then find the ends of my cornrows and start unraveling. A good wash and detangle later, and I’ve been left with beautifully rested hair.

Have you tried crochet braids? Leave a comment with your thoughts and tips!

PAST GEM: The Beauty of Bacchanal: Celebrating Feminine Freedom Through Carnival

As I recently said on Twitter, it’s getting close to that time of year where I mute any words related to Trinidad Carnival. I’m missing out on the bacchanal this year, and of all the flavours I could choose to be, I chose to be salty. To all my people headed down for the beaches and the fetes and the road, stay safe and have fun! I’ll try to leave my hating to a minimum.

I figured it would be a good time to share a past piece I wrote for For Harriet about my love of Carnival and how it makes me feel as a woman reveling in herself and her culture. Take a read!

Toronto Caribana 2015

Toronto Caribana 2015

“Ah feelin’ sexy,
Ah feelin’ sexy,
Ah feelin’ sexy,
Heyyyyyyy! Ah feelin’ mehself!” 

     – Patrice Robers, Ah Feelin’ Mehself

There was a moment during this year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade when this song came on and my body reacted instinctively. Hands in the air, head thrown back, hips swingin’ and waist winin’. I belted out the lyrics with all my heart while all the women around me did the same.

We were all different shapes and sizes, decked out in our Carnival regalia under the summer sun. Some of us wished we had a bit more body to fill out our costumes. Some of us wished we had a bit less. Some of us arrived to the parade with insecurities showing themselves in the way we tugged at bra straps and adjusted bottoms and tried to cover rolls and stretch marks. When Patrice started singing, however, all of those worries evaporated. We were feelin’ sexy and we were letting the world know.

Years of attending and participating in Carnivals in Toronto, Miami, and St. Vincent have given me gifts that I don’t believe I would have received anywhere else. Carnival provides a unique opportunity to revel in my Caribbean heritage and unveil insights about myself as a woman, a new mother, and a sensual being, and I’m always grateful for it.

“I grew up as a real good girl,
Always home, don’t go nowhere
But since I was introduced to Carnival
They say I loose”

– Destra Garcia, Lucy

Though I love Carnival, I understand that it isn’t for everyone and the reasons therein are myriad. Some members of my extended family deride it as “sinful” and “unbecoming behaviour,” and while I respect their opinion, they’ve come to respect that I’ll play mas (participate in costume in Carnival parades) anyway. Attempts to enlighten each other to our respective positions on the topic are often unfruitful. I don’t accept that Carnival makes me a disgrace or shows a lack of self-respect. They don’t accept that Carnival makes me feel free.

After taking a year off with the birth of my daughter I was back on the road this summer, to the surprise of some. “But, you’re a mom now!” is the rallying cry of those who incorrectly thought that motherhood would remove the bashment and bacchanal from my spirit. I’m a mother with a daughter who will be immersed in her Caribbean culture, which includes navigating Carnival and playing mas should she choose. I want her to be safe, but I want her to have the space to receive the gifts of self-expression and self-acceptance I’ve gotten from mas. I’m raising a Carefree Black Girl, and nothing is more carefree than a wonderful Carnival experience.

“A new day dawnin’, in fete it callin’
No time for stallin’, let’s go let’s go!
Wake up everyone who sleepin’
Meet me on the road
New inspiration, no contemplation,
Deliberation, let’s go let’s go!
Wake up everyone who sleepin’
Meet me on the road”
– Fay Ann Lyons, Raze
Carnival reminds me to love my body — the way it looks in my costume, the way it moves when the music courses through it, the way it feels when Carnival is over and my muscles have that good burn. It gives me room to wave my island’s flag with abandon, to hear patois and creole and kreyòl spoken proudly, and to submerge myself in the familiarity of my culture. It allows me the opportunity to educate people who have no clue what all the fuss is about, or wonder why fete-lovers hop from Carnival to Carnival, or who fixate on sexualizing the event without understanding the history and context behind it.

Carnival has helped me to assess my ideals of respectability, evolve past my judgment of others, and give myself permission to fully embrace different aspects of myself. Carnival is an indelible part of my expression of womanhood and the freedom, celebration, and exuberance that it contains.

I’m still on a post-Carnival high where I dance instead of walk and I’m finding glitter remnants on my body even after multiple showers. Until the next mas rolls around, my goal is to hang on to this vibe for as long as I can without letting the humdrum of the everyday cloud it over. Even if life’s stresses threaten to box me in with no exit in sight, I know it’s only a matter of time until Carnival comes around to make me feel free again.

STAY FLY: Fashion Inspiration For The 2017 Black Diamond Ball

We’re in the midst of Hollywood award season and I don’t know about y’all, but taking in the range of red carpet style – from the daring Grammys to the glamourous Oscars – always makes me yearn for a moment to get dolled up, too.

If you’re like me and in (or can get to) Toronto on February 25th, get your fashion fix at the Black Diamond Ball at the Fairmont Royal York, put on by ArtXperiential Projects and TD!

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Now in its second year, the Black Diamond Ball has become one of the most anticipated Black History Month events in Toronto. Among all the planned entertainment for the evening will be performances from Glenn Lewis, Michie Mee, Divine Brown, Vita Chambers, Simone Denny, and the one and only Brandy! Tickets are going fast but still available at via their website, so get yours before they’re gone!

 
Once you’ve snagged your ticket, you might be thinking about the inevitable: What do I wear??? Well, I’m here to help! Let’s take some style inspiration from recent red carpet looks, then follow up with some tips from Toronto-based stylist Megan Hamilton of MKH Styling!

Gabourey Sidibe gave colour and print at the 2017 Image Awards - and I loved that her eyeshadow was the perfect matching blue to her dress!

Gabourey Sidibe gave colour and print at the 2017 Image Awards – and I loved that her eyeshadow was the perfect matching blue to her dress!

 

Mahershala Ali gave a clean white look at the 2017 SAG Awards. The black accents and sockless-ness (is that a word) tickled me. Man was made for a suit.

Mahershala Ali gave a clean white look at the 2017 SAG Awards. The black accents and socklessness (is that a word?) tickled me. Man was made for a suit.

 

Solange always comes through with ethereal style! At the 2017 Grammys she was all gold in a structured gown with high slit. Don't be afraid to try a new shape to your dresses!

Solange always comes through with ethereal style! At the 2017 Grammys she was all gold in a structured gown with high slit. Don’t be afraid to try a new shape with your dresses!

 

I loved that Donald Glover went with this chocolate, textured suit for the 2017 Golden Globes. The purple bowtie was a beautiful pairing. Suits don't have to be boring!

I loved that Donald Glover went with this chocolate, textured suit for the 2017 Golden Globes. The purple bowtie was a beautiful pairing. Suits don’t have to be boring!

 

BDB-Mya

Speaking of suits, Mya wore this fly red outfit for a sexy yet structured look at the 2017 Grammys.

 

TV writer Kirk Moore showed that suits in colour are red-carpet worthy. Don't be afraid to have fun with your 'fit!

TV writer Kirk Moore showed that suits in colour are red-carpet worthy at the 2017 Image Awards. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your ‘fit!

 

And speaking of colour - Viola Davis shows you how to do it right.

And speaking of colour – Viola Davis shows you how to do it right at the 2017 Golden Globes.

 

Want to really step out of the box? Try pairing separates like Rihanna did at the 2017 Grammys!

Want to really step out of the box? Try pairing separates like Rihanna did at the 2017 Grammys!

Megan Hamilton is the founder of MKH Styling, where her aim is to not only make people look good, but feel good too. Full disclosure – she’s also my sister, so I’ve been able to utilize her services, and she came THROUGH when I was pregnant with Little Magician! Here are some quick tips from her on putting your best foot forward for the Black Diamond Ball:

  1. If you’re not comfortable in a dress, a pantsuit or jumpsuit can be an equally fabulous option for a gala affair.
  2. Trying to think of a cool accessory? Don’t forget your nails! Nail colour and/or design can be the perfect touch to your outfit.
  3. Rocking a suit? A statement sock with a bright colour or print can set your entire look off in a memorable way.
  4. If you’re wearing any kind of sheer item, remember the importance of nude undergarments. For women of colour, check out lines like Canada’s own Love & Nudes to match your foundation pieces as closely as possible.
  5. For suits especially, don’t leave the house until your clothing is properly pressed or steamed! There’s nothing worse than being on the red carpet in a wrinkled outfit!

So, there you have it! Some inspiration and some helpful hints to get you ready for the Black Diamond Ball! Have fun, and stay fly!

*Disclosure: this was a sponsored post in partnership with the Black Diamond Ball.

#HIDDENFIGURES: Uncovering Our Stories [+ CONTEST]

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We’re in a new year, filled with new dreams, goals, plans, and wishes. On a micro and macro level though, I’m seeing how important it is that we know where we’ve been so that we can know where we’re going. A perfect example of this is the upcoming official premiere of Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Here’s a synopsis of the film:

Hidden Figures is based on the best-selling non-fiction book written by a Black woman (Margot Lee Shetterly) about three amazing Black women at NASA.

The film recounts the story of the African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who, while working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, helped NASA catch up in the Space Race. Using their calculations, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth.

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When news of this movie came out, the resounding commentary centered around the fact that this incredible story has gone relatively unknown until now. How much of our history – especially the history created by Black women – has gone uncovered?

In my writing last year, it was of great importance to me to use my platforms to share the oft-hidden stories of Black women, past and present:

For The Establishment, I wrote about Black Caribbean women who came to Canada in the 1950s under the country’s West Indian Domestic Scheme.

Over at For Harriet, I wrote about 8 women dancehall artists the world needs to know.

Speaking of dancehall, back at The Establishment I wrote about women in Jamaica’s dancehall culture and how they control their spaces within it.

On the Globe & Mail, I interviewed Eden Hagos, founder of Black Foodie, and discussed the intersections of food, race, and culture.

For Revolt, I featured the women of Gyalcast, to highlight the unique way they helped put Toronto on the map in 2016.

And on this very blog, I recently wrote about Viola Desmond and why she should never be called “Canada’s Rosa Parks.”

With so many people saying “I didn’t know about the women in Hidden Figures!” how do we avoid that same erasure in the future? Hopefully by continuing to uncover our histories and share our stories as they unfold in the present, we’ll be able to combat the disrespect shown to the contributions that marginalized people have made to society. It’s imperative that we not only find ways to learn about the hidden aspects of our relative histories, but to also use whatever platform we have to spread that knowledge to others. When we know better, we can do better.

hidden-figures-poster-5 hidden-figures-poster-octavia-spencerhidden-figures-poster-janelle-monae

I’ve questioned some of Hidden Figures’ marketing strategies (I mean, it’s nice to say that strength, courage, and genius have no gender, limit, and race, but those are very real obstacles these women had to overcome – let’s own that and not sanitize it), but I’m ultimately extremely excited to see the film when it opens this weekend. Little Magician is too young to sit through the flick, but I feel it’ll be one of those oldies but goodies that I’ll bring out for her to watch when she’s older, so that she can be inspired by the accomplishments these women made in the past and – hopefully – how far we’ve come since then, and now.

Are you excited to see Hidden Figures? Comment below and let me know why – you could win a pair of tickets to see it during the crucial opening weekend when it officially opens on January 6th*

*contest open to Canadian residents only

VIOLA ISN’T ROSA: Viola Desmond & The Erasure Of Black Canadian History

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson with Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau - via lpress.com

Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson with Canada’s Minister of Finance Bill Morneau – via lpress.com

I’m not sure what troubles me more – that so many Canadians are unfamiliar with Viola Desmond, or that so many feel the need to validate her experiences by comparing her to Rosa Parks.

Both of these options are tragedies. Let me tell you why.

Last spring, the Bank of Canada launched the #bankNOTEable campaign, soliciting votes from Canadians on which woman they would like to see on a new bank note. 26, 300 submissions were narrowed down to 461 eligible candidates, which was further whittled down to 5 finalists: E. Pauline Johnson, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean, and Viola Desmond. Desmond was announced today as the winning selection for the campaign, thus becoming the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulated bank note, other than the Queen. Starting in 2018, Desmond will replace Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, on the $10 bill.

Upon hearing the news, I started a tweet thread about Viola Desmond and her history. Desmond was a Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia, who was arrested in 1946. While waiting for her car to be repaired, Desmond went to watch a movie at a theatre in New Glasgow, NS. Desmond had specifically requested a main floor ticket, but was given a balcony ticket – unbeknownst to her, the main floor was for Whites only, with Black patrons segregated to the balcony level. When the ticket taker blocked her from entering the main level, she went back to the cashier to clarify her request for a main floor ticket. The cashier refused, saying “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Desmond took a seat on the main level anyways, once she realized that the only thing barring her was the fact that she was Black. Theatre staff later demanded that she move to the balcony, but she refused – she could see better from the main level, and could afford to pay the difference between the two tickets. The manager of the theatre advised that he had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person,” and refused to take her money to pay for the main floor ticket. Because of her resistance, police were called and she was dragged out of her seat, suffering a hip injury in the process. She was put in jail overnight, charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the tax difference between the balcony and main tickets (1 cent), and freed in the morning when she paid the $20 fine.

Desmond knew that tax was not the reason for her arrest – it was her Blackness. She was not informed of her rights during her arrest or her trial and was subsequently convicted. After two unsuccessful appeals, legal action on the case slowed to a halt. In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by the Government of Nova Scotia (Canada’s first), and today, the Bank of Canada named her as the new face of our $10 bill.

The fact that so many people have admitted to not knowing who Viola Desmond was says so much about Canada’s past and present. Thinking specifically about Black Canadian history, so much has been ignored, buried, brushed aside in favour of Canada’s European history, or supplemented by African-American history. The lack of knowledge about the history of Black people in this country is a contributing factor to our “othering” – when you aren’t taught that you have a solid foothold in the development of this country, it’s that much easier to feel like the Canadian identity (whatever that looks like) doesn’t belong to you. We didn’t all arrive here thanks to former PM Pierre Trudeau – Black people have existed and contributed to this land for generations, and our stories deserve to be told and learned about by all Canadians.

Another example of this erasure was made clear yesterday, when CBC News shared a story of backlash against an incident of blackface in Chatham, Ontario. A grocery store in Chatham held an event featuring Dutch holiday staples Sinterklaas and his sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a character displayed in blackface. The store manager addressed the backlash with the following: “It isn’t intended to be racist, it isn’t intended to offend anybody,” he said. “If we offended anybody, we apologize, but it wasn’t intended to offend anyone.”

Any time a “but” is placed in an attempt at an apology, just know that the person doesn’t really feel apologetic. But I digress.

Knowing that this happened in Chatham, which was called the Black Mecca in the 1800s due to its place as a prosperous town for Black people in all industries, makes it all the more egregious. Black people contributed to the Chatham we see today, yet that history still plays second fiddle to Dutch tradition. That hierarchy is explicit when it’s gasp-worthy that blackface could be offensive, especially in a Canadian town with such important Black history. We all need to know better. That’s how you do better.

Knowing better to do better is crucial when it comes to the connections between Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks. Viola Desmond is not “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” yet this need to lean on African-American history to validate Black Canadian history is the only thing that helps some people to see us and our experiences here. Both women’s stories centre around racial discrimination and a sense of resistance, and that’s pretty much where similarities end. To equate the two is ahistorical and reductive to both women’s experiences and impact – but most people won’t readily know that. For one, Viola was arrested 9 years before Rosa. Additionally, Rosa was part of extensive activist work long before she decided to stay in her seat on that Alabama bus in 1955 – she’s credited as a meek, mild woman who innocently launched the American Civil Rights Movement with her actions, but she was an activist and part of organizations that strategically worked towards that moment in 1955. The book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance” by Danielle McGuire explains this in depth. Comparatively, to my knowledge, Viola was not part of any activist networks in Nova Scotia prior to her arrest – though she supported and empowered the Black community through her entrepreneurism –  and didn’t have the full support of her community when she chose to appeal her conviction. These women’s stories are very different, and until we do the work to ensure that the fullness of their stories are shared, we’ll continue to see myopic linkages made.

The desire to equate Black Canadian history to African-American history is another sign of how we distance ourselves from Blackness in this country. It helps to perpetuate this idea of racism and bigotry being American ideals – if we continuously attach our history of these ills to our neighbours to the south, it helps Canada to maintain some semblance of decency, even when those same ills have been rotting this country from the inside out since forever. People will call Viola Desmond our “Rosa” because they don’t see enough validity behind her just being Viola – Black people, experiences, and histories in this country are not considered worthy without a connection to America, further diminishing our existence and sense of belonging right here. It’s lazy, it’s insulting, and it needs to stop.

Canada will be going all out for its 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. My wish (and where much of my efforts will be placed) will be for a real push for better and more thorough inclusion of Black history within our Canadian tapestry, and a broadening of what the Canadian experience and identity looks like within our full scope of Canadians. Viola’s history, like the history of so many other Black Canadians, deserves better – and our present and future deserve better as well.

SICK & TIRED: A Few Things I’m Tired Of

tired

I’m tired. This isn’t going to be a sunshiny post, and I may not have any effective words of wisdom at the end.

But bitch, I’m tired.

There are things that I used to accept as compliments – things people have said to me about my ability to carry burdens, persevere through obstacles, and deliver the goods. Those comments used to make me smile and feel seen, but I reject them now. I feel increasingly invisible the more I’m buried under them – so what is there to smile about?

I’m tired of feeling valuable to people simply because of what I do for them. I’m tired of my skills being “rewarded” with additional tasks siphoned from people who get paid much more than me, because I’m “so much better at it.” I’m tired of getting a kiss on the cheek and a sheepish “Thanks for taking care of that” after cleaning up someone else’s literal or figurative mess. I’m tired of saying “No problem,” thinking that they’ll realize I didn’t say “You’re welcome” and maybe realize that there is a problem.

I’m tired of putting in 100% for people who dig in their couch cushions and offer me a measly 50%. I’m tired of showing up on time and prepared to give my best to people who are late and raggedy. I’m tired of seeing that same raggedy, mediocre work get pushed to the forefront and heralded as greatness, knowing that if I ever dared to be raggedy or mediocre, there would be no second chances.

I’m tired of saying “I’m sorry” first. I’m tired of putting down an invitation that isn’t picked up. I’m tired of being too available for some and not available enough for others.

I’m tired of always feeling like I have to be smarter, faster, better, the best. I’m tired of feeling like my smart isn’t smart enough and my best isn’t good enough. I’m tired of wondering which step to take next, which door to knock on, which doorway is meant for me to build on my own.

I’m tired of being asked to educate people who don’t really want to learn. I’m tired of being expected to reason with the unreasonable. I’m tired of my mistakes being magnified and of not being allowed a modicum of grace.

I’m tired of wearing the “Strong” mask, the “Everything’s Fine” mask, the “Don’t Worry About It, I’ll Do It” mask. I’m tired of wondering when it’s safe for me to take them off. I’m tired of people acting like something is wrong with me when I do. Au contraire – that’s when everything starts to feel a bit more right.

I’m tired.

All I have left is a bit of energy to change the trajectories of what exhausts me. I’m going to get some rest. I’m going to remind people how to treat me. I’m going to live as authentically as I can. I’m going to dust myself off and try again. I’m going to go get what’s mine.

LIKE DEAD LEAVES: Doing The Work Of Purging & Pruning

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For the past couple of months, nothing has made me feel as good as purging things that I no longer need in my life. Little by little, I’ve been going through all my spaces – physical, mental, emotional – and clearing out the things that aren’t serving me anymore. I haven’t felt this light in a long time.

It started innocently enough, with me going through my closets and transitioning from summer to fall. Away went the wispy fabrics that reminded me of warm nights and sunny days, and out came the comfort clothing that enveloped me in hugs each time I put them on. I encouraged myself to undo the emotional ties to my clothing at the same time, and started my grand purge. Things had to go: worn out shirts, way outdated skirts, and pants that I kept around “just in case” when the case for their continued presence never made itself clear. Soon, drawers that were overflowing could shut properly again, things didn’t topple off the top shelf of my closet anymore, and laundry was no longer as overwhelming a task. After my clothes were addressed I blazed through my home, de-cluttering my night tables, bathroom cabinets, and office spaces, filling garbage bags with things I thought I needed, but truly didn’t.

It felt like I could breathe a bit easier. I liked the feeling, and wondered what else I could let go of.

I started attacking my financial debts with a gusto unseen in recent years. I’m tied to many things, and a lot of them are more suffocating than supportive. Debt was one of those constraints, and I wanted to end that relationship as soon as possible. Having a plan and being utterly serious about sticking to it made all the difference in the world, so seeing positive change each month let me know that some relief was on the way. (This is a wayyyyy simplified few sentences about something that could be its own blog post. But the sentiment stands.)

I decided to let go of some projects I was involved in – some that weren’t serving a purpose, and some that had just run their course. In this new season of the purge, I’ve gotten honest with myself about being busy vs. being productive. There’s a comfort in being busy – a comfort that makes it easy to hide fears and insecurities behind stuff. The Bee who’s everywhere and does everything is a great cover for the Bee who frets over failure and fears that nothing she does will ever matter. Being busy has only left me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and I want to be happy, accomplished, and ever-evolving. Shedding some layers of busyness will be good for me, and will help me to uncover the real skill of balancing downtime and productivity.

Finally, I took a look at some key relationships and purged what I needed to from them. In some relationships, I purged my inability to ask for what I want. In others, I purged old grudges and gave elephants in rooms their long overdue exit. Other relationships had to come to an end completely, but the main area of purging was looking at relationships I wanted to keep and finding ways to make them better. There have been some tough conversations and some peering through fingertips as I hit “Send” on an email, but every move was a step towards more freedom, and I feel it now.

The thing with purging is you need to know when to stop. I’ve gone through multiple areas of my life and pruned the excess and the overdue, but now it’s time for the new cycle of life – the resting period before allowing new growth. I’ve never been a minimalist, but the freedom of letting things go has renewed my excitement at what’s to come. There is room for the good things now, and I welcome them. I’ll keep them around for as long as they’re good to me – and as I’ve learned about myself these past few months, I won’t be afraid to let them go when their time is up.

WORK LIFE: The Book I Want To Write About My Career

hustleAfter years of struggle, I’m finally starting to see a bright light career-wise. I’m on track to end 2016 in a much better place than where I started, and in a much better place than I’ve been in a long time. This isn’t just related to how much money I’m bringing home, but a sum of all of the other things that come with work and how I function. I could write a book about my work experiences, so here are a few chapter synopses I’d have to include:

Chapter 1 – “You Don’t Even Go Here”: Being A Young, Black Woman In Middle Management

In all of the managerial positions I’ve held, I’ve either been the only person of colour, or one of two. I’ve welcomed people into boardrooms where I was about to lead a meeting, and had them give me their coats to hang and coffee orders to take. I’ve gone to external meetings and been ignored until my White male colleagues arrived, or met with the “Oh – she’s Black!” look of shock when I meet people after only speaking via phone or email. I’ve had to redirect meetings when my hair became the topic of discussion. I’ve had my blog reported to senior management, who called me a racist for writing about my experiences as a Black Canadian woman. I’ve had colleagues tell me they don’t think I belong, and I’ve had aggressively insubordinate staff treat me in ways that they never did to any of their former (White) supervisors. I’ve seen and experienced a lot, and a big lesson for me has been around being finding my voice to call out problematic behaviour versus letting it slide.

Chapter 3 – “Work Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far”: Learning The Game When The Game Is Rigged

I’ve lived this motto since I was a child – being pushed to work harder than my counterparts because we were never given equal footing to start off on. As a Black woman, it’s also about being denied room to be mediocre or fail, and knowing that while your failures will be applied as an expected generalization befitting all Black people, your excellence will be dismissed as a lucky break. I recently wrote about the Glass Cliff theory and saw this all play out in my life recently:

I was a new supervisor at an agency that ran group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. I was assigned 2 homes, and was eventually told that I was given the most disorganized homes with the worst staff in the agency. I was determined to turn those homes around, but at every step I was met with opposition or insubordination from staff – refusals to follow through, silence when I’d ask for their feedback on decisions, blatantly lying to me in order to trip me up, rumour-spreading, the works. I constantly addressed issues and disciplined staff, and escalated to my managers as needed – but senior management never seemed to take my concerns seriously. After going to the ER one day because I was sure the stress had caused a heart attack, I resigned. The day I handed in my resignation, I overheard two directors talking about me in the office, and one said “I guess she’s just not the shining star I thought she was.” I was floored. After all I had gone through and all the effort I gave, I was seen as a failure for not continuing to take the abuse and do the work. I immediately called for an exit interview with senior management on my last day, and made sure I had the last word. I recently learned that one of my most problematic staff – one who my boss swore was going to face heavy discipline for her actions – was recently promoted to a supervisory position. Funny.

Chapter 7 – “Protect Your Heart, 3 Stacks”: Protecting Your Passions & Keeping Side Hustles Safe

I’ve always toyed with the idea of going the full-time freelance/entrepreneurship route, but so far, I’ve said “Not yet.” I’m not ashamed of appreciating the perceived security of getting a paycheque every 2 weeks (‘perceived’ because I know these companies ain’t loyal), I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not 100% ready to take the risk of making my passion projects my sole income earner, and I’m not ashamed to say that not everyone needs to be their own boss – entrepreneurship isn’t a necessity to personal development. I still consider the thought and know that if circumstances change in any way, I’d take the plunge. But what happens if I start to hate the very things that brought me solace? What happens if I don’t like the way that obligation changes the way I view the things I do simply because I enjoy doing them? I don’t think I’m ready to find out just yet.

Chapter 9: “Bitch, Just Be You:” Removing The Mask, Playing The Game, & Being Authentic

Navigating the collective of corporate life can make it tricky to be an individual. There are games to play and masks to wear – and both get more complex the further you are from whatever the “norm” is in your field. Code-switching, considering if I should bring those leftovers my Jamaican auntie cooked for lunch, being aware of how I may be viewed as the Angry Black Woman in times when I’m not angry at all – these and other examples are part of why it’s so difficult be myself at work. A gift that 2016 has given me has been the room to be a bit more Bee in my career – both at my day job and in my side hustles – and see the payoff. Part of embracing that authenticity meant switching careers from my previous health/social services field to the communications industry. It’s meant presenting my personal style in a way that truly reflects who I am. It’s meant speaking more of my truth in my writing, and it’s meant going for opportunities I would have passed up before, because I believe in myself more now than I ever have. I’ve gone from playing the game to learning the rules so that I can bend, break, and change them as I go – so while those navigation skills are vital for perseverance, I now see how I can be more me through the journey.

This career life ain’t been no crystal stair, but I continue to learn invaluable lessons and receive affirming messages every day. What career lessons have you learned? What defining moments have shaped your career? Share in the comments! Now, about this book deal…

QUEEN SUGAR: The Reality Unfolds, The Beauty Begins

queensugarcover

Picture this:

Tuesday night. Dinner was done, the kitchen was clean. Hubby was on “Get baby ready for bed” duty, and I had hopped in the shower and back out just in time. With 10 minutes to spare until 10pm, I was more than ready to finally watch the heavily promoted premiere of Queen Sugar (the Ava DuVernay-helmed series on OWN). After soaking up all the press over the past few months about the show, I couldn’t wait to drink it all in – but I quickly learned my thirst wasn’t going to be satisfied. OWN Canada, for some nonsensical reason, isn’t airing Queen Sugar. So while I watched my entire Twitter timeline blow up over the wonders of the show, I was left stewing (and cussing) on my couch with an old episode of Criminal Minds staring back at me. Canadian television programming fail.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. I finally tuned into the first two episodes of Queen Sugar, and I am hooked. Based on the book by Natalie Baszile of the same name, the show chronicles the lives of 3 very different siblings who inherit their father’s sugarcane farm while trying to manage the complexities of their own lives. Quite frankly, this show is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Our three main players are the Bordelon siblings – Nova, the eldest (played by the inimitable Rutina Wesley – I’ve loved her since True Blood), a journalist and spiritualist; Charley, the middle (played skillfully by Gwen-Lyen Gardner), the wife and manager of David West, a top-level NBA star and mother to son Micah; and Ralph Angel, the baby (played powerfully by Kofi Siriboe); 6 months fresh out of prison and a single dad to adorable son Blue, played by Ethan Hutchison. Blue’s mom Darla is a recovering drug addict played by possible vampire Bianca Lawson (like, how has she looked 17 forever?), and the Bordelon patriarch Ernest is played masterfully by Glynn Turman.

Here are some of my favourite notable aspects from the first two episodes:

The opening scene + overall cinematography

The show opens with one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever watched – Nova arising from the bed she shares with her lover, Calvin (Greg Vaughan). Instead of the usual sexy scene of getting undressed, we watch Calvin help Nova put her clothes on – and I was sitting there like:

via GIPHY

This looked phenomenal, but seeing that Calvin is a white, married police detective means that there will undoubtedly be some rockiness in this love boat. The direction and cinematography in this scene give you an introduction to what the rest of the show looks like. The lighting, colours, shades, and languid pacing ensure that you see every bit of everything – the landscapes, the spaces that the characters inhabit, the emotion on their faces, and above all else, the beauty of Blackness. Black people are lit, shot, and framed in such a gorgeous way – Ava DuVernay spoke on this last year during an interview with Q-Tip:

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Skin tones of all kinds are luminous on the Queen Sugar screen, and I’m so thankful for that.

The expressions of masculinity

After Daddy Bordelon suffers a heart attack and ends up in the hospital, Ralph Angel reluctantly brings Blue to see his Pop-Pop – grandfather and grandson share an incredibly special bond. You see how Ralph Angel tries to shield his son from certain realities, how he’s both tender and tough with Blue, and how some of those same traits exist in the relationship between Ernest and Ralph Angel as well. We don’t know where Ralph Angel’s mother is or how long she’s been gone – but in one particular scene (that had me BAWLING), we see 3 generations of Bordelon men who are all just doing the best they can with what they have, showing a love and tenderness between Black men that has rarely been displayed in mainstream media.

In episode 2, Ralph Angel’s Aunt Violet (Tina Lifford) chides him for trying to protect Blue from everything: “Baby, coddlin’ him ain’t doin’ him no favours,” she says. “Ernest always regretted all the coddling he did with you, his only son up on a pedestal,” she continues. “You see how it turns out.”

“How’s that?” Asks Blue.

“Wrestling with the world. A world that ain’t got no pedestal for you.”

An interesting piece of the Ralph Angel/Blue relationship is Kenya – the Barbie doll that Blue carries with him almost everywhere. You see how it’s a comfort to the child and how it creates discomfort for the father, who in one moment obliges his son by helping to prop Kenya on the sink while he cuts Blue’s hair, then in the next takes it out of Blue’s backpack on the way to school, promising to keep her safe at home.

Figuring out who Charley is

Charley is an interesting conundrum of a character. Leaving Louisiana for the bright lights of Los Angeles, she obtained an MBA, married a superstar basketball player, and has been living a life of success and riches ever since. When her husband David gets caught up in a sex scandal that unfolds simultaneously with the death of her father, Charley returns to her hometown and the siblings she left behind. You see the external tension, especially between Nova and Charley, who embrace at the end of episode 1, but engage in combat during episode 2. You see the internal tension as the L.A. Charley and the Louisiana Charley battle for space in one body. You learn that Charley has a different mother than her other two siblings, adding even more context to the issues that arise. Charley is undoubtedly going to be on a journey of self-discovery through the season, and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

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via Indiewire

The nuances of Blackness

There’s Nova tearing into Charley for hiring servers for their father’s repast: “You ain’t been gone that long – how come you don’t remember how it’s done?” Nova yells. “We don’t honour our father by having strangers serve those grieving. We serve comfort food to those who need comfort and we do it with our own hands!”

There’s the dissonance between the Bordelons and the funeral director when Nova wants to sew a special pouch into the lining of their father’s casket: “We don’t allow that kind of thing, Miss Nova,” says the director. “We run a straight Christian business here.” The juxtaposition between Christianity and diasporic spirituality creates an important moment here.

There’s Ernest Bordelon’s masonic funeral service itself, where the family sits dressed in all white as the patriarch is laid to rest. This Vulture recap references Ernest’s membership in the Prince Hall Affiliated Free and Accepted Mason fraternity, named after Prince Hall, an 18th century Black abolitionist.

Some aspects are familiar to me through disaporic channels, and some are new – but the effort to intertwine varied realities of Black life is both comforting and refreshing.

With an incredible cast and diverse writing and directing teams (Ava DuVernay tapped a lineup of all-women directors for season 1), this show feels like a gift delivered to us from Natalie Baszile, Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and the entire cast and crew. I don’t know about y’all, but I plan to stay tuned and stay sweet – I am 100% here for Queen Sugar.

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