Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lean On This

"it must be magic..."--Teena Marie

So, we've had enough courtesy celebration of Sheryl Sandberg and her new 'working girl' tome Lean In. It's about high time the subversive brigade rolls into town. And we all know I am going to jump on that bandwagon and ride it 'til the wheels fall off.

So, we're leaning in, right? Make sure you're leaning before I continue. We're all leaning, fantastic. First of all, let me preface the following with the fact that I do admire Sheryl Sandberg. She's awesome--she's worked her arse off and she enjoys an amazing career doing something she loves. I celebrate her success with every other female climber out there.

But the thing about Sandberg's offering is that I'm not quite sure I needed to be instructed to lean. After much consideration, the determination at which I've arrived is that everyone who wants to lean is probably already leaning. Many other women like me have sacrificed a whole mess of other things in life in reverence to the one-track minded career path we're on. Unlike Sheryl, I'm not married and I'm childless. For other women like myself--who are possibly excused from this entire discussion since we clearly haven't yet positioned ourselves to "have it all", evidenced by our [empty] lives--the question begs itself: What the phuck else do we have to lean into? Our unborn unconceived children? The husbands we haven't yet met? Reality television? No. No. Sometimes. But mostly, we lean into our work!

Moreover, for the women with families, the ones who are serious about their professional success are inevitably doing the same. Now, I don’t begrudge those women the head pat that Sheryl's words probably offer--it is comforting when someone with the same responsibilities and problems, albeit with millions more to throw at them, addresses your issues. I'm sure it's really inspiring to hear a "you can do it" spiel from the contemporary Holy Grail of women's professional achievement herself.

But as for me, now? I love to lean, Sheryl. Leaning is, in fact, what I do best. I'm leaning in so hard that I don't have anything else to lean on. But thanks for bringing additional attention to my lean, and encouraging women who were not yet leaning in to compete with my leaning in, resulting in my having to lean even harder. How exciting for us all.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Remember That Time I Moved to LA and Got Really Stupid? That Was Funny.

"bending battles/maneuvering schemes/false expressions/washed up dreams/everybody makes believe in..."--Rufus

Against all odds, some eight years after landing in this alien planet we affectionately call "City of Angels"--even while acknowledging it's really stock full of devils--Los Angeles has become home. I no longer feel like I'm getting out of dodge when the wheels lift on the plane going anywhere but here, and I actually look forward to returning to the land of trendy sushi and mind-blowing traffic.

There are some clear pluses. This place is absolutely beautiful, from the exotic palm trees and ocean views to the mountains that surround the city looking like they were freehand drawn by God to the wide boulevards packed with beautiful young people living their lives out loud . The weather is phenomenal, replete with 80 degree winter days to the LA summers, which are sexy and epic. Add to all that that the best artists from all corners of the globe end up in this town, and as such, there is an entrepreneurial spirit in this town bolstered by a cornucopia of talent that lives here. People arrive with an immutable hunger to see their dreams come true and be amongst the throng of people clawing their way to the top.

But let's be clear: It's not all wine and roses.

Los Angeles lacks a lot of things that people from just about any other place in the United States can identify as priority. For instance, there is a deep, pervasive cultural void here. The rich sense of community that defines every other place I've ever known is supplanted in Hollyweird by a marked spirit of entitlement. For every member of the best, brightest, and smartest class of creatives that emigrate here, there are ten idiots coming to be famous, thinking because they were voted "Best Hair" in a high school class of 100 people in B.F.E. someone's going to hand them an Oscar in this star-powered village. Not to mention "The Secret" that creative people are among the most insane, angst-y folks on the planet (not excepting myself). Excavating all that visionary truth out of a body isn't easy, and there's a dark side to artistry. Consequently, people in this town are always on the lookout for a vice that masquerades as a credo or soulful preservative (*cough* Scientology *cough*). Simply put, this town lacks the reliant spiritual resolve that characterized my upbringing and the environment in which I was raised.

Most acknowledge the inevitability of an existential outlook in a place so naturally beautiful--of course there has to be a higher power that imagined the mesmerizing visual that is California. But while an exciting hustle vibes about our town, you find it's accented by a contagious restlessness that seeks respite in all kinds of crazy spiritual solutions. In fact there is no clear spiritual center to this city; if New York is about the nonconformist expression of personhood, then Los Angeles is about her spiritual freedom. Which could be a celebration except that there's a Jim Jones-esque quality to the spiritual side of LA; people latch onto any marketable doctrine that looks and feels workable. Even more confusing is the religion buffet this city feasts on; people patchwork quilt their beliefs together from a myriad of faiths and practices--and yet still have no true resolve at the end of the day. Anything goes, and sometimes the free-spirited nature of the value system here is a lil bit scary.

You have to not only be totally passionate about what you do to live here, but you also have to be totally convinced of who you are since if you're not careful you can begin to feel as though you live in a funhouse, mirrors and all. Because there's the whole truth: This is the land of the fake, the phony, the completely created and unreal. The pageantry doesn't end with the Universal Studios tour; nothing in LA is as it seems. Remember the "squatters' rights" laws that became popular nationwide a couple years ago, the age-old legislation on the books that in contemporary terms meant that people could randomly move into foreclosed homes that had been abandoned and take them over? Well, that system was old hat for us out here; part of dating in LA when I first arrived was coming to understand why seemingly successful men were constantly moving from mansion to mansion and never really furnishing any of them. In my country naivete, I thought they were just restless millionaires who needed a woman's touch. Little did I know they were savvy poseurs, playing the system while they tended their careers, getting paid when and where they could like every other working actor, musician, and writer in this town.

Making lumps sums of money stretch until the elusive next paycheck shows up is our way of life, but when you see the people the rest of the country watches on television cashing unemployment checks in the bank and 'receiving funds' at Moneygram in the grocery store, the slip on the whole situation does hang a bit. And speaking of slips, I'm all for high-maintenance beauty regimens, but women here have more cosmetic surgery and other beauty treatments than you could possibly imagine, particularly young women in their 20's. "Miss New Booty" doesn't even begin to describe the total body makeovers I have witnessed in my time--some admittedly for the benefit and some to the clear detriment. Tits and ass pop up overnight, flaws disappear from season to season and if you go a year without seeing someone, a fun game at any gathering is to try to put your finger on what's "different" about them. Nose? Chin? Cheeks? Arms? Yes, yes, yes, and no...oh, yes. "Hoeing", moreover, is an absolute art here, and I've known LA ladies of the night who have never even had their own apartment and have instead shacked from guy to guy, making the rounds as "kept" women until they could get one sucker for love to wife them. This process is, literally, their job. No judgment though *side eye*.

And I could live with all of that. People do what people do, but LA has done one thing to me that is not okay. Something so heinous and frightening that it's made me think about moving on more than one occasion.

LA has made me a little dumb.

All aforementioned issues aside, let's be real when we say Los Angeles isn't exactly a thinker's paradise. At any given moment, you can throw a coin and hit someone who counts on his fingers and has to move his lips when he reads. Intelligent folks come to Los Angeles, but how long they remain intelligent once they get here is up for grabs.

When I first arrived, I stayed in my Washington, DC academic cocoon, still reading the NYT and WSJ and checking Drudge Report intermittently throughout each day. I went to the library and tried to keep my brain working as it should. BUT. As I got more consumed by our seductive Southern California culture, my intellectual rituals increasingly fell by the wayside. And it was a few years ago when I went up North to San Francisco to visit one of my best friends from college that I found I was far from the smart Capital City college girl that stepped off the plane in La-La land way back when. My BFF had taken me to a get together for a friend of hers, and while I walked into the party feeling like the fresh, hot thing off the SoCal presses, I quickly realized that these were not the usual suspects. I was prepared for the size-up--LA competes in looks, brawn, and the career lottery. But these people were talking about the 'real' world, having the financial and political discussions that typified my East Coast academic experiences. As I boldly joined in the conversation, I was surprised to find that not only had my vocabulary shrunk considerably, but that I wasn't really prepared to discuss much. 

While they talked about foreign film, I thought about the newest [blockbuster] Paramount releases. While they discussed the financial crisis, I thought about Pilot Season. While these people discussed international news, I realized the only global considerations I had anymore were Brazilian waxes, Brazilian booties, and Brazilian hair. In fact, I remember getting drunk that night as I sipped away my feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, wondering if I was destined to the pointless dribble my life had become. It happened back East as well; when I went home to visit, I was labeled "the Hollywood friend"--I had the wild, glamorous weaves, the beauty secrets, the year-round tan, and the industry skinny…but not much else. Adding insult to injury, I realized that I'd become the very thing I most disdained about LA: I was a walking advertisement for all that was not real. As I struggled [sometimes miserably] to build a career and still have a life, everyone back home saw adventure and prosperity. But in reality I was broke and burdened in every area of my life. Back home, I was the fa├žade, the creation for which my new "hometown" was known. Roll away the couches and props and there was an empty set.

I've realized that in order to be truly successful in Los Angeles, an awakening must occur. Once you "get" that you can't be one with this city and be successful in it, your focus shifts. The past couple of years have been about that for me. Getting back to who I once was spiritually, intellectually, mentally, and enhancing those things as I continue to journey towards the fulfillment of my dreams. Someone told me last year "you cannot lead people and be just like them". In order to be a leader in the life I've chosen, I can't be "of" any place, even while in it. There are some awful things about Los Angeles, some things that make me uncomfortable, things I would change if I had the power. But at the end of the day, I've realized that it's in God's hands, this culture that breeds a soul-changing journey.

If you let it.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

In Random News: My Life Has Vastly Improved Since I Stopped Wearing Foundation.

"I make my own sunshine..."--Alyssa Bonagura

I don't know anyone personally who is as slow as me in the morning. And it's not that I am slow in the conventional sense of the term --like, it's not as though I'm shuffling along underwater style or wake up only able to access half my brain capacity--but I am *not* a morning person. In fact, I usually wake up in a terrible mood and/or wishing I was dead.

After a few minutes to adjust my eyes to the light, followed by a requisite morning prayer, I'm usually able [by the blood of Jesus] to shake the sense of morbidity. However, even after pumping the maximum dose of Feelgood into my brain, I am still pretty much just Grumpy Cat (as in the meme; see photo) and as such, everything takes me triple the time it would take any normal person because I'm totally discombobulated and easily distracted by any- and everything. For instance, my morning pee takes at least five minutes, only 30 seconds of which involves an actual stream of urine. The other four and a half minutes consist of staring out of the window and checking any number of social media outlets. I'm also known to take a couple of GRE vocabulary tests (my version of a guilty pleasure) on the toilet to avoid getting into the swing of the day.

Because it takes me so long to feel like a person who's actually interested in going out into the world, I'm always on the prowl for things that shorten my morning routine so I can get going faster and with less of an attitude. The sad fact on top of my aversion to the early part of day is that I am also a makeup aficionada. I absolutely must 'put on my face' before I leave the house or the bad attitude I woke up with will never go away. I'm a perfectionist by nature, so it naturally follows that I like my face drag-queen-beat when I step out of the door. I don't leave home without, at a minimum, a healthy amount of mascara and eyeliner, and I also want to see as few pores as possible when I turn my rearview towards my mug before backing out of the driveway. Consequently, I've developed, over the years, an unhealthy addiction to Foundation.

I didn't even start wearing the stuff until I was almost out of college. I've always had pretty good skin, if a bit porous. I've struggled with occasional [hormonal and/or stress-related] breakouts since my early 20's, but I've never had any serious acne problems. Yet and still, I know that cunning MAC makeup artist in the mall knew what she was doing when she first swiped that Studio Fix (throwback!) onto my skin back in 2002. When I looked into that glass and saw the flawlessness, I just about kicked the wall in. I. Looked. Spectacular.

In the years since, I've gone through probably 20 different brands of foundation, each more "revolutionary" than the next. I learned to contour, I learned to shade, I found perfect matches (Makeup Forever 170, thank you) and then got a wild hare up my ass and switched brands for the hell of it.


But. As anyone who turns 30 will tell you, some shit just has to go when you get to a certain age. One develops a diminished tolerance for foolishness, coupled with a strong disdain for anything that smacks of insecurity. About a month ago, that exact wind hit me. Standing naked in front of the mirror after brushing my teeth and washing my face, I just couldn't do it. I could not put those two different shades of foundation onto my hand, I could not wet that makeup sponge, and I could not combine those colors and blend that concealer and shade the contour spots...I could not do any of it. I was tired as hell. And so over it.

And so, I splashed with cold water, wiped my face with a toner pad, and whipped out my E.L.F. [read: $3 at Target, bka cheap as cheap can get] Tinted Moisturizer in Sand, which in addition to being the cheapest makeup product I've ever purchased, also happens to be the only one that matches my skin perfectly. I'm "medium" skinned, but unlike many lighter-skinned Black girls I'm very red, not yellow. My complexion has strong pink undertones, so the reason I picked up the E.L.F. moisturizer in Sand to begin with was the description "for light to medium skin with pink undertones" on the front. And lo and behold it was PERFECT. In fact, I'd been wearing it underneath my foundation for over a year. But on this particular pre-Spring 2013 day, the E.L.F. was going Amelia Earhart. (Yeah, I put on a little primer, but I pity the fool who doesn't. Priming is next to Godliness). I stepped out cautiously, wondering if the world could see my pore-y little secret.

I promise it was one of the best days I've had in forever. I felt light, free, and most of all, I felt effing gorge. Every day since then, I've enjoyed my "makeup" routine much more immensely. It makes my whole morning feel lighter and happier to know I don't have to go through the foundation rigmarole.

My five different foundations are currently lost in the sea of crap in my makeup drawer in the bathroom, and I couldn't be happier about it. The next time I wear the stuff, it will likely be applied professionally, and I better be going somewhere really cool and meeting some truly awesome folks I might never see again for it to be worth the effort.

I truly feel free in my new skin, because it is, finally and for realz, my skin. Take that, Sephora.

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