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31 Aug


American Sonnet.

8 Aug

American Sonnet
Billy Collins

We do not speak like Petrarch or wear a hat like Spenser
and it is not fourteen lines
like furrows in a small, carefully plowed field

but the picture postcard, a poem on vacation,
that forces us to sing our songs in little rooms
or pour our sentiments into measuring cups.

We write on the back of a waterfall or lake,
adding to the view a caption as conventional
as an Elizabethan woman’s heliocentric eyes.

We locate an adjective for the weather.
We announce that we are having a wonderful time.
We express the wish that you were here

and hide the wish that we were where you are,
walking back from the mailbox, your head lowered
as you read and turn the thin message in your hands.

A slice of this place, a length of white beach,
a piazza or carved spires of a cathedral
will pierce the familiar place where you remain,

and you will toss on the table this reversible display:
a few square inches of where we have strayed
and a compression of what we feel.

I went to the woods.

6 Aug


tripping the light liptastic.

6 Sep

Funny, how you learn something and it kind of changes everything? A bit vague, yes, so I will happily elaborate (and you know I will).

This past weekend, my Mother and I discussed how there are a few things in life I simply cannot take, accept, or stand. One of those things is teasing. I don’t like to be teased. In any way. Tongue-in-cheek teasing, jokey jokey teasing, whatever–when it happens, my insides shrivel up and I am transported back to the nauseating days of my adolesence, when my peers had no problem choosing something they considered “odd” or “weird” about me and commenced with mercilessly teasing and mocking me about it. (Super sensitive? Why, yes, I am. But I still reserve the right to despise it, thankyouverymuch.) Out of all the humiliating, teasing moments I’ve experienced (and there have been so, so many; trust that I will be penning a book for adolescent/teen girls on how to just plain survive in the near future), Mom and I discussed a singular, significant moment in my past that always stands out. It stands out for various reasons, but following last weekend’s discussion, I look at that moment now from an entirely different and far more powerful perspective.

Picture it: Surburbia, Northern VA, 1989 (I love you, Sophia Petrillo): I was a new sixth-grader at a brand new elementary school; quiet, shy, terrified by my new surroundings. That day, we sat on the nubby, brown-carpeted floor in the chorus room waiting for our chorus teacher. I was sitting against the wall, next to the radiator, facing a group of my classmates. I remember one of them lifting up his finger to point (this culprit, the ringleader, would resurface time and time again in my young life) at me, after which he started chanting, “Fish lips, fish lips, look at her fish lips.” A gaggle of other kids followed suit, pointing, chanting, and laughing. I remember wondering–I suppose this was the first manifestation of my whole delayed reaction thing–who they were pointing, chanting, and laughing at. I looked around me. I even laughed a little. Then I noticed that the few kids who weren’t pointing, chanting, and laughing were looking at me with strange, sad faces. The others who couldn’t look just stared down at the ground. It became clear: I was the target of the pointing, chanting, and laughing. I blinked in surprise…in confusion…in embarassment…in pain. My stomach dropped. I remember feeling dizzy. Why were they doing this to me? It kept going until our chorus teacher entered the room, when everything became conveniently quiet and still again. How did I react later, you wonder? Did I cry? Hold a grudge against the mongrels? Tell my little sister (who would have figured out a way to pound each of their faces in), my parents? None of the above. I did nothing. After the shock and pain wore off, I stopped thinking about it. I even became friends with two of the girls that had been part of the mocking crew, both of whom later subjected me to daily doses of peer pressure and further humiliation. Maybe it’s the wiring of a child’s mind, to forget and forgive so easily. I digress. Recall my statement about delayed reaction? Well, I did react eventually…for the next several years:

  • I started to cover my mouth when I smiled or laughed.
  • I hated seeing my lips in photos.
  • I would look in the mirror and stare at my lips in disdain.
  • I became so sensitive about my lips that when someone would look in my direction, I wondered if they were gawking at them.

A subconscious, toxic imprint was created in me that day, a fact I didn’t realize until later. Nevertheless, this really isn’t about the damage that day did and my long journey in finally accepting these lips and by extension, this face, and even larger, who I am as a person. What I now find incredible about that terrible day goes back to last weekend, during the aforementioned discussion with my Mom. Last weekend was when I learned something I never knew before: Mom revealed that my late father was so teased about his lips that he grew a moustache to take the attention off them.

I was shocked. How could anyone tease my father, who was arguably the most handsome man I knew? And yes, I’m biased, but I happen to know that plenty of people share this opinion, ok? My Pops was a looker.

Even more incredulous: my Dad and I had shared the same struggle in trying to hide something that had no business being hidden.

But here comes the new perspective I mentioned earlier. Drumroll, please: finding out what my Dad went through with his self-image reminds me of how alike we really were. Good or bad, I love this. I love it times 100. Because knowing what he went through makes me identify with him even more, understand him even more, and appreciate the memory of him even more and more. Not only that, the revelation about my father strips away the power from the kids that chose to–for whatever psychological reason–target me. When I think about that day or speak of it now, I’ll only remember that my beloved dad went through it and he got throught it. Just like I did. You’re just like your father (heard it my whole life) has never meant more to me.

So these luscious lips of mine? They’re beautiful, plump, pronounced, and so liptastic. I stopped being ashamed of them a long time ago. And why not? I got them from my father.

On Beauty…

11 Jul

This morning, as I groggily opened my bathroom cabinet to pull out my facial cleanser, I paused to marvel at the entire ROW of different cleansers and moisturizers and creams that sat in front of me. (All Neutrogena, so I’m consistent that way, aren’t I?) Each one boasting the wondrous things it would do for my face, each one promising, essentially, the same thing. So why do I have an array of different beauty products promising the same thing sitting in my bathroom cabinet, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, since you asked so nicely:

I happen to be a beauty product collector.

Specifically, I’m a 1) beauty product collector with 2) rabid amnesia and 3) a case of paranoia.

1) I walk through the aisles and a few carefully placed words jump out at me. Non-oily formula. Non-greasy. Light and refreshing. All-in-One. Like a Neutrogena Stepford wife, I obey, grabbing as many of those lovely promises as I can. I want what they can give. And so I buy. To further the problem, 2) I have completely forgetten that I already own half these products already, or items similar to them, and do not actually need any of them. However, 3) what if the formulas in the products I already own are outdated? What if some Neutrogena scientist has discovered a stronger non-oily/non-greasy/light and refreshing/All-in-1 solvent that is far more powerful than the ones I already own, thereby rendering my daily skincare regimen utterly useless, ineffective, and potentially poisonous? Riiiight. It’s clear now, isn’t it? I’m a beauty product collector with rabid amnesia and a case of paranoia.

Blame puberty. Like every other girl on the planet, my growth spurt came bearing gifts: pimples, even bigger pimples, oily skin, and a suspicion that me and this guy might be related. At first, I relied on plain old soap and water (which dried out my skin to no end). Eventually, when I started working and earning all my Benjamins (funny how $6.50 an hour meant something when you were 17 years old), the beauty product collecting began. No more soap and water! Now Salycylic acid!  Nevertheless, despite my current purchasing/amnesia/paranoia problem, things are far more stable and, dare I say it, glowy, when it comes to my skin. I try to regularly cleanse and moisturize, I drink far more water than I did as a teen, I takes care of business.

But enough with all the me, me, me, shall we? Let’s hear from my lovely cousin, J (you know how I feel about government names on the interweb), who, hands down, is a veritable skincare expert. I posed a few questions about her personal skincare regimen/ongoing journey with beauty products.

Ok. You’re an expert when it comes to beauty products. Do you research what items will work for you? If so, where do you get ideas on what to buy?

I’m more of a spontaneous product junkie. If I see an ad for mascara, I buy it and try it out. Because of my unique skintone to the demographic area I live in, I do have to venture out to the high end product line. But even with that, i just buy and try. Usually my ideas come from makeup advertisements, the Maybelline commercials on TV, and sometimes in articles fashion articles where I see models with similar skintones, i look to see who the makeup artist is or the product used, and then go from there.

What’s your daily skincare regimen?

My daily skincare regimen is quite sporadic and probably should be improved. In the shower in the a.m., I wash my face with either a creamy Burts Bees cleanser or a light Boots gel cleanser and finish off with a Boots day moisturizing cream. I’m not as diligent in the evening as I should be. I’ll cleanse with a combination of black soap from Ghana called Chocho and Queen Helene’s Mint Julep Scrub. Then I finish off with a teeny dab of choco creme.
What products do you think are good for African-American ladies who have oily skin? Or dry skin?
I have dry skin and so far the best products for me have been Burts Bees “beeswax” brand (can only find this particular line for skincare at Whole Foods and online) and Boots creams and cleansers for normal/dry skin (can be found at Target).
Are you a collector? Or do you stick to one brand?
I am definitely a collector.
Some ladies say to go the natural route for skincare: drink plenty of water and use the simple basics, like Vaseline or Shea Butter, and avoid the chemicals. Thoughts about that?
I say yay and a teeny nay. Natural is always good, but depending on our imperfect skin, we may need a lil extra help. I say if you do decide to use products that are not 100% natural or raw, at least look at the labels. I try to pick brands that don’t have a lot of chemical ingredients.
Any concluding advice for women who are looking for the right type of skincare maintenance?
It is good to be consistent, but sometimes based on changes with our hormones and environment we may need to change up our routine. Don’t always go for the cheapest and you don’t have to go for the most expensive. Try to find that happy medium in the middle.

Thanks, J! For the good advice, the good tips, and admitting that you, too, are a collector! Incidentally, I will be pursuing some, if not all, of the products you mentioned. Unsurprisingly.

On Nora.

28 Jun

This is Nora Ephron.

Sadly, she died on June 26, two days ago, from complications related to leukemia. Sad, sad, sad.

It’s interesting that I’ve never discussed my longtime fandom and admiration of Ms. Ephron on Kitten Heel Marvel. It’s kind of mind-boggling, really, that she has never come up, being that she either wrote and/or directed some of my favorite films of all time; she introduced me and my Sis, and the rest of the world, for that matter, to the wonder of Meg Ryan; or the fact that my impetus for seeing the film Hanging Up (which was, um, not that great, but whatever) was that she co-wrote it with her sister, Delia, and that the movie was loosely based on their lives. Nevertheless, here it all is: Nora Ephron was tremendous.

We love When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail because of Nora. Yes, we fell so hard in love with Meg and Billy and Tom. But really and truly? We were falling in love with Nora. Her brilliant words, her ideas, her plots, her raging sense of humor and wit, her everything. We didn’t know it yet, of course. We were figuring out how to make it to the Empire State Building and stand in the spot that Meg and Tom stood in, not thinking about the auteur behind it all. But she was there the entire time: creating a world filled with smart, funny, romantic people. That’s why we kept going back. As we got older and read reviews with words like “written and directed by Nora Ephron”, we got excited. It would be good! Why not plop down some cash and head to the movie theater? It had Nora’s touch, after all.

I didn’t see her last film, Julie and Julia, but I know that it resulted in the 999,999th Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep and likely increased the awesome quotient of Amy Adams. (And before you ask, I have no idea why I didn’t catch that movie. It even had The Tucci! Maybe I was asleep for a week or something. Anyway, I will be renting it this weekend.) Need I say more? The Nora Ephron Touch.

I have no doubt Nora Ephron had more to say, more to show us, and more to do. And it would have been brilliant.

you’ll put on your carpet slippers and stride out.

29 Mar

Instead of Terrific Music Tuesday, I wanted to post a poem by Anne Sexton, an amazing poet that I discovered (by way of an awesome poetry professor) in college. Couldn’t get enough of her.  She popped into my mind the other day and I’ve re-discovered her work all over again. This particular piece by her is nothing short of inspiring, especially in light of some significant steps that I’m thinking about taking in my life (and there are much deeper themes at work here, especially the transformative powers of pain, despair, and sorrow):

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

A Wednesday Miscellaneous Pie. Mmm, pie…

16 Mar

So much on my mind today…

Glee. I try to stay away from anything too Hollywood-y or entertainment-y on this forum (save for a few things, as in Mr. Darcy winning an Oscar and so on), but I’m ascending this particular soapbox for a moment. Forgive me. The following is all opinion. There was a time in the not too distant past when this show kind of made me crazy. After the first episode, my sis and I called each other on the phone and squealed for half an hour. We were those kids in high school. We loved theater, we loved music, we burst into Barbra Streisand while walking home from school. Those initial moments of Glee took us back to the days. It was awesome. I have since purchased about a million dollars worth of Glee music, and it’s all good. However. I don’t even watch it anymore. Why? A sweet, beautiful show about embracing who you are—especially at that tender age when doing that is absolutely necessary—has turned into this weird exercise that proves that believing in your own hype can become a TV show’s downfall. It stopped being fun. It stopped being sweet. It became kind of mean and snarky. I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. So that’s that, Glee. Save for a few visits here and there to catch sights of my current TV crush (I heart you, Matthew Morrison), it’s goodbye.

Old friends. Back in Ghana (where yours truly grew up for the first 8 years of her little life), we had a neighbor named Evelyn. Evelyn was the coolest gal in the entire world to us. She wore cool clothes, she wore cool, colorful bangles, she was tall and gorgeous. We loved her. Even more: Evelyn used to have Madonna dance contests. She would play Madonna songs and have us dance around our complex and whoever won would get chocolates. Cool, or what? It may be why 1) hearing old school Madonna puts the largest, silliest smile on my face, and 2) despite my best intentions, a piece of chocolate will always win me over. Love you, Evelyn, wherever you are…

I Must be a Bear. I hibernate every winter. Specifically, shaving my legs goes into hibernation. I let nature have its way. The problem with that is when spring rears its lovely head and the cold air begins to get warmer, hibernation is over. I buy a whole bunch of extra blades for my Intution razor (love it) and get to work on those crazy legs (I’ve already discussed my issues with hair; I’m Teen Wolf’s older sister, apparently). This time, “work” took so long that the water in the shower turned completely cold. I was in there for close to an hour? Two hours? I think I went through a worm hole. Even the walls were perspiring in the bathroom. You would think, at some point, that I would learn my lesson and shave throughout the year, so as to avoid this insane routine whenever spring comes? A normal person would do that, yes. But I’ve never been normal. My legs are so smooth…and when winter comes again, they won’t be. Can’t force a bear to stop hibernating, can you?

What is it about candy? There was major eye candy on the metro this morning. It was completely insane. I mean, that level of eye candy must be illegal in the tri-state area or something. Someone should have arrested those guys for infiltrating the senses in such a manner. Yiikes…

Can’t Believe it. I love my boss. He is absolutely terrific. It’s a bit incredulous, this feeling. Having been subjected to some of the craziest employers in the past—one of whom seriously had us humming the Flying Monkeys music from “The Wizard of Oz” whenever she was on the warpath—it’s both surprising and refreshing to work with someone so fair and accommodating. Very balanced, my boss. I’m utterly grateful, really. (The job itself, on the other hand, has its moments, which I’ve discussed before. Sigh.)

On that note, I will put the fork down and leave this Miscellaneous Pie for now. Onwards…

Um, Shadi?

17 Jul

When I write my children’s book, Shadi (I’m using the nickname supplied to me by my sis, your colleague), you’re totally illustrating it. In fact, you and my sis can do it together. I mean it.

Of course, you may have to wait 100 years for the draft, but whatev. Ok – not 100 years. 98.

Can’t wait to see the book you illustrated in September! My sis sent me a postcard.




Sincerely, Taj

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