(Wo)Man in the Mirror

There are many things I miss about living in NYC. One of those things is my commute. That may sound strange, especially in the car culture of North East Ohio. You have to remember, NYC is not a car culture — far from it. My commute was by bus, subway, or commuter train, and I was able to get a lot done. Over the years I got really good at putting on a full face of make up. I also graded a ton of papers, wrote a lot, studied a lot of scores, and knitted several hats and scarves. In fact, there were times when other folks commuting on a schedule similar to mine would comment on the progress of my knitting. Commuting was not wasted time, it was some of the most productive time of my day.

Now commuting is very different. I can’t knit and drive. I can’t read or grade papers and drive. While I’ve seen other drivers doing it, I can’t put on make up and drive (seriously, ladies?). The only thing I can do to calm my nerves and keep my road rage at bay is to listen to music. My iPod has become my co-pilot.

I have extremely eclectic taste in music. As a classically trained performing musician, I am extremely fond of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. I also like music from around the world: Irish fiddle, Klezmer, Russian Orthodox church music, to name a few. I love popular music: everything from the show tunes of Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim to the fantastically hip fusion of the Dave Matthews Band. Music is my life’s blood, my nourishment, and (in some ways) my religion. Nothing else (legal) in the world can transport so many people to so many different places and express everything from joy to despair. I consider myself blessed to be a musician. It has been a gift in my life.

So, you can imagine that my car rides are full of music. I tend to go on binges. I wore a grove in my Adele cd, 21. Then I played The Cars to death (“Here she comes again…”). The Police (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”), Sting (“Seven Days is all she wrote”), and now my latest earwig — Michael Jackson. Michael takes me right back to my childhood, back to The Jackson 5 on television in those bell bottoms and news boy hats. Michael Jackson was this amazing little kid who could out sing and out dance all of his brothers. He was a star who stood out, even among the immense talent his brothers brought to the table. Michael was everything. His fans got to watch him grow up before their very eyes. He went from I’ll Be There (“Just look over your shoulders, honey”) to Dancin’ Machine — and THE ROBOT! And then came the solo albums, especially the early collaborations with Quincy Jones. Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad — works of pure artistic pop genius. That’s what I listen to in my car these days. It makes dealing with the insanity of driving in North East Ohio tolerable, but only barely.

There are very few songs I skip, especially on Thriller. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Human Nature, Pretty Young Thing (I will NOT make an ironic comment here, no matter how sorely I may be tempted…). I could hear them 100 times each today and still be dying to hear them again tomorrow morning. I was less familiar with Bad, which came out when I was in a decidedly anti-Michael Jackson phase (ill conceived, I know), but I’ve gotten to know that album better over the last few years. Of all the songs, my favorite — by a long shot — is Man In The Mirror.

I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life
Gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

It starts so simply. You may not even know what the song’s about until the second part of the verse when he explicitly talks about the homeless. But that opening hooks you. “I’m gonna make a change” — who doesn’t relate to that? How does that change happen? He tells you: “That’s why I’m starting with me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer: if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

It’s so damn simple. I’ve been surrounded by this concept for years. Oberlin had a slogan that I love: “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” The Serenity Prayer talks about change: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.” Change is hard, but change is inevitable. The hardest part is figuring out what needs to change, and then changing.

Even at the beginning of Joss Stone’s album, “Introducing Joss Stone” (which I had the pleasure of playing on), Vinny Jones talks about change: “I see change, I embody change… but the truth is, you gotta have the balls to change.”

In the last six years, change has played a pivotal role in my family’s life. We picked up and moved from NYC to Oberlin, OH, where my husband changed jobs and my kids changed schools. My life in particular has been marked by change — my hair, my weight, my career, my sobriety. At 40, I walked away from life as I knew it into an unknown life that I could not control. Change was, as I said before, inevitable.

Today, I look at the woman in the mirror and I ask her to change her ways. I want to make the world a better place, and I know it starts with me. I do believe one person can change the world. I do believe that change begins with each man and woman looking in the mirror every morning. We each need to ask the person in the mirror to make a change today. That’s the only way we will ever fix this broken world and get anywhere near where humanity should be.

The end of the song is incredibly emotional for me. The gospel choir implores us, “Yeah, make that change!” as Michael riffs: “You got to start with yourself, brother”, “gotta make that change today”, and “you got to stand up and lift yourself up”. By the song’s end, I am fired up and ready to be that force for positive change in the world. I am inspired. I am lifted up. I am ready to make that change.

At those moments, I don’t miss my old commute quite as much. I’d look like a lunatic singing out loud with this song on the subway. In my car, I don’t care who sees me. What’s most important is that I get inspired to go in to work and be that change. That’s what looking in that mirror does for me.

Like Michael says at the very end of the song: “Make that change.”

I believe we all can.



“But, I don’t think of you as being Black. You’re just Lisa!”

Yes. That’s been said to me, more than once by more than one person. And I’m supposed to smile and let it go. Heaven forbid I verbally challenge someone who is already challenged by my very existence. I don’t fit their understanding of what it means (to them) to be… you fill in the blank, so I’d better start explaining myself in a hurry. It is imperative that I make sense to them or else they won’t know what to do or say.

That simple phrase, “I don’t think of you as (again, fill in the blank)”, is not a compliment. Do you not think of me as Black because you like me but you don’t like Black people? Do I not look or act like the Black people you’re familiar with (like the criminals, gangsters, rappers, or welfare queens portrayed in the media)? Are you afraid that knowing me will cause you to have to readjust the way you see the world? Saying that you don’t think of me as Black, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, says less about me and more about you. It tells me you live in a very insular world that doesn’t include people that aren’t like you. It tells me you’re afraid of certain groups of people. It tells me that you enjoy a certain feeling of superiority because you aren’t like “those people”. It tells me that you are not only ignorant, you are willfully ignorant. You don’t get it and you are totally okay with not getting it.

It also tells me that I’m the one who has to change or conform in order to be okay with you.

Why? Is that fair? I have to contract myself into a little box rather than your having to expand your understanding to get me, and that’s okay?

I’m not claiming to be perfect, not by a long shot. I have character flaws that are mine to deal with, but they come from my being human and not from my being Black, female, etc. There’s stuff I need to improve — just like there’s stuff you need to improve. We are connected by our humanity. In that, we are the same.

Perhaps it is naive of me to believe that the world is a better place because we are all different. I for one can’t imagine a world that is all one race, one gender, one religion. I love this beautiful world of ours because it is a many colored quilt. We are better for our differences, not worse. The variety within human existence should serve to broaden our acceptance and understanding, not to narrow it. I believe we are all God’s children. Perhaps we don’t all understand each other, but God understands us more deeply than we know ourselves. He draws no comparisons and sees no distinctions. He loves us perfectly and accepts us completely. We have much to learn from that example.

So why can’t we accept each other as we are? How can one group of people justify calling themselves correct and condemn everyone else to either a life of conformity or exile? Who are we to do that? It’s not a question of right or wrong, moral or immoral. It’s about being secure enough in ourselves to believe that there’s room for many points of view. It’s about not being threatened by the “other”.

When you tell me you don’t think of me as being Black, you deny a huge part of who I am. I am a Black woman raised by Black people. My experience of life has not been one of membership in a privileged majority. Even the most economically challenged and uneducated White person can enjoy the privilege of being White, while there are Black men with PhDs who still can’t get a cab in NYC or face violence or death at the hands of the police. Don’t get it twisted: I am a highly educated person, trained to play an instrument at a level achieved by only a very small percentage of the population. Yes, I speak like an educated person and not in some stereotype of Ebonics that you’ve seen on TV. As a Black woman, I have learned to live in and navigate the world of the so-called majority. As comic Dave Chappelle says, all Black people are fluent in two languages: hood and job interview. I am of two worlds by necessity. But I am a product of the people and culture that nurtured me.

It is amusing to me that folks think that I am some sort of anomaly. Nope. There are tons of other folks like me, more than you would think. We read Shakespeare and enjoy the creative and scientific disciplines, but we also enjoy the ways and traditions of our people. I love Beethoven and Brahms and Bach, but I also really love Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. I have a Masters degree from Juilliard, but I can still appreciate the creative artistry of Usher, Pharrell, and Beyonce. I love ballet. I love Klezmer. I love African dance. I love the music, art, and scholarship of the whole world because I am a citizen of the world. My vision is broad and all encompassing and none of it frightens or threatens me.

I only fear evil, and that can be found anywhere at any time. There is no one culture or tradition with a monopoly on evil.

So, don’t tell me you don’t think of me as Black. It only makes you look bad. Expand the way you think to include all that you don’t understand. Believe in people, not in stereotypes. Look for the good in everyone, but don’t look for everyone to be like you in order to be good. Embrace me as your sister and don’t ask me to be anyone other than who I am. Don’t try to “figure me out”. Just accept me and love me. It’s just that simple.


I have always wanted to be a mother. I remember playing with baby dolls and doting over them as so many little girls do. I had a rainbow brood of blond haired babies and brown skinned babies and I called them all my children. Even as I got older, I knew I wanted to have children, even though I wasn’t convinced that I would ever find a life partner to parent with me. Thankfully, I was able to find the best partner in the world. My man is a wonderful husband and an excellent father.

John and I were thrilled to find out that we were pregnant. Well, I was thrilled. John was remarkably stoic about the whole situation when I told him. Actually, he was pretty even keeled about my pregnancy for a while, and I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. He is, by nature, an introvert. It’s taken me years to understand how a noisy woman like me, from a noisy family, ended up making a family with an inherently quiet man from a family that can only be described as reticent. For whatever reasons he may have had, John chose me, crazy noisy family and all. Together he and I created our two beautiful children and our journey as parents began.

By the way, John finally came around when I showed him the baby clothes I’d bought during the first eight or so weeks of my pregnancy (I was passing that Baby Gap anyway — so sue me…). There was a onesie and a little cap, but it was the package of tiny socks that struck John. He saw the socks and started to tear up. “We’re going to have a baby, and that baby’s going to have tiny little feet that will fit into these tiny little socks.” The reality hit him hard, but he was happy.

My early pregnancy was distinguished by one odd change in my appetite. I had never liked eggs much, except for deviled eggs. Before I knew I was pregnant, I decided one day to make deviled eggs. I called John to let him know, and he was thrilled (he loves my deviled eggs!). I used a dozen eggs, thus making 24 deviled eggs. When John arrived home there were 3 left. I felt so bad that I’d eaten so many and left John so few, that I told him I’d make more the next day. I went out and bought 18 eggs and came home to make the deviled eggs I’d promised. When John arrived home, he saw the 6 deviled eggs I hadn’t eaten. Later that week, John and I went to brunch after church. I ordered an omelette. John’s words were simple: “who are you and what have you done with Lisa?” I was as shocked as he was.

Somewhere in my 7th week, I got sick. Really sick. Ridiculously sick. I mean wall to wall, non-stop vomit sick. It lasted for 7 weeks and I lost 10 pounds. I was scared to death that my weight loss would harm my baby. I felt for the first time a feeling that I’ve become extremely familiar with. I felt helpless. There was absolutely nothing I could do but pray and wait for my body to set itself right. Eventually it did and all was well.

After our daughter was born, she had some jaundice and the doctor considered putting her in the hospital. Once again, that feeling of helplessness set in. It would come back many times over the years with her and then again with our son who was born five years later. The feeling would come every time my child was ill, or faced some adversity I could neither prevent nor control. Sometimes I felt only a little helpless. Then there were times when I felt it so much I feared my heart would break apart inside my chest.

One such day was some time in June of 2006 when our 3 year old son was diagnosed with ASD. I’ve said many times in the past, I felt like someone dropped an entire house on my head that day. I had no idea what was ahead of us and what life for my beautiful boy would be like. The helplessness John and I felt nearly ended our marriage because we retreated into our default modes: he fell into a painful silence and I went into full mama tiger mode. We pulled in two different directions because we did not know how to get out of ourselves and pull together. The two people who had come together against great odds and in the face of outright hostility were being torn apart because we couldn’t face our fear and anger about what was happening to our son. We were helpless to do anything for him or ourselves. The outcome looked rather bleak.

We overcame the helplessness eventually and began to repair the rift between us. It took time and there was a lot of painful growing to do, but we are still together and we are still working to help our boy be the best he can be. Everyday we encounter a situation with the kids that challenges us. There are tears we cannot stop and friendships we cannot mend. Sometimes we can only sit back and watch the pain we cannot stop come barreling in on our beloved babies. We know they must learn their own lessons, no matter how painful they might be. But, we cannot deny that we feel their pain and long to end it. We hurt when they hurt and cry 10 tears for every one of theirs. Their anguish is a dagger in our hearts. We do everything we can and then… we wait for the events to unfold.

When folks talk about children separating from their parents, they usually refer to how difficult it is for the child. John and I have had to separate ourselves from our kids just as all parents should, and it has been tremendously difficult for me sometimes. I want to know what will happen to my babies — and they will always be my babies — and I want to help them every step along the way. Of course, I know this can’t happen. They have to learn to walk their own paths and live their own lives, and maybe have their own families. I can’t get in the way of that any more than I would have wanted my parents to get in my way. In the face of the dizzying helplessness I feel, I have to let go and trust that John and I have done our job. We have to stand together and watch them walk away into their future — without us.

I will feel helpless many more times before that day comes.

They came into the world through me, but they do not belong to me. They aren’t mine; they are their own. As long as I love them, I have to accept the helplessness as an unpleasant by-product. With the great love and deep devotion of having a family comes pain and sadness to balance out the joy. One takes the bitter with the sweet.

Almost 17 years after our baby girl came into our lives, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing. Whatever challenges may come, I am the best mom for my babies and I will be there for them no matter how helpless being their mom might make me feel. It’s an honor to learn from parenting them. I think John just might agree with me.


I’ve been feeling pretty low at work recently for various reasons, none of which I will go into here. Work has been slow and money is beyond tight right now. I suppose I’m just experiencing one of those phases where lots of things go wrong all at once. Perhaps later on I will look back on this time and see it differently, but being in it has been extremely challenging and painful. Times like these help me appreciate good times that much more.

So, yesterday I was teaching my high school students. I was almost at the end of a very grueling schedule and just two students away from a three day weekend. I was tired and there was very little fuel left in the tank. The student in front of me was a sweet young girl who I only recently began teaching. I could see how hard she was trying, but I could also see the wall between her and achieving her goal. Like so many girls her age, this girl was afraid to fail.

I saw so much of myself in her. I saw myself at her age and remembered how hell-bent I was on being perfect. I believed that perfection would shield me from the swirling insanity at home, the insidious emotional abuse at school, and the demons I was fighting on my own because I didn’t trust them to anyone else. Perfection was my protection against the loneliness, pain, insecurity, and deep sadness that I felt from age 13 until I graduated high school at 18 (then I traded in perfection for addiction).

I shared none of this with my student. My baggage wasn’t her problem. I’m the teacher in this situation, so I taught.

This is basically what I said, in a moment of blind inspiration:

It’s amazing to me that as we get older we lose the courage it takes to try and fail. We get older and we become afraid to try new things because we are afraid to fail, especially in front of other people.

When we were babies, we held our heads up, we rolled over, we sat up, we pulled up to stand, and one day we tried to walk. It was probably an unqualified disaster. Maybe we took a step or two, and then we fell flat on our ass. So what did we do? We LAUGHED! We tried, we failed, and we laughed about it.

How many times did we try to walk and fail? What if we had stopped trying after the first taste of failure? Where would we be now? As babies, we are driven to try over and over again until we experience the joy of getting what we worked so hard for. We inherently understand that repeated failure is the prerequisite for success. We are not embarrassed or ashamed of our failures. We take them in stride and keep moving forward until we achieve our goal.

How do we lose that? Why do we become so self conscious about failure, even when we know in our heart that it is necessary? How do we get back to the innocence that allowed us to fail repeatedly without caring how others saw us? We need to return to that mind set. We need to be babies again. We need to laugh when we fall.

As with so many moments in which I feel like my teaching flows through me rather than from me, I began to hear my own words echoing in my head. I could see with my eyes that my student was getting the point of what I was saying, but I could feel in my heart that my words were not just for her. Those words, those thoughts that were so carefully calculated to take advantage of a teaching moment, were the salve my own spirit needed. I needed to hear the words I was saying. So much of my teaching career has been made up of these moments of lucidity in which I transcend being the teacher my students need and I become the teacher I need. The truth within me becomes clear enough for me to see what I’ve been missing and needing.

These, for me, are moments of both mercy and grace. They are the answers to my prayer I say every morning: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise.” Every day I ask Him to use me to serve others. Some days, He uses me to heal myself.

Over the last six years, I have tried and failed seven times to achieve a goal that is near and dear to my heart and would be enormously beneficial to my family. Lately, that failure has weighed on me, embarrassed me, angered and saddened me, and made me feel profoundly and deeply ashamed. I have been angry with myself and with the people I saw as being “in my way”. Mostly, I have been angry with God because I don’t understand why no has been the answer to my repeated prayers. I have been a petulant child. I have expected to get things because I think I deserve them and I think it is “my time”.

Duh. Lisa, that’s NOT the way this works. This isn’t a transactional situation. Life is not that simple. Shit just happens and the clean up is messy.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I SHOULD have learned during my daughter’s early years is the one I remember teaching her most often. Character, I told her, is not a measure of how many times life knocks you down. It is the measure of how well you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. I should’ve listened to myself better.

Failure is only the end of the road if you let it be. I could easily sit and lick my wounds and decide never to try again. The only thing that guarantees is that I will never reach my goal. That won’t be anyone else’s fault but mine. If what I want is so important, then I shouldn’t let anyone or anything stand in my way. I have to believe that it can happen and I have to be willing to let it happen in its own time. His time.

Embracing failure may be an odd concept, but it’s what I’ve got. I’m gonna give it a shot.


This will be brief because I really need to get ready for work. I had a ton of stuff going on last night, so I didn’t get to write anything. I tried, but the well was dry.

I have a broad set of shoulders. They have carried a lot over the years, both literally and figuratively. Yesterday, the metaphorical load was too heavy for me and I broke down. There was just too much for me to carry and for a moment I let it all tumble down. The strength that I consistently try to show the world faltered and my burden fell from my shoulders.

However, it did not crash to the ground. It was caught and taken up by a bigger, broader, and stronger set of shoulders. My husband’s.

John held my sob wracked body and dried my tears. He cried with me a little. He spoke quiet words of comfort and love, and then he listened. He took care of me because he cares for me, and he carried my burden for me until I could take it up again myself.

Love is patient, love is kind. Those words were read at our wedding. I heard them. John did too. After 22 plus years, we are still trying to live them everyday.

Thank you, John, for your loving kindness, patience, and — most of all — your big, broad shoulders. I love you too.


Most folks think of me as some combination of the following: loud, outspoken, bitchy, opinionated, judgmental, and aggressive. I can’t fault anyone for thinking of me that way. Unfortunately, that is a pretty accurate picture of how I used to be. As I’ve said before, my grandfather’s summary of my character was “You know Lisa. If it comes up, it comes out.” That’s who I was.

The key word in that sentence is “was”.

I have done my best to change that person that I was into the person I want to be. I don’t think I always get the benefit of the doubt because folks tend to slip into old familiar patterns with me even when I resist. It hurts me to think that anyone would consider me a bitch. I’ve always preferred the word “assertive” to “aggressive”, because I am a strong person who goes for what I want but I’m not nasty about it. I have been working on my tendency to judge first and ask questions later. That’s a character flaw I’ve longed to get rid of for a while now. I do have rather strong opinions and I am not shy about speaking up, but I am learning to wait a beat (or a few beats) before I respond. Old Lisa reacted. New Lisa tries to respond. Old Lisa had a hair trigger. New Lisa still gets angry, but new Lisa thinks it through to the end and tries not to let feelings be confused for facts.

Of all the adjectives I listed above, the one that upsets me the most is loud.

I get it, I can be loud. I get excited. I get animated. I get enthusiastic. I love love LOVE loud music with the bass turned all the way up (thanks, Daddy). Having the volume up in life is part of who I am, but not all of who I am. In fact, there’s a side to me not many people see. There’s something I love that most folks probably won’t believe.

I love silence. Stillness. Quiet. It is so soothing to my frayed nerves. Remember, I teach and play music for a living, so sound is literally my life. In music, I was taught early on that silence is just as important as sound, that silence is what gives sound its meaning. This is true in life as well. We all have so much noise going on all around us, and sometimes in our own heads. I have a brain that is difficult to shut off. It takes effort to get me to stop thinking or working. While we were living in NYC, I was always on. I never had the chance to slow down and breathe. I truly believe that another ten years in NYC may have killed me. I was a nervous and stressed out wreck. A body can only sustain that level of stress for so long before it explodes. Even though I did try to do little things to relax, I just couldn’t. I didn’t even realize this was true until I left NYC six years ago.

Once I was here in Ohio, the silence was deafening. I was alone most of the time. I had no job and few friends. I filled my life with things and people that weren’t necessarily good for me. I made bad choices and I ran from the silence because I couldn’t face what the silence made me do — look at myself. I couldn’t run away from me anymore. I had to take a long hard look and choose to change. Could I? Did I have the courage to change?

It took time, and it was painful, but I have changed. I’m really not the Lisa I was in high school, college, grad school, early career, or even after our move. I’m not saying that I’m perfect — far from it. But I’m happier with my life overall, even when life is stressful and kicking my ass. I have learned to find those moments when I can enjoy the silence that once frightened me. I can rest and be refreshed. I can pray or meditate. I can just be.

What could possibly be better than getting to just be?

I hope that I can better show others how much I’ve changed and how much more change there is ahead of me. I hope I can be a better person and that folks can see and acknowledge me as such. If not, I will keep trying to be better anyway, for myself and my own good. I will keep enjoying the silence and not let the noise overpower me.

Silence is my symphony of peace, my song of joy. I delight in it every chance I get. It is a great gift.


Good evening,

I have been hacking away at a blog post about my grandmother who has been much on my mind lately. The post feels too long and long-winded, but I don’t feel like I’ve actually told her story at all. Grandma was a complicated lady (think Shrek and onions), but her nature toward me was nothing other than sweet and loving. It is hard to write about how I’ve learned to reconcile her sweetness to me with the downright meanness she showed toward others. It’s hard to capture a soul so tortured who lived through so much adversity, but still someone who had an incredible capacity for love and generosity. I’d like to think I got her best qualities since I consider her to be a huge influence on who I am now. Please don’t feel the need to disabuse me of that idea.

So, it’s not done. It’s sitting in my drafts folder waiting for me to pull my head out from up my ass and get it right.

Maybe I’ve been distracted by too many other things. There has been a lot going on and things are tense here at home. It’s hard for me to be creative when I’m under this much stress, even through this outlet of writing which I love so much. I want to be meaningful and profound with everything I write, but it all just starts looking like bullshit on the page. There are far too many folks out there putting bullshit on the internet. I don’t feel the need to join them.

What is holding me back? What holds anyone back from creating, from living, from moving forward in life.


Fear is a four letter word beginning with “F”. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence.

Yes, I am afraid. I am afraid that I am not enough: good enough, smart enough, experienced or educated enough. I am fundamentally afraid of being inadequate to whatever task is in front of me. I am afraid to fail. I’m afraid of not making enough money and losing everything we’ve worked so hard for.

On the lighter side, I am also afraid of spiders, snakes, and heights. Not really important here, but it is a bit of levity after my admission of some rather significantly personal stuff.

I have fallen before and gotten up. I have been disappointed and lived through it. I’ve been told no and gotten over it. I have life experience that tells me I’ll survive my most recent setbacks and challenges just fine. So why am I afraid?

Because, I suppose, fear is something I’ve lived with for a long time. Fear is an old friend. I’ve been afraid of something as long as I can remember. Mostly, I fear loss: loss of respect, loss of face, loss of position, loss of income. I fear losing the fruits of 25 years of labors. It’s as though I think life will come along like a bully, knock down the huge tower of blocks I’ve built, and laugh at me as I cry. Sad, but true.

I’m afraid life will win and I will lose.

With all this fear, you may wonder how the hell I even get up in the morning. I have to get up, you see. It’s what I was taught to do. It’s become an autonomic response. I get scared and I do it anyway. You wanna knock down my block tower, life? Screw you, I’ll build another one — bigger and better than the last one. I simply have to push through the fear. I cry and get upset about it. I ask for prayers to get through it. But, ultimately, I give fear the finger and move forward.

Even though I am, fundamentally, afraid of the thing that most people fear. The unknown.

I encounter the unknown everyday with my son. What new issue will arise? When will the other shoe drop? Will it fall on my head? The unknown scares the shit out of me. It springs from my need to control everything. I freak out because I can’t control the unknown — because I don’t know what the hell it will be.

Fear has paralyzed me from time to time. I’d like to think I’m better about that now. Fear has crippled me to the point of panic before, but I’m still here. Some would say fear is an illusion. I am learning to see the truth of that and trying not to live in fear or to let fear inhabit my head for free.

What replaces fear? For me, the answer is simple. Faith replaces fear.

My life has been such a crazy roller coaster. It’s a miracle in many ways that I’m still alive. That alone confirms the existence of God as far as I’m concerned. I could not have lived this loony life of mine without Him. If God protects babies and fools, I have no question which one I am, and He’s protected me more times than I can count. Faith is the only stuff potent enough to counteract fear. I pray everyday for my faith to be stronger.

I fear death. I fear losing my husband and kids someday. Life is full of opportunities to be afraid. I really am trying to get past the things that drive up my blood pressure. My faith tells me that I have everything I need. I just need to open my eyes and see. I just need to believe.

Much love,


I have started and erased three blog posts in the last ten minutes. Usually, on my drive home, I have tons of great ideas of what to write. Tonight, I got nothing. Nada. Zippo.

Goose. Egg.

I’ve read a few other blogs that I’ve run across. In the process, I’ve discovered something that I’d long suspected. Most people are not very good writers. I’m not saying that they don’t have anything worthwhile to say (although some of them really don’t…), but that the mechanics of writing simply elude them. Didn’t we learn about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions in school when we were kids? Hell, I remember learning them on School House Rock on Saturday mornings!

A noun is a person, place, or thing!

VERB! That’s what’s happening.

So we unpacked our adjectives. (He was a hairy bear. He was a scary bear. We beat a hasty retreat from his lair…).

Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here!

Conjunction junction, what’s your function?

Have we become so preoccupied with standardized testing that we’ve stopped doing simple things like teaching kids how to diagram sentences? Are spelling bees just for geeks with ridiculously high IQs? Have we lost the details that made learning an art and teaching a creative profession? Has the age of emoticons and texting abbreviations (OMG, BTW, IMHO, ROFLMFAO, LOL) led us to give up correct spelling, proper sentence structure, and good grammar? We don’t write real letters anymore. Why should we? We have email. We don’t correspond. We Facebook, Tweet, Instagram, and Snap Chat. All of the skills we needed to communicate effectively have gone out the window and have been replaced with crap that kinda looks like how we talk (folks don’t do that very well either…).

So, on an evening when I await the return of my husband after two consecutive weeks of travel, and my dogs are barking their heads off to go for a walk, I have a simple request. People, please be pickier about what you write and how you write it. Dot your i’s, cross your t’s, and use your Oxford commas. Take pride in what you write and remember that it represents you out in the world. It’s easy to be mistaken for stupid when your writing skills are lacking. Don’t misrepresent yourself and your intelligence.

Of course, now I’m paranoid about my own writing. Physician, heal thyself…

Much love,

Mary, Michael, and Edith

Last night, I did not do a blog entry because I was completely exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. An email I got late last night kept me from getting that sleep, unfortunately. I’m not sure this entry will be in English or gibberish, but I’ll give it a shot.

This is what I would have written last night:

Today (11/5/14) is my aunt Mary Ann’s birthday. Even though I call her my aunt, Mary Ann and I have always been more like sisters than aunt and niece. My grandmother (who isn’t even biologically my grandmother, but that’s a REALLY big and complicated story!) adopted Mary Ann when she was a baby. Mary Ann was the child of my grandmother’s niece (confused yet?) who was unable to care for a baby at the time. So, Mary Ann joined the family as younger sister to my dad (20 years older) and my uncle Vincent (9 years older). I asked her once when I was about 4 or so if I should call her “aunt”. At 13, she shut me down pretty quickly. Mary Ann was an aunt, but not an aunt — a relative, but not a relative. Despite what the relationship looked like “on paper”, we maintained a really close bond that is still going strong.

As a small child, I thought that Mary Ann was the most beautiful girl in the world. Anyone from a black (yeah, I still say black, because African American is so awkward sometimes) family knows that there are often issues surrounding color that have their roots in slavery’s “house nigger” and “field nigger” divide. (N.B. If you are bothered by the word nigger, please understand that its use is not the same for blacks and non-blacks. That is a conversation for another time, but it is a word that will appear within a certain context in my writings from time to time. It is not meant to shock or cause debate. Please read everything rather than being repulsed by a single word.) I was a light skinned kid which brought with it the taunts of so-called friends and family alike: lite brite, high yellow, uppity, etc. Mary Ann is the most luscious shade of dark chocolate. I wanted that gorgeous dark skin! My family, on the other hand, made sure to remind her every day that she was ugly and unworthy because she was dark. Light skin and “good” hair (holy shit, I HATE that term!) made me the favored child. Mary Ann, by all rights, should have hated my guts. Instead, she loved and cherished me like no one else in our family did. We shared a bond no one else understood, and there was a lot of time and energy put into breaking it.

Epic. Fail.

I once alluded to the fact that I saw more violence in a day than Law & Order showed in an entire season. It’s true. A lot of that violence was right in my own home. I’d rather not share too much about that out of respect for my relatives, but I will say that an inordinately high percentage of that violence was directed toward Mary Ann. I used to cry when I heard, or sometimes saw, Mary Ann get her ass beat. Even after it was over, I was an inconsolable mess. How could anyone want to hurt my beautiful beloved Mary Ann? What could possibly deserve such a beating?

So, even after being beaten half to death, Mary Ann would come and comfort me. She would do the funniest (I mean, really damn funny!) impression of Lily Tomlin’s character Edith Adams (I’m showing my age now… who remembers Edith Adams?). She would start in on that impression and slowly my tears would fade into peals of laughter. Without fail. No one made me laugh like Mary Ann. I wanted to be just like her.

My family did NOT want me to be anything like her. She was demonized by them for reasons I really can’t understand, even 40 years later. This is the kind of sick family pathology that psychologists get their PhDs on. I wish someone would explain this crap to me.

Some of my absolute favorite memories of Mary Ann involve music and dancing. She had an amazing singing voice and she could dance like someone on the Soul Train line (OMG, Soul Train… a moment of silence for the late great Don Cornelius, please). My Uncle Vincent was also an amazing dancer. If I can dance at all (which lots of folks say I can), it’s because I spent hours in rapt awe watching these two tear up the dance floor. They were amazing and inspiring, and these were the bright spots in a very scary and unsure childhood. These are the moments I hang on to.

I remember when Michael Jackson (another moment of silence, please) released his first solo album, Off the Wall. Mary Ann ran out to get a copy. She loved Michael Jackson! They were only about a year apart in age, so she was convinced they’d be married one day (no snide comments, okay…?). I ran downstairs to join her in the living room at my grandma’s house. There was a big old stereo console in one corner, more furniture than sound equipment as we think of it these days. I remember the album cover. I remember the centerfold. I remember the socks! I remember the sound as the needle touched the vinyl for the very first time and my life and hers were never the same. C’mon, y’all. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. You remember what the first track on that album is…

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough! The force has got a lot of power. It makes me feel like… OOH!

To this day, I can’t hear that song without remembering the ecstatic dance Mary Ann did that very first time she heard it. I have always maintained that there are a few absolutely perfect songs in the world: Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Shout, Flashlight (y’all feel me, right?). Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is at the top of that list. Michael’s vocals and Quincy Jones’ production? Shut the front door! That shit is relevant, funky, and fabulous to this day — almost 40 years later. I dare you to find better arrangements than Quincy’s on that album and the two he did with Michael after that.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

I didn’t think so.

So, flash forward to June 2009 when Michael’s great talent faded into his untimely death (I still get choked up thinking about that day). The very minute I heard the news, who did I call? Yep, you can probably guess that my Mary Ann got the first call. We shared that tragedy together and reminisced about all those dance sessions in Grandma’s living room, where we really did wear a groove in the floor. We talked about the late 70s and what life was like before Mary Ann had my cousin Vincent and moved out of my Grandma’s house. Once she was gone, life was harder for me. There was no longer that bright beacon of love and hope. My Mary Ann had moved on, gotten married to her husband James (an amazing man who loves her down to the ground), and had begun a family of her own.

Lots of life has happened since then. “Little Vincent”, who my husband once carried on his back across Tappan Square here in Oberlin, is now nearly 36 years old and big and strong enough to almost carry my husband! My cousin Melissa is nearly 30. I’ve been married close to 23 years and my kids are inching up on 17 and 12. Grandma’s gone now. So’s my dad. Mary Ann and her family are pretty much my last connections to my childhood home in North Philly. Little Lisa is little no more. I’m about to celebrate my 25th college reunion.

Time has flown. I’m edging up on 50 and Mary Ann on 60. Where did those years go?

No matter where they went or what happened in between then and now, Mary Ann still makes me laugh like no one else. I still think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Period. She’s built like an African fertility goddess, for crying out loud! And that skin is still the deepest, darkest chocolate. She still looks the same after all these years, and she says I do too (black don’t crack, honey…). We are still like sisters, and she’ll still do her Edith Adams impression for me if I ask her to.

On your birthday, my most marvelous Mary Ann, I want to wish you many more years of happiness and joy, and in the words of Mr. Don Cornelius himself — peace, love, and SOUL. I hope we grow old and keep keeping it real together for a long time to come. I will always love you. Always.


Today has been an especially rough day in the midst of a lot of difficult stuff going on.

I am very public in my feelings a lot of the time. I’ve had folks accuse me of attention seeking behavior. Since I am, by training, a performer, I suppose there is an element of truth to the idea that I seek and enjoy attention. However, I truly believe that I have chosen to live out loud and tell my story because I know I am not unique. We all have a story. Mine might be more or less interesting and exciting than another, but it is like everyone else’s in a lot of ways. Perhaps some element of my story will give someone the courage to speak up, speak out, or get help. Maybe it will make someone having a crappy day laugh. Maybe someone will smile because some part of my life resonates with their own. Or maybe someone will read this and just say “who gives a shit?” All of those responses are possible and valid. If you don’t think what I write is relevant, or, worse than that, you think it’s all a bunch of self-indulgent bullshit written by a middle-aged whiner, then you have my permission to move along. My blog isn’t for you. It’s for me. If it touches someone else’s heart (and by the responses I’ve received I can tell it has), then it is for them too. If you think I’m a self-centered bore, you’ve missed the point I’ve been trying to make.

I am a flawed human being sharing my crazy life with other flawed human beings. I experience the same pain, joy, fear, sorrow, and grumpiness that everyone else does.

Today, I heard back about something that was very important to me and my family, and the answer was no. That simple no was dropped squarely onto a pile of other no’s, I don’t knows, no you can’ts, and we’ll have to wait and sees. That no was literally the straw that broke my back and my spirit, all in the 30 seconds before I pulled into the parking lot at my job. I could feel myself breaking apart: my mind, my body, my spirit. I was crushed under the weight of that no and I momentarily felt as if the world were crashing down all around me. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but maybe you’ve felt that way too once or twice.

Of course, I know my life isn’t over. Frankly, my family can’t afford for my life to be over in the sense that I can’t just sit and cry in a parking lot and skip work because I only get paid directly for the work I do. Briefly, for a fleeting moment, I had a George Bailey moment in which I realized that I was (on paper, anyway) worth more dead than alive. That thought scared the hell out of my husband who heard me remark as I realized it (sorry, Boo Boo). It scared me too. Mostly, I was just tremendously hurt and pissed off and feeling sorry for myself.

I’ve given myself 24 hours to feel crappy, cry, watch bad tv, and eat food that is unequivocally bad for me (chicken and bacon ranch pizza, anyone?). That’s all I get. I will set aside one day to feel the feelings and not run. After that, I need to move on to what’s next. There are folks I don’t think I’ll be able to talk to for a while, and that’s what it is. I need time and distance to fully heal this wound. I need to honestly acknowledge the pain without wallowing in it and letting it take me over. Today life sucks. Shit happens.

I hope I have a tomorrow so that I can have a better day. If not, I hope that I have just one moment of forgetfulness before I go to bed. I just want one moment to forget the pain and smile at something. I haven’t had it yet, but I’m hopeful.

I’m tired and I feel a bit lost now. That’s probably a pretty natural feeling following a big disappointment. I won’t be lost forever, I know. My family gives my life structure, meaning, purpose, and direction. They love me and they need me. They can give me this one day off, but after that it’s back in the saddle again.

This too shall pass. I heard a friend of mine say that just yesterday. It’s never been a favorite phrase of mine, but it is timely and true. This too shall pass: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It all passes away to make room for the next. I’m at the bottom of the roller coaster today and I guess it will go back up at some point. I don’t want to miss that.

It struck me earlier today that last night’s post “Life On Life’s Terms” was prophetic in a way. Life chose to kick my ass today and I have to accept that. I can’t change it. Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. Even though the bag of shit I carry, just like everyone else’s bag of shit, sprung a leak today, I have to keep moving on — if only to get away from the smell.

Five or six years ago, I would’ve worried about what this pain would lead me to do to myself. I’m not worried today. That’s a blessing.

I hope to have a better day tomorrow. I hope that things will get better on all fronts. I really hope that I can keep doing the next right thing until I find my way.

I hope.