Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quote of the Week: Immortalize Yourself

"We only live once. Since we are given the gift of life it should be our persistent endeavor to immortalize ourselves. No matter what field of endeavor we choose." ~ Michael Jackson.

When Spirit Leads...

Right after the Haiti earthquakes, Kevin Powell and I organized several Help Haiti events and this one in particular was early April 2010. As a co-organizer of the community forum, I was supposed to arrive early to help set up. I was running late and wasn't very happy about that.

I hustled from the train station to the Brooklyn Historical Society where the event was being held and for no reason at all, the well-being of Marie Eusebe (a good friend from my college days at Howard University) came front and center. "I wonder how Marie is doing?" The second question was "Where the hell did that random thought come from?" I had not seen or talked to Marie in at least 5 years. So I paid no attention to this peculiar sense and continued to rush to the venue.

I checked in with everyone, and everyone was on point: my team had set up the sign in/info table, the co-organizers were handling their responsibilities, the media crew was setting up, and all was going reasonably well. That gave me a moment to go to the ladies room, get my head together, relax my shoulder, and mediate on the people of Haiti. As a co-organizer and panelist, I needed a space where I could de-program and review my notes.

At some point, another woman either walked into the bathroom or came out one of the stalls. Because I was totally in my own head, I didn't zone in on her, but the moment I lifted my head to fix my face in the bathroom mirror, she called my name, "April Silver?? It's Marie Eusebe!!"

I stared at her in disbelief. How is it that I think of her just moments ago and she appears? In the ladies room, no less, I wondered.

To make matters even more phenomenal, she said "You are not going to believe this, but you ran across my mind the other day. Out of the blue...and now I see that you're doing this panel. How weird is that?"

I go on to tell her that for no apparent reason at all, her spirit came to me in the form of a question, as I was rushing from the subway. We spent the next few minutes marveling at the power of spirit and the realness of how connected we are. We were both amazed, but not fully. Actually, she and I shared thoughts on how our spirit selves have a way of getting what they need from our human shells, whether it makes sense to us or not.

Today, on the eve of the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti this time last year, I'm not thinking about - at least for this moment - all the political turmoil, the fraud, the exploitation, the disease, nor the chaos that has gripped the great island nation of Haiti. Instead I'm meditating on the hundreds of thousands of people of African ancestry who, in a matter of minutes, made their transition when the forces of nature shook the earth. In a matter of minutes, Haiti became the center of the world and, by and large, the focus was all wrong. The public and media chatter talked so much about what Haiti wasn't. Added to the conversation must be a loud amplification of what Haiti is and has always been. That conversation need not solely focus on an economic context. We, as human beings, are more profound than that one dimension.

Too quickly, Port-Au-Prince became a mass sacred burial ground, yet there is a message in that. We are reminded that spirit will take what it needs from this side in order to restore balance, in order to get us moving in the right direction. It's not a hard conclusion at which to arrive: The depth of devastation in Haiti, currently and throughout history, runs parallel to the gross injustices that she has endured, both from her so-called neighbors and from within. And spirit will not let us forget. Spirit will pull at us and show up in our lives until we restore balance...and get us moving in the right direction.

Tomorrow (January 12), Ms. Eusebe, who is from Haiti, is co-presenting a very special event at the Apollo Theater. The "Hope and A Future: A Benefit Concert for Haiti" will feature music, dance, and spoken word, but it is also a practical, responsible, direct line to offering relief to people in Haiti who have been terribly affected by the earthquake. AKILA WORKSONGS, Inc. is a Community Partner for this event. The Community2Community website explains it all: www.Community2Community.info.

Haitians are a resilient people and they have a lot to teach the world. There is a way to listen and demonstrate support in a way that is respectful and meaningful. Learn more via the Community2Community organization and join us tomorrow at The Apollo.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Stuff on Trial (Or: The Joy of Letting Go)

What I learned coming into 2011: I have separation anxiety about everything!

Last month, my brother and sister-in-law visited for a weekend, right before Christmas. Omar barely took two steps into my apartment (which he hasn't been in since 2004) and said, "Yeah, you have to get rid of some of this stuff. You're a hoarder." I was mortified.

Prior to his arrival, I had asked him to come prepared to give me his honest opinion about my apartment once he arrived at my place. Don't know what triggered that solicitation, but I knew that I trusted him and that he would be honest...brutally so. But how, on God's green earth, could he call me a hoarder?

"I'm nothing like the people on the TV! Have you seen that show? Are you calling me one of them? " I asked arrogantly.

I was in total shock because, in fact, I am neat, organized, not messy, and definitely not filthy! Feeling attacked, I went on to argue about how orderly my space is; that my office and my home are one in the same. I have simply out-grown the apartment. Things would look quite differently once I separate home and office.

But Omar said I sounded like an alcoholic presenting the case of not being a "sloppy, non-functional alcoholic." He went on to ask, as he eyed the bottom shelf of one of my book cases, "What are you doing with those telephone logs from 1993?" I had a sound reason so I explained and he actually sided with me. But though I was relived, I couldn't deny the fact that perhaps I was holding on to too much stuff. For the first time, I was beginning to see a larger issue.

So I allowed myself to be picked at by Omar and Maria (my sister-in-law). It was surreal. I felt like a rat in a maze: There was hardly a place to escape. For nearly every rationalization, excuse, and reason that I offered as to why, for example, I had so many books (five floor-to-ceiling bookcases...and that's just in the living room), I got trumped. They did, however, cut me some slack on the nostalgic items. When I proudly showed them the outfits that Omar and I were baptized in as babies, my mother's purse from her wedding day, and a baseball glove from Omar's pre-teen era, they conceded. "Sentimental things make sense to keep, but most of this stuff is not sentimental, April." I went on to explain that it was important to me to save items that represent various eras of my life...from childhood to now. "Why is it not okay to save a few things like that?" I pleaded. They didn't argue that point, but they did ask "When was the last time you watched any of these videos in your media cabinet? And do you even own a record player for all this vinyl over here in the corner? And, again...why do you have some many books?" Few people can relate to my love of books.

I began to look at my apartment through a "stranger's" eye. I do have stacks of media (Cd's, DVDs, those VHS tapes, cassette tapes and even one or two 8-tracks...just for the fun of it). My rationale was air tight, I thought. I work in communications. I'm naturally going to have more media than the average person.

"Then why haven't you made a digital conversion? Why don't you have an e-reader? " they asked. My logical (?) response: "I simply haven't gotten around to that yet, but that doesn't mean that I need to throw it all away...right?"

No matter where I scurried, I was losing this tug-of-war. When they asked why wasn't this "stuff" in storage, I said that I don't want that expense. As small business owner, I have better uses of my hard earned money. I'd rather neatly organize and store items in my apartment until such time that I can afford to pay rent on a space that's not generating income.

So my brother offered a solution: "Whatever you can pack up, we'll store in our basement and it won't cost you. We have more than enough space." To his surprise, I had two boxes ready to go the next morning. A few weeks later, I had four more boxes ready to ship. I have come to admit that all this stuff is more than I need.

Since Omar and Maria's pricking, I have been examining my behavior like a mad woman. My issues are glaring and I'm feeling quite naked during this first week of 2011. I have control and trust issues, my need to be self-reliant and always prepared is a tad abnormal (at this very moment, for example, my make up bag has everything in it from safety pins to mouthwash), and I have an obsession with "not letting go." For me, its tantamount to betraying the past (and if you know my work as an activist, then perhaps you can appreciate the symbolism here).

So today, I paused from work to confront my magazine collection that has been stacked in my closet since 1992 or so. I can't fully explain why I have so many issues of Essence, Ebony, Vibe, The Source, Black Enterprise, American Legacy, Black Scholar, and other magazines. Nor can I explain what I'm going to do with the vintage comic books that I have neatly stored in the other closet. Whatever the reasons, I'm examining them all...and letting go. Over the years, I have rationalized that I need these magazines, and books, and phone logs to document my journeys, to recall our culture, to re-visit important past stories - in my personal life and in my community. I have rationalized that, as a writer, I need to be able to reference this media content for all the books that I'll someday write.

Wow. I heard myself, in that moment, explain this to myself and all I could say was "Wow! You, old gurl, are a coward." I can now admit that I'm probably the neatest hoarder there is, but a hoarder nonetheless. I don't know if I would have come to that realization if it were not for the unintended intervention from my family and an episode of "Enough Already! with Peter Walsh" that I watched today on OWN. Kind of freaked me out.

Now my 'not wanting to let go' has come to symbolize all the blockage in my life, all the things that are not growing creatively, not growing in my love life, and not growing in my business. So I'm excited at the shedding that will take place this year. I can't think of a better way to blossom.