Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Best Compliment from a Customer!

Today I answered a call from two sistas seeking to order a particular book series through our store. Well, actually one woman was on the phone with me while confirming things with the other and telling her to jot things down, but you catch my drift. At first there was some confusion, as not all the titles they had in mind matched the ones that came up when I searched our system. (Turns out that the author wrote two successive series whose titles are identical save for a one-word difference.) Once we'd figured that out, I thought we'd be good. But then, after I answered their subsequent questions about shipping time, shipping fees, membership benefits, and being able to order books from us without stepping foot in the store, the women decided wisely against ordering anything for now.

Sista: You know what? I think I better go and check which ones we've read and which ones we might've given away to people. That way we can be sure which ones we need to order, and then I'll call you again.

Danielle: Ok, that's fine.

Sista: Now, what's your name again?

Me: Danielle.

Sista: Danielle, ok─[to her friend in the background] Write that down! Her name's Danielle. We'll call and ask for her later.

Me [checking the time to see that I should've clocked out five minutes ago]: Well, you know, I actually won't be here for much longer today. But whoever answers the phone when you call back should be able to help you, no problem.

Sista [sounding disappointed]: Oh... But you're so good! We want to talk to you!

Me [laughing to keep from crying at how nice this lady is being]: Aww, thank you! I really appreciate that!

Sista: Yeah, you've been extremely helpful. So you will be in later, right? Just not today?

Me: Right.

Sista: Well that's okay, because I probably won't be able to call again today anyhow. So I'll just call some other time this week and maybe we'll catch you.

Me: Alright then. Y'all have a great day!

Sista: You too. And thank you! Bye.

Monday, July 27, 2015

BOOKS! (The Box Man)

This book is bizarre, to say the least. I had to read Abe Kobo's Woman in the Dunes for my Japanese lit class last semester, and I bought it from a seller on Amazon who threw in The Box Man for free. Before even thinking about picking up this novel, I think it's wise to read Woman in the Dunes beforehand to get a feel for Kobo's writing style and pervading themes. Because at least then you'll be primed with the knowledge that you can't go into an Abe Kobo book expecting to understand all of it or have it clearly laid out for you. And that way, when you finally do crack open The Box Man, you'll have been mentally prepared for the challenge that awaits.

The Box Man by Abe Kobo 

The premise at first has the narrator, who identifies himself as a box man, describing the phenomena of people such as himself choosing to reject their quotidian lives to live as vagrants, roaming around with boxes over their heads and bodies that they've outfitted to be their new homes. What we are reading are presumably the notes he scribbles all over the inside of his box, keeping a record of his daily life and the observations he makes of the outside world. He claims to have been a photographer before becoming a box man, so he is very much preoccupied with images, imagination, and perceptions of reality. And as a box man, he can't help but pontificate on the precariousness of identity and loneliness. The main story involves him randomly getting shot while walking up a road, and after having reached a small local hospital he becomes obsessed with the doctor and nurse who run the place. He's infatuated with the exhibitionist nurse and lusts after seeing and touching her body, he's convinced that the doctor shot him in order to take his box and become a "fake" box man, and he suspects that the doctor and nurse are conspiring against him.

But then it all changes from there. Narrators switch, random photos and newspaper clippings are inserted here and there, events happen that appear to be dreams but may not be, it's all a cluster of whatishappeningrightnow. There are between one and eight characters in the novel in its entirety, depending on who's narrating which part and whether you believe that that character is who they say they are (whether you believe they actually exist in the novel). The city of Tokyo, some overpass on the outskirts of the city, a hospital also on the outskirts of the city, and a couple other imaginary or non-imaginary places make up the setting. Strange monologues and dialogues occur where you're not always sure who is speaking, and it's like so many things are happening and yet nothing is happening at once. Even the connections between characters are put into question. 

Now, as far as the concept of a box man goes, I kind of get it. Living with a box over your head represents the desire to be anonymous, even when surrounded by tons of people on a daily basis. But anonymity and invisibility make for a mixed bag of consequences. On the one hand, you're isolated from everyone, don't have real (much less stable) relationships, and frankly, you don't live in the real world but rather the world you create in your head. But! No one has access to you or knows you unless you will it, and if no one can reach you, that means (theoretically) no one can do you harm. It's like you want to be part of the world and have unmitigated freedom to wander and spy on all its goings on, but you don't want to be so involved in it that you can't retreat and hide whenever you need too. This is quite a fascinating scenario that Kobo has come up with.

The biggest question is, though, is any of this real? Two characters point out that the story exists only because of the notes that are taken by any one character at a time, which means the events could have actually happened or they could just as well be a figment of the narrator/notetaker's imagination. Basically this novel is one huge troll, which you'll likely be tempted to give up on, as I was. But it's also an educative example of how unstable narrators in a novel can be made to be, and how sometimes as readers we're called on to participate and be discerning rather than just consume the story at face value. Sometimes we're called on to decide if what we're reading is believable or even real in the context of the story. I thought Murakami's stuff was mind-bending, but this book really messes with your head. By far, Abe Kobo takes the absurdist, surrealist, fantastical, mysterious, existentialist, brain-bending cake. Still, as much of a challenge as this book might be, I encourage anyone who's up for it to read The Box Man at least once, just to see how your particular gears will turn when faced with a book that consistently and purposefully refuses you the comfort of having things make immediate sense. Have fun. May the comprehension odds be ever in your favor.

Favorite quotes:
"That the act of spying on someone else is generally looked upon with scorn is because, I suppose, one does not want to be on the side of being seen... Anybody would rather look than be looked at. The fact that they keep on and on selling endless instruments for "looking"─radios and televisions─is excellent proof that ninety-nine percent of men are aware of their own unsightliness" (86).

"When he realized that there was no reason to fear anyone's looking back at him... Every detail of the scene was pervaded by a soft but penetrating light, and everything that struck the eye was velvety smooth and graceful... The world was filled with a softness as of an early Saturday evening that would go on forever... Just by looking at it, the world was happy for him. In his imagination he put his signature to a peace treaty between himself and the world" (150-1).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Skunk Spray and a Mama's Influence...

....Neither goes away without putting up a fight.

Madison, my elderly but still overly curious dog, got sprayed by a skunk last night. And so after making a midnight run to the grocery store for the necessary supplies, Ma and I were up until 2:30am scrubbing her down to get rid of the smell. However, because I'd inhaled so much of the stench while handling Madison, I could still taste it in my mouth and my throat and chest were irritated when I got up this morning. Ma insisted I do a breathing treatment (our emergency Plan B for when an inhaler isn't enough to tame my asthma), which I balked at as being unnecessary. But Ma declared that I'd be doing it anyway, which led to another one of our "I can't wait until I'm on my own and you can't tell me what to do anymore" conversations.

Me: Fine... this is why I need to get out of here. Because you're always just gonna do whatever you wanna do and pull the "mother card" out on me.

Ma: You've got to accept the fact that no matter where you go or how old you get, I'm still gonna be your mother.

Me: Yeah, but if I'm not in this house,  you can't make me do anything I don't wanna do.

Ma: Wanna bet?

Me: Ma! If I'm off somewhere, say I'm living over in Japan or something, what can you make me do?

Ma: Don't worry about it. I'll come up with something. 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nice Day in NOVI!

Today was my day off. And instead of spending it mulling around the house like I usually do, I decided to go out and do something! So I drove to a nearby city called Novi with one of my best friends. Novi has the largest and most notable Japanese community in all of Michigan, so we spent the day there exploring Japanese things (mostly food) and nature. We had a splendid time! I'm putting up a few pics here, but click the link below to see all of the photos that I took during our excursion!

Nice Day in NOVI! photos

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BOOKS! (Boy Meets Depression) - proof

Hurray! I recently got my hands on my first advanced reading copy/uncorrected proof ever! This is yet another thing that I can chalk up to the perks of working in a bookstore. Most of the ARCS and proofs that come our way look like snoozefests to me, but this one caught my eye with its verging-on-ugly-but-not-quite neon green cover, its relatively short 200-page length, the title's reference to one of my favorite 90s TV shows, and the big "D" word in its title that resonates with me so much. So I figured, what the hey, I'll take a chance! And I'm glad I did.

Boy Meets Depression: Or Life Sucks and Then You Die Live by Kevin Breel 
(on sale September 15th, 2015)

Kevin Breel is a Canadian comic and mental health activist who apparently did a TED Talk in 2013 that brought him a lot of attention. I don't know if this book was already in the works before TED or not,  but it's certainly helped give this project momentum. The back cover quotes some TV personality and author who claims that Breel "has single-handedly demystified depression" through this book. I would disagree for three reasons: 1) Kevin Breel is neither the first nor the only person out there to write about depression as he has done here. 2) In order to declare such a shift in culture, the book would have to have reached a significant amount of people enough to transform thought and discussion about depression, and since the public doesn't have access to this book yet, I don't think such a claim can be made. And 3) Kevin Breel does an excellent job of describing what depression feels like. As someone who also suffers from depression, I can vouch for this based on my own experience. But! Just because Breel's experience has some similarities with mine, doesn't mean that his depression story is altogether representative of mine or anyone else's. So to say he demystifies depression across the board for everybody is a stretch.

But anywhoo, moving on to the book itself. Boy Meets Depression is Breel's account of dealing with depression in his own way. And after having read it, I'm struck by how unremarkable his life is. Now, I don't mean this in a pejorative way. He grew up in suburbia (so did I). His parents had a terrible relationship and got divorced while he was relatively young (so did mine). He was an incredibly awkward and sensitive kid (so was I). But he still had a good group of friends and was decently involved in school (so was I). And his mom may not have understood all that he was going through, but she stuck by him and did her best to help him get through (so did mine). His life is unremarkable in that I'm sure many young people can relate. And I think it's that relatability that makes the depression part less taboo when he finally delves into it. An average guy with a relatively decently life, who's been through some things and has had a hard time accepting himself and processing his hardships. That probably sounds like a lot of people you know, right? That's what makes this book work. It's accessible without dumbing things down too much, which is a useful approach to educating people about not only what a mental illness is, but also how it can manifest in one person's day-to-day life.

Three chapters in particular are required reading, in my opinion. If for whatever reason you want to take the lazy route and get to the meat of what this book has to offer, chapters 4, 7, and 8 will give it to you. Chapter 4 ("High School, Hormones, and Hard-Ons") is about Breel's downward spiral in high school, and the guidance counselor named Mr. York who refuses to give up on him. Breel has a real advocate in his corner, but (*spoiler*) when things get too real, he pushes Mr. York away. I've done that many a time before, even though I knew I needed help. Chapter 7 ("Boy Meets Depression") gives you the ins and outs of what depression is, how depression can make one feel/think/act, Kevin Breel's hitting rock bottom and contemplating suicide, and his decision to keep living. He waxes a little too long on the warped depths that depression can take you to, which was triggering for me and thus made it hard for me to get through this chapter. But otherwise, it's the most accurate description I've read of what I know depression to be like, and though it may not be indicative of all depressed people's experiences, it gives quite the thorough picture. And lastly, Chapter 8 ("Leather Chairs in Sooke") talks about Breel finally taking the plunge and going to therapy, what he got out of his sessions, and how his perceptions of therapy changed as a result. This chapter reminded me a lot of my Sessions with Sue, which I remember fondly.

The book reads a lot like a TED Talk, which is okay in some parts but in others it just kinda makes me nauseous. A few too many cliches, and some lines wreak of trying too hard to sound profound. Some ideas are repetitive, and in certain parts I think he's trying to be funny in a self-deprecating way, but it reads like he's being too hard on himself. Like, Dude! Of course it took you a long time to figure out what matters most in life! It takes everyone a long time! You're only 21, man. Cut yourself some slack! And Dude! Just because you don't have the worst life ever doesn't mean that you have no right to be depressed! While this book may not be a stellar read, it is incredibly honest, helpful, and soooooo necessary. If you or someone you know is interested in learning about how people live with depression everyday, and want something that's accessible (no complex medical or specialized concepts to go over people's heads!), then this is where you start. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Kevin Breel for the courage to tell his story. Thank you, sir, for doing your part. God bless you and good luck with the release!

Favorite quote:
"Sometimes I think of my depression as a fog... In a way, fog is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It's hard to define, hold, or interact with, and yet it exists. It's there. You can't really clear it away just because you want it to be gone. At the same time, you always know that the fog is just temporary. It's always just rolling through. It will be here for a while and then it will pass. And eventually it will disappear completely and the world as you know it will come back in to plain view, like it never even left. But in the meantime, while it's still hanging in the air as thick as smoke, you can't see life the way you used to see it. The beauty is missing and the perspective is gone. You can only see the six inches in front of your face, and those six inches aren't pretty" (124).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reading Companion

Was feeling down the other day, so I decided to try sitting on the floor and reading to get my mind off things. Madison took this as her cue to assume her favorite cuddling position.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Amy + Inside Out

Monday was my day off, so I decided to go to the movies by myself, watch two films back-to-back, and have myself a good cry. Luckily for me I picked two great films to cry through.

Seen Monday July 13th: Amy

Unseen footage, unheard songs, over 100 interviews, and other material were used to produce this documentary detailing the life, rise to stardom, and untimely death of Amy Winehouse. The English soul/R&B/jazz singer-songwriter had a distinctive voice, showcased an edgy and honest writing style, and amassed her share of love from fans and ridicule from media during her career. She released two albums before falling victim to addiction on July 23, 2011 at age 27. This film attempts to tell her story "in her own words".

What I really like about this film: Though people have already voiced their issues with the story that this documentary tells, I lovelovelove the way this story is told. The emphasis is almost completely on documentary materials: photos, video footage and audio recordings, magazine and newspaper clippings, scans of pages from Amy's song/poetry/lyric books in her own handwriting. Commentary from various people who were part of Amy's life serves as narration, but we don't see them as they're being interviewed; we only hear their voices. Really the only footage specially shot for the film are aerial and panning shots that were done using drones. Rather than on all the people who have so much to say about this woman, the focus is on Amy and the story that's being portrayed about her. And I just found that to be magnificent. I haven't seen many documentaries in my life so I'm no expert, but this one is definitely high on my list of favorites.

Aside from her problems with addiction, what I got most out of the story is that Amy Winehouse was an artist's artist; and despite how famous she got, fame was never the goal. She just wanted to make music that was real and meant something to her, and the stuff of her life made up most of her material. "Some Unholy War", "You Know I'm No Good", "Love is a Losing Game", "Rehab", "Tears Dry on Their Own", etc. We get the play-by-play on the events that inspired all of those songs and more. And that affected me deeply. When they went into the background behind "Back to Black", showed her recording the song, and then played the actual mixed and mastered record that I've heard time and time again, I cried like a baby. And then at the end when they showed EMS carrying her body out of her apartment and loading her into the back of a truck, and then cut to a bunch of shots and clips from the beginning of the film that show young bright-eyed Amy all hopeful and hardworking and drug free, I wept. I couldn't not weep. As a casual fan I'd known that Amy Winehouse was different, but this film made me realize just how special and vulnerable of a person she was. We lost someone truly, incredibly, devastatingly special, and that's quite a beautiful and heartbreaking thing to have to acknowledge.

What I don't like about this film: As much as the documentary talks about Amy as an artist, I wished it would've focused even more on her artistry and impact than it did. Like how unique her voice and jazz inclinations were at a time where almost no young chart-topping woman was singing jazz or anything akin to it. Or how she was one of the artists who opened the door for British soul and R&B singers in the American and world markets during the 2000s. Before Adele, before Daley, before Sam Smith, before Emeli Sande, before Lianne La Havas, before Jessie J, before any of them hit it big, there was Amy Winehouse. And that's a huge deal. Like, she accomplished so much, and left such a huge mark, in so little time. And she only released two albums! I understand that the documentary is creating a narrative about someone who has passed away, which means it would make sense to acknowledge this person's death and what led to it. After all, she didn't just disappear into thin air; her choices and the choices of some people closest to her had consequences. I get that, so I appreciate the ins and outs that we learn about her addiction problems. I'm just saying that for as wonderful as the film is, I fear that it sells her short.

Would I recommend it?: Yes. If you care about real music or real artists at all, watch this film. You shan't regret it.

Seen Monday July 13th: Inside Out

After having lived in Minnesota all her life, 11-year-old Riley has an extremely difficult time adjusting when her family moves to San Francisco. But she is not alone! A team of emotions (Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust) live in her brain and work around the clock to manage her feelings and memories and keep her stable. But when Joy and Sadness get separated from headquarters and Riley continues to feel cut off from all that she knows, will it prove to be too much for her?

"Meet the little voices inside your head."

What I really like about this film: I can't not give props to Pixar for creating a work of art with such an original concept, but what really sold me one this film was the message. For the most part people always try to be happy because they want to or they feel like they have to be, and in the process they try to ignore their sadness. But sadness is necessary too! Because if you don't recognize and express the sadness you're feeling, then even the people closest too you won't be perceptive of it, and then they won't be able to help you because they don't know what's going on. In other words, sadness, when not bottled up or hidden away, can bring you some of the happiest moments in life because expressing it allows people to comfort you, encourage you, and help you to move forward. Amen, Inside Out. Amen.

What I don't like about this film: This is pretty heavy for a children's film. Riley is not only moving to an unfamiliar place and leaving her old life behind, but she's also a pre-teen, meaning all around there are transitions and new emotions she has to learn how to process as she enters young adulthood. Obviously this is a story worth telling that is relatable to so many young (and young at heart) people. But it has quite a few moments where it gets deep. And dark. And just... heavy. Plus with all the neurological and psychological vocabulary, at times I felt the film would be more appropriate for a middle school, high school, or even first-year undergrad psychology course than for young children. I'm 22, and some of it even went over my head.

I was also confused about the structure and rules of the world within Riley's brain. If Joy is responsible for keeping Riley happy, but then Joy has a moment when she gets upset and cries, is Joy still Joy? And if Sadness is able to sit next to another figment of Riley's brain and comfort him without making him feel worse about the situation, is she still Sadness? Speaking of Sadness, I wasn't sure what to make of her character at first. From the beginning she's the bumbling, moapy, often unmotivated member of the team who's always forgetting (or choosing not to follow) instructions, but she gets in the way so often and makes so many mistakes during the first half of the film that it makes one wonder if she's trying to sabotage the team or not. Luckily she ends up being an invaluable part of the mission to get Riley re-stabilized, but I don't like how ambiguous her character seems to be at first. And lastly, speaking of good guys, there's no villain in this story. Not one. All the characters are, ostensibly, good. A children's film, a Disney/Pixar movie at that, with no "bad guy"? How can this be?? Of course this is noteworthy because it's something different. But it's also... odd. Perhaps the villain in the film is all the stress and negativity that's causing Riley to shut down and not act like herself. She goes through so much crap emotionally that maybe pinpointing a villain would've just been excessive.

Would I recommend it?: Absolutely! This film is a wonderful reminder that everyone needs help from time to time.You just have to be willing to express how you feel.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

She's Not "Oriental".

No ma'am, no. No.

If you insist on continuing to use the archaic, otherizing, and racially derogatory term "oriental" (which you really shouldn't anyway, because 1) It's 2015, and 2) Why?), it applies to products and inanimate objects, not people. Not. People!

Rugs can be oriental. The market that people often visit to buy goods produced in Asian countries can be called oriental. What is not "Oriental" is the grown woman, who happens to be one of the managers of the store, who also happens to be Asian, who is taking time out of her busy schedule looking for a single book for you, while your impatient behind has got all the other customer service people (myself included) on the same wild goose chase by asking them to find that same book because the manager (who would know where things are better than anyone else) apparently isn't moving fast enough for you. She already has it covered. And she, ma'am, is not "Oriental".

"Would you happen to know where this book is? The Oriental woman said she knew."

That word rolled off your tongue so slick, I almost thought you were trying to be funny. You have no idea how hard I was trying not to roll my eyes, screw my face up, and catch an attitude with you. Like seriously, What did you just say to me? That wasn't even directed toward me, and I'm mad about it.

I don't care if you're older and white. I don't care how you were raised. I don't care about "the times" or "the way things were back then". I don't care what you meant or didn't mean by it. I don't care if you didn't know any better, because if you cared at all about what people who don't look like you prefer to be called these days, you could've asked somebody or looked it up (read: educated yourself) by now. And I certainly don't care that you're a customer and we're service people, because bottom line is the store is our house. Just because you are a potentially paying guest does not mean you get to disrespect us or hold everyone up due to your impatient assumption that the person already trying to help you is clueless.

No ma'am, no. Just. No.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Harper Lee hype

This phone conversation I had with a customer yesterday made me giggle:

Customer: Hello. Do you have that new Harper Lee book?

Me: Go Set a Watchman? No, that doesn't come out until Tuesday. The 14th. But we'll most definitely have it that day. We have a bunch coming in, so in the meantime I can reserve you a copy so that one will already be set aside for you.

Customer: Oh yes! Please do that!

[after having processed the reservation]

Customer: What time will you be open on Tuesday? I want to be there early.

Me: We're opening at 7am that day.

Customer: Whoa! 7am?! I'll be there early, but not that early!

Me: Haha well that's fine.

Customer: 7am, wow... Is there something else going on? Is Harper Lee going to be there or something?

Me (trying not to bust out laughing): ...No sir. It's just that the book is such a big deal, and people are so excited about it that we're opening really early to make sure anyone and everyone has a chance to get their hands on it here.

Customer: I see. Well thank you so much. See you Tuesday!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Jazz at Cadieux

After having attended the "summer jazz week" program as an alto sax-playing high school sophomore back in 2009, and after my conversation with Tiffany Toriumi back in April, I decided to give the Metro Detroit Jazz Workshop another try. But this time, as my true self, a vocalist. Using my true instrument, my voice.

The rundown of the week-long workshop is the same every year. Classes and practice for eight hours everyday Monday through Friday, and a performance during the weekend for everyone to show what they've learned. For MDJW 2015 the performances are this Sunday, but yours truly has been scheduled to work that day. So I'd resigned myself and was content to just come in, take what I could get from the program, learn as much as I could, and just not perform. But then I sang a certain song during the vocal jazz workshop on Tuesday, and one of our instructors, the estimed and gracious NYC jazz singer Susan Tobocman, insisted that I come sing at her Thursday night gig at Cadieux Cafe instead. Another student was in the same predicament as me, so there'd be at least two of us students singing there that night.

Cut to last night. I sang that same song I've been working on all week, which also happens to be the first jazz song I remember listening to on purpose, and the first jazz song I ever learned to sing. Written by Gershwin, polished by the queen of jazz Ella Fitzgerald, interpreted by me on this occasion:

After I came off the stage, I got such a warm response that I hadn't even expected. It was late, I was tired and nervous, and I'd just wanted to go up there and sing the song straight and not suck (stay awake, remember the lyrics, not hit any wonky notes). But it seems that people really liked my performance. The one grown black man in the house, who was also Susan's photographer and photographs tons of jazz gigs and artists in the Detroit Metro area, came up to me and told me, "You got some chops." (This meant a lot to me because anyone who knows my people knows that we produce excellent artists, and we are not easily impressed by performers of any sort.) Then I walked toward Ma's table, and this woman─who's incredibly loving but not the most expressive in the world─got up and met me halfway with a big goofy grin on her face and her arms outstretched for a hug. I was able to give her a moment of happiness, and that was the best part. But then, Susan came up to me too a little later on. She had some words of encouragement that really touched me, "You know, I'm not a very religious person, but I do believe that God gives each of us gifts. And our responsibility is that when we have a gift, we have to share it. You have to do this [keep singing and pursue it]. You have a gift." Sounded very similar to something Tiffany Toriumi had said to me when I met her.

I mention these particular exchanges not to boast, but to record these moments and so that I may be able to look back on them and feel a similar sense of validation as what I'm feeling now.

Wow. Man, was last night awesome! I just went up to sing my one little song, but the folks at Cadieux were overwhelmingly kind and gracious. Many thank-yous are in order! Thanks to Susan Tobocman for letting me sing at her gig and saying such kind and encouraging words to me; thanks to Scott Gwinnell for organizing the Metro Detroit Jazz Workshop to give students like me a space to learn and develop; thanks to Tiffany Toriumi for inspiring me to try singing jazz in the first place; thanks to Andre Thomas for the photos (see HERE) and for the advice about building rapport with photographers and how to perform when one is present; thanks to Ms. Yvette for showing support; thanks to Renee K. for being there as well, without you working with me all those times in high school I probably wouldn't still be singing today; thanks to Ma for also being there, without whom I REALLY wouldn't be singing because I wouldn't exist, haha. And big ups to Susan, Scott, and everyone else who went up there and made music happen tonight! Everybody showed out! Many thanks and blessings to all of you for sharing your art. Oh and thanks to everybody who wished me luck!

Last night was kind of my big hurrah. I haven't performed since around April, and I don't know when I'll perform again after last night. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to sing amongst some extraordinary jazz musicians and be considered one of them. I'm eternally grateful.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Smoothie Sunday (Very Berry Tropical Passion)

I'll be out all day Tuesday so I decided to do the smoothie thing today. Today's concoction is a mixture of Blogilates' Very Berry Smoothie and one of her Tropical Passion variations. I could've taken one at a time and just made the other next week, but I've got a lot of produce and was in the mood to just throw it all together and see how it would turn out.

30 blackberries, 10 cherries, one banana, one orange, one cup of chopped pineapple, 1/2 cup almond milk, and ice. Blend and done.

I really like the nifty purple color that this smoothie has. And the almond milk smoothes out the thickness enough so that it doesn't feel like I'm drinking straight puree. Quite the nice fruity little drink we've got here!

Check out pics of other foodventures here:

Peace, Love, and Food (Every Now and Then)

Mystikal is Back!

If that name doesn't immediately ring a bell, and neither do the phrases "Shake it fast, show me watchu workin' wit" or "Danger! Get on the flo'! The n*gga richea! Sang it!", then you are too young for life and don't even bother reading the rest of this. For everyone else...

"This performance is dedicated to all the playa-hatin' teachers that won't let a lil' gangsta shine."

Mystikal. Sir. That unmistakable voice. I don't know what happened to you, where you went, or how you and  Mark Ronson got linked up. But I'm glad you're back and I applaud you. This beats the pants off of "Uptown Funk" for me any day. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for coming back and showing the world that you still got it.

That is all.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

DOPE Dozing (Saturday 6/27)

It's our last full day, and my feet are STILL swollen. I mean I've gone into full-on Miss Piggy mode: my ankles have disappeared!  I've never had cankles a day in my life,  but I have them now. I haven't been too worried since my feet and ankles haven't been hurting, but my left ankle and top of  my left foot are particularly stiff. which I'm sure isn't a good sign. Ma's already decided for me that we're going to get it checked out first thing after she picks me up from the airport tomorrow, so I just need to get through today.

With Nay off work again, the plan was to make it a lunch and a movie kind of day. Our first stop was a Chili's in Hiram, second stop was Movies 278 to see the new movie DOPE and take advantage of their special matinee ticket price of $5.75. Stuffing ourselves and then trying to sit down for a movie immediately afterward probably wasn't the best idea, but just like with standing in line for the club late last night, we decided to take our chances.

And chile, everybody but Neesh dozed on and off through that movie! Not necessarily because it was boring (although it was a lot slower and less funny than advertised), but because we were so stuffed from Chili's and tired from not sleeping much last night. Since this was my first time going to the movies since January, I'd intended on writing about DOPE for my "Infrequent Filmgoer" series, but there's really no point since my eyes didn't stay open consistently enough for me to tell you much about it. Look, if you like movies about teen/high school angst or finding yourself, and enjoy stories about being young, being black, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to get out of the hood, or not fitting in (or all of the above) then this movie is for you. View it once just to see what all the hype is about. Meh, or not, whatever you want to do. I will give them credit for the impressive blending of 90's styling in contemporary times (since people have been recycling fashion trends from the 90s lately). And they demonstrate the boggling extent to which almost anything can be accomplished or facilitated via technology these days That's about all I can say. This Blavity article explains my sentiments about the film more clearly than I care to.

After that, the rest of  today consisted of just chilling back at the house and watching Nay paint something for her co-ed fraternity while playing old episodes of Wild N' Out. Just a note that Nay is not merely a jack of all trades, but a superhero. She slays hair, she's gone to culinary school, she paints, she's a full-time college student, she works at an amusement park, she has her own apartment apart from her dad's house....she. does. it. all. #Blackgirlmagic is she.

Welp, there you have it. Our week in Georgia has come to an end. And despite all my griping this week, I can't really call it a bust because I learned quite a lot about my family that I might not have if we all hadn't agreed to spend this time together in such close quarters. Don't get me wrong, I'll be glad to be get out of here tomorrow and return to Michigan where no drama awaits me. But I also feel bad that things got as
ugly as they did, between Cousins A and B particularly. This has the potential to be either an opportunity for relationships to mend and flourish, or the beginning of a decades-long grudge. Either way it's up to them, and time will tell. For now all I can say is that I don't regret taking this trip at all. Thanks to Nay and Chris for their prosperity. And thanks to whoever's out there for reading. Goodnight, and Peace out.

More photos from the trip:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mo' drama, and the Other Side of the Rainbow (Friday 6/26)

...The saga of Cousins A and B continues. 

Today I decided to get over myself and focus on keeping peace amongst my cousins. Because what's more important than me getting my tourist kicks, is everyone leaving with a modicum of sanity at the end of this trip. So yes, keeping things calm and peaceful was the goal today.

But somebody just refused to let that happen. I guess if she was going to be miserable, she wanted everyone else to be too.

Long story short, venomously petty and hateful things were said and done that shouldn't have been said or done. As a result, everyone who hadn't been directly involved in the original debacle yesterday was now implicated in some way, and we were all varying degrees of upset about it. And so while the rest of us were enjoying the Civil Rights Museum and the LGBT celebration/rally that blossomed outside it this afternoon, Cousin B sat at the house probably stewing, sulking, and talking bad about us to her folks. But we had a wonderful time regardless.

The museum (or as it's known by its official title, The Center for Civil and Human Rights) happens to share a lawn with the Coca-Cola Museum and the Georgia Aquarium, so not only did we get great views of their facades but we also got to take in spectacular views of downtown Atlanta. Inside, the museum is divided into three floors. The first focuses on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was hard for me to get through. Though the exhibit was organized and presented exceptionally well, walking through it was triggering for me, especially since I was still emotional and slightly angry about the above-mentioned hateful pettiness that'd transpired earlier today. I turned a corner and saw the display dedicated to the four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and almost broke down in tears because it reminded me of the Charleston 9. From there I walked up a set of stairs to a section about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and memorial, and as I watched footage of his funeral I couldn't help but think of Reverend and Senator Clementa Pinckney's funeral, which was held today. Part of me was proud to have an entire floor of a museum dedicated to my people's fight for equality and justice (and to have so many visitors there to see it), but another part of me hurt because I felt everything so deeply.

The second floor is dedicated to human rights issues, offenders, and defenders around the world. After traversing the floor I looked out the window to admire the city outside, and what do I  look down and see? On the tail of the Supreme Court's announcement in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples today, an LGBT celebration/rally was forming! So many people, donned in their various rainbow gear, were gathered together hugging, smiling, chilling, conversing, giving interviews, and holding their flags, signs and heads high. It was one if the most beautiful and powerful acts I've ever witnessed, and I feel honored to have witnessed the day that #lovewon.

Last but not least, the bottom floor of the museum holds a special gallery containing various documents and personal items that offer some insight into the private life of MLK. This exhibit was organized with the help of Morehouse College, Dr. King's alma mater. This exhibit is also the only part of the museum in which visitors are prohibited from taking pictures; everywhere else you can take as many as you want without flash.

From the museum we went to pick Nay up from work, and she took over the wheel. She'd been craving beef patties from this roadside Jamaican food truck called Scotch Bonnet all day, so we stopped by there on the way to the house. But they were all out, so we went to Popeye's instead since Neesh was craving chicken. Even though we have Popeye's in Michigan, this was my very first time trying it so I was kind of excited! I got the shrimp po'boy with green beans and sweet tea. It hit the spot and wasn't too shabby for fast food (they used a real baguette!). On our ride from Popeye's to the house I got cajoled into telling all the girls what I've learned about them this week. (Since I live so far away and am not around them all the time, they thought that what's transpired may have soured my view of them. I told them my opinion hasn't shifted in some majorly negative way, but rather that I've learned a lot about of all them. Then they asked me to go down the line and share what I'd learned.) For example, I learned that my cousin Jess, though the baby of the group, is a lot more mature and self-aware than I'd pegged her for. And Trish, who has a temper and a tendency to clap back, also has a kind heart  that's helped her endeavor to be more patient and considerate even during times when she might want to fight. And Neesh, well. Neesh may seem like a goofball on the outside, but she's actually got a lot of depth to her and has acquired a lot of wisdom due to the trials she's been through. Oh, and Nay? Nay lucked out because by the time it was her turn, we were almost pulling up to the house. Plus she didn't ask, so I didn't tell.

We mulled around the house for a few hours before heading back out at around 11:20pm to go to club called The Mansion. We were all tired but we'd heard one of their radio ads saying it was free for everyone all night, so we decided to take out chances. People's emotional wounds were still raw and two of us were justifiably "over it", so they stayed in the car while the other four of us got in the "free line".

And let me tell you, this free line was the longest line of life. We stood as the line literally inched along for two hours, from just after midnight to just after 2am, witnessing all manner of chaos, stuntin', and ratchetry. We finally got in and you know what they say, you get what you pay for. Curiosity was the main thing that'd kept us patient while we'd waited outside, and while it's a nice place on the inside, with the same loud, aggressive, danceable but nearly indecipherable trap music ("I want a smart girrrl wid a dumb bootay...") that's ever so popular down here in the A, this club just wasn't that great. At Opera, people came to dance, drink, and have a great time. At Mansion, people just came to post up and be seen. And that, my dear, is the definition of a waste. We stood looking around and taking in the place for all of 15 minutes (maybe 20 tops) before we left. I only took one photo on my cell phone. I'd had my camera with me but couldn't use it because one of the female security guards confiscated my the battery before letting me through. Thankfully she was pleasant enough when I went back to retrieve it from her. All in all I don't regret going to Mansion. I already know clubbing isn't my thing; I was just going to experience the scene and see what this club was like. Another ultimate people-watching opportunity, you could call it. And though it didn't last as long and wasn't as entertaining as Opera, let me tell you. I saw some thangs (yes, "thangs"!) that I'll never forget.

We were all back at the house by around 3am. Before going to bed I spent some time talking Cousin A down from the ledge of wanting to rehash the beef with Cousin B and potentially start a World War 4. Lord, tomorrow's our last day. Please let us all make it through in one piece.

More photos from the trip:

Egg in a Hole

I took a stab at this on the fly while I was stressed out in Georgia, and it was a mess. I used two slices of bread (not really necessary), toasted them before putting them in the pan (mistake number one), which led me to overestimate the cooking time and burn the bread and scorch the pan while waiting for the egg to cook sufficiently (mistake number two).

So today I decided to make it again, but do it right this time. As non-conventional as it looks, "Egg in a Hole" (or "Egg in a Basket"), is incredibly easy and simple to make. You can use any fixings you like, but at the bottom line all you need is a slice of bread, a tablespoon of butter, and an egg. Heat the skillet and place the butter in it so it can melt all the way. In the meantime, take any round surface, place it on the bread, and cut around its edge with a knife. (I imagine that if you had specially shaped cookie-cutters at your disposal, using one of those would make the hole look super cute! But I don't have any so I just used the bottom of a plastic solo cup.)

Once the pan has heated sufficiently, place the slice of bread on it and flip it so it can toast a little bit on both sides. When it's to your satisfaction, crack the egg into the hole and let it cook. A minute or so into cooking I covered the pan for a couple minutes just to help the top of the egg cook a little more, but that won't be altogether necessary depending on how you want the consistency of your egg to turn out. Once the egg has cooked to your satisfaction, plate it, and done! Use the round cut-out for sopping up the yolk while you eat. Like I said, this breakfast/brunch/anytime dish is simple and easy. Go ahead and give it a try!

 Check out pics of other foodventures here:

Peace, Love, and Food (Every Now and Then)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nuthin' much/Fight Night (Thursday 6/25)

Another day with not much to write about, but I'll give y'all the rundown anyway. FYI my feet and ankles are still swollen from when we first arrived (sneakers starting to feel snug...), but that's neither here nor there.

Nay had to go back to work today, and after we dropped her off we went to that same blasted Arbor Place Mall we went to on Monday so my cousins could return a few things. I bought a couple pairs of earrings, had a really good Oh Kale! smoothie from a shop named Freshëns, and called Ma to rant while waiting for my cousins to be ready to go. While I was on the phone with her I told her that I would try to harken back to what I'd originally said before embarking on this trip. And that was that while this trip probably wouldn't be my ideal travel experience, and though I'd  probably have moments where I was annoyed and bored and wanted to go home (as I do with all group trips)−having the opportunity to spend this time with my cousins whom I haven't seen since New Year's Day would make it all worth it. But meh.... now I'm not so sure. I can be bored at home. I can be bored, AND get paid, AND not have to spend all day sitting on my behind, going to basic places, and listening to chicks arguing about inconsequential mess at. home.

Needless to say, when we returned to the house I had to go on yet another walk to blow off some steam. As soon as my kin sat down for the NBA draft to see where Louisville native D'Angelo Russell would be heading, I was out the door. At least it wasn't 95 degrees and no stray canines tried to follow me this time. And I got to admire quite a few stunningly interesting trees along the way, so that was nice.

Oh and speaking of arguing! Some time after I'd returned from my walk, we were all still sitting around the TV when two of my cousins got into a shouting match. Calling each other out their names, throwing low blows left and right, and all of it over literally nothing. (Well of course, when people fight over nothing there's always something real that lies beneath the nothing. But all I know is that I don't care and I'm not in it.) Chris stepped in and tried to regulate, but by then Cousin A had stomped off into another room, Cousin B had walked out of the house, and it was over.  Disrespecting a host's house and fighting with family is something I don't do, and I just hope these two girls can find a way to get along. Relatives aren't supposed to treat each other like that, and it creates such a stressful environment for everyone when all folks had wanted to do in the first place was have a good time together.

BUT! Just like yesterday, there was a bright spot to today. A couple of things were brought up during the fight that I hadn't had any clue about, and fortunately for me my cousin Neesh was willing to open up and discuss them with me as we went to pick Nay up from work late at night. Thanks to her I'm more aware of some struggles my cousins have been going through. I understand now that my cousins may not have the money or morale to explore like I would normally like to, but they put their lives on hold and contributed their presence to this trip, and that speaks volumes about their character and commitment to family.

Welp. All this negative energy makes me want to tune into Another Round and do something with my hands, so off to stress cleaning the kitchen I go! Forget 'Iyanla, Fix My Life'. We need 'Jesus, Fix Our Family'. Quite a few people in this house are going to bed with sharp tongues, high tempers, sore egos and wounded hearts tonight. Prayers up.

More photos from the trip:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Seriously tho, whatwedoin? (Wednesday 6/24)

Today started with the usual lolligagging and Nay doing another client's hair. Going for a picnic at Piedmont Park was on the table, but then my cousins got distracted making "Sausage" and booty-shaking videos to post on social media, so that idea went out the window. And by that point I was so bored and exasperated that I went for a walk around Nay's neighborhood,  in 95 degree heat, having no idea where I was going, just to get out of the house and avoid snapping at someone

When I returned, our resident experts in taking their time still weren't ready to leave and remained such until we finally left the house around 4pm, and by then all we had time to do was take everybody to Zaxby's for some fried chicken and head to Midtown again to pick Chris up from work. The plan was to go bowling afterward,  until we got to Chris's job around 6pm and Nay called to inform us that bowling was out and we'd be going to the movies instead. Then on the way from his job they called again to say that the movies would cut too close into our time to get ready for the club, so they were just going to head to the nail salon instead. I was seething inside. Really? Another wasted day?! Another one?! It's bad enough that instead of taking advantage of what Atlanta has to offer, we've been doing extremely basic stuff that can be done anywhere.  But we can't even come up with a plan and stick to it? Chris drove us past the Georgia Dome, the New Atlanta Stadium construction site and Sweetwater Creek State Park on the way back to the house, with me stewing all the way.

I know I had resigned myself to this and was only slightly miffed yesterday, but now I'm  mad. Like I was literally on the phone with my mom and stepmom (respectively) strategizing on how I could either take one of the cars and just go explore parts of the city on my own, or arrange to move my flight up and go home early to escape this boredom. Because I highly doubt I'll be able to take any more of this. I'd known that my cousins and I have different personalities and interests,  but I never would've imagined that some of them would be this uninspired to do anything worthwhile or create meaningful experiences during the daytime. How am I the oldest one of the group and I'm the only one who wants to GO OUT, EXPLORE, AND DO THINGS? Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.  

So once back at the house I spent the evening brooding and stress cooking. I hadn't intended on cooking at all this week because I'm on vacation and this isn't my kitchen to mess up, but cooking is such a stress reliever for me that I just had to do something. So I made a sloppy first attempt at Egg-in-a-Hole toast, also known as egg in a basket. I probably didn't make it properly (in fact, I know I didn't because I blackened the bottom slice of toast that I used and almost permanently scorched the pan on the gas stove). But it was edible, and the house didn't burn down, and I cleaned up everything when I was finished, so all's well that ends well. Just a little burnt smell lingering in the air for a bit. I'll have to make a proper go at Egg-in-a-Hole toast when I return to Michigan.

Tonight we set our sights on a different club, this time an 18+ one called Opera Nightclub that everyone had been to before except for me and Kay. We got a lesson in the power of social media before even stepping foot inside. Apparently you had to repost their #operawednesdays flyer on social media and present proof of the repost at the door in order to enter for free, otherwise you'd have to pay $20 to get in. Never in my life had I imagined that an Instagram repost would be worth $20. Of course we did what we needed to do to get in free but Lawdhammercy, how times have changed.

 But moving on! Having never been to a real dance club before, I was a little nervous and didn't know what to expect, but Opera turned out to be a pretty nice establishment! Either they remodeled an old opera house, or they just did an impeccable job replicating one when they built the place, I couldn't tell. But the decor was quite unique. Ever seen dance/stripper poles standing in the middle of an opera house? Yeah, neither have I until now! Once I
got a feel for the place I thought I'd twerk a li'l bit along with my cousins, but I just wasn't feeling it. It was a fascinating experience enough just to observe everyone in the club and take in the atmosphere. I thought I could move; you know, keep it under wraps and spring it on people when necessary. But mannn, these girls down here in Atlanta are masters at what they do. Masters, I tell you! My cousins already had me beat, but these Atlanta girls really put me to shame. I'd thought the notion was silly before, but now I'm convinced: twerking is indeed an athletic feat and an art form. I had fun just being a bystander, watching everyone else (cousins included) bop, pop, grind, dutty wine, shake, stomp, and sway the night away with the most swagger I've ever seen in one place. It. was. magnificent!
We ended the night with a Taco Bell run, and I finished off the remaining Smirnoff Ice Screwdriver at the house.The day didn't start off so great for me personally, but I think we ended up having a really great night as a group.

More photos from the trip:

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 9

Coincidentally, both of the dramas that I was most interested in watching this spring broadcast season focus on men trying their hardest to figure out who they are, while also striving to remake themselves in the process. In one show, a man has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase his mental capacities and become the man he's always wanted to be. In the other, a man loses his memory and fights everyday to remember who he used to be and redeem himself of his old selfish and trifling ways.

アルジャーノンに花束を(Algernon ni Hanataba wo/Flowers for Algernon) - TBS/2015

This is one of many adaptations that have been produced around the world since the original short story was first written by Daniel Keyes in 1958, and  then published as a novel in 1966. The main storyline  features a young mentally challenged man who receives an operation that "makes hims smart" and "just like everyone else" thanks to experimentation conducted on a lab rat named Algernon. In this version, title character Sakuto (played heartthrob idol Yamashita Tomohisa) works for a flower delivery company that usually employs wayward youth. During a delivery, Sakuto crosses paths with neurological researcher Haruka (Kuriyama Chiaki), who works as part of a lab team that has been using a rat named Algernon to test the brain capacity-enhancing drug ALG. Sakuto is selected as the first human guinea pig recipient of this drug, which eventually transforms him into a genius and also allows him to develop the emotional capacities of an adult his age. Sakuto and Haruka gradually fall in love, and Sakuto is able to mend things with his friends after at first spurning them for being beneath his intellectual level. However, just when everything seems to be going well, Algernon starts acting erratic and his mental prowess regresses to its original state, causing concern and dread for Sakuto about if/when the same thing will  happen to him.

This drama obviously goes straight for "the feels", as it emphasizes how impressionable, lonely, desperate, and taken-advantage-of Sakuto is during the first half of the show's run before his transformation. Plus, rather than commissioning an original theme song from a current artist in the Japanese music industry, they chose Bette Midler's "The Rose", intermittently playing parts of her recording and a new orchestral version of the song during each episode to swell the heart strings and make you cry. They almost, just almost, got me at the end of episode 2, but I stayed strong. I could take or leave Yamashita Tomohisa's acting post-transformation, but I do appreciate his playing a mentally challenged man with dignity. It was also great to see him and the versatile Kubota Masataka reunited after co-starring in 2013's 'SUMMER NUDE'. All in all, 'Algernon ni Hanataba wo' isn't spectacular. It holds out that carrot for a hopeful ending a little too long, then snatches it away, while still rushing during the final episode to tie too many loose ends together. But it stays pretty true to the original story, and for that alone it's worth watching.

I'M HOME - TV Asahi/2015

This is my second Kimura Takuya drama, but for this one I was genuinely interested in the show's concept rather than swayed by the hype. In it, Hisashi (Takuya) is a salaryman who cannot remember the past 5 years of his life following a serious accident at a work site. The two recurring symbolic items that help trigger his memory are  masks and keys. Hisashi holds onto a ring of keys that he's had since before the accident, which he uses to unlock (literally) doors to various rooms, buildings, and other spaces that play a role in his past and help him unlock (figuratively) his memory. Masks, for their part, have to do with the fact that upon returning home from the hospital, he can no longer recognize the faces of his wife and young son because they're both wearing masks. (Only he can see these masks, of course.) So each episode basically shows him delving deeper into his past and uncovering secrets not only about himself but also the people closest to him.

What I find most compelling about this drama is that while the lost memory premise is not new, Hisashi goes to great lengths to right his wrongs after having been quite the dastardly specimen. Like, he's genuinely and consistently invested in being a good person, becoming a better father and husband, and responding to whatever needs his family expresses. And for him this family includes his ex-wife and her daughter, who Hisashi adopted. Often in dramas they'll show a divorced man (or a man who's had an affair) and mention that he has two families, but he's always left his first family (or his "illegitimate" family) by the wayside, as if they never happened and aren't his responsibility. But Hisashi doesn't take that easy way out. Plus, he happens to be the best cook out of all the male and female characters on the show (not sure why this was chosen as such an important feature, but we see him cooking a delicious and often intricate meal in every episode), which is something that traditionally falls under "woman/wifely duties". So props to Kimura Takuya for taking on this character that both implicitly and explicitly challenges the traditional roles of Japanese men and fathers. This is one idol-turned-actor whose performances I can wholeheartedly get behind.

I would recommend both of these shows, but the winner this round is 'I'M HOME' hands down. Kimura Takuya really impressed me with the depth of his performance, and when his character realizes how much of a rider his wife is and crawls to her in the last episode? One of the most moving and beauifully-shot TV scenes I've seen in years.