“Tell me what’s a black life worth / A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts”

You might think I’m only going to write about race, and many of you might roll your eyes.  You’re right–not about rolling your eyes, but about the first part.

Some of you probably might even delete me because you’ve had it with me by this point, since everything I have been posting over the last couple weeks has been related to race and the current state of things.

However, I haven’t posted any blatantly anti-Trump things. I am normally pro-choice–the women’s rights stance, yes, but also the you-being-entitled-to-vote-for-whomever-you-want-stance, and I like to not get into politics on social media.

That being said, I can’t say that I particularly trust anybody who doesn’t believe that Trump is racist and out of his mind. He is harmful, hateful, and volatile. He is a 100-year-step-back for our country. Support expressed for him and his views causes me to narrow my eyes in the same way that a subtly racist or sexist comment one might make, however much in passing, makes me wary. I might appear to have ignored this comment in the moment, but for the rest of the time I know the person who has made said comment, I will always remember it. I will always wonder what this person thinks about me.

In another time (in another political climate) I would apologize for this rant, or for being so black-and-white, so quick to cut someone off because of what he or she believes. In fact, an urge compels me to do so right now. I’m notorious for saying sorry for things that aren’t my fault, so much so that people often make fun of me.

I apologize especially when I’m at work–if I reach for your money too quickly; if you accidentally drop your quarter when I’m reaching for your money; if I feel I’ve left you waiting too long at the counter. A couple of days ago, I had a hand in screwing up a customer’s order at work–the wrong food got put in the oven and the customer had to wait ten more minutes for the right food to come out–and I gave him a piece of pie to make up for it. I felt terrible, apologizing throughout the entire interaction, even when he was on his way out and didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. After all, I didn’t need to apologize that much; homeboy got a free piece of blueberry gooseberry crumble pie as a result, and he gladly accepted it. Even still, I felt guilty.

I’ve heard the rhetoric about apologizing: women are conditioned to do it so often for things they hardly need to apologize for. For things that many men won’t even think about apologizing for. I think this is true to an extent. But I also think that it depends on the person.

For me personally, “sorry” is often a social lubricant. When I say it, I want you to know that I am empathizing with you, or at least trying. I want you to know that I genuinely care about not making you feel awkward or uncomfortable. I know plenty of males who have the same problem with apology vomit–they “sorry” everywhere, all over the living room rug, and suddenly you’re knee deep in it and you’re vaguely annoyed because it’s irritating. But bad habits die hard. I should know.

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“This song is old, this song is new / This song is me, this song you”

 I was sitting on my bed, working on a blog post that never came to fruition and listening to Minnie Riperton’s Greatest Hits album, when a live interlude started playing. The interlude, “Another Moment With Minnie,” is one of the two or three live clips that pepper the album. It follows “You Take My Breath Away”, a duet with  George Benson. (I can’t describe how hard it is to describe why I love this song, but I’ve never heard anything like it. More on Minnie’s amazing-ness later).

Still, when the live interlude started playing, I ignored it and continued working on the blog post that never came to fruition. I am a staunch opposer of live recordings of things; in fact, if I’d noticed there were any live bits in the album at all I would have given pause to buying it. I don’t believe in live recordings unless they are absolutely necessary (“Benny and the Jets”, “Baby, I Love Your Way”, and the live Woodstock version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” come to mind. And, of course, the Simon and Garfunkel live in Central Park album…okay, so maybe I make a lot of exceptions.). Time and time again, live recordings that sporadically play on my Pandora stations cause me to Google a way to prevent them from coming up again, because it disturbs the flow. People singing or shouting or whistling in audiences drives me bananas if I’m not actually in said audience. The magic of live music is that it’s happening in a particular moment in time. Who wants to listen to canned improvisation?

Sorry–end rant. I’ve never actually sat down and thought about why live recordings of things irk me. But I suppose that is why–the canned spontaneity of it all.

Anyway, I’m listening to Minnie Riperton and subconsciously eye-rolling at the thought of being made to think I’m at a concert that happened 30+ years ago when in reality I’m sitting on a tiny bed in a tiny room, working on a blog post that never came to fruition, and suddenly I hear Minnie say something about reincarnation. All the blood rushes to my brain. I stop what I’m doing, reach over, pick up the needle, and do my best to rewind it the old-fashioned way: by studying the grooves in the vinyl and gingerly placing the needle back down.

This is what she says:

Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed that. People do talk about reincarnation…that sounds pretty good. But, I don’t recollect anything prior to this, and I don’t know about you, I haven’t gotten a message yet saying I’m coming back…so i intend to have a great time while I’m here, and I think you should too.

I’m not exactly sure what year she said this. The way that she says it makes me believe it must have been after January 1976, which is when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and was given six months to live because the cancer had spread. She surpassed this, of course, going on to live for another three years, perform, and make music. She died in the summer of 1979, only 31 years old.

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“I’m Black & I’m Proud”: Dwayne Wayne + the Fresh Prince’s Aunt Helen in ‘Panther’

Happy Black History Month, y’all!

So what if I’m a week late?

In honor of this month, I plan to watch and review a few black films that I’ve either never seen before or haven’t seen in too long. Since this month is a whopping 29 days long this year (Wow guys! This is really gonna be our year), and since I can review books, why not take the opportunity to review films that might have gotten lost in the mainstream shuffle?

This means that there will be no Selma and no 12 Years a Slave…sorry. Many of the films I plan to watch for this are going to be either pretty old and/or pretty forgotten, usually because they’re not that great, because they went straight to video, and/or they’re not constantly on BET, VH1, ABC Family, or TNT.1

Note: I sort of got this idea from a blog I remember reading this time last year.

By the way, I’m not even going to acknowledge the 2016 Oscar nomination issue, or the question of why we need a Black History Month, because both arguments have been exhausted. If you don’t get why many people are irked by either, then unfortunately you’re probably never gonna get it.

Anywho, tally-ho!

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I’ll start with Panther (1995), a movie I only stumbled across when it showed up in my suggested videos one day on YouTube. It was directed by Mario van Peebles (New Jack City, 1991) and is based on a novel of the same name that was written by his father, director Melvin van Peebles.

I’m not really sure why I’m just now seeing this film; as black biopic-ish movies go, I’ve seen most of the 90s ones: The Jacksons, The Temptations, What’s Love Got to Do With It?. Upon further research, however–well, YouTube comments, because the entire thing can be found on YouTube in one piece–I discovered that this film is ridiculously hard to find on DVD. So that could be why. This film was also never included in our curriculum for reasons that are pretty obvious…

Building off of that, I don’t even remember learning about the Black Panthers in a history course–not in-depth, at least, until undergrad. And that was in a class that focused on black people. Malcolm X, too. I only know Malcolm X’s story because my dad sat me down and read it with me when I was old enough. All of the “radical black people stuff” outside of MLK was learned at home, surely because of how much of a gray area (read: red) they were in in terms of Communism and not really following the whole democracy arc tale that this country seems to be fond of retelling its young people and yahdda yahdda yahdda.

I wasn’t intending on staying awake during the entire thing. It’s over two hours long. You think it’s going to be a typical black biopic at first: It begins with a flash of footage of civil rights demonstrations and whatnot, which are blended with audio and footage of J.F.K. and Malcolm X who are then literally and figuratively blacked out by their respective assassins.

Then you hear Kadeem Hardison, a.k.a. Dwayne Wayne from the 1990s sitcom “A Different World,” speaking about the two men who founded the Black Panther Party. (Another note: I will be referring to Hardison’s character, the protagonist, as Dwayne Wayne for the rest of this post.) We see black-and-white footage of the two actors who are going to be portraying Bobby Seale and Huey Newton for the next two hours (who, by the way, could very well be them if we couldn’t barely tell that the video was filtered to seem like it was old footage. Panther often blends fact and fiction so much so that it becomes slightly confusing [and arguably irritating to someone who is interested in history and constantly Googling things] as to what actually happened and what didn’t. More on this issue in a bit, though.).

Whoa! Super long parenthetical. Sorry if that’s confusing.

So we see these two men, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton on screen, starting trouble and getting arrested by whitey. They’re thrown into jail and commiserate and talk about how the white man’s foot is an “integral part of the black man’s ass,” or something to that effect. And Dwayne Wayne’s voice is narrating about how they’re “just two fed-up brothers. Next thing you know, bam, you got the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense.”

This kind of made me chuckle, but then roll over on my side and decide to give in to the soothing waves of sleep that were beginning to wash over me. Again, I was pretty tired, but I’ve also seen the amazing documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and the Party’s inception was portrayed much more elegantly than that. No offense to Dwayne Wayne, but “bam–then you got the Black Panther Party?” That’s like saying, “you release a bunch of black people who were once enslaved, and you take some annoyed white people who once enslaved them and nobody to do their work for them, and zoinks! You’ve got Reconstruction.”

No. Just, no.

Anyway, back to the first three minutes of Panther…yes, I know; this film doesn’t sound that exciting at all. Of course you rolled over, you say. Go to sleep! This movie is filth! you say.

Thankfully, van Peebles (such a great name) threw in some oldies music at the beginning. By the way, if you’re going to make a black film that takes place in the 1950s-1970s, you absolutely HAVE to do this. It works. I rolled back over to the screen as “I Feel Good” started to play and Dwayne Wayne talks about how it all started for him and many others: vengeance. It flashes to the present time of the movie, and we see a cute little black boy no older than ten riding his bike through a  black sunny California neighborhood.

We assume him to be the Dwayne Wayne, just younger. He’s happy. He’s smiling. He grins at a 30 year-old woman whose dress flies up from the breeze of a passing bus. She smiles down at him while lightly admonishing him at the same time, because boys will be boys, right? “Bernadette” by the Four Tops is playing now. I’m fully back into Panther at this point, because I do love the Four Tops, and I think “Bernadette” is particularly underrated.

And then bam! Spoiler alert, even though it’s literally in the first five minutes so I’m not spoiling anything: The little boy gets hit by a car. Like, what? Gotcha! He wasn’t Dwayne Wayne at all! He was a random boy who represented all of the other black people who’d been killed in the area whom the police didn’t give two hoots about! Look at that. So now we’ve got a film.

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“Man, can’t they see the world’s on fire?”

Reactions to my desire for a record player have brought about a variety of responses.

My parents are thrilled, but no, I can’t get Mom’s first U.S.-released Beatles album just yet. I’ll have to wait.

Many are curious: “You can find records still nowadays? Where?”

Most are ecstatic, are even intent on helping me build my collection.

And some have commented on how “Brooklyn hipster” it is of me to want a record player in the first place. These are the people who know me the least.

I can’t listen to top 40 painlessly unless I’m driving or drinking (not at the same time, of course, because that’s illegal and dangerous). And even those rare moments while I do belt out “Call Me Maybe” while flying down Dixwell Avenue are  rife with small shreds of guilt. I blame those brilliant marketing people.

I’ve been an oldies gal since I graduated from high school (this.). My heart belongs to ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music. Oh, there have been brief love affairs with current artists–Lady Gaga, pre-1989-Taylor Swift, HAIM, Michael Bublé. But I always find a way to justify these infatuations. Some of Lady Gaga’s songs remind me of early Madonna (because yes, ’80s music is now considered “oldies”). Taylor Swift’s music, particularly on Fearless and Speak Now, tell stories the same way many great old songs used to do. HAIM sounds like a revamp of Fleetwood Mac, and Michael Bublé…I don’t even have to explain that one.

I can’t listen to most current music again and again the way I do with oldies. I could listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors every day if I wanted to. Same goes for the Temptations and Diana and Curtis and Otis. When I listen to Isaac Hayes’s “Walk on By” I find myself wagging a 23 year-old fist at the cosmos and asking, “Why don’t you create music like you used to? As though the cosmos decide that kind of stuff. I mean, they might as well.

What will I do when I’m my parents’ age and I’m mourning  music that’s 100 years old? I pity the thought.

Anyway, since this is going down a dark path, I will continue.

So far I’ve acquired six records from two different stores. The first two purchases happened somewhat on a whim. On my way home from work, I decided that I would get off my lazy butt a stop earlier and walk the twelve minutes or so from the G-train, rather than transfer from the G to the L (which requires an extra leg of travel but then leaves me with only a sixty second walk home). It wasn’t too cold, and I needed to get some produce from the grocery store that sits right off the G anyway. Why not stop at that vintage store, Olly Oxen Free, that I’d seen a few times and gone into maybe once?

So I did. Clutching my plastic bag filled with an onion, a pepper, garlic, and asparagus tips, I made my way down Montrose Avenue, heart beating ever so slightly, hoping that Olly Oxen Free still had that copy of Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul I’d seen last summer.

I know I haven’t written this in awhile, but I feel like 90% of my posts on this blog revolve around my anxiety about going into new social situations–going up on stage to introduce a poet at a reading or frequenting a new and scary library, for instance. You’d think that with all of my experience behind a counter greeting hundreds and hundreds of strangers at the pie shop and, before that, an ice cream shop would render me confident in the role of “patron.” Yet for some reason I am always worried I am going to say something awkward. Because I usually do. But then it usually ends up being endearing.

My worries manifested themselves into my actual physical coordination when I marched up to what I believed to be the door of Olly Oxen Free. Twasn’t. The door I’d chosen, which obviously led down an entryway, obviously belonged to an apartment building. I backtracked and then fumbled for the right door and entered. Mind you, I’ve been to Olly Oxen Free before.

My worries immediately vanished I was greeted warmly by a completely empty store and a tall guy with a Crest-white smile. A few more steps in and a few lines of admittance from each party (“I just got a record player for Christmas and I’m building a record collection,” I said; “I’m just babysitting this store until my friend comes back,” he said), I was at ease.1

The vintage store, which is mostly really expensive clothing, had about four boxes of records. Many of them were around the range of $5, and many of them were Barbara Streisand. “Why would anyone give any of these away?” I remarked as I sifted through them. I said it half-sarcastically but I kind of meant it. Barbra Streisand is pretty darn awesome.

Then, I stumbled across this:

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Yes, that is Liza Minnelli. But that is also Robert De Niro. Pre-Oscar-win for Raging Bull, post-Oscar-win for The Godfather, Pt. II…playing the saxophone. Now, I’m no film connoisseur, but I had no idea they did a film together. Neither did the dude behind the counter.

What’s more, it has a 6.7 rating on IMDb, which in my book puts it right up there with Gone With the Wind and The Godfather, Pt. I.

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“Here’s your ticket, pack your bags / Time for jumpin’ overboard”

Until last night, I wasn’t sure about how my next post would go, or when it would be. I was too busy living life at full speed to sit down and write. This summer has been a relatively formulaic one as summers go: Three days out of the week I’ve been watching documentaries and discussing them, all the while frequenting Brooklyn Roasting Company like it’s my job — even though I already have a job, which is already that of an employee at a(n equally hip?) coffee shop that also sells pie. I’ve been at said job for the other four remaining days of the week, educating inquisitive Gowanites about the differences between a crumble and a streusel, lemon chess and chocolate chess. (Simplification: textured oats versus uniform crumbs; lemon bar versus chocolate pudding.) So basically I’ve been working seven days a week.

I know it’s been forever. I’ve felt slightly ashamed of not keeping whomever uses the few spare minutes of their days to catch themselves up on my less-than-riveting life — although I do have a published book review on The Rumpus, a dearth of knowledge about topics ranging from intersex people to J. T. Leroy to OxyContin addiction in West Virginia, and a new found appreciation for peach pie to show for it.

I’ve seen a lot of things, too. A man with a shopping cart full of water bottles who laid his (?) 2 year-old baby down on the seat of an F-train to make room for her in the bottom part of the shopping cart. The cart was chained to one of the subway poles by some questionable wire, but loosely; once he removed the baby from the train seat and set her inside the bottom of the shopping cart the entire thing would rattle around this way and that, causing me to flinch every time the front end of the cart bumped against the pole. With each tap I would peer into the cart along with the rest of the riders to see if the baby was hurt. It was such a bizarre and disturbing sight that I didn’t even wonder how the man had gotten the shopping cart up and down the subway stairs until long after he’d trudged the shopping cart, full of miscellaneous items and a baby, out of the car and onto the platform at the East Broadway station.

I also saw a white man accuse a black female Walgreen’s worker of not trusting white people, call her a “lying bitch,” and then storm out because his EBT wasn’t working. Or something like that.

Finally, I saw the sweat of a tall man on the subway slide down his temple, slip from his collarbone down to his right arm, and then drip onto the shoulder of a poor unsuspecting short girl standing below him (pretty much literally) on a crowded L-train.

Yet none of these things inspired me to write. Not alone, anyway. And then — suddenly — a fire was lit beneath me. Literally.

Well, kind of. In reality, the fire was burning high above my head, roughly six flights, in fact, around a quarter to 1 a.m.

Last night/this morning, just about as I was settling in to my bed to partake in a rerun of Murder, She Wrote (maybe I should lie and say I was watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?) on Netflix, the buzzer in my apartment rang.

It caught my attention, but not enough to get out of bed or do anything about it. Drunk people ring the buzzer pretty often. Non-drunk friends of my roommates ring the doorbell, too. Maybe it was an expected guest? Even though pretty much everyone else in my apartment had seemingly gone to bed for the evening, my reasoning was enough to forge through the opening credits of my show.

Then I heard galloping down the stairs. Yes. Galloping. And I actually thought, “Wow — either Star gained some weight, or the neighbor upstairs replaced his pet dog with a pet horse.”

Suddenly the galloping coming from the hallway turned into a frantic banging on our front door, or maybe it was only on the door downstairs. I’m not sure. I heard one of my roommates shout “What the FUCK–!?” and I realized that this was not a drunken person who was just lost banging on our door. This was something bad.

It was enough to break my attention from Angela Lansbury. I sprung out of bed, flicking on my lights, heart racing as I heard my roommates from downstairs yell to my roommate and myself (whose rooms are upstairs), “Guys! Get up!”

I flung open my door to see the three of them dash by in a blur of pajama-ed, barefoot chaos. “Zee, run! Come on!”

I didn’t know what was going on, so I ran out the door with them. But instead of following them out the front door, I went right, out the back door and into the courtyard.

Why?

Well, in those three seconds during which I discovered I needed to flee my apartment, I had deduced that the banging was coming from an angry gun-wielding intruder who had broken in through the door in the basement that led into the hallway, and was chasing my roommates up the stairs (which would explain why they were running so fast). Thinking it best that we split up, because that’s what they do in movies, I ran out the back door, where I thought there would be more places to hide, rather than the front.

I know.

This became problematic within the three seconds after I’d decided to go the different route, all stemming from the fact that once I went out in the courtyard I was stuck there. You need a key to get back into my building from the back, and a key to exit from the gate that fences the backyard of my building in. Had a gunman been chasing me, and had I not scurried behind something soon enough, I would have been toast. The fence was too high to climb.

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My First Celebrity Sighting

Ten months in, and up until a few days ago, I thought I had a vague sense that I was fooling everyone into being a “true” New Yorker. Mostly myself.

And then this happened:

“Are you ready?” my friend asked me calmly, quietly, from across the table. “A piece of your childhood just walked in the door.”

I squinted at her. I was feeling weird. We were at a bar in the Lower East Side (the first reason why I felt weird). I’d been in coffee shops most of the afternoon; I hadn’t really had any human communication with any people that day save for a friendly old stranger at a 29th Street Starbucks who became my please-watch-my-stuff-while-I-use-the-bathroom-and-buy-more-coffee buddy.

Adding to my disoriented nature was the something-something Bastard beer I was drinking, which was roughly 11% alcohol, but actually felt like 20% because we weren’t eating and I thought we would be. Which was why I chose a beer with such high alcohol content. (Don’t worry Mom & Dad, I drink responsibly–or at least try to.)

So when my friend said the thing about the person entering the bar being a part of my childhood I was truly confused. She pointed–well, she was much subtler than I was, so she probably nodded her head in his direction–and, less subtly, I turned around.

Standing a few feet away from us was a light-skinned black man, probably no taller than 5’5″, probably no older than his forties. He was surrounded by a smattering of pretty women who seemed like they were smart. For some reason, in my state, I specifically remember thinking that last part–that he was an attractive black man surrounded by attractive women of various different races, and all of them seemed like very respectable women. None of them seemed trashy or after his goods. I don’t know why I thought about that. Although I probably do.

Anyway, the light-skinned black man hugged someone who was already at the bar, turning just so, so that I could see his face and hear him say, by chance at that very exact time, that his name was Khalil.

And suddenly it clicked. I was in the same bar as Khalil Kain, the leader of the group of guys in Juice–the first one of the friends that Tupac kills once he starts power tripping.

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Khalil Kain is the fine brother in the middle.

I freakin’ flipped out. Suddenly I felt like I was five years old and had just seen Mickey Mouse at Disney World for the first time.

Why? Because once again, he was in Juice and the brother was and still is fine.

But what also made my freak out so legit was the fact that I literally just re-watched Juice two weekends ago–Mother’s Day weekend–on Netflix. It had been at least eight years since I last saw it; the New Jack Swing playlist that I’ve been listening to on repeat has propelled me back into the early nineties as of late. Once in my IMDb stupor that very much resembles a rabbit hole, I looked up Khalil Kain (because he is so fine, especially in Juice) and was reminded that he was also Jabari’s father on “Girlfriends” a few years ago.

I also remembered being amazed at the fact that Khalil Kain is fifty now and was twenty-eight when the movie was made, when Omar Epps was just barely nineteen. I was so amazed by his age that my older sister and I discussed how good he looks for fifty. Black don’t crack. You know.

So yes. I freaked out as I sat on my stool in the corner of the bar a few feet away from this man who had once been “shot” by Tupac…like, the real Tupac, before he himself was shot (too soon?).

My freak out went through many stages:

Stage 1: “Is that really him?” Look him up on IMdB. Look back at him. Look at his picture again. Confirmed.

Stage 2: “This is my first celebrity sighting! Eeeeee!” Ignore patronizing smiles from friends, one of which has seen Leonardo DiCaprio in the flesh, another of which has seen Jake Gyllenhaahl.

Stage 3: “Oh my God. This is so freaky. I literally just watched Juice like ten days ago…” Cover face, babble for two minutes about how the cosmos are so weird, this always happens, what is with my life…

Stage 4: “I need to text all the other people I know who might find this information relevant to their everyday lives.” I.e., black people, i.e., my older sister, with whom I’d chatted about Juice and how good of a movie it was. The second winner was another friend with whom I had already been texting. His response after sending him a screenshot of Khalil’s IMDb page? “Tell him that his performance in Snoop Dogg’s Bones was riveting.” (Yes, Evan, that was you, if you’re reading this.)

Stage 5: “I should totally go up and talk to him.” Come up with something clever to say! First thought? “What was it like to know Tupac?” Or, “My sister and I were talking the other day about how GOOD you look for fifty! So, can I take a picture with you?”No. Neither won’t do.

Stage 6: “…But no one else is going up to him. Does anyone else who isn’t black know who he is?” Give everybody The Eye because no one else is freaking out.

Stage 7: “Fuck it. I’m young. It’s to be expected. I can totally fan-girl right now.” Take big sip of beer. Prepare to get up.

Stage 8: “No…I don’t want to ruin his night. And those women are so intimidating.” Sulk.

Stage 9: “But he’s so close now! He’s at the bar! Now’s my chance. I should just hop off this stool…”

Stage 10: “…Oh, but this stool is so high, and my beer is so strong…”

Stage 11: Vacillate back and forth. Do you or don’t you?

After changing my mind a few times (How many celebrity sightings would I actually have, living and breathing and hanging out mostly in Brooklyn as I have been, lately? And not even in the gentrified parts, so no celebrities are probably going to cross my path there…But do I really want to be ‘that girl’?…But I just watched Juice LAST WEEK, this is a SIGN…But you’ll embarrass yourself…) we left, me feeling somewhat disappointed but also feeling relatively relieved. I had kept my cool in front of Khalil Kain, Jabari’s father, Tupac’s victim.

But I also did not have a picture with him. ‘Twas a bittersweet walk to dinner.

It took me a little while to get over it, but I did. It’s all good. I know, and the universe knows, that something very unique was happening in that half hour me and Khalil Kain were in the same building at the same time.

But I also know now that I have been fooling myself for the last ten months since I moved here. My freak out was totally unexpected to even me. I am still not 100% New Yorker yet, nor will I ever be. I’ve gotten okay at keeping to myself, even when I’m surrounded by a bunch of people. I might look up the moment the doors on a Manhattan-bound L-train shut at Bedford Avenue and the three dancers say “Ladies and gentleman!”; I might acknowledge these dancers briefly before going back to my book as they explain that they’re going to do a little performance for everyone but add, rather alarmingly, that since nobody is perfect you could get kicked in the face. I’ll probably even look up from my book every now and then during the performance to make sure that I am not, in fact, that unlucky girl on the subway who gets kicked in the face.

I’ve gotten the whole subway dancer thing down, but not the celebrity sighting thing, and I’m okay with that. Living in the city brings pleasant surprises every day. Like $13 tattoos on Friday the 13th, or random pigeon traditions on Brooklyn rooftops, or Khalil Kain in a Lower East Side bar. And I am looking forward to seeing just how much I don’t know about myself, this city, or celebrities…and what happens when all three of those things overlap.

(Now if Tupac had entered the bar, I’d probably be singing a different tune.)

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Becoming a “real” literary person…or a really literary person? Whatever.

Since this is my first “real” post in awhile (the last had been sitting nearly finished in my drafts folder for ions), I feel like recapping.

In the last few months since I’ve blogged, I’ve:

-Gotten friendly with the J-train.

-Gotten very, very mad at the L-train.

(…and the rest of MTA for that matter)

-Considerably reduced my coffee intake (somewhat. I went TWO whole days without a cup. It only went that long, but knowing I was capable and still friendly to customers was inspiring).

-“Created” a new favorite summer drink (lemon syrup, seltzer, crimson berry iced tea, NO CAFFEINE).

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-Watched The Jinx. Realized I would love to make a documentary sometime. Especially one involving murder.

-Realized how fantastic the show “A Different World” is.

-Visited Asheville, NC for the first time and saw my beautiful friends from UNC.

-Gotten a tattoo (!).

-Started an internship.

-Finished an internship.

I will pause at this last one on the list. And since the one year anniversary of my college graduation is coming up, I think some reference to the hurdle that was undergrad deserves to be made.

So let’s say you’re about to graduate from college. You’ve finished your finals–dotted your I’s, crossed your t’s–and from now until the day of graduation, it’s smooth sailing. You’ve bought your gown, you’ve secured your graduation tickets, you’ve gotten drunk at senior bar golf, and at a random bar in the daytime, and on a Tuesday, and on a Tuesday at a random bar in the daytime, just because you finally see freedom on the other side. Stress? What’s that! Troubles? Who are they? Troubles are for silly underclassmen who haven’t worked nearly as hard as you did for those four years of undergrad! They can suffer. You’ve paid your dues.

But then, once you finish your impromptu musical number down the street (see: 500 Days of Summer), you learn that you have one more task: Suddenly, whomever was originally picked to deliver the commencement speech (Oprah, Bill Nye, Kim Kardashian, Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance) has fallen ill, or tripped over a rake and poked their eye out on the handlebar of a rusty bicycle that  was inconveniently missing its rubber grip…so now you’ve been selected to deliver the Big Speech. Suddenly, you have one more hurdle to hop over before you can be done. You want to cry, or at least a bowl full of Reese’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

This happened to me earlier last week, on a much lower scale, in a much less terrifying way, because I like to exaggerate. I am far past college graduation (almost a year to the day, even), and neither Oprah nor Bill Nye nor Kim Kardashian nor Left Shark have poked their eyes out on random bicycle pieces.

Last Tuesday morning, when I was heading to Gowanus for the last day of my internship at Ugly Duckling, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time at my internship; in fact, I really appreciated everyone I met and had a great time. It was only a few blocks away from my pie shop, which meant I didn’t have to learn about a new part of Brooklyn, or a new transportation system. Or buy coffee on my way in.

My reason for happiness was at how crazy this semester has been. The extra class through which I got the internship in the first place was a lot more work than anticipated, and my four day work weekend shifts were physically exhausting. When I realized shortly after I started the internship that it would mean literally not having a day completely to myself–internship Mon/Tues, class Tues/Wed/Thurs, work Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun, rinse and repeat–I grew perpetually anxious. When I could finally go to sleep I would toss and turn, thinking about all the things I needed to get done the following day. Then I thought about all the things I needed to get done the following week, and the following month, then in the year, and I found myself resetting my sleep timer over and over again. Four hours later I would have to be up for some reason or another.

I also tend to stretch myself a bit thinner than I probably should. I came up with the idea, at the last moment, to interview three of the writers who were going to be reading at an annual UDP reading at the Brooklyn Public Library. It was a hassle, but my “purpose” of having this internship for class was to have one project that we start and complete in the duration of 4-6 weeks. For weeks I stressed about what this project would be, hoping I would just be given one. But after a while, I realized that I would need to take the initiative. After all, the presse had been great enough to welcome me in randomly, without really applying to be an intern. They treated me like all the other interns, even put my name on their site. They even offered me coffee, for Pete’s sake! The least I could do was find a specific project to do for them.

So I did. I assumed the task of reading three books by UDP authors, coordinating interviews, and coming up with questions to ask them about their work and then post online. Reading three books is nothing, unless it also means reading poetry, an idea that has made me feel a bit uneasy since undergrad. I’ve never been a poet. In undergrad, I struggled with Sir Walter Ralegh and Keats and that woman who always wrote about her dead children (I think her name was Katherine something?)

I really appreciate Gwendolyn and Langston and Edgar and e.e. and even Emily, but modern poetry does not seem as “easy” to understand as those poems were (although Emily Dickinson was no walk in roses, either…). So many things that I had peeked at from UDP, albeit beautifully printed and beautiful sounding, had left me scratching my head. I didn’t feel like I “got” it.

How was I going to read these books of modern poetry, come up with coherent thoughts on said books of poetry, come up with coherent questions regarding said books of poetry, build Rome, save those kids from that burning building, and keep up with school and work in the span of two weeks? It seemed like an impossible feat, one meant to be narrated in the Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator voice.

‘Twasn’t.

But it got done.

I ended up loving all three of the works, and I ended up learning what modern poetry can actually be. In all my prosaic bliss, I assumed poetry had to be in verse. I unlearned this from each of the writers I interviewed, although I never blatantly mentioned this to any of them. The things they were doing with the form were new and refreshing, in ways that apply not just for poetry but for writing in general. They also sometimes ended up drifting into nonfiction, too–something I personally appreciated.
My interviews came out pretty darn well if I do say so myself–particularly the one that I did on the phone–and by the time I finished the last one for their Tumblr page, I was feeling pretty dang good. I could finally cross one more thing off my list, and I would get to meet all of the writers in person the day of the event, and everything was blue skies and sunshine and rainbows. On to the next project, so to speak.

I walked into my internship gleeful and grinning on Tuesday, the morning of the event, feeling pounds lighter. I thought I’d crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Then one of the editors casually asked me if I would be willing to introduce one of the authors at the reading later on that evening, and boom, I felt my face fall, down through the old creaky floorboards of the third floor of the Old American Can Factory. It fell so far and so fast that it probably had time to skitter through heavy incoming heavy traffic and eat some chicken tikka masala in the Whole Foods across the street before I finally answered him.

Sorry, what?

I felt as though I’d just been asked to step on a Brooklyn-bound L-train naked. My first instinct was heck no! In fact, every single bone in my body screamed it as I flashed that smile I reserve for people who ask me for money on the street, and for regulars who ask if we have any more whole salted caramel apple whole pies left at the end of a busy day at the pie shop. It’s my I-really-don’t-want-to-say-no, but, well…”no” smile.

The UDP editor who asked the question, probably one of top ten genuinely nicest people I’ve met since moving to the city (and I’ve met a ton), could sense that I was a bit uneasy. “…Or not,” he said, going into damage control mode. “We can go over it, maybe, and discuss what you’re going to say? We’re just in a bit of a spot. You totally don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. I know it’s a stretch and it’s very last minute.”

I kept smiling that aforementioned smile, then said, “Uh, okay! Yeah! I’ll…think…” and sat down to finish what I had thought, ten minutes earlier, would be my last internship task.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t already have one of those weeks where I would be stressing about stretching far beyond my comfort zone: The following day I had an interview with a documentary series that I’ve been hoping to intern for this summer, and the day after that was literary agent night. In three different instances, one day after another, I would have to play the role of someone who was a charming public speaker, someone who was competent and intelligent and perfect for your documentary internship, someone whose book you would fully get behind. I would have to play the role of someone who was wonderfully well-grounded in the literary field, someone with a cultivated literary presence. I would have to play the role of someone who was both witty and well-spoken.

I would have to play the role of someone who…I actually would like to be? Hey, wait a minute!

After I came to the realization that I would have to get used to these sorts of things if I wanted to be a writer, a “real” person, literary style, I grew a set of literary cojones and decided to write the sh*t out of that introduction speech.

“One of the most important things about an introduction for an author is honesty,” a UDP editor told me. “So be honest.”

So I was. I gave myself up to the audience in the very beginning of my introduction by telling them that I didn’t know what half of the words the writer had used meant in our interview. To be fair, the guy works for Google and has been a taxonomer and lexicographer (i.e., a person who compiles dictionaries).

Anyways, this advice on behalf of one of the editors was precisely the creative inspiration I needed to write a short speech that I thought was pretty funny and felt confident enough reading to an audience…up until a few minutes before. As I waited for the first poet to finish reading, my heart pounding fast, I felt that same feeling I felt during my English literature graduation ceremony last year, the one where I pictured myself walking up a flight of stairs to the stage and falling and hitting my head on something, over and over again, in one of those terrible meme loops that never shows the end result, just those seven seconds of disaster. When it was finally my turn and I stood up and climbed the stairs (didn’t fall), suddenly I didn’t feel like I was in my body.

No, I felt like I was Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years.” And not “felt like” as in one of those “wow, this is just like one of those coming-of-age epiphanies Kevin Arnold had, when he realizes he has to finally grow up.” But I actually felt like I was Kevin Arnold because for some reason I heard Grown-Up Kevin Arnold’s voice in my head. Not Zakiya Harris’ grown up voice. Kevin Arnold’s.

It was very bizarre.

Then I was off, telling my little jokes, not sure if anyone was laughing, for going for it anyways. Apparently, the audience found funny in a good way; the writer did, too. It ended up going really well, even though I couldn’t make out any of the faces in the audience and even though I almost knocked the podium off the stage mid-speech (yet ANOTHER THING in this post that involves “falling”). The night only got better than there. I was given some goodbye gifts, hugs were exchanged, and promises of future interviews with more UDP authors were made. My literary cojones swelled with pride. With that night, I truly realized that I’m not just a student anymore–I have to be so many other proactive things as well. I make my own success I suppose.

I ended up having to reuse this mentality a couple of nights later at agent night, a much more daunting feat than everything else I’d faced that week. There were roughly ten students to every one agent. It was dog eat dog. When a classmate and I both gave each other somewhat quizzical looks after discussing how we both wanted to speak to the same agent, he jokingly said, “So this is what being a contestant on ‘The Bachelor’ must feel like.”

Bottom line is, I survived, and made some new contacts, too.

Oh, and I ended up getting that documentary internship. SCORE.

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