The Boy from Virginia Weathers The Storm -Part 3- (The Concrete Chronicles)

“Every storm runs out of rain” –Anonymous-

 Patience. It’s my most uncharacteristic of traits, according to my astrology chart. But all my life, I’ve always managed to wait for things because I knew that doing so would produce one of two results: I would either be surprised by waiting or I would miss out by waiting too long. So I chose not to delay my much needed conversation with my manager about keeping me on the work roster. If I didn’t take action, I’d have been out of work in New York City and I wasn’t ready to add “homelessness” to my resume. 

Our conversation was brief and filled with her pleasantries, my explanations, and our shared compromises. It’d become clear to me that the reason work wasn’t so fun anymore was due to my working more than I’d wanted. My availability in work –and, sadly, in other areas of my life- was too open. When I first began at my job, I’d expressed wanting something flexible so that I could go on auditions. I’m sure this was a common request for many working in Manhattan. Truth be told, however, I hadn’t pursued an audition in the city since my arrival. This was my own fault. I needed money. Money came from working as many hours as possible. Working as many hours as possible meant, for me, no time to invest in auditions or classes or anything truly creative. So I asked my boss if I could cut back on hours. It wasn’t as if I had intentions to move up in the company (though it is assumed everyone in any job will eventually want promotion). A promotion, to me, meant new responsibilities and people that I would eventually disappoint when I decided I’d wanted to depart. Obviously, I think too damn much about my unknown future.

Luckily, my boss met my request, of course requesting that I adhere to her policy of cheeriness on the job. I promised to give “the best of what I could possibly give” and waited to see how taking charge of my situation would play out.

*          *          *

As I said before, the advantage of waiting meant surprises and I was happy to have waited three weeks for my payment from Revolution to finally arrive. The massive amount of money that went into my account would not only feed me, but keep all necessary bills paid (which warranted a Hallelujah quick-step on Lenox Avenue). Hell, if I wanted, I could treat myself to a real dinner since I was tired of eating cereal, hot dogs, and sandwiches everyday (my new New York diet). That same day, I came home from work to discover that the ceiling was fixed in the bathroom. Were things looking up?

Indeed.

I was thrilled that same week to hear from the cleaning company I e-mailed not too long ago. One of the co owners called and explained my mission. There was an apartment that needed cleaning in Brooklyn (yikes). The location was Park Slope, the apartment was relatively large, and I’d be teaming up with another worker for my first assignment. He wondered if I’d be interested. Hesitancy was non-existent as I accepted the job immediately. The voice on the other end of the phone seemed pleased (relieved, even?) at my enthusiasm and I ended my phone call more grateful than I’d been in weeks.  

Until my roommate knocked on my door with an announcement.

“Our bathroom is out of commission,” he’d said, nervously smiling to . My perplexed face made him continue. “Apparently, they need to gut the entire thing and it’s seriously overdue. We’ve been asking for a new bathroom since we moved in here (Wait…wasn’t that two years ago?) and it seems it’s finally going to happen. (But I just moved in!) The whole process is gonna take two weeks, max. (Whatchoo talking ‘bout, Roomie?) Hopefully, we can get a whole new kitchen too.

He didn’t sound too convinced about the prospect of a new kitchen.

“So… what are we going to do about showering and whatnot?” (I mean, I drink tea at night. Knowing where I would pee in the middle of the night was a necessity)

“So here’s the thing. We are going to be given a key to go upstairs to a vacant apartment. No one lives there, so we can go there to use the bathroom and to shower.”

None of this made any sense to me. But I knew what I needed to do. I went into my room, packed clothes into my book bag and headed out the door and back down to the Upper West Side to the gym. Now I actually had a reason to go every day. If I couldn’t shower at home, I’d at least utilize my gym membership and their shower facilities as well.

The rest of the week, I woke up, ran upstairs to the vacant apartment to pee, hustled to the 2 to work during the day, and walked 3 blocks over to the gym every evening when I was done. Each day, I returned home smelling fresh and feeling lucky that I didn’t have to go through shenanigans just to keep up my hygiene. On the rare days one of my roommates would beat me to the vacant apartment upstairs, I found that I could go next door to the hipster coffee shop and pee without hassle. I’d explained my situation to the guy behind the bar and after a “Man, that sucks” he gave me free access to the shop bathroom. I didn’t even have to buy a coffee to do so, which meant that, because I felt guilty, I would have to buy some large coffees to make up for it.

Bathroom drama aside, my weekend arrived. Day One of my cleaning job was upon me.  I arrived early, like the good employee I know myself to be. Somehow, however, I knew that my patience was going to be tested that day. Upon entering the Park Slope basement apartment, my breath caught in my lungs. I felt I was in a cavern; a cavern cluttered with dust, accumulated furniture, clothes strewn about, and…what was that stuff on the ground? It looked like snow, but I was pretty sure it was fur.

My chest tightened in response as two cats slinked past me confirming my analysis. Cats? I wasn’t aware there were asthma-inducing cats on this job. And where in the hell was my partner to prep me for this job?

I excused myself outside of the Hoarder’s Cave to call my new colleague and catch my breath. There was a nagging feeling I’d be taking this break multiple times during the cleaning. Upon re-entering the apartment, I’d began evaluating how I was going to make a miracle happen and how  I’d magic fur and cat vomit out of an old, unwashed carpet while not ending up in the emergency room afterward. This job would require fortitude, prayer, and a pint of something strong when I was finished.

My partner arrived 15 minutes late and with an “I-really-don’t-have-time-for-this” attitude. I hoped he hadn’t approached other jobs in this way. When I found him getting snarky with our (suddenly) persnickety Hoarder, I realized, he shouldn’t be in the business of cleaning up after others. I was doing this job because I truly needed the money and I also didn’t mind helping clear this man’s space. A house is supposed to be a sanctuary, but I doubt our Hoarder could find any peace, let alone his underwear in that cacophonous mess. I felt it was my job to at least make the space feel so new that he’d be able to invite guests over for a Hipster soiree.

Five and a half hours (and some awkward interactions) later, that man’s house was fur-free, dust-free, clutter-free, and I could breathe without wheezing despite the presence of cats in the house. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back and prepped myself to leave the job when I was stopped and given a hefty tip. At least I could pay for that pint I’d been thinking of the whole time. (Side-note: the Hoarder , disappointed by the tardiness and the attitude of my partner hired me to do his future cleanings.)

I left Park Slope feeling at last I was crafting a New York life on my own terms.

Then there was my surprise job interview at Levi’s…

I’d completely forgotten that I’d submitted my resume online at other retail shops during my “I might be getting fired” period earlier in the month. One company called me for a random phone interview which was unsuccessful because I didn’t eat, breathe, and shit fashion. But then there was Levi’s, where I’d applied to be an “Overnight stockperson” (mainly because I didn’t want to have to deal with customers hands-on anymore). They’d called me in for a group interview and being the old school person I’ve been when it comes to job interviews…I dressed up and went to the afternoon interview in Soho.

I was immediately out of place in the crowd of late teens/ early twenty-somethings who all looked as if they’d stepped out of teen magazines. With my tailored jeans, button-down, vest, tie, and Italian shoes, I looked more prepped for an office job than a stock person. Still a first impression should never be an attempt; it should always be a success. Or maybe I was the only person who ever believed in this philosophy…

 Three minutes into the group interview, I realized that job interviewing is 1) a skill and 2) something I legitimately abhor…especially when it’s enforced in a group setting. I was the only person there for a stockperson job, but I still had to answer pre-written and trite interview questions which would barely scratch the surface of anyone’s interpersonal skills, let alone ability to sell clothing. What was worse was, though I looked young for my age, I felt old. But that’s a whole ‘nother chapter in a different book…

I listened to the young children give cookie cutter answers: “I want to work for you because I like fashion and I love your jeans.” I, on the other hand, suffered from honest-itis. No, I didn’t say “Please hire me so that I can pretend to be living above my means, while actually living pay check to pay check so that I can barely scratch the surface of my bills and student loan debt.” But I did state that I understood how to work on a shop floor and I wanted to something more independent and behind the scenes, therefore a stockperson position would be more desirable. After the round table of interviewing torture, I was told that I would get a chance for another interview. (I guess old school works). The meeting was scheduled early the next week…but unfortunately a coy storm named Sandy was sashaying towards the infamous five boroughs and I would never get to go to that interview…nor have it reschedule

The day before the storm, I made the mistake of going to my local grocery store and entered a war zone. People had gotten word that the end of days were near and so like other hungry hysterics, they’d purchased all the important food and produce in the store and were fighting their way into the narrow checkout lines. I’d only gone in to purchase my obligatory sandwich bread, milk, deli cheese and deli meats, and some soda and juice. For some reason, I believed the storm wouldn’t be too heinous so my small buys would get me through.

Hurricane Sandy was doing her best to prove me wrong. My day job closed early, in preparation for the storm. I decided that I couldn’t make any more last minute groceries, so I went to Papa John’s, purchased a large pizza, went home, and downloaded season one of Homeland.

As the storm ripped though Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and the winds intensified in Harlem, I got sucked into the calamitous lives of Carrie and Brody while eating sausage and mushroom pizza, drinking ginger ale, and eating Entemanns’s ( addictive) red velvet cake. Right up until my wi-fi connection failed, I choose to invest in a fantasy world while waiting for the current tempest to end. For the first time that October, I’d had time to truly escape the personal catastrophes that had come before. So far it’d been experience after experience after frustrating experience. Life was happening too fast to me and I really wanted to happen to life. I fell asleep during the downpour, confident that it’d be over in the morning.

I awoke not sure what to expect. Then news came. Brooklyn suffered devastation. Residents below 14th street (and their guests) were left in the dark. In Harlem, the most damage I’d seen was a fallen awning. The morning after Sandy hit, I drank coffee on my borrowed air mattress and wondered if any more storms world rush my way. Also, if they were manifesting in the atmosphere would I be prepared? Or would I succumb to being swept away by some other disasters?

Well…I woke up on the other side of this hurricane and a tempestuous start of the month. So I was beyond sure I’d wake up on the side of many more to come.

 

 

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The Boy from Virginia Tastes the Concrete Jungle

July 15th, 2012

When I stepped off the Greyhound Bus from Norfolk, Virginia at 7am that Sunday morning and stepped foot into New York’s Port Authority Bus Station, my small overhead wheelie suitcase in tow, I’d only set two goals for myself: 1) Find the location of the room I’d rented for the next two days and 2) find a job. Oh, and find a place to charge my phone. So, three goals total. And I had four days to accomplish them all. It had been four years since I was last in New York City, and despite prior recollection, it wasn’t to attend grad school auditions (which had happened earlier in the same year), but instead for a movie premiere of a relatively well-known television show-turned film. When I last came to New York, I’d become one with midtown and scraped the surface of Harlem. Manhattan was my island (in my mind). But, as this particular trip to New York was a much needed exodus, I didn’t care where I stayed, as long as it resulted in me eventually being able to live there on a more permanent basis. So, I took out my iPhone, typed in the address I was given, and used my lovely Embark NYC app (best app for subway transportation) to figure out how to get to where I was going. After purchasing my Metro Card I weaved my way through the underground maze to find the “7” train that would take me to the dreaded “G” train. You see, the place I was about to venture was a borough that’d only existed in hip-hop lyrics and my youngest uncle’s anecdotes: Brooklyn, new home of the hipsters I thought I left in Shoreditch, London.

            Half an hour later, I was rushing out of the Myrtle-Willoughby station to make sure I could meet this random woman who’d allowed me to rent her room for the next two days. She’d had to go to work but she’d wanted to drop off her key to me and allow the previous tenant to move out (I’d later find out that subletting and room- renting is the norm for most New Yorkers strapped for cash). This meant that I’d only be dropping off my stuff and then heading immediately back over the bridge into Manhattan. I left the apartment with a folder of resumes in my hand and my cell phone and charger (still hadn’t managed to accomplish that goal), and decided to head back to Manhattan.

            My plan was to see if I could get a job with the former company I’d worked with over in London. I knew that they had 4 branches in New York and I was going to dedicate the full day to visiting every single store. I was also going to visit each branch because while overseas, I’d met the manager of one of the shops and I wasn’t sure which one she managed. So my journey would serve a twofold purpose. If none of them were hiring, I was equipped with a sexy resume to take elsewhere. Considering the summer heat and the early hours, I decided to go furthest from my location and ride all the way up to the Upper West Side.

            I’d gotten to the Upper West Side Branch a bit too early for my own liking. The shop manager hadn’t yet arrived. But I was in luck.

            “She’ll be here in about thirty minutes,” The perky manager on duty assured me.

            “Great, well then I’ll come back,” I replied just as perky. Hell, perkiness was a requirement for the company, and I knew how to serve it with all its sweetness. “I just want to make sure I meet the manager in person.” I flashed my best Crest smile, and took my shine out of the door with me.

            While I prepped to give my little “This is why you should hire me” spiel to the manager, I killed time by walking up Broadway and into a Barnes and Nobles. Anytime I’m in a bookshop, I just imagine I own it for a little bit. Then I sigh when I realize I’ll never own all of these books, and I resign myself to flipping through the pages of interesting books and reading the book jackets while making mental lists of future literary material. After thumbing through my tenth book, I realized I’d wasted enough time and that it was about to be “showtime.” So I briskly walked back down Broadway, blazer blowing in the wind (which always makes me feel important and business-sexy). With each block, the anticipation grew, as well as a bit of anxiety. I hate interviewing for jobs, but I understand protocol, and I wondering how to sell myself as I entered the shop.

            “She’s still not here.” I was informed. Darn. I was too eager. I hoped that wouldn’t work against me. I decided to browse the shop and become familiar with the items I’d left behind. Yes, I knew these products like I knew my way around the stage, but now I was on American turf and I’m sure rules would be different.

A woman walked into the shop. I recognized her right away. It was the manager I’d met in London. When I reminded her who I was, she brightened as much as I did! I explained that I was desperately looking for a job. She said that she was hiring and wondered if I could do a trial shift the very next day. I came to New York with no set plans, so I immediately said yes and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d been looking for that woman specifically, and what were the odds that the universe would lead me directly into her shop first thing? Serendipitous, or Divine plan? Whatever it was, I was thankful.

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

I’d spent the latter part of that evening catching up with an old friend from college who was wonderful enough to purchase a ticket for me to see Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire with Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood.The show was stellar, and to this day, I feel I’ve not seen a more specific Blanche onstage. Reviews aside, I also bumped into one of my favorite professors from undergrad who was my mentor and one of the reasons I decided to go to school abroad. The Universe was giving me a lot of people. And New York was catching me in its net after my fall from grace in Virginia.

           

July 16th, 2012

The next day, I woke up, fully prepared to attend my trial shift at my potential new job. (I was also excited because I’d be able to reconnect with someone whose career I was secretly obsessed with, buuuut more on that later.) No one told me that the weather was on full Hades and that black and white clothing was not going to bring my body Arctic peace that day. So, to escape the heat, I decided to go another place I’d never been before, the Upper East Side.

What I learned on that part of town was…that I couldn’t afford it. That and the fact that I felt like I didn’t belong there with the clothes (and perspiration) I was wearing. So after a very brief walk around, I decided to take the plunge and walk through Central Park. I spent ample time there, only because my interview was at 2pm and it was only 12:30. Personally I didn’t understand the hoopla about the park.

Central Park 1 Central Park 2 Central Park 3 Central park 4

Sure it was expansive and full of wonder, but I was only temporarily awed by it all. Then I remembered that I was comparing this park to Hyde Park in London and that’s when I realized I needed to start booking it through the haze to my trial shift. I passed by young black men break dancing in the park for passersby, gaggles of tourists in similar states of wonderment, and many statues that were clearly holding down the fort when people weren’t around.

 After eating an overpriced tuna sandwich at a place called Viand, I’d made it to my trial shift about fifteen minutes prior to my needing to be there. (Had to give a good impression, right?) Soon, I donned the infamous black apron that had been a part of my wardrobe for two and a half years in London, and went out on the floor to show my old job that I still had their skills. An hour and a half later, and having made a cumulative sale of over $350, I. Was. Hired. Goal one: accomplished! Logistics and paperwork would be handled later, but I was definitely on the team which meant I could go back home, and pack up my life and move to the concrete jungle.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

I beamed with pride in myself as I hurried to meet my fellow actor friend,who’s been inspiring me since I met him. Though he and I weren’t the closest of friends four years ago when I first met him, we’d always been privy to one anothers journey’s. I believe that, in and of itself, was enough to connect us. We’d met over coffee and I’d apologized for being late. He’d congratulated me on the job and then it was down to business. I needed to tell him why I was actually in New York. After responding incredulously to what I’d told him, and confirming that a move was definitely the right decision (“Dude, yeah, you needed to get out of that situation. For your own health”), the issue of housing arose. Where would I stay? Had I looked into finding an apartment? Just as I was about to answer those questions, I saw something like clarity wash over his face.

“Oh!” he said, He fumbled for his phone and began to search his contacts as he spoke to me. “I know someone who’s looking for a roommate and you’d be perfect for each other.” I felt like he was about to find me a boo, not a roommate. “Lemme see if the room is still available.”

He made a call. The phone rang. He dialogued. The room was not available.

“You know, it’s ok…I can go on Craiglist or Air BnB or something,” I conceded.

“No no no. Give me a second.” He swiped through his contacts once again. Made a call. He talked me up. Then he handed me the phone. The young woman was looking for someone to sublet her place for a month while she was on tour and it was so affordable that I couldn’t help but say yes. It was in the Bronx (not too deep in the Bronx). It would be available in two weeks. It was near the 2 train (the exact train I’d need to get to work). All in all, it was perfect.  I had a place to stay (temporarily). Just like that. I thought to myself, this meeting was destiny. He read my mind.

“Isn’t that God?” He asked. Part of me wanted to ask ‘where?’ until I realized he was referring to my situation. “I mean, look at it. You came all the way to New York – with nothing, mind you- and on your second day in the city you walk away with a job AND a place to stay?”

He was right, but he made me sound like some sort of chosen miracle person. So I tried to talk down the situation, “A place to stay for a month…not a home…”

“Still, it’s a place to stay!” he said. Could the wonder in his tone have been legitimate? Was it possible that a person I was in awe of felt the same about me?

“Who are you? I mean, how many people can say that’s happened to them?”

He kept piling on the special, so I felt obliged to tell him, “I guess I’m blessed.” And then I bowed my head and blushed, like a kid who’d been told that he made Student of the Month. I blushed because I’m not good with being praised for things that I have no control over. And while I tried my best to laugh it all off, I could tell that my friend could see something in me that I couldn’t. He’d identified a light in me that I wasn’t acknowledging and one in which I refused to acknowledge. I hoped, as I sat in his presence that his light would rub off on me as I was still feeling guilty about my home situation, and still numb to what had happened to my cousin months earlier.

After we parted ways, I ended my night with another college friend who lived in Brooklyn. She got me drunk on corner store wine and I ended up drunk, nauseated, and eventually asleep on a bench at Clinton-Washington station (and it was only midnight). Once I realized that I’d been asleep and possible prey for the kitten sized rats that roamed the city nightly, I quickly sobered up enough to figure which direction to go on the train, and then I walked back to my rented room. Day 2 in New York had been an unexpected success.

I’d spent the next two days connecting with friends, since I had nothing else to do, and exploring the city that would soon become my home. While those last two days were basically a blur of buildings, subway travel and oppressive heat, standout moments included reconnecting with a friend who was still reaping the rewards of her Tony nomination, and watching Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday at Bryant park with another friend from college.

IMG_0875Cinema in Bryant Park

My big sis.

My big sis.

(When people come back into your life, it’s definitely for a reason and this friend of mine would prove instrumental in ways I’d never imagined in months to come.) I remember having lunch with two of my former colleagues from undergrad (one a distant cousin who also inspired me in more ways than one by just being an amazing individual). We’d eaten at the bar where there were pictures of The How I met Your Mother Cast, and I told them both the real reason I was in the city to which they left judgment behind and comforted me with friendly words and comfort food.  I also remember getting lost on the subway returning to Brooklyn to stay with another friend as I couldn’t navigate the “J” or the “M.” When I made it to my destination, I vowed to never ever use those lines again.

 

July 18, 2012

On my final day, the levees on the sky seemed to break and there was a terrible thunderstorm which drove me into the movie theater to watch Moonrise Kingdom. That was the last activity I participated in that Thursday before I returned to Port Authority, dragging my small wheelie overhead suitcase, and hopping back on the Greyhound Bus to face my recent past…and pack/prepare for the future.

In four days, I’d accomplished more than I’d planned. And after such a warm, humid, balmy welcome to the city, I felt like, once I made the actual move, I’d accomplish a wealth of things I’d never experienced before…

IMG_0876

The Boy From Virginia Takes a Leap

“Success” means a myriad of things to many people. For some it means living out the mythical “American Dream” of having a big house, picket fence, 2.5 (I still don’t get that .5) kids, and some sort of pet. For others it can mean riches. For some it means living another day. And so on and so on.  I found myself wondering late last night what does being successful mean to me now, in this very moment?

            If you asked me what success meant to me about three years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clear answer, but I would’ve expressed that it meant changing lives and social perceptions via the artistic medium. Today, I am certain that my success still has its foundations in remaining artistically relevant. Achieving fame and fortune, however, has ended up on my list of undesirables. Being financially stable is one thing (and necessary), but if there is anything I’ve learned from my experience in a failed/ unprofessional shows, it’s that selling one’s soul to make a buck is about the most draining thing one can do to his/her spirit.

            Some people have made soul-selling into an art. And I guess it furthers what we perceive as their success. An unfortunate example: The Kardashians, who are now being paid forty million dollars for a “reality” show (which I am happy to say I STILL haven’t seen), when as a family their contributions to American society are the equivalent of what a hangnail is to a digit on the hand: unnecessary, lingering pain. And I won’t begin to mention any “real” housewives or “bachelors” or anything else that suggest “reality” at the expense of actual realism. My reality at the moment isn’t eventuful, nor is it lucrative, but it works for me.

            I know that there are many who would ask me, “So if you got a chance to make millions of dollars for acting a fool on screen, you mean you wouldn’t do it?” Let me just say this: There are loads of people “acting a fool” on screen and the internet at the moment so joining their company isn’t going to make me feel like I’ve broken new ground. One of my favorite artists (who I can admit, I’m a HUGE fan of), Brandy, just did a VH1 Behind the Music special in which she said, referencing her time has a young artist in the entertainment industry, “For me to have had it all, I was the most unhappy teenager in the world.” If having it all means feeling like that, then someone else can have it.

            But Brandy also said something else that was very interesting. She said that she knew she would be a star and she never ever doubted it. Then she went on to joke about wishing she still had that courageousness she once had as a youth. I understand wanting that feeling of invincibility to return all too well. When you’re young you feel you can take on the world. And every door seems to be opened to you until its closed, and even then, you think that you have the power to re-open those doors. As of late, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve hit some sort of plateau. But did I reach this place because of outside forces or because I stopped believing that I could be on my Michael Jackson status someday?  I can only attribute my feeling of paralysis to one thing: fear.

            Many people who read my blogs in the past have probably given up on waiting for me to write anything new, as it’s been so long. It’s not as if I haven’t had some fantastic topics to sift through. On the contrary, I would begin to write and then stop because I felt like I didn’t have enough, or because I was afraid that no one would really give a damn that I was writing anything, despite me having a readership (albeit a small one). Also, I had some crazy obstacles to overcome as well and when I was figuring out my priorities, writing always came in last place. I needed to deal with the tangible before dealing with the technological. If I am completely honest, I was much more fearful that nothing I would write would be as great as my “Breaking the Silence” entry which was so in depth and so full of me that I felt I’d given all I could give. (I guess I did put an invisible ceiling on my artistic life, just a bit.)

            Two days ago, however while I was putting final touches on a cover letter that I was sending out to start my process of self-promotion, I felt a surge of energy…no…I felt a surge of power. It was a feeling of such surety that I became overwhelmed. I found myself happy and fearful simultaneously to the point where I was sure I would combust. It was like seeing something glow and knowing that glow you saw was actually coming from within. The exact thought I had at that moment was ‘Something spectacular is coming my way and I’m going to be so blessed’ and immediately after I thought, ‘Am I ready for the responsibility that comes with these impending blessings?’ I then thought one last thought: ‘Have I been working hard enough to deserve whatever it is I’m about to receive?

            There are some people who’ve been on this journey with me from the start and they will vouchsafe and say that I’ve never stopped working. I will say that I’ve been working as hard as my circumstances will allow me to. Every single day, I’m pissed at the fact that I’m not enrolled in some sort of class somewhere, but I also know that given the right situation, I’ll go out and get what I need and God will make a way, somehow. I will learn as many monologues as my mind can hold and I will practice songs for as long as my voice can tirelessly carry a tune.  But I’m also not going to overwork myself either. Up until February 12th, I was in a country without any family, except the friends I adopted over the years, and I had to survive on my own. I worked every day to the best of my abilities and was fortunate enough to work in my chosen field and meet loads of significant people who have influenced my life in a positive way. Keeping myself afloat as a foreigner in another country was definitely hard work so if I give myself enough credit, then yes, I’ve not stopped working.

            But after a fun yet tumultuous end to my London adventure (I had an emergency surgery during my final show in Scotland, had to fight with the UK Border agency to return to America, and ended up spending all of the money I’d just earned in a desperate need to come home), a holiday was in order…even if it was just an excuse to reintegrate myself into the life that I’ve been absent from for many years. Still, people who know me also know that I don’t know how to rest for too long.

After two weeks of just breathing and being with the family, I searched for local representation and got it, as well as some on-screen work which, so far, has been pretty rewarding. I even worked on my very first union film and I couldn’t have been more pleased. You see, a goal of mine when I returned, was to do my best to break into television and film as I’ve spent the past 13 years of my life gaining stage experience. I need a new challenge and I am ready to embrace it, if the opportunities come my way. Of course, I have to encourage the universe to work with me. How is anyone going to know what I want to do if I don’t put it out there, right?

            After returning home and being privy to the success of many actors/ actresses who I’ve worked with or met in passing, I’m starting to feel like there is room for me to excel in this industry as well. Before I left London, I had the chance to witness my former classmate, Da’Vine Joy Randolph electrify the West End Stage with her original portrayal of Oda Mae Brown in GHOST the Musical. Having been Hamlet to her Gertrude in college, I felt triumphant knowing that someone with tremendous talent was getting to exhibit it in a phenomenal way! She is currently on Broadway showing the world, or at least NYC, her capabilities. Also, in late 2007, I was fortunate enough to meet and be inspired by Leslie Odom, Jr., who I discovered is a fan of my blog series! If you are not familiar with this gentle spirit, all you have to do is tune into NBC’s SMASH or go see him play Isaiah in Leap of Faith on Broadway. His skills shine! And I can’t even begin to mention all of my London, Philadelphia, or Temple University connections that continue to make me proud each day. Their successes have prompted me to take action.

            In the past, I’ve been quite blessed in the way that good things did seem to just come my way. I was a chosen child, I guess. Or so I thought. If I took a microscope to all of the situations where it seemed like I was being “given” a wonderful opportunity, I’d realize that I’d already put in the work somewhere else. Rewards don’t come to those who don’t work. Nothing is luck. I’m of the school of thought that if you meet God halfway, then he’ll do the same. So two weeks ago, I began drafting out a cover letter to send to any casting director who is willing to read what I have to say about my overall experience as a performer. I intend to send about 150-200 letters because someone is bound to believe in what I have to offer. Someone is going to trust my talent enough to hire me and not be disappointed. Someone is going to care enough to give me feedback. Someone will hear how eager I am to stay in this business that I love, for all of its thrilling ups and dismal downs.

            Funny enough, when I sat down to write the letter, I couldn’t think of a way to talk about me (which is odd because I write a blog that’s ALL about me). I fought with how I would be perceived, whether or not I was including enough information or too much. But mostly, I thought to myself…There are thousands of people in the U.S. trying to be actors and working at a high professional level. What makes me standout? Then I thought to myself…someone will think I’m perfect. To some casting director, myself will be enough. So yesterday, I sent out 11 letters (my first wave of them) in hopes that someone will say, “This Tommy guy is interesting enough to employ. Let’s give him a chance”

            There are 139-189 more letters to send, but I’m sure this is going to be my biggest lesson in stepping out on faith. In the past, I left home at 14 only because I knew I’d be stepping into a great experience. I ended up at Milton Academy and subsequently Temple University.  I left the country in September 2008 for the same exact reason: I knew greatness would come of going abroad. So far I’ve been lucky enough o continue working in my field since my return. Coming home may have not been my goal, and yes, my work will never be done as an actor, but there is a future here that has been waiting for me. (“We’ve had this date from the beginning.”) So in sending out the cover letters, I’m hoping I’m stepping into a future that I can handle. That’s all I can hope for when I step out on faith: A future that I can handle…and one in which I can thrive and showcase the best me that there is to show!

The Boy from Virginia and the Heart Episode

I remember feeling like I was being pulled in a multitude of different directions. There was meeting after meeting to attend, and a very important business party that I needed to get to ASAP. All the while, my family had been repeatedly trying to contact me. I figured they could wait since I was in town for once and not a million miles away in London as I had been for the previous three years. So I made a mental note to call them back as soon as possible. Until then, I would handle the business that would move my career in the next direction. It was finally all happening!

I remember being all smiles as I managed to achieve all of my goals for the day, so I was going to bring a bottle of the best champagne home to my family to show them how much I loved them and to show them that I’d finally advanced to the next level. But when I’d arrived home, it wasn’t quite the welcome I’d expected. Faces that usually uplifted me were cast downward. Every eye was red and puffy and when these eyes clocked me, they became daggers. My family -comprised of a sobbing, heavily pregnant sister, a boiling brother, and many disappointed cousins (their children in tow)- gave me a look so disapproving that it pierced my spirit to its deepest depths. I caught my breath.

The reason for their anger at me: my mother’s death. And it was my absence that killed her. I’d avoided every call from my family members when I should’ve taken time out to address the real issue. But no, I was so selfish and so absorbed in trying to succeed, that I only managed failure. I dropped the champagne onto the driveway, and as I parted my lips to speak –knowing that no words would form- I felt tremendous guilt. I felt so much guilt that when the bottle smashed onto the ground, I felt that I should’ve reached into my chest cavity and thrown my heart down there to shatter alongside it. Instead of ripping myself to shreds in front of my grieving family, I did something else. I woke up…

September 21st

…and I glanced at the clock. The time read 4:blurry a.m. I turned over in my double bed and faced the person who’d run over at the first sign of distress; a friend. A true friend who’d literally dropped everything to come over and just be present. I turned back over and tried to replay the events of my life that brought on that awful dream. It didn’t take me long to recall what had kicked off my nightmare.

September 20th

Only 6 hours prior, I’d received a call from home. I’d been at the cinema but the voicemail I’ve received told me that my mother had been admitted into the hospital. Hospital news always worries me, so I called my mother asap to figure out what the hell was going on. I ended up on a 3-way call between my mother and my sister.

“Hey Ma,” I said. Then sprinting to the point. “Why in the world are you in the hospital?”

“Go ahead and tell him,” My mom told my sister. She sighed. Her tone of voice was of someone’s who’s jig was up. Like she was throwing her hands up and saying “I’ve been caught.”

“Mommy had a heart attack,” my sister sniffled. At sixteen years old and with a baby on the way, my sister still managed to make me see the seven year old version of herself. Of course a myriad of questions bubbled onto the forefront of my mind, but all I could think of was how to remain practical and level headed.

“Well…(Say something that show’s you’re in control) Do we have a history of heart problems in the family?” I figured that was an adult enough question to ask. It made me sound official instead of panicky.

“Tom, I don’t know.” My mother was clearly exasperated with me. Maybe that wasn’t the most productive question to ask, but I damn for sure didn’t want to ask ‘Are you feeling ok?’

But then, as my mother tried her best to explain to me what was going on, she cried out. I could hear how sharp her pains were in her voice.

“Oh. Oh.” I envisioned her wincing and clutching her chest. Her following sentences were rushed. “My heart rate is dropping again. (To her husband, I assume) Ring the nurse. Tom, I gotta go.” The monitors crescendoed to a dramatic level as the phone went dead. I heard sobbing and remembered that my sister was still on the line. She’d done her best to informed me of what had happened, yet it seemed all she could produce now was tears. I attributed her emotionalism to her pregnancy, all while wondering why I wasn’t freaking out a bit more. I guess because I wanted my sister to remain calm. So I did my best to reassure her that everything would be alright (clearly unsure of that fact myself), and then when I hung up the phone, I stood in my kitchen stunned.

At that moment, my mind was a cluttered attic of thought. Practically, I thought ‘Tommy, you are in a different continent. You can’t do anything but hope and pray that she’ll be fine. Go pack your bags.’ Another part of my brain was concerned about how I would managed to pack up my entire room in one night and move to a new flat the next day (as I was coming to the end of my lease). Another part of me wanted someone to talk to so I did what any sane person does: I hurriedly logged onto Facebook and posted a status asking all of my close friends for help, or a phone call, or anything. I needed to round up the troops and my crappy, cracked-screen Nokia wasn’t the quickest way to do so. However, I only received three responses from the 1,400 something friends on my list (proof that Facebook is a load of crap). And one phone call came immediately.

“What’s happened?” I told my mate the details as I knew them. “I’m coming over.” It was a declarative sentence, which mean I couldn’t dispute it. So I didn’t. I just needed to wait for him to arrive so that I could talk to someone about it.

Until then, I spent time thinking (which is really bad for me if you know me personally), and I came to the conclusion that the universe was sending me a message to love my mother more than I already do. Goodness, I thought I loved her enough. I definitely appreciate her to the fullest extent of appreciation. But I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to lose her.

Earlier that evening, I’d gone to see the critically slammed film “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (judge me at your own will), and I found it very ironic that after seeing a film about a woman who managed to do it all, that I would be in danger of losing my very own ‘woman-who-does-it-all” and has been doing so since I was born. I remember watching the film and thinking, ‘yeah, my mother isn’t some high end business woman, but I tell you one thing, she gets stuff done, and manages to make it look simple.’ And she didn’t need to have Sarah Jessica Parker’s wit and bewilderedness to do it.

Then my mind flashed back to the previous week, when my mother called me to say that she’d sent me a card, just because she was thinking about me. When I got the card, I cried because it was so perfect. It was such a perfect expression of love that it couldn’t be topped. The text of the card is as follows:

“I love you my son…

Forever, for Always and No Matter What

 

From the moment I first held you in my arms,

I knew you were special.

As I cuddled you, I was overwhelmed with love…

But suddenly anxiety swept over me.

With all the potential I felt

Radiating from your little body,

How in the world was I going to raise you to be the man I knew you could be?

 

Now, so many years later, I stand in awe before

The extraordinary man you have become.

Your compassion and generosity

Are a testament to your greatness.

I wonder what I ever did to deserve you.

 

You are my son…and I will forever love you”

            My mother did not pen those words (someone at Blue Mountain Arts did) but she somehow found the appropriate text to display her feelings, and she was so proud of the card she’d sent me. I heard pride illuminate her voice when she told me it was on its way. All I could hear now was the doubts accumulating in my cerebral attic as well as the beating of my own, healthy heart. ‘Why was I blessed with such a healthy heart? Maybe we’d had heart issues in my family that I knew nothing about? My grandmother kept going into cardiac arrest before she’s passed away and we all knew it was a heart attack that took her out of the world. Or maybe my mother’s heart was too big. She was always doing for others instead of herself. Was it possible that having such a huge heart could cause a heart attack? No, of course not…Stress from caring too much about others can cause a heart attack.’ I was thinking too much. I had to do something…so I started boxing up the items I’d accumulated whilst living in Scotland and London.

I was in the middle of packing when my friend called me to let him into the flat that I would soon be leaving; the flat I’d spent the last year turning into my home, the only place I could ever call home besides Virginia.

My mate came upstairs and I immediately became aware of the kind of person I am when I’m in trouble: a domestic OCD nutcase. I started washing dishes, offering drinks and a bite to eat, trying my best to stay active as I was incredibly fearful of what would occur if I stopped and just allowed myself to feel what I was feeling: dread, fear, and most of all, panic.

While my friend kept saying what I already knew (that I couldn’t do anything from London, all I could do was live my life, I was probably imagining things worse than what they actually were, etc) I just kept thanking him for being kind enough to drop whatever he was doing to come over and listen to me talk, of which I did a great deal.

As I spewed forth details of my life, he became aware that this wasn’t the first incident where I’d almost lost my mother. I told him that she’s almost died when I was about nine or ten years old. She went in to outpatient surgery to have a bowel obstruction procedure and ended up in a coma for weeks. The procedure left me with a mother I could only visit in the hospital, while I lived with my grandparents.

I can remember praying to God every single night asking him to keep my mother alive because I needed her. I asked him to watch over my entire family, and I promised to always be good if only he’d keep her alive. I needed her to get well so that my cousin , who lived with my grandparents as well could stop bullying me (at one point, after chasing me around the house with a butcher knife, he’d locked me in the basement and when he finally let me out, I sprayed air freshener in his eyes. Clean Linen Glade was my revenge). People at church kept saying that prayer worked and I wanted to make sure it did. I was relentless in my praying. I didn’t want to live with my grandparents forever, not because I didn’t love them, but because they weren’t my mom. And my everyday routine was supposed to include the woman who birthed me. I remembered going to school every day and loving it because school was where I was the happiest. School was an emotional necessity, not just a mental one. Learning distracted me from what was soon to become my evening routine; sitting in a hospital from about 6pm until 9pm reading library books, old copies of Reader’s Digest and basically learning how to make the perfect cup of Folgers instant coffee (despite rumors that it would stunt my growth).

Of course, my mother, the fighter she is, pulled through. She emerged from her coma after 2 weeks and was eventually sent home. However, the wound she had from her surgery left her with a hole in her stomach that the family had to watch heal gradually on its own. It healed nastily and was a constant reminder that she was on the threshold of death at one point in her life.

My friend listened intently and kept the head nods and the reassuring smiles coming. Then I told him something that I’d only just realized:

“If I lost my mother, then I’d lose what love is.” She’s the only woman, my goodness, the only person in the world who loves me unconditionally, and if she left this earth, I would never know what that feels like again. Because she’s truly loved me, flaws and all, and she and I have truly grown together. There were times when I was growing up where we had nothing. I didn’t realize it until I got older because my mother didn’t allow me to live knowing that we weren’t privileged. But that’s what a mother does right? She always kept hope alive in me.

Some weeks prior to the card she sent, I’d showed her my previous blog entry. And we’d had a very candid conversation about its content and what it would mean if I published it and the truths that emerged from that session between us was immense. She and I had crossed yet another bridge which pushed our relationship as son and mother even closer. We ended that conversation filled with new information and filled with understanding of one another. So when news of the heart attack interrupted my life, I was feeling that we’d only scraped the surface of what’s yet to come of learning from each other.

During my talk with my friend, I suddenly found it harder to breathe as another epiphany hit me.

“Before my grandmother passed away,” I told him. I could feel my throat tightening up and the involuntary tears begin. I tried to swallow it all away. “…Before my grandmother passed away, she said to my mother ‘I can go now because you are in good hands. You have everything you need. You have a husband who loves you, wonderful children, and a home to call your own. You don’t need me anymore.’” And then tears gushed forth as I said the following:

“I can’t lose my mother because she needs to say those same words to me. I need to be in good hands before she goes and I’m not.” I cried into my shirtsleeves and turned away. Then I caught enough breath to say what was at the root of losing my mother. “If I lost my mother, I will never find anyone else who will love me as unconditionally as she does. And that fucking sucks. Because this kind of love will never exist for me again” I let the tears warp my vision as I was wrapped in a bear-hug.

During the embrace, the following came to me: if the doors on my mother’s mortality closed before my heart opened itself to actual, true love…then I’d know for sure that I’d never find someone to love me with the same fervor; someone who’d never give up on me even when I gave up on myself, someone who’d understand and excuse all of my idiosyncracies.3

Never in all my life has a truth hit me so hard about myself. I can’t fall in love unless it’s with my mother’s blessing. And I don’t want her to die without me being successful to the degree of having found love, whatever that means to me. But I’m hoping that whatever love I find will be as genuine, as diligent, as long-lasting as the love I have for the woman who birthed me. More importantly, despite the struggles, and the fights, and the losses and the gains we’ve made in our lives, she has managed to transform me into a prince. I’ve always known where I stood with her. And I’m lucky to be able to still have her in my life. It was in October that I found out that my mother’s heart episode might have been a one-off. She doesn’t have any signs of heart problems or anything and she is in the best of health. God hears prayers, and God knows that her work isn’t done. She still has lives to impact and she still needs to see her son grow up and thrive in his career and maybe…in love.

If I’m honest with myself, I want to eventually end up with someone who will take me from prince to king status. But now that I’m a lot older and I look back on my life so far; past all of the failed attempts at dating, the constant rejection from those who I hoped were worthy of my heart, and my general confusion about the emotion I thought I knew so well; I find myself wondering big time ‘When does real love begin? How does one spot its origins?’ I see a lot or people who are in it, and I recognize the genuine lovers from the superficial ones, but it seems I’m entering that stage of life where I’m constantly asking “How do people end up with one another? Why is someone willing to take a risk on just one person and hope that they will be their everything, when there are so many people in this world to choose from? More or less, will it take the death of a person for me to find love in another?

One of my best friends in the world recently called me out on something. His words were as follows:

“Tommy, I know that you hate the idea of falling in love. But I’m just going to say this to you and don’t take offense. You know what I think? I think that underneath all that ‘I’m never getting married, never falling in love’ bravado…you are actually desperate for love. You need it more than anything. I just wish you felt that you deserved it.”

Real friends stab you in the front and my best mate definitely did that with his words. He was the only person I’d told that I didn’t feel I deserved to be loved. Well, that’s not true. I told him I didn’t deserve to be in a relationship with anyone. When I think about it…if I think I deserve to have friends (which is a type of relationship), why do I think I’m not entitled to deserve love? Maybe because I still, somehow, feel that to give your all to one person means eventual disappointment. I’m bound to fuck-up and I can’t stomach the repercussions of fucking-up (as a former perfectionist). I can’t afford to disappoint others because then I feel guilt and I feel like I’m failing myself. And if the faces in my bad dream were any indication of what letdown looks like, I don’t want to be responsible for those faces, ever.

But then I think I look at love in a different way than a lot of people. I love my friends to death. I feel that I’d never fall out of love with them. Even those who aren’t around me all the time or even in the same country as me still find ways to bring a smile to my face! I have loads of memories with people who have touched my life and vice versa that show me that love exists in more than one way. I’m still in love with my friends. With one-on-one love, there is the danger of falling out of it…and if that occurred, I’d see myself as a time waster. Romantic love is a bridge I may have to cross one day, but when I do, it’ll be with the blessing of my mother and the friends who have loved me even before I found “the one” who might potentially love me unconditionally. But right now, romantic love will remain an uncrossed bridge and I will focus on making sure that my new niece has all the love she needs in this world. The last thing she needs is to grow up looking for it elsewhere, when she’ll have it at home all along.

December 19, 2011

I remember when I said that I would never write about love. Then I made history. And I did.

The most important person in this world to me!

The Boy from Virginia Criticizes the Best (Session 1)

There are times when I wish that artists like Beyoncé didn’t exist. Not because I don’t admire her commercial appeal, work ethic or overall packaging, because Ido. I just wish she didn’t exist because then I wouldn’t find myself pondering the many contradictions she represents to me. Yes, there is the whole, “country bumpkin” who is actually probably “the smartest-business-woman-we-know” thing she has going on. There is also the, singer/ actress thing (side-eye to that one…) And then there are songs like “1+1” and “Best Thing I Never Had.” Drum roll for my conundrum, please.

Beyoncé’s newest album has only been out for a couple of weeks. I’m not particularly sold on the new material, but I have a feeling that her songs (whether great or mediocre) will soon be trumpeting from iPods or the modest speakers of a trendy retail store near you. Unfortunately, I’m also certain that her “Put yo hand in his face” type lyrics will be blasting from thousands of mouths of women, and even men who feel that she is singing their lives. I am one of those people, normally. But why am I one of those people? It has more to do with the woman’s artistry  and singing rather than what she, herself, has to say about an issue.

As I mentioned earlier, Beyoncé is a package. She does write her own material, sometimes…but there is a huge part of me that feels she doesn’t truly feel what she is singing about. Oh, yes, she sings hard. Harder than any singer I’ve heard to be honest. At day’s end, however, singing hard is hardly the same as having empathy for another person’s suffering. I guess at this moment, I’m speaking about the current single “Best Thing I Never Had.” How do I analyze this track?….Hmmm.

From the cutesy tinkling of the piano-intro, and her growling the words, “What goes around comes back around,” I’m already thinking…uh-oh, another “Irreplaceable.”  But I surrender myself to listening to the lyrics and melody (coupled with Bey’s infamous vocal acrobatics). The more and more I listen to the song, I realize it is a revenge song, or shall I say a song to “teach you a lesson.” It’s an “I-did-better-than-you” song, so Ha! In other words, it’s juvenile. It’s playground fodder for young girls to stomp on their ex-boyfriend’s sandcastles so they can say “I win, you lose.” (Bey would quickly say that men can relate to her lyrics as well, so they are universal…Okey doke then!)

My issues with this song are many. Firstly, I think that the song gives a false sense of security to people who have been broken up with. Let’s be honest, Beyonce is in a position to sing a song where she is the best thing someone never had because…well look at her! She is the best thing someone never had! She has the right to go, “look how far I’ve come since you.” But if that new music video is any indication, her high school sweetheart was clearly not the one she was going to end up with. And if this new love and the high school love was all she had to compare, then great. The song fits her situation perfectly.

I feel that this song is dangerous because it will be a fall-back song to rely upon after a break up. Irreplaceable was a “warning” song which inspired confidence. Women (and men too, I guess) could say…”wait a minute, I know what you’re up to and if you think I’m stupid, think again.” With this song (“Best Thing…”), it’s implies that you should be a guaranteed success since your last lover. In other words, if you are not THE best thing someone has NEVER had, this song should not be sung by you…

Let’s  be honest: in the real world, what goes around does not necessarily come back around (“Hey, my baby,” my ass). Real people who’ve been hurt (and who are observant enough to not allow naïveté to cloud their lives) know that you can still be “alone and looking” while your ex is living it up with someone new and living successfully not thinking about you. Since this is the case, sometimes more often than not for a lot of people, the question becomes, NOW whose the best? Is that person the best thing you never had? If they aren’t, their circumstances surely exhibit otherwise.

Also, how many times will this song be sung by the same person who has “moved on to the next?” The average person tends to date more than one person. Therefore, my question becomes, how many times will this song be used as a response to a break up? I swear, I would get so sick and tired of hearing a friend say, “oh well, that just means that I am the best thing they never had.” Wrong. It just means you’re not good at relationships, or that you don’t know what you want. (I’m generalizing here, but it’s a pop song…I’m talking about. How much more general can we get?)

I think my key problem with the song actually has nothing to do with people using the lyrics as leverage, or as some sort of empowerment anthem. My issue hits a bit closer to home. For me this song implies that the person who you are singing about holds some sort of regret for having left you in the first place. You both need to have been through the mill a couple of times, but you will need to seemingly come out on top as the successor. If you have been successful at becoming the “best” over a period of time, while the other person is deteriorating in some fashion, then that would be reason enough to shout the lyrics of this song to the top of your lungs, especially if that person treated you sub-par. But what if that’s not the case?

For me, I don’t have anyone to sing this song to. I don’t think there is anyone I’ve ever dated who regrets leaving me behind in any shape way or form. Every single person seems to be so content in their own lives that I don’t cross their minds. I would love to love this song and be one of the many people saying “It sucks to be you right now” with a smug face, but that’s not how I feel. To be honest, when it comes to love, many days, I feel like it sucks to be me right now.

But what is interesting is that I’m sure what goes around will come back around again. However, when it does, I don’t think it would be beneficial for me to rub someone’s face in my personal triumph. Victory usually speaks for itself. Instead, I’d rather forgive a person for having mistreated me. Why? Because that’s the best way of saying “I Win.”  There is no dwelling, nor sleep lost over someone. Instead, it’s all given away to a higher power to deal with while you thrive. My belief is that you can only be your true best when you let go of unnecessary baggage. What’s more unnecessary than hate?

I guess once you let go of the hate, it allows more space in the heart for songs about love and a positive future. If I were a guest at Beyoncé’s Wedding in her video, I’d say “Here’s to the happy ones who know the power of forgiveness.” Then I’d clink my champagne glass, and down my drink for all of those who believe that “what goes around eventually goes away leaving you with a clean slate!”

Best Thing I Ever Had (Video)

The Boy from Virginia Goes Up the Water Spout

Finally a Master

“I really don’t know what to say.” For most people, this phrase means: 1) The person is trying to be nice because what they actually have to say could hurt feelings, 2)That the person really has tons to say, and just used that phrase to preface all the ramblings that were about to follow, or 3) The person actually has NOTHING to say.  I’m on the fence between reasons 2 and 3.

Three nights ago (November 19th, for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math) I attended what was probably my final graduation ceremony. I say “final” because I have no intentions on getting a doctorate degree (college loans are expensive enough as it is without adding more debt to the debt I can’t pay off now). Usually one’s graduation day seems to hold about the same weight as someone’s wedding day. There’s hair to be tended, clothing to purchase, gowns to order for the ceremony, and tickets to request as every family member you know has been invited; Not the case for me in Scotland.

It was agreed a long time ago that to have my family over here from the US would be more than expensive. So, my mother agreed to let me go it alone (but only if I took pictures, which I did). I have enough trouble finding a barber over here that can actually make me look presentable without messing up my hair  -or lack of- too much, so I’d gotten the grooming taken care of Saturday before work. And since we had a dress code of sorts indicated on our graduation instructions, I realized I had to go no further than my closet to find what I needed for the ceremony. What I’ve just mentioned, however, were the least of my worries.

Last Monday, I developed a tiny cough. I thought nothing of it, but I did hope that it wasn’t the makings of a terrible cold. But something in my heart kept telling me, this is something to worry about. Just the day before, I was on the bus looking at a fellow passenger with disdain because she coughed without covering her mouth. I instantly thought ‘This is how people catch swine flu, because of people like you.’ What a coincidence that on Tuesday my cough rapidly became a scratchy cough (which hurt my chest), congested sinuses, and a stomach that didn’t know if it was queasy or not. I was losing the battle to stay in control of my body.

My job at LUSH only had me scheduled to work on Wednesday. I figured, my sickness should be gone by then, but of course it wasn’t. That night, when I tried to go to sleep, I had to sleep in a hat, gloves, and socks and I was thisclose to actually putting on a coat as I was freezing cold. The heat was on full blast and I had actual goosebumps. To top it all off, I couldn’t touch my skin, let alone hair follicles because they hurt. Mind you I didn’t get proper rest that evening. But somehow the next day, I made it to work, with a running nose and a persistent cough and managed to make the money I so desperately needed…and still need to see to believe (I also got the devastating news that jobs only pay once a month here………can we say livid?).

Anyway, I slept from 2:30 that afternoon, until 10:45 that evening, and didn’t eat (as my appetite wouldn’t allow).  At that point, I hadn’t cared about what I was wearing to graduation. All I cared about was getting the piece of paper I’d worked all my life to have. For me, I have never known a time when I wasn’t in school. This would symbolize the end of academia and the true start of my life, whatever my life is supposed to be. Somewhere deep inside me is that excitement that one is supposed to have when he finished something big. But to be honest…It hasn’t manifested itself.

Yes, I smiled a lot during graduation day. I smiled during the ceremony (though all I wanted to do was blow my nose) and I smiled afterwards when I shook the hands of many and thanked tons for their kind words. Yes, I’d worked hard for this day. But something still felt like it was missing.

I wasn’t missing my family’s attendance (I did have a couple friends who showed up to support me). And of course I wasn’t missing “a special someone to share the moment with” (Do I look that pathetic?). But I was still unsettled. It would take two more days for me to discover why….

Last night, I was out to dinner at Oko Express, a small Japanese restaurant (which always makes me feel like I’m in New York). We were saying our goodbyes to a classmate who was heading back to Canada the next morning. It was all very chilled-out, no frills fun. When I was waiting at my bus stop, I saw a bunch of drunken Scotsmen yelling something indecipherable at the top of their lungs, causing a ruckus. Some uncouth guy, wearing a sweatsuit (yes…they wear sweatsuits and full tracksuits over here in the UK), had his hand completely down his pants, while another drunk man was trying to make some woman’s baby laugh (while the baby kept swatting him away). The bus finally came and as I sat watching the city of Glasgow race by me, the realization hit me hard….Just because I have a Masters degree doesn’t mean the world will change.

Now most people reading this are saying “Aw, C’mon, don’t say that,” while others are wondering “What does that mean?” Well…here goes….

My having a master’s degree is not going to make the world a better place. It makes MY world better, supposedly, but drunkards will still be yelling offensive shit at the top of their lungs. Young kids will still have premarital sex and father/mother babies they don’t know how to take care of. People in Philly will still cling to their stoops for solace and comfort.  And racism will still simmer under the surface of the new presidency.

At my graduation, I was the only black man present. The only one.  And I was seated smack dab in the center of everyone. (No lie) There was no way you could miss me. In Scotland, I will continue to stick out and I will continue to be made fun of by ignorant people because I would rather dress up and look presentable than be frumpy, or pretend to have “swagger” (whatever that means anymore). More importantly, I will still be financially struggling until “my day” comes. Lastly, just because I’ve achieved this goal doesn’t mean it will stop raining in Glasgow (which I’m sure is influencing my mood).

But all hope isn’t lost, people.  I’ve not completely out of touch with my faith. You see, my cold has subsided. And there is a song that has been on my mind since graduation day:

The eensy weensy Spider went up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the eensy weensy spider went up the spout again!

 

It’s a wonder we don’t see hidden messages in songs until we get older. I am that eensy weensy spider. And damn if there haven’t been many times when the “rain” hasn’t come down and washed me out, made me feel bad about myself, and hurt my pride, or whatever. The sun always does come out eventually, and in the song the spider, as eensy weensy as he is, chooses to go back up the spout, knowing the danger of being washed out again. That is bravery. That is having faith in yourself. That is also persistence and patience.

That spider waited until the rain was done to try again. What is never said though is whether he makes it to the top of the spout, which leads me to believe, this up and down journey is something this spider will just have to deal with, as will I. It’ll be tough, but I want this spider’s resilience. Eensy weensy, he may be, but they wrote a song about him, and he’s making a difference in my world. That leads me to my next question: Did I really need a masters degree to make a difference?

At the end of my graduation ceremony, The Chairman said something to us graduates that will always resonate with me. He said, “You were extraordinary before you came here.”

If that were the case, then why did I feel I needed that piece of paper? To open doors? To make my family/friends proud? To join the upper echelon of Masters? What’s the significance?

Here’s the meat of why I feel I needed this degree…

To be blunt, I’m sure the number is small, but I know there are tons of people who could care less about my progress. Most of these people are black men. I’ve met these men before in my life and either we’ve had little in common, or they’ve never uttered a word to me. Instead these are the men who have ridiculed me from the age of 5 until even now, judged me because I never fit in with them or fit a stereotype like they did, and whose lacerating words/comments to me have been the reason I push myself so hard, even now. They dismiss me because my conversations are about substantial items as opposed to the mundane. Lastly, none of them wanted to be truly associated with me. (I dare people to refute this) Though my master’s degree will not change how they feel about me, it’s proof to some of these men that disliking me doesn’t stop my hunger for greatness and going about it through the proper channels, at that. These haters have reminded me, in little ways, of my father, whose heart means sooooooooooooo well…but he just never executed the job of being a father properly.

Though I love him, I always vowed to never be like my father, who I used to watch cheat on my mother. I vowed to never let opportunities pass me by, like he did. I also chose to not become the guy who “waited on foodstamps” to come to my house or use sickness as an excuse to not work. I needed my family name to be associated with greatness…not mediocrity. For far too long I needed full support from my father, but over time, he’s proven too inconsistent to trust, so I have to trust him to be inconsistent. That sucks, but its life.

I always had huge dreams and I had a mother who was there to see them flourish. She was someone who never got mad at my success and who ALWAYS found a way to support me financially and emotionally. She and I have been through too many rough times for me to even list, but it was always she in my corner. And she never thought twice about helping me. My mother  is the woman who told me two week ago that she has always been so proud of me and she’s happy I pursued the thing I loved the most and that she will continue to invest in me because she knows the outcome will be hugely rewarding. She is the woman who when I was in tears about having no money at all to my name here in Scotland, she said, “Shut up! And stop worrying yourself. I got something put away for you for a rainey day (so I could climb back up the spout).”

She also told me, “Tom, I have all the faith in the world that you are going to succeed. You just have to have that faith in yourself.”

I still have days where my faith in myself wavers a bit. How could it not when I’m alone in a foreign place? But I have my mother in my corner, my LIVE 5, my family, and my grandmother watching over me in heaven. I’ll be fine. 🙂

It’s still raining here in Glasgow…it’s light sometimes and sometimes it’s pouring, but you best believe, when there is a sliver of sun, I’m starting my journey up the spout again…

Life Changing Piece of paper