Facing the Fire

This post is dedicated to my beloved father Leonard Ross
July 16, 1934-February 5, 2017

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When my Dad passed away a few weeks ago I was grateful: He lived long enough to see the dawn of a New Year. He was able to have his Thanksgiving Dinner, his Christmas dinner, his New Year’s fireworks and even his beloved Superbowl. He said his hellos and goodbyes. He lived purposefully and died peacefully. It has been a privilege to love him and to know him. 

The Opening Door

When one door closes, another opens they say. I hope so. This has been a surreal time in my life. I’m trying to find my moorings in shifting sands. And I’m not used to feeling this level of insecurity. It is palpable.

My father, an inventor among other things, used to say he got every morning and challenged himself with what he wanted to accomplish that day. This ritual sustained him through a lifetime of successful and not-so-successful missions and adventures. And in my mind that is the backbone of any fact-finding endeavor, any justice-seeking vocation. You don’t have to be a big splashy player to be heard…sometimes you just have to set an intention to be heard and let others find you. It is now that I listen to the lessons of my parent who looked toward each day as an opportunity to bring more love, more discovery, more understanding into his day-to-day living. Now, as I look in the mirror, my daily question becomes, “How can I make a difference?”

Looking Forward to the Past

One thing that grounds me in times like these is to review moments in hisimages.jpgtory. Over the last several years, I’ve become a big documentary fan, gravitating toward stories of people whose singular lives have impacted the lives of others.

Recently, I had the opportunity to screen I Am Not Your Negro and The Lost City of the Monkey God.  Two more different films you will never find. One is the biography of the brilliant, once famed but now fading in history story, of James Baldwin told in his own voice. The second is a post-production wildlife documentary film based on a best-selling true story about a group of adventurers led by Steve Elkins, a cinematographer and explorer, and Doug Preston, author and writer for The New Yorker.  Together they assembled a quasi-professional team of rogue cinematographers, researchers and archaeologists and spent a couple of decades trying to penetrate seemingly impenetrable jungles in Honduras and Nicaragua. Complete with a mysterious malediction, the story follows them through to a discovery filled with artifacts from a long-lost indigenous civilization…and then a quasi-personal tragedy as they experience first-hand the real-life, deadly “curse”that wiped out an entire population. imgres.jpg

In my mind, it’s not such a stretch to draw comparisons between the subjects of these films. Both are personal stories. Both illustrate the struggle of people trying to enact change in circumstances where the odds were against them. The through-thread for me is the passion and persistence in Baldwin’s voice as he writes to find the truth while Elkins and Preston used technology and the media to uncover not only intellectual truths but also definitive, concrete results.

Facing the Fire of the Future

imgres.jpgWhen confronted with the unknown, we always have a choice:  To move forward toward what is possibly fearful and uncertain or to hide, run and duck for cover. There’s no judgement on which road to take; one only hopes there is an awareness of the consequences. Where we feel compelled to take action, we face the fire of life, the heat of the battle, because we feel we have no other choice, regardless if there is actually another option.

In I Ain’t Your Negro James Baldwin embodies the idea that he had to be heard. He was a son of a minister, black, poor, gay, emasculated. He demanded to be treated as a man despite what society was telling him about himself. He confronted what he felt was a vast, white, anonymous audience, eventually leaving the country for his own safety and well-being. Still, he shared his story with the world. And in doing so, his books gave all nationalities, all colors of people, the inside of him, the truth of what it is is like to be in his shoes. And so we who read his works became witnesses and collaborators in his cause.

By contrast, in The Lost City of the Monkey God Steve Elkins and Doug Preston’s journey is one of desire. Yes, they had a story but it wasn’t necessarily theirs to tell. And in fact, mainstream researchers and historians tried very hard to stop them, saying they weren’t legitimate archaeologists and so had no business digging up the history of indigenous people for material gain. And yet that didn’t stop them from believing and striving toward finding a way to educate and enlighten the world, releasing a burden that had overshadowed a tribe of people for hundreds of years.

Karmic Victory in Action

For every action, there’s a reaction. This is Universal Law. Even in victory, the war can continue on. James Baldwin is having a rebirth because someone saw his influence during the Civil Rights movement waning and decided that the truth of today’s world is worryingly beginning to backslide into the America of Baldwin’s time. After uncovering The Lost City, its team of adventurers continue to struggle to help the country maintain and protect the integrity of the archeological findings.

There is no recipe for making a mark in this lifetime. You can strive and strive and still not see an immediate result. But as my father, James Baldwin and The Lost City crew found out, you can get up every day and try to make sense of what’s in front of you and what’s inside of you. You can throw a pebble in a pond and know the water will ripple. You can add your voice to the choir and know the volume and tones will swell. You can join hands with others and feel the collective rise up and connect. You can also get up in the morning, make your coffee and complain about having to work that day. Or you can get up, wake up and ask yourself how to make a difference in the day and see how the Universe rewards your actions.

A subtle shift in perspective perhaps. But I would deem it a worthy one.

Namaste.

 

 

 

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Birthing An Activist

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
Elie Wiesel

I’ve never signed so many online petitions in my life.

Less than two weeks into the new presidential administration and I’m already firing off emails and sitting in on conference calls so that I can better understand the rapid-fire changes in policy that the current U.S. government has unleashed on our country.

(Note that throughout this post I will pointedly refrain from using anyone’s actual name so as not to give them additional psychic fire to fuel what on the surface looks like insanity).

You may be one of those people who passionately marches and supports causes dear to your heart.

I salute you.

I am more of the lazy armchair type, the person who gets riled up and then forgets why I was so heated to begin with. Once a battle rages on for too long, I will admit that I get distracted, turning my short attention span to other pressing issues.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

So it shocks me that I’ve managed to stay this engaged with the un-presidential antics of this campaign. Sure, the guy I didn’t want to win, won. I’m over that part. But it is almost as if he began rubbing his hands together in glee, tweeting, “And let the games begin!” Whatever agenda is playing out seems to have no sense of consequence, just a serious desire to wreak havoc in the most dramatic way possible.

From what I’ve read, many of the government and political players have changed and will continue to change. That’s not what’s new. In fact, even though some of the current policies put forth sound horrendous, they are not new either. The attention paid to them is simply conducted differently. And with different leaders in place, of course the concern is that the outcome will change things.images.png

I’m not even mad at the incumbent for leading with his strongest skill set. Being a ‘deal maker’ is not bad skill to have in government. Being a liar and a poor communicator, however, is a liability in any field.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
R. Buckminster Fuller

I’m no longer opposing the current administration. I’m turning my energy toward something more positive and uplifting, something that will enable me to remain engaged, concerned and involved in my country. Little does the current president know that his residency has given birth to something in my heart that I hope never leaves: The right to fight for my country and my countries freedoms.

So let the games begin.

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The Price of Soaring

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
– Lyrics from “I Believe I Can Fly” by R Kelly

I must admit I’m not upset about saying goodbye to 2016. In fact, I’ve been feverishly organizing my calendar for 2017, trying to pack as many positive, aspirational personal self-care parties as I can in advance so that I’ll be prepared for some really great times and spectacular adventures. Unlike 2016 which seemed so much like loss and endings, I’m determined to make 2017 the year I dust off my dreams and get back in the saddle.

Artistic Aspirations

When I think about the New Year, I’m reminded of my childhood. Every year I would make a New Year’s resolution centered around my hopes for the future, how I was going to be successful and make my family proud. My parents weren’t the type to tell me I could do or be anything. They were more like, if you can’t do and be what you want, find the next best thing.

From an early age, I wanted to be an artist. I loved to draw, paint, write. My disposition was foreign to my analytical, practical parents. And while they didn’t necessarily discourage my potential, they would point out some outcome I hadn’t thought of. For example, in school I was considered a decent sketch artist and watercolorist. I dreamed of being a female Picasso or Matisse. My parents said, well your art is good but it looks like advertising. Fine art it isn’t.images.jpg

Believing they knew best, I took my art to the streets and began creating posters for friends and painting storefronts for money. I designed board game packaging with gothic themes as templates for toy designers. My parents were totally down with that type of expression, especially if I was earning something. Little did we know in our tiny suburb that ad agencies in big cities pay lots of money for graphic artists. By the time I figured that out, I was on to my endeavor.

When I graduated from college the one talent I had been cultivating since I received my first piano at age 8 was music. I had taken lessons, learned to play by ear but because I’m essentially lazy at practicing, I never developed my skills beyond a rudimentary grasp of theory and chord structure. Instead, I used the piano as an emotional prop, composing songs and writing melodies. My adult dream was to sing and write songs professionally. I had been told I had a pretty enough voice but I had never tested it in public. I didn’t necessarily want to be famous, just flush. So I started vocal training with a series of coaches, trying to find my ‘voice’ in different techniques. In my spare time I studied music and songwriting. One night I jumped onstage at a local supper club and began singing with the jazz quartet. Surprisingly, the band invited me to come back and soon I had a regular weekend gig. Inspired, I began plotting my escape from suburbia into the music industry, while supplementing my income with random modeling gigs in San Francisco.

One afternoon I head into a gas station and an African American man in his 40s is pumping gas behind me. He tells me he’s a psychic and that I’m a singer. I say, “Hi”. We begin talking and he calls me out as an Aries (I am). Says there were lots of successful singers that are Aries. I tell him I’m going to model as I had an audition in a few weeks at the Ford Models black division in New York City. He gets really annoyed, goes to his car and pulls out an astrological calendar. On the March/April pages are listed the names of black women entertainers who are Aries: Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Billie Holiday. He tells me if I go to New York, I will never be famous. I need to go to Los Angeles. images 11.12.35 AM.jpg

At this point, I thought he was crazy but because it’s me and I’m forever intrigued by crazy people, I give him my number. Initially I thought he was hitting on me. Then I realized he really was hell bent on trying to influence me. For the next few weeks we would talk, sometimes at 3 a.m., arguing about my fate and astrology.  At some point, he gave up and said, “I’m done with you. You’re stupid. Do what you’re going to do.”

I never heard from him again.

My parents, unsurprisingly, were not encouraging. “You should have started earlier (I was 23). Musicians starve”. My grandmother was a little more menacing: “Don’t let me see you singing on a street corner.” Because that was akin to prostitution.

Making It Happen

I never thought of the consequences of making it or not making it in the music business. I simply wanted to try. So I did. Once I returned from New York, I decided that although I loved the city, it was too harsh a climate and environment for me to thrive in. So I headed to Los Angeles and never looked back. Over the years, my progress was impeded by a lot of excuses and obstacles, a shortage of free time and money, general support, illness, proper playmates. But I managed to sing in sessions, films and commercials, front a band, get featured in Rollingstone and become a BMI and Grammy member. Perhaps that psychic was right and I should never made that detour. But what I did manage to accomplish was all as a hobby. Imagine if I had really tried.

I never stopped wanting to sing or earn money from my craft. But along the way, I began to notice that there was something rather sinister in the business that made me less and less enthusiastic about pursuing it full time. I knew going into it that many great artists die young, get taken advantage of. But as I began to work behind the scenes and behind the microphone, I started to see some serious tragedy: Artists who were illiterate, artists who were bipolar and suicidal. Major front people with not just the garden variety drug addiction but who also had phobias, who didn’t like to be touched. I met artists who could not count change and therefore had to pay a manager to buy things for them. Others couldn’t carry on a basic conversation that didn’t involve them or their needs. I didn’t meet anyone like me, from a relatively normal, middle-class, educated family. Instead, I  witnessed a lot of lonely, desperate creative people who seemed to have it all but instead felt unloved and would do anything, including act out on stage, to get that feeling. The world witnesses these people crash and burn every day, often way too young. Yet in their art, they soared. Their gifts far transcended their flaws. Flying high on the wings of creativity, they are in the enviable position of, for the space of a concert, able to become who they’ve always wanted to be.

images.jpgI Believe I Can Fly

There is a price for soaring. My father, a chemist, used to suggest to me when I was young and partying and eager to dive headlong into chaos, was that the nightlife has its own special siren song, playing to the emotional fibers of people who worship by the light of the moon. He would say, “Babe, entertainers stay out late, putting their body through a process that is unsustainable. The human body wasn’t meant to be nocturnal. These people burn out quickly because their bodies don’t get enough sunlight.” Based on his theory I would imagine a lot of artists who left us before their time in 2016 didn’t get enough sunlight.

I’m equally sure there are a number of happy, creative, successful people in the world, in all walks of life, who will lead long, balanced lives. As for my dreams in 2017: I have a few left in my pocket. I still believe I can fly and hope many others do as well. And if we find ourselves soaring into the stratosphere, let’s hope we get enough sunshine in the process.

To You and Yours, A Very Happy New Year!

Finding Your Holiday Yogi

The week before Thanksgiving, I woke up every day doing yoga in bed.

That’s right…I found a video online of a woman running through a series of ten asanas or yoga poses, executing the smoothest moves in traditional Hatha yoga style…before she left her bed. As she called the poses, I moved through the sequences with her, imagining I was on my mat, using my mattress to gently but intentionally guide me into my day.

20161201_085050.jpgIt was a particularly hectic holiday so I’m hoping for a more chill Christmas this year. I’m taking this opportunity in times of calm, chaos or crisis, to connect with my inner holiday yogi, the self that seeks to find peace in the middle of season’s greetings madness. I find yoga to be a good path to the eternal and the internal. A strong downward dog or a slow-release, languid bridge pose can go a long way toward easing the body of stress.

Finding Your Inner Yogi

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned yoga warrior, finding your tribe can be a path unto itself. Because there is a yoga studio on every corner these days, yoga’s popularity means that many people are priced out of participating, with subscription-based, restricted memberships requiring a long-term commitment in order for you to take a 90-minute class. Thankfully, there are still plenty of yoga companies offering sessions ad hoc and by donation at reasonable prices all over the world, including community classes for those on a budget (Note: Yoga in Bed = Free).

If you enjoy reading about yoga as much as doing it, below are a few of the more mainstream yoga magazines in circulation:

images.jpgSample Online Yoga Magazines
http://www.yogamagazine.com/
http://www.ommagazine.com/
http://mantramag.com/
http://layoga.com/

Have you tried online yoga? The internet yoga market is exploding, opening up a whole new, convenient world to those on the go or simply just want to practice at home. New videos are being loaded all the time so instead of sitting down to the same video over and over again, you can take search for fresh classes with new perspectives. Many of the online classes have a pay wall, however, but there are a few that offer free classes, including  on YouTube (Some yogis subscribe that all yoga should be freely given. However, I’m not averse to someone earning a little “dana” or donation on the side for their teachings). Note that each of these sites have different levels and styles so be sure to check them out before trying them out to ensure you are practicing at the appropriate level for you. Here are a few resources for those looking for a peaceful movement to join:

Free Online Yoga Classes
https://www.doyogawithme.com/yoga_classesimgres-1.jpg
http://www.myfreeyoga.com/
https://www.bemoreyogic.com/
https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene
https://www.youtube.com/user/lesleyfightmaster
http://yogameditationhome.com/

Back to my Sleepy Girl Yoga Practice. May your inner yogi find joy this holiday season.

Namaste!

It Takes A Country

“The sun will rise in the morning” – President Barack Obama

In the wee hours this morning, I heard two people down the street, cheering. Yay! Yay!

Later, I awoke to the sound of one of my neighbors, weeping. Or maybe it was me.

It is no coincidence that it’s 90 degrees on this November day in southern California. If I were a doomsday predictor I’d take this as an indicator that this is the beginning of the end. But I’m an optimist at heart and I believe all things, good and bad, always happen for a reason.

A New Normal

imgres.jpgWe have a new ‘President’. Now I know how the Republicans have been feeling – how depressing it must have been for them for the last eight years to have a mixed race, elegant, eloquent, thoughtful leader of the free world. One who eradicated many of the so-called bad guys, while attempting to create some much-needed infrastructure with climate change and healthcare.

Yes, I’m now starting to feel their pain. The difference is I’m not going to get as good a deal. Instead, I get an orange-skinned, reactive, ego-inflated, fascist buffoon five years past his retirement bedtime who cannot complete a thought, much less a policy.

Not overtly political, my view as the lineup of candidates was whittled down in the debates, was that either this was a completely rigged election or the politicians we have representing us are senile. Bernie, Hilary and Trump are all at the cusp of being septuagenarian. In theory, that should mean they bring some sort of dignity and wisdom, not the carnival show to which the general public has been subjected. That the collective majority chose to focus on the ‘show’ and not the ‘business’ speaks volumes.

It takes a country to do that.

I was totally down with Hilary a few years ago, before all the leaks and smears began. I thought not only would she be cool and collected as POTUS but we would get Bill back and he could play his sweet saxophone again…hopefully behind the scenes and not with a white house aide. My Dad loves to root for her; in fact, she and Halle Berry are two of his favorite ladies. But even he wasn’t confident about her winning this election, which is saying something.

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Chump Politics

As for Trump, it’s hard to take him seriously under any circumstances. When he called Carly Fiorina ugly, I had to laugh…loudly. Pot calling kettle black? What are we, in kindergarten? That’s the last time I can remember a bully discussing my appearance – in grade school. So for a candidate with his credentials to insult an opponent (a woman who is likely more ugly on the inside than outside, IMHO) on a national stage is beyond misogyny and sexism. It’s a serious case of arrested development and the portrait of a man with no moral center. He’s clearly not playing with a full emotional deck.

Which is why I’m not terribly surprised that middle America wanted him. Evidently he has important friends like the KKK in his pocket. What a guy. Yet I’m baffled when unlikely people are supportive of him. Susan Sarandon is a good actress but she’s batshit crazy and all over the map with her politics. As liberal as she claims to be, I felt like he was the last person she would endorse and she did it out of spite for Hilary and what she stands for, mainly her campaign on war. But guess what – she’s 70 too. (Not to be ageist, but just sayin’…there’s something about a generation of people in their later years stirring up bitterness and hatred that doesn’t exactly motivate younger generations, nor give them any hope.) My brother and I keep each other amused by trying to find continuity in the “policies” he’s supposed to be creating. “He can’t complete a thought, did he complete that thought? Nope, there he goes, off topic again!” is our new mantra. What are his ‘ideas’ on making America great again? I’m still waiting.

imgres-1.jpgAlthough I never followed him as entertainment, I have a sliver of first-person insight into Trump. I was attending a rather popular woo-woo New Age church service here in Los Angeles. A blonde woman to my left and I were holding hands in a prayer circle. She looked familiar; but I was more fascinated by her nose as it appeared to be surgically altered. Like, she would look weird in person but good on camera. As the group prayer ended, we were encouraged by the pastor to share something about ourselves with the group. The woman next to me began to share her story of how she came to the church, through a broken relationship. She met and fell in love with a powerful and successful business man. She wanted to start a family and all he wanted to do was make business deals. Soon they were spending less and less time together. She described how when she became pregnant, she wanted a natural birth at home. So she hired a doula to help midwife her baby into the world. He promised to be by her side when she gave birth but in fact he didn’t show up and she and the doula brought the baby into the world without him.

As the story ended, I must have still been staring because she turned to me and said, “I know you think you know me. I’m Marla Maples.” Actually, even after that information, I didn’t recognize her but at least now the possible nose job made sense. Back then I thought, well maybe he couldn’t catch a flight. But my overall takeaway was witnessing a genuinely nice, devastated person who was still grieving over what she felt was the love of her life. Now I see his actions are in line with who he is as person, not just the loud braying jackass you see on TV. In fact, I’m surprised he’s allowing the kid in question to stand with him on the podium.

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Our Country Did It

Fast forward to this election: This is the only time in my adult life that I recall not see anyone in my neighborhood backing…anyone. In my small corner of the world, there were a few Bernie signs out and about. A flood of local political ads. But I can count on one hand how many Trump OR Clinton signs/campaigns/bumper stickers I’ve seen this election. Everything has been all about shaming debates on television or online espionage. If Trump’s contenders and supporters can’t contain him, I feel sorry for the people working for him in office. Despite conventional wisdom or tradition, he won.

It takes a country to do that and that’s what happened.

And not by just a hair – the entire electoral map was red throughout and blue around the edges. Hillary may have won the popular vote, but unfortunately that’s not the one that counts. I anticipate it will difficult, even more than in Bush’s reign, to watch this man govern our nation. Yes, we did just vote an inflammatory, force of foolishness into the American political psyche, giving him access to all our classified information so he can babble incoherently over coffee with his beloved Putin while they trade secrets and resources. Now we can watch him build a wall that will be hacked through by technology and align himself with all the countries who will be happy to continue hating us, no matter what kind of deals he cuts.

Why not? Because in four years, if we are satisfied with his performance, it will be a moot point. But if not? Guess we’ll go back to electing a non-Republican to clean this Republican’s mess up.

This November Juice! post is dedicated to the historic 2016 election.

And Still She Rises

imgres.jpgIf you happen to catch Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise on PBS, watch. I had the opportunity recently to attend a (packed) screening in Los Angeles of the biography of the preeminent poet, writer and artist and I feel like I am the better for it. Based on the title of one of her most notable poems, Still I Rise, the film starts with a on Dr. Angelou’s early, often painful, upbringing and how it led her on some pretty spectacular adventures with some impressive company joining her on the ride. I’d grown up in the 70s watching her shimmy and pontificate her way into the mainstream. And I had already seen a short documentary on the filmmakers of the movie, so I had some idea of what it took to bring her rather unconventional story to life (four years and no funding from Oprah because it was a public television project and people who appear in the film can’t be approached for money so it was crowdfunded instead). After reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings when I was a kid, I thought I knew all there was to know about her.  I probably should have followed up with the next six of her autobiographies so I could get up to speed. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised at all the new things I learned about her, including her many varied accomplishments and spontaneous approach to living.

Produced as part of the PBS American Masters public television series, the documentary itself was fairly straightforward. The subject, however, was riveting. What initially struck me about her, beyond just how productive she was, was just how she didn’t allow anyone to tell her she couldn’t do something. Born an Aries (her birthdate was a day before mine), I recognized the fierce, hard-headed ego that is required if you are denied something you think you might want and then the need to prove you are worthy enough to have it. They don’t call us Fire Signs for nuthin’.

The second thing I was rather envious of was that she didn’t seem to meet anyone who was not a friend. She lived to preach and teach and share her gifts as an entertainer and Professor of Life. Her career led her to some pretty amazing relationships with the likes of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X feeding her political activism; musicians, actors and artists such as Quincy Jones, Cicely Tyson, Lou Gossett Jr. supporting her early days as a singer/dancer; and, when it came time for major shift into writing, she was fueled by the mentoring and friendship of the acclaimed James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni and W. E. B. Du Bois.

I mean, the average person could take a lifetime to build a career in just one of these areas. And although her film directing didn’t quite take off, most everything else she tried did. She attributes that determination to her mother giving her the encouragement and support she needed. Gotta give the woman her props: It takes some serious dedication to write long-hand on legal paper in a motel room with nothing but some cigarettes and a bottle of sherry. She did sacrifice a few things along the way in pursuit of her dreams, namely love. The written word seems to have been her main squeeze in the end.

What most impressed me about Dr. Angelou was summed up in statement made by her friend and musician Valerie Simpson. Ms. Simpson noted that there was nothing too dark for Ms. Maya to deal with. In her presence, you were washed clean. Her act of forgiving herself for her own mistakes allowed her to extend that forgiveness to others. Her compassion and empathy was unbounded. Her drive for justice was pure and passionate. You can see it as she recites her work, unleashing her own brand of creative sassiness. She reminds you of what is possible when you have lived your life in certain way, how what you put out comes back to you.

And Still I Rise is a loving testament and reminder of what one can accomplish if they live in joyful  service to others. Her son Guy Johnson said beautifully in separate interview that he didn’t live in his mother’s shadow, he lived in her light. And as actor Alfre Woodard says in the film, with tears in her eyes, when the final curtain fell on that act, you knew there would never be another like it. She also notes that Dr. Angelou left enough behind for us to remember her by. Thankfully, in that respect, she continues to rise.

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

– Maya Angelou

Travelin’ Light

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As the end of summer draws near, I’m realizing I haven’t traveled anywhere good in awhile. “Good”, meaning abroad. The reasons why are too numerous to mention – just know they include money, time and the lack of a good traveling companion.

Nevertheless, I haven’t given up hope of seeing more of the world. As far as the U.S. I’ve seen every state in the union I need to see except maybe New York because I don’t think I’m done with the New York City Ballet or Broadway. International travel still intrigues me, however, although I’m a bit picky with respect to food. I’ll eat seafood anywhere but I don’t like eating plantains, beans and rice on vacation so that cuts out about 1/3 of the globe. Yet I’m always imagining myself somewhere else, enjoying the food and culture like a native. Touristy type of trip tours I avoid just because I’ve had such great experiences actually working and living for brief stays in other countries. If you are like me and want to travel again somewhere one day, there are several good ways to get started planning your journey:

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Do Your Research

I can’t remember the last time I used a travel agent. I generally start with Lonely Planet and work my way through various web pages related to the destination. These days, there’s so much content online, you can design your travel itinerary yourself even if your journey involves a lot of legs, saving money in the process. Below are a few sites with aggregated information:

Best travel sites – 2016
http://fathomaway.com/slideshow/fathom-2016-best-travel-blogs-and-websites/1/

Money Saving Travel-Booking Sites
http://www.kiplinger.com/article/spending/T059-C000-S001-23-best-travel-sites-to-save-you-money.html

Top 50 Travel Blogs
http://www.theexpeditioner.com/the-top-50-travel-blogs/

Get Recommendations

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I have long dreamed of that elusive African safari. When I go online to search for tour companies, there are literally dozens of tours catered specifically to all types of travelers. The challenge then becomes which one to choose. I’m the person checking out the comments on sites like TripAdvisor.com because in a lot of cases, many people have similar questions or have experiences they like to share in the forums.

Determine How You Want to Travel

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Luxury travel is divine…when someone else is paying for it. On my budget I still like to live as large as I can, especially if it’s only a 10-day trip and I want the most bang for my buck. I stayed in a YMCA hostel once in NYC when I was young and that the was the last time but it wasn’t too bad. The room was clean and the trip itself was magical. I’ve also had situations where I’ve stayed in a strangers home in Europe while they were vacationing in the States. One of my relatives enjoys cruises so much that’s pretty much the only way she travels. Hotels aren’t the only option so it helps to know your limitations and thresholds in terms of comfort and safety.

Find Your Tribe

One of the smartest things I’ve learned to do over the years is find someone who knows someone in the destination country. I was traveling to Asia one year and a colleague happened to have family in the city I was visiting and wanted to send a gift card to her father. Not only did I drop it off for her, but her Dad fed me and gave me his cell number and told me to call if I needed anything while I was in the country. I have done this time and again and always feel like I have a ‘friend’ where ever I’m going in the world. us-passport.jpg

The second thing I’ve learned is to choose your traveling companions wisely. Not only does it suck if you don’t get along but it can just ruin the experience all around. For business, I generally travel alone. And since many of my friends and relatives do not travel, if I were to take my next leisure trip with a group, I would have to have some serious shared interests in order to so. Safaris seem like a good idea in a group but I can easily go visit a museum in a foreign country on my own. If you are single like me and want to meet people, you’ll be disappointed to learn that cruises are not designed for single people.  According to a myth-busting travel agent I met while she was taking her elderly mother to Mexico a) there are no such thing as singles cruises, it’s a marketing ploy and b) men rarely book single on a cruise. Meetup.com has a lot of group traveler clubs but some of them appear a bit cliquish so buyer beware. There are groups catering to 30+, 40+, 50+, etc. I guess it makes sense but only if you like the same things and don’t mind sharing a room with a stranger. Otherwise age, as they say, is just a number.

Finally, remember that kindness goes a long way. Be nice. Being American in a foreign country for any length of time can be a good or bad experience, depending on who you are, how you behave and how that particular country perceives you. Best practices are to respect the culture, tip if appropriate and SMILE. I used to know a CEO who lost his luggage on every trip. Why? Because he was an a-hole. The airlines were constantly

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tossing his stuff out of the plane. If you don’t speak the language, pick up a few words to learn and use them…a lot. I was in France and I couldn’t count the change for the subway. The ticket taker made me stand there and learn to count backwards, in French, and would not sell me a ticket until I had done so to his satisfaction. This was before smartphones so thankfully I was carrying a travel-sized french language dictionary. You know what they say about the French and Americans…however I appreciate that he was trying to teach me a valuable lesson. Sometimes we will find ourselves dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Insure Against the Unexpected

Obviously, this becomes more important as we get older. Traveling over a certain age with a health condition can be hazardous as well. Whether you are planning to hike up a famous mountain or chill on a tropical island, international health insurance is a good idea. I developed a bad cold while working during the winter in England and a doctor paid a house call, doctor’s bag and all. His visit didn’t cost me a dime and, more importantly, he fixed me right up and I was able to continue on working. Of course, I’ll need to get immunized to go on safari, so that will put me in the right frame of mind.

Pay Attention

images.jpgFeeling vulnerable is an inherent part of adventure. Nevertheless, you can try to at least feel prepared and have a backup plan. I have lost my wallet overseas and I have lost my wallet in places like San Francisco (like, the day before boarding a plane). Both times, thankfully, it was returned. But I read the horror stories about people who get mugged and stranded and hurt while being naive and I’d like to think I try and protect against this at least somewhat by keeping my money inside my clothes and emergency numbers handy. When in doubt or if you don’t speak the language, find someone in uniform  to help you. (One exception: Don’t approach men in uniform in Mexico while drinking on the beach of your hotel because they will bribe you and/or take you to jail. Trust me on this one.)

Document Your Journey

I’m terrible at this, I will admit. Because I’ve worked abroad, this means I’m less inclined to whip out a camera,

imgres-1.jpgeven if it’s an iconic landmark I may never see again. I’m counting on keeping my long-term memory sharp into old age so I can at least share stories of my experiences on the road. On the other hand, there is no way I could take a snapshot of my layover in Japan’s Narita airport where I, an African American woman, went into an executive business club and encountered about forty Japanese men lying on cots getting massages. If you are a photo junkie, however, it is probably a good idea to document your vacation travels, as it is easier to share your stories with others.

Pack Light

In junior high school, I had a Spanish teacher who was born in Brazil. Simgres.jpghe was a no-nonsense, very practical lady. Not only did she teach me to act in Spanish (I was La Bruha in the Hansel y Gretel), she taught the class how to pack for 2 weeks with one small suitcase, a practice I adhere to to this day, especially if I can get away with a carry-on. So when you are finally ready to embark on your adventure, remember that no one you encounter is going to know – or care – if you only have one dress and 2 pair of socks that you keep washing out. Instead, save the space in your suitcase for the goodies you bring home from your travels that you can keep forever.

No one to see, I’m free as the breeze
No one but me and my memories
Some lucky night he may come back again
So until then, I’m Travelin’ Light
– Billie Holiday