Sunday, February 10, 2013

happy chinese new year!

Gong Hey Fat Choy!

this is the year of the snake. in china, snakes are also known as little dragons, so it seems more than appropriate that 2012 was the year of the dragon -- the yin to this year's yang. this is the year of the black water snake to be exact, according to the chinese five element astrology calendar -- more specifically, the black water snake of the wetlands. the literal translation is, the year of the snake in the grass. because calling it the year of the snake doesn't sound nearly as menacing or morose as it should, now does it.

actually, it's a little deeper than that.

chinese astronomy has a 60 year cycle that contains five 12 year cycles, with a different animal assigned to each year and a 5 element astrology calendar that seamlessly dovetails with each animal. these are two separate cycles that interact with each other. that's why you'll see every animal once every 12 years -- but you won't see that specific combination of animal and element for 60 years. not since 1953 have water and snake combined.

in china, black is the color of water (and heaven!), the element that corresponds this year with the snake, which contains mostly fire.  (hm. sounds volatile. should be an interesting year.)  in western culture, snakes are considered to be fairly malevolent and to some they are the epitome of evil. not surprisingly, in many asian nations, snakes are considered to be good luck.  luck is a funny thing, culturally. for example, the number 13 is lucky in china, too. the digit 1 when positioned in tens sounds like the word definite (shi) in mandarin and dialects like cantonese, while the digit 3 sounds like life or giving birth. so the number 13 can mean definitely living or vibrant, or assured growth.

see? it's all a mattter of context, now isn't it.

As everyone weighs in on what kind of a year this will be -- the annual feng shui index is remarkably accurate, they say --  and everyone else overeats their way into oblivion (hi, jane!), here's a handy visual aide for the rest of us.

            What Will The Year Of The Water Snake Mean For You?

                What Will The Year Of The Water Snake Mean For You? infographic



Saturday, February 09, 2013

student loans and debt slavery: is it worth it?

if you're anything like me, you need more than a flow chart to get through this mess called the student loan industry.  you need a financial aid expert, a compass, a seeing eye dog. whatever it takes. and yes, it is an industry. hard to believe -- astonishing, actually -- that education is free in much of europe and the rest of the world. it would be easy to have a beautiful life if you didn't have to live through most of it as a debt slave.

frankly, taking out a student loan sounds like modern day sharecropping to me. the real question: is the degree i'll earn worth the debt i may find myself in when i graduate?

Friday, February 08, 2013

yes, i do

i was at jeniette day spa the other day, getting my hands and feet done, when this song gently oozed it's way onto the airwaves. i'd heard it before but this time, i actually listened to it -- probably because my mind was set adrift, with no distractions. 

i just lost someone. in thinking of him, i thought of someone else i lost. and then i thought of other someones. and all of a sudden, i was surrounded by so much love and sadness.  there i was, lazily soaking my feet and crying and happy, a shroud of melancholy embracing me like a sweet old friend.

did i really lose anyone? i'm not so sure.

no one told me that the grief never stops, the love never stops, the longing never stops. no one told me that i wouldn't ever stop missing that loved one, that -- like a place setting at the dinner table -- they would always hold their a place in my life, in my world. love would soothe it but nothing else could ever hope to fill it. not space. not time. not someone else. nothing, nothing at all.

happy, yet sad. there's got to be a german word for that. the only word i can think of to describe those feelings in english is bittersweet.

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize - Oh - Oh - Oh
Do You Realize - that everyone you know
Someday will die -

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize

Thursday, February 07, 2013

maintenance and upkeep, all the time

there are no ugly women, only lazy ones. -- helena rubenstein

the hard work of maintenance and upkeep is renewed daily, with prayer, hard physical exercise and the ritual of scrub creams, lotions and oils, and concoctions that i make for my skin, hair and nails.  i know it sounds like diva nonsense, but ultimately it's a serious commitment to great health and a quality of life that will hopefully sustain me as i grow older, allowing me to be my best self at any age as i continue to explore and create and live, really really live, in style.
Poor health is not caused by something you don't have; it's caused by disturbing something that you already have. Healthy is not something that you need to get, it's something you have already if you don't disturb it. ~Dean Ornish

what's really overwhelming to consider is that most chronic diseases -- diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, obesity and more -- are lifestyle related and preventable.  i'm probably genetically predisposed to a lot of this. i have watched many relatives succumb to these illnesses, including my daddy. although he had a garden variety of chronic diseases, he fought the good fight and lived to see the ripe old age of 92 comfortably -- hard at work in his home, with his wife of more than 50 years.

“First, do no harm.” (“Primum non nocere.”)  - Anonymous

the thing is, healthcare in america isn't healthcare at all. healthcare would mean that the medical industry is concentrating on preventing diseases, finding cures for chronic illnesses and actively encouraging a lifestyle that would keep most people from having to see a doctor on a regular basis in the first place. what we have in this country is actually disease management. whatever is wrong with you isn't actually fixed but painstakingly regulated with a ton of medication.  doctors aren't doctors at all, at that point. they're drug dealers.  needless to say, pharmaceutical companies are behind this. and why not? there are billions of dollars at stake.

or as chris rock explained recemtly, they just want to patch you up until you make it to the next stop. why? because they want your money.

i want a healthy, lean, strong body with thick, strong, natural hair and i'm willing to fight for it by eating clean, living clean and staying out of the sun. this is why i take my good health and my daily rituals seriously.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

sea change

something in me is so exhausted. i can feel it all the way down into my bones. it's probably jet lag but wow. i feel sluggish most of the time, like a bear stumbling around in a cave. or a caveman stumbling around in a bear. it's the strangest thing. i'm conking out around 9pm every night on mpb's shoulder, like clockwork. he coaxes me into bed around 10pm or so. when he told me this the other day -- i could feel myself drifting off but i assumed it was at a much later time -- i balked. who is that girl? i wondered. i used to tip into bed at 2am every night, happily buzzing with ideas. i knew that when he kissed me goodnight around 11pm, i had a full evening of chatting, fingerpicking, channel surfing, snacking, netflix movie watching and whatnot ahead of me. now i'm straining to stay awake after dinner.  and dinner isn't the happytime grubfest it used to be. i seem to be incapable of eating more than half of whatever is on my plate.

believe it or not, snacks are a thing of the past.  i can't believe i'm saying this but i think i've lost my innate desire for junk food.  how do i know this, you may ask?  i passed by a gigantic bag of salt and pepper potato chips at trader joes today. it cried out to me like an old friend. i heard it loud and clear. and i remember thinking, if i buy that, i'll just eat it. so i didn't. i didn't get those fat-free cheese curls, either. i got the seaweed.

yeah, it's probably jet lag. once i start boxing again, i'll feel exhausted, yet energized. 

still and all, i can't help but wonder if this is the result of several seasonal bouts with the eat clean program last year and my insisting on incorporating certain habits into my everyday life as a result. i stopped eating starches, wheat gluten, peanuts and soy products on a regular basis, and all the bloat and puffiness left my midsection. that, combined with touring in europe so often -- i don't physically exhaust myself every day when i'm there but the food is cleaner and i tend not to eat or drink junk -- may be the things that have forced this change on me.

or maybe i'm just depressed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

this is black history month? really?

yes, i'm one of those black people that forgot all about black history month -- probably because i'm black every month of the year and i'm all about my blackness every single day. black-black-blackity-black! i suppose if the world at large weren't constantly coming up with colorful and interesting ways to make me aware of the fact that yes, i'm a negress, my blackness probably wouldn't float to the surface of my conscious mind every other waking moment. oh, well.

i suppose i could post some especially black stuff in the next few weeks but don't i do that anyway? i'm starting to research my history as a black female performer, so here's a few things for you to revel in:
  1. my beautiful black women pinterest page.  gathering those images and video clips are just one way that i get inspiration, ideas and remind myself that, yep, we're stunning, too.
  2. a snippet of this little doc -- valaida snow, jazz trumpet star. her story is a fascinating one. she was quite the showstopper.
  3. take a glimpse at joyce bryant: the lost diva documentary. she was described as "the black marilyn monroe" -- but why was she forgotten?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Sick American in Dresden

I’m not a sickly person. I don’t get seasonal illnesses. I’m not overweight, I don’t do drugs recreationally, I don’t smoke pot or cigarettes, I’m not a drinker, I workout regularly and I eat clean. I’m not perfect by any means – I love baked Cheetos as much as anyone else does – but once I began to take myself seriously as a performer, I worked hard to develop and maintain this lifestyle.  Eventually, I realized that staying healthy, lean and strong would have to be a full time job. Ultimately, I would have to fight for the body and the quality of life that I wanted, and that fight would never really end. Every day, I fight for my life with all the salt and sugar I don’t eat, with every mile I run, with every  2 minute sparring round I crawl through, with every shot of wheatgrass.  I believe that those preventative measures add up.

Someone said to me recently – I think it was Charles Burnham – that the ailments that visit you in your 30s and 40s come back to stay with you in your old age. I haven’t had any visitors –  and I’m not keeping the porch light on for houseguests, either. This little story is a strong example of what it means to stay vigilant and fight for your good health.

Because I’m fairly in tune with my body, I’m acutely aware when something is wrong. While on tour in Dresden, Germany, I was quite suddenly in so much pain with what I thought was an earache that I asked to see a doctor.  It felt as though a needle was pushing its way directly into my ear canal, causing a shooting pain that ran down my neck. My voice remained unaffected – but how long would that last?  I didn’t want to wait to find out.

I had never had emergency medical care by a general practitioner in Europe. What would this experience be like in comparison to what I usually get in America when I’m uninsured?

Eva (our Austrian tour manager) got a few phone numbers from the hotel and made an appointment to see a doctor on a Friday after 8am, when their offices opened.  When I saw her at breakfast, she said I was in line to be seen as soon as possible.  Thanks to a childhood that included way too much art house cinema, this remark filled my head with images of starving desperate filthy eastern Europeans in endlessly long breadlines, shrouded by snow and grey skies wrapped gently within an overall sheen of desolation and despair.  Our leisurely sun drenched10 minute walk to the doctor’s office was quite the contrast. We even marveled at the beautiful architecture as we went along.

There was a line, as it turns out – but it wasn’t what I expected. It felt as though we were waiting to check out a book from the library. We stood in a clean, well-lit vestibule with a few others for awhile and then suddenly we were at a desk explaining ourselves to a sweet faced girl in white who took my information and led us to a waiting room. In no time at all – something like 15 minutes, maybe? -- I was sitting in the doctor’s office. He was a little on the young side, a boyish looking 40-something perhaps, smiling and open and friendly, and was dressed in jeans and a dark, striped, button down shirt. I sat in a chair next to his desk, which was expansive and well-organized, and he leaned back in this huge ergonomically correct chair and listened to me attentively as I pointed at my neck and gesticulated. Needless to say, his English was perfect. The whole thing felt like a job interview. Or a really terrific blind date. We should have been having coffee and pastry as we chatted. Sitting there, looking at him in his black crocs, I couldn’t help but wonder: Where were his many, many degrees from expensive inaccessible universities? Shouldn’t they have been hanging on the wall behind him, constantly reinforcing his authority and expertise? Where was his equipment? Wasn’t he supposed to be wearing a stethoscope or something? How about some id tags? And where was his white jacket?

When I asked him this last question, he laughed. “Yes, that’s right,” he said casually. “I wore a white jacket in Canada…”   Equipment? He nodded toward the bookshelf behind me, where a stethoscope sat on a shelf, glistening in the phosphorescent light like an overfed garden snake.  As I regaled him with stories of American doctors and hospitals and how this might work if I were stateside, he examined my neck and throat and listened with interest. He seemed bemused.

Then came the diagnosis. My ear was fine. My voice was fine. The tube that runs from my ear to my throat -- the Eustachian tube -- was infected. How did this happen?

“Have you had a cold?”  he asked.

“No,” I replied. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a cold. I even made sure that I got my annual flu shot before I left home.

“Was your nose clogged, was your head congested at all?”  he asked.

That’s when it hit me. I had been crying constantly for days. This is all Jef’s fault.

The doctor wrote a prescription for nose drops and a cream that is to be inhaled with steam. And with that, our visit was over as abrubtly as it began. If I was in that room longer than 10 minutes, I’ll eat my favorite pumps.

Here’s the upshot: I presented myself as a foreigner, I gave them NO insurance information – just my passport. That little visit cost me 30 Euros. The medication was only 15 Euros. That’s something like $60. Even if the rate of currency was 2 of our dollars for every one of theirs, I would still have paid less than $100. We were in and out of there in less than an hour. I was more than astonished. I was impressed.

I remember sitting in the van as we zipped down the highway, more than just a little freaked out as I considered the American no insurance alternative: sitting in the triage section of an emergency room’s waiting area for hours on end, eventually sifting through  a stack of paperwork only to wait and wait and wait until a doctor sees you, hurls you through some expensive equipment if you’re lucky or tosses some Tylenol at you if you aren’t.  That bill would be for hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. If you have coverage, you’ll spend months haggling with the insurance company over it. If you don’t have insurance, you’ll give a false name, address and social security number, and then you will disappear. Or you will give them your correct information and pay hundreds of dollars for what would have cost you less than $50 in a place that used to be behind the Iron Curtain.

Would Jonathan Larsen -- creator of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical RENT -- be alive today if he’d seen a European doctor instead of an American one?  He’d probably still be here if he had insurance during his emergency room visits to two different hospitals because it would have compelled hospital administrators to take him seriously and order the tests he needed –  expensive tests that run on expensive equipment that would ultimately have saved his life.
I have insurance but that doesn’t mean that my days of munching on fresh fruit and praying that I don’t get hit by a bus are over. Plenty of Americans have all the insurance they could possibly want. And they get a major illness and get bilked out of their life savings. Why, it’s almost as though corporations are constantly scheming on how to get as much of everyone’s money as they possibly can.  We’ll be a country of the very rich and the very poor in no time at all. The haves and the have nots. And of course, the haves will say that what you have or don’t have will be entirely your own fault. You just didn’t work hard enough.

Whoever came up with the idea of America being a place where everyone pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps should be taken out back and horsewhipped for all eternity. The idea of such a notion – if I work hard, I can have whatever I want! – is appealing, but it’s just flat out not true. First of all, this great nation has worked very hard to disenfranchise a great number of its citizens since its very inception – and in many ways, it continues to do so, unabated. Jim Crow?  Segregation? Voting rights for everyone – not just white men who own property? Slavery – a topic that NO ONE wants to openly acknowledge or discuss. Give me a break. Secondly, no man is an island. No one does anything in and of themselves. Land grants? The G.I. Bill? Free (yes, free!) college tuition? Give me yet another break. And last but not least, there’s institutionalized racism. You know. It’s that thing that tilts absolutely everything in this country to your white advantage.

But I digress.

Americans seem blissfully unaware of how well other first world nations live. If they knew what they could be getting for their hard earned tax dollars, they would riot in the streets. As one ex-pat said to me after a gig in Dresden:: “Why should I go back to the USA? There’s no poverty here. They have universal health care. They pay for your education. They have gun control.”  He paused, shrugged and continued. “While America is squabbling, everyone else is living in the 21st century.”    He’s right. That’s a 21st century way to live.

Because I'm convinced that Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko should be required viewing for anyone in this country that doesn’t want universal health care and anyone else that's curious about what's really happening in the health care industry, I've included it below in its entirety.

And no, I’m not a socialist.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

pithy little thoughts

unbelievable but true -- the tour with james "blood" ulmer and odyssey is almost over. it feels like i've been away for a month! this entire experience has fortified me, somehow. i feel much improved overall: stronger, lighter and way more focused.

whenever i travel abroad, i learn more than i think. here's the top five that's floating around in my head at the moment:
  1. get your electronic gadgets in order, stat: a kindle is a lot lighter than a few books.
  2. underpack -- because those excess airline weight fees can be pricey.
  3. oversleep, oversleep, oversleep -- because when you travel, you're probably not getting enough sleep, anyway. if you think you're oversleeping, you're probably barely breaking even.
  4. eat clean, eat less than usual and don't eat at night.
  5. there ain't no blackgirl hair products within easy reach, so pack what you need - or better yet, put your natural hair in a protective style before you leave home.
here's a bonus: never eat seafood in a land-locked country.

i'm still trying to figure out phone usage (i have an android), how to get around a no-internet situation, how to pack more than one pair of pumps and still staying underweight, how to workout in tiny hotel rooms, finding a smaller lighter laptop for travel and of course making my simplest manicure last longer than a week. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

nablopomo - again?

falling into the dead of winter with nablopomo, to jump start some ideas and keep my creative juices flowing.   although blogging everyday for a month sounds daunting, i'm determined to not fall off this time. wish me luck -- or better yet, join me!