Uggh, If One More Person… #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #Writer

If one more person asks me how to be an ally, I’m gonna…

I’m gonna help.

So how can you be a better ally to people of color as a writer or creative person?  I’m gonna give you the same answer I keep giving every other person who asks:  Listen. Be considerate. Be open to learning more. And remember, it’s not about how you FEEL, it’s about THEM.

Photo by Jumana Dakkur

If you feel uncomfortable right now, then you’re doing it right. If you don’t know what to say, what to write… good. I don’t say this to be cruel but I’ve been uncomfortable for most of my life, so if you’re finally feeling uncomfortable about racism, you’re probably on the right path. We’re all mostly on the same page now.

Honestly, being an ally just means being a good person who cares about other human beings. Period. But I get that it can be a scary and confusing time for people. All people. I’m here to help. 

Maybe an example can clarify this for you. Hear me out.

When marriage equality was an issue for the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t sit back and wonder “how can I be an ally?”  It didn’t even dawn on me to ask the question. I didn’t call up every person I knew who happened to be Gay or Lesbian and ask them, “Is there something I can do to help?”  I’m not part of the LGBTQ+ community and I have no real idea what they’ve gone through as individuals – but I’m sympathetic because I value them as human beings fully and completely. I have much empathy for any LGBTQ+ person being treated badly or wronged in any way. Even if I don’t understand all of the complexities of their particular “ism” – when I SEE hurt, I understand it as PAIN and I react accordingly.

So, why is it so easy for me to relate to the LGBTQ+ community and act as an ally when it may be hard for White folk to know what to do during this horrible time in our country regarding police brutality, Black folk and race relations?

Well, part of the reason could be that I grew up around people who were gay and lesbian. I was a dancer as a kid and most of my instructors and dance mates were gay or lesbian. I was comfortable around people who were not “heterosexual”. I also frequented many clubs as a dancer. Transgender folk didn’t scare me probably because I didn’t understand it fully and Drag Queens were performers to be envied and revered. I didn’t see them as “other” or less than me – not subconsciously or ever.  When you know different people, it makes it harder to dismiss them for any reason. 

But still. It’s hard to know what to do to help. Especially if you don’t know Black people or people of color in general. Even if you do know — it’s a tough time. I mean, I get it. I completely appreciate the want and the need to know. So, here’s what I did.

Photo by Shane Aldendorff

First, I listened. Listening to people is always a good place to start. As writers, actors and creative folk in general, we’re observers, so listening is easy. And when I didn’t understand something like the plus (+) sign or what the “Q” means at the end of the acronym “LGBTQ+”, I used Google to figure it out. So second on the list, is research. When I had a question, I first tried to learn what it meant on my own so I didn’t burden my friends who were going through a difficult situation. Timing is a thing people!  There is a time and place to ask questions – be sensitive and choose wisely. Again, don’t make it about you and what you need. Instead, observe, listen, learn and research. When people are crying and protesting over the murder of George Floyd, it’s probably not a good time to ask what you can do. Instead, just be supportive. Listen. Listen. Listen.

The most important thing I did to be an ally was to make sure other people in my circle were aware of my standards regarding the subject regardless of how intricately I understood the subject. These are common things I said during the whole California “same-sex marriage” time period in 2008, to people in my life. Family and friends:

“No, you will not use that kind of language to talk about Gay people like that in my house.”

“No, we cannot be friends if you have a problem with Gay & Lesbian people.”

“If you don’t like the idea of a Pride Parade, you don’t have to go to one. I don’t go to the Tournament of Roses parade and I don’t make loud announcements about it. I just choose not to participate.”

“Are you sure you want to use the Bible as your evidence for why two men can’t marry?  Okay. But do me a favor and watch this clip. It says it so much better than I ever could – but if you still want to argue your discomfort with the Gay community by using Bible verses, let me know. I have twelve years of Catholic school under my belt and like Martin Sheen’s character in this West Wing scene, I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover so…we can go there if you want too…let me know when you’re done.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what being Gay has to do with raising a child. I was raised by a single mom till 11 and then raised by a neighborhood of people that included gang members, teachers and coaches. I turned out just fine. But clearly, you’ve never met a foster child who’s been in the system, have you?”    

I could go on and on…

My point is this:  as writers, as creators, as storytellers, you have the sensitivity and the ability to be an ally just by being compassionate. Then, you can use your voice loudly to be an advocate. You don’t need to walk in my shoes or know my every emotional thought about the President, the protests, the murders, the police, etc., to be a good and decent person – to be an ally. You don’t have to write about Black people or develop new characters based on something you don’t know – that would go against that one principle of always ‘writing what you know’ and probably turn out pretty bad.  My question would be, why don’t you know more people of color?  It may be where you live, it may be part of your upbringing, but then do THAT – change THAT!  Get to know people of color. Do your research.  Ask questions – yes, at the appropriate times. Read books and articles from artists who are NOT like you!  My goodness, if you can’t name at least 10 authors who are people of color, then yes, you have some work to do.

Being an ally, just means being a good person. That means, understanding that you may have possibly never valued Black life as much as your own. It’s nothing you did wrong, it’s just part of a systemic angst our country was built on. No one is blaming you personally or hating you for being White. No one. What we are screaming about is that by doing nothing about the systematic racism and oppression that exists in our country and even at times, denying it’s truth (even when you have video proof), yes you are contributing to the pain of so many people – and that, we will no longer allow. Its just not in anyone’s best interest. It really isn’t.  

Look, I’m here. I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can. I may not have all the answers and I’m certainly not speaking for all people of color, but I’m listening and learning too.  One of the most recent things I’ve done is reach out to White male friends and ask them questions about what’s happening right now, and seeing how they’re doing – honestly, I think they’re stunned that someone’s asking. But yeah, we’re all in this together. And the only way we’re going to get through it, is if we keep having the conversations…

My book Canela, is at its core a book about people being “allies”. Remember, being an “ally” is just the new trendy way of saying, loving thy neighbor.  When we can see each other as worthy and precious, taking care of your fellow human being, standing up for them when they need help and valuing them, becomes real easy and natural to do.

I may not know much, but I still have faith in the best of who we all can be…

Thanks for stopping by. This has been a post I’ve included in my Author Toolbox Blog Hop. If you’d like more information on this writer’s group please visit:   

Gang Form

For the past three weeks, I’ve been lacking a good night’s sleep.  There’s been that one cricket somewhere in a wall, near the doorway to my home that I just can’t find and kill.  What’s worse, I’ve been seeing crickets everywhere since.  In the kitchen, the bathroom, in my damn dreams!  The final straw for me, was the kitchen. Babies crickets crawling up a wall. Uggh.  After trying some home DIY remedies for about a day – “natural” type of things, I lost all hope and decided enough was enough. I called for pest control to come out and do its thing.

I spent the entire day and night elsewhere while they sprayed the space, and when I came home the following day, there were hundreds of dead crickets at my front door and doorway.  Clearly, my man from pest control had done his job well!  Never thought I’d be so happy to see such death.  But yeah, I was looking forward to getting a great night’s sleep.  First though, quick shower and a run to the grocery story…I washed my hair and threw on my baseball cap and ran out the door. 

When I returned from the grocery store in my car, the end of the alley way was closed off because of construction.  I had to back up and go around the block to get to my space from the other end of the second entrance. No biggy. It happens. 

As I made my way into the other entrance of my alleyway, a white van was parked on the ramp part of the entrance.  I could squeeze on by, but why would someone park right there?  It made no sense.  I waited for a moment and then carefully made my way past the small opening beside them.  As I passed on by, I looked over to see who it was.  I noticed it was a young woman, clearly looking frantically on her phone for what I assumed were directions. On the one hand, I thought it was smart that she pulled over to look for directions. On the other hand, it wasn’t the smartest place to pull over… I went on my way down the driveway.  And then I heard someone scream…

“What’chya lookin’ at, bitch?”

I checked my rear-view mirror.  From the opposite side of the opening to the driveway, this young Black woman wearing a white shirt and jeans was gesturing with her arms and now screaming, “Yeah, you. What you looking at? You have a problem or something?”

When I say it’s been years, I mean it has been decades since I did what I’m about to describe

I stopped my car, put it in park and got out the car.  I walked, almost ran, back up the driveway and when I got face to face to her I asked, “Are you talking to me?  Did you just call me a bitch?”

I was close enough to see the detail in the colorful, but mostly blackish grey tats across her neck, that ended close to her chin.  I stared straight into her eyes and said it again.  “Are you talking to me?”

She seemed startled but stood tough, her several long braids peeking out of her hoodie. “Yeah. What you lookin’ at?” 

I got closer. “First of all, I can look at whoever I want.  Second, I live here  and she’s not supposed to be parked there, my sista.  You sure you were calling me a bitch?”

She backed up a bit, pulling down her hood. “Naah, you didn’t have to get out your car is all.” Truth is, for all her bravado I could tell she was stunned that I was a Black woman and confronting her. I was so mad.

“Clearly, I did have to get out my car! Don’t be calling people names and calling people out for no damn reason because sometimes people will get out the car and confront you.”

Her voice lowered but she portrayed a quiet toughness. “Yeah, but you still didn’t need to get out the car, though.”

I got closer.  “Let me say this again – if you’re gonna call someone a bitch, that someone may actually respond.  So you best be prepared to answer for your words. You hear me?” I said it with such old school gang authority, I honestly don’t know what came over me. I was so angry with this girl.

She still wouldn’t back down. No apology was coming from her – but I could tell in her demeanor she knew she had made a mistake. 

I heard a car horn screech. I had stopped my car in the middle of the alleyway and left it there. Now I was blocking someone else.  A neighbor from across the way. A White guy I’ve never spoken too but have seen several times before. 

The young woman now interjected almost in a gleeful whisper, “Looks like you need to move your car.  See, like I said, you didn’t need to get out your car, ma’am.” 

I was thrown by my neighbor needing to get by. But I seared into the young woman’s eyes and said clearly, “You best be careful who you call a bitch. Not everyone is out to get you. And looking at someone ain’t a damn crime.”

I headed back toward my car but before I could jump back into it, my White guy neighbor who’d been honking his horn to get on by decided to interject: “Why did you even bother getting out of your car? Why would you waste your time with her -she’s crazy?” 

I took a deep breath. “Because. She’s not crazy.  She’s a young Black woman, in a White neighborhood and I was wearing a baseball cap.” He looked at me confused. I continued exasperated, “I needed her to know that I, a Black woman, live in this neighborhood – and yes that she belongs here too.  Not everyone is looking at her because she’s Black.  Sometimes, people are looking at you just because we’re looking.” 

He nodded his head in agreement, but I’m not sure he understood at all. 

I got back in my car and went to my garage. I pulled the car in and sat there for a minute. My hands were shaking.  Two decades later and clearly you can take the girl out of the hood, but the hood is always a part of who she is…  and that’s not a bad thing at all. 

That night, I finally got a good night’s sleep. Crickets no more.

Share Your Story

I thought I’d play a little bit with video posting this time around.  The gist: I encourage everyone to tell their story.  When you do something from your heart, you just never know how it will manifest.  For me, I’m starting on a new journey, speaking with different groups about my book CANELA.  I met with students in Boston this past week — and I’m a better person for hanging out and sharing some stories with these amazing kids!  I learned so much!  They really are going to rule the world! So grateful.

Here’s a little quick video clip I made yesterday morning…

 

Old List, New List

I kinda wish 2018 wasn’t over.  I feel like so much is unfinished…

Here’s the list I wrote at the end of 2017:

Michael Roud Photo Shoot 2018
  • Visit home (Boston) for a couple of weeks.
  • Finalize the Book Canela, get published before end of 2018.
  • Clean out my storage area / donate everything.
  • Meet 10 new people who are extraordinary.
  • Rid myself of the 5 toxic people – kindly.
  • Stop “facebooking”.
  • Connect with like-minded creative folk and be inspired.
  • Buy a new car.
  • Find a new apartment / quieter, still close to the beach.
  • See a movie a month at least.
  • Read a book a month at least.

Every year I write a list of at least 10 things I’d like to do, but no more than 20.  All of them tangible and possible.  Here’s how it all panned out:

Visit home

After my book was published in June, I visited most everyone in the book and spent a lot of alone time in my home town of Boston.  It was magical, emotional, inspiring!  I had only been “home” for brief moments over the past 20 years since I moved to Lost Angeles. I’d visit for a funeral or a wedding. Just quick weekend trips where I only saw the airport, freeway, and/or a church. But this past year, I was home for a while.  I got lost in my own neighborhood – that’s how long it’d been and that’s how much things had changed in the city I grew up in.  I saw old friends and fell in love with my childhood all over again.  I saw how far I’d come and I realized how much I loved Boston, but missed Los Angeles. It really was beautiful.  Maybe my favorite part of 2018.  

City of Boston at Night - Taken at the top of the Prudential Building in August 2018 on a clear evening. The glass and lights give it an eery feel.

My Book Canela

I’ve written so much about publishing this book – but let me say this again: if you have the want, the desire to write your story (because everyone has a story to tell) please, do it!  For me, it was cathartic and life learning at every level. The process of writing is one part, editing another – what I didn’t realize was that AFTER you publish it, well…. maybe it’s just me… but this part has been just as incredible and teaching as well. It has changed my life and the way I view it.  Creatively I’ve changed. How I view people’s importance in my life has changed.  And the book has become a very central part of my every-day life in ways I’m just starting to understand.  Tell your story. Preach your story. The world will be a better place because of it.    

Clean out Storage

Done and done.  We all have that STUFF we keep “just in case” we need it.  Uhm, I got rid of all of it.  Period. Just a housekeeping item that I had put off for too many years so… done. 

Meet New People

I met more than 10 extraordinary people in 2018. My point in writing this in my list (I write it every year by the way) is because I think when you meet new people, you have the opportunity to grow and learn and be “better than you used to be”. If you are constantly around the same people all the time, well…. that’s cool. But for me, it can become pretty stagnant.  Here’s the cool thing about the people I met this past year:  I met so many of them because of my book!!!   Yes!  I have done no publicity, no advertising, just giving it out to friends and yet, others have read it and reached out and it’s been amazing!   I ‘ve learned so much and am excited to get to know these people even more over the next years. 

Rid Toxic People

We all have people in our lives we wish we didn’t have to interact with.  And for most people I get this is a hard thing to do.  For me, eeeh, it’s pretty easy. I’m really great at walking away from people when they are toxic.  Even if I have to work with them or be around them for some reason (creatively). I have a pretty tough barrier that keeps them at distance.  It’s a skill I developed growing up the way I did.  You know “bad” people right away and learn to always keep them at arms-length, while still “dealing” with them as best you can.  This past year I had 3 people I definitely wanted OUT of my life, but there were 2 others I was hoping to also end the “pretend” friendships with. That happened earlier this year.  Wow.  Clearly a great thing!  Rid yourself of people who do NOT lift you up or make you a better person. Seriously, it’s the best thing you can do for your health! 

Stop “Facebooking”

Well, this I could have done better for sure. I do not have messenger and I am not on there often.  I also have Instagram and eeeh, use it sparingly.  I’m a huge fan of Twitter though so I’m not sure any of these are better than the other.  But all are a part of our daily lives now – whether we use them or not.  But the point is to get better at NOT being on social media so much and I’ve accomplished that.  I think social media is finding its equilibrium in our lives in that it’s not a constant way of “talking” to each other.  Many times this year I went out to dinner or was hanging with a friend at the beach and missed so many calls and texts. And it’s simply because I’ve learned to turn off that ring/sound and just enjoy my time with the person I’m with.  It seems like things are calming down for all of us on social media.  Maybe we’re all learning that there really is something to actually (physically), talking to each other and enjoying REAL time with one another.  Maybe.

Connect with Creative People

I found a few groups on MeetUp.com and got inspired for sure.  WritersBlok was a great place to go and finish up the last edits of my book.  I’m really glad I found it.  I also had lunch with up and coming Directors this year, met with other writers, had dinner with a few musicians.  I met with dancers and graphic designers, actors…  being around creative people fuels me and I made an effort this past year to be around those people more often than not!  So glad I did. I’m a better person for it! 

Movies and Books

I did much better this year with Movies and Books but there’s still room for improvement. The movie that surprised me most was clearly Black Panther.  I’m a huge fan of all action movies (Marvel and DC) but Black Panther stunned me. It’s not what I expected at all and I loved it. I loved it when I saw it alone, then again with a few friends, but my favorite was watching it with my 10 year old God-Daughter who’s take on it was exactly how we all want the world to be! 

Black Panther viewing with Julie

Another favorite movie this year was definitely Mary Poppins Returns!  Loved it, loved everything about it. And can I just say, Lin-Manuel Miranda?  I think we’re in the midst of genius with this lovely talented man…I’d love to work with him.  Hmmm. 

As far as Books are concerned, I’m a slow reader and if a book doesn’t grab my attention or is too difficult, I just put it down. It bums me out. I didn’t finish four books this year to make my goal complete, but I did start them…that counts, right?  Ughh. *insert big cheesy half smile emoji here*

In 2019, I’d like to think I have a list as long as former President Barack Obama’s. I’m not sure I’m as interested in his entire list of books, but I’d like to think I’d read as much to even have such a list. #Goals.

Things I didn’t accomplish:

I didn’t buy a new car – and I guess I really don’t need one.  So, you know, there’s that.  I also didn’t move out of my current apartment.  That may still happen next year.  I love my apartment and it’s close enough to the beach (3 miles) but I hate my neighbor upstairs. She has a great kid but it’s just loud all the time. When I was a little girl and lived in an apartment with my mom, we were never allowed to run and jump in the house.  You just didn’t do it.  You were taught to have respect and consideration for the neighbors that lived next to you and below you. If you wanted to run, you went outside.  But not these people. It’s incredible. I don’t blame the little girl. It’s her parents. They are inconsiderate and…goodness, it’s a one bedroom.  They run up there, always have too many guests – every day.  And it’s just incredibly loud and not a great place to live if you like quiet and need to write, to work, to just be. So, it’s still a goal. But, seriously, I keep thinking:  First. World. Problems. Hmmm.   

More Time

Well, if I had more time I guess I’d finish the books I didn’t complete and maybe I’d… 

No, it’s all good. I had enough time for all the things that matter. 2018 is almost over and it’s been a good year personally after-all. There were some missteps along the way, but nothing too damaging or unfamiliar to move through. 

Actually 2018 started out with my sweet sister (Jo-ann) from Boston visiting me in January for my birthday.

The year ended with me hanging out at Christmas time with one of the guys – also from Boston— who helped me go to college (Scot in the book). 

And in-between it all I became an author, traveled, got inspired, did a GREAT photo shoot (with Michael Roud!), saw so many of my dear friends, met new people from all over the world (shout out to Jean-Claude in Luxembourg) and really accomplished so much more than I realized!

Okay 2018. Actually I’m ready to move on. Bring it! I’m starting my 2019 list right now.  🙂

Happy sweet New Year to all of you!  We got this! 

Carmen