Musings of a Chicago-Born New Yorker

Posts tagged “giving back

Why Is It Not Warmer Outside Yet?

I’m feeling ranty and bitchy and several other things right now. I need Spring. I neeed it. I must have it.

And because it is something that is natural and all that, I have no control over it. So I continue to wear my should’ve-been-Haz-Mat-ed by now scarf to combat the cold air. And I continue to sweat it out in my radiator-heated apartment because I don’t want the landlord to do what he’s been doing all winter and come over and turn down the heat just in time for it to get really cold outside again.

When I was in Chicago the first weekend of March for a wedding, I got sick with what may have been the flu. But it was totally worth it because I wouldn’t have missed this wedding for anything. This woman has been like a little sister to me for 7 years, and I was so pleased to attend her wedding. She made such a beautiful bride.

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The bride and groom with her parent’s. I wish I had a picture of the whole sanctuary because of the hours of hard work we put into decorating for the wedding the night before!

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Totally random selfie wearing my mom’s hat in my old bedroom in Chicago. This is what I’d look like as a hipster, y’all.

And because I’m a crazy person obsessed with organ and tissue donation, I didn’t go to the doctor even though I might’ve had the flu.

Because what if I tested positive for the flu, then accidentally got hit by a bus two days later? I wouldn’t be able to be a donor because of the confirmed flu. But if I was just sick, and the sickness was resolved, but never confirmed flu, because of my age and overall health, they probably would let me be a donor. I would make a great donor, should I not live to the age of 75. And now you all have a glimpse of just how deep my crazy goes.

Do you know why I got so sick? Because Chicago is even colder than New York right now. Today it finally felt a bit like spring, but it’s going away again. It’s supposed to snow on Thursday, then again on Monday. I just can’t.

My cousin is in town visiting, but she was sick too. I felt so badly that we didn’t do more while she was here, especially after the year she’s had. In fact, the day we flew here was the one year anniversary of the day she got her diagnosis of lymphoma.

It’s not lucky to get cancer, but she was lucky. Lymphoma usually has no outwards symptoms until it’s too late. But the lymph nodes in her jaw swelled up something horrible and they caught her cancer super early. She got chemo and knocked cancer on it’s ass.

Since that time, we have both agreed that breast cancer gets so much play and the leukemia and lymphoma cancer society needs better PR. And we agreed to she needed to step outside of her comfort zone and live more. So she got on a plane for the first time and flew with me and Easy from Chicago to NYC.

Considering that exactly 365 days ago, I was holding her hand while her doctor drilled a hole in her hip to extract bone marrow, we could’ve been doing literally anything and it would have improved the memories associated with that date. She leaves back to Chicago today, and I’m crossing my fingers that she keeps trying new experiences and embracing life.

In completely unrelated news, I finally read another romantic comedy-type novel recently. I’d been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, but a boring-as-hell book about Rastafarianism (which is a religion with a nothing-boring-about-it history) curbed that urge for a bit. I read a book recommended by a blog I love, Single Infertile Female. The book is Party Girl: A Modern Fairy Tale.

As a new New Yorker, this book had it all for me. I found myself wishing for two things: 1) the book had a happily-ever-after ending and not a realistic-for-the-millenials-who-are-craving-this-type-of-relatability ending and 2) that I had the main character’s ability to make friends. I’m not saying any more than that because I want you to go read this book for a fun 20-something-in-NYC read. I promise you’ll enjoy yourself.

While we’re on the topic, I feel the need to say, yet again, how unsuccessful I am at making new friends. Out of all the people I’ve met since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve managed to schedule four outings total, only three of which actually went somewhat according to plan. These people are funny, sweet, clever, good-looking, and genuinely nice folks. That’s everything I want in a friend. Maybe they’re just ALL not that into me.

Two of the outings were for Restaurant Week. I went to Delmonico’s Kitchen and Nobu. My mouth still waters in memory. I forgot to record anything at Delmonico’s, but I did get some amazing pictures of my good at Nobu.

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The tiny bit of Spring weather I was given today has given me renewed interest. I think I’m gonna try one more time each with all the people I’ve met, then after that I’m moving on and trying to meet even more new people.

At least I still have my volunteer work. Oh, that reminds me! I do have one friend. We met at the soup kitchen I volunteer at. But his home life is super crazy and it’s been hard for us to be real friends outside of just grabbing a drink after the soup kitchen. But still, we actually talk on the phone and I even know the names of people is his life.

Because of my awful memory when it comes to names, I really consider someone a friend when I can start naming names of people who are important to them. Not the best measuring tool, but it’s accurate.

Today is the day I start volunteering with The Reciprocity Foundation. I’m very glad I’ll be able to get this started after having such a great experience the other week. They do such amazing things, and I cannot wait to be a part of it. I’m diving right in helping with resumes and college applications. It’ll be nice to keep those skills sharp for some point in the future when I apply for grad school and when I apply for a promotion at work.

Speaking of volunteering, the woman I work with at the home for new mothers is finally getting all the pieces into place. She has steady hours for her new job, she found a 24 hour day care that will work with her as her work schedule changes, and the baby is doing well. She’s finally ready to start looking for apartments. It’s heart-warming to see people whose lives have actually improved from help given by others.

Some of her help is from private citizens, like the program that allows her to stay at the home. But she also gets government assistance that helps her buy food for her daughter that she chose to give birth to rather than abort. I’m about as pro-choice as they come (meaning I have no issues with late-term abortions), but I know that choice means respecting someone’s choice even when they have no way to take care of the baby they have decided to bring into the world.

This woman sought out all the help she could and put in a lot of hard work to make a life for herself to support her child. In a few years, she’ll have a degree, years of work experience that she can springboard into a real career, and a stable home for her daughter. That’s something to be proud of, and it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, since the weather won’t cooperate to keep me that was on the outside.

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Accidental selfie taken while trying to use my phone to check my lipstick on the way to work. Beautiful sky, but will it stay that way? Will it?!


I’ve Found A Way To Do Something

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard something about gay marriage and America’s march towards full equality in that respect. Getting a marriage license issued doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a big ass step in that direction.

At the beginning of this month, I wrote about how I’ve been feeling a need to get more involved in the LGBT community. Giving a lump sum each month to HRC wasn’t enough anymore.

The question was how to get involved. I started with the HRC website, but all that gave me was an option to give more money each month, buy some of their gear, or bug my politician via e-mail. All of those options are just fine, but I was looking for something a little more personal that I could do that didn’t involve a webpage.

HRC’s Annual Gala was earlier this month. I had the option of getting involved with that. But unfortunately, I don’t have $1200 lying around, so that really wasn’t an option for me.

Then I noticed that HRC has local-ish chapters that have potential for volunteer opportunities. All I had to do was submit my e-mail address (again, yes again) choose my preferences from some categories available, and someone would contact me regarding opportunities.

All that came out of that was an e-mail asking for more money, and a promise that someone would contact me shortly regarding my chosen preferences.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the money. If I were, I wouldn’t be giving them money every month for the past 5 years or so. It’s more about the website being setup primarily for fundraising. It was quite frustrating to get beyond the money to something more hands on.

So I left the HRC website, and got down with Google. Google totally knows my life.And yours if you talk to me. Maybe that’s why I struggle make new friends here.

If you e-mail me your trip itinerary, Google sends un-requested push notifications to my phone reminding me of flight arrivals and even suggesting the quickest way to get there from both my home and office. Kinda creepy, kinda awesome.

Anyway, Google came through in my quest to find an LGBT organization in need of my volunteer skills.

I found The Reciprocity Foundation. They are this amazing organization that works with LGBT youth and young adults.

For me, it’s an amazing volunteer opportunity. It’s right in line with the other volunteer work I already do because I really feel very deeply for people who don’t have a stable home life, the homeless population in particular.

The Reciprocity Foundation works primarily with people who are ages 15-23, identify as LGBT, and are people of color. They seek to help participants go from foster care or shelters to stable adults who are prepared for success.

I met with one of their employees today and I loved what I heard. This place seems like such a good fit for my passions and skill set. They take a holistic approach with their program and work on the inside as much as the outside of program participants.

I got the impression they don’t really have someone there now who is able to focus on things like college applications, GED training, interview prep, etc. Those things are right up my alley and  I’m excited to get started.

They told me that I would need to prepare myself for the possibility of becoming a resource not just for educational but also emotional support for these kids. They said they can’t predict when they will come out of their shell and suddenly want to share and bond.

I am not volunteering to lead a group therapy session, but if a connection happens and I’m in a position to help someone, I certainly am open to that.

They have an event tomorrow that I wish I could be a part of, but unfortunately, it’s right in the middle of my workday. It would have been a great opportunity to meet some of the program participants, other volunteers, and successful graduates of the program.

I’m supposed to touch base early next week with them to discuss next steps. Hopefully, I can get started right away. Their normal hours work with my current work schedule, so I won’t even have to shuffle things around to make it work.

I’m really not sure what I envisioned myself doing when I decided to get more hands on and involved in the LGBT community. I think I thought it might have more to do with gay marriage rights, but this is unexpectedly better.

I get to help a disadvantaged population. Most of these kids have been through a lot and haven’t had a real shot at getting prepared for adulthood. From what I’ve learned today, they are so talented and amazing people, they just need someone to step in who cares and who can point them in the right direction.

Usually when I pick up more volunteer opportunities, things that take up my free time, Easy isn’t so happy about it. His initial reaction to this wasn’t great, but he came around. He even told me to offer up his services if they ever need a musician for a fundraiser.

He knows how passionate I am about this, and I think more than anything, he’s happy I found a way to focus my passion.

I’m very excited. Did I mention that?


I Can’t Do Nothing Anymore

Recently, my sense of justice has taken a hit. I’m speaking specifically of LGBT rights. I really cannot explain why, but recently their issues have taken precedence over other rights issues in my mind.

I think I got close to the tipping point when I came across an article published on my birthday last year. Michael J. Klarman from Harvard Law School wrote an Op-Ed article entitled Gay Rights May Get It’s Brown v. Board of Education.

I’ve noticed that black people sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to LGBT civil rights struggles being compared to those of black Americans. The only argument that resonates with me is that under most circumstances, you can’t look at someone and tell they are not heterosexual, but you can’t hide blackness.

There are many fallacies to that argument. Black people don’t always look black. Gay people don’t always blend in. And someone seeking to discriminate usually doesn’t have to search too hard to make it happen.

That being said, the comparison to Brown v. Board of Ed really made sense to me. It was a landmark decision that altered the future of black people in this country. All Michael Klarman was saying is the gay community was on the cusp of getting their version of a Supreme Court ruling of that magnitude. They were on their way to getting a ruling that would alter the future of LGBT people in this country.

At the bottom of the article, it mentions that he wrote a book called From the Closet to the Altar. At the time, I barely noticed that line and moved on with my life and my birthday celebration.

Then around Christmas, there was another article in the New York Times called Utah Ruling Means No Respite for the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage. They have a quote from Michael Klarman in there. It’s only one sentence, but it stuck with me for some reason and before I even finished reading the article, I went back to his line and read it again.

Then I went to Amazon and bought the Kindle version of his book. I’ve always enjoyed non-fiction as long as it was on a topic I actually cared about, and so I really enjoyed reading this book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but some part of the book brought tears to my eyes. Some of the people he talks about went through so much and fought so hard, but the fight isn’t over yet.

Also, he mentioned Nate Silver. Nate Silver is basically a rock star in my mind. He’s the most amazing statistician. He was over at the New York Times doing politics, but now he’s at ESPN with his first love, sports. Nate Silver has a model he created that predicts exactly when the states will cross over to 50+% approval of gay marriage. Anybody wanna guess who’s last?

After reading this book, along with the time I spend at the soup kitchen where I volunteer, I have gone from feeling supportive of gay marriage and LGBT rights to feeling even stronger. I want to do something about it. I want to have an active role in improving the lives of people who cannot marry the person they love today. My 2 year anniversary is in 2 days, and there are people who currently live in places where they can’t have that yet.

For years now I’ve donated money to the Human Rights Campaign. I signed up with one of those street volunteers they have out asking people for credit card information and a monthly donation.

Usually I give those people the side eye and keep it stepping, but even though I hadn’t even heard of this organization, their message resonated with me, so I signed up. That was almost five years ago, but it’s not enough anymore

This weekend, HRC is having their annual gala at the Waldorf Astoria. But those tickets are around $500, so that isn’t the way I’ll help either.

I’m going to keep looking for a way to get actively involved with the cause. Something other than buying a t-shirt with a rainbow on it or dancing in the streets during a pride parade. I haven’t done either of those things yet, but I think I will this year. As long as it’s along with something more substantial.

When I think of people defending “traditional marriage,” my feelings are hurt. How could a grown man being in love with another grown man and wanting to make it official for their family and their future be bad?

Heterosexuals aren’t doing a great job with marriage. The divorce rate is awful and when some people are on their third marriage, or getting an annulment because they made a decision to marry after 24 hours, the argument of a rock-solid institution being taken apart by gay marriage doesn’t fly.

Then there are the arguments that the bible is very clear about sodomy being wrong. The bible is very clear about a lot of things, but our interpretation of it over time changes.

For instance, when you sin against your home, do you go to the priest, slit the throat of a young goat, flick the blood of that goat on an altar then rub in on the earlobe of that priest? The bible is very specific about that too.

My point is that quoting one part of the bible as immutable when you eat shellfish, openly disrespect your president, and don’t celebrate three chosen festivals each year is a bit hypocritical.

It’s been hard for me as a Baptist to reconcile how I feel with the teachings of my religion. The church I attend has yet to mention the topic, like at all. The husband loves that church too. I don’t know what I’m going to do about that, but for now, I’m keeping my ears open for any sign of intolerance.

Because I’m a black woman, I know making discrimination go away is frankly impossible. But just because something is hard isn’t a good enough reason not to try.

When I was younger, if I saw an interracial couple, specifically a black man with a white woman, it upset me. I was a teenager at the time, so what the hell life experience did I have to feel so strongly about it? None, that’s what. I’ve dated guys of every race, so I was being such a damn hypocrite.

What changed it for me was moving to an area where there was more interracial couples than other types of couples. After making friends in the checkout line with the hundredth cute biracial kid, I got over myself and my gut reaction to that type of couple. Looking back on it, I feel like such as asshole.

My family raised me to see color, and I’m glad I was. I just wish I wasn’t raised to judge color. Who am I to have an opinion on how someone else lives their life? I keep coming back to that question because that’s the crux of my issue. Who are you to judge? None of us are in a position to judge someone else’s life. If you are living your life and you’re not hurting someone else or making their life worse, live on.

I am at the point where I feel that so strongly, I want to actively stop other people from infringing on other’s happiness.

I was walking down the street to work today and I saw a couple with their children. It was a black man, a white man, and two small children of indeterminate race. I two men were holding hands and making flirty eyes at each other. I noticed a lot about this couple, even down the color coordination of the family’s outerwear.

But you know what I noticed most? Their comfort. I don’t know if they’re married or not. And I don’t care. What I care about is that they are as free to live life openly as the husband and I are. They aren’t hurting anyone. In fact, looking at those two children, I’d say they are helping a lot of people. Those kids were healthy, happy, and full of life.

Any kid would be lucky to belong to that family.

Y’all just give me a few weeks. I’ll be back with a real plan to help make a difference for families like that one. I’m sure there’s some version of this family just waiting for the opportunity to thrive. Maybe they’re in Utah. Maybe they’re somewhere else. This Op-Ed Column I read in the New York Times today by Frank Bruni titled Love, Death, and Sochi reminded me that this isn’t just a domestic problem.

Like so many other stories, I was left feeling frustrated with tears in my eyes. I have to remind myself that as awful as I feel today, there are people who have been in this fight for decades. I have to have strength if I’m going to sustain to help progress move forward.

And strength is something I have no shortage of. I have strength. I have resolve. I have passion. Now, I just need a work assignment.

Google will help me figure it out.

I also have loyalty and confidence.

Pretty soon, I’ll also have a plan.


Chicago-Style Girl’s Day Off

What would you do with a day off?

Maybe you’d go shopping and have lunch with the girls? Well, I have no money for shopping and my girls live in Chicago, so that wasn’t an option.

Maybe you’d finally see a movie you’ve been dying to see and maybe even make it a double feature? There are a ton of movies out I’d like to see, but the thought didn’t even occur to me to try to see a film.

Maybe you’d stay up late dancing in your pajamas, just happy to have some time to yourself? That was an appealing thought, but I was out of the house last night, so pajamas dancing will have to wait.

Wednesday was a true day off for me for the first time since I’ve moved to New York. I normally work Monday through Friday, but some schedule shuffling made it possible.

I should have slept in, making myself mimosas and frittatas whenever I finally woke up. I should have walked around with no pants on, letting the hours slip away.

I should have been glad that for once, I didn’t have to wake up to get ready for work, or get ready for the soup kitchen, or get ready for church.

But instead, I volunteered my one morning of free time to the home I volunteer at. I mentioned before how I do tutoring at this home for new mothers who don’t have anywhere else to go. Since I started, the tutoring volunteering has expanded to include much more.

On Wednesday, it extended to babysitting an adorable 2 month old while her mom had a job interview. Getting a job is one of the big steps towards independence at the home, and I was happy to help facilitate it. Plus, that baby is freaking adorable and despite being a bit fussy, she’s a cool baby to be around.

So when I should’ve been at home determining the best proportion of orange juice to champagne, I was instead trying to coax a con artist baby to stay asleep even after I put her down.

I guess it’s not a bad trade. As much as I’m nowhere near ready for my own children, I do enjoy the companies of babies who aren’t jerks. And this baby is definitely not a jerk, so it was fine.

I’m looking forward to helping her mom more in the future once she starts her job. That’s right, she got the job!

After babysitting, I did finally engage in some day-off behavior. I sat on the couch with the husband catching up on TV shows. We watched MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Revenge, Castle, Almost Human, and a couple of other shows too. There really is some great writing on TV these days.

Then it was nap time. I highly encourage anyone with a day off to embrace nap time like you’re five years old. There is nothing quite as refreshing as a lovely nap. My heart goes out to kindergarteners who don’t have nap time these days. Poor guys. What are they going to take away next? That wonderfully goopy paste that they use to make crappy crafts projects?

After my nap, the husband and I went out because he had a gig. We went to Small’s Jazz Club, a place I love to go to. The staff is great, the venue is unique, and bonus– it’s in the Village.

I know what you’re thinking. I give any and everything in the Village extra weight of special-ness just because it’s in the Village. Well, maybe you’d be right. Or maybe they just make better versions of everything in the Village and that’s why I love it so much. No way to know.

So we’re out at the club, and as now is the trend, as soon as I sat at the bar, I attracted the attention of a random stranger who’s super friendly. Last week, the attention I attracted was awesome because I met a great couple who I can actually see the husband and myself becoming friends with. We’re hanging out with them next week I think and it will be great.

Now the random European guy who’s attention I attracted last night was a different story. This guy seemed to mean well, but this crazy European man was systematically irritating, annoying, and perplexing everyone in our general vicinity.

He made the sweet bartender ladies roll their eyes because of the way he ordered his drinks. Ten minutes to decide on Stella Artois on tap? Really?

He got pushed aside by the bass player/sound man/ general peacekeeper dude because he wouldn’t stop blocking the aisle even though he had a bar stool.

He got hushed by an already boisterous crowd because his voice carried and was interrupting other people’s ability to hear the solos. I don’t know how much time you all spend in jazz clubs, but you’re really doing too much when you get hushed by the crowd who is also talking and laughing.

And to top it all off, the crazy European man got really drunk and almost threw up, so he got kicked out of the club. I’ve never even seen someone get kicked out of a jazz club before. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen someone get throw-up drunk at a jazz club before.

Needless to say, I didn’t exchange contact information with this crazy European man (who tried to convince me my parents are hippies at heart as illustrated by the uniqueness of my name), nor did I make plans to hang out again.

I spent the rest of the night hanging out with the husband and his musician friends.

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Yeah, I have glasses now. Anyway.

Everyone was talking about how much fun our Sunday dinner was, and how they can’t wait until we do it again. I think we’ve started a new tradition, and when they make the movie about one of these musician’s lives one day, my Sunday dinners should make the script, at least it better.

Making new friends is hard, you know?

Especially when the options available are so damn weird.

But I have hope. The husband has another gig on Monday that promises a lot of fun. I ended up inviting 6 people to join me out. I didn’t even know I knew six people here in New York I’d like to hang out with socially outside of a work shift, a Sunday service, or a quick drink after the soup kitchen. The couple we met last week, a guy from work and a friend of his I haven’t met yet, and a guy we met at a bar back in September and his girlfriend.

The fact that I even had more than one person I could think of to invite made me happy. I’m perfectly comfortable hanging by myself at the husband’s gigs, but it would be nice to have some friends with me too.

On that note, I’m going to go make a list of cool ways to spend a day off. The only thing I know is that the next time it happens, I’m definitely not starting my day until after noon.

Any ideas?