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Tribute wall at the Making Strides Breast Cancer walk at Flushing Meadows Corona Park Queens, NY Oct 20, 2019.  Photo by Shaun Liriano

My plan is to spend the next 30 years trying to make the world a better place.  I will continue to volunteer, raise funds for good causes, write pieces that resonate with the beauty and the ugly that lies within all of us, and no matter how hard it will be …I am going to do it with a smile on my face.  We cannot only care about matters that affect us directly.  We cannot only be the anecdote for diseased parts of ourselves.  Our humanity calls us to attempt to treat others with love and respect.  What if we go beyond that?  What if we actually tried to help someone even in the midst of our own wilderness?  I went out on the 20th with a cold, with my husband and children, took a shuttle to the site, operated on 4 1/2 hours of sleep after taking my children to a party the night before.  I walked 3 miles for women who have had mastectomies, women who have endured chemotherapy, women who have lost their lives and women who are too afraid to even see a physician because of loved ones they have buried.  I walked because I can.  I walked because I have the use of both of my legs and I have the will to be a part of something amazing.  I walked because we are not called to shy away from matters that bring pain and disruption to the lives of others.  I walked because I believe in medicine.  I walked because I believe in God.  I walked because I believe one day there will be a pill or a shot in place of devastation and despair.  I walked because pink is a beautiful color.  I walked because the energy and the music and the courageousness is infectious. 

I walked because we can spend years taking selfies until we are happy with the selves we see.  Yet, I have no intention of wasting purpose on persuading the masses to click “like.”  I want my legacy to be laced with the luster of love.

You have to walk before you can run.

 

By: Shaun Liriano

The Sounds of Stillness

I have been in here for days.  They are probably looking for me but I don’t care. They probably think I am in a dumpster somewhere. They think I’m wrapped in a black trash bag.  So they are pooling together their resources so they can come together to raise my kid now that I am theoretically “gone.”  They are part correct. They are probably more than half right.  Which also means that there is an existing part of them that is “wrong.”  Consequently, I’m right too!  That is extremely comforting in this time where I really need a win.  I need to be indisputably right. I’ll settle for this unofficial 33% though.

See, I met a man on the Colosseum block on Jamaica Avenue. He’s a security guard.  He’s a grown man with a job and a beautiful smile. Usually, someone like that isn’t interested in someone like me.  I’ve always thought of myself as plain. I’ll tell you one thing though…I have bedroom moves that would put a Stanley 68 6 way screwdriver out of business. I know how to make men feel special and feel in control.  I yearn to be controlled and I long to be needed. Mr. Security Guard fits the bill for now.  They don’t know anything about him.  They just know that he is the last person I was with.  They know I am either “flippin’ in the ghetto on a dirty mattress” in a bad way or…I’m gone.

I miss my kid though.  The last thing I wanted to become was Her.  She is the woman who walked away from me when I was a toddler and then She decided to come back on my 11th birthday.  Then the Broad left again.  She popped in and out of my life for most of my life sporting a cute nickname, “Mom”, that only she called herself.  We (my brother and I) just call her Beverly.

My goody two shoes best friend has been going over to my house every day since I’ve been gone. She acts like she’s better than me because she stopped at getting finger popped and I went all the way.  She’s saving herself for marriage and I wish her luck but I don’t believe in such things.  Goody Goody is good, I must admit.  She brings over food and toys for my kid.  My step-sister and Goody Goody are home from their respective colleges for the holidays. I know they are just trying to make a bad situation less bleak. If they could only see the picture from my viewing seat.

Beverly is a figment of my imagination, my grandmother who was my best friend in the whole world is gone, my grades are great but I hate school, my dad has spent his whole life trying to be the character he created in his mind.  In the process of trying to become this character he has ruined every woman he has ever touched.  My siblings are their own beautiful messes.   I love my baby brother and I wish there weren’t so many years between us. He might be the one to actually understand me.  It’s too late now.

They are frantically looking for me like any good family should.  They are imagining the worst.  They are praying for the best. I’m gone though.  I can see the breath leave my body.  I hear someone calling my name.  I’m surrounded in darkness and I f*#@ing love it! Every time I walked towards the light it was just a trickster with a flashlight shining it in my eyes to taunt me before he shoves it where the sun don’t shine.  I know there is a God but I need help finding his contact information (there’s no yellow pages anymore.)  I just want that warm apple strudel that slides down your throat baked by the hands of someone beautiful.  They call it love.  I’m been searching for it, I draw it, I read about it, Good Goody sings songs about it.  The silence of my surroundings is drinking me in.  I can hear my own noises now over the absence of sound. The nothingness pushes the walls on top of me.  It doesn’t hurt though.  I just focus in on the reverberation of thoughts so strong they could escape the confines of my head.  In here it is just me and my madness.  I don’t know when I will leave here.  Within the isolation is the safest I have felt in some time.

I can’t hide in this basement forever.  I think they teach Sunday school here in the morning at 10am.

 

-Shaun Liriano

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Photo captured by Shaun Liriano

Feet

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership over that free self was another. -Toni Morrison

Fun fact about me…I don’t like feet.  No matter how clean and groomed you may pride yourself on being, I think feet are the ugliest part of the human body.  There is just something very alien about feet.  The way the toes move on their own and almost have their own personality is like a never ending telling of “this little piggy…”

I’m 5’7″ so I have never had the luxury of “cute” feet.  I carry with my frame the necessary foundation to carry it without falling on my face.  I wear a sturdy size 10 shoe.  I try to stay “polished” (as my mother calls it when a woman is neatly groomed) so my feet are as “pretty” as they are ever going to get. Nevertheless, when reading, We’re Going To Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union I had to think long and hard about a reference she made. There is a point in the book where she discusses the intimacy and seduction involved in a foot rub.  It is a fleeting reference and not a topic she dwells on long.  It’s like when you are reminding a reader of the childhood affinity they may have with eating an ice cream cone on a summer day.  She just brings attention to connecting with a feeling that will place the reader in a subjective, emotional and deep sense of innocence. My first foot rub was not sexual at all.  There was no brown skinned R&B group reject boy massaging my big ass feet with oil.  There were no candles.  There were no dimmed lights.  There were no tingles up my spine.  There was only Matthew Franklin.*

Matthew Franklin was a friend I made my first year at Pace University.  He was kind, highly intelligent, well read, cultured, and slightly…off.  That’s what people would say.  Women would say he was “off.”  Men would call him “gay.” To me, he was no different than the other male friends I had in my music and arts high school.  Men who were considered “gay” or “effeminate” because they were “artsy.”  Matthew was definitely polished!  He was the first man to tell me about Vitamin E oil for my skin and hair and to point me in the direction of where I could purchase it cheap.  He saw right through my tough exterior the FIRST day of classes.  There I was attending a private university on a partial scholarship (I use this term loosely but I’ll save that for another post.)  Our school was downtown Manhattan post 9/11 and the campus was beautiful, elite, and predominantly white.  I grew up in Jamaica Queens. My parents were sure to place me in extracurricular activities where I was exposed to all cultures and most importantly vast socio-economic environments AKA what is now coined as “black excellence.” However, being in private school most of my life and the square of the hood I was determined to prove myself to be “urban” and accepted by my peers.  I went to college in flight jackets (Generation Z, you may have to Google flight jackets) of every color and fitted hats over my perfect perm. I looked the part of the character that was being cast in the John Singleton movie that only existed in my own head.  Matthew invited me to the cafeteria immediately after Anthropology class. There we talked about Franz Boas and pygmy colonies and every other geeky thing we could cover while eating very expensive croissants and drinking Alize out of Starbucks coffee cups to avoid judgement. It was so much fun! Eventually we attracted other closeted dorks and developed a crew of minorities.  We had two Haitian girls (one of whom I still keep in touch with), Jamaican girl, 2 Black American girls (one was me), a Puerto Rican, A Dominican, and later a Filipino friend.  As time went on we attracted more and we had some great adventures my freshman year.  There was another group affectionately known as G.P.A (The ghetto peoples association) and we became cool with them too. We never got too cool with G.P.A.  Many of them were men of color from Brooklyn who lived (how do I say this?) …lives that could be categorized as criminal.  Most of them majored in political science so they could beat their own cases should they end up in an unfavorable circumstance. THESE were the guys from the movie directed in my head.  These guys didn’t particularly care for Matthew Franklin.  So we were “cool” from a distance.

I remember being in Matthew’s dorm on Fulton street.  It had hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances.  We were all chilling in there watching a Mya performance with AJ and Free on 106 & Park (Again Centennials you may have to look this up.) Everyone was casually eating junk food and being intellectual or so we thought.  It was hot and Matthew didn’t allow shoes in the dorm so I left my flip flops at the door.  I remember him sitting on the floor next to my feet and looking at my heel inquiringly and saying, “Damn girl, your feet are ashy!!!”  I was so embarrassed but he quickly grabbed some cocoa butter and started to rubbing.  At first I was shocked and then I was immediately humbled.  Up until that point no one rubbed my feet.  It just wasn’t a thing. I guess, that’s why I neglected it too!  I remember growing up Catholic and seeing the depiction of the washing of the feet ** in church.  I would be so grossed out. “Ewwwww, I thought.  Look at them touching, washing and rubbing strangers feet.”  I lost the connection and the representation of humility and submission and service.  The whole 11-15 minutes that Matthew rubbed all the black girl magic into my feet (cliched cocoa butter and all) I felt real friendship and belonging.  It wasn’t sexual and sensual like in the movies.  It was just kind.

In 2004 there weren’t as many discussed titles.  There wasn’t unclouded science to human sexuality.  At that time, (to my knowledge) you were gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or straight. Or at least that’s what was commonly discussed. As I continued getting to know my friend Matthew, I know he would be considered today as pansexual.* There was no released pansexual flag he could have waived in front of his traditional Caribbean  parents then.  There was no sexual identification that G.P.A would have accepted.  He allowed “off” and he dismissed “gay” as the titles people found necessary to identify him with. He continued being himself.

I didn’t stay at Pace.  The tuition was a little too pricey for me to continue being a Pace Setter.  I became a Stony Brook Seawolf my sophomore year but I lost touch with Matthew Franklin long before I transferred.  All we know is he just didn’t come back Sophomore year.  A part of me thinks he was tired of the crap.  A part of me re-visits the day we saw the news headline about a gay student who committed suicide on a nearby campus.  According to the note, he would rather fly out of that window than tell his parents he was gay.

My thoughts on human sexuality are to be determined.  I consider myself liberal, open-minded, Christian and human.  I always want to be understanding of the humanity in everyone and I want to be compassionate.  I am also a parent and I wouldn’t want my children to experience the scrutiny and violence that oftentimes affects that community.  It’s a sensitive topic (to say the least.)  At Stony Brook I remember watching television one day while supposedly studying and seeing Matthew in a commercial.  I was elated!  He wasn’t dead, beaten or some loser somewhere.  In my young naive mind, he was successful because of that commercial and he was okay.

I don’t think I ever thanked him for that foot rub.  I don’t think I ever thanked him for being my friend and truly hyping me up and telling people I was this brilliant poet. I never thanked him for sticking pepper spray in my coat pocket one night when I left campus a little late and I was taking the J train home. Its funny the memories a random line in a book can send your way.  Thanks Gabrielle.  Thanks Matthew.

 

*Name changed for privacy.

**Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1–17) occurred in the upper room, during the Last Supper

 

By: Shaun Liriano

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RIP Toni Morrison, the woman who unapologetically told stories whether we were ready to hear them or not.

Don’t Snooze The Alarm

Just smile.jpgIt happens every year.  New years resolutions, dream boards/vision lists, gratitude jars, and planners.  We are bombarded with ways to make the new year count.  “New year new me” is a popular headline.  Social media timelines are inundated with new looks and haircuts and matching pajama sets. We sync into the idea of needing a “fresh start.”

How necessary is this?

If you simply don’t snooze the alarm and you answer the alerts the Creator is giving you daily, can’t you make the most out of every day?  Can’t you make each day productive and prosperous and consequently become a new version of yourself?  My 5 year old has a habit of saying, “I trust my promise.”  We used to correct her. Now we’ve adapted to it. We all say it now.  It means, I’m giving you my word and I know you’re trusting in me to keep it.  We have to teach our children the importance of responsibility.  There are times when there is no one to blame and no one to point a finger at.  You are responsible for the way you respond to situations and you are responsible for doing what you say you will do.

Lets be really REAL for a moment.  You know there are about 5 things you could have responded to differently this week.  There are at least 5 times you could have ignored the trolls and the nuisances. There are at least 5 times you could have stayed focused on your goals. There are at least 5 customer acquisitions you could have made. There were 5 new followers you could have had in the grocery store or the nail salon this week. Each day could have been “new day, new you.”

You fail all the time but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.-Bum Phillips (football coach)

I posted on Instagram in December that I will be posting on ShaunLiriano.com once a week and/or releasing a new YouTube video once a week. Why?

Calling:  The intentional use of our specific gifts to influence God’s kingdom.-Mike Todd

What you do is bigger than you! Every person you come in contact with is an opportunity to make an impact.  Furthermore, I do not delete old posts.  Why?  Transparency is important! Yes, you used to curse like a sailor.  Yes, you used to drink like a fish Sis!  Bruh, you were “sexually free” allllllllll through college! Share your story and stop letting the devil delight in exposing the things you keep trying to hide so you can seem self righteous.

Finally, humble yourself. Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do. Realize that you are flawed.  If you didn’t get that raise, what could you have done better?  If your child isn’t flourishing academically, what can you implement at home to strengthen their scholastic confidence? This one is good -> -> -> -> If there are aspects of your life that you skimmed through and you half-assed, can you revisit them and do them right? Can you be more mature?  Can you submit in your marriage more?  Can you submit in your Faith more?  When’s the last time you read a book?

Discern the difference between daily goals and annual goals and Don’t Snooze the Alarm!

By: Shaun Liriano

IG: @ShaunLProductions

Check out my newest You Tube video:

 

Walk Through

I’m thinking of lines to transform minds for generations

They thinking of clever Instagram captions

Flamboyant poses and libations

All I know is the status quo isn’t working

So I’m collecting reparations

Give me your intellectual property

Or I’m taking it

I’ll file my own report at the police station

Money ain’t enough

Gotta keep a remarkable reputation

Street cred ain’t enough

Need more than being a hood sensation

Meditation ain’t enough

You can’t just be great in your mind

At some point tangible success is all that’s left

After you grind

-Shaun Liriano

Okay Mr.West…

…don’t make me regret this.

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Photo credit: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/kanye-west-graduation-portrait-acrylic-painting-junko-abe.html?product=fleece-blanket&blanketType=blanket-coral-50-60

Let me start by saying, I am writing this as an artist. I am writing this as a student of life. I am not a political blogger therefore I am assuming you are already abreast of the controversy surrounding one of the greatest hip hop artists of all time.  I do not usually provide commentary on societal trends. I am writing this as a tortured creative soul.  I am writing this as a lover of hip hop.  I am writing this as an optimist.

I love hip hop.  I will not mourn Kanye West.  I do not agree with his political views. I am not even sure Kanye West agrees with his political views!  I’m celebrating the parts of him that I can morally subscribe to…his genius.  I will even go so far as to say that I am astounded by his acceptance of himself and of others. He has been saying that he is “leading with love” and that he loves every creature who walked the earth.

I am perplexed by the dichotomy dwelling in Kanye West.  He is talented and articulate.  He is a wordsmith.  Yet, he is thinking clearly (kinda) and he is not successfully conveying the true intent of his actions and thoughts.  In fact, when one mentions that he may be “hurting others” you can see the distress and the SUDDEN awareness on his face as he carefully chooses his words.  How does this happen?

People will take something enlightening, put it in a different context and then call it crazy.  To try to diminish the impact and the value of what I’m actually saying. -Kanye West

 

I was born in 1985.  The artists who have impacted my generation in an astounding way all had a common motif …they were “crazy.”  I don’t even have to mention their names.  You’re thinking of them right now: Michael Jackson, Prince, Left Eye, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston…

They were judged when they were alive.  They were called icons and legends when they died.  Food for thought:  We studied the poetry of Tupac Shakur at Pace University post his death.  We studied the lyrics and videos of Lady Gaga in English Literature at Stonybrook University.  Her “enlightened viewpoints” were compared to the great Edgar Allen Poe.  What measurement do we use to distinguish the difference between brilliance and insanity?

But I know the view is that I’m emotionally unstable, which is reality. Like you aren’t?-Lauryn Hill

One of the most terrible things we do to artists is forget to separate their human form from their ethereal imaginative alter egos.  We have to consider that in order for a person who is of this world to create something out of this world, he or she has to remove their consciousness from the boundaries and constraints of what is accepted as “normal.”  

Bravery is more important than perfection.-Kanye West

I am actually scared to publish this post.  What will you do tomorrow, Mr. West?  What hat will you wear tomorrow, Mr. West?  Will you forget this girl from South Jamaica Queens who bumped “The College Dropout” in my 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix? Will you forget this wannabee rebel who had “The wise man say, you’ll find your way
The wise man say, you’ll find your way” scribbled on the back of my favorite denim jacket?*  This fake actress-Spike Lee geek was glued to the computer screen when you had the balls to release your own full length film, “Runaway.”   I’ve never considered myself a “fan” of anyone really but the respect I have for your talent and perseverance is immeasurable.

I see your pain but I see your passion.  I can disregard the blond hair and the liposuction because that is just a physical representation of a spirit who is lost on a level that he wasn’t fully prepared to ascend to.

We don’t want to mourn you, Sir.  We want to be moved by your music and motivated by your mystique. Get out.

What I see here is nothing but a shell…what is most important is invisible.- Antoine de Saint Exupery (The Little Prince)

By: Shaun Liriano

*Lyrics from Pinocchio Story by Kanye West (808’s & Heartbreak)

 

“As Far As I Can Throw You”

He threw her.  Just threw her with full force like you chuck a football through a field. He threw her. She flew through the air.

I always knew I could fly, she said.

For the first time there was someone he could trust with his life and he wanted to show her that he cared.  He wanted to show her that she was special.  He wanted to show her that he’d be “mush” without her.

I trust you about as far as I can throw you, he said.

Then he threw her.  He hurled her body and watched it spiral through the air. His love poured out of the sweat that beaded on her forehead.  His faith sprouted wings in her back.  His hope stripped her naked and replaced her bland clothing with an aerodynamic super suit colorful enough to match her vibrant personality.

At first, she was afraid. Fretfully, she gathered herself and tried to get her bearings.  She tried to get used to being in the company of birds, high branches, and jet planes approaching their landings. She screamed in excitement.  No one seemed alarmed that she was up there.  They expected her to be in the sky.  It was as if she didn’t belong on the ground and everyone knew it.

He didn’t look at her though. Once he threw her he didn’t wonder if she could take flight.  He BELIEVED she could. So he obliviously kicked a ball through a field and watched it roll on. He read an article from time to time. He viewed television shows at leisure. He felt the warmth of an onlookers admiring glance. He chugged along knowing she was soaring through the sky for the first time.

Isn’t he wondering if I am okay?  How does he know a larger creature hasn’t consumed me?  Hasn’t he thought about my loneliness? Sometimes it’s cold up here.  I don’t know anyone up here.  Sometimes I’m scared.  I’ve never flown before.  I’ve never been thrown before.  At first it was fun but where is he?  What is he doing?

Her fear ignited a fire so fierce it singed her beautiful wings. It incinerated her custom costume.  It sent her flailing through the sky clumsily…falling.

She landed in a bed of roses.  The thorns, long and sharp, pierced her skin and her blood mixed with the crimson red of the rose petals.  Her body naked and covered in ashes and blood writhed in pain.

She screamed out in horror, “My love! Where are you?  Why didn’t you fly with me?  Why did you leave me all alone?”

Silence.  She waited in the cold.  Naked. Vulnerable.

All the while, he returned to the field of her original launch every day after breakfast.  He wondered why she never returned. He assumed she must be enjoying the clean air, the ascension.

Why didn’t she ever try to throw me?

He felt her absence but he also felt her presence.

-By: Shaun Liriano

*Dedicated to my muse.

My life is part humor, part roses, part thorns.

~Bret Michaels