Let’s Get Cheesy

I’ve decided to post the things I’m grateful for this Fall…

The colors of crimson, cocoa, evergreen, sand, and rust surround me in open fields. They close me in like a child shutting their lunchbox lid before the bossy kid comes to trade. I’m safe in here. I’m hidden. I’m protected.

The temperature is always just right. The rain is never too heavy. The sun is never too hot. The wind is never too fierce. I can meet with nature at any time of day and be greeted with an all welcoming environment.

They remind me of my childhood. Red light green light…1 2 3. “Helicopter helicopter” they shout and they Jump as high as they can. Jump rope, manhunt, tag, Simon says, all they need is each other. They make musical notes with their mouths and bend their bodies backwards under a broomstick and play limbo. They need no cords. They need no buttons. One blows bubbles and the other one pops them. One belts a song out like a 90’s R&B one hit wonder. The other dances. They draw dreams in driveways and ask me not to wash it away. I let God and the rain decide when the ground will be black again.

Pieces of my tribe

Pumpkin spice latte’s and apple cinnamon candles bring a little luxury to my day to day. Jack-o’-lanterns dress my doorstep. Autumn leaves wind down my railing. Chrysanthemums await on the patio.

Liberty Park, Queens
Photo by Shaun Liriano

This moment that I share with a ceiling fan, a flickering light, lavender scented pillows, and the moonlight coming through my open blinds. I am thankful for this moment. I can hear my youngest daughter snoring in her toddler bed. I feel accomplished with the execution of today’s activities. I’ve managed in the best way I could and I know my best is enough. My lower back may be sore, my feet are sick and tired of me but my HEART is full. I can express to decompress when so many people wish they knew how to expel the feelings that overwhelm them. I bleed voluntarily and breathe intentionally and for that I am grateful.

By Shaun Liriano

Gotta Start Somewhere

I haven’t been able to blog. Everything hurt.

I can go out for drinks. Great distraction. I can get a workout in. Keeps me busy. I can play with my kids. Necessary escape.

Writing is my way of unpacking. It’s my way of healing and dealing with things. If I wrote about my father’s death, it would be real. I wasn’t ready for that. This thing that came quick and took away someone with such a huge presence…it would be real.

Motivation

A friend said he was looking forward to seeing what I could creatively birth from this pain. I’ve played with novel ideas and posted some poems on Instagram. I just truly feel like I’m in someone else’s body most times. My Daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer and he was gone two months later. Some days I still almost text him, then I realize he’s gone. It was surreal for everyone. We don’t even talk about it amongst ourselves. My paternal side faithfully does zoom calls and I can’t even sign in because I know his face won’t be one of the boxes on the screen. My skin hurts. I’ve learned to just walk around with a part of me hurting. To say I miss him would be a gross understatement. I even miss our arguments.

Today I rose before the sun. Prayed FIRST. I kissed all my kids and got going! I did two loads of laundry including blankets.

My busy two year old

I took my two year old for a walk. I’ve been productive at work. I made it to my meeting on Teams on time. I ate my turkey egg and cheese on whole wheat. My bed is made. I cleared voicemails and paid some bills. I filled in my brows and put lip gloss on just to take my kids to school. I’m tackling potty training with my toddler again. I listened to a podcast on minimalism. I’m trying.

If I’m not giving up…then whether this was great writing or not, it still had to be posted. I have to write just to live. Just to get through this. I have to start somewhere. I’m going to miss my dad’s comments on my posts. He even printed a few and kept them in a folder near his desk. I’m going to miss that feeling of making him proud. Sleep. Xoxo

By Shaun Liriano

Untitled

Photo by Fotoscapes.com

Song: Moving Forward by Israel Houghton

I’m tired of only posting pretty stuff. Today I laid out on the f******floor with a Spiderman blanket and a plain notebook. Things look so different from down there. I just literally laid my heavy heart down on the ground. Relief. Seeking warmth I just rolled up in the weight of my worry and listened to the heat come through the vents. If I curse am I a hypocrite? You taught me not to hold things in and to say them how I feel. I’m hearing gospel songs, “You make all things new.” You told me not to hold things in but I can’t just spill out all over the floor, the kids could slip. They don’t like tears, snot, spit and sadness in their food. So lately I’ve been holding tissues, paper towel or a t-shirt up to my face. Trying this new thing.

I call it the muffled scream wail-cry.

I kick my feet and try to force an internal combustion that no one sees. It turns into a weird growl. Then an inquisitive “why” as if I deserve to understand or question. You taught me how to spill out. She taught me how to pour in. Right now I just want to hold you and tell you it’ll be okay. Even if I’m not sure if it’s true.

Shaun Liriano 12/2/2020

Clean Your Life

What does that mean?

When I started putting my vision board together this year with a group of friends, I didn’t know why I cut those words out. Something about them screamed at me. Each letter grew two arms and reached for me to rescue them from the dated magazine they originated from. So I obliged. How could I leave them there?

Clean your life. I attempted my version of clean eating multiple times. I have our house cleaning on a schedule with apps, planners and reminders so everyone can chip in. The kids are rewarded for their chores. They practice goal setting. It’s quite beautiful to see. Does that mean the house is spotless? Nah. It is definitely warm, sanitary and inviting and that makes us happy. However, laundry has always been a thorn in my side.

In this house the laundry room was an explosion. I was too embarrassed to take a before picture. Recently, I purchased a sorter. I bought special detergents for the darks, oxy clean for the whites and all the stain removers and cleaners to make Martha Stewart and Snoop proud. I swept and mopped the entrance and put down a new mat. I’m still working on getting it just right but I’m happy with the results. What else in my life am I missing?

I spoke to my sister once and shared an experience that was unpleasant (to say the least.) She said, “I wish you wrote more about stuff like that on your blog. People can relate to that.” Isn’t it great when people give you those transparent moments? I always wanted this platform to be positive. I stopped over sharing years ago because I felt like my vulnerability was taken advantage of (we’ll save that for another post.)

I saw a college friend on my way to pick up my kids one day from school. We had a quick conversation in the middle of the street. A memorable conversation. He was open and kind and it seemed like we were back at the student activities center chatting in the cafeteria. Time passed hadn’t ruined familiarity. He talked about a tough relationship and the challenges of parenting and his career goals. When it was time to conclude, he mentioned this blog. He told me he was thankful I was still writing. He admired the fact that I could do it while juggling my other hats. I was astounded because I didn’t even know he was a follower. He doesn’t comment but he sees. I admitted I wished I was more disciplined. He assured me, what I have time to do is still impactful.

What if “clean your life” means, stop hiding the dirt? What if you can only help yourself and others by being completely transpicuous? I love all of my friends but there is something absolutely amazing about the person who tells you how they actually are when you ask. It’s cool if you legitimately are “fine.” I just really treasure my translucent friends and I treat them like the magical fairies they are.

Clean your life…

I have difficult days. I often sacrifice effort in one area in order to be exceptional in another. Parenting full time at any time is hard. Parenting during a pandemic is anxiety ridden and complex but I’m doing my absolute best. I cry all the time and I don’t think anything is wrong with that. I am also wary of people who cannot openly express all of their emotions because I believe when they do finally come out, it can be cataclysmic. I am an advocate for life coaches, motivational speakers, counselors and therapists. I believe we should normalize ALL health including our mental health and well being. I have an ill family member and I am actively forcing myself to be “normal” each day without thinking about the fact that I cannot support them in the way that I want to. I have wonderful parents and a consistently loving step father. My godparents are astronomical. They don’t ask questions and they are unwavering. I know whose team they are on…mine. I diligently work to be as good of a god parent as they have been to me. I am often creativity constipated. So having great people around me to motivate me and keep me accountable are a godsend. My husband is the first person I remember ever telling me, “Your best is enough.” I think most of our arguments are because he’s satisfied with the effort I’m putting in and I’m frustrated by not reaching my own ridiculous expectations.

What if cleansing was more like a mud bath? Can you be bare and cover yourself in what others may consider to be a mess just long enough to accept, maybe forgive and hopefully move on?

Clean your life.

-Shaun Liriano

I Think You’re Doing Great

Cause I felt like it

Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.-Proverbs 28:18

I think you’re doing great…but what do I know? Seriously, these are tough times.

Do you remember when Covid-19 got real for us? March 2020. I had my 35th birthday. It was beautiful, humble, and my husband planned it perfectly. Fresh haircut and some blond highlights. I saw friends and family. I ate my favorite foods and had wonderful conversations. My mother bought me a gorgeous dress. Everything that sometimes validates us in our human form, was accounted for.

Except, that wasn’t everything that mattered. A week later God said, “Sit down, be still, be with your family, and focus.” Collectively we all did. We soon realized (I think), our plans were derailed and maybe that was a good thing. I believe we became more intentional with our friends. We have a higher regard for life (and death.) Some have been desensitized to mortality and some of us have been more severely impacted. No matter what side of the fence you stand on, we are still divided while all standing on the same ground.

This is not a post about Covid-19. This is about confidence and identity. This past year may have changed you and taken some things away from you. However, I think you’re doing great. Only you know what eco friendly, non-plastic bags you’re carrying. Only you know the contents and why those things still burden you or strip away at you. You can conquer that. You are not the summation of those faults. You’re great!

I tell my kids: Integrity is what you do when no one is watching you. It is a core value. That is a simple definition. It it not an easy practice to execute.

Whatever is challenging you right now, isn’t over. You have more work to do. You haven’t given up. You’re doing great. Let that be what ignites your next move and makes you grateful for your next breath. You are loved.

By Shaun Liriano

They

I remember watching Claire Huxtable come home from work. She was an attorney. She would go into the kitchen and put on her apron. An apron! This Brooklyn woman with 5 children and a husband wore an apron after a full day of real work. I was flabbergasted.

I made my first apple pie today. I wanted to be like one of those apron wearing moms. A Pinterest mom. I wanted to be Claire Huxtable. I have an apron on my Amazon wish list. I wanted to bake a pie. I bought the ready made crust and the pie filling. So I cheated a little bit. I’m going to come correct next time. The recipe was from YouTube but I made a pie, damnit. I worked all my 8 hours and then some. Raised 4 kids who despise their remote learning days. I made a pie.

See, because they told us that good women cook dinner. Good women are humble and Faith filled always. Good women fold laundry. Good women don’t dance lewd. Good women wear aprons. Good women make pie. I don’t know who they are but I could swear that’s what they told us.

I think I made that sh$t up. I think “good women” are fabricated fantasy characters morphed in my mind. I’m blessed to know a lot of good women. They’re abstract. They’re powerful. They’re colorful. They’re freaking tired. Exhausted, not by your expectations but by their own. Baking pies and posting pictures of perfection. If you take the time to ask them how their day was, they’ll give you an honest answer. If you’re open minded and your guard is down, you’ll feel their heartbeat through your fingertips. They’re people battling myths. Most battles cause bloodshed, remorse, and sometimes defeat.

I made a damn pie. At first, because I really wanted to satisfy an ideal I created. I needed to prove something to myself. My kids LOVED it and that was gratifying. I just finished writing a screenplay and I’m happy I completed it. It’s registered. It’s a whole thing. I didn’t brainstorm on a page and then abandon it. It’s alive. Through a pandemic. Through social distancing. Through distance learning. Zoom birthdays. Masks. Stress. Fear. I wrote a screenplay and it gives honor to someone I respect. I am proud of myself.

One of the things on my dream board is a line that says “flowers always.” My husband has always bought me flowers. When I was young, my dad would give a rose to his mom, myself and his sisters. My mother would get a bouquet. In the past I wasn’t big on flowers but as I grow, I enjoy all beautiful things. I celebrated myself this evening in two ways: I made my first pie and I asked hubby to go pick up some flowers. He laughed and said ,”How do you know I wasn’t going to do that?” I didn’t know, honestly. I just know that maybe good women ask for what they want. Maybe good women don’t get out of the car until the song they like is over. Maybe good women leave the laundry in the basket for someone else to fold. Maybe they go to sleep when they’re tired. Maybe they throw pies in your face and laugh with you. Celebrate your wins better than anyone else because you know what it took to accomplish that thing. Ask for what you need and even what you want. I smell the pies you’re baking.

-Shaun Liriano

Live Every Line (my favorite quote and why)

I remember reading these lines on the J train coming home from Pace University. I read it over and over again. I felt a shift. I instantly felt like I could freely be myself. Cut the perm out of my hair, write what I want, dress how I want, speak my mind and sail. Admittedly, I waited another year to grow out my perm (black hair is a whole other post.) However, this revolutionary woman eloquently summed up my overall view of the world. I felt like the author was my buddy and we walked the Brooklyn Bridge together instead of going to anthropology class. I soon realized she was just fantastic at sharing a surprisingly relatable story. She was strong, educated, powerful, courageous, a partner, a mother and an individual. She survived unbearable conditions and she embodied “the strong black woman.” This book, borrowed from my friend Stephanie, changed my perspective. “Affirmation” is a great piece but these lines are capable of standing alone. I’ll always want to be a part of a collective that alters its environment for the better. I also want to be accomplished and competent enough to stand alone. I believe nineteen year old Shaun would be proud to see me today. She would hang up her flight jacket, take her Yankee fitted off, comb her perfectly straight hair and stick her fine toothed comb in her back pocket. She would brazenly look me up and down and then we would discuss the power of words. She would agree with me…I lived every line of that beautiful poem. It looks different than we imagined but we’re doing well.

I believe in living but I’d jump in front of a train encompassed in orange and yellow flames for someone I love.

I believe in birth. Carrying a child and bringing one into the world is extremely challenging. Yet, seeing that little person for the first time and feeling their breath on your skin is euphoric. We give birth to different things. You’re giving birth right now…to thought, to light…

I believe in the sweat of love. Love is work. Hard, intentional, active and assertive work.

And in the fire of truth.

I have been in situations that were seemingly catastrophic. Then, in almost a cinematic turn, all is well. No magic tricks. No special circumstances. Just the personification of truth, rising in defiance and leveling anything and anyone that opposes it. Even when I had experienced so much I was starting to doubt myself. Truth was ever faithful.

Some quotes are pretty. Some are just timely. Some are your own memoir. You’re living every line and you find comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

For the Rest of Your Life

RIP Nana Bea

My one year old runs her fingers over the tattoo on my arm.

I remember when the tattoo artist said, “It’s still professional. A long sleeve dress shirt will cover it.” I wasn’t concerned with that back then. That was a tattoo I got at a shop on Merrick Blvd in Jamaica Queens. It was shortly after my 23rd birthday. I was excited about it because I finally knew what I wanted to honor my grandmother with.

My Nana Bea was a wedding and party coordinator. She spent a lot of time in her balloon shop. My aunt Darlene was the assistant manager. We worked closely in that business, many days a week, side by side. My grandfather would often have my cousins Jason and Tyson do push ups in the back. He would “toughen them up.” All the while Nana would groom us young women for running a business. I had so many “cousins” as young black children often do. Family wasn’t designated by blood. There were friends of family, neighbors, and extended family who all worked alongside us. We turned bare rooms into magical wonder lands. We made dreams come true. We built memories.

You see, my grandmother wanted to be successful.  She wanted to be a staple in her community.  She wanted a legacy.  She loved her children and took great pride in the accomplishments of her grandchildren.  I used to listen to her brag to her clients and suppliers about articles and poems I wrote. She kept our pictures near her cash register. This was best way for us to spend time with her. We worked to learn and earn money but we also worked to be close to her.

We ate vanilla ice cream, Pepsi or ginger ale and plain potato chips on breaks. These were big treats to me because my parents kept healthier options in the house. Those were some of her favorite things. Sharing them with her added to its sustenance. They were items she could eat quickly, on the go, so she could get back to work.

As Easter approaches I remember Easter baskets with big mylar balloons with my name on them. Inside was always chocolate, bubble bath, lollipops, and a stuffed animal. She never missed an Easter or birthday. We always knew what the business meant to her but we knew even if she showed up at 9pm, she’d be there.

She’d come over in her white minivan with my grandfather at the wheel with goodies. She was warm. She was always smiling. As an adult sometimes things get fuzzy. My Nana Bea passed when I was 19 years old. She died right before Thanksgiving. I wish I’d asked her in all the time I had with her, what it was like to be a woman of color with her own business. I wish I asked her what sacrifices she had to make. I wish I knew what she’d do differently. I would love to see how’d she react to social media and how quickly information and advertisements travel now. I remember dressing the store front windows for the next holiday. It was an honor. If she picked you to help dress the store window or put up a new display it meant she trusted you artistically to make her look good. Recently someone asked me, “Who encouraged you growing up?” It was always my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother wanted us to be reaffirmed in our beauty and she called me Princess my whole time with her. My maternal grandmother wanted me to feel intellectually confident. She helped with school assignments, establishing routines, and life skills.

Those of us who have tattoos are often reminded we are wearing veritable choices. We will have these pieces of art inscribed on our bodies for all time. I love my balloons.  Everytime I see it I see the smiling face of Beatrice. I feel myself standing in that building with confetti and broken clips (that held the latex balloons in clusters) on the floor. I remember the taste of Tiger Pops. I hear the older girls telling stories about the young men they were dating.  I hear music. I hear arguing. I feel her curly hair. I smell her lotion. I remember rummaging for the sharpest scissor to curl the ribbon with. We would decorate baby shower chairs with toole and silk flowers. I can hear her yelp when she’d burn her finger on a glue gun and then keep going until the job is done. I see my faded balloon tattoo and I see love in all of its wholeness. Imperfect. Mine.

By:Shaun Liriano

Perfect (Cold Sweat Series)

I like fushia skies
I like old couples fussing at one another and smacking each other’s asses.
I like short walks that have more quality than long ones
I like flowers
I like cheese
I like the fact that Jimi Hendrix couldn’t even read music.
I like people from your past that don’t bore you with small talk. They just nod and smile.
I like sleep
I like the full disclosure of children
I like when doctors heal, restore, repair and do it masterfully
I like working hard but I despise not being recognized for it.
I love being a mom.
I like 3am, the stillness, the moonlight and the freedom.
I like the kind of breeze that feels like a touch from an angel.
I like surprises but I hate waiting.
I like life
And living
But I love being alive.

By:Shaun Nickens

image

Have A Seat. Let’s Talk. I’m Listening

image
http://josevrodriguez.squarespace.com/

Dexter walked in the hospital with no urgency. With his cane in hand, he took his time going in. He had been warned, his friend suffered a stroke and may have dementia. He adjusted the cap on his head and entered the room. He hoped his friend would remember him. He hoped his friend would be okay.

Bill looked up at the door as Dexter entered. His eyes were fixed at the top of Dexter’s head. 
That ruby red Kangol hat.

“Hey”, Bill said. “Isn’t that the hat I gave you a few years ago? Yup! Sharp as a tack! I think it was Christmas 2011?”

Dexter’s eyes lit up with surprise.

“Hot dog! Aw man you’re alright! You ain’t dying!” Dexter’s voice oozed with both humor and relief.

“Nah,  I’m hanging in there so my kids can’t spend all my hard earned money.  Greedy tricksters are probably picking out my headstone already! ” Dexter and Bill roared with laughter.  They talked about the moments when they thought time would stand still for them. Hard working hustlers. They talked about the plans they had when they were young men. Dexter did a lot of listening that day. The Master forced him to be still and be attentive and be grateful.
_______________________________________ When I started this blog in 2012 I said it would never be an advice type of forum.  I am not a life coach! Who qualifies you for that type of position?  Too much pressure! What would you do if you found out your therapist is a Looney Tune? Like a bonafied nut! Would that discredit him? To be a life coach would my life have to be perfect?
There’s a very popular woman. I will leave her nameless.  She has books about women being their best and being extraordinary.  She has a YouTube stream.  She runs bootcamps from her brownstone. She gives women advice about attracting and keeping a man too. I remember reading the online backlash from women who “discovered” she doesn’t have a man and she isn’t married. Whoa! They went nuts! The ring she wears is because she is committed to herself!  I cracked up laughing.  So what?! All of a sudden she doesn’t know what she’s talking about???! Did she help you? Who certifies good advice?

Doesn’t perseverance through imperfections and the ability to analyze such experiences give you some credibility? 

When you call a friend and tell them about your relationship or your career (or lack thereof), do you ask for their counseling license?  No. You just appreciate them listening. In most cases they are just reaffirming your views. You need someone to listen because you are tired of talking to yourself.  The act of listening is an act of love. Supporting a friend probably makes most people feel good. Do you hesitate because you are afraid of the reaction you will get? Or do you just give your time and your talents?

Sometimes it is hard to balance everything.  You are still adjusting to your new or appointed roles in life. You are trying your best to wear your many hats. Then it happens. Someone you love is hospitalized,  a baby is born,  a friend calls in crisis and you are forced to slow down. You are forced to use your emotional eye. 

Sit down and listen before life, time and God force you to. Don’t take communication for granted.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Dear Kettle,  take it from the pot, YOU CAN manage your time better.  YOU CAN show your loved ones they matter.  YOU CAN be a finisher or you can ShutYaMouthAndCallMeUgly.

By:Shaun Nickens
Featured Illustrator: Jose Rodriguez
http://josevrodriguez.squarespace.com/