Pork and Porcelain

In my youth this was the place to pull my god brother’s afro and kick him in the testicles. We would end up in a full out brawl on the living room floor. The TV blaring. In my house it was called “rough housing” but here my uncle would cheer me on. “Get him Shawwwneee!”

Then there was college. I’d come here with my canary yellow drawstring laundry bag. I could go home but here I was treated as a guest and a resident simultaneously. I’d walk into my godmother’s home and breathe in the smell of Chinese food. Everything was clean but also lived in. Here it was warm. I could go down to the basement and get a drink out the spare freezer. You’d smell tobacco and my uncle Will would be stationary watching some show that seemed ancient to me on his 13″ television. His man cave was humble. It was a laundry room and storage but it was his. I’d always announce my presence first. “Heyyyy I’m coming down. Aunt Jo said I could do a little laundry.” He’d scoff and then in a raspy laugh say, “If you don’t bring your ass on!” In the summer months everyone was here. My friends, my godbrothers and their friends. Their cousin moved in and he was the perfect addition to the family. My aunts would come over and make stuffed turkey burgers. The cheese would ooze out of them when you bit into them. The oil would drip down your chin. I don’t know how they could afford this revolving door of hospitality.

Now, I’m 36. I’m married with 4 children. I work full time as a claims examiner. We’re still “in the middle of a pandemic” but it’s like an eternal middle. I barely remember when it began and I don’t know when it’s going to end. I keep spare masks in the car and my pocket book. Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer in every room. I spray Lysol when the kids get out of the car. I vacuum the car once a week. There’s Clorox wipes for their bookbags and lunch boxes. We always take our shoes off at the door. I’m still working from home and caring for my toddler full time. Everything is always this mosaic. My life is like her artwork. It’s colorful but many of the lines connect and overlap. There aren’t many clear definitive lines. All I know for sure is there are no days off.

Yet, when I go to Aunt Jo’s the reception is still the same. My youngest god brother is still there and he’s a gifted cook. I walk in and listen to the vegetable oil crackle in the frying pan. He’s slicing cucumbers and seasoning them with salt and pepper. My godmother is on the floor with a flashlight and a Swiffer mop trying to find my son’s matchbox car. The girls are in my niece’s bedroom choreographing some new dance that they want to perform for us, quite the unworthy and exhausted audience. Nonetheless, they are sweating and we can hear the music and feel the ground rumble. My godmother just smiles. She doesn’t tell them to shut the hell up or stop before they break something. Their voices seem to bring her joy.

The kitchen is different. There’s some renovations being made. My bare feet do a little shuffle across the brand new ebony floor. I like new things. I call out to my brother in the bathroom, “are these floors marble?” He tells me they’re porcelain. I look down and examine the sparkle of the light. My feet seem to get lost beneath me. I’m sinking but I don’t mind.

The pork chops are done. There’s no rice. Rice is overrated. My godmother takes my plate and as I’m rounding up my kids and hugging everyone she tells me she’s looking forward to seeing us again. We were here two weeks ago.

I feel wanted. I can’t even find the words to say. A speechless writer. A mute poet. All I can do is wave and say “thank you.” I haven’t been in the basement since my uncle transitioned. Still feels sacred. Even more so now. I think I’d still announce myself. A sanctuary is a safe space and I’ll forever be grateful for mine.

By Shaun Liriano

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

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

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A Day OFF to Get Back ON Track

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I am the princess of procrastination.  I am the dark cloud of doom, often preparing myself for the worst.  I am emotionally charged.  I am a quick decision maker.  I sometimes explode to prevent from imploding.

The converse is also true.  I sometimes categorize explosion as communication.  I’m easily affected by others moods but only because I care. The bottom line is because of my character traits/flaws I have to “reset” from time to time. The one benefit of my job is I get a weekday off.

Today I was my usual rushed self. Ripping and running.  Hustle and bustle. I got pulled over last night about a broken headlight. So I went to Pep Boys this afternoon and resolved that issue.   I went to CVS to return some impulse buys and replace them with necessities.  When I’m completing my errands, I always have my 5 month old with me. The poor thing is in and out of the car seat.  Ashamed, I admit that not all time spent is quality. I intend to change that.

I got a text from a long time friend last night that read, ” Uncle _____ died.” I couldn’t even respond. After the air returned to my lungs I decided to call. Another young life. Another good person.

Life pulsates. It throbs. For some of us it is aggressive.  Its carnal. We can hear our clock ticking and we are offensive in an attempt to gain (or regain) control. For some of us, we need reminders. We only say “I love you” when someone is sick or dying. Some of us let life boil and then evaporate.

I found a park site near the local town hall. Its beautiful. There is something about being outside on a hard wooden bench. My daughter and I stared at the ripples from the fountain.
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I can often identify with nature.
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I wish to stand out from the rest. I want to be noticed.

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My heart almost busted open with excitement to see my daughter so full of intrigue. So young. So attentive.  So easily satisfied.  Its not hard to build a connection with your children.
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The gazebo was perfect for a picnic. Perfect for a wine brunch with your significant other. It was perfect for a 30 minute lunch break. It was the perfect spot for a writer, a lover, a hater,  an artist, a bourgeois “time-out.” It was perfect for anything.

I want the shutyamouthandcallmeugly.com family to know its time. Its time now. A wise man once said to me, “get up or give up.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time. No matter how harsh it is, its true.  Accept that you cannot control everything.  Have Faith!  Love HARD! LOVE TODAY! Take time OFF so that you can get ON point!

By Shaun M Nickens