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

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

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

Show Em Whatcha Got

Recently I went to an annual gathering with some close friends from college.  We’ve been doing it since we were in school. We used to do secret Santa and potluck. We’d play games and tell stories. Over time our lives have evolved. Everyone is pushing thirty and growing families.  So last year we brought our significant others. We had a great time and the guys got better acquainted with one another. This year it was ladies only.

We ate food we couldn’t pronounce at a cute restaurant in the city.  Then we walked down the block to a little lounge. Now it was only 9:30 so no one was there but that was OK! We have always been that way. Never needed to fraternize in order to have fun. Just us girls, a comfortable place and maybe a couple of drinks and we would certainly have some laughs. Besides most of us have children now and have to do the mommy thing when we get home.

We sat in the lounge laughing with one another and seat dancing to the music. I glanced at my friend in a leopard mini-dress and envied the fact that her shower must be long enough to shave above the knee. With my crying little one, I have to make it quick. Sometimes shaving gets cut! I donned leather pants and a fur vest. The others were in cute and classy ensembles. We were all equally excited to see one another. There was only one issue…the music.

I don’t know if he was warming up but DJ Pandemic (or something like that) just couldn’t quite get it together. He would cut songs at the wrong time. He would let some songs play out too long. It just wasn’t going well for him. Then it happened!
DJ Terrible (or something like that) played “Love U Better” (2002) LL Cool J. Everyones head went back, hands went in the air, and eyes closed. It was like an r&b prayer.

“A toast to the queen, you’re back in my life
But this time I’m a do it right
Trust me from the bottom of my heart
Nothin’s gonna tear us apart, promise…”

That’s when I thought about the power of music and creativity. How can a song do that? How can music take you so far away?  Words are so powerful. Everyone was in the same reflective space. LL was singing our ghetto pledge of allegiance.

With one Old School at Noon hit on your local radio station, we get time travel.
“Flashlight” by Parliament and I’m in the basement dancing with my eccentric father.
image

“The Power” by Snap and I’m back at St Benedict School of Dance onstage in Jamaica Queens. I’m back to dreaming of being a singer, then a lawyer, and then a physical therapist (I was an indecisive child.)
image

Back to the sole responsibility of keeping my room clean. Back to a place in my heart I faintly remember where all you are expected to do is dream. If I hear “Weak” by SWV, I’m in my bedroom rewinding the cassette tape over and over on my karaoke machine. Careful not to rewind too far back because then you would hear the commercials from me taping the single from the radio. I’m in size 6 old navy jeans and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt and baby blue and white Nike uptowns with the strap undone.

I encourage you to “dig in the crates” and listen to the music that used to make your parents want to hide your Sony Walkman (yeah no iPods back then.) I encourage you to take a journey away from bills, car repairs, pressures, work, and the credit card debt you just accumulated from Christmas shopping. Go to that place…tilt your head back…raise your right hand…close your eyes or ShutYaMouthAndCallMeUgly.

By SMN

It wasn’t all bullsh*t!

When I was a child my Nana Bea would call me princess. princess My chariot was her white mini van and my ball was a shopping spree at Syms Clothing, lunch at Old Country Buffet, and a Tweety chain I picked out at a discount jewelry store. In my neighborhood there were no gowns, just Reebok, Kani, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Mecca, and Calvin Klein. If you had a Bear bubble jacket in the winter, you were “cool.” That’s what hood princesses wore . My maternal side would spoil me with name brands from QVC that I was too young to appreciate and I had a standing hair appointment every two weeks. I didn’t know what a luxury that was. There was a manicure specialist named Jackie who did my tiny 6-year- old nails while my hair would dry. My friends wanted to eat at my house.  They’d call home and ask for permission. I didn’t know what a  luxury that was. To have enough food to feed
your family and feed unexpected guests.

You’re never told your Prince isn’t going to fight dragons or “save” you from anything. Relationships require effort and gumption from both parties!
You’re going to win each other. You’re both royal in your own right. You have to be honest with yourself and be willing to admit your flaws so they don’t devour you. You’re as vulnerable to your demons as a ditz is to a poison apple.  My favorite Disney princess was Ariel. Long red hair. A body Jennifer Hudson would kill for so she can keep making money off her weight lossariel commercials. A mermaid with a talking Jamaican crab as an advisor. I didn’t understand how she could be late all the time when she swam so fast. Id always be on time. No car, no traffic, no stopping for gasoline? Perfect! I could relate to Ariel. She was a dreamer who just wanted something different from her norm. She’s never been on land. I’ve never seen blue or clear water. The only waters I know are long island beaches and chlorinated pools. She dreamt of love. I’ve always been fascinated with love.  The only emotion left inexplicable and undefined. I sought it out and have found it and claim it with raw passion and loyalty. She traded in her fins, her friends, and her father for it! She won a mans heart without speaking (I realize now that being mute worked tremendously in her favor.) Ariel bridged the gap for me. The gap between the fairy tales I watched over and over on VHS and real life in Jamaica Queens. Those stories and movies aren’t all bullsh*t.

The bottom line was sacrifice, not allowing fear to hold you at ransom, not allowing your enemies to underestimate you, respecting your parents but choosing to be emancipated from the mistakes they made that they are convinced you’ll repeat. Being a princess wasn’t about a diamond studded crown or my Yankee fitted. It’s about GUTS and the clarity of self to recognize your royal position no matter what your socio-economic status is. You’re royal even of your man has to let down his cornrows and YOU have to climb a tower to get to his heart. The throne is within. So dust off your old
FUBU sweat suit and tell the non believers ShutYaMouthAndCallMeUgly.fubu

-Shaun Nickens

Tell Me How You Really Feel! :-o (Praying for Sagacity)

We all have moments when someone infuriates us.  These are character building moments.  There are people in this world who are optimistic and positive.  These people see the best in others.  As we all know everything in existence has an opposite or a pole.  So of course there will always be someone who thinks you are a loser, a delinquent, a rebel, or a “mess.”  Most of the time, they feel that way because they don’t understand you.  You base your actions on standards, morals or beliefs that they cannot relate to.  My response to that is very simple.  The Creator made us all different for a good reason.  We have different genres of music that we are attracted to.  Libraries and book stores have endless amounts of subject matter.  Even God doesn’t try to affect your free will.  It’s a gift.  We all have to use our discernment to be able to direct our lives in the way we want it to go.  It takes a strong personality, a twinge of patience and humility, and lastly it takes fortitude.  Some of the closest people to me have hurt me the most.  Those are the people you wish knew you the best.  Those are the people who can get under your skin because you hold them in the highest esteem.  However, those people will never be able to live your life for you.  As much as you may love them, only your actions are relevant to your destiny.  Love doesn’t reside in your mind.  Love resides in your heart.  There are practical people who can only live in terms of what they can see.  Then there are enlightened faith carrying people who believe beyond logistics.

Never compare your situation to someone elses.  Stop going through your old classmates Facebook pictures and tweets.  Social media is like reality tv.  People can edit and show you what they want to show you.  They will never share the bad times.  That couple that has been married for 20 years with the matching outfits and the Escalade has gone through some tumultuous circumstances.  It’s always in poor taste to post troubled times.  You will give yourself a personality disorder comparing yourself to others.  Its destructive.  Live your own life.  I’m pretty sure Cinderella wasn’t jealous of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.  No matter how much hair you purchase from the beauty supply store, you are not Rapunzel.  No man will ever climb up your locs and rescue you from a tower.  Whatever turmoil has you captive in your life, you have to free yourself from before you will find any of the happiness you seek.

I remember childhood sayings like “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”  and “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Those were cute but they were crap.  They don’t transfer in your adult life.  People don’t think before they speak and you may get hurt from time to time.  Just make a pact with yourself to do your best always.  Your best is enough.  Prepare for excellence and tell the haters, “Shut ya Mouth And Call Me Ugly.”  😉

By: Shaun M Nickens