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.

Highs and Lows

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Ms Hulis Mavruk Black Artwork

I begrudgingly worked for a prominent insurance company for 2 years. It had highs and lows. I was taking a gap year from Stony Brook University.  However, in my twenties we didn’t call it a “gap year.”  There was no cute term for leaving school or taking a break from school.  I was tired of working 3 jobs and being a “broke college student” so I chased the money and I chose the industry that my mother worked in.   I liked the company when I first started but as time passed it became stale.  The main attraction to the position was the money I was making and the annual profit share.  On another note, I was in a relationship and admittedly I was more focused on that. Young and dumb, the man I was with at the time had a driving restriction.  Trying to literally be a “ryde or die,” I would pick him up in the mornings and bring him to work on my way to my job.  Some mornings it was pretty tight trying to get us both to corporate positions that both carried a dependability clause. That basically means…”If you can’t get your ass to work on time, you’re fired.”  I was on a written warning and on a rainy day/snooze my alarm 2-3 times day/traffic/ can’t find a parking space day, I arrived to work a critical 9 minutes late.  Well, it took a few weeks to notice but shortly after presenting me with an award for my call quality and after receiving a congratulatory email from my supervisor for being a “team player” I was called into the main conference  room. I remember feeling incredibly calm.  My supervisor and my manager told me they had no choice but to “part our professional ways.”  They asked if I had any questions and I told them I didn’t. I stood and shook their hands and wished them both an early Happy Mothers Day.

My mother isn’t big on “Hallmark holidays.”  Yet, being fired for the first time seemed more of a failure because it happened the Friday before Mother’s Day.  How in the hell was I going to tell her?  My parents got divorced my freshman year in college. When I left school, I moved back home with my mother and baby sister. We would lean on one another a lot. We sometimes would affectionately call our trio “The Three Musketeers.”  It had highs and lows. This was going to be a low.  My mom was reliable and responsible.  She was learning how to fit into a fairly new role.  I was supposed to be a help and not a hindrance. I felt guilty, careless, and ashamed. So I chose to omit my termination.

This is where there is some pixelation in my memory reel.  I don’t remember how my mother found out I was no longer working but she did. What I do remember is her acceptance.  I remember her reminder that this was a temporary setback and I would quickly find something else.  She didn’t remind me of all the sacrifices she made for my sister and I.  She didn’t shove private school bills in my face.  She definitely didn’t tell me I ruined her Mother’s Day.  She simply moved on.  Many of us can forgive but forgetting is the true challenge.  Many of us try to provide everything our children want and need but we have a cerebral calculation of every dime spent and every minute served. Parenting is about highs and lows. 

Thank you to a mother that came to every concert.  Thank you for buying patterns and sewing Halloween costumes and dance costumes.  Thank you for exposing me to Broadway plays.  Thank you for a standing hair appointment beginning at age 3.  Thank you for the lows too.  You taught me how to survive them.  How to be strong.  How to pray before I speak.  How to think with my heart and ignore the noise. How to ask for help.  How to try to come to terms with the things I cannot change and still don’t fully understand.  Thank you, Mom, every day.

 

By: Shaun Liriano

 

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:

 

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

 

 

Inspiring Documentaries I’ve Watched Over the Past 8 Days

Documentaries I’ve seen In the Past 8 Days:

  1. Food Inc. (2008) Robert Kenner 1hr 34mins
  2. Living On One Dollar (2013) Sean Leonard, Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple. 56 mins.
  3. A Story about Living Small. (2013) 62 mins. Christopher Smith, Daryl Gibson, and others.
  4. Gideon’s Army. (2013) 1 hr 36 mins Directed by Dawn Porter.
  5. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. (2010) 1 hr 37 mins. Directors: Joe Cross, Kurt Engfehr.
  6. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011) 1 hr 20 mins Director: Constance A. Marks

I’m addicted!  I’m addicted to life!  I’m addicted to the events, struggles, challenges, insecurities, fears, and achievements of people.  I absolutely love that they have the balls to bleed (figuratively of course) on camera.  Some of these really weren’t that nail biting or gripping from beginning to end but there were definitely some powerful moments!  So, I’m going to tell you what I thought those moments were.

Spoiler Alert!!!!!!! 

Gideon’s Army is about Public Defenders and their personal and professional struggles.  It follows Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick who are young, urban, and driven. I really liked Travis who dressed professionally, absorbed himself in his work and fought hard for his clients whether he thought they were guilty or not.  He was committed to the job and he sacrificed time, sleep and a personal life to perform at his best.  His apartment was right next to the office!  The film delves a little into his “daddy issues” of abandonment and how he makes the attempt to resolve those issues. Brandy was a little more emotional. That disturbed me (talking to the TV the entire film) because it made her seem like the stereotypical woman who was too sensitive to toughen up for the tasks assigned. However, the film concludes with Brandy’s courtroom skills.  I had to bite my tongue and set aside all pre judgments. The emotion she had behind her work that I thought would cripple her actually helped her to win.  Brandy’s defense and her closing argument and her relationship with the defendant were touching and surprising because public defenders in the south handle over 100 cases at one time. They’re exhausted and they are like assembly line workers.  I loved it and I learned a lot. What bothered me to my core was the fact that they were BROKE!  There is a scene where Brandy is putting 3.00 of gas in her car to last her for the next two days!  These are lawyers and professionals but they are still living the “broke college life” at 30.  I felt for her because how many of us are already in our line of work but drowning in college loan debt and squeezing into small spaces?  How many of us are living check to check?  How many of us are still coming back from the recession and do not know if it is over yet?  Would you be able to do your job effectively and honorably with that kind of weight on your shoulders? 

For more information on this award winning documentary you can see the following link: http://gideonsarmythefilm.com/

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead was great simply because it can be oversimplified.  If I break down the entire film, it is about poor habits, poor decisions, and addiction.  It shows what happens to the human body/our temple when we over indulge.  I love food but I have always been off and on in terms of discipline when it comes to diet and exercise. I have also always struggled with my skin off and on. This film convinced me that the coined phrase “you are what you eat” is very true.  When I am cooking at home, exercising, drinking water, removing toxins (i.e. alcohol, sugars, etc), and getting somewhat adequate levels of sleep…I FEEL AND LOOK BETTER.  It’s very simple.  The man in the film was able to come off of his medications and lose a lot of unhealthy weight in 60 days with a juice fast. I hate fads and I am not a bandwagon jumper.  I go to my local juice bar occasionally and I also get my teas and natural deodorant from them but it’s expensive. I will definitely try juicing at home NOT EVERYDAY but as a supplement.  The processed, genetically engineered foods that are making us artificial energy addicts are also making us susceptible to illness. MY FAVORITE PART of the film is when he is using animation to explain the juice fast and its effect on the body.  He shows the example of a child who scrapes his knee.  Knees are bleeding and they have bandages on them.  He shows the child tempted to remove the bandages and pick at the wounds or scabs.  He says, “The wound will heal as long as I get out of my own way.”  I thought that was really powerful.  How many times do we prevent our own healing because we are obsessed with whether or not we are going to be healed?  How many times do we try to expedite processes that need to happen organically?  All you need to do is move out of the way and let your body heal itself, fight off disease itself, and sustain itself.

For more information on this great documentary please see the following link:  http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey was a tiny bit creepy. There have been recent child molestation allegations but if you can get passed that, it’s an inspiring story.  Kevin Clash made his first puppet when he was 10 after watching Sesame Street over and over again. He put on shows for the neighborhood kids his mother used to babysit. By the time he graduated high school, he was off to New York to work with Jim Henson, his idol. You see this man who is chronically shy but comes to life in the puppets he creates. This is kind of a zero to hero story because he doesn’t encounter much adversity.  People take him in with open arms and mentor him. The important thing to remember is he embraced every opportunity and he surpassed his expectations.  We all remember people trampling one another in shopping malls to find Tickle Me Elmo’s.  I remember how popular Elmo was even when I was in 7th and 8th grade.  This is a success story. He was a young guy from Baltimore with two loving parents who had a dream and went for it.  He was determined and he was diligent and it paid off.  He visualized what he wanted until it manifested but in the meantime he was aggressively moving towards his goals. The film took me down memory lane and made me want to head to Michaels craft store and make a puppet!

Click the link for more information:  http://beingelmo.com/about.html

 

By: Shaun Nickens

Because I’m alive

Im valid because I said so.
The son of God is my brother.
Diamonds, mountains, and ocean floors are all imperfect but breathtaking nonetheless
So who’s to say I’m not beautiful.
Im lucky because someone tells me they love me every day.
Im happy because I choose to be.
Im special because there’s no more room in the mediocrity category.
My home has veins, blood, and a ventricle on each side.
I’m ugly only when I let the defects of my humanity get the best of me.
I’m here. In my fighting stance. I’m ready. I’m alive.

By SMN