Where’s the Stoop?

One of the most common questions I got after posting “My Dear New York” a few weeks ago was whether I was planning to continue Her Lenox Stoop. Obviously, as most indicated, the title poses as issue now that I’m living in Atlanta, Georgia rather than my brownstone apartment on Lenox Avenue. My sister-in-law even jokingly suggested that I now have to change the name to “Her Atlanta Terrace”!

However, shockingly to some, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have to change a thing about this blog. I started it as an outlet to share my experiences and to think through some of the issues that plague this twenty-something and others like me. Her Lenox Stoop was birthed when I decided to take control of my life and to be completely vulnerable in the process. A time when I was standing at a fork in the road, deciding which way to go. The intent was to challenge what might be considered the “ideal” paths and choices of life and to instead think critically about the things that I really want and that are important to me.

Although I’ve passed the initial crossroad and made that choice of left vs. right (in other words, New York vs. Atlanta), every day I am challenged with new questions. Up or down? Circle or square? Black, white or grey? Questions that continue to require me to be vulnerable, open and honest with myself. So while this writer is no longer physically sitting on Her Lenox Stoop, she is very much still pondering the issues of being a young, black, female professional in this world.

So whether I am in Harlem, Atlanta, Santorini or Bali my heart and my mind will continue to be right there on Her Lenox Stoop, questioning it all…

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My Dear New York…

My Dear New York,

I came to you at the time in my life that was filled with utmost promise, and I walked into your open arms with expectation. You lured me in with your infectious energy, constant hustle and limitless possibility — now almost 7 years later I can honestly say that you’ve lived up to your name…

Our time together brought out sides of me that had been itching to be freed as well as sides that I hadn’t even known were there. You allowed me to experience people, places, foods, cultures and styles that ultimately gelled together to create my own unique sense of self. You absolutely made me realize that I’m one of one! You strengthened me by bringing me closer to God, helping me develop lifelong relationships, and pushing me out of my comfort zone. So there are no words I could say that would adequately express my gratitude.

I’m leaving you not because you’ve hurt me in any way, nor because I don’t think we work well together. I just have to follow my gut and my heart — both of which are pulling me to Atlanta. You were my own personal Mecca where I found a sense of self and laid the foundation for my life, my career and my family. But the black Mecca of the world is calling now. She’s calling me to take that foundation and expand it. To lay down roots and sprout branches that yield delicious fruits and span out to the horizon.

Because of you, New York, I now return to the arms of Atlanta, again with expectation, but this time the bar has been set and the challenge declared. The woman returning to the Peach State this time is a more autonomous, empowered, and fortified version of the girl who left all those years ago — and it’s all thanks to you.

You will always hold a very special place in my heart’s memory, and our years together have been forever inscribed on the scrolls of time. 

Love Always,

Marissa

Coincidence? Nah.

I am a firm believer of divine intervention. I believe that a divine being walks with me always, and has the power to shape events and circumstances around me. Over the last few years in particular I’ve noticed things just happening (or not happening) for me when it could have just as easily gone the other way. Some might call it luck, some might say coincidence. But as philosopher, Théophile Gautier, once said, “Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He does not want to sign.”

As you know, I live in New York City – the city that seems to consist of 1 million married people and 7 million singles – and a few years ago, after trying every dating app ever created, I gave up on the whole idea of finding love in this City. I relegated myself to accepting that I’ll probably be single forever. But then fast forward to this past February, when a very good friend of mine decided on a whim to celebrate her birthday by hosting a small get together at her apartment. Let me set the stage for you: I, the workaholic home-body, received a text message in the early afternoon of a Wednesday telling me to come out that night for some Hennessy and chicken (yes, she’s ratchet and I love her for it)… So as you can probably guess, my initial reaction was that there’s no way I’ll get off work in time, and then I thought that even if I did– Hennessey? On a Wednesday night? I would absolutely regret that decision in the morning. But then, by some quirk of fate (as the saying goes), I looked at the clock around 4pm and realized I had nothing else to work on. I killed another hour or so waiting to see if any work would come in, but it ended up being quiet for the rest of the day. Even to the point that I was concerned that I actually wouldn’t even have anything to work on the next day, either! So I had no excuse not to go anymore – I left work, went home to get cute, and headed to the party.

Long-story-short, the next weekend I was on a date with a young fellow who was also in attendance at her party. He had great energy, held my interest, could make me laugh and just made me feel like me! Our connection was effortless. But, the crazy part is that he didn’t really meet any of my other requirements for men. If you’re curious what I’m talking about, take a quick look at my prior post, “Glitter vs Gold”). So, honestly, as much as I enjoyed being around him, I struggled with taking this thing – whatever it was becoming – seriously. If he isn’t who I would have normally gone for, and isn’t who other people would expect for me, why am I even wasting my time? We could kick it, but I refused to believe it would turn into anything worth talking about. I brushed it off to friends and even to him, so much so that everyone around me was literally confused by how misaligned my actions and my words were when it came to him.

Then a few months later I went on a pretty amazing vacation to Greece with my sister, my cousin and the same girl who had celebrated her birthday that night, and while sitting at a local Athenian restaurant eating some pretty amazing calamari and drinking a lot of free wine, they broke me. They saw right through the front of “oh we’re just friends” and the denial that I wanted anything more. By being forced to look them in the eye, a mirror was held up to my face for the first time. And to make matters worse, it happened to be only the first day of a two week vacation so there was nowhere to hide… Ultimately, they made me realize that for some unexplainable reason, I really like being around him and the way he makes me feel, and that I don’t need to justify him (or us) to anyone – including myself. So the day after I got back from Greece, I got a boyfriend.

But just because the label changes doesn’t mean that the concerns immediately go away. I still find myself periodically looking at things he does or says or situations he and I find ourselves in and thinking to myself, “this is why it will never work.” And today happened to be one of those days.  We took a quick road trip Upstate to go apple-picking. He had done a few things the night before (that I was still harping on) and then he dropped another tidbit of information on me that morning, so I was all in my feelings as we made the drive.  Plus, I had been fighting a migraine all morning, probably from stressing over the idea that just as we were starting to go public it was already falling apart. But then God…

We had been riding in silence for a little while as I tried to Zen out and let the aspirin kick in.  The only sound in the car was the music. He had no idea of the things that had been running through my mind all morning, but knew I had a headache so he, too, was quiet and just vibing to the music as he drove. My eyes were closed as I tried to will my headache to go away, so when the song came on I was forced to really listen to the words.

“Come mess with a real one;

You’re one in a million;

Don’t let a lot of people in, but you get admission;

And I don’t let my walls down, but I see us building;

And you ain’t a feeling,”

I had to open my eyes and see what song it was! The screen on the radio just said “H.E.R. Vol. 1” and showed the title of the song as “Facts.” I asked him who the singer was and he said, “no one knows! The artist just dropped a project under the name H.E.R. and no one knows who it is.” He showed me the album cover and it was simply a silhouette of woman – no picture of her face. So I closed my eyes back, and kept listening (you can listen to it on SoundCloud by clicking here):

Just the beginning;

It don’t get no better;

As long as you hold me down, I’ll be up for whatever;

And I love the way you look at me, ‘cause I see forever;

Was ready before but I want you now more than ever;

You make me want to put my phone down;

When we’re alone, I want to zone out;

Baby, with you, I ain’t got no doubts;

I’m just trying to let you know now;

Facts;

You were the one I was missing;

The opposite of fiction;

And that’s facts;

Ooh, it’s a given;

I don’t care ’bout opinions;

And that’s facts; Facts;

And that’s facts; You were the one I was missing…”

Now, some of you might say it’s coincidence. Some might even say he intentionally put that song on (which he didn’t; he was just playing the album). But regardless of why it was played, that was exactly what I needed to hear at that exact moment. It was immediately my reminder that none of that other stuff matters. A reminder that we’re building something here, even if I don’t know what exactly that is yet. And I don’t know about you, but I believe that only God could have orchestrated giving me what I needed exactly at the moment I needed it.  The very next day at church my Pastor spoke about being available for God’s grace and how so many of us are unable to see the possibilities and opportunities in our lives because we are fixated on the challenge in front of us. Staying in your comfort zone will not get you to your greatness.

So although I am still bothered by the things I’m bothered by (which I ultimately did speak to him about), the difference now is that I am not drastically equating it with being the end-all-be-all of our relationship. My faith in God, and the fact that He walks with me always, brought me back to what’s important—it put me back on the path I believe I’m supposed to be on.

And this was just one example. I could probably write a book with how often this happens to me! Whether it’s clearing my schedule so I can be at the right place at the right time, trapping me in a foreign country so I can work through my issues undistracted, or even as simple as playing a song that says just the right words, I know that there’s something bigger than me at play. And evidence that God will intercede on my behalf is all the reassurance I need to go after the things I want in life.

Simple Words; Hard Truths

I don’t know about you, but I rely pretty heavily on my friends to keep me up on the latest happenings in various social circles – let’s face it, there’s way too many for me to keep track of on my own. And, most recently, two of them were telling me about a book of poetry that was the newest craze and that I absolutely had to get. I asked them, “who just sits and reads a book of poems for fun? Do you read just one poem and put the book down, or are there chapters so that you’re reading mad poems back to back?” I was completely confused.  Although I love reading and even majored in English in college, my experience with poetry up to this point has been limited to specific works suggested by professors to spark classroom discussion – I’d never had or wanted a book of poems for leisurely reading (unless you count Dr. Seuss, who obviously was robbed of the Nobel Prize).  But their response was simple: “No chapters; you can read whatever you want – read one and think about it or read a bunch and see how you feel.”

They had sufficiently piqued my curiosity so I went on Amazon later that night, found Salt by Nayyirah Waheed and hit the checkout button.

I can’t lie to you, though, for the first few days after it arrived the book sat on my dresser untouched. Something about it was just daunting to me. I once read that “poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful” (Rita Dove)– and as beautiful as that concept seems, poems have historically had a way of either going completely over my head or being so literal that I didn’t see them as interesting.

When I finally sat down to read I found myself flipping pages extremely quickly – for me it was a page turner of a different sort. Each poem barely filled a page, and some were only one line!  Like, bruh, really?  They were interesting and somewhat thought-provoking, but honestly I just felt silly.  Then, around 10 pages in, right as I was about to give up and put the book down, I read this:

would

you still want to travel to

that

country

if

you could not take a camera with you.

 — a question of appropriation

And then I did have to put the book down. Not because I was over it or because I thought reading a book of poetry for fun was pointless.  Rather, I had to put it down because that messed with my spirit.

I have been the proud holder of a U.S. Passport for only a few years and as a result have accumulated only a few stamps so far, but in that short time and from only few experiences I have literally fallen in love with travelling – even if where I’m headed doesn’t require a passport. I went to Cape Town and Durban, South Africa for Thanksgiving one year and got to experience both a larger African city where there were tourists galore and a population of locals more diverse than I had expected, as well as a more rural town where I ate game-meat such as zebra and wildebeest and where electricity was completely shut off every day in the middle of the day to conserve energy (you read that right: during the hottest part of the day – in AFRICA of all places – there was no electricity for a few hours anywhere in town).  I also spent a spring break in Barbados with a group of classmates and we explored caves, rode jet skis and often danced the night away with the locals.  And when my sister and I went to Puerto Rico last fall we literally spent all day every day at the beach and did little to nothing else – and it was glorious.

Travel has afforded me a variety of experiences in a short amount of time and I am fortunate to have made memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve made it my personal mission to leave the continental U.S. at least once a year, to drag my sister and my friends to as many places as I can, and to not-so-subtly nudge my extended family members into planning family trips as well (I haven’t yet been successful at the last one, but I’ll break them one day!).

I often post my adventures to Instagram and Facebook, share them in photo albums and group chats, and talk about them to whoever is willing to listen. But I never once thought that my actions could potentially be assisting in the further appropriation or commodification of local cultures and people. I am obviously familiar with these phenomena on a conceptual level, but the thought that I might be personally contributing to their occurrence truly escaped me — there was no feigned ignorance here, just a young woman with a genuine excitement for travel birthed from having the time and the means.

So that very simple question posed by Waheed hit me hard; it slapped me right across the face, and the intentions and implications behind my newfound love were immediately questioned. Had I been blind to my own actions?  Do I want to go to these places just to say that I was there? Is it about bragging? Is it about curiosity? Am I embracing a sense of freedom that my parents didn’t have or am I only chasing after one? Do I care to learn more about the people and cultures I visit?  Or is my focus instead on how many likes my pictures get on Instagram?

Simply put: would I go if I couldn’t take my camera? And as I was sitting there reading, I honestly could not answer that question… and it freaked me out.

After days of having it on my mind, I still cannot answer the question fully. However, what I can say is that studies show that Millennials (which I learned is defined by most scholars as today’s 18 to 34 year olds, although I think it’s more accurate to describe us as those aged 25 to 34, but what do I know?) are more likely than any other demographic to travel for leisure.  Some might say we are less likely to have children and other major responsibilities at this age so we are in a better position to be able to travel, but at least one article that I read suggested that Millennials with families are even more likely to travel than those of us who do not have those responsibilities.  So I think that at the end of the day we simply have different priorities for our lives than older generations, and travel is one area that we see value in – it factors heavily into the “work-life balance” concept that reigns supreme in our eyes and governs everything that we do.  The question that I haven’t yet been able to answer for myself is what exactly that value is.

I’m planning a trip to Greece this summer, though, so now that my eyes have been opened hopefully I’ll be more cognizant of how I experience my travels and what I ultimately aspire take away from each trip – as well as what it is that I would hope to leave behind. So this conversation is to be continued…

Needless to say, I’m hesitant to pick up that book again – but for different reasons this time. Simple words. Hard truths.