street cred

A question of perception, part 2

Part 1, written almost 4 years ago.

Last week was not a great week for celebrities, was it? First Kate Spade, then Anthony Bourdain. Both deaths were unexpected. Both deaths saddened. Cue the endless posts about suicide help lines and knowing one is valued and matters. Which is nice, but mostly beside the point. Most people don’t kill themselves on a whim. Knowing there is a 1-800-number out there is nice, but is unlikely, MOST OF THE TIME, to deter someone who is too exhausted to live. Someone who commits suicide might be very aware that they matter, they are loved (or not), but that isn’t what they are trying to avoid. They are trying to end the sustained misery and agony that their brains are inflicting on them. Incessant pain, physical or emotional, distorts reality to the point that suicide becomes an act of mercy – granting oneself peace and saving friends and family from the burden of worrying about the one’s sickness.

Anyhow.

MommaBear who is part of my dance school shared an article about Kate Spade’s death, with the following comment, “Euh, WTF… So you’re successful and suicide… so much energy, hard work, notorious… no…”. I like MommaBear, I do. She is fiercely protective of her cubs, be they her own children or girls she meets on the dance floor. Given her deep capacity for love and loyalty, her comment struck me as one of ignorance. Some ppl really don’t get depression and suicide. My uncle doesn’t: he made a very similar comment following Robin Williams’ death. So, I commented, gently, that success has nothing to do with the burden that a person may be called to carry, or the demons they must deal with.

MommaBear: I know, but so much work, all that energy… If a person was doing fuckall, I might get it (the impulse to kill oneself). Nobody admires a person that doesn’t succeed, nobody will listen to the advice of a person that doesn’t stand out in society. If you succeed, you can latch onto that success as a life jacket to get you out of the current.

Vanilla: No, not really. Success can become a burden in and of itself. A responsibility that suffocates you even further.

MommaBear: I’m a single mom that got played by her husband and has 6 children, of which 2 are autistic. You can betcha I will fight till the end to do my best.

Vanilla: Yes. There are tangible demons and burdens, like the experiences you just described. But there are also demons and mental health burdens that are intangible, not easily identified, but just as hard to manage. We must never deem monetary or societal success as a reliable indicator of the mental health of an individual. Never.

MommaBear: So, based on what you’ve just written, you are comfortable hanging out with people that have not succeeded in society? People that in no way stand out in society? You could spend time with a man that looks like a hobo, and not care what people think of you? (P.S. I would have preferred to talk about this, but I guess Facebook will have to do 🙂 )

Now. I’m extremely wary of Facebook bitch-fests. I don’t want another pointless repeat of this incident. Sides, I was aware that MommaBear had attempted to diffuse the situation with her little P.S. addendum. MommaBear is good people. I like MommaBear.

But.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut.

But. But. But.

Her comment pissed me off. SO MUCH.

That one comment made it very clear how she perceived me. A spoiled, well-off, white girl condescendingly preaching empathy from her comfortable ivory tower, blissfully unaware of what suffering could possibly feel like. Who was I to talk?

Never mind that the last 2 guys I’ve dated do not have university degrees. Hell, Beaut barely finished high school. Beaut came from a broken childhood, foster homes, poverty, worlds apart from my life. He worked HARD to make ends meet with that kind of background, stopped at nothing to gainfully and legally provide a comfortable existence for his daughter, a loving and devoted father… But he didn’t have a kitchen table. He can’t write one sentence without making grammatical or spelling mistakes. Doesn’t have the traditional indicators of success, yet has managed to carve out a good life through sheer stubbornness and struggle. I was proud of him, proud of his perseverance, his unwillingness to let life, and all the shit thrown at him, stop him from doggedly pursuing his goals. I’m impressed by the life he is building for himself, bit by bit, patiently.

Never mind that my mother with her poor health couldn’t hold down a job from the moment she had me, for the rest of her life. The knowledge that she was a drain on society weighed heavily on her conscience. Her health was so bad, she could barely walk, and as a result, her physique shamed her. Most days, she could only summon the energy to put on baggy jogging suits. I’ve witnessed people speak to her as though she was mentally impaired, because apparently walking slowly with 2 canes is correlated to one’s intelligence. #goodtoknow. A cop once threatened to have her do a drug test because he thought she was some druggy, with her wheezing breath and sweaty face (brought on by the extreme pain attack she was undergoing). Was I EVER ashamed of her? No. I prided myself on being her bodyguard, physically protecting her from oblivious people, and ensuring people addressed her with the respect that was her due. As an adolescent, its true, sometimes I would dread running into schoolmates, but that was only because I kept my family life a secret. It was too complicated, too painful and private to share. So I hoped we didn’t to run into people. But never, not ever, because I was ashamed of my mother.

Never mind that my father worked his whole life in a blue collar job, 38 years of exhausting physical labor with no social distinction whatsoever, to ensure that his wife and his baby girl could live a comfortable life.

Never mind that when I met MommaBear I was in the throes of the worst depression of my life, a few weeks away from my upsetting diagnosis. Never mind that I HAVE A BLOG DEDICATED TO MY MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES. Which obviously MommaBear has never read, as is her right.

None of that mattered. Because despite spending anywhere from 5-15 hours with me every week for 5 months, MommaBear couldn’t see past my skin color and my professional title.

I’m upset, deeply, not because I got misjudged according to another person’s bias. Nah, that’s cool, I’m aware I get to live my life mostly immune to that sorta thing, so when it happens, I really can’t be that offended.

But.

I’ve always naively clung to the belief that for social change to successfully occur, for racial bias to be dismantled, yes policy matters (which is why Trump is so worrisome to me) but that really, change would be inevitable the more people interacted with individuals that are not part of their socio-ethno-econo demographic. One on one interactions increase the likelihood of recognizing an individual’s humanity, which is something we all share, and to the extent that humanity is present, it creates cognitive dissonance with wtv prejudice and false beliefs are held about that person’s demographic, and thus change in opinions and a broadening of world views are possible. Schindler from Schindler’s list was a Nazi sympathizer. This has been my core belief for as long as I’ve lived, the result of my upbringing. I recognize that it is not a perfect solution (mingling between demographics is not always possible or probable, or else #whiteprivilege wouldn’t be a thing). But, to the extent it occurs, I remained hopeful.

Y’all. I live in Montreal. My dance school has every possible nationality amongst its students. And yet. On a Facebook post about suicide, we failed at recognizing each other’s humanity.

I feel defeated.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted about how Vanilla I am

Hey Nene! Hey Coach! Clearly your work is unfinished, because while you made serious efforts to render me less Vanilla, and a little more hip/urban/ratchet… I am still vibrantly vanilla.

Context: Teacher is in Baltimore for a kizomba-salsa-bachata congress. Guy calls me up to ask me a question, and in true ADD fashion, gets distracted mid conversation.

Teacher: “(…) oh look, I just saw an oreo cookie babylon.”

Me: “a what?”

Teacher: “Oreo cookie. You know, 2 black 1 white.”

Me: “I know that, but what’s an oreo babylon?”

Teacher: “babylon. It means police.”

Me: “ooooooooooh”

Teacher, turned away from the phone, answering the people he is with (the event organizers are Indians): “yeah, I know! A white girl. SO white.”

That obvious, huh?

#nowIknow


I gotta give it up for Teacher. The dude, on top of being a mind-blowing dancer and artist (check out this post which includes many of his videos) is also a blogger. His life is stranger than fiction, and he has seen and lived much from his travels for dance. It’s a good thing he documents all his stories, because otherwise nobody would believe the shit that happens to him. Take, for instance, his recent trip to NYC earlier this month. You don’t have to know him to get a laugh out of his stories.

I might be biased, but I definitely recommend bookmarking his blog: drkizomba.com/blog .

The advantage of a digital trail – fighter style

Those Facebook memories, yo. Sometimes, they annoy. Sometimes, they make me sad. Sometimes, they remind me of struggles past, and how far I’ve come.

Behold a memory, 7 years ago. December 18th, 2010.

I was in my 2nd year of kickboxing (savate – french boxing, assault – point based scoring system, minimal power). This was my very first competition. I was sooooo nervous, so scared of messing up, disappointing my coach, or getting injured, or just looking stupid. I lost, but I fought really really really well. Out of my 8 years of fighting (4 years of kickboxing, 4 years of boxing), this remains one of my top 3 favorite fights. Because I faced my fears with honour. I didn’t hold back. I claimed my spot in the ring. I fought for real, with dignity.

I remember finding my kickboxing coach (“KC”) a little silly, over-the-top dramatic with his inspiring speeches, and cinematographic flourishes. “Its just savate, yo.” He’d get irritated. “No. This is life. This is passion. You are part of a team. We fight with pride. We work hard, people will know us for our skill, our style, our dedication. This is who we are.” I’d roll my eyes. I’m an accountant, not a fighter. This was just a game, play-fighting. I felt superior.

Looking back at this video, I remember the other emotions I tried so hard to ignore back then. The amazement that KC believed we were a family – that I was part of this family. The thrill of wonderment that I too, might be one day considered something approaching an athlete. That he felt I had what it takes to be a fighter. That he owned his diva showbiz side. That maybe, perhaps, I might belong. I so wanted to belong. To belong in a family that was bound by a thirst to live fully and deeply, to push themselves as far as they could, to face challenges that they might not successfully achieve. I craved this but was also scared of looking foolish.

I look back with much fondness on my years as a kickboxer. Many friendships date back to those years. Kickboxing was my therapy as I put myself through university, first as an undergrad and then as a full-time grad student while working full time as an auditor. I got my title during those kickboxing years. I grew up, somewhat, through kickboxing.

Kickboxing lay the groundwork for most of the breakthroughs and personal growth that I experienced in boxing. I did, eventually, own my identity as an athlete, shedding decades of insecurities from my crippled youth. I did explore what it means to be a fighter. I did find my family – my gym, my squad. None of that would have been possible, had I not first spent years training with KC.

I’m so grateful KC was inclined to produce these celebratory, grandiose videos. As a sport, savate (assault) might not be as impressive as boxing. My boxing friends giggle when they watch videos of savate. But nevertheless, it requires its fighters to face their fears, pursue excellence, develop mental toughness, and believe in themselves. Surely, that is worthy of grandiose treatment? I certainly think so. Had I not been introduced to those concepts in kickboxing, I would have never been inclined to step into my boxing gym.

My life would be so much less than it is.

If you have trouble recognizing me… it’s because I have long curly dark hair, and weigh 15lbs more than I do now. 🙂

Who knew M&Ms could wrap?

While in Toulouse, FroMan invited me to join him and his friends for supper. I had a great time. Somehow, while discussing Ramadan, multiculturalism and the pros/cons of accommodating vs assimilating vs integrating minorities into society, CAD vs Southern French weather, Trump, kizomba, sleep patterns, work, hair styling, annoying neighbors, I found myself on a rant about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is an artiste, but Eminem! Eminem is just in a different class. True, he does not speak to the struggle and plight of a specific demographic; rather, he owns the individuality of his emotions, which can broaden his audience because emotions are universal and do not depend on specific circumstances. His lyrics are a form of vulnerability, and while he can be ugly, shocking, so angry and violent, his honesty is refreshing and is what allows his auditors to relate so strongly to him. His musicality is not lesser than Kendrick’s and… and somewhere after the 5th minute of my monologue, I noticed a blank look around the table.

Tentatively, I asked… y’all DO know Eminem, right? Oui, bien sûr. M&Ms. No. Eminem, bro, the rapper. You guys know who he is, in France, right?! Oui, we call him M&Ms here. M&Ms… as in the candy? Oui.

FroMan continued, “He’s the dude that sang, I’m Slim Shady yes I’m the real Shady all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating…” No. NON. Arrête. STOP IT. THAT is what you associate with Eminem? Not Rap God, where he raps 1560 words within 6:04 minutes, averaging 4.28 words per second? Not “mom’s spaghetti”, the lyric that spawned some of the most ludicrous memes ever, and is the reason why he won an Oscar? Not Love the Way You Lie, a song so powerful that even though radios overplayed it more than Despacito, it never got ruined and was a catalyst in lessening the taboo around domestic abuse, bringing that important topic out into the open?  Not any of his early underground freestyle rapping? Not that he is the only person in the world that can rhyme “orange” with “porridge”? Like seriously, watch this:

Y’all. Eminem is a wordsmith. A modern day poet. A genius.

FroMan listened to my outraged exclamations in silence for several seconds. Possibly a full minute.

Tu réalises qu’il rap en anglais, oui? On ne comprend pas ce qu’il dit.

You do realize he raps in English, yes? We don’t understand what he’s saying.

So, I asked, how do you distinguish good music from bad? You guys are French! The epitome of good taste! If you don’t understand the lyrics, what do you do? Just listen to the beat, the groove and the melody? WAIT, YOU GUYS DON’T THINK JUSTIN BIEBER IS GOOD MUSIC, DO YOU?! “En fait, il n’est vraiment pas si pire, le petit Bieber. Son album est très propre./ Actually, he really isn’t that bad, that little Bieberito. His album is quite on point.”

OMG.

OH MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

I cannot live in a world where Eminem is less appreciated than Bieber.

It occurred to me to suggest FroMan use Google Translate, much like I did to understand how ridiculously over-the-top kizomba lyrics can be (for a prime example,  check out this music video of one of my favourite songs, Vai by Calema. Stirring music, heartbreak, but whyyyyyyyy must he flop about like a goldfish in a puddle of mud? That won’t make her come back to you, bro, and significantly decreases your odds of landing yourself a rebound chick.) But Google’s habit of mildly inaccurate translations (“Pinch me now, yes/ Good afternoon, no/ You are very crazy/ Kiss me in the mouth“) can’t do justice to Eminem’s wordplay. The site Genius is the way to go… but even so, Eminem’s greatness is rather dependent on one’s fluency in English.

How sad. How very sad. FroMan’s life, and that of most of the world’s population, is incomplete.

#noiamnotbeingadramaqueenATM

#Eminemisbae

#andthisiswhytravelisimportant #myhorizonsjustgotexpandedAF

 

Paris, ville de l’amour & l’irritation extrême 

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.

I am in Paris for a 10-day work trip. (Check out what happened the last time I was left unsupervised in Paris.) Not complaining at all, but it remains I am not here to visit, I am here to put in 12+ hour days. When I leave my hotel in the morning, it is dark out. When I leave the office, it is darker. I gave myself an objective to try walk 30-60 mins every day, and find something worth taking as a picture. I’ve never really explored Paris at night, this trip would be my opportunity to see the usual landmarks in a different “light”.

Monday night, I met up with a former colleague of mine from my auditing days who has recently moved to Paris. I hadn’t seen him in two years. A delightful evening, bien arrosée, because we accountants = alcoholics and French wine is bae. By the time we said goodbye, it was 11pm. The resto was located in a safe part of town, approx 35 mins from my hotel – perfect opportunity to squeeze in my daily walk and pic quest. My walk brought me to the Louvre, which I needed to cross to get to the Seine bank, where I would need to walk for 15 mins, before crossing over the river.

As I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, a man approached me asking me if I was lost, because I looked confused. I answered him (in French) that I was debating if the open gate on our side of the Louvre would allow me to cross the entire courtyard, or whether the gate would be closed on the other end (on the river-side); I did not feel like walking about for nothing. He reassured me that the Louvre gates remained open all night, and that in fact he was walking in that direction himself, to reach the south bank. Perfect.

I really wanted to be in my bubble and enjoy the peaceful Parisian night – it is rare to find a moment where the city is quiet, almost sleeping. Chatty stranger watched me take pics of the Louvre, despite my hints that I did not want to delay him from joining his friends. This is the only pic I managed to squeeze in before Sir Annoyancealot ruined my mood.

Having crossed through the Louvre courtyard, I noticed the normally busy Seine bank was deserted. Great. I said goodbye to Sir Annoyancealot, who insisted on giving me a goodnight hug.

I did not want this hug. It was an impertinence, which he knew – he is French: they have the best manners in the world when they chose. That he was asking/insisting on a hug meant he was up to no good. I was faced with a dilemma: tell him to fuck-off and risk an escalation, or appease him. Boxing experience notwithstanding, I’ve been trained to handle a situation smoothly, just in case. Especially on a deserted street. Guy didn’t seem dangerous, more of a low-key creep trying his luck, looking to boost his male ego. Choosing safety over bravado, I let him hug me, but with arms flexed so that he couldn’t pull me close, and he would feel my strength. He attempted la bise, which he technically achieved, despite me successfully keeping him at arm’s distance.

You’d think he would be satisfied with that, no? No.

Sir Annoyancealot offered to walk with me a little more, even though I told him I wanted to be alone to enjoy the view. He continued talking to me, oblivious (or perhaps enjoying) that my conversation had gone from politely chatty to monosyllabic. I lied about where I was headed, and he insisted on re-saying goodbye, this time holding me firmly by either arm (payback for me having stiff-armed him: he had noticed my strength, and now it was my turn to notice his) with another bise. When his first kiss on the cheek landed on the corner of my mouth, I shoved him away such that he had to take 1-2 steps backwards.

He smiled at me, “Non, mais t’es tellement mignonne, j’ai envie de te croquer, tu sais.” Dropping all semblance of manners, I gave him my boxer look, “Tiens, mec, t’es vraiment mieux de ne pas t’essayer avec moi.” (“But you are so adorable, I just wanna eat you!” followed by “That’s nice, buddy, you better not try to.”) I walked away, and he didn’t follow me.


When I told that story to my colleagues yesterday, one dude shook his head and remarked that no French woman would have let herself be in such a scenario. That comment enraged me. It reminded me of the comment my Arab friend made, after I got lewdly propositioned in Beirut. It implies it is my fault, or perhaps that the women of my nationality aren’t as savvy as the locals. Wrong. I’ve been micro-aggressed in Canada too. This is what it means to be a woman; these are the kind of trade-offs I have to make every damn day, all the time: evaluating if I am willing to put up with possible unpleasant encounters in order to not deprive myself of a beautiful solitary nighttime walk. Evaluating if politeness will be a gateway to a dangerous situation. Evaluating the risk of escalation vs the need for appeasement. Evaluating just how far to react, if the guy is an actual dangerous person or just a creep. Having to be grateful that I have 8 years of fighting experience, because otherwise that would have been a much scarier experience.

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.


Last night, I left work “early” at 8:30pm so as to give myself plenty of time to walk the 1hr walk from l’Arc de Triomphe to my hotel near Notre-Dame. It wasn’t peaceful, bc 9pm is prime social time for Parisians, and les Champs-Elysées are always crowded, but it was nighttime and I did get my pics.

Behold, Paris at night.

Time for a little humble-bragging

My plane leaves in 7 hours… Other than my opera ticket, and the train tickets to get from each of the 4 towns I’ll be visiting, I’ve got nothing planned. And that feels GREAT. I don’t have any travel-books or tour guides. I am planning on winging it.

There is so much freedom in travelling alone, especially when I can speak the language of the country I am visiting. I like waking up in the morning, and seeing where my feet take me. Sure, I have googled Strasbourg and Reims a few times, so I have a vague idea of some of the things I’d like to do (a few cathedrals, 1-2 champagne cellars) but otherwise, nope, I don’t want to plan anything else. I want to talk to the waiters at the cafés, and hear their opinions (95% of which I will disregard); sit on a plaza, people watching, and strike up a conversation with a random person; get lost as I walk about town, discovering fabulous and not-so-fabulous views around every corner and stop and ask for directions.

I haven’t packed a single article of work-out gear. 10 days without stepping inside a gym. I have my walking shoes, and I intend on walking 4-6 hours a day. That is good enough for me. No stress about making it to boxing on time. No regimented schedules, other than the 3 day conference – but even that: it is all outside of my control, I just need to wake up in the morning, and my day will be planned for me. All I need to do is show up. 10 days of eating whatever I want. 10 days of good food. I packed my stretchy pants.

The weather forecast for the portion of this trip that is personal is rainy and cold. Of course. So I’ve packed sweaters, jackets, an umbrella…

But get this.

10 days. I managed to pack everything into 2 carry-on bags, one of which is my work laptop bag. No checked luggage for this girl!

Yeah.

I know. It’s impressive. I was going to humble-brag, but really, I think that feat deserves a full-on brag. Vanilla the Great. I packed 3 pairs of shoes… as well as all of the items mentioned above. Imma have the freedom to galivant between the 4 towns without being weighed down by unwieldly suitcases. AND I will look good doing it.

That is why I am awesome. I can act and look like a princess, and I can cut corners and be practical too.

#humblebragfail

#boastingcomesnaturally

#baskintheawesomenessofmypackingskills

#IamSOexcitedforthistrip

 

Somehow I never pictured Jesus as a micromanager 

As per my promise to Coach to maintain my fitness levels despite my frequent travels, I have visited in the past 3 months a boxing gym in Beirut, San Diego, and most recently, Denver. My motivation was high this trip, as I will be fighting in a tournament in a week’s time. Never mind my usual concerns with American cuisine (crazy portions, salt, and so many nasty chemicals and preservatives), I was eager to train to keep my cardio, power and eyes sharp. With 7 days between my return to Montreal and my fight, there is no time to get back into shape. I needed to be in better shape than when I left.

I spent an hour googling Denver boxing and MMA gyms before settling on one that seemed combat oriented (I’ve no interest in the fitness cardio-boxing stuff). Monday, I  was warmly greeted by 3 coaches. They worked me hard, or perhaps that was just my body adapting badly to the elevation in Denver. They pointed out weaknesses in my boxing that are similar to what Coach harps on about. For example, to convey that I don’t move my head enough, one of the Denver coaches told me, “don’t be taking the time to admire your work. Don’t be a fool. If your opponent is any good, they’ll make sure you don’t have any time to do so.

I was slightly taken aback when the coaches gathered up the students at the end of class, formed a circle and led a worship prayer. I’m not at all opposed to end my training with a coach beseeching our Heavenly Father to watch over the health of all the boxers at the gym. I’m just used to stretching my muscles instead.

I trained at the gym all week.

On my last day there, as I was working the pads with one of the coaches, he told me that I’m too loud when I exhale: it is a tell, which warns my opponent of an incoming punch. He suggested that I learn to exhale by my nose instead. I was pretty sceptical, especially when he told me that all the good élite & pro boxers breathe by their nose. I’m by no means a true boxing aficionado, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time watching my teammates and all the pros at my gym, and we all exhale through our mouths. I guess the pros at my gym have a ways to learn?

So I tried breathing out my nose while doing pads. Like a lot of people, when I train intensely, my nose is runny. And boy, was it runny that day. My first exhalation produced a 3 foot long and 2 foot wide stream of snot.

Side note: I just googled images of snot, to insert into this blog post. Having done that, I feel a little queasy and will NOT share any of those pics here. You’re all welcome.

Ok, so I lied. Still less gross than what actually happened to me at the gym.

Denver coach encouraged me to keep trying. During the next combo, I exhaled once again through my nose. Another stream of snot sprayed forth. And another. It was DISTRACTING me. What if my snot landed in his eye, or worse, in mine?! After 3-4 tries, I stopped doing pads, wiped my nose on my sleeve (#classy) and told coach I couldn’t do it, I really wasn’t comfortable with switching my breathing so close to a fight (#diplomaticandtactful). To which he replied,

What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can! Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? Yes? Well then He will help you breathe through your nose.

And that is how I learned that Jesus is a micromanager.

http://www.kcbob.com/2013/02/is-god-micromanager.html (a blog post that opines on whether God is a micromanager)

P.S. If at any point in my fight next week I get the impression that I am losing, I will not hesitate to snot-spray my way to a victory in round 3. My poor opponent will not have the defensive skills to combat Snotzilla.