creativity

Business Couture & Professional Aesthetics

Colleague: I don’t know… they’d probably tell me that wearing this printed shirt isn’t business casual.
Me: It’s not. It’s Business Couture™.

Yesterday, at the Center for Inclusivity, we had an engaging discussion about Vocation & Identity. We discussed how the word ‘vocation’ were different from ‘job’. We shared how we decided which work was worth our time and effort and how our identities intersected with your work.

These days, I call myself an interdisciplinary bridge-builder. I’m deeply interested in the work of writing, the creative and performing arts, higher education, emerging adulthood, and faith & spirituality. I’m interested in finding connections toward holistic visions of success and social justice. 

Yet, my understanding of vocation / work does not just include what I do. It also includes my professional aesthetic. My choices in ‘professional’ dress reflect more about where I’ve been and who I am than what I’m doing.

On Following Her Footsteps, Amina Doherty explains:

 

“We exist in a world where Black women’s bodies are contested spaces, where our fashion and style choices are heavily policed, where we are told what to wear, how to wear it, for whom to wear it, how much we should cover (or uncover), how much we should spend – how to ‘be’ everything but ourselves. We exist in a world that privileges thin, white, heterosexual bodies”

Michael Riley, Stylist and Higher Education Professional says, “As persons of color, we are often read as inherently unprofessional“.

Michael Riley

Michael Riley & I, posin’ in our Business Couture.

Thus, the way I practice, reframe, and re-mix “professional dress” or “business casual” into Business Couture allows me to push the confines. Stated simply, Business Couture is anything that allows me to come to ‘werk / work’ and slay. It is a theory that I’m living into each day. Here’s what that looks like for me, these days:

You’ll notice my favorite crop top from the last style post! As a card-carrying member of #TeamCurves, I’ve often been discouraged from crop tops. However, in my visions of Business Couture, this piece is a staple for me to get the lines that I want.

I have significantly less hair than my previous post! This has really amped up the role that accessories play in communicating my professional identity (and saved me a lot of prep time in the morning). In the first picture (far left), I’m wearing my “A Lil Bougie” pin from Tees in the Trap. (Yes, I absolutely do wear that to work). It’s a lighthearted and subtle code-switch, and my students always launch into discussion when they see it. However, it is also a reminder to think about class privilege, explain the references and / or jargon that I engage when I’m doing my work, and to check in with those who keep me accountable to the work.

The wooden earrings (center pic) were obtained at the Odunde Festival in Philadelphia, which “celebrates the coming of another year for African Americans and Africanized people around the world”. They can be a bold choice for the office but… #unbothered.

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Glitter, sequins, and bedazzled shenanigans are absolutely a part of my professional aesthetic. In an older piece, titled “For Colored Gurls Who Consider Blogging & Glitter When Chronic Illness Gets Too Real…”, I explained that allowing my body to be bejeweled allows me to experience pleasure & “luxury” in my body, given the chronic amounts of sickness that are also in my body.

Business Couture means making space for things that aren’t quite casual, aren’t quite formal, aren’t quite… anything… and making it all work. This is something that I’ve had to do with my own lived experience: curate comprehensive works, aesthetics, initiatives, plans, from a variety of places, contexts, and needs. Pictured above is my Lauren Conrad bedazzled shirt and skirt (total cost around $25, as I got the pieces on clearance), and my Clarks knee boots (good for living with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet while looking fly).

Palazzo pants and V-neck shirts are a part of my aesthetic. Again, as a curvy woman, I’ve been told to stay away from things that “attract attention” (**eye roll). This was discouraged both in secular systems and in “sacred” spaces. Yet, my ethic and aesthetic of Business Couture acknowledges two things:

1) It is the responsibility of others to practice self control and to refrain from sexualizing the frame that I inhabit.

2) This particular body that I inhabit is temporary (I know it sounds a bit mystical, but I’m going somewhere). Things can change at any moment: if I fall ill, my skin color can dull. If I cut my hair, it has the capacity to grow back at this point. There are a variety of factors that determine the amount of space my body takes up at any given point in time. My body is temporary. Understanding this has allowed me to a lot spend less time agonizing over what others believe I should be covering and hiding, given my current weight / shape / frame, etc.

Let me be clear, the way that I experience gender discrimination, given my aesthetic, is not the same as someone who is trans*.  I would be remiss to exclude the understanding that my cis-gender privilege is real, and that this must be worked through in a variety of ways (that could be an entirely new post).

My hope, then, is that this conversations on who gets to be read as ‘professional’ is built upon, remixed, and re-interpreted for a variety of contexts and lived experiences. The concept of Business Couture is something that I’m still working through, wrestling with, and exploring. It is a concept that, I believe, must be lived into and is likely flexible enough to take however it is lived into.

Cuts & Coconut Oil: New Phases in Hair History

Last year, I was featured on CurlyNikki.com with voluminous hair, pulled into many different styles. In the feature, I talked about my natural hair journey as someone who has always been ‘natural’ (meaning: the curl patterns of my hair were not altered through chemical treatments).

My hair history is far from simple: an unfortunate snipping of my two-strand twists, damages from constant flat ironing, how stress impacted my hair follicles, and… more… *sigh.

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This picture pretty much sums up my hair trials, tribulations, dangers, toils, and snares…

However, I learned to take care of my self and my hair over time by using a minimalist approach. So, while this is not a beauty blog… I really, really enjoy talking about hair both formally and informally.

I’ve recently gone through yet another milestone in my complicated hair history. I decided to cut my hair very, very short.

Online Cut

I’m deciding to write about it today since I’ve a) been writing about some relatively heavy subjects lately, and b) been getting lots of questions about the process. Here goes!

  • How long had I been growing my hair and what prompted the decision to cut it
    I’ve always gravitated toward billows of hair because my MuvaIcons include Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. So, it never really crossed my mind in any serious capacity before now. In 2009-ish, I found myself at the very unfortunate nexus of hair loss (stress + hard water in the Pennsylvanian mountains) & braids-gone-wrong. My stylist gave me that look that said, “You’re about to be in your feelings…”, explained the damage, and had to cut my hair to a shoulder length bob.

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    B.C. (Before Coconut Oil) Memories

    I’d been growing it back out since then, getting trims here and there. My hair care process was relatively simple: make sure it’s moisturized and do whatever is easiest. So, it grew back out without too much drama.

    Flash forward to the year of our Lord, 2016…

    I loved my big hair. At the same time, I wasn’t really doing anything with it on a frequent basis. I made sure it was clean, detangled, and moisturized. I would wear it out for about 3 days out of the week and then, up it went into a high ponytail or into a head-wrap. The thought of cutting it crossed my mind quite a few times. The decision was cemented after one particularly aggravating detangling session that lasted approx 25 minutes. My partner and I gathered the scissors and clippers and the rest… is now in a very pitiful looking bag of hair that I really ought to take out of my bathroom. (Overshare orrrrr….?)

  • How long will I keep this? Am I growing it back out?
    I have no idea. It depends on how I’m feeling down the line.
  • Pros? Cons?
    I’m smiling when I wake up to take off my bonnet! I’m stressed when I wake up in the middle of the night because the hair-to-pillow ratio is really off and I’m not used to it yet. I’m excited to see what my hair is doing at its root level. My scalp can feel things: wind, the sun, the chill in the air. I’m not a fan of hats but my scalp and neck are crying out against me in this Chicago wind. I’m saving product and the muscles in my arms are thanking me. I will probably have to get shape ups very frequently because my hair is already growing back in spaces. Finally, I’m getting reacquainted with my face, earrings, and have big plans that involve shoulder pads… *mischievous grin 

I’m still learning in this process. So, all of my naturalistas with short hair, please tell me about your hair journey in the comments below!

Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill Was Late Again.

Pre-Reading Disclaimers:

  1. Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill was late again.
  2. She issued a public statement, explaining her chronic lateness and attributing some of it to the challenge of “aligning (her) energy with the time, taking something that isn’t easily classified or contained and trying to make it available for others”.
  3. I’m not here to talk about isolated incidents. I want to talk about the chronic arc of Lauryn’s relation to time… and perhaps, to trauma.

All clear? Let’s go.

In an open letter regarding Hill’s lateness, Questlove starts with a recap on what it takes for artists to have business acumen when it comes to putting on a show. He explained general artist-to-audience etiquette but then made the ‘Boom’ statement:

“… on the other side of the coin (and not wanting to put people’s business out there) this is prime psychological sabotage fear in motion. This is the embarrassment of that Newark 4 lawsuit. This is age fear talking loud and clear. This is resentment of having to now do this to survive (I mean we all “do it for the love”—but this is survival) the embarrassment of now being a one album legacy artist and the possibility of not mattering anymore in this disposable society. People will kill something before it grows.

This is prime example of that”

I’m not advocating for Ms. Hill’s actions because they are inexcusable. Holding a toxic relationship to your audience’s time is just… not okay. At the same time, I want to explore this theme of “psychological sabotage” and / or trauma.

There are very real implications about what trauma does to the body, the heart, the mind, the music, and daily functions… such as showing up on time. There have got to be some very real outcomes for the mind, body, and spirit after enduring Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, financial troubles, legal battles for songwriting credits, and a tenuous relationship to the first and premiere album you’ve written.

In Ms. Lauryn Hill’s 2009 Essence magazine interview, she states:

“For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture”

Might it be that she is still dealing with this in her backstage / offstage life? Might it be that this is what is spilling over to her onstage life?

In her written apology to fans, she referenced her “perfectionistic tendencies” and her need to “align (her) energy with the time”. Might she be limited by the trap of perfection (as Brene Brown OFTEN talks about)?

I’m not altogether sure why I have this need to figure out what in the ham-sandwich is going on to make her consistently and chronically 2-3 hours late for shows. After all, this really is not just about her. It’s about the audience, as well.

Audience members are traveling, gathering seats, navigating their accessibility needs in the same moments that Ms. Hill is aligning her energies. Gathering coins from each week’s check to put towards an artist’s tour schedule. Finding ways to get to the venue… even if it takes some ‘doing’ to do. Standing. For four hours. Sitting for two hours before she even gets onstage. This is something that not everyone is physically capable of doing.

I imagine there are quite a few audience members who struggled with these levels of demand on their bodies. Perhaps it also took some time for her audience members to also ‘align their energies’: push past the anxiety of crowded venues and to work through whatever ‘psychological sabotages’ would have hindered them, so that their bodies could show up in that space. These scales hold in the balance the time and effort it always takes for her fans to get there too. And that should be honored.

And yet… I understand (more than I really want to) her post on lateness.

I live with chronic illness (which I have talked about at length on this platform). It made me late for a lot of things before I knew how to properly manage it. This was not necessarily my fault. Undergoing traumatic processes to the brain, body, and psyche are not Ms. Hill’s fault. However, as writer Tammy Perlmutter says, “it is our responsibility” to address. I learned that in order to thrive, I needed to find systems, exercises, and positive coping mechanisms so that I could show up as close to time as possible… and slay when I got there! And let me note: it was hard as hell.

I don’t know Ms. Hill, what she does / does not have access to, or how she is understanding her personal mind / heart / soul journey.  I can only see what the public sees. But I’d like to believe that she isn’t doing this on purpose.

It’s really easy to mock Ms. Hill’s reasoning, her chronic lateness, and her somewhat erratic behavior. Yet, when does this mocking become the easy way of not actually SEEING her humanity, seeing the trauma that she has been through, and understanding the layers that are there. Yet, I think there are some real layers to why things are happening this way. We don’t have to excuse her specific behavior to note that. We also don’t have to excuse this behavior to practice empathy in our own lives. So here’s where I’ll start: with the simple hope that everyone (Ms. Hill AND all of the audience members who keep on showing up) gets what they need.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons, Original posted using Flickr upload bot on 26 May 2013 (UTC), by Stefan4

Kendrick, Bey, the Dragging Fest, & the Think-piece Machine (also Titled “Have We Looked at The Art Yet”?)

It’s been uncharacteristically quiet here at JadeTPerry.com, so let me explain why. On February 6th, 2016, Queen Bey released her latest (and in my opinion, most epic and socially conscious) video, ‘Formation’.

Suffice it to say… I was hype…

Beyonce was making a very clear statement. Her video was simultaneously a celebration of Black life & joy, a cry out against police brutality, a nod to Black culture specifically as expressed in New Orleans, a photographic hearkening  to the ways government failed Black people in Hurricane Katrina. This video incorporated Black queer culture, encouragements for Black femmes to #slay, and THEN ended with the drowning of a cop car.

Yo.

It didn’t take long for both the think pieces and social media critiques to begin:
Beyonce was problematic because [insert diatribe about her support of capitalism given the line “the best revenge is your paper”, insert diatribe about the ways the lyrics “did not match” the imagery, insert diatribe about…] There were some very solid critiques / analyses offered in regards to the art (favorites including Shantrelle Lewis’piece for Slate.com, Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on Colorlines.com, Dr. Zandria Robinson’s post on NewSouthNegress.com)

However, meaning-making patterns around the art and the artist have seemed to morph into what I now identify as a “dragging-fest” (forms of continual one-upmanship through written word, gifs, memes, etc.) Yet in the busy-ness of cranking out critical analyses and peppering pages with “reads” (pun intended), it seemed we (myself, included) had not given more than a few days (hours, even) to actually sit with Beyonce’s musical choices and / or artistic work. Moreover, I had not seen much of this work being done by artists, musicians, and creatives.

I took a couple of days to let the social media blocks simmer down and to discern whether or not it was worth adding my .02 to an already saturated topic…

But then…

Flash forward to the 2016 Grammy’s where Kendrick “Chakra Balancing” Lamar performed. for. his. life. (And if you haven’t seen it… pause, and view it)

Again, suffice it to say, I was hype. Let’s be honest: most of my readers already know how I feel about Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. There is an in-the-works series happening on this platform to discuss To Pimp a Buttefly. I knew Kendrick was going to come with art that, as Nina Simone described, “reflected the times”. But I couldn’t have guessed what that interpretation would look like and when I saw it, I was absolutely moved.

When I woke up the next morning, there were additional critiques on the work he’d done, why it was problematic (to the tune of: a) Kendrick primarily situates Black men in his work, and b) Kendrick signifies a lot of respectability politics in his music / performance art). There were also (let me be proactively clear here) valid questions about how misogyny gave Kendrick a “pass” from the dragging-fest and shade that Beyonce received for Formation. Peers, colleagues, and friends raised (again) these points and questions; conversations that need to be furthered as time goes on. But again, I realized that it didn’t take more than a couple of days to begin analyzing. Very little commentary took a multi-faceted look at both pieces of performance art sans the other. In comparison pieces, very little commentary looks at the respective arcs of both of their careers and how that may have impacted the reception of both performance art pieces. I have yet to see a piece on how the mediums (film versus live performance) affects our reception of the messages. We could look into why hip hop / trap music genres work for these kinds of messages (cue L.H. Stallings, 2013). There was little on what musicians were saying about the music industry itself in their art. The musical and theatrical purpose of the band’s placement seemed overlooked after K.L’s live performance, though they were also an integral part of the imagery that Kendrick was asking us to sit with. Those notes become clearer if we choose to engage the art and dialogue with artists.

We consume media and artistry and the focus becomes thinking about it before feeling it.

We consume media and artistry faster than we can actually sit with it and let it speak to us.

We consume media and artistry faster than we have respectful dialogue to understand what the artist’s messaging is and seeing how our reception of the message depends on (but is not limited to) the artist, the medium (live, film, etc), the genres, and the arc of that artist’s respective career over time (not to mention our own mood and ethos at the time).

We analyze media faster than we can learn the lyrics to the media we’re analyzing.

The voices of the artists, the creatives, and those that write primarily about arts & entertainment often get lost. It feels rushed and hurried at the low end of the spectrum and disrespectful at the high end.

India.Arie writes about a time she was “dragged” in a series of essays surrounding what she calls SkinGate2013: the accusations she faced regarding skin lightening / bleaching on her SoulBird album cover. While the circumstances are vastly different as Kendrick or Bey, what these artists have in common is that they create art that speaks to their own sociocultural identities and also signifies to the Black community. What’s also common is that they are all performing artists. India.Arie writes about her experiences:

“The most important artists, the most creative, the most imaginative artists, are the most sensitive, and they are generally self-medicating just to MAKE IT through! True artists have MAGIC and LIGHT that people are rightfully drawn to. When too many hands grab at such a delicate thing, the light is extinguished…”

How do I know this is true? Because I know what it is to be an artist in my own lived experience. Of course, I’ve never reached the caliber of Kendrick & Bey! But in order to give an authentic response to their work as of late, I have to call forth that side of myself as well. In a recent and public Facebook status, I mused:

“I was trained in a Theater tradition where being the “triple threat” (singing, dancing, and acting) was the lens. I was a Creative Writer, focusing on Poetry, before I ever wrote a think piece.

And here is what I know about art: Your art reflections where YOU are in your internal process and evolution, and your art is a byproduct of love for self and love for your community. It’s amazing to read the analyses and critiques, but at the same time I’m sitting with their contributions as artists and as the primary makers and creatives of the content we’re critiquing.

As Rev. Dr. Lee Butler Jr. states(1), “Black rage is expressed in Black creativity”, and if we don’t want anyone policing what our Black rage looks like, I’m not sure why we’re so interested in dragging Bey or Kendrick for what it looks like in their lives.

“Our faves can be problematic”(2). And I’m grateful for the ways that that is lovingly & creatively ‘called out’. But there’s a difference between asking for accountability and dragging folk”.

So, I want to pivot here just a bit from the artist themselves. I want to hear the thoughts of other musicians, art historians, ethnomusicologists, creatives, artists, singers, and makers (I know many are still breaking down the performances and that’s okay; we actually can wait). I want to pivot here and ask a few questions that I hope you will engage: When and how do we find constructive ways of holding artists accountable in ways that don’t dissuade them from creating in ways that attempt to speak to us? When and how do we also find constructive ways of holding  other consumers-of-art accountable in both their analysis and their appreciation of artistic works? Finally, what weight do we give expertise in writing specifically for and about musical and art itself?
(1) Butler, Lee. “Black Rage”. Visionary Care: Black Mental Health and Economic Justice [Conference]. Chicago, IL. 12 Sep. 2015.
(2) From a public post by Danielle Stevens, Visionary behind ‘This Bridge Called Our Health’

 

Image Credit: CreateHerStock.com

 

Jade’s Faves: WOC in Music to Look Out for in 2016

Music is one of my first loves. I come from a musically-inclined family of singers, drummers, and more. I have chosen every. single. romantic partner based on their musical choices… (amongst other things but best believe that is a top priority).

Though music isn’t something I blog about often here, I’ve covered a few projects / artists at length a few different places and often contribute to the Music Makes Me Happy platform. I’ve got my ear tuned in to a few singers, songwriters, musicians, and women of color that are killin’ the game and set to do great things in 2016.

Laura Mvula:
Laura Mvula is a singer / songwriter from Birmingham, UK and her tone is unlike anything I’ve heard. Her songs are heartfelt, warm, and beautifully executed with layers of vocal harmonies and live instrumentation. (And when I say live I mean… she cut a record with the Metropole Orkest… #friggindope). If you’ve never heard her music, please do yourself a favor and listen. Here’s a quick sampler of her last project:

Today, Laura Mvula released a quick teaser snippet for her latest single, Overcome, and it’s the #BlackGirlMagic that is needed for 2016.

Alex Isley:

If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because this artist is the daughter of Ernie Isley and as her bio states, “her uncles are collectively the Isley Brothers”. Her sound is absolutely original… almost ethereal. She is a singer / songwriter with a truly otherworldly quality about her music and her clear, clean tone. This past December, she released her newest project called Luxury, which seems to be already making a statement on the Independent Music scene.

The first song I’d ever heard from her was F.D.A. and if you’ve never heard her work before, it’s truly a great introduction:

Jaime Woods:
A few months ago, I attended an Emily King concert (and was absolutely swept away). In Emily’s live interpretation of the song ‘Out of the Clouds’, she made space for her musicians and background vocalists to use a few bars and go. AWF! As soon as Jaime Woods started singing, I was enraptured by her tone and how her voice seemed to almost glide over the music. So, I did what I always do when that happens… hit up google! I came across her Soundcloud page and let me tell you, it gets me through a work day like none other! Upon finding her website, I learned that she’s worked with so many acclaimed vocalists (and it’s no surprise because she killllllls vocally)! Her project, TROY, is available on Bandcamp now and I’ve shared one of my favorite songs from it below, entitled “If You Were Mine”:

KING

KING is comprised of three women (which, pause, because I love that concept), “Twins, Paris and Amber Strother and musical sister Anita Bias”. They sing. They play. And their blend is out of this world! Their music is equal parts fun and thoughtful. It’s experimental in many respects, but carries with it a whole lot of soul! They’ve been on the Independent Music scene for quite a while, upon their initial release of their first EP. After that point, I could easily pick out their vocal & musical stylings on Robert Glasper’s project Black Radio and more. This February, they will be launching their first full length project, and trust… it’s already gotten a lot of buzz. They are currently touring in the States (I’m going in February and I am HYPE) and have recently released a new single called “The Greatest”. One of my favorite tracks from them is their sultry-sounding song, “Hey”, a track that feels like and sounds like falling in love. Here’s the acoustic version:

Brandy

Brandy has solidified her spot in R&B for life! From her early “I Wanna Be Down” until now, she has consistently given us unique vocals and the RIFFS. OF. LIFE! However, I want to focus a bit more on what she’s doing now. Even after her time as Roxie Hart on the Broadway show, Chicago, Brandy hasn’t stopped creating for a moment. She’s now slated in the new BET series Zoe Ever After and has released her supppperr-siicccckkkk song, ‘Beggin and Pleadin’.

So, let me pause here to tell you that from the moment I heard the blues sample and her ‘Good God, Almighty’ opening riff… I had one response…

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SANG THE SONG, BRANDY!!  If this is how she’s STARTING the year off, I’m surely excited for what’s to come.

Chantae Cann

Singer, songwriter, Chantae Cann has a tone that’s as clear as a bell. She sings background vocals for India.Arie (I mean… I really can stop right there because ya’ll know India.Arie has some AMAZE-ing background singers). She’s been featured with bands such as the Jaspects and collaborated with jazz band, Snarky Puppy. Suffice it say… the woman’s got vocal chops and she’s making music with some heavy hitters. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m usually attracted to vocalists who have a very unique tone and Ms. Cann’s lilting soprano is one of a kind. This March, she will be releasing her first full length project entitled Journey to Golden.

I’m excited for all that these women will do in this new year and beyond! Stay on the lookout for their projects! Since I’m always looking for new music, let me know who you’d add to this list. Who’s capturing your ears these days?

 

Non-Traditional New Year’s Manifesto

I appreciate that for many, New Year’s Eve / Day signals a reset in some ways: new goals, fresh starts, upcoming excitement. However, it is my least favorite holiday. The hands of New Year’s Eve clock often feel heavy with promises we don’t keep, breakthroughs that may or may not come, and changes we could have made the year before. In past years, I got around this heaviness by surrounding myself with positive distractions: people at church who might be able to help me believe that THIS year was MY year, friends whose optimism might rub off on me, confetti, glitter… the works.

But this New Year’s Eve, my original plans included baking a cake and enjoying close relationships. On a deeper level, I knew that in order to progress successfully into 2016, I had to get quiet and look back… which is counter-intuitive to SO many notions we have about what a NEW year represents. On the second day of the new year, I had the chance to do just that.

Those who know me well, know that I’ve kept a journal from ages  9 to 22. In the years that followed, my journaling practice has been on and off, so I bought a new book and purposed to get back on track. However, since I was back in my hometown, I pulled my high school and college years down from the shelves and re-read. (No journals from grad school or after because… #life).

I smiled (laughed occasionally). I cringed (a lot). I analyzed. I empathized. But most importantly, I meditated on loving the “me” in those pages.  That was radical and life-changing for me.

I allowed the “Me” of today to grieve the heartbreaks of the “Me” of then. I got honest with the “Me” of then… there were so many things I was not willing to admit to myself. I cheered myself on when I proactively made good choices and even when I stumbled upon good choices after-the-fact.

The “Me” of today was able to discern that, in many ways, I spent a great deal of my past in fear.

Fear of messing up.
Fear of doing things ‘wrong’.
Fear of not being heard.
Fear of being unloved.
Fear of being unworthy.

So, my past coping responses were geared toward achievement. Go. Do. Prove. Learn the terms. Play by the rules.

I discerned what I needed to do in 2016 by looking back, and purposefully accepting myself & my evolution. I needed / need to embrace my own terms.

While I don’t have the details of how this will play out, I have identified a few key areas that I’d like to work on. These include:

  1. Refining, embracing, and articulating my own voice through my art & professional endeavors. I am a blend of analysis, story sharing, advocacy… and sheer, friggin, shenanigans. It’s okay to reflect all of that. Those are my terms.
  2. Communicating my terms in regards to wealth & profit from my creativity. Rihanna put it this way, “Pay me what you owe me. Don’t act like you forgot”. My terms.
  3. Making room to add or subtract relationships, projects, and professional goals. Shame and fear can keep you playing solely by other people’s terms. I’ve learned that is just not an efficient or peaceful way to live.
  4. Committing to explore what my terms are for engaging God and people, for creating art… for living.

I’ve lived rubric-style for long enough. It’s time to begin using the resources I have to create my authentic curricula.

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Blog-A-Versary: Lessons Learned from My 6th Blog!

JadeTPerry.com is on the cusp of its one year anniversary! #Turnup

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I’m really in awe regarding a) the support that I’ve received and the people who have encouraged me along the way, and b) the fact that I blogged consistently for a year (don’t judge me).

I’ve always kept a journal. Writing helps me to work out my thoughts, current events, and other parts of the world that I inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I let my interests drive me to contribute to other people’s platforms, which was and is an amazing experience. Yet after about 4 years of doing this, I realized I had invested nothing substantial into my OWN platform. People had nowhere to GO after reading my work on other sites.

Before JadeTPerry.com, there were 5 other blogs or microblogs. This is the one that stuck. The 6th time was the ‘charm’. In this past year, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for blogging tips or lessons I’ve learned. So, I find this to be an appropriate time as I celebrate this year’s blog-a-versary.

1) Finding a mission / an intention for writing can serve as fuel.
Let me tell you a bit about the site’s name. It’s my government name. The reason for this is not because I think I’m fabulous…

although clearly…
xdxwg3.

😉 The reason that this site is named after me is because I initially intended it to be a portfolio, of sorts. I wanted to carve out a space for people to get information about me that would represent an authentic version of myself & my work. I envisioned that I’d talk about career topics in mainly higher ed. Then, I wanted to write about careers, in general. But as I stuck to 1-2 topics, it began to feel a lot like getting out of bed on a cold, wintry Chicago morning.

So, I took a class… thinking I just needed to work harder to be more consistent. By the end of the process, I realized, that the intention I had for this space did not align with what I wanted at the core. So, I began questioning what my mission was, on a broader scale. After 2 weeks of asking friends, writers, and professionals about the themes they saw in my life AND comparing it with my own self-assessment, I came up with a mission that fit:

“to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion”.

It’s broad enough to encompass the various topics I like to write about. It weaves these topics together. It allows space for guest contributions from people who might see themselves / their work reflected in this mission as well. What helped JadeTPerry.com to ‘stick’ this year was having a core mission and intention.

2) “Not your Thinkpiece Hand-Maiden” aka Your Platform, Your Content.

Let me tell you how much I love a good thinkpiece. A good friend of mine sent a personal inbox message to me on the day that Damon Young from VerySmartBrothas.com wrote “Sh*t Bougie Black People Love: 23. Thinkpieces”, (pause… it’s satire… don’t get in your feelings). They said it reminded me of them AND cited the quote that MOST reminded me of them, which was:

“The thinkpiece — when a writer spends several hundred words articulating a smart-sounding angle on either a topic everyone is talking about or a topic no one has ever talked about — only ranks behind “the bottomless mimosa” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” when listing inventions most crucial to Bougie Black life, as it gives them four different ways to show everyone how smart they are. They can write one, comment on one, reference one in a regular conversation (“Did you read Coates’ piece on croissants this morning?“), and even just post one on their Facebook page under the status “Exactly!”

Guilty. Because JadeTPerry (the name and the platform) has think pieces on Kendrick Lamar, on why purity certificates are WHACK, on mass media’s re-imagining of Toya Graham, and the list goes on. HOWEVER, there came a point where my inboxes were being flooded with, “Have you seen ____? You need to do a think-piece on _____. Don’t forget to do a piece on ______. Have you heard _____?” It became a game of catch-up and it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. Think pieces work best when… oh, I don’t know… you’ve given considerable thought to something.

I was talking with an E-friend about it in the middle of the year and she wasted no time in responding with, “Tell them to write those words themselves. You aren’t anyone’s think-piece handmaiden”! (I cackled). In other words, if it’s YOUR platform, then YOU dictate what’s important enough / relevant enough to go there. Sometimes, it’s a narrative. Sometimes, it’s a thinkpiece. Sometimes, it’s a list. Sometimes, it’s feature. Your platform? Your content.

3) What I wanted to write about… and why I no longer care about that.

At a very naive point in my life, I believed there was a formula for everything… and that if you knew the formula, you could avoid shenanigans like heartache, unemployment, rejection, lost hope, crises of faith, not-being-cuffed-up-during-cuffing-season (kidding), and more. Then life said…

I’m a helper, by nature and by profession. So, my writing (in the 5 blogs prior to JadeTPerry.com) was very formulaic in nature. Because if I’m honest, I like getting things ‘right’. But life… and writing… isn’t all about getting things right. Sometimes, there is a road map that is only LOOSELY marked. You get on the road and realize it may not have been the best choice. What starts off as an existential crisis becomes an opportunity to re-route. What ends up as a substantial blog-body of work… starts off as ‘wingin’ it’. So, while I still care about helping, I no longer care about neatly packaged premises in 500 words or less. And that doesn’t sell as well… but I feel like that’s a lot more ethical.

4) Share!
In the first months of this year, I had no idea how to ‘blog’. I knew how to write. I knew that I had things to say. However, I assumed that I’d put it into the WordPress ether and somehow, someway, people would find me.

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I was initially very fearful of sharing my work, especially since there was no one target demographic. So, I started with the people that knew me personally. Then, after I’d gotten a bit braver, I shared it with colleagues I trusted. I used tags to categorize information, so that the WordPress system could easily recommend it to others. Then, I shared it on Twitter and after that, I shared it in Facebook groups I was a part of. Sometimes, it was well received. Other times… shudder. But I began to make a plan to PREPARE for critique, to understand it, to use it to become better.

Now, when I contributed to other platforms, I shared the site’s url as well. I select posts to become public so that friends can share with friends. The nervousness doesn’t / hasn’t gone away. I’ve just decided that I cared more about my own development in this platform… and for me, that requires sharing what’s written.

I’m grateful to everyone who has clicked, read, shared, followed, retweeted, and reached out to me via comments / inbox. I look forward to the offline and online dialogues we have about ideas and concepts. I appreciate the support, the initial push to blog, and I look forward to spending another year with you all!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

“Sensitive About My Shhhh…”: Communication & Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite quotes from Erykah Badu is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

I was a bright, loud, but sensitive child. At the time, I thought that sensitivity was a detriment. As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions and learned that fierceness and sensitivity aren’t always dichotomous. But I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.

You should know (especially if you’re a new reader) that I’m no stranger to critique. I started in Theater (*flashbacks to training that included 30 seconds to convey a convincing character and 2 minutes of critique if your character choices were whack or nonexistent). Then, I got a B.A. in Integrative Arts (no one knew what that meant – it involved Writing, Communications, Theater, Theater Makeup, Sociolinguistics, some other random things, conversations with the Dean about how should explore without pressuring myself to do it all, a balance of support and concern from my folks, and a lot of asinine questions about what the degree equipped me to do. To which I answered, “Integrate some art”).

The side-eyes grew ever-increasing when I graduated in the midst of a recession with my newly minted degree, created a fledgling independent project that involved painting art onto shirts & apparel…

Betty Boop Shirt

… did Background Vocals, volunteered in campus ministry (diversity initiatives), worked for a data entry company (because …credit card interest), and started writing for a magazine start-up. I knew my path included getting an M. Ed to work in the field of College Student Affairs (not many people outside of the field knew what that meant either! And when I had to shift from creative writing to academic writing… the word ‘critique’ won’t even begin to tell it all. That first paper feedback sent me to bed at 6 pm).

I became passionate about identity conscious initiatives in Higher Ed, started 5 blogs, got scared or complacent, shut them down, started a 6th one, and began to contribute to more public platforms. I was finally putting my words into the world with some measure of consistency. Along the way to balancing life as an aspiring scholar – practitioner – creative soul, I fell into the wormholes of comments sections. Every artist that’s ‘sensitive about their shhh’ needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in a digital age.

So, this post is for those who put art, scholarship, practice, and work out into the world. This post is for anyone who is navigating communication in a digital age. In many senses, this post is for me… and if you are helped along the way, we should grab coffee and encourage each other more often!

A Working Draft for Sensitive Souls Navigating Communication in a Digital Age

    1. Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.
      I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received it that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish’. It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.
    2. Understand that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.
      In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
      “Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting. But you will know which is which by its ‘fruit’.You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors).If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing”.I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.
    3. Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.
      Since 2015, I’ve been sharing more of my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are a great deal more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written, affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me the…giphy
      They care enough about me to not have me ‘in these streets’ looking a fool. And for that, I’m grateful.
    4. Get feedback from people who know you personally!
      They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…
    5. Check your intentions for creating.
      Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from transformative dialogue and a possible learning experience”. Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.
    6. Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on”).
      Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it you probably shouldn’t have read in the first place (ask me how I feel about most comment sections). There is great temptation to hide when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Post inspired by Ms. Badu

To Pimp a Butterfly: The Blog Series Intro

I asked my partner to play Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly through my speakers last weekend while on a road trip. Despite its March 15th (2015) release date, I’d waited almost 6 full months to give it a first listen. I hadn’t heard Lamar’s previous album, “good Kid, M.A.A.D. city” (#dntjudgeme) and only knew about his single King Kunta through the radio’s rotations.

I honestly don’t know what I was waiting on. I always start off skeptical about artists with mass appeal, but when my partner (who is a singer / songwriter & guitar player) put the album in his iPod rotation AND when my PhD carryin’ ethnomusicologist / musician e-friend began listing tracks and liner notes (that included some of my favorites such as Robert Glasper, Bilal, Lalah Hathaway & talents such as Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and more) I knew I’d better take some time and listen to it. A road trip was the perfect atmosphere.

I felt the influence of George Clinton’s funk on the first track, “Wesley’s Theory”, before I knew Clinton was actually on the track. Yet, I also experienced a lot of dissonance with the lyrical content. At the time, I was primarily focused on finding the right roadside exits but his flow was absolutely undeniable. It didn’t take long to realize that he was creating lyrical dissonance in order to unpack a learning experience with the project. Nonchalantly, I asked my partner to tell me what he thought this song was about (he’s brilliant with things like that), and after hearing / comparing his analysis with my own, I knew this was a project I needed to dig into. I have been listening to it every day, twice a day, since then.

I don’t usually do music reviews on JadeTPerry.com although I have done them before & have some background in music / vocal performance. This isn’t a review per se. It’s an acknowledgement / compilation of the thought processes that TPAB set forth for me. As I listened, I began to think about how this project would help:

  1. In discussions on memoir writing and telling authentic stories
    (TPAB puts me in the mind of memoir-writing in dialect and without prioritizing “standard” forms of English expression as better than any other dialect of English)
  2. In discussions on mental health & wellness
    (The song ‘u’ gives us a lot of space and text to discuss cognitive distortions: problematic thought patterns which lead to negative symptoms. Conversely, the song “i” gives us text to discuss challenging problematic thoughts and building resilience)
  3. In discussions on spirituality and writing / rapping / creating through a few broad spiritual themes: In many interviews, Kendrick Lamar talks about his art as a spiritual discovery for himself. In good Kid, M.A.A.D. city, Kendrick begins the dialogue by using what some might recognize as a version of “The Sinner’s Prayer”. In TPAB, Kendrick then starts unpacking broader themes of spiritual formation & processing including struggles with good & evil (i.e. For Sale?), loving & serving others genuinely (How Much a Dollar Cost), & self-love (i).
  4. In discussions surrounding navigating two communities: This theme jumped out immediately to me because of the work that I do with many first generation (first in the family to attend college) students, students of color, and students w/ financial needs as they enter academia / higher ed.

Two days later, I wrote a private Facebook post for a few friends in the field:

“There are just TOO many ways to utilize To Pimp a Butterfly as a supplemental illustration / text to discuss first year academic transitions, navigating home community and academic community (and the emotions that sometimes come along with that transition esp for 1st gen students or students anticipating accessing a different socioeconomic status than other family or community members after college), memoir and telling our authentic stories, financial literacy, managing debt to income ratio and credit in college, self efficacy / seeking help, accessing and contemplating the importance of studying abroad… like… just too many ways. Ain’t gone do it till I got that good ole academic freedom…… but I’m sayin’ doe….‪#‎Kendrickdonegaveusawholesemester‬

So, in the days, weeks, (and perhaps months if it takes that long), I will be unpacking To Pimp a Butterfly with attention to those four points. It’ll be the first full series on JadeTPerry.com!

As I entertained the idea of using TPAB for a series, it was uncanny that the refrain, “I remember you was conflicted” replayed through my speakers. For me, the conflict occurred in mining through some of the more explicit songs and language in order to piece together helpful threads. A vague memory of the high school teacher, Brian Mooney, who used TPAB to create dialogue around race, privilege, and oppression alongside Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye came to me. In an explanatory post, he left a note about his “pedagogical decision to provide the edited or clean lyrics to a select group of songs on the album and… even post(ing) a link to the “edited” version on iTunes

So, LET. ME. BE. CLEAR: I listened to the explicit version upon my first listen. In my personal process, as a writer, professional, and artist (trained in Theater & Creative Writing), I thought it was important to work through an unedited script and body of work. Yet, I, like the high school teacher Brian Mooney, honor the “pedagogical practice” of using clean versions for this series as well – but for differing reasons. Many of the themes were so hard-hitting & the analyses of race, bias & systemic oppression so raw that if you lived it… or even some shade / form of it… the language can and could be equal parts mirroring and / or triggering. Working through the unedited text is a highly personal choice and endeavor for those who would LIKE to take that on.

I have absolutely no idea how long this series will take (full disclosure :), but I do know it’s worth doing & thinking through. Stay tuned…

Image Credit from Wikipedia

Jades Faves: Blogs & Beats

Every now and then, I come across a blog or vlog that absolutely helps me to get my life. As you know, I love reading, listening to, and engaging with others who reflect some of the reasons why I’ve chosen to blog: to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion! So, in today’s post, I will feature three separate sites / bloggers who do this in various ways. However, I’m switching it up today and also featuring some music (aka blogs and beats) that made my ‘fave’ list, as well!

1. Verily Merrily Mary – Don’t sleep on VerilyMerrilyMary.com because Mary consistently does her GOOD writing over there! Mary identifies as a “20-something Nigerian-born, Nigerian-raised, Canadian-raised, and American-raised individual that currently lives in sunny, Southern California” who writes about life as a third culture kid, culture shock, identity and faith, and her understandings of “the people and the cultures (she’s) been exposed to”. What makes her blog special? Mary is a great writer who incorporates both storytelling and analysis in her posts. She tackles tough subjects with some signature finesse. Read her latest, ‘A Dumb Fallacy That Needs to Stop Being Popular’, and you’ll see what I mean!

Snippet: When she gave her first press conference announcing whether or not the officers would be charged, it was clear that she was passionate and fed up. There was definitely emotion in her voice. In fact, she also alluded to the emotion of the city, telling the city of Baltimore that she hears its cries for justice. And, like clockwork, there were comments all over social media calling her irrational and emotional and that we needed someone “objective.” But how convenient it is to call her irrational when she is both black and a woman and the loudest voices saying she’s irrational/emotional are the people who are neither of those things.

2. Rev. Tiffany Thomas – Rev. Tiffany Thomas is a millenial woman of color… who drops fire and causes reflection via her blog posts every time. She engages around some of these topics in a way that is truly powerful. Her tone is conversational and her penchant for nuance and critical thought is appreciated! I was introduced to Rev. Tiffany Thomas’ work through Rachel Held Evans’ site (who has also been featured in an earlier edition of Jade’s Faves). As soon as I finished her post, ‘Shouting From the Front: Reflections of a Disorderly Woman Pastor) I was astounded at the way that she told both her story and reflected some of my own experiences back to me. In her words were validation, critical thought, and deep authenticity.  Check out her blog here!

Beats – Shakka

Many of you know that I started off in the creative and performing arts. So, I often keep my ear to the ground for refreshing, new, and intriguing music, aka ‘beats. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a UK artist by the name of Shakka. [First of all, let me just say… in my book, UK artist Shakka can do no wrong musically]. As evidenced on his Soundcloud page, he identifies as an alternative pop singer, but he’s an absolute beast when it comes to rapping, production, and his vocals interchange R&B and pop stylings seamlessly! His music is equal parts gritty, experimental, fun, and weighty. I was introduced to Shakka’s music while (believe it or not) watching a natural hair tutorial on a popular youtube channel, Fusion of Cultures. I will freely admit that I was having a hard time concentrating on the tutorial because the background music that vlogger, Laila, chose was / is particularly dope. Y’all… I looked through every. single. one. of those comments so I could find out WHO that artist was. And that artist was Shakka.

Thematically, Shakka often talks about living life authentically, love & relationships, and being true to your craft and your art… even if what you’re doing is different than others. I can’t pick a favorite, because his catalog is putting in serious work… but I  will go back to one of the songs I heard when I was first introduced to his music to give you a good sample. (Below: Shakka, Take Our Time… yawl… he is singing over a classic J Dilla beat. And my soul is rejoicing):

Check him out on Soundcloud and buy the music on iTunes because I promise you will need this to jam to on your morning commute to work, while you’re cleaning, at the airport, going to the beach, making a smoothie… etc.