Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Beginnings

This is the time of year when we all get asked the same question.

"What's your new year's resolution?"

If you're like me, you're not into all of that. After all, countless years have gone by during which we vowed to lose weight, get financially fit, quit smoking, or a bevy of other promises we never keep. So, instead of making a resolution, I have made a simple commitment to myself - to be a better woman (in every way) than I was in 2012.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is a time for reflection. We look back on the year that was, and we reflect on where we started, what happened along the way, and how it has all turned out. Our hope is that the new year will bring with it positive changes, prosperity, and an even better outcome than the year before. So in that spirit, I've compiled a list of the areas where we should all be focusing our attention as the new year rolls in.

Health: When we get on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs us that in case of an emergency landing, we must FIRST secure our own oxygen masks before attempting to assist others. The same is true of our health. We spend so much time worrying about the health and wellness of our children, spouse, parents and grandparents that we often neglect our own well being. Speaking from my own experience, I noted that this year I had scheduled dental appointments for my sons, taken them for their annual physicals, even gotten their vision and hearing checked. It wasn't until late November that it occurred to me that I hadn't visited my general practitioner in far too long! So I finally went in for a check of my cholesterol, thyroid, and blood pressure. In 2013, I plan to continue eating healthier, exercising, and meditating. My renewed commitment to mind, body, and spirit will carry me forward into 2013. Often we begin the year with good intentions. And then by Valentine's Day we're off track again. In the new year, let's all do our best to finish the year with the same optimism and commitment to change as we started with.

Family:  Many of the events in 2012 made me hold my loved ones a lot tighter than before. Trayvon Martin was gunned down for no reason at the beginning of the year. Toward the end of the year, the nation mourned  the massacre of twenty six and seven year olds at their school in Connecticut. In between those two events, many more lives were lost, many more families torn apart. Hurricane Sandy gave many of us on the East Coast a wake up call about what is truly important. When the lights go out, and the heat is off, when gas is a commodity, and our world comes to a standstill we discover what's most important. Family. Our children grow so quickly. Our lives move forward at a rapid pace. With every day that goes by, our parents and grandparents age, their bones become more brittle, and illnesses and conditions arise that threaten their health and longevity. The matriarchs and patriarchs who loomed larger than life are suddenly dependent upon us. Let's not forget them throughout the year. Call them, check on them, and stop by to see them. Let's ensure that every member of our families - young, old, and in between - are surrounded by love and support all year long.

Career: One of my favorite sayings is that, "It's never too late to become what you might have been." We start out in our youth ready to take over the world. We set our goals high, we chase our dreams with all we've got, and we imagine incredible futures for ourselves. But somewhere along the line, many of us settle for jobs instead of careers. We do what pays the bills, often settling for positions and duties that are beneath our skill set. When we lower our standards and settle for less than we desire, something inside of us dies a little. There's a difference between living and existing. When you are living, you are thriving, happy, alive. When you are existing, you simply go through the motions without any fulfillment. It's never too late to chase that dream of yours. You can make 2013 the year that you take your career to the next level.

Travel:  I LOVE TO TRAVEL! My career as a writer has taken me to some places that I never thought I would go. But I want MORE! My goal is to visit every continent before my 50th birthday. In 2013, I plan to set my plan in motion. What cities, states, or countries are on your bucket list?

The Pursuit of Happiness:  Heartbreak and disappointment are unfortunate realities in all our lives. As the year comes to a close, we look back on those we've loved and lost, those who've come and gone, and how our lives have changed as a result. Before the countdown to 2013 begins, let's let go once and for all. A new year is a clean slate, a fresh canvas on which to paint our destiny. Leave old cares behind and embrace new possibilities. Don't stare too long at the doors that have closed in your life that you don't notice the ones that are wide open for you. The possibilities are endless. Let's make 2013 the best year of our lives (so far :) !

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Christmas Story

The Holiday season is a bittersweet time for me. On one hand, I LOVE CHRISTMAS. Each year, my kids shake their heads and smile as they watch me pull out huge Rubbermaid bins full of decorations and Christmas cards. They laugh while I sing along (badly) to the Christmas songs I love, and they help me decorate the whole house. I shop, wrap gifts, and check items off my list, transforming my bedroom and home office into Santa's workshop. There are few things better to me than giving a great gift to someone, and seeing their face light up with joy. I really do love this time of year.

But since my dad passed away in 2008, I get a little melancholy at holiday time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day...these were all special occasions with my dad and there is a void in my family without him. I miss him a great deal. As I thought of him the other day, I felt myself getting kinda misty-eyed. But then, a memory came to mind that caused me to laugh (literally) out loud.

Daddy was like a big kid. I guess that's where I get it from. My sixteen year old constantly asks me when I plan to grow up. I get my childlike energy, sense of humor and precociousness from my dad. Well into his older years, he would still make silly faces, do funny dances, and crack the most hilarious jokes.
He was fun-loving, and Christmas was one of his favorite holidays - not because of the joy of seeing his grandchildren happy, but because he was like a child himself, anxious to find out what gifts were waiting under the tree with his name on them.

Daddy also loved a good drink! Each Christmas Eve, he would show up at my house at around six or seven in the evening, with his pajamas and a bottle of vodka in tow. I would be there getting everything ready for the next day, and to celebrate with Daddy I would usually have a bottle of my drink of choice - Hennessy - and he and I would sip our drinks and listen to oldies while the kids got themselves ready for bed.  Year after year (and hangover after hangover) I would ask myself why I ever tried to keep up with him. After all, Daddy was a professional drinker. Me? Not so much. I can handle my liquor in most situations. But when it comes to hanging with the big dogs like my father, I am no match! Still, year after year, I would try to keep up and I never succeeded. Not even once.

One year in particular, we sat in my living room laughing, talking, reminiscing, singing, and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Throughout the night, Daddy kept glancing at the Christmas tree, anxious to find out what was in the three big boxes and the one smaller box bearing his name. From time to time, he would say "What could be in those boxes?" I smiled at his childlike excitement as the night went on. Soon, my kids were snoring in their beds and I was exhausted after a long day. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was after 3:00 in the morning. I told my father that I was going to bed. He had other plans.

"Let's wake the kids up now!" he suggested. "It is officially Christmas, so let's open up the gifts now instead of waiting until the sun comes up."

I laughed, seeing right through him. This wasn't about "the kids". It was about Daddy being desperate to find out what I had gotten him. Even though I knew his true motives, I couldn't resist. So I went and woke up the kids to tell them that it was show time!

My first indication that I was drunker than I thought I was came when I stumbled a little on my way to my kids' rooms. I soldiered on, though, and woke them up and then returned to the living room. My father sat in his favorite chair while the kids gathered around the tree. I reached for the light switch on the wall behind the Christmas tree and that's when everything went down - literally.

Somehow, in my drunken stupor, I missed the light switch I was reaching for and felt myself falling toward the tree. Frantic, I grabbed at the air for something to hold me up. Aware that my family was watching me, my arms flailed around desperately and I tried to pull it together and stand up. Everything happened so fast. But the next thing I knew, I had fallen to my knees on top of the gifts with both arms wrapped around the Christmas tree. Pine needles were in my hair, the tree was shaking and my kids were in hysterics.

I refused to look at them. In shock, I stayed there with my arms hugging the tree for several long moments. Over the sound of my kids' laughter, I could hear my father cracking up. He was trying hard to compose himself so that he could say something, but the laughter had the best of him. Finally, his voice boomed, peppered with sarcasm.

"You think she's a little tipsy??"

The whole family erupted in laughter again. This time, I joined them as I slowly stood up and brushed myself off. I knew that it was my own fault for thinking I could ever be grown enough to drink with Daddy.

We opened the gifts at 3am that year, and I still remember the joy on everyone's faces. But the face that stands out the most in my memory is Daddy's - beaming while he opened up the Bible I bought for him, and the three suits complete with ties, socks, and pocket squares. But the best part of recalling that holiday memory was picturing my father's face as he laughed at me - his head in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut, his laughter wracking his body. Makes me smile even now as I write this.

Merry Christmas. If you are blessed to have your dad in your life, don't take him for granted. Have a holiday drink with him for me. I'd give anything to do the same with mine, just one more time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This Christmas

This is one of my favorite times of the year, especially living in NYC. Street corner Santas ring bells, Christmas songs blare from department store speakers, windows and homes are decorated with beautiful lights. People are kinder to one another, unselfishly giving gifts to those they love. It's a special time of the year filled with warmth, love and peace.

This year, however, the holiday season has taken on deeper meaning - at least for me it has.

Hurricane Sandy recently ravaged the east coast, particularly my hometown of Staten Island, NY. Thousands lost power, many lost their homes, and some even lost their lives. It forced many of us to examine the things that are really important to us.

Today, a masked gunman walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and began shooting children. The images are hard to see without my eyes filling with tears.

This, of course, comes during a year that saw Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Sanford, Florida who could have easily been one of my sons, gunned down for nothing more than wearing a hoodie in a gated community where he had every right to be.

 A year that saw a gunman walk into a Colorado movie theater and open fire on random strangers, killing several.

A year that a man was pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train while people stood on the platform and no one tried to help him - while a photographer stood by snapping pictures for the local newspaper.

All of these things and more have given me a reason to cherish my loved ones even more, to count my blessings more than ever.

I think about the way the holiday season has become so commercialized. Thanksgiving used to be a day filled with food, family, laughter, and fun. Now, for many Americans, it's a day to go to work because department stores are open. It's a day to stand on line and fight other consumers for flat screens, computers and other sale items. Christmas used to be a day of giving, symbolic of the gift God gave the world in the form of his son, Jesus. Today, most of us don't even stop to notice the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Instead, we're out trying to make sure our (often spoiled and unappreciative) children get every designer label, electronic game system, overpriced pair of sneakers or $500 headphones they ask for. We're focused more on what we receive than on what we give. The price tags grow larger while the focus on God grows smaller.

This Christmas, let's all stop and take a moment to remember these things: Trayvon Martin's parents are without their 16-year-old son for the first time this holiday season. Hundreds are living in FEMA trailers after losing every earthly possession. Parents in Connecticut are mourning their babies just days before Christmas. Dozens of families are in omourning, in poverty, and in despair.

Thinking of the loss and devastation so many are facing has humbled me. This Christmas, let's focus on the reason for the season. Family. Love. Peace. Joy. Gratitude. Those are the things my heart is full of this Christmas.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who were lost in these tragedies. God is still in control, even while this world that we live in seems to grow colder every single day.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stormy Weather

Hurricane Sandy blew into New York City on Monday, October 29th, 2012. The local meteorologists had been warning us for days that a "Frankenstorm" was on its way - a once in a lifetime super storm that was destined to go down in history. Like many other cynical New Yorkers, I didn't believe the hype. Hurricane Irene hit the city last year amid similar fanfare and little damage was done. I decided that I wasn't going to get too riled up about this Hurricane Sandy. I did go out and buy a few supplies - some bottled water, some canned goods, and I gathered up the dozens of candles that are scattered throughout my home, just in case. I never anticipated the enormous monstrosity that blew through my city and left a path of devastation throughout the tri-state area.

New York City was hit extremely hard. The city that never sleeps actually shut down. Schools were closed, businesses shuttered, and the usual 24 hour subway and bus service was at a standstill for the first time since September 11th. The storm blew in with such intense fury that the power went out across the city, and the bright lights and fast pace which New Yorkers are used to was replaced by darkness, high winds and widespread flooding.

My hometown, Staten Island, NY, was hit exceptionally hard. 

On Monday night, as Hurricane Sandy blew through my city and ravaged my borough, my lights went out and my sons and I were plunged into darkness and silence. We were not alone. Across the city, thousands of us lost power and spent the night listening to the wind howling outside and the rain falling. As I lay in my bed that night, I couldn't help thinking of all of the homeless people with nowhere to go who might be facing this powerful hurricane with no shelter. I thanked God for my home, for my children and I being safe and sound and I prayed that He would watch over us through the storm. When I awoke the next morning, I stepped outside of my house and was amazed by the mess and mayhem that Hurricane Sandy had left in her wake. When my sons awoke, we talked about how long it might take before our power was restored. My daughter, her fiance and their baby came by and together we marveled at all of the fallen trees, the dangling wires and the destruction that we saw throughout our borough. We spent the day in my home, eating tuna fish sandwiches and drinking bottled water, playing board games and laughing despite the dire circumstances. We decided that at least we had some extra family time together. Soon, our cell phone batteries were low, and the day began to fade into night. By the time the sun went down, my daughter and her crew left to go home and my sons and I lit candles and settled in for our second night without power. To our relief, my daughter called when she got home and told us that her power had been restored. So my boys and I packed our bags (my youngest referred to us as refugees) and we navigated our way through the darkness to my daughters house about two miles away. We arrived, got settled in, and as soon as we had gotten comfortable her lights went out again!

All of our happiness was momentarily deflated. But, we bounced back quickly. At least we were all together. We lit candles again. We pulled out a deck of cards and played 500 Rummy by candlelight. We told scary stories in the dark. And to our surprise, the lights came back on again! We jumped up and down and hugged one another, laughing and euphoric - so much that we woke up my granddaughter with all of our carrying on. We plugged in our electronics and pulled out the board games once again. My sons and I prayed that our electricity would be restored as well by the time we got home the next day. My daughter's cable TV was still not restored, but we had music!  My family and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, singing and playing games, laughing and talking. When we awoke on Wednesday, we faced a whole new challenge. 

Gas stations were closed across the city. A handful opened up and long lines snaked around for blocks! People ran out of what little gas they had while they waited on long lines for hours. People pushed their cars to the pump. Others walked to the pump with gas canisters in hand. Fights ensued when people tried to cut in front of others. Curse words flew as people waited for hours only to find that all of the gas was gone by the time it was their turn to fuel up. 

We managed to get some gas after waiting on line for close to two hours. We filled the time by talking about the good old days, snacking and listening to the radio. Banks were closed, supermarkets were shut down, restaurants were powerless, street lights weren't working, traffic lights were broken. It felt like we were living in a war zone. Once we had gotten some gas, we headed to my place to check on things. To my dismay, I still had no power. So I grabbed some more board games and another change of clothes and headed back to my daughter's house for another night. We had a blast. We ordered pizza and watched movies. We played Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, Scattegories, Jenga, and Taboo. We dressed my granddaughter up in her Halloween costume and took pictures of her. There were no trick-or-treaters ringing the doorbell, but it didn't stop us from allowing little Madison to enjoy her first Halloween as a ladybug. 

We challenged each other to a contest to see who could make the best Dominoes design and get them to fall in a pattern. Our competitive spirits were on display and the trash talking was at an all time high. (The ladies won by the way, but the fellas did 'aight'. :)

Again, we stayed up late sipping hot chocolate and enjoying one another's company, until we fell asleep on the couch and in sleeping bags on the floor. I noticed that it was the first time in a long time that we were all in the same space for such a long period of time. Like most families, normally there are one or two of us in the kitchen, one or two of us in the living room playing a video game, and at least one of us isolated in a bedroom watching TV. The absence of electronics forced us to use the good old fashioned art of conversation and it was wonderful! It felt like we were stranded on a deserted island with none of the perks we usually enjoy. The blessing, though, was that we were stranded on that island with the ones we love. How great is that?

I thought about the old days before technology gave us reasons to zone out and tune out our families' voices - before iPods, iPads, cell phones, video games, DVDs and 1000+ cable TV channels. It dawned on me that what is so lacking in our families today is that quality family time that we were forced into for so many days. 

By Thursday night, thankfully, my power was back on. My boys and I headed home, cleaned all of spoiled food out of my fridge, did laundry and settled back in, relieved to be home! I turned on the news and caught up on all that I had missed during the days that I was disconnected from life outside of my family. I was amazed by the mayhem and destruction that I saw unfolding across New York and New Jersey. As I watched the news stories, and saw even more of the disaster than what I had witnessed with my own two eyes, I realized how blessed I am. Sure, I had lost electricity and had to flee to my daughter's place. But at least we still had our homes. At least we were all alive and well. Thank God we had money and food and each other's company to fill the time. The situation had actually forced us to spend more time together than we normally do. 

I have spent the last twenty four hours trying to put this past week into perspective. The storm tragically destroyed many homes, wreaked havoc on many lives. For those of us who were spared, it's given us a great opportunity to put things in perspective. Sometimes we have to go through a storm in order to take inventory and see what's truly important. Once we strip away all the luxuries of life, silence all of the noise, what we're left with is what really matters. I always count my blessings. But in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I'm counting them even more. I'm more grateful than ever before. Life is full of twists and turns. But it's the people you turn to for shelter in a storm that mean the most. Be sure to appreciate them while you still can. 

(For more photos chronicling the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, click the following link. )

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Daddy's Girl

My first love was a man who protected me at all costs. He never lied to me, always kept it real. He talked to me and never at me. We sang songs together, shared many laughs together. We were the perfect team - me,  outgoing and talkative; him, introverted and low key. When the world counted me out, he urged me on and reminded me that I am a Brown, that in his eyes I was The Champ, that I could do anything. My first love was my father. He was the greatest man I've ever known.

As a little girl, I have wonderful memories of Friday and Saturday nights spent bartending and deejaying for my Dad. Doo-wop music was his favorite, and he taught me the lyrics to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Little Anthony and the Imperials among so many others. He taught me how to sing on key, and the two of us would harmonize to the oldies on those fun weekend nights in my childhood. He taught me how to play his favorite .45's and albums, how to place the needle on the record so that it didn't scratch. He told me stories of "the good ole days" and I was his captive audience. My love for the art of storytelling began during those wonderful trips down Memory Lane with the greatest Daddy in the world.

As I grew older, he schooled me about the ulterior motives of boys. He was blunt and straightforward, and didn't sugarcoat the truth of what he knew. Still, I was determined to learn so many lessons about love the hard way. And, he was patient. He never called me dumb, naive or silly although in retrospect many of the decisions I made were exactly that. Instead, he would watch me make mistakes and tell me that it was okay, that everybody played the fool sometimes. And he would tell me to pick my chin up, square my shoulders and keep going. When I was a pregnant teenager, ashamed of the whispers and condemnation of my peers, he insisted that he was STILL proud of me. He reassured me that I wasn't the first to have a baby so young, that I also wouldn't be the last, that he had my back and that everything would be alright. When my daughter was born, he taught her the songs, too; told her the stories he had once told me. And he "fathered" her when her biological didn't bother. Eventually, he would walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, reminding me that if I wanted to make a run for it I could. "Don't worry about all these people, Cute," he said. "If you want to change your mind it's alright." He sensed my reservations even though I hadn't verbalized it. And when I shook it off and pressed on, he took my hand and led me toward the altar with his signature Kangol perched perfectly on his head. Years later, when my marriage failed, he stepped in and ensured that my children still had a male role model in the absence of their father. He was at my dinner table every Sunday, eating all the biscuits and cracking jokes with my sons while quietly reminding my daughter and I that we were queens, that we were Browns.

He'd tell us all stories about his years in the U.S. Navy, about his adventures overseas. We watched our favorite shows together - Forensic Files and Snapped - and tried to figure out who did the crime before the true culprit was revealed at the end of the episode. He got saved in the last years of his life, and he would share his Bible studies with me. It gave me comfort to know that he was redeemed, that he had chosen to walk with God before it was too late. He wasn't a perfect man. No one is. But, he was a perfect father for me. He was so very proud of me, and told me often. I was even prouder of him, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world for having a Daddy as wonderful as him. As he drew his final breaths in the hospital in 2008, his eyes locked with mine, and I gave him permission to pass on. He had fought a good fight, had lived a full life, and had equipped me to become the matriarch of my family. It was bittersweet bidding him farewell. I will forever miss him, but I know that he is in a better place and that he left a legacy in his children and grandchildren that can never be denied.

I look around the world today and I wish there were more fathers like mine.  I see young ladies dressing like and acting like men, young men dressing like and acting like ladies. I see girls seeking validation in men because they never got it from their fathers. I see boys looking to rappers and athletes as role models because they never had their fathers to look to as examples. I see grown women and men never realizing that the most important jobs they will ever do is PARENTING. They didn't have the blessing that I had - a great example of a parent who took the job seriously and stayed the course even when the going got tough. Yes, I miss him a great deal. But the wealth of memories and life lessons that he gave to his family will live on for many generations to come. Each year on his birthday, my children and I meet at his grave site and we take turns sharing our favorite memories of him. Soon, laughter fills the silence and we reminisce on all the hilarious times we shared, all the ways he took up for us when we were in trouble, all the things he said and did that brought us joy. And in those moments, he's with us. We realize that he may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

I'm so grateful for the privilege of being his daughter. If there are any fathers reading this blog, I urge you to stay the course with your children. No matter what happens with the wives/girlfriends/baby mamas, stay consistent in the lives of your children. It can make the difference between them being a success or a failure. It did for me. Had it not been for my Dad, I would not have survived such a tumultuous youth and emerged victorious. I also urge all the sons and daughters out there to give your parents LOVE while they're living. One of the things that has always brought me comfort is knowing that I constantly told my father how much I loved him, how thankful I was for him, how valuable he was in my eyes. While you still can, I urge you to do the same with your parents. Don't let another day go by without letting them know how special they are, how grateful you are for their love.

 I thank God for my Daddy, my first love and my best friend.

Happy birthday in Heaven, William Brown, Jr. <3

Ralph R. McKee High School ~ 10/4/2012

Today I visited my Alma Mater - Ralph R. McKee High School in Staten Island, NY. At the invitation of the school's wonderful principal, Ms. Sharon Henry, I went to speak with the students about my experience as a student at the school from 1989-1992, and my experience in my life after graduation.

It wasn't the first time I've been a guest speaker at the school. I've gone back often over the past year or so to share my story and to motivate the students to push past the obstacles that they may face and succeed. I shared my experience as a popular student who became a teen mother, and was told by a teacher that I was doomed to be on welfare for the rest of my life. I explained how that experience was one of the best things that happened to me. I saw the surprise on their faces when I made that statement. But it's true. Her condemnation fueled my determination to succeed. Had I not been subjected to the stares and whispers of my fellow students, teachers, and neighbors, I may not have been motivated to prove them all wrong. That pivotal moment in my life spurred me toward living up to my greatest potential so that I could prove the naysayers wrong.


But, I wasn't just there today to discuss my story. Instead, I wanted to give the students an assignment as it pertains to their story. I had a couple of questions for them to answer; questions that would begin to set them on the path toward living their own lives to the fullest potential. I started out by reminding them that the four years in high school are pivotal. It's during those years that they transform from children into young adults. And, it is during those four years that they must set their minds on discovering where their passion lies so that they can be fulfilled in the careers that they choose. The questions I asked them would help them differentiate between choosing a career that they love and settling for a job that simply pays the bills.


On the surface, the answers to this question may seem simple. I used myself as an example. I am Tracy Brown. I am a black female. But once we get past the obvious answers, we start to go deeper into truly answering the question. I am a writer. I am a poet. I am a talker...

I challenged the students to write down the question and to list ten answers to the question. Some balked at the idea of listing TEN answers. But I insisted that within the ten answers to that question, they would discover where their passions lie. Perhaps, in writing down: "I am an artist", or "I am a boss" or "I am a leader", or maybe even "I am a bully", they will begin to discover some truths about themselves. It's not too often that we step outside of ourselves to give an honest assessment of who we are and what we're all about. Maybe in answering the question "Who are you?" they can uncover some aspects of their lives that they wish to change. But one thing is certain: they will discover the things that make them happy, that make them feel fulfilled. And in discovering those things, a first major step will be taken toward determining what career will bring them the most success. 

One of the things I've discovered in my life so far is that when you get paid to do what you LOVE to do, it doesn't really feel like work. I gave an example of a girl who hates her job at a fast food joint, and her hatred of her job is displayed in the lackluster way that she performs it. By contrast, someone who loves their job wears a smile on their face, and actually looks forward to the tasks at hand. I wanted them to figure out who they are - what brings them joy, what motivates them - so that they can target a career in the fields where their joy resides. Someone who answers "I'm a rapper" should clearly be aiming for a career in music, even if that's not what their parents or guardians have in mind for them. As they approach adulthood, it's about finding their own definition of happiness, not someone else's.


What is your role in YOUR story?

As a writer, I am often approached by people who feel that they have an amazing story to tell. The truth is, every single one of us has a unique story. Some are horror stories, some are love stories, some are stories of triumph and some are stories of defeat. The question we have to answer is: what role am I playing in my story? Am I the victim? Am I the hero/heroine? Am I the protagonist? The villain? The narrator? A sub-character or the main character? By defining who we are and what role we play in our own story, we make a decision about whether we take control of our lives or instead just react to the plot twists that inevitably come. Again, using myself as an example, I pointed out that I could have easily gotten comfortable in the victim role in my own story. I was a young, abandoned teen mother in the projects who was being talked about and condemned. I could have accepted my teacher's assertion that I would be on welfare for the rest of my life. I could have accepted the stereotype that many labeled me as, and just given up. But, instead I chose to turn my seemingly tragic story into one of triumph. When I set out to "write the story of my life", I cast myself in the role of victor as opposed to victim. I challenged the students to decide what their own roles would be in their story. 

As a kind of "homework assignment", I asked the students to visit this blog and to post the answers to the questions that I posed to them today. I'm hopeful that in the comments below, they will list their responses and demonstrate their views on who they are and what roles they have decided to play in the stories of their lives. I can hardly wait to read their responses!

One of the best things about my career as a writer is that I get the chance to talk to young people and, hopefully, to motivate them to greatness. But it's not just the youth who can benefit from the exercises I demonstrated in those classrooms today. We should all be asking ourselves who we are and what roles we have cast ourselves in. It's never too late to change. I invite you all to list your answers below, or at the very least to list them in your own personal notebook so that you can see where your passions lie and how you can redefine your role in this wonderful thing called life. 

*Students who do not wish to list their answers publicly can email their responses to me at

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rebuilding the Temple

Recently, I've committed myself to revamping my life - mind, body, and spirit. I started by making positive changes in my thoughts, actions, and my environment. Then, I began to focus on my spiritual well being. Instead of being a "Sunday morning believer", I began to really focus my attention on God and on living the best Christian life that I can. As part of that commitment, I did a spiritual cleanse - a fast - abstaining from meat, bread, sweets, wine, pasta, and all of the things my body had come to love. For three weeks, I ate nothing but fruits and vegetables and drank only water. That meant none of my beloved coffee and tea each morning, no desserts, no fresh baked bread! While my family ate the delicious meals I prepared, I ate salads, sauteed spinach, and baked potatoes. But, my objective wasn't to lose weight. I wanted to abstain from these things that I love in order to focus my attention on God. When I felt a craving for something, I closed my eyes and prayed. Instead of picking up a cupcake or a cookie, I picked up my Bible or my gratitude journal and gave my attention to things that my spirit needed to focus on. Fasting isn't widely done among Christians anymore. But the benefits of it are absolutely incredible! My lunch hours were spent in quiet prayer and meditation instead of stuffing my face with burgers and fries. My sacrifice of the foods and drinks that I enjoy was rewarded with a spiritual awakening unlike anything I could have imagined! It was a major step toward my goal of rebuilding my temple (my mind, body, and soul) from the ground up.

Each Saturday morning, I rise early, say my prayers, read my Bible and head out to my local farmer's market. It is one of the best parts of my week! I stock up on pears, apples, fresh ears of corn, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, onions, watermelon, kale, and all the things that the local farmers grow. Since my borough of Staten Island, NY doesn't have a Whole Foods Market, the local farmer's market is my haven. My family and I can attest to the fact that the organically grown foods at the farmer's market taste far better than the stuff sold at the local supermarket. It's cheaper, tastier and healthier!

Over the three weeks of consuming only fruits, veggies and water, I broke my addiction to sweets and to processed foods. (Which was no small feat! I LOVE SWEETS. So, being able to say no to a slice of cake was like an addict staring at their drug of choice and having the strength to walk away.) Sure, I still enjoy a cup of coffee from time to time. I still do a happy dance at the smell of dessert baking in the oven; still have a love affair with bread. But I don't NEED these things throughout my everyday life the way that I once did. I'm able to treat myself to these things every once in awhile, whereas before I had conditioned myself to have them on a daily basis - sometimes several times a day. In fact, once I went back to eating meat, I got so violently ill (nausea, diarrhea, and terrible gas and abdominal pain) that I have resolved to wean myself off of red meat altogether. I never want to feel like that again! As a self-professed junk food junkie, I never thought I'd be someone who embraces healthy eating. But I'm here to tell you that I'm now convinced that a healthy lifestyle is one that I can and will embrace.

I feel better than ever. The weight loss is actually a mere side effect of my newfound love of health and fitness. As many of you know, yoga is a big part of my life. There's real power in drowning out the noise of life and focusing our minds on our inner voice. Yoga is a spiritual, mental and physical workout. I adore it!

With my favorite season upon us (Autumn), I'm out each weekend taking in the beauty of the fall leaves changing colors in local parks. As my lungs fill with the crisp Autumn air, I feel renewed. As I walk around, gathering leaves (which my daughter thinks is incredibly CORNY! LOL), and snapping photos of nature's grand finale before winter starts, it's truly a treat for my eyes, my lungs, my spirit. I feel happiest at this time of the year.

At least once a week, I go outdoors and walk, jog, run, stretch...MOVE. (This past weekend, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge along with my daughter. I absolutely LOVED it!) As so many people battle obesity, heart disease, fatigue, and overall poor health, I've determined that life is too precious to spend it living badly. After a workout, I feel FANTASTIC! There's a physical and mental reward for the hard work that goes into being active.

Breaking old habits is never easy. I used to smoke cigarettes, and I remember how hard it was to quit. But now that I have, I'm glad that I did. I used to approach food in an unhealthy way, also. I lived to eat, rather than eating to live. Since I changed the way that I eat, I feel better physically than I ever have before. Since I changed the way that I think and the way that I spend my time, I feel better mentally than I ever have before. Since changing my approach to God, to life, and honoring my own inner voice, I feel better spiritually than I ever have before. I'm still a work in progress. But for the first time I am actually MAKING progress! I'm treating my body as the temple that it is. And, while it's still under construction, a solid foundation has already been laid.

Maybe it's time you start your own construction project. Trust me, you'll be glad that you did.

 For more info on healthy eating and vitamin supplements, contact Sakina Iguina. Visit her webpage at
  or her Facebook page:!/groups/w.g.wellness/