When Harry Married Meghan

As a lifelong royal watcher, I am accustomed to the regal majesty of a royal wedding, but the May 19th nuptials of Prince Henry Charles Albert David Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle surpassed my exceptions. In every way. It’s not easy to make a royal wedding, viewed by millions across the globe, look & feel intimate, like a true family wedding, but somehow, they did.

On a day when the UK enjoyed California-like weather, a California born actress, divorced, biracial, a proud feminist and only child of a single mum, married into the British Royal family, forever after known as Her Royal Highness.

It was a ceremony that perfectly blended British regal precision with American exuberance & warmth.

A gospel choir sang a song connecting the world of civil rights activism, harmonic American classic songwriting & inspirational solidarity. And the whole world stood by them as they did.

A bishop from Chi town brought a little church up in here & the usually staid royals felt the spirit through their giggles.

Tiny flower girls & exuberant page boys waved & squealed, nearly exploding with trumpeting gap-toothed glee.

The red carpet of Hollywood unfurled on the ancient grounds of Windsor, with starlets & titled Aristocrats taking their spin for the title of Best Dressed.

The heir to the British throne took under his royal wing an African American single mum, guiding her, caring for her, like family does. Two people who couldn’t be more different in upbringing & life experiences, unified in their love for their children. He, softening the oft times chilled reactions that greet him. Her, proving you don’t have to be born royal to be a true Queen.

This mum. A social worker, yogi, dog lover with locs & a pierced nose, won the heart of the world with her grace & soft warm eyes, brimming with prideful tears.

And I know that sometime people don’t want to talk about race. It makes them uncomfortable. They ask, “Why does everything have to be about race?”. It doesn’t. Except when it does. This is one of those times.

It should be celebrated that a woman of color is now in the intimate fold of the British Royal family. It is not an insignificant thing. It means that a variety of voices & experiences will be at the forefront of how the monarchy moves forward.

The ONLY way the monarchy moves forward is if it stays relevant & changes with the times. Princess Diana was the catalyst for that awareness & we see that awareness carried through by her children. We live in a global world. In the UK 1 in 10 couples are in an interracial relationship. The royal family is now part of the fast-growing demographic. That matters.

I saw so many comments on social media on the day of the wedding from parents of kids of color who said that their children, especially girls, some as young as 5 years old, saw themselves reflected in Meghan. And while the goal for our children should not be to marry a prince, representation in all facets of life matters.

When a child grows up NOT seeing her/himself as CEO’s, Presidents of nations or key members of historically white institutions, be it a Fortune 500 boardroom or Buckingham Palace, it can limit their ability to dream bigger for themselves, to believe that they belong wherever their dreams & hard work takes them. That’s why it matters.

Another thing worth noting is that, whether by design or just coincidence, Meghan featured women in prominent roles in her wedding. Her dress was designed by one of the few head designers of a top fashion house. Her cake & flowers were created by women owned businesses & even the choir director was a woman. Again, I don’t know if that was a conscious decision, but I’d like to think that it was.

It’s been reported that during her reception speech, Meghan proudly claimed her feminist status. She has a proven track record of advocacy for the empowerment of women. That this commitment would carry over into the planning of her special day is a logical & welcomed possibility.

One of my favorite things was watching how giddy the American news anchors got when they saw the carriage pass by their mobile news stations.

Normally staid political reporters were jumping up & down squealing & in tears. It doesn’t matter who you are (or how many times you say you’re just not that into the royals), when you see them up close, you turn into a tween at a One Direction concert; trust me, I know from firsthand experience.

Marrying into any family is not easy. Marrying into the British royal family and all that comes with it requires a unique disposition of internal fortitude, strength, confidence, presence, humility, public speaking ability, telegenic appeal, relatability & warmth.

From everything we know about Meghan, it would seem she was born for the role. And I’ve never ever, ever seen Harry so happy. The looks on his face throughout the day, well, I mean, that is what it’s all about. I get chills & teary eyed just thinking about it. I have a feeling HE feels he married up.

And as my 99-year-old god grandpa, who was married for 75 years used to say: the key for a long & happy marriage is for the husband to know that HE’s really the lucky one.

The British Prince and his all-American girl.

It was a day for the world, no matter how jaded or cynical, to rejoice & believe in the power of love, as Bishop Curry proclaimed.

And to that, I say: “I do”.

I’ve got Pride

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When I was a little girl, we rented out a room in our large Haight-Ashbury flat to generate extra income. It was always rented to a young gay man, probably because my mum, a single parent, felt it was the safest & most sensible option. Their room was right next to mine in the front of the house & included a sitting room that we called the “library” because it had floor to ceiling bookcases, big puffy pillows on the floor & comfy nooks to settle in for reading or taking a nap. It was a common area in the house, but was mainly for our renter’s use, though I could often be found perched on the big overstuffed chair, peering out the window to observe the view of the always entertaining corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets.

If I wasn’t day dreaming, I had my nose buried in a book, such is the life of an only child in a household with no TV. Inevitably, our housemate would slide open the French doors that divided their room to the library & slowly, gently, tenderly, carefully, our friendship would unfold.

The men who lived with us all referred to themselves as my “fairy god-fathers” – their term; not mine. As a child, I didn’t understand the tongue in cheek we’re-taking-our-power-back meaning. Once I did, I both grimaced & grinned.

We had about five young men live with us over the years. This was in the late 70’s – early 80’s, before gay people could easily adopt kids or were even really allowed to think, dream about becoming parents in some cases. I was the only child in their circle of friends & was often invited to tag along to their ever so glamorous soirées, Oscar parties, holiday fetes & any other over the top event that might just really be a Tuesday night but always seemed like so much more to me. These outings gave my mum nights off from mum-ing & me, adventures to be fondly remembered decades later.

I often found myself sitting crossed leg in the middle of one of their friend’s exquisitely decorated antique filled living rooms in the Castro district on a priceless oriental rug, beading necklaces or playing with antique paper dolls (theirs, not mine), Judy blasting in the background, watching a group of lively young men gossip & flirt & dance & share stories about their hopes, dreams & fears.

I heard them talk about how they had escaped to SF from places like Iowa, Kentucky, Texas, so that they could live & love freely. They had all been disowned by their families for being gay. They had to create their own families & I was privileged to play the role of the little sister, niece, cousin they had to leave behind or, on an even deeper level, the child they never believed they would ever be able to have. It was from them that I learned my lifelong mantra: friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And love is love. Sorry Lin, but they said it first.

Of course, I was much too young to really understand the implications of all of this, but what I did know was that I felt so grown up & cherished in their presence. I knew there was something special about these men; to me they were worldly & fancy & sparkly & they knew a little something about everything. And most importantly, they taught me what they knew.

From them, I learned about music & fashion & art & literature & Broadway & why black & white movies of the 40’s were the best movies & that you must always bake with butter, never margarine & that cookie dough is calorie free & the power of the LBD & that one must always dress up when going downtown & the difference between Barbra Streisand & Barbara Stanwick; Bette Davis & Bette Midler; Oscar the Grouch & THE Oscars & the importance of wearing sunglasses, even in the fog, to prevent wrinkles, darling.

They were men of great style, class, elegance, intellect, wit, charm, creativity, beauty & fun. They were incredibly cultured & had exquisite taste. My memories of my time with them run deep:

Going to the “Nutcracker” every Christmas Eve.

Having high tea at Liberty House.

Lip syncing & dancing to the Andrew Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. I know all the words, still, to this day.

Taking in the Christmas decorations downtown at Macy’s & I.Magnin’s  & ending the day with a cable car ride to Ghirardelli Square for hot chocolate with extra cherries & whipped cream.

Lengthy sermons on the essential need for dust ruffles & monogrammed stationery & silk dressing gowns.

To a young child, these experiences leave a mark; a permanent mark of rainbow colored glitter sprinkled on her soul.

To my child’s eye, mind & heart, these men were magical. They were my playmates; the most delightful big brothers to a shy, often sad & lonely little girl. They were fun & silly & played dress up & Always let me be Cher to their Sonny. A major sacrifice on their part, to be sure!

They told me I was a glittering gem & that I was “fabulous” & they meant it in a REAL way, not a “hey girl hey” way, tho we had those moments too. They treated me with respect. They didn’t patronize or pander to me. They expected me to keep up my end of the conversation, regardless of the topic or my lack of knowledge about it. Local politics or Best Dressed at the Oscars; my opinion mattered to them. They didn’t baby me. They treated me like an equal. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t spoil & coddle me. They made me feel special & valued & respected. Perhaps because society didn’t offer them the same respect as gay men, they felt compelled to make sure I was always treated as a whole person. For a young girl of color, this went far in developing my sense of self & worth & pride in being who I was.

They also showered me with gifts, some that I still have to this day:

A beautiful hand-woven throw that made on an old-fashioned loom.

A hand beaded necklace with an antique tiny bell at its center. Too tiny now for my adult neck but still cherished.

A beautiful white cake stand from Tiffany’s; an odd gift for a 10-year-old girl, you might think, but as the gift giver said when he handed me the HUGE blue box, “Sweetie, if I’ve taught you nothing else, please remember this: the light blue box is always the BEST box!”

I still have those treasures, but I no longer have my fairy god-fathers.

They all eventually succumbed to HIV/AIDS. They were all in long-term relationships. Their partners died too. By the early 90’s they were all gone.

These men were the first & most prominent adult male figures in my young life; in truth, the only father figures I had growing up. I know for a fact that it is because of my time with them that I am the person, the woman, the friend, the activist, I am today.

They didn’t live to see the many strides & advances that the LGBTQ community has made. If they were still alive today, they would be at the front of the line continuing to fight the good fight for the strides still to be made.

But they aren’t, so I do it for them. It is the least I can do to honor their legacy & repay them for all they have given me.

My description of these men might seem almost disrespectful in its seemingly stereotypical depiction of gay men, but these were the men I knew, as I knew them, when I knew them. This was who they were, at a time when the gay community in SF was thriving & carefree; when the pulse of the disco beat of the day seemed to ring in sync with the beat of the cultural awakening that was taking the world by gloriously gay rainbow storm on the streets of SF.

I am so lucky that I spent my formative years as their fairy goddaughter, wrapped up in the glow of this historical time. But my golden carriage turned into a pumpkin well before midnight of my young adulthood dawned and my fairy god-fathers vanished with it.

I am a better human being because I knew them. THIS, I know for sure. My fairy god-fathers may be gone, but their rainbow colored fairy dust flows in my veins forever. They had their Pride. And they gave me mine, too. xo Lulu

The Problem with Models of Color as Cover Girls

Models of color on the covers of major fashion magazines. It’s a good thing, right? Well, yes and no.

Seeing such diversity and actual models (as opposed to movie/TV stars) on covers of major fashion magazines is refreshing. The loss of that exposure has had a grave impact on the career paths of professional models. A cover can make a career.

However…

…it seems there is an unwritten, rarely spoken about rule that models of color have to share this pivotal moment in their career.

More often than not these days, when a Black/Model of Color (MOC) lands a cover, she is not alone; she shares it with other models. Sometimes they are other models of color; sometimes they are not. A quick review of some of 2017’s covers illustrates my point:

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And quite often, the cover story is about diversity, basically highlighting the fact that the editorial team has decided to put women of color on the cover. It almost makes it feel like a gimmick. Instead of just putting a woman of color on the cover and letting THAT be its own powerful image, it becomes a “thing”, a “look at what we did” moment.

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To be clear, I fully appreciate and want diverse beauty represented in fashion, advertising, and art. But if you have to draw attention to the fact that you are doing something, perhaps that is a clue that you don’t do it enough.

Maybe it’s the former model in me, but I am sort of selfish minded for these girls. To get a cover of a top fashion magazine is one of the apexes of any model’s career. It’s even more coveted now that models rarely get that honor: for the past fifteen or so years, cover girls aren’t professional models; they are Hollywood starlets. So when a model gets a cover, it’s a big damn deal for her career. And yet a shared cover happens primarily – I’d argue it ONLY happens – when the cover includes a Black model/MOC.

Further, when there is more than one model of color on the cover, they are usually in a range of skin tones, from light to dark. Again, the message is a seemingly positive one: “Yea! Diversity! Look at all the pretty colors”. It would be MORE powerful…and genuine to the message of diversity…if just ONE model was on the cover…especially if she were a dark complexioned model.

Our culture puts a higher premium on lighter complexioned women of color. I say this as a woman who falls on the lighter hue chart herself. The privileges I experience in life, based on that reality, were not only restricted to my modeling career; they extend to my life, day to day, every day, as a woman of color in America. I am afforded more opportunities, acceptance and accolades because my skin skews lighter. My lighter skin makes me more palatable to those who might hold biases towards people of color. People never know WHAT my identity is. Makes it a bit harder for them to figure out how to discriminate against me too.

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The first time, in its 32 year history, that Sports Illustrated put a Black model on the cover of its career making swimsuit issue, she was not alone. Tyra Banks shared the cover with Valerie Mazza in 1996.

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It’s almost as if they were testing the waters. Once they saw the positive reaction her appearance received – and that the world did not come to an end – the next cover was hers and hers alone. Tyra’s cover turned out to be one the most popular and iconic covers in the magazine’s swimsuit issue history.

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It was the first…and last time that a Black model was on the cover alone…until this year’s 2018 cover model, Danielle Herrington (I’m assuming she is Black TBH). That’s 21 years between the two. And only two in 64 years.

There HAVE been a few Latina models on the cover. When Chrissy Teigen was on the over in 2014, (she’s part Thai) she shared the cover with two other girls.

In May 2017, American Elle issued six covers, with six different models, each solo on their respective covers. Two of them were MOC: the stunning Jasmine Tookes and the radiant Maria Borges. Instead of just giving one model a cover, they dilute…for lack of a better word…the power of that one image. Why not just give one cover to Maria? And then maybe another cover later in the year to Jasmine? Why must they be a package deal, folded in with stunners – but super safe choices – like Hailey Baldwin and Bella Hadid?

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This isn’t to say that it happens all the time. There ARE times when black models grace covers alone.

In 2015, Jourdan Dunn was on the cover of British Vogue alone. However, that was the first time in ELEVEN years a Black model had graced the cover alone. The last time was 2004 with Naomi Campbell.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait another 11 years for it to happen again.

In 2017, with Edward Enninful at the helm as the magazines new EIC, his premiere cover in December featured Adwoa Aboah. By herself. Progress.  This is a reminder that diversity BEHIND the scenes, among key decision makers, in ANY industry, is vital to ensuring that a wide range of sensibilities, truths and experiences are reflected.

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I recently saw the May 2018 British Vogue cover and it is exquisite. It also has nine models on it; most of them WOC (as best as I can tell). I will add, however, that this cover does represent an even bolder diversity with a model who is not a size two and another model wearing a hijab. I actually contemplated not including it as an example to make my point of this essay because it is SUCH a powerful cover. But how powerful it would have been if each of these models were given a cover all to herself? I can’t help thinking about that.

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Taking Mr. Enninful out of the equation, why do fashion editors at these magazines make these art direction decisions? Is it flat out racism? I don’t think so. I think it’s more innocuous and subtle form of bias. The type that seeps into our everyday lives. People often ask “why does everything have to be about race”. It doesn’t. Except when it is.

I don’t have any empirical evidence on this, so I can only speak to my own interpretation of why Black models/MOC are often required to share a cover, but in broad stroke terms I think it represents a lack of awareness and ingrained biases implicit within the fashion industry, advertising and marketing. I’ve worked as both a professional model, and then, later, in advertising, at both the creative and account management ends. In both realms, I saw how the lack of representation in decision making roles created a limited view of the world they were trying to serve.

It’s important that decision makers understand the decisions they make have serious implications for many young (in particular) women who look at these images and make a direct correlation between them and their own self-worth, beauty and value in society.

At the end of the day, every decision comes down to money and advertisers. If they put one Black model on the cover…especially a dark complexioned model…there may be an unconscious fear of “offending” some of their readers and advertisers. But they want to “address” diversity, so they put a few models on a cover, ideally a white model to distract as needed, call it the “diversity issue” and pat themselves in the back for their bold artistic decisions.

I consider that a cop out.  Put a dark skinned beauty on the cover. Don’t explain it or justify it. Just put her beautiful face on the cover. And while we’re at it, where are all of the Asian models? That’s another story for another day. Representation for them is woefully lacking in this realm (the aforementioned May British Vogue cover is a refreshing exception).

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It didn’t always used to be this way. In the mid to late 80’s and into the early 90’s, Black models graced the covers of top magazines solo, with no “diversity” fanfare. A lot. Each of these supermodels, Karen Alexander, Kara Young and Louise Vyent had at least 10 that I counted during a quick google search. There was no fuss about diversity. They were just there, in all of their Black Girl Magic glory. I’m really not sure why it seems that progress regressed over the years. But it did.

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When I’ve mentioned this new phenomenon with covers to folks in my circle, many of whom are people of color, many who are not, but most who follow fashion and style and beauty trends and all who are, as the kids today say: “woke”…they are shocked. Shocked that this is actually a thing, but even more so, shocked because they sheepishly admitted they never noticed the thing. They were so busy celebrating the fact that models of color were actually getting covers that they missed the problematic pattern of these covers.

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I want to make it clear that I am so very proud of these cover girls. As a former professional model myself, I fully understand and appreciate what it means to get a cover – any cover – in this highly competitive industry. I celebrate in their success and nothing I’ve written should be interpreted as negating their professional accomplishments. I simply would like to see each of them given the chance to shine in their own light, on their own covers. It is a good, positive, powerful thing…for them professionally…and for us collectively…to see the rich diversity of our humanity reflected in these images. I’d rather have them on these covers, than not at all. I just hope there comes a day when this diversity is presented, not as “otherness”, but rather as just part of the expected landscape of our collective beauty, with each woman given her moment in the spotlight. ~ Lulu

Peacefully Protesting While Pissed

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 6pm…The day after.

The plan was to get home, put on some sweats, face plant into a vat of chocolate and have Anderson Cooper tell me it was all a bad dream.

But that’s not what happened.

I went to bed on Tuesday, November 8 in tears, my head aching, my heart broken, my spirit shattered. Donald Trump was President Elect. I simply could not believe it. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT.

My devastation was not so much fear around what kind of President he would be (cause personally I think he’s more liberal than he’s led his followers to believe & cause half of what he’s told them he will do once in office simply can’t be done cause, ya know, The Constitution and stuff).

No, my angst was due to the damage already done because he ran a campaign based on fear, hate, sexism, racism, xenophobia and the notion that you can just “grab” whatever you want in life. And when the Republican nominee for the highest office waves those flags, it emboldens others to do the same.

I’m not naïve. I know there are people in this country who are bigots, homophobes and ignorant buffoons. But for the most part, they keep their sick, twisted thoughts to themselves. Trump’s antics emboldened them; gave them a perceived legitimacy to their rants and with that, the hoods came off. And that terrified me.

Of course not all of his supporters are racist, bigots. Many of them are good people. But here’s the thing: if you KNOW that he is endorsed by the KKK & you KNOW that he mocks the disabled, Latinos, war vets & you KNOW that he degrades & demeans women…and you STILL vote for him…you are cosigning on that behavior. Period.

So I cried. And woke up the next morning & burst out into tears before my feet even hit the floor. I cried as I listening to Hillary’s concession speech. I cried on my way to work. I cried all day at work. I was having trouble processing my emotions. I was gutted. And exhausted. Cause crying takes a LOT of energy…at least the way I do it.

So by the end of the day I just wanted to get home…so I could cry some more.

On the bus, listening to my music (lots of Marvin & Donny & Mavis & Sade), sort of zoned out. The bus stopped at a major intersection and we just sat there a bit longer than a normal red light would warrant. The driver announced, “Folks, looks like we aren’t going anywhere for a while. Traffic is blocked”. Lots of deep sighs and groans from my fellow passengers. I am sure I was the loudest.

We all filed off the bus & then we could see what was blocking us from getting home: thousands of people marching up Market Street. At first I thought, “Ok, cool. I’m glad they are protesting but I need to get home”. Then I heard the chants directed at us & all the others folks disembarking off of other buses in the area, “Join us! Join us!”.

And so I did.

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I’ve protested peacefully many, many times. As a San Francisco native it’s just sort part of your DNA that you take a stand & fight the power. So me joining this protest was not out of character. To be clear: I am only interested in peaceful protests. I’ve never been involved in anything other than that.

So in that moment, I headed straight for the marching crowd. And as I did, the folks in that area let out a huge cheer as it became clear that myself and several others from the bus, were joining them. I fell into line next to a few super adorable college age girls. They smiled & fist bumped me. “Yea! Right on!” they cheered. I looked them in the eye & said, “I need this. I really need to be with all of you. I am just so….” and then I burst out into tears, the emotions of the day and the moment and the movement overwhelming me. The girls wrapped me up in their arms, hugging me tight. “We know, we know” one of them said. And then we linked arms & kept on marching.

The crowd was about 3000+ strong. Totally peaceful. All ages (tho I would say most were aged 18-25, those glorious millennials who felt the Bern & showed up for Hillary in record numbers). There were families with children. There were people of every race. This being San Francisco, it was a crowd that represented every walk of life. The beautiful array of humanity that makes our city by the bay so vibrant and unique. And contrary to what Trump tweeted out, none of us got paid.

I think what struck me most was how every step of the way people joined us, people like me who came across the march by accident, on their way home from work, leaving the gym, walking the dog. People who had not PLANNED to march felt the surge of energy that summed up how they were feeling and it compelled them to take action. Every time they joined in, the crowd cheered, high fived, hugged them.

It was a spontaneous demonstration (no pun intended) of decency and compassion. There was NO violence. There was outrage and passion but it was controlled and focused and empowering.

At one point someone had a piñata in the form of Trump floating above the crowd. Someone yelled, “Get it!”. Someone else yelled, “Burn it”. But a huge roar of “No!!!” went up from many of us. We are NOT going to behave like that. Instead…and is was actually sort of funny…people were shaking their fists at it & just yelling “Boo!” in its direction. It was as if they needed a focal point upon which to address their rage. That little paper puppet got a lot of it!

We marched for about eight long blocks, approaching the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets where a HUGE crowd had already assembled. I’ve stood in that intersection in times of good and bad, when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated; when protesting the Iraq War, when campaigning for Obama. And so there I was again, with my people, in my hometown.

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People were waving American, Mexican, Canadian, LGBTQ flags. It was almost a party atmosphere; spirits were high and positive. Don’t get me wrong, people were mad, chants of “Not my President” & “Grab Back” & “I’m with her” filled the air but the anger was contained & focused and more than anything, people were energized and uplifted. I heard a lot of people saying, “This is what I needed”, “This makes me feel better”. That’s how I felt. I think we needed to be reminded that there were more of US who voted believing that we are Stronger Together. Election Night rocked us to our cores. It scared us to think that so many of our fellow Americans did not value the same things (and people) that we value. We needed to know we were not alone.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that these types of protests are a waste of time. I could not disagree more. As long as they are peaceful, they are VERY worthy. There is power in numbers. There is power in community. There is power in expressing your feelings. For most of us during that day we had to contain our emotions, our tears, our rage while at work or running errands or tending to young children. We needed a release. We needed to rant and rave and cry out to the heavens. This country has a rich and proud history of peaceful protest marches. And for me it has always been important to say that I “was there” in those pivotal historic times.

The night was unseasonable warm, the sky clear, the stars bright – a perfect night to be out & about, but as with much of life, shoe choice makes a big difference in protest marching and I could tell that mine might limit my political engagement. I stayed with the crowd for about 30 minutes. The crowd was large & loud & more people continued to file in from Market Street. There was someone on the loud speaker leading chants & speaking to truth to power. I heard some folks say the crowd was going to march to The Mission (a couple of miles away). I knew that would be too much walking for me. I felt I had done my part, my tiny part, but now it was time to go.

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I hugged a few new friends goodbye, took one last look over my shoulder at the sea so humanity… and headed home…where I put on my sweats, face planted into a vat of chocolate…while Anderson Cooper told me it was not a bad dream…it was all true:

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America.

Inked by Sade

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I still can’t believe I got a tattoo! It’s not something I ever really thought about but in the past few years I felt like I wanted one & I knew that it would be music related & it was gonna be Sade related because if music is my religion, then Sade is my God.

“By Your Side” is the name of one of her songs. It might surprise you to know that it’s not necessarily my favorite song of hers but it DOES represent my connection to her music in a powerful way.

(Before we start, can we just acknowledge how weird a wrist looks out of context? SO weird!)

It was the fall of 2000. I had just come home after a bumpy day at work. I even remember what I was wearing (green cargo pants, a pink tank top, jeans jacket, green striped tote bag). Normally when I come home I immediately kick off my shoes, drop my keys & sunglasses in their proper little spot (because I am uber Type-A & organized that way), put down my purse & turn on the TV (terrible habit, I know).

But this day, for some reason, I went into the kitchen & turned on the radio. I NEVER do that. I still had my sunglasses on, purse still on my shoulder. The station was set to KBLX, The Quiet Storm. The DJ was saying, “Sade’s first release in 8 years” & then a song started to play.

I literally dropped to my knees in the middle of my kitchen & started to cry. The instrumental intro to the song started to play. I started to cry because I knew that soon, when this album was released, I would have 12-13 new songs from an artist whose art affects me so deeply; songs that would give me everything I need when I need it. I don’t really know how to explain it. There are actually singers whose voices I would rather have if I could sing, than hers. But her music moves me like no other.

I actually said out loud to the empty room, “Sade, WHY do you make us wait so long for your music? We need you by our side”

And then she started to sing the song:

“You think I’d leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I’d leave you down when you’re down on your knees
I wouldn’t do that”

I sobbed. As usual it was as if she knew my heart; knew exactly what I was going through. There I was, on my knees, questioning her, begging for her.

She continued to sing. The last line was “I’ll be there by your side baby”

The DJ came on the radio & said, “There it is. “By Your Side” by Sade.

Well, I just about passed out. I mean, she was LITERALLY reading my mind, my heart, my emotions. She was reading my heart & as always, knew exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. There she was, being my favorite artist in all the ways that move me.

When the cd was released, I had preordered it & picked it up at the record store (remember those??). I had a whole ritual planned: I was going to start listening the CD on my Discman (lol) the minute I walked out of the store & walk home & just enjoy the music with the backdrop of San Francisco all round me. The walk home was not a short one (From the Embarcadero to Cow Hollow for your SF peeps). It was not a walk that one takes just on a whim. It was a long walk, but walking up & down the hills of my hometown on a brisk clear night, with Sade serenading, is pretty much my idea of heaven.

So I walked & I listened. I few times I stopped to take in the view. And because I am super Type A & like clarity & order & finite beginnings and ends, I started to wonder if the CD would play all the way till I got home or if it would stop sooner. Btu I didn’t really think too much about it. I just walked & listened. And as I put the key in my front door, at that very moment as I opened the front door, the very last note of the very last song faded away. I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a sign…yet again…that Sade knows. She just knows.

“By Your Side” has become a little mantra I say to myself when I need encouragement or a reminder that everything is going to be ok.

Cause here is the thing:

The thing is, there is ALWAYS something or someone by your side…to get you through, to give you encouragement or tough love or a pat on the back. It might be your faith, or your bestie, or your lover. It might be your favorite spot in nature or your much loved piece of prose or a warm cuddle from a fur baby. And it might even be a song…or the title of a song. And it might even by YOU, by your side. In most cases, it’s a combination of all of the above.

So when I started to think about getting a tattoo, something inspired by Sade was the only option & this was the obvious choice. On the inside of my wrist (where is can be easily covered by my watch for those times when a tattoo might not be appropriate) where I can see it, glance at it, stare at it, enjoy it. And I HAVE! I have really looked at it & focused on it & allowed it to do what I hoped it would do: give me strength & courage & faith. Sometimes I wake up in the morning & my arm is up on the pillow & the tattoo is the first thing I see & it comforts me.

It’s been almost two months now. And I have no regrets…which is a good thing…cause it’s gonna be by my side forever! xo lulu

That One Time I Met My Daddy

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My father. I didn’t grow up with him in my life. He was out of the picture before my second birthday. The reasons why are not important. It was not his fault. I never blamed him. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. I knew, somehow, that the reasons WHY had nothing to do with me. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. You sort of don’t miss what you’ve never had so I didn’t really dwell on it or pine for him to be in my life.

About ten years ago, out of the blue, I got a letter from a woman…his wife…saying that if I wanted time with him, the time was now because he was ill. I had never even THOUGHT about this possibility…but when faced with it, there was no question that I would go to him.

We spent one day together. This is what happened:

It turned out my father lived about ten blocks from where I grew up. The excitement of that day, the day we arranged to meet was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s too hard to put into words. I won’t even try. All I know is I wanted to hug him and to let him know that somehow, all along, I knew that the fact that he was not in my life was not his fault. And more than anything, I wanted him to be proud of me.

When the moment came & I walked into the room to see him for the first time in more than three decades, I saw a man, frail but proud, sitting on the side of the bed, struggling to stand up with the use of a walker. The first words I spoke to him ever (save for maybe some baby babble when I was a toddler) were: “It’s ok Daddy. You don’t need to stand up”.

“DADDY”. That was a salutation I had NEVER said in my life. And why did I call him “Daddy”? Why not “Dad” or “Papa” or “Father”? Ok, “Father” was probably not very likely, but I thought it was interesting that, in that moment, “Daddy” was what felt right & natural…as if I’d been saying the word forever and a day. As it turns out I think I just might be a Daddy’s Girl after all…and that is fine by me.

I went over to him. We hugged…and spent the next six hours catching up. There was no awkwardness.  It was natural and easy. He felt like HOME.

On that day I learned things about him that I never knew. My mum never spoke much about him and when she did it was when pointing out my perceived faults and how they were inherited from him…according to her.

Getting to know him for myself, on our terms, as an adult, was a blessing.

Turns out he was a special Ed-teacher. That was what I thought I wanted to be from about age 5 until college…when I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as noble as I once thought. I inherited his fierce stubbornness & his unwillingness to compromise on issues big (Liberal Democrat for life!) & small (we-no-likey pineapple on our pizza, no way, no how!), his inability to master the use of chopsticks & having never owned a car.

One thing I didn’t inherit from him was his talent for art & music, though my appreciation for both is deep. He played 5 instruments (self-taught) & was a talented artist who painted & made very delicate multi-media collages; my stick figures are round. Sigh. He was a professionally trained chef; I manage to burn boiling water!

Even the fact that we both were wearing red (a color I never wear for whatever reason) seemed to be a sign…but one tends to read maybe too much into things in emotionally charged situations such as seeing your father for the first time in over 30+ years. But I clung onto every nuanced genetic link I could on that day. I was desperate to make connections, to draw a line from his heart, his brain, his soul to mine, to be my father’s daughter.

When I was a little girl I thought my father was Marvin Gaye & my mother was Jackie Kennedy. Ok, I KNEW they weren’t REALLY my parents but to my child’s eyes that’s who they looked like to me in the peak of their youthful beauty. Throughout my life whenever I’d see or hear Marvin Gaye I would think of my father. In truth those were the only times I did think about him.

While Daddy & I were taking…about everything…I suddenly had an urge to ask him a preposterous question. Knowing this might be my only chance to do so, I went for it. “Daddy, do you know what today is?” Most people would have answered, “It’s April 1st (which it was) or “It’s April Fool’s Day” (which it was). But that was not the answer I was looking for; the answer I was looking for was so random and obscure…and yet somehow I felt like he would know.  My Daddy said, without a hint of implying that his answer would seem most random to anyone, “It’s the anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s death”.

There is no way I can explain that to you.  First of all, how many people would even KNOW that (another thing Daddy & I had in common – massive amounts of useless trivia, usually entertainment related, rattling around in our heads). And how would he know that THAT was the answer I was hoping for…all the while knowing that it was literally insane to think that he would give the “right” answer. But he did. My Daddy didn’t let me down. He knew.

The similarities between us were instantly apparent & magical. We shared the same passion for politics & music & football (though differed in team allegiance – his 49ers vs. my Raiders) & pizza & our favorite cookies: Oreos!! The same quirky habit of bouncing one leg up & down when eating a particularly scrumptious morsel of food was evidenced over a shared meal of…you guessed it: Pizza & Oreos. A love of writing long handwritten letters to friends, whipping out a well-worn dog-eared book in the midst of a passionate debate to find the perfect quote to prove our point & an affinity for all things PBS, CSPAN & jazz music radio stations, were another part of our shared tapestry in life.

The question of nature vs. nurture is a complicated one. I am more like him in every way than I am like my mother who raised me. Of course I am my mother’s daughter but more in the ways that were pounded (literally) into my head or forced on me through fear. But that’s another story for another day.

There was a lot that I didn’t know about my father before that day. But it turned out, he knew a lot about me. He pulled out a box full of many of my modeling clippings from the many times I was in the local paper. He knew where I went to college and that I had graduated president of my class. He knew that I was smart, brave and funny.

He told me that he was proud of me. Proud of the woman I had become. And that is really all I needed to hear. I still remember that on days when I don’t feel so smart or so brave or so funny…but I AM…cause my daddy said so.

At one point, he said, so very wistfully, “I think you turned out so well because I wasn’t around to mess you up”. “Nooo, Daddy”, I pleaded. “You get to take credit for who I am. At least half of it. I am YOUR daughter”. His eyes welled with tears. It was important for him to know that. I got the sense that it was something he had thought a lot about. I’m glad I was able to put his mind at ease. It was the most poignant moment of the day…of which there were many.

My father was a handsome, talented, funny, caring, charming, witty, gifted, creative, passionate, complicated man (5 kids by 4 different women will do that to a you). What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. I was BEYOND grateful to meet him & remain prouder still to be his daughter. It’s funny: tho I never thought about the possibility of meeting him up to that day, now I can’t imagine what life would feel like NOT having had that experience.

He wrote me several sweet notes after our reunion before he died soon thereafter. To say I cherish them all of my heart is an understatement. He called me “Sweetheart” in those notes. To this day, when I look at them & see that tender greeting, I dissolve into tears.

My father passed away soon after that special reunion.

I miss him every day.

Dear sweet man. My daddy. He had a gentle spirit of a soul, a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and a deep kindness in his heart.

Happy Father’s Day, dear Daddy. I love you & I miss you.

Love,

Your sweetheart

Angels All Around Us

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The other day I was having a rough day. Really rough. I decided to step outside to get some fresh air…and some chocolate. I walked down to the corner store, breathing in the fresh air. At the store I bought a Kit-Kat & some Gummi Bears. They may not cure what ails ya but they sure do offer some temp relief.

As I walked out of the store there was an older Black woman in front of the store asking for spare change.

I looked at her face. She was beautiful…despite the fact that she had no teeth. There was something about her that just pulled at my heart. She seemed so joyful despite her circumstance.

I stopped, smiled & said, “Hello Love” & opened my wallet. I had a couple of singles, two 5’s, a 10 & two 20-dollar bills. Normally if I give money in these situations, I give however many single dollar bills I have. I grabbed the two 20’s, folded them up & tucked them into her hand. “Here you are, my love”.

She looked down at her hand & then back up at me & then tried to shove the money back in my hands. “No, no, no” she said. I pushed her hand away, “Please. Take it. I want you to have it”.

She reached out to give me a hug. She pulled me in & kissed my cheek, her cheek touched mine. Hers was the softest I’ve ever felt.

She held me close. Tightly…as if she knew. I suddenly started to cry. She whispered into my ear, “We’re going to be ok.” I started to cry harder. She kept holding on, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you. God’s got you. We’ve got each other. We’re going to be ok. It’s going to be ok. We are strong, sister”. I sobbed harder. She held me tighter.

We finally unwrapped ourselves from each others embrace. I tried to pull myself together on the busy street corner, embarrassed by my own public unraveling. I couldn’t quite find any words; I was at that vulnerable place where if you try to speak you’ll just cry more. So I just smiled weakly & turned to walk away.

She held up her tightly closed fist which still had the folded money & pumped her fist a bit in the air as if to say, “Thank you”.

As I walked the next few steps, I looked over my shoulder at her. She was watching me. I’d walk a few yards & turn to look back at her. Each time I turned, I blew her a kiss & she took her fist & patted it against her heart. We did this about 5 times until the distance caused us to lose sight of each other.

How could it be that what started out as ME thinking that I was helping HER, was in fact the exact opposite?

As Tracy Chapman sings, “I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people leading ordinary lives filled with love, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice”

I feel like I know what she means.

Somehow this woman, who clearly was in need to healing & care, sensed that I needed the same. I don’t know how she knew. But she knew.

And she left me better than she found me.

Let her be an inspiration to us all, my beauties. xo lulu