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

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

Mourning the Reign of Prince

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A week has gone by & I still find myself reeling from Prince’s death. But why? If you’d asked me a week ago to name my top five fav singers or songs, he wouldn’t have been on the list. I loved his art of course but he was just not on that list for me. But he was just always there…in my life. And in that existence, people get taken for granted.

I’ve been sort of surprised by the depth of my sorrow. I cried for three days straight. I watched “Purple Rain” several times over the weekend. His music was on repeat. I’m a bit better now. But if I hear “Purple Rain” anywhere, anytime, the tears flow. In truth, the shock of this musical genius’ death has not worn off. If anything, the pain has deepened, the ache has widened, the grief has amplified.

The irony that Vanity died this year at 57 as well. I knew Vanity’s sister back in my modeling days & had the chance to meet her a few times when she attended fashion shows her sister & I were in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Fragile. Feminine. Shy.

Every time a news reporter on the news said, “Prince has died”, I held my head in my hands & say, “How can this be? I just don’t understand” I mean, I know that people die & maybe that reaction seems odd but I just can’t wrap my head around it. I just can’t. It seems impossible. It just doesn’t seem real. Still. A week later.

I feel this even more deeply than I did Michael Jackson’s death; not to imply that grief can be measured but I just feel this one deep in my soul. Maybe it’s because Prince’s music was more intertwined with my high school & college days, whereas MJ was more my younger years.

Prince was the soundtrack to dance parties with high school besties & head banging sing alongs in college & snuggle fests under the Eiffel Tower with dreamy boys & wild nights dancing in fountains in Milan with supermodels & California road tripping & that one love who insisted that “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was written for me.

And then there was that time over 20 years ago, in the back of a darkened nightclub, in the haze & blur of what those kind of late nights bring, where I found myself among a small group of people welcomed into an after party of sorts & there he was, holding court, literally nodding his approval as we sashayed past, lingering for a few moments as he spoke soft words of praise

 

I got to see him in concert a few years ago. He was sassy, sexy & dynamic. He never stopped moving & grooving & singing & playing. It was exhausting to just watch. But also exhilarating.

Wherever I was, there was Prince. And yet, he was never over exposed so when he appeared on TV it always felt like a distinct surprise.

His presence was so grand, so evocative, so powerful, so impactful. There was no on like him. He was Jimi & James & Michael & Elton & Madonna & Elvis & Gaga all rolled into one little 5’2” package.

One of my first inclinations when I heard the news was to text my boss & co-workers to let them know that I was going to need a little bit of time to pull myself together before I dealt with work issues.

And then it dawned on me that I am losing the lesson in this tragedy. I stress about work. I stress about life. I wake up in the middle of the night to update my To Do list. I am always worrying about meeting deadlines. I am always in GO GO GO mode. And while that type of conscientiousness makes me a great employee, what does it mean beyond that? Not much.

Time is precious. Life is fragile. There are no guarantees. Our time on this planet is fleeting. Responding to emails can wait. Setting up meetings can wait. Life can’t wait. Life is right now. In this moment. And if life calls upon you to grieve & cry & feel your emotions, you have to allow space for that to happen.

This is it. This is all we have. This minute. It can all be snatched away in a second. And while you can’t live your life in fear, you can be mindful that NOW is all we have. And so the question becomes: HOW will you spend NOW?

I often say that music is my religion & that music heals all. But right now those musical prayers are failing me.  Goodnight, sweet Prince. xo lulu

 

Loving and Losing Lara


Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break. ~ William Shakespeare

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately. Finding the courage to start this blog came, in large measure, due to the memory of my friend Lara.

How do I describe my friend Lara (or as I called her, “My La”), to you? For some people, words simply aren’t enough; but I will try, for My La is worth the effort. Fair warning: this post is LONG. Really long. But when you are writing to honor someone’s life, ample time must be granted. Shortcuts are insulting. Brevity is offensive. So find a comfy corner. Stretch your attention span. Grab a libation and settle in for what I hope will be a special encounter between you and my friend Lara.

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Lara and I met in college. This is us on campus, celebrating the first blooms of spring. She’s in pink. I’m in yellow.

This is what I wish you to know about her:

Lara was the personification of these words: strong, bold, passionate, sassy, confident, beautiful, smart, moxie, fiery.

Have you ever ACTUALLY seen a woman STRUT? Well, if you’d known Lara you would have. Lara didn’t walk, she sort of rolled, sauntered, cruised. Indeed, it was a strut. With her shoulders thrown back, her long brown hair flowing and her cowboy boots pounding the ground with sass and frass, Lara was one of the most dazzlingly self-aware, dazzling, empowered, wise women I’ve ever known. These are NOT adjectives often used to describe a young woman in college. For most of us it takes another 20 years, IF we are lucky, for even one of these superlatives to be ascribed to us. But not Lara. She had it DOWN, even back then.

Lara was no joke. She knew who she was and she never compromised herself. She didn’t suffer from that often female habit of worrying what people thought of her or if they liked her, for Miss Thang knew that if they didn’t like her, well then screw ‘em. They had no sense. HA! I loved that about her.

Lara was a bad-ass…in the best sense of the word.

Lara was fierce and fearless. Period.

Lara carried a flask and could drink anyone under the table. Vodka and Cranberry. Jack and Jim, Daniels and Beam. Pick your poison. You’ve lost before you even started.

Lara could have been a professional pool player. She was THAT good.

Lara knew her power as a woman. She embraced that power and never made excuses or tried to diminish it. She owned it. Powerful stuff for a doll so young.

Lara reminded me, physically, of the actress Ellen Barkin. She had a slight Presley-esque lopsided curl to her upper lip. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled. She had that type of confidence and presence that a truly beautiful woman possesses, even though she wasn’t what you’d call a classic beauty. There is also a bit of the country music star Gretchen Wilson in her too. That no-nonsense, down-to-earth, no BS, don’t MAKE me slap you with my words, cowgirl in My La.

But the truth is that Lara’s deepest beauty was to be found in her passion, her heart, her words and her truth. And in the way she loved. Lara loved hard. Her friends. Her family. Her lovers.

Some of my favorite Lara memories are of her strutting into the college pub where the pool tables were, that sly-sexy-lopsided smile of hers powered at 1000, daring the boys to challenge her to a game. And they always did. Silly boys. How could they resist this Southern Belle whose slight southern drawl belied her kick-ass ways? How could they resist her sparking eyes and golden skin and her, “Come on. You know you want to” gaze? And while they were spinning in her glory, falling dizzy hard for her wit and charm and beauty, she was kicking their A**ES at pool. Poor boys. They never had a chance. Never knew what hit them. We, her friends, would just sit back and enjoy the show. And that girl knew how to put on a show.

Lara was a brilliant writer. Poetry was her true love. It’s what she studied in school and was her life’s work. Her book of poetry was published posthumously; a copy signed by her mother is one of my most treasured possessions. Her appreciation for words was not reserved for just the union between pen and paper but also, and this was my fav part, it fueled her gift for being able to ZING someone with a well-placed “BOOM-on-no-she-DIDN’T-just-say-that.”

Lara did not suffer fools lightly. And why should she? You had to be on your game to keep up with her; to be her friend; to earn her respect. Not everyone may have appreciated THAT side to her, as is often the case with strong, outspoken, confident women. She could be intimidating. For ME, it was what I loved most about her. Her fierce commitment to the truth. Her willingness to go cowboy boot toe to toe with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Brash? Maybe, at times. But always honest and always fair and always with that devilish twinkle in her eye that let you know that SHE knew it was never a fair fight. She won just by strutting into the room.

Let’s be clear: Lara’s fierceness was NEVER mean spirited or hurtful. She simply walked, nay, strutted, in the truth. And as we know, the truth can hurt. But at her core, Lara was one of the most thoughtful, sensitive, loving, caring people I knew. Like all of us, Lara had her insecurities too. I consider it a true honor that I was one of the few people allowed to see that side of her, for it only added to the amazing grace that was her heart, spirit and inner twinkle.

One Halloween our group of friends decided to dress up as one another. There was NO question as to WHO would go as Lara: Me. We shared the same thick brown waist length hair and passion for wearing one too many bracelets. I borrowed one of her signature thrift-store dresses and practiced my best lip curl. “Being Lara” was a blast. I walked a bit taller (even tho I was in fact already taller than her in actual inches to begin with). There may have even been some strutting going on. I’m pretty sure I even had some swagger. Being Lara meant that I knew my power, my grace, my beauty, my strength. I felt like a superhero! And even when the dress came off, returned to its owner and I was back to being me, the essence of Lara remained with me. Once you’d experienced the “World According to Lara”, it’s not possible to go back to being a mere mortal. Now that I think of it, Lara didn’t go as any of us that Halloween. I’m sure it would have been a letdown for her. I’m still not sure WHO she was supposed to be. Based on her all black military MTV rocker chic ensemble, my best guess is that she was an extra from the Rhythm Nation. She was about two years ahead of that nation actually being formed by Miss Jackson.

Lara was always one of my biggest cheerleaders in college. She was always telling me how amazing she thought I was, how beautiful and strong and smart I was in her eyes. My guess is that this is not the norm for most young women in college. I hope I am wrong though. To have a gal pal who is supportive and encouraging and nurturing, who sees the best in us and demands that we live up to that expectation, is indeed a gift I wish for all young women.

The truth is, just by being my friend, Lara made me feel special. Because she had such high standards in terms of people and who she chose to spend her time with, I felt that by her claiming me as one of her nearest and dearest, it was PROOF that I was worthy. Lara’s closest friend in college was Leigh. I often felt like I was the kid sister, tagging along with the older cool girls on campus (even though we were all just months apart in age and I was a good few inches taller – lol). Lucky me, to be part of this fabulous trio! Leigh and Lara. Lara and Leigh. Always together.

Lara and Leigh graduated a year before me (I had taken a year off between high school and college and thus was a year behind them). I remember feeling so lost without them my senior year. It was a year that brought many challenges my way on campus and every day I wished that they were still there with me to support and bolster me during some of my darkest moments.

As is often the case with life and friends, we went our separate ways after college. Leigh to NY, Lara home to North Carolina and I to Europe for work and then back to SF. Leigh and Lara for sure stayed in touch. Lara and I exchanged many lengthy hand written letters over the years. 10-12 pagers. An art form we both savored. In the late 90’s, Lara invited me to her wedding. I didn’t go because of same lame reason. Probably work or money or just being so wrapped up in my own life. I regret that decision now. I figured I’d have time to visit with her…one day…someday.

It was through Leigh, around 2007, I would learn Lara had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I remember Leigh saying, “I know she would love to hear from you”. I KNEW I should call Lara; I knew I should reach out. But I didn’t. I simply couldn’t bear it. I’d never been faced with a situation like that with someone so close to me. And in this first test of, “Lulu, what are you REALLY made of?” I failed. I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t want to hear weakness or pain in her voice; in the voice of someone I remembered as being so strong and powerful and effervescent. I was afraid I would fall apart on the phone, break down in sobs, and make her feel worse. I didn’t want her to have to end up comforting me. I didn’t trust myself to be able to sound happy and positive. I was simply afraid of her illness. It paralyzed me into non-action.

The real truth is this: I didn’t want the first time we’d spoken since college to be because she might be dying. I convinced myself that if I didn’t call her it would mean that nothing had changed; if we didn’t talk about her illness then maybe that meant she wasn’t actually sick. And so time went by, and as more time went by I thought, “Well, I can’t call NOW. How am I going to explain not calling the minute I learned she was ill?” I thought, “Well, she’ll get better and I’ll call her THEN”. So I waited. And I never called. I continued to send holiday cards as did she, neither of is mentioning her illness, but I will never forgive myself for not being there for her in her time of need. I knew that she knew I loved her and I even imagined that she understood my silence (later her husband would confirm that for me) but I made the mistake putting my OWN issues with her illness ahead of doing the right thing. I regret my behavior with all of my heart and soul. It’s a regret that doubles me over in brutal shame and disgrace to this day. I was not the friend I would have wanted someone to be to me. I was not the friend she deserved.

When I learned from Leigh in May of 2011 that Lara had taken a turn for the worse and was in hospice care, I literally fell to the ground and cried for three days and nights. My body ached from crying. Grief raged inside of me. I wanted to rip the world to shreds and throw it at the sun till it burned into little pieces. I was having trouble just catching my breath. A few times I collapsed on the floor, rocking back and forth, sobbing, banging my fists against my legs.

A few days later, late in the evening, came word that Lara had taken her last breath. It was in the form of a slightly cryptic email, the sender clearly not feeling able to just say it clearly. I had to ask them by reply, “Can you be clear? Is she gone? Has she died?”. It was brutal. My first reaction was a heaving gut-wrenching howl that ripped through my body. I flung myself across my bed and buried my cries into my pillow and pounded the bed with my fists. And then it started to rain…a rain that was not in the forecast. I sat up on my bed and looked out my window up at the dark black sky. I saw a cloud pass in front of the moon. I felt a wash of calm come over me. A clarity of mind and spirit. And peace. And then the cloud passed and the rain stopped. I am not religious but it was what I imagine many who are describe as a sign from above that all is as it should be. It was the most astonishing occurrence. Lara was gone, the skies cried and for the first time in 3 days, I was at peace…at least for a while. Proof positive that in death, as in life, Lara’s power and light remained steady and strong. I’ve no doubt that cloud and those few minutes of rain were Lara, making her entrance, strutting on in and causing a seismic shift and making everyone take notice.

Lara was 45 when she died. She doubled the life expectancy the doctors gave her. I’m not surprised. Not one damn bit and yet, how can it be that a woman so vibrant and strong and committed to life, so full of gusto and swagger and saunter and kick-ass awesomeness was GONE?

Lara left behind a loving and devoted husband, and two children, age 12 and age 8 at the time of her death. They are blessed to have her blood fueling their hearts. She was a warrior for her friends so you can only imagine what type of devotion and pride she felt for her children.

Now it’s just Leigh and Me. I imagine that every conversation, every hug, every laugh and giggle, every glass raised, every memory recalled, from now until forever, will start and end with our La as its glorious centerpiece.

Lara’s birthday falls within a day or two of Thanksgiving every year. I think that is fitting. I am forever thankful for my dear, sweet, shining, gorgeous, proud, talented, loving friend. I am eternally thankful for her cowboy boot strutting, poetry writing, sassing and frassing, pool playing, flask carrying, badass ways. She died three days before my birthday. That seems fitting too. A reminder as I gripe about getting older that I am blessed to be able to see another year, a blessing My La was stripped of.

I am not one who believes that everything happens for a reason. Sure, it’s a noble notion but until someone can explain to me why death comes early for some, I’m not buying it. However, I DO believe everything that happens has a lesson in it. For me, the death of Lara has taught me, in a brutal knife to the heart lesson, that life is short. Tomorrow is not promised. Make an effort to stay in touch with those you love beyond holiday cards. Pick up the phone. Send them a card, an email. Make time NOW. Don’t wait for a special occasion. End every conversation with, “I love you”. Don’t let time get away. Nothing is more important than nurturing the relationships with those you love. Nothing. And when someone you love is sick, don’t worry about how it affects YOU. Don’t get tangled up in YOUR issues and how hard it is for YOU. That is the height of selfishness and hubris. Get over yourself and pick up the damn phone. I have learned these lessons the hard way. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did. I challenge you to think of someone you’ve been meaning to call, write, reach out to and do it NOW. Right now. Let them know you are thinking of them. Now. Do it. Have courage.

I write now for Lara because she no longer can. Her memory guides my pen. Her life gives me the words. Her death gives me the courage…because I now understand how precious time is and how fragile life is.

Dear sweet friend, Lara, I miss you to the moon and back a thousand times. With passion, truth, conviction and beauty, you ruled the world. With grace, courage, dignity and a fist bump to the rain clouds, you departed. While those who knew and loved you feel as if we may never smile again, all we have to do is think of you, our La, our favorite memories of yesteryear or simply gaze at your photo or sing your sweet name and slowly the smiles will come, the heart will mend and the love that is you, our La, will renew, restore and guide us back to happiness.

So raise your glass (Beam or Daniels if you dare) and join me in a toast to My La. Forever may she strut! xo lulu

She is Gone

You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
~ David Harkins

 

 

 

 

I cry. And then I write.

I cry every day. Not sad boo-hoo tears. Sometimes not even really actual tears. Just that lump in the throat on the verge of crying feeling you get when you feel something deeply. It happens when I’m happy or sad or moved, usually by an unexpected moment of humanity, either witnessed by or extended to me. A child trying to navigate a melting ice cream cone. Someone letting me go ahead of them in the checkout line because I only have four items and they have 846. A video of a pup welcoming home its war vet owner. The person who moves over, without me having to glare at them, to offer me a seat on the bus. That hard-knock life story kid who makes it through to the next round on “American Idol”. My emotions are always right there…on the surface. I am easily moved. So to process it, to make sense of it, to prevent myself from wading in a puddle of tears all day, every day, I write. For myself mainly. For friends and family quite often. I need to get the emotions out…somehow. I also eat lots of pizza and chocolate to deal with the emotions…but, well, ya know. It’s a slippery slope into perma-stretchy-pants land. So I cry. And then I write.

People tell me I’m good at it (the writing, not the eating, though I have mastered that quite well). I don’t really understand that. I just write. I write the way I think and the way I talk. That may not be a good thing but it’s the only way I know how. I don’t worry about, nor am I interested in, the “proper” way to write. I’m not interested in “constructive criticism” when it comes to my “process”. I don’t write for that part of the experience. For me writing is just a way to express myself and if someone starts telling me that I am not expressing myself the “right” way, well, ain’t nobody got time for that. I get grumpy and defiant and my Triple Taurus vibe comes out (yes, that’s right. I said it. Triple Taurus). Plus, I’m much too thin-skinned to accept that type of feedback with an open heart. I know my emotional limits. I can’t change the way I write, my approach, my style, nor do I have any desire to. It is what it is. I just write. Because I feel things. So I cry. And then I write.

I took a fiction writing class in college during my senior year to fulfill an art requirement. The sad irony of the child of two artist parents is that I am the least artistic person you will ever meet. My stick figures are round. So a writing class seemed a good option. I enjoyed it. But it was frustrating because there were rules and criticism and it just took the joy out of the experience. I do however, enjoy the editing process. I usually just start wring stream of consciousness style and I have a tendency to use “&” a lot instead of writing the word “and”; I am trying to change that. That is a concession I will make for this endeavor. I love to revisit what I’ve written and fine tune it. Finding the perfect word, or turn of a phrase…that is actually where the joy comes for me. Getting it just right. I think that’s why I like writing. I can take as much time as I need to say exactly what I mean to say, the way I want to say it. Total “verbal” control. There is not much in life that I can control. The realm of my written words is that rare exception. So I cry. And then I write.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a talker. Big time. But every day I have moments where I reflect upon a conversion I’ve had and think, “Ugh. Why did I say THAT? Why didn’t I say THIS?” I cringe with the memory of all the “likes” and “umms” and “omgs”. The sputtering and floundering. I wish I could take those words back. A do over. A verbal rewrite. But I can’t. So I cry. And then I write.

More and more, over the years, people from all corners of my life, people who see short snippets of my posts on Instagram, or other social media platforms, people who don’t actually know me and therefore have no real vested interest, and aren’t obligated to the polite supportiveness of friendship, tell me I’m good at it. Writing. They tell me that a lot. All the time. Everyday. And so you get to a point where you think, “Maybe you need to listen. Stop dismissing it. You love to write. It brings you joy. People tell you it brings THEM joy. The say you have a gift. Don’t waste it”. So I cry. And then I write.

It seems everyone has a blog these days. This is not a ground breaking feat I’m embarking upon. People do it every day. But for me, it’s epic. Life changing. Dare I say, it’s even bold…for a person who is, by nature and habit, not a risk taker. This blog. My blog. A place for my writing to live. A forever home for my words.

I am creating this space because people often ask me, “So, where can I find your writing?” I’ve never had a place to direct them. It is, however, hard to imagine anyone other than immediate friends and family would be interested in the things I have to say or the stories I have to share…like the time I thought Marvin Gaye and Jackie Kennedy were my parents. And that time, for two weeks, when doctors debated if they would need to amputate my leg. And that time Len Horne requested to meet me. Or how I grew up not just IN the Haight-Ashbury but actually ON Ashbury and Haight Streets, in a house where Jimi and Janis once lived. Yes. I’ve have stories to tell. But do I dare? And then there is the privacy thing. I am fiercely private. “Lulu” is my nom de plume. I won’t be posting picture of myself here. I worry that certain details I write about will out my identity. And that terrifies me. Maybe I’ll get over it. I’m not sure. So I cry. And then I write.

The emotion of what I’m doing…finally…after so many years of false starts. It’s terrifying. I even put a little bit of money towards this blog because I have creative OCD and I want the site to look a certain way. Fonts matter. I’m sort of weird that way. So it feels real. Like, am I really doing this? So I cry. And then I write.

And as I sort through the myriad of offered color palates for the blog design (OMG, why are there so many?) I am overwhelmed and afraid and excited. And as with any major shift in life, there are signs…everywhere…right this moment that I am doing this thing. My cat rolls over on the TV remote and the weight of his furry tummy presses the buttons and changes the channel. It’s a movie. The well-known character in the scene says, “I am a writer”. Is it a sign? I glance down at my Instagram account and my most recent post, a quote about writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald has just been LIKED by Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel. Is it a sign? So I cry. And then I write.

I know that signs are everywhere because my friend Lake tells me they are and Lake is all knowing and wise and intuitive and the one person, more than any other, who is not going to tell you the warm fuzzy thing that you want to hear, but the deep profound thing that you need to hear so that you will grow. It’s been this way since we were in the first grade. So if Lake says there are signs, trust me, don’t try to fight it. There are signs. So I cry. And then I write.

I am seeing the signs. I am listening to them. I am respecting their power. And I will give my words a place to live, a home, worthy of their power, instead of deserting them, scattered throughout the universe and forgotten. I will honor my skill, my talent. I will respect my voice. I will share my stories. So I cry. And then I write.

I have no idea what happens after this. I am terrified at the idea of strangers reading my words. I have no end goal here. I just want to write. And if people read my words and appreciate them, that is truly wonderful. If something I share moves even one person in a positive way, well, that will be beautiful. But I have no expectations. So I cry. And then I write.

And so now, in this very moment, I feel strong and powerful and in control. And the tears have stopped. I’m not crying. Is it a sign?

Time will tell, my beauties. Time will tell. xo lulu