Rising From the Ashes…Or Something

So, it’s been a long ass time since I did this whole blogging thing. You know, for most of my life I used to walk around telling everyone who was interested (probably not that many people to be honest) that I was a writer. Hell, I still walk around with a pen in my pocket ’cause every writer ALWAYS HAS TO BE READY!

…and this is my first blog post in over two years. Yup, I’m a writer. So prolific.

Anyway, I’m here to say that I’m back! Back from where? I dunno. A lot has happened in the last two and a half years. Like A LOT. So here are the major highlights that I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Got married.
  • Holy snap I got married!!
  • New job. Cool job.
  • Did two TEDx talks (seriously, put my full name in YouTube or just google me, son!).
  • Won a big national mental health award in Canada (CAMH 150 Difference Maker–for being one of the top 150 difference makers in Canadian mental health).
  • Gained a bit of weight. Some good. Some bad.
  • Lost my athleticism and can’t dunk (see above point).
  • My kid’s mom passed so he lives with me and my wife now.
  • Been on TV a lot.
  • Got a little famous in Canadian mental health.
  • Wrote the foreword for a book, Brainstorm Revolution, which you can find here
  • Learned a little Spanish. Tal vez más que un poco español pero no sé. Puedes preguntarla a mi esposa. Ella es mexicana.
  • …and I haven’t updated my LinkedIn to reflect ANY of this. :p

So like, a lot has happened. Life is much different. I’m much different. But in many ways I’m still the same. Like, I’m still woefully insecure and struggle to see the ‘amazing’ things that others say they see in me. However, I’m trying my best to start believing in these things because like L’Oréal, I’m worth it.

On a more serious note, with the turn of the new year, I’ve naturally been reflecting on a lot. More specifically, I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on what I normally reflect on, something extremely important–myself. That and humility.

(That’s a joke y’all. I’m not a narcissist…I don’t think so anyway).

Upon all this reflection, what I’ve been finding is this–I walk around with lots and lots of internalized shame. This shame has been derived from my family history and generational trauma, internalized racism, societal disenfranchisement, marginalization, stigma from having a kid too young, growing up poor in the projects, being told I had to be perfect in order to be good enough (seriously, don’t do this to your kids), being ridiculed for the hobbies I chose and how I expressed my identity (wasn’t Black enough for some people…***checks skin colour***…whatever that means). Etc. Etc.

Anyway, point is, there’s a lot of shame. What has shame done to me? It’s made me hide things. It’s made me hide myself. I’ve been hiding myself from so many people, and the world really, for virtually my entire life. It suuuucks to want to get close to people, to crave closeness, but also to do everything necessary to avoid it because on some deep level you’re ashamed of who you are and what people might see if you invite them past the smoke and mirrors facade of a smile and virtuosity that you’ve created for yourselves. Sure, I think I’m mostly virtuous nowadays, but you wouldn’t know the ways in which I wasn’t virtuous since I hide a lot of my past (good thing I wasn’t tweeting back then, eh?). There’s lots you might not know, really significant stuff, because the shame I have associated with virtually every aspect of the life has motivated me to carefully curate an ideal image of myself for public consumption. And that’s not saying the stuff I hide is reprehensible–far from it actually. And that’s the point I think I’m trying to make, that I live with so much shame that I’m hiding parts of myself that are completely unnecessary to hide.

So, in 2019, I’m done with all that shit.

I’m going to work through this shame. I’m going to show you more of me. I’m going to be more vulnerable. And that’s because I want to be more close. To you. And you. And you too. Because I deserve it.

And so, 2019 isn’t going to be the year where I create a new me, but it will be the year that I show you a new me. The me that was always there. The me that I’m deciding to love better. Because dammit, I think I’m a pretty dope me, a me that is worth showing off and sharing with the world. So that’s what I’ma do this year. And it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to be scary. But, fudge it, I’m gonna do it.

And now, Shame, I’m talking directly to you…sayonara. In 2019, you’re done.

Welcome to me.

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A Poem: Summer In the (Inner) City

So a poem about the bad parts about summer in the community in which I grew up. Hope you enjoy it and that it provokes thought.

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At night I whispered ghetto dreams

Out of broken windows

On to a backdrop of

Dumpsters and a forgotten sofa that sit decrepit

Shadowed absently by

A streetlight that flickered mockingly.

With no stars to wish upon

I slept unsoundly

To the sound of sirens,

Gunshots,

Melancholy, and murder

As I was told that if I read hard enough

Perspired, welled up and bled hard enough

That test answers could correct

This oblivion

Not understanding that the memories

Roam through the attic of my mind

Like ghosts.

What can put the heart together again

After a life like this

Where happiness was a reticent wish

Whisked away in the wisps

Of gun smoke

And fallen tears that

Evaporated on scorched pavement

As soon as the wish was spoken

Am I Good…or Just Good Looking?: Susan Boyle, Rap, and The Halo Effect

So I said, “I’m going to start working on my mixtape…but I’m not sure how good it’ll be.”

And then with a coy smile, Tomato said (name changed to protect his identity), “I’m sure it’ll be good.”

Then I chortled and asked, “How do you know when you’ve never heard me rap?”

And his reply was, “with your looks, it has to be good.”

Wait. What?

Because what do looks have to do with rap?!?!

I mean, let’s look at Biggie Smalls a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. (for the uninitiated), commonly regarded as the best rapper of all-time. This is what he looks like:

“Make sure you get my good side.”

He’s not exactly gonna be pictured next to David Beckham on a bus in a black and white Calvin Klein ad anytime soon (well, part of that is because he’s dead — RIP — but even if he were alive, well…just look up. Yup. Not a model.). In fact, Biggie in his song, ‘One More Chance (Remix)’, even goes as far as to rap this line about himself:

“Heart throb never, black and ugly as ever!!”

And he says it with so much conviction that even if you didn’t know what he looked like you’d believe him.

Okay, now that we’ve established that Biggie is, um — aesthetically challenged — let’s see if there is any correlation between his looks and his rap skills.

This is what Biggie Smalls sounds like:

Baby baaaaby!

So, yeah, he’s pretty good. But he certainly ain’t good-looking. There is definitely no correlation between looks and rap skills — unless it’s a negative correlation where being good-looking means you won’t be a good rapper and vice versa…hold on a minute…was Tomato calling me ugly???

Hopefully. It wouldn’t hurt being as good of a rapper as Biggie was. But I don’t think that was the point he was trying to make. I think what Tomato was trying to say was that I’d likely be a good rapper because I was good-looking.

Which is friggin’ ridiculous.

I’m a good rapper because I practice. :p

But seriously, connecting my subjectively rated good looks to my rap skills is erroneous at best. And as such, in my next trick, I’ll try to explain why Tomato would make such a statement.

Now enter, The Halo Effect.

[The] Halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties. It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo. Subsequent researchers have studied it in relation to attractiveness and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems. The halo effect is a specific type of confirmation bias, wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. Edward Thorndike originally coined the term referring only to people; however, its use has been greatly expanded especially in the area of brand marketing.”

This definition is taken from the most academic of sources — wikipedia!

Basically, all the fancy schmancy language in the above definition means this: people tend to think good-looking people are nicer, more charming, more talented, and generally overall better as human beings because they are good-looking. This is untrue. They’re not. It’s a computational error made by our apparently shallow and weak-willed brains.

Now, looking in the mirror (figuratively, not literally — I’m not Narcissus), it’s been said that I’m good-looking. This may or may not be true. However, assuming that the people who have said that I’m good-looking are telling the truth, it makes me think…shit…maybe I’m not as charming or talented as I’ve been led to believe?

Maybe I’m a boring, untalented, hack who’s gotten by due to a fast metabolism and a magnetic smile.

Or maybe I actually am charming. And maybe I actually am talented at a few things. But honestly, the Halo Effect has made me think about how my looks have affected my success along my career path.

This is the part where I give a personal example from my life and try to connect it with my main argument. Here it goes.

I’m a pretty successful public speaker. I get a pretty decent amount of work. I don’t promote myself at all. This blog, which generates as much traffic as a dirt road in rural Idaho, is the closest thing I have to a promotional tool on the internet. Yet, I get a lot of work by word of mouth and one of the most common things said about my personality as a speaker is that I’m charming and charismatic. And I often have questioned myself of whether this is actually true or not, because I don’t feel especially charming or charismatic. To be real, I sometimes display awkward body language and I have a tendency to stumble over words with more than three syllables. But yet, I’m called charming, which is fairly new to me. Want to know why?

Because I was an ugly duckling.

At 16 years old in high school I was about 6-feet tall and 150 lbs, and about 30 of those lbs were in my head. Now that I’m a stout 6’4″ and 200 lbs with functional facial hair I’m often called charming. Here’s the thing — I don’t feel like I act particularly different than I did when I was 16 years old. I’m a little goofy now and I was a little goofy back then. I make intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture now and I made intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture back then. I sometimes smile awkwardly when my “social skills” aren’t able to generate a suitable response to a situation — just like when I was 16. And get this, when I was in grade 11, nobody told me I was charming. Instead, I was just a skinny kid with a big head and few friends who was largely ignored by the opposite sex. So, what’s the difference between high school pariah Asante and audience celebrated adult Asante? Four inches, lot’s of weight, a little bit of facial hair, and better personal grooming.

And now I wonder, what am I actually good at? Am I even good at anything at all? I hope so. Because it would suck not to be. I want to be able to offer something tangibly valuable to society. I have to be able to make a real contribution to the world based on what I can actually do well.

Or I could just get by with my good looks. That works too.

But seriously, despite being unfairly tethered to the lottery of one’s genetics, apparently looks matter. And that sucks. Because there must be plenty of people, like Susan Boyle, whose immense talents get overlooked because they aren’t considered physically attractive.

This is Susan Boyle:

Seriously, the woman can sing.

Susan Boyle was 47 in that clip. Nobody wanted to give her a chance for close to twenty years of her adult life because she doesn’t look the right way for TV and magazines. And on the other hand, again looking in the mirror (again, figuratively), I feel like I’ve been given a preponderance of opportunities in my adult life due to my looks. Which is stupid and unfair. I want to be judged by my actual character and abilities — and not my face, just as Susan Boyle should have been. But, in order for that to happen, we as a society need to stop placing so much importance on looks.

So, with this post, I challenge you, the reader, to be less shallow and to recognize people for their virtues regardless of their physical appearance. Let’s celebrate each other for what we can do, and how we contribute to the enrichment of each others’ lives. Yes, as it stands right now, looks matter, but they shouldn’t. Let’s change that.

Maybe then I’ll know whether or not I’m actually good at anything.


DISCLAIMER: This post is not a 1396 word humble brag. I swear. Seriously. I’m actually engaging in self-reflection and trying to make the point that my success has absolutely zero to do with my skills and work-ethic, and instead has everything to do with my traffic stopping good looks. That sound you hear is your hyperbole meter exploding. Toodles.

Dirty Money: In the Hands of Broth(er)s — A Poem

Here’s a poem about the way I grew up, where I am now, and my thoughts about the transition. Hope you like it.

Prosperity

Can’t wipe away

The graffiti on my soul

Painted in mother’s tears

And the blood of brothas

Who passed for their brothas

Or at the hands of them

Cuz on the block

Were thugs

Pushers

And

Prostitutes

Who

Couldn’t shake the dirt off

The dollar bills

That flowed like rivers

Through the gutters

In the projects.

But we popped bottles

Brushing dirt off our shoulders

In parties we lost ourselves in

Veiling our memories in the smoke

Bluntly

Trying to forget

The way we grew

Up

Making a Case for Faith: How Faith Saved My Life

Five years ago I was on welfare in the projects.

Today, I live in a three bedroom house in the suburbs with a walkout basement, a great deck, a big backyard, and a beautiful view of the sunset.

IMG_0864

A view of the sunset from my deck.

Pretty nice right?

A part of me never thought this would happen.

Another part of me always hoped it would, but I had doubts.

And an even smaller part of me believed and had faith, no matter how bad things became, no matter how dark my world seemed. And as I moved through childhood into adolescence and then adulthood, my world very often seemed bleak and dark. My favourite rapper of all time, Nas, on a song called, The World is Yours, once said:

“I need a new n*gga for this black cloud to follow, ’cause while it’s over me it’s too dark to see tomorrow”

I felt like this very often growing up.

When I would come home to an empty fridge and empty cupboards I felt like this. When I was in high school and my mother was in and out of the hospital for over a year hearing voices, experiencing delusions, and hallucinating, I felt like this. When, because I had no lunch and no lunch money, I was pocketing candy bars and sodas while the storekeeper wasn’t looking, I felt like this. When I was on welfare and spent my last $90 on clothes for Isiah, leaving me with literally -$999.98 in my bank account, I felt like this.

There were a lot of dark days.

That black cloud, it felt like it was attached to me like a shadow and there was no way to sever it’s connection with me. But then Nas said this on the chorus of the aforementioned song:

“Who’s world is this? The world is yours! The world is yours! The world is yours!!”

And that reminded me that I could still be something, that I could still make something decent of my life, that I had some control over my circumstances, that I could make it. Even though my life was pretty shitty (for lack of a better term), Nas let me know that I still had the power to change it, and if it were to change that it would be up to me, that I would have to do it.

Black cloud or not, the world was mine!

But I was still hungry. And poor. And my mother was still sick. And I was still alone all the time, with no family around and very few friends. And I was still stealing food just to eat, still washing my three pairs of underwear by hand with dish detergent twice a week. And I was still on welfare. That black cloud loomed over me, making it difficult to see a way out.

But I had faith.

When I felt like selling drugs could be the answer, that faith made me stop. When I was about to run up on that youngster to rob him of his iPod so I could maybe sell it for some cash, that faith made me say not to violence. When I felt like I was all alone and nobody was willing to help, that faith made me trust. When felt like jumping in front of a subway train, that faith made me take the bus. That faith made me think that as bad as it was, even with that dark cloud over me, that if I tried hard enough one day things might possibly get better.

So I worked.

I didn’t even know what I was working for at the time, all I knew is that if I worked, and if I didn’t give up, that there may be brighter days ahead.

So I didn’t turn to crime. Or suicide. And I didn’t give up.

Instead, I went to class everyday, even when I was hungry with crushing headaches and a boulder in my stomach. Instead, I completed all of my readings and studied as best I could, hunger notwithstanding, for all of my tests. Instead, I decided to start taking medication for my anxiety and saw a therapist for my depression. Instead, I handed out dozens of resumes over the course of a month, eventually landing a job. And then after I got that job, I threw myself into the social world–which for me, with my social anxiety and distrust for others, made me feel like a bloody lamb being thrown into a pool of piranhas–until I eventually made friends. Then I made more friends. And then more friends after that. And I learned to trust.

Somewhere, interspersed in these happenings, I began public speaking, telling my story, hoping to help others find their faith. My faith was the fuel for my engine that coughed with the maladies of my personal history. Faith was what kept me working, even though I didn’t know what I was working toward or if the work would have any reward. Faith helped me find prosperity and happiness. Faith was what kept me going. Faith saved my life.

I could say that Nas gave me faith, but that would be wrong. I always had faith. Nas just helped me find it, black cloud or not. So now, I live my life with faith and I tell my story hoping to help others find their faith, because after all faith can save lives.

Faith is everything. Release yourself from your black cloud like I released myself from mine.

The world is yours.

Janey, At The Back of the Class — A Poem

DISCLAIMER: This poem is quite…dark…for lack of a better term. But, here it is.

Janey, At The Back Of The Class

And what of Janey

The ghost at the back of the class

She plays under the slide at recess

Alone

Tiny fingers picking the order out of her braids

Trying to reach deeper, hoping

To pick the slaughter out of her brain

Memories

Of an uncle’s love she never asked for

and tried to scream away

Uselessly

With nobody home

I hope you liked it. Actually, I hope you didn’t. I don’t even like it. Because the story is so common.

Too common.