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.

I Go On A Lot of Inadvertent Dates with Women

“You’re a natural flirt.”

This was first said to me by my first serious girlfriend. And then my most serious girlfriend (we’re going to call her, ‘S.K.’) said it. Then my boss said it. Friends of both genders have said it. And my response has always been, “Nonsense! Baloney! Poppycock!”

Until tonight.

So about tonight, I was invited out to a comedy club by a friend who just happens to a woman. I’ve known her for awhile as we sometimes cross paths because we both do a lot of work in the same industry. As I think about it now, doing the uncomplicated math in my head, it has been approximately 2.5742 years since I have known my friend, ‘Lime’ (I have decided, spontaneously in this moment, that Lime will be her name for the rest of this post). Recently, Lime and I have been corresponding more and more often. We’ve sent a few emails back and forth and texted a couple of times a week, just shooting the electronic breeze. We even hung out once. So, I’m thinking, “cool, I kind of like Lime, she’s pretty cool and she’s into hip hop, which earns her mad points, like she hit the bonus round on my pinball machine…we can be good friends.” Notice the italics. Basically, I’m thinking all of our interactions at this point are innocent and strictly platonic, and you know, looking back on it, perhaps they were.

But tonight makes me think differently.

For about half a week Lime has been texting me about various things happening in the city, including this comedy night that happens every Monday at this club that I happen to like, where my friend’s band has played before and where I recently attended a hip hop jam that has made my Top 10 All Time Greatest Parties list–and I’ve been to a lot of parties. Basically, Lime had me at, ‘hello.’ So, when Lime suggested we hit up this spot (that I loved) for a comedy night, I was very firmly and decidedly doooown!

We made plans–we were hitting up the comedy spot on Monday night.

But, as things go in Toronto, situations come up, plans change, and communication is frayed as us young, ambitious, (and beautiful) city folk are sometimes too busy and disorganized for our own good. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, our plans fell through.

“Damn!”

How did our plans fell through? I was supposed to text Lime to confirm, and I did, but I guess I texted too late so she went for a run and I played some basketball. So late in the evening, Lime and I caught up with each other and we decided to hit up the comedy spot, albeit late. As such, I went to pick up Lime and she hopped in Scarlett II (my car–not to be confused with my Grade 6 crush, also named Scarlett). We decided, because I was starving after having dominated on the basketball court like Lebron James on steroids only minutes earlier (I may be exaggerating), I felt I deserved a meal. After all, I did finish one of the games like this:

Complete with the eye-of-the-Tiger glare and the walk off. It was a good moment.

Anyway, due to my excessive hunger derived from the sweet sap of greatness and triumph, Lime, who had already eaten dinner, suggested we hit up a gourmet pizza spot whose pizzas literally received a stamp of approval from Naples in Italy. At this point I’m thinking, “yup, this pizza has got to be LEGIT!”

So, I drive Lime and I to the pizza spot. We sit down, order pizza and eat (the pizza was indeed exceedingly legitimate). As we’re at the table eating this amazing pizza, talking and joking around, I start noticing that Lime is laughing at a lot of my jokes. And not just laughing, but laaaaughing. And, while I’m a fairly entertaining guy if I do say so myself, well, I’m not that funny. But, Lime was laughing at my jokes like she was out with Dave Chappelle and not Asante Haughton. This is where I start to clue in, thinking to myself, “uh oh…am I on a date…and is Lime starting to like me?” But again, “Nonsense! Baloney! Poppycock!”

Or maybe not.

Because later that night, after we had left the restaurant with the gourmet pizza (which deserved not only a stamp of approval from Naples but also from God), I drove Lime back to her apartment and then this happened:

Me: “Okaaaaay, so we’re here.”

Lime: “We are. Thanks Asante for driving me home.”

Me: *Smilingly*  “No problem. Anytime.”

Lime: “And thanks for everything else tonight, it was all really sweet of you.”

Me: *Thinkingly*  ‘oh snap, did she just call me sweet?!’ and I finally reply, “…ummm…thanks, uh, not a problem…at all.”

Lime: *Looks down, then up at me, then down again, as if waiting for something.*

Me: *Looks at Lime, then looks past her through the passenger-side window.*

Inside the Car: SILENCE.

Lime: *Continues to look down and then at me, again, as if waiting for something.*

Me: Trying to break the awkwardness, I say, “so, um, uh, it’s getting late, what’s the plan?”

Lime: “Oh, uh…yeah, you’re right, it is pretty late…”

Me: “Yup!!”

Lime: “Yeah, I guess I’ll go upstairs now.”

Me: “Okay, sounds good.”

Lime: *Waits some more.*

Me: “Well, I gotta get some sleep. Thanks for inviting me out tonight.”

Lime: Presumably now done waiting, exclaims, “Okay, bye!” as she exits the vehicle.

Me: *Watches Lime enter her apartment building before driving away thinking, ‘well that was a little weird…why was she taking so long to get out of the car…like, what was she waiting for?’

And then I drove home.

This is why I’m still single.

It occurred to me, pretty much as soon as I put Scarlett II in gear, that in the car after dinner and in front of her apartment, Lime was most likely waiting for a kiss, or for me to at least make some kind of move. And I completely missed all of the signals! I didn’t even catch one of them, like a football player who didn’t read the playbook. *Whoosh!* It all went way over my head. Then I started getting flashbacks.

This was not the first time this situation had happened to me.

This scene–of me dropping off a young woman at the end of the night, with the awkward goodbye, the waiting, the longing looks, and then the looks of disappointment that scream, “dammit boy, why don’t you just kiss me!”–has happened quite a lot. More than I’d like to admit. It happened with Orange, and with Clementine, and with Tangerine, and with Lemon (though it wouldn’t have worked with her anyway, her attitude was too sour), and countless other women that I won’t name because, well, I don’t know the names of any more citrus fruits. The point is, this situation, where I have seemingly gone on what I thought to be a platonic outing with a friend of the opposite sex, has happened quite often in my life.

It appears that I’m completely oblivious to the signals that women give when they like a guy. It’s a wonder I’ve ever even had a girlfriend at all–or so many of them. Even my most serious girlfriend, S.K., whom I referred to at the very beginning of this post, well, her and I first went out as what I thought was platonic friends. Then after we had seen Zombieland, the film of choice that night, we headed back to S.K.’s crib after the movie to play video games. Hours later, we’re still playing video games and it’s too late for me to get home comfortably on public transit and I’m too far from home to call a cab (I didn’t drive at the time), so S.K. invites me to stay over for the night. I say, “cool, I’ma just hold down the couch right here.”

Which is what I did.

I woke up the next morning on the couch and went home. About a week later, S.K. and I hung out again, and a similar scenario transpired (we hung out, then she invited me back to her place for video games), except this time, she ripped the Wii-mote out of my hands, grabbed me and started making out with me. And the whole time as this was going down, I was thinking, ‘well, this is a surprise…but I’ll go with it!” as I was completely oblivious that she was even interested in me romantically at that point.

Completely. Oblivious.

S.K. and I ended up dating for quite awhile, and even lived together for over a year. It was all a very beautiful experience. And once, during our relationship, we reminisced about that Zombieland date (which I didn’t even know was a date), and she explained to me how frustrated she was with me that night as she expected me to make a serious move on her, because, really, as she said, “what woman invites a guy to stay overnight if she isn’t interested???” And I shrugged and mumbled, “…um…I dunno…” However, in my defense, I will say that six weeks before Zombieland with S.K., I had just broken up with a girl whom I was deeply in love with that cheated on me. I was still heartbroken, stuck in that damp and dark pit of low self esteem that happens after being cheated on, and certainly not looking to hook up with, sleep with, kiss, make out with, date, or be in a relationship with anybody at that point. After all, I was too busy writing sad poetry and listlessly watching the Toronto Raptors lose basketball games while listening to songs about depression by Joe Budden (his tape, Mood Muzik 2, is a terrific project in this regard).

With all this being said, yeah, I was completely oblivious to S.K.’s interest in me (because texting me throughout the day everyday, talking to me at night every night, and inviting me to stay overnight after a movie doesn’t mean a woman likes you at all in my head, it just means she’s a nice person). And yeah, I may have gone out with a lot of female friends and acquaintances over the years who, like Lime, invited me out and then waited awkwardly for me to make a move at the end of the night. And then many times I haven’t. Because I didn’t think I was on a date. When in fact I was. And tonight, it really hit home for me that I’m very often completely oblivious to women’s signals of romantic interest, that I probably unknowingly have led a lot of women on, and that this must have been incredibly frustrating for them.

Tonight I realized that I go on a lot of inadvertent dates with women.

No wonder I’m still single.

Sometimes I’m Afraid People Won’t Like Me

Cool. Brave. Inspirational.

These are a few of the words I often hear being used by others to describe me. And I’m very grateful. Growing up desperately lonely, frequently yearning for social contact, it’s nice to know that people like me. This doesn’t mean, however, that I always believe it. The truth is that sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.

Which is ridiculous.

Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m unfairly judging myself. Maybe this feeling is something a lot of people feel but don’t express. Okay, so it’s not ridiculous that I feel this way. However, I’m sure people who know me personally, or those who I’ve worked with, would never guess that I sometimes am afraid I won’t be liked be others.

I’m pretty outgoing. I have a lot of friends. I work directly with people and I believe I’m well-liked by my coworkers. And I believe I’m well-liked by my clients. I’m also a public speaker with the ability to make crowds laugh, cry, and introspect–all in 30 minutes or less. I’ve gotten my share of standing ovations and I’ve literally experienced rooms shaking with applause. Sometimes when I go out with friends, I get loud and make the strangers around us laugh. So given all this, it would seem that I’m pretty good with people and that I’m a *gasp* likeable guy.

Yet sometimes I’m still afraid people won’t like me.

Where then is this all coming from? The place where all nagging insecurities are born, from the irrational bowels of naive and self-absorbed misunderstanding, a place called childhood!

Again, this would seem strange because, at least until I was about age 11 or 12, in a lot of ways I had a pretty normal childhood. Yeah, I was poor and food was sometimes scarce, but I was pretty happy as a kid. At least I think I was. No, I’m sure I was. I had a lot of friends at school. I was good at sports, made every team, and was always a starter. I was literally the smartest kid in my school and not in a pompous way, but in a whimsical, “yeah, I’m smart I guess *shrug*, can we talk about baseball now?” kind of way. Other people cared more about me being smart than I did. For them, being smart meant I was going to *drumroll*…change the world!…and for me, it meant that I could spend more time daydreaming and drawing in class. Teachers liked me as well and I was never bullied. So, I was in that rare position where I was well-liked by teachers and peers, despite being super smart and kind of nerdy (my school crush in grade 6–Scarlett–nick-named me ‘computer geek’ and then she asked me to dance at the end of the year party). So, then, where is this feeling that I won’t be liked by others coming from? Certainly not from what was happening at school–school was a pretty positive place for me. What’s that other place you spend a lot of time when you’re growing up? What’s it called again? Oh yeah, I think it’s called…

Home.

Now, my home life wasn’t bad. I was just alone a lot. And not by choice. My mother, having to feed three sons who shovelled food down like they had wheelbarrows for stomachs, was doing her best to improve our lives–or just to keep us well-clothed and fed. She did this by going to school full-time and working full-time. So when my mother was done with work, school, and cooking, well there are only 24 hours and the day, and for most of those hours, my brothers and I, we didn’t have the luxury of receiving meaningful attention from our mom. For me, that meant that my mother didn’t show up to any of my games, it meant that she left school performances immediately after my part was done, it meant that she didn’t have the time for long (or short) conversations about my day, that she didn’t have the time for me to analyze for her the drawing that I drew or the story that I wrote. She just didn’t really have the time to always engage in the social aspect of parenting.

The problem with single-parency is that it often turns that parent into a provider while leaving little time for nurturing. This a problem because after basic needs are met, what a child needs most of all is attention–and unfortunately my mother just didn’t have a lot of that to give me. And that’s not her fault. As a kid, though, you don’t really get how tired, how exhausted, life can make you. Instead, you just wonder, “why doesn’t my mom want to talk about my drawing?” or “why doesn’t my mom want to read any of my stories?” or “why doesn’t my mom come to any of my games?” As a child, your mother might say, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m really tired,” but then what you hear and what you feel is, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m too tired to care.” That’s how I felt. A lot. I get that she was busy and tired. But it still hurt. Because as a kid, you don’t understand, “busy” and “tired,” what you understand is, “mommy, you’re not there.”

And then there was my father. Well, to make a long story short, at the time of my childhood (even he would admit) he wasn’t a good dude. He, despite having much more free time than my mother, simply wasn’t there. By choice. His music career was more important. That’s where he spent all of his money and that’s where he spent all of his time. And forget child support money, what he needed to do was to give his child support with his time and his presence. But instead, I was given broken promises, phone calls to my pops that were never returned, late arrivals to the meet-ups he would schedule, or no arrival at all. I spent a lot of time crying because of my father. I’ve probably shed more tears because of my father than for all of the other events and people in my life combined. There were a lot of tears.

I felt unloved.

So, to recap quickly (as I gotta go to work at some point), with my mother, I felt like she didn’t care about me or my life outside of my grades, and I just didn’t feel like my father cared about me at all. When a kid feels like this for the large majority of his childhood, it’s easy to understand why he might feel like others won’t like him…

Because he never felt like his parents did.

And that my friends and anonymous readers is why I sometimes don’t return phone calls from people who teeter on that thin line between friend and acquaintance, or why I don’t ask potential friends who I’ve just met to hang out, or why I generally wait for others to introduce themselves first when I’m meeting people, or why it takes me such a long time to bring my walls down and open up to others, or why it seems like I don’t care or check-in enough, or why I don’t reach out to friends I haven’t heard from in awhile–it’s because I’m sometimes afraid people won’t care.

And I know that’s not true. I know that people do like me, and I know that people care. But sometimes the residue of childhood experiences aren’t easily washed away by the insight and maturity of adulthood. That’s why the fear is still there, that’s why I have to talk that fear back down when it tries to surge its way to the surface. That’s why I have to force myself through my social anxiety, to say hi to friends and strangers alike, to press send on that text, or to get on stage to talk to hundreds of strangers openly about my life.

Because sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.