Let Your Light Shine Anyway – On Robin Williams’ Death

Before I got up the gumption to call myself author and to pursue my dreams wholeheartedly, I was the queen bee of helpers. I was always encouraging others, and I admired people who were unapologetically themselves. Sometimes, as a writer, you quietly live out loud. You can bury your beliefs behind characters and sentiments, and if you’re really careful, you can avoid confrontation altogether. And rejection.

Robin Williams
Photo: howoldarethey.com

Robin Williams was that kindred spirit to all. – Author Joy W. Simone

He was a living, breathing example of being yourself fully, and simply in that, we loved him. We love him. His skill and work ethic were proof that gifts blossom based on our commitment to bring them out. Robin was an artist’s artist. I’ve never seen him in a role that he did not deliver and do it well, and with nuance. I loved him. He made it okay to be your quirky self, your goofy self, your nerdy, nonconformist self, your dance to the beat of your own drummer self.

Robin-Williams-robin-williams-32089725-2798-1999

And yet, we knew that he was somehow suffering, even if we couldn’t put our fingers on it. I am saddened and also angry because it was him, not his works, that I felt connected to. When he sat down for an interview, you felt that he was talking to you, sharing his deepest self with you, a voyeur and friend. Was there something we missed? Could we have “saved” Robin Williams? In these times, we see so much strife and conflict, senseless deaths, wars, and competition for mere survival.

Letting your light shine is serious business. . And so we honor those who dare to wholly… Be.

Do we accept the charge to take up the gauntlet? Or would we say those who shined brightest were living in vain?

Shine on, Robin! Peace to your soul.

 

 

More on Robin Williams:

CNN.com – Robin Williams was in early stages of Parkinson’s disease, wife reveals

 

 

BlackStar Film Festival 2014 – Philly’s Finest Deliver “Music is the Weapon”

BSFF Citypaper credit Mark Stehle

by Joy Simone

For the third year, the annual BlackStar Film Festival has emerged on the campus of Univ. of Penn and the surrounding Philadelphia area. I had the pleasure of participating last year, and I’m excited to be involved again. This year’s theme, “Music is the Weapon,” brings together filmmakers and musicians to highlight the ways these mediums converge to create and powerfully impact lives. Two industry panels will take place, “The Crossover: Film and Music Industries” and “Composing for Film.” They will both explore the “intersections of the two creative industries with participation from composers, producers, directors, and executives.

Two film shorts, Til Infinity: Souls of Mischief and Time is Illmatic will premiere during at the festival. 

Time Is Illmatic is a feature-length documentary that delves deep into the making of Nas’ 1994 debut album, Illmatic, and the social conditions that influenced its creation. Twenty years after its release,Illmatic has become a hip-hop benchmark that encapsulates the socio-political outlook, enduring spirit, and collective angst of a generation of young black men searching for their voice in America.

The BlackStar Film Festival was created to provide a platform for independent black filmmakers. Founder and Producing Artistic Director Maori Karmael Holmes says, “We are super excited about the third installment of the festival. We now know that the festival is an intimate
space where filmmakers get to interact with one another, dream, connect, and foster
new ideas and new projects, and we expect that family reunion vibe again this year.”

I will have more on the festival and topics covered tomorrow. In the meantime, you can check the schedule and get more info here: http://blackstarfest.org/schedule/

BlackStar opens Thursday, July 31 and runs through Sunday, August 3. The festival will primarily take place at International House (3701 Chestnut Street). Other venues include: Scribe Video Center (4212 Chestnut Street), Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia (118 South 26th Street), the Annenberg School for Communication (3620 Walnut Street), and World Café
Live (3025 Walnut Street).

CNN IReport Spotlight – Author Joy Simone: A Woman Addressing Challenges, Offers Solutions

book signing

book signingPlaywright, Songwriter, Journalist Charron Monaye’s interview highlights my passions and purpose, my writing process and inspiration.

Here’s a bit below. Visit the site to see more. 

Joy Simone is an author, SEO Analyst, and Adjunct English Lit. Professor at Rowan College. She has a B.A. in Journalism from Howard University and a Master’s of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. Ms. Simone blogs about relationships, dating, family, careers, and current events. She serves as Director of Communications for Women’s EDGE Mentoring Program, and conducts creative writing and self-publishing workshops locally.

She is passionate about writing, history, literature, education and family. The proliferation of single-parent households and the stereotypes of African American women led to her debut work, The Wedding Plan: A Collection of Short Stories. Through these stories, Simone highlights the challenges faced by African American women in relationships, marriage, careers and life, while exposing the diversity within the African American community, including male characters who are unique and offer a different perspective.

….

Your book “The Wedding Plan: A Collection of Short Stories” discusses the challenges faced by African American women in relationships, marriage, careers and life. What challenges do you feel we as African American women face the most, and what ideas do you have to help eliminate those challenges.

Some of the challenges African American women face is glass ceilings in the workplace, income disparities, joblessness, being among the “working poor”, and so on. One of the statistics that disturbed me most was the lower average of children born to the most educated women in our population. It seemed that by fighting to defy the “baby mama” stereotype, we were forfeiting motherhood. I know not all women want to be mothers, but there a lot who, rightfully, delay childbirth until marriage, but end up never marrying or marrying past the key childbearing years.

Other issues I see that are prevalent… Read More

A Belated Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou

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10458903_10152523824654593_247459233218316966_nI still cannot believe that Maya Angelou is gone. I can barely keep up with the passing of our matriarchs and patriarchs who through art, protest, words and actions provided a reference point for nobility, strength and courage.

Maya did for me what she did for many Black girls, she gave me a feeling of belonging. I was so excited when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I cherished every word and syllable, explored the world with Maya, a woman who had overcome odds and challenges and maintained her stride with grace and elegance.

I post her poem here, And Still I Rise, because some days it’s like that old Gospel song, it gets inside you and reminds you that you never walk alone!

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou1928 – 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/still-i-rise

Do Opposites Attract?

A recent study tells a different story about relationships and emotional distance. The Columbia University study of over 700 men and women reveals that the level of closeness isn’t as important as the individuals’ needs.

In religious terms, sharing the desired level of closeness would be similar to being “equally yoked.”

“Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship,” says the study’s lead author, David M. Frost, PhD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it’s important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner.”

Over the two-year study period, some respondents’ experiences of closeness became aligned with their ideals. In such cases, their relationship quality and mental health improved. The inverse was also true. Those who increasingly felt “too close” or “not close enough” over time were more likely to grow unhappy in their relationships and ultimately break up with their partners.

In the book, The 5 Languages of Love, Dr. Gary Chapman provides exercises to help couples identify their individual love language.

• What do you complain about most often? When you say to your spouse, “I don’t think you would ever touch me if I did not initiate it,” you are revealing that Physical Touch is your love language. When your spouse goes on a business trip and you say, “You didn’t bring me anything?” you are indicating that Receiving Gifts is your language. The statement, “We don’t ever spend time together,” indicates the love language of Quality Time. Your complaints reveal your inner desires.

Tips for Relationship Success

Whether you’re in a long-term relationship that needs a boost or you are in the beginning stages of a new romance, having a clear understanding of your emotional needs is a big step toward a relationship that is mutually satisfying and long lasting.

Weigh in: Do opposites make better mates?

The Wedding Plan: A Collection of Stories

Single Parents and Relationship Success

With the divorce rate often quoted as one in two, or 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s hard to fathom that there could still be a stigma attached to single parents. To be exact, the CDC quotes 3.4 of 1,000 marriages end in divorce. If you combine those single parents with single parents who conceived out of wedlock, that leaves a pretty large number of men and women in the single parent pool.

The reality is that many still pause when they find out that a woman or man has children. It means, automatically, that a third party is in the equation; in actuality, it may mean more, including the child’s father or mother. No one wants to willingly enter into baby daddy or baby mama drama.

In her recent blog post, author Christelyn Karazin addresses the question: “As a single mother, am I considered ‘damaged goods’?” Karazin admits there are challenges. She warns against men who prey upon single mothers who have bought into the notion that they are “damaged goods.” Often it is how we view ourselves that determines how others react and treat us.

In this Askmen.com article, writer Lawrence Mitchell states:

The game you play with other women may not have the same effect. I have always recommended that men be genuine and sincere in their love life but with a single mother, you should hardcode that nugget of advice on your cerebellum.

Concern about dating a single parent goes both ways, and many women do not want to date men with kids any more than single men want to date single mothers. But with our “modern families” and today’s culture, anything is possible. Relationships are unique, and there are many ways to find relationship success.

The benefits of dating single parents

There are some advantages to dating single parents. If you are looking for a committed relationship, a single parent is more likely to be responsible, mature and more likely to know what it takes to make a relationship work. If, on the other hand, you like your freedom and space, this could also be a win-win.

Dating advice for single parents

If you are re-enteringthe dating arena as a single parent, it’s best to keep an open mind, take your time and consider new venues or activities. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking time for yourself, and you certainly don’t need to introduce every person you date to your child(ren). Cnn.com offers more advice here.

Relationship Advice Heavily Weighted on “Male Perspective” Side; Women?

Purchase the book

In this introduction to The Wedding Plan: A Collection of Short Stories, I explain the reason I was moved to create these stories. My hope is that the discussion will continue with the voice of more women, of all colors and creeds, weighing in. — Joy Simone, author, The Wedding Plan

Introduction

The numbers are in. Statistically speaking, African American women who are “educated,” meaning have some college and/or post-graduate education, are least likely to be married with children. The numbers say 46 percent, in fact. According to the U.S. Census, 46 percent of African American adults have never married, compared with 26 percent of all American adults. By their early forties, 31 percent of African American women have never married, versus 9 percent of Caucasian women, 11 percent of Asian women and 12 percent of Latino women in the same age group.

They have posted articles about it, discussion boards too numerous to count have explored the topic, and books have been written on the subject, advising black women how to “get a man,” or simply starting the “conversation” about the state of black relationships in America. The underlying message behind much of the commentary is that something is wrong with black women. If you want to go for hyperbole, the statistics could read, “Black women are the least desirable women on the planet.” How about that?

Say what you will, and bravado aside, that is a lot to swallow. In the midst of all the pressures to live a good life, to survive financially and emotionally, it doesn’t bode well. And if you happen to be a black woman, a single black woman, the sentiment can eat at you.

It manifests in cravings for salt and vinegar chips, triple caramel Frappucinos and molten lava chocolate dessert.  It’s weekly nail and hair appointments, overpriced cars and celebrity-sized closets. It’s a lot of work proving that you’re worthy, that you’re wonderful, only to find that you are still alone.

In some instances of black women remaining unmarried, it’s not about loneliness; it’s about lack of commitment. Simply put, some black men in relationships won’t marry. Some say they aren’t ready to settle down (even though they’ve been in a relationship with the same woman for many years), they don’t know if they’ll ever get married, they’re not sure she’s “the one.” In his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey gives insight into the reasons men won’t commit, and he offers advice on how to foster a committed relationship.

The debate about the marriage statistics among black men and women began with reviews of Ralph Richard Banks’ book, Is Marriage for White People? How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone. When the commentary began, people were angry, judgmental, called black women “angry and bitter,” accused black women of not being feminine enough, submissive enough. There were accusations that black women were not realistic in the type of men they were “waiting for.” Black women were too choosy, too domineering. You name it, people had a lot to say about black women. Mr. Banks in his NY Daily News article suggested that black women should begin to date outside of the race. Even this, a tangible solution, was met with varying degrees of disdain. Somehow, it turned into an attack on black women. This, despite the fact that Banks pointed out the outlook was gloomy even when interracial dating was entertained. TheRoot.com’s book reviewer also took issue with Banks assertions.

“When selecting a mate,” Banks said, “[African heritage isn’t as valued as European or Asian heritage.]” Factors such as money, smarts, looks, family background, etc., were listed as determinants for how/why a man will select a mate.  And once again, according to statistics, black women made the cut less often than women of other races.

In her New York Times opinion piece, Angela Stanley, a researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State University, had this to say:

Proposing interracial dating as a solution requires more than just black women acquiescing. Understanding the numbers and the realities of single black women takes more than just a lopsided glance. Despite the visibility of people like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice, black women as a group are still largely negatively stereotyped in movies, television, music and other forms of popular culture. However, because black men have been disproportionately affected by social inequities, black women have been implicitly conditioned not to add to that burden. Being critical of black men, instead of being supportive and sympathetic, is often viewed as adding to the problems of black men.

Stanley also cited a 2008 University of California, Irvine, study, which found that while women of color were more likely to include white men in their dating pools, white men were more likely to exclude black women.

One of the things that moved me to write this was a desire to shed light on black women as three-dimensional beings. There’s so much criticism along with the often touted “angry black woman” stereotype that I think people forget that we are people… with feelings and who need and deserve love as much as any other race or individual.

In an MSN.com article, author Brian Alexander sites Yale sociologist Averil Clarke and her then soon to be published book, Love Inequality: Black Women, College Degrees, and the Family We Can’t Have. “[Clarke] sees the impact of this demographic trend in a slightly different, and more romantic, light. It’s not about passing on economic and educational advantages, though these concerns are valid, she said. It’s about love.”

I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve had with professional women all over the country who have it going on and still can’t find a mate. Actually, many can’t even find a date. In the ‘90s, the wish list was popular. Common theory was that you had to be specific about what you wanted in a mate in order to find the right one. Well, the lists grew and the years did, too. I will say it seems as if the younger generations of women seem to understand that being “independent” does not have to be at the exclusion of family life and/or a mate. Norms change. Over the past 10 years, I’ve traveled from coast to coast; the stories don’t change. Sisters with great jobs, great homes, great attitudes, great bodies… single.

When Hill Harper’s book, The Conversation, debuted and discussions hit the airwaves, I was hopeful that we were going in the direction toward change. I even discovered that we had a day dedicated to “black love.” Black Love Day, founded in 1993, is another alternative to a mainstream holiday, in this case, Valentine’s Day. I thought the idea was good, but the discussions about relationships among African American men and women often ended with more frustration than when they began. I was hopeful that black men and women would rid themselves of the marketed ideals of love and beauty, and pay attention to the ideals that have helped make our families successful throughout the years. I didn’t understand why so many black male peers either found marriage undesirable or could not find a comparable mate among the two-to-one and higher ratios of black women to men reported in major cities.

Another alarming statistic revealed that African Americans who rated among the most educated and financially prosperous were not producing offspring. Why? Largely because they weren’t getting married. If the most educated and potentially the most intelligent among us are not having children, then we are missing out on the opportunity to see the long-term effect of desegregation and affirmative action.

MSN.com contributor Brian Alexander noted the following in his article, “Marriage Eludes High-Achieving Black Women”:

When educated black women remain childless] this defeats the goal of affirmative action, argue some demographers. The idea behind assuring that blacks had access to higher education and graduate school was that after a generation or so, African-Americans would reach a kind of achievement parity after generations of suffering educational and career restriction. But if black women, who comprise 71 percent of black graduate students, according to the census data, do not have children, the rate of achievement reaches a kind of familial dead end.  (Alexander, Msn.com)

On the other hand, often it seems that those with less education have figured out that creating a family is not rocket science. Maybe these women are simply in environments with more black males, and therefore more easily able to meet and enter relationships with black men. But when you speak of marriage, statistically the numbers aren’t better for those in lower economic brackets. According to Banks, marriage has declined the most among poor people.  “…the black poor are the most unmarried of all. But the racial gap in marriage is apparent even among the middle and upper middle class. College-educated black women in their thirties, say, are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unmarried. And college educated black men are less likely to be married than college educated men of other races.” Banks raises an interesting point about black men and marriage. If black men are least likely to marry whether they are educated or not, entering a relationship with a less educated black man does not increase the likelihood of marriage for black women.

 

Marriage Arrangements

When I was coming up, I noticed, or maybe it’s more in hindsight now, but I recall moms who made it part of their job to foster relationships for their daughters. It was apparent that marriage was in the plan as early as high school. I’ve heard stories of “cheerleader” moms who tailored their girls for marriage from a very young age. By high school, they were already lining up prospects, whether the captain of the football team or the boy voted most likely to succeed. Among the black women I’ve encountered, this tactic was almost seen as taboo, as gold digging. Waiting until a later age for marriage certainly has its benefits, but having been involved in a long-term relationship in high school likely ensures a higher probability of marriage overall.

With so many single-parent households, it could be that the “modeling” just wasn’t available, and therefore, marriage was off the radar. Also, the main message reiterated by many single moms was independence… “You do not depend on a man to take care of you!”

No doubt this was good advice, especially coming from women who had seen and lived through the ramifications of being dependent upon a husband or father who walked out. Black, white or otherwise, the need for women’s empowerment and the message of independence remains relevant.

With regard to the black family and marriage, I don’t have the answer any more than the statistics proclaim the truth about what really goes on in households across the country.  In his New York Times article, “Blacks Need to Reinvent Marriage,” sociologist Dalton Conley states:

There certainly is a dearth of “marriageable” black men in America today. But this account is ultimately unsatisfying: It assumes a rather inflexible notion of marital roles, and embedded within it is the unexamined (racist) assumption that blacks must marry their own kind.

Cultural institutions are enormously flexible, and we see that in the United States today: the number of marriages in which the woman is the breadwinner is on the rise; as are marriages between older women and younger men — and even between taller women and shorter husbands! But the group with the most traditionally marriageable men is the one leading these trends — that is, educated whites. Blacks maintain the most traditionalist ideologies with respect to family roles — despite the greatest apparent need to reinvent marriage.

A new perspective on what the family unit looks like is in order for the African American community. Black women, in particular, have already been forced to reexamine their view of the family. Some have adapted, many continue to wait it out or forego marriage altogether.

Each woman’s circumstance is unique to her. What I do know is that I’ve talked to too many women who are hurting, and brothers as well, and I think the dialogue needs to continue.

What must be reiterated is that many black women are in loving relationships and are married, 54 percent; as a culture, we have reached heights far beyond our circumstance. Being single is not a sentence or a punishment. Many choose to be single, some because they enjoy independence, others because they refuse to settle for less than they want or deserve.

As Stanley states in the conclusion of her article, “What has happened, though, is that black women have been silenced. When we are vocal, we are problems. The marriage debate highlights the need for black women to tell our own stories….”

The short stories I’ve written and assembled here provide some insight into the daily lives of women maneuvering through the obstacles presented in their lives and relationships. Do you stay? Do you leave? Do you marry him anyway? And at what cost? These are a few of the questions left for the reader to address.

Black women as a whole have a right to be angry, but most of us are not. We are many things. At times we are hurt, sad, disappointed, disenchanted, strong, resilient, resourceful, creative, forgiving, loving, assertive, independent, submissive… we are women who know how to make lemonade out of lemons.

My goal was to create stories that present a candid view of black women, of women in general, of the sacrifices we make silently, the compromises we endure. These characters and their stories are compilations of women I’ve encountered throughout my life, experiences I’ve had, and answers to my own questions.

Maybe through these stories you will see yourself; maybe you will see someone you know; at the least, may you be entertained and enlightened.

_______________________________

Do these statistics sit well with you? Do they have validity? What has been your experience?

 

(The Wedding Plan: A Collection of Short Stories is Joy Simone’s first published book. She has written and performed poetry for more than a decade, and she is also a journalist. )

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Love is in the air!

Watching the Democratic National Convention was a homecoming of sorts. I imagine most gathered around to hear the Obama administration have its say. There was lots of passion, a coming together of the powerful and disenfranchised.

Love is in the air. Americans are getting fired up. But will we storm the Bastille?

In times of trouble, true character emerges, and people also fall in love. In politics’ shining moments, there are lots of flags waving and lots of family photo ops. The family emerges, again, as the thumbprint of the nation.

To have our leader model a healthy, loving family environment is affirmation, instruction, therapy. It does seem like we need this more than ever. Today’s world is a scary place. I have avoided this admission because I thought maybe I was just too old, but I still think it’s scary. Technology has created this oh so close, but miles apart culture. So, I say, “Cheers!” to keeping things warm and fuzzy.

I think tough times have reminded us to be patient with one another. People are literally losing their lives to stress, and not just from heart attacks; many have become victims of someone else’s mental breaking down.

I like the notion of choosing love. I see people all around me who are building families; they are doing it gracefully and with joy.

Seeing President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle together is a beautiful thing to witness. There is a joinedness to them that an old married couple will recognize and that the unattached can sense is true.