Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Almost 2 months ago, I posted a blog titled The Dream. In this blog I listed all the things that I wanted to accomplish in my life. The second thing that I listed in this blog was becoming a fitness instructor. I am happy to say that I have achieved this goal (well sort of).

I started studying karate in 1995 after my freshman year in college. I instantly fell in love with karate and worked hard to achieve the rank of second degree black belt. For almost 10 years karate was a regular part of my life. I loved working out and teaching classes and I loved being fit. When I moved to Syracuse, I couldn't find a karate school that suited me. There weren't any schools in my style locally so I stopped practicing regularly. Over the past 5 years I have tried new styles and have traveled 90 minutes away to the nearest dojo that taught my style. None of these worked out for me so I decided that, for now at least, I wasn't going to be able to practice karate. But I needed something to satisfy my spirit the way karate used to.

Last July I started taking Zumba classes. Zumba is latin-inspired dance fitness. If you like to go out dancing and you like to sweat a lot, I would highly recommend it. When I first heard about Zumba I thought it would be perfect for me. I love to dance and miss having people to go out dancing with. I have been taking aerobics classes since I was a kid and love group exercise. I studied abroad in Spain and Puerto Rico in college and earned a minor in Spanish because I love the culture. Well after one class I was hooked. It's like a dance party where you just let go and don't even realize all the calories you just burned (usually around 700 calories for an hour class according to my fitness watch).

This summer I started thinking about becoming a Zumba instructor. I already knew a lot of the dances by heart because I went to class so much and being a fitness instructor would inspire me to get back in shape. This weekend I attended training and officially became a Zumba instructor. I left the training feeling so inspired that I haven't been able to sleep at night because I keep planning my future in my head. I need to do a lot of work to learn the choreography well enough to teach it to other people but I know that I can do it.

Aside from the training being totally awesome I met a lot of fitness instructors who weren't Barbie-doll skinny and looked like normal people. It was really comforting to see that some of the women looked a lot like me. I felt really good about myself for the first time in a long time. My husband was so happy with my new found confidence that he decided to get back on the workout wagon and start going to the gym with me. Which of course means that I'll be more likely to go to the gym because there is someone else there to motivate me.

I have also found myself wearing cuter workout clothes this week. I'm not talking about anything inappropriate but there is no reason that I should be hiding my body in baggy t-shirts and sweatpants just because I'm overweight. I have been wearing clothes that show off my shape in a way that shows me that yes, I need to lose some weight, but that I can still be attractive at my current size.

I plan on working on my resume this week and applying to health clubs that don't have Zumba currently. I have been working on the choreography every night on my own and plan to continue attending my weekly Zumba classes as well. In a couple of weeks I think I will be a force to be reckoned with!

A couple of weeks ago I came to the realization that I weigh about 60 lbs more than I did when I graduated from high school 16 years ago and I felt really bad about myself. Now I'm focused on being healthy and loving myself. I'd love to lose a ton of weight but I'm not going to obsess over it and let it run my life any more.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Out of the Closet..Sorta

So I was listening to Macy Gray's newest album, The Sellout, this morning while I was getting dressed. It's a really good album; if you liked her old stuff I would recommend it. But I was a little surprised to here her singing about her man in one love song after another. Earlier this year I heard an interview with Macy Gray where she was talking about how she had gone crazy for a few years because she felt like she was living a lie. She came out to the world and introduced her girlfriend. She said it was liberating and allowed her to write some of the most honest music that she had written in years. So why does she still feel like she needs to hide behind the stereotypical love song about a man when she doesn't have one and never will?

I watch Ellen periodically and I love how open she is about her wife. She frequently refers to things that happen to her and her wife Portia. She talks about their life together like any other married couple would. The only difference is that she is a lesbian and her partner is a woman. Ellen doesn't present an agenda or talk about anything political, she just talks about her life and her audience accepts her.

Years ago when Rosie O'Donnell came out on her show she became very political after being extremely family friendly for years. Her viewers didn't respond well to this and eventually her show was cancelled. The same thing happened on The View. When she became too political and combative they kicked her off the show. It was too much for the conservative housewife crowd to take. I love Rosie and listen to her radio show all the time but I am not a person who would watch The View. I hope that she goes the way of Bill Maher and gets a show on cable where she can be herself and doesn't have to censor herself.

So back to Macy Gray. 5% of the population is gay (pretty well established statistic at this point) and 60-70% of the people who listen to R & B music are female (not sure how reliable this statistic is but it seems that more women than men listen to R & B). So if you guess that 5% of the 60-70% are gay then as many of 40% of the people who listen to Macy Gray are thinking about their woman and not their man. So why hide it?

Hearing that someone is gay isn't a big deal (at least not to my generation) at this point. There is something very sad about knowing that someone is gay but is still living in the closet in some ways. I couldn't function if I hid who I was and who I loved from the world. She already came out to the world; that was the hard part. I just hope she realizes that people who love her music won't love it less just because she's gay.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Black Like Me

I watched this great documentary today called Off and Running. It's part of PBS' P.O.V. (point of view) series. If you haven't checked it out you should!. Well this documentary was about a white, Jewish, lesbian couple and their three adopted children. The three children were: a 17-year old dark-skinned black American girl, an 18-year old light-skinned Puerto Rican/black American boy and a 10-year old Korean boy. All of these children were adopted as babies and were raised under the traditional Jewish traditions of their family.

They were almost always the only non-white children at their Jewish school but they didn't view themselves as different until someone else pointed it out. The main focus of the documentary was the 17-year old girl. She seemed to be confident in who she was as a person until she started attending a predominantly black high school and got her first real exposure to black people and black culture.

It was so frustrating to watch this confident girl doubt herself and turn on her parents because her new friends joked about her family. You know that when she's an adult, the girl will look back at the documentary and realize how ignorant her friends were and how she disrespected her family. The girl was blaming her parents for being different. For making her less black than her friends could handle. Suddenly the fact that these women had raised her and given her a great life didn't mean anything.

The girl ended up dropping out of school, moving out of her parents house and getting pregnant before she pulled it together at the end. In the end she got her GED, started talking to her family again and was accepted to a historically black college. I hope that she finds her identity in college and realizes that black people come in many different colors and personalities but I worry that she will continue to let the ignorant people control her.

I really associated with this documentary because I have been this girl. I distinctly remember being one of only a handful of black kids at my private school and almost always the only one in my class. I remember how uncomfortable I was when teachers asked me what I thought of prominent black politicians and entertainers. Like some how I was representative of the entire race. Or when I went to a friends house for the first time and their parents were surprised that I was black because I sounded white on the phone. Or when some of my relatives made fun of me because I talked "white". I remember how difficult the transition from private school to public school was when it suddenly became very clear that I was not like many of the other black kids and that kids of both races had a problem with this.

I use to daydream that my dad had other children that I didn't know about. That my father (who was very light skinned) had children with a white woman and that these children were light skinned like him. I thought that one day I would meet these kids and suddenly have people who understood what I was going through. Like somehow the existence of light-skinned brothers and sisters would validate the experiences that I had as a dark-skinned black person. I felt like I couldn't have these feelings because I didn't look the part.

I read in Essence magazine that the average black American is 22% European. I have always been very interested in genealogy and where my family came from but it seems like a lot of black people don't share this desire. They appear accept the title African-American that society has labeled them with. I guess its better than negro or colored but its still not correct.

It's so frustrating to me when people describe white people as Italian/German/Mexican/etc. American but all black people are just African American. And I'm not talking about 1st or 2nd generation Americans, I'm talking about my peers. People who were born in this country and whose family has been here for many generations just like mine. I'm so tired of everyone else being asked the question and not me. I am not a statistic or a stereotype. I am an individual and I'd like to be treated as one.

When I was younger I would go out of my way to tell people that members of my family were biracial and light skinned because I felt it was the only thing that would justify these feelings that I was having. After watching this documentary, I realize that my fake biracial siblings would probably have been just as confused and conflicted as I was. They probably would have faced even more prejudice than I did because their appearance would make it even more difficult for them. I have witnessed this prejudice from biracial friends and classmates and do not wish it upon anyone.

I would like to say that as an adult I have overcome these anxieties but that wouldn't be true. I still have family members that make fun of me for the way that I talk, my friends, my husband and the music and hobbies that I have. Complete strangers continue to judge me because I dont' fit into the box they think I belong in. I have a white friend from college who likes to joke that she's blacker than me because she dates black men and listens to rap music. I am better at defending myself and not letting all of these people prevent me from living my life but it still gets to me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rescue Dog Dilema

My mother recently lost her 15 year old Akita mix. She is looking for a new dog to be a companion to her 6 year old Maltese, Belle. She makes $45,000 a year but a big chunk of that goes towards her long commute to work. Another chunk goes to her dog walker. Every day that my mom works she has someone come to her house to feed, play with and walk her dogs. The dogs aren't left in the house alone for more than 6-8 hours at a time. She is not perfect, but she is definitely an above average pet owner.

She found a very sweet 4 year old dog available from a local pet rescue group. She filled out an application, provided vet and personal references and started to get excited about getting a new dog to keep Belle company. Her application was approved in less than a week but she was surprised that the adoption fee for this sweet little mixed breed was $350.

I understand that rescue groups need donations and adoption fees from the public to operate but pricing the dogs out of the price range of most of the people in your community doesn't seem like a good idea. By comparison, the Humane Society in my mom's semi-rural, lower middle class town charges $40 for a neutered dog. They adopt dogs out very quickly and have the space to take in new animals weekly. They only euthanize dogs if they have behavioral or medical problems which are beyond treatment. Even the heartworm positive dogs are treated and re-homed.

Most of the jobs in my mom's town pay $7-$10 an hour. That's why many people commute 2 or more hours to better jobs in other states. If I made $10 an hour, spending what probably amounts to a rent payment on a dog would be unthinkable. I think annual vet check ups, vaccinations, Heartguard and flea and tick preventative only costs a little more than that for an entire year for a healthy dog.

Many of the dogs from these rescue groups do seem to be in foster homes so they are living "normal" lives while waiting for their forever homes. But if the rescue group isn't spending money to house these dogs in a kennel, then why are they charging so much? What are those fees covering? I know the foster parents don't get paid. I understand that there are vet bills but usually they have a vet that provides these services at a discount or for free. It seems like a lower adoption fee would lead to more homes for dogs in a shorter period of time.

I did pay a total of $400 for my two rescue dogs. One came from a breed specific rescue and was living in a shelter before we brought her home. The other was transported from a high kill shelter down south and then lived in a foster home. The purebred cost less than 1/4 of a what she would have cost from a breeder and I can't imagine any circumstances where I would purchase a dog from a breeder. The time and love that the chain of people who caravaned our boy from Louisiana to New York to save his life are worth the fee that we paid. I can't imagine the fee covered their gas for this trip.

I get that you can't make dogs free because then completely unqualified people might take dogs home. But the dogs should be reasonably priced for the community that you serve. If you find that you are keeping dogs for 4-6 months before you find them a home and other groups are placing their dogs in weeks then maybe you need to make a change. Because there are obviously plenty of people in the community that want to adopt dogs. For the meantime, my mom has found another animal rescue a couple towns over that charges $100 a dog. She has an application in place and Belle should have a new friend soon.