There are moments, in particular in the past three years, when I have wondered, had my big sister made another choice would her fate not have been so sudden. Perhaps, had she not moved out to Los Angeles, her story—the life she led in L.A.—would have had a quiet, gentle ending. When I graduated from high-school, I moved to Los Angeles to attend college. Six months later, Brenda came out to L.A. too. She took an immediate liking to the statuesque palm trees that contoured innumerable blocks; the sprawling, crowded freeways; the vivid sun that tainted the landscape citrus nearly year-around; the popular beaches; and the Hollywood mystique that gave the metropolis its trend-setting glamour.

While she would enroll in a two-year college, in time Brenda would stop attending and began this journey of searching for an invisible cure to the deep yearning in her spirit. She longed for something that seemed so out of reach. What became clear—Brenda had no idea who to be and what to do, and her future became vague. Los Angeles can make you feel lost, groundless and disconnected, and its elusive nature has a way of testing those with the slightest crack in their armor. Even though my big sister was smart and charming and style-conscious and fashion-model-pretty, she got lost in a lifestyle that would ultimately trap her. This eventually led her to wander too long in psychological pain. Even while she tried time and time again to get back on track—and she had her moments—Brenda had the hardest of times recapturing that well-liked, nameless quality that made her so popular when we were growing up. Without a doubt, she made the effort. Somewhere along the way she began to live each day on very thin ice. It is my solemn and sincerest hope that she is now in a very sacred place.

It’s funny. While I spent a large part of my adult life seeing her as this complicated personality that I had the hardest time getting along with; now, since her transition three years ago today, I see her as the big sister who always had my back. It didn’t matter how long we went without speaking to each other; Brenda still had my back. I cannot recall over the past year or two when I stopped crying, and often out of nowhere, because she is no longer someone I can pick up the phone and call. But sometimes, in moments when my mind wanders, I recall something she said or did, and I laugh out loud.

It depends on the messenger

Recently, I was in a conversation with someone (and I will call her Sally) who needed objectivity and unbiased feedback. Sally and I met while attending a meet-and-mingle for female writers event in Hollywood a few months ago. Because we aren’t friends, per se, I knew I was in a position to be impartial. After listening for a short while, I started noticing subtle nuances of her story that coincided with mine years ago. Her primary struggle, she had started out telling me, was that she needed to leave a man but felt she wasn’t ready to leave him. Moreover, I heard in her story that there were other dynamics that I believe were keeping her stuck. I know this for sure: there could be no turning point if she didn’t confront at least one of her pressing obstacles. I had already lived through some of her personal struggles. Life will always test us with various trials and tribulations. Trying to avoid them merely prolongs getting passed them, and the feelings about those trials and tribulations have a way of intensifying.

In the course of our conversation I suggested that she read A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. On occasion, when someone complains or whines or is sharing personal details with me that in my mind are less the source but more the symptom of their issue, my social science background kicks in and I try to ascertain what that person isn’t saying more so than what they are saying. Likewise, we are too intimate with our own personal story. This blocks us from recognizing that often what we are saying we’re struggling with is not necessarily the origin of our in-the-moment emotional and/or psychological angst.

I recall, when first introduced to Marianne’s book in 1993 and after having read it, discovered that I was too preoccupied with my wants and avoiding what I needed, and perhaps more superficial than I realized at the time. A Return to Love, as well as meditation, was how I began to look another way. There was no immediate epiphany or anything like that; in fact, the change was quiet, subtle. Change is never glaring. Especially personal transformation. It took a few years, and leaving L.A., to apply some of the messages in the best seller. Because I wanted to evolve, steadily I began to pay attention to how me-me-me-ish I was. How self-involved. What I discovered was that whenever I wasn’t living in L.A., I was less one-dimensional, and I could hear the sound of my tender heartbeat. When I first read A Return to Love, I was young yet not naïve; and less sure of myself than I was shallow.

Something I said about the book must have resonated with her, because Sally wrote down the title and said she’d “definitely” download the book. Before we ended our conversation, I shared with her that since returning to L.A. I discovered that getting on your knees isn’t the way out; it’s a way in. She responded with, “Hmmm, I don’t think I relate to that. What does that mean? What does that do? Because my situation isn’t that radical. I don’t need to ‘fall to my knees.’ ”

Within a week I received an e-mail from Sally. She was letting me know that she’d just finished reading A Return to Love. Because it didn’t take long for her to get through the book, I took that to mean that something about the ideology affected her enough to consider a new path. New paths, like personal transformation, generally don’t reveal themselves straightaway. But there comes a time when we are fully aware of something being a “used to.” I even thought Sally might benefit from Marianne’s lectures which are available each week via Livestream. I decided to forward the Livestream login from a lecture Marianne had this week in New York. Friday morning, and just one day later, I was perusing my in-box and came across an e-mail from Sally, and this is what her e-mail stated: Ms. B! Thank you for introducing me to Marianna Williamson. She is so relatable. I really needed to hear someone tell me, ‘Nothing is a failure if it took you to your knees.’


It is the very first year since 9.11 in which I have chosen not to watch anniversary coverage. Finally I see I need no mnemonic of what happened on this day 15 years ago. Each year, on this day, I have been pulled to stare robotically at horrific heart-wrenching images on the television screen, or on my laptop. Visible impressions I have undoubtedly seen 300 times or more, but have failed to numb me enough not to still create a lump at the back of my throat when I see a plane hit the first Tower. Those images, still poignant in my mind’s eye, are a reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and the unpredictability of one’s last breath. That day, on 9.11, no longer serves as a prompting of how complex it is to live in an increasingly frenzied universe.

We are so fragile. The fate of one’s destiny is so ambivalent.

Yet, like the troubled men who boarded iconic airliners 15 years ago, the 2016 election has highlighted a kind of schizophrenic mind-set of too many people. How hatred–or self-hatred–can be so visceral and have undeniable energy. It’s like the bully in middle school whose insecurity is so intense; he or she uses that woundedness as their personal armor. And in essence that woundedness is that bully’s pseudo power. Yet if you put that bully in a room–or those men who boarded aircrafts 15 years ago, or the hate-filled people who use the election to justify their abhorrence–the bully will be intensely uncomfortable if someone–anyone–talked to that person from a place of unconditional love. Isolated from the thing that makes them feel powerful will, in essence, emphasize their shame, their weaknesses.

More and more I am unsettled by how the world is evolving. I am much too aware of how troubled I am by the turbulence of a society that appears to be lacking a soul. I make attempts as often as I am nudged to do so, to see that there is enough good in humanity to turn this all around. Yet on days like this, when every corner of the world will be reminded that because of the acute capability of hate 3,000 souls met an ineffable fate on 9.11.2001, I wrestle with increasing doubt. And because of the swell of hatred that permeates throughout the universe, I find myself sad and weary and disconnected.

Perhaps that is the point. There are levels of bullies. From the schoolyard tyrants who feel so terribly small, to the extremists–tormented, and supposedly faith-inspired men, who changed the fate of America on 9.11. But they are no different from the rest of us: Those of us that try mindfully to make sense of our lives. But because the bully’s mind is so restricted, they want us to feel sad and weary and disconnected, because that is precisely what they are feeling, too.

Being too casual

It has only been in recent years that I have come to understand how much of my life I took for granted. I was carried, and had a soft place to fall so I didn’t grow in the ways that I should have. However, it takes substantial growth and taking moral inventory to genuinely come to understand—and own—how much of your life you treated so casually. Taking our lives for granted doesn’t necessarily mean we’re selfish or self-centered, or that we aren’t even paying closer attention to the day-to-day-ness of our lives. It begins with one simple idea: underestimating the value of something or someone. And it’s easy to lose sight of that—life has become so, so demanding.

It’s impossible to go about life on a daily basis being exceptionally grateful—so many of us aren’t living in the present. And frankly, even if we devoted more time being purposefully appreciative, it doesn’t have anything to do with losing things, people—whatever matters deeply. Losing people and coming up against challenges will occur whether we take life for granted or not. What I have learned over 59 years is how life gives and takes in amazing ways; yet on a humanistic level we focus so much more on how it takes and takes. And that’s natural.

For myself, as my life reaches its sixth decade, I am less attached to things. Even people. But especially things. It’s been because I’ve lost so much that I’ve had to learn not to be too terribly attached to—in particular—stuff. Now I can see so clearly how incredibly attached I was to consuming, and taking for granted that everything would remain within my comfort zone—family, friends, money. The things that for so long were like borders around my life and made me feel safe. But when we no longer have financial security; and when life feels fragile and extremely unpredictable, you can see that you unconsciously took more than you should have for granted. That knowledge hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow.

But the gift of learning not to take stuff—more so life—for granted is that you begin to peel away the outdated aspects of your life, material things have less of a hold on you, and your mind leans in a direction that has depth. Having a brevé-latte first thing this morning, and bought with a Starbucks card my nephew gave me as a birthday gift would have seemed so mundane five short years ago. But it now means so much to me. It’s my 60th, and I have never, never felt as blessed as I do on this day and at this moment. Both my mother and my oldest sister passed away in their 50s, and with little warning. I had no time to prepare psychologically for their life’s transition. There have been times—especially over the past few years—when I wasn’t sure I would get to this day. The meaning and purpose of why life keeps holding me steady is elusive to me. But I am committing myself to spend the rest of this journey not assuming things, and go a bit deeper with gratitude.

Be the change

Earlier today, I made a concerted effort to recall a time in my life when I felt alone, and it seemed I knew no one to call, and someone—a stranger—extended me an unexpected compliment as we passed each other. Or someone held the elevator when they saw me rushing to make it before it closed. Or the commuter who understands what it’s like to try to cross a busy street to make it to the other side, so they make a way. I tried to remember if there was a time when I wished so deeply that someone—anyone—would see how afraid I was.

Perhaps it’s unnatural to get too caught up or involved with strangers one-on-one. It takes Orlando of which 49 people the world lost that day; 9/11, which shattered our idea of feeling safe and shocked us out of our complacency. Nine-11 and Orlando are widely exposed heart-pounding moments, similar to the butterfly effect: a flapping of its wings in one part of the world and miraculously that tiny, tender flutter reaches another part of the world and creates this undefinable thing; and this is solely because a butterfly flapped its wings. Princess Diana, John Kennedy, Jr.–the entire world stops for these blind-sided moments in our culture, and there’s this collective holding the breath, and we all share this down-deep melancholy.

I recall, while living in New York, having this conversation about how, when you live in New York, it just becomes a part of your identity to be rude! This person responded back to me with, ‘If I said excuse me every single time I bumped into someone or knocked against someone, I’d be doing it all damn day!’ While living in New York, I thought I was quite mindful not to fall into that same way of being. Oddly, though, within days of relocating back to L.A., I didn’t take the time to really hear this woman as she said to me, a stranger to her, “What a beautiful day.” First–and it doesn’t excuse–I was in a hurry; and two, I shrugged in the way people who don’t give a damn do, and kept on walking.

No longer living on the East Coast close to eight years now, I’ve softened. And today, as I made my way down a street in West Los Angeles, I slowed my pace to see whether an elderly woman, wheelchair bound, would be sitting on a patio adjacent to a small bookstore. And she was. I have never stopped to talk with this woman. I don’t know her name. But I see her several times a week. She sits in a wheelchair with personal belongings in chic tote bags that are at her immediate reach. She even has an iPhone! I couldn’t guess her age, and I couldn’t know her story without sitting down and listening to what she might have wanted to share with me. But I do sense that she’s outlived friends, and family might be sparse. Consistently in this blog I have demonstrated my beliefs, and I trust in my core that we have an idea—provided we’re even remotely paying attention—when someone could use a smile, a polite hello.

Simple gestures don’t make us lose even a second in our day. We can recognize when it might be a good time to show empathy in a moment when we detect a stranger’s life has met some stuff no one ever thinks it’s necessary to plan for. The woman who learned she has Stage IV breast cancer is likely to be too devastated about the path her life has just taken to acknowledge sincere praise on her unique style. Or the man who’s spent the better part of his life working for a company that is now in the midst of downsizing and he finds he’s unemployed but cannot afford to retire might not be present enough for any kindness you might throw his way. Sill–and trust me on this–something small has its own quiet influence, even if it doesn’t kick in right away. And the receiver of someone’s kindness, later on, will have no clue how or why his mood has softened.

So I always smile at this elderly woman wheelchair bound. I never know what her day has been like. I simply extend a broad smile that is purposefully sincere, and I say, Hello, how are you today? This woman always smiles back at me as if she’d looked forward to the moment all day. Her hellos always accompany a kind of girlish laughter. She is always open to my modest connection. In a way that I am not quite sure of, she adds something to what’s left of my day. I like speaking to her. The idea that I have done something so simple that made a difference in someone’s day means a lot to me. Especially to someone whose connection to others might be limited. I sense this elderly woman spends a good amount of time alone.

If you asked, say 20 random people, if they could do anything to contribute to the world being a better place, more than half would say, What do I need to do? Gandhi said, “We but mirror the world.” With only four months left in this year, it could be our challenge: to consider working a benevolent muscle. We can be a part of the effect, not the cause. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t bemoan how our society is at the very brink of losing its moral compass. So we should collectively make an effort to be that change we claim we genuinely want to see happen in our amazing universe!

The art of storytelling

In a conversation with my cousin last week, we discussed, among other things, the ending of my first published novel by Simon & Schuster/Strebor (2015), The New Middle. This conversation led to discussing Vulnerable, my second novel published by Simon & Schuster/Strebor (2016), which she had recently finished while on holiday. I’d asked my cousin to share with me what she didn’t like about the newest book. “Now that you ask . . .” she said with just a hint of enthusiasm; and then she proceeds to explain to me what she didn’t particularly like about Vulnerable. This is what I gleaned from my cousin’s critique: The subplot of Vulnerable got in the way of the novel’s central storyline–the dynamics which played out between four complex characters.

Moreover, I learned that my aunt (my cousin’s mother) struggled with–let’s say the “elusive” and disputable finale of the first novel, The New Middle. Without giving away nuances of the narrative to any potential future readers, let me just say, the incessant reaction to this novel at first felt rather strange. Now, though, I find myself anticipating curious dismay, and the same set of furrowed brow questions and remarks.

Generally I write stories that lead the reader to question the lives of the characters–beyond what is written on the page. I enjoy it when I set out to let the audience decide the fate of not just the characters, but where the story leads after “the end.” For some that might require effort, and I get that. The reader wants to kick back and enjoy a good read. But the idea that anything I’ve written gives the reader pause is why I chose to write in the first place.

Writers–deep down–want to inspire; they want to engage the world with words that turn chaos into meaning. They use their imagination to create ideas on the page with the hope that the reader can make sense of the world they are writing about; or at the very least, keep them turning the page because something—perhaps unnameable–has their attention. When I decide to pen a story, my ultimate goal is that the reader has a different mind-set once they read the last line in which my name claims the credit. Likewise, though, they are touched or even pissed at the characters I invented–whether it’s because they didn’t like the characters or simply couldn’t relate. This is how and why I developed as a character-driven storyteller over time. The idea–my way of writing–is to bring a concept to life in which the reader can get involved in what is happening on the page. They are judge and jury; they decide the story’s fate.

Several friends have inquired about the sequel to The New Middle, and recently a reader, who follows me on Twitter, remarked, “Umm, how you gonna do us like that?”, and wondered if The New Middle part 2 was in the works. These visceral or not so visceral reactions—the WTHs—have been kind of yin and yang, but leave me satisfied with the fact that I have elicited reactions from the reader. Even if, as the reader closes the book totally annoyed and feeling they’d wasted their time; still, my prose, the storyline–something–effected them, even if it was unconscious.

Fictionalized storytelling hinges on provoking—if not evoking—the reader. More and more published novels are less sophisticated, some poorly written, because even as little as 10 years ago, they wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Self-publishing has changed that. But even those books, and the authors of those narratives, have the ability to capture the reader with their own unique vision. And if the reader is stirred to any degree whatsoever, the storyteller, ultimately, has done what writers and storytellers should be able to do. And that’s in spite of the reader having closed the book and felt utterly disappointed or absolutely dumbfounded.

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The butterfly effect

As a result of the events that took place over the past weeks, I’ve pondered on the cause and effect of snap judgment. In terms of the black men killed by men in blue, the immediate–and understandable–reaction was that these unjustifiable killings were done out of hate. At the very least they happened as a result of an unapologetic ideology that a black man with a certain look about him is up to no good. Too often, the visceral reaction is that a black man in certain circumstances will have in his possession something that gives the police reason to suspect he’s directly or indirectly involved in a crime. What often makes these types of killings impetuous, rests in the fact that questions that should be asked at the time of escalated fury are posed in hindsight.

A perfect example of rushing-to-judgment–and the judgment was swift–was after the towers began to tumble on 9/11. It was assumed straight away, anyone looking remotely as if they originated from the Middle East was a terrorist. No one gets a pass on this: we all unconsciously prejudge to myriad degrees each day. We see many daily occurrences through a superficial lens because we are too drama-tized to witness it with a deeper sense of rationale. Anything outside our periphery of relatability, we have a way of largely dismissing it, or we examine it with vague mediocrity. And if we don’t respond consciously, the subconscious has done it for us.

Most of my life, I’ve lived in communities where the makeup of residents was multicultural. I consider myself exposed. I have traveled extensively, and have read enough to have some understanding of various faiths and belief systems. I’ve not viewed myself as one to fall under the heading, “prejudice.” Yet in the past few days I have recognized, and in a practical way, that all of us, on some level, have preconceived notions. And while we might have the amazing ability to reason, nevertheless, we all fall short on being 100% open-minded. Too many factors prevent us from seeing a variety of things without some form of preconception. Up until just a day ago, I didn’t see myself as being unreasonably judgmental.

Yesterday, my radar was really, really off. I was talking on the phone with a woman from India. I had called an 800 number regarding a product I’d purchased (at an iconic store here in the U.S.), and the product malfunctioned within a few days of my purchasing it. Prior to the Indian woman answering my call, I was thinking, please let me get someone whose first language is English. When the woman from India came on the line I let out a sharp sigh. I began to explain the nature of my call. When it became clear that the woman, for one, could not understand me that well; and then secondarily, she kept repeating herself like a robot, I asked to speak with her supervisor. Because I don’t know this woman, I don’t want to call her stupid; she just played stupid by repeating the same things to me over and over again, which I would assume she was trained to do. When I made it clear that I no longer wanted to speak with her, and that I wanted to speak with her supervisor, she continued to repeat herself.

She placed me on hold for roughly five minutes.

When the foreign customer service person came back on the line, repetitiously, she gave me the same information she had given me prior to her putting me on hold for five minutes. I asked if she understood what I meant by “supervisor,” and she maintained that robotic nature: saying the same thing as if she read from a script. Annoyed, fed up, I said words to this effect: I don’t mean to offend you . . . I understand that you’re only doing your job . . . you’re in India–and by the way, taking jobs away from hundreds of thousands of Americans . . . You have no clue what I’m complaining about. You’re just a customer service person, and if this was happening to you you’d be upset, too.

I recall saying something like this: You just answer calls; you don’t make important decisions. You work for an American company–shame on you! Look, I’m done. Really. I am going to go over your head because you haven’t a clue how to help me.

The moment–the very instant–I disconnected the call, I felt the urge to redial the 800 number to locate the woman through a chain of other Indian-accented customer service reps solely to apologize. I was so worked up, so disappointed with the time invested, plus the service. More importantly, I had to speak with a customer service person who worked for an American company but was thousands of miles away from L.A.; in another country! She, nor her colleagues, was in a position to assist me beyond their scripted verbiage.

Some of us know when we’ve crossed a line. We think about it, and we replay it over in our head for some time, discerning that we have set aside our better nature to appease our need to be right. Too often we get caught up in our self-centeredness, and wants. We take our frustration, annoyance, personal problems out on the first person that reminds us of someone else we loathe. We do this more often than we care to sit back and consider. In fact, on some level we do it every single day. We judge people more often than not for small-minded reasons. The discrimination is often extremely out of context with what is taking place in the moment. So I can see how things escalate and get out of control, and before we know it something dreadful has happened we are unable to retrieve.

There’s no rewind button we can use. We have taken our complicated life out on someone else. Twenty-first century life is so demanding. The way we’re living now–we are so intense. We have become reactionary, so it’s easy to lose sight of when something is false evidence appearing real.

It’s natural–overreacting. And some of us can look back in hindsight and see how small we were in a moment of dramatizing.Yet, in that instant, nothing could pull us back from a situation in which we probably could have chosen differently. Each one of us, every single day, makes a choice that we are not fully aware of–or we don’t care–how it affects the lives of other human beings. The science community has reasoned that small causes–small causes which appear to have no effect whatsoever–potentially have a much greater effect over time.