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This Square Peg.

Happily Not Fitting In Since 1978.

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memories

nope. can’t do it.

When I was a senior in high school, I did something that defied all the parameters of shy girl status: I auditioned for a musical in my high school.

*cue shock*

Yes, your Square Peg, who enjoyed life behind the shadows, who always volunteered to be the narrator (and when she wrote her own stuff made herself the narrator, thank you very much), decided very much on an adolescent whim that she would audition for the spring musical that her high school was putting on, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumLots of innuendo, lots of farce. I knew nothing about the musical prior to auditioning. There was no Wikipedia back then. Anyway, I loved the title, I loved musicals, I loved theater, I loved my school’s drama teacher (who was also my beloved Film Studies teacher when I was a sophomore and introduced me to the wonder of Citizen Kane, among other things), and I was high on this adolescent whim. I knew I could sing. So why not?

How to Audition for a Musical (Or How Not to, Depending on your Perspective)

  1. If you’re 17 (or 35 or 59 or whatever) and a veteran of several chorus classes, it would be nice to know how to read music. Because guess what? I didn’t know how to read music. (Still don’t.) When I was handed the music for the songs I would be singing that afternoon, Comedy Tonight and Lovely, I might as well have been handed stacks of hieroglyphics. And I probably had a better chance of deciphering those than the music I was given…
  2. …but because I was learn music by ear, I waited until dead last night to audition for each song. This gave me time to listen carefully to the notes, the melody, the arrangement, and allowed me to actually stand on stage and sing. Not too shabby, either.
  3. It might be a good idea to remember that even though you’re one of dozens that are auditioning, you can’t go up on stage with those people. You actually have to stand at the front of the stage and sing. Alone. And yet, moments before cardiac arrest took over as I approached the stage…
  4. …I found a way to position myself by the piano and not really at the front of the stage and I focused on my drama teacher, who was awesome and encouraging and likely CPR-certified in case I did keel over from the fright and butterflies.

I got through it, you guys. And I had fun.

But remember when I said I knew nothing about the musical? Well, although I didn’t score the lead roles of Philia or Pseudolus (and this was really no surprise; other than pretending like I don’t want to strangle rude people, your Square Peg is hardly an actress), I still got a role in the musical.

The role? A courtesan.

If you check out the link to the musical, you’ll see see that the story takes place in ancient Rome, where a slave (Pseudolus) tries to win his freedom by helping his master woo a courtesan named Philia. Well, there would be a house filled with other courtesans along with Philia, and I got a role as one of them. I think her name was Vibrata.

Except, even though your Square Peg is a wordsmith, she wasn’t quite sure what a courtesan was. So, while overcome with excitement at landing her first role in a musical, she went home and went to her trusty dictionary, where she looked up the word.

courtesan (noun): a prostitute with a courtly, wealthy, or upper-class clientele

Yep, I went right to my beloved drama teacher and told him that there was no way I could be in the musical. Excuses about my parents not really feeling the amount of time I would spend outside of school were given. And no, they wouldn’t have cared for that, but you know the bigger issue, don’t you? My mother would have somehow learned that I was playing a hooker. And she would have killed me dead. I mean, as sneaky as I was in getting away with staying out late or hanging out with people she didn’t really know, the heavens would have revealed it to her in a dream. No doubt. Just like she knew that her oldest daughter was making funny faces behind her back one day (without turning around), my mother would have discovered the truth. And your Square Peg would be no Square Peg at all, because, again, I would have been killed dead.

My drama teacher was very understanding. Maybe he knew the real truth, that an African girl playing a hooker–no matter how tame it would be for a high school production–would have been shipped back to the Motherland in a pine box.

I was in the audience on opening night, cheering on my friends in the show, cheering on the director, cheering on the brave girl who replaced me. And in the back of my mind, imagining the death that would have been unleashed by my mother’s hands. So along with all that cheering was massive, massive relief.

I still love the theater, of course. Musicals, plays: the stage continues to thrill and amaze me. And it’s even sweeter from the comfort of my seat. Haaaaaa.

Salon/Stylist Stories.

Our intriguing, perplexing, awesome, mind-boggling, revolutionary, interesting, and life-changing relationship/journey began when I was 11 years old. This was when my mother took me to my first hair salon. It was owned by a Ghanaian woman who ran the salon

salon2
The Black Art Depot (via Pinterest)
from her apartment. I was terrified. No surprise there. If you know anything about me so far, This Square Peg didn’t really feel changes and strange people and strange experiences. Nevertheless, as I was prone to do, my fears were all internalized, visible only through my wide, horrified eyes. The horror grew exponentially when 1) my mother had to run out for a moment, and 2) it came time to wash my hair.

  1. My mother promised she’d be right back. I knew she’d be right back. This didn’t stop the tears from springing to my eyes, however. Never a prolonged crier, though, I sniffed and nodded and hoped that I wasn’t being abandoned.
  2. I didn’t like water. Still don’t. So when the stylist stood me up and guided me to the sink, I began to hyperventilate. When she placed my head underneath the faucet, face down, to rinse the burning relaxer out of my hair, I began to wail. Like this wasn’t a silent cry, readers. As the water spilled around my face and into my ears, I wailed like I was being murdered.

When she was finished, saying over and over again that we were done and wiping my face/tears, I sat, breathless, while she continued with my hair. This was when the women began to mock my fears and my recent wailing. They laughed at my behavior; they called me a baby; so on and so forth. Bold, no? Except they spoke to one another in Ga, one of the languages spoken in Ghana. What they didn’t know was that I understood (and still do) Ga fluently, having spoken both Twi, one of the primarily-spoken languages, and Ga since I was a little girl. (Alas, they have since left my tongue, but the comprehension is still there.) Anyway, as I sat quietly and listened to adults making fun of a child, my stomach burning with each sound of laughter at my expense. When my mother thankfully returned and picked me up, my hair was lovely. In the car, I told that I would never go back there again and I told her why. Infuriated, she ensured that I didn’t.

But my relationship with salons and hairstylists weren’t all bad, and they certainly didn’t end there.

There was the stylist who repeatedly asked me in 2012 whether I was indeed ready to chop off my relaxed ends. I assured her that, yes, I was ready. As those pesky, straight ends fell to the floor around me, I stopped myself from fidgeting in my chair, anxious to see what the end result was. When it finally came time, she turned me around to face the mirror, her eyes wide with anticipation on what I would think of the teeny weeny afro I now sported. My wide, bright grin was the answer she needed.

And I’ll never forget the stylist who, according to my request, shaved one side of my hair and shared my delighted reaction to this unique new style I wanted to try. Of course, this when she worked for one of those brightly lit, techno-blaring salons in the city. Because I liked her and I liked her handling of my hair, when I learned that she also ran her own salon, I left the big salon and drove quite a distance to this new place…where it took hours to finally get to me, long after my scheduled appointment, where she took advantage of my niceness and had me leave the salon and buy hair dye for one of her other clients, where she nearly yanked the hair out of my scalp during one style…Needless to say, our relationship ended then. Le sigh.

There’s my current stylist, who’s also a good friend, who gets me in her chair on time and does her thing and sends me home utterly satisfied. Can’t beat that. There’s something to be said about pals who are also quite professional when it comes to their business.

One stylist was a weave master. She also had the most melodramatic life. And I loved it. While she whipped those fingers masterfully around my strands, cornrowing my hair before installing the weave, I responded to her request for advice about love, marriage, children. Even though I’d never been married or a parent. Interesting, indeed.

I’ve met women–and some men–from all walks of life: entrepreneurial, utterly weird, demanding, lovely, hilarious, kind. These people have all had a significant role in my eventual discovery that beauty has nothing to do with hair. Hair is the accessory, the accentuater. But it sure needs to look good. These days, I mostly do my own hair. The salon visits are for trims (I don’t trust these fingers with a pair of scissors), braiding, the odd haircut when I want to start fresh with my hair/life. In the end, with all the adventures I’ve been through, some good and some bad, some odd and some fantastic, I’ll always have a story to tell.

To all the styles I’ve loved before…

would you like a magazine?

When I was a teenager, the answer to that question would have been yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Back then, I was a connoisseur of all things glossy reading materials: the goal was to spend every bit of my pocket money (the African parent’s version of allowance) on any magazine I could feast my eyes on. From the fashion bibles (Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, etc.) to the women’s magazines brimming with articles that I totally didn’t identify with but read anyway (looking at you, Cosmopolitan), to my beloved teen mags (Sassy, Seventeen, Teen, YM, etc.), to the entertainment magazines that I loved so (Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weeklyetc.)–the addiction was so, so real.

collage
Image courtesy of Fanpop.

In hindsight, I think the magazines represented a version of life that seemed so glamorous and glitzy; hardly anything like my boring teen life in Somewheres, VA. These days, you can hardly bribe me to spend money on a magazine. Funny, how something that was once a crutch becomes unnecessary when you 1) grow up; 2) realize that “glamour” is utterly relative and fleeting; 3) would rather spend money on dinner and a play than a glossy read about something that won’t matter the next day. My sharp-eyed readers will read that last two statements and wonder about all the magazines that bear the lovely chocolate face of my Lupita, muttering to themselves that they know I’ve purchased those. No, my dear ones. I read the articles online and gaze at my queen through a computer screen. Welcome to the dawn of a new generation. The few mags I’ve actually flipped through have come to me via my mother’s subscriptions. I will admit this, though: the best thing about that airport life is flipping through those silly gossip rags. The best thing, as well, is recycling them once I get back to reality. (Do you view the airport like I do? An Oz where things like carbs and healthy eating don’t matter, where pretzels can be chewed with abandon while you chuckle over the latest antics of yet another starlet unable to make good life choices?)

I digress, as usual. The point of this post isn’t to look back in anger or regret. Here’s to that 15 year-old eagerly taking in the words and images crowding the pages of yet another shiny magazine. Because a few good things came out of the obsession. For one, I didn’t just stick with fashion and teen journals. I also devoured TimeLife, Newsweek: all of which fed my hunger for stories about real people and real life, certainly a boon for my fiction. Another thing: I accumulated enough facts to join any trivia team and win it for the team. Use my brain. I don’t mind. Lastly, it was fun! I have awesome memories of afternoons spent on my unmade bed, going through magazine after magazine, smiling at the sights I saw, reading until it was time for dinner. It really did make Boring Teen Life slightly less ordinary.

Are you a magazine lover?

Meanwhile, in Paris…

…I don’t know what it is about Parisian doors.

Maybe it’s the promise of all the macarons that await me inside?

Could it be the handsome homme who awaits me inside, armed with the yummy crepes that he made me for brunch?

Or maybe it’s the lovely architecture of the les portes themselves, so artistic and majestic and ready to be captured on film so they can be adored long after I have reluctantly departed from them?

One can only guess. During my February trip to Paris, I took a few photos of said doors. Here are some of them.

Frenchdoor1

Frenchdoor2

Frenchdoor3

Honorable Mentions.

Sometimes in life, people, strangers, pass through and offer us what we need at the right time. Whether it’s a smile, a seat on the train, or offering you half of their sandwich because they caught you eyeing it on an airplane and heard your belly grumbling angrily and likely wanted to avoid some type of violence (true story), you just never know what the kindness of strangers may bring. Here are a few times when the random actions of others both took me by surprisethanks and made my day.

To the gentleman at Phoenix Sky Harbor *Airport who saw me vainly struggling to attach that tag thing (seriously, why is that thing not user-friendly?) to my luggage and gently took over and attached it for me, thank you. May your proactive nature and lovely conversation be rewarded by someone who isn’t savagely commanding her suitcase to behave. 

To the lady here at the OK Corral who was in line in front of me at the cafeteria and paid for both her meal and mine (to my everlasting shock and surprise), thank you so, so much. I don’t know what I did to gain that kind act, but please believe that anything related to food and the acquisition of food binds you and I together until the end of time. (By the way, I see her from time to time, and she continues to be one of the sweetest persons walking these halls.)

To the group of concerned fellow *flyers who realized that after hours and hours of waiting, my gate was changed without an announcement and my flight left without me: thank you for ensuring that once I boarded a plane, I was able to quickly get off for the connecting flight and finally, finally get home. Your outrage on my behalf was enough to soothe the wild, combustible emotions going on inside of me, and to the guy who firmly informed the other passengers to let me off first: you, sir, will always be golden.

To the charming gentleman on the train who announced to the entire car that no man should be seated while women stand around them: will you marry me?

To the lovely woman who stood next to me in London while we watched Renée Zellweger film scenes from the third installment of the Bridget Jones series and held on to me while we breathlessly considered the possibility that Colin Firth was also waiting in the wings (alas, he wasn’t), to have my excitement equaled with a stranger was awesome. Thanks for waiting with me until we realized that our Colin wasn’t there that afternoon and for being someone with whom I can say “our” Colin. (Because I rarely share, y’all.) 

Just a few moments in life when I was astonished by people, and in a good way. Have any random acts of kindness you’d like to share?

[*Not lost on me that so much stuff happens in the airport. If the terminal didn’t offer such sweet opportunities for carby, vacation eating, I would side eye it more than I already do.]

The Mild African Woman.

My name is This Square Peg, I am an African Woman, and I cannot eat spicy foods.

{Moment of silence}

It’s weird, right? That when I eat anything spicy I see my life flashing before my eyes? It’s been like this since I was a wee lass. (Apparently, I’m also Irish.) I have memories of my mother cooking milder versions of the same foods because some of us (read: me) couldn’t take the peppery heat. One time, in my haste to inhale the Chinese food in front of me, I accidentally swallowed an entire red pepper. I was in bed for the rest of the night. There may have been hallucinations. Seriously.

So why am I able to cover my egg white omelets with Sriracha sauce and

For Today - Affordable Flavor (Wood)
I bow to you, my benevolent master.

eat with abandon? Even when my lips burn after eating, as they now are, I typically am able to withstand the heat after a bit. Am I building some kind of resistance, finally, to spiciness?

No. I can only handle Sriracha. Nothing else. So, so strange. In the end, I add my inability to largely eat spicy foods to the list of other things that I, as an African Woman, was denied:

  • Discernible hips
  • An actual derrière (although, thanks to squats, something might be growing back there)

Just unfair.

Are you like me? Or can you handle the heat?

Blogtober (Redux) #22: Mild Dispute at the London Eye

  

 

Mild and hilarious.

One late afternoon, a few steps away from the London Eye, I gazed at up at the structure.

Me: Is it a Ferris wheel?
My English Hostess: Of course not.
Me: Well, it’s round, right? And moves around in a circle?
MEH: Well, yes.
Me: Doesn’t that make it a Ferris wheel?
MEH: That, my dear, is an architectural marvel. Hardly a Ferris wheel.
Me: Looks like a Ferris wheel to me.

(I checked. It’s a Ferris wheel. Apples and oranges.)

Onwards and upwards, literally.

My 20…On the Big Screen.

Remember when I did this before? Well, I’m doing it again. This time, however, I’m talkin’ about 20 random movies I love and why I love them so. They’re in no order of importance. Ready? Like to hear it? Here it go…movienight

1. A Room with a View. Let’s see: a Victorian setting, Helena Bonham Carter, this scene. Hook, line, sinker. Really, though, this is a marvelously beautiful movie and my little 17 year-old heart nearly burst when I saw it and still bursts when I see it today.

2. Pride and Prejudice, 1995. Yep, I’m aware that it was on TV, not on a movie screen. Nope, I don’t care. This is how you adapt a beloved book: stay faithful to the original, make it amazing and heart-stirring, and by all means, cast Colin Firth.

3, 4, 5. Indiana Jones Series: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade. I can’t describe the wonder of sitting on the living room floor with my siblings and my parents, our eyes glued to many adventures of Indy, the watchful silence intermittently punctuated by our excited laughs, screams, and gasps. Sometimes movies aren’t about movies at all, but the memories they elicit.

6. Beauty and the Beast. Are you surprised? I’ll tell you why: this was the first movie I saw in a movie theater! Yes, in 1991, my Pops, who expertly sheltered his children as soon as our plane from Ghana touched American soil, reluctantly allowed me to go to the movies and see this. It was thrilling. The seats, the dark theater, the opening of the screen. I was thoroughly transfixed that day and admittedly still am by the entire movie-going experience. Even if your kid is kicking the back of my seat.

7-10. Mission: Impossible 1-4. Oh, did you know I’m a rabid Tom Cruise lover? I mean, yes, I’m married to Idris or whatever, but I remain Cruise’s most serious and loudly devoted fan. So I go to his movies on opening weekend and I watch and I LOVE each and every moment, because it’s Tom Cruise and he’s hanging on a mountain/building/plane and it’s exciting and I love this teeth. There. Now you know.

11. Citizen Kane. In 10th grade, my Film Studies teacher deemed it one of the most important films ever made. His words were no exaggeration. The rise and fall of newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane was breathtaking to watch and dissect. A true, true classic.

12. The Philadelphia Story. Speaking of classics, this.movie.is.everything. Have you seen this film? Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart engaged in a love triangle amid 40s wordplay and men who still wore tuxedos as casual wear? See this film, please, if you haven’t. If you have, feel free to watch it all over again. Ugh, they don’t make them like this anymore.

13. Dial ‘M’ for Murder. The theme of classics continue, but what are classics without Hitchcock? One of my absolute favorites from Alfie. A cat-and-mouse game at its best, this plot. And Grace Kelly. Sigh.

14. To Kill a Mockingbird. As a writer, Harper Lee changed my life. As a lover of films, this adaptation of her novel did the same thing. I’ll end it with two words: Gregory Peck.

15. Superman. I grew up loving comic books, due entirely to my Mama, who made sure we had plenty of them to read as kids. Anyway, when I was introduced to the Superman films, particularly the very first one, I repeatedly had to remind myself that Christopher Reeve wasn’t Superman. He wasn’t, right? But then at the end of movie, he would fly up into the air and swirl around the earth and look at the camera with those blue eyes and smile and then I wasn’t as convinced anymore. To this day, that scene takes my breath away. And that swelling music! See below, and you’re welcome.

16. Coming to America. To this day, I chuckle at how thoroughly inappropriate it was for us kids to be watching this movie (the language is off the hook), but back then, our parents couldn’t resist. I mean, come on: an African prince in New York City looking for this true love? We can quote lines and scenes, by the way. I bet you can, too.

17, 18, 19. Star Wars Trilogy. Forgive Return of the Jedi and just agree that these films changed everything in your life as a moviegoer and a lover of story and a dreamer. They just did.

20. The Princess Bride. The wit. The laugh out loud humor. The lines. Cary Elwes. Inconceivable. Fred Savage. Mandy Patinkin. Modern day classic. Without a doubt.

So that’s it for me. What are your 20? Or even five? Let me know in the comments, pretty please. And before you go…

to all the boys i’ve “loved” before…

There was the very first guy, *Darrell Henson, whose uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson meant that I was instantly in love. That was in the 5th grade. crush

We, of course, need to mention Steven Morgan, whose hazel eyes and 6th grade charm meant that I was quickly under his spell. Even when he fell in love with the school beauty, Denise Hutchinson, and employed me as his deliverer of love notes to her (not the first or last time that happened, sadly), I somehow never stopped swooning.

Yes, folks, we’re talking an interesting journey down Infatuation Highway this Wednesday. Because other than devoting myself to writing, reading, and barely arithmetic, starting from puberty down to a bit into my early 30s (more on that later), my life was dedicated to seriously crushing on boys.

As you read above with the first one/blueprint, Darrell, it generally didn’t take much for me to think these boys were the bee’s knees. I mean, come on: he looked like Michael Jackson. In other words: the face. Others were nice, or funny, or listened to my dumb jokes, or whatever. But lest you think there was an open door policy in my heart and these guys came in and out every few weeks, I have to inform you that I was a faithful crusher. Like years with some of them.

There was Ricky Sharpes, who held my 12 year-old heart in his hand for a whopping 3 years. From 7th grade to freshman year in high school, I thought he was everything. Those overalls he wore with one strap hanging. (It was the 90s. You loved it, too.) Those chiseled features. That quiet intensity. One day, while hanging out in the mall with my sissy and a friend, imagine my sweet shock when Ricky and his older brother–even handsomer, if you can envision this–passed us by as they walked toward the exit. I mean, seeing him in school was one thing. Randomly seeing him outside of school was worthy of 8 hours of squealing. And if you’re wondering, yes, I thought the entire thing was divinely caused, the two of them simply walking by us. Again, everything. In the 8th grade, inspired by I suppose way too many John Hughes movies, I declared my love to him by way of a note surreptitiously slipped into his locker in between classes. I think it was 10 pages. I basically broke down why he and I were perfect for each other. Nothing came from it. I knew he read it because I would catch him looking at me strangely in our English class. But he seemed a bit more talkative after that unfortunate declaration of love, going as far as defending me when one of my lovely bullies felt the need to try and shame me in front of others in said English class. Yep, I nearly died. By the middle of freshman year, however, it was clear that my beloved Ricky was not a possessor of a working brain. That quiet, squinty-eyed intensity was likely a clue that he was trying to form an actual thought. It was over.

But not the crushes. The crushes weren’t over.

There was Dave, the talented actor who starred in our high school drama’s production of Fiddler on the Roof and quickly stole this adolescent heart. My goodness. Obsessed. Like buying him gifts obsessed. (Years and years after high school, he happened to walk into the bookstore where I worked. He came to my register. He said I looked familiar. I maintained, from beginning to end, that we didn’t know each other.)

(If you open that bookstore link, you’ll read about another crush. Le sigh.)

As soon as I began college, there was John Fontaine: dreamy, looked like Jordan Catalano, and wrote poetry. I was toast…until he asked me whether I used mushrooms for inspiration in my creative writing. Once I confirmed that he wasn’t referring to food (“what, you mean like actual mushrooms?”), it was over and out for that weirdo. True story.

On and on it went. As I got older and these eyes began to lose their rose-colored tint, I would tell myself to stop seeking crushes. I was tired of the low that entered after the high of the crush dissipated. I wanted to stop analyzing whether a simple smile or conversation meant more than it actually did. I mean, just because Juan accepted my friend request didn’t mean anything, did it? Did it?

But you already know how it all ended. After the bestie stuck me in the arm with a dose of reality, I became (and remain) determined to disallow crushing from popping its pesky head back into my life. Reminiscing is fun and always hilarious, but I want mutuality. The real thing. Crushing on someone who crushes back and wants to take it beyond those heady moments in the beginning. And until that happens, kindly refer to me as Mrs. Idris Elba.

Oh, darling.
                Oh, darling.   

*names have been changed, not to protect them boys, but to protect me. This is the Internet, after all.

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