the best years

Childhood is often referred to as the leading candidate for Best Years of One’s Life, though a significant amount of us have different experiences. For better or worse, there are many things a person may get to explore as a kid that will not be accessible once adulthood is reached.

Perhaps the reverse is also true.

In adulthood, I feel that I have slightly more autonomy, even if there are still feelings of helplessness. Peeling off the layers of adulthood has been a challenging experience, and in my early thirties, and I am only just starting to suspect that I might have the hang of it.

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June 2016, the day before graduation. Seattle.

I have not updated this blog in over a year. In that year plus, the following events have occurred:

  • [Summer 2015] I worked two full-time jobs, and took on an independent study at my college.
  • [Fall 2015] The mobile game studio I’d been employed with for 4 years closed. After 9 years in the industry, I decided that would be my last job in games. I took the first part-time job I could find, with the goal of finishing college in mind.
  • [Winter 2015/16] I am granted early admission to my first choice university.
  • [Spring 2016] I graduate college.
  • [Summer 2016] I scramble like mad to ensure my place at the university.

During this time, I pushed myself to a great number of limits. A lot of them made me cry from a combination of exhaustion, frustration, and depression, but I managed to make it through. Full-time studies can be incredibly isolating, especially when living near the centre of a larger city.

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March 2016. Montreal. Photo by Marisa Parisella.

I have had to ask myself a few times why I pushed so hard. I came to a couple of conclusions:

  • I did not think I would live beyond age 30. When I turned 31 last summer, I arrived at what one might call an ‘oh shit’ moment. ‘Oh shit, I’m not dead after all. What do I do?’ I made some plans, and pledged to revisit my progress every so often, so long as I wasn’t dead.
  • I gained a bit more faith in myself and my abilities. I doubt this would have been possible without the support system I have in place, composed of chosen family and friends.

I turn 32 tomorrow. I tend to think about how things are going in life the most around birthdays, and each new year.

I am a late bloomer in several ways, so perhaps it makes sense that my thirty-first year felt like one of the best years of my life.

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July 2016. San Diego.

I learned incredible lessons on and off campus. Some days were hellish and unforgiving, but others were filled with laughter and gratitude. Overall, I found methods to keep myself motivated, and outlets in which to kvetch. It is my belief that in this life, both are very important.

If there’s any gift I could think to give to the childhood version of myself, it’s to keep working hard to make things better for the version of myself that remains, and for those I love, for as long as I can.

I’ve dwelled on it long enough, and I can finally say that it’s OK that I didn’t have a particularly fantastic childhood. The best years aren’t always on time.

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on the diversity of black women

On Tuesday morning, I saw a striking image of Janelle Monáe (wiki) on For Harriet‘s Facebook page, promoting a new song of hers called ‘Yoga’. I wasn’t a huge fan of the song, but I found that image of her invaded my thoughts for a good chunk of the day.

In this image, Janelle stood against a kumquat-coloured wall, with her hair tied up, and her legs crossed. She wore a short black sport top with TOMBOY against it in bold, white lettering. She had hoop earrings on as well as a look that seemed to dare anyone to challenge her and be foolhardy enough to think they could win.

Tomboy. That word to me feels as though it gets most of its traction in whispers and private messages among trusted friends, and yet it was arguably the loudest element of the image. It took the breath out of me.

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It should perhaps come as no surprise that I find Black women incredibly powerful, intelligent, creative and autonomous. There are some out there in the world that I will carry love for my entire life. These are a few observations that I have made throughout my time on this planet. Even in times where I may not be able to see someone who resembles my colour out on the street, I can turn to the internet to see what’s on their minds.

It is difficult for me to recall a time when the internet wasn’t full of ire. There is much I pay attention to, especially when it comes to Black women, what their endeavours are, and how they are perceived by others.

It doesn’t look good: there is little to no wiggle room outside of expectations (sometimes developed by stereotypes), and commonly I see many transphobic, racist comments made about them should they strive to do a little living for themselves. They’re not allowed space for anger, anguish or much in the way of assembly without being considered suspicious. The assumption I see a great deal of is that women in general are supposed to be meek, feminine, and appealing to men — even via online comments in allegedly progressive communities!

Salt-N-Pepa.

I enjoyed growing up in the 90s, for the most part. I was exposed to a fair deal of music with Black women at the front, addressing issues of responsibility, sexual independence, and a general sense of women going out and doing their own thing. The songs were catchy, and carried important messages for me as a young lady. I was expressing myself very freely then as a tomboy, which I did not realise until later was rather a lucky thing.

MissyElliott

 

Missy Elliott by far was the most influential rapper of my teens. A talented writer and producer of many popular hip-hop / R&B tracks, Missy always appeared to have a heart of gold, and so much love for her fans, and artists that she was working with. Her videos have been amusing, bright and colourful, and quite often memorable.

Girls, girls / get that cash / if it’s 9 to 5 / or shakin’ your ass / ain’t no shame, ladies / do your thang / just make sure / you’re ahead of the game would often be sung with gusto whenever ‘Work It’ entered the song rotation in my library. Again, messages of women doing for themselves — at least, that’s how I saw it, in any case.

However, the late 90s is when it started: I began to notice the buzzing of judgments. Wouldn’t Missy be nice if she lost some weight? Wore a little something girly? I wondered why these images mattered more to the people talking about them than how incredible it was to observe a lady making it to the top and controlling her image.

Skin of Skunk Anansie (wiki). Not an R&B artist, but a remarkable musician nonetheless.

Don’t believe the judgments stop at music. This form of behaviour permeates virtually every form of media there is, as well as other fields. Serena Williams, a professional tennis player with several notable victories under her belt, is an example of a Black woman exceeding unexpectedly, and a receiver of various crap comments because her figure isn’t appealing to some straight men looking for eye candy in the tennis world. World class athletes are not exempt from this sort of harm, nor are those of different professions who brave the world as their authentic selves.

In adulthood, I have noticed that there’s loads of work to be done in checking one’s assumptions about what kind of person a Black woman might be, just based on her appearance. These are things battled with on a regular basis. This is absolutely a problem for feminine Black men as well as those who are of colour and fall outside of the binary; it’s almost as though the shaming is intended to magically change a person to suit another’s preferences somehow.

That is not how it works. Some harder conversations need to be taking place about the beauty in diversity among Black people (especially women), which should extend to remembering that each person has autonomy and is deserving of expressing it as they wish without the peanut gallery passing judgment without invitation, or inciting violence.

Respecting people who may differ from you is not a plea, and should not be treated as such. It is a demand.

what it is to be bran

I had a different name at birth that only a few people know. Sometimes I forget it, and I have them remind me.

 

I’ve been told I was given the name Brandy later on due to the colour of my skin. I carried it for a decade plus, though I never felt it fit my persona. It seemed to fall off my tongue wrong every time when introducing myself, and I was already packing the awkward sheltered kid bit.

While developing said awkward sheltered kid bit, my mother would occasionally call me Bran. This was found to be most convenient when shouting for me to come home from playing outside with other children from my block, as I was much more likely to hear a heavily stressed one-syllable name than anything else, with all the adrenaline swarming about.

It stuck.

 

 

Bran started out as a thing between my mum and I, for aforementioned daughter retrieval purposes. For reasons I’ve yet to fully identify or explore, I decided to take it back in my late teens. That was a period of great personal change, sparked by family tragedies. I reckon a small part of it was due to being tired of having my name misspelled any number of ways — my given surname and first name both have lots of alternatives. (One problem abolished, another arrives; I’m sometimes called Bren or Brian.)

My first love knew me as Bran. It turned into a thing between myself, my mum, and those close to me, an upgrade to provisional nickname status. I didn’t make a big fuss about it if folks weren’t aware or simply forgot, because it felt private, and special.

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Bran in secret, sometime 2004

The name resurfaced with some urgency in my late twenties somehow. I entered a work environment where I felt okay enough to go by the nickname, not fearing being questioned too much about a name most in my experience assume belongs to a male-bodied person. I started introducing myself as Bran, although I knew with it came questions and a need to repeat the name occasionally. “Like the muffin,” I add from time to time, as I find it’s a good way to dial up the name and spelling to newcomers.

Moving to a new state sort of meant I could reinvent myself as I pleased. I’d long abandoned the idea of moving to Philadelphia and took on my first choice of Seattle. It is here that I have attached a somewhat political undertone to the Bran name, with a slight nod to my mum due to its origins. Instead of hiding away my boyish mannerisms, I’ve chosen to embrace them in addition to the occasional streaks of femme I yearn for.

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Bran out loud, sometime 2010

I wouldn’t say that I’m angry at all when people choose to call me by my full name, especially if they aren’t aware that there is a name that I feel suits me better.

There are occasions where it’s just easier to go by a more common name, places where I don’t want to open myself up to the scrutiny of strangers, and a myriad of other possibilities that I cannot predict. We’re human, we falter. I am certainly guilty of that.

I feel it’s a matter of trust. When I refer to myself as Bran in front of you, I am placing a key part of my identity that has evolved over the years into your hands. I don’t have to get into the whole story, but I’ll tell you in person if you so desire. I am far from famous but if I have made an impact in your life in any way, I hope you’ll remember my name.

take a chance

Going away for the last half of December made me feel the most middle class I’ve ever been. (I grew up in a middle class family, but I had no concept of such things then.) Running off to somewhere appealing to most, given a full pass to be absent from routine and free to be in intense like with unfamiliar shiny surroundings. That’s not my reality!

It’s been a week since I’ve returned to the States, and I still haven’t fully recovered. I certainly can’t deny I hop and skip off rather a lot, but I’ve never done so for 17 days.

 

Choosing Vancouver was easy. It’s far enough away to feel somewhat detached from Seattle life and culture for a spell, yet reachable without removing a hard chunk of the day solely for travel. Navigating in Vancouver city proper seems simpler, and I’ve been very lucky in finding folks there to connect with. It’s where I welcomed the new year.

31 Dec ’12, East Van

The fall and winter are very introspective times for me. Both seasons are riddled with holidays that are vital for friends, family and spirit. It’s worth mentioning that the latter part of the year affected myself and people around me more than we could’ve imagined.

Each year we cling to the hope that we’ve done better than the year previous, and naturally look forward for relief from whatever plagued us in the year we’re completing.

If I can analyse my year without feeling anything beyond the average layer of guilt or insecurities I have just by being a living human being, I’d cautiously call it a success.

I haven’t made up my mind about 2012. Could be that I never will.

While I was away, I took comfort in late night walks to my temporary home from Skytrain stations, with fog and frost as my companions. I decided that I had places I delighted in defaulting to (Bandidas Taqueria on Commercial Drive & Rhizome Cafe on E Broadway) because the spaces felt welcoming without being intrusive. I was a busy bird indeed.

These are illegal in the United States!
This ban may be reviewed soon.

I tend to go a little mad on food items while there — sometimes it’s restaurants, often it’s staying in with a crony and putting love into homemade items or stuff from a local shop. This makes sense because the area has a lot available that we in Seattle haven’t got.

I don’t make a habit of visiting tourist spots when I go off adventuring. I’ve not been to Stanley Park, haven’t perused Vancouver’s glorious aquarium (I’ll admit a mild interest). I’ve seen the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, but I’m unaware if that’s a popular destination. My goal is to glean as much of the local experience as possible.

My visits are immensely fulfilling. Something about the last one made me take on a task I hadn’t done in years — writing thank you notes to chosen family up north. I put pen to paper and shared my gratitude. Being given the liberty to roam in a city not your own with or without friends is a gift. Gifts should be acknowledged if you’re moved to do so.

2013 is well underway. As soon as I returned, I assumed the role of doing All the Things in my work (save for model jobs, for the moment) and making greater strides to connect with people here in Washington state. I haven’t stopped much to rest, as I should.

Here’s part of why: if there’s anything that being up in BC for that long taught me, it’s that you shouldn’t hesitate to let people you treasure know they’re special, even if and perhaps especially if there’s been a lull in activity. As a pal said once, “take a chance.”

steady breathing

Florida is a very strange state. As far as I know, the MSM doesn’t do much to prove otherwise, with what I read of bizarre crimes and even more puzzling methods of state government.

I have taken several trips to Florida, as north as Fort Lauderdale and as south as Key West, with a main focus in Miami. Due to an intensely passionate long-term relationship, it got to a point where Miami crossed my mind when I considered a place to move to from Los Angeles.

I ended up with my first choice of Washington state, and in the process broke the strong ties I had binding me to Florida in any way. I was really quite firm in thinking I would not return.

Three years plus later, here I am, doing some remarkable stuff. I got over my negative mentality enough to book a flight and see people I value more than letting the past prevail.

Someone I’ve been online friends with for several years met me in Pensacola, spent the entire day with me and another gal of note I’d not seen for at least most of those aforementioned several years. It was an effortless sort of day, one you get to desiring after a long, difficult stretch. In our own different ways, we each needed to be able to laugh and be so carefree.

Summer ’12, Lake Lorraine, Florida

I’m not going to sit here and type this and pretend that my friendships have been all hunky dory, because that would be a lie. There are still a few I can think of off the top of my head that are in dire need of repair. I will mention that coming back after a while to talk about the goings on between myself and one of these women made a significant effect on me being here.

One point that really burns about rifts in friendships is that lingering lack of closure. It’s not necessary for the other person or people involved to give that closure to you, especially depending on how things went down. The best one can do is admit faults, and try to keep a cool head when receiving criticisms/hearing alternate sides of the story. I’ve got work to do.

My trip and experiences here thus far have taught me to keep trying, and that it’s okay to enjoy myself every once in a while without thinking too hard about what it might mean in the future.

export/import

The consensus lately amongst folks who take time to zero in is this: I’m tired.


Those folks happen to be right. I’m tired emotionally, often tired physically, and my spirit suffers. I’m considering my options, and actively seeking correction for each offense.






Some backstory. I would consider myself to be a bit of a caretaking sort with people I get to know on a deep personal level, be it friendship or otherwise. I believe it’s something I inherited from my late gran, and chose to keep around in my behaviour.


While we may not be able to help in ways that matter to modern society (read: material items we crave), we offer help in ways that people need but cannot or do not typically voice. A shoulder to lean on, a sympathetic but non-coddling ear, warm words, a hug. A genuine many-volted smile. These gestures are extensions of our very core, things that we do for the sake of furthering someone’s well-being.






I may never know, but I do wonder if my gran grew weary of this sort of routine at certain intervals. To give, you must take out of yourself, being fully aware that you may never see those portions return. 


Investing in others is risky business, though that is not always obvious. Hindsight burns, and we begin to doubt. Our idea of ‘wise choice’ becomes skewed, compromised. We blame ourselves for bad situations.

July ’11, Trout Lake, Vancouver, British Columbia


Reflection is vital. Survival is good temporarily, but in the long run we must find something better to sustain us. Living, giving and not losing too much of our identity, spirit, and ambition must endure.