The Yellow Bead

August 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm (adoption, discrimination, evolving, international adoption, life, motherhood, personal growth, racism, Uncategorized, white privilege) (, , )

**Note..I wrote this blog a few years ago when my friend April Sims  asked me to do a guest blog for Black History Month.  I recently saw a news article that was giving statistics about what races were more likely to have friends outside of their own race and I felt a little sad that someone actually felt there was a need to research that.  It reminded me of this blog I had written and how adopting trans-racially has made me look at my world quite differently than I did before…even with a circle as colorful as mine was before my son came along. 

The Yellow Bead 

(Alex in his Korean Hanbok *photographer: Thomas Aaron)

Alexhanbok_02

I sat with my paper cup in one hand and a pile of multicolored plastic beads in front of me waiting for the next statement.  The adoption class teacher said, “Most of the people in my church are…..?”.   I struggled with this because my church is very racially mixed.  But reluctantly I picked up a white bead and put it in the cup.  I had to admit that MOST of the people at my church are white.   I looked down in my cup at the white, black, and brown beads all mixed together in fairly equal numbers.  I was pretty happy seeing that I had such a colorful cup.   The key word of course is “MOST”.  I’m white.  So “MOST” of my relatives are white.   Question after question….”most” of my friends are…, coworkers are…, neighbors are…., etc.     But despite how diverse my circle is, there wasn’t one yellow bead in the cup.  The yellow bead would soon be my son.  He will be the only Korean relative, the only Korean neighbor, maybe the only Korean friend in his class.  I won’t see him as anything other than my beautiful child and my love for him transcends the color of our skin.  But I know the rest of the world isn’t always so loving.

This exercise opened my eyes to how my son would feel in my world and how I take my skin color for granted.  And that no matter how open minded I am, no matter how many brown and black beads I have in my cup, I’m still a part of the majority of the beads.   And quite honestly no matter how often I may be the only white person in the room, at the end of the day I can go to my parents’ house, go to my church, flip through a family photo album, and I will be surrounded by people who look like me.  I won’t be the only white bead.  My son will NEVER know what that feels like.

When April asked me to do a guest blog during Black History Month I thought of so many topics I could blog about but every one of them came back to race and how we view each other.   So many conversations I have overheard or unfortunately had to endure simply because the people talking assumed since my skin was the same color as theirs that I also would share or tolerate their ignorance.  Or in contrast since I am “down” with African Americans that the derogatory comments about white folks won’t offend me.  “You’re not really white Janice”.  I’m not?  I’ve heard white and black people speak of each other as if we are of a different breed.  As if we aren’t all humans.  Some of the things I have heard are pretty disturbing.  I don’t need to recount them all.  It’s disappointing.  I recently heard someone say, “Why do THEY need a whole month for Black History?”  I always cringe at the “us” and “them” mindset no matter who it’s coming from.  Sometimes I will speak up and defend the truth but let’s face it, sometimes you are just wasting your breath.  Some folks just got a whole cup full of white beads.  These folks probably don’t want to hear that the truth is until “THEY” have more than just a chapter or a mention in “YOUR” history book then there will always be a need for Black History Month.  I never really understood why history isn’t just history.  I’m not preaching or looking for approval…that’s just the truth.  And here’s a good one….since the human species originates from Africa then we are all related, right?  It’s OUR history, right?  (I’ve learned that some folks with all white beads (and some with all black beads) really hate that little factoid.)  But hate it or not that is a fact.  I shouldn’t even have to explain that.  That should be common knowledge.

I am a child of the 70s.  I remember growing up with the very cocky notion that we might be the ones to make a change in the world when it comes to race relations.  We might be the ones who will look at each other and see how much we are alike and not just how different we look, yet still be able to celebrate who we are.  After all, there we were sitting next to each other learning.  There we were going to dances and proms together, playing sports together on the same team, riding the bus together, graduating together.  We saw adults dividing themselves and we laughed at how narrow minded they were.

But now I’m an adult and we work together, shop together, worship together, create together, LIVE together.  And 30 something years later despite all the black and brown beads in my cup we still have so much to work on.  We still aren’t looking at each other and seeing the similarities.    I’m disappointed in us.  Not “THEM”….”US”.  All of us.  The bottom line is that even after all this time we still haven’t gotten it right.  We are appalled at the idea of the “Whites Only” establishments that wouldn’t allow black people to sit at their lunch counters.  It truthfully wasn’t that long ago.  And there are a lot of people who still draw a very distinct line between themselves and other races.  They are very comfortable in their ignorance.   I know this blog isn’t going to solve that.  I just know that the missing link is the knowledge and acceptance that we are all one in the same and that somehow folks have forgotten that or just never learned it to begin with.  I have to accept that although I was so sure my generation would change things, I really might not live to see that world.  But I have faith that there are a lot of people out there with multicolored beads in their cups.  And I know the love in our circle is powerful and growing.  And I hope that one day it won’t be odd for some people to learn that my son is Korean and his uncle is African America, his auntie is Mexican, and we are all a family.  We all belong to each other.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  ~Mother Teresa

Love and Light,

Janice B.

More about me: http://www.janicebmusic.com

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The “N” Word

July 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm (justice, N Word, Paula Deen, personal growth, racism, Trayvon Martin, white privilege)

MLK

I was working the evening shift at a store in a mall a million years ago and I was ringing up a customer at the front desk.  She was an older white woman….sweet as pie….but she appeared uncomfortable as she stood there looking all around her.  She pulled her purse close to her and leaned in over it as if to tell me a secret and asked, “Aren’t you afraid to work here with all these N….uh….(pause because she was searching for the best term to use)……COLOREDS?”

Oh my……

This blog is about the “N” word.  Okay and it’s about white privilege too.  But let’s start with the “N” word…

I will assume the majority of my readers know what I’m talking about and no I am not going to type the word.  Why?  Because as a white woman (and a human being) it is not a part of my vocabulary or thought process.  I don’t secretly say that word to my white friends in private, I don’t “think” that word in any context and especially not in regards to someone else and as a matter of fact I cringe when ANYONE says it.

Over the past month I have either overheard or have been a part of conversations about race including the use of the N word.  Some were mentioning that there really is no racism anymore and we are all equal so why are black people so “sensitive”.   Some conversations were about how white folks sometimes think they can say the N Word because of the crew they hang with, friends they have, etc.  All of this is bullshit.  (Sorry for the language)

I don’t know, maybe the most recent racial commentary started with Paula Deen…. and then the George Zimmerman trial/verdict really got folks talking about race and the lack of fairness and justice that occurs when anyone who isn’t black is on trial for killing a black man.  I have zero to say about Paula and her dumb ass.  And I’m not going to go into great detail about the Zimmerman verdict and I have a whole separate blog on the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I will say I think it’s an outrage that this man is “not guilty” of anything.  As I’ve stated before…Neighborhood Watch reports suspicious activity to the police.  DONE.  When you get out of your car with a gun and pursue a teenager and shoot him that is your choice.  That is intent.  There is no need to defend yourself if you are in a locked car watching a teenager walk down the street. Clearly they would never have picked me for the jury!

Anyway, let’s tackle the use of the N word first, shall we?

WHITE PEOPLE….I am talking primarily to you.  When is it okay for you to use the N word?  Write this down…..

NEVER

It is NEVER okay for you to use the N word.  NEVER.   Actually go ahead and consider “NEVER” to be your new N word.

“But Janice, you don’t understand.  I have a lot of black friends, listen to hip hop, grew up in the hood, have a platinum pass, work for a black owned business and my coworkers say it, that’s how it was back in the day,  people used to call me names too, have a black boyfriend/girlfriend, blah blah blah.”   I do understand that you think its okay.  But it is still NEVER okay for you to say it.  NEVER.   I know there are groups of white teens who think because they are into hip hop and dress the roll and talk the talk, that they are somehow allowed to use the word they hear so often in the music they love.  And maybe your little circle of “brothas” accepts you saying it…..but please believe that it will NOT be accepted outside of your circle.  In the real world you will get your ass kicked.  This is white people 101.  I’m sorry you missed the class but hear me now….it’s not okay for you to say the N word.

It is an offensive racial slur to MOST people.  Yes black folks say it to each other sometimes.  That doesn’t give you any kind of permission to say it.  And no it does not matter if there is an “a” instead of an “er” on the end.  I realize this can be considered a term of “endearment” to some but trust me that there are a lot of black people who still find that offensive as well.

Another important factor is that even if you don’t understand WHY it’s offensive to someone, just the fact that it IS should be enough for you to never say it.  And please, when someone tells you it is offensive to them do not go on and on with a litany of reasons why it shouldn’t be.  Just respect that it is and stop.  I personally don’t want to hear ANY racial slurs.  And I actually find people who feel they have some privilege to say it even more offensive than those who are just plain ole ignorant.  I know I’m probably going to upset people.  And I know that they will look to my pictures on Facebook, my creative circle, friends and family, and tell me that it’s not the same for me because I have “a lot of black friends”, etc.  I hear that craziness all of the time.  All I can tell you is that as accepted as I am in most circles I enter, I would like to think that it’s because I am true to who I am and never try to be something I’m not.  This is me.  It’s not a charade.  I’m not trying to be anything to fit in with any particular group.  I fit in because I am me.  I am considered family by a lot of people who don’t look like me.   And maybe I also fit in because I understand what white privilege is.  I didn’t earn this privilege but no matter how cool or “down” I am to folks, at the end of the day my white skinned, Welsh/Scottish ass has privileges in this world that other people including my closest friends and some family members don’t.  I didn’t earn this.  I was born with it.  It’s not fair.  I am highly aware of it.  So let’s move on to that topic…..

I heard someone say that racism doesn’t really exist anymore.  And quite honestly in my opinion THAT is one of the biggest problems we have as human beings right now.  The fact that people cannot understand that racism exists, that we are not really “equal”, and that we have so much personal and interpersonal work to do.  Hell we can’t even talk about it on Facebook without people attacking each other.  We keep taking steps backwards.  We aren’t learning from our mistakes.  We are idiots.  We aren’t teaching our kids about respect for everyone and how can we when as adults we don’t even respect each other.  This is how we create George Zimmermans.  This is how we create people who view any black guy in a hoodie at night as a threat or suspicious.  This is how we maintain the “Us and Them” mindset that is keeping us from getting anywhere close to peace.

Let me try to explain white privilege.  I KNOW that because I am a white female I can get away with pretty much anything in this world.  I can drive fast, I can forget to renew my tags on time, I never have to get out of my car if I get pulled over, I never worry about a police officer driving behind me,  I can walk out of stores with merchandise by accident, I can dress however I want and never be followed around a store, it is assumed I speak “well”, I never get stopped at customs or by security, no one labels me a thief or suspect without even knowing me, etc., etc.,…the list goes on and on.  THIS is white privilege.  Because my skin is white I never have to experience what my African American friends, colleagues, and family deal with every day in this country.  Yes…MAYBE if I am up in the midst of a situation with them I might be treated as they are.  But the difference is I don’t have to be there.  I can turn around and go on about my white way and for the most part not ever have to worry about being treated with disrespect, unfairness, injustice ever again.  I have that choice.  I have that privilege.  It’s real.  If your skin is white you need to realize and own this.  THIS is white privilege.

Because of this, you really should be much more sensitive to the fact that people of other races do not experience this freedom that you do.  I think this is difficult for a lot of white people to grasp because in doing so they feel that they personally are being blamed for whatever situation is on the table at the moment and they get defensive.  And in a sense it is partially our fault if we don’t SEE that there is a difference in the way people are treated.  Once you see it happening, accept it is real, and change YOUR actions and perceptions, then there is a ripple in the water…a movement toward change.  It’s not an “overnight, let’s sign an official document, make a law,” kind of change.  It’s a change that comes from inside of all of us.  It’s a shift in the culture that won’t happen easily if it can happen at all.

My friend Ellen Gee* posted a photo on her Facebook page of a T-shirt that Adidas was selling.  It was displayed on a black faceless mannequin and it said “Run Like You Took Something”.  (By the way this was right after Adidas had those sneakers out with the shackles around the ankles and everyone was outraged.)

adidas shirt

There were a million comments on the thread under this picture, some amazed, some confused, some not surprised a bit, but one white man was going off on my friend.  “Why is everything about race?  “Why are we still having these conversations?” “I’m a white man who once lost a job to affirmative action” “I’ve been discriminated against just like you have” “We have bigger problems in the world than a black mannequin” “Quit playing the race card”…on and on and on.

This was my friend’s page. She is black.  She was offended by the shirt and the choice of color of the mannequin.   Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion.  But instead of TELLING her why it shouldn’t be offensive to her and even ridiculing her…maybe we should LISTEN to why she (and everyone else commenting) feels offended if it isn’t already clear to you.  Try for a second to put yourself in that person’s place.  How did it feel to you sir, the ONE time you lost a job to an African American because of race?  Were you feeling angry, sad, helpless, less valuable, etc??  Did you feel isolated and not accepted?  Can you imagine feeling that way on the regular?

I posted a reply to the thread comments going back and forth that day.  This is what I said….

“I personally don’t think ANY white person gets to say what is offensive to a black person. Just like anyone with a penis doesn’t get to tell me about whether or not I’ve been “legitimately raped” or what to do about the child I am carrying. It’s not about white folks. I can get followed around in stores every day for the rest of my life and it will never equal the racism, prejudice, and racial profiling that black people deal with 24/7. I’ve seen it. My friends live it. Yeah I’ve been discriminated against in my life. But when the police pull me over 98% of the time it’s friendly and I drive away with a warning. I never have to get out of the car. I could walk out of a store accidently carrying an unpaid for item and the clerk would probably run out after me and I could laugh it off as a mistake. No security need be called to follow me around the mall. No one ever comments that I “speak really well” for a white person. No one ever says “there goes the neighborhood” when I move in. People don’t cross the street when a few of my white friends and I are walking in a group towards them. Old ladies don’t clutch their purses close to them when I get on the elevator. It’s a privilege that I was born with….I didn’t earn it. It’s not fair but it is the truth. Yes there are bigggg problems going on in this world. The economy, the school systems, health care, etc. But that doesn’t change or minimize racism. That’s a whole different thing. And unless you live it every day with a skin color that for a lot of folks has branded you a thief, guilty, suspect, etc. then you can’t truly ever understand.”

Obviously I don’t have a brilliant solution for any of this.  As artists we write…we sing…we try to reach people to create some positive movement. Every time I think we are making a difference and opening minds through art and music, something happens that sets us all back again.  It makes me sick.  I don’t know what we can do other than LISTEN to each other without being defensive and TALK about what we can change in our own hearts and lives to create the shift that is needed to move a little closer to peace.

All we have is each other.  What affects one of us will ultimately in turn affect all of us.  Have you been affected enough yet?

Love and Light,

Janice B.

https://http://www.janicebmusic.com

*More About Ellen Gee: https://www.facebook.com/Ellengee.Evolves

Ellen Gee, Janice B., and Romel Moralez during the shoot of “Feeling Fine”

ellenjb

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A Gift of Kindness

June 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm (Uncategorized)

dad_janetleighJFK1

*photo copyright Phil Stern Gallery

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  ~Leo Buscaglia

With all the darkness and despair that we see on the news every day, it’s easy to forget that there ARE really good people out there doing things that might not be newsworthy, but still touch people and restore our faith in humanity and kindness.

I could write a whole blog about how awesome my dad is.  I could tell you his whole story about how he grew up poor and how his father abandoned the family when my dad was just a boy.  He was a child but was still old enough to feel the pain and the loss.  He was also old enough to help his mother raise his younger brother in the mountains of Western Maryland.  He knows what it feels like to be hungry.  He knows what it feels like to have a world of responsibilities on your shoulders as a child.  To hope that maybe your father will return and to live with the disappointment that he never does.  He struggled in school but still graduated.  Somehow instead of being a victim…instead of repeating the cycle of pain…he found his way out.  He married my mom, his high school sweetheart and joined the military.  He then made his way to law enforcement.  They moved to Anacostia in South East Washington DC and started their family.

My dad was a DC beat cop at the time of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Washington DC was buzzing with celebrity parties and galas.  My dad was assigned to handle security at the door for the celebrity inaugural party hosted by Frank Sinatra.  He will tell you amazing stories about how Frank Sinatra was so hospitable to him, offered him dinner, how he had a cocktail with Nat King Cole, etc, etc.  Great stories!  He will tell you that as a “hillbilly country boy” it was quite an experience.  He got Sinatra’s autograph for my mom and was handed a crisp $100 bill at the end of the night when Sinatra shook his hand.  And even now at 84 years of age, he can tell you the story of that entire evening like it just happened.  It was a big night in his life.

Fast forward fifty years.   2011 was the 50 year anniversary of the JFK inauguration.  CNN did a special on it.  My dad was home one afternoon in his chair watching it on TV.  They were interviewing celebrity photographer Phil Stern who was now in his 90s.  While he was talking they were showing the black and white pics of the celebrities that he took that evening.  Suddenly up on the screen was a picture of this handsome, smiling, DC police officer in full uniform being kissed on the cheek by actress Janet Leigh.  (Janet Leigh was the blond actress in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Psycho”….if you don’t know about that movie then please don’t tell me and just Google it!)  It was my dad!  And he almost jumped out of his chair (hard to do when you are in your 80s!).  He told me the story and I went on an internet search to find out more.

I found the Phil Stern gallery and contacted them via email telling them my dad’s story and how if possible I would like to purchase a print of that photo.   I was delighted to receive a response from the curator who was excited to hear the story behind the pic and offered me a discount on the print.  He also attached a price list for reprints.  (cue the record scratch!)  The price of the smallest print was $2000.00!  Whoa…..no way I can afford that.  In my mind I was thinking “hold up…you want to charge ME $2000 for a picture of MY FATHER??”  LOL but I didn’t say that.  I responded and thanked him telling him unfortunately we couldn’t afford that.  I told my dad about it and we just laughed.

That was 2 years ago.  Although I’ve pulled up the internet photo for people to see and my dad still tells the story of that great evening in his life, we had completely given up any hope of ever getting a copy of the picture.

A few weeks ago I came home from work and there was a big yellow padded envelope waiting, addressed to me.  It was hand addressed.  Nothing official or professional, just black sharpie handwriting from “STERN” in California.  I’m thinking, “Howard Stern??  He lives in New York though.”  LOL  Also on the front of the envelope was written “Enjoy!”.  I opened it with apprehension, still not making the connection with the name.  Inside was a large print of my dad in uniform being kissed by Janet Leigh.  It wasn’t the same print that was online.  It was darker, a little off to the side, but it was clearly from the same roll of film.  No note included.  No explanation.  I was delighted though and now had a great Father’s Day surprise.  A week or two later I received an email from Peter Stern, photographer Phil Stern’s son, asking if I received the print.  I responded that I did and thanked him for sending it.

I don’t know the details behind how he knew about my email to the curator of the museum.  I had moved on assuming the museum was run by a staff with no real connection to the family of Phil Stern and that my email was one of many.  But to think that however it occurred, he took the time to find a print from that roll of film, package it personally and send it to me made the gesture even more precious.

I gave the photo to my dad today as one of his father’s day presents.  I told him the story behind it and he was very moved by the kindness and generosity of Peter Stern.  My parents will surely be reaching out via snail mail to thank him.  For me, this story stands as a thank you not only to Mr. Stern, but to everyone who takes a moment to go out of their way to make someone else smile asking for nothing in return.  You are a reminder to all of us that the light of love still shines brightly.

Dad with pic

Happy Father’s Day!!

Love and Light,

Janice B.

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Mercy, Mercy Me!!

February 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm (motherhood, musicians, personal growth, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

JB laughing1

Mercy, Mercy Me….

Wow it’s February 2013 and I just realized that I haven’t blogged since July of last year.  Damn is that right??  I’ve meant well y’all…I started a whole lot of blogs about a whole lot of important topics.  But I just didn’t like the way they sounded and never hit that “publish” button.  I would rather not say anything at all than to just keep yapping about the same old stuff everyone else is yapping about.  I know that’s not how “artists” are supposed to do…we are supposed to keep our yapping out there so people will stay interested.  Yawnnn…lol.  But you know I gotta be me and it just wasn’t working for me. 

Seriously though…up through the end of December I was overwhelmed.  My musical endeavors kept me spinning along with my impending day job layoff, sick relatives, and the usual mommy stuff we all have to deal with rendered me blogless.  LOL   But here I am now so let’s go…

I feel it’s important as an artist (and human being in general) to give something back to your community and the world.  While I do frequently give what I can I really wanted to be able to do something with my music as well.  I know there are a lot of important music charities out there but I really wanted something I could be a part of and experience on my own right in my hometown.  I’ve spent quite a long time looking for a LOCAL organization that strives to make a difference while using music as the means to help others.  And as it so happens with all things I’m looking for, the perfect organization crossed my path at just the right time… 

jbrobin

Through the magic that is Facebook I bumped into Robin Fay Massie-Pighee, the director of Musicians of Mercy.  I’m not even sure what the first event was that she posted…maybe Patterson Park or the Jubilee Arts benefit.  But it was an open call for musicians to donate their time/talents for a show to raise money.  Something drew me in.  Maybe it was the fact that once I emailed her to inquire about being a part of the show she responded in all caps and exclamation points!!  “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!”  I would soon learn that this is no act or internet persona…she really is THAT exuberant in real life!  :)

So Musicians of Mercy, (MOM for short) seemed to be the organization that was a good fit for me.  They don’t give to just one cause, they respond to whatever needs are out there at the moment both local and worldwide.  MOM raises funds for humanitarian causes through the production of benefit concerts. All performers volunteer their time and talents in concerts that are open to the public at little to no cost. MOM showcases a variety of artists…solo performing artists, chamber ensembles, jazz combos, spoken word, and a full orchestra.  It all started when Robin learned of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and wanted to do something to help.  Maybe that’s what I connect with the most.  So many times I’ve wanted to do something but didn’t know where to begin.  She just grabbed her viola and jumped in!!  I admire that!  I know this is a labor of love for Robin and all the musicians involved and quite frequently she has to pay for some of the expenses associated with doing these events herself.    

I’ve performed for a few Musicians of Mercy benefit concerts and I always walk away feeling blessed to be a part of such a great group of artists coming together for a common cause.  Truthfully I always wished I could do more.  And my wish was heard with an opportunity that presented itself in an unlikely situation. 

QueenEarth asked me to accompany her for her set as a part of the World AIDS Day event at Creative Alliance.  After the show we were approached and asked if we would like to have a concert in the spring.  We were told we could have a few acts together and select a charitable organization to donate part of the proceeds to.  After some late night brainstorming at the Double T Diner, meetings over chicken wings and whiskey, and gmail conversations, we had a show and a charity!! 

Have mercy flyer

So with that being said, on Thursday, March 28th  8-10pm at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, instead of Musicians of Mercy having a concert to benefit another charity…WE are having a benefit concert FOR Musicians of Mercy!  Brooks Long and The Mad Dog No Good, QueenEarth, and me, Janice B. together on one stage!  It won’t be 3 feature acts…we are performing together!!  It’s gonna be a blast!  Proceeds from the ticket sales and 20% of CD sales that night will go to Musicians of Mercy to help them continue with their humanitarian efforts. 

I’m really excited and blessed to be able to have this opportunity to perform alongside such amazing artists and great friends while giving something back with our music.  As my circle of love widens, the blessings continue to flow.  I hope you will join us on March 28thPic 3

Check the following link for details:

Facebook event page:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/144271515722657/?fref=ts

For more info on Musicians of Mercy:

http://musiciansofmercy.org/

Love and light,

Janice B.

www.janicebmusic.com

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Sticks and Stones

July 30, 2012 at 11:58 am (bullies, life, musicians, personal growth, social networks, Uncategorized)

He was a pimp.   Not the first one I had dealt with for sure.  He had a superior attitude, loud, rude, with several women tagging along with him.  The women were strung out, incoherent, dirty, and dressed in provocative clothing.  Obeying his every word. 

This was a million years ago yet I remember it vividly.  I clearly recall the store full of customers on that Saturday night.  I was the manager on duty at a  clothing store in Landover Mall.  People reading this probably won’t know about Landover Mall.  All I can say is it was a colorful shopping mall with all kinds of people passing through…good honest folks and then the folks who were trying to steal a whole display of leather coats all while smiling and talking to you.  Drugs, shoplifting, fights.  Never a dull moment.  You had to be on your game.  So anyway…back to the pimp.  He walked in the store and I was working behind the counter with a long line of customers.  My staff on the floor glanced at me knowing they needed to be alert.  So far so good.  He seemed harmless.  Arrogant.  He was talking loudly ordering his women around.  They picked out some things to try on and went in the fitting room.  I stood behind the elevated counter ringing up customers and keeping my side eye on the pimp. 

He stood in the middle of the sales floor talking loudly to himself and kept glancing at me.  Then he pulled out a cigarette and lit it up.  He looked straight at me while he did this because even though back then you could smoke in the mall, you couldn’t smoke in the stores.  I guess it was a test.  He was waiting to see what I was gonna do.  I excused myself to interrupt the customer I was helping and then I said out loud… “Excuse me Sir.  I’m sorry but you can’t smoke in my store.”  Everyone in line stopped talking.  LOL  I remember that clearly.  Everything stopped except for the music playing.  Of course I remember the song..I’m a scorpio..hello!  It was Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show”.  LOL! 

He looked right at me.  I knew he wasn’t expecting me to say anything to him and he definitely wasn’t happy.  Then very loudly he yelled  “BITCH!  I GOT WHITE BITCHES LIKE YOU WORKING FOR ME!!!”  It sounds silly now.  But that is what he said.  It was like a bad movie.  LOL  There was a collective gasp in the line at the counter.  Everyone looked down or anywhere besides at either of us.  I never flinched.  Me.  The only white “bitch” in the room at the moment I suppose besides a few of his women in the fitting room.  And here I am telling a pimp what he can’t do.  I never changed my expression.  I replied calmly, “Sir I’m sure that is true,  however you still cannot smoke in my store.  Would you like for me to call someone to show you out to where you can smoke?”  Silence.  He looked at me and kept smoking.  He looked at the mall security guard who just happened to walk by to give me a wave and see if we were cool…and then he mumbled something and walked out of the store.  I continued to ring folks up and act like nothing had happened, talking to people in line and keeping it moving.  It was still way too quiet.  The man next in line said, “You handled that REALLY well.  That attitude is gonna serve you well in life.  You are gonna go far.”  I remember that clearly.  That African American man with his kind round face telling me about myself and where this little incident was gonna take me.   At the time I was very young and it really didn’t seem like anything but another crazy Saturday evening.  But now I really understand…

As a songwriter and lyricist I know the power of words.  The hurtful ones thrown at someone effectively can break a spirit, shatter a dream, ostracize, demean, and do a lot of damage to a person’s self esteem.  In turn, one kind word can make a horrible day suddenly become hopeful.  A positive word can encourage, motivate, heal, and sometimes even save a life.  To me, name calling is the last weapon in someone’s arsenal and when they resort to hurling insults I know they have already lost whatever game they are trying to win.  I think this is why political advertisements always turn me off.  If you can’t effectively tell me what you need to say without bashing someone else then what you are saying isn’t worth listening to.  It is childish but some adults do this all of the time.  She/he is fat, a whore, a bitch, ugly, stupid, etc.  And with the internet allowing people to hide behind their profiles with no face to face confrontation it’s even easier to be a bully.  Even though we are hopefully above all of that..hearing a harsh word like that about you can still sting.  Even as a grown woman.    

So fast forward from the pimp incident to present time and the reason I am writing this blog.  I just recently I discovered I have a few “haters” out there in cyberland.  I’m not a fan of the term “hater” but we’ll go with it for now.  I’m not even sure it’s me they hate.  It could be someone in my creative circle.  But let me elaborate…

It started the day my husband was in the hospital for his heart procedure.  I was already stressed out and trying to stay above the chaos when I got a notification on my phone that someone had commented on a page of mine on the internet.  It was someone who had apparently looked through all of my content, photos, video etc.  They said I was old, fat, couldn’t sing, the songs were boring, I must be sleeping with my producer, etc.  Damn.  What the hell??  I’m not gonna lie.  I was shocked and it definitely hurt a little.  Who is this and why all of the sudden?  Then I realized after checking it out that this person had created a fake profile and was going around to all of my pages making comments.  Some of my content on the pages was over 4 years old.  So why was this happenening all of the sudden??  I don’t have anything new going on that would warrant such comments.  While it made me angry I just deleted it and dismissed it. 

It was quiet for a while then a few weeks later there was a sudden onslaught of fake new profiles and awful comments.  Some really bad accusing me of all types of things that I won’t list here.  They said I was fat, looked pregnant, had wrinkles, must be over 50 years old, and an awful singer.  They made comments about my race, my hair, my voice, the songs, my horrible close up shots, my chin, my body, my band members, etc.  Jeez.  Why was this happening?  I couldn’t think of anything that had happened that would cause such nastiness towards me.  I hadn’t had any bad words or hard feelings with anyone that I was aware of.  I try to send a positive message with most things that I do and I seem to be gaining a small but very cool fanbase of awesome people.  But these guys weren’t playing around.  They were clearly on a mission to try to tear me down.  And all of them were new, fake profiles created that day with no other history except for bashing me.  It may have even been the same person since they misspelled some of the same words, etc.  But now they were clearly doing name searches on me.  Pulling up anything that had my name on it and leaving nasty comments.  But why?? 

I probably won’t ever know why.  It’s amazing to me that even today, as a 40 something mom, wife, singer, songwriter, etc…there are still people out there who want to tear me down.  I am not some big popular artist.  I am not competing with anyone.  Geez, half the time I am a mommy trying to make ends meet and do this music thing and find some time to rest when I can.  So to know someone is really going out of their way to hate on me is crazy.    But I know there is a bigger picture here.  This mindset…the people who go out of their way to belittle you and try to make you feel inferior and worthless..these are the “bullies” that we teach our children to ignore.  It’s easy to say “just ignore it”….even “it gets better”.  That’s easy to say when you aren’t the one being constantly ridiculed and belittled.  It wears on you.  It is hurtful.  It is unfair.  I’ve dealt with it before.  Jealous people, bullies, people trying to keep you out of their circle, squash your dreams.  But it’s at these moments that it’s even more important to stand firm in who you KNOW you are.

“It doesn’t matter what name you call me….what matters is the name I answer to.”     

People look at you and they see what they want to see. And you look in the mirror and you see what YOU want to see. Sometimes they don’t match up.  To that pimp that night I was just another white bitch.  Someone he was going to overpower.  But see I KNEW who I was. I didn’t need to act out. I didn’t need to get angry.  This is me. And I have found that when I am confidently standing as me…who I am….there is nothing that can hold me back. There is no one who can break me down.  There is no name you can call me that I haven’t risen above before and I may have even at one time looked in the mirror and believed  some of those things about myself.  But it has never stopped me.  Even when it hurts I press on.     

I know that people who act out like this are hurt.  They have also been bullied and hurt before and have never learned how to rise above it or change it.  (Thank you Raven for that insight)  Or they feel small and need to tear someone else down to feel powerful and a part of something.  It takes a lot of effort to create several fake profiles and spend your time looking up Janice B. only to leave comments that for whatever reason you think will hurt me or stop me from going after my goals.  In a sick way I suppose it’s a compliment.  You have to care a whole lot to put that much passion into hate.  My producer MoRece said once that people only start buzzing when there is something there to buzz about.  I know that is true but like I said in a recent Facebook status, I’ve never claimed to be young, wrinkle free, skinny, or a phenomenal singer.  I’m just doing what I love and being who I am.  I don’t need to hide behind a fake profile and hurt folks to feel powerful.  I stand strong in who I am no matter how imperfect that may be to someone else.  I know it’s probably best to just be silent regarding these incidents but that’s not my style.  I don’t hide.    If these people want to keep hurling sticks and stones at me I will just catch them and add them to this big mountain that I am climbing.  I will reach the top and continue to rise.  So I thank them for the extra lift and pray they find something in their lives worth climbing towards besides trying to pull me down.  I also thank them for the extra attention to my pages.  All of those extra hits are great!  :) 

As for the pimp that night, he came back in the store still talking loudly I suppose to compensate for the fact that he didn’t shut me up.  He got in line with the women.  We rang him up and he took out a wad of one hundred dollar bills and threw money on the counter towards me.  But he didn’t look at me.  And he didn’t speak to me.  One of the women reached up to take a flyer off of the counter and he smacked her hand and told her to put it back.  I felt kind of sick inside.  As a woman, a mother, and a human being I now wonder what kind of abuse one had to endure to get to that level of despair and self hatred…I wondered that for both her and for him.  I pray I never come to understand that. 

I recently saw a quote in different variations on the internet but I’m not sure who said it or how the real quote is worded (if you know please tell me!).  But I will share it as best I can since it’s really fitting for this situation…..

“Remember that if people are trying to pull you down it’s because you must already be above them.”

Many thanks to the wonderful friends and fans in my world who take the time to send me a positive message, a kind word, and just something to let me know I am moving in the right direction.  For every negative comment I may receive I have so many more messages of love that you all continue to shine on me.  I choose your light as my focus and we are rising together!!

Love and Light,

Janice B.

**photo credit D. Taylor Images

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Revisiting My Quiet Place

May 1, 2012 at 11:46 am (meditation, personal growth, Uncategorized) (, , , )

Hello! 

I was kind of MIA on the music scene in April.  Actually I was MIA on a lot lof scenes!!  LOL  I sort of took some time off from things.  Of course there are responsibilities I can’t walk away from, but I needed to step back and look inside for a bit.  Before I go on about that let me tell you this story…..

I remember this doctor’s visit like it was yesterday.  I was scared.  I just knew I was dying.  Here I was in my mid 20s, unable to make it up the steps to our 3rd floor apartment without crawling.  I was weak and exhausted.  We would go out to dinner or a movie on my occasional night off and half way to the restaurant I would feel like I was going to be sick.  Chest tight, short of breath, nauseous.  I didn’t feel that way at work.  I worked long shifts mostly on my feet as a retail store manager with payroll cutbacks and a whole lot of extra work.  When I was working I was “on”.  Constantly moving,  constantly aware.  When I got home I could hardly walk.  I thought I surely have some awful disease. 

So I braced myself for the doctor’s diagnosis.   He did all the usual tests.  Then he asked “So what do you do to relax?”.   Uhhhhhhh I had to think.  I said…“Watch TV?”  He informed me that this wasn’t really relaxing.   I started listing all the things I thought were relaxing and he shot me down each time.  Then he asked, “Do you ever just sit and do nothing?”  HA!!!  Hell no.  I didn’t.  My mind was always racing.  There was always something to deal with.  Yeah I might be off work but at any moment someone could call me in the middle of the night and say that the store had been broken into and I would have to go back in.  Or I would think I was getting off work at 6pm just to find out someone couldn’t work their shift and I would have to stay until the store closed.  I was always on edge…always on high.  So I had to admit that I didn’t know how to relax.  I didn’t know how to do nothing.  The doctor said, “You know…stress can kill you.”  Then he asked, “Can you give me just 10 minutes a day?”  I had no clue what the hell he was going to do but I agreed.  Surely I could do 10 minutes of whatever horrible treatment he had for me.  He pulled out a prescription pad and wrote down, “The Relaxation Response” and beside it “Dr. Herbert Benson”. 

A book.  He wanted me to get a book?  For real?  He briefly explained how the relaxation response works.  That when we are under constant stress, with constant chatter in our minds, our body is in “fight or flight mode”.  We are always operating in a panic state.  So in turn when we are in a place where we should be rested, like going to dinner or a movie, our body doesn’t know what to do…it doesn’t know how to be calm.  Enter the panic attack.  This is what was happening to me.  The Relaxation Response was designed to counter that “fight or flight” mode.   It gets your mind and body used to what it feels like to be calm and at peace.  So when something stressful happens, your body remembers how it’s supposed to be and doesn’t panic.  At the time I thought he was nuts.  Several years later I would learn this is the basic principle of meditation.  When I think back to that doctor’s visit I have to say, I am impressed.  He could have prescribed a million types of drugs.  But instead he gave me a prescription to heal myself…to change my entire way of living….by focusing inward.    

Without giving you a big detailed description, the Relaxation Response is basically sitting quietly with NO distractions.  You pick a word or saying that you will repeat to yourself over and over.  You first relax all of your muscles and then you clear your mind of all thoughts that come into it.  Easier said than done but with some time it really works.  You breathe in and when you exhale you say the word you have chosen..you can speak it or just think it to yourself .  You do this naturally with each breath.  10 minutes a day to start.  It worked for me back then but like any other treatment, once you start to feel better you tend to stop doing it. 

So fast forward to April 2012…..at the beginning of this past month, I had to admit to myself that almost 20 years later, my body was going back into panic mode.  I had long since abandoned the Relaxation Response and hadn’t even practiced yoga like I used to do regularly.  And now, April 2012, I could feel the results of this.  Although I felt peaceful inside and my blood pressure was normal, I was layering on the “stuff”.   I have lots of stuff to balance and carry and handle.  I’m not going to list everything….if you know me you know my day to day adventures.  And most things I don’t even tell people about  because let’s face it…we all have “stuff”.    Just stuff to deal with….one thing on its own isn’t so stressful…..but we carry on and keep moving and keep layering more responsibilities, more “stuff” on us.  Sooner or later you are gonna fall.  Sooner or later you have to put some of that mess down and just be still or you are going to get sick. 

With this in mind, last month I did just that.  I put a whole lot of stuff down for a while.  I couldn’t clear my head.  I couldn’t focus.  I was edgy.  I was exhausted.  I was in physical pain.  And I had to do something.   I was in the mountains for a few days early April and it was there that I revisited the Relaxation Response and meditation.  I sat on the deck in the sun in lotus position (this position with your legs folded under you works for me because I won’t drift off to asleep lol) I purposefully let everything leave my mind.  It’s not easy.  But as the thoughts floated in….I let them float back out.  I can be so still that I can’t feel my hand sitting on my leg.  I can hear the wind in the trees and the birds chirping but they are distant sounds.  Your breath is a part of the rhythm of the world around you.  When you stop and look inward everything changes….the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, the way you see others.  You stop reacting and start observing.

 When you have a quiet calm place to go, when you visit it often, you start to carry it with you.  The day to day stress is lighter.  The burdens are lighter.  This quiet place is inside all of us.  I think some people are afraid to go there.  Because when you stop the chatter in your head and it’s just you and silence, sometimes people don’t like what they see.  Sometimes it’s hard to face the truth of why you need all that distracting chatter in the first place.  But I think that’s even more reason to go there.  That’s the first step to changing what you don’t like about yourself and the world.  It starts inside you.  You can keep looking for a remedy, keep taking pills to calm you, blood pressure meds, etc.  Or you can numb yourself with drugs and alcohol.  Or you can keep being miserable.   But the stuff is still there.  I think with the state of the world today we all have some chatter going on…we all have some stuff that we need to put down for a while and just be still.     

It is said “prayer is talking to God….meditation is listening”.  You can make focusing inward a time to listen to God if that’s what you choose.  Or it can just be you and the universe..you and your breath/heartbeat….however you decide to perceive it is up to you.  You can meditate, you can pray, you can do the relaxation response….but the result is the same.  It is a peace and stillness that is the center of everything.  Once you are able to go there your world will change. 

Here’s a link for more info on The Relaxation Response: http://relaxationresponse.org/

Until next time….

Love and Light,

Janice B.

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Standing Up for the Queen

April 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm (discrimination, farmers markets, homophobia, musicians, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Greetings!Janice B. and QueenEarth

Let me start by saying this wasn’t the blog I planned to post today.  But as usual, something happens that irks me and I need to vent.  So here I am.  Several of us have been chatting about this topic on Facebook but let me explain what happened. 

In short a fellow female musician was discriminated against. 

My friend Missy Smith aka QueenEarth has been performing at local farmers markets as a part of her spring/summer performance schedule.  She recently spoke to the woman in charge of the Briggs Chaney Farmers Market about being considered for a performance slot there.  For those who don’t know, Briggs Chaney is a very diverse area of Silver Spring, Maryland.  The website for their farmers market shows pictures of people from all walks of life, all colors, races, and cultures.  It even states that they are sponsored by a group that is working to strengthen the community and celebrate the diversity of the area. 

I’m telling you this because apparently the female manager of the farmers market  has no idea about their mission to celebrate diversity.  Missy sent her the usual letter with samples of her music.  The woman responded and told her that the one song, video clip actually, was inappropriate.  She actually said, “I love your music and your voice but the content is inappropriate for a family venue.”  Missy had to ask her what song she was referring to since she couldn’t imagine what song would be offensive to families.  She was referring to the song “Supermodel” in which Missy is talking about courting another female.  Now I know the song and I’m actually learning the background parts so I can accompany her when we perform together and even I couldn’t imagine what was so offensive. 

Here’s the actual clip for your review:

http://youtu.be/dNmDJst_Tb8

Missy explained to her that she often tweaks her song sets to accomodate the crowd.  We have all removed profanity or suggestive lines from our songs when children are present for example.  The woman said that they didn’t want to “shake people up” or “change anyone’s minds” as if hearing a lesbian sing will make all of us heterosexuals uneasy and have us switching up our sexuality.  Ridiculous.  Does it make gay people uneasy when I sing about a man?  Missy pressed her for more of an explanation and asked, “so you are saying that if I was singing this song to a man it would be okay?” and the woman said “yes”.  Missy politely withdrew her application to perform. 

When Missy told me about this last night I was amazed that someone could be so arrogantly discriminatory.  Amazed and pissed.  What really got to me was not so much that this woman was a homophobe or racist or whatever she was.  She could have easily replied to Missy that there were no performance openings available or not even responded at all.  But she actually chastised her for sending the video clip of the song.  She said that she was “surprised that she sent that clip to promote herself” as if Missy was wrong for representing herself and her work honestly.  That perhaps had Missy hidden the fact that she was openly gay, she would  have been accepted as a performer.  Look it’s no secret that Missy is gay.  I know her girlfriend and they are both open and honest about who they are.  But neither one of us has ever gotten up on the mic and said “Hi I’m gay” or “Hi I’m not gay”.  It’s simply not an issue in what we do and how we perform.  And I would venture to guess that our friends and fans don’t give a crap either.   And are people at farmers markets really hanging on a singers lyrics like that when they are buying organic tomatoes??  Really?  It’s gonna “shake them up”?  C’mon….it’s 2012 right?  Aren’t we past this bullshit? 

So I slept on this mess.  It even woke me up once.  I know you are probably asking why.  I’m not gay.  I wasn’t the one rejected.  It’s not about me.  But to me this type of casual discrimination is dangerous.  “Hi we don’t allow gays, blacks, whites, women, etc to perform here.”  If you speak that from your mouth then you practice it in your life.  And if you practice it in your life you are also practicing in in MY community.  MY life.  It is most certainly about me.  It could easily be someone saying we don’t hire female perfomers.  As a matter of fact that happens quite frequently here in Baltimore bars.  And it’s wrong.  And I can’t sleep on it. 

So I decided to write a letter.  Look I know that people with a mindset like this woman’s probably won’t even care about what I have to say.  But being silent wouldn’t be right to me.  I’m not a political person.  I don’t picket and protest.  But wrong is wrong.  And as a fellow artist and musician (and fiesty scorpio) I just couldn’t let it go.  I had no intention of posting this.  I’m certainly not looking for any kudos.  I just think that the only way to combat this discrimination is to call it out when we see it.  To say we will not tolerate this in our community.  It might not change peoples minds but it will let them know that they are not the majority.  It’s not okay. 

I’m posting this letter at the recommendation of fellow artist and musician Teporah who also composed her own letter to the manager of the farmers market.  She said I should post it for others to read.  So here it is:     

Hi Gigi,

I am a singer and songwriter here in Maryland.  Like most local independent artists I work very hard at getting exposure and new gig opportunities.  It’s not easy and we often do this all on our own.  I was excited to learn that some of my friends and fellow musicians were now performing at some of the local farmers markets.  What a great idea to encourage the performing arts at an event where there are often socially conscious, open minded folks shopping to support organic farmers, community artisans, local vendors etc.  I have friends living in Briggs Chaney and I know what a diverse community it is.  I can see from the pictures on your farmers market website that the customers and vendors represent many cultures, races, and age groups.  It’s a great place for an artist to perform.  

However knowing this only deepens my disappointment to learn that you would not accept my good friend and fellow musician QueenEarth (Missy Smith) as one of your musical acts.  It is my understanding that it was because of one song she sent you in which she sings about another woman and that you felt it would be inappropriate for the farmers market crowd.  I believe you said it could “shake things up”.  I truly cannot understand such a decision and quite frankly as an artist it frightens me.  

I suppose it’s not necessary for me to go on and on explaining what an amazing artist you are missing out on or to list all of the songs she performs that touch so many people that have nothing to do with anyone’s sexual orientation.  And besides that she is also a supporter of local businesses, farmers markets, a teacher and mentor to many, and an amazing person.  I can’t imagine anything coming out her soul being deemed inappropriate.  We quite often perform together. 

I respect that you are in charge and it is your right to determine who is a “fit” for the audience.  But I also wonder if your diverse market, vendors, and community share your views.  I’m quite sure you have some gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender folks there in the community.  What’s really sad is that they have no idea what they are being denied access to.  They didn’t get a choice.  They don’t get to experience QueenEarth.  And I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I sang Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” or Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” in the material I send out for gig consideration.  Would I be deemed a lesbian and inappropriate?  How many gigs have I been denied because someone placed judgement on me and didn’t think I was right for the crowd?  And even more upsetting, as a listener and a consumer, how many great acts have I missed out on because someone didn’t think I would find it appropriate?  I’m also confused since your website states that you are sponsored by IMPACT Silver Spring.  Their mission statement on their website speaks of strengthening the community and celebrating the diversity in the area.  

While I accept that this email will probably not make a difference or change your views, I felt compelled to speak up.  You might feel it has nothing to do with me.  I am not gay.  I wasn’t rejected as a performer for your event.  But I am a part of a huge circle of local musicians and artists who are affected by these decisions.  On a personal level being deemed inappropriate is hurtful.  As an artist it goes against everything we do.  Music is healing and all inclusive.  We reach many people.  We unite many races, cultures, and sexual orientations.  We also often use the internet and social networks to reach our fans.  Missy and I have over 3000 friends and fans combined on social networks and music websites.  Many of those people are local.  And those friends/fans in turn can decide if a farmers market that would exclude a performer based on sexual orientation or the wording of one song is a farmers market that they will support.  Like you they are free to choose.         

Love and Light,

Janice B.

So yeah….I sent it.  Of course she hasn’t responded.  That’s okay.  I just wanted her to know that her little dismissal of one artist affects a lot of people.  Guess I can get some sleep tonight!

Here’s a clip of me performing “I Remember” with QueenEarth on guitar: http://youtu.be/3l3fgUR18RA

“To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” ~Confucius

Until next time….love and light…

Janice B.

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Aiming the Gun, Taking a Life (My thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case)

March 22, 2012 at 11:38 am (adoption, changes, evolving, justice, life, motherhood, personal growth, police, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I used to keep a gun in my house.  A revolver. 

I knew how to use it even though I hoped I would never have to.   Even if someone was breaking the door down I would hopefully be able to escape without having to shoot someone.  But the fact of the matter is when you own a gun you have to also own the fact that you might be responsible for taking someone’s life.  Some people think that sounds easy given the right circumstances.  But most people who think it is easy, people who think that they could easily shoot someone who was trying to harm them or their child, for example, have most likely never even held a gun.   They have no idea what the decision to point a gun and shoot someone brings with it.  It should never be easy.  

I am familiar with and have respect for guns because I grew up with them.  My father was a DC police officer and later homicide detective.  He also used to hunt for food.   We had guns in the house.  I knew where they were.  I knew how to use them.   My father instilled in me that guns are dangerous weapons and that thankfully he had never had to take someone’s life as a police officer.  He said that a good police officer should go their entire career praying they never have to take someone’s life.  And that it was a burden that no one should ever have to carry.   But he also said that you never ever pick up a gun and aim it at someone, human or animal, unless you are ready to accept that burden.  If the possible harm to you is greater than the burden of taking that life then you will have to live with that choice even if you feel justified in making it. 

I’m talking about guns because I wonder what was going through the mind of George Zimmerman the night he chose to aim his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin.  Like pretty much everyone I know, this case is weighing heavily on my heart these days.   It seems the details of that evening keep changing as more witnesses emerge, so even as I type this there may be new developments.   But going from what I know now I’m curious about the mental state of a grown man out in his car, carrying a gun, looking for “suspicious” people.   I’m curious as to why a 17 year old child of any color walking down the street in his neighborhood would appear suspect.  And like everyone else I wonder what in Zimmerman’s soul made him believe that he could go out that night with a gun, cruise the neighborhood, stalk this boy, antagonize him, and take his life?  Who gave him that right?  Did he understand the weight of that choice? 

I know we are all outraged about the actions of the Sanford police department that night.  Even if Zimmerman was being attacked and beaten when he decided to shoot that gun he should have still been detained for questioning until the facts emerged.  “Stand your ground” law or not….basic common sense procedures were ignored.  And given the fact that they KNEW he was following the boy.  They KNEW he was going after Trayvon.  It was clearly premeditated.  If he had stayed in his car and reported the “suspect” this would have never happened.  A child would not have been shot and killed.  Black, white, asian, whatever.  The police failed us.  I know people are pointing to the racial aspects of this injustice making it a black vs. white issue.  I don’t know if the police were racist and I’m not even sure that Zimmerman is white.  But quite honestly I’m saddened that this is becoming a race issue.   Because even though there could be a racist motive here, WE as human beings need to be united in this.  

This is about humanity.  This is about valuing another’s life like you value your own.  The truth is, Trayvon is my son.  He’s my brother, my child, my friend, my coworker, my neighbor.   How many times have I gone out in the rain or cold to get the mail wearing my husband’s hoodie pulled tightly around my face?  You can’t tell my race or my gender.  You can’t tell if I’m “on drugs” or planning to commit a crime.  And what if my neighbor is not mentally stable and decides to shoot me because I appear suspicious?  What if it’s my son as a teenager walking home from school?  What if it was my producer MoRece who walked down Calvert Street in the rain wearing a hoodie just to come to my show at the Baltimore Book Fair to support me?   Truth is it could be any of us.  Yes Trayvon is OUR family.  

But here’s the difficult part.  Zimmerman is our family too.  He’s someone’s child.  We may be sickened by his actions and feel hatred in our hearts for what he did, but he is still a human being.   Since his actions were handled improperly and he wasn’t detained by the police we don’t know yet what his story is.  We don’t know if he is sick or what his state of mind is.  But whether we like it or not he is one of us.   He’s that person who clutches their purse closer when a group of young black men walk by.  He’s those people who hate the Korean ladies in the nail shop because they just know they are talking about them.  He’s just like that uncle who doesn’t trust white people or that cousin who says “there goes the neighborhood” when a black family moves in.  He’s just like those of us who judge by the exterior or by the prejudice we have formed in our hearts instead of looking at each person as a unique individual.  He’s those of us who still don’t see that we are all in this life together.  There is no black or white or asian to that.  We were created by the same force.  We were put here for a reason.   This is who we have become.  And only WE can change it.  I know this blog won’t change much.  But this is so heavy on my heart that I felt the need to say something.  I continue to see the racial division on social networks over the Trayvon case and others like it.  I continue to see the black vs. white and “us vs. them” mindset and it makes me sad.  For whatever it’s worth, I pray we can rise out of this together.     

I no longer own a gun.  Before we adopted my son in 2009 I removed it from my house and gave it back to my father.  I know that while I AM able to shoot someone to protect myself or my family, I also know that as a mother I am NOT able to carry the burden of taking the life of another mother’s child.  I’m a different person now.  I know I don’t want to ever have to make that decision.  I live with peace in my life and in my heart.  My father taught me well.  

As for my father, the retired police officer and former hunter…..he now feeds the deer from his back deck.  He is 83 now.  He has names for them and saves up old bread so that he and my son can feed them when we visit.  He no longer hunts.  He told me he doesn’t think he has it in him anymore.  He has changed.  

Me too Daddy.  Me too. 

Love and light….

Janice B.

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Letting Go and Falling Free…

February 28, 2012 at 9:16 am (changes, evolving, life, musicians, personal growth, songwriting) (, , , , , )

“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
— Isaac Asimov

Ahhhh  change.  Lots of folks fight hard to avoid it.  They hold onto bad situations out of “comfort” and fear of the unknown.  Fear of what will happen if they let go and move on uncertain of what tomorrow will or won’t bring.  It might be a relationship that isn’t working but hey it’s much easier to hold onto it because the alternative is being alone.  Or maybe it’s a project that someone won’t give up on because they’ve put too much time and money into it even though it’s becoming a complete disaster.  It can also be someone’s appearance.  They are desperately trying to stay “young” and refuse to accept Mother Nature’s little touches on their skin and figure.  And some folks are just plain stuck in a time warp.  They retain the “look” they had at the highest point of their lives.  You’ve seen them…the ones who still have the same style of hair and dress they wore in high school because that’s when they were the happiest, the most popular, etc.

I will admit that in the past I have been there many times.  (except for the hair…that changes all the time lol)  I’m someone who doesn’t like to give up on things.  When I put my whole heart into something it’s very difficult for me to let it go and move in a different direction.  I feel guilty; I feel like a failure, I feel like a fool.  And in the past I would rather feel all of those things than face the possibility that letting go might bring something better.  Taking that leap is some scary shit.  The fall might kill you or it might be exhilarating and change you forever…but nothing happens till you take that first leap.  Over the past years I have learned that in order to grow as a person and an artist, I have to be willing to step out on blind faith and follow my dreams.   When I do what brings me joy everything else falls into place.   I left a job that was paying me well but draining the life out of me.  It was scary at the time but it wasn’t scarier than thinking about how sick I would be if I stayed.  No amount of money was worth it.  I was also in a difficult position with a musical decision a long time ago and I had to decide was I going to stay there and try to make it work or move in a different direction and trust that no matter what happened I would embrace the changes ahead.   A new friend I had met through this musical family at the time asked me why I was holding onto something that clearly was bringing me no joy.  And she reminded me that I won’t ever find that joy until I let go of the things that are holding me back. “You don’t need this.  Just let it go.” I believe were her exact words.

I chose to move forward.  It was challenging.   I lost some “friends”.  I lost a band.  I lost the only musical connections I ever thought I could have, I lost a little bit of who I thought I was.  But the better side of the coin was that I also lost self doubt, I lost that knot in the pit of my stomach after every band rehearsal, and I lost the need for approval from people who were only giving me negative energy in return.  And in this process I gained so much.  I met new musicians, new friends, created new music.  I became a solo artist.  ME…Janice Alexander Buerkli…now Janice B.…a freaking solo artist!  It didn’t happen overnight.  It wasn’t easy.   I remember when I first started posting the songs on MySpace that my producer MoRece and I had created.  I remember getting some negative comments from some people in my musical past that I had moved away from.  I heard some ridiculous shit.  And I admit, at the time it made me angry and it hurt.  And I remember MoRece saying “They are only talking because YOU are making moves…you are creating a buzz.  It’s not a bad thing.”  And he was right.  These folks didn’t think I would keep moving and when there was tangible musical proof that I was, they got uncomfortable.  It sucked but it was a part of the process.   Lord I don’t look back often but when I do I cannot believe how far I have come and how much I have changed.  And I’m still evolving.  I’m still learning, still writing, still creating.  It’s amazing.

Fear used to hold me back.  I had a lot of personal phobias that stopped me from doing the things I wanted to do.  But quite honestly there is very little I am afraid of now.  That is one thing that taking the leap of faith will give you….fearlessness.  Even the difficult things that happen to me I know will result in something joyful.  Every heartache, loss, breakup, disappointment had a purpose.  I like to create a timeline of joy in my mind.  For example if I hadn’t gone through “A” I would never have met “B” and “C” would never have happened.  And “C” rocks!!  :)  Everything I have today that brings me joy is a result of all of my experiences, good and bad.  I know that I have to keep my eyes open, look for the joy and keep moving forward. 

Now when I am at a crossroads I tell God I’m ready, I let go, and I soar toward what beauty lies ahead.  It sounds silly, I know.  I didn’t believe it either the first time I did it.  But it has never failed me.  You should try it.  Just let go…..

“Slowly..letting go and falling free I’m soaring…taking in the beauty of this flight…and lifted by the light that I’m feeling inside..watch me fly…” ~Janice B. from the song “My Life”

*My new CD “My Life” is available for download for $8.00 on my page at the Stinkiface Music Website.  Here’s the link! http://www.stinkifacemusic.com/janiceb

Love and Light,

Janice B.

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“My Life”: The Soul Behind the Songs

December 5, 2011 at 10:00 am (musicians, songwriting, Uncategorized) (, , )

Greetings!

Well since my first full length CD “My Life” drops tomorrow, December 6th, I figured I would talk about it a little ( a lot? LOL).  All of the songs have a story behind them even if the story isn’t about me.  Some of these songs were written in my journal over 7 years ago and only became real songs when I started working with MoRece of Stinkiface Music.

MoRece was able to bring the melodies and meanings to life.  Understand that because I don’t plan an instrument I have to go into the studio with my lyrics and sing the melody to MoRece.  I tell him what style of music I hear, the feeling behind it, what instruments, harmonies, etc. and then he makes it happen.  So although a lot of these songs were written in my journal and the melodies were archived in my head way before I even knew MoRece…ALL of them exist in their current form because of my work with him.

So here is the CD track listing and a little sumptin sumptin about each song…

“My Life”

  1. To Grandma…Intro:  This track includes a very worn snippet of my grandmother playing the piano and me singing when I was probably about 2 or 3  years old.  This was originally recorded on a reel to reel tape recorder and then transferred to cassette tape “old school style” by sitting the cassette recorder in front of the reel to reel and pressing “record”.  LOL  It was later burned on a CD.  Most of the CD wasn’t useable but MoRece was able to capture this snippet.  The original intro included a clear cut of me at 4 years old singing Disney’s “I Wonder” from Sleeping Beauty.  We had to remove it at the last minute since we were uable to obtain licensing permission to use it.  Bummer.
  2. “Shining Down” : This song was written in 2003 about my grandmother.  I felt like she was watching me and guiding me in my musical journey…and I still do!  It was a reminder to me that even after our physical death our spirit carries on in the loved ones we leave behind.
  3. “Love Will Find You”: Written in December of 2008, a good year into working with MoRece and newly signed to Stinkiface Music…this song came sneaking in after creating “Watch Me Fly”.  I liked the mystical feel of it and wanted to write a song with a similar vibe about how true love never dies…it evolves and transforms.  This is one of my favorites and is sometimes compared to Portishead.  (great compliment!)
  4. “Watch Me Fly” : Ahhh the catalyst to so many things!  This song has become my mantra more than I ever imagined it would…and apparently other people have taken it on as well, relating to the message.  And to think this song almost didn’t get recorded!  I wrote this in the summer of 2003 after first starting to write songs and sing with the band.  The song was for me and about me.  I was still learning my way around songwriting and performing and there were folks who were jealous and angry that I was taking this step and reaching for my dreams.  I was new at it and vunerable and the stones being thrown hurt with sharp intensity.  About my music someone said, “White folks won’t get it and black folks will never accept you” and that was all I needed to hear to send my pen soaring across my journal page in anger.   We were originally going to record it while I was in the band and we were going to change the hook and bend it around a track the guitarist had created.  But it never happened.  5 years later after working on another song in the studio MoRece asked me what was next.  I sheepishly pulled this out of my journal not sure if I should really make it a song or not.  Sitars, soap opera keys, and a marching drum changed everything about the way I would see myself as an artist going forward.  The vocal track is the original scratch track we did that night.  My throat was sore and my voice was tired.  But it fit the track.  And I remember MoRece saying that sometimes the first take is the best.  It went on to be the title track of my 2009 EP.
  5. T&T Calling:  I met Brenda Butler on MySpace in 2008 and we have been “twins” ever since.  She is an amazing vocalist and a beautiful spirit who lives in Trinidad.  She called in to a blog talk interview of mine once to congratulate me and her deep beautiful speaking voice was amazing.  I asked her to do the spoken intro to “So Much Love”..a little “reggae-ish” tune on the CD.  I gave her very little direction.  Just told her I wanted it to sound like she was talking on the phone to her friend about the song.  She ran with it!  She quickly got into a studio in Trinidad and recorded several different versions of the clip.  I love how she says “and all doin da face ova here”.  LOL!!  She’s a gem!
  6. “So Much Love”: Another song that was written while I was in the band.  We were speaking of recording it but never did.  I actually wrote it because we had been doing some outdoor gigs and festivals and I wanted a summer song that everyone could bop their heads to.  A song about divine love in all forms.  I was originally planning on having a friend of the band do a rap for the bridge.  But that idea was abandoned after MoRece suggested David Ross aka Native Son of my label mates The 5th L.  His part is perfect!
  7. “A Part of You”: This is the first song I wrote with MoRece and the reason we started working together.  After hiring him as an engineer for another project I had a few minutes left of studio time and wanted to record the scratch idea for A Part of You.  I knew how I wanted it to sound…I just needed to find a pianist to play it.  I came out of the booth and MoRece started playing keys just like I heard in my head!  Everyone has a theory about who this song was written for.  The truth is it’s not from my perspective singing about a lost love.  It was inspired by something I was told once by a former flame.  That no matter where they were or who they were with, a part of their heart belonged to me.  I took that emotion and turned it into a song making it sound like it was my story.  This song touches a lot of people and along with Watch Me Fly it has garnered a lot of emails and comments from my listeners letting me know how it relates to their lives.
  8. “Storm” If I tell you what this song is about I will have to kill you.  And I don’t want to do that.  :)  This is the only song I don’t reveal the meaning of.  See if you can figure it out.  No one has yet.  MoRece is the only other person who knows what it’s about and he won’t tell you either.  Or I’ll have to kill him….and then you.  And that would be bad.
  9. “Runaway”: This song was the last song written for the CD and the timing and arrangement in my head wasn’t synching with the normal musical world.  LOL  It almost didn’t make the CD.  MoRece was able to make it happen at the last minute.  This song was written in pieces.  The original song “Stolen Moments” only exists in my journal.  I started writing “Runaway” and took the bridge and ideas from “Stolen Moments” creating a whole new song.
  10. “Sweet Harmony”: is an ode to musicians.  You know that feeling you get watching a live band play?  People get so taken by the power of the music and the live experience that they become enthralled with the people onstage.  (cue the groupies!)  I have always loved the song “Killing Me Softly” and the meaning behind it.  It inspired me to write this piece about the magic that each musician in the band stirs up inside of people.
  11. “I Remember”: This is the story of love and friendship transcending race and the physical.  After hearing one too many racist comments at work one day I found myself feeling angry yet very sorry for these ignorant people making the comments.  They don’t know my friends and family..my beautiful circle of love and joy.  So I wrote this song telling the story of my friend Shelley and I growing up together and the racism we moved through as we got older and the world became less innocent.  The line in the bridge “why can’t they see what unites you and me?” was the first line written and the line that defined the rest of the song.  The original version on my EP “Watch Me Fly” was an upbeat popish tune.  Sahffi does the guitar version on the CD and I think it gives the words of the song more heart.
  12. “Waiting”: I often talk about how I like to take an intense, sometimes painful emotion and transform it into a song about something totally different.  “Waiting” is an example of this.  I was witnessing a close friend going through a difficult time.  I felt helpless and I longed for some magic thing I could say or do to make it better for them.  I didn’t know what to do with that feeling.  So I flipped it around and I told the story of what happens when you have been carrying a torch for a friend and decide to let them know about it.  The uncertainty, the anxiety, the angst of that moment when you decide to make that call.  This song is that phone call.  And the energy behind the emotion stemmed from an entirely different situation.
  13. “Maybe”: also sometimes referred to as the cougar song.  LOL  I always thought “cougar” referred to one of those older chicks who make passes at their teenage son’s friends.  I didn’t know I fell into the age bracket!  grrrrrr AND when I heard someone define it as “a woman over 35 on the prowl for younger men” I was insulted!  I don’t “prowl” after anyone!  (I’m married of course!)  It’s not my fault if younger men are drawn to me. LMAO!  But anyway..all joking aside…this was a tongue in cheek take on the situation.  I wanted it to be bare bones so we just used me on vocal and Buddy Jordan on bass.  I love how it turned out.
  14. “Rain”:  This song was one of the first songs MoRece and I did together.  We recorded it and sat it aside.  MoRece wasn’t happy with the “churchy” feel of the keys and I was on the fence about it.  I performed it acapella at an open mic once and people seemed to like it.  We revisted it and tried it with someone else doing the keys but I didn’t like it.  I insisted on the original keys that MoRece did and explained that I wanted that “let’s just sit down and run through this song” raw acoustic feel to it.  It’s song about redemption and forgiveness.  The entire song was written around the line “Once this fog has lifted I’ma see the golden sky”.  I was very depressed and up early one morning driving and it was so dark and foggy outside.  When I went over a hill the intense sunlight hit me in my face changing my mood and inspiring this song.
  15. “My Life” : I explained this song in a previous blog so I won’t go on about it.  But it was a newer, more upbeat and “feel good” version of the message in “Watch Me Fly”.  If you know of the artist Janita you will understand the feel I was going for.  Background vocals by Ama Chandra were added purely by coincidence.  She stopped by the studio one night because we were talking to MoRece about another project and I asked her if she would do some vocals.  It’s a blessing when you have super talented folks hanging out with you! :)
  16. “Sumptin Sumptin in French”:  a quick recording of my son Alex being silly and singing “Frere Jacques” (Brother John).  I taught it to him in French and his father was singing it to him and forgot the words to the one line and sang “something something in French” and Alex picked it up and thinks its funny when he sings it wrong now.   I started the CD with me as a child singing and wanted to end it with my son doing the same.
  17. “The Visit“:  This was a poem I wrote after I visited my grandmother’s gravesite.  I had such strong memories of being in her house and hometown as a child that when I returned as an adult after her death I was sure I would feel something or get a sign that she was there.  “The Visit” is the story of that day.  I owe the recording of this song to MoRece.  I don’t do spoken word and I only think songs and melodies.  He orchestrated this piece.  He brought it to life.  It wouldn’t exist outside of my journal or on this CD if it wasn’t for him.

It’s a strange feeling to be finished with this CD.  It’s completion has closed old wounds and opened new doors filling me with hope and inspiration.  I am a different artist and songwriter now.  I have evolved since starting this project and it’s completion is a testament to where I have been, what I have experienced, and where I am going next.

Thanks for flying with me on this journey!

You can purchase the CD tomorrow, December 6th through the Stinkiface Music Online store or through the usual online retailers. 

http://www.stinkifacemusic.com/onlinestore.cfm

Love and Light,

Janice B.

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