Wednesday, November 19, 2014


me and toshi, early- mid 2000s.
williamsburgh, brooklyn

I don't know why I go so fast. My mind seems to dart around from thought to thought, action to action. If I am not too careful, life manages to flash by with my barely noticing the everyday miracles, acts of kindness.
Where do I start? I can say it all started with the woman who hired me at Copenhagen International School so many years ago. And I could tell you about the eye-opening experiences and the lovely international staff I encountered there. There was the sassy Suzanne, originally from Ireland, Lesley from Scotland and Audrey from Scotland. Together we formed the administrative staff.  These women, as were so many others who worked at that school, phenomenal everyday people.  I could tell you about the time before this where I biked around Hellerup with 4 year-old Kai in the bike seat, going from grand big house to grand big house, tutoring 5th grade German girls or Junior High girls from China. Or I can tell you about the other school where I was head-hunted to teach Middle School English, and how awesome that was as well. About taking my 7th grade class to Amsterdam...or I can tell you about the newspaper I'm now writing for and how it's related to the job I had so many years ago or about Charlotte Andersen, a Special Education specialist who wrote a handbook for parents and teachers who work with children diagnosed with ADHD and how I translated this phenomenal book which can be read over the weekend and how I want to get it to an English speaking audience and how cool Charlotte has been and continues to be. I can tell you about going by my former place of employment yesterday to tutor the grade 8s and how Oscar, Anisa, Hafsah and Bilal interviewed me, asking me questions about America and racism and I receive so much love and hugs from the kids and staff and I experience the result of 16 years of being here and am thankful to all the people letting me know that hey Lesley- we love you.

the lab

Monday, November 17, 2014

On the Spiritual Timing of Projects

valentina from brooklyn, harlem 2014

After teaching I decided to work at home for a year translating, proofing and editing. I managed to get enough work to get by - and the projects ranged from anything from television scripts to  academic books on Ancient Sumerian Goddesses and such. I'm not kidding.
I enjoy the work - but in order to secure a steady income you have to really put yourself out there. The last few years have seen a more socially quiet me - and it is something that I feel I must honor in order to maintain my balance. So I trust.
One of the dreams I've always had since moving to Denmark was finding a way to connect what I did in New York with the talent here. When I lived in New York, I worked with Marie Brown, a literary agent who works with such luminaries such as Faith Ringgold and the great Dorothy Dandridge biographer, Donald Bogle. I garnered a wealth of stories being under the tutelage of Marie - and most of all I learned a lot about the business of publishing and American history, particularly where race is involved.  Marie was recruited by Double Day in the 60s. At the time she was a teacher in Philadelphia. But after a congressional hearing was held challenging the lack of diversity in book publishing,  an initiative was sparked to recruit employees who would have historically not have access to these jobs. This was what was behind the great surge of Black literature in the 60s and 70s and Marie was responsible for ushering  many of these books from idea to publication, or had some hand in it's birth.
So when I came to Copenhagen, one of the bridges I wanted to construct was one connecting Danish talent with New York City channels. In the past 15 years I have been here, I have witnessed how Denmark has prefigured positively in the dominant media.  There is an interest in all things Scandinavian which of course translates into a market.
One of the books that found itself on my desk is a riveting account of a man who spent 20 years in the Church of Scientology here in Copenhagen, Denmark. There are a few things that are particularly interesting in this account. The first thing you ought to know is that Scientology's European Headquarters is stationed in Copenhagen. The second thing is that the author, Robert Dam, managed to reach pretty high up in the organization, so he has access that is not available to just anyone. The third aspect to this story is Robert himself.  Robert is the type of narrator that you trust to follow, although he is doing something you might not have ever considered doing before: And that is join Scientology.
For all of the  many experiences I have had in my life I have consciously avoided any engagement with Scientology. I'm not saying that I've never been friends with Scientologists, I'm just saying that of the few things I knew that I would never under any uncertain terms want to do, walking into a Scientology building and taking that test was one of them. But this Robert Dam character is likable. You trust his extreme confidence in a system that promises this ardent student of life a way to better understanding and navigating life. Suddenly, you relax in the presence of Robert's account and allow him to take the lead, realizing that there is no better hero to this story than him.
So I have this amazing book, called The Defector in English - and it would make me really happy to see it published in English! I reconnected with Robert tonight and was impressed, once again, with his patience and approach to life. Right now there's more to this project under production, and I look forward to experiencing a resurgence of interest in this project.
the lab

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shout out to The Scandinavian School of Design

Egypt Rising by Lesley-Ann Brown layout by Christian Stender
Scandinavian School of Design

A couple of weeks ago went it felt like things couldn't get any worse, I received a pretty lovely invitation.
My friend Ida - whom I've known since my days in New York - has her own graphic design company now.  Her partner Mia, who is familiar with my work via Ida, invited me to submit 12 pieces of prose/poetry for a class she would be conducting at the Scandinavian School of Design. Mia once saw my Bandit Queen Press project and instantly got it.

 The invitation lifted my spirits and definitely helped in keeping things perspective.

A couple of weeks later (last Tuesday), I went by her office to see how the students decided to lay out each of the individual texts.  I loved every one of them! And most importantly of all, it kept my writing alive for me in during a pretty challenging time. Every artist can appreciate that! Thank you Mia & all the students who worked on the work of Lesley-Ann Brown aka Blackgirl on Mars aka Trinidad Balbirsingh...more to come...


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bronx Obama

Blackgirl on Mars meets Bronx Obama
in Copenhagen

One of the things that I love about life, is that sometimes when you take a chance- interesting things happen. Okay, every time you take a chance, interesting things happen - but sometimes the interesting can be a little too interesting, uncomfortable, like finding yourself sitting in the middle of a shoot-out in a basement party in Brooklyn (that's another story). It is not that kind of interesting I'm talking about. I'm talking about the type of interesting that opens up portals of positivity, personal power, hope and inspiration. As human beings, we have the potential to truly touch each other in these ways. You know that feeling - a warm smile from a stranger, a helpful hand reaching for the dropped bag.  Someone running after you with an item you may have dropped a block down the street. The point is, you never know what unlimited potential there is  that awaits you if you don't go out there.
I hopped on my bike this morning and decided to go for a ride through the many little tree-dotted roads that are available for such a thing here in Copenhagen.  Access to Mother Nature is but a hop skip and a jump from one's self-imposed exile in the land of happy.  There is happiness here, and I will find it! So off like Don Quixote seeking his fair maiden, I take off, my bike Rocinante - as the Knight in Search of the Holy Happiness.
It is not too cold and there is a grey filter that colors all.  The pale yellows and blues and browns of buildings offer a gentle relief to this foggy veil.  I am master on my bike and cycle down the back roads of Christiania, past the tree-lined lake, the foliage that has begun to make its annual retreat from green to brown, the sky that is revealed as a result of the falling leaves. It is quiet because it is morning and there are not a lot of people. In times like this I enjoy this city - it is like having a huge backyard to yourself. It's not difficult to find these pockets of time where the streets seem to be devoid of life due to the rigidness of intellectual time and financial expectations.
I make my way to a local cafe and take a seat outside. I can't decide where I want to open my computer up and begin work.  As I berate myself with indecisiveness I see David.
David is this cat from New Orleans - a trumpet player - and he's been here at least as long as I have.  The funny thing is, David and I hung out about 10 years ago but as time unwound itself into our current future, we haven't had the opportunity to catch up. So David, an amazing trumpet player by the way - and big Clark Terry fan as well - and I started to chat and catch up. We sat in this hole in the wall where beers are open at 9 in the morning and many seem to be in a pre-coffee/hash haze. It's cozy because there are an array of characters you just don't see very often: the hobo-looking types, the down-on-their luck, skid-row types. Peppered by the presence of normality from those who dare to tread its beer-stained floors. Opposite me sat a surly young man who blew smoke in my face as if he were some taunting dragon and in a rush for air, David and I make it outside.
It's not cold at all if you are dressed for the weather. As they say in Denmark, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I am usually prepared as I am not too genetically far from biologically requiring warmth to function.  Simpler said: My melanin be jonesin'.
Suddenly someone from behind us asks, "Do you mind if I join you?" We turn around and who's there sitting behind us but someone who really looks like President Obama - especially when he takes his hat off.
Picture Obama if he was Boricua - straight up. Louis Ortiz was rocking his thick gold chain, baseball shirt and white sneakers Bronx style topped with the perfect brown leather jacket that declared not least of all, to the world "44th President".
Louis Ortiz is in town to promote the documentary he is starring in entitled Bronx Obama, directed by Ryan Murdoch.  I'm off to interview him later today and hear more about his adventures from unemployed single father in the Bronx to impersonating one of the most famous individuals on the planet. And just how does Bronx Obama use his power? Guess we're going to find out after that interview...
the lab

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Geeky Knitters Club

geeky knitters club inaugural session

One of the activities that I certainly enjoy most is knitting. If my life was unfettered to this system and allowed to beat its natural course, it would sound like this: Knit, read, write, knit, read write, knit read, write with a little bit of talking and eating here and there.
I learned to knit when I was pregnant and instantly fell in love with every aspect of it: from the needles to the various yarns, the colors, textures, the patterns, the free-style potential. The calm it offers my oftentimes much too hectic mind.  I love untangling skeins of yarn, and have spent many hours in silent meditation, even using pins and needles to unravel the finest of yarn. Yes, the love runs that deep.
I know that two of my foremothers earned their living through lace-making and oftentimes I find myself contemplating their lives: one in Trinidad, with a life of horse carts on a cocoa plantation, and the other in Canada- far away from home, only to succumb, family legend has it, to the draft - an interesting reference to the cold and perhaps racism.

One of the highlights in my recent trip to New York was being able to knit a blanket for the lovely Mia Pearl, a hat for Brook and Marie and a scarf for Clemenza (plus fingerless gloves which will be done soon!) One of the things I was resolved to do upon my return to Denmark and "project create new life" was to start a knitting group.

Saying I want to do something and actually doing it, can unfortunately become a complicated affair in the world of real life. While shielding off energetic attacks from the world of capital, I have to admit that even I grow weary. But I did it. And I couldn't have done it without them. Who is them?

I started my stint in education in Denmark at Copenhagen International School.  I met an amazing community of people there. In fact, I don't think I've ever expressed on this blog how cool many of the people I met there and worked with, be it teachers, staff and parents, have been and are.  It was while working at CIS that I wrote my first volume of poetry The Organist's Daughter . I can't even begin to list the many people there who I could honestly say I feel I have had some meaningful exchange with while working there - and lucky for me, I got to meet up with a few of them last evening.

When I first timidly suggested on fb the creation of a knitting group a couple of weeks ago, I was curious as to who would respond. I mean, do people really have time to get tighter and knit? Although Denmark has a strong knitting culture and knitting groups abound, I haven't been able to get my act together to venture to one of the many yarn stores or library events. But I knew my next chapter of life in Copenhagen had to have something organized around yarn to ensure my happiness. Something along the lines of living life one stitch at a time kind of thing.

The group of women who responded and ended up meeting last night could not have better. There was Debbie M. who was kind enough to host the event in her cozy apartment.  Debbie was one of the first to respond to my call for yarn. Then there was Deena. Deena is from Hawaii and we've been hanging out for many years now.  I learn a lot about Hawaiin culture from Deena and together we have shared many a laugh and have supported each other's tenure here in Denmark, so very far away from home. Deena is an extraordinary storyteller whose stories are bejeweled with characters from the Filipines, Hawaii and Los Angeles.  Then there was Sarah - Sarah and I used to work together in a 3rd grade classroom, where she was the class teacher and I was the personal support of an extra-ordinay young boy named Brendan. This was about 10 years ago. Brendan was this rosy cheeked, dark-haired Irish-American boy who had an excellent musical ear and found sitting still to be akin to torture. It was one of the best jobs I ever had the chance to experience- hanging out with a kid whose perspective on life was so outside of the box was a treat for me.  Sarah and I shared many laughs and cultivated a deep and mutual respect for each other. It's because of Sarah that I am familiar with the northern English town of Wigan and her antics of growing up there in the 80s & 90s. Not only that, Sarah is perhaps one of the funniest women that I know.  While she was cracking me up last night I couldn't help but wonder, why has it taken me this long to get together with her? Two seconds with her is enough to get your stomach muscles going and you immediately begin to feel how silly taking anything too seriously can be.  Then there was Shabana and her lovely daughter A.  I first met Shabana many years ago when we were both studying Danish. I loved her from day one - her positivity and pro-activity in the midst of navigating life in Denmark was always a reason for my respect and adoration.  Aleena, her daughter, is 9 years old, and she was the perfect accompaniment to our evening.   It was super fun having her - and I look forward to knitting more bringing more kids on board. What I love about knitting with kids is to experience how eager they are to teach and help each other. It's a brilliant example of cooperative learning at its best. Another aspect about teaching knitting (or gardening, or building or any other hands-on, holistically engaging exercise) is that the kids LOVE to do it and so teaching it is a BREEZE.  The students learn quickly about patience, follow-through, and the reward of bringing something to completion.  Nina, my friend from the airplane, was also an eager participant and thanks to all these wonderful women (and young lady) - the Geeky Knitters Club has become a reality!
Here's to a winter full of yarn, laughter, healing and creativity!
the lab

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Buddha at 3

buddha in the poconos

I talked to Buddha 3am the other morning. It's a long story about who Buddha really is, but I call him Buddha because I've learned a lot about Buddha through him.
Buddha, like me, left his job about a year ago - we both were teachers.
We talked about how much we missed the kids. See, we used to work at this great little school in Copenhagen (it's still great, and it's still there) that's chock full of the quirkiest and most interesting kids I've ever met. In that school, you'll meet a little girl who refuses to be taunted off the football field and students who are adept at 3 or even 4 languages. You'll meet children with backgrounds as diverse as the spectrum of humanity and despite the building's modest facade, you'll feel as though you are in the midst of a spiritual castle spun by the inhabitants of this space. You'll truly come to understand the power of unity, curiosity and empathy.
Buddha and I talked about how special that place is.  Buddha says he's okay with his decision. That he feels that the best thing he can teach his students is to follow their dream. I agree.
Buddha is writing his book. He's going off to Goa to write for the winter.
As for me, I'll be creating a new space for myself here in Copenhagen - entering new times.
The sky is the limit. :-)
the lab

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Rose Quartz & how the Universe has my Back (and yours too).

rose quartz at my sister's
One day in an attempt to keep my energy balanced, I placed a chunk of rose quartz in my bag.  It was about the size of half of a brick, and as I picked my bag up, I had to laugh and shake my head at how much it weighed. Certainly there was another way I could symbolically support myself.

I write symbolically because whether or not the rose quartz has the following properties, for me having something that physically embodies the traits I am attracting helps me in this process. Rose quartz is a mothering crystal, especially towards oneself. It's supposedly a calming and reassuring crystal, especially in times of trauma.

But, in a leap of faith, I took the rose quartz out and left it home. I knew that I could remind myself of the balance required to get me through the day, feeling that walking around with a glorified rock in my bag was a bit too much.

Sometime later that day I was in the teacher's conference room.  One of my colleagues alerted me to the fact that I had some visitors. When I walked out I was greeted by two of my 7th grade students. "Here Lesley, we wanted to give you a going away gift," I looked at both of them and was touched. M was one of my favorite students. I loved all my students, but some there was no doubt about the love and when M entered our school in the 7th grade she and I instantly clicked.  M wears her head covered and has one of those bad girl attitudes that lets the guys know not to mess with her.  A, the other student, was recently enrolled in the school and like so many other kids who discovered our school late in their educational careers, fell in love with it. Tall with jet black hair, A and I also immediately clicked when she entered the school.  I was really moved. I hadn't really known these girls, but here they were wanting to give me a going away gift.

I unwrapped the gift carefully and inside the delicate wrapping was the most beautiful rose quartz bracelet. I started laughing. "You girls aren't going to believe this." And I tell them the story of how I wanted to take my rose quartz with me today, but decided not to, had lamented the fact that I didn't have any wearable rose quartz and now viola! The universe delivered it to me in the form of a gift of appreciation from these two fantastic young ladies.
All power to the universe.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why I Quit Teaching (Or 9 reasons I feel I sucked at teaching)

happier daze...hanging at the park with my girl student crew

9 Reasons Why I Feel I sucked as a Teacher

When I told my former boss that I wanted to quit teaching, he ripped up my letter of resignation in my face, walked over to the trashcan and dumped it. “You can’t be serious. You’re a great teacher, Les, the kids love you; you can’t leave them! What’s wrong with you?”
It was the second time I had tried to quit that year. It was my fourth year of teaching and although I had considered quitting before, it seemed then whenever this feeling returned it came back stronger, more intense.

I have always wanted to teach. I was fortunate enough to have had some amazing teachers in my life who have had a major influence in contributing to how I think and what I think about. From my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Stein who introduced me to the many cultures of Native America to Mr. Coffey my high school math teacher who I would get in free at Mars Club in the meatpacking district of Manhattan because my brother DJ’d there, and with whom I can say I cultivated a friendship which still lasts to this day. 

I have worked a variety of jobs throughout my life.  I have worked in restaurants, retail stores, corporate offices and when I moved to Copenhagen 15 years ago, I got to fulfill one of my dreams to work in the field of education when I was hired to work in the largest international school here in Copenhagen.  I worked in administration and although the job had many perks, I have to admit that once into my 4th year there, I was getting ready to do something a bit more challenging.  I started to get that itch- that itch to find or create something different for myself.  So when a former colleague called me one day and asked if I would like to come teach English at a school I had once substituted and had grown to love, I jumped at the chance and despite a considerable drop in salary, went into the field of teaching.

But it didn’t work for me. I loved the kids. The kids loved me. So did the parents and I got along with most of my co-workers.  No one wanted me to leave. So what was the problem? Well, after giving it much thought, I came up with a list of why I quit teaching or rather, 9 reasons why I feel I sucked as a teacher.

1). I smoke. At this point in time, we all know that smoking cigarettes leads to all sorts of disgusting, seemingly irreversible diseases.  Although my school had a smoking section for the teachers (outside) I could never get used to the random kid who did accidentally pass by while I had a cigarette in my hand.  The coolest thing though, is seeing how many kids think smoking is so uncool. It would have been great if I just quit, but smoking was something I picked up again once I started teaching. Seems like I felt it necessary to have smoker’s breath coupled with the coffee I had every morning. Poor kids.

2). I love spontaneity. Nothing kills my spirit more than routine. I get why it’s important to have some structure, but I also believe in the relief of breaking a pattern. To be fair, I was given a lot of space to be myself with my students, and for that I am thankful. I am thankful to be an adult who stood amongst kids and implored them, “go, be kids!” I enjoyed surprising my students with days where we did things off the beaten-path like take walks around the lake or talk about something that was borne out of a students’ interest.

3). I’m grumpy in the morning. I’m not a morning person.  I think it’s uncivilized to make human beings face each other 8 in the morning. Cruel.

4). I have a confession to make. Sometimes if a student got mad at me and called me names, like prostitute, I would get really upset. (when you’re a teacher you quickly realize that this opens you up to a host of insults being hurled at you from kids ). I hated when I got emotional something a kid would say.  Now I understand the value of being authentic with your students and they have to learn that you too are human: but being a teacher made me want to really rise above it.  Although I got much better throughout the years, I realized that I was just too darn sensitive to teach!

5).  I always forgot my students’ names. Okay, that’s not entirely true – although I’ve done the occasional mixing up of names before. What I mean is this: I would experience this dread whenever I bumped into my former students. See, I would have this fear that I would experience that awkward moment where I wouldn’t remember the students’ names, and what do you think would happen? Viola – like magic – I would forget a name which I would promptly remember 1 second after walking away from some crushed adolescent.

6). I hate exams! Down with exams! Students should not be encouraged to enter a culture of stress. We invent these exams. Let’s invent something else for our children. Something that encourages them to relax and be better students, citizens, family members and friends.  Everytime I administered an exam I felt like I was selling my class of kids down the river.

7) Speaking of exams, another thing I really don’t like is the idea of authority.  I get that in order for this society to work in the way that it does, you “need” to have some kind of "authority". Okay, if you say so. But I felt incredibly uncomfortable with that as teacher I rule over you role that many get so drunk by. Yeah, how sad is it to get drunk with the power of teacher? 

8).  I hate being locked up in a classroom and having to sit still.  One of the groups of students I really identified with were the children diagnosed with ADHD.  Having to sit/stand in a classroom for hours on end is a torture I can’t in any good conscious execute.  I like to move around, get fresh air do something radical like sit someplace different.

9). I hate meetings. I learned in my short stint in teaching that if you want to teach, you have to spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings.  Meetings are so boring! Although I got a lot of crocheting and knitting done in many of these meetings (and made substantial contributions!) there is a certain tone meetings get when a group of adults sit down and decide to have one.  Petty power feuds are played out and emotions run high. I mean, do we all really need to all be there?!? Ugh.

Fundraising for the Nganjoni Health Clinie- a WEECE project, in Tanzania

"Let's build this ward," said Adriane to Vivian. "Yes, let’s do it," she answered. "I want to help," said Shani. And that's how a simple idea turned into a fundraising event for WEECE organization.  And so Shani Moore of UNDF, Adriane Hill from New York Theological Seminary 
and Viviane Cintron who works at UNFPA began the worthy endeavor of raising money to build a limited-stay ward for the Nganjoni Health Clinic -- a WEECE project -- in Tanzania. 
(further information below)

Please come and help  turn this idea into a reality. 

When asked what inspired this event, Vivian Cintron answered:  

I love what I do but it is very removed from the everyday lives of women. Working with Valeria and the women of WEECE have empowered me and made me realize that one person CAN make a difference. When you hear the stories of everyday accomplishments from these women — in very tough situations— you cannot help believe that you, too, can dare to dream and achieve the unachievable. My favorite story is about a young woman, mother of 2, in the rural village of Mvuleni. She wanted to increase the yield of her land to pay for her children’s school fees. So she joined the WEECE VICOBA (Village Community Bank) and then took a loan to buy a donkey. Her neighbors laughed and did not see her vision. With the donkey, she was able to double her yield and pay back her loan. Not only that, she had enough to buy another donkey which she promptly rented out to her doubting neighbors. She started her own donkey rental business! Dreams big and small are all possible! And the results can be surprising!! The reason I personally work with WEECE is simply that I get more back in spirit than I can ever give in cash. The connection — The Sisterhood with these women is meaningful in my life.

WEECE (Women Education and Economic Center) is a Non-Governmental Organization whose mission is to work with local marginalized women and girls of the Kilimanjaro region to achieve economic stability and gender equality through education, economics and health. 

Njanjoni Health Clinic was built by WEECE organization; however, there isn’t enough space to accommodate beds to provide overnight care particular for pregnant women, children and the elderly. The fundraiser begins here and we are super excited to support the construction of this ward to provide overnight care to pregnant women, children and the elderly.
Viviane Citron, p invite you to an evening of Women’s Empowerment for a panel discussion and reception. Valeria Mrema, Executive Director of WEECE, will be in New York to introduce WEECE and the Nganjoni Health Clinic project. For more information about WEECE visit

Joining the panel discussion will be Patience Stephens, Director/Special Advisor on Education at UN Women and Shawnee Benton Gibson, Co-Founder/Co-Director at Spirit of A Woman Leadership Development Institute, inspirational speaker and author of Walk In The Light With Me.

3:00pm - 5:00pm - Panel Discussion
5:00pm - 7:00pm - Meet & Greet Reception

The discussion will center on women’s education and economic empowerment and its direct link to gender equality, poverty eradication and national economic growth.

These 3 dynamic women will share related success stories from a global, national and local perspective and share future plans on the road to achieving equitable sustainable development for all.

This event is free. Please get your ticket here:

You will be able to make your donation in person at the day of the event by cash or check. For those that cannot attend, or wish to donate in advance, here are your current options:
In the US:
Bank: United Nations Federal Credit Union
Account Name: Vivian Cintron
ABA number: 2260-7860-9
Checking Account Number: 1030507870002
Bank Address: 24-01 44th Road, Long Island City, NY 11101-4605
In DK:
Bank: Nordea
Reg: 2105
Account number: 6263 782 311
PayPal account:
Wire to Tanzania:
Bank: Exim Bank Moshi, Tanzania
Account Name: Women's Education and Economic Centre
Swift Code: EXTNTZTZ
Account No. - 5770653536
Please mark your donation with your name and WEECE.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On a new license to live...

my evening with Marie D. Brown at Cave Canum to see Terrance Hayes
 is definitely one of my recent highlights. 

I settled in into my Norwegian flight from JFK, New York to Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the perfect flight: 9:30pm and arriving the following day, at 11:30 am. Kai had agreed to meet me at the airport and I was ready to get home and take care of business. 

I managed to get all my things in my suitcase, and I risked taking a beautiful vintage, semi-acoustics guitar that Marie had bequeathed me. I crossed my fingers and hoped that I would be allowed on the flight with it as carry on luggage. I know it was a risk, but I really wanted to have it with me, feeling that it's presence would help with my inspiration for my show. It's a Vox Challenger, cherry sunburst in color. When I saw it for the first time, I thought it would be a great guitar to incorporate into my show. I've been playing with the guitar a few years now; with the intention of using it in some way in my work.  This semi-acoustic was perfect: the size, the feel.  Add to this that it once belonged to Marie's brother who fought in Vietnam, and she's guessing that he probably brought it in Europe when he was stationed there. 

It was hard to leave New York. Again. This trip has been defining. I understand better now how life takes care of things - and the importance of silence.  I learned a lot spending time with Brook Stephenson and Jason Reynolds at the Rhode Island Writer's Colony.  Importantly, I found a space where I could not only continue the contemplation necessary for my memoir, but where I could share my work and get feedback. Add to this the opportunity to hear other's writing, about their processes, plans and dreams, the colony had done all that I had expected and more.  Meeting the others involved in this process, Charles Vincent Burwell and Molaundo Jones (all part of the Clever Agency) gave me access to a circle of writers and artists who I found inspiring and incredibly supportive.  I thank all of you. 

The gracious Marie D. Brown extended the use of her beautiful, culturally relevant home for a presentation of our work.  We all had the opportunity to read  to an intimate gathering that began with some snacks and drinks, surrounded by a sea of beautiful books and candle light.  A super thanks to Marie D. Brown and artist Clymenza Hawkins for their support in this!  I also really enjoyed being roommates with Clymenza- her creativity, positivity and vivaciousness for her work and life is amazing and inspiring. 

My mother, great scout that she is, rode with me to the airport from Harlem.  Since it was National Indigenous Day - there were not so many other passengers on the train. It seemed fitting that I should sit on a long train ride from Uptown to Queens. To be able to witness the different personalities that each stop gives privy to: whether it's the younger, eclectic mix of West 4th or the more corporate/residential environment of 81st Street. We ate bad Chinese food once there, and made our way to the security line.  That's when I started to cry. The last three times I have been to New York, I found leaving always difficult. 

The first time I realized this was the time I missed my flight by a day. I didn't want to leave New York at all. That was the trip when Debbie and I walked to Brooklyn.  When we rolled up on my mom and grandmother and we all went to have Jamaican food at Buff Patty on  Myrtle.  It was when my grandmother still had a glimpse of recognition in her eyes when she saw me.  I had just begun my job teaching. 

The time after that was the visit before last. I asked my friend Jay Braun to take me to the airport. Jay and I went to college together and have even been roommates. He's a musician and sound engineer. Jay is one of those guys who's immensely intelligent and will keep you laughing for hours. The problem is, it took us four hours to get to the airport.  The good thing is that a) Jay and I had time to catch up on everything from politics to art and b) I really wasn't ready to come back to Copenhagen, so when I learned I missed my flight, it was without much regret that I made my way back to the car for the drive back to Harlem.  

So my mother and I arrive at the airport. Luckily my suitcase is not overweight and is checked-in. After our uneventful Chinese food dinner, we make our way to the security line and that's when I start to cry. But I pull myself together. I have business to take care of! 

Luckily for me, I'm allowed on the plane unhindered despite my guitar. Phew! Now I can relax! The passenger  who is supposed to sit next to me decides to sit elsewhere, so there was an empty seat between another passenger and myself. I had an aisle seat and the woman who sat by the window shot me a friendly smile.  I was feeling good, I had made it and was on my way back to my son. I was feeling sad because I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back. I thought about my apartment and where I wanted to live. I thought about my memoir and various articles I've started to work on.  All I know is that I have to live a life that is authentically me. Not anyone else's idea of what success is, but mine. 

This has been an interesting process - pulling myself back, observing life. Seeing where I am, seeing where others are.  And luckily, feeling stronger from it all. There have been some setbacks, and there will be more - but suddenly it is if what is truly important has emerged, pushing all the petty challenges to the background, forcing me to deal with my biggest challenge: creating the life I want for myself. 

I've really learned how important it is to keep your conversation positive. That even when people appear to have everything- whether it is financial freedom, a house, car - whatever it is that is flaunted as the accruements of happiness, they can be broken.  I have learned that when you walk around with paranoia and insecurity- Life will throw back those images and experiences at you. Luckily, having the opportunity to witness these traits in other people, have enabled me to see these traits better in myself. Every human encounters is a blessing, something to learn from, no matter how fleeting. 

Fear is another factor. I have learned that when someone speaks their dream out loud to me, how important it is to be encouraging. That talking about my ideas somehow takes all the power out of it. That sometimes people say mean and bad things to each other- but that to be forgiving is important. That you can feel you have a lifelong bond with someone, and you don't need to see that person, or necessarily talk to them ever again.  That you could feel you have a lifelong bond with someone, and you don't. That there have been and continue to be a group of fearless, loving people and all that I have to do is keep my heart open. I am not confused about this.  

I had an amazing and defining trip to New York and Rhode Island and again, was ready to come back to Copenhagen and create my new life.  I started to appreciate the perceived "breakdowns" as stories with their own lessons inherent in them for me to learn.  I have accepted that some friendships have reached their expiration dates, and that in my messy evolution in becoming the woman that I want to be, that that's part of the process.  I have accepted that there are new people to meet, some of whom I have already began a new dialogue on life with. 

Moving to Denmark has been an adventure all in its own. I've had successful stints and experienced a lot of heartbreak and sadness. But what warms my heart more than anything are those that I continue to bump into, or meet up with, who throughout the years, no matter how long the period of time has been - show me through their patience, trust and understanding, that they love and support me.  Unconditionally.  This is an important feeling to experience. We are all human and want to feel understood. There have been many hiccups throughout the years, but I trust that I am on my path.  

The last few years have been a bitch ya'll. I'm not complaining- I'm just saying. Between deciding to stop teaching, starting a business, dealing with clients, getting my writing together, not feeling Denmark, wanting to parent better, Ugh! It was an awful spell that I had worked myself into.  Being around Brook Stephenson, Jason Reynolds and the rest of that crew helped build my spirit immensely. It was like basking in positivity. Slowly, a little bud started to open up within my heart- it was the will to live, the ability to see the positive in life again. Oh, it was wonderful! Feeling hopeful after years of sadness is no small achievement, and I am so thankful for that.  Add to this experience of being around Marie D. Brown- whose wisdom and patience has continues to fortify me-- , the bookcases chock-full-of books, pictures and presence. "You have to do the work, Lesley", Marie would remind me when we talked about writing.  

One evening Marie invited me to go with her to the fall Lecture & Master Class series in Brooklyn at Cave Canum on  Thursday, October 9 with Terrance Hayes on “Turning into Dwelling: The Space between the Poet and the Poem,” a talk on the work of poet Christopher Gilbert.  Afterwards, we all went to dinner (all of us part of Marie's very comprehensive list of mentees. There's the recent Columbia School of Journalism graduate Janeesha, navigating her first year out of school.  Then there was LaParis (I LOVE that name!) who has been putting pen to paper and starting her literary journey.  Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, I was transported back to the 90s when restaurant dining with other writers along with Marie was part of the Marie Brown Associates experience. 

During the flight I noticed that my neighbor had a notebook out and was writing in what looked suspiciously like creative writing.  I could tell from the way she wrote the words down on the page, that it was a poem. It wasn't that I was being nosey or anything (lol) but it did pique my interest.  When I woke up from what could only be described as my sardine-can nap, I saw that we were just an hour away from Copenhagen, which in plane time seems like seconds- that last hour has a brilliant way of just winding all up to the destination.  My neighbor also woke up, and this time we started talking. 

"I don't mean to pry, but are you a writer?" I asked. What are the chances of my sitting next to someone who wrote, and who was also on her way back to Copenhagen? I wanted to build a writing community and was looking for recruits.  Turns out that Nina, for that is her name, is a half-American, half-Danish poet.  
"I was just contemplating how to kill myself once I got back to Copenhagen", I joked. 
"Me too!" She chimed in, and we both shared a much needed laugh. In that short amount of time, I met not only a writing partner, but someone with whom I could forge a positive bond with. Someone who, like me, is going through major changes, and wants to build a community conducive to creating the life envisioned. 

I had a similar experience in New  York where I ended up in the house of two amazing women in Upstate New York. I won't bore you with details, but suffice it to say I was in an emergency situation and luckily for me, a goddess arrived to save me.  I ended up back at Shamsi's crib in Woodstock, New York- sipping on some tea and enjoying the company of someone who although I had never met before, felt familiar to me. Her cousin, Jaleh, is also working on her travel memoir. We decided the following day to create a partnership on getting our work finished and out there.  

I have been doing a lot of positive thinking and visualization lately. I realize and have experienced that if I spend too much time visualizing my fears- they become real. So now, I'm visualizing my hopes. 

So now I'm back in Copenhagen, recharged and not feeling loaded down or stuffed with the stinking, foul energy that I seem to have been battling with for some time now. Yes! This whole process has definitely built my compassion for all of you who are suffering from any kind of sadness, depression or negativity. It can truly be a beast. And it may not be one I can totally get rid of, but my goodness, does it feel great to have some distance to it and feel hopeful again. 

I may have made some clumsy decisions, but man am I happy to feel hopeful again.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections on Rhode Island Writers' Colony

Brook Stephenson, Jason Reynolds
 and Lesley-AnnBrown
john & mary's garden

Well, I'm all done with the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, or should I say I've just started? I had an amazing and productive two weeks there. I met some pretty intelligent and creative souls. There was Brook Stephenson, co-founder of the  Colony and his constant, unwavering optimism and encouragement.  Jason Reynolds who is an old soul-definitely doing his work to heal the world through the power of STORY and discovering his book When I was the Greatest, which I read and can't wait to pass on to my son. There was Charles Vincent Burwell whose quiet strength and enthusiasm for life (not to mention multi-talent) was inspiring to be around. Then there was John, Brook's gregarious and witty big brother (Pirate Buddha Master Storyteller anyone?) and also co-founder of the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, who also bemoaned the fact that the Humanities as a subject has been attacked, and astutely recognizing that it is related to the general degradation of "education". Interesting indeed, given that Denmark has recently chosen to do the same. Then there is his fiancé Mary, who is definitely the dot to John's "i" and their two cats, Six and Seven, who were by all stretches of the word Humungous! There was the community of Warren, Rhode Island where  some warm smiles and hellos let us know that we were welcome.  The artists' dinner where we met Allison Newsome and her dynamic kids, Owen and Arden Morris, two incredibly talented kids. There was the run-in with the guy in the pick-up truck who , as he was explaining what he had just done (helping move a friend's son) inadvertently came to use the word "segregate", and how he looked at us a beet red, and was like, no, that's not the word I meant, and how that kept us laughing for days, a knee-slapping kind of laugh.  There was meeting Todd Hunter, whose professional feedback was invaluable to my rewrite. There was Angelo, who upon reading Jason's book, decided on the spot that he was going to name his two turkeys (lol) after two of the characters from When I Was the Greatest, Needles and Noodles. There was the local knitting shop where I bought yarn to knit a baby blanket for a dear friend who has just given birth . There's the conversation I overheard at this local knitting store Bella Yarns from retired Rhode Islanders who spoke about quahogs and the best places to get them, and the fact that you had to watch out on the bike lanes, "because of all the kids doing pot!" There was the car drive from Upstate New York with Rene, to Rhode Island, and the stop we made at the mall, somewhere in the great old U.S. of A. and realizing yet again, how racially segregated the States is, after all these years and history.  It was being able to have conversations that ran from Grenache wine to childhood, to books and writers. It was about being able to talk about dreams and how we are realizing them. I'll be home back in Copenhagen soon, and I must say, this adventure was certainly worth ever millisecond spent there.
And then there is  Copenhagen -- which was but a draft of a book when I got there, but double the size and content by the time I left. So, one step at a time...and

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Images from The Rhode Island's Writers Colony

allison newsome's lion @ her studio
The past two weeks have offered a plethora of experiences and the opportunity to meet up and connect with some fantastic folks. All I could say for the past couple of weeks was, "Rhode Island? Who'd a-thunk it?"Aside from having time and an incredible town and space to write in, there were the people - from Brook Stephenson co-founder of The Rhode Island Writers Colony, his brother John (the other founder) who is like a walking Encyclopedia with the soul of a pirate, his partner Marie whose hospitality is much appreciated, to Jason Reynolds writer extraordinaire, Malundo Jones and Charles Vincent Burwell of the Clever Agency.  The host of characters include many citizens of Warren, Rhode Island who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. There was Angelo who frequented the local coffee shop everyday, to staff of the Coffee Depot. There was also the day Brook and I went over to Alisson Newsome's studio, here are some of the images from that adventure:
by allison newsome

an artist's space

nature meets nurture in the work of allison new some

another allison new some piece in john's garden

love this pic of brook, john & jason 

ms. rene gearing up for the drive from upstate to rhode island
photo courtesy rene

me & angelo with the feather from "noodles"
photo courtesy of brook stephenson 

a window at john's

lots a trees to check out..

brook's cooking is what's up! photo courtesy brook stephenson

reading & knitting! Jason Reynolds & lab photo courtesy of brook stephenson

the rhode island writers' colony abode

the clever agency w molaundo jones, charles vincent burwell and
brook stephenson, founder of rhode island writers colony

the welcome table
Brook, Charles and I are slowly getting ready to make our way back to the big apple.

the lab

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Images from Warren

Me, Jason & John the Mayor of Warren (picture courtesy of Jason Reynolds)

a squash grows on the sidewalk

can you beat this visual pun? 

my future car 


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