Who are you and how would you describe your unique contribution to the world?
My name is Karas Lamb. I am a human being and a black woman. I am a writer, foremost. I freelance as a music journalist and creative copywriter. Presently doing my best to finesse a career pivot to focus on music marketing campaigns, brand narrative and other creative agency work. I may be best described as a storyteller. I write lots of different things, but my focus is always on finding the compelling story beneath the surface of a subject, fleshing that out, creating an arc and following the thread. That happens across the board, from fiction and film to ad campaigns, podcasting and investigative journalism.
Like most creative people, I have my hands in a bunch of pots, but the through line is always the importance of story and how best to utilize that to convey the beauty of the human experience. If there is anything unique about me in all of that it may just be the effort I’ve put into refining my voice and making my creative presence unmistakable across all of the projects I touch. That’s a crap shoot that can come back to bite you in the ass when your work misses the mark or you write solely to satisfy your ego. But I’m not shy about making sure that my work looks, sounds and feels exactly like it came from me -- and no one else.
Where did you grow up and how did this shape the lens with which you view the world and society?
I grew up in West Philly somewhere between working and solidly middle class. So, I had this really interesting vantage of being able to see and live on two sides of the fence as a person of color. Having proximity to different kinds of people that looked like me, helped me to understand the breadth of my potential and the opportunities available to me at an early age. On the flip, however, I got to see a lot of the underbelly of life and socio-economic struggle as it often manifests in communities of color across the U.S.
I grew up during the 80s and 90s when crack was flooding major cities and kids 10 years older than me were being shot and killed for Jordans and gold earrings. I grew up on the physical border of the city and the suburbs, going to high tea with my grandmother and playing on the floor of the methadone clinic my dad ran. I played classical violin but also collected vinyl and was raised on jazz, funk, afro-latin and rap. So, I feel in many ways like I grew up multi-lingual. I can thrive in lots of different spaces because of that sustained proximity to diversity. Yes, I can code-switch with the best of them, but I also have a visceral understanding of different types of people and circumstances and experiences that has made me really good at digesting and translating moments, characters, conversations, etc.
Growing up, how did you view yourself within the world and society? What was your role?
I think I viewed myself growing up much the same as I do now. I was a multi-disciplinary artist and an eccentric. I still am. I find myself most valuable as a translator and connector. I like to connect dots and put complimentary talents in the same room to encourage creative exchange and collaboration. I was the same way then, but less adept at it. I’m an empath and a good listener as a result of that natural disposition. I was the same then, though I’ve become less gracious with my shoulder and my time, because not everyone is respectful of it. I embrace my own quirks more now than I did as a kid, but I was lucky enough to have my father explain to me in elementary school that I had no choice but to be exactly who I am. I was not like a lot of my peers, but I was never encouraged to water myself down.
I love and am continually inspired by my own possibility. Physically, spiritually, creatively, psychologically, etc. I think the goal of life is to love and be loved at a level much greater than oneself. But also to do work reflective of that love. That’s kind of always been my thing. I wanted to do work that I loved that somehow helped people to better love and acknowledge the beauty in themselves and the world. For me, that was always couched in or adjacent to black music. I’d like to believe I’m doing that now. At least some of the time.
Growing up, what was your role within your family?
I was the oldest girl of my four siblings. At home, I’ve always been a bit of a nurturer and a helper. Sort of looking out for everyone else. I think women tend to be raised to fall into those roles by default. As much as it is seen as an act of love to look after others, that can also be a precarious road that leads to neglect of oneself. Given that, I’m much less concerned with accommodating everyone and their mama at this point in my life. I’ve definitely had occasion to wonder whether I might be the black sheep, as a career artist/creative, but you’d have to ask my family to give you the skinny on that. I honestly don’t think they would respect me if I were doing anything else. Otherwise, I spent most of my free time growing up being a jokester and a curmudgeon. Talking a lot of smack.
Was self-care an important practice within your family home?
Self-care was most important at home with respect to solitude and maintaining a safe space to take a deep breath. My parents both had high-stress jobs and day-to-day life can drain anyone. Everyone always had their own dedicated space. My grandma was particularly good at putting on a pot of tea and not taking calls at certain times of the day. My mom-mom planted a garden and my mother does the same. She also knits and sews. There was always ritual around some tactile activity that allowed the women in my family to shut the world out, center themselves, and breathe. I’ve found that integral to my survival and sanity as an adult.
Was there a time in your life that caused you to have a self-care “aha!” moment? An event or period of time that caused you to evaluate your self-care practice/lack thereof?
Recently, leaving New York City after three years and moving back to Philadelphia sort of forced me to pay attention to myself. I realized I had been going through the motions treading water in the city and I had run myself ragged in the process. Trying to be everything to everybody but myself. I came back feeling like I had dulled quite a bit and needed to sharpen my life. This was true at a professional level but also at a personal level with respect to diet, fitness, emotional and mental health. Even just my ability to find and sustain joy. I was broke and broken. I had this really crazy back injury that left me physically incapacitated to the degree that I was having trouble walking. Being bruised by life in that way made me hyper-aware of my own mortality. And honestly, fearful for my life. It might sound drastic to say that, but once your quality of life and your physical circumstances decline, it can be shocking in a fight or flight sort of way. I had to choose to fight. For myself in the moment, but also the Karas I envisioned and had yet to realize. In real time, that meant ditching whiskey and junk food. It meant doing yoga to repair my back. It meant becoming more disciplined about time management and relationships and deadlines, etc. It meant being more vigilant about telling people no. It meant allowing people less access to me. It is an ongoing process that I cannot say I’ve mastered by any stretch, but I continue to chip away at the stone. I just started running again and tending to my professional goals with more seriousness. I look forward to seeing the fruits of that and hopefully surprising myself.
What obstacles do you face, as a black woman, when it comes to implementing regular self care?
The biggest impediments to self-care for me, as a black woman, have been anxiety, scheduling conflicts and the racially motivated micro-aggressions that compound blackness -- things that have absolutely metastasized and become more overt with Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. As women of color, we are constantly fighting 4 or 5 fights to survive and protect and provide for ourselves and our goals. The reality is that we should really only be focused on one or two. I’ve relied heavily on my ability to “power through” and let things roll off my back in the past, but that is not always enough. I have grown to be all about a good cry or kiki in a safe space. I embraced yoga. I decided not to be a “mule” or a “bag lady.” I grew brave enough not to take any shit. Those things really help to mitigate the damage that is done by the stresses I face daily. Otherwise, I have had to become vigilant about setting aside time and creating space to honor myself. About remembering to take a deep breath.
What are your go-to self-care rituals?
- Tea. Boiling water and brewing a cup for myself or with friends/loved ones is such a relaxing thing to me. I’ve gotten into loose teas and packing my own tea bags. Turmeric is a must for the first cup of the day because inflammation is not of the lord. Neither is a funky gut.
- Positivity. Starting my day with positive thoughts and good intention. I’m naturally sort of over everything and always rolling my eyes at stuff, so this is huge for me. I also have a Gratitude Jar...thanks Brooke!
- Journaling. I started journaling when I moved to NYC, after years of failing to do it. It may, honestly, have saved my life. In a “Keep Karas out of the psych ward” sort of way.
- Nudity. Standing naked in a full-length mirror and looking at myself at least once daily. Working on acceptance and appreciation of my physical self at all times, however I look or feel.
- Sleep. I tend to err on the side of being an insomniac. I’m always up in the middle of the night. Stopping to take a nap or actually going to bed at a reasonable hour once in a while is helpful in leveling out and controlling my emotional responses to things. Great mood booster.
- Dry Brushing. Doing something that forces me to pay attention to and preen every inch of my person before I bathe has improved my relationship with myself. It is also good for circulation and the overall health of the skin.
- Yoga. Sitting in Malasana or lying in Savasana have been a big help to me in regulating my anxiety and learning to relax. As has meditation. I have an app that allows me to meditate with singing bowls or guided sessions. I’m learning the Sun Salutation and slowly building a yoga practice with these things. I say it constantly, but Bikram yoga is also life-changing.
- Running. Still doing more walking than running as I get back to decent running shape, but this is a great way for me to ditch the nervous energy that plagues and often sabotages my peace and productivity.
- Community. As an introvert, an empath, and a cancer (shitty trifecta, I know) I’m naturally inclined to chill at home. I have made it a point to go outside and explore more often when I feel that way. To take solo field trips just for coffee or to catch up with friends. To say yes more often to invites that get me up and out and active and doing outside of traveling for work related items. I’ve also realized I really like meeting new people and hearing their stories, which is fun.
- Motivation. Watching lots of TED Talks, and Sadhguru and listening to podcasts. Just to be reminded to pursue my ideas, dig different storytellers and pause to reflect when necessary.
- Music. Blasting really obnoxious gangsta rap or dubplate reggae mixes. Digging my own vinyl collection and having impromptu dance breaks. Because joy…
- Flowers. Stopping to smell flowers or appreciate trees in bloom is helpful to cultivating joy. If I can afford it, however, sending or buying myself a bouquet of flowers always reminds me to value and celebrate myself. It reminds me of the quality of love I deserve.
- Creating. Personal creative projects have helped me to reclaim my love of the arts as a cathartic and fulfilling outlet for growth. Writing professionally made me resent writing and music, in particular, for quite a while. Digging myself out of that, I vowed to work on more material just for myself. To collaborate with friends and associates I believed in, where the respect and work ethic was mutual. The results have been amazing thus far.
What is your go-to feel good music?
As a recovering rap blogger, I think it is a given that I really dig hip-hop. But anything with heavy rhythm. Big bass and drums. Sometimes that is stuff that keeps the club lit. Sometimes it is Golden Era hip-hop. Mostly a LOT of roots reggae, which is strangely the only music that chills me out.
What is something that, when you hear it (see it, smell it, touch it), it immediately soothes you? Eucalyptus and comforters. Running water. The beach. Also coffee.