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.