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Friday, December 27, 2013

Twas the Night After Christmas: A Modern Tale of Online Deliveries and Mayhem

If, like me, UPS, Fed-Ex and the U.S. Postal Service left you in a bind on Christmas day, then perhaps a little verse will lessen the sting:

Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house,
My right thumb on computer was clicking the mouse,
Empty stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Cuz our packages from UPS were clearly not there.

I should be up sleeping all snug in my bed,
But I want to take Fed-Ex out to the woodshed.
Making on-time deliveries should be a snap,
Yet thousands of customers must deal with late crap!

When on my front porch there arose such a clatter,
And upstairs I went to see what was the matter,
As I opened the front door, I saw in a flash,
A man in brown shorts with a belt, not a sash.

I asked, "Where are my presents?" and what do you know?
In his hands were 3 boxes, and my anger did slow.
And then, in the moonlight, what else did appear?
Two white trucks from Fed-Ex with more gifts in the rear.

The gloves, scarves, and CDs I'd bought in one click,
Had arrived a day late from this slow-poke St. Nick,
I asked, "Who is at fault? Who is to blame?
Tell me right now what's the retailer's name?"

"Well, it wasn't just Fed-Ex that failed to deliver,
The fault also lies with last-minute gift givers!
When on 12/24 you order a gift,
It requires our workers to work triple shifts!

Step away from your iPads, and visit a store,
Or how 'bout a mall, that's what they're there for?
There's Macy's, Tiffany's, and even the Gap,
Old Navy and Nordstrom's make shopping a snap!
So go, my children, go to the mall,
Go walk a few miles in your suburban sprawl!"

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
"See you next year! Hope we'll both get it right!"


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The "Selfie" Heard Around the World - Rules on Funeral Photography and Why World Leaders Shouldn't Have Smartphones!

I go to sleep and wake up to this headline, "President Obama Takes Selfie at Nelson Mandela Funeral". Say what now?? So, of course, I went to The Oracle - Huff Post - and there was the article and photographic proof that this was, in fact, true, that my President, my POTUS, had obviously bumped his head getting off of Air Force One. I mean, what other explanation could there be?? 

Now, there are numerous issues here, including the rules for appropriate world leader behavior, but there are also the further issues of just what is acceptable behavior at funerals and does photography fall into the category of acceptable. Technically speaking, POTUS was attending a memorial service for President Mandela, being held in a soccer stadium with thousands of people in attendance. This sprawling arena is not sacred, sanctified space. For instance, when Pope Benedict visited Washington, DC and held Mass at the Washington Nationals baseball field, social media was flooded with images snapped by those in attendance at this historic event.  My photography colleagues who work in print journalism are often tasked with covering funerals and memorial services for public figures and in the aftermath of events that have national import and impact, such as the memorial and funeral services for the victims of Newtown. But as a photographer, while I am often hired to photograph church services and sacred events, such as weddings and christenings, when I attend funerals my camera stays home.

Funeral photography has become a hot topic these days. It seems every funeral guest, these days, is armed with a camera phone and, since funerals have become de facto family reunions where relatives and old family friends reconnect after years or, perhaps, decades, without seeing each other, those camera phones invariably find their way into the hands of these mourners. This freelance funeral photography is jarring. The first time I saw it was in a text message from my late father. He and Mom had attended the funeral of an old family friend and the text message from Dad included a photo...of the casket...the open casket. After that, I asked Dad not to include photographs from any more gatherings such as these. At a recent family funeral attended by hundreds of my family members, I saw lots of photos being snapped at the repast. It felt odd to me, but since all funerals take on this "Circle of Life" kind of quality, I tried not to judge it, though I decided not to participate in it.

Which brings me to today in South Africa, and the "selfie" that shouldn't have happened. Unlike my iPhone-wielding relatives, POTUS has an entire global press corps and his own team of White House photographers there to capture him in the midst of historical moments. The rest of us take selfies in order to tell the world, or our little patch of the world, "look at me! I'm here!!" But you're the President - you don't need that, and especially not at an occasion such as this. You want to know what's appropriate? Look at your wife, the First Lady. FLOTUS is the perfect picture of the reserve and respect that one should show when honoring the dead. But for now, I'll step off of my soapbox and get working on that inevitable POTUS selfie meme, you know, POTUS snapping a selfie at the site of the Hindenburg crash, or POTUS snapping a selfie with the trapped Chilean miners. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

20 Signs that You Might Be on a Reality TV Show

There seems to be an endless supply of reality TV characters. A new show, "The Tequila Sisters", is the latest to join the reality TV underverse, joining not one but two shows following preachers and their families, and another show pitting dinner party hosts against each other. Soon, we'll all be characters standing in front of always-on cameras, unless I intervene now. There may not be four horsemen of the Apocalypse or even an "Inception"-style spinning top, but these are sure signs that you might be on a reality TV show:


  1. You decide to produce and star in your own fitness video even though you are not physically fit.
  2. You have hair and make-up team house calls to get you ready for your daughter's christening or your friend's lame dinner party 10 miles down the road from your house.
  3. You rent limousines and party buses to take you to a friend's lame dinner party 10 miles down the road from your house.
  4. You wear a sheer maxi dress and strappy 5-inch heeled sandals to the lame dinner party at a friend's house.
  5. You throw a drink/throw a punch/scream at a guest attending the friend's lame dinner party in the last 5 minutes of that dinner party.
  6. Camera crews document your trips to the grocery store/bikini waxer/wig shop/delicatessen.
  7. You plan your outfits around how discreetly the wireless mic pack will fit.
  8. You buy those outfits in crowded boutiques located in characterless strip malls.
  9. You eat lunches in restaurants where you and your cast mate/friend are the only two customers.
  10. You create a charity that doesn't seem to raise money for any particular cause, but that requires you to host numerous galas, at which you wear tacky evening gowns bought from the strip mall boutique.
  11. You always have a red carpet and step-and-repeat at these charity galas and there is always, always drama about who may walk on the red carpet.
  12. You hire a party planner for your 4-year-old's birthday party.
  13. You take frequent vacations with women you hate.
  14. One of those vacations must be to Las Vegas.
  15. During the Las Vegas vacation, at least one person in your party says one of the following while riding in a stretch Hummer limo: "Vegas, baby!" or "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!"
  16. The following words/phrases creep into your everyday speech: side-eye, shade, disrespect, closure, at the end of the day, no she didn't, no he didn't, I think I just threw up in my mouth, **BEEP** you, **BEEP** off.
  17. You hire personal assistants even though you're a housewife living in a 1500-square foot rental and your only "child" is an overweight Chihuahua.
  18. Your Chihuahua must accompany you everywhere either in a large purse-styled pet carrier or on a fabulous luxury-label leash.
  19. Your "intimate" couple time must include a bubble bath in a large soaking tub surrounded by lit pillar candles, and a camera crew.
  20. The soles of all of your shoes are painted red, even if they are not the product of a certain, luxury shoemaker.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Black-Shaming: Standing Up for Standing Out

"You's a fool!" "You're simple!" "You so crazy!" "You're stupid!" If you think these sound like insults, then you don't know black people, or maybe you do. These phrases are often thrown around as humorous descriptions of a person who has a different take on reality. As a black person myself, these phrases astound me and offend me, mostly because other black people have directed them at me. "Shannon, you're simple!" "Girl, you a fool!" And while they say it with laughter, usually after I've made them laugh, I've never been able to figure out the unholy mystery of why people of my own race would engage with me using words that used to describe those who were mentally impaired.  

That my awareness of All Things Black is spotty, to say the least, shouldn't be a surprise. I've always existed around the fringes of Popular Black Culture (PBC), starting from childhood and my over-protective mother. I know, it's unfair to call on Dr. Freud, but this really is Mom's fault! Mom grew up in that mythical "village" that Hillary Clinton made popular years ago. Mom's village was a small town, just on the DC/Maryland line, where it seemed a relative of hers lived on virtually every street, and her elementary school and high school classmates were also her cousins. It was small town USA in a segregated America and the only people Mom saw were also the only people Mom trusted. For her, Hippies were what you saw on the news, and the March on Washington was in a land far away, even though it was only a few miles from her home! There were no giant afros (though she did have an afro wig that she'd occasionally sport at parties), and Black Power meant they had paid the electric bill on time!

Growing up, I knew Mom and Dad were counter-cultural. Mom would rock her short natural/no make-up look while the other black moms had relaxed their hair and put on Jordache Jeans, and Dad would pick us up in whatever wheezing hooptie he'd found in someone's backyard, or in one of his vans. The only labeled clothing I wore back in those days were Sears Toughskins! While my high school classmates were experimenting with hair color, multiple piercings, and expensive designer clothing and handbags and car dates with boys, I was taking piano lessons and reading and fantasizing about what the world outside of my alternate reality was really like.

I got a taste of that world in college and in graduate school, but, I took a most decidedly non-PBC course - no HBCUs or black sororities. I went where the scholarships took me and I pledged a sorority of women who were my friends, although we were more Benetton ad than "A Different World." The visits home during those college and grad school years were a series of awkward pauses. Because I really wasn't allowed to socialize during high school, I had no basis for developing friendships and extending those into adulthood. I had never developed the standardized frame of reference regarding Popular Black Culture, and I became alien, which, I guess, makes me a fool/simple/crazy/stupid? 

I don't know, but I do know that there's a bit of whiplash that you develop when you're straddling the race and class lines. It's like you have levels of awareness that allow you to exist both inside and outside of an experience. It's an explosion of dozens of frames of reference, causing me to see things and evaluate situations in a myriad of different ways simultaneously. It is the source of my humor but it can also be a source of despair. I don't think this makes me unique. I think all people do this, but they choose to ignore it and opt for what's comfortable or most expedient. Right now, the world is mourning the loss of a man who thought outside of what was comfortable and did what was right. There's nothing simple about that.