My new favorite word is suffering. I endeavor to use it in my writing and in everyday life as much as possible. This is because I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s delicious novel quartet, which recounts the tale of a complex friendship between two women from a very young age into their sixties. The story takes place in Naples, Italy. The neighborhood is run down, the girls’ clothing, drab; but the characters’ emotions are so alive! And the narrator’s repeated use of the word suffering strikes such a chord.

The protagonist brings to life her best friend, a fantastically drawn character, whose intense ideas and shocking acts she often interprets as a lack of devotion. This causes the narrator to suffer. As a good book can, it rouses experiences from my own life–a friend who failed to support me at a crucial time; a definitive silence, enduring indifference. Yeah, that’s how I was affected. I suffered!

Although the indigent, today’s Syrian refugees, and bereaved families experience true suffering, we all know that miseries of the heart often inflict wounds that can inscribe and etch themselves into the tissue of our very selves. Man, that sounds dramatic. But it’s true. And I’m only up to Book Two!

The first book is titled My Brilliant Friend, which my husband is now enjoying too; the second book is The Story of a New Name. Schoolgirl crushes, bad guys and neighborhood intrigue involving lunacy, beatings, murder and poetry fuel what turn out to be everyday emotions that, when revisited, could more accurately be labeled suffering.

That time my girlfriend of fifteen years stopped talking to me without explanation. Her reasons traveled with her to her grave. I suffered from that. And then there was that former soulmate, who went around telling World Trade Center-tall tales about me. When we broke up, my heartsickness settled in for a long, long while. I can only describe that sorrow as suffering. By the time her rumors came to light, I didn’t even care anymore, thank goodness! Nevertheless, it’s impossible for me to forget how I vowed to never let anyone else in. And how I reversed course, only to be disappointed again. This is life–joy, pain, learning, forgetting, and starting all over again.

Although I am happy not to claim suffering as an overriding constant in my life, I love it when it kidnaps me for a time. Because it whips up all this deep stuff that makes me feel in a real way. It takes you beyond your petty, superficial worries into a tough place that makes you consider and re-evaluate yourself, your motives and proclivities. And that’s good stuff.

I hate it when I suffer. But I love it too. Does that make me a drama queen? Perish the thought.

no red cross copy

Originally published on Huffington Post.

When I was a kid, I remember that the esteemed American Red Cross was the joint for donating and receiving much needed blood that saved lives. When and how did the Red Cross join the transitional shelter and housing construction party? They would probably claim that’s part and parcel of disaster relief work. But by what method did they take in $488 million for Haiti earthquake relief and wind up building six houses in five years?

I’m not the only one asking. Even though I don’t usually find myself in agreement with any Republican anywhere, it is Iowa’s own suddenly-darling Senator Chuck Grassley, who jumpstarted a congressional inquiry into Red Cross shenanigans with funds destined for Haiti. Early in July this year, NPR, in collaboration with ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization, reported that Grassley demanded the Red Cross hand over all financial documents relating to Haiti fund allocations, and he wanted them by July 22, 2015. I am Haitian, but to be totally Californian for a moment, I was like, YAY!

So here we are in October, and the most recent update on the inquiry stinks of shadiness and corruption. According to NPR’s website:

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office Monday morning saying that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, ‘has received additional information that Red Cross personnel did not provide unfettered access to the GAO even after multiple requests for relevant information.’

Grassley is asking investigators for a list of all the documents the GAO requested but ‘the Red Cross refused to provide,’ any records or emails the charity wrote that cite reasons for not providing records, and ‘a list of all the officials that did provide the material GAO requested.

Other reports indicate that Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern had also written last August to Democratic Representative Bernie Thompson, appealing for an end to the GAO inquiry into the Red Cross. You know, let’s just you and I work this out by ourselves. Here’s my cell phone. Call me, dude. It’ll be much simpler that way.

Bernie Thompson called the letter “unfortunate.”

I remember attending a panel discussion at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California one year after the earthquake. A Red Cross representative announced that, at that point, they had received $170 million for Haiti disaster relief, the most in the organization’s history! And then an audience member asked what portion of the funds had been disseminated thus far. The answer: zero. I guess the money needed to rest peacefully in the Red Cross bank account, collecting interest, before being dispatched to that high stress zone!

Why do I care about the Red Cross and its activities (aside from consternation over a venerated institution’s link to this kind of disgraceful behavior — kind of like Bill Cosby)? I don’t usually donate to the Red Cross. I prefer giving to individuals or families I know, or to smaller, local charities, where following the money is a straightforward affair. It’s Haiti’s reputation I care about. It’s Haiti fatigue I worry about. It’s that Why can’t those Haitians get their act together already? mindset that I agonize over. Hell, after $482 million in donations, by now Port-au-Prince should look like Paris! Right?

In a July email communication with a friend of mine, who has often worked in Haiti pro bono since the earthquake, here’s what she had to say upon hearing about the congressional inquiry into the Red Cross:

It’s about time. They have to be accountable. I saw them in Haiti running around in their chauffeured, air-conditioned Range Rovers! They had cooks and maids, gardeners and dogs! They lived in the hill top villas and went to the beach on weekends! Their offices were stacked with snacks and ice cold bottled waters while the rest of the country was in dire need.

The Red Cross cannot be entirely blamed for Port-au-Prince’s lack of Parisian-esque boulevards, infrastructure, world-class museums and sophistication — although you can find first class art, gourmet cuisine, and a damn good espresso in the city! No, Haiti’s issues are many and varied. But thanks to NPR and ProPublica’s excellent investigative report and study on the seemingly crooked organization’s misuse of money destined to help Haiti’s ravaged citizens, the light continues to shine on just one important reason why Haiti can’t seem to get back on its feet.

Do us all a favor, Red Cross. Get back to the business of blood.


On a recent trip to France, my husband and I walked along a tiny and adorable bridge in the thousand-year-old town of l’Isle Adam, situated 20 miles north of Paris. Upon stopping to look down at the sun-dappled waterway beneath us, I noticed a pair of elongated shadows, along with the unexpected sight of three velvet white swans, elongated necks in artful, question-mark repose.

“Whose shadows are those?” I asked my husband.

“That’s us,” he said, waving to prove his point.

I chuckled embarrassingly. “Oh, right!” Why hadn’t I recognized myself?

I’ve been pondering that question ever since. Right there in that same pond, ducks swam, dipped their heads in the water, shook off the excess and preened; large goldfish swirled about, grazing at plant life, routinely surfacing for stray scraps. But without warning (cue music from Jaws) appeared a speeding whale of a water rat — brown with scraggly fur, at least two feet long with a reedy tail long enough to wrap around my waist. Ugly as ugly can be, it seemed to be aiming for one of those cute preening ducks. To my surprise, the duckling barely reacted; the rat kept on moving. As for the swans, they simply ignored the beast.

My reaction? “Ooo, look at that creature!” I pulled out my phone and recorded the whole thing. Let me explain that I live in deadly fear of rats, deem them horrid and loathsome. I know rats are God’s creatures and all, but isn’t God the same one who invented pedophiles? OK, different discussion. But just to make the point about my aversion to rodents, Mickey Mouse is creepy to me. Just go to Disneyland, and there he is — a six-foot vermin who smiles a lot. Am I wrong? My point is the water rat did not repulse me, as it should have — at least not totally. Again, I didn’t recognize myself.

On Sept. 16, 2015, I engaged in strange behavior. For the first time in my life, I watched a Republican presidential debate, and hosted a gathering for the viewing in my living room! It’ll be fun watching the clown parade! THREE HOURS LATER, appropriate sneer on face, I remained shocked, just shocked, I tell you, at the media’s hunger for ratings over authenticity. Since when do I willingly subject myself to bad television? Who was that conspicuously smug woman?

As I’ve watched the greatest human migration crisis of our time unfold before our bulging eyes, with great hesitation, I began to consider a solution: that the United States and its allies march in and annihilate those raping, beheading ISIS assholes so that people can go back to their imperfect, hopeful and messy lives in their own homes, like the fortunate among of us. I, the peacenik, earnestly debated this notion with friends, who did not treat me as they might a lunatic. And then I came to my senses. Right! Send in the drones; while we’re at it, kill the remaining half of Syrian citizens there, create a few more ISIS recruits, and sit by while Bashar al-Assad gets asylum in a cushy palace somewhere in Russia. America always gets it so right in the Middle East! I sure don’t have the answer to this developing catastrophe, but I know that scenario won’t bring the fix we seek. I fail to recognize the woman who walked around, however briefly, in bullet-scented skin, indulging in war-tainted deliberations.

At times, it is our friends who become unrecognizable. You will observe a kind, supportive and loyal person, whom you love fiercely metamorphose into a blanched shade of her former self. Or, the shade darkens to impenetrable black until only confusion and suspicion remain.

We all fluctuate as we live, at times evolving, at others regressing. The perilous act of self-examination can be daunting, exhilarating, frightening and complicated, usually all at once. As I age, I often wonder Who is that woman in the mirror! But when it gets to the point where you don’t recognize your own shadow, it’s time to tackle the deed head on.

Photo and video by Carine Fabius

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Last week I was at an event celebrating National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in Los Angeles (I’m from Haiti). At one point, one of the evening’s performers, V.S. Russell, a lively and entertaining storyteller from Jamaica, encouraged guests to participate in a call and response. He entreated us to join in the fun with words to the effect of, “When I say this, you say that.” That was spoken in the patois of his native Jamaica, and was unintelligible to all but a bunch of people in the crowd, who shouted out the phrase. Laughs all around. And then he said, “And if you’re Caucasian, you can say it like this.This was spoken in English. No one made a peep. Honestly, who wants to be Caucasian?

It’s so unhip to be white! I am often loath to do it, but I occasionally have to remind my white friends that sorry, but, we can’t all be black. That’s just the way it is. I know you desperately want those cool moves down on the dance floor, but you’re stuck following your own unfortunate beat and looking like what one of my [white] friends calls a “noodle dancer.” I’m sorry. Not my fault. Take your lack of rhythm up with You Know Who up there in the sky. I know you want an afro and full lips (you can pay for those, but, warning: you may end up looking like a freak, instead of a black person); and who wouldn’t want Lester Holt‘s and Oprah Winfrey’s jobs? But let me remind you: just because black is beautiful doesn’t mean you’re not. Go write that down ten times in your journal.

Don’t tell my white husband I said this, but I think his greatest source of pride is, not his proficiency as a sculptor, furniture designer and photographer, but being christened an “honorary negro” by some of our black friends, and a “white dude, who may as well be Haitian” by some our Haitian homies. I see him puff up and try to repress a smile whenever someone speaks such words to him, and, what can I say? I understand! We’re so down with our bad selves. He was also very happy when someone told us the other day that, like many long-married couples, we’re beginning to look alike. I said, “Yes, he’s black now, and I’m white. My name is Rachel!” Sorry, Rachel. Just messin’ with you. As you say, you’re not really white.

In fact, this observation used to be lobbed at me a lot by white people. “You’re not really black!” That’s because I’m light-skinned. They meant it as a compliment, although they would never admit it. My favorite pronouncement was from a visiting Frenchie. Upon hearing me say something about being a black woman in America, he announced, “But, you’re not black.”

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I come from a black country,” I explained to the idiot. “Just go to Haiti and look around, and then come back and tell me what I’m not.”

“But you’re not black,” he insisted patiently, as if to a fool, who must be taught her own ethnicity.

“Ok, then. If I’m not black, what am I?” I demanded.

“You’re exotic,” He said. This too, is supposed to be a compliment.

“Oh! I didn’t know there was an ‘exotic’ race,” I said.

Clearly, you couldn’t be attractive and black.

But you know what? Nobody says that kind of thing anymore. Don’t tell all those black men being shot to death, but everybody wants to be black now. These are the kinds of conversation snippets you hear at parties nowadays: “I’m 1/16th Cherokee.” “I’ve always suspected he wasn’t wasn’t my real father. Look at my nose!” “I just had my DNA profile done, and, guess what? I have North African roots!” Let’s face it, being white is so passé that no one admits to it anymore (I totally get it, white males). Especially when you hear that by 2043, the United States will no longer be considered majority white. Gotta start blending in.

To my never-ending annoyance and eye-rolls, my husband, who is not racist, argues this “not really black” thing with me too. “Your great grandfather was white! Of course you’re not all black. My response? Who cares? I am black, period. Plus, I identify as black, not as mulatto, half and half, or anything in between. So, if we’re going to get technical about it, maybe I shouldn’t claim to be black; but since I identify as black, and I live in America, where one drop of black blood makes you black (ask Obama, he’ll tell you), I’m sticking to my story. I hear you, Rachel!

Oh, wait, the only problem with Rachel is she doesn’t even have that one drop. Unless she can prove her parents are not her real, biological parents, of course. What is wrong with people? Why hasn’t someone ponied up for her genetic profile? Such apathy in the world. This is important! So, forgive me, Rachel. Although I totally understand your identity appropriation, until that happens, we’re stuck with the way you looked before your tans and weave, and what your parents say. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t all be black. That’s just the way it is.

A nefarious disease plagues our nation. With devastating efficiency, and in plain sight, it has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, yet we sit around scratching our bewildered heads at the debilitating social ills now unraveling the fabric of this nation, wondering How can this be? No need to call in experts on infectious illnesses to figure out what it is. I can tell you. It’s called I Don’t Give A Shit Disease (IDGASD). Witness just a few of the most hateful repercussions of IDGASD now blaring (or not) on a news site near you:

–More than 40 years after the Black Panthers took up arms to make the point, the issue lives on: you still can’t be black and run in this country. Why? Like the cracks, which spread through a lead-painted tenement, IDGASD has fissured the conscience of America’s power brokers. (See Stanley Nelson’s excellent new film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.)

–Benign neglect by the LAPD of hundreds of murdered or missing black women. The cases went uninvestigated and underreported for over two decades as serial killer Lonnie Franklin continued to live in the South Central Los Angeles community, murdering, raping and torturing women. The killer’s homies, who witnessed Franklin’s sadistic treatment of multiple prostitutes, never made a peep because, well, they’re men, and besides, they were busy getting high. The women who survived encounters with Franklin didn’t tell because they knew that the cops didn’t give a shit, and they were busy getting high too. And round and round it goes as the vicious cycle feeds itself.

This horrific case of IDGASD, aimed at black women and prostitutes, is brilliantly recounted in director Nick Broomfield’s hard-hitting documentary, Tales of The Grim Sleeper, now showing on HBO. When the killer is finally arrested–by mistake–then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, flanked by Governor Jerry Brown, proudly hails the 20 plus years of “exhaustive” work by the LAPD. Makes you want to run outside and howl like a coyote.

–The strongly held view by too many men and the male-dominated power structure that women’s bodies are theirs for the taking. Think sexual assaults on university campuses, military campuses, in the military, in the Catholic church, in our homes–by friends, family and strangers–state-sanctioned in our prison system; hell, where can’t a woman get raped?

And lest we forget, 40 women later, Bill Cosby laughs at his accusers with a “Far From Finished” comedy tour, where supporters show up and give him standing ovations. IDGASD gone completely batshit.

–Closer to home, I have seen so many sleep-walking employees in their twenties, demanding paychecks as they try hard as hell to work as little as possible (with real economic consequences to my small business), “forgetting” to vote as the Earth they inherit goes bonkers.

I’ve been calling it the I Don’t Give A Shit Syndrome for years. Maybe we should elevate it from a syndrome to an actualized, red-alert disease! Maybe someone will do a study. Maybe they’ll find a cure. As one of the most underappreciated causes of this country’s afflictions, this disease deserves a better name than apathy. Because I Don’t Give A Shit, most people can get behind.

Final thought: In the interest of ending on an up note, I say thank goodness and thank you to the brave heroes among us who do give a shit. As the news cameras roll, Pacifica Radio/KPFK’s Margaret Prescod, one of the leaders of Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, can be seen in the aforementioned documentary, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, interrupting Mayor Villaraigosa’s self-congratulatory press conference by grabbing his mic and blasting him for lying about the LAPD’s supposed investigation of the serial murders. Full disclosure–I know Margaret Prescod. Yeah, Margaret!

It’s that time of the year again, when a super-packed schedule of French film premieres reigns at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, where sold-out crowds of cinemaphiles, Francophones and Frenchies delight in macarons, pissaladière and good champagne (on opening night, anyway!). The annual COLCOA French Film Festival continues, and the habitual bonhomie evident among attendees was again on full display, as is the case whenever groups of like-minded people come together. Based on my own, and overheard conversations throughout the evening, familiar topics of interest prevailed — upcoming travels, movies and the people who direct and produce them; food and wine, the arts, good writing and bad writing, the previous year’s festival, this year’s lineup of films, screening schedule comparisons, and I’m too busy to see as many as I saw last year!

Wondering when I’ll get to the part about writers and other human beings? Well, it was the festival’s opening film that got me ruminating on the subject! A Perfect Man (Un Homme Ideal in French), co-written and directed by Yann Gozlan, presents a story that has been told many, many times before, so I was concerned. That I already knew how it would end, that the plot points and twists would aim for originality, but fail, that I would exit the theater thinking, I could’ve waited to see it on Netflix. But my misgivings were unfounded. In fact, viewing the film gave me hope!

A Perfect Man portrays an aspiring author well-acquainted with the reviled rejection letter. He comes upon a dead man’s manuscript. Irritation and frustration at full tilt, he discards integrity, retypes it under his name, and sends it to a major publisher. The publisher professes stupefaction at the grit and power of the manuscript. The writer lands a large advance, the book comes out; our man emerges as the hottest author of the day. A gorgeous byproduct of his success comes alive in the form of his dream girl, who promptly falls in love with the great writer, making him happy happy happy until expected complications eventualize. I told you, we’ve seen this all before, right? Except that we haven’t seen it this way.

This is a tightly-drawn thriller. With the help of a score, which keeps you riveted, even though you know what’s coming, you wait to see how it will be told. You might wish a couple of plot points weren’t so telegraphed, and you spot a hole or two in the story, but you forgive the filmmaker because you’re having a good time! Which brings me to the point I wanted to make.

We all know there’s nothing new in the world, we’ve heard it a million times: there are no new story lines, they’ve been written already; only two basic plots exist (or seven, or 20 or 36, depending on whom you ask); all art is an appropriation of someone else’s art, another twist on an old idea, a tip of the hat to someone else. But is that really true? I don’t think so.

To begin with, I thought the movie, Luc Besson’s Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, was pretty damn original. Feel free to tell me it is not. I don’t care. And let’s not forget that we really like the familiar; that often, when we watch a movie or read a book, we thrill in the re-discovery of something already known to us about ourselves. Keep in mind it is in the trying that old ideas are made new; and that if we stopped trying we would be would left with nothing but recycled junk. So, if you are a writer with a genius concept for a coming-of-age story, who cares if there are a billion and ten of them already? And what does it matter if it isn’t brand new? It’s how much fun you have writing it that counts; and the enjoyment that the viewer derives from the experience of watching your words come to life as they down popcorn and Coke in a dark theater.

And, if you are a human being with a new app idea for connecting people together or a flying car or or a facial product which delivers on the promise of the fountain of youth, who cares that Facebook already exists, that your car idea would just be a permutation of an airplane, or that no one else has ever been able to transform a 58-year-old into a 38-year-old without the knife? What matters is how much fun you have developing your new product while anticipating the look on your father’s face when you tell him you’ve made it.

COLCOA stands for City of Lights, City of Angels, in acknowledgement of Paris and Los Angeles as world centers for cinema. Check it out next time April rolls around. You may come away with some new ideas. Or maybe just with renewed hope that the creative process still rules!

Originally published on Huffington Post.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a very moving and thought-provoking piece about the Brian Williams affair. I don’t usually find myself in agreement with Brooks, but there’s no reason for everything to be political, is there? He was making the case for compassion, a feeling seriously in need of a PR agent. So quaint, the idea of practicing the sympathy métier, when the business of manufactured outrage can be so lucrative; but there is sound judgment in it.

Word on the street is that Williams might not be getting his job back, and maybe that’s as it should be, if only because someone new will get the chance to earn 10 million dollars a year! Come on, Brian, be compassionate. You made a mistake, and yes, the punishment is harsh, but this is your opportunity to gracefully step aside, comfortable in the knowledge that, with very careful planning, you never have to work again if you don’t want to. Compassion is a two-way street.

But never mind about Brian Williams, let me get back to making my case for compassion, as my new best friend David Brooks suggested. Here are a couple of theoretical situations to illustrate its essential virtues over those of sprinting to the Ministry of Silly Outrage:

Situation #1

I walk into the bathroom and find my husband’s dirty socks sitting on top of the hamper, instead of inside it. My instinct is to storm into the next room to deliver a tirade, which usually begins with, “I work just as hard as you all day, why do I have to…” But if I, instead, open the hamper and throw the socks in, I will have saved him from my useless wrath, and spared myself the resulting anger of my silly outrage–because the dirty socks scenario, troubling as it is, has been a recurring one for the past 26 years!

Situation #2

An agent, or your own agent, sends you a nasty email telling you that the novel you submitted for consideration is a bloated wreck of asininity, and that you should go back to writing school. Rather than dash off a super polished takedown of the emissary, along with your masterfully crafted list of his/her astonishing character flaws–including but not limited to an obvious inability to spot talent–you stop to consider that the literary gatekeepers are not the luckiest people on earth. They make money off other people’s labor, while at the mercy of the indecipherable whims of the publishing giants. You, on the other hand, can thrive by doing something else with your talent, like writing songs or poetry (just kidding), or writing press releases, grant and business proposals, technical advice manuals, voice-over material for documentaries, corporate biographies and brochures, movie-plot summaries; the list goes on. Everybody needs a good writer! You also decide against sending your best friend an email consisting of what you would have said to the agent, because, 1) you realize that, thanks to Big Brother, that email can very easily find its way to unintended inboxes; and, 2) you have resisted the impulse to insult a fellow Earthling just because he/she insulted you. Upon reflection, you feel good, and you go out and spread that good feeling to everyone you encounter. Plus, the likely vituperative exchange has not been let loose upon the atmosphere and into the air we all breathe. Another round for compassion.

I could go on with the theoreticals, but I’ll stop here, and, instead, point out a fascinating bit of information recently promoted by none other than the fearless leader of this forum, Ariana Huffington. In introducing a concept called “What’s Working”, “a global HuffPost editorial initiative to double down on our coverage of what’s working,” she opted to cast a floodlight on something I’ve long known to be true: giving in to fake outrage breeds fake celebrities like Nancy Grace, Glenn Beck and Donald Trump. Actually, she didn’t say that, but I’m sure she meant to! No, what she really said is this: considering our better natures makes sense on multiple levels, and is, surprisingly, what most people organically ascribe to–a recent study of behavior on social media shows that the most oft-shared stories are positive stories, not the depressing ones about beheadings. And, I would bet that if Huffpost is launching this new section, it’s because it makes make financial sense, as well. Another knockout blow by compassion.

The propensity to bloviate seems like a natural reaction to issues and people we find offensive, like hypocritical public figures, for example. But it’s only an impression propagated by the bloviators. We are natural born shoppers; at least I am. Among other things, I go shopping for clothes, success, meaningful encounters, and because I am an author, I often go shopping for rejection, too. I think I’ll add compassion to my shopping list. I bet it’s going to make me rich.


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