Half of My Life: 17 Years

Although I spent today waking up at 5am for work like any other day, in a way, today is probably one of the most significant days of my life. 17 years ago I lost one of the most important people in my life, or rather, not in my life.

Growing up my family had its share of struggles and by the time I reached my teenage years I felt the pressure to be the man of the house. My parents divorced when I was young and I lived most of my life with my mom, stepdad, 2 brothers and a sister. My siblings and I share the same mother but I am my father’s only child. I knew my real dad growing up and he was always a phone call away but when the family moved away from my hometown of Sacramento, my visits with my dad became few and far between. They also became more of a “how much fun can we pack into a weekend visit” type of thing.

When we moved, I was not even to double digits in age but with my stepdad working graveyard shifts and sometimes working out of town for weeks at a time, my love for my mother wouldn’t allow me to be anything less than the man of the house. Maybe the Leo in me had something to do with that prideful nature, as well. My stepdad never once let any of us kids go hungry but we at times found living space a challenge. For a time, a local campground became our home, which when you’re a kid seems like a vacation. I can’t imagine the stress as a parent. Not can I imagine the stress of moving your family of 6 into the house of a couple from the local church. Though, I am forever grateful that we had a roof over our head, no matter how much I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

These experiences led my stepdad to working harder than he probably ever expected. Eventually he got moving forward in a career that allowed us to live more comfortably but it required him to travel quite frequently. As I moved into my teenage years, my stepdad’s work seemed to take him from home more frequently, leaving me, the oldest of the children by about 4 years, as the man of the house.

My father and stepfather are both incredible men. They’re both worthy role models of how to be a decent human being. But as a teenager taking on responsibilities of a household, I was searching for someone else to figure out how to grow up and be a man. Part of it is my defiant nature but part of it was just me trying to figure out life.

My parents were strict so I wasn’t allowed to listen to music with cussing in it. Of course, had they known about my taste for Newport cigarettes and alcohol, that would have been the least of their concerns for my 14 year old rebellious nature. Nonetheless, even the Beastie boys were off limits when I was in the house. I can only imagine had my stepdad been home when I would listen to “gangster rap.” I mean, my grandparents thought I was in a gang because I began wearing my hats backwards. Which goes to show how fearful and conservative the family was.

In the summer before my first year of high school I remember hearing “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” It made me want to listen closer to the words of the music I was listening to. I didn’t understand how someone who was dressed “like a thug” could write a song that so vulnerable. In fact i had pretty much given up on writing, which prior to that i had successfully competed in a number of state writing competitions. When high school came around I was too busy hanging with the cool kids and skipping class to be writing so I kept it to myself from that point on. But that was just the beginning.

As I grew older and tried to figure out my path, I connected more and more with Tupac’s music. To the point where I would listen to songs over and over again, studying them. When Me Against the World came out I was 15 years old. It was like nothing I had ever heard. It was the struggles I was feeling and experiencing. The love and hate I felt towards everyone and everything as a teen. And the feeling of being trapped. I wanted to write. I wanted to be a thug. I wanted to have all sorts of girls. I wanted to have a relationship with my dad, my mom. I wanted everything to be different and I truly felt the entire world was against me most of the time.

I listened to that cassette so much that it eventually stretched and became distorted sounding for many of the songs. That album made me realize it was ok to be me. It was ok to say “fuck the world” and “I love you, mom.” And that it even the hardest struggles, there will always be a way though them.

That summer I played Dear Mama for my mom. She cried. I cried. It was a very powerful moment in my life. I’ll spare the details but that song probably brought me closer to my mom than anything. It was the first time I think my mom understood “even though I act crazy, I gotta thank The Lord that you made me.” I was just kid that was trying to find my way and still be the man I needed to be to help raise my siblings.

Still to this day, I send my mom a text message to tell her I love her every time I hear Dear Mama. Thank you, Tupac.

I’ll never forget coming home from school that day. We weren’t allowed to watch MTV but since he had been shot I had been trying to sneak to watch everyday when I got home from school. When I heard the news he had died, tears welled up as I tried to fight back the tears. But there wasn’t a chance and that was ok because through his music, I learned that shedding tears didn’t make me less of a man. It’s a part of being a man.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since Tupac Shakur passed away. Exactly half of my life. I miss his poetry and his music. I miss what he might have become.

I believe that angels come in all shapes, sizes, colors and even beings. They lead us in ways we may never have the cognizance to understand but sometimes, we are lucky enough to recognize them and acknowledge them. I’m blessed to have had the music and poetry of Tupac to guide me in my life.

For me Tupac is exactly that, an angel, and every year on September 12th and June 16th I write to show my gratitude for the guidance from a man I never knew but understood as much as I could understand myself. To be able to understand that T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone) isn’t about being a thug. It’s about loving children and being that guiding light. It’s about standing for what you believe in. And most importantly it’s about expressing yourself, connecting with people in a language they understand and making a difference in this crazy world that takes great people before they’ve made the miracles that are destined for all of us to create.

Rest In Peace.

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Urban Outlaw: The Perfect Name, The Perfect Passion

As cynical as it sounds, I rarely find anything inspiring on the Internet nowadays. There is plenty of great content out there but in my life experiences, the truly moving and inspiring creations require either a big screen and buttery popcorn, a lot of black and orange, or in-person conversation that cannot be felt through and email or a phone call. Maybe it’s an old school way of thinking or maybe I am just tiring of the repetitive nature that has become the way most of us use the web on a daily basis. Regardless, I still search to find those things that inspire the next stirring of my soul, the very nature of my entrepreneurial existence.

I’ve often thought of myself as an outlaw of sorts (not just because I’m a huge Tupac fan either), in the sense that I don’t see myself having one job all my life, a career in the same field for years, or even living in the same place for an extended time period (at least until I land in SF), which is kind of Rebel Without A Cause-like in a way. With my current city being the incredible New York City, watching the infinite uniqueness of human nature and our inherent behavior to bury our individualities under the expectations of others, I am digging deeper within myself everyday, learning exactly what it is that I want in life. All of the moving, the networking and connecting serves me many purposes, and of course, as the confirmation of the assumptions that everyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook has already determined about me based on their own projections and belief systems. The new faces, places, business ventures, and all of my experiences along the way will shape my creations and passions for the coming years.

With that said, there are some things that will always inspire me. One of those things is curves. The curves of a woman, the curves of the California coastline, the curves of a Porsche and the curves that aren’t physical in nature, the ones that direct you or guide you to your next experience in life. The video below is called Urban Outlaw. I discovered it today while browsing the web. It features all of those curves that I love, minus the woman. The idea to create, to reshape, to rebuild and to beautify, is everything that is entrepreneurial to me and everything that I am about. To take something perfect, add some more passion and have the results be even better and more improved. Perhaps not in the physical sense, but in the sense of the euphoric experience that comes from doing what you love when nobody really understands what it is, the nature of an outlaw, the passion, perfect.

10 Things You Should Know If Moving to New York

New York City - World Trade Tower - Manhattan Bridge - Brookyln, NYI’ve now been in New York for a little over a month. I’d like to say that the lack of blog posts is just me slacking and enjoying the city and new people I’ve been meeting but reality is, I haven’t even met the people I intended to meet long before deciding to move here. It just takes me longer to do everything here. There is no “quick trip to the grocery store” without a car. No matter how many different routes you take, there is no shortening your commute, whether it’s 5 blocks walking to the local pizza spot or 10 stops on the subway to work. I’ve not contacted at least a dozen people I should have weeks ago. I will do a better job about updating my blog from now on for two reasons, because I have loved ones that check it once in a while and because if I don’t unload some of my thoughts, I may go crazy. Nothing to do with NYC, I just need to write in order to keep the noise in my head at a tolerable level. Here’s 10 Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to New York City and I’ll probably rant some more and add some more to this as time passes.

10. All Subway Trains Are NOT the Same

The C Train, which I take, fittingly, is like an ’84 Regal. Straight bucket. It sounds (and stops) like it may not arrive to the next stop in one piece. It’s even got those ’70s colors that proudly state, “We’ve made it, we think. Is this your blow?” It’s only most of my ride to work but if it were completely mine, I’d throw some D’s on it. Something that would last you. If you’re smart, you’d take any other train to get to that Nets game you’re dreaming of (sorry if getting to a Nets game is actually your dream), even the N Train has potential for jocking Jay-Z but who am I, just a transplant that recently discovered THIS! I have a new hope for my life in Brooklyn. Who wants to go buy a Nets shirt with me?

9. Humidity is A Bitch

Think you’re gonna walk a lot? Explore the “greatest city in the world” on foot so you can see more than the graffiti-lined tunnels of Gotham City? Be warned, it’s not that easy. I mean, it’s no Atlanta or Austin in the summer time, but carrying your belongings around in a backpack, along with that jacket in case it gets cool or starts raining, makes the humidity pretty rough. This is coming from someone who has been spoiled with the 72 and sunny of Southern California for the last year or so, I might be biased. Carry an extra gym towel, you might need it.

8. You Can Find Anything You Need in Life in a Bodega

Well, almost. I haven’t found a girlfriend in there but i am sure it’s only a matter of time. Somehow, the 8-foot (really it’s closer to 6) wide storefronts that litter every block of the city and are sometimes next door to each other, are like the portal to another world! Real life Mario tunnels! You can go in a tiny store front, walk past the gum and newspapers to find a full salad bar and hot food, seating areas, etc. Some of them even have multiple floors, free wifi and…PUBLIC RESTROOMS.

Coffee With Extra Dream, Showbiz Cafe, 21st Street, NYC7. Don’t Expect to Recharge Anything But Your Caffeine Fix at Starbucks

Coming from California, where there are so many entrepreneurs, a seat at the local Starbucks is sometimes as difficult as landing Lakers tickets, charging up your BlackBerry, iPhone and MacBook Pro is a daily ritual and in that order. Oh, and the caffeine fix too, but plugging in is priority. just ask my #lifeofablogger friend Miles who saw my crazy charging system in my car before I moved out here. New York City, Manhattan specifically, hates entrepreneurs. Or at least people who plug in their laptop and work from Starbucks. Support Your Local and find a mom and pop coffee shop and plugging in won’t be pain on in baristas.

6. BYOBS: Bring Your Own Breath Savers

Not boobs. Get your mind out of the gutter. If you couldn’t find a use for that limited edition Gucci or Louis Vuitton gas mask you bought to battle SARS and anthrax scares, the real threat is cigarette smoke. Not sure if it’s the high stress level, the cool factor or the awesome health benefits of cigarette smoking, but in NYC you will inevitably be stuck behind someone that chain smokes a full pack in a matter of one block. Or even more fun is standing in a crowded subway train next to a smoker. Bring some dust masks, or if you’re feeling frisky, some gum,in case you decide to do some saliva swappin’.

5. Download HopStop!

Nothing says “Rob me, I’m a tourist.” quite like walking around pointing at a map of the city or a map of the New York City subway system. I’m not saying don’t act like a tourist. In fact, just the opposite, do it all you want. I do every day and I actually live here. I’m just suggesting that you avoid looking like an easy target and download HopStop. It’s a website that has a sweet app for the iPhone that allows you to search routes, get directions, check schedules, subway stations and look at the subway map, all from the palm of your hand. It works for multiple cities and allows you to save trips, so if you decide NYC isn’t for you, HopStop can also help you get  someplace else.

NYC Subway

4. Don’t Eat the Rats on a Stick

Just kidding. Everything sold on the streets of New York City is edible and healthy…if you’re a pigeon. If you’re not a pigeon, go buy some pigeon gear from Staple because he’s supported me along the way and there’s some great restaurants in the area too. If you can’t tell what it is, no worries, it will taste good it’s New York, best food in the world. (If it doesn’t, there’s plenty of pizza joints you can get a slice of cheese for a buck. There’s no such thing as bad pizza, just ask Tina.)

3. Be Prepared to Be Molested

If you’re planning on riding the subway, which you are even if you think you aren’t, it will be crowded. If you’re lucky enough to experience the wonders of a white winterland (or even better a Hurricane like Kathy), anytime between the hours of 7 and 10 am will probably be the most intimate experiences of your life without knowing the person’s name you are now sharing breath with. I’m pretty sure the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy originated on one of these early morning commutes because who the hell knows what or who just grabbed your ass, it will always be a mystery.

– Bonus info: In order to know when a train is full, here’s a general rule of thumb: If the person next to you’s phone rings and the vibration isn’t strong enough to turn you on, there’s room for more passengers. “Is that a cell phone vibrating in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” is a completely appropriate bad joke at this moment as well.

2. Not All New Yorkers Are Assholes

The assumption that you have to be tough to survive in NYC has its stigma in other parts of the world. Even people who lived their entire lives commuting to the city, assume most New Yorkers are assholes. It’s true, they can be. Remember, you get what you give. Bring a positive attitude and leave your baggage (the emotional kind) behind and as long as you walk faster than 55 mph you’ll be good!Really, a lot of people are new to NYC, like myself, and I give helpful and “exciting” directions to tourists because…who doesn’t love excitement!? The few people I have met outside of work are pretty amazing people. The trend continues.

Delight the world with compassion, kindness and grace.

1. The Absolute Most Important Thing To Know About Moving To New York

Don’t forget your smile. Smile at strangers. Despite everything you may have been told otherwise, a smile can brighten up someone’s day. I’ve made it a point to get at least one smile out of someone each day. I haven’t failed yet. It may take a few tries but if you are persistent, you’ll find someone that will smile back (maybe even me!) and it will remind you, no matter what, life is good.

Life is good. No matter what, life is good.