My Old Friend

Welcome to Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape, and the Indian Ocean.

I am welcomed by my oldest friend, the sea. When I arrived in Port Elizabeth, I found myself deciding between getting food and getting to the ocean. I chose the latter – though I felt compelled to find it. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the ocean, but something was different about this draw. I felt that I’d find something there that I hadn’t before. Drawn by the subtle, distant sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air, I knew I was close… how close, I had no idea. I walked over hills, down sand dunes, and through a plank wood pathway and made it to the beach.


Between me and the water stood a wall of plant life, a line of sand, and a rocky beach. How different and familiar this all felt. How lucky was I to skip lunch and spend the afternoon alone on the beach? There was not a person around for the few miles that the beach ran. My old friend welcomed me home like I had only been away for a little while. Solitude has always been a great friend, he’s allowed me to reflect, give me peace learn deeply, look at myself in an honest way. In a similar way, the ocean has given me the same – moments of pause, quiet time to learn and heal, a mysterious and vast place to match my imagination and hope for this world… a place to be an idealist… a place to restore my heart from a broken world. To me, this was my care. This was me taking care of me.

Self-Care, both mental and physical health is very much in the public eye in many places at the moment. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to take these moments of pause or even to leave the town or city in which they live, but we must do more to give each other peace where we are… to give each other moments of pause and the freedom to take care of ourselves. For so long, I asked myself “when will I find peace?” Today, I’ve chosen to ask myself a different question, “where can I create peace?” It’s only been a few days, but this respite from “real life” has given me a great deal of insight about who I am and who I want to become, but more importantly, it’s placed others at the forefront of my mind. Where can I create peace? How can I give others moments of rest? How can I offer joy to others or celebrated with them the joy the already possess? Though I may find answers, I am now more interested in the questions that will come from this experience. “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Desiderata, Max Ehrmann


Growing Pains #7: Bad Genes

Context: The moments shared here are in the past and I hold no ill-will or angst toward people I am writing about, but those moments have served as catalysts for reflection and change. They’ve since apologized and we’ve moved on.

I arrived on campus several days before the semester started. August 15, 2010 – I walked around campus looking up at the sky in awe on how many stars there were. The sky was speckled with little exploding balls of light. I remember feeling an overwhelming calmness with each step. I would find that feeling a few more times before graduation, but more of that will come later.

My first year was exciting – events, meaningful classes, new friendships, shared interests and late-night discussions. With no men’s gymnastics team, I decided to try my hand at cheerleading. Tumbling skills got me on the team because my ability to stunt was very low at the time (sorry Obetts and anyone else I had to practice with during tryouts). College was off to a great start. I still had tumbling as an outlet and I made new friends.

As the fall semester turned into the spring semester, I found myself planning a spring break trip with friends from the team. It was my first spring break trip without family. It was college. We were driving down to Panama City Beach. I didn’t know much about it, but I was going with friends. Six of us piled into my friend’s van and we drove down to Florida.

GameDay    Stunting

Big Sean had blown up a little bit and Chiddy Bang was still popular at the time. Just look up Too-Fake by Big Sean and Chiddy Bang. It was basically our theme song for the entire trip. I remember straddling the border of Alabama and Florida for about two hours. Finally! We made it to PCB and Whenever by Kid Cudi was playing out the speakers. The line “you can sip chardonnay and imma have myself a brew. I’m a country ass n***a baby, you know how I roll” flew out the speakers and time stopped.

One of the women on the trip asked, with no inhibition or signs of skipping the word, “What’s a country ass n***a?” She was white and apparently confused. The rest of the car was mortified and I just became small and silent. My friends explained why she shouldn’t say the “n-word” and she proceeds to say, “well I just want to know what a country ass n***a is.” I chimed in and let her know that it was offensive and that we should move on. After all our trip was just beginning.

In that moment, the mirror appeared and showed me myself for the first time. I was a black man. Reality cracked my shell and slapped me in the face. My black face. There are many moments like this one throughout college – each one slowly chipping away at the facade I built up. Two people crossed the street to walk on the same side as a person in a ski mask. Having someone tell you that you shouldn’t date with the underlying, unstated reason having to do with ethnicity. Someone jokingly telling you that Popeyes is “Black people food” as you drive by it.

What did the mirror show me? It revealed that I didn’t really see myself in the people around me either. It showed me that I’d have to continue searching for my place in the world.

“Fight between my conscious and the skin that’s on my body.” – Lift Me Up, Vince Staples

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #8: Where do I fit? will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit?

“It comes as a great shock around the age of five or six or seven to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.” – James Baldwin, novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

Quiet hallways. Cinderblock walls painted white with deep brown stripe painted to divide the top from the bottom. A sea of brown faces. No Mirrors.

I started to notice differences immediately. I couldn’t see myself in the people around me. At St. Mike’s, I couldn’t tell you the ethnic make-up of the class because it didn’t matter. I mean I didn’t know it mattered to me. When I arrived at Thomas Gist, there was a pronounced feeling of difference. I was different. I didn’t see myself as black. I saw everyone around me as black. I was the exception, which is why I was ahead of everyone else. Unconsciously, I thought myself better than others because I was different, and at the time different meant better to me.

I understood this difference to be “black people are less capable of achieving,” which is absolutely not the case. However, there was something more significant that was influencing my perspective – social class. At both St. Mike’s and Thomas Gist, messages of success, brilliance, and imagination were espoused weekly, if not daily. Each teacher communicated that we were all capable students and that we’d one day succeed in reaching our dreams. There was only one difference, a subtle one to a six year old – less resources. Without similar resources and support, I recognized the difference as being the result of the people and not the system around the people.

In unconsciously blaming the people around me, I struggled to make connections with students who were “so different” than me. I didn’t fit. I didn’t know how to build new relationships with other black kids. Martez was my only friend, which was probably a result of him looking like my cousin Josh. For those years, I was very much an outsider and very much alone. I became more introspective and unwilling to interact with others. A quiet second and third grader found himself trying to understand why he felt so alone.


Martez is in the front row and to the right of me.  He is wearing a gray shirt, black pants, and black/white tie.


The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #3: Space will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #1: Bad Genes


For the past five years, I’ve been reconciling all the hate for myself that compounded over my short lifetime of 24 years. At that point, I was 19 and just starting my journey. Leading up to the middle of Black History Month (February 2017), I found the freedom to tell the story you’re about to begin (There was a long Facebook post). Growing Pains is be a blog series that reflects my personal journey and the semi-universal feelings that came from it. Pain, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, confusion, honesty, compassion, hope, curiosity, love, and peace of mind. My hope is solely to uncover my wounds so that others may see how to heal their own. In sharing this, I aspire to be vulnerable, authentic, humorous, creative, and instructive. Please journey with me from Self-Hate to Self-Love that extends back into a community that has given and still gives me so much joy. I love myself and I love my blackness.

Bad Genes

Bad jeans – I mean bad genes. Sixteen and wishing for color contacts to have the ocean blue eyes like the porcelain skinned girl I had a crush on in the first grade. Five years old, white oxford shirt, smirk, pressed blue pants, Reebok sneakers, Detroit Lions backpack, Hercules folder. I was ready for the first day of first grade at St. Michael’s School, a private school in Southfield, MI. Didn’t even know I was Black. I was a kid trying to figure out which one of the eighth graders was going to push me on the swing set during recess. I was a kid trying to figure out how the Gingerbread Man got from room to room. My mind was bursting open as if the sun was exploding and my imagination was a deep and as wide as the ocean. Day after day there was a new adventure to be had and a new lesson to be learned.

Decades before Arthur memes, I was dressed in a yellow sweater vest and jeans with the fake round glasses on for Arthur Day. We were paleontologists wearing 13-pocket vests looking for fossils in the dirt on Paleontologist Day. We made wax candles on Valentine’s Day after receiving a valentine from every person in the class. On Saturdays, I sat in a rocking chair with a blanket over my legs next to my brother, who sat in a power ranger chair, to watch Saturday morning cartoons while eating a mini bagel with cream cheese and drinking apple juice. I was 85 in a six-year old’s body, assuming that 85 year-olds sit in rocking chairs. Life was good. Life was amazing in fact.

First grade came and went. It was an exciting year full of first crushes, field day, elementary school birthday parties, and the Scholastic Book Fair. Second grade rolled around and I found myself at a new school, Thomas Gist in Inkster, MI. I went from a private school that was predominantly white to a charter school that was predominantly black. My world shook and I didn’t know how to handle it. Making friends at that age was challenging enough, but to change school and communities made it even more difficult. My second-grade head was spinning. I was alone in a new place. I imagine I am introverted by nature, but the next few years reinforced that feeling. I didn’t spend much time in the second-grade class though, because what I had learned in first grade at St. Mike’s, they were just teaching in second grade at Thomas Gist. So, I was placed in Ms. Murphy’s third grade class about a month into the school year. Change after change.

This is where my 6-year-old brain started to rationalize what was going on in my life. I mean rationalize as a process, not as being rational about the situation. I had to make sense of the world around me. My best interpretation was “if this school is predominantly black and I’m a year ahead in every subject, then that must mean that white kids are smarter and because I was around them, I was smarter. I wasn’t very rational at 6-years-old, and I was upset because I missed my old friends and teachers. I wanted things to go back the way they were. I just wanted to go back to St. Mike’s.

First Grad Vince

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit? will be up and ready for your reading.


HUMAN – A Reflection on the Film

With a vision to truly capture the essence of what humans experience, Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years taking photos, recording stories, and creating a deeply personal and effortlessly human film that allows people to be vulnerable, authentic, honest, and free to share parts of themselves that we can all find in our own lives. (Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.)

HUMAN the movie (Link to VOL. 1) strips away the complexity of human life to date and shares it with viewers who can immediately empathize or connect with the people who are sharing their stories. Universal themes are at the center of the film – disappointment, love, hate, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, change, isolation, difference, belonging, anguish, trust, kindness, and uncertainty.

Many have said, and will continue to say, that technology has isolated us. My usual response to statements and situations when it comes to human interaction, belief systems, and how we treat each other is “It’s more complicated than that.” HUMAN makes the perfect case for that. In the wake of seeing how it has divided us, Arthus-Bertrand demonstrates how technology can be used to bring people closer together.

Right now in the United States, we are publicly seeing people treat others an inhuman. We are desensitized to the reality that we are all people first who have lives, emotions, experiences, needs, desires, ambitions, love, pain, worries, fears, and people that we care about. We are being crushed by adding layer upon layer as to why we are so different from one another, why we have disdain for people, and why we could never even be in the same room as some people. Whether you are liberal or conservative or neither. Black or white or multi-racial. Gay or Straight or Neither. Even if you fit into not of those categories, you are a person first. I am a person first. Though our beliefs may differ, we are people first. Though our ideologies may differ, we are people first.

I understand that how we come together is much more complex than that. There must be acknowledgement and reconciliation from past and current injustices. There must be progress made in achieving equal rights and human rights, as well as in the enactment of those rights. Poverty must be addressed. Decades of work or harm must be undone in order to create a more peaceful world, a world that thrives through collaboration, mutual trust and respect, and honesty.

Even as insurmountable as it may seem to build a better world, it starts with taking a deeply honest look inside to say, who do I see as not worth of life, support, love, opportunity, friendship, happiness, joy, rights? Why do I feel this way? What has brought me to this mindset? How can I get out of the way of others? How can I change the minds of people close to me? Do I see others as human beings? If so, I know what it means to feel pain, be forgotten, and unloved. But I also know what life is like when I feel joy, connected, loved, and appreciated.

When we can acknowledge one another’s humanity, we will be able to have better conversations about our differences and gain understanding about one another’s lives. Even if we do not agree, even if we do not reach a place of true consensus, we have taken the time to acknowledge one another’s humanity and treat each other with dignity.

I’ve included the trailer for a short introduction and a link to VOL. 1 of Human The Movie near the start of the blog.



A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

What will you do today?

I was gifted the book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, a few months ago. Author Elle Luna gives similar advice as many authors have in recent years; pursue your passion. Throughout the book she informs readers that they must make conscious decisions to do whatever it is that they must do. Must is described as an ache so compelling that the rest of our lives fall to the background when we pursue must. She warns that pursuing must shouldn’t be done on a whim, but also that we don’t have to be fully prepared to go after it.

In a similar way, we begin to feel a sense of wholeness  or fulfillment when we give time to the people, activities, and practices that feed our soul or nourish our deeper desires. Something deep inside us begins to manifest when we start giving more time to must instead of should. Should is the laundry list of things that we feel obligated to do because it is the “right” or traditional path to take. Even if only for 10 minutes a day, there is time to do that activity that they absolutely enjoy. It could be painting a canvas, writing a poem, reading a book, taking that nap, enjoying a cup of coffee, going to that Zumba class, journaling, watching funny YouTube or Instagram videos, taking that trip, getting into a relationship, getting out of a relationship, skydiving, or visiting that friend in another state. The list can go on forever.

Some of these activities require planning, time, money you may not have right now or want to spend, or a variety of other resources. However, doing something you love to do or want to do doesn’t always have to be a huge, time consuming task. It takes 20 minutes to make a cup of tea and watch that interesting TedTalk that you’ve had bookmarked for three weeks. Do something; anything that has been on your list, but you’ve somehow resigned to being out of reach. You don’t need permission for many of the items on your list. I’m advocating that you do something you love. It doesn’t have to be a big career move. It can be spending more time on that craft project or small business idea. It can be traveling alone or simple going to that local coffee shop.

Pursuing your passion has become a buzzword-like phrase that in someways has defined much of our generation. I would like to inform that statement by saying that career choices and pursing your passion don’t always have to be synonymous. Live a life you enjoy. Also, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to happen all at once, which is a lesson I’ve  learned over the past few years. Slow down, take your time, and build a life. Fill it with people and experiences that enrich your life and the lives of others. It’s important that you do.

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Here are some of the must do items on my life. It includes traveling, meeting new people, learning new skills, spending time with friends, and so much more.

Youthful Ambition and Lifelong Goals

In 8th Grade, I was voted most likely to succeed for mock elections. It happened again my senior year of high school. My “first word” was actually a full sentence. When I was two or three years-old, I was learning words, phrases, spelling, math, and grammar while my brother was learning it in school. I started picking up information much earlier because my parents would practice with him while I was in the car and while at home. In my formative years, I was promoted a year early to third grade and given the chance to be promoted again from sixth to eighth grade. My parents declined because I wouldn’t have been socially prepared. Thank God they didn’t. I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

I don’t share this seeking praise of any kind or to highlight a tremendous academic history. Trust me, Chemistry classes were and still are my worst nightmare and as time has gone by, my strengths have come to lie virtually anywhere excluding math. I share all of this to say that it instilled in me a youthful ambition; a disposition that compels me to prove that I worthy of the praise and insights others have so graciously bestowed upon me over the course of my lifetime (grand total of 23 years). The idea that I could do great things was reinforced consistently and for that I am deeply thankful.

This youthful ambition has pushed me to take risks, fail and make mistakes often, shun success or become self-defeating in times of self-doubt or uncertainty. It has also granted me some great successes – becoming a published author, being the youngest recipient of the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication Fellowship and building an international philanthropic partnership all before 25. In an interview for Vanity Fair, President Barack Obama and Doris Kearns Goodwin discuss topics including past presidents and their decisions, temperament, and ambition. President Obama shares that “…when you’re young, ambitions are somewhat common – you want prove yourself.” He continues on to say that these ambitions can develop for a variety of reasons and stem from a variety of circumstances.

Upon completing the article,  I spent several days reflecting on why I have certain goals, dreams and plans. Are these plans rooted in youthful ambition or are they part of my values system and passion for making the world better? Who is the inspiration for pursuing the goals I’ve set for myself? What are my reasons and what circumstances helped create the reasons? The last five years have been filled with success, failure, uncertainty, consistent goals and changing plans. My youthful ambition is still present, but it is decreasing as time passes. I’m becoming more decisive and particular about the work I take on or the goals I set for myself.

“But as I got older, then my particular ambitions started cohering around creating a world in which people of different races or backgrounds or faiths can recognize each other’s humanity, or creating a world in which every kid, regardless of their background, can strive and achieve and fulfill their potential.” – President Barack Obama

The President and I share this sentiment for creating a better world for everyone. What differs is age and experience. In some cases, my youthful ambition has been rooted in a desire to prove myself, but more and more I’m beginning to realize that the commitments I make, the values I espouse, and the actions I take are rooted in something much deeper. At my core, I hope to make a better world for those suffering from great tragedy, injustice, and trauma. I will have to determine how to best do that in the coming months, but I know that this is where my heart lies.

Here is the link to the full interview on Vanity Fair’s website:

How a Messy Room Showed Me the Love in My Life

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I wanted to end today one a positive and grateful note. Too do that I’m going to talk about a realization I had several days ago during a wonderful conversation with a beautiful, passionate, and amazing friend of mine. We talked about love and community and friendship and the importance of recognizing it in our lives. (For my grammar friends, I apologize for that sentence.)

I vocalized that I was looking for love in my life and I wasn’t finding it for the longest time. To set the stage for how I realized my life was full of it, we have to go back in time; I mean wayyyy back to some childhood days. I was messy kid (there’s a difference between messy and dirty). My school shirts landed where they landed, I hated folding my laundry, and my favorite excuse what that geniuses have a place for everything, even when others don’t recognize their organization system. Everything was in its proper place even if it looked like a tornado hit my room. I spent many Saturdays trying to find the easiest way to hide clothes rather than simple folding them and putting them in their place.

Fast forward to my first year of grad school and moving into the housing provided. I am much more organized and I actually put my laundry away. However, I never set my room up to feel like a home. Tables, couches, a bed, a mini fridge and other items all seemed to go in the most practical place. For a year, I felt discontented and unsettled. The arrangement didn’t fit my needs. So I decided to get rid of a few things and reorganize a few objects here and there, which resulted in my room feeling welcoming and reminiscent of home.

You may have ask yourself why does any of that matter and why hasn’t he gotten to the point about love. I’ve purposely delayed the message about love because it is one that is deeply personal. Though introverted and deeply thankful for my private space, loneliness does set in from time to time. In a favorite poem of mine, one of the lines reads, “…Many fears are born out of fatigue and loneliness.” I felt like I was losing my friends and that I was disconnected from those that are important to me. Once I changed my room around, I realized that this could not have been any further from the truth.

At the beginning you found a collection of paintings, books, journals, travel themed items, and many other objects that are all physical representations of the care and love that my friends have for me. I share this because people have different ways of showing affection and care in friendships and relationships. My life is full of love because of the people in it. How they express love is not for me to decide. However, it is my decision and responsibility to see their love through their behaviors and actions. It is also my responsibility to express how I need love to be shared with me. Communication and openness are deeply important practices for friendships, partnership, or relationships of any kind. Love is all around you, you have to be open to seeing it in the ways that others give it.

Ocean – Questions

**You’ll find a video by John Butler for a song called Ocean. Feel free to play it as you read.

In a vulnerable act of authenticity, I’ve decided to write to you what fills my mind daily. Questions; some to which I have answers and others, for which I am still searching. Some may perceive it as unnecessary. Some may find a mirror. It is not my intention, purpose, nor decision to tell you what to find. Take what you need. If something resonates with you, please feel free to share your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Like the ocean, I am deep, powerful, and mysterious. Even to myself, parts are unknown. Some days I am patient, consistent, and peaceful. Other days, my heart and mind rage like storms that produce hurricanes and tidal waves. I become restless. I follow the moons pull. And I smash against the shores of my own soul. What lies inside me that is undiscovered? What in me creates the storms? How do I discover it? Why am I searching?

Deep, unrelenting, filled, home. This is me. This is the ocean. How can I be all of who I am if I do not know all of myself? What can I let go of? What can follow the path of nature and disappear from my identity? What can pass on and what must stay? What must remain? What must push and pull? How can I be all that I am?

The loving? The sarcastic? The kindhearted? The judgmental? The intellectual? The creative? The pacifist? The war-monger? The rage-filled? The peaceful? The impulsive? The thoughtful? The glutton? The self-disciplined? The prejudice? The unconditional lover? The dismissive? The embracing? The warm soul? The cold shoulder? The soft handed? The hardened heart? The imaginer? The pragmatic and practical? The idealist? The realist? The bold? The meek? The isolated? The surrounded?

Of this all, what can I be? Can I be it all? None of it? We’ll see. Just like many creatures in the ocean, parts of me will reveal themselves or breach as they need to; out of enjoyment and out of necessity. The ocean (me).