It’s been a minute!

Just wanted to let you guys know what I’ve been up to in the months since I’ve been in this space.

Ooh, ooh, I-I-I-I I’m still alive!

I was really faithful for a while at updating both this and my Substack but stopped about two months ago when I was hired to be a lifestyle columnist at the Baltimore Banner, a groovy new publication that launches soon, to be an independent non-profit voice of local journalism. Since then, my focus has been on that, as well as momming, speaking, traveling, writing a novel and trying not to get Type-2 Diabetes (doctor’s visits are such fun in your 50s.)

While I’m working on all that, I just wanted to drop a few nugget of…wisdom? Musings? Weird stuff in my head to fill this space?

  • Systemic racism is real, no matter how you try to ban it.
  • Covid is real and we’re still in a pandemic.
  • You liking a performer and their art doesn’t mean they can’t have done bad things.
  • There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. It gives you pleasure or it doesn’t. Shout it out.
  • Things suck lately. Hug a dog. Or your kid. Or your cat, if you’re brave and wearing long sleeves.
  • Online dating sucks over a certain age and if you know someone nice that you could introduce your friends to, you should do that and stop hoarding the nice people.
  • Diet culture is bad.
  • It’s not the responsibility of marginalized people to make the majority feel better about their marginalization.

And that’s all off the top of my head. I will have more news and appearances and stuff here, soon. Just wanted to say hey. So hey!

Here are ways to find me in case you need to:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

LinkedIn

Where can you find Leslie? Unless she owes you money, these places!

As things continue to open back up (remember WE ARE STILL IN A PANDEMIC) I’m making more appearances and such! Here are a few of the upcoming ones that I know about at the moment…more to come! And please come!

March 26, 2022, 9 a.m.: “Making The Personal Public: Airing Secrets in Memoir,” AWP Conference, Philadelphia, PA.

April 9, 2022, 11 a.m.: Annapolis Book Festival, The Key School, Annapolis, MD.

May 14, 2022 (time TBA): Modern Widow’s Club WEE (Widow Empowerment Event), virtual

In Celebration of Chaotic Black Pop Culture Characters, #6 and 7: Cephus and Reesie of “In Living Color”

Programming note: I am moving this tribute to our chaotic fictional Black brethren and sisteren to the blog rather than the newsletter, so that I’m not Spamming y’all and you stop loving me.

I doubled up today, as I didn’t get to write yesterday, but I’m no quitter. Ask my kid at bedtime. He wishes I was and he’s always disappointed.

So today, I introduce to you the Chaotic Chorus. The Pandemonium Players. Behold: Cephus and Reesie Mayweather (David Alan Grier and Kim Wayans), “In Living Color”‘s gloriously terrible singing duo. Their names seem to be a parody of Bebe and CeCe Winans, the famous and infinitely more talented sibling gospel duo, but they’re closer to if Ashford and Simpson were in a Donnie and Marie tribute band with no budget and a musical director who hated them. They sing off key, their banter is maddening and the best part of that they’re gleefully unaware of how terrible they are.

Behold their appearance as the last wish granted for a man on death row, where they say “Somebody’s not smiling!” at a man literally sitting in the electric chair. Or my favorite, “Get Off The Lord’s If You Ain’t Got Correct Change,” featuring the stirring “Don’t Talk To The Driver.” (If you know my sister, ask her to tell you about the bus etiquette video she did as a young actor, where she is, indeed, the person who talks to the driver, and was actually recognized by someone who had ridden a bus where the video was shown.)

The bit works because it, and the performers, embrace the silliness and go for it – the cheap sets. The bad costumes. The flammable wigs, and the idea that we know this isn’t that much of an exaggeration from stuff that’s out on the road. It’s hilarious, because it’s terrible and it knows it. Embrace that terrible.

“And Just Like That…” I appear to be more like Carrie Bradshaw than I want to admit.

I kinda feel like I need a Cosmo now.

“Strange to be kissing someone other than Big.”

And it was with that explanation of what her first kiss with a man who was not the late love of her life that I made peace with the affinity I have always felt for “Sex and The City”‘s Carrie Bradshaw. Even though the fictional relationship writer has been, canonically, a bad friend, weirdly bi-phobic, super selfish and shockingly bad with money, I’ve often referred to myself as sort of a Black Carrie Bradshaw, as I, too have made a living writing about the ups and downs of dating, friendship and that hot bar you must see and be seen in.

And with the recent HBO Max reboot “And Just Like That…” which finished its shaky but promising first season, we are also widows. Which sucks. Didn’t see that connection coming. But the show, as much as it’s gotten wrong about some character arcs – I STILL hate the wimpy way it’s dealt with Miranda’s relationship with Che, and if the person I was in love with announced their cross-country move with a terrible live version of “California Girls,” I’d take this as a sign and bounce – it’s gotten so much of the experience right, at least from my experience.

It’s been everything from when to take off your ring, when to date and, in this episode, the final resting place of someone you thought would still be resting next to you on the other side of the bed. Since his death, Mr. Big’s remains have been in a box in Carrie’s closet with her shoes, but after a lunch with her brother-in-law Richard (SPOILER ALERT!), the Widow Bradshaw Preston must consider what to do with the ashes.

There was a moment when Richard sketches out the family plot in which John/Big might have a spot, and then mentions that one seems to be freeing up for Carrie, so “the two of you could be together forever,” that reminds me so much of my real-life widowhood. The day after my husband Scott died, I was standing in a graveyard with a funeral home salesman trying to sell me a crypt where Scott would be interred first, and then me in several decades, so our “heads and hearts would be touching forever.”

EWW.

Not surprisingly, that option doesn’t work for either me or Carrie, and she winds up in Paris, the site of their reunion at the end of the original series, to cast his ashes off a bridge in a gorgeous gown (I am not rich so I just buried Scott in a nice cemetery in Lake Worth, Fl, in a nice dress from an Ann Taylor Loft outlet.) The scene moved me greatly – saying goodbye is never an easy thing, as Taylor Dayne once sang – and it’s both sweet and heartbreaking. (Apparently Chris Noth, who played Big, was supposed to have been seen in a dream sequence before he was cut out after sexual assault accusations. It wasn’t a great edit but I kinda liked just hearing his ghostly voice. Ghosts and dreams are weird.)

I didn’t enjoy “And Just Like That…” as much as I’d imagined, because I thought it tried too hard to right some of the wrongs of the original series like its lack of representation of anyone who wasn’t a straight, White woman, and because, again, they completely rewrote Miranda and Steve’s love story into some arrangement she was talked into. NO. We saw how hot they were together, and them getting back together on the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of the first movie. Be better, writers.

But I gotta tell you that I enjoyed much of the widowhood story because Carrie was exactly like you’d think she’d be. Heartbroken. Self-focused, like using “My husband died!” as a way to win any argument. Sad/funny. It’s not exactly like how I did it, or how you’d do it. But it seemed like her. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

So you better get ready, South Florida! I may be coming to your town! Actually, I will be for sure! Yeah!

(And yes that’s a Monkees reference. RIP Mike Nesmith.)

OK…I’m definitely coming to Jupiter Beach and Delray Beach in early 2022, virus and schedule permitting. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been back to my old home state of Florida – almost two years, since we moved back to Baltimore and the world continued doing this weird whatever it is it’s doing. (NOTE: We are still in a pandemic, as Omicron has come to remind us, and I’d really like you to get vaccinated, boosted, masked and plan your outings accordingly. We need you.)

Still, we’re hopeful that my two appearances – and more – are going to happen! I’d love to see you. Stay safe, please.

January 26, 6 PM: FAU Wilkes Honors College, Jupiter.

February 10, 6:30 PM: Arts Garage, Delray Beach. I’ll be talking about grief, mental health and healing in the Black community, in association with the Delray Beach CRA and the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum.

Handy career advice: You are worth at least as much as a fancy cookie

These cookies know their worth. So should you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cookies today.

And not just any cookies – dreamy, colorful macarons, the Sophia Loren of sandwich cookies, that I met yesterday in a shiny glass case in a neighborhood bakery so fancy they call it a pastry studio. I went in to buy a special treat for my mother’s birthday but wound up buying a six pack of macarons for the family, two for each of us. And when I checked the price, which came out to about $2.30 a cookie, I didn’t blink.

Because that’s what the cookie costs.

Sure, they seem expensive when compared to, say, the familiar and budget-friend Oreo, which you can get 39 of for about $4, which gets you about a macaron and a half. But the fancy treat’s worth is supported by several factors – the price of the ingredients; the reputation of the type of cookie as compared to an Oreo; the taste and quality of the cookie, and the confidence that the bakers have that you’ll pay that much for them. I like Oreos. They’re classic. Amazing. But these macarons are better. And they cost more.

So $2.30 is what those macarons cost. That’s what they’re worth. And their worth does not change whether or not I can afford them. If I had walked into that shop -sorry….studio – and decided that I didn’t want to pay $2.30 for cookie, I would have been a jerk to yell “How dare you charge this much! I really wanted one – I’ve been dreaming of one – and it’s not fair that you won’t give me 40 of them for the same amount I’d pay for a pack of Oreos! You’re not that cute anyway!” No. I’d just respectfully give the pretty cookies one last look and then head down the street to the Royal Farms store and get me some Oreos. And some milk. Because that’s my budget, and it’s not the macarons’ fault that they weren’t in mine.

So…imagine that you and your business are that macaron. You have priced yourself and the services at a certain point, based on their worth, on your experience and reputation. You know that other people on your level – even some who aren’t – have similar prices. You are in the big leagues and you deserve to be paid for it. So if a potential customer says “I want your services, but I can’t afford them, so you should charge me less and also feel bad about ever charging more,” that person is not your customer. They are also possibly a jerk, and you don’t have to deal with jerks. They’re welcome to politely say “No thanks” and either go somewhere else, or save up until they can afford you.

Your worth doesn’t change because some people can’t afford you. If enough people can, and are willing to pay what you’re charging, then you’re on the right track. And you don’t have to apologize for it.

Because I guarantee you that those beautiful cookies wouldn’t.

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It’s Small Business Saturday! Did I mention I’m a business?

Makeup by my personal assistant, who was paid in a free hotel and chicken tenders.

It’s Small Business Saturday, which is interesting to me as I’ve committed to buying all of my holiday presents from local businesses here in Maryland this year. What’s more intriguing is something I saw on Twitter by awesome writer Sara Benincasa who reminded her followers that as an artist, she is a small business, and directed people to her Patreon newsletter and ways to support her.

We are getting towards the end of my first year as an independent writer, which is exciting and scary but coming together. I have some exciting projects coming up in the next few months, including writing and speeches and such, but I wanted to point you towards some ways you can support me and my stuff!

  • Buy my book, Black Widow, wherever books are sold, but preferably from a small independent bookstore like Baltimore’s Greedy Reads or The Ivy, D.C.’s Mahogany Books or New Orleans’ Blue Cypress Books.
  • Are you an indie music artist, business person or someone else wanting to tell your story? I’ll write your bio for your website!
  • Are you looking for a speaker for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or just because you like a dope lady talking about 90s girl groups? Contact me at leslie@lesliegraystreeter.com and get my rates!
  • Looking for writing coaching? Email me!
  • Need a freelance story, from essays to lists to reported articles, about parenting, grief, pop culture, race, woman stuff, dating, food and more? Contact me!

It’s such a weird time and money is tight. I’m even that more excited to be able to produce good, creative, quality work. To paraphrase Sir Elton, my gift are my words, and these ones could be for you!

And while you’re here, sign up for my newsletter, Who Knows Where That Might Lead, on Substack!

A Black Girl, a Blowout and a Big Magic Trick: A Thanksgiving Tale of Woe and Frizz and that time David Copperfield ruined my sister’s hairdo

“Is there a Black woman in the house who’s just paid a lot of money to have her hair heat-straightened for a weekend of holiday fun? Well, that’s adorable.”

One of my favorite parts of the holidays, for years, was David Letterman’s Christmas shows. First, he’d have the divine Darlene Love come and sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with a gazillion backup singers and looking younger every year. And then the late great comedian/actor Jay Thomas would come on and tell the same story about the Lone Ranger saving the day during a weed-fueled road rage incident and then knock a meatball off the top of a Christmas tree with a football. As one does.

These shows were always a tradition with my sister Lynne and I, watching it together or over the phone whenever we could. Now that it’s over, I’ve decided to institute my own holiday tradition of storytelling, spectacle and weirdness, also involving my sister. It’s the story of how master magician David Copperfield ruined my sister’s exquisite holiday hair. It’s not Darlene Love or the Lone Ranger or even a meatball. But it’s hilarious.

It was Thanksgiving 2003, and I had been living in West Palm Beach for about a year writing for the Palm Beach Post. I was 32, very single, and getting paid to write about going to movies, live performances and bars, while living on the water. This meant that many, many people I liked and a few jokers with a lot of nerve asked to come visit my tropical shoebox of a luxury apartment that I was renting for way cheap, because I’d been grandfathered into an introductory rate before they went condo. I knew that the management was waiting out my lease so they could sell said shoebox for a ridiculous price and kick my cute party-hopping self out on my keister. That would eventually happen several months later, but for the moment, it was gonna be Single Girl Disco Thanksgiving with Lynne and my college roommate and dear dear friend Sonali.

We didn’t have any particularly wild plans other than going dancing, maybe, and walking on the Palm Beach (we came across some PETA protestors screaming at the Neiman Marcus store “Neiman Carcass, No More Fur!” until they realized the store was closed that day) Our biggest event, the day before Thanksgiving, was to go see David Copperfield, who was performing at the Kravis Center downtown. I was reviewing it, and had a plus one, but since there were three of us, I think we all split the third ticket. I don’t recall anybody being a particularly avid magic or Copperfield fan, but it was an excuse to be cute for almost free, and we all liked a flourish.

To prepare, Lynne decided that she was going to get her hair blown out. Both she and I had been wearing our hair natural for about three years, meaning that we no longer chemically straightened it because we were sick of causing damage to adhere to ridiculous and racist beauty standards. Nobody needs that. Also, we were delighted to find that we loved our hair the way it grew out of our heads, because it’s so versatile, meaning it wasn’t hard to make an occasional temporary change. Again, flourish!

Lynne spent hours and lots of money having her hair blown out, an arduous process involving a blow dryer, a stylist with a strong wrist and having to hold your neck straight and tell yourself it was all gonna be worth it when you were cute later. I remember it being at a JC Penney, but she swears it was somewhere else. Memory is weird and it’s almost 20 years ago, and also it’s her money so I’m gonna go with what she said. Anyway, after all that, wherever we were, she looked really cute.

Blowouts, in case you’re unaware, have rules, similar to raising Mogwai so that they don’t become evil gremlins that kill poor Flo from “Alice.” It’s pretty simple – Don’t get them wet. Wet hair reverts back to its natural state faster, meaning your blowout becomes a fro-out. And we like our fros. (I still have one – Lynne wears her hair in locs now) But she paid not to have one for a few days. And it would have worked, too! If it wasn’t for that meddling magician! (Insert evil Scooby Doo villain here.) But she was trying to live that blowout life for at least a few days.

I don’t recall a lot of the illusions and whatnot before the big finale. I know we had pretty good seats, sort of in the middle of the theater, and I know that we were in the middle of the row, meaning it would be hard to run out of the door to protect your fresh ‘do in case, say, water fell out the sky on it. But that would never happen, right? We were sitting in a fancy concert hall on Thanksgiving Eve with a lot of rich old people, inside, enjoying a pleasant evening of magic with a famous dude making mysterious hand and eyebrow gestures.

But I do remember that finale. There was, David Copperfield said, a man in the audience…let’s call him Floyd. Come on up, Floyd! I don’t believe his name was really Floyd, but it’s a fun name to type. Floyd. Floyd. Floyyyyd.. I think there was a dude named Floyd in Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in the “Muppet Movie.” Different dude. I’d have remembered him. Anyway, Concert Floyd was apparently a nice guy who had been estranged from his father for years. I don’t recall why. I don’t think David Copperfield said. It didn’t seem to be important.

The point was that Concert Floyd and his dad hadn’t spoken in years, but somehow, they knew that his dad was on a certain beach in Phuket, Thailand. And obviously it would be nice for them to be together for Thanksgiving, but that’s not possible because there’s Dad there on the screen in Thailand and here’s Concert Floyd here with us in West Palm Beach! How would that even work? Does anyone know a magician with a big finale coming, like, right now, who might be able to help?

Whatever the story, we were all invested now, and the people who paid for their seats were close to getting their money’s worth. We all leaned forward in our fancy velvet chairs as David Copperfield promised to send Concert Floyd to Thailand. The music started swelling, and Concert Floyd looked excited, and we were like “We don’t know how the hell he’s gonna pull this thing off, but this is gonna be good!!! Send that man to Thailand! Celebrate him home! Where’s Kenny Loggins? Let’s goooooo!”

And then came the whooosh .

Said whoosh was both audible and tactile, which is to say we heard it with the dramatic music, and also felt it with the dramatic actual cascade of water that somehow swept over our heads as Presto-Change-o, Concert Floyd was swept in a wave of magic and emotion out of the Kravis Center and onto that screen to greet his dad in Thailand. There was hugging on the beach, and cheers in the audience. And a wild panicked shriek from the seat next to me.

NOOOOOOOOO!” Lynne screamed, as she simultaneously tried in vain to shield her fresh blowout from the water and wedge herself under her seat. “My HAIR! Dagone David Copperfield! That’s why Black people don’t come see you!” To be honest, I have never heard that Black people, by consensus, feel one way or the other about Dude – I’ve interviewed him and he’s very pleasant, and he puts on a nice show.

But imagine my poor sister, who had never gotten a blowout before and splurged on a fun thing. And she had stayed out of the pool, and out of the ocean. Who would imagine that some magician would bring the actual beach inside a fancy concert hall where you’d imagine, at the very least, that you were safe from spontaneous rain? Also she was in the middle of the row and there’s nowhere to go unless she wanted to run over some old rich people delightedly watching a family reunite magically onscreen. We can’t be going to jail for assault over a blowout.

All I remember is Sonali and I trying not to laugh at her distress, because it was funny and also we are horrid people, as Lynne clasped her hands over her hair until she could make a beeline to the bathroom and try to smooth it down. It didn’t look bad, but it was never as straight or sleek as it was before Concert Floyd and his dad reunited in the most exciting and most moisture-rich way imaginable.

To this day, if you mention David Copperfield in front of my sister, she will say “Did I ever tell you about the time he ruined my hair?” She may not have.

But I just did.

Come see me read from “Black Widow” in the Boston-ish area this weekend!

After almost two years of doing book readings from my home office couch with my ring light plugged into my MacBook, hoping my kid doesn’t saunter in looking for someone to make him a PopTart, I am doing my second live reading of the year, at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough, Massachusetts on Saturday, Nov. 20 between 1-4. I’ll be joined by other authors of Lockdown Literature, whose books came out in 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic. We banded together, supported each other and promoted ourselves and the group in the most creative ways. It was really special.

Come say hi if you can!

By the way, did you know I started a Substack email newsletter, which is a lot like my old email newsletter, but on an easier platform?

The indent will fade but the love won’t: Taking off my wedding band

I imagine that’s gonna go back to some sort of a normal finger-looking thing?

My finger looks weird.

“Weird” may be too mild a description for what’s going on with the ring finger of my right hand. It looks like someone tinted oatmeal brown, put it in a hand mold, dumped it out and then stomped on that finger. It looks oddly liquid, misshapen. Wrong.

But that’s a good thing. A bittersweet thing that’s resulted from being widowed, the worst thing that ever happened to me. But you might as well make good things out of the bad, right?

So what I’m saying is that I took my wedding rings from my marriage to my husband Scott off this week. For the last time. And while it feels important and big, it wasn’t a tortured decision, or one made with any pageantry or ceremony (and y’all know I love pageantry.) I just looked at my hand a few days ago and realized it was the right time. So I did it.

It feels like the end of a chapter, because it is. And endings are sad. But beginnings are hopeful.

It’s not the first time that the rings have moved, and there are some funny stories attached to them. When Scott and I got married in 2010, he gave me an inexpensive band that was a placeholder for what he said would be something wonderful. And not long after our first anniversary, he walked me down the steps at the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach County, pretended to head towards the Champs Sports store (his second home) and then doubled back to Zales, where he’d picked out a vintage white gold band with diamonds. Classy, that guy.

The ruby ring that now sits with that band in a box on my dresser isn’t the one he gave me, at least not directly. The pink topaz stone he’d proposed with at the Zales in the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale (shout out to South Florida Zales, y’all!) popped out while I was running, not long after our fifth anniversary. I told him to replace it at Christmas. But he was dead before Labor Day. So when Christmas came around, I used some of the life insurance money he’d left to buy a new ring myself. I put it right on top of my wedding band, right where he would have put it. It seemed right.

About a year later, I moved both rings to my right hand. I was no longer married in a legal sense, and I was beginning to date a little, in the most halting and stupid way. But I wasn’t yet ready to let the rings go. I was still grieving. And they were really pretty rings. And I was used to having rings, to look at and to fidget with. So they stayed.

About a million things happened since then – my son’s adoption was finalized. A dumb relationship that was my first confirmation, nevertheless, that I wasn’t dead in my heart and lady parts. A book. A pandemic. A move, a career change, the purchase of my dream home and then another career change to go into business as an independent writer and 50-year-old rock mom about town. And through it all, I healed. I began to feel less married to Scott, right now. I will always have been his wife, he will always be my love and I will always be his widow.

But I am not married to him, right now. I wish that wasn’t true. But I am living right now. I am attempting to date. I will not find a replacement for Scott, because he is irreplaceable. Still, I’d like to have a partner or at least a non-idiot man in my life. And I just decided that I have to do that without holding anything back. Including my finger. It’s just an external symbol, but it is a symbol, not just to myself but to others.

“How does a man know you’re not married?” my friend Adam asked me a few weeks ago as we were having dinner in Oregon where I was visiting him and his wife Libby. I was complaining that I didn’t get asked out, and Adam was like “Men don’t know what hand a ring goes on. They see a wedding band on your finger, they think you’re married.”

Adam has always had an infuriating way of being right, and he was, in this case. I sorta went “Huh” and finished my cocktail. It wasn’t a conversation that loomed large over me, or that I kept wrestling with. But it did pop up this week as I was texting with a guy from an app who hopefully will not be a disaster. I glanced down at my ring and thought “I should probably take that off.”

It wasn’t about this man. I don’t even know him. It was just like “I am a single woman dating single men and I’m wearing a wedding ring. Huh.”

I am not telling anyone they ever have to take off their ring. You don’t have to do a damn thing you don’t want to do. Your grief and recovery are on you and for you and at your pace. It was weird holding the rings in my hand and not on my finger, and for a few seconds I was like “I will never wear these rings this way again” and that hurt a little.

But then I kissed them and put them in a box, and took this photo of my finger. That indentation will heal. My heart is healing. That loss will never be OK. But I can’t do anything about that, so I can just move forward.

There is no telling if I will ever wear another wedding band. And that’s fine. I got to wear this one. And I am grateful for it. And I am grateful to be here to tell its story.