Author: Penny Wrenn

The Best Voice in the World Is… Need You Ask?

For the most part, I don’t trust most people’s taste in music. To debate a musical topic or question with someone is to know for sure that you and your opponent have a shared music-listening lineage and appreciation or, at the very least, the two of you share a mutual understanding and interest for the music that one of you likes that the other person doesn’t. For me, someone with a baseline understanding of many musical genres, the mutual understanding thing is tricky, especially when the mutuality is to be established with: 1. A non-black person — especially a non-black person who hasn’t spent much time around black people. 2. A black person who hasn’t spent much time around non-black people 3. A much-younger person — any race, doesn’t matter. 3a. Case in point: my much-younger white coworker who didn’t know Bananarama’s “Venus” outside of the razor commercial (which until writing this piece and being schooled by our beloved EIC Margit I didn’t know was originally sung by the Dutch garage band Shocking Blue) 3b. …

Honoring the Women in My Maternal Battalion

Technically, my godmother is some white lady. Those three words are literally all I know about her: some, white, lady. And it took some digging for me to even get that little bit of information from my parents. At first, I sent my mom a text message that simply asked, “Who is my godmother?” Her reply: “I can’t remember. Curtis will remember.” So, I called my dad (Curtis) and he said, “I don’t think you have one. I don’t think your mother believed in godmothers.” Then, of course, I called my mom to verify my dad’s theory. And, of course, she disagreed. “That’s not true,” she said. “You have a godmother. Your godmother is some white lady who your father knew when we lived in Baltimore.” [pullquote]Just because we grown-ups don’t need legal guardians doesn’t mean we don’t still need support from people who are more grown-up than we are and who can step in when our parents cannot be there.[/pullquote] I considered calling my father back with the new “some white lady” clue to …

Sister, Sister: I’m a Black Woman with a White Sister

When people ask if I have brothers and sisters, I don’t know where to begin. Do I say, I’m an only child, the youngest of seven or the seventh of nine? In fact, all these answers are true. I’m my mother’s only child and the youngest of my father’s seven biological children. But if we’re talking the order in which my father’s children entered his life, then I’m not the last. When my parents divorced, my father remarried and I inherited two step-siblings. Still, however I go about answering the “Do you have brothers and sisters?” question, I always get to this part: I am a black woman with a white sister. Her name is Amy. People would come to my old Harlem apartment see her photo on my bookshelf, the one where I’m standing next to her on her wedding day, and they’d ask, “Who’s that?” But I would never just say, “My sister.” I knew that I must follow up with an abridged version of my family history, saying something like, “My parents divorced …

The Art of Being a Flaker

‘Tis the season for accepting invitations to holiday parties and saying yes to merrymaking with friends, family and coworkers. ‘Tis the season for exclamatory declarations: “I’ll be there!” and “Can’t wait!” and “Count me in!” Also, ‘tis the time for emoji-laden last-minute cancellations. Ugh! I’m sorry, but I can’t make it after all. (😞😞😞😞) Unfortunately, I have… Please don’t hate me! 😞😞😞  I won’t be there tonight.😞😞😞  I’m soooooo sorry.😞😞😞 So many sad faces, so little time. But lack of time isn’t my excuse for not showing up when and where I say I will. The fact is, I am a flaker. Flaker \ˈflā-kər\ noun: someone who cancels plans at the last minute, someone who reneges on invitations, someone who doesn’t show up and doesn’t call first, etc. (i.e. I was supposed to go to this party downtown tonight, but my friend Penny is a flaker.) Mind you, my penchant for backing out or pulling up late isn’t relegated to social obligations. Flaking is a true way of life for me. Everyone thinks they’re a …

Raise Your Hand If You Think You’re Cool

If charged with the task to assess, based on a scale of one to 10, how cool people think I am, I’d say I’m a 6.25. I’m neither un-cool nor super-cool. In fact, I’m barely cool-adjacent. On the first day of ninth grade, I took the liberty assigning a (moderate) coolness quotient to myself. My own self-ranking put me modestly above the kids who scavenged for recognition and markedly below the ones who seemed to always hover in the uppermost echelons of the lunchroom pecking order. Suffice to say that when I was in high school, I never once sat at the cool kids’ table. I didn’t even deign to sit at the table next to the cool kids’ table. No, I made a beeline for the table next to the table next to the cool kid’s table. Granted, my faulty memory could be inaccurately reporting my cafeteria habits of yore. And if so, then I’m sure that one of my Facebook friends from The Graduating Class of 1995 at Manheim Township will swiftly post a correction on …

tuenight prince penny wrenn

I Rarely Play Any Prince Songs. So Why Am I Crying?

The day of Prince’s death, I, like you and everyone you know, was distraught. For hours, my despair was haughty and demonstrative. But late last Thursday night, there was a pause in my grief. It came around 11 p.m., which is just about the time that my aunt said this: “But I never hear you play any Prince songs….” Her voice trailed off, stopping short of a direct accusation. But the implication had been cast, and it was damning enough to stop my mourning in its tracks. Was I not enough of a hardcore Prince fan to be in such hardcore distress? In the wake of a famous musician’s death, the only thing worse than being outed as a non-fan is being outed as a semi-fan acting like a fanatic. I know diehard Prince fans. Fans who go to the annual Prince vs. Michael Jackson Soul Slam dance parties. Fans whose homes are decorated with lithographs en homage to the purple one. Fans who can tell you every member of every one of Prince’s offshoot …

An Open Letter To Dark-Skinned Black Women Who Don’t Blush

Blushing is overrated. When I think of women who get red in the face (the cheeks and sometimes the forehead, too), I think of, well, white women. Not blushing is probably nothing that you ever felt insecure about. You probably never envied your towheaded colleague, who’s all Renee Zellweger (back when she looked like herself) and Nicole Kidman (back when she looked like herself) and Naomi Watts wrapped into one, as she was giving a PowerPoint presentation at work but forgot one of her lines or was stumped by a tough question from your boss and the embarrassment made her face turn into a stoplight. White women can have their blushing and all the conscious emotional advertising that comes along with it. (“Look at me, I’m nervous! Look at me, I’m flustered!”) Before I continue down this road of appreciation for non-blushers, let me say: God bless the blushers. Seriously. If they get red in the face at the right time, the whole world is awwww-ing at their feet. “Look at you! You’re blushing. How …

tuenight retire 39 freelance writing penny wrenn

Why I’m Throwing My Own Damn Retirement Party

At 38, and soon to be 39, I am nowhere close to receiving social security checks or living off a cushy pension or a seven-figure Roth IRA. But financial security hasn’t stopped me from declaring my retirement at the end of 2016. That’s right. I said retirement. This is retirement in the tradition of the thirty-something-year-old NBA basketball player who retires from the hustle of the game. (Except I’m neither as rich nor as famous as Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.) I have been writing professionally for 15 years, and most of that time I’ve been a freelancer. That means that I’ve been floating from assignment to assignment without an employer to call my own. But this year, I am retiring from that writer-for-hire life. I have not made a lot of money, I have not made an indelible mark (whatever that means) and I have not achieved all that I’d hoped to accomplish in my professional writing life. Having written my way to mediocre success, I am choosing now to say to myself, “Good …

tuenight grace penny wrenn father

Flowers Before My Father’s Funeral

I opened the front door to let the yard guy in. “Come on,” I said. “Talk to my daddy.” He walked a few steps behind me as I headed toward the TV room where Daddy sits every day in his brown leather Barcalounger. “Daddy, this is… wait, tell me your name again?” “Austin.” “Right. Daddy, this is Austin. He just finished clearing out the gutters and stuff outside.” “How much do we owe you, sir?” Daddy asked. “A hundred and fifty dollars,” Austin answered. Then, as Daddy begins writing out the check, Austin said, “Are you a veteran, sir?” “That’s what they tell me,” Daddy said. “Well, thank you for your service,” Austin replied. He paused, and then, “What you watching there?” At this point, Austin, who looks like he’s in his thirties, was nearly yelling. He was following my lead, I suppose, since I, too, had been loudly shout-talking with my 85-year-old father even though I was just a couple feet away from him. But now that Austin was in on it — doing …

Bye Felicia — It’s Not Your Slang Anymore

“Terry Gross is bae.” “Trey Gowdy’s contour game is on fleek.” Those are two bits of slang I read on social media this week. If you can’t tell, the sentences in which the slang words appear are somewhat dubious. Supposedly, one would do best to use slang words as an instrument, not as a crutch. [pullquote]Slang is the new hip-hop now that hip-hop truly belongs to everyone.[/pullquote] Slang dropping is not like name dropping. Name dropping is: “I was talking about trans-racial adoption with Angelina and Brad the other day…” Slang-dropping is: “I swear, one of my coworkers thinks she’s slaying the email game. But if she ends one more message with ‘Make sense?’ acting like she’s the only one who has a clue, I’m gonna write back, ‘Bye, Felicia.’ I try to be cooperative, but I’m low-key losing all my chill. I am not the one to communicate with like I’m a three-year-old up in these internet streets.” Who knows when or why some words cross over and become slang-stream (slang mainstream), like: Bling: (noun) …

6 Ways to Brag About Yourself (Without Being an A**hole)

For women, bragging is a necessary but tricky endeavor. We’ve heard that women need to brag more, and that’s true. The only way people will know how awesome and competent we are is if we show them. And lucky us, with our social media presence, we have the show-and-tell platform of every kindergartner’s dreams. So, go ahead and tell the world that you’re totally winning at this life thing. A promotion! A new client! You lost weight! You overcame a yearlong illness! You overcame the yearlong sleeplessness of new motherhood!  But guess what? As necessary as bragging and show-and-tell are, no one likes a showoff. So, here are tips for how to express yourself when you know you’re the sh*t — because you should also know better than to act like your sh*t don’t stink. 1. When you score a sweet new job or promotion. Avoid thanking God and giving an Oscar speech. I’m not against people publicly sharing their religious/spiritual gratitude. I do it all the time. But, like bragging, acknowledging one’s faith on social …

Embracing My Bad Side: 11 Unflattering Selfies

On a lazy Saturday in September, I intentionally posted 11 of my most unflattering selfies on Facebook — just because. Well, not precisely “just because.” Here’s the what, the why, the how and the what happened of that frivolous undertaking.   The Experiment “Ugly selfies” are nothing new. Nearly five years ago, Bay Area poet Sonya Renee Taylor helped popularized the trend with “Ugly Picture Monday” on her Facebook page. She encouraged other women to join the pictorial exercise, which became a way to laugh at oneself and/or boldly pronounce one’s self-acceptance. For reasons that had little to do with being funny or displaying courage or promoting confidence, I too wanted to join the unprepossessing parade with my own “ugly” photos of my face and my body. I use the word “ugly” loosely, because I, like you, know that I’m not the worst-looking creature to ever walk the earth. And I, like you, have enough sense to know that not looking like Kerry Washington or Kim Kardashian or Karlie Kloss is not what makes one …

What Ever Happened to Customer Service? Meet Bette

What the world needs now is a customer service vigilante. Her name: Bette. (Bette is short for Better, as in Better Customer Service.) Bette is not a caped crusader, though. Bette wears a 1980s skirt suit. The jacket has shoulder pads and an asymmetrical hem. The matching knee-length skirt is formfitting — not 21st century formfitting but pre-Herve Leger formfitting (i.e. touching, not hugging, her in all the right places). Bette wears black square-toe heels and maroon lipstick. Her cheeks are sometimes stained with excess rouge. She is attractive, but she’s formidable. The sound of her heels clicking against the floor makes you shudder. Bette is my imaginary hero. She is the avenger whom I wish would pop up whenever a cashier yells, “Next!” instead of cheerfully asking, “May I help you?” (And, no, a sullen “May I help you” sans the lilt of a question mark doesn’t count.) I wish Bette were there to break up a conversation between two cashiers who are so busy talking to each other that they haven’t bothered to …

Dumped But Not Demolished

It goes without saying: No one wants to be the dumpee in a breakup. So it’s no secret that some of us are very proactive about dumpee-proofing our dating lives. I won’t say that I’ve been running a 24/7 patrol for dumpee prevention and preemption, but I do like to boast that I’m “dumpee-free since ’93!” Now, that’s dumpee-free with a slight technicality — I haven’t been on the receiving end of a bona fide breakup since I was 17. And by “bona fide breakup” I mean this: The ending of a romantic relationship that has been firmly established. And by “firmly established” I mean this: The guy and I have titles. It doesn’t matter what the title is — maybe he calls me his “girlfriend” and I call him “my man” — but there is some kind of designation that says, “We are officially with each other and no one else.” Another crucial component: We both adhere to our shared identity as a couple. So not only do I say that we’re a couple and he says …

A Superstar Visits Buenos Aires

Gospel music has a way of making people sound like better singers than they are. I should know—I’m one of those people. In general, one should not make too many assumptions about someone’s talent simply because that person sings professionally or publicly. When a person chooses to sing or not sing in front of other people, that choice doesn’t necessarily reflect the person’s musical ability (or lack thereof). Not all people who can sing do sing, and not all people who do sing can sing. If you’re wondering into which category I fall, the answer is who the hell knows? Can I carry a tune? Absolutely. (*Clears throat. Puts right index finger to ear and points left index finger to sky, like Mi-mi-mi-miiiiii. Do-re-mi-fa….*) Can I hit high notes? Usually. It depends on how many Marlboros I smoked (or how much Malbec I drank) the previous night. But when you sing in a gospel choir, especially an African-American gospel choir, hitting your notes is beside the point. The music is as much about the message …

Mommy and Mookie: Living Up to Our Nicknames

  I reluctantly befriended my mother on Facebook last month. It was a move I’d resisted for obvious reasons. I regularly fire f-bombs and reveal snippets from weekly sessions with my psychiatrist. Plus, I have a weird phobia that one of these days someone with whom I’ve had sex will tag me in a post about my vagina. And it won’t be euphemistic. In fact, it’ll be horrifyingly accurate. It might even be a selfie that I sent him while we were sexting. I trust that my partners have more discretion than that. But you never know. And when it comes to the fear of social-media humiliation, your mind spirals into worst-case-scenario thinking. And, I mean, we’re all capable of being crazy muthaf*ckas on Facebook. Until a month ago, I’d taken a hiatus from Facebook for nearly two years.  But when I became active again, my mom’s name popped up in my “people you may know” queue. So I sent her a friend request. I should tell you: My mom had sent me a friend …