Yesterday, Spelman College and Written Magazine presented “A Conversation with Tyrese” at the Sister’s Chapel at Spelman. Written’s publisher Michelle Gipson conducted the 80-min interview with singer/actor Tyrese Gibson about his new book, How to Get Out of Your Own Way (Grand Central Publishing, 2011), a memoir/self-help book. Journalist and CNN commentator Jack Johnson joined them onstage as well. Gipson encouraged audience members (Spelman students, grown women, and a few men!) to submit questions on notecards or tweet with the hashtag #WritMagAskTyrese.
Note: This post is written almost like a full-featured magazine article, except that I’ve also included my own thoughts and explanations to provide context. So it’s long, even though I left some things out. . . but I think you’ll enjoy it regardless.
It’s no surprise that when the tall, dark, and dapper 32-year-old Tyrese appeared onstage, the girls went crazy with screams and frantic camera-phone picture-taking. It took awhile before he could speak–partly because of the love from the crowd, and partly because he was nervous. But after his initial “Hello,” the girls (and Tyrese) were able to collect themselves, and I was able to take more than three pages of notes to capture teachings from “The Temple of Tyrese,” as Jet magazine called it in their April 4, 2011 issue.
Gipson asked Tyrese how he got started in his singing career (remember his Coca Cola commercial on a city bus in 1995?). I gather that this whole story is covered fully in his book, which I haven’t read yet, but he talked about how he was three hours lat for the audition and almost missed the opportunity.
Jack Johnson, who worked for Russell Simmons at Def Jam, mentioned that a lot of people see the end results of success, but don’t understand the process. There were times that he slept under the desk at Def Jam. He said what makes himself, Tyrese or anyone else successful is the decisions you make day in and day out.
Just Shut Up
Will Smith mentored Tyrese about the “Circle of 5,” saying that if you don’t like where you are in life, you can trace it back to the five people you spend the most time with. If you change your surroundings and the people you hang out with, you’ll change your life.
Tyrese: “I think people talk too much. Shut up. Stop telling people all your business. Most people aren’t happy for you. Look at people’s reactions when you talk about your blessings and your dreams.” This gives you an indication of who you need to get away from, and who shouldn’t be in your circle.
Are You a Dreamer?
Tyrese: “There’s so much more to do than just [spend money]. Are there any dreamers in here? [Looks for the raised hands.] I’m not a dreamer.” Here he mentioned that he loves his life so much that it’s hard for him to sleep, and that sleep is just a waste of time to him. “When I see something, I get exposed to it, motivated and inspired. It has my name on it. I don’t get insecure or want what someone else has.” He went on to say that people can make negative comments when you tell them about your dreams, but think about it: God gave you your dreams just for you, so how can you expect anyone else to see what God showed you?
Life is Menu of Choices
There is a proverb in the Bible that says, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” As a Man Thinketh is also a book that changed Tyrese’s life.
Tyrese: “I create my own quotes, and here’s one of them: Life is a menu. Whatever you order is what’s delivered to the table, and you eat it.” He then used the analogy of going to the Cheesecake Factory, and being seated with a menu, ordering, and eating what you ordered. “So don’t play the victim. You sit around with your girlfriends in your ‘Waiting to Exhale’ sessions, bashing your boyfriends and your baby daddies– but that’s what you ordered. You chose that man. You play the victim of your own choices.”
Johnson mentioned one of the chapters in Tyrese’s book, “Do I Love You More Than I Know You?,” which talks about rushing into relationships without getting to know people for who they really are. And this is the point when I started hearing girls call out, “Preach!!”
Tyrese (from the mentality of a player): “All I have to do is distract you, and I can take advantage of you.”
This part of the conversation caused a stir in the audience, but I knew where he was going because I follow him on Twitter (@Tyrese), and he frequently drops relationship advice. He followed up with, “These are my opinions, and what I see. You may not agree with everything, but please take a moment and just consider what I’m saying. I feel like God has put me here and given me this responsibility to get this message out. You may be out there ladies, you love God, you fear Him, you’re trying to do all the right things, but you keep bumping against a wall. You mean well, but you need a little clarity.”
Then Tyrese stood up and pointed at the screen above his head, which displayed his book cover. “Picture an empty canvas. When you meet a man, you don’t know him, and he doesn’t know you. You start out with an empty canvas. You don’t know him, but you created a picture of him in your mind [of who you want him to be] because of your emotions. The sex is good, you’re telling your girlfriends about him, and you want him to meet your mama, but if she doesn’t like him, you set out to prove her wrong. Slow down and relax! You take a paintbrush, he can take a paintbrush, and paint the picture along the way [as you get to know each other]. Don’t start out with a full picture of who you THINK he is. And don’t devalue yourself.”
Q: How do you balance your work and fatherhood?
Tyrese: I can balance everything because I absolutely LOVE what I do. And I have a bottom line with my daughter Shayla, who is 3 years old. I unapologetically let go of people who could sabotage my life, without any guilt… Most of us know that people come into our lives for a reason or a season, but some of us don’t know when to cut off people when there season is up.” He talked about how he could think back to old friends, what they’ve done together over the years, but the “Circle of 5″ mentality is in effect, and “there is an expiration date on my loyalty.” He also explained that he doesn’t want to deny his daughter of any great experiences such as, for example, not being able to send her to Spelman because he wouldn’t let go of some bad friendships, and experienced a big financial setback.
Gipson added a quote from her mother or grandmother: “Watch what other people are bringing to the table. If they ain’t bringing nothing, then they’re eating off of you.”
Q: How did you write this book, and what is your advice for other writers?
Tyrese: I didn’t do much writing. I am very verbal and detailed, if you can’t tell. I like to tell stories. My advice is to record yourself talking about your concepts and feelings, and then edit. The best compliments I’m getting about my book so far are that it feels like a conversation, and it’s a page-turner that you can’t put down. One person told me, ‘I got to page 60 and it didn’t even feel like it.’
Johnson: You have to make the time to write. Figure out your process, what works for you and when you are the most creative. The book The War of Art is a book about procrastination and finding your creative process, and it was very helpful to me. The more you make the time to create (writing, music, etc.), the more you will produce.
Don’t Shirk the Concept of a Shrink
Tyrese spent some time talking about his mother, and the process he’s been going through in trying to establish a healthy relationship with her. She spent most of his life drunk, and then a few years ago, he decided to stop enabling her. He said God showed him that “You’ll never be able to help if you’re helping.” So he cut off his mother for a year, but now she’s doing well, and been sober for four years. They had a talk one day in a hot tub (which is covered in the book) in which she explained how Tyrese was conceived, and how she was raised. It turns out that her mother did the same thing she did–spent most of her life drunk. But when Tyrese pointed this out, she got mad and said she wasn’t just like his grandmother. He said he forgave her because she was doing the best she knew how to do– that’s how she was raised, so that’s how she raised her kids. But he’s still a work in progress: “How can I enjoy my ‘new’ mother, when I had 27 years of sadness with my ‘old’ mother?” He said he doesn’t want to remain bitter and angry until she dies and miss the chance to have a real relationship with her.
Although Tyrese wants to share his life story of abandonment and abuse for us to “use as a source of strength,” he says there are still some things you should see a therapist for, and unabashedly admitted to seeing one. “I’m in therapy right now because as far as I have come, there are still some things that I deal with that I can’t figure out, even though I’ve prayed about it for years. I need to get closure on some things. And I don’t tell everyone about all my problems because it’s none of their business. Some people are condescending about it, but here’s what it is: I go to a shrink because I want my problems for shrink. Look at me now with [the movies he starred in] Transformers and Too Fast Too Furious–if I’m doing this good now, I can’t wait to see what my better self is going to look like!”
He continued, “Your version of love is based on what you were shown. You date a man like your father, or someone who reminds of you of your mother’s boyfriends because that’s what you’re used to–even if you didn’t like it. You submerge yourself in drama because you don’t like yourself.
Who Aren’t You?
Gipson closed the interview with this quote, asking Tyrese and Jack Johnson to pontificate on this quote: “You never know who you are until you know who you’re not.”
Johnson: I’m satisfied with pleasing God in private, not pleasing people in public.
Tyrese: I’ll never see myself not loving a Black woman. [Thunderous applause.] I am not a homosexual. If that’s what you do, that’s fine, but that’s not me. I’ll never not give all my praise and glory to Jesus Christ. [More applause.] I will not indulge in anything that will sacrifice my integrity, my love of God, and most importantly my fatherhood. I pride myself in all of those things. Please pray for me.
I am looking forward to reading Tyrese’s book. His book’s genre is similar to mine, where he combines life experiences and lessons learned to share with others, so I was able to get another perspective on a few of the things I have written about there. Here is a quick summary of what I thought of the event.
- He was transparent about a lot of issues that he (and we) suffered with as children who didn’t have the best parenting role models, which can affect us profoundly if we don’t deal with the issues, and can possibly be carried to the next generation.
- His message and theme of self-responsibility and self-reflection was prevalent throughout. The victim mentality is played out in my opinion–it’s time for men AND women to grow up and accept responsibility for their choices.
- He advocated therapy, which is typically taboo in the Black community. I commend any public figure who reveals their shortcomings with the purpose of helping others, and breaking the isolation that leads to anger, resentment, and depression.
- The Q&A period ran out of time after the second or third question. (Tyrese’s answers were long so it may have been his fault)
- It was a little off-putting to me when he used the B-word in a room full of women. Personally, I wasn’t offended by the other cuss words he dropped here and there, but I thought it was a little inappropriate and disrespectful to do so in a chapel. (I will pray for him as he asked!)
- I wish he would have talked more about sex in relationships from a man’s perspective, and single parenting/co-parenting. He mentioned the “life is a menu” quote, and how women may “need a little clarity,” so a little more focused advice to the young women of Spelman would have been an added, relevant bonus. (Oh well, maybe it’s in the book.)
The Bottom Line
In closing, Tyrese said, “The whole book is not sad… I don’t want you to think that. There’s a lot of positivity in there. But I wanted to try to have a dialogue and anchor everyone in reality– not name-drop celebrities and talk about all the money I’m making. I want us to be able to walk out of here, self-reflect, and try to get closure.”