When Racism Becomes Unsustainable

Last Saturday, a good friend, another cerebral Black woman, and I saw “Hidden Figures.” Among the many things that uplifting film depicted, it showed how the separation of Blacks and Whites continued until it died in a final gasp of breath.

The segregation of libraries sections, water fountains, bathrooms, and even coffee pots reinforced second-class citizenship, which some people, both Black and White, internalized as proof positive of the inferiority of Blacks, rather than as an oppressive regime under which a group of intelligent people had to endure.

Yet, when the most capable mathematician at NASA had inconvenienced her White boss during her mile-long roundtrip to the colored bathroom, her situation motivated him to immediately integrate the bathrooms. Very practical. Once that parallel practice disappeared, more parallel systems vanished, but not without a trace and, of course, not without a fight.

We may take sharing public facilities for granted today, but for some Whites who lived through that transitionary time, they experienced a loss of status. They perceived a cheapening of their quality of life, for their separate services reaffirmed their social superiority. But not their intellectual superiority. At least not to strong Black people.

There’s the valuable difference. The difference that Black parents, my parents’ generation and older, knew and had inspired their number one advice to their children: you have to be twice as good as Whites to get half as much. Strong Black parents never internalized the social superiority of Whites as the true value of their position. They envisioned achieving the American dream, where being twice as good as Whites would create undeniable evidence of worth.

The bathrooms at NASA were integrated because the parallel system could no longer be sustained.  Socially constructed separation deteriorated because a black female mathematician, who, by any standards, was a genius. Having ready access to her math skills outgrew the importance of prohibiting her access to the closest bathroom.

Those bathroom scenes made me reflect upon the success of the bus boycotts and sit-ins. At the end of the day, the White owners of those businesses were losing money every day protests and boycotts took place rather than transactions. Every business plan must include making money. When racist practices disrupt cash flow, money wins in the end.

Granted, some use money to maintain their separation, but for those who cannot literally afford it, they must live an integrated life. If such people could see the bigger picture, they’d realize that they have more in common with someone of their own socioeconomic status than someone of their same socially constructed “race.”

Nonetheless, as we enter the next exciting chapter of our great American social experiment, I wonder which other divisive practices will go extinct.

 

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Dreaming of My Wedding

This past Monday, one of my friends texted me about her dream where she had attended my wedding.  I texted her back, “Good thing I’m not superstitious. My grandmother used think a wedding dream meant a funeral.”

Once I had a moment to look it up, I “discovered” that a single woman dreaming of another woman getting married meant that the dreamer will find true love. Well, good for her! In the meantime, I think my theme for 2017 continues to be “Three Black Men.”

Walking in the parking garage with a coworker and my plus one, en route to the venue where my office holiday party was being held, three fine black men crossed our path. They weren’t with the company, but at least pointed us in the correct direction to where the party was.

Thanks to New Year’s Eve, where I danced with three different black men, I’m going to remark every time I interact with a trio of black men. I’ve not noticed before that they come in three’s here in Austin. What has been noted is the disappearing black population within this growing city. I may be onto something.

Decades ago, all the rage was about black men becoming an endangered species. I believed that was a bunch of hype then, but I know they are scarcer in this town. I’ve only half noticed since, when it comes to dating, I appreciate a wide variety of handsome, but even more so, I enjoy intellectual stimulation, which can be found among all races.

The fun part is that I can continue playing I-Spy for a trio of black men. Of course, the rule will be I will have to talk, or otherwise engage, with them in order for it to “count.” One thing I don’t think will happen is finding my future husband. I’m not against marriage. I just don’t want to live with a husband.

 

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Cheating and Cursing: An Alternative Approach to Bikram Yoga

Hot yoga. The longer you practice, the more the superficial complaints melt away: the sweat, the smell, the heat, the humidity. Even your slowly cooking reptilian brain calms down after several classes, where it’s no longer preoccupied with craving thoughts of food, fighting and sex. Initially, the practice dredges up arguments and emotions long past. Causes one to hunger for meat and carbs. And as far as sexual musings go, that’s just a given in a hot room where people glisten with sweat, in such a state of undress, they’re barely recognizable in their regular clothes.

So, even when you comprehend the intermediate bikram yoga instructions like, “rotate your femurs forward while maintaining both sit bones evenly on the floor,” yet your body cannot follow, just breathe deeply, curse under your breath and cheat your way through the posture.

Oh, yes—curse and cheat. This is an upgrade from the “fake it ‘til you make it” advice. Release those curse words like steam through a valve in a pressure cooker, but much quieter. After all, you must celebrate or suffer throughout your yoga practice without distracting your neighboring yogis from their own misery or joy. It’s a shared practice, but the journey is individual and you never really know where the other yogis are.

Just be true to yourself: curse and cheat. You know you’re going to do it. It’s much worse to lie to yourself than to admit your humanness. Every time you willfully ignore the sage advice of “never sacrificing form for depth,” you’re essentially saying, “To hell with form, I know I can go deeper if I disregard the basic set up of the posture.” Then you modify, however you please, for the gratifying illusion that you’re doing the posture rather than cheating your way through the posture.

Sometimes, you enter the room very ego-heavy. Check yourself out in the mirror just a little too often or a little too long. You’re either thinking, “Damn, I look good!” or “Damn, I suck at this!” Or you got this hot and heavy inner dialogue going on with yourself. Whether your ego distraction is external or internal, you’re not the least bit burdened by what the yoga teacher is saying. Some don’t even consider being ahead or behind the script as cheating.

And who hasn’t mentally cursed the instructor for going off script and making them hold those excruciating postures precious seconds longer than regulation, especially when the instructor chooses to make corrections? Is there not a special place in hell for that? There is if the silent f-bomb dropping yoga students had their way. As they fake the intensity the instructor wants or truly live up to the spirit of “fuck this,” and defiantly come out of the posture, perhaps groaning audibly so the yoga student ensures that the yoga teacher knows his/her dissatisfaction.

So why bother?

During final savasana, or the last corpse pose at the end of class, after every muscle, ligament and fascia have been stretched, and you’re lying drenched in the hard work of your own sweat, you finally get to close your eyes and in the vacuum created by the exodus of the curse words, cheating strategies and other excreted toxins, a sense of serenity flows inward, filling the void. The torture chamber transforms into the rejuvenation space. In that moment, you are renewed from the inside out. Then you go home and put that wind-removing pose to good use.

 

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Christmas 2016

This was the first year witnessing my nephew’s vegetarianism. Unlike one of his sisters, who is a vegan, he still ate food with eggs in it, such as his father’s famous sweet potato pie. Here’s one of the meals he put together: cup of fruit, protein bar, apple bar, tofu scramble, granola bar and a slice of sweet potato pie! Since watching him do parkour last year, I’ve added the discipline to my bucket list. I’d planned to start taking classes last summer when he visited me, but his mother postponed that trip because he visited Germany instead.One night, he requested I show him some yoga hip openers. Another night he showed me some parkour exercises, but I chose to take pictures of those, figuring I’d do them during my  fitness room workouts.
He referred to this move as “declining handstand” or something like that. The point was to gradually lower oneself then roll out of it. He followed that up with a move that looked similar to a yoga position known as “peacock.” The hand placement was different, but I was impressed at the arm strength. Once I can do about 6 minutes of planks, I may try adding this move as well. Yet my absolute favorite exercise he showed me was the “pistol squats.” The name alone was badass and since it targets glutes, I’m sure to add that to my routine! For another year in a row, I woke up before my nieces and nephews. The Christmas tree appeared more bountiful than it had just a few hours earlier when I had gone to bed. Even the stockings had gained weight over night. And making his Christmas debut: Q-dog Chef! Between my mother and the older sister who thinks she’s my mother, they had us take this group selfie four times before opening gifts.  I found these lemon-oil laced vegan products for my vegan niece: lip balm, soap and moisturizer. I figured my sister would appreciate this retro Lionel Richie album cover on the front of a blank book. Now she has somewhere to sketch out all her latest creative ideas for 2017. Mom’s always touting new home remedies for ailments; so I gifted her some beeswax beauty products that came with a small jar of honey. I leapt with joy when I saw my nephew already making good use of several little notebooks, strategizing his business pursuits. I had that in mind when I got him a moleskin little notebook. What to get the woman who seemingly has it all? Why something to make her laugh! Whoever came up with the idea of marrying mistaken lyrics with coasters must have had loved ones who habitually screwed up songs as well like my sister does. What to get the guy who seemingly has it all? Some consumable he can use.  In general, my brother-in-law and father are hard to shop for; so they tend to get the same gift. This year, the gift was a vegan and rainwater-based shaving soap. Again, I got lucky with my other niece’s gift since her care products were peppermint oil-laced.  I discovered after the fact that’s one of her favorite scents. My other nephew’s gift was a no-brainer: reading material. Not necessarily the type of reading material he’d prefer to read, but The Journal of Best Practices is about a married guy with autism and the other reading material are highbrow magazines. During one of our conversations, I pointed out that he needed to read more and build his vocabulary since he didn’t know the meaning of a couple of words I’d said, such as “prolonged” and “ambiguous.”  After the gift exchange, I finally tasted Christmas breakfast: grits with butter and sugar and a biscuit-based casserole with sausage, eggs and veggies. Now here was something to melt my former science teacher’s heart. My little niece set up her IB Biology project. She’s testing how various levels of carbon dioxide affect the growth of marine plants.
I just loved how she did a little at a time and had her handy laptop to document the arrangement.

Hours later, we enjoyed a Christmas dinner buffet: roast beef, honey baked ham, fried turkey, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, vegan baked beans, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, vegan croissants, collard greens and dinner rolls. I refuse to put chitlings in that line up of delicious food, but Mom brought those foul-smelling innards from NC.

As par for the course since my visit, I partook of two desserts. For Christmas, the new dessert selections were pineapple cake and red velvet with white chocolate lace. Those two added to the sweet buffet of chocolate cake, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, various candy and vegan desserts.

It’s no wonder why most people make dieting a part of their New Year’s resolutions. Not me. I just return to Austin and avoid eating two desserts a day. I exercised every day in 2016 except for on Jan. 16th! A very good track record I plan to keep for 2017.

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African American Museum

As we approached the African American museum, I thought of an inverted step pyramid. My sister informed me that the design was inspired by an African headdress. Whichever the case, I loved the stylish modernity of this ancient shape. The first time I’d ever visited the Washington monument as a child, we only celebrated Black History Week. Now, we had Black History month and the Washington monument served as good landmark for the African American museum. We were very optimistic about our wait time since there was no line at the door.  In fact, the woman at the information desk had told us that we would have to spend 22 hours to see everything. The four upper levels were dedicated to some aspect of community and  culture. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything. I especially wanted to see the more historical parts, which were housed three floors below the main level. We only waited 35 minutes, versus 60, to “go back in time” as we descended into the 1400s by  elevator.

I snapped a picture of this photo collage that decorated the stairs. I definitely remember when, then presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, played his sax on the Arsenio Hall show back when I was a senior in college; I hadn’t seen the Oprah episode when she interviewed writer Toni Morrison; nor was I alive when actress Marsha Hunt made the iconic Afro statement in the stage production of “Hair.”  The first of many ironies I discovered involved sugar. Slave labor produced 90% of the world’s sugar in 1787. That “ingredient” still plagues many black and working poor communities today, from the contribution to a bad diet to diabetes.

I spent far more time reading the captions and blurbs aloud, which were scattered among the artifacts and photos, than taking photos of my own. This was mainly to help my vision-impaired sister, but also, I wanted to be more engaged in the exhibit than to document it. So, we passed through several areas dealing with the transportation of slaves and I was surprised that Portugal, at an estimated 5.8 million slaves, had transported the most.

My sister thought that made perfect sense because DNA testing showed part of our ancestry was Portuguese. As if it was not horrifying enough to be subjected to the harsh conditions of the Middle Passage, but to then be raped and impregnated as well.

Cotton, one of the slave labor cash crops that my family, black  friends, and I often use as the motivation to succeed in life so we won’t have to pick it to survive, had its shrine as well.
The next level up in the gallery dealt with post slavery. Just as I was telling my family that the first rise of the klan occurred during this time period, we saw a section dedicated to that group. The exhibit didn’t go into depth about how the newly freed slaves caused poor whites to lose status. One of my favorite pictures was of a mother and daughter who sat on the court steps with a newspaper, which had screaming headlines about desegregating schools. Inevitably, everyone desires the American dream of freedom to thrive in this land of opportunity; so we black women have also fought to be heard.  One of many powerful black women, Angela Davis has spent her entire life as an activist educator and writer. I use the word “activist” rather than “radical” because I don’t think there’s anything radical about wanting to be free. That’s just common sense, for which some people are feared and given negative labels. Just to prove how I was more invested in experiencing my visit than making a photographic record of it, I inadvertently chopped off some of Obama’s quote, but I’ve typed it in its entirety here: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or…some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.” 

That statement resonated with me because it dovetails beautifully with both my independent nature and my newfound desire to remain on the right side of natural selection.The only thing I’d add to Ms. Giovanni’s statement is, “The worse person to lie to is yourself.” Even though I’m an analytical person, I’m just as prone to “confirmation bias” as anyone else. That’s when it’s very useful to keep my eyes on the prize and strive for as much greatness as I can, given the situation.

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Ineligible for a Subsidy

Since becoming a full-time insurance agent, I’ve sold medicare advantage plans, AKA part C, for a hot second, then received additional training to sell affordable healthcare plans on the federally-run marketplace, AKA “Obamacare.” Originally, I embraced the opportunity to expand my skill set, but I had no idea, back in August 2016, what a hot mess awaited me.

Once I stopped being preoccupied with the occasional fickleness of the websites and the new information, I settled into a general work rhythm. I tuned into the needs of my customers, especially the unhappiest ones  who did not qualify for subsidy–the amount of money the government contributed to the premium of a healthcare plan. They either made too little or too much money.

As usual, I felt more sympathetic for the people who made too little money to qualify for a subsidy. When you’re poor, you have next to no options.  I was trained to tell them they’d have to contact healthcare.gov to see if they qualified for Medicaid. Yet, some already knew they didn’t qualify for Medicaid. They were in the position of being too poor for a subsidy, but too “rich” for Medicaid. In angry despair, they’d ask me what were they supposed to do. As far as I knew, what this boiled down to was whether they lived in a state where their governor had extended Medicaid benefits. If so, then they would be covered. If not, then they remained uninsured. Of course, I never told them that.

Initially, I’d go down the rabbit hole with these customers, thinking my job was to solve the challenge of getting them coverage. Yet, I’d have to be a wheeling and dealing politician, able to persuade all the governors who hadn’t extended Medicaid benefits to do so. Much beyond the scope of my duties as an insurance agent. After one week, I told such customers to checkout healthcare.gov, and with as much sympathy and politeness as I could, I ended the call.

I’d heard from these customers about other agents rudely hanging up once they realized the customer had no income or very little income. I had to do better than that. I knew I could at least treat them with respect and dignity. After all, I wasn’t able to enroll them into a healthcare plan, but I could still acknowledge that another human being was on the other end of the call. I never want to lose sight of that.

At the other end of the spectrum were the customers who made too much money to qualify for a subsidy. They were ever bit as angry as the people who made too little money, but far more articulate and political. Upon hearing the full premium amount for the cost of healthcare coverage, they’d sarcastically question how this could be “affordable” healthcare. Bitter about what they viewed as “socialist” healthcare, they’d optimistically state how the new president would end the “Obamanation.” Very few reflected how wonderful that  less fortunate Americans were able to get healthcare. Yet, even those customers stated THEY didn’t want to bankroll the less fortunate’s coverage.

Again, I didn’t go down the political rabbit hole. At least with the ones who “make too much money,” I still  reviewed what the best plan for them was. Some chose to pay the penalty and gamble they won’t have a medical emergency. Others said they’d contact their local health carriers, which weren’t on the federal marketplace, the only place my coworkers and I look for healthcare plans.

As this political football gets tossed about, I continue enrolling the “Goldilocks” customer: they make just enough money to qualify for coverage and live in a zip code where they like their choice of carriers.

This experience has reconfirmed one conclusion I’ve had for the last couple of years: people have more in common with other people in their same socioeconomic status (SES) than their same “race.” Some people are loathe to admit they have more in common with people of the same SES who come from a different “race” than people from the same “race,” but different SES.

I keep putting the word “race” in quotations because it’s a pseudoscientific construct. Yet, economic-based class difference is very real.  You can either afford to pay for both a place to live and a car note or you can’t. That situation was made very clear to me last year when I taught Adult Basic Education classes and at least two of my students were living out of their cars. Their conclusion to the economic dilemma was that a car could get them to a job, but an apartment could not.

Both students were from different “races,” but the same SES. At the end of one’s money, what are “race” and politics? Neither one buys food, pays rent nor qualifies or disqualifies one for health insurance. Only money.

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Stray Shoe

 

A stray shoe along a road, an intersection

Orphaned by some traumatic event

Someone’s sandal, boot, stiletto, athletic footwear

Never a pair of shoes

Just one

Missing its sole mate

Always that lone shoe

Because if it were two

Someone would surely take them

But the one left behind

Like the sad lover who stayed

While his/her heart went away

Bears witness

They were there

Together in that moment

Before fate separated them

Perhaps forever

It’s only for the poets and storytellers

To ponder the tragic tale

Unlike bad human relationships

Shoes are paired up for a reason

No one ever tells you, I’m so glad you kicked that left shoe to the curb. She was just bringing you down. Or I’m so happy you’re no longer with that right shoe. He was an asshole and you can do so much better.

Did some modern-day Cinderella flee

Praying that one day her prince would find

That shoe and save her from dire circumstances?

Or was it that old woman

Who finally tired of living

With all those kids

In the cramped conditions of that shoe?

Or did someone throw that shoe at another

As an insult

Like that reporter did to Dubya?

Is the half shod person

Walking around in circles

Like someone in a rowboat with one oar

Looking for that missing shoe?

Every stray shoe has a rhyme or reason

Every stray shoe was part of the shuffle

Every stray shoe helped create

The characteristic rhythm of the bearer’s gait

If the shoe’s owner died with the remaining shoe on

People who find the body

Will inevitably think

Where’s the other shoe?

And if all the storytelling speculators

From both sides of the separated shoes

Got together

Would their stories match jigsaw style

Or be entangled like something in

A craft box?

 

 

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Ham & Cheese Casserole

27-ham-cheese-casserole

Lots of people fret about what to do about all those Thanksgiving leftovers.  Talk about your first-world problems!  Not me. Ever since I went through a strange time last year, where I obsessed about food since my grocery budget was $30/wk, I’m joyous every day I have food in the house.

I was gifted a ziplock bag of fried turkey and another ziplock bag of fried ham after Thanksgiving dinner. Although I eat pork, I don’t buy it. So a bag of fried ham got me thinking of how I could honor its presence in a meal. Then, it came to me: ham mac and cheese casserole!

I’d never made it before, but this comfort food was just what the doctor ordered, considering the fact that things have been rather stressful at work and the weather has turned cooler. Combined with butter, whole milk and two types of cheddar, the ham was guaranteed to shine, especially topped off with spicy panko bread crumbs. I originally was going to add a couple of handfuls of spinach, but remembered at the last minute that I had frozen peas, which fit the bill even better.

One of the best returns on making a casserole is getting 8 meals out of it, which I conveniently packed up in plastic food containers, ready to be microwaved for lunch. This dense casserole had to be heated up for at least 2 1/2 minutes and every minute counts on a 30-minute lunch break, especially when we worked from headquarters. In my apartment, nothing is more than 10 steps away; so time doesn’t seem to slip away from me as I travel from the kitchen to the bathroom to take care of human needs before getting back to work.

During those few precious moments with my feet kicked up, I savored every rich, delicious bite. What a difference a fantastic meal makes for those afternoon calls!

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Thanksgiving 2016

1-gluten-free-animal-graham-crackersSince my friend who hosted this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is gluten sensitive, my contribution was a pumpkin cheesecake with a gluten free graham cracker crust. What a fantastic sacrifice of some animal graham crackers! 2-graham-crackers Pre-Vitamix days, I would’ve mashed those bad boys up with a potato masher like Mom used to do. It’s all about incorporating technology now.3-melted-butterFive tablespoons of melted butter added to the crust’s deliciousness.
4-sugared-crust Despite the fact that I used cookies, I faithfully followed the recipe and sprinkled a tablespoon of sugar.5-buttered-crust Even before I baked the crust, I could smell the flavor as I mixed in the butter.6-baked-crust Baking the crust for five minutes truly brought out the flavor.7-cheese-sugar-vanillaNext, I got the main event ready: three packages of cream cheese, one cup of sugar, some vanilla extract.
8-creamed This base could’ve been any cheesecake.9-spicesThen I added some fresh traditional Thanksgiving spices: cinnamon and allspice. 10-pumpkin Although the recipe called for one cup of pumpkin, I couldn’t taste it. So I put in the whole 15-oz can. Everyone savored the taste and asked if I’d used fresh pumpkin. Ha!  I’ve heard from at least two people, who used fresh pumpkin, confess that next time they’d use canned pumpkin. Good enough for me.11-eggsLastly, I added three eggs and hand grated nutmeg.12-before-baking After pouring the batter into the pre baked crust, I gave it a final serene swirl to smooth it down. As any good chef or baker will tell you, it’s not merely using fresh ingredients that makes a dish, it’s also the care one puts into the preparation. The end result? Edible love.13-baked The recipe stated to bake the cheesecake for 60-70 minutes, but it looked plenty ready after 35-40 minutes. 14-fry-master I arrived just in time to see my friend’s husband checking on the first turkey he’d fried up. I love the fact that he was a former firefighter since turkey fryers have caused so many fires and injuries.15-whipped-cream While other preparations took place, I whipped up some fresh cream with too much sugar and put it in the refrigerator. 16-prepping-fryer Nearly an hour later, I documented the frying of the second turkey. 17-next-turkey This bird had already been injected with liquid spices. 18-lowering-turkey Our fryer chef carefully lowered the bird into the boiling hot oil. 19-in-the-fryer 20-boiling Still using caution, he closed the lid.21-lid-closed And then slowly backed away.22-carving-turkeyThe other captain of the chef team, curved up the first fried turkey.
23-turkey-platter In the process, she made a beautiful  turkey display.24-dinner-plate In addition to a glass of water and a chalice of red wine, I made my eclectic Thanksgiving plate: green beans with sliced almonds and cranberries; mashed potatoes with cream cheese, rosemary and garlic; apple salad; fried turkey; fried ham; and Mexican spaghetti casserole.25-desserts We had two homemade dessert selections: flan and pumpkin cheesecake.26-dessertsI skipped seconds on dinner just to double up on dessert. Besides, we were all gifted leftover turkey, ham and potatoes. I left half of the remaining cheesecake with my hosts and then delivered the rest to another friend who lived nearby.

As delicious as that cheesecake was, I don’t need it all for myself. That’s the main reason I never make a dessert unless I taking it somewhere else.

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Mid-Week Night Hike

1-skyline I braved the unknown in the dark to find our meeting place for this mid-week night hike along Lady Bird Lake, starting on the East side.  Although the organizer set the rendezvous point at a place that would be closed by the time we got there, in FRONT of that place was an international hostel that was well lit and accessible by GPS. Yet, I parked a block and a half away because I wasn’t sure of where the meeting place was. Fortunately, I saw a group of people standing to the side of the hostel, looking awkward, which emboldened me to ask if they were the meetup hiking group. 2-group-shot-wskyline We were a small, eclectic group with whom I found common ground. I knew right off the back that one woman was from Egyptian descent. Another woman had just moved from NC, my home state. One guy had both a sales and engineering background; so of course I made my attempt to recruit him and planned to send him the official referral link. One woman and I had the same game plan of strategically parking a block and a half away where there were streetlights and no danger of parking violations. 3-roanokeOur representative dog was an energetic, year-old puppy, Roanoke. As much as I liked the calm look in his eyes, I didn’t want to get pounced upon without warning.  People switched out walking him, although they had to brace themselves for the sudden bursts of running and pouncing.4-group-shot-wstevieSince we started on the East side, we ended at a prime location on the West side–the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue. One guy had never heard of him.  We all encouraged him to look him up on YouTube. We double timed it back to starting point. It’s like we all had the same idea to wrap things up and go back home.

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