Archive for February, 2012

Its happened again…

Its happened yet again, another senseless school shooting. This time the place was Chardon, OH, and as of this writing two young people have lose their lives and three were physically injured. Of course the impact of this act is far greater than the five who physically were harmed, a community was harmed. For the community of Chardon, Ohio life as they know it ended yesterday when the alleged gunman fired the gun.

It’s easy to throw blame around when these incidents happen, many will say it’s the guns, some will say bullying, some will say it’s the breakdown of the family; the truth is none of us really know. The only thing we do know is that once upon a time, in a place really not that far away, the idea of a child going into a school with a gun and shooting their classmates was a pretty bizarre concept. Sadly violence in our schools has become so common that while our breath may stop for a moment when we hear these reports within a few minutes we go on with our day.

I’m just a woman in Maine who thinks too damn much but I can’t help wondering somewhere along the line we stopped communicating, we stopped connecting, we stopped being present for both ourselves and our kids and sadly that’s when shit happened. Bullying despite all the recent media attention is not new, hell I had my own personal bully back in the early 1980’s when I was in school. My family and the teacher put an end to the bullying as soon as they became aware of it. Now though thanks to the speed at which we live bullying can literally be a 24 hour a day event, no longer is home a safe haven in many cases.

I have heard people say things are no different than they were 20-30 years ago and it’s simply every generation looking at the younger one saying things are different or worse. I don’t know…I know that 30 years ago kids didn’t walk into a school and shoot up the joint. Worse case, a physical fight may have resulted not death. Seems like a mighty big change to me! Frankly no one wants to look around and say things are bad, we like progress and while we have made amazing progress from a societal and technological point of view, I sometimes wonder if that progress has come at the expense of our greatest resource…people! When people are not communicating, connected and feeling valued for simply being, it’s easy to lose hope and when we lose hope, we lose everything.

Ultimately as a society I think we need to stop and check in with ourselves, and unlike a foursquare check in, a self-check in requires more than a minute of our time. Yet the end result might be a place where no one feels so hopeless that violence is the only option to solve a problem.

 

 

Mourning turns to memories

Since 2004, this week has represented the longest week of my year. Yeah, it sounds strange but bear with me, 8 years ago today my mother celebrated her 50th birthday and then left this world 4 days later. For the first few years after her death I would spend this week holding back the tears and trying to stay sane. Yet in the past year I have noticed a slow change, no longer do the tears flow quite so steadily during this time period, don’t get me wrong they still show up but the pain at the core of my being has loosened. To quote a friend of mine last night who knew my mother, mourning turns to memories.

 

I realize as cliché as it sounds while time doesn’t necessarily heal wounds, it does indeed lessen them. The world and my world have both moved on in the past 8 years but my Mom’s spirit still resides in me and even more in my kids. I am learning that while death closes many doors, it opens others. My daughter will never know her Grandma (actually she knows no Grandma’s since they all checked out before she arrived) but her ways of being are so reminiscent of my own Mom that as I shared with my brother last night, it’s as if Ma came back as my daughter….who knows.

Anyway I will do what I have done since her 50th birthday when she was not well enough to do it herself, I will open a bottle of red and raise a glass to my Mom….the best mother, friend and confidant a girl could have. Instead of tears, I will look back on all the good times and a few of the not so good ones too.  Death does not stop love nor does it end the parent-child relationship as I have learned, it merely changes it. One of the last lucid things my Mom said to me was in response to a question I asked her, I suspect she knew her time was coming to a close and she told me to think and find the answer. It seemed harsh at the time, but it now makes sense, when I am in a jam, I do just that and generally the answer will find me.

To quote my brother, our clan flag is at half-mast this week but there is no sorrow, death is simply part of the journey. Some of us are blessed with long years, others not, but the number of years is irrelevant because love is more than time or even a physical body.

 

 

Prep School Negro Rescheduled

Just a heads up, winter decided to rear it’s ugly head causing the Prep School Negro showing to be rescheduled. Gotta love the weather! Anyway this fabulous event has officially been rescheduled for April 2, 2012 6:00pm. Hope you can make it if you are local.

Several months ago one my twitter followers told me about an independent film by Andre Robert Lee called Prep School Negro. I immediately looked into this film and it definitely caught my eye, no I am not a prep school Negress but as someone who plays outside the racial and class box they were born into, this film definitely spoke to me in the clip I had a chance to view.

Of course being in Maine, I figured my chances of seeing this film in its entirety were pretty much a dream. Granted I decided to email the director and much to my amazement, he told me plans were underway to come to Maine in early 2012 and show this film. Well long story short, it seems that twitter follower and several others had been working behind the scenes to bring Lee to Maine. A few weeks ago, I received a message asking if I could help get the word out about Prep School Negro and here I am.

Friends School of Portland, in collaboration with UNE and area independent schools, is hosting André Robert Lee and showing the film The Prep School Negro, on Monday, April 2, 2012 6:00pm  at UNE’s Ludcke Auditorium. Lee’s film provides an important reflection on the challenges and opportunities that arise when a poor student of color leaves his community to attend an elite private school. Lee prompts us to consider the meanings that home and school, class and race, aspirations and education play in our current lives and the lives of our children. What does it mean to belong in a school community and what can schools do to become more truly inclusive? We hope you’ll come to this unique event and engage in this important conversation! See the film trailer here: http://www.theprepschoolnegro.org/see-the-film/.

FILM SYNOPSIS:
“André Robert Lee and his sister grew up in the ghettos of Philadelphia. Their mother struggled to support them by putting strings in the waistbands of track pants and swimsuits in a local factory. When Andre was 14 years old, he received what his family believed to be a golden ticket – a full scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country. Elite education was Andre’s way up and out, but at what price? Yes, the exorbitant tuition was covered, but this new world cost him and his family much more than anyone could have anticipated.

In The Prep School Negro, André takes a journey back in time to revisit the events of his adolescence while also spending time with current day prep school students of color and their classmates to see how much has really changed inside the ivory tower. What he discovers along the way is the poignant and unapologetic truth about who really pays the consequences for yesterday’s accelerated desegregation and today’s racial naiveté.”

COSPONSORS:
Cheverus High School
City of Portland
McAuley High School
Merriconeag Waldorf High School
NAACP Portland Branch
North Yarmouth Academy
UNE Multicultural Affairs
Waynflete School

Anyway I hope folks will come out and support this film and director, I sure as hell hope to be there!

Raw

It will be 4 years this summer since I started this blog, it started off really as a way to talk about my life in Maine and see if maybe I could find a few other Black folks in Maine or near Maine. However over the course of time this space has evolved, I guess I am officially a memoir blogger since basically most of this space is about me and my journey through life. Along the way I started getting involved in other forms of social media as a way to connect with others.

I will say that honestly it’s been a great ride, but sometimes you have a day that makes you question everything. I have periodically taken blogging breaks when life is hectic, but last night I almost deactivated all my social media accounts and took down this blog and basically said fuck this shit!

This morning though I woke up in a calmer space and decided that I won’t let a few folks steal my joy. I have heard others say over the years that when you share your life in such a public way that it opens you up to criticism and I learned yesterday it is true. The details are unimportant though I will say it is true, and frankly it hurt. It hurt like hell.

I think sometimes we forget that we are dealing with real live humans on the other end and frankly while opening up may not be your thing, it’s no excuse to belittle others. I understand now why people are less inclined to share themselves and get raggedy in public, it makes others uncomfortable and well can open up a can of whatever.

I am still feeling raw but living authentically for me means taking the good with the bad. I don’t think sharing publicly makes you less of a person, or really says anything other than the fact we are a diverse group of people.

So yeah, someone stole my joy but I almost have it back, in the meantime I am a little raw.

 

The practice of being…just be

It’s vacation week up in my corner of the world, which means the 6 year old is on vacation and for once so am I since my schedule follows the school calendar. For the first time in forever I am actually taking time off minus a meeting the other night. One of my goals this week and really going forward is to simply enjoy each and every moment; having a much older child I am all too aware of how fast time goes when you are raising kids. Lately I have felt like I am on the hamster wheel and frankly I am tired of running.

That said in 2012, to do anything but run on that damn wheel feels like blasphemy, I mean we are all running on it. I am not a particularly woo-woo crunchy granola kind of gal, so it’s pretty much expected that I will run too. Yet let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it sounds to just be. Multitasking and thinking ahead is such a part of our culture, hell even kids do it! I have taken lately to telling the 6 year old to enjoy the moment at hand.

I realized today while we were out in the big city of Boston for a trip to her favorite place how hard it is for both of us to live in the moment. The kiddo asked me numerous times was I going to take pictures. Aside from two shots, the answer was no. See, I am tired of documenting and narrating my/our life, the problem with the constant picture snapping, and sharing is that frankly I am missing the moment we are in. It’s wonderful to document special moments, but somewhere along the way we started documenting every damn moment and if we are constantly documenting it, how can we live it?  Then again, maybe it’s just me.

The past several months in my yoga practice I have really struggled with this concept of being, of letting go and just being in that moment, in that pose on the mat with no other thought other than that present moment. Yet now that I have experienced it a few times, it seems only natural to try and take it off the mat. My yoga teacher who is just amazing, often says the struggles we have on the mat are reflective of something we are struggling with off the mat. For me it is true. My inner voice is always focused on what I should do, what I shouldn’t do and so-on, frankly she is not a good friend and I have decided to part ways with her. Especially after I listened to her a few weeks ago and made an ass of myself.

So, I end this mid-week post with one thought, just be…practice being in the moment for a few minutes each day. The only moment of life that is truly guaranteed is the one we are actually in, yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, so live fully and completely in this moment.

Things I don’t get….sushi and staycations

Random thoughts as I revel in being more or less on vacation this week, oh sorry! It’s really just a staycation with a one day trip to Boston thrown in, can I tell how much  the word staycation annoys me? Frankly I think a broke hipster invented that word so that he/she would not have to think about how broke they were and how shitty it was that they really couldn’t get away. Everyone knows when you say you are doing a staycation that the reality is you are a member of the broke Phi broke club, so own up to your reality.

In other random stuff I think when I have time off, why is sushi suddenly the must eat food? Seriously? I eat sushi, but whenever I am eating it, I find myself thinking, this would be so much better if it was deep fried with a side of fries and some coleslaw. A few weeks ago for my birthday, a group of us got together and everyone had sushi except for me and one other pal. I always love how excited die hard sushi eaters look as they gear up to eat, but truthfully I lack that enthusiasm for sushi. Sushi to me is like tuna casserole, I occasionally like it but let’s not make this a regular thing unless I use a shit load of wasabi.

There was a brief period of time when I thought I really liked sushi, until I realized I was basically eating it to clear my sinuses with the amount of wasabi I used. At that point, I decided to accept the fact that I am not one of the cool kids….pass me some fried fish please?

 

Cultural differences and death…a homegoing

Today the world laid Whitney Houston to rest, and for some it was none to soon but as I accidentally found myself sucked into reading tweets about the service and later actually watching it on TV, I realized there was something larger at play. Despite the strides over the years for Black Americans to integrate into the overall American experience, there are some areas of our lives that are still very segregated, how we worship and how we deal with death. To be honest, I never really thought about these differences until my mother in law (who was white) passed away many years ago and obviously I attended the service. I was immediately struck by how very different the service was from what I had seen previously at memorials and funeral services. I will sum it simply as short and somber.

By comparison, the funerals I had attended for family members in my family at times could be seen as raucous affairs. They also were long, oh so very long. The shortest funeral I have ever attended for a family member oddly enough was my mother’s, which was shaped by my parents eclectic mix of beliefs starting with the fact my mom was cremated. Yet it still had enough traditionally Black aspects that it would in fact be recognized by many Black Americans as a Black service.

Yet in reading the tweets of people during Houston’s service, especially from white folks and Black folks who did not grow up in the traditional Black church, it’s clear we still don’t fully share parts of the Black experience even during Black history month. Truth is there are many in my generation and others who have left the traditional Black church, like many institutions that at one time had great value, today’s Black church is but a shadow of it’s former self. Yet at one point in time for Black Americans especially those of us who descend from slavery, it was all we had. The Black church was our home, it nourished us body and soul and gave us the strength to carry on. It’s no coincidence that many who were part of the Civil Rights movement hailed from the Black church.

I often used to wonder why the hell we used to get so damn happy in church, until hearing my father’s reminiscences about growing up in Arkansas as the child of sharecroppers. Let’s just say if I had been alive then, I’d probably get happy too in church. For those long denied their humanity, the ceremony of death was a joyous occasion, fairy tale or not it gave people comfort to believe that when someone died they were in a better place. A place free of the brutality that was meted out on a daily basis, so for those left behind a celebration was only fitting. To this day, you still see signs of that in many traditional Black funerals, songs, non-Black colored clothing, a way to celebrate Sister or Brother So and So’s homegoing. To quote one of my tweeps Clutch Magazine “ how fitting that her funeral–a FULL expression of Black culture–is happening during Black History Month?”

Indeed, it is fitting. Every year we trot out discussions of Martin, Rosa, Malcolm and others but to see the Black church on display is indeed fitting. If we are truly to move ahead as a society, understanding and knowledge is key. As for Sister Whitney, whatever her faults in this life, it is clear that she was loved and not just by people who did not know her and only adored her voice. I think we should all be so lucky if when we check off this rock, so many will come out to remember us. If nothing else that struck me in viewing this service was that she was loved but at the same time, no one glossed over the fact that she was a human who struggled. I can’t think of a better send off.

I want to go home! Life in Maine as a Black Girl

A reader recently asked me about writing more pieces about what life is like in Maine as a Black person. Totally makes sense, after all this is Black Girl in Maine. It’s also incredibly timely since today is one of those days where like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I want to go home. Like can we pack it up and go now! When I get that feeling, I know I am overdue for a visit.

Next month will mark a decade in Maine, and while the first year or so was culture shock, things eventually settled down. To be honest Southern Maine where I reside has made huge gains in the past decade on the diversity front. When we first landed here back in 2002, I could go days without seeing another person of color and generally that meant going into Portland, Maine’s largest city. Yet the twin communities where I live and work have had a rapid browning, oh don’t get it twisted, it’s still pretty darn white. However to quote my six year old upon seeing that we now have a Black neighbor down the street “It’s good that we aren’t the only black people here now”. Yes, that is true. The community center I run, now has a diverse mix of kids, Black, White, Brown and Tan, all being kids and having fun together. It’s so diverse now that I actually have my daughter come in a few days a week so she can actually make friends with kids like her. She is loving it.

Yet it’s still lonely. This past year has been hard on me, as I have struggled with doing some heavy lifting in my marriage that has resulted in some of the highest highs and lowest lows, I realized that I need a real support system here and that’s where sadly I feel blackness is challenging in a state like Maine. Aside from 1-2 people I know in this state, there are still those awkward moments that arise when people don’t know what to say, when political correctness stands in the way. Most native born Mainers I know unless they have left the state and lived elsewhere tend to have very little experience interacting with real life Black people and at times it shows. As I have shared before, I don’t find much hardcore racism but I do find people who at times are pretty damn awkward.

Let me be clear, it’s not always about race, as a native Midwesterner I think some of it is actually regional differences. Truth be told, I find East Coast Blacks to also be different than what I knew back in the Midwest. For starters many East Coast Black folks have a different background than those of us from the Midwest, more Caribbean roots than those of us with direct Southern roots and it can make things awkward at times. I talked to a sista I know from Texas who spent some time living in Boston and she mentioned a similar experience. I’m a down home bigmouth, sure I am a college educated professional but at the same time when I am relaxing, well shit…I like to kick back, get loud and let my hair down. I have yet to find the Black folks in Maine or anywhere near me with a similar outlook. Difference is good, it’s all valid but sometimes I want to be able to let loose and be me. That’s why I know I need a visit home.  Thankfully I put out the bat signal today and it seems my crew back home is going to make that happen…I see a long weekend that will include many whiskey sours, deep dish pizza and closing down this place at least one night.

Another challenge to life in Maine I have noticed and yeah it’s silly and vain of me but this is my space and I write what I like, is that in Maine, I don’t exist as a woman. I never quite realized that until recently when the reality that the Spousal Unit and I may be no more started to look more and more possible. Of course my mind started in on what about dating? The man and I had a great laugh about how we had traded places, prior to life in Maine, he was the invisible man, but like a fine wine he has aged well and women notice him. I on the other hand have become invisible, I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me after all I have single Black women friends in Maine who have told me all about their dating woes or rather lack of dating lives. I had heard them over the years but until recently never noticed it nor thought about it, but in realizing I may be joining their ranks I decided to check out the landscape…oh my! For a cocoa brown sista with short natural hair, there is no love. Thankfully for the moment I don’t have to worry much about this, but I won’t lie it did shake me a little to think that basically my very essence as a woman, a sexual being is not even noticed in this state.

In the end, Maine is a nice place, I like it, I am not sure what our future together will bring but at the moment, I am looking forward to going home where friends and family will nourish my soul on every level.

What we don’t see…life with anxiety

It’s amazing how seemingly small things will trigger you and take you back to a place you haven’t been in a long time nor did you necessarily want to go. I had that experience this evening as someone on twitter made a seemingly innocuous comment that for a moment had me on edge but then I realized I have worked far too hard and long to let anyone steal my joy.

A few weeks ago not only marked my son’s 20th birthday but it also marked 20 years since I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder as my entrée with panic attacks as the appetizer, side dish, bread basket and dessert. For my starter drink and dessert coffee, I have agoraphobia. For years that meant avoiding air planes unless necessary and then only under the influence, car rides that involved bridges and highways and a host of other things that needed to be avoided. Needless to say it made life with me challenging, hell the poor Spousal Unit used to have to avoid all highway driving with me unless I was medicated in one form or fashion.

Up until 2007 when a panic attack caused me to collapse in the middle of a lecture while teaching, I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding my “quirks”. Yet nothing like being taken out on a stretcher in front of your students and colleagues to make you realize, change is necessary. I have done therapy and meds and frankly they didn’t fix my issues they sort of colored over them or maybe a better way to put it…know when you have to clean the house so you throw everything in the closets or stuff it in the rooms no one will look into? That’s what meds pretty much did. Ativan provides a great high but I don’t want to walk through life dependent on drugs if there is a better way.

My better way started some years ago with therapy but in recent years has included yoga and meditation which my old therapist suggested but at the time I gave the side eye to, but after that incident in 2007, I was ready to try them. I admit I was a skeptic but now I am a believer. It’s been years since I was dependent on drugs and I can do most things most adults are perceived as being able to do today as long as I am mindful of my limits. My limits include knowing when to say no, recently that meant when a recruiter contacted me about a position that would have given me a six figure income knowing that while such a position would have been a feather in my cap, it also would have been a huge trigger. The further I went in the exploratory stage for that position, it was clear that while my current position can be taxing at times it gives me the latitude I need to manage my anxiety. Had I been offered this other position and taken it, I basically would have been opening the door for anxiety to walk back in on a regular basis. In the end, no job is worth my mental health.

However there is one area in my journey with anxiety that I have not overcome and frankly I am starting to make peace with the fact that I may never overcome it and as a 39 year old woman, it’s embarrassing as fuck. I can’t drive. Oh, I can drive but getting behind the wheel is an act of torture on every level and being under the influence of both anxiety and panic whenever I get behind the wheel, I have had to face that fact. Unlike many tasks an accident in a car has the potential to shorten not only my life but someone else’s life and after much self-examination it’s not a chance I am willing to take.

Funny thing is we live in a world that makes assumptions, we assume everyone is just like us, on one level I want to say that makes sense but on another level it doesn’t. It blows my mind how often people will tell me oh, just drive! If I were visually impaired I am pretty sure you wouldn’t tell me to just drive, at least I hope not. We are not comfortable with differently abled people especially when we can’t see it (not that I think we are comfortable when we can see it, but when we can’t it blows our minds), pretty much we are steeped in ableism and I never realized just how shitty it is.

Maybe it’s my fault because for years I suffered in silence and the Spousal Unit has gone out of his way to assist me, hell the first job I got in Maine required I drive a lot and I didn’t even know how to drive when we moved here. So the man would drive me where I needed to go and then park so no one would know my shameful secret. Poor dude often had to stay up to 2-3 am working since his work day was spent driving and hiding.

I admit having a driving phobia on this level is hard in a state like Maine and I suspect it may be the one reason I do eventually go back to Chicago or some place with a kick ass public transportation system. Since the downside is currently I can only handle being behind the wheel in limited quantities which does impact my social life especially any social life sans the man. Thankfully my best pal in Maine knows my secret and has for years and is always gracious in doing the driving.

Not sure why I wrote this tonight other than to say maybe we need to stop thinking that everyone is like us instead accept that we all have different abilities and that is perfectly fine.

PS: I know a few readers may be concerned about me sharing something so personal, well with a 20 year history its known knowledge as far as my medical records. As far as future employers, I am at the point in life, that hiding me doesn’t work, I did that for years and I have seen it blow up in a rather messy fashion.

 

 

 

Woman, don’t you know your place?

Work has had me out straight lately as Mainers are fond of saying (translation, real busy) yet despite being busy as hell, I have been paying attention to the world happenings and frankly it’s scary. Is it me, but have the powers to be, whoever those powers are, decided to launch a full scale attack on women? Oh, it’s easy to look at all the “progress” women have made but at the same time, while we are busy living and well…being busy, it seems everywhere we look; people are looking to put women back in the safe box. I think of the popularity of the show Mad Men and wonder if the popularity of that show is reflective of a desire to be back in a simpler time in America when women and the darkies knew their place?

So with the economy in shambles and no clear path to turn the economic ship around, why are we even discussing women’s bodies? Seriously. Yet that is where we have been recently, back in 2010 when health care in the US was overhauled one of the provisions was preventative care, and part of preventative care includes free birth control. Seems like a no-brainer to me, after all preventing pregnancies unless they are wanted is a win-win from a cost standpoint, yet religious institutions and technically I work at one aren’t too happy. Specifically religiously affiliated institutions would have to pay for birth control, so now we have the Catholic Church getting pretty pissy. For real? Hey, Catholic Church you have far greater problems than a professor at one of your schools getting free birth control, pipe the hell down. Obviously this thing is making for great sound bites especially in an election year. Funny thing is even Catholic women in 2012 are rather fond of birth control and often take it regardless of what the church says.

Shifting gears we had the debacle with the Susan G. Komen folks and Planned Parenthood folks, who in the end while they reversed their decision to defund Planned Parenthood, showed their true colors and who lost a lot of goodwill. How the hell does an organization supposedly focused on saving women’s lives decide to fuck over another organization that saves women’s lives too? Politics and a warped belief system, I tell you. Despite the fact that abortion has been legal in the US for damn near 40 years, we are still harping on it, if you don’t want one, fine don’t get one, but trust that women who do make that choice are of sound mind and please get out of other folk’s business.

Just a few nights ago, we had the Grammy awards and a documented abuser of women was applauded. Worse yet, some young women took to the social media airwaves announcing how they wish Chris Brown would beat them. Really? Society has us so twisted that we downplay abuse against women. I am a big believer in second chances after all if there were no second chances, you wouldn’t be reading this post. That said, with alarming regularity we see celebs like Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen and others who perpetrate violence against women being given chance after chance. That says a lot about us especially because we still live in world that judges women and people of color far more harshly. Of course if you happen to be a man of color but rich and or famous you get some of the privileges typically afforded only to white men. Beat ya old lady, hell kill her and do no time. Looking at you OJ.

Lastly we have washed up rappers making videos instructing boys and young men on how to sexually assault girls and women. Too Short made a video of so-called fatherly advice, and XXL magazine put it up on their website…of course now that the chorus of protest has come out, folks are back pedaling. Problem is the cat is out of the bag, so once again women’s bodies are not our own. If a young man actually listened to Too Short’s advice the take away is that women’s bodies are only here for the pleasure of men.

Frankly as a woman raising a girl who will one day become a woman, I am saddened. As the mother of a young man, it saddens me to think that some young woman may find him strange and less than manly because he was raised to respect women, not just their bodies but their minds.

Clearly we are at war and this time the enemy is not overseas but instead all around us, waiting to come out and strip our humanity. To reduce us to mere bodies to be controlled by men, and damn it, I am not going to take it.