Author Archive

Several nights ago I had a funny epiphany of sorts as I realized that I have slowly become the type of person that I once laughed at. As someone who once proudly labeled herself a hedonist of sorts, in recent months it has become clear that pleasure and self gratification are no longer the drivers in my life. Many of the habits that once brought pleasure in my life, are no longer pleasurable to this container I inhabit called a body.

It seems that my forty something self can no longer eat whatever, whenever, I can no longer drink more than a glass or two of my beloved vino without feeling it the next morning and anything less than a full night of sleep, just hurts. As someone who has always hated the idea of a gym membership, I am contemplating joining one and I actually manage despite a hellacious commute to hit the yoga studio no less than three times a week preferably four. Why? My back likes yoga and my spirits stay balanced when I make time for the mat regularly if not daily. It seems even my core digs yoga which is pretty cool now that I am friends with my core.

Last year was the worst year ever for my environmental allergies and after hearing more than a few people make suggestions about dietary changes, I bit the bullet and took baby steps and I’ll be damned, it seems that there is some truth in reducing and eliminating dairy products. I haven’t quite broken up with ice cream but we only see each other on special occasions!

In recent months, I have made many shifts in my physical body with the occasional slip up that immediately takes me back to that uncomfortable feeling and it strengthens my resolve to try again. Deepening my meditation practice has meant sitting cross legged and breathing into the spaces where I once reached for a glass of wine. When I do reach for that glass, I now ask myself why? I still enjoy the pleasurable treats but they are no longer staples in my life as I seek to balance food and drink for fuel and well being with food being delightful to the senses. As we joke around the house, I am now hooked on beet juice concoctions that don’t necessarily taste good but make me feel good.

As I settle into this place in life that some see as being “old” and some see as still being “young”, I am aware of shifts happening on a deeper level. I am no longer interested in the shoulds and the woulds of life, I am interested in facing life as it is in that moment. That means making peace with that which cannot change or that takes time to change but without holding onto the baggage that often surrounds the less than stellar moments that we all face. This article from OM Magazine sums it up “ And we must accept life on life’s terms, allow things to be as they are, and see the greater value in whatever we’re resisting.”

I feel like my 40’s are teaching me to surrender and accept life on life’s terms, something I didn’t get in my earlier years when I was still beholden to things such as my 5 and 10 year plans.  Reflecting back on my younger years, I am struck with how much of my life was about getting to the next place, and assuming that happiness was guaranteed if I stuck with my plan. I suppose that way of thinking was useful at a certain point in life but at this stage it no longer serves me. At a certain point, the rat wheel of always seeking more and better gets tiring and when the people who die start to become your peers, suddenly just living life without vexation starts to feel pretty good.

Recently my daughter shared with me how she desperately wants to be 10 so that she can be a tween, I asked her why she wants to be a tween and her only answer was that “getting older is better.” I laughed to myself as I remembered wanting to be 16, 21, then 25 and 30, for some reason all those ages were seen as milestones and now I have no idea why.  I do know though that my 30’s weren’t terribly fun at all when I realized one can and does lose loved ones and can end up being the matriarch of their family before 35! While I was excited to turn 40 last year it was  because I was pretty tired of the 30’s, and wanted a decade of life not tinged with life altering events.  I no longer had the youthful joy that often comes with getting older when you are young.

I am still pretty early in this journey of the 40’s and while my recovering type A self wonders what the coming years may bring, I am working to just be okay with this moment as it and I wonder why we call the 40’s the new 30’s when the 40’s are simply what they are…the 40’s.

 

The past month has been a roller coaster ride of sorts, the type of ride where as a writer, my head swirls with words that rarely leave my head. A few days after my last post, I found myself spending a very long night in the local emergency room with a 2am diagnosis of panic attack. It only took six hours and a battery of tests to learn that middle age and bad genes weren’t about to take me to my final resting place but that my old nemesis has returned with a fury not seen in years.

I suffer from generalized anxiety; it’s been a fixture in my life since I was 19 years old with a four month old baby and a floundering marriage. For years, relief was found in breathing into a brown paper bag or taking psychotropic medications that, frankly, seemed to create as many problems as the ones they were supposed to solve. A number of years ago, I broke up with Western medicine’s solutions to my anxiety problem after realizing that I wanted to solve my problem, not soften it. My type A self likes to get to the root of the problem and neither brown paper bags nor medicine did that for me. Enter yoga and meditation.

I started to dabble in yoga six years ago to see if the woo woo could solve my problem, in many ways it has, but the truth is that I am an anxious person. I am a woman living in a body that some deem to be inferior and in a world where I must always be on guard. It’s tiring. The upside though of six years of yoga and meditation along with a growing mindfulness practice is that I know my triggers. I know how to care for myself and how to keep the panic monster at bay, but sometimes life doesn’t work with you. Sometimes the load become too much for one person to carry.  In my case, my support system isn’t large enough and often it’s too overloaded and there are too many nights where I go to bed stuffing the unpleasant shit down. Why I didn’t have a large panic attack before is a testament to the strength of yoga in my life.

The night of my panic attack, I live tweeted and Facebooked my ER visit because after two hours, the husband had to take the kiddo home. I was alone in the ER with no one to call. Yet another reminder of what happens when you don’t have support or don’t feel you can ask for it. I was aware of how utterly alone I felt in those moments.

For days after that attack, I wanted to write about it but it felt too raw for public consumption. Especially after a casual acquaintance remarked that she was sorry that I felt so stressed; it was a well-intentioned comment but struck a nerve with me.  What I feel most days when I am sitting with myself is rage, rage at a world that seeks to invalidate my very existence. Rage that I am rarely given space to be as raggedy as I need to be, rage that I must wear a mask for my own safety and protection. Rage that I rarely feel safe in my own community to take a walk down the street on a beautiful day for fear that my difference will make me a victim. My struggle is the struggle of many Black women in a country that doesn’t honor or respect Black bodies. We cope in a variety of ways, but sometimes the struggle to cope becomes too much and when it does, we seek to end it all.

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when I heard about the death of Karyn Washington, a 22 year old beauty and lifestyle blogger who created the site For Brown Girls. Karyn committed suicide. A beautiful soul gone far too early and a reminder that the myth of the strong Black woman needs to die; there is beauty in strength but there is also beauty in the frailties and vulnerabilities of life. But for too many Black women, we rarely are allowed to be vulnerable; we are never allowed to just be. It’s too much. A video made by a friend of Karyn’s that was made public today revealed that Karyn had struggled with the recent loss of her mother. For many Black women, the relationship we have with our mothers while complex is often one of the few places in this world where we will ever know acceptance even when it’s messy acceptance.

In general I am no longer comfortable with these types of posts because inevitably someone with good intentions will remind me that all women struggle. Yes, we do but the struggles of a non-white woman specifically a Black woman in a society that puts white womanhood on the pedestal of what womanhood should be means that our struggles aren’t the same. All womanhood is not a created equal and when certain women never have access to safe spaces or validation it sets those women up for a life not fully lived, where even our joy requires that we work harder than others.

In this moment though, I take my mask off and lay my burden down inspired today by a hashtag on twitter where Black women reminded each other of the beauty we can find in this life despite the pain this society throws at us on an almost daily basis. Reminded that despite the fight for full humanity; love, joy and peace are my birthrights and that they are obtainable by any means necessary.

 

 

 

 

Race lived or how I lost my white friends

 

“It isn’t even about white or black. how would YOU feel if none of your neighbors looked like you? if people stared everywhere you went?”- a tweet seen on twitter

In the minds of many white people, racism is a relic of an era long past since rarely do we hear of the KKK parading through towns burning crosses on the lawns of Black people. We assume that since the law bans outright discrimination on the basis of skin color that any talk of racism is hyperbole and a relic of tensions that need to be laid to rest. Or as a local friend who recently took offense to this article I posted on my personal Facebook page said “Racism can never end until everyone adopts an attitude of inclusion.”  The implication being that everyone including people of color just need to let go and racism will simply fade away and the fact that it hasn’t faded away yet is because we are holding onto our anger and hatred.

Then again, as a former friend who I wrote about last year in this space recently wrote to me: “Perhaps it was the scars of racism that prevented you from trusting me, maybe it was other reasons.” This would be the same “friend” who in an attempt to write intelligently about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman last year, wrote the following words in one of the largest papers in the state of Maine “His really dark skin means he’s dangerous. Her wide nostrils remind me of a monkey. As abhorrent as these statements are, they are thoughts I’ve had. It’s hard to even call them thoughts, as they occur so quickly and almost outside the scope of language. When I saw the Pew Research Center’s latest poll results showing that whites essentially think we don’t need to talk much more about racial justice issues raised by the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, I wasn’t surprised.”  This same “friend” didn’t understand when I ended our relationship immediately, no questions asked. But in her clumsy attempt to reach out recently, she blamed the scars of racism on our relationship going bad…never mind that with a friend who would deign to write such words about people of color, who the hell needs enemies?

No, in the minds of most whites, racism is personal and Blacks and other marginalized people of color should work it out, or get over it… never mind that even the most thoughtful, progressive and decidedly unracist white person often carries racist baggage as a result of the silo of whiteness and privilege that forms the operating lens for our culture.

 Beyond the personal matters of race and racism that make cross cultural relationships difficult to navigate is the very real systemic racism that impacts me and mine on a daily basis.

I bet you had no idea that preschool age children could be suspended from school, after all what could you possibly do at 3 or 4 that would warrant such drastic action? Whatever is happening, when kids are suspended from preschool, the overwhelming majority of the kiddos being kicked out of circle time are Black. Yes, little Black kids get kicked out of preschool at higher rates than their white peers. That means the school to prison pipeline starts sooner than elementary school, it means kids as young as 3 are pretty much screwed. By the way, Black girls later on are suspended at higher rates than all other groups. In other words that strong, sassy thing that popular culture likes to talk up when it comes to Black women is bullshit. Society doesn’t particularly like its Black women strong or sassy, and unlike Sheryl Sandberg and her ban bossy campaign, the impact  for Black girls goes beyond just our self esteem, it threatens our very futures. But racism is dead?

Moving on, access to care and access to quality care are just part of the systematic issues that lead to Black women having drastically higher rates of breast cancer in the US in 2014 than white women. Part of my educational background is in health disparities and I can say that unequivocally across the board, health outcomes are poorer for Blacks even when the socio-economics are equal to that of whites. In other words, being a college educated, white collar, middle class, professional Black lady won’t save me from meeting an early death.

Our children often face violence from the very people whose job it is to keep them safe, our wages tend to be lower, we have health disparities in a system that doesn’t care enough about Black life to ensure that we have equal access to healthcare. White people get a slap on the wrist for drug offenses that  Blacks have lost decades languishing in prisons for; upon their release society  relegates them to a life of second class status where even working the frylolator at McDonald’s is damn near impossible. A financial system rigged for whiteness meant paying higher prices for even our homes and losing them when the real estate market burst. I could go on, but these are just some of the ways in which racism is lived in modern times. Never mind the microaggressions that eat away at your soul and drain the life out of you, as you wear that mask every day hoping to stuff yourself down just small enough so that your blackness or otherness doesn’t become an impediment.

Finally you reach that point where you recognize that the lens of whiteness will never let you be good enough for full inclusion into their world and truth be told, you don’t want that life. So you rip your mask off and free your soul only to be told “It’s hard to overcome and fix decades of race relations when you dismiss a person’s thoughts as just shit, without giving them the benefit of reaching out and communicating.”  Once again people of color and specifically Black people are always asked to just go that extra mile, never mind that our very survival on a day to day basis is all about going that extra mile. Truth is that sometimes you feel a bit like Rhett Butler when he told Scartlett “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

As I settle into my new life which allows me to talk openly about race and racism without fear of alienating the people who keep my daily bread flowing, it pains me to say that that I  have lost at least three people who I had considered to be pals/associates/friends. In this post I decided to quote them directly so that there is no confusion among people I do know. The common thread in the relationships that have gone bad is my incessant need to talk about racism, my need to no longer hide or stuff myself down to make myself more palatable to people who have little lived experience with people of color and my refusal to go that extra mile unless I am being met halfway. Middle age has served as my personal catalyst for change and the knowledge that waiting for others to make time for that which is uncomfortable will never make change happen. As long as people are privileged enough to live in silos where the uncomfortable can be comfortably ignored, nothing will change. I want a society that values my kids as much as I value them. I need a world where I can stop living in fear of the call, the call telling me that some white man with a gun stole my son’s life. I need a world where the seeds of white supremacy don’t have my precious girl starting to doubt herself because her hair isn’t straight enough and her skin is brown.  So pardon me if cheap talk, page views  and empty dreams don’t stop me.

Wine, Yoga and Vulnerability

Today’s post is personal and inspired by a recent conversation with one of my favorite writers who reminded me that there will always be a place for the personal story. Oral tradition is about stories, stories can be whatever we want them to be and sometimes they are nothing more than the tale of another.

On my 31st birthday, my mother lay in a nursing home fighting to recover from brain surgery as a result of metastatic cancer that was spreading throughout her 49 year old body.  At that time, I still held out hope that she would recover because she was a fighter and mothers weren’t supposed to die young.Yet later that day as I talked to her on the phone from 1100 miles away and realized that she could not say my name, something in me cracked. The woman who had given me life and always knew my birthday could barely utter out the word daughter.

Upon hanging up the phone, I felt a pain and horror that I had never felt before and I had no idea how to deal with that pain. So I sent my husband out to the store to get a fifth of Jack Daniel’s because whatever it was that I was feeling, I didn’t want to feel it. Looking back, I now know it was the beginning of the grief process; but in a society that shies away from death talk, all I knew then was that I needed to not feel. I drank half the bottle that night and got very drunk. The next day, I put the remainder of the bottle on a shelf where it sat until a few years ago. I rarely drank after that very horrible birthday a decade ago. It was only a few years ago, that I started to drink socially because coming from working class roots with a history of alcoholism, instinctively I understood that the line to problematic drinking wouldn’t be hard for me to cross at all if I was not intentional in my drinking.

In recent years, I have learned to enjoy a good wine and the occasional cocktail and as always with my family roots, I am constantly checking in with myself to make sure my drinking does not reach the level of problematic.

However a few months back, I heard an NPR interview with Ann Dowsett Johnston author of the book “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” and what I heard definitely made me think. Some months ago a  casual acquaintance announced that she was struggling with her drinking and planned to stop drinking. Truth be told, I know several women who in recent years have admitted to struggling with alcohol.

As my yoga practice has grown and deepened over the years and I still have my occasional wine throughout the week, I have grown to be struck by the surface similarities of wine and yoga. Both are tools that can aid in relaxation except that one has the potential to wreak havoc if consumed in a manner that is problematic. While injuries are always possible when engaging in physical activities, by and large yoga will not send you down the rabbit hole of despair and jeopardize life, family and livelihood. However in a culture that strays away from depth and prefers superficiality, rarely can we just  name what we are seeking or needing and thus as women we have a culture where unwinding at the end of a rough day and pouring a glass of libation to seek solace is an accepted norm and even encouraged.

By the same token as I have discovered over the years, when one goes off to seek comfort, solace or clarity in activities such as  yoga and or meditation and you start to get serious about it, you hear the most interesting comments. On the flip side if you need a drink to deal with life, rarely do you hear any comments unless you reach the level of problem drinker.

Life is most satisfying when we can admit to being vulnerable, even better when we can sit in that vulnerability and drop our masks; often the superwoman/man mask that most of us are required to wear. Juggling all the balls that modern day living requires is hard and most of us lack the support systems that were common place just a few generations ago.  As I journey through life at the tender young age of 41, I am learning that in order to be whole, I need to give words to all that I feel and allow myself those awkward moments as well as the blissed out ones too. To live with intentionality and purpose requires a clarity of mind that I cannot hope to have if I am using quick fixes to solve deeper issues. If I am quick to reach for the wine instead of allowing myself time to just be, it’s the equivalent of slapping band-aids on bullet wounds.  However if I am clear and intentional and know that I want to savor the taste of an exquisite wine with dessert, for me that is okay too.

Women are drinking more and for some of us, it will become problematic. But the world puts more demands on us than ever before as we battle the labels; the leaning in, the leaning out and whatever else. A one size fits all approach rarely works but a mindfulness to the whys and intentionality around the choices we make is about as close to one size as it gets.

For the past several months, my body has started to remind me of my early teen years when I was clearly entering puberty. Except that at 41, I am pretty sure this isn’t midlife puberty.  Hell, depending on who I am talking to, it’s debatable whether or not I am even middle aged yet! Though with life expectancy coming in at 76 or so for Black women and a family history that falls well short of that number, I think at 41 it is safe to say that I am probably at the midpoint of my life.

No matter what though, it is clear that my 41 year old body is just not down with living life the way that I have in the past. Unlike the late childhood and early teen years when we would feverishly clutch at our copies of Are you there God? It’s me Margaret or sheepishly talk about our bodily changes with our besties, it seems that in our 40′s most of us aren’t talking about these new life changes, so have no fear, I am doing the talking for you.

Maybe it’s just me, but gone are the days when I could function on little sleep. In fact anything less than seven hours of sleep these days and I wake up feeling as if I consumed an entire bottle of wine. Which reminds me, wine… what happened? After years of a great relationship, suddenly Merlot no longer loves me. Anything more than a glass and the odds are high that I will feel like a hot mess the next morning, needless to say, I do not like feeling like a hot mess. So that means more tea in my life and less wine.

I used to foolishly assume that anyone over 40 who was really into working out and eating healthy was doing it to look good and hang onto their youth. Not that there is anything wrong with looking good or hanging onto one’s youth but as I am learning, when I eat relatively healthy with an emphasis on my fruits and veggies and decrease the emphasis on my beloved sweets and chips, I feel amazing. Just like wine, too much indulging in snack foods creates a feeling of ugh…bloat and ugh feel bad; so much so that my new thing is a beet, carrot, apple and ginger drink that costs more than a halfway decent bottle of wine but leaves me feeling great, No heartburn either.

Last month, I inadvertently didn’t spend as much time on my yoga mat as I normally do, seeing as how I was preoccupied with my new job and a 200 mile round trip commute. By the end of the month my body felt like shit, there were parts aching that I didn’t even know existed. When I start feeling bad, it leads to a short term focus on fulfilling my immediate wants and that includes overindulging in snacks which created a cycle that lasted several weeks. Where I just felt like a pile of hot steaming shit. Last weekend, I kicked my ass in gear and hit the yoga studio three times in four days and I am back on track and my body is thanking me.

Growing older seems to be making me more mindful of my needs versus my wants and what I am learning is that much of what I want is short term and not necessary and sometimes even harmful. Staying up late, drinking wine, eating artisan desserts and playing online are all things that I want to do but when I do them, rarely do I feel good. Instead when I keep a consistent bedtime, bypass the wine and sweets, skip sleeping in and grab an early morning yoga class, I feel amazing. Throw in some balanced meals that are heavy on the fruits and veggies and I feel even better. As someone who has always tried to do what I want,  it seems that I am moving into that stage of life where my needs matter more than my wants. Lately my body has been suggesting to me that I add more exercise and for the first time in years, I am thinking of joining a gym and I am the original anti-gym gal. Hell, I proudly failed PE all four years of high school!

What about you? As you have grown older, have you had to make lifestyle changes? Or given up things that you enjoyed because they no longer enjoyed you?

PS: Tweezers are a middle aged gals best friend but that’s another post for another time.

 

As my personal and professional lives start to meld together, it’s definitely starting to make for some interesting and even challenging moments in my social interactions. Just a few short years ago, I restricted all talk of race to personal friends and family of color or to white folks like my husband who have a vested interest in understanding racial matters. For years, I rarely even mentioned this blog to offline connections for fear of creating uncomfortable moments.

Somewhere along the way though, especially as this space grew, I realized that limiting all talk of race for the sake of keeping the peace was to intentionally live an unauthentic life on my end. The cost of living an unauthentic life started to take a toll and the rest is history especially with my taking a position as the head of an anti-racism organization. Even a simple “What do you do” now means bringing up race and while I still have moments where the uncomfortable pause visits, it’s a small price to pay for actively working on societal change and breaking down the racial walls that are still cemented in place.

In the past year, many well meaning white people have reached out, wanting to know me or my work and while I have welcomed those attempts after being burned more than a few times, I am no longer sure how I feel about them.

I often talk about the impact of racism on people of color especially Black Americans but frankly racism impacts white people as well. Too many good white people live in silos of privilege that keep them blind to how damaging white supremacy is to all of us.

As an outsider looking in, I am struck by the fact that as a Black woman living in America, I must be competent in my own culture as well as that of the majority. It means understanding white social nuance and ways of being. Yet that is not reciprocated by the majority of white Americans, instead from my view, whites see their ways of being as correct and typically expect that everyone else will fall in line. The problem is that assimilation based off the dominant culture is not acceptance of difference, at best it is tolerance and having lived a life where my presence was tolerated, I think I will pass. Tolerance feels like shit.

Living in a silo of whiteness and privilege means a life of tense interactions with people who are different than you. It often means never really having true connections with people of color because when you don’t understand the other person’s way of being, it sets up an adversarial relationship.

In two separate incidents that involve people I know offline, I was struck by how the veil of whiteness keeps people from hearing and learning from others. In one instance I shared an article on my personal Facebook page about the cultural appropriation of belly dancing. While the author may have had a tone that could be perceived as negative, she brought up valid points about how cultural appropriation feels when it is your culture that is being diluted and stolen. The article sparked one hell of a discussion that was dominated by several local acquaintances downplaying the cultural aspect and making connections that were borderline offensive. What was fascinating was that other people I know were trying to explain why culture cannot be separated from something as seemingly as innocuous as dance. In the end a local person declared the author of the article racist as well as many of the people who had taken the time to try and explain why a dance can be appropriated. What was fascinating to me was the declaration that if we all just got over ourselves,  racism would end. Personal racism is to some degree on the decline, it’s becoming increasingly hard to find even a white bigot who probably doesn’t have at least one non white family member. Word on the street was that my former father in law really didn’t care for non white folks but he treated me with nothing but love and kindness and loved the hell out of his grandson, my son.

What has not changed is systemic racism that favors whiteness, get breast cancer? The mortality rates for Black women are nowhere near what they are for white women. Criminal justice system? Doesn’t favor Black folks at all and trust me we aren’t more criminal than white folks, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow goes into great detail explaining how the system is rigged and it’s not in favor of people of color. Racism is real and it’s not about white people who want to call me and mine “nigger” it’s about a system that makes living while not white harder than it has to be even when I strive for respectability as determined by whites.

My other recent interaction was more personal, a local woman who was a reader of this space and who had reached out  to befriend me misunderstood my words. She went on my personal twitter feed and  took what was a manner of speech that I use as a Black woman and assumed it to be something that it was not. People who know me well ,know that my manner of speaking and even writing changes based off my audience. When I am talking with other people of color, my cadence is not one that is familiar to white people who have not spent time around Black folks. It’s called code switching and it is something that many people of color do, in a world that rewards all things white, we do what we must to survive in that world and I make no apologies for it.

Yet as both these incidents reminded me, people need more than a desire to be a good and inclusive person to fight racism, it means having background knowledge of other people. It means understanding that most of what is taught in US schools about people of color has been diluted so much that our pain, humanity and reality remains invisible to you. It means not asking us to be just like you so that we can be palatable to you. However life in the silo keeps many from ever understanding this and as such we remain separate.

A yogi and the train or moving meditations

Its been almost two months now since I have started my now not so new position in Boston, a position that involves traveling 200 miles round trip via Amtrak and the Boston subway. One of the questions that I am constantly asked is “how is the commute?”; and surprisingly I must say that the commute is not bad at all. Generally when I give that answer people give me the raised eyebrow, after all traveling 200 miles a day for a job is not the norm in this part of the country. (My ole man hails from California where long distance commutes are not abnormal and even in my native Chicago a long commute is not unheard of)

However there aren’t a plethora of anti-racism organizations in the country much less in the state of Maine. The opportunity to lead such an organization was a once in a lifetime chance and I am not one to let a pesky detail like living two states away from the actual job get in my way.

Seriously though, after almost two months of riding the rails, I am struck by how absolutely calming the train can be. As an active, practicing yogi, my biggest challenge has been making time for the mat with this new schedule. To be honest, I am spending a lot less time on the mat doing what most people consider to be yoga but asana or poses are just one limb on the tree of yoga. Instead my practice has become more focused on pranayama or breath control. It turns out that focusing on my breath for long periods of time can produce the same calming effect in the body that an hour and a half long class can.  The breath can move energy just as effectively as poses can though my spine does miss the mat. It can also quiet the mind and in my case keep the anxiety gremlins at bay.

In a culture that thrives on constant movement and control, choosing to take the train goes against the grain since the perception is that I am giving up control by not being in my own vehicle. Yet the idea of control is an illusion since really our sense of control is mostly in our own heads. As I was reminded one evening when the train was delayed and in that second found myself raging over the train’s audacity to be off schedule when I wanted very much to be on schedule.  A fellow commuter reminded that had I been in a car at that moment, I would most likely be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and not moving. Fair enough. At least I was able to walk around, stretch my legs and just be present.

Instead as the weeks have gone by and the nonstop barrage of winter storms have happened, I find myself looking forward to my train time. After all, how many of us as partners and parents are able to carve out four hours a day to ourselves, several days a week? Admittedly the train is not a day spa but it is a place to snooze, day dream, meditate, work and even play online. It seems now that I have specific time carved out for the empty moments which I previously used to steal and feel guilty about, I find that I am far more present and aware with the people who matter most to me.  It turns out that a yogi doesn’t always need a mat but the wise sage Patanjali did say that “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.”

PS: Many have asked me if we are leaving Maine, while we had hoped to move sooner rather than later, that is not in the cards at this time. Unless someone has a sweet affordable pad in Boston, otherwise we will be Mainers for a while longer with a goal of being gone before the girl child starts middle school. After a decade plus in Maine, Boston has provided us with serious sticker shock.

The high price of truth or assimilation gone wrong

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”- Sojourner Truth

 

In the fall of 2007, I was at a professional crossroads after a year of teaching and realizing that I had neither the patience nor temperament to teach. I had a relatively brand new master’s degree and six figures worth of student loan debt so not working was not an option. However I really had no idea what to do, go back to the non-profit sector, consider the corporate sector or follow my dream of earning my keep by writing. I already had a few years of writing experience under my belt, having started my own column, Diverse City in the Portland Phoenix back in 2003 where every four weeks I tackled issues of diversity. In the end, I couldn’t make a decision, so I worked with a life coach and came up with a plan to satisfy my creative desires as well as my practical desires. In many ways the work that I did with my former life coach is what led to the creation of this space. Studs Terkel was my childhood idol growing up in Chicago, a storyteller extraordinaire, in many ways while I have called myself a writer, I see myself more as a storyteller. This space has allowed me to share my stories, bring awareness to others stories and create a community.

In the early days from 2008 until the fall of 2012, I was fairly anonymous with this blog. Most people in my community knew me for my social service related and nonprofit consulting work though a few who connected the dots realized that I wrote for local publications. Thankfully as a writer, rarely do people see your face and while my professional name is not common, I was able to mostly fly under the radar with my online work.

However my appearance on the Melissa Harris-Perry show in fall 2012 brought me a great deal of attention. That appearance increased my local profile and suddenly after years of blogging in relative obscurity, everyone from the local baker to fellow church members started reading my blog, friending me on Facebook and basically wanting to “know” me. Initially it seemed fine but after a series of unfortunate events it has become clear to me and my family that this space has become more than we ever bargained for.

Occupying space in the whitest state in America is a tedious dance. Local people emphatically tell me all the time that race does not matter, yet I believe firmly in the old adage that actions speak louder than words. In the past several months as I have used my social media platform to amplify the work that I do, it is clear that being the Black woman who refuses to not talk about race comes at a cost. When so-called friends started dropping out of our lives like flies hit with a stream of Raid, I didn’t think much of it. Losing one or two people here or there didn’t seem like much but as we see people we have held space with and broken bread with rebuff our efforts to get together or our child snubbed, shit gets real…really real.

Online harassment via trolls and threats is something many are aware of but what many don’t realize is that for some of us, especially women of color, we pay an extra tax for daring to speak our truth. So much so that writers and other activists, all people of color, who have inspired my own growth and journey have admitted they gave up blogging/online work because the offline price was too much. Living in a predominantly white space, I am aware that in choosing to speak my truth, I risk being ostracized but my family? My kid? They did not sign up for this life. In many ways, it would be easy for me to just shut this space down. In fact until I talked to my 22 year old son this afternoon, I was ready to call it a wrap. Yet as a son of Maine who has endured being called a nigger, having soda cans thrown at him, and even being harassed by cops for daring to get a sandwich, he asked me not to back down. How can I lead an organization dedicated to racial equality yet let the bigots win in my own personal life?

It breaks my heart this year to see my daughter retreating into her own head because it feels safer; knowing that I cannot explain why we no longer see old friends without explaining the ugliness of bigotry.  Knowing that she does not understand why we stay to ourselves now. Because I only have so much strength and the false and fake smiles are too much for me to bear most days now. Knowing that those bigots will tell me that I am jumping to conclusions and try to erase me and my reality and pain with simple platitudes that aren’t fooling anyone yet allows them to continue to avoid the heavy work of dismantling their own racist beliefs that stink like bowels after collard greens yet covered up with dollar store air freshener.

In the end, I believe that as Sojourner Truth once said “Truth is powerful and it prevails.”

http://sojournertruthmemorial.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/STmemorial.jpg

In the meantime, if my words are too much and we have a personal relationship, I am reminded that all things come to an end. Peace.

 

 

Another dead black teen, humanity denied yet again

Another dead black child, another childless mother and another scared white man who feared for his life at the hands of an underage and unarmed black teenager. The only difference this time is that unlike the last case involving a dead black child and a scared white man who took a life, the latest scared white man who felt he had no choice but to fire a gun into a carload of teenagers will most likely die in a cold prison cell. Yet even that knowledge is no comfort or victory to the parents of Jordan Davis as their son’s killer is going to prison not for killing their son but for attempting to kill their son’s friends who were in the car with Jordan. The jury in the Michael Dunn trial was deadlocked on whether Dunn committed murder in a case that was sensationalized by media outlets as the “Loud Music Murder Trial” instead of the white supremacy trial which would have been far more fitting. Whiteness as rightness and its many manifestations is what allows a 40 something year old white man to see an underage kid and perceive him as a threat worthy enough of immediate and violent death.

Last night as I mulled the verdict over in my head, I found myself thinking of run-ins I have had in recent years with local white teens. Run-in’s that serve as a regular reminder that no matter what we say and attempt to believe when it comes to race in America things are neither equal nor fair. Behaviors that are normalized in white youth are criminalized in Black youth.

A decade ago when our family bought our house, there were few kids/teens on the block, over the years the demographics have changed with the yard space between my house and my neighbor’s becoming a de facto hangout space for the preteens and teens who live in the area. This situation was worsened last year when our neighbors across the way, a pair of twenty something brothers put up a collapsible basketball hoop on the side of their house which faces the front of my house. It meant for weeks and months enduring white teenagers treating the area like a public park, complete with loud, braggadocios behavior, sometimes late into the night. It meant sometimes pulling into my driveway watching said white teens sitting on my porch, noshing while watching a ball game and side eyeing me as if I were an unwanted guest on my own property. The situation eventually came to a head after one long afternoon when I couldn’t take it anymore and was ready to just smash their heads into the backboard of that damn basketball hoop.

Yet a funny thing happened as I marched down the stairs and crossed the street and peered into the faces of the young men who all stood at least six feet tall. I looked into their faces and saw the faces of kids, teenagers on the cusp, straddling the line of almost adults and not quite kids anymore. A space where mistakes can easily be made, a place where forgiveness and understanding is required if we acknowledge the humanity of others; a place where boundaries of youthful pride and arrogance are pushed to the full limits and adults help to guide them to respectfully test the limits. In the end, it seems the kids never realized that they had been annoying me and my family and I recognized that ours is a culture that provides few safe public spaces for teens.

To see others as fully human requires putting aside all preconceived notions. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, as a 40 year old Black woman walking into a circle of white teens, I can say that as pissed off as I was, I was also scared. What if they hurt me and/or my house for daring to speak up? But when we deny the humanity of others, we end up taking the lives of others and for what?

Every time a verdict is read in one of these stories, we are saddened and stunned. Tears flows, words are written, words are spoken yet the injustices keep on happening because for the vast majority of people we don’t see people who aren’t like us in the same light that we see people who are like us. I often wonder what would happen if the data showed that young white men were being profiled. What if every year going back 20+ years there were well known cases of young white men being killed for reaching for their wallets, going out to get a snack, etc.? What if every white mother knew of someone who had buried a son before the age of 25?

The sad and tragically short life of Jordan Davis is another chapter in America’s sordid racial history, the chapter that we now pretend doesn’t exist. There will be more Jordan’s and Trayvon’s as long as the only people fired up and affected hail from black/brown communities. While none of us alive today created the institution of racism, the fact remains that whites are her beneficiaries and that black and brown bodies are disproportionally affected by racism. It means that whites who had nothing to do with creating systemic racism will need to actively work to dismantle it but that requires a willingness to be raw, vulnerable and messy. It means seeing and truly believing that my son is as good as your son. Until then all the faux crocodile tears won’t stop the next George or Michael from taking a precious life.

 

BGIM muses on love, loving and partnerships

A day for love and romance or a day to hide under the comforters with a Whitman sampler and a gallon of ice cream…welcome to Valentine’s Day.  The jackpot day for florists, chocolate makers and a host of businesses that thrive on the business of love. Make no mistake, love is a business, even during the economic downturn, wedding planners and others involved in the industrial love complex still did rather well.

In our culture we are socialized to pair up, our crowning achievement is hitching our wagon to someone else’s wagon. It starts early and builds and by the time we hit our 30’s or so, society has socialized us to believe something is wrong with us if we are not paired up like the creatures boarding Noah’s Ark.

Yet in a society that places such an emphasis on coupledom, we rarely ever talk about what happily ever after looks like as the years pass by. This past fall, the Man Unit and I celebrated 16 years of marriage, having been together as a couple 18 years. But what few knew until recently is that our marriage for several years has fluctuated between critical but stable condition and critical condition. A lack of love has never been our issue but it turns out that living happily ever after and growing old together requires a lot more than love. It requires realistic expectations about what loving and living together really looks like and understanding that while pop culture and singers like Beyoncé love to sell us on the idea of a “Drunk in Love” style of love which is hot, sweaty and passionate, most of us live lives of love that don’t involve all night love making and waking up on the kitchen floor.

In my own journey of marital woes, I have discovered that for far too many of us the lens of what love “should” be is limited to ideas heavily influenced by the lives of others. (Note: Never compare your own partnership to that of another; it’s a great recipe to feel like shit) When that love falls short of what it seems love is, we often move on. I suspect this is why the divorce rate in the US is as high as it is with many divorces happening before couples hit the 10 year mark. 

Last weekend’s NY Times Magazine ran an article “ Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” and it ended with this quote “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.” In many ways this quote gets to the heart of all that I believe makes modern day love so damn hard to navigate and in many ways sets us up for failure.  We want to lean in to love and partnership and we want it all. Yet very few of us have it all and the refusal to accept that keeps us on the hamster wheel of love and desire.  Hence why as soon as we break up, we start thinking about eventually having a new partner.

I do know a few people who claim to still have that perfect for them love which includes the daily sex, passion and drunk in love vibe. I don’t doubt it either but for many of us the passion years give way to the simmer years of life. The simmer years are deceptive because they feel wrong; they are the years where life happens, where kids are raised, parents grow old and die, our own health scares start happening and shit…life happens. It is also the time in life when modern expectations say that our partners are supposed to be our sun, moon, stars and universe and when these human partners fall short…well, hell breaks loose. Never mind that while we are in the midst of living, loving and simmering life that we ourselves are evolving as individuals. Few of us stay the same, I met the Man Unit when I was 22 and he was 27 and in our case, we are not those people anymore. We don’t even look like those people anymore!

Love is not a one size fits all thing; it is multi-layered and filled with depth. The most basic and necessary of all love is to love and celebrate our individual selves and know that from a healthy sense of personal love, all other love grows and forms in healthy soil. Love is fluid; it too evolves and shifts and sometimes ends in one form but continues on in another form.  

So on this day of love whether you have a sweet honey or not, remember that you are your first lover and partner.