Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.


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Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Black pu**y, or Sexual racism…What we don’t talk about

Racism is everywhere. In part because white supremacy is everywhere, it is the foundation of American and other Western cultures. We are steeped in white supremacy and even when we think we are fighting it, it rears its ugly head. Racism, which is a direct byproduct of white supremacy, is like the bad penny…always showing up and sometimes when you least expect it.

I write about racism, I speak on racism and I run an anti-racism organization and yet even in my interpersonal relationships, it has become clear that there is little relief from racism. This piece is a bit more personal than usual but I suspect it is a piece that any person of color who finds themselves in predominantly white spaces can relate to.

When my marriage ended over two years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of work ahead of me; after all, I had been partnered for two decades to the same man. My most pressing concern was whether I would be able to financially provide for myself seeing as how in all the years that we had been together, I was not the primary breadwinner. My former life partner was always the chief earner of money and I was the chief dreamer and do-gooder. It was a great pairing until it no longer was and, a few years ago, I was confronted with the reality that while the career path that I had chosen was a beautiful thing, it was a very sad thing when it came to my finances. So when I realized that the party of two was to become a party of one, my focus was on rebuilding myself at midlife and learning to become financially self-sufficient.

Since leaving the marital home a couple of years ago, I have made great strides towards economic self-sufficiency as well as the mental and emotional work of flying solo (I admit, I still have my bad days) but what I am realizing is that I now live in a world rife with the minefields of casual sexual racism. The type of racism that doesn’t immediately show its hand but when it does, it hurts worse than any random N-bomb dropped from the mouth of an idiot in a car rolling past you.

At a certain point in the new life-after-marriage adventures, that dating thing comes up. For some folks, they jump immediately into dating and for others, it takes a while. It took me a while; frankly, I still needed to remember to buy toilet paper and garbage bags for the longest time…tasks that had previously belonged to the co-parent. So I already had my plate full without adding a helping of find-romance to it. Needless to say, the juggling of my professional and personal life along with child schedules in the same year that my eldest kid decided to get married and have a baby meant that my first years sans a life partner was not really about dating.

However, at a certain point, the inner woman inklings started and, well, a woman has got to do what a woman has got to do and thanks to technology and chance, I ended up in my first post-marriage relationship. It was a good pairing but our lives have taken us on different paths and several months ago, the decision was made to put the relationship on indefinite hiatus. That first post-marriage relationship was what I needed to rediscover myself as a woman, to feel comfortable in my skin and frankly get my ass back in the game instead of in my bag of Cheetos and bottle of wine.

Now let me stop here for a moment. I am a middle-aged Black woman living in what is the whitest state in America. The pickings are really slim as far as the dating pool in terms of prospects that really mesh with me on intellectual, social and cultural bases in general, and they are painfully slim in terms of non-white prospects. To be blunt, as a heterosexual woman, the pool of available Black and Brown men over 40 in this state is damn near nonexistent. That means that if I plan to date anyone, the odds are pretty damn high that I am dating a white man.  Unless I plan to import some Black and Brown men to Maine, I am SOL on them. Trust me, I am trying on the importation thing but given what most folks know about Maine and how Black and Brown men are perceived here thanks to our loud-mouthed governor, it is a hard sell. After all, no one wants to be confused with the imaginary (but still prominent in many Maine minds) Smoothie or Money D. It also means that I am meeting men who have had, in many cases, little experience with real-life Black women and who have frankly spent a lifetime in the silo of whiteness. It means that I am encountering men who are so steeped in whiteness and often patriarchy that they have no idea how much work they need to do. Instead they assume that their willingness and desire to date me is proof that they are not racist. Nope, not at all.

White men being desirous of Black women is not new. I repeat, white men wanting to get jiggy with Black women is not new. Let’s take it back to Thomas Jefferson: That cat was out in the world talking about how all men were equal, all the while he was creating a whole family with Sally Hemmings who despite modern-day attempts to whitewash history was not his mistress or even his enslaved mistress. She had no agency and I am pretty sure given the time frame, Sally couldn’t exactly tell ole Tom no. This wasn’t a love connection. She was his property, a sexually assaulted slave pure and simple, no matter how we try to spin it.

White men were sneaking into the slave quarters back then and frankly many are still trying it today except that now Black women do have much more agency (even in this white supremacy-steeped nation) and while the approach looks more humane today, the end effect is often the same: the dehumanization of Black women. The refusal to see Black women as fully human. To treat them as experiments or fetishes. The belief that we are oversexed caricatures instead of fully human women who deserve more than a white man’s table scraps of humanity.

It’s the white man who has his respectable white woman and respectable life who thinks it is appropriate to try to get some side action with you. Or the man who thinks that if he buys you a few trinkets when you are low on money, you will be his faithful concubine. Also, the man who thinks complimenting you on your strength along with those trinkets is the way to your heart meanwhile he is posting  happy weekend pictures with his respectable white woman on Facebook. NO sir, that is not the pathway. Especially when it is clear this his desire is rooted in the “exoticism” of your Black skin.

The flip side of the respectable white man on the down-low is the brazen white man, the one whose eyes linger too long at your breasts when you run into him and his eyes undress you in a room full of people. He is the one who after one too many drinks at the local watering hole comes up to you with offers of dinner and pleas to spend time with him and yet when you turn away, you hear him muttering how he wants your Black pussy. This guy is crass and you wouldn’t touch him if he were the last man on the planet but at least there is no pretense. He wants that “hot Black puss”y that he believes to be wild and untamed. Tarzan with a side of Jungle Love anyone?

These two types you can almost laugh at because their white male desires that focus on the otherness of Black skin is easily recognizable and while it is othering, they are the ones you will never allow close to you (OK, some people still do, but not me and hopefully not too many of my Black sisters). They annoy you but it’s what Black women, especially Black women in predominantly white spaces, put up with.

It’s the last type that could crush you but instead disappoints you. It’s the white guy who reads the books, the guy who reads your writings, the guy who annoyingly plays devil’s advocate but who is willing to talk about the uncomfortable issues and so you think there is some potential there and you allow a friendship to grow despite the voice in the back of your head that says, “Are you sure”

He’s the one who over time, you call and text. He’s the one you start to slowly develop a first level of trust for. He is the one who takes you out and you laugh together and acknowledge that there is the foundation for something real to grow between the two of you and given your failure at relationships you decide to take it slow. He is also the one whose pals who aren’t too keen on you. The ones who judge you as an angry Black woman, the one whose texts you have seen on your friend’s phone, perplexedly and dismissively questioning that friend on his interest in you. This white friend you have made and are now growing more interested in is the one who just as he starts to see the insidiousness of how white supremacy works and is on the cusp of change realizes that life was a lot easier before he met you and, in the end, the silo of whiteness beckons. And perhaps a conveniently placed available white woman (facilitated by that annoyed friend of your friend) makes it easy for him to make his getaway. He says he values the friendship and doesn’t want to lose it but in the end, as you play Monday morning quarterback with a trusted confidante, you realize that your connection had been littered with pink flags. That you were probably never more than a white boy’s way to show how down he was. That despite the words, you were never more than a curiosity piece.

Whether it is the literal pussy or the metaphorical pussy, for many white men that is all they want from a Black woman. Sure, there are exceptions but for the vast majority of white men over 40, they haven’t done the work of dismantling whiteness within themselves to understand what their “choices” mean. So when you encounter these men, it means you are literally walking into a minefield not knowing what exactly you will find. Which in a weird way reminds me of a conversation that my father had with my preteen self over 30 years when I developed a crush on a white boy in middle school.

To be blunt, my father, who having been born and raised under Jim Crow, was not a fan of mixed race unions. He understood that the words of a white woman could literally take a Black man or boy’s life. He had already lived long enough to see his family kicked off the sharecropping land they called home because of his father’s (my grandfather) refusal to let the farm owner have my aunt when she turned 18. Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. My father’s family, in the post-slavery era, lost their home because my grandfather dared to protect his daughter from a lecherous white man.

Anyway, my father (upon learning about my first crush) told me: “Honey, the Lord made apple trees and he made orange trees, he didn’t make an apple-orange tree.”  For years, I thought that was cruel but his words have never left me and despite having been married interracially and dated interracially, the older I get, I am starting to wonder if there is not some truth in those words. Perhaps the struggles as a Black woman make this life too difficult to allow a white person into my world on an intimate level. Perhaps the social coding runs too deep for the average white man to understand that how he sees a Black woman (or fails to see her) is the result of a social code that was put into place many generations ago.

One thing for sure, racism is everywhere and neither love nor lust hold the keys to systemic change.
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Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment

I find myself sitting here on a cool and rainy day with the weight of the world straining my shoulders, pondering my life and my future as I stand at the crossroads of upheaval and change…yet I find myself absolutely engrossed in the story of the Ashley Madison hack and the almost unanimous judgment.

In case you aren’t up to speed let me help you. Ashley Madison is a website that, for the most part, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses.  It’s safe to say that most people find such a site morally reprehensible, yet the reality is that people do cheat on their spouses (quite often on both sides of the gender fence) and in this market-driven world apparently the market created a niche to help such people. Funny thing is, cheating is as old as time; people have always cheated. It’s just that in our app-heavy, convenience-driven world, someone decided to make it easier for such people. A group calling itself The Impact Team found the whole situation morally repugnant and after telling AM’s parent group to take down the site and being rebuffed, it decided to release data on millions of users. Turns out some of the users of the site are quite known and, well, I suspect the past few days for those people have been quite uncomfortable.  

The majority of people I know have no sympathy for cheaters and I imagine most of my readers are in that same group. Which is why my own feelings on the matter may be a surprise. After over 20 years of marriage between two marriages, I think that marriages are complex and the reasons why people step out are even more complex. I think that we live in a culture that has elevated the institution of marriage without providing most people with a realistic framework for what a marriage really entails.

Most of us assume that all a marriage needs is love and, while love is an important piece of marriage, it is not the most important factor in my opinion. As I deal with my own shifting marital landscape, I can say that two people can love, respect and adore each other but be woefully unprepared for the hard work of sharing their life with another or evolve into two people who aren’t compatible cohabiting anymore, no matter how much they like each other. Marriage requires the ability to surrender and compromise and as long as the ongoing process of surrender and compromise is mutually beneficial, then the marriage continues. But sometimes that process is no longer mutually beneficial and to stay married means to give up so much of ourselves that we become a shell of who we once were.

Marriages hit rocky patches for any number of reasons and ideally a couple can fix the issue or resolve to end the relationship in a mindful and compassionate manner. However, life doesn’t always yield to best practices and relationships and connections become messy. Sometimes partners step out rather than to leave and while no doubt that is a questionable choice, one bad decision does not make a person beyond redemption nor does it invalidate any and all good they have done. It’s also a little presumptuous of those on the outside to assume there isn’t a silent or overt acceptance on the part of the other spouse to allow what so many of us would call indiscretions.

However in a 24-hour cycle world where we can consume details non-stop, it becomes easy to become judge and jury and to issue proclamations on those we will never know and revel in our own sense of righteousness. We may not cheat on our spouses but we easily forget the time we steal time and/or material from our employers when we choose to check our Facebook pages from the office or the office supplies we bring home. Or maybe it’s the “business” lunches we claim to lower our tax burden.

Yet our “cheats” will rarely be discovered and almost certainly never become public fodder so we pat ourselves on the back for being “good” people when in essence few of us are really good. Even professional do-gooders have bad moments. In case you haven’t figured out, I am not a fan of public pitchforks and shame sessions that often forget the humanity of those who transgressed and while shame can have merit, the public shame that has become our norm is rarely helpful and often far more dangerous because it forgets that we are dealing with people. It doesn’t give them a chance to reflect and change but instead exposes them to the entire world, risking (at times) their physical safety, employment and more.

At the end of the day, if one partner has cheated, that is for that couple and their family to deal with and decide their next steps, not outside people. Our culture is fickle when it comes to matters of cheating since we don’t lump all cheating in the same boat yet we find some strict moral compass on cheating when it involves married people…then again, as I noted before we have created a market that elevates marriage to an often unachievable standard.

Having lost a dear friend to suicide many years ago over the shame of an adulterous relationship, it scares me to think of how many lives could be prematurely ended over this hack and while we may all be having a good laugh and feeling better because we would never cheat…the fact is we don’t know what curveballs life will throw at us. Life is funny like that, as soon as we think we know what we would do, life sometimes takes us someplace else. Yet I suspect the one thing we all would like no matter what road we travel is respect and compassion for our less-than-stellar moments.
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