Apparently, I had a sad, pitiful, painful childhood. I am told that this is the impression I have given through my few posts thus far. It is true that I faced challenges in my youth, but that is the single story. Okay, here’s the situation…
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivers a brilliant TED Talk about the dangers of the single story. Essentially, she says that we do ourselves and the world a disservice when we limit our understanding of other people and cultures to a single story. Whether that story is considered positive or negative, it is always incomplete.
I suppose one could derive a negative impression of my childhood if they believed me to be the sum total of only what has been posted thus far. I suppose they could, but I do not understand how. How could I have a sense of humor if all I knew was dourness? How could I have such persistent optimism if the world only taught me lessons of gloom and distrust? How could I love as deeply and completely as I do if I only knew neglect and dejection?
The truth is I am happy. I am more than happy. I am bouncing off the walls overjoyed to fill my lungs with cool air— air made slightly warmer and sweeter after circulating through me, happy. I am break out in song and dance, happy. I am stop to smell any flower because it looks like it smells pretty, happy. I am the kind of happy that you cannot be if you only knew misery.
Why, then, tell the miserable stories at all? Why not ignore them and focus on the good stuff? If you have to ask this question, you obviously have not been reading my posts. In answer, I tell you about the unhappy truth because it is also who I am. I spent a lifetime denying those gloomy truths to myself. This online journal is my way of saying out loud what I thought I was too weak or too ashamed or too whatever to admit to another person, let alone the world. I write about my sorrows as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I write to tell anyone who sees me prospering now that they can prosper too, regardless of their story.
We all have our stories. Some of them are good. Some of them are bad. However, ALL of them make us who we are. Most of my childhood stories are normal and joyful. I have stories of playing “Speedy Gonzalez” with my little sister to get her to help me clean our bedroom faster. I have stories of my entire family taking turns yawning because they could make me empathy yawn every. single. time. I have many stories that end with my mother announcing bedtime, because my inability to stop laughing always meant I was sleepy. I have stories of playing baseball, softball, dodgeball, and tag—parents versus kids. I have stories of our mom teaching us to jump double dutch and our dad taking us to Coney Island.
I recall cookouts, swimming in the lake, building forts and raucous celebrations with family and friends. I remember our mother crocheting hats, scarves and mittens for me and my siblings as we lay about the chair and floor of our parents’ bedroom on lazy Sunday mornings. There were puzzles, home-cooked meals, bountiful holidays, dance parties, drive-in movies and Thursday night viewings of The Cosby Show. I remember our mother drawing super heroes, teaching me to flip in the park, singing, dancing and laughing. Most of all I remember us laughing a lot.
At home, laughter was my normal. It was not until I moved to NC and began to socialize more with the world outside that I learned to see myself as anything other than happy. It wasn’t until someone told me that I was poor, that I had any idea of lack. It wasn’t until someone told me that I was Black, that I had a notion of one complexion being preferable to another. It wasn’t until I was allowed to watch television, that I imagined myself to be sad, pitiful or in pain. At home, there were bad stories to be sure, but they were not the norm.
We, humans (particularly Americans), have the tendency to consolidate all we know about a person into a single story. Actually, we tell multiple stories to craft a single narrative. He is so funny. Let me tell you about the time he…(ignoring the occasions he seemed anxious, cantankerous, or cried with empathy). She is so successful. She has achieved…(ignoring all of the failures and disappointments that led to those achievements). He is such a horrible person. Let us investigate his history of horrendousness…(ignoring any stories that would depict his humanity as worthy of compassion). It’s as though we are afraid that our brains will short circuit and sparks will fly out of our ears if we try to believe two oxymoronic truths simultaneously.
Part of this is biological. Our brains actually do take shortcuts to achieve neural efficiency. The world offers a constant stream of sensory input. We unconsciously employ noise filtration to avoid system overload or to focus on a particular purpose. This makes us see what we expect (or want) to see and lose the rest in blind spots. Likewise, the process of noise filtration can cause us to jump to conclusions and disregard information that may be necessary to make informed choices.
While snap-judgement decisions can save our lives if we find ourselves facing imminent danger, most of our human interactions do not require us to distill information into a single narrative. We are able to see a spouse as a beloved annoyance (of course not you, Honey *wink*). A neighbor can be an atrocious gossip and a benevolent friend. A leader is capable of being a likeable person and an incompetent policy maker. However, we must consciously choose to make space for all of the stories that define those narratives in our minds. The unconscious practice of selectivity may make our brains more efficient, but we lose the dimensionality of human connection in the process.
My name is Moron, OXYMORON! Hehehe. I am an oxymoron, because seemingly paradoxical facts about me are true at the same time. As are you. As is she. As is he. As is tre (the pronoun my daughter and I created for our transgender friends ((you’re welcome)). We all have contradictory truths at one time or another. The key is to accept that we also have multidimensional personalities. Then we can make space for the complete story.
Of course, you could not possibly know “the real me” based on the few posts you have read thus far. Heck, knowing me is a full time job in which the description of duties constantly evolves. You can have some general ideas about my personality. However, those ideas would be lacking necessary information to be accurate or complete. I plan to fill in some of those gaps as we go along, and I thank you for being here with me through this journey Friend. To those who think they already know the happy tragedy that is me (in my Lin-Manuel Miranda voice), just you wait!