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PAY IT FORWARD

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Originally posted 12/02/17

Apparently paying it forward has become entrenched in certain pockets of society. The idea of paying in advance for the person behind you has landed in my favor thrice in recent weeks. Okay, here’s the situation…

I love people. I really love people. I love listening to them and watching them and trying to figure out their backstory from gestures, postures and speech patterns. I love reading energies and auras and going off my gut instincts about a person’s character. It turns out that I’m really good at it too. I have “predicted” so many things about people, which later turned out to be true, that my closest acquaintances think I may dabble in the dark arts. I don’t. I’m just a natural born anthropologist. Duh!

It also happens that people like me. People like me so much that I sometimes entertain the notion that I’m the star of a real world Truman Show. How else do I explain why everyone I meet seems to be the nicest person in the world? My day unfolds in a series of smiling strangers going out of their way to hold open doors or pay me compliments. I have very intimate conversations with people I have never met before. Seriously, I once stepped out of the gym and into an hour long discussion with a woman about her panty liner preference, which dovetailed into the topic of tickling your own toes. (Yes, it’s a euphemism.)

People greet me with mostly cheery faces, raucous laughter and an overall trust that is reserved for lifelong friendships. Maybe they read my “I love people” vibe and know that I welcome their company. Maybe they just want to confess something out loud and feel more comfortable telling a stranger, they’ll probably never see again, than their best friends. Most likely they guess that I have an absent-minded brain and I will forget the details of the conversation long before I am able to relay them to another soul.

The point is that I love people and people love me (generally). With so much love bouncing around, it’s easy to find oneself the beneficiary of a pay-it-forward situation. The latest was at a coffee shop where I was chatting with an energetic booster club mom about her amazing kids and how impressed we both are with the next generation. Then, the vibrant woman, named Marie, nonchalantly asked my order and instructed the barista to add it to her bill. “Pay it forward” she said. How can I pay it forward, when I don’t get the opportunity? I lamented that I was in debt to the universe for two prior occasions. Then she put everything into perspective for me.

It’s as simple as smiling at someone, paying a sincere compliment, or letting someone cut you off in traffic without laying on your horn. I told her that I already do those things on a regular basis, except that last one. (I morph into a fire breathing demon behind a steering wheel.) That’s when she dropped the light-bulb Eureka! bomb on me.

“The fact that you’re already doing all those things is the reason you continue to receive life’s little blessings”.

Really? No! I admit that I was dumbstruck that I hadn’t ever thought of that.

I always assume that I have not paid my debt to society, because I have been given so much. I owe my very existence to the kindness of strangers. Literally. If it weren’t for the foster families opening their homes to my mother, she may not have survived. Who am I kidding? That little lady’s veins pump ice water and Tobasco sauce. I’m surprised the streets of Newark survived HER.

The truth is, I cannot count the number of teachers, parents and mentors who felt compelled to advise me or guide me through challenges along my path. I received at least partial scholarships for both of my degrees funded by individuals whose names I had never heard. I even feel especially grateful to the authors of the thousands of books I’ve read for taking the time to help me find my best self, say yes to life and lean in. I cannot recall a tough moment throughout the years where there hasn’t been a best friend to pick up the kids from school or a sister to feed the babies dinner while I finished a term paper. Someone has always been willing to graciously give of herself/himself without expecting a favor in return. In my mind, though, there was always an implication that I would help another when I was in the position to do so.

Although I volunteer and donate to several charities, I always feel like there is more that I could or should do. I think of paying it forward in grand, Oprah-esque gestures. Everybody gets a car! The reality is much more subtle. Paying it forward, as Marie eloquently described, is any way you bless the world with the gifts you have to offer. If you are lacking in material wealth, personal kindnesses are just as good as anything you can give physically. If you already have a taxing schedule, a quick note of thanks given for no particular reason can brighten a person’s entire day. Any way that your heart compels you to positively affect the life of someone (without expecting anything in return) is the act of paying it forward.

Unselfish acts of kindness are needed now more than ever. We have to remind the world that people are good and loving and compassionate. I know this to be true. A small minority of the population is banking on your fears and insecurities, so they spend a lot of time and money convincing you that the world is dangerous, people are awful and you are powerless and vulnerable. They have to first convince you that there is a problem before they can sweep in with a solution that only costs 1,000 payments of $99.99. They know that if we know the truth, we would cease to buy into their unnecessary goods and services.

Let me reiterate. People are good and loving and kind. Given the opportunity, they will demonstrate the vast reach of their goodness. When you find yourself on the receiving end, accept their goodness, kindness and love graciously. Then, spend your waking hours seeking opportunities to pay it forward. That is how we will illuminate our world.

Ciao!

OBSTINATE PROGRESSIVE ON DEMOCRATIC ENTITLEMENT

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Originally posted 11/06/17

Apparently, the Democratic Party is broken. Instead of accepting responsibility for their ineptitude, they are lashing out at everyone else in a feeble attempt to excuse why they keep losing money, support and elections. Okay, here’s the situation…

I vote. I always vote. The time that I decided to go later to avoid school traffic (then forgot), I failed to cast my gubernatorial primary vote for Tom Perriello. We ended up with another corporate Democrat as the only option against a lobbyist Republican. Yes, I did that. I own my responsibility. Since I didn’t vote, I relinquish my right to complain, right? Girl, please!

Ralph Northam makes me as enthusiastic to vote as visiting the dentist. I will go because the alternative is worse, not because I am excited to take the trip. He is the guy who voted for GWB twice then called himself underinformed. No, Darling, once is underinformed. Twice is political agreement. Northam is the guy who invested in Virginian companies that stood to profit by his decisions as Lt. Governor, then promised to put his portfolio in a blind trust. Where have we heard that before? He is the guy who leans so far to the right, the Republicans in the State Senate courted him to switch parties. He is the guy who did not appreciate the optics of omitting Justin Fairfax, the only Black candidate on the ballot, from some of the mailers distributed. Ralph Northam is not my cup of tea.

The Democratic Party knows this. Otherwise, it would not spend so much money sending out full-color 8X10s trying to convince me to support their lackluster candidate. I have received four such advertisements in two days, a pre-recorded call from Baby Brother Barack, as well as two “shame flyers” telling me that I am in the below-average category for voting. “We don’t know who you vote for, but we do know whether or not you vote”.

Are you freaking serious right now? These are the finger-wagging tactics you have to embrace to get your candidate elected? For the record, I have lived in VA since 2013 but voted via absentee ballot in MO until Honey retired last year. How about you get your “facts” straight before you get all up in my business, Democrats! Argh.

Do I sound hostile? No, I’m not hostile. Okay, maybe a little. I am just so tired of Democrats hitching their wagons to the wrong horse (or donkey if you prefer) then blaming the populace for losing seats. Do not blame Bernie or me for your complete inability to admit that Hillary was too divisive to win over moderates and too corporate to earn the progressive/youth vote. Y’all are the ones who assumed people would rally behind her because she was the “lesser of two evils”. You could not foresee that apathy toward your candidate would be a factor? Not even a little? Come on!

Here we are again. This time it’s Virginia, not the entire nation. This time it’s Tom Perriello, not Bernie Sanders. Tom is a populist democrat. Though I do not agree with all of his past or current political decisions, I agree with his motives for running for office. He actually wants to improve the lives of his fellow Virginians. Go figure! Perriello is for education, so he supports universal pre-school and community college for those willing to commit to community service. Perriello is for our environment, so he opposes 2 more gas pipelines in VA and refused money from energy czar, Dominion Power. Perriello is for the people. Despite having every major Democrat in the state (including Senators Kaine & Warner and Governor McAuliffe) endorse Northam (not to mention two years of name recognition in Northam’s favor), Tom Perriello only lost the Democratic primary by 11%.

Wake up Democrats! We, Progressives, do not want to vote for your lukewarm, corporate-loving, Republican-lite candidates. We want PROGRESS. We want people in office who reflect our beliefs in technological advancement, environmental responsibility, quality (government-funded) education, universal healthcare and fiscal responsibility. It’s our money you are handling. It’s our taxes that you are diverting from the programs we support into your own pockets. YOU WORK FOR US. I think it’s time for all of our elected officials to remember that.

If you want my vote, don’t send me flyers. Don’t try to shame me into voting for your uninspiring candidate. Don’t leave pre-recorded messages from Baby Brother Barack. Don’t utilize condescension, anti-Trumpism, fear-mongering or finger-wagging to coerce me to the polls. I vote. I always vote. I will vote tomorrow to elect our Virginian governor. I have not decided whether I will write in Tom Perriello’s name (if that’s an option) or I will check the block for the Establishment Democrat.

I cannot vote for the Republican candidate and be okay with my decision. The Democrats know that. They know that left-leaning voters do not have a true representative on most ballots. They know that people so dislike the state of The Union, that they are willing to compromise their ideals in order to steer the country toward a better vision, if only by inches. They know their candidate is the “lesser of two evils”. What they fail to realize is the growing dissension among the ranks. They fail to see people, like me, who are unwilling to compromise.

We have Trump because of the Democratic failure. They have not learned that their tactics are not working. They still refuse to factor in apathy towards Northam as a deciding vote. They refuse to accept the responsibility for endorsing a candidate who could not rally enthusiasm if you lit him on fire and shot him into the night sky. Listen very carefully Democrats—just because you’re not the Republican (if only by classification), does not entitle you to my vote. If Northam fails to be elected as the next VA Governor, that is your failure, not mine. If I choose to write in Tom Perriello’s name on the ballot, do not blame me for your loss. Instead, present me with a candidate who represent my ideals. I am unwilling to compromise. If it takes a Donald Trump and an Ed Gillespie for you to wake up and understand this, I will have to live with the consequences of my decision. Can you?

Ciao!

CRITICAL EQUALITY

Rich and BarackOriginally posted 11/03/17

Apparently, there is an inverse correlation between emotionality and critical thinking. Impassioned conversations cause the logical parts of our brains to shut down. Conversely, the more we practice critical thinking, the harder it is for us to be perturbed by sentimental arguments. I was reminded of this during another Obama discussion at the dinner table. Okay, here’s the situation…

I like Barack Obama. I believe that he is a good man with good intentions. He represents the amalgamation of the Black and White races. He gives us hope for the future of our nation. As a symbol, Obama succeeded in reigniting the spirit of progress and made us feel proud of the direction we were traveling. He is handsome, gracious and well-groomed in appearance, speech and behavior. When he speaks, he makes an audience of millions feel inspired, connected and understood. Obama pushes all the right buttons to stir our emotions.

While I like Obama as a person, and even more as a symbol, I reserve the right to disagree with him as a politician. To be fair, he faced an unprecedented amount of hostility and obstruction as the first non-White president. Some people would rather see the government fail than to see a Black man succeed at its helm. However, there were many occasions I found myself screaming “with what money!?” as I read about one of his latest fiscal decisions. While the causes he wanted to fund were noble, I felt he had to first knock off the leeches that were bleeding the system (corporate interests). It was his job to steer us toward a surplus, not add to the debt accumulated by his predecessors. Debt makes me twitchy.

Background info—Those of you who know me, know me as frugal. My mother likes to call me (mimicking a bird) CHEAP-cheap-cheap-cheap-cheap-cheap-cheap. She is absolutely right. I would rather stand naked in Times Square on New Year’s Eve than to have credit card debt. I have stalled buying a house, because I’d rather waste money renting than to be saddled with a million dollar mortgage debt. I cannot wrap my brain around the concept of buying more stuff when you haven’t paid for the stuff in your possession. I skim on the basics, so I can enjoy holidays and vacations without losing sleep. In my mind, you own nothing as long as you owe anything. But that’s just me.

Fast forward to our dinner conversation. Honey and I were discussing Donna Brazille’s revelations regarding the DNC, which I had read and Honey had not (keep that in mind). I laughed that Donna seemed to say “Oh, y’all gonna throw me under the bus? I’m taking down everybody!” Then, she proceeded to air the DNC’s dirty laundry and name names. Honey was a bit hesitant to offer his opinion, because he is usually rational and fair-minded. However, he nearly lost his rational, fair mind when I struck the Obama chord.

More background info—Honey loves Obama. He protects Obama’s name like Barack is his baby brother in a schoolyard of bullies. He is down for Obama like an elephant on a see-saw. Honey lives by, what I refer to as, the eulogy code– highlight the positives, and ignore the negatives. I knew this as I went into the next bit of the conversation, so I treaded lightly.

I told Honey that, according to Brazille, Obama left the DNC $24 million in debt. I relayed her claim of Obama neglecting the party and Wasserman-Schultz mismanaging it into the ground. His eyes perked up. Obama? He questioned why the acting democratic president would be held responsible for the party’s debt, which baffled me. I could not grasp his confusion, until I realized that we were operating from different assumptions.

I take for granted that the DNC and GOP have party officers, but that the ultimate leader of the party is the president. When your gal/guy wins the election, (s)he becomes the party leader. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? Honey did not think so. In his mind, this was another accusation against Obama for something that was not within his scope of authority. In his mind, Obama was the president of the United States, which includes both parties, thus precluding him from leading either party. (Did I sum that up justly, Honey? *wink*) If that is true, why didn’t Obama appear at both DNC and GOP fundraising events? Why was it a given that he would endorse the democratic nominee? Hmm?

A few minutes into our heated debate, I decided to stop defending and start listening. I had no skin in this game. Why was I pushing so hard against his rebuttals? Habit. Though Honey and I claim to be Independent, we both lean Democratic. However, our most contentious debates occur when I agree with Republican leaders/policy or criticize Democratic leaders/policy. He loses his ability to see both sides of the argument. His judgement is clouded by his disdain for Republican politicians, though we have very good friends who identify as Republicans *wink*. I decided to break the habit of reacting emotionally, and actually hear what he was saying.

What I heard was an impassioned response to an article he had not even read. He could not divorce his feelings about Obama from the topic at hand. Though I’m certain he disagrees, Honey allowed his sentimentality to impede his ability to form an unbiased assessment. He continued to fire questions at me in rapid succession. Some I answered to the best of my ability. Some I had no way of answering with my limited understanding of the inner workings of the DNC. When he sensed my weakness, he capitalized by making the point he’d set out to make at first mention of Obama’s name. We don’t know the other (baby brother Barack’s) side of the story, so we mustn’t spread accusations based on one person’s account.

He was right. I hate when he’s right, especially when he’s right for the wrong reasons. Having written the words, I can see that it makes sense to hold off assessment until we hear an accounting from the other parties involved. I am aware that Brazille is motivated by her desire to sell books, while exonerating herself. The sensational article she wrote for Politico must be received in light of that motivation. I am also frustrated by nearly a decade of Honey blindly defending the man who played a couple of games of basketball with him and his soldiers during a deployment. My own emotionality impeded my ability to review the article and ensuing argument with critical eyes.

Once upon a long time ago, I was part of a debate team. One of the most important strategies used to persuade an audience is striking a balance between appealing to their emotional side and their rational minds. To do this, a debater must possess knowledge of the subject, refined rhetorical skills and the ability to anticipate rebuttals. If you research your debate topic with the goal of proving a proposition you already believe, you will be blind to the arguments that contradict your points. When you research topics with the aim of disproving what you already know to be true, you will benefit by becoming more knowledgeable about the subject matter. With more knowledge, you are better able to critically assess the subject and articulate a more informed viewpoint.

Honey was right that we did not have enough facts to draw conclusions. However, I have absolutely no doubt that, regardless of the facts, Honey will never agree with anything that disparages baby brother Barack. That man has a hold on Honey’s heart that not even his wife can loosen. My fear is that Obama has infiltrated the hearts and minds of millions in the same way. The danger in this lies in the fact that we fail to think critically when our minds are clouded by fervent devotion. We cannot see the negative ramifications of fiscally irresponsible policymaking. We refuse to seriously examine laws, rules and regulations enacted under the Obama administration for fear of tainting his legacy.

I am not suggesting that we Trumpdoze everything Obama did. I am merely suggesting that we re-evaluate, with the benefit of hindsight, whether or not Obama’s actions were beneficial or detrimental to our country. Build upon the things, which he initiated that are working, and dismember those that are not. It is no more and no less than I expect us to do for any president. That, dear Friend, is equality in action.

Ciao!

DANGEROUSLY STUPID

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Originally posted 11/02/17

Apparently! Mike Pence and I share at least one personal policy. What?! Girl, yes. Okay, here’s the situation…

Now that I’m married and not as, ahem, perky as I once was, I tend to forget that men still find me attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I feel very beautiful. I just can’t imagine anyone worth looking at twice lusting after me. If you catch me wearing makeup, it’s likely because I’m sick, tired or losing a battle with a skin blemish. I wear gym clothes most of the day because, you never know. Four days a week, my hairstyle is comprised of the braids I wear to keep naps and knots from forming while I sleep (at least I don’t wear my scarf outdoors). I am forgetting how to eat cute in public, so I’m sure I inhale food like it’s the first meal I’ve had since being released from captivity. The point is…what was my point? Oh yeah, the point is that I am getting older.

No, that’s not the point. The point is that I have to be reminded that men still find me attractive. It’s not (completely) because my memory sometimes fails me. It is more likely because I simply don’t notice men in that way. Therefore, I assume men don’t notice me in that way. However, I will not make the mistake of allowing this assumption to lull me into stupidity… again.

When I was 19 years old, I was dangerously stupid. Someone had made the mistake of telling me that a silly test classified me as a genius. This means I was also stupidly dangerous, because I thought I knew much more than I did. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said (paraphrasing) I knew enough to think I was right but not enough to know I was wrong. Keep that in mind as I relay the details of the story.

I was 19 and married to a soldier. Just like most young, married, military couples, we had other military couple friends. One couple was closer than the rest. Let’s call them Victor and Victoria. Victor worked with my ex-husband and Victoria was a very close friend. We were the kind of friends that visited each other daily and had to pull ourselves away from hours of chatting and giggling to prepare for “the guys” to get home. When they were in the field, I stayed over Victoria’s house, because she lived on base and we both felt safer together. After one such overnight visit, I accidentally left a few of my things behind. I cannot remember whether I called to say I was coming over, or Victor called me. I think he called me, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I do recall him telling me it was okay to come over, because Victoria would be home from work in about five minutes.

I waited about 20-30 minutes to give Victoria ample time to get settled at home, then I headed over. I expected Victoria to answer the door, but it was Victor. He said that she wasn’t back yet, so she must have taken a detour to shop somewhere. We laughed at the joke as I stood there waiting for him to hand me my things at the door. Instead, he invited me inside.

At this point, Friend, you probably have alarm bells going off. I know! You must remember what I told you though. I was dangerously stupid. It never crossed my mind that stepping into my friends’ home was inappropriate in any way. I had been across that threshold hundreds of times before. Besides, I did not think of Victor as a man in the same way that my brother is an anatomically incorrect Dylan Bratz doll. I have always mentally emasculated male partners of my loved ones. It’s just a thing.

When I stepped in, I expected to grab my belongings and go. I left my purse in the car and hadn’t bothered to roll up the windows or lock the doors. Victor told me that Victoria had left a pair of jeans she’d been meaning to give me. I knew what he was talking about, so I asked him where they were. “They’re in the bedroom on the dresser. Go get them,” he said as he headed toward the kitchen to check on the food he was cooking. At that moment, I began to feel strange. It did not seem right for me to be in my friend’s bedroom without her there. Still, I did not think Victor had any ill intentions, so I hurried to grab the jeans along with my things and turned back to the living room. “You can try them on to see if they fit,” he called from the kitchen.

Are you screaming at me right now, Friend? Don’t scream at me. I know!

“That’s okay,” I called back. “I’ll try them on when I get home.”
“Don’t be silly.” He peeked around the corner from the kitchen. “If you go all the way home and realize they don’t fit, you’ll have to bring them back.” He disappeared again. “Besides, she’s going to give them to (other friend’s name) if they’re too big for you.”

In that moment, I only wanted to be out of that house. I still did not think Victor was plotting anything nefarious with his pregnant wife on her way home. (I know you are smacking your teeth and rolling your eyes at my ignorance. Of course, she wasn’t on her way home, but I’m going to have to have you keep the noise down.) I only knew that it would not look good if she rolled up on me in her bedroom with her husband in the next room. I slid my jeans off, slid hers on and slid mine back on faster than Usain Bolt. By the time I was zipping my own jeans, Victor opened the door.

He stood significantly taller and broader than my 5’8, 130 lbs. His frame blocked the entire doorway passage. The realization that he had planned this moment smacked me in the face like a brick of ice.

“Are you finished already?” he asked, a vulgar lust dripping from his words. My heart began drumming in my ears. My breath was shallow as I plotted all the things I could use to strike him hard enough to get out. I should have been terrified standing there, able to read his foul thoughts in his expression. My mind told me to be afraid, but I wasn’t. I was pissed!

I was disgusted that he would think the thoughts he was, so obviously, thinking. I was outraged that he would try to compromise my friendship with Victoria. My skin crawled under his lascivious gaze. My eyes dared him to act upon me against my will. In that moment, I felt capable of castrating him with my teeth and nails if he laid one finger on me. I gathered every ounce of hate and furry I felt in the prickly hairs of my skin and told him to move. He looked at me for a long, silent moment then stepped aside. If I had any doubts about his intentions (which I did not), they were erased as he followed me to my car.

“Victoria doesn’t need to know you were here,” he said, leaning into the passenger side window with a smile. “Nothing happened,” he chuckled.

“MOTHER-BLEEP IF YOU DON’T BACK YOUR A$$ AWAY FROM MY CAR!” I wanted to scream and spit in his face. I wanted to punch him in the junk to make him feel a semblance of the humiliation, pain and shame he had brought upon me. I wanted to claw his despicable eyes out, so he could never look at another woman that way. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. My brain was thudding against my skull and words would not form. Nothing happened. My hands shook so much, I fumbled to put my key into the ignition. Nothing happened. I couldn’t dislodge the lump in my throat, because I knew that would mean tears. After what he had just taken from me without even touching me, there was no way I was going to hand him my tears.

I backed out of the driveway and sped home. My body was shaking and I felt a feverish pain shoot up my spine. I barely made it to my bathroom to vomit. I could not stop myself from crying. The utter shame, humiliation and stupidity I felt threatened to swallow me. I collected myself enough to tell my ex-husband, through sobs, what happened. In his eyes, I was overreacting, because Victor did not physically assault me. He said that the way I was crying, he thought I had been raped. Nothing happened. (There are many reasons he is my EX-husband).

I told Victoria, and she believed me. She kept asking the same questions in different ways. His answers kept changing, but mine didn’t. Mine couldn’t. You don’t easily forget a moment like that. It stays frozen in time. She wanted to believe in him, so she stayed anyway. He was her husband and they were having a baby. I saw her at her baby shower and once more, years later at another duty station. I still mourn our lost friendship and take responsibility for putting myself in that position.

Never again! After that incident, I vowed to never put myself in a situation in which I could be attacked or my motives questioned. I have followed a strict rule—I am NEVER alone with my friends’ or sisters’ husbands. While I am in a relationship, I am never alone with any man who is not a member of my family. To that extent, I agree with Mike Pence for not wanting to place himself in a compromising position. However, I find it completely normal and acceptable to dine out or have coffee in a public space with members of the opposite sex. I may be dangerously stupid, but I’m not crazy.

Ciao!

NO LOVE FOR DOGS?

adorable blur breed close up
Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

Originally posted 11/01/17

Apparently, I am not a dog person. This gradual realization taught me empathy for people I could not seem to understand and a greater appreciation for complex relationships. It may sound like a lofty concept, but I assure you, there is a real-world connection. Ok, here’s the situation…

Our kids have been hounding us to get a dog (pun intended) for at least a decade. We explained our refusal by providing many reasons. They were too young, maybe when they got older. We moved too much, maybe when we were settled. This or that feature of our home was not suitable for pets, maybe when we had plenty of yard space. Mama doesn’t want to clean up after it, maybe when you people exercise a bit more responsibility. The kids grew older, Honey retired from the military, and we had a conducive environment, but still no dog. There was only one (relatively responsible) child at home when we decided to finally give in and adopt a pup.

Xena (later changed her name to Delta), the puppy princess, came into our lives in the middle of July as an early birthday gift for our youngest. She’s a sweet, adorable, energetic, healthy puppy who loves to play and be with us always. Like always, always. I mean seriously, she’s my little black and brown hyperactive shadow. Not only does she follow us around everywhere we go, she stinks. And she sheds. And she’s a sloppy eater/drinker. And she’s teething. And her breath stinks. And she can’t stop biting and scratching us when she plays. And she’s much more expensive than I planned. And…

Delta reminds me of a child that follows it’s parent around, incapable of functioning without constant connection and attention. I knew there would be an adjustment period before she felt comfortable to be alone, but it’s been nearly five months already! Can I go to the bathroom in peace, though? But, Tonya she’s still a puppy. I hear you say. And you’re right. I have to concede the point. I knew what I was signing up for when I brought her home from the rescue shelter. I had dogs as a child (though they lived outdoors). I also understand intellectually that puppies are a lot of work. However, I don’t have to like it.

In fact, I dislike it a lot. I loathe sweeping and vacuuming her short black hairs five times a day. Or cleaning those hairs out of dryers, and cars and off nice clothes and coats. When I found one in the refrigerator, she was instantly banned from stepping paw into the kitchen. I hate that I have to mop constantly, because she licks the floors like a starving animal trying to gather every crumb left behind. Then her stinking breath smell rises from the floorboards in a stench that I swear I can see like a cartoonish funk cloud. I dislike the feeling of mushy poo in my palm separated by a thin layer of plastic that could break at any time. And I really, really hate that she stares at me with that blank stare and dead eyes. All the time. Everywhere I go, there she is staring. But when I try to talk to her, she doesn’t respond. It’s like trying to communicate with a glassy-eyed doll. I’m starting to get paranoid that she’s some sort of Orwellian pet device with recording capabilities, implanted to capture my every move. I have to kick her out just to get privacy in my own home. Argh!

What does my supreme loathing of being a dog owner say about me? I see so many pictures of happy dog people letting their dogs lick their faces, and all I can do is cringe thinking that dog also licks its own butt. I see friends who allow their dogs on furniture or in their beds, and I’m like “I hope today was bath day, because, eww, dirty dog germs”. I see people feeding their dogs from their plates and I’m reminded of the times Delta waits and whines for my food, which provokes me to tell her “You are not people”. I see them sharing silverware with their furry friends and I’m like “Aww, hell no!”

It’s not that I’m judging them. I just don’t want their dogs hanging around my dog, because Delta may start getting ideas. Also, it makes me feel badly, like I should love Delta more. Or maybe I should be able to get past my disgust at her shaking off shed hair and making our home smell like a farmhouse (there is no such thing as nose-blind). Really, what does it say about me that I can’t?

I can tell you that it does not feel good. I feel like a horrible person. I feel like I want as much distance between me and this thing that stirs these emotions inside of me. I feel like I lack the compassion necessary to be a pet owner. I feel numb towards this creature I do not understand and who barely understands me. We are living in the same house in distant worlds. Each time I look up, those glassy doll eyes seem to accuse me of a truth we both know—I’d rather she not be here.

It’s not that I don’t like having a dog at all. Taking her on long walks is fun, when she’s not trying to attack every squirrel and bird she sees or jumping excitedly onto human and canine passersby. Playing fetch and tug-o-war with her is hilarious because she is hyper and competitive. She does not give up easily and almost never gives in. I’ve also become used to sipping my morning mug of green tea with her warming my feet. Most of all, I love seeing her play with our youngest after school. It’s the in between times, when no one wants to play and she stares blankly, waiting for attention, that I dislike most.

One such time, I was in the middle of Max’s final soliloquy, during which he pleads for Bigger’s life, in Richard Wright’s “Native Son”. I looked up to see Delta staring at me yet again.

“What?” She stared unblinking.

“Delta, what do you want?” Nothing.

“Delta, stop staring at me.” Her head tilted.

“Stop staring at me or you’re going outside.” Not even a flinch.

“Last time, dog. Look over there.” I snapped and pointed to the other side of the room but, she kept her glassy, unknowing eyes fixed on my face.

“You’re creepy. Get out!”

I’m not proud to say that a similar exchange usually happens at least once a day. Then, the guilt came upon me like it usually does. I had just lived exactly what Wright had written—guilt and hate being two sides of the same coin called fear (I’m paraphrasing here). I don’t hate Delta, of course. Far from it. However, I understood in that moment how it feels to hate something or someone that seems incomprehensible and foreign to you. I understood the red hot shame of hating because of what it implies about your humanity. I allowed myself to feel the guilt. I did not try to push it away outside of me and disown it, as Max had accused society of doing.

Guilt is a useless emotion that typically signifies one has recognized his/her/tre wrongdoing. It’s useless because you cannot alter the past. If you did something that you dislike, learn from it and vow to act differently in the future. If you didn’t do anything to compromise your sense of self, there is no need for guilt. It’s simplistic, but I think you get the gist of it. I did nothing to compromise my sense of self, so why had I felt guilty?

Delta is here now. She is part of our family, and, for better or for worse, I am a dog owner. Instead of feeling guilt, I decide to honor my feelings. Yes, I wanted a dog. However, that does not mean that I have to devote every moment of my free time to pleasing her. I don’t have to sacrifice my sanitary standards to integrate a pet into our home. Instead of wasting my energy on guilt, I changed my mind. I decided that it was ok that I’m not in love with my dog. I am still compassionate and kind. It’s ok that Delta’s smell and shedding repulse me to the point of relegating her existence to certain parts of the house. It’s ok and healthy to have boundaries. Sometimes we all need to retreat to our own space.

Every relationship has its challenges. My relationship with Delta is complicated by the fact that we cannot communicate in a meaningful way. Maybe she is watching me in anticipation. Maybe she is some Orwellian pet spy. Maybe she’s only daydreaming of biscuits. Aside from sit, stay, no, come and give me five (paw), she doesn’t understand me. Aside from some characteristic behaviors she exhibits to signify her needs and desires, I do not understand her. I am not interested in her doggy world devoid of stimulating conversation and philosophical questions. She is not interested in anything I say or do that is unrelated to her, except when my food is involved. I do not understand her, nor does she understand me.

As humans, we tend to fear what we do not understand. That fear can express mildly as a desire to be separate from the unfamiliar, intensely as hate or somewhere in between. I can empathize with those who fear the unknown each time I glimpse Delta’s glassy stare and cannot fathom what she must be thinking (biscuit!). I see how uncomfortable one can become when confronted with the person or thing that evokes feelings of guilt. I know why it is easier to lash out against another than to investigate why one feels the need to lash out in the first place. I understand the desire to ascribe one’s guilt onto another person and claim that it is his/her/tre’s fault. It can even be tempting to list all the reasons you are justified, as I did with Delta (But seriously though, her hair was on my freaking toothbrush). The truth of the matter is that it’s not about them. It’s about you. It’s about me.

Instead of succumbing to guilt, consider what is at its roots. Decide to change the belief or behavior that does not reflect your personal sense of self. Alternatively, reconcile your beliefs and behaviors with a new perspective as I did. I shed my guilt in the instant that I spoke with a group of fellow dog owners who were surprised by the amount of time I devote and the length of my walks with Delta. It turns out that I was expecting too much of myself, and the only person judging me was me. Those eyes staring back at me were a mirror reflecting an impossible standard I set upon myself. Similarly, no one is expecting that people all hold hands singing “Kumbaya” like we are the best of friends. We only need to be accepting of each other’s differences and coexist with civility.

Delta is not my best friend, but she is a good puppy that wants to give and receive love. I attempt to keep this in mind when those glassy doll eyes are looking back at me. And when I really need to be alone, I feel no guilt in sending her outside or leaving her in her area while I sit in comfortable silence upstairs. I secretly pine for the day when she is an outside dog, fully capable and happy to entertain herself, so we can, at last, be besties.

Ciao!

NAME’S MORON…OXYMORON

Originally posted 10/30/17

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!

Ciao!

Last Night I Flew

silhouette photo of mountain and calm body of water
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Originally posted 10/28/17
Last night I flew,
Untethered to houses and cars,
Stocks and bonds,
Babies and guys.

Last night I flew,
Unencumbered by hopes,
Or dreams or plans.
No wishes, no goals.

Near sleep I drifted
Slowly into the sky
While smaller and smaller below
Life passed disinterestedly by.

I floated above and
Beyond the treetops.
When I tasted clouds,
I dared not stop.

I soared much higher
Until blues faded to black
And blacker still.
Silent stretches of free will.

Black all around.
Hence my eyes I could not trust.
Was this an empty tomb,
And I a speck of dust?

Secured in nothingness,
No worries or cares.
No judgements.
Nor fear.

Black folds of warmth
Ragged edges of chill.
No longer below glowed
that great arc of blue.

It disappeared above or behind.
Curiosity struck, so I glided
To the moon to explore
The dark side.

I landed on powdery, grey silt,
Which puffed smoke clouds
Of ash at my touch.
A presence makes me yield.

A community, ancient and alive,
Prosperous and thriving
Not working to survive.
Nothing more.

When I awoke fully,
In my skin and in my bed,
Everything was different,
Yet the same as before.

CHEERLEADER

Originally posted 10/27/17IMG_3733

Apparently, I am a cheerleader. I even have my own song and everything. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates my cheerleaderocity, which my beloved son continues to remind me. Even more unfortunately, lately I’ve been lacking the pep in my rally. Okay, here’s the situation…

Yes, I was a cheerleader in high school. The pom poms, short skirts, megaphones and all. But that’s not the kind of cheerleading we’re talking about here. That cheerleader is a temporary position. The cheerleader we are discussing is a permanent personality. She’s the coworker who always greets you with an easy compliment and soft smile. He’s the friend you find any excuse to be around because his mere presence lifts your mood. She’s the grandmother who rubs your back knowingly while muffling a snicker as you lament over how horrible your parents are behaving. He’s the boss who gives you job leads because, as much as he doesn’t want to lose you, he also wants to see you reach your highest potential. We are the few, the proud, the Mar…I mean the cheerleaders!

Cheerleading is not a sport. I’m sorry Friends, it’s not. Cheerleading is a personal characteristic. As much as you want to tone it down, you just can’t freaking help it. This trait makes you want to run around all day doling out hugs and high fives when you’re at your highest. It makes you wake up with a laugh in your heart because…we’ll, just because. It makes you head bang in your car, belt out notes you have no business attempting and dance in a crowded supermarket not caring who is watching. This is me. I am a cheerleader.

Recently, I have not allowed my cheerleaderocity to flourish, because I was afraid that I was annoying my friends and family. At one point, I’d send them letters, emails and texts on a regular basis to say “hey”. You are not alone, I’m here! I’ve got your back! Congratulations! You can do this! Thank you! Which are many ways to remind them that “I love you”. I can understand how this can become a little overwhelming, especially for people who are not emotional like me or simply feel too self conscious about an appropriate way to respond. I get it.

The truth is, that I never expected anything of them. They could have replied a thanks, emoji or, my favorite, “cool”. I do this because it is who I am. I am a cheerleader. I don’t do it for gratitude or even a reply. My hope is that I can bring a little lift to a heavy heart or make someone smile when their world is crap. But whether it has this affect or none at all does not matter to me. I repeat for those in the back row (megaphone to mouth) I AM A CHEERLEADER!

No one in my immediate household appreciates this quality. I am a night owl (along with the youngest two) and an early bird. (The oldest and Honey are neither. They like their sleep.) Therefore, I understand their frustration when I refuse to turn out the lights at 1:00 am or walk into their bedrooms singing “rise and shine” with my mug of green tea at the break of dawn. Again, I get it. Nobody likes to be bothered by a hyper-animated sleep stealer when they are snuggled and warm in their cozy beds. It’s annoying.

To keep peace at home, I gradually transferred my excitement onto casual acquaintances and strangers. “Have a fantastic Friday!” I’d say to a store clerk with a bit too much exuberance. “I love your new haircut!” I’d compliment, intending to sound sincere but coming across as creepy and stalkerish. “Your baby is the definition of cute,” I’d gush as the lady proceeded to clutch her child to chest and scurry away leaving sidelong glances to make sure I wasn’t following them. Soon after this experiment failed, I learned to stifle my cheer. You see where this is heading, right Friend?

Stifling any part of your personality can only end in two ways. Either you can swing from the extreme of completely suppressing that quality to having it explode in geysers OR you can become slightly depressed from not being your authentic self. I experienced a little of both. Okay, a lot of both, and it was disastrous.

Not only am I a cheerleader, but I’m also an introvert. (The two can coexist. Trust me.) In an attempt to spare those closest to me, I found myself exploding compliments onto defenseless people. Then I retreated to berate myself for once again being a weirdo in public. I’m not antisocial or even socially awkward. I just don’t read people all that well. In my mind, everyone thinks like me. Everyone enjoys a cheerful compliment, and everyone wants to be happy. No, Tonya. No, they do not. Not only do some people not want to be happy, they don’t want to be around other people who are happy. So, I slowly let my light dim.

A funny thing happened over the summer. I began getting phone calls, texts and emails from people with the same basic message. I miss you. Awww!

It turns out, I was not as annoying as I thought I was. And even if I was, who cares? They missed me! They missed me being excited for them when they finally got up to a 5K on the treadmill. They missed me shrieking with laughter as they relayed the story of them sliding down a flight of stairs then jumping up into a gymnastics pose. (That’s so Tonya) They even missed my “I told you so” when they passed that class they were sure they would fail. As goofy, unnaturally optimistic and somewhat annoying as she may be, they missed their cheerleader.

Well, I’m back, Baby! And I have yet another pearl of wisdom to add to the necklace.
Don’t ever dull your light to make another person feel comfortable.
If they love you, they will accept you in your full glory. As a matter of fact, when you shine your brightest, they see your example and turn their own lights up a few ticks. If they complain about your wattage or can’t handle your glow, it’s probably best for you to part ways. That person is not your peeps.

Your peeps encourage you to be glorious and support your strides toward improvement. Your peeps are the first ones to offer congratulations for the good things and a sympathetic ear for the not so good things. Your peeps are honest when you need to hear truth, funny when you need to laugh, and quick to tell you to get over yourself when you’re being obstinate. Your peeps are those who share themselves without asking anything in return and allow you to do the same. Your peeps are your cheerleaders.

This one is for the cheerleaders of the world and my personal cheerleaders, my peeps. May you head bang in your car, belt out notes you have no business attempting and dance in a crowded supermarket not caring who is watching. And may you always shine your light into the world. I love you!

Ciao!

DEATH AND POLITICS

cemetery christian christianity church
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Originally posted 10/26/17

Apparently, I have been living in an imaginary world of my own ignorant creation for 40 years. I have denied my roots by the sheer act of not bothering to dig too deeply into the history of my family in order to distance myself from the unpretty. Why am I suddenly in the throes of this realization? Death and politics. I will explain presently. Ok, here’s the situation…

My mother was born to an 11 year-old girl. You read that right. My biological grandmother was one year younger than my youngest daughter who, as responsible as she is for her age, cannot be trusted to walk her dog once a day without a reminder. ELEVEN years old? Eleven. Years. Old. ELEVEN YEARS OLD! I keep repeating it in part because it’s still new, but mostly because it is impossible for me to imagine a child that young having a baby. I mean, I was practically a baby myself at 18 when I had my first child. But 11 years old? An 11 year old cannot possibly possess the emotional, psychological and social maturity to consent to sex, much less rear another human being. Right? I mean…right? Ok, the shock of this news is only made more shocking by the fact that I have lived nearly 41 years ignorant of it. If not for my mother’s brother passing away last week (he was 2 years younger), I would still be clueless.

I wanted to comfort my mother in her grief. The only other person who could attest to her painful and difficult childhood is gone from the earth. As long as her brother lived, my mom had an ally who understood her, who could soothe her with his presence simply because he knew her ugly and loved her anyway. In one telephone conversation my mother recalled the many times that she had to rescue her brother. You see, my mom is a small, belligerent woman who would literally cut a bitch. Actually she was a small, belligerent woman. These days old age has quelled her temper a bit, and I think she’s trying to get to heaven. Anyhow, she grew an impenetrable layer of tough to protect herself and her younger brother from an indecent world.

Unfortunately, I did not know my uncle. I can only recall seeing him one time, so I could not share my mother’s grief. However, I wanted to guide her through her pain. I listened while she confessed some of the terrible things that she could allow herself to remember. I listened to that part of my ancestry that I had so cleverly dodged all of my life and had mostly convinced myself that it didn’t really happen. It was a whisper on the wind that you’re never sure you actually heard. It was too hideous to look at, lest I would have to admit that the hideousness resides somewhere in me.

After the bombshell of a conversation with my mom, I happened upon a woman who I know casually. Somehow I got the impression that she was avoiding me. She was avoiding me? I was incredulous. I don’t even like her. No, that’s not true, because to not like a person requires an active thought about her. It’s more appropriate to say that I don’t even consider her. However, I could find more interesting things to do than talk to her, like file the dead skin off of my heels. How dare she she attempt to avoid me? She should be overjoyed to know me, because, let’s face it, I’m freaking awesome!

For 30 full minutes I let myself be annoyed by that mayonnaise woman, until something occurred to me. I was more bothered by this new development than I had been by my mother’s grief, my uncle’s death and the disturbing situations the two of them endured throughout their childhoods. Why did it matter that mayo chick didn’t want me to see her? At least I now know beyond doubt that our feelings are mutual. No need for fake pleasantries or uncomfortable conversations. I should be relieved that we can say hi and bye when our paths cross without feeling obligated to anything more.

I am never one who can leave questions unanswered, so I thought it through until I came to a conclusion. As callous as it sounds, my mother and uncle are foreigners to my world. I learned to cut myself off from the awareness of all of the harshness of my mother’s upbringing, because it did not fit into the pretty life that I had concocted. In my world, my parents were happily married intellectuals who had political debates over dinner. They read the newspaper as they sipped their morning coffee and smooched while dancing. My fantasy was the Huxtables and I was the sister between Vanessa and Rudy. In my fantasy world, I was a regular kid living in an ordinary house in which the fridge was always full and the air was always cinnamon and warm. I’d be damned if I was going to let a pesky thing like reality burst my plastic bubble.

I grew up living in that fantasy world. It was my impenetrable layer of tough, my coping mechanism against a harshness which threatened to swallow me in one gulp. I lived in my fantasy world until I made it my reality. While I got off to a rough start, I look about me now and see all of the manifestations of my imagination. I have a handsome, funny, intelligent husband who I adore and who adores me. We have three bright, beautiful kids who are healthy and (mostly) lovely. We have owned some truly magnificent homes and are less than a year away from purchasing the home that our youngest will spend the rest of her childhood in amidst one of the most affluent communities in the nation. There is morning coffee, political debates, smooches while dancing and the air is always cinnamon and warm. My world is a dream. Ha! You already know where this is going.

My dream world shattered a bit around the edges last November. I cannot express how profoundly shocked I was that we elected that man to preside over the most powerful country on the planet. How could we? People I know. My friends and acquaintances. The inhabitants of my dream world voted for him. Some of them are even proud and boast about it. Others broadcast in surreptitious ways– the odd comment in defense of the latest buffoonery, questionable memes, online debates. Their betrayal of the unwritten laws of TonyaLand sent me reeling from that gut punch feeling that I’d tried my whole life to escape. I DON’T BELONG. What’s worse, I spent this past year feeling like THEY don’t want me here.

I gradually stopped volunteering in the community because of the gnawing suspicion that some of my peers don’t want me here. I stopped extending myself to neighbors, because some of them don’t want me here. When I see people proudly displaying an American flag, I cringe because I see it as a symbol that they don’t want me here. When I think about my friends who voted for the guy who actively refused to lease or sell properties to people who look like me, I cannot come to any other conclusion but that they don’t want me here.

For a moment I am sad. I am utterly destroyed to suddenly know that mayo chick and some others like her don’t want me here. At the very least, my presence causes them discomfort. Then I’m angry. The part of me that is a small, belligerent woman screams and cries, tears and snot flinging with two middle fingers shoved into the air “F*@K YOU!” Another part wants to run away to a place where I may fit in better.

However, ALL of me knows that it’s no use to run or curse or cry. I’ve been around the world, and I just don’t fit in… anywhere. Still, whether they want me here or not, I’m here. And I have every right to be here. Honey and I worked hard to get here. I spent sleepless nights studying while running a household to get here. It took me two marriages and living like a miser for decades to get here. I hustled and scrapped to get here. I earned my place HERE. I’m about to drop a big piece of change on an overpriced property, because THIS is where I choose to reside. I’m not about to give it all up just because I make some people uncomfortable with my presence. Deal with it.

That’s it! You may not trust that I didn’t have this moment planned when I began typing, but it’s true. I had only a vague notion of what I wanted to say in this post. Not until a moment ago did it dawn on me that “they” cannot like or dislike me because I’ve been too busy living in a pretty little fantasy. Anytime anything has gone not according to script, I ignored it like it didn’t exist. It’s the same with our country. The election was a splash of cold water to the face of our collective denial. We need to face the reality in front of us. We are far from the fantasy that we pretend to be.

By the end of 2016, the ugly had flung itself against the dome of my fantasy world so violently and relentlessly that all that remained of the dream were shattered shards of perfection lying at my feet. Reality would no longer let me pretend that I didn’t come from an eleven year old grandmother or that my own mother was a teenage mom who sometimes used drugs to escape from the darkness that occupied the corners of her young mind. I had to face being a bastard child from the murder capital of the country who knew what it meant to be hungry, cold and poor. As much as I strived for pretty, my reality was deformed, grimy and gnarled off at the edges.

I am Newark, NJ and the backwood of Linden, NC. I am an 18-year-old mom, divorced at 22. I am a survivor of inappropriate fondling at the hands of someone I trusted. I am hunger and grit and making a way out of no way. I am an 8 year old scrubbing my clothes on a washboard in our bathtub, because my parents can’t afford to take them to a laundromat. I am a 16 year old washing my cheerleading socks in the bathroom sink, so my White friends won’t guess that I can’t afford to live in their world.

I am grief and laughter, failure and triumph, poverty and wealth, ugly and pretty. I am me because of my flaws, not despite them. Mayo chick doesn’t know me because, hell, I barely know myself. She doesn’t know that I absolutely hate shopping at the mall, because it all feels plastic and pointless. Or that I love finding a beautiful dress at the thrift shop because I feel connected to its previous owner and secretly hope she strikes up a conversation when she recognizes it. Mayo chick doesn’t know that I count my friends on one hand, because I can barely tolerate inane prattle or the way too many people size you up based on how their association with you can enhance or benefit them. Or that I have the same best friend since high school, because she is the first person that I ever trusted with my ugly and is still the only person who can laugh with me through the darkest bits of life. Mayo chick knows none of this, because I spent a lifetime trying to evade and ignore any pieces of me that do not fit into her mayo world.

Well, eff that life. As a matter of fact, eff these past two horrible years. Eff trying to fit in. Eff caring about them wanting me here. Eff that fake, shiny, plastic, boring ass mayonnaise world that I never truly wanted to be part of in the first place. In MayoLand, they don’t dance, and I am a dancer.

“They were assholes”, I tell my mom when I call her back. “Those people were assholes and the things they did to you were evil. They should have protected you. They should have helped you and your brother, not mistreat you and discard you like you were barely human.”

“I know that”, my mother laughs. Her tears have dried. In this moment, she is no longer grieving for her childhood, though she still aches for her brother. I marvel at her strength and her ability to see beauty in what others consider ugly. She moved back to Newark because, as gritty and unpleasant as it may be, it is home. She relishes being the mother of the community, doling out smiles and advice to young people who remind her of herself. She is quick to put someone in his or her place when she thinks they are putting on airs. She is strangely optimistic and helps everyone she can though she has very little to give.

My mother and I are completely different. I disagree with her on nearly every major life philosophy, but I am immensely proud that her courage and unabashed optimism pump through me as surely as her blood runs through my veins. I am eternally grateful that she did the one thing she could for me. She stayed. Despite the fact that she had me, her third child, at the age of 20, she stayed. Despite the bouts of debilitating depression and not knowing how to provide for four children after a divorce, she stayed to be the mother that she never had. She stayed so that my siblings and I could complain about her and be embarrassed by her, because she knew what we did not. It is better to have an imperfect mother than to have no mother at all. Even now, when I complain about my mom, a secret part of me whispers a breath of thanks that she had the courage to square up to life and embrace the ugly bits. And stay.

That is what I am learning to do. That’s what our country must learn to do. Our history is not pretty. It is deformed, grimy and gnarled off at the edges. It is slavery and rape. It is genocide and war. It is misogyny and oppression. It is police harassment, brutality and violence as the overseers became officers. It is Jim Crow and lynchings and burning down thriving Black communities. Our shared American history is sick, dark, twisted and unpretty. The hideousness resides somewhere in all of us. However, we are here, and we are beautiful. We are much more interesting and wonderful than those parts we fear will pull us asunder.

It’s time for us to take a cue from Gloria and amass the courage to square up to the ugly bits, tears and snot flinging with two middle fingers shoved into the air with a grand F*@K YOU! Let’s stop living in a plastic, whitewashed fantasy world and remember how terrific it feels to dance.

Ciao!

POWER HUNGRY

Originally posted 9/16/17
POWER
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

***WARNING*** The following post deals with a very sensitive and controversial subject. Please stop here if you have difficulties reading or thinking about inflammatory topics. Also, it’s hella long.

Apparently, we have an issue with race relations in America. At least that has been the recent narrative. It’s almost easy to conclude this as fact when we see case after case of black and brown people executed by white (usually) men. However, I recently binge watched video footage of cops committing violence against citizens. My conclusion is that our racial tensions are second to a much more universally accepted struggle. Ok, here’s the situation…

What if I told you that the same disease that makes men and women violate one another is the same one that makes many prefer dogs over cats. Would you believe me? I’m a freaking genius anthropologist. Of course I know what I’m talking about! Ok, I hear you. You need evidence. I will get to that, but I promise you it ain’t pretty. You’ll probably disagree. You may even want to hurl insults at me like Ludacris throws bows. If you have any of these reactions, stop and ask yourself why. Keep in mind that we usually have the strongest reactions to those things we fear are true.

Before I jump into the thick of it, let me ask a question. Who has never heard “because I said so” from a parent or person in a position of authority? If you haven’t, count yourself fortunate. For black people in my circle, this is the phrase that ends all discussions. If you dare to utter another rebuttal, be prepared to dodge shoes, duck out of reach of a slap, or do some Matrix style maneuvering to avoid the assailant laying hands on you. If, as I suspect, the majority of Americans grew up hearing these words as a discussion ender, natural curiosity begs to ask “why?”.

The answer is obvious, right? 1. I’m your parent. 2. I pay for everything in this house. 3. I brought you into this world (“and I can take you out” is sometimes implied). 4. You must respect my government-sanctioned authority over you until you are “legally” an adult. 5. I’m older (implication of wisdom) than you and know what’s best for your wellbeing. Now shut up and go away or catch these hands. But are any of these reasons 100% true 100% of the time? Absolutely not!

Let’s cut straight to #4 and unpack that a bit. The meaning of those words are more telling of who we are in America than they first appear. You, child, are compelled to respect and obey my whims, because I have been given the responsibility to provide for your health and development until a standard age set by the laws of the land. If you fail to respect and obey, there will be consequences. And I have the full support of the government and all its resources of coercion to guarantee that my will be done, provided that the methods of enforcement are not classified as abusive. And there’s nothing you can say or do about it. Is that about right?

You’re intelligent, Friend. I know that you know where this is going. Of course, it’s all about power. It’s ALWAYS about power. Why do you want to be rich? Power. Why do you want to be famous? Power. Why do you want to fall in love? Power. Why do you want a puppy? Um, hello. Power. Dogs are frequently described as loyal protectors of their masters. Dogs follow their owners around, blindly bow-wowing (because I had to) to their humans’ authority. They don’t question a person’s intelligence or fitness to lead them in the first place. That’s why cats get such a bad rep. Stupid cat, how dare you eat the food I buy, live underneath my roof, make me scoop your poop and not worship me as your supreme ruler? Cats are having none of that nonsense. Dogs, on the other hand, are cool with it. Why do you love dogs? Power!

Self-empowered humans do not need to feel dominant or supreme over anyone else, because they understand that they have dominion over the only one they can control– themselves. It’s hard to blame people for seeking to dominate another considering that most people are born into a world that seeks to disempower them from birth. It’s only natural that people will go to great lengths to steal power from sources outside themselves. Why do you think the worst bullies have the saddest tales?

We laugh about black parents beating their children for minor infractions, but what was the message behind those spankings? You’ve done something I don’t like, so I hurt you. Worse still, country black folk practiced the ritual of having the child pick the switch that would dole out the lashes. What kind of crap is that? Not only am I going to beat you for challenging my authority, but I will make you choose the weapon I use to ravage your body. That way you are complicit in the assault. By choosing the weapon, you abdicate your authority over your personhood to me and authorize this beating.

The psychological and physical scars that those beatings leave are witnessed in the prominence of Black people violating others and allowing themselves to be victims of violence. It has literally been beaten into us through acculturation that we are powerless, that our lives don’t matter, and that we can only gain power by getting it from sources outside ourselves. The victimization is perpetuated by the very people who are then outraged when their sons and daughters are continually victimized by social systems of injustice.

Skip ahead to the video marathon. The first video I watched was the death of Philando Castille. As I watched him die in front of my eyes, I was in shock. My impression was that the cop was noticeably afraid for his life when interacting with that black man who advised the cop that he was a gun owner. There are many, many reasons we ALL learn to fear black people. The problem was that Castille’s very existence was viewed as an imminent threat.

I combed through videos moving rapidly from shock to outrage to plain ol’, seething rage. I forced myself to go through as many videos as I could find. I imagined that I would eventually be moved to tears accompanied by feelings of shame, helplessness and sorrow. I figured that I would mourn for the lives lost and the families left to pick up the pieces after the unimaginable occurred. As the sun began its daily ascent, I realized that the tears never came, nor did the shame, helplessness or sorrow. Instead, I evolved from rage to curiosity. How could this continue to happen unabated? How could these crimes be justified by so many people? Not every person killed or brutalized was an upstanding citizen to be sure, but does that point justify their execution?

The answer to my questions lie in the same system of power already discussed. We have collectively empowered misogyny, white supremacy, ageism, homophobia and religious intolerance. Every time we imply that a victim of rape somehow invited the attack by her behavior or manner of dress, we sanction a male’s dominion over female bodies. Every time we accuse a child of being disrespectful because she questions authority, we endorse the culture of disempowering youth. Every time we buy into the notion that black victims must have done something to deserve the inhumane treatment they received, we co-sign America’s longstanding tradition of white dominion over all others. Every time we deny gay people the same rights afforded to heterosexuals, we support the implication that they are a lower class of humans not deserving of the same rights everyone else enjoys. Finally, every time we use religious doctrine to demonize another group of people, we state that our beliefs are superior to everyone else’s.

The examples could go on, but I think you get the message. Another message became clear to me upon witnessing a pattern of behavior develop in the footage. The cops often appeared angrier than the alleged offense would cause any normal, rational human being to become. They also used force that would be considered excessive by any unbiased person with eyes to see. That’s when the realization struck me so suddenly that I gasped and clutched my chest.

The common theme was that the citizens attacked by the cops had the audacity to challenge the officers’ authority. They did not respect and obey as they presumably should have. This offense was so egregious and so triggered the cops that deadly force was employed as retribution. I watched 200lb men punch a woman in the face, neck and head. I watched multiple cops perform illegal chokeholds, two of which resulted in deaths. I watched cops empty their full rounds of bullets into people, one even reloaded. I watched violence committed against person after person all because they dared to challenge a cop’s “because I said so”. The worst part is that all of those cops were government-sanctioned to commit violence as evidenced by their “not guilty” verdicts. Most of the families of the slain were awarded monetary damages (paid for by tax payers’ dollars) while the cops continue to receive their salaries (also funded with tax payers’ money). We, the people, fund the system of violence and White, male dominance.

Power hungry people are drawn to occupations and lifestyles that feed their need for empowerment. It makes no difference to them how that void is filled, as long as it is filled. No one goes into parenthood with the intention of draining the life force out of their children. However, that’s exactly what happens when parents constantly enforce their will without allowing children to provide input or feedback about decisions which directly affect their lives. People don’t consciously tout their maturity over another to zap vitality from the youth, but that’s exactly what occurs when we are dismissive and speak in condescension to anyone we see as younger than (and innately inferior to) us. Most cops aren’t aware of their desire to dominate others, but their hidden insecurities are displayed in their interactions with people they (or society) deem inferior.

We are all in a perpetual power struggle. It appears that most of modernized societies participate in it. Wars are waged because this group seeks to dominate another. Women who dare to defy misogynistic standards or rise to a position of power above that of a male colleague are routinely and openly crucified then written off as bitches. Black people who have the nerve to assert that our lives matter, are equated with the KKK and other hate groups. People who dare to denounce government authority over themselves by living off-grid and proving the unnecessariness of money have their characters assassinated and face heavy fines and penalties meant to serve as justification for imprisonment.

Remember, I warned you that you would probably disagree with me at some point. That’s fine. You have that right. Do you also remember the clever way that I silenced any threat of a challenge by stating that I’m a genius anthropologist? For the record, I am, officially, neither. Invoking one’s profession is another means of exerting dominance. Why do you think so many people seek employment in highly prestigious career fields? As is the case with professors, it is not solely for the pay.

The great thing about empowerment is that people control where they allocate their power. Just as we were taught to pay deference to cops, doctors, our elders, government bodies, money, etc without question, we can unlearn these unhealthy habits of disempowerment. We can reclaim our power by challenging the unchecked authority of any system that aims to subjugate the population or subsects there within. It begins with the simple act of denouncing all of those social structures that seek to oppress individuals and groups. Collectively we can obliterate white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious intolerance, ageism, and any other hateful means of draining power from individuals and distilling it in large social structures.

Furthermore, we can ensure the empowerment of future generations by ceasing child rearing practices that disempower them in the first place. Engage children in discussions about the need for certain household rules, chores etc. That way they understand the importance and responsibility of their input in a functioning society. I have a hunch that this shift would lead to a decline in the bullying epidemic too. Within a generation we could have police officers who are drawn to the job to actually protect and serve. We could have politicians who understand that they are public servants serving at the whim of the people. We could have industries that actually work to make our lives better instead of keeping us subservient while they amass wealth and power to reign over us. It all starts with one decision. Decide to never again derive your power by disempowering another.

When we love and respect ourselves first, we cannot help but love and respect those around us. What we see in the chaos and turmoil in our world is the emergence of empowered people who refuse to silently watch as their fellow humans are subjugated. The people are stripping power from politicians, banks and titans of industry and returning it back to its rightful owner. Power to the people!

Ciao!