Thursday, April 29, 2010

I can't get there from here.......

Tears for Fears. I loved them in high school. Even though they were mortal enemies with my other favorite group: Wham!. How to fit bubble-gum pop, with a gorgeously gay lead singer into the same musical world as the brooding, dark and existential duo from Tears for Fears? Well, my music tastes pretty much sums up my entire life and personality - diametrically opposed to each other with more facets than the most perfectly cut diamond. But there has been a song lyric in my head for the last few days that seems to sum up how I feel lately. Reality is finally settling in and making for one very unhappy woman.

"Between the searching and the need to work it out, I stopped believing everything would be alright. Broken, we are broken." Tears for Fears.

They do write a catchy and melancholy little ditty don't they? I am in that in-between place where I have to make changes in my life. But most of the changes I need to make are dependent upon other people and a bad economy and a questionable use of my many skills. I need a job that pays more than my fun teaching gig. I need to decide where to move my family - do we stay in our very expensive town or do we take our show to Broadway? Do I give away everything I own or keep it or try to sell it? And where is my personal assistant to do all of that thinking for me? And that's how I feel. I feel broken. I feel as though there are pieces of me scattered all over the place and I can see them but I can't pick them up much less fit them back together again. And I am standing right there - on the edge of that cliff wanting to jump off and say - you know what life is just one big bowl of suck. It doesn't get better - and there are no happy endings. It's just day after day of the same shit.....but you know me better than that - and I know me better than that.

So, even in the middle of this dark time I am able to see down the road. There is a little town a ways away, with sun and trees and rolling hills. But between me and it is a valley filled with rocks and spiders and dark clouds. I can see the lovely town, I know it's there and it's real. But I can't get there from here without going through the valley. And it sucks knowing that. It sucks knowing that you can't skip over the bad stuff.

I want to catch a plane or flag down a passing motorist on this road. I want a break. But nobody can do this work for me and it's no longer just me - so drowning my sorrows in booze and smokes isn't going to work either. Ahhh, my twenties! Children make you grow up in a way you don't always want to. And disaster makes you want to crawl back to a time when you were being taken care of and housed and fed - but you still snuck out on Saturday nights to do what you want. There's no sneaking out. There's no taking off. It's a 24 hour gig this mommy thing. And honestly, it sucks. But that's the part of growing up that they don't tell you about - the sacrifice and the pain and the swirling vortex of suck!

And I never want to be the person who writes wah-wah posts. But this is one of them. And I feel like I am due. It'll be okay. I can see the town. I know it's there. And I have no idea how long it is going to take me to get there. But I will get there. And I will have this post to remind me of how far I came to get there. But in the meantime, tribe, know that this thing I am in - sucks - a lot!

we are blessed - today I am missing the blessing - but it will be back soon....

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does Discipline Equal Love - bell hooks response #1

News Flash: I am black. Which means, usually, that I was raised in a black family. It just so happens that I was raised in a typical black family of the 70's. First generation northerner. My grandmother was born in the south and lived through share cropping and jim crow and then moved north to get married and have her children. But the south came with them when they migrated north as did the ancient adage and practice of children being seen but not heard. But it was more than that.

I was an inquisitive child. Always asking questions, the way children do. But that was frowned upon in my family. I was constantly being quieted and told I talk too much. I was discouraged from asking questions and seen as a nuisance if I persisted. To this day my relatives still refer to me as "the child who didn't know when to keep her mouth shut." WTF? My family showed they cared in the way I am sure they had to in the south - they verbally abused us. We were told to "stay in our place" and to "not question our elders." And I am sure that this type of training was of particular use to young black men in the south who could be found swinging from the nearest magnolia if they didn't avert their eyes in the presence of a white woman. But that wasn't the reality I was living in in the north - I mean I was a freed negro. But the elders of the family held sway and controlled how things were done and so that same type of discipline - down to picking my own switch - continued through my childhood.

Being seen and not heard, however, backfired. I was privy to all kinds of "adult" conversations. I heard things I didn't quite understand and things I understood all too well. With my mouth shut my eyes and ears were open and I, more often than not, copied the behavior rather than the words. But a few things happened to me recently that made me think about my use of language and the way I "discipline" my children.

Up until recently - the last 10 years or so- I had incredibly violent language. And I didn't realize it was violent until I stopped to listen to what I was really saying. I had incorporated my upbringing into my daily living and it was an uncomfortable realization. But the other day I saw a young black mother with her two children crossing the street. She was pulling the youngest to get across before the light changed, even though I am pretty sure the cars were not going to run her over. And I saw her getting more and more frustrated with her youngest child who had at this point begun to cry. And the mother turned on her child and screamed (and I am not kidding here, she screamed) into that little face: "SHUT UP BEFORE I GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!" And there is was - my 100th angel arriving in my presence. I have heard that sentence said to me more often than I care to remember. As if being publicly humiliated and dragged across a street WASN'T something to cry about. It made me cry. And I cried for the little spirit that was crushed that day in the street. And I cried for the little me who had also gotten her spirit stamped on at an early age. And then they came: the hot angry tears of remorse when I realized that I had at some point in my life said the same thing to my children. OUCH! I am not proud of admitting this but it is true. I have told my children to shut up and I have told them I would give them something to cry about and I use threats to get results. And I am searching for a better way to raise my kids. And I realize that in times of frustration and fear we revert to our training and mine was verbally abusive.

bell hooks talked about this in her interview with my friend Nathalie. She said that in the black community we discourage inquisition by children. And when we do that we silence them and instill in them the belief that asking questions is wrong. That to question is wrong. We, as a people, cannot afford to be silent and not ask questions. Of our educators, our politicians, our government, our service providers, our food suppliers. And this type of silencing keeps us, as a people, enslaved. There is a lot of "old school" folks out there who think that talking with your kids and asking them questions is weak. That we are elevating our children to the level of "adult." That they don't know their place. Well, aren't these all the same things said about black people back in the day? We were seen as children who needed to be reminded of our place. And we cannot afford to pass that misconception on to our children. They must question - everything - including us. As uncomfortable as it may be.

So, does discipline equal love? I think it depends on what you mean by discipline. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of discipline:
1 : punishment
2 obsolete : instruction
3 : a field of study
4 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c : self-control
6 : a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

And I love, ironically, how the first definition is punishment. But then it is instruction and training that corrects or molds. And that is a huge responsibility - molding a young character. What kind of people do we want to create? People who are afraid to question authority and who feel disenfranchised? Or strong, compassionate, inquisitive people? I am going with the latter. And I am working every day on disciplining myself first - loving myself first so I have something of worth to give my children.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

photo: Leonard John Matthews

next installment in the bell hooks response: the black woman's body - stay tuned

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Between here and eternity

Why do I make lists instead of getting up and doing things? I can think myself into inaction like no one else I know. I went by a good friend's blog today just to see if she had posted anything in the last year - and wonders - she had. And it reminded me of the conversation we have been having all of our adult lives. How do we make our way in the world? What do we do when our ambition and passion meet our children and commitments? How do we get it all done when there are only 24 hours in every day and we can no longer function with less than 7 hours sleep? I spend a great deal of my time running on fumes. And it does not produce my best work - but something gets done. And I have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot have everything I want when I want it. But I still want it.

I am not a feminist. And I don't know if there is a word for what I am. I.AM.SO.DISAPPOINTED.IN.FEMINISM. And I am disappointed in the women who continue to tout it's purpose and strength without acknowledging that it is built by women of privilege. Privilege of opportunity, possibly money but definitely skin color. I am not a feminist. If feels as though there was never a place for me in their number. And so I went, like all conscious-college-educated-black-women to Alice Walker. Womanist. That's what I am. It's the 90's and I am feeling my political and sexual power. I am a womanist. I identify with the woman of me while simultaneously acknowledging that my gender is socially constructed; and that the personal is political. I coalesce with white women but don't get too close because they can't really understand what I am going through. But then I grow up and have kids. And I am not angry with every man in my cypher so I choose to be married and build a family. And I am not disgusted with my biology rather marvel at what my body has the fortitude and ancient knowledge to do - completely unassisted. So what am I now?
I engage in the "mommy wars" and breastfeed my babies in public and I boycott every chain store and company that makes life harder for us mothers, even going as far as not buying ANYTHING made in China. That sucked.

Now I am here. Almost 40. In the process of a divorce. Unemployed and raising three children. What am I now? Well, according to the census, because I am the head of the household, black and female and a mother - I am a statistic.

In the black community it is considered the ultimate insult to call somebody out of their name. And lately I have been thinking about what it is I want to be called. Who am I? I know, that sounds like the beginning of some really bad beat poem from the 60's. But I am not going anywhere to find myself. I am just reflecting on the fact that I am quite possibly all of those things. And none of them at the same time. And I am trying to figure out how to be in the world. How to present myself in the world. I am writing lists and journal entries all in an effort to figure out who to present on a daily basis. And wondering what would happen if I just got up and let the day happen. If I did some things that made me happy, and some things that need to get done and a few things I hate doing but are my responsibility. Then go to bed and get up and do it all over again. When I was little I always thought I was destined for greatness. And as I aged and made my choices and greatness did not appear, I began to get disappointed in myself. Not able to see the brilliance in the choices I had made and the people I had helped. Not valuing the little things. Always searching, always making lists. There is greatness in every step we take. And we can have it all - and when we look back at our lives just before our exit we will see each of those moments. Why wait for that day?

My sista-friend Minkgirl had this to say:
I am saying a prayer for myself and for all the other super-charged women I know that we can balance not just work and family, but joy and despair. There is much that is overwhelming, distracting, disturbing, and downright depressing about the lives we are living. And there is much that is joyful, beautiful, sweet, hopeful, and hysterically funny.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pimping the Jewish Hood

I got this email yesterday from a friend:
"Dearest Keisha, I loved your latest blog post and I know how you feel. Much the same way when I see myself in my mid-thirties unable to find a Jewish husband. I look at non-Jewish women married to Jewish men and it makes me shake all over. I think about how my ancestry is being erased in a single moment..."

Oh my. Did I mention my husband is Jewish? She was kind enough not to call me out specifically as someone responsible for erasing her ancestry. But I felt that sting too. I am reminded of that quote from Bulworth (yea, I watched it): "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep ****in' everybody 'til they're all the same color."

I don't think I like that idea. This is an uncomfortable thing to admit but I think about my kids and who their partners will be. And it would bother me if my sons chose a woman who did not resemble me. It would bother me if my grandchildren looked less and less like me until there was no distinction in race. And I know that that is the ideal for some people. But not for me. Our differences need to be seen and acknowledged before they can go away. And turning everyone into beige would not solve that problem.

But back to my friend. I get her point completely. Judaism is carried through the mother. And when you turn away from a Jewish woman you turn away from having Jewish children and a Jewish home. That hurts her. And even more it hurts, in her opinion, the continuation of her people. She ended her email with this line: "I just wish they would stop pimping the Jews." Woah, I suddenly felt like J-Lo when she finished dating P-Diddy or Puffy or whatever the hell his name was at the time. She got accused of Pimping the Black Hood to advance her career.

I wrote her back: "I got you. And I thank you for not calling me out in particular, although your email relates to me directly. And I acknowledge your pain and I get feeling erased." That's all I could say. Much the same way no one can say anything to me to make things better, just air it out and acknowledge it's there. The work is just beginning tribe, get your boots on!

photo: naranjalady