Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Colored Contradictions

I said I wasn't going to respond to Jill Scott's op-ed in Essence magazine this week. I said it and I meant it. But then I did what I try so hard not to do, I got caught up in it and allowed my empathic self to get immersed in my feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal from my own past. Now I have no intentions of this blog being one big confessional but what I have learned from the comments here and on Facebook, and the private emails, is that I often dare to say some of the things we all think and feel but don't write about. And that is a confession I am willing to make publicly. For the truly intense and personal things I can always go around the corner to the Catholic church if I feel the need to have my soul cleansed, nine years in Catholic school I know how to do it - "Bless me father, for I have sinned, it's been five minutes since my last confession."

Let me start this post with a story. I was standing outside one beautiful Spring afternoon with three phenomenal women. Smart, beautiful, progressive and all white. One of them showed a picture of her boyfriend, prefacing the display of his visage by saying, "He's 45 but could pass for 30 ALL DAY," I was eager to see this man. And then I saw the picture - he was black. I winced. I did. Me standing there, married, at that time for 7 years to a white man. I winced. I felt that the wince was an internal one - one not visible to the eyes outside the "race," but she immediately turned to me and said, "Do you hate me?" This caught me off guard. Her honesty, her awareness that this relationship might actually affect me, me who had NO chance of dating that man. And I turned to her and said, "I smarted for a second, but no I don't hate you. Love who you will." And I meant that. And I would love for my wince to have come immediately from a history lesson of black women as mammies and work-horses and single black women blamed for emasculating our men when in actuality it was the white power structure that cut their balls off and pimped out our uterus while killing our seed. I have that - firmly in my DNA. But I winced because I had a more personal response. I thought of the all the black men in my personal history who I loved who did not love me back. I thought of all the black men who stepped over me: an able, beautiful and brilliant woman, to get to the blonde on my left. That was the pain behind that wince. And that was not a pain I wanted to hold onto, nor a pain I wanted to have hold me back.
And I admit - it seems ridiculous for me, a black woman who has been in interracial relationships, married outside my ethnicity and have multiracial children, to wince. But I did. I don't anymore. I feel the pain, often of not belonging fully in any community because of my relationship choices, but I don't wince.

I think of how my best friend, years ago, had a bit of trepidation in her voice when telling me that she was dating a black man. I felt, then, that I had the right to be righteously indignant about her choice. She was far more sensitive than another white friend who told me that the black man she was dating was about as "black as I was." I knew that wasn't going to last - her relationship or our friendship and neither did. But my BFF knows me, she knows my soul and she knew how I felt even though it wasn't a fight she ever had with me, because I think she also knew it was not a fight worth having. Does it still sting when I see a black man with a white woman in particular, yea it does. And not because I think they don't have the right to be together - of course they do. In this world take love where you can find it. It just brings back to the front of my eyes my personal pain and my love/hate affair with the black men from my past. And it is one of my 100 angels showing up to tell me to get my own affairs in order. To clean up my own house first. Is this topic so much bigger than I could ever fully address here? Of course it is but I felt I would not be honest if I didn't tell you these stories. They are the makings of me. A beautiful, brilliant and flawed sister of the yam - working on my self recovery.

in peace,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Over the Hills and Far Away.......

This is where I am when I am staring off into space. It happens less now then when I was a girl. But I believe in daydreaming. I think it's healthy and gives our ideas wings. But this is also the title of my favorite Led Zeppelin song (#7 on the playlist). And I have been thinking about it a lot lately. Playing it over and over again and being transported to a different time in my life - high school. Ahhh, high school. The most awkward and emotionally painful time of my life. And I have learned, of most people's lives. That is the time when we develop our sense of personal currency. What are we worth in the world? And what must we do/use to get what we want in the world?

I went to boarding school for high school. And I think adding "predominantly white" in front of boarding school is redundant for the 80's and probably for now as well. And I know I have written how going there saved my life in so many ways. But that revelation came with time. What I most starkly remember about high school is feeling invisible. I wasn't used to this because I had come from a place where I was quite visible and felt capable. And then I went somewhere where I felt I was not seen - as either a person or a girl. It was a weird, kind of out of body experience. Leaving high school and going to college was a huge shock because once there, even though I was in Appleton, Wisconsin I was immediately visible and quite aware that I had somehow, despite my best efforts, transformed from a girl into a woman. A transition I am not sure I was ready for.

The other day I was visiting with a Mama-friend and we were talking about the girls of today. She joked that her idea of risque was wearing a white shirt so her bra strap would show through the shirt! And that she learned this particular move in college. I had to laugh. I totally understood what she was talking about. I learned my best moves in college and some of them I am just now perfecting! And I am raising a young woman. She has a fearless fashion sense. The original inquiring mind and she is bold and adventurous and poetic and beautiful. She has also disengaged from her body - at the age of nine. I know the look, I did the same thing. But there are marked differences between me and my daughter and I am highly conscious of not projecting my childhood issues onto her. Of speaking with her and asking questions and encouraging open dialogue. But just like me when I was her age she has decided that below her neck does not serve her purposes in the world. She has decided that her currency is her mind and her voice (she sings - like I did).

A move I did learn before adulthood is that parents lead by example. I remember far more about my parents' deeds than anything they ever said to me. And I have been working on reclaiming my body not just for myself but for my daughter. I don't trust my body. I don't trust she is going to be there for me when I need her. And I don't fully believe that she can, at this point in her existence and with all she's been through, bounce back. But what I believe really doesn't matter. There is evidence to the contrary. And what I say really doesn't matter. It's all about what I do. So, all of the work I do getting myself together, loving and trusting myself is about so much more than how it makes me feel. And since I chose not to die but to live for my kids, better to make it some really great living! Little eyes are watching....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Existential Crisis

Don't worry that is just a fancy word for the fact that being a human sucks sometimes, especially when we realize that being a human sucks sometimes. I have to say that I am so much better at processing difficulties in my life. And sometimes I just need to stop speaking and go underground to really work through some issues and pains that are surfacing - and I will be coming back to this point again later when I start my response to bell hook's interview with my friend Nathalie. bell spoke about how she wanted to be silent six days ago when her mother died. And people were pissed off about that. People didn't like the fact that they did not have immediate access to her. And then she said: I am sure people don't expect to get in touch with Cornell West immediately. Amen, bell. I bet they don't.

March is a difficult month for me. It always has been. And sometimes I can catch myself ahead of time and get prepared for it and this year I tried to do that but it didn't work completely. I was unkind and abrupt with those in my cipher and with established relationships you can do that occasionally, but with seedling relationships, you may have to deal with the fall-out of not being trusted again. Or having to earn back your trust. Okay. I take that.

The beginning of March is all about death and loss for me. My father died 19 years ago, March 3rd. My friend Leah's birthday, who died from leukemia, is March 15th and the anniversary of the death of a dear friend is also March 15th (yea, I know - The Ides of March. F-ing Romans!). And also at the beginning of March I received news that my Hierophant was ending treatment for his pancreatic cancer. All around me was loss - of people, of relationships, of intimacy, of feeling loved in the world. And I am one of those people who values her virtual tribe but really needs live people close to her. And I was missing my far-flung friends and the intimacy you can only get from actually seeing someone's eyes when you speak to them. Life sucked last week. And the thought of it now still makes me cry.

And my spirit needed to make it's annual trek to the underworld to excavate those feelings and to harrow my personal hell. I find it highly un-coincidental that I go through this purging during Lent - right before Passover and Easter. My own personal desert (Merriam's secondary and tertiary definitions of desert: 2 archaic : a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract 3 : a desolate or forbidding area ).
And I am considering putting this time on my calender, not so it can be avoided but so I can better prepare for it next year. I think I need this time to renew myself and get ready for Spring.

What was the hardest part of this time was when I looked at myself and actually felt guilty for being alive. I felt guilty for surviving cancer. I wasn't supposed to survive. I had lost so much to cancer and I didn't understand why me? Because I have 3 children? Because I am young? Because there are still things I haven't done with my life? All of these things are true of those I've lost and so many more. It doesn't make sense. And it's not supposed to. These are the moments when I long for and desire to cling to a religious ideology because then I don't have to figure this out for myself - it is prescribed for me. But luckily this time is short-lived. Usually a week or so. And then I come out on the other side with relationship tending to do. Lesson learned. Next year the first two weeks of March will be spirit-tending time. And time to be more gentle with myself and those around me. I don't think, however, that I want to give up this time. I don't want to avoid experiencing this pain. It makes me more alive on the other side of it. It also feels like what butterflies do before they emerge from their cocoon. They slough off the old and emerge beautiful and ready to take flight. And over time the pain will erode until there is just me.

I accept my existential crisis and am grateful to have figured out that it is real. Grateful to be here to feel the pain.

in peace and past the sky

photo: MG Bolts

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Tree of Life

The "sefirot" are the energy points that make up the soul and fill our being. They are called the Tree of Life and are depicted as an upside down tree with its roots planted in heaven.....symboliz[ing] the energy rooted in the Creator, whose thoughts and feelings are expressions of our mind & heart and create... the story of our life.

Those of you who are close to me know that I think I am Jewish. The rabbi I used to study with, Rabbi Cohen, told me he thought I had a Jewish soul. Flattered. That has to be legitimate coming from a rabbi, right? I must really have a Jewish soul. A need to belong, to have a well-defined tribe, brought me to Judaism. That and my belief when I was a child, that despite being baptized Baptist and going to Catholic School, that I most identified with the Hasidim of Boro Park. But the interesting thing - I didn't identify with the women walking steps behind their men pushing baby strollers and sporting ripe bellies. I identified with the men walking and arguing and swaying back and forth in prayer. I identified with the scholar. And then Yentl came out - why Barbra why? I was hooked. Planning to cut my hair and grow a beard and go to yeshiva. One thing - I am not Jewish. And despite my best efforts I could not convert. There was too much I had to accept to belong. World views and beliefs I had taken the time to craft. I was not giving that up. And I would not make irreperable decisions for my children. Their journey to Grace needs to be their own. And I couldn't go there. But, if I may be so bold, I still think I have a Jewish soul and a Buddhist soul (do Buddhist's have souls?)and a Christian, Rastafari, Hindu soul. What does that mean to me?

I am proud of the work I have done in life to create an ontology that includes things greater than me where respect for others is a given and not a suggestion. Where the weak are put first until such a thing no longer exists. And where the only thing that serves as currency is love. Naive. Working on getting more people to jump on that bandwagon. But what does really resonate with me is the image of the tree. The tree of life. I have a friend creating a tattoo for me. A piece of art I have envisioned in my mind since I was very little. A tree that grows into a woman. Have you ever read "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein? I hate that book. There is a beautiful tree who speaks in what I can only assume is a mother's voice (I don't recall if Silverstein was bold enough to use the feminine pronoun for the tree), and sacrifices herself for the boy who grew up in her shade. She gives him her apples to sell to make money, she gives him her leaves to sit beneath for shade, she has him cut her limbs down to make a boat, and when there is nothing left but a stump she tells him to sit on her and rest until he dies. WTF? I hate that book. What did the boy ever do for the tree? She should have taught him to stand on his own two feet and get a damn job. But no, in true sacrificing mother mode she gives the boy everything she has, without so much as a phone call or a card. Not this Mama.

My tattoo - it is of a tree who turns into a beautiful woman with her hands/limbs stretched up. There are representations of my children throughout the tree. The "fruit" as it were, but not attached to the tree rather resting on or near the tree with a definite independent spirit and life of their own. This Mama knows how to circle her children keeping them close but giving them enough space to grow and become their own person.

"Whose thoughts and feelings are expressions of our mind & heart," the Creator, Prime Mover, G-d, Bob Marley, whatever you chose to call the architect. We are expressions of that greatness, that power that breathed the world into being. We are individual pictures released into the world. As we each are expressions of the ones who created us. And the Creator does not sacrifice itself for our existence and neither should we for another. The Ashanti say that if we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors - on their shoulders, not on their dust after we have trampled them into the ground. All of that is to say - do not sacrifice who you are - your light, your fire for anyone or anything. The world is a better place because you dare to be who you are. Ashe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So Unsexy

I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind

On my next birthday I will be 39. There I said it. And last week I looked at a picture of me from college. Why did I do that? There was a time in my life when I was not just cute but hot. Seriously. I have witnesses. And this is not about growing old it's about growing OLD. You are as old as you feel. And lately I feel ancient. I have the total Mom thing going on right down to the jeans that are too big for me, well that's kind of a good thing. Where did my groove go?

When I had my daughter I stopped wearing heels. When I had my first son I stopped wearing skirts and when I had my last son I stopped wearing make-up. It was all too much work. I used to be the girl who could get asked to a formal at 4pm and have something to wear and be ready by 5pm. Well now - I need a good week to prepare for any kind of outing. And that was a wake-up call for me. Mom is not synonymous with dowdy. And it really isn't too much work.

Transforming into a mother was a huge step for me. I felt that I was "supposed" to show up a certain way. That I really had to give everything I had and some stuff I had to borrow to my kids - all the time. And that was probably true during labor but after that - they are independent from me. And there are other people who can and will love and care for them as well as I do. I don't need to be onstage all the time. And it is okay to take care of myself. In fact, it's mandatory.

There are au pairs and nannies in our town. Lots of them. I live in that kind of town. And they are all young and nubile and foreign with tight asses. I hate them, each and every one of them. But what I dislike more is my reflection in them. I am never going to be 20 again (20 was a particularly good year!). But when I think of all that I have gained in life since 20, I don't want to go back. I would not trade what I know now about life for what I had back then and didn't know. And this post is about self-esteem. Get it, hold onto it and use it. It's hard for us, Mamas. We feel tired and overworked and overwhelmed. And last week was a particularly difficult week for my psyche. But what I did to get out of that was shop. I went to the MAC counter - which used to be my favorite place. I bought new make-up and I sat there and listened to a young beautiful girl tell me how she wished she had my skin while she applied very little foundation to my face! But it wasn't her compliments that brought back my swagger it was my reflection in the mirror after putting on the lipstick. My lips have always been my best feature. Lipstick applied and my face lit up. My eyes seem to unsink from my head and a smile came to those rouged bows.

So, I am putting the sexy back in my life. And that means putting me first. And taking care of me and doing my best to be fabulous, for myself, most of the time. I know those of you who feel the same way. It is easy to get stuck. So, spring is here. Get unstuck. You can do it. Meet me at the MAC counter if you doubt it!

photo:Alice Marie

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's Not About....

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

Song lyrics - the poetry of my life. I can quote so many different songs and I am sure there is a line for every occasion. This one from the Indigo Girls has been swirling around my head for a couple of days now. I do not consider myself to be a scientist or a logician, if anything I am more of a chaos-lover. At least in my immediate surroundings. But when my life gets overwhelming and almost out of control I turn into someone who looks for definition. Someone who looks for order. And I will bend my will to create it.

My friend K strikes again. I know you are reading this Kar and I love you for hearing my cries into the ether. She sent my horoscope again last week. It was a sucky week for me. And in an effort "to smooth my heart down, long enough for the world to come around," I turned my brain inside out. This is what my horoscope said:

Leo July 21–August 22
You will be thinking of new endeavors, challenges, and how to best use resources. Notice intuition and perception are very strong at this time. If you tune in quietly within you’ll know who is thinking of and loving you. Concern about resources continues. However, in the long run this concern will evaporate. Did you expect something that didn’t occur? Is there disappointment?

Now I am not sure if reading this made me create new endeavors and challenges or if they were already in the works. But I am grateful for the opportunity. Do you spin a story in your head? Do you turn situations over and over again trying to figure out if what just happened really happened? And do you blame yourself when things don't go the way you want? I used to do these things - all the time. This past week I got a reminder of something - It's not about me! What an incredibly freeing thing to be reminded of. It's not about me? Really, I am NOT the center of the universe? Ahhhhh. It set me free. It's not about me. When I have challenges with other people their choices are not about me. The only thing I control is how I respond to it. The only thing I can control is how long I hold on to the moment.

This post is a less sexy follow-up to the Open Heart post. It is the day to day of opening your heart. It is the day to day of living in the world with other people. Most of my friends who read this blog are women. And I know we tend to be more emotional (although that category is by no means ours alone!). And we tend to discuss and turn over situations until we understand them. So if that is you and you want a little help moving through that today - here is more genius that my friend Kar sent me. As always I love you.

in peace

photo:Cinnamon Girl (I am thinking about changing my name to this - Love it!)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Open Heart

That's supposed to be a good thing, right? Having an open heart. Letting people in and embracing life. I don't do it very often, because it is hard for me. I mean really in, where I allow myself to have feelings for them and not just allow them to have feelings for me. I am always focused on the ending. When that thing or person goes - what is left with me? Usually pain and sadness. I don't like those things. But I mean, who does? This is a recurring theme in my posts. How to strike that balance between being open to receive and protecting your heart. I don't know if there is one. I think you have to be fearless in love. And at the same time one of the things I do really well is give to other people - but I have kept a small protective bubble around myself, so people can get only so close and then I shut down. And all my bad habits come out. I unconsciously start pushing that person away. Some people can take it for a few minutes and some people can take it for years.

But that was my quest a.c. (after cancer) to be better at opening my heart because in true cliche form life is short and shouldn't we have as much love as possible in our life? My BFF (yes, I am really a 12 year-old girl!) and I have been talking about being an empath - someone who opens themselves up to the energies of other people and beings. I am a human empath. Always have been. I can tell when people are in pain and I take in that pain so hopefully it is easier for them to carry. I knew the moment my paternal grandmother died, even though my father didn't find out for another 2 days. And when I consciously take in others' pain, like in the case of my friend Mary, then I can have a safe place to put it. But when it happens by accident - wow, the results can be disruptive to say the least. In an effort to keep that pain at bay I don't watch the news anymore. I don't watch celebrity culture anymore. And I don't see movies like "Precious" and "Hurt Locker." I know what evil lurks in human hearts and I don't need to consciously remind myself of that. And I don't need to walk around with that in my system. But when it happens with a human in the world, it is harder.

Boundaries have always been difficult for me to create, that is definitely the result of being a child of an addict. There aren't clear boundaries in that life. So learning how to set "healthy" boundaries when you have amassed so many bad habits in that respect, is work. Uncomfortable work. Your resolve weakens, because wouldn't it just be easier to do what you have always done? Of course it would. But then how do you evolve? And isn't evolve/evolution my favorite word?

So, I am doing the difficult work of creating a boundary now. And sticking with that decision. Keeping in mind that this ache is temporary. And it will pass. I have a ring that reminds me that this is true - "This Too Shall Pass." And I will come out on the other side of this a stronger, taller woman. I would like to share part of an email with one of my other Mamas -

Me: "How long does it suck?"
Carol: "Oh, it sucks for a long time, but the triggers become fewer. Listen to Pema Chodren, that's the best idea. Love you and know you will be OK. I know my girl, she's a rocker. Ma"

We are all rockers. We can do this thing called life. Not always with grace and no bruises. But we must know we will be OK. I will. And I love you and open my heart to you today.

in peace

photo: Baily Hollen

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Food of Love

Nothing tells the story of my mood better. The last couple of days Hedwig & The Angry Inch's Midnight Radio and Origin of Love have been in heavy rotation up in the cut. Beautiful music - but that's my watch it girl, you're standing close to the end of the cliff - music. That and Sade - and she's been in heavy rotation too. Why? Not particularly depressing music. Sade sings about love, quite well actually. And Midnight Radio is about loving who you are even if you are a "misfit or a loser, you know you're spinning to your rock and roll - lift up your hands!"
I think it's because of the first time I heard these songs - the place I was then.

I have always been a very feeling person. As a Leo and a theatre person, I am prone to the dramatic. In my recent years I have worked on keeping the drama on the stage and out of my life, but it creeps in in little ways. Ways that if I am not careful I will miss. It creeps in through my music. It says - hey, I'm not feeling too great today so I am going to let Hedwig do my talking for me. Music has been the way I've communicated with myself and the outside world for quite some time. And I don't see that changing much.

Lately I have begun expanding my music. Listening to singers that I love sing songs I haven't heard them sing before. Lovely. And I think about how I am feeling emotionally now as I bring these new songs into my life. What memories will be ingrained on these songs 10 years from now? Happy, scared, fascinated, hopeful? Probably a bit of each. Much like smell, music can take me anywhere I want to go. And right now I want to be some place warm and sunny where I am young and vibrant and anything is possible; and the future is a distant memory. Where love ruled my life and all that I surveyed. And if I go to that music I know I will be in that place.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace