Friday, April 23, 2010

Call Me Ishmael

I am convinced that one of the many side effects of global warming is that the world is getting smaller. It’s the only explanation I have for why I keep running into people I wish to pretend I never knew while I was someone else with someone I wish I never knew.

I hear someone yell out, “La!” from behind me, and I flinch because I know that very few people this south of New York and this east of LA call me that. Especially not in this town. And sometimes, whether or not I really choose to admit it, I wish that La would die right next to when We did.

“Oh my god it is you. I almost didn’t recognize you!” I cringe inside our stranger’s hug at that insult disguised as observation.

“You hair is amazing. I thought about going that color once. But I couldn’t, ‘cause, you know, I’m a lot darker than you are.”

I never liked this bitch.

We make small talk, the kind you make when you haven’t seen someone in years and when you did see them often, you didn’t really talk even then. I cast my eyes all around her, looking for an escape and hoping for just a moment that the mom with the double stroller runs into me.

I tune in to her words just long enough to be assured that she is only in town temporarily and not to stay, and my tension dissipates a little.

A moment too soon.

She says his name, lips curling back over the syllables like a snake, and instinctively I draw back. Her eyes, sharp and probing, are all over my recoil in an instant, taking in my reaction and pushing for more.

“You know him, right?”
“I thought so.” If she was smarter, or I guess, if she cared more, she would have caught the implication behind my words.
“I heard he just disappeared.”

In my mind, I’m strolling down a crowded street, a drink in one hand, a hand in my other, brass band music braided into the humidity in the air.

“My friend was telling me that everyone was talking about some girl he was all in love with that lived outta town that he just up and disappeared on, and how he couldn’t really seem to get over it even though he was fooling with all these hoes.”
“Such is life.”

I’m on a beach, sand gritty under my red toes, my words caught up in wisps of white fabric, smiling at the sunset and knowing what the next sunrise will bring.

"I hear he has a kid now."

My mouth falls open, my lips running away from each other too rapidly for me maintain my facade of cool.

"He does?"
"Yeah. A little boy I think they said."

Just like that I'm a hunter, blindly pursuing information like prey, completely oblivious to what dangerous ground it might take me to. I'm Captain Ahab, and I refuse to go crazy not being able to slay this goddamn Moby Dick.

"What's his name?" I ask. And she tells me, my exhale loud like the slap of a door opened suddenly against a wall. I'm light headed with relief.

I guess it’s only slightly better it’s not the name we chose.

After more casual conversation on far less treacherous ground, we say our goodbyes. She's barely out of eyesight before regret kicks me swiftly in the back of the knees. I crumble, right there on the curb, doubled over myself like I've been injured.

And I have.

I put one hand to my mouth, the other to my chest, the first doing nothing to cover the sounds escaping but at least keeping me from tasting salt. The other, pressed firmly in the hollow of my chest, is shaking. But I feel it. My heart is still beating, albeit faintly.

And that's all I need to know.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Desires vs. Deal Breakers

I wasn't going to comment (outside of Twitter that is) about the whole new crop of reality shows popping up and their disastrous depiction of black women. (Really? Basketball "Wives", where "wife is apparently very optional? Kill yourself, VH1) Because it isn't new or different, no matter how many new and different shows get released on TV. The actual reality is that I know PLENTY of women (of every color) who confuse “had random jump off sex with“and “wife. Just like I know tons of women who actually ARE hyper-aggressive, mean, neck rolling, bitter bitches who are the source of their own defeat. But I know just as many women, of every color, who are NOT.

And therein lies the problem, as always.
Not the depictions, but rather, the balance.

But this is not that. Because that is not new. This is a particular stereotype about women (black women in particular) that might even be true, but certainly not for the reasons you think.

Haven't you already heard about how picky and impossible we are?

Oh Chilli. Chilli, Chilli, Chilli. For me, watching this show is like watching children play with firecrackers. You want to make them stop, but you told them motherfuckers once to stop doing that shit so you hope they don't get 3rd degree burns while you watch them learn this lesson the hard way.

(Are you shocked that I am childless? lol)

Jokes aside, I do not describe to the common held theory that there must be something "wrong" with her because she is 40 and unmarried. Just like I don't believe there is anything "wrong" with Halle Berry (outside of, maybe, questionable taste in partners) because she has been unlucky in love. If nothing else, the lesson that should be gleaned from their very public love trials is that beauty does not guarantee you companionship.

So you can stop leaning on that bullet point, all the single ladies.

I don't think there is anything wrong with Chilli. I don't even think, despite the legions of brothers using this show to further prove their theory that women are insanely picky and therefore, dating issues MUST not lie in them or their behavior (*eye roll*), that Chilli is too impossible to find a mate that is not Jesus.

I think at its root, Chilli's issue is a very HUMAN issue, not one specific to women, or even black women;

She has confused her wants with her needs.
Or, for the purposes of this debate, her desires with her deal breakers.

Remember when you were a kid and your mom tried to teach you the difference between wants and needs? And she told you to really THINK about whether or not you really NEED that piece of candy you are begging for or if you just WANT it. Convos concerning this life lesson with my mama went something like this:

"La, you do not NEED that candy."
"But moooooom, yes I doooooooooooooooo."
"If you don't get that candy will you die?"
"Will you die?"
"Will it hurt you? Cause you pain or bruising or bleeding?"
"Will you be full?"
"Will you never get another chance to have candy?"
"So, do you really NEED that piece of candy?"

Ok that's a lie. I ALWAYS answered yes, even if I knew better. A nigga likes candy. *Kanye shrug*

But the fact of the matter is that it's a lesson we all had to learn as a kid that, as we aged and gained the power to respond to more of our wants, got a little blurry on this side of the candy near the cash register. If we are honest, we can say that it is evident everywhere in our culture and in our lives; it's an intrinsic part of our consumption, both literally and figuratively. We don't NEED a 5 bedroom house, but dammit if it don't got a shiny pool. (And y'all know I love the shiny.)

Chilli is no different. I touched on this briefly in the comments over at Independent Sistah’s spot, which made me want to expound more on it. Chilli is not absurdly picky, nor is there something "wrong" with her. She has simply, as many of us have come to do (I do it with shoes all the time. However, truthfully, I NEED these to live another day), confused her desires with her dealbreakers.

It's a human flaw. She DESIRES to have a man who doesn't drink. But should it be a deal breaker? Does his drinking somehow speak to his character? She DESIRES a man who doesn't eat pork. But if he is perfectly compatible for her in every fundamental, essential way, is it a DEALBREAKER worth dismissing him for?
Absolutely not.

I won't pretend that there are NO women in the world who aren't insanely picky and ridiculous and therefore perpetually single because, last I checked, Jesus didn't have an opening for a girlfriend. But many of the women who get lumped into this stereotype are simply guilty of a little confusion as to what should be a personal deal breaker. And it varied per person. They don't deserve to be painted with the same banana crème pie brush as some others.

Figuring out what should and shouldn't be a deal breaker can take some practice, but it's fairly simple. I will even use myself as an example.

I DESIRE a man who is kind, not just when it is to his advantage. Could I maybe work with him on being kinder, if he is perfect for me in every other way?

Absolutely not. For me, it is a non-negotiable.

I DESIRE a man who is super tall with a perfect smile and bald head, who has a body that looks like it was carved from the rocks of the Grand Canyon. If he is kind, and smart, and funny, and ambitious, and open-minded and tolerant, but short with a Cesar, could I live with this person maybe not looking the way I pictured, but being exactly what I need?

Of course.

I'll take it even one, unpopular step further...

If I were to ever marry, would cheating be an automatic deal breaker for me?
Maybe not.

However, Chilli, like many women, simply hasn't learned or doesn't care to differentiate between desires and deal breakers. And because of it what you get is a list that reads like a middle schooler wrote it, not a grown woman who should, by all accounts, know better.

But I bet, if all of us, men and women of ALL colors, really took the time to think about the difference, many of the people we dismiss for desires, could keep us from those walking embodiment of our deal breakers for the rest of our lives.

Think about it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Come as You Are (So Long as you Aren't Female, Gay, or Jewish.)

Recently I have been toying with the idea of returning to church. For those who are not long time readers of this blog, my relationship with God is good; my relationship with organized religion is complicated at best. I would say, without a trace of irony, that I am most certainly a sum of my parts or, more accurately, my experiences.

Searching for a new church home is hard for me, not just because it is a deeply personal decision that will likely shape very intimate details of my life, but because I have very specific criteria that must be met before I could even consider involving myself in active membership;

- must have substantial community outreach programs

- can't be a mega church

- must be not only accepting of the GLBQT community, but be a champion for equal rights

- must not subjugate women

- must be financially responsible

Yeah. Try and find that church ANYWHERE, let alone in the deep south. In Texas no less, home of the megachurch.


I was christened Catholic, as my father's side of the family was. I went to Catholic school for a significant portion of my life, up until my teenage years. However, I, too, was raised in a Southern Baptist church since that is where my mother chose to worship, as her mother did. I have long maintained that I never felt entirely comfortable in either place, always ashamed to realize that, even as a child, I believed in things that neither church would condone or support (divorce, women’s rights, etc.) As soon as I was on my own I stopped going to church, content to be loyal to my own personal constitution and separate from the stage show and foolishness that sometimes befell the churches I attended as a child.

But lately, I would say for the last year or so, I have wanted to go back. Much to my shock and surprise, when I have envisioned myself the prodigal redhead returning to someone's holy house, it has never been the raucous, dramatic Baptist churches where I spent most of my childhood. Instead, I always picture myself in an ornate cathedral, harkening back to the rituals of catechism that I still remember no matter how many years I am so removed from them.

It's shocking really, as a person who stands so starkly in contrast to many of the things that Catholicism mounts its very persona on.

Then of course came the scandals. Things like Catholic Charities in DC would discontinuing some social programs if gay marriage became law. I remember thinking to myself, how could a church of all places turn its back on the downtrodden because people outside of their church want to marry? Then, the increased lobbying in states like Georgia and Nebraska, supported by the Catholic Church that sought to further restrict access to abortions. And don't even get me started on the Stupak bullshit. (I am supposed to be ok with giving my tax dollars to support the death penalty which I don’t personally support, and churches who are supposed to be private entities but get public dollars to discriminate against people?) Most recently came the molestation scandals. I suppose it's not ok to "kill" a child because the mother wants an abortion, but it’s perfectly acceptable to molest that child once it's born and participate in the systematic cover up of the crime.

My pangs of desire to immerse myself in the quiet comfort of mass waned. I'd almost reconciled within myself that these issues, while far more rampant than can be considered coincidence, shouldn't be indicative as the entire religion as a whole.

And then came news of just how far up the cover ups went.

And how now, apparently pedophilia shouldn't be blamed on, oh, I dunno, pedophiles or even on forced celibacy, but rather, homosexuality.

(Or, Jews, for the long shot.)

Because when all else fails, blame the gays.

And just like that, I was cast out again, without ever having had the benefit of crossing the threshold. I am objective enough to recognize that such an issue, while prevalent, isn't the fault of Catholicism, any more than it is the fault of homosexuals. But I am less clear on how exactly to reconcile the fact that many of the highest occupants of power knowingly participated in the cover up of abuse against children. And now many of those same people seek to distract from that by slandering some of the people I hold nearest and dearest to me.

To say I am at a fork in the road would be disingenuous; there is no road ahead. But I can't go backwards. I am honestly at a loss of how to proceed and where to go. I have not stopped desiring a church to call home, but I cannot abide seeking my faith under such policies.

And I wonder, too, what kind of person am I to still feel kindred to a religion that has systematically abused and excuses the very groups that I am proud to call myself a part of?