That Special Feeling

That Special Feeling

Reality television is a never-ending hell of shameless people with narcissistic tendencies outdoing themselves and each other to prove how far (and low) they’ll go for the instant gratification of widespread recognition and adulation, and the assumed paydays that ostensibly come with said recognition.

…But it does have its merits.

In this instance, it brought me to an epiphany so painfully obvious, that I’m embarrassed it took me so long to put a lens to it.

Let me explain.

Last year, during the “honeymoon stage” of lockdown, I succumbed to the chatter on my social feeds and work Slack channel and watched a show on Netflix called “Love Is Blind,” in which single strangers partake in a social experiment where they “date” by going into rooms (or “pods”), where they can only speak to each other through a wall, and eventually emerge either still single, or engaged to be married in the span of a month. Full disclosure: weeks before, I’d accidentally encountered the couple who became the breakout stars of the show when I was in the throws of a work event, and needed to meet one of our speakers outside and didn’t factor in the temperature when I swung the door open without wearing any protective outerwear and let out an ear-piercing yelp just as they were walking by. They were startled, I was apologetic, and onlookers were amused by the exchange but continued to fawn praise on them for being their favorites. Confused, I asked a woman who they were and figured I’d watch to find out why this couple — and this show — struck a chord and a cultural moment. (Yes, this story is true. And yes, random shit like this happens to me a lot. To the point where my friends make fun of me. Don’t ask me why. I’m only just fessing up to this being a thing.)

An-y-way, I ended up getting sucked into this program, and also falling in love with the couple because they were so damn adorable and pure! Which brings me to present day…because I just watched the extra episodes they added for an anniversary special to celebrate the two year mark of the couples who successfully paired up.

And while those episodes were absolutely as craptastic and contrived as the show itself, there were some standout moments that were, in my opinion, gold.

Most notably, one of the couples that seemed to be on the verge of making it official toward the end of the show’s initial run was now in struggle mode because the man was now entertaining another prospect while the woman was openly declaring her love for him and commitment to working out their issues. And since this is “reality TV,” we get to watch the whole thing play out as this ginger-haired fuckboy with a new midlife Porsche legitimately attempted to gaslight the “girlfriend,” the prospect he kept calling “a friend,” and the audience that he’s justifying his borderline toxic behavior to. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was packed with essential relationship takeaways.

Then we were given the ancillary single characters, who maligned their situations, and pleaded their cases for deserving the seemingly “fairytale” outcomes of the married couples, but when given the opportunity to present their best selves on a show that has a bit of a global reach, they consistently blew it in favor of ego and high production drama. One woman in particular thought it would be a good idea to invite a man who was seemingly interested in her to the “anniversary party” as a first date, then proceeded to spend the majority of the evening getting into everyone else’s business and fighting a battle that wasn’t hers while her date was left chatting with his friend who introduced them and everyone else around him until he was over it all and decided to bounce, which then prompted a tearful hissy fit from the woman, who then needed to be comforted and reassured by her girls that she was deserving of love, yadda, yadda. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. And it was also packed with essential relationship takeaways.

But the one key takeaway that I got from both messy AF situations and the show overall (which isn’t so much a takeaway as it’s validation of a running theme in my life these days) — is that any relationship you put effort into will blossom and thrive, while the ones you don’t will wither and cease to exist. The couples that made it did so because they, first as individuals, were wiling to be honest, open, selfless, vulnerable, take on uncomfortable conversations and conflicts, and make sacrifices that ultimately would lead to them collectively becoming stronger. The ones that didn’t unsurprisingly consisted of at least one person in the relationship who was guarded, self-preserved and/or repressed their feelings and desires til the very moment when they left their “mate” at the alter. It was brutal to watch.

In short: Love is a houseplant.

But seriously, people who mutually feel special, valued and appreciated in their relationships will grow into their best selves together. It’s kind of a no-brainer at this point. Yet, here we are.

In the midst of writing this post, I ended up on a (perfectly timed) call with my cousin (aka one of my main heartbeats), in which we were speaking about a family gathering we held exactly eleven years ago, and the life changes that have since happened. One of those things being that I would leave my boyfriend — who was there — weeks later for the final time. What everyone knew was that I’d called in another cousin, who had a truck, and my uncle, who had a licensed gun, to remove me from the situation. What they did not know was that over the course of the nearly six years we were together, I’d been the one financially holding up the relationship; paying half the rent, all of the utilities, all of the dinners out, the spa visits and entertainment on vacations, and putting money into his account when his went into childcare, clothes and shoes, DJ equipment and fixing his used luxury car (aka a money pit on wheels). We made the same salary. I was debt free. He was not. None of this stopped him from blaming me when things continued to go south, taking things out on me physically, telling me I could never do better than him and finally slandering me to our mutual friends when I’d finally had enough. Hurt people hurt people.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know things didn’t improve much on the dating front after that. There was name calling. There was no calling. There was now an understanding that when I heard phrases like “You think you’re so smart,” “Aren’t you popular?” or any iteration of “You talk too much,” I was about to find myself in a situation where I’m in a competition I never asked for that had already determined me the loser because someone needed a win at my expense.

My father was prison counselor, my biological mother was a nurse and my adopted mother was a schoolteacher. By sheer osmosis, I was designed to be someone who always wanted to make people feel special and cared for. It made sense that my professional life mostly found me in roles that catered to the needs of others. It was also, in my mind, the only way I could secure my own safety and presumed care. It backfired. Badly. I fell hard for grand gestures and other red flags indicative of control issues. I was attention-starved, resentful and running on empty. What a time to be alive.

It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was a time packed with essential relationship takeaways.

The irony in having a father who made convicted (and alleged) criminals feel empowered and human is how he unintentionally failed spectacularly at instilling those same feelings into his daughter. I never got the talks and the words of encouragement that prompted defendants to effusively wave at him in a courtroom (immediately getting him excused from jury duty), procure the latest technological gadgets for members of my family for a literal steal as gifts, or get excited about seeing a photo of me on his desk at work because their niece is a school friend. (Again, true stories. Also: WTF?!) I’d only learned after his death that I was a source of immense pride and a constant topic of discussion for accomplishments never acknowledged out loud. And that discovery, which simultaneously healed and broke my heart, shifted EVERYTHING in my personal and professional relationships.

I no longer stay where I’m not wanted or valued. I no longer entertain transactional people and situations in any form. I’ve gotten really comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations that result in having peace of mind and clarity on where I stand in any situation and how to move accordingly. I’ve become so protective of my energy its almost uncanny, which has made way for more authentic interactions that bring me joy. Disappointments are now seen as the lessons and detours to greater opportunities that they are. I’m proud of me.

When I mentioned earlier about being embarrassed by how long it took me to address the topic, it wasn’t because I wasn’t aware of its impact. Again, I built my professional career around making sure others felt special, at times sacrificing my own personal life and comfort because I never considered for a moment that I was too. I used to joke that I’d either hung out with, dated or been in the presence of enough actors, models, artists, producers, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs in my lifetime that there should be a handbag named after me. I’m only now realizing not a lot of people could make that joke…or that it’s kinda not a joke. It’s weird. It’s unbelievable. And it’s why I haven’t turned to a life of crime to secure the kind of lifestyle where my travel plans aren’t remotely reliant on how many points I’ve racked up through my Amazon purchases. (Real talk, how many vitamins does a chick need to buy to get to St. Martin?)

Everyone wants — and deserves — to feel special in whatever relationship they’re in and space they take up. I think we can all agree that most problems tend to arise when we either feel unworthy of that feeling, or entitled to be the only ones who do. People will (and have) gone to great lengths for the distinction. Academically-inclined students. People who spend extra money on luxury experiences. Athletes who spend their entire lives training for quickly-fleeting moments of glory on the world stage. Anyone who’s relentlessly pursued the arts in hopes of being world-renown, steadily in demand and lucratively rewarded and awarded in the process. People in marginalized communities fighting to be seen and acknowledged as deserving of all the things they’ve been denied by their more privileged counterparts. People who scaled government buildings for narcissistic psychopaths who gave the word new and ominous meaning. People who use the words “internet famous.” Even people who are so crippled by insecurities and past hurts that they actively push anyone who tries to get close to them out of their lives (after much therapy, soul-searching and healing, natch).

And, of course, people who go on reality television shows to find and vie for love after getting to a point where they felt invisible in the real world.

The reality is…life is messy. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s packed with essential relationship takeaways. But when you find that special someone —or, even better, become them — it gets so much easier to navigate.

Trust.

Xo

Identity Heft

Identity Heft

Etymologically speaking, “a walk in the park” is supposedly an easy thing to do.

Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday, when I could barely make my first lap around the nearby park before needing to retreat to the nearest bench in an attempt to shake off a sudden pain that hit me on the right side of my back.

Initially, my first thoughts turned to aging, as it tends to do these days because perimenopause is menacingly real and unsexy. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and understood that even though I walked out of my apartment with nothing but my keys and photo ID in case the cops need to identify my body…I was carrying something heavy.

The week started awful, with me learning as I sat in an airport on my way home from a bittersweet but much-needed getaway that one of my elder cousins lost both her daughter and grandson (who was a father of six) within days of each other at the same hospital in their hometown. Instantly, a wave of guilt rushed in because I’d lost touch with that portion of my family, and didn’t know how to respond…or if I should. Learning the circumstances of both deaths from another cousin only exacerbated the feeling.

My father had always been the family connector; the one who called and drove or flew to every state and family member, and this was his first cousin and her immediate family who had now suffered two devastating back-to-back losses I could never imagine. By contrast, I’ve lived and operated as an only child with limited family engagement for most of my life — gravitating only to specific family members I spent the most time with due to our proximity to each other in age and/or geographical location, and used Facebook to monitor the rest (hence how I learned of the tragedies). It’s moments like these that remind me just how isolated I’ve been to the point of being my own island, and it’s honestly something I’ve begun taking stock of as I grow older and less likely to have a family of my own.

So when I entered the park on that gorgeous sunny day, and saw multiple family gatherings taking place…it didn’t just remind me that I didn’t have a life filled with many of those moments and connections, it became clear to me just how defining those moments are in shaping the people we become.

I’ve always been in awe of and envied people who had solid family and community foundations that encouraged and motivated them to become highly functioning members of society. I get weepy when I watch movies like “In The Heights,” with its message of pride in family, community and cultural heritage. (Same with assorted Asian movies where the young protagonist grapples with coming of age and walking the fine line between self-actualization and preserving constrictive traditions for parental and elder approval.) I grew up in a Queens suburb where my predominantly Black and Caribbean neighbors were more interested in what you had for their own gain, than in collectively thriving as a community. As a child, I’d spend summers in Georgia being ridiculed for my New York accent, and often singled-out for my “big city” behavior. (Interestingly, I now slip into a twang when I touch down in the south, or am speaking to certain members of my family — something I’ve also done unconsciously when speaking to British and Hasidic clients in my past work life when, in retrospect, I wanted them to feel at ease.)

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble identifying and defining who I truly am and what I want in this life. Having no one around to help me figure it out only made me feel more aimless and alone. I often joke about being “raised by wolves,” because unlike my peers, I wasn’t taught how to cook traditional meals (or any – I wing it), how to drive, the importance of investing in things like stocks and real estate, or any particular set of life skills that might’ve made me more of a (human) force, and less of a person who happens to have a shit ton of life experiences that equate to zero tangible assets to show for any of them but a lot of interesting stories and billable hours in therapy. I’ve also never spent any of my formative years being schooled on my family heritage, being exposed to long-term healthy relationships or celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa and Juneteenth…and am only playing catchup on the significance of it all.

Which is why it surprised me that I’d become more protective of my Blackness — and the culture in general — in recent years, considering the bulk of my traumatic experiences came from my own people. That I’ve taken up advocating for people of color to take up spaces in the corporate world when I go mostly ignored by them in the real world unless I have something that benefits them is…something I’m working through. That, and being violently triggered when someone makes decisions on my behalf without my input and/or consent.

These thoughts are too heavy.

One of the many things I’ve learned in this life is that hurt people hurt people…until they do the work to become healed people. And there are gonna be days when it’s hard to not take shit personally, but I cannot and will not continue to let the actions of a few keep me from opening my heart to being and doing better for others and myself. Especially when the end result is authentic love, connection and peace. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking into consideration as I attempt to find the words to comfort grieving relatives and, eventually, find something more.

I’m still insecure when it comes to knowing my true purpose and direction in life (note: I know what it is, the imposter syndrome just hits different), but I’m confident that I’ve built enough of a foundation over the last few years with a circle who genuinely want the best for me and will quickly jump in to make sure I stay out of my own way. I’m blessed to have a support system that celebrates my wins, comfort me through my losses and give me strength on days when I falter and think I can’t make it. They remind me who I am when I tend to forget. Nothing fills me more than being able to do the same for them in return.

I guess, in a way, that does make me my father’s daughter. That’s a good place to start…

I’m rambling…but my back feels better now.

Braking Hearts

Braking Hearts

The last 36 hours have been…different. Slightly weird even. But in the best way possible.

In addition to it consisting of me embarking on plane travel for the first time in twenty (20) months (!), it’s also the first time in seven years that I’ve been in a room with a man who — at several points in time over the course of two decades — I would’ve (and have) given anything to breathe his air…and the first time I didn’t lose my senses during the experience.

That’s not to say the thought didn’t cross my mind…a few times. And not just because it’s been a while since a human other than myself was responsible for my orgasms. It’s because his smile, his laugh, his skin, his voice and his entire brilliant being lights me on fire. Every. Fucking. Time. Because we can talk endlessly about everything from stocks and politics to the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe for the uninitiated). Because I’ve never felt more seen, more smart or more safe with a man who wasn’t my father. Because he’s genuinely one of my favorite people, even though I honestly never thought I’d see him again.

I know, I know…none of this makes sense. How can I describe someone this way and not consummate?

Clearly, I love him. Truth be told, I loved him before I knew I loved him. And none of that will change.

But…I have changed.

In the past, I’ve done most, if not all, of the heavy lifting when it came to relationships. The list of things I’ve done to make shit work is long, exhaustive, mentally taxing and fucking humiliating. It’s easy to buy dinners and offer open invitations to stay in beautiful waterfront apartments. It’s something else to communicate your feelings and intentions and make efforts to check in with someone for no other reason than you’re thinking about them and want to make sure they’re okay mentally and emotionally because their wellbeing matters to you.

Now…I want — no, I require — someone who will do the work with me. Someone who makes me a priority. Someone who wants a life with me and not a life that includes me only at specific intervals. I want someone who wants to show me the world because in his eyes and heart…I’m his world.

That’s not to say he isn’t capable of that. Truthfully, I’ve never given him a chance because I legitimately wasn’t in the right headspace during whatever window of opportunity might’ve existed to be a true partner for anybody. I spent years and copious amounts of resources jumping through hoops of fire when I just needed to chill the fuck out, pump the brakes on being boo’d up (see what I did there?), and be by myself for a while to learn what made me happy and whole…and recognize that I bring a hell of a lot to a table just as I am.

All that to say…my brain has officially demoted my lady parts to a supporting role in this thing called life, and it’s no longer running affairs of the heart. And I couldn’t be more relieved.

That said, I’m still eternally grateful for my rechargeable vibrator, which has come through like a champ during a slate of unfortunate dating app encounters, a merciless pandemic and an epic journey of self-discovery that’s now entering its fourth year.

But that’s another story.

The Mother Load

The Mother Load

Full (moon) disclosure: There’s a good chance I may go all over the place with my thoughts in this post (more so than usual).

Last night, I went outside to gaze at the supermoon, came in and watched “Avengers: Endgame” for the umpteenth time, and realized I hadn’t done a post to mark the occasion of starting this quiet little blog a whole decade ago!

Spoiler alert: I’m still not (technically) gonna do one.

However long you’ve been rockin’ with this sporadic, occasionally depressing, hopefully insightful and always a tad batshit crazy home of my musings — please know that I am truly grateful to you for generously indulging me. It is my hope that you’ve left this page at times feeling enlightened, optimistic, more vulnerable and/or mildly amused. It is also my hope that you’ve spread the word so others might feel the same.

Maybe you’ve gained perspective in areas you never considered. Maybe some of my stories resonated and made you feel seen or heard. Maybe you, too, have embraced therapy. Or meditation. Or skydiving. Or tragicomical sexcapades with lanky/sketchy Cuban poets or semi-famous narcissistic actors. Or obsessively playing the “Hamilton” soundtrack ad nauseam. Or indulgent self-care rituals. (I’d like to delude myself in thinking there’s something here for everyone.)

When I began this blog, I was reeling from a season of change I wasn’t mentally prepared for and desperately needed an outlet to escape. I was struggling to find full-time work after being laid off from a lucrative job a year earlier, was fresh out of a nearly six-yearlong relationship that had grown abusive (subsequently becoming homeless as a result), and my father had been diagnosed with dementia and early-onset alzheimer’s — setting off a domino effect of health, legal, financial and family drama aplenty for years to come. To say that writing about things as innocuous as baseball game proposals and bridge comparisons provided an unlikely balm at the time was an understatement.

Ten years later, this little blog is where the façade gets stripped. And I love it.

Which brings me to a subject I haven’t really been keen to delve into because up until now I didn’t realize it was such a pain point but whew lawd is it ever!

As April comes to a close, it brings with it more than a slew of Taurus folks reminding me that I need to get my life in order and that my birthstone is trash. It also brings the ominous (for me, at least) reckoning that is Mother’s Day; the one day out of the year where I pretend to be engaged by doling out airy tributes to the moms in my life, acutely aware of my personal views on motherhood, and having come to grips with the fact that my relationship with my own biological mother is nonexistent at my behest.

For years, I’ve grappled with a host of feelings when it came to my biological mother: The classic default of hurt/angry with her for behavior that could clinically be construed as negligent/abandonment. Guilty for the last words I ever said to her nearly five years ago at my father’s funeral, after she repeatedly hit me with a program bearing my father’s face for “not getting her joke.” Sad for her because her inability to see beyond her own experiences and narrative has impaired and/or destroyed any real chance of healing or connection with me and anyone else that just got tired of trying and repeatedly failing to be heard.

And yes, I’m cognizant of the disconnect that comes with using the term “biological,” although it’s not as loaded as it’s just simply my truth. Another woman raised me. To me, she’s my mother. Simple math.

But even armed with those basic facts, I never dug into the emotional ramifications of that equation. Never paid attention to how I internalized that anger. Never noticed how during the rare visits in my youth, she’d find opportunities to insult my father, who never spoke ill of her, made countless efforts to ensure she and her family were kept abreast of my whereabouts and supported various members when they were in need decades after they had divorced. (Admittedly a bad husband, but an undeniably good — albeit flawed — man.) Also never picked up on her habit of assuming the victim role and shirking accountability when she made terrible — and often detrimental — life choices.

If I had…I would have noticed sooner that I’d become the very person I’d vowed to never become…at one point basing my decision to not have children on the fear that I’d one day replicate her actions.

Strangely, realizing I was an asshole was quite a refreshing revelation.

After unpacking how my approach to life and relationships was shaped (distorted?) by the fears, resentments, traumas and biases of both my biological and adopted mothers, I began looking at my past romantic relationships and realized there was a common thread: All of my long-term relationships had been with men who held deep resentments toward their mothers as well. One was angry that his mother brought him to America, forcing him to leave his life and friends across the pond behind…glossing over the fact that she was fleeing a violent marriage. One was none-too-pleased that his younger, fairer-skinned brother got more attention than he did growing up. One literally blacked out talking about how his mother would take his deceased father’s social security money and give it to his younger brother for clothes and sneaker shopping, while he was supporting himself through college (even though they did not share the same father). All of them at one point had assumed the role of “man of the house” and financially supported them in their adult life to the point of straining themselves fiscally to maintain the appearance of being the “good son” and keep the desired approval/love of their mothers.

Unsurprisingly, all of them thought money, status and material belongings were the remedy for the huge emotional voids they couldn’t fill. And all had massive control issues.

And as simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying as that revelation is, it’s not an anomaly. There are SO MANY mothers who are unwittingly hobbling their child’s ability to have healthy relationships and even function as emotionally stable adults. Hell, without even realizing it, I had preternaturally doomed my children to the point where I didn’t even bother having any, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like being a woman who puts the weight of her world onto the shoulders of her child because her heart is broken to the point where she makes her happiness and dream fulfillment the priority and responsibility of that child.

Actually, I can and just did. It’s shitty.

I think about that when I hear stories of single mothers pushing their sons to be pro athletes in dangerous but lucrative sports without encouraging them to also have an education and a post-retirement business plan. I think of that when I see stage moms who aggressively force their children into entertainment without their consent. I think of that when I hear stories of women who knew their partners were abusing their kids but didn’t want to lose whatever stability that partner provided, and instead took their frustrations out on the child and abused them more.

I think of women who resent when the child gets more attention than them and ignore or put down their dreams and achievements. I think of women who can’t recover when the child is a physical reminder of the man who brought them pain and, by default, punishes them for it. I think of women who mistakenly believe that withholding words of encouragement and praise will make their kids “stronger.” I think of women who use threats and violence to intimidate their child into meeting their expectations instead of talking to them. I think of women who don’t communicate their needs, fears and desires, who risk sending their kids a message that their needs, fears and desires aren’t valid or worthy of attention, fulfillment and care. I think of all these very-real scenarios…and of the future adults walking around feeling unworthy, unloved, unable to express or process emotions and conflict…afraid to communicate what they require and be vulnerable, authentic, joyful and free as a result.

And it’s soul crushing…in addition to generating way too many red flags to keep track of before swearing off dating/mating for life.

I’d be remiss if I left out the women who inadvertently raise dangerously entitled humans because they fear being labeled a bad mother. They may not be scarring the kids for life, but they sure as hell are making them difficult to deal with in society, which may scar the rest of us.

That said, I know some amazing women who have raised some incredible human beings. I understand it’s no small feat, and it often takes a village. And without the support of a partner and/or friends and family who are equally invested in making sure everyone is functioning on their highest level, things absolutely, inevitably, fall through the cracks.

To them, I say with all sincerity: You deserve your flowers. And the spa days. And the occasional vice-infused getaway. You deserve all the things.

I’ll just close this epic tome by saying that in the thirteen hours since writing the bulk of these words (I was too sleepy to edit and post earlier), I’ve since discovered that Oprah released a new book today pretty much touching on this fun subject, so I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m on the right path and learned something good over this past decade, and perhaps this is where my generational curse ends.

Also, I’m literally on the same page as Oprah, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s a flex or if I’m about to get cussed out again by the people who keep telling me to write a book already.

Motherfucker.

From the Heart

From the Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day, which also means it’s…February 14th.

I’ve pointedly begun this entry not from the perspective of “hatin’ on the day,” but in the only way that it applies to me realistically: It’s simply just another day on the calendar for those of us who aren’t in romantic relationships.

And that statement will do either one of two things: It will make you wonder if I’m suppressing sad/bitter/lonely/jealous feelings and lying about it to appear to have my life under control (which, I assure you, I’m comfortable enough to declare I do not), or it will do what I hope for most…give you the freedom to detach yourself from the expectations the day has come to be traditionally known for in case you yourself are feeling any of those aforementioned feelings. (Although, full disclosure, the first guess would’ve been absolutely accurate up until a few years ago.)

You can thank (or malign) a four-hour-long “Galentine’s Day” phone conversation with one of my sister-friends for this post. Also, get you a friend where you can be on the phone for four hours yammering about life and love and things to add to your — ahem — “shopping list,” that’ll get you through the period of your life during which you’re cultivating a true love affair with yourself to the point where sex has transitioned from being a void-filler, to the second-most intimate thing you do in a healthy romantic partnership. (With honest and open communication being the first, natch.)

Innocently enough, the call started with me talking about the impeachment acquittal (ugh!), then segued into how after watching that dereliction of democracy, I proceeded to go out into the world to run some errands and got so badly turned around by the MTA service changes and my distracted state of mind that I almost didn’t make it to where I needed to be in time to get something very important. (Yes, this is vague. No, I ain’t telling you what this means. Deal.) Anyway, by the time I got home, I’d accepted that although I was detoured, delayed and distracted throughout my journey, I still managed to get what I needed just in time, and had bonus blessings along the way. And that, I decided, was the life metaphor I was going to take away from a seemingly innocuous errand run.

Then, we spent the next three hours and fifty minutes talking about messy shit.

She caught me up on her current dilemma with the opposite sex, I shared some life experiences with some exes that I felt might be relevant and helpful in informing how she dealt with her situation, we discussed how our painful childhoods contributed to the ways we’ve dealt with our relationship failings, had some amazing revelations about the early days of our 30-year-strong friendship during a lightning round of “Perception vs. Reality: High School Edition,” and laughed and fake-cried about how our middle-aged (but still fine) bodies are rebelling against us for taking our youth and former durability for granted.

Ya know…real friend shit.

But the most important thing we talked about was love, and what our definition of it was, in keeping with the theme of the impeding day that we nearly talked our way into. My beautiful friend has always put her whole self into making sure those she holds dear have everything they need — which can comprise of her time, energy, resources, et al at the risk of self-depletion — to reassure them of her love and fierce commitment to them. As someone who’s done the same, I knew all too well that it doesn’t always net out equally.

So I shared with her what I’m about to share with you; which is what I’ve learned in the nearly five years of therapy, and especially the past year of being in isolation and forcing myself to dig deep and really look at my own behavior and mindset — which almost certainly attracted the personalities and outcomes that drove me to seek therapy to correct.

Before I start, a bit of backstory: While I’ve dabbled in the realm of introspection over the nearly TEN YEARS since starting this blog (whew!), it came as a shock to realize there was still so much more to be done, because I assumed I’d been operating under the premise that I’d been, as the name infers, “blunt” in how I approached my life and my views about life around me and in general. I was wrong. I assumed talking about my abuse, my troubled parental history and perceived injustices throughout my life would be healing for me and helpful to others going through similar situations. To some degree it has, but there was still more left untapped.

What I discovered is that it left questions about what these experiences did to me as a person behaviorally, and how I operated in ways that has consistently sabotaged my life and relationships for decades because I didn’t understand or care to acknowledge how affected my psyche was. I was self aware to an extent where I knew something was “off.” I knew that in order for me to come to a place where I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I had to accept that the things I perceived was “wrong” was just “what it was.” I understood I had to grasp that the things that people I trusted did that hurt me deeply were never about me as much as it was about what they were going through at the time of their interactions with me. But I hadn’t done any of the work that would get me to this place of true peace.

Instead, I’d defaulted to the classic trauma responses: I withdrew, projected my fears on others, gave up on myself and my abilities and morphed into whoever I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted socially, desired sexually and tolerated in circles where I was a square. In the end, I failed spectacularly at trying to convince myself that I could make the best out of situations I never wanted to be a part of, while simultaneously hurting others who were ultimately let down when I grew tired of the ruse. I showed up inauthentically to relationships both personally and professionally out of fear of being judged and avoiding conflict and resentments, and as a result, I attracted that same chaotic energy everywhere I ran.

Then I hit my forties, and realized that way of life was slowly killing me inside, despite surviving so many other insurmountable conditions which I hadn’t even taken the time to consider how extraordinary that made every day I woke up.

The day you decide to have gratitude as the anchoring presence in your life, is the day you commit to doing everything in your power to authentically make the best of it and protect it at all costs. For me, that meant severing unhealthy relationships and finding the grace to forgive myself and the parties involved for making them so. It meant stripping back the façade to replace the broken parts, and strengthen the foundation of the person I didn’t have the courage to be and the life I didn’t believe I deserved.

And that…to me…is love. Being brave enough to say and do the unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial for everyone involved (even if it’s only me, myself and I) even when it hurts to acknowledge the truth. It’s accountability. It’s vulnerability. It’s humiliating and humbling. And it’s a lot of work!!

And so, on this day dedicated to love, I pledge to continue doing the work and loving the person I am becoming as a result: Someone who can simultaneously exist as a person who celebrates your love stories, while also being mildly annoyed by the expectation that I have to participate in the pageantry, or risk being deemed sad, bitter, lonely and/or jealous, when I really just want to spend a weekend parked on my couch watching “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Disney+, while eating vegan ice cream and fan-girling over Jamie Raskin and Stacey Plaskett’s work in the impeachment trial despite its unfortunate-yet-unsurprising outcome.

And if you’re wondering how I segued into politics while talking about love, I invite you to re-read the part about “being brave enough to say and do unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial.” Raskin, who lost his son to suicide, buried him, showed up to work the next day to certify the election with members of his family — all of whom were then put in mortal danger — in tow, and then continued to show up to make sure the person responsible for inflicting a pain that spread across party lines and country face repercussions…did so for the love of his country and the people who live in it. That kind of love is unfathomable, and brings to mind the words of Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

And with that, signing off wishing eternal love and peace for us all…from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love Stories

Love Stories

Sometimes our truths aren’t always the truth.

This is the thought I’ve landed on after a few days of thinking about relationships. More specifically my own past ones.

It all started this past Sunday, when news of the untimely death of artist Nipsey Hussle spread across my timeline. While I wasn’t too familiar with his music, and only came to learn of his other extremely impressive endeavors upon his death, I knew he was in a longterm relationship with the actress Lauren London, with whom they shared a child and a blended family. The news was tragic for so many reasons, but my immediate thought was how awful it was for her to lose the love of her life. Especially after making sacrifices in her career for their family.

To spend years building a life with someone, only to have it destroyed it in an instant because of a broken individual, is my nightmare.

As I processed that news, and the tributes and images and videos that followed, I did what I now know to be the worst possible thing to do to distract myself: I binge-watched the episodes of “This Is Us” that I’d missed over the past few weeks.

If you’re familiar with this show, then you know that a lot of crying ensued as I watched the Beth and Randall storyline send me on an emotional rollercoaster wondering if they were going to make it, and momentarily understanding why they might possibly not. Honestly, the only thing missing at that point was a bottle of red wine and someone playing “Sometimes It Snows In April” followed up with a montage of Prince footage. I was a wreck.

When I thought about the love story of Nipsey and Lauren, two young lovers just getting started, and the fictional one of “R&B,” where twenty years of sacrifices and compromise had reached a breaking point, I looked deeper into my own stories, and saw just how one-sided they were.

It has been well over a year since the last relationship I embarked on came to an end. Unlike all of my previous ones, this one was amicable, and included an actual verbal conversation that never changed in pitch or volume because growth (and therapy).

But even armed with the full knowledge of signs he wasn’t in the relationship for the long haul, I still spent months afterward asking myself what was it about me that was undesirable. I negotiated in my head that if I had just been more of the fantasy girl than the practical one, perhaps I’d be wearing a ring or something close to being committed.

The scariest realization when I do an inventory of the men who were either considered boyfriends, lovers or sexual partners, is the glaring commonality of how I romanticized the situations (and their ends), knowing full well I’d made horrible judgement calls just to say I was with someone or at least feel like I was with someone.

I took back an ex who broke up with me via text after I confronted him about a non mutually consensual sexual encounter (read: rape); and ultimately decided I’d had enough of him only after he spent weeks dodging me after my father’s death, during which time he’d call me “angry black woman,” went on a weeklong vacation without me and told me his friends would always be more important than me (his actual statement was so vile my therapy group – which consists of a few men – responded angrily). My reasoning was he was charming and made me laugh, he apologized and he was making an effort. My takeaway was learning that true love speaks life into you at times when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, and doesn’t abandon you because your circumstances are inconvenient or “a buzz kill.”

I stayed in an off-and-on relationship for nearly six years despite mental, physical and financial abuse, because I had grown close to his family, and he with mine. I was afraid of upsetting that dynamic, was invested in his daughter’s upbringing, and it felt like failure to leave a man that everyone thought was perfect for me (although my uncle did pick up on his controlling persona, but never told me until after it ended). And back then I thought love was struggle. My takeaway from that was the travel bug I developed, a couple of cool girlfriends (and one terrible one, who took advantage of my post-breakup situation for her own gain…twice), and an appreciation for what I bring to the table when I find myself in a healthy relationship.

I’ve been a mistress (knowingly and unknowingly), the booty call, and the friend with benefits. I’ve been the submissive and occasionally the aggressor. I’ve been the accommodating and the one who won’t bend. I’ve left jobs, paid money I didn’t have to spare for flights I shouldn’t have taken, and placed myself in embarrassing and awkward situations where I’ve known I was not the only one because I was hopeful and desperate for a win. Each time, I’d speak of these men and moments as if they were normal ups and downs; not registering that the look I’d get from some of my friends and family was one of genuine concern for my sense of reality and self.

Yes, I’ve misrepresented many epic fails, but one of the worst by far was thinking that a man who’d moved multiple times out of the state we both lived in without ever telling me, was my soul mate. That was pretty stupid.

Almost as stupid as missing a friend’s party because I was sitting in a car for several hours, while the guy I was seeing had a meeting with a contractor in a town out-of-state that wasn’t easily accessible to public transportation.

…Or being so averse to traveling by myself that I spent an unnecessary small fortune on a weekend at a cute bed and breakfast in Boston with a man I’d later walk in on during his “self-love session” after he refused to leave the room with me to go explore the city. (I’ve gotten over my fear of solo travel, but haven’t gone back to Boston since that trip well over a decade and a half ago.)

Sure, you can look at this and say “Damn, girl…you definitely have had bad luck in the relationship department, but these celebrity and television relationships shouldn’t be #goals!” And you’d be absolutely right.

To be clear, I don’t want to be any of them. I don’t even want to be the Michelle to someone else’s Barack Obama. I don’t have that kind of ambition.

But these examples – as tragic, fantastical or exceptional as they may seem – have given me a blueprint that ideally won’t send me down the same path I’d been traveling the last couple of decades as someone who was just trying to fill the void left by absent parents and a childhood marred by sexual abuse.

To be in a committed, communicative, mutually respectful and supportive partnership where I feel valued in the present (because most folks see your value only after you’re gone), should always be the goal. To have someone want to be with you not because of what you do for them as far as appearances, status or reciprocity, but because you find joy in their presence and purpose in your connection. To see better versions of you in each other and have it motivate you each day to be and do better. That wouldn’t suck.

And that’s what I want. No exceptions. No bullshit.

In the meantime, my current truth is that I sleep in the middle of my bed, and indulge in the luxury of long hot baths, weekends blasting everything from jazz to girl power anthems, and revel in the quiet time in my own apartment doing whatever the hell I want because I’ve found true love…right here.

That also doesn’t suck.

Tough Breaks

Tough Breaks

Injuries are as humbling as they are incredibly painful.

In a sick way, they’re the tangible versions of time, or the physical embodiment of ending a relationship of some sorts. (In this instance, your relationship with your body changes — in some ways irrevocably.)

It has been four weeks since I fractured my ankle roller skating, and — needless to say — I’ve had some time to think about this and many other things. Of some of the more profound revelations I’ve come to, my top takeaways are:

  1.  Optimism is cute, but realism is necessary in the long-term. When you actually hear the snap of your bone, chances are it’s worse than a sprain. Let the X-rays guide you to the promise land of true (and proper) healing.
  2. Speaking of things that are “cute” until it’s not…pretending to be old and crippled when you’re a kid (i.e., using the “big adult umbrellas with the handles” as fake canes, and/or borrowing an elder’s “equipment”) isn’t so much adorable as it is being an asshole who will eventually get theirs. Also, those umbrellas aren’t very sturdy numerous decades (and pounds) later. The more you know…
  3. Be the kind of person whose friends will voluntarily help you pack for a move, transfer stuff from one apartment to another using a granny cart, make grocery runs for you, drop off food, pills and orthopedic boots, periodically check on your vitals with calls and texts, and do your laundry and cook for you. I literally get by with a LOT of help from my friends. And I’m judging any and every one who wants to be in my life based on these people. Be advised.
  4. “Jane the Virgin” is the best thing to watch when you want to forget you’re relegated to laying motionless with your leg in the air and not getting any pleasure out of it. Real talk.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a pedicure. I had my first pedicure in months done just days before I’d end up with a mummified foot that practically screams “Nevermind the swollen, multicolored mess under these bandages…look at how cute my toes are!” Timing — and self-care — is everything.
  6. Mercury Retrograde is a very real, and very scary, thing. Just sayin’.
  7. When something in your life isn’t for you, the universe has a way of eliminating it…no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we can make it work, or force ourselves to “just go with it until something better comes along.” Trust.
  8. The experience of moving around on crutches for several weeks will inevitably give you the arms of Angela Bassett, but the overall dexterity of a muppet. In other news: Atrophy is the fucking worst!
  9. I’ve lived through a lot of shit, but there are few images in my life as traumatic as having an Über driver cancel a ride on me, and speed away as I wave to him in the pouring rain while mouthing “I need help!” after one of my crutches loses a screw while I’m attempting to climb the three baby steps outside of my apartment building. That stings more than the rejection of a lover.
  10. People will remark on how positive you are, how you’re managing to take it all in stride and even find moments to laugh, and wonder why. And the answer is…you know it’s only temporary.

There’s always a running joke or meme about how we thought it’d be so great getting older, until we realize that we didn’t have to pay bills or taxes, and struggle day-to-day in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Then the subject of our mortality becomes a little too real. At forty-two, I’ve already experienced the loss of loved ones; family, friends, classmates and more and more people who shaped my upbringing culturally, politically and in some cases spiritually.

I’m here to tell you, there ain’t a multivitamin or homeopathic cure that’ll keep you from fretting about getting older. Sure, we may embrace it differently at different stages, but we still dread the process. I attribute my fear to the effective advertising back in the day that warned of the dangers of osteoporosis. And Life-Alert. (We were all emotionally scarred by the lady who’d “fallen…and couldn’t get up.” Admit it.)

The moment my ankle snapped, something inside me did the same. At the time, I’d been burning both ends of the candle maintaining two gigs to pay the bills and having a pretty stressful Summer contemplating and processing all the changes the year had brought. I’d use my free time to escape to an outdoor concert or movie theater in hopes of forgetting how miserable and increasingly lonely I was feeling because I’d mapped out a completely different plan for myself, and it somehow had gone awry.

Then, an unfortunate twist in the realest sense reminded me  — no, demanded of me — to stop, take time to take stock and heal, and start over anew on a healthier path.  And I did.

It also forced me to be more vulnerable, and to cease the practice of being too proud to ask for help. I’ve always been independent by nature, so having to rely on others to do things for me has been a huge adjustment. One that I’m not always comfortable with. But the connections that have transpired over the past few weeks has been soul-filling in ways I didn’t know I needed. It’s a feeling that can’t be achieved by cool events, online dating or social media validation. Someone standing on a Trader Joe’s line — I repeat, a Trader Joe’s line! — for you, is worth a million “Hey stranger” texts from some dude who was never invested in you when you were dating, but suddenly thinks you’d be a cool person to chat up and/or hang out with.

And finally, it increased my awareness and respect for people whose physical struggles are not temporary, and reminded me of very intimate examples in my travels. As my right leg has shrunken, I was reminded of the days following my father’s leg amputation, and the hours I spent in his nursing home observing once-vibrant people who could no longer perform seemingly basic everyday functions like walk unaided or lift a utensil. As I amble awkwardly through my kitchen, burning myself with a pan because I was distracted by a falling crutch, I’m reminded that there are people with no limbs competing in high-performance sporting events, cutting hair, and doing some incredible things without so much as a scratch.

Of course I cannot, and will not, compare myself to those extraordinary people, but when I put that in perspective, it’s why I can’t help but smile and feel fortunate that in time, I will be back on my feet.

And honestly…I injured myself roller skating. I absolutely should laugh at myself!

In any case, it’s been a wild ride, and while I could sit here and lament all the quantifiable losses, I’m choosing instead to recognize that I’ve gained much, much more from this experience than even my best laid plans.

Also, I’ll be more careful with my words in the future. This definitely wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a break.

 

My Sister’s Keeper

When they aren’t selling your information to the highest bidding megalomaniac, or creeping you out with hyper-targeted ads of something you maybe mentioned in a text message five minutes before, Facebook is actually not too awful a place to be sometimes.

For me, it’s a place where I can keep up with relatives I haven’t seen in years, and/or live in places that I’m sociopolitically allergic to. A place where I’m privy to the success or struggles of classmates I promised I’d keep in touch with in our yearbooks, but realized that required actual work to do so. (Shoutout to my college sister-friends for occasionally restoring my sanity and faith in humans in the group chat!) And, most importantly, a place that keeps me informed about birthdays and stances that either deepen my connection with someone, or validate any suspicions I had as to why I never quite connected with them.

Yesterday, it became a place where a pretty big “Aha” moment in my life transpired, and it started an unexpected wellspring of emotion, and hopefully something much bigger.

It all began when I posted the following status:

“Just saw a video in which a group of female 45 voters expressed their opinion on the Stormy Daniels affair. Not surprisingly, they doubled-down on their support for their man, and lambasted Daniels, saying she was in it for the money and degrading her.

Just as I was about to post that video, I paused. I was ready to say “What kind of woman would still support this man after all that he’s said and done, and then drag and ridicule a woman for speaking her truth?”

I stopped because I realized that these women aren’t anomalies. I, too, have defended and forgiven men who I knew to be absolute trash in their behavior towards women – including myself – but was kinder in my thoughts and actions toward them, than I’ve been with women who simply gave me the minutest attitude. (I deemed a former female friend “dead to me” for disparaging me behind my back, but have had cordial interactions with a man who nearly choked the life out of me. That’s just crazy!)

And I’m not alone.

This has brought me to the very horrifying discovery that there are SO many of us who’ve accepted that men are entitled to behave badly, and women are expected to just shut up about it. We’ve been conditioned to forgive, laugh it off, and look the other way. That’s kinda effed up when you think about it. The possibility that WE are OUR OWN worst enemies.

There are monstrous men out here wrecking lives and legislation because there are women in their circle doing the absolute least to check them, and instead are cheering them on. The chants tend to be louder when the woman being punished is a free-thinker.

That’s a real sobering takeaway during this Women’s History Month.

Just saying.”

What happened after that was magical.

While it didn’t “go viral” or bring me internet fame, it did spark a conversation that we’ve sorta been having during the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but haven’t really had until Stormy Daniels admitted on national television to having sex with someone she didn’t really want to have sex with because she felt she’d placed herself in that situation and therefore must follow through. It’s the same awkward discussion we had when Aziz Ansari was placed in the spotlight for essentially being a bad lay.

But I digress. The point is, women were attacking Daniels’ character, instead of considering the character of a man who had unprotected sex with a person whose profession is literally having sex with people she barely knows on camera, while his wife was nursing their newborn child. A man who has a history of infidelity, misogyny and questionable and unethical decisions, yet still was elected President of the United States. A man who makes cringe-worthy comments about his daughter, normalizes racism and discrimination and comments about grabbing women by their vaginas gets a moral pass, but a woman looking to set the record straight and fight for her family’s safety gets lambasted.

This is the world we live in.

A world where boys will be boys, and the shit they say is just “locker room talk.” Where they can knock a woman unconscious in an elevator, but still get signed to a team before the guy who takes a knee to protest injustice and police brutality. Where they can beat a woman til she’s unrecognizable, or record themselves urinating on a minor, and still sell out venues and have countless female fans and collaborators in the years since. Where they can force their mistresses to have abortions, while simultaneously structuring laws to keep other women from terminating an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Where they can shack up with their stepdaughters and still have actors clamoring to star in their films. Where they can play fast and loose with the rules that govern and protect, but get you ejected from the game for your emails. Fucking emails.

Coming to terms with my own permissive history was the breakthrough I needed not just to comprehend the mindset of the women who looked the other way, but to understand that there is a disturbing pervasiveness of double-standards globally that has shaped societies for centuries, and we are still woefully compliant to them.

When I think of all the shit I let slide, it’s really disturbing, and yet it makes perfect sense why I’m single. The insults. The verbal abuse. The physical abuse. The unannounced children. The unannounced live-in girlfriend. The unannounced wife. The unannounced move to other cities. The unannounced resentment, and my new favorite: The unannounced intent to punish women stemming from maternal neglect and/or conflict. Until fairly recently, this all seemed normal…until one day it didn’t.

But for many women, it is still normal. It makes more sense for us to say “He’s just going through some things,” or “That’s just the way men are,” instead of “What the fuck is your trigger, and why can’t you handle your shit in a way that doesn’t punish everyone else around you?”

And it’s because of our desire to keep the peace where men are concerned, we end up doing more damage to our fellow sex, and future generations of boys who will grow up thinking it’s okay to disrespect women, and girls who won’t be able to identify the disrespect until it’s too late. We break our necks coddling male egos, while simultaneously ignoring the very people who need guidance and encouragement the most.

That’s probably why the swift justice bestowed to Harvey Weinstein, and the movements that followed, were initially so confusing to process. We’d just voted in a man who admitted on-camera to sexual assault, but somehow found outrage that brought down one of the most powerful men in entertainment. We still treat Bill Clinton as a rock star, while Monica Lewinsky still can’t have a career without ridicule, and Hillary is still being dragged for everything she says and does despite losing to a man who — once again — admitted on-camera to sexual assault. Let that sink in.

So how do we break the cycle of condoning the transgressions of men, while simultaneously holding a safe space for women to tell their stories and heal from their experiences?  How do we come to that place where we own our shit and say “Hey, maybe we are much harder on women than we are on men because we live in a society constructed by men?” How do we come to terms with the very real fact that the men we revere as fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, legends, etc., are capable of committing unspeakably evil things against other women, children and just people in general that they don’t deem on their level?

Maybe the first step is admitting that we aren’t perfect, and to own and accept that we can be biased, frightened people who do what we can to survive, and it’s much easier to sweep things under a rug, than do a deep-clean and start fresh sometimes. The problem with that, is there are people breathing in the residual filth we leave behind…and it can be toxic.

I’m heartened by the recent cultural shifts that have seen more women in the forefront as heroes, warriors and leaders in activism and slowly but surely on the political spectrum. I celebrate the voices of a young generation that basically just told us that they’re fed up with our nonsense, and “since we’re not old enough to drink beer, keep holding yours while we figure out how to get these assholes you blindly voted into office out.”

And I appreciate the men out there who embrace, support and encourage all of this necessary change without taking it as an affront to their existence.

That said, being my sister’s keeper doesn’t mean Stacy Dash and her ilk get a pass.

Just sayin’…

 

 

 

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

Standards for Living

It has now been nearly two weeks since I’ve entered my forty-first year.

Or, as I’d like to call it, “Forty won.”

In a year marked by so much death – from ones intimately close, to strangers known and unknown, not to mention the brutal murder of democracy – I end my fortieth year with an even stronger zest and appreciation for life. Especially my own.

Because, in spite of all the tragedy and turmoil that 2016 embodied for most of the world – admittedly the first half was brutal for me as well – I somehow managed to ride out the rest of it with one of the strongest years I’ve had in nearly a decade on a personal and professional level. I made uncomfortable choices, found more of my voice, embraced the unknown, and found freedom in letting go of things that weren’t right for me. I’ve knowingly disappointed some, and unknowingly inspired others.

What resulted was the universe opening up a world of opportunity in the form of more love, support and fellowship from new and unexpected sources. Ones that allowed and, at times, insisted on, finding acceptance that I once sought from relationships – both familial and romantic – within myself.

So I took those trips. Went to those shows. Saw those movies. Booked those therapy appointments. And so on.

…and didn’t wait for that call to do any of it. And also didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

In the spirit of keeping that momentum going, and in honor of all the fucks I’ve lost during this year, here’s a list of my standard for living for 2017 and beyond:

Stop Hesitating (“Take the trip!” “Buy the shoes!” “Go to the fucking doctor!”) When you have gainful employment, insurance, decent credit, and a shit-ton of people in your life who are in your corner, there are no excuses. Life is too fucking short…and it can all be gone tomorrow. I say this 7 months after my father’s passing, and over a year after the sudden loss of a very dear friend who lived his life fully and generously, so it’s not exactly an epiphany. Death has a way of putting you in “YOLO” mode; forcing you to face your own mortality and, subsequently, your “bucket list.” And the savagery of this year has been the biggest wakeup call of all.

Speak my mind. Anyone who really knows me might be like “When have you NOT?” To them, I say “Hush.” But recently, someone I was once close to, told me that I didn’t communicate with them during the time we spent together. In this instance, I no longer trusted them or had faith in their ability to act in my best interests, but they had a point. It is best to speak one’s mind, for better or worse, that way everyone can move accordingly.

Refuse to spend any of my hard-earned cash on the following: Hip Hop albums from most of this era’s artists (although anderson.Paak might get my money for a live show). Rihanna concert tickets. Anything with the Kardashian name. Poor-quality shoes, clothing and undergarments. Events where most of the demographic is under 35, or frequently uses the word “lit” with more intention than sarcasm, and/or people who like to invite you to functions/dinners/trips/etc. with the expectation that you’ll be bankrolling them or their friend’s portion of it. If we’re not in a long-term partnership, and I have not given birth to you…you’re paying your own way. I am not Angelina Jolie or Mia Farrow. Call Tyrone.

Don’t take anything in life for granted. Not to be mistaken with “not complaining.” While I try to avoid the other c-word, there are gonna be times in life when things aren’t perfect and something needs to be said in order to address and improve it. (See “Speaking my mind.”) That doesn’t mean everything is shit – it just means it’s important enough to me to be made better. But at the end of the day, even the lessons from failures are appreciated.

Do not entertain the idea of a long-term relationship with any man who isn’t equipped to be my best friend. New rule for 2017: “If he doesn’t make plans, doesn’t keep plans, doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t respect what I say, doesn’t respect my gender, doesn’t respect my family or friends (or – as my sister-girl once said after an ex spent two days at her home but never engaged in one-on-one conversation with her – “doesn’t find out who they are to you“), doesn’t show any interest in spending time knowing or building upon mutual interests…I’m not wasting any time with him. My desire for an honest, selfless, interactive and collaborative partnership supersedes my desire to have a proper lay any day. I believe “Stronger Together” isn’t just a nice and sunny political slogan. I’ve seen too many solid relationships where couples travel, party, and make plans and important decisions together. They respect each other’s input and rely on each other for mutually beneficial contentment and growth. They also have each other’s backs when times are hard for either of them. This is what I aspire to be and have in return. And because I’d rather be alone than feel alone…nothing else will do.

Never apologize for being who I am, and take zero shit from any “friend” or family member who has opinions on how I should behave. I’m single, childless, live in a city bursting with culture and vices, and I’ve survived four decades of life that consisted of  events that have broken many. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told.) And for the most part, I’ve done it solo. That I continue to maintain a sense of humor, optimism, desire and enjoyment of intimate connection and only have a marginal social media addiction – I’d say I’m doing okay. Not Oprah okay…but you never know what the future holds.

Stop doubting my abilities and gut. That I still do this on occasion means there’s more room for improvement, but I’d like to think I’m headed in the right direction.

If I’ve taken nothing else from this year, it is that there is no reward for playing it safe. Those who’ve impacted our lives most – in both life and death – have been the most extreme risk takers. The rogues. The controversial ones. The ones who colored outside the lines and bulldozed their comfort zones to fit big dreams (and in some cases even bigger egos). The ones who set a standard for the way they lived, and fulfilled it to the best of their ability, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how others said they were supposed to live.

If we all set standards in our lives, then we’ll do anything to preserve it for our own well-being and joy. Our jobs, relationships, finances, living conditions and even our political leanings are a reflection of those standards. Or lack thereof. I mean, how else can you achieve a “gold standard” without actual standards?

We owe it to ourselves to have them. We owe it to each other to honor them. If, for no other reason, for our own self-respect, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we did all we could to make the world a better place by being a better person in it while we could.

Those are my standards for 2017 and beyond.

What are yours?