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.

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.

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

This week has been a lot.

Yesterday, I woke up, sat up in bed, took a breath and a swig of water and…just…cried.

Then I got up, made the bed, opened the curtains and — minutes later — found myself standing in the kitchen as a strange wave of relief came over me that I didn’t have children.

Just the day before, I momentarily cursed this fact, as I reckoned with the tax penalties I now faced as a single woman entering a full year of being self-employed(ish). The rare other times I’d second-guess this choice, I’d been disabled after breaking my ankle, and perhaps at some point last year when I was cautious about leaving home to get food and other necessities.

But less than 24 hours later, I was once again firmly in my childfree stance, except with a new and morbid perspective.

What was first a personal choice that was part remnants of parental resentments and traumas and part outcome of not being in a healthy, committed marriage/partnership in the years I was open to motherhood, has suddenly morphed into a selfish desire to not experience the devastation of potentially losing that child violently because of someone else’s ignorance.

As unapologetic as I’ve become with my life choices as of late, I admit I momentarily grappled with these thoughts, until learning soon after that I wasn’t alone in having them. That the person who shared this view is something of a motherlike figure to folks, as I’ve been in the past, has eased my mind on this position.

I’m no stranger to loss. In the four-and-half decades I’ve been on this earth, I’ve lost a great deal: Jobs, homes, life savings, family, friends, lovers, dignity, sense of security, self-control and — occasionally — the will to continue and do it all over again another day. And yet, here I am.

In theory, I’m a fucking phoenix. Or Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” depending on your perspective.

But the one consistent thing about all that loss is it was mine, alone, and at most points I absolutely had control over my narrative, even when I had no control over the overall outcomes (and even when I didn’t think so at the time). Either I made bad choices personally, or made bad judgements to trust others on my behalf who ultimately didn’t have my best interests at heart. Lessons were learned, and in time I moved on and quietly started over.

Now, imagine the precise opposite of that happening as the result of losing a child as the world watches on their screens. Having to process the horror of losing a human you brought into the world. Losing them violently because of the color of their skin and by the hands of the very people whose job ostensibly is to protect and serve everyone. Not being able to fully grieve because your life and your child’s lost life has now become a public symbol of something even more horrific. Then, the media joins their murderers and millions of strangers in creating and pushing a narrative to justify taking their life. You’re now propelled into a spotlight you never asked to be in as your head still swirls with questions that need answers. Protests and marches and movements you might have empathized with before from afar but are now intrinsically attached to are happening in places you’ve never been. Strangers are risking their safety in the name of your child. Hashtags, social posts, shrines, news show segments, song lyrics, murals, propaganda, forums and thought pieces…all in the name of your child.

Your. Child.

No matter what the circumstances…THAT IS TOO FUCKING MUCH TO BEAR AND ENDURE.

As much as I understand the idea, spiritually, that tragedy can serve as a catalyst for moments that reach far beyond the scope of our individual stories, history has shown us those moments come at tremendous costs. And at this moment, I’m emotionally spent.

I also understand many, MANY other people, have lost other types of loved ones, and they have also been unwittingly thrust into the same experiences. My heart aches for them as well.

But I’ll NEVER understand why this keeps happening. Why legacies are erased in the blink of an eye and the nervous twitch of a hand. Why hate and fear are on surplus, but love, kindness and acceptance are scarce. Why common sense isn’t so common in places and spaces where ignorance is lucrative and rewarded. Why power and control remains so dangerously addictive to and within the grasp of people who should never have it.

To the countless parents, partners, families and others who’ve lost loved ones to senseless violence…I wish you’d get answers, justice and most importantly, peace.

To the warriors fighting for social justice…I wish for the day to come when the fight is no longer needed.

To the bad-acting cops and people, politicians and pundits who continue to protect them and justify extinguishing promising futures based on your biases…I wish you could see our humanity the same way you see it in the monsters who commit mass murders.

To the folks who stay silent because they fear “rocking the boat” in their circles…I wish you had the courage to speak up.

To the courts…I wish you played fair.

To my fellow empaths…I wish we had better coping mechanisms in place this week.

To America…I wish we could truly have liberty and justice for all.

And to the innumerable names — said and unsaid — taken from us too soon…I wish you were here.

This week has been a lot.

All Things Considered

All Things Considered

Oh, hey there…thanks for stopping by!

I realize it’s been seven months since my last post. But honestly, I’ve just been trying to keep my shit together; navigating life during a pandemic while the country was reaching extinction under the rule of a wanna-be autocrat and his equally vile sycophants in Congress.

Which means occasionally battling bouts of cabin fever and crippling depression, while finding pockets of joy-inducing moments like zoom meditations, and phone calls with my family and friends and celebrating milestones like being in my apartment for two years and being happily single and celibate for three. And when I wasn’t taking the capabilities of my eyesight and body for granted by spending hours looking at spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks and Word docs on decreasing hours of sleep — powered by granola bars, trail mix and green tea — to keep the aforementioned apartment, I was rage-posting relatable missives on social media and reminding everyone I know about voting in every election happening in 2020. And then Clubhouse happened.

So, for what it’s worth…I’m fucking tired.

Somewhere around December — either just after my birthday or just before Christmas — I crashed like a laptop during mercury retrograde. I’d wrapped all my work projects for the year, and all I wanted, and desperately needed, was a vacation. I wanted to spend Christmas in Philly with my family, and fly someplace warm and ring in the New Year by an ocean or in New Orleans or ANYWHERE.

But the way my bank account and this pandemic is set up, the most exotic place I was going was Trader Joe’s.

So I spent Christmas day doing laundry and wiping down the blinds in my bedroom until a video of my cousin in Philly getting engaged arrived in my phone and prompted me to burst into tears. (Yes, of course I finished the blinds. I just needed a moment!) Days later, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to stand in line — in the freezing rain — at CityMD for an hour to get my nose swabbed so I could adhere to the stringent-yet-practical guidelines my friend had for a small group of us to finally put 2020 to rest, nail the casket shut and shoot it with fire arrows, before welcoming the year 2021 with cautious optimism.

You could imagine the shock and awe that it failed to come in as peacefully as we’d hoped…

On the 6th day of this new year, I watched with bloodshot eyes (the side-effect of constantly refreshing the results of the Georgia runoffs until the wee hours) as a bunch of unhinged, mostly white, mostly bigoted, all grossly misinformed and badly-intentioned people stormed the United States Capitol. Just typing that sentence is surreal to me. And what I saw in those terrifying hours was more punctuated by what I didn’t see.

I didn’t see aggressive cops ramming through crowds with theirs shields or their vehicles. I didn’t see heavy usage of tear gas, rubber bullets, or excessive force with batons. I didn’t see military-grade weapons on the side protecting the elected officials. I saw them on the “rioters,” who also had zip-ties, maps of the building and carried flags bearing allegiance to the confederacy and the man who ostensibly should’ve been removed from the presidency many crimes ago who egged them on.

Then I saw most of them go home…safely. Then I watched over the course of the days and weeks that followed as politicians and pundits who perpetuated the lies that fueled the insurrection played duck-and-cover all over the news cycle and social media and then double-down on their deadly and divisive stances. Then I watched them blame Black Lives Matter and incredulously attempt to equate people protesting the death, brutality and biased treatment of people of color, to people who want to continue that behavior without consequences and profit in the process.

Now, I’m a New Yorker in my mid-forties, so I’ve seen and lived through a lot of shit. But this was next level insane. And I wish that that’s where the crazy ended.

And yet…here we are…three weeks later…and not only did that psychopath get to serve out the remainder of his term, he still has the unwavering support of millions of people — including many members of congress who have no intentions of holding him or themselves accountable for nearly killing their colleagues. EVEN AFTER A YEAR OF LETTING A DEADLY VIRUS RUN AMOK TO THE DETRIMENT OF LOSING NEARLY HALF A MILLION AMERICAN LIVES AND COUNTLESS JOBS, LIVELIHOODS AND A SOLID ECONOMIC STANDING.

More sentences I can’t believe I’m writing.

And while last week’s inauguration and the actions that have followed from the new administration has given me a hope that has sorely been removed these past four years, I’m armed with the trauma of knowing history, and having had personal experience with entitled and abusive narcissists. As long as they have enablers and continue to go without punishment or accountability…history is doomed to repeat itself.

And that gives me a feeling directly in conflict with hope. It gives me the kind of rage that would put me on a watch list just for having these thoughts while Black.

And it makes me think of my ancestors before me, who were forced to accept the terms of terrorists or meet violent fates. And then I think of the people who live in countries ruled by actual dictators in real time, and try to tell myself that we got off easy, for now, and should breathe a sigh of relief that it could’ve been worse.

But none of that thinking sits right.

I think, no, I know, from experience that this all just feels like one day you’ll show up to a family gathering and be urged to “be nice” to the cousin who raped you when you were four. Or your friend’s party, where the ex who nearly strangled the life out of you wants to chat about your dead father and the whereabouts of the military jacket he was hoping to get from him. Or the other ex who also raped you, ignored your needs and called you names insisting on being friends. (Obviously, “you” is me, and all of these things actually happened in real life, so I’m absolutely projecting because there is literally no fucking difference between these scenarios and what’s being asked of us right now by the folks calling for “unity.”)

And I get it: It’s not easy unlearning beliefs you’ve been ingrained with since birth. It must feel like something is being stripped away from your identity, your legacy and your personal capital when people you don’t identify with insist they are entitled to the same benefits you’ve enjoyed for centuries. It must be confusing when those same people ask to be treated with respect, but other actors from their group berate your culture, assume you’re lacking in various skill-sets and emotional intelligence based on the color of your skin and/or because of how and where you were raised, instead of getting to know you and take an opportunity to learn that you have shared values. It must be even more frustrating when those same cultures are so brazenly proud of their own history and achievements to the point where you feel threatened their traditions and accomplishments will outshine yours and push them to the brink of obscurity. It’s scary stuff.

See what I did there?

As much as I’d love for Joe and Kamala and their beautiful rainbow administration to save us, I’m all too painfully aware that it ain’t gonna happen until we’re ready to save ourselves. That we’re all firmly ensconced in both physical and metaphorical bubbles makes the task just a skosh more difficult to take on. We can’t even agree to collectively wear masks and keep each other out of harm’s way for the sake of our loved ones. Asking us to give up our way of life and step — no, leap — out of our comfort zones to establish collective understanding, compassion and healthy, mutually beneficial outcomes is a bridge too far.

…Or is it?

All I know right now is I miss hugs, my family, live music, losing my breath and myself in beautiful art and moments, dancing with friends and strangers and getting plastered after drinking fruity cocktails all day at all-inclusive resorts in the caribbean and chatting up folks from all over the globe. Perhaps it’s selfish of me to think like this in the grand scheme of things, but I really have lost all the fucks and a number of family members along the way to this cruel and unnecessary plague.

So forgive me if I don’t harp on the gratitude I have for the time I’ve had to dabble in recipes, introspection, self-employment and horticulture.

I’ve been doing that for 10 months.

Let me have this.

Please.