Monday, November 22, 2010

Sanctioned Sexual Abuse and The Terrorists

The terrorists have won, that is my opinion.

Americans, mostly white, paranoid, and scared, have allowed their human rights to be stripped away through the mental abuse suffered for eight years of the previous administration.  Scared of everyone and everything that is not white, middle class, protestant, male, and midwestern.  Scared enough to allow sexual abuse during the holidays.

I, like many, have watched in horror and disgust at the too-many-to-count reportings of TSA officials (used loosely) who are abusing customers, yes, paying customers, of the nation's airports.  They cup the breasts of women, fondle the "junk" of men, and touch children in ways that up-until-November 1st - only parents and doctors had.  All because fear has been allowed to rule the skys.

It is bad enough that you have to pack light, be charged for a bag if in a longer trip, can't take make-up, lotion, or even certain amounts of medicine, and all for the right to pay a high fee, sit in a cramped seat, breathe stale air, and be tossed a bag of stale pretzels and a bathroom cup size of soda.

The paranoia has gotten out of hand.  The thing the terrorists feared was our freedoms, the very right we have to travel across the country and not have to go through security and boarder crossing at each state line. It is because we can speak our mind (well, that could be questioned with the wire tapping that happened from 2001-2008) and because we can pursue our lives as we wish that the terrorists despise.  And because they chose to target the capital of capitalism - New York City - and use the airplanes - our freedom to explore - that we are now cocooned and crippled with fear.

I believe this TSA pat-down will go away, as should the agency, in my opinion.  Everything they think the terrorists are going to do, they don't.  It is humiliating enough to have to take off coats, belts, and shoes, to now either get radiation (what if a young woman was pregnant and didn't know it, will the TSA cover her child's birth defect treatments?) or submit to assaults that would be criminal otherwise.

My daughters are almost seven and nine, respectively.  It would be horrifying to them.  My nine year old had a fit during her yearly physical and this was with her childhood female physician and her mother soothing her.  What would happen to her with a rough, not-guaranteed-to-be-female TSA official touching her in places she has never been touched?  This is unnecessary humiliation of the American public and I hope the Obama administration does something to stop it.

I am a rape survivor and while I am thankful that I don't live with the daily horrors of what happened to me, I am not sure that it wouldn't all come flooding back if I had to be touched in ways that are only supposed to be in the intimacy of my marriage.

The holidays are this week and the travel season will be heavy.  Even walking through the airport in speedos for a guy or a bikini and flip flops for a girl is no guarantee that one wouldn't be searched or fondled.  No, for me, it will be a car, DVDs for the kids, and lots of lattes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Musing on Love and Life and Men and Women And...

This time of year seems to turn on the reflecting button.

I posted my notes to a younger self earlier this week and was going to post more, but changed my mind and decided to write about relationships, marriage, men and women, divorce, remarriage, and the rest.

When I was younger, I didn't think much about guys.  I was too busy reading and surviving my step-mother.  I already wrote about my first encounters with men.  I do remember my first kiss, that was endearing because it was when I was about 11 and he was a fellow minister's kid.  Just a little peck on the lips and that was the end of my romantic endeavors.

As I got older and once I encountered men in the sexual way, I understood something very profound about them - they lose their minds over what is between a woman's legs.  It doesn't matter who they are, men are very visual and sexual beings.  For that matter, women are also.  And since sex is like chocolate, as I taught the teenagers, once tasted, it is always a big part of one's life.

It is not the only part and many relationships are ruined by a guy (or a gal) only wanting a role in the hay and not wanting to sit down for coffee the next day (hey, I rhymed, as my daughter would say!)  Anyway, it is part of it, but without the emotional connection and the commitment, it is just a physical act.

My daughters will date one day.  My son is dating.  I taught all the boys that no means no.  That there are other ways to express love without sex and that once they do start having sex, to be honorable and respectful to the young lady - and safe.  I also taught them that if they do it without protection and a child ensues, they will do the right thing and take care of their child - and they will also establish paternity.  I also taught them that just because they take a young lady out to the movie or dinner, she does not owe them sex, a lesson that some men still haven't figured out.

When people get older, expectations change and shift with the circumstances.  I remember being in college, after I healed from Cory, and was settling into my post-baby life.  I never expected to have another child and faithfully took birth control.  I was also dating someone from my hometown that I cared about deeply.  Everyone thought we would get married.  I broke it off, I knew if I married him, that I would never get out of that town and that I couldn't stay there.  Years later, I was there for a visit, and I was right, he was still living in that town and hadn't fulfilled the promise that was in him.  I wanted more for my life.

I've also learned that it is okay to walk away from love if deep down you know that love is detrimental to you.  That is something that struck me so vividly when I watched the movie, For Colored Girls.  The woman deeply loved the man, "since we were 14" and when she started taking steps to own her personhood, he killed her kids.  The thing that kept her bound was his pleas about no one would love her like him and that they were connected.

Sometimes connections have to change.

When I got divorced from my first husband, it was something I agonized over.  I had witnessed my dad stay in a relationship because he had already been divorced and widowed and since he was a minister, he feared what people would think if he divorced again.  He was also projecting forward for when his illness would overtake him and I've learned that something men fear more than not having sex, is getting older alone.

I called my dad and counseled with him before I filed for divorce, this was after I immediately left the house and took measures to protect the boys.  There was the religious tug of war happening in me.  My mother's side was Catholic and those women weren't with their husbands, but weren't divorced either.  I didn't want to live in a limbo.

The years after that divorce I spent focusing on my boys.  I rarely dated and when I did, I didn't give them access to my boys.  I wanted a family for them, a home, and something much more than someone offering crumbs from the table.  Love and true connection deserves the entire cake.

There were times when I really just wanted companionship, a dinner partner, someone to walk along the beach and share in that moment of life, and they wanted something else.  Much like the woman in the film when she thought dinner and he thought sex.  Ntozake Shange told black men to come to the film with a notepad and write down everything not to say or do to black women, such as saying let's have dinner when what they really mean is let's have sex.

I think being older gives me the perspective of a rearview mirror. That is a benefit of age.   I am a good student, have always been observant, and being a writer, am always reflecting, overthinking as  my husband sometimes says.  It is good to look back and learn and then teach those lessons forward.

I am watching my sons grow in their relationships and can say that I am proud of the men they have become.  This makes me know as a mother that my sacrifices were worth it.

Perhaps watching the movie and preparing to see the stage production still has me in this place of looking at relationships, at men and women, at marriage and divorce, at courting and dating, and continuing to learn lessons along the way.

My love is too giving to have thrown back in my face.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Random Thoughts and Notes To A Younger Self - Or From An Older Sister

I am not sure if it is November, Ntozake Shange's choreopoem made into a movie, or simply watching my daughters that had me thinking about this, but think I did, so here it goes.

My notes to a younger self or notes from an older woman.

1.  Trust your gut, that burning in your stomach that says something is wrong, trust that, it can save your life

2.  Guys lie when it comes to sex, they just do, they want it and will say just about anything to get it, do not believe them, save it for the one you want to be with

3.  Speaking of guys lying, girls lie also so watch your friends if they are more into your destruction than into your destiny

4.  Parents are not perfect, they make mistakes, forgive them and learn

5.  If you decide to have sex, make sure you use protection and get on the pill - and never sleep with a guy who won't wear a condom, he won't be that good anyway and don't trust him

6.  Always, always, always love yourself first - if you do that you will be open to when real love finds you

7.  Go on an adventure with just you, take yourself somewhere you have always dreamed and then enjoy it

8.  Never be afraid to walk away if it will be better for you

9.  Pursue your passion, it will be worth more than any paycheck, and the rewards will be lifelong

10.  Cherish your real friends and make family where you find them

11.  Wait to be complete before having kids and when you do, love them totally

12.  Be selfish and give time to yourself

13.  Listen to your heart, that quiet voice, she will tell you what you need to do

There is more, but this is a start.  Wisdom in the gray hairs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing The Voice

Writers, artists, singers, poets, spoken word artists, songwriters - we get to take back the stories, be the voice of the silenced, we get to express the painful, the memorable, the unforgettable.  We are the muse, the emotion, the communicator.

We often come from experience, from places we have lived.  Especially the poets, the spoken word artists, the turf poets, the essayists, the memoirists, they take back the emotion and give validity to a life lived.

There was a time when I was given the pen, the knowledge that writing is in my blood.  I was about nine years old.  I wrote stories, up-to-then, I hadn't processed the life events that had already happened (I barely had memory of them) or the storm unfurling around me.

Then I became a teenager and had lived through four of the most horrific years of my young life.

And my voice was taken away.

I had stopped writing stories and started writing a diary, a place to chronicle my life.  I kept it hidden on my dresser.  My voice had long been stilled in the house of horror that was my home, the emotional trauma, and the crippling fear.  The pen became my friend and a way to have these conversations that I could not have outloud.

And my voice was violated by an intruder who wanted to score points with the tormenter.  She read that I wanted to run away, that I couldn't wait to grow up, and she told my step-mother, and my step-mother beat me, and my father didn't protect me, and I stopped writing, I kept the stories in my heart and learned that to stay alive, I had to be silent.

Until two years later when there was more of the mental and emotional, the taunting, the fear, and my father's cocooning himself in his work, his travels, his office, not noticing me or protecting me, as much as I loved him, he lived in fear also, his physical disability forcing his strong voice to be silent also, to not go against the wife who hated his daughter from his deceased other wife.

I finally told my brother.  I told him about the beating with the extension cord, the threat to kill me, the time she woke me up literally punching me in the head, I was sixteen.  I was not a bad girl, I had only been on two dates and both of these the guys were preacher's kids also who asked my dad for permission, it was like going out with my brother, very innocent and benign, my virtue was still intact.  I didn't hang out with girlfriends, wasn't allowed to, I had never set a toe on The Foot, didn't have sleepovers, or friends over, and never broke the rule "what happens in this house stays in this house."  Until she threatened my life and I was afraid I wouldn't live to see high school graduation.

My brother was an athlete, he managed to carve out a life outside the house of horror and stood defiantly against both my dad and my step-mother.  He was on the swim team and the football team and his athletic pursuits gave him an out.  He was 14 and stronger than me, I told him and he told my dad.  And my dad stood up for me.

I was removed from my home in that town and sent to Michigan.

And I got my voice back.  For a while, anyway.  I was surrounded by someone who became a lifelong cheerleader and advocate for me to connect to those words inside me, to bring them to life.

Pops listened and encouraged and throughout the years until his death, he always supported me with the pen to paper.

He passed away before he could see my name in print or know the freedom I have in words now, at forty-six, but his encouragement and protection of me live on every time I tell the painful, the emotional trauma, the  things some would want to keep silent.

There are many words and muses in the ensuing thirty years that were part of the journey back to my muse and courageously saying the words, to speak out against the unjust, the untrue, and the unloved.

We writers bring it to life.  We are the griots, the storytellers, the muses who can take the tragic and bring out the humanity in it, to connect to the person behind it, to reach into the soul and touch the spirit.

I took back my voice and having found her, I will never let her go.  This is why I write, why I tell the stories.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

70-Degrees...In Mid November

Okay, is it just me or does it seem awfully balmy outside?  We are in Missouri, this is usually long sleeve, at least a sweater and jacket weather, maybe a hat on some mornings...but today, I'm running around in a t-shirt and sweat pants that feel too hot.

I know there are some people who do not believe in global warming or that our climate is being harmed by all the emissions from our ever-growing consumer world, but come one, even the naysayers have to say there is definitely something going on.

Now, mind you, it means we have bright sunshine days and my girls get to run around without a coat when they go to afternoon recess, so we are enjoying this extension into fall, however, there must be a price to pay for all this.  It just can't continue the way we, the collective we, have been living and not make it a questionable future for my daughters when they grow up.

We need to all do our part to cut down on our carbon footprint, to not emit so many harmful gases, and to think about what we are consuming.  I have been a recycler in as many ways as I can.  Even when it is inconvenient to load up my car and drive those extra two miles to the recycle center (since we moved, we can't get curbside and are too far away from the daily drop off).  I still do it and make my kids do it.  I use cloth napkins and washable towels for cleaning the bathroom, kitchen, or mopping the floor.  I even buy "vintage" or "gently used" jeans when I have the opportunity.  I look in the girls closet and make them "shop" at home and repurpose something, little sister has a lot of clothes that have been "graduated" to her from her big sis.  I buy refillable ink cartridges for my printer and try to do my errands on one big run to cut down on all the gas fumes coming out of my little white Cavalier.  Even that, it is 1998, and while my ego would love to have a new car, I know that this old one would just end up in a landfill or at the bottom of the ocean.

The kids know I love shopping at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market (for select things), but also know that I will frequent the farmer's market or local grocery store for local farmer produce.  I shop local stores and local artisans, not only to keep the money circulating within my community, but also because I know those items are produced locally.  When I can, I try to do the 100 miles or less.

We don't have to think about it, necessarily, in this country because even with our bottled water craze, we can simply turn on the faucet and get clean water (even though my husband knows I WILL NOT drink that, I use a filter).  We breathe clean air due to our laws (that I hope this uber pro-business GOP does not overturn) and we have excellent trash pick up that do not end up polluting entire cities.  We have trees to keep the waterways flowing, to keep nutrients in the rich Midwest soil, and to protect our natural infrastructure, unlike the deforested and fragile Haiti, that is always on the brink of disaster from the weather.

It is warm outside, my balcony windows are open and I'm sipping a cool lemonade.  It is November.  And I believe global warming exists.  I'm doing my small part, but what are you doing?  Because next year or the next, we could be running around in shorts and have our kids face a future like that depicted in the series Jeremiah (see Hulu for it) where water is scarce and the sun is scorching.  We can change this, it just takes all of us doing a small part, for a colder November.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life, Love, and The Good Mugs

It is funny how one thing can trigger a lot of thoughts and memories.

I was making some lunch - grilled sandwich with sourdough bread, swiss cheese, heirloom tomatoes, organic mixes greens, veggie bacon and pomegranate herbal tea - when I thought about love, life, and using the good mugs.

It is no secret that I really enjoy a great cup of coffee.  I've waxed poetic and mused a lot about my desire to one day take myself on a journey to the coffee producing lands of my favorite blend and sip to my heart's content, that and write while I am doing it.  It is also not secret that I greatly enjoy this morning libation in unique mugs or antique cup and saucer.  I have a collection of mugs from places I have traveled or that my husband and sons have brought back from me.  I also have ones that I have picked up from artists at the many fairs that populate my fair city in the spring and summer.  And I have some antique, dainty, gold rimmed cup and saucer sets that I have picked up at garage sales, flea markets, or estate sales.  They are delicate, dainty, and demand to be recognized.

I have some of my collection on display around my sitting room and others are simply in the cabinet, waiting for their turn in the spotlight.  Some I just never thought to use, they were memories and reminders of special places.  Then it dawned on me, my mugs, like love and life, are meant to be taken out-of-the-cabinet, examined, and filled.  Otherwise, they are just empty vessels waiting for the day when my children will be going through my things and pricing them for a garage sale.  I decided to enjoy my tea in a memory.

The years have given me enough gray hairs and wrinkles to be able to know how very important it is to live this life, fully, and not sit and wait for...whatever.  Tomorrow is not promised and today is the gift, use the good mugs!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living To Tell The Story

I was sitting at this lovely little store/coffeeshop/eatery on Delmar last weekend.  My girlfriends and I meet once-a-month to talk about a piece of black female literature.  We also spend the time exploring great little getaway spots in the metro area to give us a respite from our normal lives on a Saturday morning.

Through the course of discovering the great blueberry pancakes at Winslow's Home and meandering through the complicated story of Browngirl/Brownstones by Paule Marshall, I stumbled upon the courage to share an element of my past with these women.  I had never really shared the details, the feeling and raw emotion behind what happened to my son.  Perhaps it was timely because it was the exact calendar day and date, twenty eight years later, that my life began to unravel.

I told them about when Cory died and what happened.  I did not know there was an audience, someone listening and enraptured by the story that is so personal.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but your story was so compelling, so raw, so true, I just had to stop."  "Oh," I said and took a sip of my latte.  "You should tell your story to more people.  I am part of MothUp here in St. Louis."  This pretty little stranger, with her young daughter at her side, gave me the five minute pitch of why I should share my story live, no notes, in front of a group of strangers for the upcoming event entitled "Oh, Baby."  She began to tell me about the format and the structure and how St. Louis is one of only a handful of MothUp chapters around the world.

My girlfriends were shaking their heads in agreement and one touched my back.  It is time.  It is time to tell what happened and take back the story.

When I got home, I tucked that thought away, last weekend was hard for me on many fronts, not to mention my husband's untimely decision to start a mini war on October 31st that left me more than a little mad and a lot angry that he chose that day to decide to rant, but I digress, the weekend was hard because my son died on Monday, November 1st.  I was reliving that exact weekend in the recesses of my mind, even down to struggling with asthma and having a man who was more interested in controlling than comforting at that point.

Yet, something about that young woman's request broke through the wall I put up on the memory, the need I felt to protect my young eighteen-year-old-self from the assaults that were coming, even in the memory.  So I decided it was time, it is time, and I responded to the young woman's email invitation.  She wanted to know how to introduce me - I told her to use my writing name for that is where I find my peace and authentic self when words spring forth from my soul.

November 11th at 7pm in a little coffee shop called Foam.  There will be no notes, nothing but my memories and the story that has not been told.  And a release and an honoring.  And understanding.  The time has come.

Friday, November 5, 2010

For Colored Girls - Movie Adaptation by Tyler Perry

For Colored Girls struck a nerve with me.

My girlfriends and I went to see it at the movies tonight.

I read the book first for my book club and did a review of it.  There were images of these women in my head and I saw them dancing on stage.

Perhaps, like others, I wonder if filmmaker, maybe loosely applied for his previous works, Tyler Perry, would be the right one to make the choreopoem flow on screen the way it flowed in my heart when I read it the last couple days.

This was no ordinary book-to-movie.  This epic has been performed and critically acclaimed and award winning and resonating with an entire generation of black women who finally felt their experiences, voices, pain, and redemption was given validity on the stage.  It is not a series of poems about any particular woman, as in the her book, the women are only identified by colors of the rainbow, it is not a stereotype of the black women, it is the humanity of us and the fact that the us, while black in her writing, are a universal us of women who have experienced life at the hands of men.  Yet, even in writing, I did not feel that Ntozake Shange was bashing black men, another problem many would have with Tyler Perry producing the film, he always has only caricatures of both black men and women, no, in Shange's work, we could also fully realize the men and still be appalled at their flaws invading the space of our lives.

Then I saw the movie and these powerful actresses will forever be etched in my mind.  I, like the author, found few flaws in the movie, perhaps Tyler Perry is stepping up his game, honing his craft in the learn-by-doing-school-of-the-arts.

The film brought these powerful stories to life beyond my imagination and were in part my story.

The teenage girl and disappointing her religious mother, for me it was my minister father.

The scared, silent, and abused woman whose significant other did the unthinkable to her kids, I lived that.

The woman who met a man she thought would be a friend ended up being her nightmare, I survived that.

The older woman, wiser, resolute, comforting, teaching, that is me now.

So many of the stories were so real and this audience filled with black women on opening weekend at the AMC 12 in Creve Coeur, we laughed with knowledge, cried unspent tears, and felt the story Ntosake Shange wrote almost four decades ago.

Now, in this new generation with more modern technology than the pulsating world of 1975, we, black women, are still trying to navigate the world we encounter and understand the men we love.

There were many powerful scenes, each of these women's lives intersecting the other without the other knowing the intimate, silent, secret details that caused the worry lines to crease the forehead and make the eyes just a little downcast.

In the end, like the hope of her poem and the quest of our sisterlives, the women found that the healing of their souls, the mending of their spirits, was in owning their own colors, their own essence, and finding that solace that comes only from the communal art of connected women.

Some stories take time to marinate, to be ready to be told.  This seemed like the right time.  Harris-Stowe State University's Theatre Department is putting on a production of the choreopoem next week.  I am anxious to see what the young people bring to life with a live audience.

Tyler Perry did a great job adapting this choreopoem for the big screen.  It was a step up from his usual fare.  The powerful performances of the women kept us all enraptured for the two hours.  It is rare that we get out to the movies and even more rare for an opening of a movie that was not exploiting our story as black women, but celebrating and giving us room to own the pain we carry in our chest and then find the release of that to find our own rainbow.

My love is too sensual and pink to have thrown back on my face.  I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Aftermath

Many people work up this morning...or never went to bed last night...with a tremendous sense of doom and dark clouds hanging overhead.

The Tea Party/GOP won.  Some would say it was a necessary rebalancing of power and bringing the legislation back to the middle.  I say it was the result of corporate money and deep seated national hatred of anyone who is not white, anglosaxon, protestant, male, and over sixty-five.

If my dad were alive, he would be deeply angry.  Not that Republicans won, he worked with Republicans like Kit Bond back in the day, who were sane and for the entire country.  No, he would be upset at the setback this tea party movement did for the civil rights of not just black people, but all people.

I have to give it to the GOP/Tea Party, though, they are master as message.  As an adjunct professor of marketing, I wish I was teaching the political marketing course I co-wrote.  There would have been a lot of material for discussion on how they stayed on message from the largest to the smallest election.  They crafted a slogan and stayed with it.  They are a well organized machine, as should they be, since they are shills of CEOs, wall-street and corporate giants who sent millions and millions of jobs overseas.

The thing that gets me the most with the ordinary, primarily white, middle American, is that they so easily believe the "big bad black man boogie man" stories that the WASP/The Family/Pat Buchanan/Rush/Beck started uttering the moment President Obama gained office.

See, in their wanna-be-like-England-discourse, only the "royals" of America deserve to be in the most powerful office of the land.  That is what they were talking about with all their rhetoric about "taking back my country" nonsense.  They weren't angry or upset about the deficit, jobs, or reckless spending under EIGHT YEARS of the previous administration.  No, they were upset that a man born of mixed heritage in the exotic state of Hawaii dared to be President.  They were in collective shock.

Hence, the calls for his birth certificate.  Before the Tea Party were the Birthers.  Then it was that he was a secret Muslim and the "evangelical Christian" drugged state of making everyone "born again" and disputing any religious thought that is not conservative, southern, and American Christian.  Then they tried to attack his wife and daughters, broke protocol during the State-of-the Union address, and just obstructed everything he tried to do - even enacting legislation that was GOP written and inspired.  The health care bill?  That was originally written by Mitt Romney!

It is sickening.

And the thing that is worrisome the most is that the economy is not going to get better in the next year.  Even with the secret millions (did you look at all the money that was spent by the GOP through "secret donors" during this mid-term election?) that are being horded by the CEOS (not the Wall Street record profits in 2010).  They are not for the middle class, labor, or the working man.  They just want power and more power, and more profit.  Even if it means destroying the middle class along the way.

The ones who don't know this are the seniors.  CNN and NPR both reported that it was primarily old white men (over 65) who voted in record numbers.  They never thought they would live to see a black man in office.

And the youth, under 35 stayed home.  They all need a good old fashioned trip out back to pull a switch off the tree.  They will be the ones hurt the most by this mistake.

This election was about power.  The same power that stole land from a native people. The same power that stole people from their native land.  The same power that raped adolescent girls for more property.  The same power that counted man as 3/5ths a human being.  The same power that stripped away language, customs, religion, and families so they could have more product.

I hope people wake up from this bad dream and realize this was racial hatred, pure and simple.  It is not good.

But it is not over.  We have something a generation ago didn't have - the internet, the technology, and our voices.  This happened, it will be analyzed for days, the GOP/Tea Partiers will gloat, the Dems will regroup, and for some, their lives will go on as if nothing happened.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not Enough Flowers In The Shattered Glass

 The delicate balance we walk through life,  and then a shattering of the soul.  

The  heart was severed, ripped in two and  the glass is shattered beyond repair.

There are not enough flowers to fix the unprovoked and the unnecessary and the recycled.  As if waiting to unleash so they could exhale - get high from it - even though...

The universe shifted, there is a crack in the foundation, and nothing can fix it.

Too much broken glass in the daisies.

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