Bedtime for Becky

(This is something I wrote early in February and then decided not to post. I was okay with my decision not to post. The moment for this commentary had passed, I had moved on to other things. Then this afternoon I was on the 4 train headed downtown and overheard a group of older white women saying some problematic things, and I decided to pull this piece out of my “dead drafts” pile and go ahead and post it. Also, I say “older” white women, but I, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about. I guessed them to be 60s and up, but they could have been closer to my almost-60 age. I’m posting it as-is, as it was when I wrote it: unfinished and chock full of disgust.)

So Monday, or as I like to call it: Old White Women Show Their Whole Asses Day. Yeah. First Barbara Ehrenreich, followed in quick-step succession by Katha Pollitt and Elaine Showalter. All of them coming out from behind the screens of their feminist, social justice respectability, flinging off their filmy veils and revealing their bright, shiny racism in all its bare-assed fabulousness.

Thank you all.

I’ll start by saying that no one is required to love Marie Kondo, or even like her. You’re certainly not obligated to read her book or watch her Netflix show or tidy your home. If nothing about her or her work sparks joy for you, that’s perfectly alright. Your life will continue apace, and so will Ms. Kondo’s.

But here’s what you are required to do. You are required to resist sinking into the pillow-soft comfort of your deeply-seated racism and colonizing xenophobia. No one needs to see or hear that mess. Punto. You don’t like Marie Kondo. Fine. If you don’t have reasons to dislike her other than 1) her foreign-ness, 2) her audacity to speak her own language, or 3) her physical appearance matching some old stereotypes you have about Asian women … than keep your thoughts to yourself.

And if you choose to show us your racism, don’t try a) to delete your ugliness without comment and b) replace it with further ugliness and then c) not respond to any of the much-deserved criticism you receive but instead d) try to reposition your ugliness and claim it was meant to express something else entirely and then e) tell everyone who isn’t buying your dainty pile of bullshit that they clearly can’t take a joke.

Oh look, Barbara: you did every one of the “don’ts.” Score!

Pollitt and Showalter had nothing to add to the xenophobia, but they slid so easily into exoticizing Kondo, describing her in just about every infantilizing, diminishing stereotype of Asian women.

I’m not surprised that criticism of Kondo fell so quickly into racism. How could it not have, given the steaming dung heap that is our white supremacist society? I’m not surprised, and still Ehrenreich, Pollitt, and Showalter surprised me.

And that’s my fault. I was surprised because I’d let myself be lulled into a false sense of safety, let myself be fooled into thinking their feminism had any room for women of color.

Every time I think I’ve girded myself against the scourge of White Feminism, I find myself pulled back in … and disappointed as thoroughly and painfully as every time before.

Now, for everyone fixing their mouths to tell me that Marie Kondo is, in fact, pretty and little, and pixie-like, and what the hell is wrong with anyone saying what is quite obviously just a statement of truth? Your “words have meanings” argument doesn’t go far enough. You’re absolutely right that words have meanings … but they also have history and context and carry the weight of their use to perpetuate oppression and othering and dehumanization. And you don’t get to have the meaning without the history and context.

If you wanted to describe me — a tall, fat, Black woman — as a pretty little pixie, there would be no backstory of stereotyping you’d be tapping into. Even the tiniest and most fairy-like of Black women haven’t been typecast in this way, which is precisely why it would probably never occur to you to use those descriptors for me. Describing me as a pixie might even make you sound interesting, turning all the pixie images on their heads. (Yes, I think I will assume this descriptor from this point forward, brand my self as “PixieGriot” instead of GirlGriot. Absolutely.)

So you could mess with people’s heads by calling me a pretty little pixie. But to attach those words to Marie Kondo when the fairy-like, submissive, pocket-sized Asian woman has been a stereotype for as long as there have been white people aware of Asian people … well, that’s not edgy and interesting. It’s just problematic. And, just as we don’t believe any of these jackasses currently in the news saying they didn’t know blackface was racist (looking at you, too, Gucci … you and your blackface mugger clothing), we absolutely don’t believe you when you say you didn’t know there were stereotypes about Asian women that your tweets were mirroring perfectly.

When I talk about white people needing to come get their people, this is one of the kinds of messes I mean. (Don’t think I don’t want you to come collect the assholes in blackface. You know better than that.) I expect white allies to come, gather these women and sit them the hell down. I expect allies to help these women a) shut the fuck up, b) understand and acknowledge why the things they posted were problematic, c) craft and post a real apology, one that doesn’t shift blame or pretend it was all a stupid misunderstanding.

This is easy allyship, but so important. The amount of time POC have to spend dealing with this kind of crap is ridiculous. Hearing or seeing these kinds of ass-out comments takes an emotional toll on us, too. If white folks stepped up and did the work with their fellow white folks, we could avoid all the stürm und drang these moments gin up.

We — people of color — are exhausted from this shit. Completely and utterly exhausted. Because it never stops coming at us. Ehrenreich, Pollitt, Showalter, and Neeson get attention because they’re high-profile, because they had audiences before their big racism reveals. For POC, it never stops. We don’t just get the scandal-mag headlines when a famous person steps into the spotlight. We get the daily slaps in the face from the myriad non-famous people around us.

I cannot help but think there’s no way any of this is news to white people. And yet, every time one of these signal posts of hate flashes on, there are white folks who are expressing shock, who throw up their hands and exclaim about what year we’re in and how can this be happening.

Yeah. Here we are. It’s 2019. And white folks — young, old, men, women — all out here showing their whole asses. And the hand-wringing and exclamations of shock only serve to tell me how much “good” white people don’t stay focused on this work because they don’t have to, how easy it has been for these good people to move on or not notice at all because none of these thousand cuts touches them. The shock and outrage tells me that folks have chosen not to pay attention.

So come on, good white people. Goodness isn’t good enough. And you know this. You need to gather your people. Embrace them. Lovingly take them in hand. Help them see their errors and learn a better way. White feminists … well, you have an even tougher job, I won’t lie. But that’s all the more reason for you to step up, to take on this messy and necessary work. (And remember, it isn’t the job of Black folks and folk of color to do this gathering. Racist yobs can’t hear us, can’t get past their defensive anger to understand anything we say. No. The intervention has to come from white people. There are POC who are willing to do this emotional labor — on exquisitely rare occasion, I am one of them — but that still doesn’t make it our job. No, it remains 100 percent the job of white people.)

Please note that I’m not only asking for white folks to call out problematic, racist fellow travelers. No. Because calling out isn’t the answer. It isn’t enough. Barbara Ehrenreich was swiftly and roundly called out. But she needed more than that. She needed someone to love on her, tell her with calm kindness all the ways what she tweeted was fucked up. Without that caring, out-of-the-spotlight attention and correction, we get Ehrenreich’s string of progressively worse tweets. We get her digging further into her mess.

We are only halfway through February, and this month is already awash in bullshit, already requires hip waders.

And then I decided not to post. There were so many excellent articles written about this mess, I set this piece aside. And then today, I sat in a subway car near six white women, friends who’d been into Manhattan for a nice lunch and a gallery show. One remarked on the fact that the rest of her afternoon would be spent on housework:

Woman 1: “Whoo! Don’t I wish I had that little Kondo bitch boxed up in my closet! Watcing her clean my house would definitely spark some joy!”

<laughter, from all but one woman>

Woman 2: “I seriously can’t stand her self-righteousness. If we needed some child-sized baby-woman to tell us what to do, we’d have asked for it long before now.”

Woman 1: “Yes, but a box in the closet would be great. I have an empty shoe box she could curl up in.”

<laughter, from all but the same one woman>

Woman 3: “She could fold something up tiny and use it for a pillow. All the comforts!”

<laughter, from all of the women>

Which was when I knew I’d have to come home and find this old essay and post it.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Old Friends in New Places

In Martinique, I stayed in an Air BnB. This was only my second experience of renting this way. The first was the lovely apartment in Tulum where I did my DIY writing retreat in 2012. I spent a lot of time choosing a place for my Martinique trip. I emailed with a lot of owners. I always have questions, and I have a bunch of particular wants and needs, so I ask all that stuff up front. I accept that it clearly turns off some hosts. That’s helpful information for me. After all, if they can’t be bothered to answer my very simple and boring questions, I’m probably not going to want to contract with them.

I found a lovely place and a nice, elderly French woman who was ready to rent to me, but she was only reachable by car, and I’m not a driver, and she didn’t seem to know if there was a grocery store near the bungalow and … just not right.

Then I found a lovely Martiniquais couple who were funny and ready to be very accommodating, but their listing didn’t include many photos. They immediately sent me a link to more pictures, but then I saw that their ocean-view condo didn’t look like a place where I’d be able to write — because I always want vacations to be writing retreats at least half the time. Their place felt … antiseptic. How would my muses find me?

Then I found Ondine (not her name, just a not-so-common-to-me French name, as hers was). Ondine and her partner have a house and bungalow in Trois-Ilets, which was one of the towns it made sense for me to stay in. The capital is a short ferry ride across the bay. There are a lot of rentals right on the beach (“foot in the water,” as they are described by the owners). It’s sort of central — easy enough to travel north or south and not take forever to get there or home. Of course, Martinique is quite small, so it probably doesn’t take “forever” to get anywhere on the island.

More important than how nice Ondine’s bungalow looked, more than the fact that the dining table gave me good writing vibes, more than the fact that the property is right on the Anse-Mitan beach … there is Ondine herself.

I half fell in love with her from our emails. Her responses to my questions seemed to come from someone who had known me for years, someone who understood what I wanted and needed in order to feel comfortable. Also, all of her answers were exactly right. Of course I booked with her.

I wrote about how my brain kind of shut down all of its normal trip planning thought processes. Another odd thing my brain did as I got ready for this trip was convince me that Ondine was either Dutch or German. there was absolutely no reason for that other than me being strange and my brain sipping into some alternative reality mode I didn’t know it had. So when I came out of the airport and there was Ondine with her French accent and her very Frenchness, I was thrown.

As soon as she smiled, I was pretty certain things would go well with us. And that was fortunate because, in addition to arranging for her to collect me from and return me to the airport, I had booked a one-day island tour with her. That would have been full-on excruciating if she and I weren’t comfortable together.

Any lingering worries were quickly vanished. I arrived in Fort-de-France the night after the super blood wolf moon (did it really need that many names?). As we drove out of the airport, the moon sat at the end of the road in front of us — huge and creamy golden, looking close enough to reach out and run my hands over it. I exclaimed pretty loudly about it … and again as we drove on. Ondine looked at me and smiled. “You really like the moon,” she said. I laughed and agreed. “It’s a good thing,” she said. “Now I begin to know you.” And we were off to the exactly right start.

Ondine has lived in Martinique for 20 years, after living 20 years in Germany. (So that weird backflip my brain did by telling me she was German wasn’t as off base as it seemed … but learning that she had lived in Germany for so long made my brain seem even more in alternative reality mode.) Her partner is Martiniquais. Though we exchanged a few emails, I didn’t get to meet him, and I’m sorry for that. The way Ondine talks about him and how her relationship with him has changed the person she is made me really wish I could have even a brief conversation with him.

Not because he’s some magician who has transformed Ondine through the wonder of his love or some other spellcraft. No, the magic came in the form of an ongoing education about race and racism.

That was really the last thing I expected her to say to me. Not because I couldn’t imagine it but because we (Americans) just don’t tend to be so upfront or comfortable about mentioning race.

I was reminded of a driver I’d met years ago while hitchhiking in France. We were nearing the place where our paths would separate, and he got on the CB radio to see if he could find my next ride. He said he was traveling with a nice American girl and I could speak French. And then he said, “But don’t be a racist because she’s Black.” I burst out laughing, and he looked at me, confused. “What,” he asked. “You are Black.” Which was — and continues to be — true, but that is not something people here would say so matter-of-factly. I’ve heard people describe me … and never once mention two of the most noticeable things about me, that I am fat and Black. I am these things. There’s not one thing wrong with saying either one, with using either one as a descriptor. If you’re hoping someone will recognize me, these are clear markers that will help that recognition happen. Sigh. We waste a lot of time trying to pretend we don’t notice what is a simple truth of my existence.

Much of my time with Odine was spent talking about race. As I write that, I am thinking how much that doesn’t sound great, how much I don’t go on vacation to slog through conversations about racism. And that’s certainly true, but it’s also true that … our extended conversation was fantastic. Ondine was so ready to be in that dialogue.

This was surely owed to the fact that she’d been talking about race and racism for 20 years with her partner. And her 20 years of work made our conversation very different from the ones I’ve had with other white people. Our talks were also made different by the fact that Ondine is a white woman living in a Black country in close relationship to a Black person and willing to see the amount of privilege she has in that society compared to that Black person whose country she is living in. Willing to see it and willing to call it out. She’s definitely standing in a different place than many of the white people trying to engage on these issues.

She didn’t arrive whole. She talked with me about the evolution of her awareness, about her shock and sadness and anger at the discovery of her own racism and the work she’s done to eradicate it. She said she felt, after all these years, that she had cleaned herself — mind and heart — of racism … but that she knew it wasn’t true, that she would still find it hidden in unexpected places and then have to dig deeper and root that out, too.

If you’re reading this and thinking Ondine was kind of magical and certainly the perfect white person for me to encounter, you would be correct.

We didn’t only talk about white supremacy, however. And thank goodness, right?! We talked about connections to our ancestors and their active presence in our lives, the beauty and wonder of the natural world, poetry, food, American politics (“I’m sorry to say it, but do you know how we all think of your President? Do you know we are all sorry for you and embarrassed for you?”)

I knew, as I said, that I would like Ondine the moment I met her. That certainty was confirmed by our moment with the moon as we left the airport. And then again on that same drive as I was about to tell her that I’d lived in France for a minute and had some rusty French up my sleeve. I started off by saying, “Thirty-five or 36 years ago –” to place my knowing of French in the appropriate part of the past. She interrupted me with an exclamation:

“Oh! Now you are going to tell me stories about heaven?!”

“???”

“You said 35 years ago,” she shrugged. “Since that is clearly before you were born, you must be telling me about your time in heaven. I love heaven stories! But usually people wait until they know me better before they tell. I’m very happy and excited. Please continue.”

I was laughing from the moment she said 35 years was clearly before I was born. What was clear to me was that we’d get along just fine. Sometimes, flattery is just the right ice breaker!

By the time we parted at the airport on my last morning, I felt I’d known Ondine forever, as if we’d spent months and years in conversation, not hours. I’d set off on my trip expecting sun, relaxation and some time with the sea. Little did I know I’d have the added pleasure of making an old friend!


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Slipped Loose from My Moorings

In January I took a teenty tiny holiday, a few days away from my life and down to Martinique. Before I bought my plane ticket and booked my Air BnB, Martinique had receded to the back corners of my brain. It had only existed as a place French people were always thinking I might be from when I was living in Paris. Young foolish child that I was back then, I’d never even taken a moment to learn anything about the place, not even where, exactly, it was. I just knew I wasn’t from there and wished annoying French people would stop asking me.

But then someone shared a link to Parisian airfares that were crazy-low … and I almost bought a flight until I remembered how dreary Paris is in January. So I checked other destinations and found that the sale extended to Martinique and Guadeloupe. And my brain smiled. The Caribbean in January? Yes, please.

But how to choose between two destinations I knew nothing about? Yes, naturally I took a crash course at the School of Google, clicking through articles and photo galleries. It turned out to be less helpful than it should have been: both islands are, of course, beautiful.

And then I read the piece of information that sealed the deal, something so extraordinary and captivating there was no way this first trip could be to anywhere but Martinique. (And I say “first” trip because, with fares so low, I will surely be going back!)

The magical object of my fascination was a statue that graces a park in Fort-de-France, the capital. A statue of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, whose family was ensconced in Martinique, enslaving people and living the life. And in her honor, someone at some point saw fit to erect a statue in the capital.

<cough>

And someone else at some other point, saw fit to behead the statue. And I have to assume this artistic revision happened after the period of enslavement had ended, after Martinique established itself as a Black country for good and true. And I have to assume these things because deftly-beheaded Josephine still stands in the park. Someone — maybe the original swordsman but perhaps not — dashed her with red paint. Just enough for her decapitation to appear a bit … fresh.

I read about that, and I knew I had to see it for myself. Ticket bought, hunt for the right lodging began.

Seriously, though. If there could be a better illustration of the difference between a country that embraced its Blackness after slavery and a country that contorted itself to find new ways to codify the condemnation of Blackness, I feel it’s that Josephine statue. We don’t even have to imagine how such an act of vandalism would go over in this country, this country where we have held fiercely to our reverence for and protection of the monuments to our ugly history. We don’t have to imagine because we’ve seen the violence and swift law enforcement response to merely the suggestion that the statues be removed. The call for removals was the rallying point, the excuse used to organize the white supremacy protest in Charlottesville.

So a country that leaves a beheaded slave owner on display … well that was a place I needed to visit.

And Martinique didn’t disappoint. Josephine didn’t disappoint.

 

I have done a decent amount of traveling. Not anywhere as much as I’d like, but I’ve gotten myself out there. And I like to think I am a good traveler, that I go prepared, that I don’t further anyone’s negative opinions about Americans abroad and all that. I try to know stuff, try to have basic phrases mastered to show some good will.

I didn’t prepare for this trip, not really. I used to speak French, so I figured I’d just pick it back up when I got there, as if that was a real thing. And I did check the weather to be sure temps would be high enough for me to wear my summery-est summer dresses. And at the last minute, I checked to see if there was a time difference. That was really all I did.

And then I arrived and realized I didn’t know anything, realized how not ready I was.

Examples of this glaring not-knowing: Yes, there is a time difference. Martinique is an hour ahead of New York. I read that information, but I couldn’t process it, couldn’t make it make sense. Why is Martinique an hour earlier than New York? did it have something to do with them not setting their clocks back in the fall? That was the best I could do. The travel-Stacie I used to be would have gone to look at a map … novel inventions, those maps. They show you where land masses sit in relationship to one another. I did finally look at a map — after I got home — and saw that Martinique is much further east than I was picturing, that it is practically in Venezuela, and of course it’s an hour earlier than New York.

I knew before traveling that Martinique uses the Euro. I knew this because the cost of my airport transfers and the day tour I’d arranged were given in Euros. But I didn’t bother to understand why Martinique — a small Caribbean island — would use European Union currency. It seemed odd, but I didn’t dwell on it. After I arrived and started getting to know my host, I learned that Martinique is considered France. Not a colony, not a territory or protectorate, but part of the country of France. It is one of the official departments (states) of France. What? Seriously? My brain is still wrestling with that. This tiny, shining spot in the Caribbean is part of the EU. Not EU-adjacent, but the EU. Full stop. That seems beyond wacky to me, but there it is.

These aren’t the most dramatic pieces of information in the world, to be sure. But they are important, basic bits of info that it would have made sense for me to bother knowing before I got on the plane. They are things I would for-sure have taken time to learn before traveling in the past. My brain really just didn’t get on the right track for this trip. So much on the wrong track that I headed to a tropical location and didn’t bring a single one of my fans. I was sorry without them the whole time.

I’m just surprised by what seemed a complete lapse of understanding how to travel. I felt as if I’d been asleep from the moment I booked the trip to the moment I arrived in Fort-de-France.

And I’m realizing as I write this that one of the things I didn’t do before my trip was have travel anxiety dreams. Seriously. Every time I plan a trip, I have dreams that feature the parts of my travel plan that haven’t been arranged and settled. I’ve had dreams where I’m on the plane and realize I don’t have my passport. That kind of thing. But I had none of that before this trip. I think I had too many things to focus on between booking and traveling and, in some way, my brain forgot about Martinique. Despite the fact that I was telling everyone I was going on this trip, my brain treated that like random small talk, didn’t let the information take any space in my active consciousness. Weird.

Weird, and I hope that doesn’t happen for trips in the future. I was so disoriented in Martinique. “On the back foot,” as old-timey novelists would have said. I had a lovely trip, but I kept feeling more than a little off, couldn’t shake the sense that I was lost, unmoored. So very odd.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Me, a name I call myself.

Monday is my surgery. In preparation, I spent half a day at the hospital this week cycling through a round of pre-surgical screenings. I’ve had enough of these surgeries that these appointments feel pretty routine. I have favorite chairs in the different waiting rooms. I know where the free coffee is. I know which of the restrooms are cleanest. The biggest unknown is really just whether or not the phlebotomist will find my vein on the first try (this week the answer was yes!).

But there’s been a change in the pattern. As I checked in before the final appointment, the questions started the same as at each previous check-in, but then took a fresh breath.

The man taking my information began to look … pained somehow. He leaned forward conspiratorially, which was a little odd, a little alarming.

“I have to ask you … questions … about your … sexuality … your identity, about your sexual identity.”

“Oh! Cool! No one’s ever asked me about this before.”

He nodded, still uncomfortable. “It’s new. I have to ask.”

“Great. Please continue.”

This really is great. I hope all hospitals — and all everywheres are learning to expand their questionnaires, learning to expand their understanding of the full diversity of who we are as people, learning to be more inclusive and welcoming to people who don’t fit neatly into the pink and blue, cisgendered, binary boxes we’ve been categorizing folks into all our lives. It seemed pretty clear, however, that some work was still needed in terms of helping staff feel at ease asking the questions, helping them see the questions as okay to ask, not just mandatory.

“What gender were you assigned at birth?” He was still leaned forward, still speaking only just above a whisper.

“Female.”

“And what … and how would you describe your gender now?”

“Female.”

“And … well, okay.” He sat back, plainly relieved and ready to move on to the part of the interview with which he felt more comfortable.

“Those are all the questions?”

He looked surprised. “Well, no, but –”

“Shouldn’t you ask what pronouns I use?”

So here I’ll say that I don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about. It would be easy for me to move through his questions with all the answers he might expect me to give. I wasn’t trying to give that man a hard time. But part of me was curious to know what other questions had been added. And part of me wanted him to exercise his nervousness on me and not on someone for whom that conversation might have been more fraught. If he’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, let him get that out of his system interviewing a person who hasn’t been made to feel othered and uncomfortable again and again and again.

“But you said female.”

“But that doesnt have anything to do with my pronouns.”

And here I have to stress again that I really and truly have no idea what I’m talking about. But it seems to me that my identifying as female doesn’t have to mean my pronouns are a given. I need to do some homework here and figure that out. In the moment, though, I didn’t want him to skip questions because of his assumptions about me.

“Please go ahead and ask the rest of the questions.”

He leaned forward again, sighing. “Your orientation?”

“Oh, okay. I guess straight.”

“You guess straight,” he said, shaking his head.

Yeah, I don’t know why I did that. I swear that I was not in any way trying to mess with him. I’ve done this a few times recently. Not long ago, without any warning or forethought, I started a sentence with: “I am, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman …” Why did I say that? And what does it even mean? So, I wasn’t trying to mess with that man at the hospital, but clearly some messing is going on with me.

“And your pronouns?”

“I use she and they.”

“She and — that’s not a choice.”

“Really? What are my choices?”

“You can pick she, he, or zi.”

I have no idea whether or not “zi” has become wildly popular. I don’t know anyone who has chosen that pronoun. But even if I knew scores of people who had, “they” should still be an option. “They” is still a go-to choice for many people. Why would you have “zi” and not “they”?

“Zi? Serioiusly? They isn’t on your list?”

He shook his head. “You want zi?”

“No. I definitely don’t use that. But you have she, so I’ll go with that.”

“But you said she and they.”

“Yes, and she is one of your options, so please use she.”

“Not zi.”

“Not zi.” I smiled. “You know, it’s so good that the hospital asks these questions, but I think you need more options for the answers people might give you. They is pretty standard.”

“I’ll pass along that feedback.”

In the end, I think I exhausted that poor man. He seemed surprised that I didn’t have an issue with his questions, which made me wonder about the conversations he’d had with the other patients in the waiting area. He was a Black man, maybe in his 40s, and every other patient in the room was an elderly white woman. I would guess that at least a few of his conversations had been … prickly at best. So maybe he was pleased by my enthusiasm, even if he was also a little over me by the end.

My #bravenewworldindeed hashtag seems fitting here. I created it to highlight our descent into greed- and hate-fueled violent, lawless chaos things that upset me in the work of Trump and his masters and minions. But the hashtag fits in this polar-opposite context, too. We are walking ourselves and one another into new territory, territory where — if we do our work right — everyone will be welcomed, everyone will be included and safe and valued. And asking me my pronouns is part of that. And if the straights have to feel awkward and uncomfortable as we learn how to welcome everyone in, so be it. And it’s about time. And let’s get over ourselves and keep it moving.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Six Years Standing Still

In six weeks it will be exactly six years since I had my first knee surgery. Since then, I’ve had three additional knee surgeries, shoulder surgery, and two procedures for my heart. I’m so over having surgery.

Except that I’m not over it because an unfortunate fact I’ve been keeping to myself for a while is that I’m about to have another knee surgery. In a week’s time, I’ll be back in the hospital letting my body be handled, cut up and re-stitched. I’m sad about it and mad about it and frustrated about it and defeated about it. It seems that every time I start to think I have my body back and can work on relearning how to do things pain and disability have forced me to stop doing, I suddenly don’t have my body back at all. Instead, it’s time for another operation.

This one has all the hallmarks of being easier than the other four knee procedures. It’s outpatient surgery, for one. I’ll be home by the end of the day because the procedure is touted to be super minor and barely invasive. Can you hear my lack of faith? Well, that’s because my most recent hospital experience was the miserable disaster of my rotator cuff surgery, when the surgeon told me I’d be good to go back to work the next day and probably wouldn’t even need to wear my sling … and I was foolish enough to believe that insanity and didn’t properly prepare for how debilitated I was going to be. Forget the huge, thickly-padded bandage that was like wearing a dog bed on my shoulder. I couldn’t get dressed on my own! And never once did he mention that I wouldn’t be able to lie down and so wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. I’m shuddering just remembering the levels of pain I experienced after that operation.

This procedure will be different, if only because this is a different doctor, and I trust this hospital so very much more than I trusted the one I was in last year.  It will also be different because I have so much knee surgery experience that I have an idea of what to expect.

The trouble is that what I also expect is for this not to work, for this not to solve the forever problem of my knees that was created forever ago when a car running a red light as I was crossing the street made me fall badly, left me sprawling by the curb wondering if I’d be able to walk again. Each surgery has held the promise of making me feel whole and functional again. And the fact that I don’t feel whole and functional again after all these years and all these operations makes this coming procedure seem like a cruel joke.

My title isn’t quite right. I don’t feel that I’ve been standing still exactly. And I’m certainly not back at square one, but I’m not really anywhere close to having the physical ability I imagined I’d have when I started this journey. And I’m on the clock here. I have serious plans for my old lady life, and I can’t keep putting them on hold because I have to go on sick leave one more time.

I am actually not in as bad a mood as I sound right now. I have doubts about how successful this operation will be, but I’m not willing to keep living with the wonky, painful joint configuration I have right now.

So. Operating theater, here I come. With luck and a benevolent universe, maybe this will be my last surgery for many years to come.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

And so, Liam Neeson.

Clearly, Liam Neeson was feeling all six feet four inches of his whiteness when he decided now would be the right time to tell the story of his past intentions of lynching a Black man. Maybe he figured everyone would let it pass. After all, he’s a popular guy, likable, still cosseted by public sympathy after the loss of his wife. Or he figured people would quickly overlook the hideous thing he was confessing and skip ahead to the part where he didn’t actually carry out his murderous plan (so far as we know — have we heard his whole story?). Or perhaps he thought we’d jump to the part where he changed his story and talked of curing his violent racism with exercise. Something.

And he was right, too, wasn’t he? All kinds of people defended him, said how brave he was to tell that story and how they understood his rage and pain. Blah, blah, blah. And I’m vomiting. Brave?! Where? How? Plenty of people were outraged and horrified and disgusted, and thank heavens for them, but there seemed to be almost as many apologists as there were folks who were appalled.

I wasn’t going to dive into the foolishness. Other folks were doing a beautiful job presenting the responses that were swirling in my head, so no need for me to send my blood pressure into the danger zone. But then I read this tweet from movie critic, Eric D. Snider:

“Liam Neeson had a terrible impulse that he didn’t act on, that he knows was terrible, and that he learned from. If we’re going to cancel people for being TEMPTED to do wrong, or for struggling with something before coming to the right conclusion … well, we’re going to be busy.”

I read that and realized something I should have understood all along: People are entirely comfortable talking all the way around the actual point, entirely comfortable pretending there is no point, entirely comfortable waving their hands in the air to distract from what’s really going on. I mean, I know that. I know it. But I was still caught surprised by it.

“Neeson had a terrible impulse that he didn’t act on”?!?! “TEMPTED to do wrong”?!?! What in the actual fuck is that? Well, it’s a lie, that’s what it is. As I tweeted back to Snider:

“He did act on his impulse. For a week and a half, he went out looking to murder an innocent person. The only reason he didn’t actually kill anyone is because he never got “lucky” enough to be confronted by a Black man during those walking-with-a-cosh nights.”

Because, really, we all have impulses, but most of us know that when the impulse is murder, we’re better off not trying to follow through on it. My second tweet to Snider went that way, too:

“Not acting on his impulse would have been: having the idea of looking for someone to kill … and then realizing that was sick and wrong and staying your ass home to comfort your loved one instead.”

Because we – the majority of the sentient public – know that you don’t just decide a good plan would be to kill someone, and certainly not some entirely random person who had nothing to do with the wrong that’s been done. We – again, this sentient public over here – know that you can’t just swap in another person for the one you want to do violence to and pretend that equals some kind of “justice.” And, finally we – now speaking for a much smaller subset of sentient folks who actually know and acknowledge the way race prejudice works and has always worked – we know how many Black men and boys, innocent of any crime, have been grabbed up and lynched simply because angry white folks wanted to lash out, wanted to kill “a black bastard,” as Neeson wanted to do.

And while we’re here, let’s look at a quiet detail of this vigilantism. Neeson says he went walking in Black neighborhoods to find his victim, walking and walking in these neighborhoods because he assumed that was all he’d have to do to have a confrontation with a random Black man. Because Black men are so volatile, are such beasts, that all it would take would be the sight of a big white guy and someone would be up for a fight – I’m guessing he wasn’t swinging his cudgel and making his intentions known. But seriously. How deep is this man’s bigotry?

So tired. So sick to my stomach.

Listen, I’m the first one to say that I will be dead or in prison if one of the women in my family is ever attacked. I understand catalysts of murderous rage … but I also know that when I say I will be dead or in prison if one of the women in my family is ever attacked … I am just talking, just trying to find the most emphatic way to express what the level of my rage would be like. But I know I’m not a murderer. I know I’m not going to pick up a weapon and go after anyone. I would for sure use every non-violent means of hunting and harming the guilty party, and I wouldn’t feel shame or guilt about one minute of that. But notice that I said “the guilty party.” If Neeson had been out in the streets looking for a particular, very specific person – namely, the actual man who attacked his friend or family member – his story would have been very different. Still shocking and distressing because we never like to know that folks are capable of murder, and we really can’t condone revenge killing because … moral society and the fabric of civilized life.

Isn’t the difference stunningly clear? If Neeson had said that his loved one had positively identified her attacker as Brock Rapistman and that he had then gone out with his cosh looking for that particular monster, we would have heard him differently, we would have seen ourselves in his actions. We might still have recoiled, but we would have understood him. But saying he just wanted to kill any Black man he saw? That’s something else altogether. And pretending that the nights he spent walking through Black neighborhoods with his cosh in hand was him not acting on his impulse is obscene. (A few people I’ve spoken to have likened Neeson’s story to Charles Bronson in Death Wish. No, my friends. No. Even if we could give a pass to vigilante spree killers – which, as I’ve noted, we cannot – there is the central difference I’ve just described. Bronson plays Paul Kersey, who goes on the hunt for actual killers, for people who had committed violent crimes. Neeson just wanted a good old-fashioned lynching. Guilt or innocence mattered not at all. So don’t come in here with your Death Wish mess, thank you.)

I had a few more tweets for our friendly, neighborhood obscenity-spewing film critic:

“Giving [Neeson] a pass simply because his revenge rage burned out before he got the opportunity to beat an innocent man to death is offensive. It also focuses on the wrong thing. He was willing to be a one-man lynch party, willing to kill any Black man he saw. His behavior is an example of the dehumanization that racism creates and sustains. The victim had no idea who raped her, only that he was Black. So taking the life of any random Black man would have been okay because we’re all interchangeable? In none of [Neeson’s] comments does he address the deep racism of his behavior. So there’s nothing to praise here. Nothing noble or redeeming.”

Neeson’s morning-after, let-me-whitesplain-my-violent-racism appearance on Good Morning America was another obscenity.

First, he changed his story. In the original interview, he said he’d gone out hunting Black men for more than a week. On GMA he said he went out maybe four or five times. Because that would make it better somehow? Oh, you only walked the streets as a killer for a few nights. Oh, okay. No worries. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

He says he learned something from the experience. Learned what, exactly? He certainly didn’t learn that his revenge-murder plan was 100 percent racist. He didn’t learn that he, in fact, is racist. So what did he learn? Please help me understand.

And then he came through with the magical cure: Power Walks! Yes, he got some help, he says, talked to some people — maybe a therapist, with any luck? — and then he said that power walks helped. Power fucking walks. If only we’d known! We could have ended slavery early, skipped the horrors of Redemption and Jim Crow and slid right into our bright, colorblind, post-racial society. Power fucking walks. Damn. Thank you, Mr. Neeson.

Definitely feeling like I need a power walk right about now.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Settling into My Rage

This post contains spoilers about the first Avengers movie. If you haven’t seen that movie, and you hate spoilers, don’t read the section bracketed by bold red text.

(Of course, if you haven’t see the first Avengers movie, I honestly don’t understand your life, and I don’t know what to say to you. Really. Get on that.)

__________

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

— James Baldwin

I used to teach teens and young adults. I loved teaching, and I loved my students, and both of those loves were fairly obvious. Nevertheless, with every new class, we would reach a moment when someone would comment loudly to the group that they hoped they’d never see me angry. And everyone would enthusiastically agree. This in the face of my daily showering of love and affection on their silly heads. When I asked the reason for this dread of my anger, I got the same answer: if I could be as nice as I was, if I could be in such a good mood every day, my anger must have the force and destructive power of a hundred-year storm.

I laughed at that assessment, but the laughter was for show. I knew they were right, that they had seen me much more clearly than I might have liked them to. My anger was so powerful, I actively worked to keep her straight-jacketed, chained, and locked in a sound-proof cell.

Most days, this plan succeeded. Anger might have been burning through my insides, but outwardly I appeared calm. So calm, in fact, that I developed a reputation for my ability to remain unruffled in response to bullshit.

The swallowing of my anger didn’t work all the time. She found ways to slip her chains and rampage freely – wreaking havoc as casually as breathing. Relationships, job opportunities, civil discourse in the check-out line at Key Food … all went down in flames. As my exes what my anger looks like. (Seriously.)

I was terrified of what I saw in myself at those times, of what I couldn’t see. After keeping my anger on lockdown for so many years, I’d lost touch with her. I didn’t know how deep she ran, didn’t know just how much devastation she was capable of. I was terrified of her, of the damage she could do, but also of how she made me look, of what other people would think of me if they saw her.

Because we know where this path leads. Me being labeled an Angry Black Woman.

And that would be the worst. As a Black woman, I’m not allowed my anger. Not if I want to be heard, to be respected, to be believed. The moment a Black woman shows her anger – unless it is directed at other Black folks, particularly Black men and boys – she is dismissed or violently subdued.

So I worked hard to swallow my anger. But I live as a Black woman in this world at this time, and there’s only so much swallowing a person can do. I found myself choking down rage again and then again and then some more.

I started opening the cell door and letting my anger out here and there. Using what I hoped were controlled bursts like a release valve in an attempt to equalize the pressure of being a Black woman in this world at this time.

It was a risk, being unashamedly, publicly angry. For so many years, I’d believed giving my anger free rein was a danger I couldn’t manage.

And I really couldn’t manage it. Not at first. I did a pretty poor job of balancing the level of anger against the given situation. But, even when I was getting it wrong, I started to feel a lot better. The pressure release worked. I no longer felt as if I was choking all the time.

Equally surprising: the world did not implode. While surely unpleasant for anyone on the receiving end, the expression of my anger did not burn all things to the ground.

I thought about the past, my rep for being preternaturally happy, and I wondered how I had become so angry. And I wondered why, if I was releasing my anger, I was still so angry.

Which was when I had my Avengers epiphany. [SPOILER] Just before the big final battle, the crew is gathered. Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Bruce Banner – as Bruce Banner, not the Hulk. They’re about to take on a host of Big Bads and one ginormous alien monster thing is coming right for them. Cap looks at Banner and says, “Now might be a really good time for you to get angry.” Banner says, “That’s my secret. I’m always angry,” and instantly morphs into the Hulk. [END SPOILER]

That moment shook me. I looked at Bruce Banner and saw the truth of myself, the thing I’d been swallowing year after year. I am an angry Black woman. One hundred percent. I am angry all the time. All. The. Damn. Time. Rather than being mortified whenever my anger slipped her bonds, I should have been impressed that I hadn’t spent my life smacking people upside the head every five minutes.

Anyone who’s met me or read my work in the last four years will not recognize rage-swallowing Stacie. They know Angry Stacie, they’ve seen what my fury looks and sounds like. I hope they also see how it has moved me closer toward my real self, my true self. I am angry. Angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I no longer apologize for showing my dark side. I embrace and relish it. And let’s be very clear: when I say my “dark side,” I’m not assigning a negative descriptor to my rage. I mean my authentic self, the one I kept hidden for far too long. Dark, rich, powerful … as the song says, anger is a gift. And I am here for unwrapping it every single day.

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.