Fat Talk: I Eat, Therefore I Am

Years ago, when The Morphine Man* was breaking up with me for the final time (such an unpretty story), he cycled back around to his most significant issue with me, one he’d hauled out in each of our crash-and-burn moments when he wanted to end a conversation and send me packing in one fell swoop: my body. In his last goodbye letter, he told me about a woman he’d met who had confronted him about his smoking, asking him: “But don’t you want to live?” He said he’d never thought of smoking in such stark terms, and her question drove him to quit because yes, he definitely wanted to live.

And so, his question to me as he signed himself out of my life was the same: didn’t I want to live? Seeing me after so many years had broken his heart, apparently, because not only was I still fat, I was fatter. He’d once told me that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman—despite the evidence to the contrary in the form of his unflaggingly ardent pursuit of me. But more than how much he couldn’t possibly be attracted to me because of my body, reconnecting with me had made him understand the true, shattering problem: that I have a death wish.

A death wish. Really.

When he wrote that letter, I had pissed him off well and truly, and he needed me to go away. And the version of me that he’d dated in our first go-rounds would have collapsed in shame and pain at the merest mention of her body, would have slunk away to weep and moan in private, would have stopped speaking. That’s what he wanted and had come to expect from me, so the turn to blaming my fat wasn’t a surprise. If we were going down in flames, there was no question but that my oversized self would be heaved up on the pyre.

Sometimes, I live to disappoint. And in this case, I surprised him by not crumbling and slinking away. In the years between our first failed relationship and final, equally-doomed one, I had changed. I had changed enough that – when I chose to – I was able to talk openly and reasonably-comfortably about my body, about being fat. I had changed so much that I no longer accepted as an “of course” the idea that my body was to blame for any and every ill that befell me.

I clearly hadn’t changed enough to know better than to get involved with that man again, but I knew enough to know that I—and by “I” I mean all of me, all of my body, every bit of my big, fat self—was perfectly fine, entirely loveable, entirely life-embracing. A death wish? Not this girl.

The Morphine Man isn’t alone in thinking fat people are eating themselves to death. Of course not. That’s basically the popular conception of fatness. Fat equals death. Punto.

Except … not.

Here’s a thing we should establish up front: food isn’t the same as cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. Not in any way the same. The woman who turned The Morphine Man’s head was puzzled by his insistence on inhaling poison. On purpose. Over and over again. The choice to smoke is that, a choice. While there is choice involved in eating, eating itself isn’t a choice. I have to eat. I have no choice but to eat if I want to keep living. I get to choose what I eat, of course. And, if my idea of dinner is a vat of Cool Whip, three pints of ice cream and a shopping cart’s-worth of pork rinds, then maybe I need to consider adding some fruits and vegetables to my grocery list, some legumes, a handful of cashews.

Another ex, the one I call “Z,” wondered how I could be fat when I ate the way I did. “I cannot understand how this comes true, how you have developed this size,” he said after we’d been together for a while (Z’s first language isn’t English, so we grant him his funky constructions). It was very simple, I explained to him. “I didn’t always eat the way I do now.”

And that was true. And isn’t it always true for everyone? What we want changes. And so the things I choose to eat change over time all the time. I used to eat meat and lots of it. Then I became a vegetarian. Now I’m an occasional carnivore who’ll probably go back to being a vegetarian. I used to enjoy crappy candy. Now I choose higher-end treats made with better ingredients and fewer chemicals. I used to eat only a narrow range of vegetables, now I eat just about any vegetable that comes my way. The only thing that hasn’t changed in my eating habits is my love and probably-excessive consumption of fruit. I like to think this is evidence of my having been a butterfly in a previous incarnation.

Unlike smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, eating is a thing humans must do … unless they actually do have a death wish. Are there fat people who harbor death wishes? I’m sure there must be. Just as there must be slender and skinny people who hold those same wishes. Where do we lay the blame in the case of a thin person, I wonder. Not on their hideously-outsized bodies, so where?

So, what The Morphine Man called “a zen-clear question”—Don’t you want to live?—works for smoking, works for meth addiction, works for alcoholism. It doesn’t at all work for eating. People who want to live, eat.

Of course, that’s not really what The Morphine Man was asking me, I know. My fat meant something was wrong with me, meant I was unhealthy. The fact that I was fatter than I’d been when he and I had last been together meant things were out of control, meant I was eating myself to death. That, too, is a pretty common perception of fat. If everything were fine with me, why on earth would I be fat? If I were the picture of health, I would—obviously—be as svelte and fit as an Olympic athlete. Like everyone else in the world. Like The Morphine Man himself, right? Except The Morphine Man, though thinner than I am, had never been “svelte” in all the time I’d known him.

If The Morphine Man hadn’t been throwing my body at me in an effort to drive me away, I would have talked to him about some of the things that are true about why I am fat and what being fat has meant and means for me. I don’t know that he could ever have processed the idea that, rather than eating myself to death, I had eaten myself to a sense of relative safety. He wouldn’t have understood that, but he might have had a better understanding of me, of the things I’ve dealt with.

As for his insistence that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman, that was surely true … for all that it was also quite obviously completely false. While I never had any doubt that he was physically attracted to me, I was certain I was the first fat woman he’d ever dated, maybe the first fat woman he’d ever wanted sexually. It had to be both puzzling and troubling for him to find that he could be attracted to me, could want to have sex with me. Men aren’t supposed to want to be with me. With the exception of my hourglass shape, I most emphatically don’t fit conventional beauty standards for female bodies. For him to pursue me while at the same time knowing that he could never be attracted to a fat woman must have created some painful cognitive dissonance for him.

I keep thinking of that question: Don’t I want to live? Well, yes, I absolutely want to live. But—of course there is a “but”—I want to live on my terms. I want to live in a way that will let me live fully, comfortably, and confidently. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Isn’t that what we should all want? It shouldn’t be surprising, and it also shouldn’t have to have anything to do with the size of my body or the food I eat.

Because I have for so many years had a disordered relationship with my body and with food, living fully and comfortably does have to do with my body, does have to do with what I eat. Living comfortably means I need to change that relationship, need to continue the self-love journey I started years ago. And that means I need to care deeply for this body I have—care for myself. And that’s something I know how to do and something I continue to learn and relearn how to do. This self-care is pretty basic: I need to feed myself what I’m hungry for when I’m hungry for it, keep myself hydrated and well-rested, move for strength and flexibility, take myself out into nature so I can feel sunshine and summer breezes on my skin and sand between my toes, surround myself with people who love and respect me, laugh loud and long, and take lovers who want me—not some idea they have of the person they should be with but me in all my me-ness.

It’s possible that, should I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, the size and shape of my body will change. But it may not. If I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, What is sure is that I will be healthier and happier, stronger and more deft in my movements. And that will be fabulous. I’m looking forward to that.

I eat, therefore I am. And I have every intention of keeping it that way.

_______________
* I don’t generally use folks’ real names, and I haven’t come up with a good fake name for him, so I use this nickname because it pleases me, and he is the person who introduced me to the amazing band, Morphine.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger
If you haven’t read the ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Cute AF

I am cute. I haven’t always believed it, but I’ve grown into that awareness. While I still say my cuteness peaked at two years old, when I was so adorable I should have been declared illegal, I am happy with the face I have now. (It is, actually, very much the same face, but it has shifted a bit with age.)

I’m not cute all the time, of course. Sometimes I’m grey and exhausted and look just as bad as that sounds. I don’t usually photograph well, and the left side of my face is most emphatically not my good side. Still, overall, I put myself solidly in the “cute” category.

When I say “cute,” I am not being coy because I don’t want to say “pretty” or won’t allow myself to say “beautiful.” There are days when I could cross-post myself under “pretty” – primarily on spectacular-hair-day days – but those are moments. Cute is my steady state. Beautiful is off the table. It was never on the table, not even back at my toddler-fabulous peak. Beautiful is out of the realm of the possible primarily because of my button of a nose, the cuteness of which used to be a cause of consternation, but with which I am now at peace.

I’m not hoping people will read this and respond with choruses of, “You’re so pretty!” or “I think you’re beautiful!” It’s entirely fine with me if people think these things, but I will not be persuaded. This is an I-know-my-lane situation, and I’ll be staying here.

I know what I look like, and I like what I see. That’s the first point. The second point is that my cuteness matters not in the slightest. I acknowledge that there is “pretty privilege” and that I occasionally benefit from it. In many cases in which I might expect to benefit from it, however, misogynoir and/or fatphobia erase the benefit. In things that matter to my life and happiness – am I capable at work, do I have a solid friend circle, can I walk pain-free, do I know all the lyrics to my favorite songs … – the cuteness or not of my face gives me nothing. The ROI on cuteness reveals itself most often in things I don’t much care about.

So, nothing particularly valuable gained from my looks. That’s the second point. And so we reach the third and ultimate point: being told that I am cute (or pretty or beautiful) does not mean I owe the teller a single damn thing. And this is hard for some people to fathom.

When I say “some people,” it will surprise no one to know I mean men, or to know that (some) men think the mere fact of them paying me what they assume is a compliment entitles them to my name, or my number, or my time, or anything at all. Maybe, possibly, it entitles them to a “Thanks,” but definitely nothing more. Those same men then get angry when their acknowledgment of my face yields nothing.

I need to say here that I’m obviously not talking about all men. If I know you, if you and I have been talking and you want to tell me how pretty I am in your eyes, I’m probably going to be just fine with that. If you and I are friends, and you decide to tell me you think I’m pretty, that’s okay, too. Because you’re my friend. Because you’re a man I’ve been spending time with. Because you aren’t expecting me to put out in exchange for a call-it-as-you-see-it compliment.

Not long ago, as I was headed home after a fun evening out, I heard a man on the train say, “Damn, you’re so pretty.” I was reading and didn’t look up. He moved from wherever he’d been sitting to sit beside me, poked my arm (poked. my. arm!) and said, “It’s you I’m talking to. I said you’re pretty.”

N.B. First: if you speak to someone, particularly a stranger, they aren’t required to respond. Second: if you speak to someone when they haven’t already engaged with you even as far as making eye contact, you have no reason to think they will know you’re speaking to them and respond. Third: while it might be acceptable to pat a stranger’s arm to get their attention so you can speak to them, it’s not okay to poke them really hard the way you’d poke a reluctant elevator button. Fourth: why the fuck are you talking to me at all?

I looked at that man. I was in a good mood. I was coming from a reading where I’d shared new work. I’d spent the evening with people I adore. So I gave him half a smile, said thank you and went back to reading.

He slapped my arm. (Slapped. My. Fucking. Arm.) and said, “That’s it? That’s all you can say?”

So much for my good mood. Please refer to the nota bene section above. If it’s not okay to poke strangers, you know it’s not okay to slap them. What in the all-encompassing, over-entitled fuck?

It was night. Not super late, but still nighttime. There were folks on the train, but no one was paying us any obvious attention. (Besides, I know full well not to expect anyone to step up for me if a situation gets ugly.) I didn’t want to set that fool man off. I was almost home. I just wanted to be home.

But I also couldn’t make myself give him my power, couldn’t smile sweetly in my fear of his anger and give him whatever he might want from me. Couldn’t do it. That’s not smart, but it’s real. It’s definitely not smart. There are too many stories of women beaten, women murdered because they didn’t give in to some man they didn’t know. I used to think my size might deter men from thinking they could take me, but I’ve learned that that isn’t true. So I know that to refuse to give in to this fool on the train wasn’t smart. I needed to balance my need to stay myself with my desire to get home.

I looked at him. “That’s all I can say.”

We looked at each other for a minute.

“I was wrong,” he said, sneering. “You’re ugly as fuck. And fat as anything. Should be glad anyone spoke to you.”

Because of course. We are supposed to set aside the fact that he is the one who proclaimed my beauty two minutes ago. Or, we are supposed to imagine that he did it so that a) ugly, fat me would feel a little better about myself and/or b) ugly, fat me would be so grateful for some male attention I’d be willing to give him the validation he wanted. Because, you know, fat women are desperate and easy to pull.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“That I’m agreeing with you.”

We were close to my stop. I thought about riding further in the hope that he’d get off soon and I could circle back home. But what if he was headed to Coney Island? I didn’t want to take the chance that he’d be annoyed enough to ignore his own plans and follow me up to the platform, to the street. I also didn’t want to leave the train at an unfamiliar station. I thought about my long-ago decision to carry a smaller key chain, not the school custodian-style monstrosity I’d lugged around for years. My current chain has only two keys. So much easier to carry, but not an effective weapon. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t had any dinner and how that meant I couldn’t use the last-possible-scenario advice of a self defense instructor I’d worked with: vomiting on myself and him to gross him out and distract him.

He stood as we pulled into the next station. “Fucking nasty bitch,” he said as he moved to the door.

I am cute. I’m cute enough. I’ll go so far as to say I’m cute as a button. Even cute as fuck. And I don’t give a fuck. What I’d rather be is left alone. What I’d rather be is free from dealing with scumbag men. What I’d rather be is thinking about my own shit and not having to make safety plans on the fly. Acknowledgment of my face doesn’t entitle you to a damn thing.

The doors opened and my would-be suitor spat in my general direction as he exited the car. Not a single other passenger looked up, looked in my direction. I rode to my stop and walked myself home.


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 kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Fat Talk: The Diva and the Pea

I am a high-maintenance woman. I know that about myself. I tease myself about it, but I don’t make any effort to change it. Why should I? This is actually who I am. I’m fussy and frou-frou. I like comfort and luxury. I accept this about myself. Others struggle with it, with my embrace of this truth, with how fully I lean into it.

metal chair

I recently went to see an off-Broadway show, when I got into the theater, one glance told me the narrow, armed, metal chairs wouldn’t fit my ample butt and that I’d be so horribly uncomfortable that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show. I checked in with the usher, asked if there were any wider or armless chairs that could be swapped in for mine. She said she’d find out and let me know.

As she took off to investigate alternative seating options, I went back to stand by my seat and wait. A couple came up the aisle and, as they passed, the woman said she could see that the seats would be really tight. She sat — in the seat directly behind mine — and confirmed for her partner that the seat was, in fact, too small for her. She shrugged it off and settled in.

When the usher returned with a handyman to figure out my situation — my chair needed to be unbolted from the risers — I stood off to the side. The couple seated behind me watched what was going on. The man asked his partner, “Do you want to do that?” She, giving me a nanosecond’s eye flick of a glance, said, “NO. I’m not that big.”

The stagehand guy finished his work and walked off with the uncomfortable chair. The usher carried over a totally suitable chair, and I took my seat.

I understand that woman, mostly. She was correct, for what it’s worth. She wasn’t as big as me. But that really wasn’t the point. She’d already called out the discomfort of her seat. Presented with a pretty easy way to fix the problem, however, she rejected it out of hand, chose to be uncomfortable all evening. Of course. Because God forbid anyone should equate her less-fat size with my much fatter one. God forbid anyone should see us as being anything alike. Better she should remain squeezed and in pain for a couple of hours than have anyone realize that she was fat.

I understand that woman because I spent many years being that woman, squeezing myself into seats that were never meant for asses of size. Or, even worse, turning down invitations because I knew I wouldn’t fit into the space that would be provided.

But I quit that nonsense. It was certainly not as simple as snapping my fingers and having it be so. It started after I damaged my knee and began to realize that venues could and would accommodate me as a disabled person. So why shouldn’t I ask for the accommodations I needed as a fat person?

I know who I am and how high-maintenance I can be and often am. I ask for my needs to be met and expect it to happen. As much as I was an entirely go-along-to-get-along child, I have grown into a very let’s-talk-about-me-and-my-needs woman. I’m Meg Ryan ordering food in When Harry Met Sally — because I know what I want and I can’t really imagine why I shouldn’t have it. I’ve visited theaters before buying tickets so I could try out the seats and ask about better options. I’ve called ahead to restaurants to find out how close together tables are placed so I’ll know if I can move easily to and from my seat. I know what will make me comfortable, and if it’s possible to have that, why wouldn’t I?

The fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” centers on proving or disproving the royal blood of a rain-soaked woman who claims to be a princess. She is given lodging, but a pea is placed beneath the mountain of mattresses and feather beds on which she is invited to sleep. She, of course, is so delicate a creature that she is kept awake all night by the painful discomfort of that pea. It’s a Hans Christian Anderson story, part of the fairytale canon and source material for Once Upon a Mattress, a hilarious romp starring Carol Burnett.

As a child, I thought the story pretty ridiculous. It seemed only to prove that anyone could be a princess. Wouldn’t everyone feel something annoying in their bed? Obviously, no one had a spare supply of mattresses and feather beds to pile up for a random guest to sleep on, so that was just storytelling foolishness. One woman, one mattress, one pea seemed more likely … and seemed likely to prove nothing.

I didn’t have any princess aspirations, but that story made clear to me that I’d be able to prove my royalty quite easily. I had no doubt but that I would feel that pea. And that I would turn that bed inside out until I found it so that I could get my tired self to sleep. Please.

People often mock me for my picky, I-want-what-I-want behavior. I’ve had folks chide me for being demanding and selfish. Yeah, I suppose I am demanding and selfish. And? I’m not rude about it. I’m not taking anything from anyone else. So what’s the problem?

I get it, of course. I’m supposed to go along, supposed to take what I’m offered and be happy with it. Or … let’s be more exact: because I’m not white, beautiful, young, and thin I am supposed to be grateful to be allowed to show myself in public at all, allowed to take up even the least amount of space. Because if I looked like Tay Tay, people might find me petulant and spoiled, but they would be far less likely to be annoyed by me. For me to call out displeasure or desire for something different is demanding, is presumptuous. How dare I imagine that I, in my fat, middle-aged, Blackness, draw attention to myself, have the nerve to give voice to my needs? Welp. There you go. Life’s like that sometimes.

Needs I have. And I will make them known. Put a pea under my mattress and feather bed, and I’ll be sure to complain loudly enough that you’ll fix that shit just to shut me up and preserve your own right to a full night’s sleep.

I’m not a jerk about getting my needs met. There’s no cause for that. and no reason to make scenes … as long as no one tries to deny me out of pettiness, fatphobia, or misogynoir. If something I want can’t be done, it can’t. Okay. But if someone just refuses to accommodate me, that’s a whole other story.

I don’t think of myself as a princess. No, I’m more a Prima Donna … but, contrary to the snarky dictionary definition, my sense of my value isn’t in any way inflated. I am temperamental and unpredictable. I am demanding. Because I know how I deserve to be treated. And I’m comfortable making sure you know, too.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Done. Undone. Redone.

I was in a reading last week. I haven’t read in a while, but I always love reading for Big Words, Etc. The lineup of readers is always interesting, Stacey and Jess are such warm and lovely hosts, and the folks who come out are always so supportive of every reader.

Wednesday’s theme was “redo” and I struggled with it for a while, didn’t find my idea until the day before the reading, and didn’t finish pulling this piece together until about 10 minutes before the reading. Some of this will sound familiar, and that’s because the story within the story is one I’ve told many, many times. Working on this piece for Big Words is the first time I’ve thought about that moment in this way. The magic of the redo, right? If “redo” can also mean “rethink,” or “re-remember.” My piece didn’t have a title when I read it last week. It does now.

Done. Undone. Redone.

Redo is the dream, right? The fantasy of erasing failure, acknowledging a screw-up and fixing it. I need them all the time. One redo wish pokes at me, a moment when the universe offered me magic and possibility and I squandered it. And that squandering drives me crazy, even more today than when it happened.

* * *

I was in Paris for my junior year abroad, and working on a project on the Civil Rights Movement.  I was days and days in the American Library, my table piled with books. (My favorite find was Julius Lester’s Look Out, Whitey!  Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! I kept it on my table to scare people away.)

One afternoon, a guy handed me a flyer.  “From the books you’re reading,” he said, “you’d be interested in this.”  James Baldwin was going to be speaking somewhere nearby. I thanked him and was like: “Yeah, ok, whatever.”

(And that would be because I was a pure fool. I was young and dumb and had no idea who and how important Baldwin was. )

My mother and sister came to visit, and I was wrapped up in seeing them and set other things aside.  We were standing on a train platform one afternoon, and suddenly there was that guy. “Don’t forget,” he said, “Baldwin will be here in a couple of days.”

My mother said it would be great if I could go … and I said something like, “Sure, but you guys are here, so I don’t know, we’ll see.”  (Still young and dumb.)

A couple of days later, I was walking down the street and there was the guy, walking up to me and saying, “I’m on my way to meet Baldwin now, why don’t you come?”  So I went, and in the hotel bar there was this funny looking little man and the guy introduced us and I sat next to him and ….

… started talking and talking and talking about myself!  Because, obviously, my ridiculous, 20-year-old life was intensely interesting and important, and was surely exactly what James Baldwin wanted to be talking about.  On and on I went. In the bar, on the metro, walking to the lecture hall.

He was unbelievably nice, asking questions, offering advice, basically putting up with my unfathomable stupidity in the gentlest, more generous way.

And then he gave his talk.  And, with every passing moment, I realized just how brilliant this “funny-looking little man” was, just how uncommonly stupid I was.  I wanted to sink through the floor.

* * *

The most obvious “redo” here is to be less stupid, to have read Baldwin before that moment so I’d know who he was and appreciate the gift I was given to meet and talk with him. I would of course have wanted a redo on our conversation, to talk about something other than myself

My deeper dream is a redo knowing what I know today, a time-travel redo that lets me talk to him from the future, get some “I am not your Negro” insight into this world I’ve grown up into. 

There was a point in our metro ride when we could have gone there, when our conversation strayed from my nonsense. I told him about my study project and my frustration after all the reading I’d been doing, the obviousness of an ongoing problem and no organized action taking it on. I asked him why he thought the Civil Rights Movement’s push for equality had stopped.

He told me I was mistaken, that there was a movement, and it was active, even if I wasn’t aware of it, that the work had gone underground and would resurface in its own time.

I always forget about that exchange. When I think of this story, I focus entirely on my ignorance and idiocy, not on this flicker of light.

I still want my redo because, my god, can you imagine all James Baldwin  would have to say in 2019?

But I have what he did say, and  wasn’t it totally about today, isn’t it the Movement for Black Lives, isn’t this the resurfacing Baldwin was so certain would come? I want my redo so I can expand that conversation, talk about what my work in this resurfacing could be. That conversation might have kept me from floundering as I struggled against despair, struggled to find my way to work for change.

Remembering what Baldwin said on that train brought Naima Penniman to mind. She wrote:

“When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, almost everything lost its footing. Houses were detached from their foundations, trees and shrubbery were uprooted, sign posts and vehicles floated down the rivers that became of the streets. But amidst the whipping winds and surging water, the oak tree held its ground. How? Instead of digging its roots deep and solitary into the earth, the oak tree grows its roots wide, and interlocks with other oak trees in the surrounding area. And you can’t bring down a hundred oak trees bound beneath the soil. How do we survive the unnatural disasters of climate change, environmental justice, over-policing, mass-imprisonment, economic inequality, corporate globalization, and displacement? We must connect in the underground, my people! In this way, we shall survive.”

Reading that was both a strong embrace and a body slam. I have spent so much time in the last five years castigating myself over the ways I do and don’t step up in this fight.

Then I saw the Toni Morrison movie. She spoke about her choices during the Civil Rights Movement, and it shook me, made me recommit to writing about racism, about misogynoir, about the vast sea of white folks needing to do the work, all the ways they could and don’t do it. Morrison’s reminder nudge, coupled now with this memory of Baldwin’s assertion about the work underground are breathing me back into being, back to what I know is true.

This redo isn’t erasing failure, isn’t about failure. It’s about remembering and starting again, about resetting my course, about picking up my tools and moving forward. Redo. Redo. Redo.


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.

One Sappy Sucker … Get Over It

I posted on FB after watching Netflix’s new rom-com, Always Be My Maybe. I said I’d watched it, loved it, and was setting up to watch it again. This tiny bit of completely unimportant and fairly uninteresting information so concerned a friend of mine that she emailed me about it:

“Were you serious with that rom-com bullshit? I mean, you? Since when do you get into stupid shit like that? If you were making a joke, I think I get it, but maybe we can talk and clear this up.”

(She and I talked the following day and I let her know I was totally going to mock her in a blog post … and she isn’t exactly “cool” with that, but she knows, and I’m not using her name, and Anne Lamott said I own everything that’s happened to me, so …)

But, before I get to the mocking, however, I want to talk about the movie.

SPOILERS AHEAD!! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

Seriously, I am going to say stuff about this movie and other movies and if you don’t like spoilers, you should just stop reading now. Thanks for coming.

No, listen. I’m being for real. Spoilers.

You can scroll down to the next bit of big red text if you want to skip the spoilers and get right to my righteous anger, but you might see something as you scroll and then you’ll be pissed. Because … spoilers. This is your last warning.

So.

I knew I had a bias in favor of this movie from the moment I saw the teaser trailer. I like both lead actors (Ali Wong and Randall Park), and I loved that the movie was centered on POC. Even if it hadn’t turned out to be totally excellent, I was predisposed to be happy with it. So, total bonus that it’s super funny and clever and sweet and goofy and all that good rom-com stuff.

But let’s come back to the “centered on POC” part. To what I’m sure would be my friend’s horror, I love another Netflix romance offering: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB). It’s entirely adorable and charming and the leads (Lana Condor and Noah Centineo) are winning and there’s the major perk of getting a little dose of John Corbett (Chris in the Morning!) for your money.

The book the movie is based on is by Jenny Han, and Lara Jean, the character Condor plays, is Asian American. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “centered on POC,” however, as Lara Jean and her sisters, along with one Black secondary character and one Black tertiary character are the only folk of color we see more than in passing. TATBILB is adorable, and I’m glad Han fought to keep Lara Jean Asian (studio execs wanted a whitewash).

Having Lara Jean fall in love with Peter Kavinsky — the cute, white dude-bro — isn’t exactly ground breaking. But having her Asianness be entirely a thing and yet not be a thing kind of is groundbreaking. White folks walk in the house and take off their shoes and there are no foolish comments or sight gags. When Peter tastes Kitty’s yogurt smoothie (from the Korean grocery), there’s no drama about its “foreignness.” It’s not “weird” food, it’s just something he’s trying for the first time. There’s no exoticizing of Lara Jean or her sisters.

Always Be My Maybe has some of these little touches. And then it has some excellent, more in-your-face bits, such as the fact of Marcus’s (Park’s character) band being called “Hello Peril.” The movie centers Asianness in ways that TATBILB doesn’t attempt. There are no white primary characters in Always. There’s a bit character who’s white, and there is, of course, Keanu Reeves (playing a ridiculously bizarre version of himself that is beyond fabulous), but that’s it. The absence of whiteness is a complete pleasure. When Daniel Dae Kim’s character starts dating someone else … she. isn’t. white!! He hooks up with Padma Lakshmi (because, hey, who wouldn’t?). When Marcus’ dad (played to beautiful, sweet-and-warm-hearted perfection by James Saito) starts dating someone, she’s not white!

This movie is steeped in non-whiteness, it is deeply, super-unapologetically-specifically Asian, and I am here for every second of it. There have already been plenty of wonderful reviews and think pieces from people who speak to this both better than I can and from lived experience. I definitely recommend reading those for a deeper dive. I will just say how much this movie pleased me.

Okay. That’s it for the spoilers.

Yes, spoilers are done … but my friend’s email and our conversation about it are still stuck in my teeth.

Her email is nuts. Let’s just be clear about that right up front. Nothing about the fact of my having watched Always Be My Maybe should inspire such a response. From anyone. Who the hell cares that I watch rom-coms? Seriously. Why should anyone care? And if you, for some unfathomable reason, do care … you shouldn’t care so much that you resort to colorful language … you shouldn’t care so much that you need the fact of my watching a Netflix movie “cleared up.” Maybe you thought I was made of stone, thought I’d rather claw out my own eyes then watch a romantic comedy. Okay, but would you ever need to react this strongly? If my ridiculous status makes you type the words, “maybe we can talk and clear this up,” the person needing to do some soul searching here is you. Also? It seems you’ve forgotten that I am in no way required to live my life based on any wacky notion about me that you hold.

More importantly, how has this woman been my friend for a significant amount of time and not figured out one of the most foundational truths about me: I am pathetically sappy and a total sucker for love stories. I love romantic comedies. Love them. Love them. LOVE. THEM. Are they all I watch? No, of course not. Do I spend all my time talking about them? Again, of course not. Have I watched every rom-com ever made? Hell no. But do I watch a fair number of them and enjoy them, including some of the ones that are contrived and trope-y and aggravatingly dated? Yeah, pretty much.

I am a big sappy sap. I own this. I wear it proudly. Okay, maybe not always “proudly.” I didn’t, for example, run around telling anyone that I was binge-rewatching TATBILB. I mean, it’s a teen rom-com, for heaven’s sake! But binge-rewatch I did. That movie is too adorable to leave alone.

When we spoke, I let my friend know that I found her email both ridiculous and annoying as fuck. Unsurprisingly, she was defensive in the face of my annoyance. She was so shocked by my displeasure that she felt compelled to explain herself.

The reason she couldn’t accept my rom-com love? She thought my time wasted on Always would have been better spent raging about racism and other injustices. It’s what I do, you see, what she expects from me, and how could I look away from the horrors of our world to lose unrecoverable moments on frivolous crap?

Yeah.

So here’s the thing. I do spend quite a bit of time raging about injustice. That really is something I do. Sure. But does that mean I can never experience joy or love or the appreciation of a cute baby dancing or a puppy falling into his food bowl? I mean, what the hell? Also, I don’t actually exist to perform my pain for other people’s edification or enjoyment. At least not all the time. And more also? What the fuck?

I talk a lot about my anger and often reference that moment in the first Avengers movie when Bruce Banner says he’s always angry. That remains true. I really am always angry. Even when I’m not actively or visibly raging, there is an ever-molten core of rage roiling in and through me. All. The. Time. Even when I cry over sappy commercials or laugh out loud at funny stories or enjoy the mess out of a clever and charming rom-com.

My friend, I almost don’t want to say, is a white woman. She is a white woman full of righteous, indignant anger and outrage at the state of the world. She also regularly posts pictures and stories about her beautiful child, pictures and stories of her enjoying vacations in sunny climes, pictures and stories of delicious meals she is about to consume. While she does click “like” on many of my rage-y posts, I have never actually seen her post anything rage-y, have never seen her post about the things she feels righteous indignation about … not even in the simplest form of sharing my or other folks’ righteously indignant posts.

All of this says to me that, in this woman’s worldview, she has the right to be casual in her activism but I don’t. She has the right to have pleasures in her life but I don’t. She can move through her world smiling but I can’t. I exist to keep my oppression and rage on display for her because her reading my words and clicking “like” is the farthest she is willing to go in acknowledging ugliness in the world. And if I step back from the precipice even for one evening, she somehow loses something … possibly her ability to think of herself as a good white lady.

I have no time for this and said as much when we talked. It was a prickly conversation, as you might imagine. She insisted she wasn’t saying I didn’t have the right to enjoy myself, she just worried because it seemed to her I was losing sight of “the goal.” I asked her what she thought the goal was, and she said, “your liberation.”

For real. My liberation. Which will obviously never be realized if I manage to experience any pleasure in my life. Of course. Ugh.

I asked her why it was okay for her to never post about the same things I post about, and she had no ready answer, seemed surprised by my question. I hope that the response in her head didn’t begin with, “But I’m not Black…” but I will admit that I have some strong suspicions about this.

I am not her only friend of color. I met her through a friend of color, and she seems pretty solid and comfortable in that woman’s close circle, which is almost all WOC. I wonder if she behaves this way with those women. I have to imagine she doesn’t. A few of those women would surely have come for her long before now. So why do it with me? Or maybe one of them has given her a sound reading, and her takeaway from that was to not say these things to them but to me? Well, I am definitely not the one … and, if she didn’t know, now she knows.

Sigh. I hope our friendship survives this, but I really don’t know. I hope our friendship survives, but I need her to acknowledge that she understands what was wrong with her perception of me and the way she’s been comfortable using me. And I need her to at least be on the up-slope of figuring that out before we talk again. Maybe that sounds harsh, but I can’t have that kind of toxicity so close to me.

I enthusiastically recommend watching Always Be My Maybe, even if you’re not a diehard romance lover. There’s just so much to appreciate there. It might just win you over. ❤


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.

Your Privilege Is Showing

I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, headed for Penn Station. I was in a good mood: I’d just come from a good Girls Write Now workshop, and I was on my way to a coffee shop to meet a dear friend for a writing date. It had been raining in the morning, but just then the sun was warming things, and the rain seemed past. Good mood, not thinking about the dumpster-fire hellscape we live in, just happy in my little, personal bubble.

I stopped at a street light. And a couple stood beside me. They were pretty in that sharp, shiny way of models who graduated from Abercrombie and Fitch ads five or six years ago. They are both white, their accents don’t sound like this city, but they could be from anywhere.

Him: The thing is, we know politicians lie. We know they lie some percentage of the time. Some lie a greater percentage than others.

Her: They are politicians.

Him: Right. And we know they’ve all done things that aren’t strictly legal. But the things is, they spend so much time talking about all that, they barely have time to govern, to get anything done.

Her: Good point.

Him: And that kind of works in our favor, right? It’s ridiculous, but it’s good, too. They have so little time for the real work that they don’t have time to mess things up too badly. So we just need to hang in there.

Her: That’s great. Thinking of it that way is so helpful.

No. I didn’t actually start throwing up at that moment. That would maybe have been the kindest thing I could have done, however. It would have created a distraction and would likely have made them shut the entire fuck up.

Sigh.

Never mind the nonsensical idea that politicians don’t have enough time to get anything done because they’re too busy cleaning or covering up the messes from all their lies and illegal activities.

Never mind that this man’s idea hinges on an assumed pendulum-swing that would land us back in some mystical, never-existed time when all of us were safe and happy.

Never mind that this shows just how little these pretty, pretty people have been paying attention to much of anything that’s happened in the last 26 months.

Ugh.

I want to bypass all of that and zero in on the idea of things not getting messed up “too badly.” Too badly. What, I wonder, does this mean?

Are things not messed up too badly for every Muslim person who has been impacted by the travel ban?

Are things not messed up too badly for all the DACA youth and adults who are now at risk of deportation?

Are things not messed up too badly for every family that’s been separated at the border?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child lost to trafficking and illegal adoptions because no one ever intended to return them to their families?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child who has been sexually abused or assaulted while in detention?

Are things not messed up too badly for every person raped on a college campus now that there are fewer protections and avenues for recourse for them to protect themselves and ensure their attacker is held accountable?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender soldier who can no longer pursue their military careers?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender person whose personhood isn’t considered valuable enough to be respected and protected?

Are things not messed up too badly for Puerto Rico?

I’ll stop, though there are so many more of these questions I could pose.

Even if it’s true that the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers don’t have time to do all the hateful things they want to do, can there really be a question as to whether they have already succeeded in doing a shit-ton of patently horrible things? Really?

If you can look at the things that have been done and undone since Trump was sworn in and think that things haven’t been messed up too much, it’s past time for you to examine your privilege. Clearly, none of the things that have been done since January 2017 have affected you, or haven’t affected you much, not enough for you to feel particularly inconvenienced.

But you have work to do. You have so damn much work to do.

First, you need to read more, and more broadly. You need to follow the social media of a whole bunch of Black and brown and indigenous people.

And then you need to make some new friends. You need poor white friends. You need gay and trans friends. You need Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need gay and trans Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need friends who work blue collar jobs. You need friends who never attended college and maybe never graduated from high school. You need friends who work in the service industry. You need friends who live off their tips. You need friends who are Muslim. You need friends who are Jewish. You need friends who’ve been stopped and frisked. You need friends who’ve been incarcerated. You need friends who aren’t you, who aren’t anything like you.

Yes, I know this is a lot to demand. It’s hard to make friends. And it’s especially hard to make friends from groups that aren’t part of your existing circles, who don’t live in your comfort zone. And sure, maybe that means you need to think about your comfort zone. In the meantime, if you can’t make a whole set of friends, if you can’t make any new friends without asking them to explain structural racism or poverty to you, if you can’t make new friends without using them as proof of your wokeness or non-racist-ness, then you have that much more reading and following to do.

I know we can’t spend all of our time suffering on behalf of people other than ourselves and our loved ones, that we can’t spend every waking moment working to improve everyone’s life. I mean, look at me. I was walking down Seventh Avenue not thinking about anyone else. I spend many, many hours and days of my life focused on my own needs. At the same time, I am aware of the realities around me, and I try to learn about realities I don’t know so well. I am neither as comfortable nor as safe as that couple on the street sounded, but I have my privileges, the truths about me and who I am able to be in the world that make my life leagues easier than the lives of a staggering majority of people. The thing is, I know that. And the other thing is, I know those other people exist and I know my life and my hope for the future are entirely tied up with those people’s lives.

This isn’t an I-am-my-brother’s-keeper situation. This is a my-brother’s-life-is-connected-to-mine situation. This isn’t complex math.

Not only did I not vomit when I heard that couple’s conversation, I didn’t engage with them. I’d been in a good mood, and I wanted to be in a good mood. I’ve already said (again and again) how uninterested I am in doing folks’ homework for them, but in this instance, it was more a case of not wanting to yell at strangers in the street. That’s really never a way to get people thinking or teach them anything, anyway.

I kept walking. I promised myself that I’d sit down and write all of this out so I could release it and not carry it on my chest for the next forever. Done and done.

Or … ? I mean, doesn’t someone need to take and shake these people? Not just that couple, but all the comfortable people who think things can’t really get too bad, that things aren’t already too bad.

Sigh. “Someone” needs to take and shake them, but it really can’t be me.

Right. Whose job is it, then?

So many of my questions come back to the same answer, an answer that will surprise no one: white people, you need to get your people. For real. You need to. And this is a full-time job, so that’s going to be pretty exhausting. Yeah. Entirely exhausting. You’ll need to squad up, make some schedules, figure out shifts. All of that. But really, the work is steading increasing, so the sooner you get started, the better.


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.

Some dust has been bitten.

Another year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge comes to an end. I didn’t do as well this month as I’d hoped, but I’ve made it through to day 31. Having surgery early in the month knocked me for a much harder loop than I’d been anticipating. I missed posting a couple of days — which, considering how sleepy and silly some of my posts were, is probably more a gift to blog readers than anything to be sorry for. Much more importantly, I was supposed to be welcoming new folks into the slicing ranks by reading and commenting on their posts every day, and I deeply regret how hard I fell down on that promise.

I participated in this challenge in 2008, the very first year. That was also my first year of blogging. I’d only had my blog for a month when I stumbled onto the TWT blog and into this challenge. Such a lucky thing that I did! I absolutely credit that first challenge with pushing me across the line from maybe-I’ll-have-a-blog to being a blogger. So grateful to that original group of slicers and to all the great folks who’ve jumped into the challenge over the eleven years between that first run and this one.

What my blog is and how I use it has morphed fairly dramatically since 2008. It’s interesting to look back at early posts and see the ways my voice has changed, the ways it has stayed the same, how some of the more embarrassing posts still sound totally like me. I clearly have a voice (“a Voice“), and it’s interesting to hear it over time.

I’ve come to think of March as my blog-iversary because of this challenge. No matter how absent I’ve been from this space, I always find my way back for Slice of Life in March. I exhaust myself with daily posting … and then I’m ready-not-ready to dive into April and writing poetry all month. March reminds me why I like having a blog and primes me for the rigors of National Poetry Month.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers, for another excellent slicing challenge, for giving me the chance to read such an interesting cross-section of blogs and for getting me reacquainted with my own little corner of these internets.


It’s the final day of the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Hundreds of folks have been participating. If you haven’t been one of them, maybe next year will be the year you’ll join in!