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Posts Tagged ‘love and other complications’

This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

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On New Year’s Eve I learned that a couple I was close to for years, parents of a friend I had from college until my early 40s, had voted for the Hate Monger. I knew they’d had a souring experience that had nudged them to the right, but I wouldn’t have guessed how far adrift they’d gone. They are a white couple and have many children, two of whom are married to POC. Yet they voted for a man who would happily deport one of those in-laws and would see the other as representing a country he accuses of cheating and mistreating the US. They have daughters. Yet they voted for a man who actively harms women and can’t be trusted to respect or strengthen women’s rights. One of their sons is a small business owner whose insurance likely comes from the ACA. Yet they voted for a man who vowed to get rid of that legislation on his first day in office.

The souring experience? Their youngest son missed out on an opportunity years ago … and they decided that what should rightfully have been his had been denied him because of Affirmative Action.

Yes.

Their youngest son is smart and capable. I’m sure he’d have taken complete and successful advantage of that opportunity. Do I automatically assume he was more deserving of that opportunity than any of the people who actually received it? No, but he’s not my son. Still, it’s a significant leap of faith.

Anger over Affirmative Action doesn’t puzzle me. It’s coming from a very clear and basic place. What should suprise me about that anger is how blatantly racist it is. Think about it: One hundred people are accepted into a program, and maybe five of them are POC. How are you — the angry, left-out soul — certain it’s one of those five POC who “stole” your spot? Why aren’t you assuming it’s one of the 95 white folks?

What was that?

I couldn’t hear you.

You aren’t looking at the white folks because … why?

Oh. You assume they deserve the same gifts and accolades you think you deserve?

Yeah. Thought so.

It’s the thing that always gets caught in my teeth with Affirmative Action haters — that instant assumption that they’d be riding high if it weren’t for some POC bogarting their position. And you know, maybe those five POC did take a white person’s place. But who said it was your place? Can we just acknowledge that there could have been dozens — nay, hundreds — of more qualified white folks ahead of you in line? Don’t forget the glistening, high-court-confirmed mediocrity of Abigail Fisher.

And while that youngest son moved on — is still moving on — his parents set their hair on fire and have let it burn to this day. Hearing about the end result of their anger and resentment made me wonder. Their bitterness drove them to embrace the same presidential candidate as the Ku Klux Klan, as the Neo Nazis. Could this loss for their child really have turned them from staunch Democrats to hardline Republicans? They’ve been on this path a while, voted for both McCain and Romney. Could their son’s disappointment really have been the initial push?

Were they sliding to the right all those years when they smiled in my face and welcomed me into their home? Did they question whether I had earned any of my successes? Did they see those as gifts, handed to me because I was Black?

I was close to their daughter for more than 20 years. She and I went to college together, studied abroad together. We moved to New York at about the same time, went to grad school around the same time. She stayed in academia, and I became a teacher, but we were still in each other’s lives. I was in her wedding and attended her sister’s.

When I think now about my interactions with her parents, they all become suspect. If their daughter hadn’t gotten into the college where we met, I would be exactly the kind of person they would have blamed for her failure, the kind of person they would have accused of stealing her seat. If I had gone to Paris junior year and she hadn’t been accepted into the program, would their anger have bubbled up then? Would they have assumed I’d taken her place?

Fortunately for their ability to maintain a relationship with me all those years, they always found me lacking. I am a collection of things they wouldn’t want to see in their kids. I’m not their style of clever. I’m fat. I’m not ambitious. I didn’t get a Ph.D. I didn’t get married. I’m childless. Did they treat me well because I posed no kind of competitive threat to any of their children? How quickly would they have turned on me had any of the facts of our lives put me ahead of my friend on the path to their idea of success?

I guess what I want to know is: how long? For how long was this belief in the inferiority of POC finding a warm, safe home in their hearts? How long was racial prejudice alive and well in these people I thought of as second parents?

Prejudice doesn’t just appear from nowhere. One of the scripts I’m working on for Adventures in Racism is about how children learn prejudice and how — or if — they can unlearn it. It’s been a challenging script for me because I keep waiting for the light-bulb moment, the bright flash of realization that will show me how to “unteach” those kids … but it doesn’t come because there’s no handy movie magic to solve this problem.

I was in kindergarten the first time I met people who disliked me because of my color. We were five, but my classmates had already learned their lessons well. I have since had the same experience with children even younger. Kids learn early. So, did my friend’s parents have seeds planted in childhood?

But prejudice isn’t only learned in childhood. It’s just as easy to internalize, over time, the steady drumbeat of inferiority that is the narrative surrounding Black people, particularly in this country.

Still. Something existed in both of these people before The Great Disappointment. Something strong. Something that made blaming people of color their first response to misfortune, something that instinctively spat up the assumption that an undeserving Black or brown person was being lifted up in their son’s stead.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen or learned of someone I know fully blossoming into their racial hatred. But in those other instances, those people showed early signs — I can’t really be surprised to find a friend from high school posting racist memes about Mr. My President when, in 8th grade, she explained that she found Mick Jagger so sexy … except for his “nasty nigger lips.” Those early warning signs were helpful. I knew exactly who I was dealing with, how far to trust them, just how much not to let down my guard. This change in my friend’s parents — despite taking effect over many years — feels like an ambush.

I don’t know if I’ll see anyone from that family again. It’s been 12 or 13 years now since those friendships ended. I have a hard enough time thinking of what I’d say to my former friend, to her siblings — people with whom I still, presumably, have things in common. I can’t imagine having anything to say to her parents.

Maya Angelou’s quote keeps running through my head: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” But these people never showed me who they really were. And that’s the thing that’s poking me. That “how long?” really has its foot on my neck.

In the end, it can’t matter. People I felt deep affection for harbored ugly, racist beliefs. Maybe the whole time I knew them, maybe only toward the end of that time. It can’t matter … still, I feel cheated. I feel as if they’ve stolen something from me, my memories of them, all the ways they made me smile — their jokes, their chaotic family meals, their insistence on having large pets in a house full of expensive artwork and delicate antiques — all of that is made grimy by the truth of who they are.

I see them now. And no repetition is required. I believe them this first time.


Two essays down in this 52-essay challenge!

And don’t forget to head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what other folks are posting for Slice of Life Tuesday!

original-slicer-girlgriot

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Today’s Poetic Asides prompt is a two-fer: write an honest poem or write a dishonest poem. I wanted to try writing an honestly dishonest or dishonestly honest poem. The prompts haven’t been speaking to me much, but this one feels closer to connection.

Either Or

Which is worse: the lie that spares your feelings or the one that hurts them? Is it wrong to say, “I love you,” when I can’t define that verb, when I don’t know how it feels? When you confront me with my embellishments and omissions, is it better to own my guilt or to deny? When you said I should trust you, did that mean you were a safe space, or was it a warning for me to back away? Lying to you is easier than leaving myself exposed, easier than sitting in the quiet and waiting for an answer, easier than accepting risk and breathing it in. When you said you needed me, was I supposed to believe you?


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write an honest or dishonest poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Lover’s Lament

I lost him because I lost my words. A cruel trick. The universe’s surprise and utter betrayal. How could I, who agonize over the simplest word choices, take days to craft a message, and that message set him against me, sever all ties? Lost my words. Lost that moment, that place of comfort, safety. Lost what felt like the last chance. Lost. He told me that once, during our time apart, he’d had a dream. Saw me walking and stumbling, not blind, but slightless all the same. What does he see now?

Yeah, that one’s not really working. That one kind of sputtered and died before I got my notes typed. It had been rolling around in my head most of the morning, but by the time I sat down to write, whatever was good had found its way out of my confines and off to more fertile, skilled terrirtry.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a damage poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Today was a Girls Write Now day. A chilly-warm day that gave enough of a tease of spring that I wore a short jacket and my favorite of my new dresses … more fool me. Because this dress has a loose, flippy skirt, and it’s a windy chilly-warm day that has had me doing an awkward Seven Year Itch reenactment every three seconds everywhere I go. Hardly ideal (but also comical, I can’t deny it).

No matter. GWN was great. I had, as always, a great time seeing and writing with my mentee. I saw another mentee I love but don’t often get to see. I met anotger mentor and discovered a shared passion for Octavia Butler. And I started a piece that could definitely turn into something. Result!

Tonight I went to an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert with RedEmma. A creativity-and-culture-filled day is always a good thing. The concert was excellent. Because the music was lovely, because RE had seats in the second tier boxes, and because we arrived early enough to have a delightful conversation with an even more delightful couple who joined us in the box.

I’m on my way home now, hoping I can cap the day with a poem I like as much as last night’s (and get it posted by midnight!). Hmmm … not likely, but let’s see what I can do.

Staying Power

“Only the best for you, babe,” he says, handing her into the red, plush seat, standing a moment to be sure she’s comfortable. “We’re together 71 years,” she tells me. Only the best, I think. For nearly three-quarters of a century. I can’t fathom them. My fantasies of “long-term” fall decades short, don’t graze twenty. Seventy-one is outside my ken. Laughing at each other’s jokes, ready to tell strangers how they met. Almost three-quarters of a century. He gets a special smile when he remembers seeing her the first time, still calls her “babe.” I’m seeing them, hearing Otis as their sound track, giving me “That’s how strong my love is.” Yeah. All of that.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a seasonal poem, but my day had other ideas. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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A man walked down the street beside me for about a block today, offering a particularly churlish scold into his phone:

“Listen, you’re welcome to be friends with all of them … but I’m going to say that right now you need to explain yourself, you need to convince me why. I’m saying, you’ll do whatever you like, but first you need to make it plain for me. I’ve already told you why you need to get rid of each and every one of them. Now you have to explain yourself.”

Who has friends like this? I, actually, used to have a friend like this. Then I woke up. In fairness to both her and me, she wasn’t always like this. But then she was.

Listening to that guy today, I found myself wondering who was on the other end of his phone. Did they think this man was a good friend to them, a real friend, a decent person, just barely tolerable?

Who Loves You?

Do friends say they love your commanding attitude, the way you bark orders at them? Do they love your disdain for their ability to make choices, to live as full, independent adults? Or is it that mocking tone you take with them that has won their hearts? Have they told you so? Have they said it? You stride with such confidence, shout your demands with such ease. What are you afraid of? What betrayal do you feel in people’s insistence on autonomy? If your friends have told you they love you, why do you trust them too little to belive it? Why must they love only you to make you happy? I’m not saying that right now you need to explain yourself, but maybe you should … to yourself.

Update: There was some problem with my posts not posting. I’d hit “publish,” and go on about my business while my posts would go … I don’t know where. April 4th showed up on the 6th! The others didn’t show up at all. I seem, now, to have fixed the problem. I’m posting the ones that vanished with their original dates. This one should have appeared on Tuesday.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a love/anti-love poem. I don’t actually know what anyone might mean by that, but there it is. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Held

Our lives are held by silence. The way stubbornness holds tightly to shadows, to long-disproved beliefs. We are held, trembling, in the cupped palm of a stilled tongue. My tongue. Held. Holding. Holding all. A storyteller who can never tell her story. Because we couldn’t survive the words. Couldn’t build back the paper walls of this house, this family, this collection of strangers and beloveds. Our lives are lived in my silence.

 Yes, another prose poem. Maybe I’ve chosen a form? Still waiting to see. This one feels less heavy-handed than yesterday, but still isn’t quite where I’d felt it going. And my struggle with this form has already begun. I have a strong “Am I doing it right?” thing happening. As if there is only one possible way of doing it right, as if “right” means something when it’s home. Think I need to study a little more.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a secret poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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