Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Pill: Natural Disasters of 2010

Saying good-bye is not easy.   I am a teary-eyed woman boarding a train who has just said "Au revoir" to her lover.  I've been in a relationship with 2010 for twelve months, and it's all coming to an abrupt end. We had some good times and some rocky patches, but we held it down.  Before I move on, I'd like to take a sentimental stroll down memory lane.  There are three things that I just gotta get off my chest... 

Nothing gives you a wake-up call like an earthquake.  The world experienced several of them, most of them overlooked by the traditional media.  What came into focus was a small country nestled in the Caribbean.  Unlike the Travel Channel's "World's Most Beautiful and Exotic Paradises", we were exposed to CNN's round the clock coverage of "The Most Despicable and Loathsome Place on Earth."  Instead of learning about the History Channel's "Discover the First Black-led Republic in the World", the world received narratives on the misfortunes of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.  We often don't realize the power of words, how they shape, transform, and give meaning and identity.  In a TED speech, Nigerian author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the power of a single story and how a narrative, largely based on the storyteller's perspective can be dangerous.   In light of this earthquake, it was like a Christopher Columbus voyage; nothing was really discovered.   The leveling of buildings, burning bodies, and motherless children  were all ensconced in a faulty and unstable social and political structure.  The history books, news shows, and know-it-all's blame the victims, or in this case, the natives.  The chapters that have not been included tell the real narrative of how a small country with proud people and a strong culture became demonized, punished, and ignored by adversarial countries who feared a Black-lash.

Moving the voyage closer to home, we land on the grimy shores of the Gulf of Mexico.  Once a playground for those seeking some southern comfort, the Gulf's marsh lands have turned into wastelands.  We hollered and cried over the bazillion gallons of oil seeping into the ocean, the innocent wildlife thrust out of their environment, and the riggers who lost their lives in the initial explosion (and in that order, I might add).  Within the muck and mire, Yardiegal noticed a trend.  All of this horrible stuff was happening in the same region, affecting the same people as did during Hurricane Katrina.  The folks of Mississippi and Louisiana, (two the poorer states in the Union) couldn't catch an economic break.  Hurricanes are a part of life in these states, and this was not the first oil spill, just the largest.  So, why did both these disasters reek so much havoc?  My accusatory finger is pointing at the  federal government.  When your government doesn't take the time to build solid levees and close corporate loopholes, the most vulnerable of us suffers tragically.  I'm still scratching my scalp trying to understand how the majority of miners trapped underground in Chile survived (again, in a country we would label "poor" and second or third world) compared to the West Virginian miners, the majority of whom died.  To me, it was  like observing a parallel universe: same situation, same class of citizens, completely different outcome.

Final destination: Massachusetts. To map the next string of events is like recreating the Black Heritage Trail, except the path goes down a really slippery slope and the docent stationed at each stop is telling you things that you'd rather not learn.  It's a tale of a series of unfortunate political events and redemption.  It begins with former state senator Diane Wilkerson and ends with defrocked city councilor Chuck Taylor.  Both have been under federal investigation for taking bribes.  The former admitted to taking $23,500 in bribes.  The latter vehemently denies any wrongdoing.  Both are pillars in the Black community who have ardent supporters.  The loss of these voices widens the gaping hole of representative voice for communities of color in Boston.  As we watched these two polticians' lives spiral out of control we began to bite our nails as the gubernatorial race loomed.  With the demise of the careers of Wilkerson and Turner would incumbent Governor Deval Patrick also succumb?  Over the months, he slipped back in the polls in concert with the sluggish economy, and would-be voters who were chanting,  "Change!"  Yet, astonishingly, by the power invested in the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Patrick was pronounced governor once again.

Truth be told, I wasn't really that deeply in love with 2010.  It was just something that happened and I went along for the ride.  Nevertheless, Yardiegal has chosen to rant about the endless displays of ineptitude and inequality that attacks our frontal lobe on a daily basis. I like to think of myself as a glass half full kinda gal, but it's so hard to keep staring at the same glass not knowing if the water is purified. Every now and then, I ask myself, what am I really drinking?   Is what I'm choosing to ingest life-giving or toxic?  That's why intimate relationships call for protection.

That's why I'm on the pill.

You take it to avoid or alleviate something.  It's a little something that can grow into a big something for which you may not be prepared.  It's not a contraceptive nor is it an analgesic.  It's a pro-choice that must be made--to choose to see things not in their best light, but in their true light.   Not to wax cinematic or anything, but it is oddly similar to the choice Neo faced in The Matrix.  Confronted with an uncompromising truth, he had two options: take the blue pill, and he could continue his ordinary, imitation of life.  However, take the red pill, and he would get to see " deep the rabbit hole goes."

As I raise my glass of water (I don't do alcohol these days) and  give a ching-ching to 2010 (don't get me wrong, what we had was special) I'm excited to take on a new lover-- 2011.  I get to learn from past mistakes, wipe the slate clean, and start fresh.  So,  I make a toast: Here's to lovely words, beauty in useful deeds, liberation to All, truth, and the un-American way.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Woman to the Rescue!

There is a website called written by Taylor Wells, yoga teacher and owner of the Prana Power Yoga Studios in the Boston area and NYC.  She blogs weekly about the on-goings of her life and basically believes that women and mothers can see themselves as SUPER in simply living their lives.  The logo of her website is even reminiscent of that famously caped crusader who leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  Taylor is highly successful; she has five children, teaches yoga, recently opened the area's only exclusively raw cafe, does teacher trainings, is about to publish a book, has a devoted fan base--the list goes on, I'm sure.  I 'm just writing from what I know about her publicly.  Several years ago when I practiced at Prana, I took one her classes and found her to be quite calming and supportive.

I like the word "super." It's one of my favorite words partly because it sounds really awesome when you say it in French.   It also serves as a wonderful adjective, especially when someone is complimenting you: "Hey, you're super cool!" or "I really liked your yoga class.  You're a super, awesome teacher!"  While I could go on tongue-n-cheeking my way through this word, I am more concerned about the  Superwoman stereotype that is so carelessly applied to women.  For my generation, I pinpoint the syndrome back to a 70s commercial for perfume where a thin, White woman, fashionably dressed for the office, effortlessly makes her way through her long work day managing to sing:

I can bring home the bacon
Fry it up in the pan
And never let you forget you're the man
'Cause I'm a woman...
The tune had a cabaret feel to it, and by the end of the commercial, you realize that this little ditty was not really about what she was capable of doing, but who she was doing it for.  The decade ushered in a renaissance for women's rights anchored by Roe v. Wade and an influx of women in the workplace and in the academy.  This commercial for a cheap cologne, no less, cheapened, sensationalized, and mocked the idea of a super woman.  Yes, she can do it all and look sexy while feeding the baby!  For those of us who either majored in or took courses in Women's Studies (or American Studies, as it was known before it became legitimately recognized as a major), we are familiar with Jean Kilbourne and her pioneering work in the depiction of women in advertising.  At some point during a stream of consciousness, or unconsciousness depending on what direction you swim, women internalized the Superwoman persona.  We ate the so-called expectation of be all and everything to everyone, digested it, only to spit it back up because it didn't sit well with our soul.  We were even bullied into a national debate pitting breast-feeding mothers against those who bottled fed to find out which type of child is declared the undisputed champion.  And, if that's not enough, don't expect a winner in the stay-at-home or work-outside-of-the-home war.  You're either choosing to make no money or seventy cents on the dollar.

The Superwoman or mom or whatever you want to call it is simply a myth.  The idea of her only exists to perpetuate a notion that women can do anything humanly possible and still manage to keep their sanity in tact despite living in a patriarchal society.  We live in a time and in a  country that says that we must stand on our own two feet and ruggedly go the course alone.  It's a long and winding road, and even though a few of us may be fortunate to carry a compass, most of us have been treading along carrying groceries, little ones, men, and the weight of the world on our backs.  We are weary, doggone tired, and fed-up, only to find out that the kryptonite that we've tried so hard to avoid has been neatly stashed away in our pocket keeping us from flying.

But wait, there is another way.  I had the great blessing of attending three beautiful events last weekend.  The first was at the University of Massachusetts Boston celebrating the US launching of the African Women's Decade.  This event marks 30 years after the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nation's General Assembly.  Ambassadors from several African Nations and  preeminent women leaders from around the Boston and the national stage convened to highlight and discuss the current state of affairs for women of the African diaspora and to mobilize and create a plan of action to ensure a bright and successful future.  Liz Walker, noted television journalist, gave the opening address and spoke of kiros, a Greek word meaning a "moment of divine time" and how the Universe is ripe for change in how women view their relationships to each other and to the world.  The second event was on a much smaller scale.  Joyce, a dear friend of mine, hosted a gathering to honor and introduce the work of Hand In Hand, a network of integrated schools in Israel, the only schools in that country which are multicultural and multilingual where Jewish and Arab children learn together.  There, children learn what it means to truly live in a complex society.   Joyce and her husband had visited one of the schools in Israel, and she was so profoundly moved by the work, that she sounded a clarion call to alert others of this fascinating school.  Lastly, another close friend, Adrienne Miller, was officially introduced to the Karuna community as its founding Head of School.  Karuna is an upcoming high school, established with Buddhist principles in mind and its foundations rooted in teaching a philosophy of peace.  Adrienne, a woman of the African diaspora, has achieved, in being appointed the school's Head, what so many teachers of color aspire to, but so very few actually become.  These fine women do their part in creating community rather than opting to go it alone.   Instead of feeding off of an deprived illusion of an indestructible woman, they've internalized what Benjamin Disraeli once wrote:
The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but reveal to them their own.
These inspirational examples illuminate the deepest definition of super.  Beyond meaning exceptional and outstanding (which I do think these women and causes are), super also means, "containing a specified ingredient in an unusually high proportion..." (from American Heritage Medical Dictionary). This  ingredient is called Inescapable Mutuality.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first coined the expression, and it's the idea that somehow in this journey of life, we are bound together to work together to figure things out.  We can't ever pray to cast out the demons, meditate "OM" for peace, simply close our eyes and wish it all away, or throw our fists in the air to fight for justice for all until we take our hands and interlace our fingers with the sister next to us.  This decade can again be a series of defining moments for all of us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dear Lord, do rich people get into Heaven?

" I am thankful for my money."

I spent Thanksgiving at my brother's house with his family, and these words were uttered as we went around the table saying what we were thankful for.   The go-round was a tradition, but I'm not sure if anyone expected to hear such a blatant expression of gratitude.  I am a firm believer in the biblical passage, "...out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."  As much as relatives were trying to do damage control by explaining away such a ridiculous and preposterous statement, Yardigal was not convinced, otherwise.  Besides, where else do you hear offensive and stupid remarks but at the dinner table?  When the tummy is full, the mouth is wide open.  In the spirit of the Season and in the spirit of FeistyWords, no words shall go by me unforgotten and tossed aside for the dogs to lap up the crumbs.  This is fodder for my query into the heart of the most fortunate.

I live in a town of most fortunates.  It's only superlative depending on your point of view; you're most because there's someone who is less or least.  We've all heard or have said the spiel, "We're collecting items to give to those less fortunate..."  We all have a pretty good idea of who those less lucky folks are and why they ain't so lucky.  In our minds they are needy and poor, and we feel the need to give to them what we have or don't want.  My town is most fortunate to have an abundantly well-resourced school system with abundantly involved mothers whose primary occupation is not outside of the home, who live in abundantly sprawling houses.  I snicker when I think of how my family and I ended living and buying our home here.  We are products of Chapter 40B, a zoning law in Massachusetts which mandates that housing development have at least twenty percent of their homes be restricted as affordable.  Naturally, one must meet certain income and eligibility guidelines and have some kind of investment in the town.  For us, one of our children was in one of the elementary schools.  The application is done by a lottery, and trust me, when we won that lottery, I felt like Charlie nabbing the final golden ticket in the Wonka bar.

We've lived here for seven years, and our children have settled into their schools, friends, and activities.  But, their parents still feel the sting of being outsiders.  Our income is nowhere near $200,000+, our home isn't one of two, and (drum roll,please), we are Black.  Let me bring it home even further.  One summer, one of my neighbors knocked on my door, I opened it, and she then asked me if I lived here.  Mind you, she had just moved in and I already lived in my complex for three years.  I suppose she thought I was the help.  From her point of view, I didn't belong and seemed slightly out of place.  But, that's what happens when you're most fortunate.  You expect to see other people like you and the presence of someone who doesn't look like you throws off the balance of the universe.  Folks who live here in Big, Little Rich town say they've moved here for the schools.  I also think they simply like that comfy feeling living around other people like themselves.  It's where you reside in your Mcmansion or a dwelling similar to that and you can wave "howdy" to your neighbor who also has a mighty fine house and breathe a deep sigh of relief because you're shielded from the rest of the world and its economic dysfunction.

In his book, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams, Alfred Lubrano writes about people's struggle and straddle of attaining and living an upper-middle class lifestyle while acknowledging the climb from a lower social-economic status to higher.  For me, status is the operative word.  To live in a town like ours displays status.  Whenever I see a sea of Lexus SUVs, Cayennes, and Saabs, I wonder why these cars are status symbols.  Is it a way to let everyone else know that you've made it and you intend on keeping it?  Is this the purpose of owning a luxury vehicle?  Maybe, the car is, as some Baptists like to say, an outward show of an inward faith.  It's a faith in that old adage that if you work  hard and pull yourself up by your own boot straps, you, too can live the American Dream.  My question is, how did you get those damn boots?

The storyline for some of these most fortunates goes something like this: your father or father's father owned or inherited land...or, perhaps he was a veteran and fought in some world war which qualified him for the GI Bill...GI Bill paid for a college led to a job where money is, you can buy a house and live in any neighborhood you choose...begin building a nest egg for your progeny.  It's a neat little set up for the right person--as long as you're White. These same rules certainly do not apply for most people of color born in this country given the long legacy of racial discrimination.  Furthermore, this isn't necessarily the story of every single White person, but it certainly can explain why the majority of people who live in affluent areas are White.  So, it turns out that those boots were actually passed down or bought for you.  I guess that makes you one, lucky duck!

I am not a Christian, but I believe many things that Jesus said.  With regards to the wealthy folks of his day he warned that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then it is for the rich to get into Heaven.  Why is this so?  Must the rich give an account for their deeds on Earth?  Does it include how they became rich?  And worst, was it at the expense of others?  We live in a time where the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.  If you reside at the furthest end of this spectrum, the less contact you have with your kin at the opposite end.  You really have no idea how the other half lives.  What you learn about them is shaped by caricatures of life on reality TV, cop shows, and sitcoms that are designed to mimic the average, American Joe/Jane and his/her family.  This media either lulls us into a dream-like state or scares the *bleep* out of us.  So, whether we are blissfully in a fog or have our defenses up and guns locked and loaded, in the end, we strive to protect what we're convinced we've worked so hard to achieve.  The line has been drawn in the dirt, and god forbid it if someone less fortunate even thinks about crossing that line, because as soon as they do...

...there goes the neighborhood.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Nasty, Little Fetish

A good friend pleasantly surprised me and bought me a volume of the work of Marianne Williamson.  The volume includes A Return to Love and The Gift of Change.  We'd been chatting briefly about her work, and since I'd never really read any of her writing, I thought it would be good to become familiar with it.  Besides, I'd just put down the newest novel by V.S. Naipul, The Masque of Africa, and was thoroughly disappointed.  That was my first time reading Naipul, and I was excited to dig into the work of this well-acclaimed, travel-style author.  Well, "well-acclaimed"?  By whose standard? I found his novel unfascinating and boring.  I'm not counting him out, since I can't really judge an author by one pesky book--or can I?  However, this post is not about him, or really even Williamson.  But, alas, my voyage with both authors has made me come to grips with a little fetish that I can no longer hide.

I'm like a basset hound when it comes to books.  I'm always on the hunt sniffing for stimulating literature of just about any genre. The mystery of discovering a satisfying book quickly unfolds when that first page grabs you and won't let  you go.  I'm also like a gigolo; I'll read anything that's printed, has a title,and a front and a back.  Yes, I'll say it-- a good read is like a good romp.  Some folks have their bucket list, I have my book list.  The titles of all the things I'd like to read before I die, or before the end of the year, whichever comes first.  Once I'm done with one, I cross it off my to-do list and am ready for the next adventure.  Sometimes, there is a gap between a book just read and the book I'm waiting to read.  When that happens I become fiendish.  I don't just twiddle my fingers.  I'm starving.  I start to pull out books I've already read.  I thumb the pages of magazines I'm not really interested in.  I'm even reaching for, godsakes, the White Pages (wouldn't it be nice to see if that family from a few blocks away is listed or unlisted?).  I gotta get my fingers wrapped around the covers. Even the feel of a book is important to me.  I'd like to get a Kindle or a Nook and be completely au courant, but am I really willing to sacrifice the weight of that 400+ page hardcover in my handbag for a sleek, digital handheld?

Admittedly, I'm learning to pratice non-attachment.  My husband's always pegged me as the non-sentimental type, so letting go of material things isn't too much of a stretch for me.  Once, a friend let me borrow her nifty backpack, and on one of my holidays, I somehow managed to get it dirty.  Oh, well, that happens when your traversing the great outdoors, right?  But, let me accidentally spill coffee or tea or the linen pages of that beautiful monotype-set, and may God have mercy on my soul.  And that's not even one that's borrowed!  In the practice of non-attachment, one of the most important value is letting go of expectations.  This is a very liberating art.  I've found that when I don't have a presumption about an event or anything else, I can enter it with an open heart and mind and be free to experience something just as it is.  I tend to do this with books, as well.  I can hear all the great reviews, and it perks my fancy.  Yet, the skeptic in me naturally has a wait and see attitude.  A rave review doesn't dictate my unearned respect.

This leads me back to my response to Williamson.  I've heard such good things about her work.  I mean, she is heavily endorsed by Oprah and all her comrades in metaphysical arms.  I could really do a whole, separate post on my take-away from part of her work.  I entered the pages of her volume with a bit of hesitancy.  Because it was a gift from a dear friend, I felt obligated to indulge, even though the author was not even someone on my reading radar.  I had a go at it and actually finished most of A Return to Love in one short evening while at a pizza joint waiting for my daughter's rehearsal to end.  I left Williamson's book feeling raw.  Which wasn't a good feeling considering how nasty the weather had turned outside.  I didn't feel like I wasted time reading something that I largely didn't agree with (she makes some questionable and bald assertions about her interpretation on A Course in Miracles).  I just felt uninspired, which is a big deal to me since books, no matter how large or small, fill me with such joy and hope.

But, let me return to my feeling of uninspiration.  I misspoke. If  I were truly uninspired I would  not be writing this, especially at six a.m. Perhaps, books also have this unintended effect.  When the vintner seeks a perfectly smooth and round Merlot and stumbles upon a different grape, one that has not been tasted or tested, does he discard it?  I think not.  I maintain a critical eye of Williamson's work, but I am glad that reading her book presented a challenge to me.  It's thrown open my repertoire of books that I eagerly want to read and has added a list of books I wouldn't think to read.

And now, I'm off to the next  swashbuckling challenge--reading my son's school report. Yo-ho...

Friday, October 22, 2010


My daughter is an actor who is performing in ANNIE this month.  A day before the preview show, I found out that she would need stage make-up or pancake make-up.  In her previous roles on stage, her characters did not require make-up, so I was in a mad-dash to quickly find this stuff within 24 hours of her performance.  The ill-prepared panic sent me searching across the internet to find local boutiques who may sell theatre make-up.  No such luck.  And suddenly, MAC Cosmetics popped into my mind.  "They sell outlandish, poppy looking make-up that seems good enough for Lady Gaga, so of course they would have a pancake make-up...", I thought.  This calls for a trip to the mall!

For those of you that don't know, I hate malls.  The idea of taking my daughter with me to the mall makes me cringe; I just don't want her to be bombarded with the "gag"couture that comes with mall shopping.  She is bombarded enough already in so many ways.  I disdain the mall near me.  On more than one occasion, I have been the victim of racial prejudice.  It's also happened to other folks of color whom I know.  But, where else ya gonna find MAC products?  I sucked it up.  With baby girl in tow, we approached the counter to find a young man working his runway.  He didn't miss a step when I informed him that I was here for my daughter and not for me. As she took a seat, I looked around the store to see if anyone was eyeing this reversal of roles.  The funny thing is that the only people that gave me a strange look were two Black woman passing by.  I can only begin to imagine what was going through their minds! 

First, to all my sisters in the the cosmetic struggle, this sounds too familiar:  Your complexion happens to be in between the only two dark colors THEY sell--whoops!  I used to think that if you were lighter-skinned (like my daughter) it would be easier.  Wouldn't you know that when Mr. MAC applied the two colors to each side of her face, one side looked like death approaching with it's ashy-hue and the other side had a bright rosy allergic-reaction tinge.  "Hyper-pigmentation is common with darker skinned women," he said.  "What was that? Oh..."  I responded, my mind trailing off thinking about Ambi products that addressed such conditions.  My daughter heard the word hyperpigmentation.  Was this another racially coded word that I would need to address with her?  Mr. MAC asked which color I wanted.  I thought, "I want my child's color.  Can you do something about that? Don't you feel strange that a customer cannot get a color to match her child's skin.  Do you even care?"  What I did say was that I wanted neither and was ready to leave.  However, convenenice and expediency told me to change my mind.  I shelled out $29.50 for a bottle of ProLongevity Wear foundation that looked akin to someone's science experiment gone awry. 

I soon became the make-up artist, carefully applying strokes of liquid foundation to achieve some semblance of matching to my child's yellowish-reddish undertones.  In the end, she looked beautiful.  Albeit, over-baked, but still beautiful. Her oohs and ahhs reminded me of playing with my mother's cosmetics on her vanity table. Childhood can still be a time when one can be blissfully unaware of the intersection between racial politics and skin color.  My husband and I are raising our children to retain their innnocence while being aware of racism.  Although, I see it everywhere I go, I must admit that I wasn't on guard when I thought about shopping for cosmetics.  I usually get my kicks from a company which makes vegan mineral make-up for darker skinned women.  Read: valana minerals.  My child has learning the cosmetic dilemma  much earlier than I would have liked.  I'm savvy enough to know the failings of the cosmetic industry even when they try to become more socially-conscious. Read: MAC Cosmetics.

I wasn't frustrated by my trip to my favorite hot spot or even dour by the limited selection at the counter. To me, it's par for the course when you're living while Black.  When it comes to pancake(s), I'll just stick to my home-made brand.