“I didn’t want to teach you to hate”

9 Jul

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This man right here, my Dad, 91, grew up in segregated Anderson, SC, where Black men were still being hanged. He fought in WWII on an aircraft carrier, USS Franklin where he was of the 700 who survived; 2,300 died. After the Navy, he went back to Anderson, finished high school (he was drafted at 17), applied to white Clemson University, was rejected because they “didn’t accept Negras.” He had played baseball and football and Clemson had been his dream. He didn’t want to live another dream in a place where dreams weren’t only deferred, they were barred. Like millions, he became part of the Great Migration and landed in Newark, New Jersey, where he met and married my mother. He got a well-paying, if monotonous, job at General Motors where he stayed for 25 years. He didn’t tell my brothers and me about the lynchings during his childhood spent in aparthied (Jim Crow) or of mopping up body parts on the aircraft carrier after the ship had been attacked. When we became adults and he began to talk about the horrors that he’d seen, I asked him why he didn’t tell us when we were young. This man, this man right here said: “I didn’t want to teach you to hate.” Now, in his very elderly years, he doesn’t remember most things or people; news events escape him. He no longer knows what the word “news” means. Most days, his reality makes me very sad, but not today, not this week, this month, this 2016 when 560 Black & brown citizens have been senselessly, carelessly killed by police.

Like so many of you right now, my heart hurts. Two more Black people were killed at the hands of policeman–not even a day had passed between the two. Not even a full day and there was yet another video tape. Two more that I refuse to watch. I will not watch anymore videos of people being murdered. I stopped in November of last year (2015) when Laquan McDonald  was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.  This year, 2016, 560 unarmed Black and brown people have been killed by police officers. Five Hundred, sixty. We are only in July; 560 souls.  And we watch CNN or Fox and read about it and sigh and say, oh no not another one, and hold our chests and some of us make placards and march. Some amazing people even create  movements like Black Lives Matter, which is often criticized for the use of Black in the name, critics saying using the word Black excludes other people, that all lives matter. Of course All Lives Matter–the difference is All lives aren’t at risk when stopped by the police because of a broken headlight. Twelve-year-old White boys aren’t shot down  in playgrounds by police. All lives aren’t taken or even threatened when encountering the police. Dylan Roof walked in to Emmauel AME church in Charleston, during Bible Study, opened fire and killed 9 people. When the police came, they put him in handcuffs. He wasn’t shot, he wasn’t beaten. He was put into a police car and on the way to the precinct, they took him to get something to eat. All Lives Should Matter.

My Dad didn’t teach me to hate, but I am angry, sometimes sad which is rage turned inside. I often worry about one of my brothers, who is filled with rage, verging on hate and like many men isn’t equipt with a vocabulary of emotions. People do sometimes default to hate. I know it’s hard not to; I know that my Dad was King-like unique. Patient as a Tibetan Monk, with the wisdom to understand that if he let himself experience what he’d witnessed growing up, the rage would eat him up–most Black people of his and previous generations understood this.

I spoke with my friend Gabrielle yesterday. Just called her up because we hadn’t spoken in a while. She is as sensitve as she is whip-smart. She is white. She brought up the shootings and said: I feel so sick, so sad, like I want to apologize to every African-American I see. Of course she knows that apologies wouldn’t change a thing, but is expressing a level of wanting to do, to say, something.

I have several close friends who are White, with whom I’m honest and open about my feelings (a requirement for me to consider one a close friend). I don’t need to say, but I will, they are good people. Extraordinarily so. I’m lucky, but I know I’m not unique in this experience. Here’s my proposal for what to do–for all White people who are horrified by what’s happening in our country and feel powerless about what to do–simply talk about it. Talk about it with other White people, not just to your Black or Brown friends; and if you’re feeling equipt, talk to the ones who aren’t as open-minded as you. I know that some people do. A few months  ago, I saw an huge, elegant banner draped over a primarily white Congregational church in my hometown that read: Black Lives Matter. Good people can no longer stand by quietly. We have to be able to see the humanity in all people and pass it along. It sounds insane to have to point out that all humans are human beings, but we’re living in insane times.

 

Passing for Them

7 Feb

Every now and then I run across something written that so describes how I feel that it literally shakes me to my core. A while ago, I read a piece called The Art of Passing for Them, written by a poet named Mary Stewart Hammond. It was on the back page of the New York Times Book Review.

 

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The piece resonated with me so because I’ve often been in the same place. She describes a charitable gala (as a non-paying guest) sitting next to a person, a “real donor” and the one-way convo included:

His/her golf game

His/her tennis game

His/her academic background

His/her wine cellar

His/her favorite ski slopes

His/her gifted children

Now, my friends know that I am a pretty gifted conversationalist. My friend Eleanore, a closet introvert, says that I can have a conversation with a stump. The reality is that I am genuinely interested in people. I like to hear their stories. What I struggle with though are people who are self-involved to the point where they never stop talking about themselves to inquire about another person, either with genuine or pretend interest. I enjoy discovering people who are counter to what they appear to be, which is pretty much most of us, but getting beyond the surface is often not done. I like nothing more than the discovering someone is more than just his/her list. When the reveal happens and soulful side appears, I want to applaud.

In the piece Mary Stewart Hammon says she doesn’t reveal that she’s a poet because she understands that once she does she knows what will happen. It happens all the time when talking to Them. She’ll say she’s a writer, but again, knows what’s going to come next.

“What kind of writer?”

She’ll say, a sportswriter, figuring it’s familiar enough to Them, but now Them is interested and a discussion of a range of sports ensues. She doesn’t share that she’s a poet because she understands that in this crowd, this is not understood. She feels like she has to explain that she’s not a girly poet and that she’s not weird or neurotic.

“Poets are just regular, normal, neurotic human beings, who according to the latest survey are even more stable than fiction writers, yet everybody loves to sit next to fiction writers. They could have a best-seller in their laptops, meaning money, and money means some way of valuing what they do sitting home alone all day.”

My memoir is a lot about breaking free of the Them, of the Them in me. It’s about feeling good about my choice (actually I feel like it’s not a choice–its just the way I was born) to not be a part of Them. To, as my friend Carmen says all the time, stand in my truth. Of course first that means you have to know what that is and that’s probably the first problem: Most people don’t know who they are so by default become Them.

I think Mary Stewart Hammond and I have had a similar problem with passing. We look like Them, so it’s easy to mistake us. WE have a lot of the same stuff, go on vacation to a lot of the same places, have kids who know each other. But…

For me becoming a grown ass woman has meant owning all my stuff and not apologizing for it. There are times when I just don’t want to go to your party or out to dinner or certainly not to your gala. Do I have other plans? Yup, I want to lie on my couch. I need idle–for me it is divine. It is necessary. It is oxygen.

I’ve ended a few friendships because those former friends were simply too much–no  off-switch. They were quite successful, worked hard, socialized non-stop. I liked these women, but the 24-hour drive made me jumpy and ultimately bitchy. I can become irritated fairly easily by too much stimulation that is not intellectually gratifying. It puts me in a bad mood. Noise. I really don’t like to be bitchy. I came to understand, that for at least one of them, her on-switch was how she survives. Turning inward would put her in a sad place, she once said, from which she might not recover. I was too much work for her. I’m too melancholy. I can’t just show up, won’t, if I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to just talk about things that don’t enhance some understanding of who we are, the human condition, the struggles we  face, the things that really bring us joy, fear, sadness, inspiration.

So now there are times when I feel the absence of such high-octane friends, but I make a point to spend time with people who aren’t Them. The ones who are living their truth out loud and providing space for which we can all be WE. I am grateful.

 

resilience

22 Jan

IMG_5811I just went off, or HAM as the kids say (hard as a mother…) on my son. We were on our way to school at 7 am–never my finest hour–and I sat in the driveway and blew the horn to get him to get outta the house and into the car. I never blow my horn in my driveway and hardly ever do anywhere else. I think it’s rude and usually unnecessary, but I knew he was dawdling, looking in the mirror, looking for a certain hat, not one to keep him warm, but one to look cool. The one from Drake’s clothing line. I just lost it. He spends 25 minutes getting dressed and less than two making sure he has his work and knows what the school day requires of him. He almost left his math folder on the dining room table. There’s a quiz tomorrow. I reamed him out the entire way to school. He sat, sunken slightly in the passenger seat not saying a word as I talked, okay yelled, about his future and pointed out that there are some kids walking around town who were well-dressed and cool in high school and can’t get in or finish college or get a job. I’m still simmering an hour after I dropped him off.

My son Ford is a good boy. He’s sweet, has great friends, is a good baseball player, can play chess and is intuitive and funny.  He is cool and I mean that it both ways: he’s calm, like nothing bothers him and he’s got an understated way that reads Miles Davis kind of cool. Just is; just has always been.

I understand that much of this behavior is age-appropriate freshman year behavior and I believe (know, hope…) that he’ll mature and learn how to handle his business.

I had more  than a few of these rants directed at my daughter when she was in high school–not freshman year because the sadists who ran the all-girls Catholic school had oppressed her to the point of compliance. The uniform  requirement also saved lots of time that would’ve been spent on primping. After a few months, it became clear that that Catholic school was not the place for her, so she transfered to the school where my son is now. She and I had our battles (not much about school work), but she got kicked out at least one carpool because she couldn’t ever get out of the house on time, but we survived and she is thriving. I look at Baldwin’s level of grace and resiliance now, as she navigates her way in Paris during her junior year abroad and I’m bursting with pride. She takes all of her classes in French, she’s dealing with a difficult living situation and she got through the horrendous terrorist attacks, scared, but didn’t once say she wanted to leave the program and come home. A few students in her program did leave. Sure she wanted to be with us during that time, and God knows we  wanted  to wrap her up, but she kept a grip on herself and made it through.

Lots has been written lately about the importance of resilience and that it is the most important trait to have in future success. I came across this list:

Characteristics of a resilient child that cannot be influenced:
Normal intelligence
Attractiveness to others
Good Fortune
Knack for seeking out people in environment that are good for a child’s development

Things that can be fostered:

Strong relationship with a competent adult
Feelings of hope and meaning in life
Faith or religious affiliations
Good schools
Connection to Positive Role Models
Feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy
“Acceptance gives us the gift of resilience –fully joining the flow of life without being defined by what happens,” said Sharon Salzberg Cofounder of Insight Meditation Society Author of Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program.

Ford clearly is flowing and he has all the characteristics of resilience, perhaps that’s why when I’m spinning on my head, wondering what I should do to light his fire and make him take more responsiblity for school, he always says to me, relax.

Maybe the babies really are our teachers. Clearly, I need to practice acceptance, ahem, resislience.

I’d like to hear how you help or have helped your kids become more resilient. How have you?

 

 

Balanced: An Inspired Melancholic

10 Jan IMG_1870

It’s Sunday and it’s raining. Yesterday the grey of the clouds were charcoal-colored as I drove to the Catskill mountain area, about 90 minutes from home.  Parts of the area are quite pretty, but the cast made it dismal.  Although my temperment doesn’t need any help in feeling glooming, I didn’t mind the clouds.  Melancholy is a state with which I’m well-acquitanted, but I’m beginning to accept that this isn’t a bad thing. A few months ago, I came across an article in the Times, The Case for Melancholy, that vibrated in my soul.

When I was leaving the baby shower for my niece-in-law that evening, I looked up and saw the house was enricled by 50 foot,  lanky, bare trees–I thought it was beautiful. My daughter and best friend, probably thought eerie, but remained mute as I voiced this observation.

“Melancholy, distinguished from grief, is not caused by events, like losing your job, the passing of beloved pets, your miscarriages or health problems. Nor does it vanish when you receive excellent news, like a big film star optioning your novel, or being invited to an all-expenses-paid trip to Venice for the Biennale,” wrote Laren Stover.
One thing I know for sure is that when I’m feeling inspired by something, whether it’s simulating company, a sentence, a book that moves me or when I’m able to write consistently for uninterrupted periods (hardly ever!) I’m not sad. Things that  speaks to my soul acknowlege the complexity feelings.

I can feel good and my melancholy is right there, in the room lounging on the chaise, welcomed.

 

“It was reassuring also to see in the recent animated film “Inside Out” that Sadness, the gloomy Eeyore of emotions, saves the day with the perky persistence of overbearing Joy,” Stover wrote.

We need both. (If you haven’t seen the movie, where joy, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, are characters, do.)Stover says melancholy requires reflection: a sort of mental steeping, like tea? I like that image. I reflect. It’s what I do. I like that about me. What I don’t like right now is that I’m not feeling inspired and I know at this age, I’m hardly alone.

I’m trying to figure out what to do about this. I’m interested in hearing from you.  If you’re introspective and over 50, 55? What inspires you?

So it’s a new year

3 Jan

I hate cliches and even more being one. It’s a new year, new you. All over Facebook and every place folks gather people are talking about joining gyms, starting diets, making vision boards. I have nothing against doing any of these things, it’s just the timing I find annoying (perhaps that’s just me–and my best friends). I digress, but as I sit on my butt, dog squeezed into an armchair next to me, reading the New York Times–me not the dog, I’ve drifted off, figuring out how to jump start my exercise regimen, which had once been serious; then, because of my bad hip, my routine was reduced to only walking (and not fast) and a once a week yoga class. Not enough for my doctor to be happy with my blood pressure but it’s been good enough for me because I live in my head and can easily let go of thinking about my body.

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But I need more than the lovely walk I do everyday to pump my heart. As I’m seriously enscounced in my upper 50s, I have to build up my muscles (again).

When I was 49, I got a trainer, joined a gym and worked out religiously–the gym four days, running the other 2. I wanted to be (ahem, cliche) fab at 50.  I was and even rocked a bikini on my birthday trip to Anguilla. In those early days at the gym I still vividly remember how grueling it felt to push my body and later how satisfiying it was when it didn’t hurt so much and I could easily do a brisk 5 miles on the treadmill. By 53, I’d stopped because of my worn out hip cartilage. Four years have gone by and now the thought of climbing that mountain again is honestly daunting. So much so that there are days when I say, F it and lay on the couch, remote in hand and watch Homeland. But now I have a new, perfect hip,  (yay) thanks to Dr. Jerebek at HSS).

So now that I’m working on acceptence in all aspects of my life–and being a New Year’s resolution cliche–I have to find a new exercise routine
and gym situation that I like.

 

Nohemi Gonzales is “somebody’s Baldwin”

14 Nov

Thank you for all your prayers and Baldwin is fine. Last night, before the attacks, she had just gotten together with a friend, Jessie, who lives in Paris and is our Montclair neighbor. THey’d met for drinks near where Jessie lives–literally short blocks from where one of the restaurant shootings happened. Fortunately they’d met early in the evening. Baldwin had wanted to meet at 9 and Jessie suggested meeting at 6, after she got off work. They had a great time and by 10 were heading home. Baldwin was on the metro when they the first attack happened. I can’t even process all of this. I’m grateful beyond words that my child is safe and I’m also so sad for the innocent people whose lives were taken away. People ask me all the time how I feel about having her so far away. I’ve raised my children to fly the nest, to be citizens of the world. I want them to see and explore, but with the world the way it is now, the reality that random deadly acts happen anywhere anytime has put a real dent in this philosophy. As a mother, you also want to hold your children close and protect them.
One of my best friends moved from New York to Sydney a few months ago. She just checked in with me to see how I was doing, having checked directly in with Baldwin. I love that she and my Joni have their own relationship with Baldwin. Anyway, Eleanore asked how I was feeling.
I feel weird, I told her. First I was just relieved and grafeful and I’m still those things, but I’m restless and can’t relax. I’m pushing away fear, which has probably been inside of me since she left home on August 18th. I don’t let myself worry about her too much. I don’t let my mind go wild with the what ifs that I’m oh so good at and then and then something so henious happens, something that even in my wildest, I wouldn’t have imagined.
I hadn’t cried at all until an hour or so ago when CNN flashed a picture of a student, Nohemi Gonzales, an American from California, also doing her junior year abroad. She was killed. As we watched the report, Cliff said, “She’s somebody’s Baldwin” and I lost it. The reality that that girl could’ve been ours and so heart-broken for the reality that is for the Gonzales family.

What day works for you? Spontaneous works for me

8 Oct

This is not an awe-inspiring idea, but it is a lightbulb for me.
One of the nice things about getting older is knowing who you are and accepting it–good, bad, indifferent. I am spontaneous. I am not a planner. There’s the good and the not so good but I’m choosing to focus on the positive.
Early this morning an old pal, Paris, hit me up on FB and emailed me. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in about six years. She was in town on business from Charlotte, where she’d moved 10 years ago. She asked if I still walked the dog everyday in the park. I emailed her back: same number, same hood (sorry, channeling Biggie). Same routine for a decade–how can that be? The time worked for her, so she met me there. It was great to catch up and I immediately remembered how much I’d liked her energy. Everyday, before Paris moved away, she and her basset hound, Chloe, would walk with my Charlie and me, Jen and Sirus and others who have since fallen off or moved away.
Those of you who know me, follow my blog or have read my latest book, Welcome to My Breakdown, know how important my dog is to me and that I walk him everyday with my peeps–Will, Claire & the aforementioned Jennifer.
I know lots of people in my town and fortunately for me, I like many of them. I ran into the mother of one of Ford’s pre-school friends, with whom Cliff and I used to spend some time. I liked her and her partner a lot. Those kid based relationships, however, often fade when the kids get older and go off in different directions, but your feelings don’t. I’d like to have coffee with Susan, catch up with her and with many of those people, but I simply can’t (and have anything resembling a writing life). So, I’ve come up with an idea. For all of you, and you know who you are–some are the ones I spend 30 minutes talking to in the CVS parking lot, or in an aisle at ShopRite or on the bus into the city. We promise to reach out and get together and don’t. Instead of thinking about making a date, let’s just meet in the park. You know which park and I’m there in the morning. I am with my peeps, but one day or two out of a week I can break away from my pack to visit with you. For me, it’s enriching moments. I probably won’t see Paris for another few years and we’re both good with it.
Here’s to making a plan without planning…