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Sans Judgement – A “Better Place” for Everyone

Four years ago I learned a college classmate, who was from my hometown, had been strangled to death by her estranged husband before he ended his own life with a single bullet to the head. We had lived in the same freshmen dorm, eaten in the same cafeteria and hung out in all the same campus hang out places. A bright and lively soul, Leslie Anderson was filled with life and my heart ached with the knowledge of her life being cut short by domestic violence. A week ago, I received the news another classmate of ours, Monica Butler, had been bludgeoned to death in her own home by her estranged husband who violated an active restraining order. In this case, he was apprehended by law enforcement and will face criminal charges. Both of these women were the same age as me. Both mothers. Both victims of domestic violence. As I cried tears for their children, family and friends, I questioned any goodness in human nature and cursed the evil that would possess someone to take their spouse’s life. Both times, my emotions were raw and my faith in humanity temporarily suspended by grief.

While listening to a mutual friend recount Monica’s tragic end, I could not fathom any person who wouldn’t sympathize with this woman’s horrible fate in death. Imagine my surprise when I opened a news article to read the details of the brutal incident and saw just that from a journalist no less. Apathy. Indifference. Dare I say blame? The heat of anger rose from the base of my neck to the top of my head where steam slowly escaped. I was livid. In the first articles that emerged, only the facts surrounding the murder were reported. However, as journalists began to acquire more information they painted a different picture including the couple’s struggles prior to the incident, filled with partial knowledge – a picture that leaned dangerously close to blaming the victim for her own murder, insinuating because the victim refused to press charges seven months prior she somehow encouraged and subsequently deserved to meet with such a fate. It is precisely this type of victim blaming that most women fear when they teeter on the decision to report domestic violence or to suffer silently.

Pressing charges may have temporarily detained Monica’s husband, mandated anger management classes and made him accountable for his actions in a court of law, but there is no guarantee it would have prevented his eventual maniacal assault on his estranged wife. While the events prior to Monica’s murder indicate a clear pattern of abuse in the relationship, to assess her demise as a penalty she endured for refusing to pursue criminal action against her estranged husband is shortsighted and assumptive, callous and cruel. Furthermore, that conclusion is not one a journalist or anyone without the ability to foresee the future should make.

Unlike the scientific laws of gravity, domestic violence is not so clear-cut. It deals with many facets of psychology, trauma, sociology and human behavior that cannot be relegated solely to physical science. Emotional co-dependency is often so entrenched in the abused person’s psyche: the fear of leaving far surpasses the fear of staying. And while the reasons many women remain in abusive relationships (threats to harm the victim, loved ones or pets; threats of suicide; believing the abuser will take her children; religious reasons; believing the abuser will change; self-blame; limited financial options; believing that violence is normal; limited housing options; low self-esteem; fear of the unknown or change, isolation, embarrassment and shame) may not be understood to onlookers or even the women themselves, our endeavoring to empathize and understand with the victim can prove far more helpful than our criticism and neglect. Moreover, judging another person’s actions with callousness and scant, misguided information, in the name of news journalism, is hypercritical and, quite frankly, bad form.

As a child who witnessed domestic violence, I am well acquainted with the toll it takes on its victims, their children, family and friends. We left when I was nine. Maybe my mother stayed until then because she had five children. I don’t know. Maybe it was because organized religion advocated allegiance to the marital bond with little thought to the costs involved for abuse victims. Or maybe there are other reasons attributed to Battered Women’s Syndrome I can’t identify. Regardless, starting over is rarely easy for anyone. I believe my mother made the best decisions she could with the resources, strength and knowledge she had at the time. I didn’t judge her then and I refuse to judge her now. I can only assume if she could have done things differently, she would have. I give Monica the same courtesy and so should you. Here’s why.

When we choose to handle everyone with the gloves of kindness we would want to be handled with ourselves, we gain better perspective. We can see a scenario in which Monica may have decided against pressing charges to keep her estranged husband’s job source in tact to continue to provide a decent education for her children. We could also see a woman who may have been afraid to implicate a person she once loved and vowed her love to for fear of what it might possibly infer about her personal life choices. Whatever her reasons, I can assure you they were not as black and white as the words typed here. Life choices rarely are. And what would or would not have prevented her death is now a moot point. Blame is easy. Rolling up our sleeves, committing to be part of the solution to prevent domestic abuse and refusing to condone violence on any level is a bit more difficult. But, isn’t that what we all should endeavor to do? If we did, it would definitely make this world a better place for everyone.

In loving memory of LSU Tigers – Monica Butler Johnson and Leslie Anderson Raymond

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

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The Voices Inside My Head

We are captivated by the will to do good as much as we are by the propensity to choose evil and thus our fate lies always in the choice.

I recently endured a breakup of the extraordinary kind.  The romantic relationship I thought would surely and thankfully be my last on this earth came to a screeching halt.  I found myself asking all the usual whys which instantly garnered responses marked by yellow, pink and red flags etched solidly in my memory.  Ahhhh.  I see.  Of course, I received the customary condolences of friends who sought to share my pain.  After lingering in limbo for a week trying to figure out which feelings were more prevalent: anger, disdain, hurt, sorrow or relief, I finally settled on a nice even numbness (non aided by alcohol – this time) where the silence beckoned softly, “Come.  Sit.  Stay.  I promise.  You’re going to be okay.”  It was there I was able to reconcile the unexplainable questions that left me wondering if I would ever journey down the L-road again.  “Maybe, eventually…” the voice of optimism said.  “Okay, kid.  Cut the crap,” a different voice demanded.  “Everybody hates eventually.  It means not right now.  It means sometime in the future the healing will begin and end.  But ‘When?’ is always the question that begs answering and won’t wait patiently while you figure it out.”  Give me a break. Life can be very hurry up and wait.  Now Love too?  “C’mon!  You’ve got to be kidding!” my inner child screamed.  Then, plain as day amidst the cacophony and soft as a whispering wind I heard, “True healing begins within.”  Who said that?!  Identify yourself.  Since when is there any reasoning with a broken heart?  Emotional wounds need salve.  Bruised egos need ice.  And I need closure, dammit.  Do you hear me?  I need closure!  Silence.  More silence.  Fine.  You win.  Self look it is.  As I pondered the scenario inwardly in depth, I suddenly realized nothing in the equation hurt more than the loss of love.  The atmosphere that was once filled with I love yous, I miss yous and I can’t wait to see yous – now a vacant, hollow echo of what once was.  The deep and profound sense of loss was the ache I could not escape.  And it hurt like a bitch.

Yet, isn’t that the case with any disappointment in life?  Not to trivialize or minimize my (or our shared) experience, but any expectation fallen short of meeting its goal ends in disappointment whether love, career, family or fill-in-the-blank.  I can hear my mother’s voice, “Your expectations are too high.  Keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed by people.”  Well, if you’re listening or reading from up above, Mom, no disrespect… But, I still don’t understand that one.  Are we talking puddle-low, bathwater low, or shallow-end of the Olympic sized swimming pool low?  *scratches head* I know.  I’ve always asked too many questions.  Fine. Maybe it’s more like my cousin used to say, “Girl, nothing anyone does surprises me anymore.  If it wasn’t for audacity, people wouldn’t have anything.” Hmmm.  Okay.  I buy that.  So, keep my expectations tempered while being cautious that someday someone may randomly dunk me into a booth-full of b.s.?  Is that the key?  Somehow, I don’t think my father would have agreed.  (Whatever the verbal contribution, my pops was not short on words.  He also was not easily impressed by people unless you were Leontyne Price.  Take that.)  He lived with his share of people disappointments.  Unfulfilled expectations.  Being forced by his father to work to help feed the family in lieu of pursuing higher education was one we heard about frequently.  But, it never stopped him from acquiring a vast array of knowledge from whatever source he could find.  Wait a minute.  That’s it, isn’t it?  That’s the choice I want.  The one that reaches past the disappointment, through the hurt and pain, and lays firm grasp upon the goal in spite of the loss and without the bitterness.  Thanks, Dad! That’s the piece I was looking for… not the corner but the one smack in the middle.  It can be the most difficult to place, but it’s usually the piece that puts the rest of the puzzle in perspective.

And so it is with perspective… once you see clearly, the voices subside and the healing begins.  I think I’m good for now.  I mean, I could wallow in the ‘woe is me’ or continue to count my blessings and keep my head held high.  The choice is what defines me and the choice is always mine and mine alone.

Persnickety Self Adjustment:  Don’t worry.  If the voices in my head begin singing opera I will officially check myself in.  Somewhere safe.  Possibly with padded walls.

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I think I was Latina in another life.  My friends can all testify. I love Mexican food. I should probably own a cilantro tree – it would be more cost effective. Handmade tiles make me swoon. And I’ve never met a taco I didn’t like. (Yes, I’m straight.) I’ve been known to ingest obscene amounts of tequila at night and run 3 miles the following morning. Then, there’s my obnoxious affection for the avocado…the “alligator pear.”  Yes, the evidence is all there. As a matter of fact, I think my name may have been Rocio. Rocio the great. I like it. 

Funny thing is… I’m not sure when I discovered this potent revelation. It’s a bit unclear. But, I do remember it began with tequila.  I didn’t really drink tequila or do tequila shots in college like all the other newly-legal students at LSU.  However, I do distinctly remember crashing a party with a few of my fellow Caucasian persuasion Tigers.  Three cute guys accosted me at the door with a bottle of “tequila” that held a worm firmly implanted at the bottom.  They offered free shots and encouraged me to ‘bite the worm.’ Only in their dreams… I wasn’t interested in the worm. (Yes, I already told you; I’m straight.)  I did, however, take one shot, and thus began my fascination with the agave plant.  Those poor bastards had no idea that they were drinking Mezcal. Mezcal isn’t tequila.  It’s the equivalent of calling Wild Irish Rose a vintage Cabernet.  But, I’m sure they knew what they possessed was a “3-shot” liquor meaning if they got any girl to take 3-shots they had a better chance of scoring that night.  Although my college years included many a faux pas, that night was not one of them.  Thank the Inkan gods!

Then came the military.  My oath to defend this country against enemies both foreign and domestic came fully equipped with an I.D. valid at the nearest Class Six facility which held an array of 40 proof beverages to quench my camoflauge-wearing sharp-shooter qualified palette.  It was there, through trial and error, mix and pour, I found my liver’s joy: tequila.  Tequila was definitely crafted for me. No headaches. No hangovers. Only waves of elation and bliss.  Sometimes it takes a while, years even, to figure out what works for you.  Time.  Life.  Experiences. Heartbreak and sometimes even tequila… all bring clarity.

The same could be said of my chosen profession.  I didn’t always know what I wanted to be or who I wanted to do.  Pause.  Rewind.  Who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do… Yeah.  That.  During my recent high school reunion, my friends and I scanned our senior class yearbook and called out the career aspirations listed under each girl’s graduation photo.  Then, the five of us pondered whether each girl, now grown-up, had fulfilled her wishes.  Graduating from a small, all-female, African-American, private, Catholic high-school in New Orleans was an anomaly.  Everyone knew everyone else a little more intimately than we would have liked to. (For the last time, for real, man. I’m straight!)  As we sat spralled across deck chairs on the cruise ship combing through pics, we laughed and shared stories about the ambitions of once teenagers now women.  Some of us had realized our set goals, yet some of us – me included – had taken turns, set new goals along the way and decided to pursue those.  As we arrived at my photo, a friend proclaimed loudly, “Well, we know you’re not an attorney!”  We all laughed.  No… not quite.  My grandfather used to say, “That girl sure does like to talk.  She should be an attorney.”  I was 6 years old and he was thinking financial security. I love him for that.  He had no idea there was a creative beast inside me longing to break free.  Deep down, I always knew I was different. Spectacularly so.  I spent more time in my grandparents’ massive backyard pretending to roam the hills of some faraway, make-believe land, conquering giants and slaying evil sorcerers, than I ever spent on homework. Plus, law school never really appealed to me. 

Post high school – what to do? I had no clue.  I changed my major three times.  Scholarship aside, I was an academic, ill-focused wreck.  Yet somehow, I survived.  Living life brought clarity.  The more time I spent releasing my creative energy and comedic genius, the more I realized it was my love, my passion and my destiny to pursue.  I am blessed to now call it my profession.  My grandfather may have been slightly disappointed, but who cares?  Seriously.  There are enough attorneys in the world, don’t you think?  The truth is I was crafted for this business of storytelling.  It is the life for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes it takes a while, years even, to figure out what works for you.  Sorry, grandpa. I may not have a juris doctorate.  But, I am happy doing what I love.  That’s what’s important. Even if I have to eat sandwiches for now.  Being happy is what matters most.  And that, my friends, is clarity.

Persnickety Self Adjustment: Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned, they turn out far better.

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My house is the party house.  I’ve long accepted its designation as such.  With Southern roots come certain responsibilities.  We cook edible meals.  We are expectant of chivalry.  And we are at all times hospitable to strangers in our home.  Should we find ourselves in a predicament where someone who is less than charming invades our space, we don’t give them the old “heave-ho” *GTFO… They just won’t be invited back.  It’s as simple as that.  To illustrate the depth of my hospitality I offer you this: Last week I had a party.  I inadvertently forgot to invite an actress who bunked on my sofa for a month when she first moved to L.A.  I remembered I had forgotten her when I posted the pics from said party publicly on “Tracebook.”  Upon remembering, I immediately sent her a message apologizing for my forgetfulness.  Some people would say, “The party was over!  Why apologize after the fact?”  I’m not sure.  I guess it’s just the most Southernly hospitable thing to do.  Plus, I like her.  She’s cool peeps.  And I felt bad.  Isn’t that reason enough?  Go ahead and say it.  I’m just too damn nice.  I already know.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like hosting parties because it gives me control over the atmosphere of the room and thus hopefully my guests’ level of good time.  Is everyone drinking?  Are they enjoying themselves?  Bopping to the beat?  No?!  Really?!  Put that on pause.  Changing the song.  Ahhh… there we go… This is how we doooo it…  Literally.  In case you don’t know, Montell Jordan will liven up any party!  That 90’s song has the same effect as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in a Caucasian bar.  (Which until recently, I always misidentified as “We Will Rock You” if I caught the song midway through.)  Shut up already!  I know!  You die hard Queen and Def Leppard fans are uttering curses as I type…  Calm down.  It’s okay.  That was before.  Now?  You would be ultra proud of me… right on time singing, “I’m hawwwt… Sticky SWEET.  From my head down to my feet!!!” Give me an “A” for effort and an “A+” for versatility, why dontcha?  I digress.  Back to my party where the beer is iced in the bathtub.  It’s free.  Don’t judge me.  Once everyone is moving and grooving I’m cool and if everyone leaves happier than they came I’m ecstatic.  Everyone loves a good house party, right?  I think that’s why the movie was made.  I have yet to eject anyone for bad behavior – which includes unwanted groping of the opposite or same sex, double dipping in the chips-n-dip, or stealing of any sort including liquor from my bar.  I haven’t found anyone making out in my bedroom or smoking reefer in my closet.  Nothing’s been broken and the neighbors haven’t complained (someone said they actually heard the music from the corner and everyone on the street was twerking a little to it).  So far, so good.  Hopefully Murphy stays far far away, unless he’s single and likes to do the wobble.  Then, he’s invited to my place for a party anytime!

The only thing I hate about throwing house parties is the aftermath.  I once compared it to 100 elephants having trampled through your place.  It’s exhausting.  After all the glorious hosting and grand glorious dropping-it-like-it’s-hot, to wake up the next morning and face the kitchen, the rearranged furniture, the empty bottles and general people-in-your-place-ness of it all can be a bit overwhelming.  Luckily for me, I have wonderful friends.  My mother always said, “To have friends, you have to be a friend.”  I believe it.  All of my friends know I hate washing dishes.  Period.  There is little to be done to get on my very best side.  If you come to my place and I’ve cooked a fabulous meal, lend a hand in the kitchen.  I will love you for life.  The contary goes without saying.  Even if I give you the Korean cultural norm and I refuse your gesture twice, persist.  This party time, two lovely female friends of mine helped out during the party and two strong, handsome male friends came over the next day and helped me put it all back into perspective (get your mind out of the East Jersey sewerage – they are just friends).  We laughed and talked about the party while they helped me clean.  It made the process go much more smoothly and helped me disassociate any bitterness with “the day after.”  SO.  If you are ever so fortunate as to receive and accept an invitation to one of my house parties, please know that my wish for you is to have the very best of times.  And know that your good fortune has been precipitated by the good will of those around you.  Don’t take it for granted.  Pay it forward.  And, in the process have fun. 😉

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Line up the cleaning crew beforehand.  It saves on bitterness in the aftermath.

*GTFO = get the f*ck out


Just Like Sex

Last week marked the anniversary of my mom’s death and my first tattoo.  No, I did not rush out to get inked just as her spirit ascended from its earthly home, you brute.  I waited three years to the date.  Then, after my dinner shift ended and my tips were counted, I rushed to the tattoo parlor and squeezed through the door just before the artist flipped the sign from open to closed.  I had thought long and hard about it.  Getting your first tattoo is a lot like losing your virginity.  I had been warned by the colorfully, scenic, tattoo-laden waitstaff at my job that tattoos are, in fact, highly addictive.  “Oh, Honey!  Once you get one you can’t wait until you get the next one. You get all excited.  Then you start getting real creative and finding new places to put ’em.”  See? Just like sex.  Anywho, I decided that my first (tattoo) would be in homage to my mother.  A purple heart with the Chinese symbol for mother on the inside.  Smaller than a quarter and over my heart with enough space to clothe it discreetly for any professional interview.  Those are my rules.  Ask my daughter.  She can quote the tattoo rules verbatim.  So, off I rushed to the parlor that was decorated artistically with a bit of psychotic flair on the outside.  Sidebar: Anyone who subjects themselves, myself included, to a needle filled with ink piercing their skin continuously for at least thirty to forty minutes has crossed the line at least one time.  Which line?  Take your pick.  I squeezed through the door and gave the handsome guy my best puppy dog eyes. “It’s my first time,” I pleaded. “Please.  It won’t take long.  I promise. [Insert rapid eyelash flutter.]”  If he recalls some fond memory of girlfriends past… all the better, man!  Tatt me up!  He acquiesced and politely showed me his workspace.  I dropped my top as much as was required for him to hover over my left breast and sketch out the image I had concocted/selected.  He adjusted twice making sure I was pleased with the positioning.  I braced my back firmly against the wooden chair and held tightly to the rungs on the side.  Slowly, I sucked my breath in deep and closed my eyes tightly just at the needle pierced my skin and I heard him say, “Try not to move.”  I told you.  Just like sex.

My tattoo was perfect.  It still is perfect.  Every time I look down at my chest or glance in the mirror I am reminded of the memory of my mom, the memory of her bravery, her life.  Would she have approved of the tattoo?  Maybe.  Probably.  More than anything she was an advocate for self-expression and freedom of choice.  She taught me to live with my decisions no matter how big or small.  She would no more have advised me against the tattoo than she prevented me from joining the military.  She said it was my life and my choice – choose wisely.  What a great Mom!  I try to remember her wisdom when I’m having a tough day.  I imagine her looking down on me nudging me along, guiding me and giving me hugs of encouragement along the way.  I am sad sometimes.  I wish she had been here with me longer.  But, I am comforted that the moments we shared will last a lifetime.  If ever I want to honor her memory, I pass along a piece of the vital advice she gave to me.  Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.  Always use your manners – that’s what they’re for.  And, stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.  Those are three I’ve found quite useful.  Distribute them as you please!

Persnickety Snit Adjustment: Self-expression is rarely for your approval; it’s usually for the artist’s edification.

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C’est La Vie

The year 2011 was anything but boring.  A momentous year filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, it did not disappoint with one tumultuous rollercoaster ride of surprises at every turn.  Watching the news, I was reminded of the many victories around the globe for freedom, for democracy, for the common man.  I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life.  Isn’t that what we do at year’s end?  We reflect on our actions and reactions and the events that occurred over the course of the last 365 days (except in a leap year) and we are either excessively glad to see the year go or we rest with fondness on the fact that it was indeed a “good year.”   For me, this past year was filled opportunities which pointed to dreams clearly realized.  It was also marked with tough times to overcome and sadness to endure.  I experienced the passing of my beloved pet who escaped death not once but twice – a cat who was rescued as a kitten from the median of a busy street – and whose mere presence after five feet of flood waters drenched my home said he was possibly the luckiest cat alive.  In the end, it was a kidney stone that got him.  Isn’t that life?  I was commissioned to write my first episode for television produced by a major cable network.  It was exciting, honorable and “where the rubber-meets-the-road” as my mother would say.  When I look back over the year from January to December, I see many hills and valleys.  I celebrated as many victories as I mourned losses.  I think the term is properly coined – bittersweet.  That’s been a constant theme in my life – one that’s not gone unnoticed or unanswered.  So, with the arrival of each New Year I choose not to dwell on the difficulties of the past year but how I rose to meet those difficulties and forged through each challenge to emerge stronger, wiser and better for the wear.  I choose not to swim in the river of denial regarding the pain I’ve suffered; but to use the sting of defeat, disappointment or heartache as a reminder that brighter days most assuredly follow the torrent of rain.  That is a meteorological fact of life.

My wish for you this New Year is my wish for all mankind: that you see clearly the world in front of you, the opportunities that surround you and the greatness that lives within you without fear or hesitation; that you rise to meet each new day with confidence even in the face of what may seemingly be your toughest battle yet; and that you learn to cherish each moment of happiness and tolerate the pain of loss without bitterness, envy or remorse.  Take the good with the bad, my friend, then rise triumphant.  After all, that’s life.


Wait, WHAT?

It all started one day when I was bored and surfing the net.  There’s a limit to how long a single woman can go without testosterone seated across the table.  That limit varies per female and per her appetite… for whatever.  I’ve posted profiles on my fair share of dating sites.  Admittedly, that “harmony” website was far too intense for me.  Yes, I know.  I’ve been told I should approach dating like I would approach securing a job.  Well, I dress appropriately and I put my best foot forward.  What more do you want?  If my potential mate came with the assurance of six figures and profit sharing, I would subject myself to more of that question-answering and chemistry-badgering.  The difference between a relationship and a job?  Monetary income.  Direct deposit that’s timely, not sporadic.  Predictable.  Consistent, neither subject to feelings nor attitudes or whimsical nature.  Is that enough?  I don’t think I’m totally off base.  I mean, doesn’t everyone take a certain type of job because they know what they’re getting?  Would you take a job that required extensive travel if you don’t like flying?!  Seriously.  Well, isn’t it pretty much the same with men?  Don’t worry.  That’s rhetorical.

Case in point.  As I was surfing said website, not the harmony one, but another piscine one, I came across a picture of a guy.  Guy referred to himself as a southern gentleman.  Oooh… I like… I’m down with it.  I dropped him a line and we commenced to communicate via email.  I guess he liked what he saw and my grammar gave him goosebumps.  We exchanged numbers and then played phonetag for two days.  He was getting frustrated; I could tell.  Dude.  It’s the weekend.  (Somebody shoulda told him.  Wait.  I did.  My profile specifically states, I do not sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for you.  Whatever.)  On Evening 3, as I snuggle up on the sofa to watch a new dvd release that I could not catch at the theater, I send him a text asking if he’s free to talk before I begin my movie.  I know once the movie begins I will NOT want to be interrupted.  He responds instantly, “Why don’t you come and watch the movie over here?”  Wait, WHAT?  I swear my fingers typed it faster than Superman changed in that damn telephone booth.  Faster than Antwon Dodson was autotuned.  Faster than J.Lo dropped two babies out her womb, divorced Marc Anthony and made a comeback.  My eyes stared intently at the screen of my cellular device as my mind raced reminding myself that I was not crazy… I had only been communicating with old dude for three days… and I had “met” him on a dating website.  See, this is where the straight-laced, judgementals break out their ‘told-ya-so’s.  You told me what?  That I shouldn’t meet a man for dating on a website?  HOW ABOUT NOBODY SHOULD MEET ANYBODY THEY CONTACT ON A WEBSITE, MALE OR FEMALE, for the first time in a NON-PUBLIC PLACE?  That’s internet 101.  That’s not just me, or a thousand others who engage in internet dating, you twit.  That’s also you… as you purchase something on ebay from someone who lives 10 miles from you and offers to drop it off at your house and you so stupidly incline… Don’t you dare judge me.  And, yes, I am on one.  When, he finally replies and says, “My house.”  I have three words for him.  No, they are not “Go eff yourself.”  They are, “I don’t know you.”  Oh wait.  That’s four words.  Yeah, I probably meant the first one and he probably heard it in my text-voice too.  Cuz now, I’m pissed that you would even ask me to come to your place, a single female, living in L.A. that you met three days ago on the blankety-blank.com.  I don’t care how “nice” I look on my pics.  I could be a serial killer.  I’ve already assumed you’re one.  So, why not me?  <Text Silence>  I watch my movie and turn in for the night.  Safe and sound.

The next morning my phone rings.  It’s him.  Albeit earlier than my sleepy eyes can adjust to the name that scrolls across the screen, I answer in my most polite voice possible.  Because, of course, I misunderstood his intentions and he wants to apologize, right?  He’s a southern gentleman, right?  In my best Trey Songz voice: Leg-go… After the formalities of him telling me how hard it is to catch up with me (which I NEVER understand… cuz you have me now, and in ten seconds you won’t have me if you keep this ish up!) he says, “So what’d you do last night?”  Problem #1: You don’t listen.  Me: Uhhh… I… watched… a movie.  Him: Oh, yeah.  You coulda come over here and watched it.  Problem #2: You’re daft.  Me: Yeah… um… I don’t really know you like that.  Him: What?  I live in a gated community.  Problem #effing 3: You’re a moron.  Me: (subtext: You could live on the white house lawn…)  I still don’t know you like that.  Him: What do you think I’m a serial killer or something?  Bingo.  <Silence>  Him:  So can we meet for coffee?  Okay!  Now, you’re acting like a civilized person, not someone who hasn’t had sex in 6 months and is trying to get a stranger over to your house under the guise of “watching a movie.”  Me: Sure… where would you like to meet?  Him: Well, I live in such-and-such.  <Silence>  Me: Well, there are a million Starbucks between where I live and such-and-such.  Are you suggesting that I drive to such-and-such?  Him: Yeah.  Me: No, thank you.  Him: Well, why don’t we go to the movies? (HUH? Did you just pull the switch-up on me… cuz now it’s a bit humorous.  But, I’ll humor you.) Me: Sure… which movie theater?  (He suggests a movie theater near his house.  Oh boy!  This is even better than I thought.)  Me: I live in the valley.  So, can we go to this movie theater instead?  Him: Well, why can’t we go to this theater?  Me: Cuz that’s 25 miles from my house.  Him: But, it’s half-way.  Me: It’s our first date.  Him: Well, I might as well meet you at a Starbucks around the corner from your house.  REALLY?!  Me (with a totally straight face): There’s one on such-and-such (which is literally five blocks from my house) #subtext: a**hole.  <Silence>  Him: Well, why can’t we just go to the movies over here?  Me: THINKING – For the same reason I wouldn’t come to your house last night.  SAYING – You know, this isn’t going to work.  Him:  Yeah, I don’t think so.  Me: Best of luck to ya.  *End call* <Deuces>  You with me so far?  Good.  That’s not the best part.

Fast forward to… well… to today.  I get a “wink” from the same guy on ANOTHER website.  This is too hilarious to be true.  So, I check out the profile.  It is DEFINITELY old dude.  Short memory men. (Not all, just… some.)  I chuckle.  At least he likes what he likes.  I pulled him TWICE.  I send him a message with the other website in the subject line.  (Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.  But, I had to let him know that I know exactly who he is.)   The message went something like this… Me: Alfredo, right?  We’ve spoken on the phone.  Thanks for the wink.  Him: Why did it not go any further?  Me: Because I refused to drive to such-and-such or meet you halfway on the first date. I don’t care if you live in a gated community or on the white house lawn. I’m a southern girl.  WAIT-FOR-IT.  Him: Do you want me to pick you up?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am still single.  For the love of Chow Chows, French Bulldogs and Labradoodles!  If I have to go through all of that to get a sane answer or a chivalrous, gentlemanly gesture from a man who claims to be a southern gentleman, no thank you.  This is a bit dramatic.  I completely understand.  I also know that there are many women who would have not only met him halfway on the first date, but driven to his house to watch the movie the night before, and could tell you the details of the paint on his bedroom ceiling.  Simply put?  They make it hard for a woman like me.  Literally.  Oh well.  Moving right along!

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: If it wasn’t for audacity, some people would have nothing.

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I was born and raised in New Orleans.  Post Hurricane Katrina when the levees broke and flooded our city (that was for you, Rob) I lived in Houston, Texas.  During that tumultuous time, I had a co-worker who is of Hispanic origin.  Hola chica!  She was as bright eyed, bubbly, and feisty as you can imagine.  Add another dash of habanera and that’s her.  When I decided it was time to make the big leap to L.A., I told her she was welcome to visit anytime.  Her reply, “Are there any Mexicans in L.A.?”  The question caused the type of knee-jerk reaction where you cock your head slightly to the side and repeat the wording in a slightly satirical tone, one octave higher at the end.  “Are there any Mexicans in EL-AY?”  Her innocence alarmed me and rendered me momentarily speechless.  Who am I to give cavalier statistics on the Latino population comparison of Los Angeles to Houston?  I’m an amateur statistician at best.  After a long dramatic pause, I responded my own rhetorical question, “YEP!  You would love it!”  She was barely 21.  (I tend to reserve judgment for fools twice her age.)  She had never been to Mexico and I have never been to Africa.  I considered us even.  On race I am no authority.  I grew up in a city with one of the most complex racial intermingling histories in America – a port city, colonized by Spain and France with the most land-owning, free people of color in the 19th century.  Notwithstanding, the city is still pretty black and white.  Yet visually we are a gumbo of sorts.  Inside this cocoon called home, I’m black.  I’ve always been black.  It would be a shocker if suddenly I weren’t.  My birth certificate says Negro.  So, I’m African-American for sure.  Right?

Remarkably, outside my native crescent land, my nationality has been questioned more than once and even refuted twice.  It started in Basic Training.  I had three drill sergeants: one white male, one black male, one Hispanic female.  A Neapolitan coalition of armed might if you will.  One day my female drill sergeant called me by my last name, because that’s what they do when you join the military, and asked me a very straight forward question.  “What’s your nationality?”  The puzzled look on my face should have given her a clue.  I answered, “Black, drill sergeant.”  The profound lack of reference to any nation in the answer should have given her another clue.  She fumbled along clueless.  “No.  I mean, what are your parents?”  I replied instantaneously and a bit incredulously, “Black and black, drill sergeant.”  And so it went… The questioning and the subsequent dismissal as if we were playing some cruel game of Connect Four genealogy.  It happened that day for the very first time and it’s happened numerous times since then whenever I visit New York, D.C., Chicago and some parts of L.A.  I don’t speak Spanish.  I’m not from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, or any other Latin nation I would be most proud to represent if I were.  Heritage is important to me.  Why would I deny it if it were mine?

Here’s the genetic breakdown I know.  My great-grandmother on my father’s side was from France. My great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Jewish.  My great-great-grandmother was African.  My familial hues are most represented by people of color and I am unequivocally an African-American woman.  You with me?  Good.  I speak English.  In high school I studied Latin and French.  At a military institute off the coast of Monterey I studied Korean.  I’ve never studied Spanish.  Ever.  Although, I’m told I have an affinity for languages.  Insert “me” as Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon as he spouts German to the officers requiring proof of his citizenship then proceeds to disarm and disable both.

I’ve always wanted to be that badass.  I thought I was joining the military to be the female James Bond.  (We can thank a silver-tongued recruiter for that notion.)  The truth is the “needs of the Army” far outweigh any girl’s dreams of learning Russian to slip underneath the iron curtain and procure secrets vital to the continued freedom of our nation.  And… my test scores dictated otherwise.  They ensured years of adoration for bulgogi, white sticky rice, and kimchi were in my future!  In hindsight I don’t think blending in would have been a feat easily attained in the Ukraine. (I told you I’m a colored gal.  Don’t you DARE repeat that.  The term grates my skin!!!)  Consequently, I couldn’t pass for Korean any day of the week either, not even in winter when I’ve lost my summer tan.  I am quite versatile.  The languages I’ve studied come complete with accents which astonish a native tongue.  I’m a bit of a showoff.  We can thank my background in theatre and my position in the birth order for that.   I love languages and I never cease to amaze myself.  In Italy I picked up a few phrases after “Ciao Bella!” was engrained in my brain.  In Mexico, I found myself in the middle of a marketplace bartering for a blanket while screaming, “Veinticinco!  Veinticinco!”  This is in no way contradictory to what I wrote earlier.  It’s true.  I’ve never studied Spanish.  I learned my numbers from Sesame Street and Villa Alegre, the first national bilingual children’s program televised in the U.S.  I’m a chameleon and a very quick study.  Blame it on great genes and a father who taught me how to play blackjack when I was seven years old.

What’s my point?  I’m not sure.  This is now considered rambling.  The only explanation I have is my power of association went full speed ahead when I saw a sign tacked on a pile of empty boxes in the office that read “Basura.”  My deductive reasoning led me to assume the sign read “Trash” or “Garbage” in Spanish.  Yes, even an idiot could have figured that out.  Thank you for the compliment.  The sign was thoughtful.  It was a solid attempt to communicate with someone on their terms instead of leaving to chance which items were regarded as important and which ones should have been discarded.  It made me wonder why I haven’t made more of an effort to take a Spanish class… or get a Hispanic boyfriend as one of my friends suggested.  (If I had taken her advice I shudder to think which Spanish words I would have learned first.  “Aye Papi!  Muey bueno!” does not count.)  Maybe I’ve yet to encounter a situation where my knowledge of the language was absolutely necessary.  Whatever the case may be, when I decide to learn the most widely used romance language in the world it will be because my desire to communicate has overcome my apathy.  It’s that simple.  It won’t be about the denial of my race or heritage.  My ethnicity will be questioned as long as my features represent a collection of 40 different nations.  My answer will continue to be the one given to my drill sergeant on that scorching hot summer day in Columbia, South Carolina.  But, perhaps it will be phrased more succinctly in my best voice a la espanol, “Yo soy morena!”

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Embrace your race. It’s important to celebrate who you are enlighten those don’t.


The People vs. The Problem with Being Single

This morning I forgot to brush my teeth before I left the house.  How does that happen?  It’s fairly simple.  I woke up.  I headed straight to the bathroom, reached in the cabinet, grabbed the mouthwash and swished.  Spinach dip, calamari and red wine the night before will do that to you.  I jumped in the shower and got dressed, grabbed my things and headed out the door.  Oh yeah, I fed the cats, cleaned the kitty litter, and unpacked my gym bag too.  You startin to get the picture?  It wasn’t until I was halfway to work that I ran my tongue across my teeth and cringed.  I made a quick pit stop at the drugstore en route and purchased a travel toothbrush and toothpaste to rectify the problem.  I am guilty of rushing.  I may even be guilty of not-flossing as often as I should.  But, I try my darndest not to be guilty of apathy or neglect.  Once I recognize a problem and have the means to correct said problem, i.e. funds to purchase aforementioned oral hygiene supplies, I do it.  I know plenty of people who would have complained about their fuzzy teeth situation, told a few other people about it, swore an oath never to forget brushing again, and just gone about their day wishing the foul breath away.  Maybe that’s you.  (No finger-pointing.  It’s not allowed here.)  I happen to know a few people exactly like that.  I’m just not one of them.  I like answers.  I like solutions.  I like to fix stuff when I recognize it needs fixin.  That’s probably what bugs me the most about this marriage thing and what has led me to my present state of mind.  I’ve always wanted a meaningful, monogamous relationship.  I think it would be great to be part of a wonderful union such as this.  My current state of extended singleness (You like that?)  leads me to believe that I am someone who may possibly have a few relationship issues that need fixin.  And all the exes said, “Amen.” 

Let me clarify for the feminists up-in-arms.  “I” am not broken and “I” do not need fixin.  I am perfectly happy growing, learning, and loving each day the person I am and am becoming.  Nuff said?  Cool.  Moving On – as we say on set.  It’s this relationship thing that’s got me a bit twisted.  IT or my attitude toward it is what I think needs fixin.  My simple fix?  I don’t have one.  Get one, you say?  Easier said than done.

When I am about the business of problem-solving (which BTW is “A-number one” on my resume – me – great problem solver – insert :::beaming smile:::) I usually (A) try to identify certain attributes unique to the situation or challenge that may give me insight as to the type of challenge I’m dealing with; (B) think about what has worked before and how it can be applied to the present; (C) consider all my resources; and (D) think about the possible outcome or consequences.  Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Superior Relationship Court is now in session.  The Honorable Me – or dishonorable if you count that trip to Cancun – presiding.  YES, I get to be the judge.  It’s my blog!  “The People vs. The Problem with Being Single” state your case.  [Exhibit A: Certain attributes unique to the challenge of relationships.]  I think people are crazy.  Myself included.  I think people are complicated.  I think just when you have people mastered, they smack it up, flip it and rub it down, changing your entire impression of them, breaking up a perfectly good boy band and requiring lots of lotion or water based lubricant to gain any understanding of what their true intentions may have been.  Conversely, I think people are wonderful creatures just waiting to amaze us and make us love them for all the reasons we knew we did in the first place.  I think there are people who are genuinely good who want to share positivity  and happiness with everyone they encounter.  None of these attributes negate each other.  They actually (and often do) CO-EXIST which is all the more baffling to me.  When it comes to relationships, conflicting principles make for extremely rocky waters.  Throw two people with opposite ideologies in the mix and you’ve got yourself endless nights of discussions concerning the Milky Way or why your momma won’t stay out of our business.  I’m just sayin.  {Exhibit B: Defer to prior successful solutions.] This can’t possibly be applicable here.  If what worked before was still working I wouldn’t be explicating the state of my singleness.  It’s safe to say I don’t know what works – for me.  However, allow me to expound on what I have observed works for other people.  Stroking the ego of the opposite sex to the point of exhaustion.  Turning a blind eye to the folly of your mate even when the risk of disease, embarrassment or harassment from a scorned, adulterous, lover lays waiting at every un-protected turn.  Sexless, loveless, roommate-esque cohabitation.  Excuse making.  Indentured servitude. (Well, what else would you call it?)  And my absolute favorite in a facetious world: Flat out denial.  These seem to work for some people.  However, I am not willing to apply any of these supposed solutions to the challenge at hand.  Thus, my single status.  [Exhibit C: Limited resources.]  I’ve tried gyms, bars, grocery stores, networking events, fix-ups, online dating, and hailing strangers on Hollywood Blvd.  Well, everything except that last one.  I still have my dignity.  [Exhibit D: Examining the possible outcome or consequences.]  Although this is the last exhibit, it is certainly not the least and has been the foremost on my mind as of late.  What’s the worst that could possibly happen?  Spending the rest of my life unmarried?  Having my best friend escort me to the award show?  Listing myself as sole purchaser on the beachfront property in Brazil?  No matter how I view the end result there’s nothing that seems so dark or dim about being single that frightens me to the point of running to the altar with some fool who won’t drive 25 miles to see me on a FIRST date.  As my mother would say, “There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely.”  I’m not lonely.  Sometimes I may get a little lonely.  But, I don’t suspect it’s any more than married people.  Besides, I know men and women inside of relationships who are lonelier than me.  I wouldn’t trade places with them for anything. (See earlier post – Greener Grass http://wp.me/pCt83-21)

The truth is there is no apparent solution because singleness isn’t a problem, at least not in my court of opinion.  If it were I would constantly view myself as “flawed” or someone who needs “fixin.”  I hope I don’t portray myself as such.  I definitely hope my friends and family don’t view me that way.  If they do, they haven’t been very diligent about setting up potential award show escorts who look dashing in a European made tuxedo!  In all seriousness, I’ve learned to view relationships as a positive addition to my life rather than a necessity.  That was huge.  I hope you caught that.  It wasn’t always that way.  Once upon a time, I thought if I didn’t get married I would be viewed as a social pariah.  I thought it was somehow reflective of my worthiness-to-mate like a lame lioness ostracized in the animal kingdom. (I have absolutely no idea why I typed that analogy.)  Once upon a time, it took time, circumstances, many learnings, growth and wisdom for me to realize my true worth.  Today, it takes courage to say, “No, thank you,” to bullshit and know that someone who recognizes your value is just around the bend.  Tomorrow, it will take a little bit of serendipity to meet the man of my dreams here on earth.  In that magical moment, it is my prayer we both recognize the addition we bring to each other’s lives and decide we want to be together.  If not, I will neatly tuck him in the pond of my relationship experiences and continue to fish in the ocean of life while happily single.

Persnickety Self Adjustment: When something needs fixin, it could be your point of view.


Greatness Lives in You

This summer, I attended a Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony.  At the reception, there was a large, white, foam board with the Bar Mitzvah’s picture on it.  Guests began writing in the space surrounding the picture with Sharpie colored markers that were neatly placed next to the board.  As I stood there for a moment contemplating what I should write and reflecting on the religious cultural services I had attended in his honor, I thought to myself, “This kid is special.”  He has a smile that lights up a room and a genuine personality that immediately endeared me to him.  I grabbed a black marker (I had to represent) and I wrote, “Greatness lives in you.”  I stepped back, surveyed my writing and began reflecting on my life at the age of 13.  There were quite a few memorable moments to recall.  First is kissing John what’s-his-face while standing in the driveway next to his house.  His last name has slipped into selective omission.  Second, accompanying my older sister to the hospital for the birth of my niece.  Not really sure why she took me for the ride, other than the fact that I was the only one home when her water broke.  It’s not like I could have driven the car or delivered the baby had an emergency arose.  Maybe she wanted someone to recant the story in the event something tragic happened on the way.  Even back then I was a great storyteller!  All I remember is it was raining and I was scared shitless.  And third, my Catholic confirmation during which I chose a unique spelling of my Saint’s name, arguing it was traditionally Hebrew and had been changed through English translation. *cough cough* Bullsh!t *cough cough*  I can only wonder if the priest thought, “She’s either one heckuva salesman or her boundless creativity surpasses her limited knowledge.”  Maybe he simply shook his head while thinking, “Kids.”

Those memorable moments notwithstanding, I suspect many people other than my parents recognized my potential whilst I was busy being a foolish teenager using words like “whilst.”  Thank God, the gift of wisdom brings clarity.  I think.  I hope!  Standing with my sharpie in hand and the shoe on the proverbial other foot, I sensed a common ground of creativity between me and the spirit of the young Bar Mitzvah which prompted my written comment and a subsequent sotto smile of understanding.  Some would say, “What could you possibly have in common with a 13-year old, Jewish boy?”  Plenty.  Substance for one.  I am of the opinion that we are more alike than we are different.  Our commonalities are what make us civilized, human, able to function collectively in society without broad scale chaos or mayhem.  There are plenty of thinkers and doers.  But, in the equation of life we dreamers are a necessary component.  Don’t worry.  I know we make you nervous with our think-outside-the-box-ness and our anything-is-possible-positive-attitude-go-getter-ness.  I assure you, we mean no harm.  We simply want to be allowed to create freely.  My high school principal once told my mother, “She’s a free-spirit.  She’ll never be happy in a nine-to-five.”  (Ironically, 9-to-5 with Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda was one of my first introductions to female-driven comedy!)  My principal was right.  I’ve held many, many, don’t make me recant the shoe selling or fudge making jobs on the path to attaining my dreams.  The cookie-cutter ones marked by intrusive structure with little or no creativity were stifling.  If there are hidden video cameras beside any of those desks, I’m sure they’ve caught me dancing, watching movies or sleeping on many occasions.  Not ever on company time, of course…  Lucky for me, my mom recognized early on that I was a non-conformist.  She supported every endeavor I embarked upon, even the dumb ones.  Her one caveat was that I always do my best.  You wanna be a pig farmer?  Be the best damn pig farmer there is.  Accept no substitute.  Study pigs until you breathe bacon and sleep in slop.  I’m just saying.

Somewhere in my late twenties I became slightly bitter with my mom’s ideology.  I thought there may have been a lack of direction on her part.  I soon realized that any attempt to impose direction would have immediately been taken by my younger, foolish self as a sign of creative asphyxiation.  My mother parented a free-spirit the best way she could – to let me be as free as I could be, as long as I was respectful and obeyed the rules of the house.  In her infinite wisdom she did it by creating a huge circle around me that allowed me to explore without feeling constricted vs. creating a maze with a set path allowing only one exit.  I believe she knew me better than I knew myself.  And, if I know me half as well as she did, I will have attained a great feat.  As a parent, I like to think I’ve learned “how to” by observing.  The truth is sometimes you have to “do and fail” in order to succeed.  I think back to all the times my mother must have watched me fall flat on my face.  I think about how scared she must have been when I left the nest barely able to fly and acquire food on my own.  I wonder if it ever occurred to her to say, “Don’t.  Stop.  Wait.”  I’m sure it did.  But, maybe, just maybe she knew that I was more of a Robert Frost poem than I could ever have known.  That the only leading which would have any effect was to say, “Watch the sticks, potholes and bumps along the way.”  If she were alive today, I think she would be proud.  A few bumps and bruises, but I’ve survived.  A few hills and valleys, but I’ve learned how to climb.  I found my way through the forest and the trees, because in my heart, I had already determined to take the road less traveled by.  My success today is not only predicated by what I do, but by who I am allowed to be creatively.  If I had had more traditional parents, I’m not sure I would have learned that.  If no one had written on the foam board of my life, I’m not sure I would have found my way.  I owe them a great deal for making me the woman I am today.  They saw the seed of what I could one day possibly be, they allowed me to be me, and that has made all the difference.

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Greatness is determined as much by what you do as what you don’t do.