Today marks the 11th year since my mother’s death, and can I be perfectly honest? It get better. It gets so much better. I’ve struggled with grieving and her death for the majority of the last decade, and I am so grateful that I did. To feel like I feel today, to feel so different from how I used to feel and to be able to recognize the difference is truly gift-like.
My morning was simple. I woke up, scheduled some posts, and had a good chat with my sister in-law (she’s the best) who just got back from a three week European vacation (Italy and Spain). She’s encouraging me to put my travel shoes back on. I want to so badly (I have to work for a Parisian fashion house soon. That is what my creative brain is telling me to do and who am I to deny her ?), but I have to make sure I have strategies in place for dealing with the racism that I’m sure to encounter.
Learning how to say “Kiss my black ass,” in as many EU languages as possible is on the list of strategies. Also, finding communities of artists is another coping mechanism that I would like to utilize. Artists tend at the very least, tolerant to different lifestyles and modes of expression. Also, one of the ways I cope with racism is through my art. I don’t have to worry about addressing every hateful situation in the moment because I know my art is addressing it for me, all the time.
The older I get the more I realize how important having safety nets and support systems are.
I recently went rock wall climbing with two of my housemates. Before going I gave them all the reason why I wouldn’t like it, inlcuding:
1. There wouldn’t be any other black people there. Making me the only black person, like always.
2. I climb metaphorical mountains everyday, why would I want to climb a fake one for fun. Climbing too high, to places humans can get on their own doesn’t sound like fun. Climb for fun, what the hell kind of fun is that?
3. I am not strong enough to get my round ass up a rock wall.
So here were my results.
1. There weren’t any other black people there but there were some Asians and an Indian couple, which I pretty much consider black. Mainly because their skin was darker than mine and also because I get mistaken for half Indian all the time.
2. Climbing a fake mountain with friends is way better than climbing real or metaphorical mountains without them, especially because of the ropes. We did two types of climbing top roping and bouldering. The main difference between the two was that top roping includes harnesses, a funny garment indeed, and ropes connecting climbers on the ground to climbers on the wall. Although I was initially intimidated by the height of the walls, psychologically speaking I found top roping easier. Knowing that I had someone to ‘catch’ me in case I fell meant I was more willing to take risks and reach for sections of the wall that I wouldn’t if I were doing it by myself. I was able to scale 30+ foot walls without incident or hesitation.
Bouldering was different. Even though the fall from a boulders could never hurt a person, I was skittish without having the weight of the harness and ropes on me. I was way more careful and hesitant. The part I did enjoy about bouldering was falling from the wall onto the mats, and knowing that I could just let go and I wouldn’t get hurt (although I was mighty fearful still).
In top roping the climb is fun.
In bouldering the fall is fun.
These are good lessons. To get up high, to meet my goals, I’ll probably need a really long rope and a few people helping me, pushing and pulling in various directions, pointing out things that I can’t see from my perspective, things that are right in front of my face. And if I do fall, I need to remember that as long as I’ve nurtured a support system, there’s nothing to worry about. I will enjoy the fall. Hopefully I’ll be laughing on the way down.
Also, working on and doing things that are scare me is almost always fun.
3. My body still works. Even though it’s shapely and feminine it can get me places I would never expect.
This exercise also made me think about society, and the way some people can more easily perceive their harnesses, safety nets, top ropes and mattresses. This makes it easier to take risks, to just go for it. Others have a hard time seeing and feeling those supports, meaning sometimes they never make the leap or take that risk they need to take to get to the next place.
Some people can create the support systems in their mind (I think that’s what the ego is for), while others, I include myself in this group, actually need to see and feel things to know that they exist. It’s not enough for me to imagine things. They have to materialize in the flesh, I have to feel my lovers warmth or the knife’s sharpness to know what’s going on.
This got me thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if someone made an obstacle course that physically imitated the societal institutions that support and maintain white supremacy? So every time someone said something like, “I don’t know what it’s like to be black/poor/a woman/a person with a disability,” I could tell them to give my obstacle course a try.
My vision would be to make it American Gladiator style, so two people would be running the course at the same time.
“I’m in so much pain, I can’t breath, but I am so freaking excited and I’m happy to be here!!!!”
The catch is that one side has harder obstacles, and the participant has fewer resources at their disposal to combat the obstacles (like no huge q-tip to fight an opponent with). The key to creating maximum frustration will be to ensure that the participant on the harder side can see all the progress that their opponent is making, while they seem to be standing still, working on the same problem. This has, as you can tell, been my most frustrating obstacle in the past.
I was thinking about obstacles because my sister-in-law was talking about how much people stared at their family in both Italy and Spain. She told me about the disgusted looks she got from one Italian woman in particular. My sister-in-law’s parents come from Italy and Peru, and she’s married to my brother who is a mixture of whatever we consider ourselves to be. I consider myself African American, with a few splashes of American Indian on both sides of the family, and some European, including portuguese, from my mother’s family who passed for white in several of the census records I’ve found. In any case, they got looks, and stares. This made the vacation hard to enjoy at times. While we were chatting I realized what this whole “race” thing is to me, it’s an obstacle.
It’s a giant boulder, it’s a rock wall; it’s a boulder, and then a rock wall. It’s a trail of fire leading to a pool of gasoline. It’s a treadmill in the wrong direction, its a strongman hidden behind the gate…it’s MXC!
It’s an obstacle course, and my job is to figure out how to get over, under, around, and through. If I do it right I should probably be in a lot of pain, chest heaving, possibly feeling like I’m about to die, but so excited for having gotten to where I wanted to go (like the girl in the AG video).
It doesn’t matter who starts first, who’s in the lead most of the time, and who wins. What really matters is that I finish. That I complete what I start, that I do what I set out to do.
I’m not sure how I started at death and ended with obstacles, but I suppose that makes sense. Death is an obstacle to overcome. Death separates us, physically, from people we want and need. That separation can be hard to bear, but if we can see beyond the obstacles that the physical world presents, we realize that the dead are always with us in their own way. They never leave. And we can escape our own mortality through our work, through our passions, through the ideas, beliefs, objects, and love we share with others.
I end this post by sharing my gratitude for the obstacles I’ve maneuvered around thus far, and by requesting a rope, a harness, and if possible a partner or two to help me scale anything else that blocks the path. Pretty please…
Love and enjoy.