Things are changing fast. Fast, faster, fastest.
Rapid radical reevaluations render restful respites romantic ruminations. Does that make sense?
I can actually start to see the results of all the hard work I’ve been doing over the past few years. It all started last week, when I pathetically posted on Facebook about being tired of being alone and wanting more social contact. Trying to recreate my world has taken considerable energy and focus. I walk alone most days and nights. These facts came into focus as I made my way home from work on a Saturday for the umpteenth time and thought about the number of days I had done the exact same thing. How many times had I walked up those particular Bart steps, down that street, and past that guy in front of the laundromat? I thought about the number of times I’d talked to that guy who always drinks 40s of Steel in front of El Faro. And then I thought about the number of times I’d seen him being thrown into the paddy wagon, en route to the drunk tank. And the fact that these visions, those steps, these people I see were only happening to me. I had no one to share any of this with. It all depressed me, so I posted this:
Felt tired of being alone for the first time in what feels like years today. Tired of walking alone, coming home to myself, sleeping alone, reading alone, working alone, playing alone, making art alone, crying alone, being happy alone…I’m tired of all of it. Also, I’m hungry.
I got a very encouraging messages from my friends. I ate something. I felt better.
A person who was instrumental in making a storytelling event I helped co-found a few years ago a success sent me the nicest message. Browning Porter and a few other tellers were the bread and butter of Secretly Y’all Charlottesville. If I could do it over again I would give the cash we made at the events to this select group of individuals. They were always up for telling their stories, and the stories were always top notch.
Browning encouraged the group to move in new directions, and took time outta his life (which includes a wife and kids) to meet and brainstorm. He even helped headline the first event while the group transitioned to Richmond at the end of 2010. Here is a link to an interview I did with him a few years ago (seriously, how has two years passed already?).
Anyhow, here is the message I received from him on that night:
I also just want to say that I am really grateful to the energy you put into bringing storytelling to C’ville, and it paid off in ways that you probably can’t even see yet. You had an impact. And also that the work your are doing now is cool and interesting and I hope you keep it up. I wouldn’t say that if it weren’t true. You will find people who get you. I believe that.
I get by with a little help…
This simple note, this simple act of gratitude and a seemingly genuine expression of belief shook me up. For the past few weeks one of my great friends, who’s been growing the event in Richmond since my move to California, asked me and the other founders of Secretly Y’all to contribute a few stories to the upcoming event. The theme they’d chosen, Origin Stories, gave her the idea to get the founders back together to tell about the birthing of SY.
I wasn’t thrilled about her idea, and told her I couldn’t participate because I still had some unresolved issues with what went down that year. Since my flirtation with Virginia ended I have been on the out and out with the social group that I ran with at that time. This is not really surprising. I moved clear across the country after things went to pieces and, to be fair, up until that point I was trying to be something and everything that I was not. I was avoiding my true calling, and when you’re being fake life rewards you with fake. Like attracts like, right? Fake creates fake. Being invited to tell stories with and about this time in my life brought back some major feelings of insecurity.
Browning’s message made me realize that there had been a place where I was being honest with my goals and intentions that year, a place where my love of creation had an outlet. I had a genuine enthusiasm for the event that came from the most beautiful chamber of my heart. I worked hard on the event because the work didn’t feel like work. It felt like love.
I sat down to listen to a few Moth podcasts (which I was introduced to while working in the University of Virginia’s costume shop) this morning, and immediately remembered why I liked holding that event: Because I liked giving people a platform to express themselves. I liked having a view of other people’s experiences, and I truly enjoy the experience of sitting still, being quiet, and focusing my attention on other people. I liked encouraging people to expose themselves and supporting them while they lived through the discomfort that resulted. Life is about looking at our fears and staring them down until they don’t exist anymore. At least, to me, a life that is well lived is about that.
So I’m trying to gather my thoughts about Secretly Y’all and it’s origins. I’m going to try and participate this coming Monday because I’m terrified. I’m terrified of revisiting this time in my life, which means I have to. I combed through some of Secretly Y’all’s email archives to get a sense of what was going on at that time, it hasn’t brought me closer to any conclusions, but I can remember what I was feeling at that time, and I know that it closely relates to what I am doing now.
Another piece of the puzzle is falling into place for me. I haven’t written about sexuality, relationships, and dating for a while because I haven’t been exploring those parts of my life at all since I made and started exhibiting the three foot photomosaic of my vulva. I truly hope this is coincidental, cause if it’s not I will have to destroy my piece to get my groove back.
The part that is falling into place is my ability to deflect other people’s (especially men’s) desires for me. This has been consistently challenging for me for as long as I can remember. Again, not a surprise. I was raised in authoritarian, religiously conservative household, where my dad’s words were stronger than law and mom wielded a large ‘obedience’ stick to help us kids remember this. I was raised to obey, but eventually learned that these behaviors benefit those around me, especially those who want me to do things for them, and are pretty much useless in helping me get what I need and want.
Speaking of strategies that people use to control other’s behaviors, I recently learned that some men use what I call “expectation control” when they want to have their way with me, but don’t really want to be down. I will be honest, I use this method when I am selling things at the fabric store. I tell customers that we don’t have something if I am ambivalent as to whether or not we do, and then when I find or don’t find it, it is either perceived as me being a magician, capable of pulling items out of thin air, or that I set up an expectation that proved true. Either way the end result seems positive. The customer is either really happy that we do have it, or not to bummed out that we don’t.
This method is great for selling things, but not so great when dealing with human hearts. But that’s just it, guys that use this method to get what they want from women are basically treating relationships like commodities – expendable, tradable, a resource to be tapped. The expectation control method has worked on me! It’s often led to me being way too available with guys that don’t really know what they want, or who are just playing the field. I don’t see a problem with playing the field, and personally have not been in a position to carry a serious relationship for the past several years, but I’m starting to come out of that, and now it’s easier to translate and understand the language of ambivalence.
I recently had a very positive exchange with a young suitor that left me proud. I initially accepted his invitation to go out, but after considering several important factors, I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction.
Me: Actually, I don’t think I want to meet up. I think you are a nice guy, but I have to be honest with myself and you. At this point in my life I’m actually looking for something serious. And I doubt that at 22, you are. So it’s nothing personal, but I don’t want to go down roads that lead to nowhere.”
Him: I’m 23 but you’re right i’m young and not in a hurry to find something serious. I want to take you out but not with any expectations of something serious. If you feel like going out with me precludes you from finding something serious then I can understand. If not, then I’d like to go out with you, you’re an interesting girl. Give me a chance to get to know you. Young or not it won’t kill you, or keep you from finding something more serious
Me: I am going to pass on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean I never want to see you – just depends on the context. If you’re going out with friends and want to invite me along – great. I’ll happily join. But us going out one on one is not really an option to me. I’ve had too man experiences with men who ask me to limit or lower my expectations to accommodate their desires and I’m not willing to do that anymore. No, going out with you won’t kill me, but it also won’t move me closer to the thing I’m really looking for. If you still want to get to know me, read my blog.
Him: That sounds fair.
I am actually super impressed by the maturity of this dude. His ability to be honest with me, hear me out, and not get defensive is encouraging. I seriously hope I’ve broken some pattern. It feels like maybe I have. Only time will tell. I am also insanely grateful that I’ve been keeping this blog. It enables me to deflect the age old question, “Can’t I get to know you, girl?” Yeah you can, doesn’t mean I need to be there for it.
Realizing that I have the ability to deflect peoples desires for me ignites anger in some people, admiration in others. Saying what I want and need, as both a woman and a person with brown skin, goes against the flow of things in America. In America, my desires are not a priority. My dreams don’t count and aren’t included. My needs aren’t prioritized. More importantly, many people see the fulfillment of my desires as a direct threat to their ability to get what they want. I think this is called the scarcity mentality, that there are limited resources and that we are in competition with each other to secure what there is. I see this as fundamentally true in terms of American race relations, where a black person getting something is equated with a white person losing something (In our racist society nothing has ever innately belonged to brown skinned people. Not their bodies, not their children, not their homes, not their land. The entitlement of ownership is associated primarily with the white body). Think about the arguments against Affirmative Action.
So when will we start to have the mentality that me getting what I want has no bearing on you getting what you want? Where are we going to learn to share in a way that most 5 year olds are required to master to pass kindergarten? When are we going to realize that there is enough out there for all of us to get what we want and need and that we don’t have to give people preferential treatment based on a minescule and unimportant genetic variation? When do we realize that losing, and doing so with grace, is just as important, if not more important, as winning?
I have a zillion mundane experiences that I could reveal that back the idea that some people are threatened by the idea of someone like me getting what I want. Let’s explore a few, since the big truths of life are often found in the mundane.
Here’s one example: I was getting Chinese takeout the other day, and as I went to pick up my food a woman insisted that I had a made a mistake and that I was taking her order. She got in my face about it, and the server had to reassure her that the order I took was mine. She apologized. I walked away. Maybe you’re saying, “Well, this happens to me too, what does it have to do with you being black?” And to that I say, how often does it happen to you? Cause in my world that shit happens all the time. I don’t count random outlier experiences, I count patterns, things that repeat themselves.
Here’s another: I recently went to an Episcopalian church to meditate with a friend (Interfaith. Imagine that!), and before we entered the church a young black man approached and asked about the motorcycle that my friend had ridden up on. They casually chatted for a few moments. The kid, he couldn’t have been older than 19 or 20, seemed pretty enthusiastic and excited by the bike. As they parted my friend turned to me and said, “I think that guy wants to steal my bike, I mean, why was he asking so many questions about it?” I told him he just seemed interested and that the situation was probably harmless, but I also felt paralyzed and dismayed by his question. I currently feel ashamed that I didn’t interrogate the obviously racist assumptions that were underlying his concerns in that moment. Would he have felt the same way if the person asking questions was a white man or woman? I should have asked him these things. About 5 minutes into the meditation session I heard my friend rise from his chair, and a few moments after that I heard the roar of closely parked motorcycle. He was so disturbed by his own fearful assumptions, that he felt compelled to move his bike to protect it. That’s unconscious racism at it’s best. And in that moment, I think I began to understand racism at it’s core. It’s an irrational fear, a fear that controls, a fear that interrupts everything, even sacred moments of spirituality. And I felt sorry, for the first time, for the unaware racist. Because I realized that he or she is perpetually living a life of fear. A reactionary life, a life based around the speech an movements of others. A young black man’s expressed desires were enough to do that. That has been powerful for me to consider.
There have been many moments for me when I’ve openly expressed myself only to find that the person on the receiving end can’t handle the words coming out of my mouf. They react, they lash out, they blame me, they tell me they want to choke me, they mime choking me, and I get to look at them in all of their awfulness wondering what it was that I really did. Since when is expression that threatening? But it is.
I am of a firm mind that those of us who experience the most oppression have the best fodder for artistic expression brewing under the surface. I came to this conclusion recently, after inquiring about Japanese culture. I’ve been trying to figure out why so many of my favorite artists and creators are Japanese. I happened to meet an American woman who’s been teaching English in Japan for a decade or so, and when I asked her what Japan is like she said, “There’s only one way to do things in Japan.” Maybe that’s the secret then. The cultures that actively discourage natural and healthy variation are unknowingly encouraging radical forms of expression. It’s a beautiful thing. Life always finds an outlet. I’m glad I’ve found this one. It’s my platform, and the view from up here is amazing.
Love and enjoy!