Be Very Afraid

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So far this is the theme of 2014. My plans of writing, wellness, and winning have all been surreptitiously dismantled by catching the flu, the pitfalls of becoming middle management, and unpacking my apartment. I sleep too much and often come home spent and thinking of things to write and not writing. I will do it tomorrow, I tell myself, right after I watch another episode of Criminal Minds for the seventh time. I do all this and expect things to be different.

I do this because I am afraid. Aziz Ansari was right about one thing: 30 comes at you fast. It is this mythical fantastical age where everyone in the movies has a large apartment, a career that they love, an enviable group of friends, the love of their life, and a baby. And it’s not just in the movies. In my own family I am the oldest grandchild to not be married or have a baby. In the era of instant gratification and humiliation, it’s not hard to find out weekly that the guy you dated with those mental health issues is celebrating his one year anniversary to an Evelyn Lozada look alike or the person who you used to perform with is now at Yale. In the aggregate, I feel like I have been left at the very back of my cohort. The one who never likes to read out loud. The one who is terrified of being called to the chalkboard. The one picked for dodgeball last.

I know that fear is the ultimate obstacle to purpose and to wealth. Thank you Oprah Winfrey and Suze Orman. Like the other dichotomies that have defined my life (Brooklynite from Mississippi, Ivy League sassy black girl; fat public health crusader), fear and ambition bite at my ankles enough that it’s all I can do not to fall down in a bloody, exhausted, legless heap.

How does one live their best life when they have become accustomed to mediocrity? How do you go out on a career risk after being unemployed during the Great Recession? How do you lose the weight when you know that it’s your only reprieve from the endless aggression and street harassment and black girl dating?

You don’t. Living your best life means getting over all of these things. It means fear has no place, which oddly enough makes me even more afraid. Over time fear has become the old pair of combat boots, long out of style but too comfy not to wear every time it’s damp outside. It snuggles me and let’s me sleep longer than I should and avert my eyes from attractive men with nice smiles. It tells me that trying to perform when I am this old and this brown and this tired and this fat is a waste of time. That working on my writing here is taking away time from working for publication. That no one will read what I write for publication. That I will always work nine to five. That I will always be alone.

Fear is a sickness wherein lies its own reprieve. Fear keeps us from being reckless. Sadly a certain amount of recklessness is required in risks. The shining irony is that the thing that has kept my fingers off the stove and good grades on my report card is the thing that makes me gasp for air.

How Long Do I Have to Take the Subway to Get to Success?

The year 30 brings a metamorphosis to anyone. Just like 18 and 21 changes your perception around what it means for you to be an adult, 30 is like that but different. 30 is adulthood bitch slapping you in the face.

Per the usual Type A thinking black woman I am, the last 6 months following my monumental birthday have been filled with ennui. I watch all my friends and colleagues achieve some of the adulthood trophies I already thought would be proudly displayed on my life’s shelf–making more than $75k, being in stable relationships, moving to Manhattan. I don’t feel like I am jealous; I acutely feel glee for the achievements of everyone I know. I just observe where I am in the process and how far away I am from “success.”

After a year of hell living in an apartment that has cost me a small fortune out-of-pocket, I have been looking for an apartment. If there is anything that makes you feel like you aren’t worth squat, try looking for an apartment in New York City! Being a single lady, I need to be close to a train in a facility that doesn’t resemble a crack house. Apparently, that costs $1500 a month…IN BROOKLYN. Not counting a broker’s fee. It’s pretty demoralizing to lay $4,000 down just to move down the street. This is the location I find myself. At the cross streets of “This can’t be my life” and “Dad, can I borrow some cash?”

How far is the subway from here?

Don’t Go, Weight!

I recently had a panic attack in Target. Atlantic Terminal was it’s usual mosh pit of mayhem, screaming women with hideous eyelashes pushing strollers and bumping into yuppies perusing the lackluster Prabal Gurung items now at 70% off. Target isn’t my fave place to be (unless it’s a Sunday morning, everything is restocked, and I have the time to sashay down the “ethnic” hair care aisle), but it doesn’t get me flustered. I am there 2 times a week, more like 4 since I have moved into my new apartment.

Yet there I was. Rising body temp, echoing sounds, and slippery fingers. I was having a meltdown albeit a silent one. Those are the only respectable ones to have.

I knew why it was happening. A mere 45 minutes before, my beautiful blonde Polish OB-GYN had the following exchange.

Polish OB-GYN: Yeah, I don’t know why you keep having these adverse reactions to birth control. First the IUD. Now the Nuvaring. I haven’t seen anything like it.

Me: I’m special.

Polish OB-GYN: Indeed you are. [flips through chart] Did you realize in August you weighed 163 and now you weigh 177? And your blood pressure has elevated considerably.

[PAUSE]

Polish OB-GYN: If it gets much higher, you may not be eligible to take birth control.

Me: [HAS SMALL ANEURYSM]

I had the same conversation with my primary care physician a month ago when he talked to me about my cholesterol.

And I have had the pleasure of receiving off-handed comments from family members at a recent wedding when I collapsed in my hotel room more than once in an adjacent hotel room.

Kelly, you were never a fat child or even a fat teenager. Kelly, you were doing so well, what happened? You wouldn’t be this overweight if you didn’t live in New York. 

Apparently I will not eligible for a loving relationship, a raise, a healthy pregnancy, happy vacations, a functioning heart or respiratory system, or family support unless I lose about 40 pounds.

There is some truth to that. Dating is different for overweight people. The men that were attracted to me 8 years ago were richer and whiter without a doubt.  Apparently women who routinely exercise get promoted more. And I know all about diabetes and heart disease thanks to my day job.

So, how do I manage to like myself today? To wear a sundress and flirt and not scrutinize everything I eat and exercise for the joy of it, and find value in myself regardless of what society says? Well, that’s easy. Society isn’t the problem at all. I am a black woman from Mississippi who went to an Ivy League school; every day I spit in society’s face and go on about my business.

It’s hard, however, to spit in the faces of colleagues, family members, and friends. People who love me, they really do, but scrunch up their face when I order french fries. Or point out how we used to share clothes, or outright ask me why I let myself go.

I didn’t let myself go. My life happened. After 24ish, my metabolism slowed. I participated in the cocktail culture of the city. I ate out on dates 3 times a week. I sit for 3 hours a day on the train and 9 hours at work. I mostly lived in places with small I get home at 9pm, write down my thoughts and lay down. And I use food as punisher, soother, and reward.

In other words, I am an ordinary American. In my family or school cohort, ordinary isn’t acceptable. It’s isn’t acceptable to me either on most accounts, which is why this issue gives me such anguish and stress.

I truly have no desire to be thin. I do have a desire to be thinner, have more energy, and have more insulin sensitivity. Spring is a time of renewal; I am starting small. A  jog with the dog. Walking up the stairs, heading to the farmers market every week.  I don’t expect that I will see a definite change on the outside.

But it’s the inside I am more concerned about.

*PS. Feel free to share any success stories or tips via Twitter or in the comments!

The Upside of Urkel

The past two months, it’s been hard to breathe. Between working 6 days a week, trying to finish up a project at Job 1 and start a project at Job 2, I have all but abandoned faithful friends and confidants. I knew I couldn’t make it up to them individually, so I planned a picnic.

It didn’t take long for us to catch up. I love them; they love me. The leaves, turning colors anywhere from ruby-red to burnished gold, floated to our feet. I’m sure people were talking, but my soul sat in silence, content to just be.

And then it started…

“Kelly, so tell us about your boyfriend.”

It’s an innocuous query from a bunch of undersexed and overbrained New York career women, but it snapped me out of the dream-like space I was inhabiting. I answered questions in clipped phrases, sighs, and facial expressions not closely approximating a smile.

My friends were shocked. My boyfriend is, without a shadow of a doubt, better than the last one and anyone who has crossed my path in a number of years. We went foraging for 5 hours in Prospect Park, then cooked dinner with the greens we collected. We talk about retirement. We bike through neighborhoods to find thrift stores. He twists my hair. HE TWISTS MY HAIR!

So why am I so meh whenever someone asks about him?

Because I am dating Steve Urkel.

Do I make you swoon?

Seriously. Gap-in-teeth-questionable-fashion-sense-glasses-from-two-decades-ago Steve Urkel.

I have been dating for about a thousand years. For most of that time, I went out with someone because of charisma, sexitude, or swagger. It’s hard to care about someone’s values when you are drunk making out with them on the top of a Manhattan hotel bar. Chemistry is not connectivity. When I look at anyone’s stable relationship that I admire (I can count about 3), they all say the same thing– passion and chemistry don’t sustain you.

I guess my friends’ point is that it should be there at least at the beginning? Where is that set in stone? No, I don’t daydream about him. I don’t call him obsessively. We do not makeout on rooftops.

But when I am sad, he takes kisses my forehead and takes my hand. Even when he works more than me, he is always concerned that I am getting enough rest. He takes out the trash, walks the dog, fixes chairs, and washes the dishes. I never ask him to.

He doesn’t give me butterflies.

But there is truly no other place that I’d rather be.

TV Tokens? Not so much.

About 10 years ago, I wanted to be a historian. My subjects of choice were African-American gender history, LGBT history, and the history of reproductive medicine. My expertise allowed me to read old Ebony magazines, first-hand accounts of underage hustlers in Time Square, and protocols for testing early contraceptives on Blacks and Hispanics to find out if it was suitable for whites. A prospective career writing about sex and drugs helped me get through the dreary, dusty environment of my suburban elitist school.

Reading microfiche in the library’s basement I was enamored with early and mid-twentieth century Jet magazines. I skimmed past the advertisements for skin lighteners and hair pomade and always went to the Jet Firsts. Each week the Jet Firsts mentioned some woman of color who was blazing the trails in law, science, academia, politics, or celebrity. They served as beacons of hope during the South’s Jim Crow, the North’s smothering urban poverty, and the disillusionment that followed.

Today, it doesn’t make sense to have the Jet Firsts. Women of all persuasions are seen everywhere.

Except for on television!

During the past decade I have looked for a representation of myself. All I could come by was Meredith Grey and Carrie Bradshaw. I intimately understand Meredith’s neurosis or Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with shoes, but it doesn’t really reflect my life. The best I have is Living Single’s Khadijah James of 1993 on YouTube.

This season, however, is different. I turn on the tv and I see myself! Not just in terms of color, but in terms of character. Scandal’s Kerry Washington is an driven bitch who makes tough calls, leads by example, and has ill-advised sexual relationships with unavailable white men. WE’RE PRACTICALLY TWINS. The Mindy Project’s Mindy Kaling is a woman with big thighs working in the medical field and just trying to keep her head up and believe in love after about a million bad dates. HELLO MIRROR!

My excitement about these shows makes me equally ecstatic and sad. A black woman hasn’t headed a drama since Diahann Carol did in the 70s. I have NEVER seen a non-thin brown woman head ANYTHING EVER on regular broadcast tv.

It’s 2012. And we still have Jet Firsts.

My only hope is that I can get to a Jet Fifth by the time I’m 50. Until then I will be doing my brown girl duty…aka siting on my ass and laughing at the shenanigans of a person who looks like me.

Mindy, I’m rooting for you girl!