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.

The Pitfalls of Being a Good Girl

If you know me, you know I am a theater junkie.  If money was not involved in this world at all, I would spend my time writing plays and drinking crystal light with vodka.  To make up for it, I spend as much of my time in a theater as I can.  I can barely participate in my own art form because it’s so expensive, but with a great group of friends and the goal function of Mint, I manage to do ok.

Lately, there has been a rash of “all black” plays.  Well, like 4 in 2 years, which is a rash by Broadway standards.  Each time one comes out, I debate whether or not to see it.  Truthfully, I would rather see more original works from black playwrights hit Bway, but I will take what I can get.  So when my friend The Playwright asked me if I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, I jumped at the chance.  Nicole Ari Parker isn’t my favorite actress, but the tickets were free, and Blair Underwood doesn’t wear much.

That was enough for me.

Three hours later, I tried to string together meaningful sentences about the play, but I couldn’t. I stared dazed and confused, moved in some internal way that I couldn’t describe.  Those scenes have been playing in my head the last week. I am all at once disturbed and elated at the memories and their meaning, but it wasn’t until today that I knew why.

Basically, I am Blanche.

It’s uncanny that a drug-addicted gay man could write something that touches a modern, black woman so well.  But hey, Tennessee Williams was from Mississippi and so am I. That counts for something.

If you went to a decent high school, you have read this play.  If you haven’t, stop reading this blog and head to the Cliff Notes section of Barnes & Noble now.

Blanche, the ultimate Southern belle, drops in on her lower class sister (Stella) who is married to the most abusive, yet sexiest man of all time (Stanley).  Throughout the course of the play, we realize that Blanche has a serious past that she is running from, but in 1940s New Orleans, there’s not many places a woman can go except into the arms of a man.  Once Stanley uncovers her past, he takes the only two things she has left: her body and autonomy.

Blanche and Stanley

Of course, I am very leery of the good girl/Southern belle/virgin vs. modern/worldly/sexual dichotomy, but it exists. At least within myself.

Like Blanche, I have spent a regrettable amount of time making sure what I had to say and what I thought was feminine and palatable.  “Good girls” don’t ask for more money or respect at work.  We just purposefully perform poorly so we don’t have to scream I WOULD RATHER SELL CHURROS ON THE SUBWAY THAN WORK HERE!  Do good girls delete the numbers of men who leave a lot to be desired? OF COURSE NOT! That would require an uncomfortable “bad girl” conversation or shouting SERIOUSLY?!? WE COULD HANG OUT FOR 1,000 YEARS BEFORE YOU SAID SOMETHING THOUGHT-PROVOKING!  Instead, we obsessively fixate on something trivial and purposefully annoy the boy until HE tells us it’s done. Then the good girl breathes the biggest sigh of relief and eats a plate of spaghetti and thanks her lucky stars she got rid of him.  It seems so perfectly natural; I’ve seen it my whole life.  Women obsessively committing themselves to being frail, flighty, and emotional, just so we don’t have to do what needs to be done.  Waiting or manipulating someone to do something that I don’t have the balls to do is par for the course. It’s as natural to me as breathing.

And as I watched A Streetcar Named Desire, I realized that it was also CERTIFIABLY INSANE.

What Whitney Houston’s Death Taught Me About Dating

Everyone knows where they were when Kennedy and MLK died. Well, everyone who is over 40.  For me, the same applies to Whitney Houston.

I was doing the weekend usual…watching tv (naked) with my phone in my hand.  I was debating texting a man who had basically told me, through both actions and through words, that he wasn’t what I was looking for.  Best Friend called.

“Are you sitting down?”  I thought someone had died. Like someone in her family.

Instead, it was someone in both of our families.

I was hit with a fist of dread, shock, and disbelief.

And then I felt an irrational anger.

Why? Because thin 48 year-olds just don’t up and die. Whitney’s demise=drugs=Bobby Brown.

Two seconds later, I looked it up on the internet to verify.  Bobby Brown was reportedly inconsolable. I scoffed.  Is this the same man who introduced illegal narcotics and domestic violence to my favorite pop icon? I still remember the tears in her eyes when she recounted him spitting in her face in front of their daughter. I had tears in my eyes too.

As a youngster growing up in the church, I always heard about the perils of being “unequally yoked.” They, of course, meant a non-Christian man marrying a Christian woman. For the record, I think that’s bullshit.  Today to me it means letting someone go when they don’t have my same values of kindness, thrift, education, and sobriety.  You know, the simple stuff.  Bobby Brown and Whitney were unequally yoked; I have been the same with countless men.

I sat stunned.

And then something magical happened.

I instantly deleted the text message that I was sending.  If I’m going to screw up my life and endure heartache, I want to do it on my own accord. I wanted to do it without the help of a man.

My Mother, My Self

My mother and I have the same conversation repeatedly.  I listen to the small accomplishments in her day, she does the same for me.  Then the awkward pause sets in.  If I’m in a good mood to listen to her soliloquy, I will play Angry Birds on mute or make a fragrant pasta dish while she is on speaker.  Multitasking keeps me from actually realizing I’m having the same conversation over and over and over again.

It also distracts me from the fact that it hurts every time.

Growing up, I would consider myself the star child.  I am the most responsible and principle-driven.  I beat my brother in all those tests.  Getting into the Ivy wasn’t a problem, neither was garnering male interest.  Like a prize-winning thoroughbred, my parents bet on me (quite literally) to bring in the millions, either by making them myself or falling in love with a person who did.

Approaching 30, it’s becoming pretty clear that neither one of those things will not happen.  I live in New York City, away from my Southern contingent, semi-happily single, and miserably broke.  She doesn’t understand it. And so, in her best effort to help, she offers me a shitload of unsolicited and ill-timed advice.

Here’s a sprinkling of some of my favorites:

  • Being a career woman today is the same as it was circa 1979.
  • If a woman doesn’t have a child, her life is wasted.
  • I should follow my creative interests if I am to ever be happy, even if I live in the working class.
  • Being in the working class is a sin.
  • New York City is responsible for every ailment and affliction I have had in the last 7 years including yeast infections, depression, weight gain, and asthma.
  • My career history, at the age of 28, resembles that of someone who has been in and out of rehab.
  • Most of my problems would simply be solved if I lost weight.
  • No man on the earth is good enough me, but I should be married immediately.

Needless to say, these conversations end with me arguing, annoyed, in tears, or hanging up.  I don’t know what it is about the mother/daughter relationship that is always so filled with strife.  In my personal situation, it is hard for me to listen wholeheartedly to a woman who hasn’t worked in 20 plus years, the last 12 of which she has been divorced.  I want desperately to relate to someone I’m related to, but it’s virtually impossible.  I am a spinster. Ha! No, I’m serious.  The last 3 generations of women have reproduced by now.  Most were married.  None lived in a city or apartment by themselves.

In equal measure, I am spinster, pioneer, and endangered species.  It equals neurosis, emotional eating…

…and occasional moments of clarity, brilliance, and wit.

There’s a Thin Line

Being a woman of color in this city during this time means you have to master dichotomies–like wanting to live in a brown neighborhood but not wanting to be mugged.  Or wanting to progress at work but still calling your superiors out on insensitive comments.  Or needing to be taken seriously and still wanting to be thought of as a sex goddess.  Everything is about straddling a fine line.

No line has been thinner for me that the line between “personwhocanpaytheirownrent” and artist.

Last night I went to a good friends birthday at the best gay bar in life.  Very attractive men served me in just their underwear while show tunes and musicals played on a huge big screen.  Most of the people at the party where theater artists.  I felt like one of them, completely at home in gay heaven, singing at the top of my lungs and gushing over the TONYS and the musicals of yesteryear.

Except, I wasn’t really one of them.  I was the only brown person.  The only person in a work dress.  The only person leaving at 9pm.

On the train back home, I berated myself relentlessly.  Why couldn’t I stay out until 1am on a Monday? Because I have a 9 to 5.  Why do I have a 9 to 5? Because I’m not the playwright or romance novelist I thought I would be by now.  It devolved from there.

Until I got into my apartment.  My apartment that I pay for entirely by myself, without roommates.  Could my artists friends say that? No. I said a silent prayer for self-sufficiency.  Then I made a doctor’s appointment just because I have health insurance.

The truth is an enigma. I am not where I thought I would be.  But if your life peaks at 25, what else do you have?  My spiritual godfather, August Wilson, came to notoriety when his hair was turning gray.  That’s the kind of life I want.  Being an artist isn’t a career, it’s an ethos.  An ethos that I live the best I can.  I will make it there eventually.  For now, however, I have to work and eat sardines and write into the late hours of the night. Things will be slower, but richer.

And the fact that I believe that fervently, with my entire heart, means that I am STILL an artist.  Even if I have to be to work by 8am.