Monday, August 23, 2004

Writing About Not Wanting to Write

When I created this blog, it was to force myself to write. After all, I declared to no one in particular, I wanted to strengthen my writing, for professional reasons. Working in a communications department, I figured it would probably be a good idea to write well -- not that everyone who works in communications is necessarily a good writer, or even a good communicator, but that's the subject of another post.

I promised myself that I would put up at least one post a week, thus forcing myself to keep thinking and keep writing. However, after a week of nasty PMS, I didn't want to do much except flip channels, so I wasn't particularly in the mood to write. My period finally came, the psychological spell was broken, and I came up with a topic -- writing about not wanting to write.

Actually, it is more than not just wanting to write. It is hopelessness, the great de-motivator. I fear very few things more than hopelessness. I think about the introduction of the dementors in the Harry Potter series (see book three -- Prisoner of Azkaban). Dementors are dark creatures that suck out your soul and leave you with nothing. Nothing. Their environmental presence is felt when you suddenly think you'll never be happy again or that nothing good will ever come your way again.

I'm also a musician, and I must confess to not doing what I do on a regular basis. Why should I? There is someone younger, better looking, and infinitely more talented than I, so there is no point. Or worse, there is someone not nearly as talented as I who is successful, exceedingly so, so why should I bother. This virus of hopelessness grips me by the throat and won't let go until the fever breaks, and I can't even tell you what breaks it.

We live in a fear-driven world, and hopelessness is one of the symptoms of fear. What the hell am I so afraid of? Yes, if I want to sell my product, be it my poetry, essays, songs, or keyboard skills, someone has to like it enough to want to buy it or I can't sustain myself. Yet, the improvement of my product isn't the issue -- it's approval. Feeling hopeless makes me feel that no one likes me enough, just me, to be interested in what comes out of me. If they can't get past the outside layers, what's on the inside isn't compelling, and I don't care enough to focus on the craft, the art, what's inside because I can't shake the hopelessness, the despair.

And yet, being stuck with what's happening on and just below the surface is keeping me from going deep within to just exhume what's inside. It's good, though, really good. You'll like it, honestly. Or at least I hope you do -- I hope you do, with every fiber of my being, because if you don't I think I'll die.

So, perhaps I'm not without hope after all. I just need to do what my mom swore by when I was sick as a child -- sweat out the fever. Feel like shit, and do it anyway. Write. Play. Sing. Think it will be hated, and do it anyway. Once the fever breaks, I'll feel better, I hope.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Things I Love

It's about balance...

1. Steak. Medium rare.

2. Deep House music. You know what it is, and if you have to ask, I can't help you.

3. A well-tailored suit, preferably navy pinstripe.

4. Just polished black shoes.

5. The moment following the release of any body fluid, or gas

6. Trusting someone so much that you really would leave your life in their hands

7. A really cold beer on a warm summer night

8. A really cold beer on the beach in the Caribbean

9. The dark chocolate truffles, hot chocolate, or the chocolate tart with the gold leaf decoration from La Maison du Chocolat. Okay, almost anything from La Maison du Chocolat.

10. The foie gras with fig jam at Taillevent in Paris

11. A loud shirt by Tommy Hilfiger

12. Easy fit jeans from Old Navy

13. Kenneth Cole shoes

14. A sweater from Banana Republic

15. Waking up without the alarm clock, and not because your bladder is full

16. Stinky cheese

17. Veuve Cliquot

18. The Harry Potter series -- they aren't for kids after the second book

19. Sleeping well after having a really good workout

20. Sleeping well after having really good sex

21. "Their Eyes Were Watching God, " "Who Is Jill Scott?" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

Things I Can't Stand

Every opinionated writer has a few of these lists in their repertoire. Here is mine, and it probably won't be the last.

1. Bling Bling -- It's one thing to have nice-looking, tasteful jewelry with quality diamonds in it, but we're talking about diamonds that have nothing going for them except for size and quantity; if one diamond is good, let's make a pendant with 85 crappy diamonds in it.

2. 5X t-shirts on size M bodies -- it's just stupid.

3. Cornrows on grown men -- if you're over 18 and/or you're required to wear a tie to work, get a haircut. You have a job, you can afford it.

4. Low carb anything, including orange juice, milk, and beer. Excuse me, but isn't beer derived from grain? And isn't rum made from sugar? And what the hell are net carbs?

5. Over-written topics, including Beyonce, Usher, or Hollywood's most eligible bachelors.

6. Most Eligible Single features in ANY publication.

7. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. I'm sure there is another pair of average-looking, skinny, slightly skanky dippy bottle blondes out there just waiting for their moment in the sun.

8. Is it me or is the average age of celebrities 22? Where are the adults? And why aren't these drug overdoses in training be chaperoned?

9. Reality shows. I have an idea for a new show. I'm going to find every TV exec and shoot them on live TV, starting with the clowns from Bunim-Ellis and Mark Wahlberg.

10. Sex experts -- if you need help having sex, you don't deserve to have sex. Most of the deviants that call these experts do it so they can beat off while listening to their own voice on the air.

11. TV shows on criminals; you know, portraits of serial killers, women who kill. Doesn't anyone wonder if the detail on these shows give some bail jumper somewhere food for thought?

12. Stretch anything, especially plus-sized stretch. If I can tell you have cellulite through your clothes, go back home and change.

13. Low slung jeans. They only look good on skinny white girls under 21, with long torsos and a flat ass. Once you've had a baby, or you're over 21, have a short torso, or have flesh hanging even a little over the waistband, go back home and change.

14. Tight anything on a plus-sized woman. Don't get me wrong -- I'm a full-figured gal, married to a full-figured gal. I'm also a full-figured gal who won't even wear tight drawers, and neither does my wife. If you have to constantly snatch down your shirt, if I can see the outline of your privates, if when you remove your pants, there are marks on your legs, your clothes are too tight. Period.

15. Thong underwear. I don't care if fashion says panty lines aren't attractive -- how many skirts or pants do you own that are so clingy you're concerned about panty lines? Think again. Besides, aren't you afraid that the friction from your tight pants will create a dental floss-like effect, and possibly shear off your labia?

16. Pale, skinny vegetarians who are always cold, always have a cold, and want you to believe they'll live a longer healthier life than you, carnivore. Thanks, but I'm happy taking my chances, eating a steak washed down with copious amounts of red wine. At least I'm warm and my nose isn't chafed from blowing.

17. Eating contests. Who thought shoving large amounts of poorly cooked, questionable quality food down your throat in a short period of time was a sport? Some loser who can't bend over to tie his shoes so they have Velcro straps?

18. Fat guys who think fat women are ugly. Look in the mirror, dude. Do I want to have to lift your belly to find your dick?

19. Guys with big guts who buy small-waisted pants, pull them tight, and wear them under their gut. Bro, you need to start shopping at the big & tall store. It's okay, really.

20. American Idol -- after 3 seasons, haven't we yet figured out that talent is relative, and the real winner isn't the contest winner, it's the runner up? He or she has the freedom to sign with any label and sing whatever kind of material (pop, R&B, punk) he or she wants, versus being a slave to a mediocre label, stuck singing pop (AKA Poorly Organized Pablum), and committed to any lame promotional idea stuck in front of me because I'm an American Idol.

21. Pop music -- an oxymoron.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Real Freedom Part 2

I ride the fence on the outing issue. On the one hand, I think everyone who identifies as gay or lesbian should come out as long as there is no threat to your personal safety or that of loved ones or your ability to earn a living. Coming out is liberating; it takes a tremendous amount of work to create a double life, to lie about your family, to live with a sense of shame, buying into the belief that loving someone of the same sex is dirty or base. On the other hand, I believe that rather than forcing someone out is a bit like assault. If you have to force someone out, it is generally because there is, to them, a real threat to their livelihood and well being. Ridding yourself of shame around anything, is a difficult and often painful process, and one that has to happen on its own terms.

I inadvertently outed someone. A former colleague, retired now from the company for almost four years, stopped by to visit someone he used to work with for many years. I asked what I thought were benign questions about his partner, questions I would pose to anyone I knew was married or in a committed relationship, just as you would of someone with a new baby. I didn't use cloak-and-dagger terms. I came right out and used his partner's name. It seems that the person he came to see, someone he worked with for more than 10 years, had never heard him use those magic words "I'm gay" and so, I ended up outing him. A week later, I was pulled to the side and told he never really came out to her, and he was embarassed.

I have to admit I'm guilty of assuming everyone operates at the same level as I do. Every gay or lesbian person I know is out -- it's 2004, for pete's sake. Lavender is the new black. If you live in an urban setting, queer is cool. Hot chicks swapping spit is hot. Well-groomed, good looking gay guys with social graces are trendsetters. Who knew outing was bad?

I was reminded that anyone who isn't white, heterosexual (and preferrably married with kids), upper middle class, and male still isn't accepted or acceptable. Here is a guy in his 60's, with a cardiac surgeon partner, living in an affluent California town, doesn't have to worry about what people think of him who STILL sees himself as objectionable. Sweet Mary McGee, what do you have to do to get some love around here? I feel for the guy. Here he is, living the American dream (or most of it) and he still feels like dirt. Does he think his friends and former co-workers were in the dark? Doesn't he watch television? Read newspapers or magazines? Everybody has some knowledge of "gay". It only strikes a chord with the conservative Christians, and few people really care what they think because they don't like anyone who isn't a Christian conservative, white, male, heterosexual, married, a parent, and upper middle class.

CLICHE WARNING -- I'M ABOUT TO GET CORNY. THOUGHTFUL, BUT CORNY.

From where I stand, freedom isn't always about things getting better. Sometimes it's just about things being different. Or you being different. Sometimes changing the formula slightly makes for something entirely new and awesome. Sometimes it doesn't. But what comes out is real.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Parenting vs. Raising Your Kids (Part 1)

My partner's best friend and my best friend's partner, respectively, each have a 2-year old. They were both pregnant at the same time, and the babies were born 8 days apart. I love them and they're both great kids; smart, funny, still good spirited. Their parents are pretty grounded and fully understand there is a big difference between parenting and raising your kids.

Since when did child rearing become a science, something that required not only analysis, but could then be put in a book? And is a book, or a whole category of books, appropriate for use in every child rearing situation? If you have to read a book, how prepared are you to have kids? It's not like building a house, something that requires exact measurements, accurate angles and what not. You're bringing up another human. There is poo poo, and puke, there is the occasional blood spill. There is no precision once body fluids are involved.

So what, you ask, is the difference between raising your kids and parenting? Raising your kids is bringing them up with the best info you have, doing the best you can with the resources at hand. You, the parent, are absolutist. There are no choices in bedtime or meal menus. After the age of 3, there are no more rides in the stroller. Wait, you've never heard of the case of the adolescent in the stroller (okay, I'm stretching a bit, but read on)?

I live in Park Slope, a quiet, mostly middle and upper class (depending upon what streets you're on and which avenues border your streets) community that borders Prospect Park, New York's second major park designed by Calvert Vaux. We have at least 3 yoga studios, 3 large health clubs, several therapist offices in the basement of brownstones (townhouses, for you non-New Yorkers), and yes, Virginia, a food coop. The "play date" is big, especially once the school year kicks into high gear -- parents will coordinate to have their child come to your child's house or vice versa so they can play. Parents speak in hushed tones, and many families often hire a nanny, usually a woman between 40 and 60, generally from the Caribbean, to take care of the kids so Dad can play alpha male and Mom can be woman, hear her roar. On the weekends, the nannies go back to their side of Flatbush Avenue, and Mom and Dad take over the child rearing. In addition to the play date, Mom and Dad are quite often seen pushing a child in a stroller. Not just a baby whose walking skills are limited, but a child so big they have to sit sideways in the stroller or their ass will drag the ground. The mega-kid can answer in plain English when asked what he or she would like for dinner. It goes something like this:
Mom: Noah (Adam, Seth, Brett, Henry, or whatever name is trendy), honey, what do you feel like having for dinner?
Child: I think I want pasta with butter and peas.
Mom: You don't want the chicken?
Child: No, I want the pasta.

Now, if you can answer a question in sophisticated enough language, you can get your big ass up and walk. I don't need to play chauffeur. Similarly, you eat what I put in front of you. Since your nanny probably knows more about your child's palate than you do because you're too busy trying to move up the corporate ladder, you're forced to offer choices for dinner, and you silently pray you'll get it right. If you're pushing your kid in a stroller to preschool, you are guilty of parenting.

As I see it, parenting is the desperate attempt to be a perfect parent. You're convinced that your parents scared the crap out of you, forced you to eat carrots, and didn't try to understand you, which made you the whiny, self-loathing, backstabbing snake in the grass you are today. You spent years in therapy wondering if your mother loved you, hoping your father would approve of you, never getting the basic concept that there is no such thing as a perfect child rearing experience. Parents screw up regularly. They are people first. They say things they don't mean. You enter their world subject to their prejudices. They gave you the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, and they hoped they would be able to figure out the extras like teaching you good character, and how to love.

And then there is raising your kids. Raising your kids is the minimum-frills, blessedly imperfect form of parent rearing that does not give a child more than she should have. Whatever food is on the table is what you're eating. Your parent knows you well enough to not force you to eat fish if you genuinely don't like it, but there is no menu to choose from. Your parent is not your friend, and isn't giving wiggle room in matters of discipline. Nap time, homework time, curfews, are not negotiable. The parent is Grand Poobah -- rules are set, and you follow along. Believe it or not, it works.

Letting your kids "express themselves" by running around a restaurant and disturbing the other patrons is parenting. Firmly grabbing your kid by the arm and saying "I am only going to tell you once to sit down" is raising your kids. Allowing your child to ride his scooter to school, followed by your dragging it home is parenting. Walking your kid to school with only the bag and the lunch (because he doesn't need anything else) is raising your kids. Pushing your kid in a stroller to karate class, with said child in a uniform with a yellow belt -- think about it; it takes time and development of skill to earn the next color-- is parenting. If they can study karate and excel in it, they can walk. Walking your child to karate class and practicing your moves is raising your kid.

From where I stand, I think some parents are so relieved to have kids that they treat them like guests -- set out the good china, put the good sheets on the bed, cook the best food, don't yell or you'll wake them. Yes, your children did not ask to be here, and you should treat them as though they are special, because they are, but they aren't your friends. Your kids will occasionally hate you for laying down the law, but that comes with the territory. How many times have you lived with what you thought was a crappy decision only to appreciate it later? I'm not suggesting you feed your kids bread and water and treat them as though they were in jail, but stop trying to create the perfect child-parent experience. It won't happen. Love them and accept that you won't get it right all the time.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Food vs...

Julia Child has died.

I mourn, as a foodie, and I mourn for the cultural icon she was. She taught Americans to love food like you love a spouse -- the dating, the honeymoon, the moment you realize you're married (AKA the moment you figure out the honeymoon is over). She wasn't glamorous, nor did she try to make cooking seem glamorous. She dropped things, had flour on her dress, couldn't always unmold things, and at least once, she burned the butter melting in a pan for a saute and had to discard it and start over. And speaking of butter...

She was once quoted as saying that Americans have become afraid of food. Forget bin Laden or Saddam Hussain. Fat, carbs, sugar are the new terrorists. They lurk everywhere, laying in wait for the golden moment they can fuse to your thighs, cling to your arteries, ride your hips like a fortunate lover. We must remain at an elevated terror status, orange or higher. They are always looking for new ways to harm us, and so should we.

What the hell is it with our obsession with food? Have we become so enemy-sensitive that everything has a combative element? Once upon a time we drank whole milk with relish, saw sugar as a friendly source of energy, viewed corn flakes as good for you. A fat baby was desirable. Chubby cheeks on children was a sign of health. Now, we fear taking in too many calories because high calorie diets are aging -- the whole aging thing deserves its own post, so I won't elaborate now. We want to know how many carbs are in our cold medicine.

As much as the French may be our cultural enemy now, they have something legit to offer in the food-as-terrorist scheme. The reason why French people, for the most part, aren't as overweight as Americans are is not because they avoid things like fat and sugar, but because they treat their marriage to food as though they were dating. When you're dating, you make it a point to treat your boy/girlfriend well, or you know they'll dog you and/or leave. Perhaps they'll stick around because the sex is good, or because you have a nice apartment or car, or because you're connected and can bring a higher living standard to them. However, if you don't respect, even revere them, they're off like a dirty shirt. The French respect their food. They treat it well, picking the best ingredients, finding the best cooking methods and herbs & spices to complement core ingredients. Food is not a placeholder in time, something to do while watching a crappy movie or giving your mouth busywork so you won't realize you really hate what you're currently engaged in. Food was not meant to be predigested for you; e.g. energy bars and meal replacement shakes. Food is a lover you finesse and caress before consummation.

I was in Paris last November and ate really good food. The worst meal I had offered a first course of an enormous serving of really cold foie gras -- can you imagine sending back a half-eaten plate of foie gras? Every waiter in the cafe came to ask what was wrong and summed it up for themselves as another case of an American with bad taste, but the problem was it was like eating a thick slab of butter that came from the freezer. If you like bread and butter, you know what I mean -- who want to struggle with spreading icy butter on bread? In contrast, the best meal I had offered as a first course the most incredible, perfectly tempered foie gras (yes, I like foie gras!). The food at the latter restaurant was prepared as though we were dating -- dressed great, smelled great, sexy as hell, with nothing but money and time at our disposal. The food at the former was a little more like feeding an army of kids -- heat it up, slap it on a plate, sling it in front of the kids and get them out of the way as soon as possible.

The French also see food like the all-important initial stage of dating -- don't give up too much in the beginning, leave them wanting more. A small piece of really good cheese or a small, intensely flavored pastry is incredibly satisfying, but makes you want to call for a second date -- just not too soon after the previous one. You're left with the memory, lingering, dancing in your mind.

From where I stand, fast food, huge portions, and crappy ingredients are the enemy. Spend a buck or two for good ingredients. Cook well -- learn how to cook. If you want to have better sex, you practice and ask what your lover wants. If you want to be a better cook, learn how and practice. Don't be afraid of a little butter, a bit of stinky cheese, a decadent chocolate. Just don't eat the whole box of chocolate. SLOW DOWN -- isn't that what your date said in bed? Slow down so you can savor -- you'll end up eating less.

By the way, slowing down, decreasing my portions, and cooking with good ingredients helped me shed and keep off more than 40 pounds. I have a little dessert every day, but I also run 2.5 miles and do 30 minutes of strength training 4 days a week.

Chere Julia, we will miss you. Here's hoping there is a good runny Camembert, a rich coq au vin washed down with a good Bordeaux, and a luscious creme brulee wherever you are. Bon appetit!

From Where I Stand -- Real Freedom

On Aug 12, 2004, New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey submitted his resignation, effective Nov. 15. He quit, citing an affair with a man, but pointed out that being gay wasn't why he quit-he quit because he had an affair.

I can't help but wonder if the real reason was not indeed his sexuality-in addition to quitting, he also came out. Even in 2004, being gay is still an issue.

Please don't think I'm skirting his infidelity. To me, that is inexcusable. Forgivable, as we are all entitled to forgiveness, but not at all excusable. Conservatives will use portray his affair as one of the fruits of homosexuality-the inability to be faithful. The tragic truth is the opposite-it was his desire to be heterosexual that forced him to deny his truth and become a liar, to himself, to his wives, to his children, to his constituents.

Here is the thing. Truth is incredibly powerful, awesomely so. People throw the word ''awesome'' around so freely that we don't really know what it means anymore. I'm talking about being blown away by something that you can't find words to describe it or for what you feel. Truth can sometimes blow you out of the water-can you imagine how a spouse feels when their mate comes out? Is she or he freed?

Yes, emphatically yes. Truth sometimes hurts worse than a paper cut, but the truth is that no one remembers that cuts heal, and the truth is that no one wants to hurt.

After I came out, my parents and I didn't speak for about 5 years. I say that and people are dumbfounded. You have to remember that no one wants to hurt, and all parties were hurting. I was hurt by the secrets I kept, hurt by the fear that I wouldn’t be loved, wouldn’t be a part of the family. I can’t guess what my parents were hurt by, but I’m sure the usual suspects were in play: no grandkids, what will the neighbors think. My mother is a bit egotistical, so she wasn’t thinking she made mistakes that would have led to her darling daughter’s becoming a sodomite.

From where I stand, real freedom comes not from duplicity, but from having the stones to face and live with who you are, good bad, or indifferent. If Jim McGreevey did indeed feel there was something different about himself, it’s too bad he didn’t find the courage to look that difference in the eye. I know, it’s easy to look from the outside in and pass judgment on his actions, but the truth is the truth. Some sacrifices would have been made – he might not have become governor, he might not have married twice, but he would have been free.

From Where I Stand -- See What I See

Although slightly presumptuous, I'm hoping this blog will find like-minded folks and give others a window into like-minded folks. The whole idea of a blog is presumptuous anyway, as bloggers think just enough of themselves that they post their thoughts and secretly hope others will approve or at least think of them. I'm no different. Having said that...

I am a late-thirties, Black lesbian, college educated, middle class, Christian agnostic. Do yourself a favor and don't post raunchy requests or nonsense of the "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" ilk. It will be trashed immediately. Are we all clear? Cool.

About The Title
From Where I Stand is just that. America wants really badly to be a melting pot. Think about it -- if you make a grilled cheese sandwich with more than one kind of cheese, once it all melts, it's kind of like one cheese now instead of the two distinct cheeses. I'm more of a salad kind of person -- each item in a salad is independent, with the dressing bringing it all together (and now we sing the song from the Coke commercial from the early 70's). So, From Where I Stand wants to find the salad thinkers, not the melting pot thinkers.

Peace.