Monday, November 22, 2004

Running for My Life

Greetings, dear readers. Like most blogistes, this blog was created for very selfish reasons. Yes, I wanted to see my thoughts in print. Yes, I thought enough of myself to think others should read my thoughts, but what has been revealed to me is that the words I write are often a message to my deepest self. Sometimes, the inner dialogue needs to be externalized so I don't find myself walking down the street one day, mumbling, or worse, talking with no one in particular. Having said that...

I started running in April of this year. I've shared my challenges with my weight, and as of this writing, I'm about 50 pounds from my goal weight, having lost 50 pounds already. Running was something I used to enjoy when I was really young, and it's the one thing I gave up when I became a human vacuum. Every kid ran because it felt like flying, and now that I've started running, it still feels like flying.

I'm still pretty heavy, and so some would say I'm killing my already beleaguered knees, but oddly enough, my thigh muscles usually hurt more than my knees do. I predict that the more I run, the more weight I'll lose, and the more weight I lose, the less the pain. However, the pain, the challenges to get faster, the building of my self-esteem so I can run on the treadmill next to the gym bunny or out in the park while old men pass me on an uphill has been invaluable.

I'm not very fast, but I am determined. I've purchased good running shoes from a real running store, and I even purchased a quick-drying polyester shirt so I would be more comfortable while running. I try to increase my mileage each week, but not too much so that I injure myself. I've entered a fun run/race on Thanksgiving Day as motivation. Running has become an allegory for my life -- if I can do something so easy, but so challenging, what's to stop me from doing the other things that I often find so difficult, like music?

I've written before about how difficult it is sometimes for me to do what I do. I'm a keyboardist, and I don't think I play that well when I compare myself to others, but I hate practicing because I hate how I sound. I sing, but I think I'm a much better ensemble singer than a soloist, despite the praise I receive whenever I sing. It's so much easier for me to do things that seem outside of myself, but running brings it back home. I don't need to join a gym to run, just decent shoes. I don't have to be fast because I'm only competing against myself. I don't have to compete against someone younger, better looking, or even with better skills because somebody out there wants to hear me play, wants to hear me sing, wants to sing the songs I write. I don't need to run a race in a certain time as long as I finish. I want to do well, and doing well is an important desire; it motivates you and keeps you humble, but unless you're an elite runner (and I'm not, nor do I really want to be), you only need to create a personal record for yourself. I want to have a music career, but I'm not Beyonce, nor do I want to be. I want to play and have a good time. I want to direct a choir because I love choral music. I want to be a great songwriter because the world needs more beauty.

I'm a runner, and I plan to keep running. My life depends on it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Wow -- A Dog or Prozac and The Naughty NFL

In the latest installment of Wow, or as I like to think of it "what the hell...", we are taken to the case of a young girl whose therapist prescribed a dog to alleviate her depression. Cute enough, I suppose, and admirable considering the knee-jerkism of medication for everything from toe fungus to phlasid (sic) phallus syndrome. However, this is not without a wrinkle. The family lives in a co-op complex that does not allow dogs. Rightfully, the co-op has sued for removal of the dog. The case went to court, the judge ruled in favor of the co-op, and the City of New York has decided it should intervene in order to appeal on the family's behalf.

I'm sorry, but here we go again with government's sticking its nose in business it shouldn't. In the projects, residents aren't allowed to have pets, and that's a damn good thing. Do you really think a 2 bedroom apartment occupied by 6 should really have as its 7th inhabitant a pit bull? A teacup terrier is just as bad. The point is that rules that are made to benefit the greater good should occasionally be bent or broken if it fails to serve the greater good. However, the family knew they couldn't have a dog in their residence and should have done the responsible thing, told the therapist, and worked together to find a different solution for the child's woe (no pun intended). Ballet class? Piano lessons? Girl Scouts? None of these were possible solutions? What about a program of temporary visitation with a dog like those programs that bring pets into nursing homes to lift the spirits of the residents?

And then, the city has the audacity to argue on behalf of the family. It's not like this is a public housing project, but we all know the city wouldn't do jack to help out your average project dweller anyway. The co-op is privately held. You sign on the dotted line to indicate that you'll abide by the board's ruling. Hell, one of the board members got slapped for dog visiting -- the board later affirmed that the dog in question was owned by a building visitor. I feel badly for the kid, but what the hell? NYC, it's clear that you either have too much time and/or money on your hands and have to make busy work. Here's an idea -- get on the side of the survivors of police brutality and argue to have those cops fired and sent to jail. Or, how about donating a portion of your salaries to fund art and music education in the schools.

And in other news...

If you're not a football fan or you've taken up residence in a cave, the opening of this week's Monday Night Football on ABC featured a skit between a naked Nicollette Sheridan, one of the hotties starring in "Desperate Housewives," one of ABC's fall lineup gems, and the Philadelphia Eagles' Terrell Owens. Free TV's arguable ode to "Sex & The City," the show features a buncha middle class white chicks with assorted problems, blah blah blah. The Nickster (famous for being the daughter of Telly Savalas and the great love of Leif Garrett -- he used to be cute as hell -- just goes to show that drugs are bad, hmkay?) is chillin' in the Eagles' locker room, dressed in a towel and tempts uniformed Terrell into ditching the game to kick it with her. He acquieces, the towel hits the floor, as you see FROM THE BACK OF HER, and she jumps into his arms. The complaints pour in. It's simply scandalous, says Mr. & Mrs. Incensed America.

Let's cut the niceties. NY Daily News columnist Bob Rasmussen prints the comments from a "Paul," some clown who may be from Anywhere, USA who calls into one of the shows on ESPN radio. Paulie shares why he was offended, and I guaran-damn-tee that he has summed up just why so many people were pissed off: "It (the incident) promotes my daughter going out with someone of another race." It's not like Nickie showed her titty, she showed her back. Hell, David Caruso's complete ass walked across television screens like 15 years ago -- America didn't fall into the sea over that. But don't ever let a fine specimen of White woman hood be taken by an evil Black buck --it's bad enough the team has a black quarterback. What happened to the good ol' days of blacks knowing their place and remaining on the defensive line?

If the NFL rolls over like that punk-ass Justin Timberlake did after Nipplegate, and jerks off Michael Powell and the FCC, I will lose my lunch. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Church as Industry

The church in America is undergoing massive change. I use the word "church" globally; there is no one church despite what the loudmouths would have you believe. The changes are happening primarily in the evangelical sector. I'll give you a loose definition of evangelical, based on my United Methodist upbringing. To "evangelize" is to reach out to either those folks in the church who may need to deepen their spiritual commitment or are looking for a deeper spiritual experience within the church, or to those outside of the church to "win their souls" for Christ.

Evangelism is deeply emotional, touching some of the most troubling parts of their lives, including relationships with spouses and children, finances, emotional health. Evangelism works best on middle and lower class people because they probably experience the most stress -- if your household income is less than $40K, and you're supporting 2 or more kids plus 2 adults, or if you're a single parent with a household income of $20K or less, there is a lot of stress there. When you worry about money, everything else bubbles to the surface; your self-esteem is affected because you think you haven't done well by your family or can't do any better. Couples fight over money as much as they do fidelity. You're not a nice person to be around, and your relationship falls apart. Or, the person you're with can't take the pressure, both from within and without, and leaves. Loneliness sets in. Knowing little about love and the importance of it leaves you hollow. You look for something to fill the void. Perhaps you seek comfort in food, alcohol, drugs, sex. Perhaps you seek a "deep" answer to a simple question and you visit your local church. You visit the Catholic church, which does its best to help you find answers, but mainly, you have to do the work yourself, and sift through dogma, dogma, and more dogma. Then, you try the local Protestant church, maybe a Lutheran church, maybe Presbyterian or Methodist. It's warm and comforting in its own way, but sometimes deals a little too much in external things like social justice. I know that feeding the poor is important, you say to yourself, and I know racial discrimination is wrong, and I appreciate that I need to be aware of how the White House is affecting me and that ain't what Jesus wants, but I'm hurting. How about something a little more personal? Here comes the warm and fuzzy, tug at the heartstrings from a charismatic voice. He (and it's almost always he) says something along the lines of "Maybe your heart is broken," "You're experiencing financial hardship," "Your marriage is in trouble," and before you know it, you're a blubbering mess, face bathed in tears. You're hooked like a dope fiend. Finally, someone gets it; someone understands what you're going through. It's this targeting of the deepest pains that brings people to the church, and in turn wins souls for Christ -- evangelism.

Please don't get me wrong. I have identified as a Christian, and I do believe that prayer works for me, even if I know that prayer is nothing more than a purposeful focusing in on the change you desire and surrendering of said desire with believe that the change will take place. I am clear that many will argue that if you can pray to some great unknown, you can simply believe in yourself and your power to make things happen. Ministers are not that different from motivational speakers or mental health professionals. For me, I find comfort in a great parent in whom I can seek solace, share what I feel are my deepest and darkest feelings, and can place my hope in when I want to experience transformation. Prayer is free, therapy is not. I am warmed by the foundational teachings of Christ -- love God, whom you can't see, and love your neighbor, who you see every day, and basing everything around those laws, if you will. I think evangelism in America has moved from winning souls for Christ to winning souls for its agenda. The increasingly disenfranchised poor and lower middle class have found an opiate in the evangelical church in America. The government has ignored me; they won't put money into my community, my schools are falling apart. I didn't get a decent education, so I can't get a decent job. My parents didn't get a decent education, so they couldn't get sufficient work. I grew up poor and not loved enough. I was taught that sex equaled love, or that I had nothing to give except to sex so that I could be loved. Poverty creates desperation, and desperation eradicates hope. Hopelessness creates pain, and pain requires numbing. Evangelism in its new form; the escapist, exciting bit of brightness experienced in a typical evangelical worship service, not the classic definition of evangelism, is the new opiate of the masses.

What is even more disturbing to me is the growth of the mega church. These are churches built in abandoned theaters or small arenas, or even converted factories and warehouses. Member rolls are anywhere from the mid-hundreds to the thousands, and in the case of a larger church such as The Potter's House in Texas, the high thousands. Some churches offer one-stop lifetyle shopping. A church my partner recently went to here in Brooklyn has not one, but TWO ATMs in the lobby -- placed, of course, at the entrance to the sanctuary. These churches on growth hormone have, in addition to Sunday services everything from Bible study to Christocentric 12-step groups, financial counseling, marriage counseling, support groups for men, support groups for women, programs for youth to keep them out of trouble, nutritional classes, fitness classes. Some churches have built their own schools and apartment complexes. One church in California has built a gated community. Another church in the midwest has built its own shopping mall. These churches aren't necessarily the ones you see on television.

Remember, many of these mega churches were built out of poor communities. Drive around an inner-city neighborhood and I guarantee you'll find a slightly out-of-place piece of modern architecture. Chances are good that it's a newly built church. The liquor stores are thriving, while you have to make a trip to find a real grocery store, but there is a million-dollar edifice sitting in the middle of the neighborhood. The corner store does a brisk business in salty, fatty, sugary processed food and drink, cigarettes, and lottery tickets while the neighborhood school's reading and math scores ride the bottom of the city's rating scales, and the artwork that is this gigantichurch sparkles amid the refuse that surrounds it. The same church my partner visited reportedly requires members and potential members submit their W4s annually -- man, do I hope that's just a rumor. Pastors of these megachurches drive luxury vehicles, live in million-dollar homes, wear custom-tailored suits while the numbers of people who visit their food pantries week after week (provided they have one) and daily soup kitchens grow exponentially.

My best friend is a pastor of a Lutheran church in the south Bronx. This 5-foot tall white woman from north Florida (which, politically is really the very deep South) has served a primarily Black congregation for almost 10 years. The church constantly struggles for money. They've lost funding for their youth program and had to lay off their youth minister. Another church I work with will be laying off the majority of the staff in its HIV program because of lost funds. Meanwhile, poor people who believe the hype that something they've done or haven't done is the reason why God hasn't blessed them with money, money, money, give 10% of what little they have to keep the megachurch going. Small churches with pastors who know their congregants, take the time to visit the sick, and work with community members, local police precincts, school districts, languish. They are emptying in favor of the exciting worship experience -- the one with the greatest escapism.

I want to believe that people are finding healing in these gigantichurches. I want to believe that people are being empowered to create better lives for themselves. I want to believe that they are finding God somewhere in the vaulted ceilings and video simulcast. I desperately want to believe that the members of these churches are getting as rich as the pastor, but I just can't believe any of it. How is it that your personal relationship with God is deepening within this cave called a church?

I will revisit this topic, but I'll end this with something attributed to Jesus Christ: "No one can serve two masters..."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Conversation Enders

There are key phrases that will, or should, bring a conversation to a screeching halt because there really isn't anything else to say after these. I'll list them, you think about it.

1. You are not my mother/mama/father/daddy
2. You can't tell me what to do
3. I'm grown/I'm an adult
4. You ain't Jesus/God said it, and that's good enough for me
... and bonus phrases:
1. Let me tell you something
2. Being the nice person I am...
3. I know one thing...

Why are they conversation enders? A relatively peaceful, albeit a mildly confrontational, conversation that degrades into a hand-on-hip, squinty-eyed delivery of one of these phrases, is no longer a conversation worth continuing. Someone is bound to walk away with hurt feelings or hurt body parts. You can't say anything else to someone who tells you you aren't Jesus -- do you respond with "I know that, jackass" or do you walk away? Do you tell someone who has pointed out their niceness that they are grossly mistaken and they're really a low-life sack of skin? Or silently regret that someone admits publicly they know just one thing?

The delightful omni-functionality of these phrases means that they're suitable for adoption by any ethnic group, and they have been. From the lacquer-haired White evangelical woman in the midwest, to the neck-snapping 'round the way girl in Brooklyn, you're in trouble when one of these phrases is uttered. Just back away slowly. You won't win.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Down for Whatever

"Down for whatever" is a lyric from an old hip hop joint, and at this early hour, I can't recall it. Hope one of you hip hop fans can remember and drop me a line.

That pretty much sums up my view on friendship. Sometimes I feel guilty about having one group of friends I share one set of activities with, and another that I share other activities with. I used to panic at the thought of having them all together at a party -- what would my sober friends do with the potsmokers? I'm quite sure my straight friends would get along with my gay friends (they'd be outnumbered, at the very least). The vegetarians are alright with our restaurant choices, and find something to eat on the menu, and the White folks are evolved enough to not put their foot in their mouths with the people of color. The bottom line is that everybody is really cool. I wouldn't swap any of them. There are some friends I see more often than others, and some I probably won't be close to forever, but none of that matters. Everyone is down for whatever.

To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. For about 7 years, I counted as one of my best friends a smart, funny, lovable, incredibly talented writer who was also deeply troubled. Our stories were pretty similar; we both came from middle class, Caribbean families, we both were well educated, and we were both out to our parents, not a small thing if you know anything about Caribbean families -- they taught Guilt 101 to Jewish parents. Where we parted, however, was the parent pleasing syndrome. I believe in respecting and revering your parents, biological, and adoptive. They made it possible for you to walk the planet, so hate your life if you must, but thank your parents for bringing you here. I do not, however, believe in living your life to please them at the cost of your peace of mind. Being able to lay your head down at night knowing you're comfortable in your own skin is priceless. My dear friend never figured out that sometimes your folks will agree with you and sometimes they won't. Sometimes they'll throw an emotional dagger you weren't prepared to dodge. Sometimes they'll provide conditional support. Sometimes they are just not likeable. Artists are tortured enough by the chase for perfection in their craft, and that chase is like "feenin'" for crack. You'll sell your ass, you'll sell your soul for it. Every part of your life, from your non-art work, to your relationships suffers. Caribbean parents are wonderfully disciplined, and instill good values in their kids, but are not exactly forthcoming with the warm and fuzzy, especially between mothers and daughters, but that's the subject of another post.

This sweet soul was tortured by everything, her writing, her lack of success in love, her lackluster response from her parents contrasted with the phallocentric worship of her younger brother. As a result, she needed help, but instead of turning to therapy, she turned to me, and not at the best times. Every conversation for the last several months of our friendship was rife with woe, and I offered the best advice I could, but how about some support for me? My relationship at that time was in shambles and it took all I had to support the woman I was with and her 2 children without wanting to blow my brains out (or hers). But my friend didn't see that, or saw it and didn't care. Eventually, I had to stop speaking to her because I couldn't do crisis intervention anymore because I needed it.

I have mixed feelings about that event. On the one hand, she needed me and I wasn't there. On the other, I needed her and she wasn't there, but a lot of our friendship was based on need. Once that need isn't there, if you don't have other things to cement it, the friendship just falls apart. I wanted to be a friend, but in retrospect, neither of us were particularly qualified to be friends, and it is what it is.

Having put a little maturity in my belly, and having things settle down in my emotional life, I recognize that friendship is an ever-changing mishmash of feelings that are hugely imperfect, but require consistency. If I call you in tears at 3a.m., I need to know;no, I fully EXPECT you'll answer the phone, and after cursing me out for the lateness of the call, listening to me. I would do the same for you. We may not share the same interests all the time, and life changes like children, new relationships, new work schedules, may force us apart for a period, but know that I'm still down for whatever. And to my new friends, the ones with whom I've recently discovered joyful and poignant encounters, shared instant intimacies and unexpected commonalities, welcome to my inner sanctum. I cherish my friends like I cherish my life. My outside may not look perfect, but I treat my insides well. Believe me when I tell you, I am down for whatever.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What Marriage Is Really About

Today is my wedding anniversary. Yes, I am a lesbian, and no, marriage isn't legal anywhere in the U.S., except for that odd thing in Massachusetts, but that's only for state residents, and last I heard they weren't performing any more same-sex marriages until they figured it out. Nonetheless, 4 years ago today, we invited about 200 of our closest friends to come to church, followed by a big party, and we got formally hitched.

My partner is extremely clever. When special occasions roll around, she makes the simplest things really cool. For our 4th anniversary, she purchased 4 cards, and placed them in 4 locations in our apartment -- one was inside the mega can of coffee that only I would find as she doesn't drink coffee.

Because it is our 4th anniversary, I think it's only fitting that I share the 4 things I've learned about relationships, particularly the marriage relationship.

1. Marriage has nothing and everything to do with a piece of paper codifying your commitment. Sorry, ultra-conservatives, and marriage-phobics, but that's the truth. When you make it your business to go to City Hall and expose your union to the powers that be, it raises the bar. You can't just kick 'em out if you're sick of them. Your elected officials require that steps be taken in order to dissolve your union. The assumption is made that you have assets involved, perhaps children. The government has a stake in making sure you know what the hell you're doing when you decide to throw the towel in. They don't want their dollars to pay for your kids. They depend on receiving your taxes on that lovely cottage you've purchased. And, quite frankly, they believe that you're a much more valuable member of society when you're in a stable relationship. Okay, I'm being slightly frivolous, but here is the bottom line. Commitments are hard. Sometimes we enter into agreements for the right reasons, but need something to help us stick to them, no matter how "good" or "right" they are -- just look at all the people who have gym memberships and stop using them around January 10; clearly New Year's Resolution #1 isn't incentive enough. You can easily break up with a boyfriend, but ending a marriage is different, way different. On the flip side, lest you think that I'm against common-law marriage, there are examples of couples who get it, who understand that love, trust, honesty, conviviality, and enjoyable sex are the foundations of a successful relationship, and screw the government's intervention. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have been together for more than 10 years, have children together, and never got married. Same-sex couples have done it since coming into public view. I personally know a lesbian couple that have been together for forty years, and have no intention of splitting up except at the grave. Society has to move past the notion that the wedding is the marriage -- if you can't be married before the ceremony; civil or religious, you shouldn't marry at all.

2. Marriage is the best and worst thing ever. Being in a committed relationship pretty much guarantees you'll have a playmate, a friend and confidante, a reasonably unbiased critic to keep things in perspective, and an easily accessible sex partner. It's a blessing to not have to date again. One of the toughest things about being a lesbian, for me at least, is finding a partner. I like to think I'm pretty good looking, I'm smart, can carry on a decent conversation once I break through my shyness, and I'm good in bed (believe me, I am). I can hold down a job and can live alone, so I don't need help with living. I've done some soul-searching and mental health work, so I'm in pretty good emotional shape, save for some remnant childhood things, but as I get older, my past doesn't matter as much as my future does. I'm a damn good catch, but being a ball in the game is hard work. I am thankful that I don't have to do it anymore. I like being able to go to a club just to dance and have a couple of drinks, not to find the love of my life for I've already done that. Marriage is tough in that I'm not single anymore. I have made an agreement that although my desires may stray from my partner, I can not, at all, under any circumstances, act them out with anyone other than my partner because that's what we've agreed to. Let me clean this up just a bit. I look. I look all the time. As I write this, I can think of no less than 12 hotties I wouldn't throw out of bed if I were single and they agreed to sleep with me. But, I won't do it because I can't, and I can't do it because it would break my agreement and that's far more important than what makes me moist. As a former playa, it's tough, but I like being retired from the game.

3. Marriage makes things difficult, but makes things easy. You hold yourself, and the things you do for your partner to a higher standard than you would if you were single, or you should. If you slept on crappy sheets -- you know the ones I mean; the 150 count sheets that don't get soft until the 20th washing -- you step up a bit. You still buy bed-in-a-bag linen, but you spend a few bucks more and buy the good stuff because it's not just you on the bed anymore. If frozen dinners were okay to eat at 10pm because that's when you managed to get home from work, or worse, that's when you staggered home from after-work drinks with the gang, you thought more about cooking an actual meal for the 2 of you, or at least you made it home in time for takeout at a decent hour. The bar is raised; you have to go from acceptable to nice, and that's not the easiest thing in the world. However, when you're with someone who deserves nice instead of acceptable, it becomes easy to make nice, and better for the both of you.

4. Marriage is not for the faint of heart, but will bring out the best and worst in both of you. Okay, here's the personal, mushy stuff you knew was on the way. Some of the worst things I've ever said have been said to my wife. Some of the best things I've ever said have been said to my wife. Once, while her father lay deathly ill in the hospital, I said something nasty to her, and the next day, her jewelry (the diamond and platinum stuff -- when I do it, I do it right) was noticeably absent. After some snooping (remember, this is about the best and worst in you), I found she had taken them off, probably preparing to hand them to me, along with my ass, and a "fuck you and have a nice day," and I was devastated. Since that day, I vowed to watch what I say, which is not the easiest thing to do when your mouth is bigger than the state of Alaska. We worked it out, which means that I apologized; every now and then I kick my own ass, and I remember that she's on my side, and one needs all the friends one has. I have become better than I've ever been, and I'm confident I can only get better.

So, I close this long post with a very personal message to my darling Lisa:
Lisa, you are the love of my life. I can't think of anyone I would rather hang out with, talk with, laugh with, cry with, or just sit quietly with. You occasionally drive me up the wall, but I'm sure I do the same to you. Even though I've said things I didn't mean, and I may do it again, even though I may be moody and occasionally withdrawn; even though I torture myself to be perfect and do perfect things because I believe you deserve perfection, it is just that. You are my perfect partner, the one whom God chose for me, and there is no one and no thing that will ever change that. I love you and look forward to celebrating 4 plus 40 years with you.

Happy Anniversary.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

New York State of Mind

New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice. If I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere. New York, New York, it's a helluva town, emphasis on hell, depending on who you ask.

Millions of people visit this city from all over the world. Everyone who comes here expects any number of things, including:

1. They will be pickpocketed, evidenced by the number of dorks wearing knapsacks on their chest.
2. There are BAD neighborhoods, particularly Harlem, Brooklyn, or anywhere lots of non-white people live, with the exception of Chinatown.
3. Vice abounds, with almost as much voracity as a sex tour of Thailand. If there isn't a church, there's a liquor store or a titty bar. Oh wait, that's in one of the BAD neighborhoods.
4. The subway is a dark and dangerous place, ready to capture you and take you to a BAD neighborhood, especially to Harlem
5. Brooklyn is a remote and exotic place, extremely difficult to get to from Manhattan
6. Black folks love receiving tour buses full of Europeans who can't understand a word of English, but want nothing more than to hear gospel music sung live, followed by a real soul food meal at Sylvia's -- but they'll only go on a tour bus because they're too afraid to ride the subway to one of the BAD neighborhoods, and they'll only take the tour early in the day while the sun is high in the sky.
7. New York is filled with beautiful people; young (if not chronologically, then surgically), white, reed-thin (subsisting on cigarettes, large coffees with cream, and alcohol), dressed in designer duds (usually paid for by mom and dad), with 212 phone numbers and zip codes beginning with 100, making you believe they're rich by paying $1800 a month to share a 1 bedroom with a roommate (the cat whose name is on the lease got the bedroom)
8. Homeless people are everywhere, and aggressive. Mind you, these are the assumptions made by folks who have never visited San Francisco -- they have a real homeless issue
9. If it's trendy, it's come from New York, and from the characters in item #7
10. New York is the be-all and end all. You'll love the city like a crackhead loves the pipe, and as we know crackheads are on every street corner in a BAD neighborhood (you were waiting for one more BAD neighborhood reference, weren't you?)

I was born and raised in this city. Actually, I was born in Brooklyn, but my Brooklyn feelings are the subject of another post. I've never spent more than 6 weeks at a time away from it. I've lived in Queens, Jersey City, New Jersey; Manhattan, and Brooklyn. I have friends and colleagues in every borough. I work in midtown Manhattan -- the bastion of all things New York. I have New York City in my blood, and I may just die here.

New York is a crazy city, but it's also like a small town. Yes, there are 8 million stories in the naked city, but just like a small town, we care about our communities. We worry about our kids. We don't like paying more for anything than necessary.

In my previously mentioned job, I get to hear from lots of concerned citizens from all over this great country, and as I've shared, I'm alternately offended and amused, but this one burned me. The author, obviously not from New York, closed her message with:"What can you expect from ...out of New York'.

How dare she? Don't blame New York for your puritan principles. It's not our fault that you've been made to feel such shame about the body that censorship is far more desirable than therapy. Don't hold New York responsible for your conflicting feelings about sex. Lighten up, lady! Whether you agree or disagree, New York has, in the last 10 years, has cleaned up quite a bit. 42nd street is no longer the temple of porn flicks and cheesy sex shops it once was. Clubs are routinely busted for drug sales, underage drinking, and quality of life offenses (things like noisy patrons disturbing the surrounding neighborhood). You can't smoke inside, except your own house.

I've visited a sex shop or two, and some needed to be shut down. I've even seen a porno flick on 42nd Street, and the closing of it was no loss, between the smell of old semen and desperation and the rats running the aisles. I appreciate being able to call the cops to tell my occasionally noisy neighbors to shut up, and I don't mind not having the smell of cigarette smoke competing with the aroma of my molten chocolate cake in a restaurant. I do mind, however, the attempt to sanitize, homogenize, and lobotomize the citizens of this one-of-a-kind burg, who take pride in their freakishness. New York isn't the belly of the beast -- it's certainly not Hollywood, after all -- but it also serves as one of the few places on Earth where a Black man and a Japanese woman; two burly guys with handlebar mustaches and leather chaps; a woman with dreadlocks and a woman with a Chanel purse can walk down the street holding hands, celebrating their glorious freakishness. New York is every stereotype and none of them. You can expect great things to come out of this city, but it is only because of the great people that are here.

Mrs. Never-Break-A-Sweat-or-Raise-Your-Blood-Pressure, I hope you'll visit my city, and I hope you find the fabulous freaks here.

The Bronx is up, and the Battery's down; the people ride in a hole in the ground. New York, New York -- it's a helluva town. Thank God.

Wow -- New Puritanism

I am blessed, or cursed, depending upon the day, to have to respond to complaints from customers who have an image of the company I work for whenever they feel that image has been tarnished. Most of the time, it is, at minimum, amusing. Sometimes, we've genuinely screwed up. And at other times, I'm blown away by the amount of time they've taken to complain about what they're complaining about.

I can't go into details about the issue lest you, dear reader, figure out where I work. I will say that lots of Christians buy the stuff we make, and have assumed we're a "family-friendly" (read Christian-friendly) company. They call, email, and send letters (even written on a typewriter!) if one of our commercials is shown during a program they find objectionable, which is their right as Americans. They threaten to boycott. They clip pictures of the things they find offensive and send them in. Of course, being the bleeding heart I am, I don't see what the fuss is about, but then again, I'm not a home-schooling, stay-at-home mom in a small town run essentially by the pastor of the church with the largest congregation.

Sex is the great uniter and the great divider. Sex is a necessity and a luxury. Sex has a desired end result and more unplanned results. Sex needs nothing and can be enhanced by something. Commitments are made involving sex; inclusive or exclusive. Sex brings joy and pain. Sex can include pain to bring about joy. Sex brings pride and shame. We think we know everything there is to know about sex, and often find we know very little.

In my limited observation, I've concluded that the average American has an emotional age range between 12 and 17. At 12, lots of things appear to be fixed and in place; hair that wasn't there now is, the plumbing works, even if it doesn't work great. Sexual encounters happen, even to our chagrin, at 12, but the 12-year-old doesn't have the emotional maturity to deal with the moment after. Moving on through to 17, the plumbing improves, the experience is a little better, but a 17-year-old is not much more prepared than a 12-year-old for the moment after. Adolescents act on their impulses. They test their reasoning skills and their boundaries. They are completely selfish. While they are malleable enough to believe what they're told, they also challenge authority. Every testament to previous experience is pooh-poohed in favor of self-discovery. And, the psychosexual adolescent believes and sticks to what they learned about sex between the ages of 12 and 17 until someone comes along with an absolutely compelling argument to the contrary.

I think back to my own adolescence. In addition to trying to find my own way despite the iron fist of my mother, my overly developed body (courtesy of growth hormone-laden dairy, eggs, and meat) was almost constantly flooded with desire. I made quite a few sexual mistakes, and by sexual mistakes, I'm not limiting myself to things related to the sex act alone, but also to sexual relationships. I'm thankful that more than a few people came along with aforementioned compelling arguments and I began to listen to my internal voices. I started piecing things together, and I'm confident that at the current age of 38, I'm probably about 30 psychosexually.

If you're stuck in adolesence, sex, body image, nudity, relationships are scary as hell. If you have a lousy body image, seeing what you think is an ideal body sets your electricity out of whack. If you're comfortable with someone else telling you what your sexuality should be, anything contrary makes you nervous. The craziest bumper sticker I've ever seen says "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." According to who? American nationalists are quick to preach the glories of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, yet want to limit how you live your life. America is rapidly spiraling toward theocracy, shaped by extremes in puritanism. Victoria's Secret, explicit lyrics in music, the hinting of or outright depiction of sexual chemistry between 2 adults that don't appear to be a heterosexual married couple are all demonized.

I agree that I don't need a sexy redhead to sell me cereal with dried strawberries, but a healthy diet makes everything better, including sex. I agree that sex for me is the best it's ever been because of the person I'm married to, but not everyone should be or can be married (and no one should be married to my wife except me). I agree that random, joyless encounters; hetero-or homosexual, eventually lead to loneliness, but you can't keep people from discovering what is their true path despite the pitfalls they may encounter. There is always a better way, but it depends on who's driving and in what direction. Can't we all just share the road?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Now What Do We Do?

Now that we’ve fumed, pointed fingers, and been generally pissed off, it’s time to figure out how we’re going to live with four more years of a growing christocracy, a continuing war, and divide and conquer tactics. It’s time for those of us who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, same-gender-loving, sexual minority, or anything resembling the aforementioned, to examine and decide how to live our lives.

We who are Black, African-American, Afro-Caribbean must also examine our place in our communities. We must ask ourselves if our skin color assumes primacy over our sexuality, if our sexuality is greater than our skin color, or if who we are is just who we are, without a need for primacy assignments.

I don’t think the primacy question is new for SGL people of color. We’ve had strong cultural influences from our personal experiences with racism, guidance of sorts from the church, and community. We who have been active in the church and/or have a strong faith background have been pressured to choose between our sexual behavior and choice of mate and our relationship with God. We’ve been told that attraction to and sex with our own sex is a result of White interference, and therefore to truly be Black, we must push White things aside.

We as Black SGL people have lived through and survived all this. The salons of Harlem, USA became safe havens for us to gather. Lesbian and SGL women fought for and gained visibility in the feminist movement. Gay and SGL men realized that money raised for AIDS in White gay male communities was trickling down, and formed organizations that would meet the needs of men of color infected and affected by AIDS. People like Phill Wilson and Audre Lorde, Jewelle Gomez and Joe Beam told our stories. We’ve been knocked down before, but never knocked out.

What do we do when faced with four more years? We do what we did four years ago; fourteen years ago; forty years ago. We do the following:

  • We register and vote – our vote is our voice. We pay attention to every election, not just Presidential. We make it our business to know who represents us in our cities and states, for true Republicans support less Federal government in favor of State government, and we know from the unprecedented codified discrimination of a particular group of people via the various definition of marriage amendments attached to State constitutions that many of our rights will not come from the White House, but from our State legislature.

  • We exercise our economic muscle – we don’t fatten the pockets of preachers, sports figures, artists, or businesses that don’t respect us and/or call for our demise. We do support businesses that support us; not just the clubs, bars, and parties; not just the sex clubs, chat rooms, and bookstores, but those places that support our health and well-being. The club is great, but sort of like candy – a once-in-a-while treat.

  • We stop going to churches where our partners are only our “friend” or “roommate”: the second mommy is the “godmother”: or where we are tolerated because they “love the sinner and hate the sin.” There are many affirming churches, and a growing number of churches with LGBT/SGL ministries, focus, and clergy.

  • We love and keep loving. We fall in love, we have sex, especially safe sex. Sex is healing, affirming, stress-reducing, and joy-producing. We love proudly, defiantly, openly, and incessantly. We love because we are called to.

  • We remain hopeful and we remain watchful. Four more years is here, and there is nothing we can do about it except to live as best we can, and make a plan to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
  • Wednesday, November 03, 2004

    The Day After -- Part 2

    Ooohhh... I feel slightly hungover, but mainly just depressed. It's official, Kerry has left the building and we're stuck with the great christocracy for the next 4 years. Bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.

    I've got that slightly slick, greasy coated feeling on the inside of my mouth (then again, it could be the microwaved jerk chicken patty I ate for lunch). My head is swimming, and my cubicle feels slightly cold. I feel sort of like Neo when the Agents come to collect him at the beginning of The Matrix. Can it be that we are living in The Matrix?

    Think about it. The premise of the trilogy is that all the groovy things we "enjoy" like money, sex, food are all part of a program, a smokescreen built to obscure the real picture; that of a world run by machines who use humans to make more machines. Anyone who has figured out the plan is forced underground in search of Zion, the warm, well-lit heart of human earth, forced to become a tool of the mechanarchy via homing devices planted in the abdomen, or simply destroyed. The machines make more little machines with ever-advancing artificial intelligence. The machine babies are grown and fed with murdered humans. The machines take on human looks, voices, even sexual behavior in order to keep up the screen. And because the smokescreen is so damn appealing, most humans never see past the hot redhead in the red dress and through to the scorched sky and burned out earth.

    The following proverbial fire extinguishers (can't have smoke without fire) would earn me a visit with an Agent:

    1. Everyone wants tax breaks, but no one wants to give up the things that taxes pay for. It doesn't matter anyway because the ones who really benefit from tax breaks don't send their kids to public school, don't take public transportation, and could easily helicopter from place to place rather than drive their expensive cars on busted roads.

    2. "Let's close the borders" is a rallying cry, but no one wants to take jobs that immigrants will, such as washing dishes and cleaning toilets for less than minimum wage. And speaking of immigrants, no one wants to limit the number of immigrants from European or east Asian countries, just those places where people are black and brown.

    3. Black folks are so morally high and mighty when it comes to same-sex marriage, but it wasn't that long ago that interracial marriage was prohibited by law. Many Black church leaders were quick to join up with conservative Christian groups to fight the rights of same-sex couples to take advantage of the perks opposite-sex couples enjoy. Who gave you the right to decide my relationship is less valid than yours?

    4. The paranoid christocracy wants to live in a 2004 world with 1954 values. You can't possibly apply the same, literally the same set of values to a world that has changed. The higher cost of living requires a higher household income. Women are more educated, and rightfully, want greater opportunities. Technology brings things closer to us, brings people and their many cultures closer. How can you possibly expect what worked in a low-tech world, with the only visible culture a white, male-centered one, to work in an obviously high-tech, multicultural world?

    I have to face facts, and so do we all. We've got George of The Jungle for another 4 years. Worse, we've got his power to name at least 1 new Supreme Court justice who will set the tone of the land for the next 40 years, and we've got to figure out how we who see through The Matrix will survive the Agents.

    The Day After

    Good morning from Brooklyn. It's almost 7 in the morning, and as expected, we don't know who really won the Presidency. CNN shows Kerry has 252 electoral votes to Bush's 254, NBC says Kerry has 238 to Bush's 269. 270 are needed to win the office.

    AAARRGH!!! Why can't I, an American, living in what is supposed to be the most successful experiment in government by the people, feel like I'm one of the people electing my government? The 538 people better known as the Electoral College are the ones who select our President and Vice-President. I don't get it. If we have things in place to keep voting honest (one ballot per voter, criminal penalties for voter interference, etc.) why can't the people who are qualified to vote simply do so?

    In another post, I'll explain how this crazy system works. Right now, the wife and I are looking into moving to Toronto. I no longer feel like an American.