Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Prayer for Gil Scott-Heron to be Free

I recently heard of the passing of Gil Scott-Heron. His passing is truly a loss to African Americans and free-thinking people around the world.

My introduction to Gil Scott-Heron was through my oldest brother, who is eight years older than I am. Growing up in the '70's, I always felt my brother had "radical" tastes -- he had the kinds of records -- and I mean "records," not tapes or CDs -- that my Pentecostal father would have probably broken had he known what was being sung or said on them. My brother didn't have the time or patience for fluffy, insignificant music like disco or arena rock. His tastes included Santana, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Tower of Power, Parliament/Funkadelic, Richard Pryor's comedy albums ("Bicentennial Nigger," anyone?), and, of course, Gil Scott-Heron. It seemed that, in order to make the cut to be included in his musical collection, your music had to have a message or a vibe that resonated with a young black man well aware of all the unfairness America had in store for black men like him. Gil Scott-Heron's did.

As a teenager in the '70's and a young adult in the '80's, I mostly dismissed my brother's tastes as radical or depressing. And Gil Scott-Heron's message about revolutions not being televised, prisons in Angola, Louisiana, and angel dust just were not to the liking of my naive and obnoxiously optimistic persona. Weren't there happier things to sing about?

No, there weren't. Gil Scott-Heron spoke the experiences of injustice and struggle experienced by many African Americans. I was removed from those experiences because I happened to come from a married, two-parent, working-class nuclear family. But that didn't mean I should have been allowed to forget that those experiences were real. The genius of Gil Scott-Heron was that he made us hear those experiences in a way that made us want to listen, even if we had to grow a little older to appreciate those messages.

I had the pleasure of seeing Gil Scott-Heron perform in my college dormitory. Yes, my dormitory, Ujamaa, at Stanford, in the early '80's. It would be generous of me to say that he looked hard, as if he were still struggling with addiction or had recently overcome such a struggle. It was then that I became a fan. He had no entourage, no trappings of stardom. He just played, sang and spoke. I don't remember if he played this song then or if I heard it later, but this one Gil Scott-Heron song would become one of my favorites, so much so that I have always wanted it played at my funeral: A Prayer for Everybody. The lyrics begin:

This is a prayer for everybody
In the world
For I am you and you are me
And we need each other . . . .

As I got older and more appreciative and understanding of the message Gil Scott-Heron was providing in his music, a message I wasn't prepared to hear as a teenager, it struck me that the fact that a man who sang so much of oppression and injustice and struggle could sing such a simple and beautiful song recognizing the humanity and interconnectedness of all of us was a testament to his genius -- his ability to deliver a message that we all needed to hear in a manner that would make us want to listen.

To me, losing Gil Scott-Heron is like losing Richard Pryor or Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye. He was part of that generation of messengers who made us listen and, for some of us, made us grow up and take notice of what was happening in the world.

Godspeed, Gil Scott-Heron. I pray that you are free. Thanks to you and my oldest brother for freeing my mind.

Friday, May 27, 2011

97,123 Words . . . and I'm Skurred

About a week ago, I turned in a manuscript of a book based on this blog to my sister, The Writing Diva, to edit. To put it in the parlance of the young folks, "I'm skurred."

Other than God, there is no one more powerful over a writer than an editor. Handing over a manuscript you've worked on to an editor is like preparing for death by a thousand red editing symbols. And when it comes to editing, nobody does it better than The Writing Diva.

TWD has been editing my work since I was a child. She's always been the better writer, the better thinker, you name it. Even my dad once reminded me of this in a not-too-kind manner: "You're smart, but Carol's smarter."

What makes handing my work over to her worse is that, as a personal rule, I never spend more than 30 minutes writing any blog entry. It was my attempt at keeping my writing "fresh" and "raw." Well, an editor takes your "raw" writing and makes it "well done," showing you all the mistakes you made along the way. Nothing like an editor to show you how much work you really need to do and that you're not as good a writer as you think you are. Ouch!

That said, I'm extremely grateful. One, I'm grateful that she's giving me a family discount on her editing services. Two, I'm grateful that she's actually started her own editing business, Mission: Clarity, to which I can make out a check and help a family member get a business off the ground. And three, I'm grateful that she's willing to take on this task because I know she won't treat it as just a job. She will do her best to make my work look better than what it is and to make me look smarter than I am.

She always has.

Watch for "Black Woman Blogging: Dangerous Thoughts of an Uppity Negress, 2007- 2010." I don't know who will be publishing it, but I'm determined to get it published.

And thanks to all my loyal readers. I truly appreciate your comments and kudos.

BWB

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Guess I Was Left Behind

Well, it's past 9 pm on May 21, and I'm still here. I guess I was left behind.

Despite having accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, I wasn't swept up to heaven. Well, I kinda get that. I've done a lot that might stand between me and eternal salvation, much of it in the '90's, although there are a few commandments in particular I've been having an awfully difficult time with over the last few years.

But BMNB is still here, too, downstairs watching what's left of the Dallas/OKC playoff game. He doesn't seem to be the least concerned that he's still here, too. What's that about? He's done a whole lot less sinning than I have, and he's been a devout Baptist all his life. I can understand me still sitting here waiting to be vaporized, but not him.

Well, Lord, let me just say thank you for at least letting my niece graduate from Sacramento State University today before 6 p.m. Pacific time so she could at least get swept up or vaporized WITH a Bachelor's degree. Wherever you end up, you should always aim to make it better by your presence, which I think she'll be able to do with her newly minted degree in Child Development.

I guess all those folks on the freeway drive home got left behind, too. And the baristas at Starbucks where I got my grande skinny caramel macchiato on the way home today.

I'm just hoping the people who made this prediction were just flat wrong and I wasn't left behind. Besides, if Scripture says that no one knows the hour when The End will occur, quite frankly, I'm very cool with that. I don't want to know the hour. Maybe that's incentive for me to work harder on those two commandments giving me a heap of trouble over the last few years.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria's?

Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated on his wife Maria Shriver, fathered a child outside of their marriage as a result of said cheating, and referred to this mistake in his press release as an "event" that took place over ten years ago.

Event?

An event is something that happens and ends. Producing a child outside of your marriage is far more than an "event." When your "event" walks, talks, and attends school, it ain't an "event."

Maria Shriver has joined the Sisterhood of the Philandering Husbands. That club includes presidents' wives, congressmen's wives, and a pretty significant percentage of wives around the world. I wouldn't wish that on any woman. And unlike a mistress, whom you can choose to have nothing to do with after the "event," Arnold had to take it one step further and have a "baby mama." That makes Arnold more than just a father or ex-governor: He's a "baby daddy," as in that janky song, "That's Just My Baby's Daddy." Indeed.

So how do you solve a problem like Maria's -- finding out that your husband not only cheated, but fathered a child who will be a part of his life for the rest of his life?

You don't. Because it's not your problem. It's his.

I had the good fortune to be cheated on by someone I was dating. I say "good fortune" because I didn't marry the schmuck, never even got close. My schmuck even had the temerity to have me and the other woman riding around with him in a car, each of us thinking the other was just a friend. I don't know if I would have ever married him, but I feel blessed that that experience happened to me while I was single. There were no children involved, no property to divide, no career given up. I dropped him with a phone call. It was all he deserved. But I learned a lot, and there's still more to be learned from all this.

First, cheating is the cheater's problem, not yours. Cheaters, especially male cheaters, will sometimes try to blame the women they've cheated on. Unless you cheated on him first, cheating is not your fault. If he was unhappy in the relationship, he needed to be man enough to say so and get out of the relationship in an honest way that respected you and what you both had. If he wasn't unhappy in the relationship and cheated, then he still has a problem with personal responsibility and control. If a man can hold it long enough to pee, he can hold it back long enough to avoid violating his marriage vows. I know men think their penises have a will and a personality all their own. They don't. If you are weaker than your own penis, maybe you shouldn't own one.

Second, no man can make you and, therefore, he can't break you. Everything you brought into the relationship -- your skills, your virtues, your drive, your heart -- was already there inside of you. You are not diminished in any way just because your spouse or significant other has a wandering penis. Always, always remember what you're made of. In Maria's case, she's made of pretty stern stuff. Arnold's actions don't change that. She's going to be just fine. She probably doesn't know it yet, but she will.

Third, your priority at this point is to protect yourself and your children if you have any. In my case, my cheater owed me money. I got the money back, then dropped him. In Maria's case, she needs to make sure her kids are okay and taken care and then take care of herself. A call to a good forensic accountant and divorce attorney might be in order right about now, even if she doesn't divorce the putz. She needs to make sure that her rights and her children's rights are protected. A therapist might not be a bad thing, either. A summer at Hyannisport might be in order.

Fourth, don't second guess yourself and don't beat yourself up for not seeing what was probably obvious to everyone else. Love blinds, and no one thinks they should have to double check and birddog someone they trust, especially if they trusted the person enough to marry him. Cheaters violate that trust, but there's no wrong in having trusted in the first place. But a bought lesson is a learned lesson, and you will become more discerning about trusting down the line. You have to.

Fifth, you can't blame the child created out of all this, so don't mistreat it. What child would choose a cheater as a parent? As hard as it might be, a little compassion for the other child in this situation is in order. As a mom, I'm sure Maria Shriver gets this. Should Arnold decide to be more than a checkbook for this child, his actions should be encouraged for the sake of the child. That doesn't mean you have to live with him and encourage him, but encouragement would not be a bad thing. Again, as a mom, I'm sure Maria gets this.

But trying to change a cheater, especially one that has fathered a child outside of the marriage and lied about it for ten years? That's nobody's problem but the cheater's. Sure, you can take a cheater back, but at the end of the day, only they can change their behavior.

So how do you solve a problem like Maria's? You don't, because you can't.

P.S. I wish Maria Shriver and her children the best. She was, in my opinion, probably the best First Lady the state of California has ever known. I hope she knows it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Back in the Day: The Used Baby Clothes Economy

Seems like May is graduation season and baby shower season. I went to a baby shower for a new mom in my family a week ago and it seems like many others are going to baby showers this month. This reminded me of a conversation I had with my older sisters a while back in which it was revealed that I probably did not have many, if any, new baby clothes as an infant. I was not offended, but I was surprised.

I am the youngest of my parents' children. I have over fifty first cousins. And I was born near the end of the Baby Boom. Back then, a woman got one baby shower -- for your first child. After that, you were on your own. Thus begat the "used baby clothes" economy in my family: Whenever my mom (referred to in this blog as "She Who Is Exalted" or "SWIE") or one of her sisters got pregnant, the others reached into their closets, pulled out their boxes of used baby clothes, washed the used baby clothes in bleach, and shipped them off to the newly pregnant sister.

And since my mom and her sisters had 15 children between them -- and that's not counting my other aunts on my mom's side or the aunts on my dad's side -- those used baby clothes got passed around. Alot. And since I'm one of the youngest of the cousins, I would imagine those baby clothes were plenty used by the time they got around to me.

But that was a different time. People, or rather, poor black folks, didn't spend money on things that didn't matter, baby clothes being one of them. Even I know that newborns spend most of their time eating, sleeping, pooping and peeing. They don't need to dress up much because, more likely than not, they're not going anywhere. A used onesie will do just fine for eating, sleeping, pooping and peeing. And, back in the day, if you were stretching to make ends meet like my parents were, you took those used baby clothes with gratitude for the fact that your sister or sister-in-law thought enough ahead to save them for the next pregnant sister or sister-in-law.

Back in the day parents, or rather, poor black parents, didn't display their love of their children by having them rock labels as infants. If you as an infant were clean, well-fed, healthy, played with, and not sleeping in the top dresser drawer, well, that was about all that you could or should ask for. Besides, infants don't know what they're wearing, but they sure as heck know when what they're wearing has got poop in it. Clearly my mom chose to focus on keeping the poop out of my onesies, not where my onesies came from.

And I didn't find out about my lack of new baby clothes until this year. I'm 47 and my mom's been dead thirteen years. And I think I came out just fine, if I say so myself.

My mom and my aunts' used baby clothes economy wasn't just about baby clothes, though; it was about family members helping each other out and spending money wisely on what mattered, baby clothes not being one of them. However, I'd think twice before offering used baby clothes to this new generation of mothers, even if I had them. They might get offended, thinking their newborn is too good for second-hand baby clothes. I keep my mouth shut, but I sure as heck don't attend baby showers for people on their second or third baby. How you spend your money as a parent is your business; how I spend mine is my business. And if I wasn't too good for used baby clothes as my mother's sixth child and the fourteenth of children born to my mom and her sisters, imagine what I think of your second or third baby?

I'm glad my mom and her sisters were wise about these things. I hope this new generation of parents will be, too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Flight" of the Geminis

Imagine a workplace retirement luncheon where the guest of honor is being congratulated on thirty years of service with the same employer. Imagine that, during this luncheon, there's a person in the back of the room who is saying under her breath, "Shoot, if you look up thirty years from now and I'm still here, just shoot me."

That person is a Gemini.

I'm a Gemini, and this is my birth month. In celebration of my birth month, I'd like to take this opportunity to clear up a few things about Geminis. We're terribly misunderstood.

Most Geminis, including myself, are accused of being "flighty" -- that we move from job, career, spouse, etc. fleetingly, as if we are incapable of doing anything for a sustained period of time. The term "flighty" is used derisively when applied to us.

That's because people don't understand Geminis. What they don't understand about us is that we have a deep appreciation of life and how fleeting it is. If there were a motto for Geminis, it would be, "Life's too short to ________________(fill in the blank). When our needs or priorities change, we Geminis don't fight the change for the sake of racking up consistency points in a system without rewards; we roll with the change and adjust accordingly. Others see such changes, whether they are changes in jobs, spouses, or even the cities where we live, as evidence of us being "flighty"; we, on the other hand, see such changes as a natural shift in our happiness demand curve. Because life's too short.

And why do our priorities and needs seem to change more often than for other astrological signs? Because the two biggest transgressions you can commit against a Gemini are to bore her or waste her time. As for boredom, Geminis have an insatiable need to be learning many new things, and we don't see any inconsistency in mastering two or more disparate disciplines. If someone with a different astrological sign said they wanted to be a neurosurgeon and a stripper, they'd dismiss the idea as crazy before they could even pursue it. A Gemini, on the other hand, would not only pursue these two disparate paths at the same time, but would explain to sceptics the synergy between the two: "Well, you see, the manual dexterity and strength needed to effortlessly glide down a pole enhances one's ability to do surgery, assuming you don't hurt yourself . . . ."

As to wasting our time, Geminis are quick to assess a situation and determine whether they can achieve what they want by doing what they're doing. If not, at least one of two things happens: We either change what we want or change what we're doing to accomplish what we want. Either way, to the other astrological signs, we appear flighty. But to us, there's no medal in life, no reward whatsoever, for continuing on a path that can't get us where we want to be. We either change the path, change the destination, or both. But to look up after staying on a path for, oh, thirty years or so to find yourself someplace you knew you didn't want to be? That is a living hell for a Gemini. The idea that we've wasted our precious time on this earth chasing something we knew we didn't really want is anathema to a Gemini, whether we've wasted it in a career or in a relationship.

It is my Gemini ability to reassess what I want and recalibrate how I'm going to get it that led me to be able to effectively and effortlessly extricate myself from bad relationships when I was single. When I started dating after breaking up with BMNB, I would stay in a relationship to prove a point or to not hurt the other person's feelings. As I got older and trusted my instincts, i.e., "I know how this movie ends and I don't like it," when it came to relationships, I got better at parachuting out before things got ugly. Even better -- I got to the point where I could size a guy up five minutes after he spoke to me and know whether there was any potential there. The failure to master subject-verb agreement was often a dead giveaway. My male friends said I was harsh. I, on the other hand, thought I was just efficient in using my time on this planet. There's no sense in thinking a guy's going to master subject-verb agreement if he hasn't by age 35 and no sense in thinking that I'm going to be able to overlook that.

So when your Gemini daughter, sister, friend, etc., changes jobs, men, or cities, don't question her choice or call her "flighty." She knows what she wants, even if it's changed, and she's going after it in whatever time she's got left on this earth. Instead, perhaps you should question your own choices and ask yourself whether you're staying the course for consistency's sake or for happiness' sake. For Geminis, it's the latter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"If You Didn't Want Me To Kill Him . . . . ": Problem Solved

"If you didn't want me to kill him, why'd you leave me alone with him?"

-- Mouse (portrayed brilliantly by Don Cheadle) to Easy Rawlins (portrayed by Denzel Washington), from Devil in a Blue Dress

I so relate to that quote. I definitely suffer from "Mouse Syndrome" -- if you present me with a problem, I'm apt to solve it in my fashion, whether you like it or not. It's one of my character flaws that clearly still needs work.

A friend of mine called recently to vent anger and frustration about a problem. The problem then made me angry and frustrated, and I approached solving it in a manner far different from the more reasoned and diplomatic manner my friend would have employed, upsetting my friend. We go back over twenty years. I haven't changed. I guess I need to.

You see, I'm not the kind of person who can simply listen and commiserate when you tell me about a problem that is upsetting you. My instinct is to solve the freakin' problem. In my own fashion. The bigger problem is that I'm not nice or diplomatic when I solve the problem, but I get results. For example:

- When friends of mine I served with on the board of a non-profit complained that the president needed to step down at the end of his/her term but probably wouldn't, I solved the problem in my own manner: I went to the president's house, told the president that he/she needed to step down at the end of his/her term, and, in any event, I would be running for his/her seat at the end of his/her term. I did. I won. Problem solved.

-- When my sister complained that five cruise tickets I had bought for her, my mother, and my aunts had not arrived three days before the cruise, I called the cruise line and told them that if those tickets weren't delivered the next day, I'd be serving them with a civil complaint the day after. It was not a threat. The tickets arrived the next day. When my sister asked me how I was able to get the tickets to them in time for their flight to Miami, and I told her what I'd done, she was horrified. My response: If you didn't want me to solve the problem, you shouldn't have told me. You should be happy I solved the problem. Problem solved.

--When a relative of mine complained about her adult son not having a job and living off her, my response was curt: Put his ass out. Problem solved.

I just can't help it, and I come by it naturally. My parents are the same way.

My father was the kind of father who had little compassion for weakness. If you got in a fight and lost, his response was don't come home until you kick that kid's ass, and if you don't kick his ass, I'm gonna kick yours. Problem solved.

My mother was the kind of woman who didn't have patience for venting. Once my aunt, her best friend, "vented" about all the bad things her kids were doing and how her blood pressure had shot up because of their shenanigans. My mother calmly picked up her purse and keys and, while still in her slippers, went to my aunt's house, cussed out my cousins, and told them, "I'm not going to let you niggers kill my sister." Problem solved. At least for a while.

So if you tell me your boyfriend's beating you, I'm not commiserating. I'm downloading the form for a restraining order.

If you tell me that your ex-husband hit you when picking up your child for visitation, I'm not commiserating. I'm helping you draft your declaration and motion to re-open your custody and visitation agreement.

But commiserate while you vent? I'm so not the one, and I just can't help it. So just don't tell me unless you want me to solve the problem. And it won't be nice, but I always get results.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can We Get Back To The Issues, America?

Sometimes, when yours truly reads controversial stories about politics and/or race, I don't write anything. When Donald Trump starting poppin' all that yang about the President's birth certificate and his qualifications to get into Harvard Law, something told me to wait. Wiser minds than mine would bring a more pointed and erudite response to the stupidity circus that is Donald Trump.

But I never imagined that Trump and the Birthers would be silenced by the assassination of Osama bin Laden, a hit ordered by no other than the Leader of the Free World, President Obama.

And while the President was responding to the Birther Circus and putting The Donald in his place at the White House Correspondents Dinner, he had already given the go ahead to take bin Laden out, and not a single soul leaked the order. Impressive.

Somehow it made talk about long form birth certificates and college grades seem so insignificant. Because it was. And it is.

So, Donald Trump and the Birthers, shut your pie holes unless you plan to talk about the issues. How the President got into Harvard Law isn't one of them, although it's ironic that his undergraduate grades have become an issue when his immediate predecessor was a self-proclaimed C student and proud of it. Go figure. Why don't you ask President Bush about his undergraduate grades, Donald? For that matter, how do we know you didn't get the wealthy privileged hook-up to get into Wharton?

But more important, who cares?

Judge President Obama on his record, and, if you plan to run against him in 2012, put your record out there and let others judge. But all this talk about birth certificates and grades when people in Alabama are living out of doors and soldiers are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq is just inane. It's an insult to the intelligence of the nation and to the intelligence of the President. Don't we deserve an informed and more relevant discourse about our nation's direction?

Can we get back to the issues, America?