On Chosen Family- Dear Marque

**Editor’s Note: First and foremost, fk corona. With that said, as gatherings are banned many of us have no place to collectively grieve. I have my little corner here, so I am gong to honor my friend.**

It is a privilege in this life, to have family you choose.

I met him on a rainy day. A terrible day for a woman without chemically-straightened hair to meet a stylist, but an extremely enthused flyer-pusher grabbed my attention and ushered me towards a salon I’d never have seen if it wasn’t pointed out. As I entered the space after climbing the stairs I was greeted by a big voice. Actually, “big’ probably doesn’t do it justice. The audaciousness of his voice was only bested by his cape as he floated in my direction like some grand superhero of hair. This was Marque.

Against my better judgement (and wallet, as the reason I was on that street was to buy food from Jack’s Discount Store) I used the coupon on that flyer the same day and begged him to fix the mess that was my hair. He cut out the last few years of damage, color stained with grief as they held the death of love, family and way of life. I’d just moved back to NY to try to put the pieces of my family back together as my mother was too ill to tend to the seams. Attending to my own grief on the matter would have to wait, as rent needed to be paid and dinner to be prepared. Hair was a thing I could control, the results of tending to it gave me a thing I could count on in a sea of uncertainty. I’d decided then and there coupon or not, Marque was now a line item in my budget. My “one nice thing”.

A five-time Emmy winning stylist (did you know there were Emmy’s for hair and makeup? That’s how I found out), Marque was not cheap. I’d bet of all his well-known, downright famous and otherwise well-to-do clientele that understood the value of his service I was in the lower-tier. But he always found a way to keep me in the chair, whether by alerting me of deals and discounts or sneaking in an extra snip. Because as we grew to know each other through hot combs and scissors, we found common ground in our search for home.

His life story is not mine to tell. But his life took him from his native DC to NY, and his talent and curiosity meant every time I saw him he was trying something new. From his editorial hair art to events, his abilities easily transitioned to new art forms. He inspired and encouraged me to do the same. It was Marque who dressed me for my first pageant, calling in a favor to a designer when all I could afford was the competition fee.

But forgive me if I make him seem like he was a fairy godmuva. While yes, he has had a large part in what I have grown to become, he was much, much more. He was inspiring, he was always-evolving, he was an active participant in his life and never the victim of it. He was my friend. He cheered for my life and I was honored to do the same.

When he embarked on this latest chapter- enrolling in college in the hopes of laying a foundation for life beyond the chair- I cheered even knowing it meant I would eventually have to entrust a new person with my tresses. But seeing how unafraid he was to start over led me to try as well, and one of my joys was following right behind him in graduating from my program with honors. His journey led him to discover a whole new path in creating art on canvas, and his talent took him across oceans as he painted here and abroad on various study programs.

The last time we saw each other physically was right after his art installation at his alma mater, Boricua College, where he’d graduated as valedictorian. A nasty bout of “flu-like symptoms” made me miss the exhibition the first weeks it was on display. I remember leaving work early to try to catch the last days of it, rushing over to the college before they closed for the day. Unfortunately, construction made them close it down early. I called and sent a picture from outside the building. He laughed off my dramatic attempts to show I went, but after school and life had caused me to retreat in the last year I told him my aim this year was to show up. I wanted him to know he was my friend and I was going to show up, even if it was just with a toast after I skidded in broadside five minutes after close. And in our last texts as the city shut down, I hope he knew I checked in not as a client, but as a friend.

I wish I had better words at this time. I wish I’d checked in daily instead of every few days. I wish this time would be more generous, to allow him to be mourned fully instead of being lost in a sea of statistics. I wish there wasn’t so much left undone. He’d just sold his first painting. He’d just begun dreaming up artist retreats. He’d just restarted the application process to a prestigious graduate degree program in fine art. He’d just found my words, and told me to not leave my own art behind. He’d just started again. We had new chapters to write.

It is a privilege in this life, to have family you choose. The last fifteen years have been an honor, friend. I know whatever new beginnings lie ahead, I will be a little less afraid because I knew you.  Wherever you are, I know you and your cape are outshining them all.

Mosaic: Writing to Live and The Book of Tiny Prayers

These days, the making of a modern essayist follows a similar path:

Person, unconventionally whip-smart with opinions, grows up in an environment where their silence is more valued. Whether due to disenfranchisement or simple demographics, person is always told they talk too much. Person finds their way to The Internet where people take notice of said whip-smart opinions, now allowed to flourish un-edited. Person gets asked, “why don’t you contribute said whip-smart opinion to this more organized medium?” From there the mediums get bigger and more organized until a book emerges. Many who worked to silence said essayist in their youth emerge to congratulate, as they “always” knew they’d make something of that big mouth. We revile in lessons of life and observations of pop culture as told through the lens of the whip-smart observer, until the next one emerges to tell a new tale.

If this sounds like shade, it is not. Often people need to be taught how to think, need these interpreters to make this big world-with its constant noise and never-ending stream of useless information-small enough to understand their place in it. To cut through the din of propaganda and lay some sense plainly at their feet. I enjoy them, I learn from them, and I need their collective anchor to keep me in the real world.

But there are others.

Others for whom the path was not straight and it was The Words that were their North Star, lighting their path out of the dark. For whom life has brought low and dragged through and derailed and derailed. Who’ve seen every best-laid plan brought to dust. Who have found themselves on the floor time and time again trying to find a new, more effective glue to piece their tender hearts back together. Who have PhD’s in new beginnings, never knowing if the next break will break them. What they do know is if they have nothing else; if the world is ash and they can’t see through the smoke, they can pick up their pen, or brush, or camera, and art till the dust settles and their path clears.

Where the Modern Essayist exists to make sense of the outside world these individuals write to make sense of their inner world, and share their lessons in self-discovery in hopes it will help you discover more of yourself. You would never hear them talk of stumbling into writing but more discover the words were with them all along, cutting a path or lighting the way. And when you cannot see the forest for the trees, their words help you find your own light in the distance. I keep them with me as well; for when I find myself too deep in my head to make a way, they provide a light when all other lights have gone out.

Which brings me to Raegan Mathis, and The Book of Tiny Prayers. Whether you pray to God, a god or meditate to find the answer in the Universe or yourself, Reagan’s timely book of prayers, prompts and musings breathe life into the words you may be finding coming up short at the moment. I’ve walked with Mathis all the way from her blog “To Rae, With Love” to “Prayers” and she has always found a way to speak to my present life, whether she’s known it or not. Rae has taken her readers with her as she bled, broke and ultimately rose, and her first book calls us to pray together as we move forward in this unprecedented and challenging time.

As is my way for any book of writing prompts, I make my way through by opening the book to a random page and letting the prompt inspire my pen. Today’s was a prayer for peace and well-being, with the message that “Fear Has No Place Here”. It prompted me to hold on to the joys of the moment; my smiling family in group chats, the knowledge that today, my friends are safe . Moments, after all, are all we have right now.

Mathis’ “The Book of Tiny Prayers” is currently discounted on her website. Click HERE to purchase for yourself or a friend.

Dear Diary…

Where were you when the earth stood still?

It’s a question I know will be asked years from now. When the memory of this time fades into sanitized text and statistical graphs, when the comparisons of whose country did it best drown out the individual stories of air-kissing your parents goodbye not knowing it was truly goodbye. When America’s need to appear the “best country on earth” disappears the stories of the most vulnerable, the tossed aside, the abandoned.

Where was I?

My first diary was named Kitty, after reading the Diary of Anne Frank. I likely had no business reading it as young as I did but it was the first time I’d seen someone simply write till the world made sense. Chaos I understood, escaping into your head even more. Writing made space, gave room for new thoughts. Without it my childhood was a cloudy mass of memories interspersed with clear moments of fight-or-flight. Writing made room. And so I wrote. I wrote till the world made sense. I wrote to remember. I wrote to mark my place.

Where was I?

I often joke that I get one boyfriend per chapter in my life. Each knows me as one person and if they ever got together to compare notes the only thing they’d agree on is someone must have my name misspelled. Nowhere was that more evident than with my last, who begged me to take a break. “The entire time I’ve known you, it feels like you’ve been struggling,” he said, exasperated at my plans to begin another degree program without a pause. “It’s always, ‘I’ve just gotta make it till next week’ with you. Don’t you want to remember what life was like when you weren’t doing ALL the things?”

I barely remember. Before my life was a whirlwind of hurry-up-and-wait, progress to setback, opportunity to rejection I was here. Writing, cooking, brunching, beaching and writing some more. My words were the last to go. I wrote of Winter and closed the book, accepting that my words would be waiting for me on the other side.

For a time, they were not.

Without the anchor of words the clouds returned and each day blurred into the other; history replaced with a blinking cursor as my thoughts, now scrambled with no filing system, ran out of room. I could not tell you what I did three months or three days ago. Next week was yesterday as the world made less sense. I pushed forward like I always do, as what does my story matter if it is the same tale each day? I am building towards the future for the first time in my life, the “living’ part can wait. I have a financial planner and the next “big budget goal”! I have a degree to finish and a new career to embark on. Creating new chapters takes sacrifice. The living can wait. I have a future to build.

These days the word “future” almost seems a cruel joke. There is no projection, there is only what I can do today to find pockets of sanity in a sea of uncertainty. There are moments of joy in this solitary house, in chats with friends and video calls with family and virtual parties on social media. But mostly there’s just me. There is me, in this quarantine, and my words.

Where was I?

When they ask where I was when the earth stood still, I do not want my story lost to the fog of anxiety. And so, I write. I write till my world makes sense. I write to feel. I write to not lose any more years of my life. I write for me. I write to give breath to the words my mouth cannot say. I write for the words that have never left my side. I write to mark my place.

Where was I when the earth stood still?

I was here.

I am back.

 

 

You Broke Up with Us Because She’s White.

Christopher Rivas would never date me.

Before I read “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White“, I did a quick Google image search to brace myself for what I was about to read. Being a visibly Black Latina who does not read as “exotic”, I know what to look for. One glance at his latte complexion, topped with a mop of loose curls and “but you’re not BLACK, Black” features and I knew I could recite the post before I read it. After all, there’s a special sort of angst reserved for those who fall just a hair short of passing, a fist-length from accessing that privilege.

Rivas, in a series of half-finished thoughts and incomplete tangents, stumbles through the all-too familiar Caribbean Latinx struggle of finding a place in a country that only has one bucket in the “Hispanic” category and refuses to understand Latinx isn’t a race. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t trying to work all that out while figuring where his apparent love for white women fit in.

And this is where you lose me Chico.

Somewhere between the single Black Woman he brought home in high school and the white girlfriend he pines over a year later (perhaps because he hasn’t found a woman he regards as highly in the sea of colored faces he has dated since?), Rivas reflects on the “better the race” conditioning he has received from his family. From the father who primped to attract a whiter woman to the aunt furious at the thought of him slumming it with The Blacks, Christopher recites a history chock-full of anti-Blackness, colorism and eugenics-lite…only to conclude his “woke” friends are the problem.

In his quest to find identity he did what Caribbean Latinxs often do, and turned to the map drawn for us by the history of Blackness in America. James Baldwin. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Activism and the “Black Body”. And like many, he found himself lost between two cultures as he never learned how to apply his latinidad to his Blackness.

This isn’t uncommon. Figuring out where you fit in American activism when you are of Latinx decent is a speed bump we have all overcome. It is even referenced heavily in the much-mourned Netflix series, “One Day at A Time” (RIP). As a woman finding my place has a bit more urgency as the government simultaneously creates legislation to restrict my movements as a woman both Black and Latinx, aware of my privilege as able-bodied, cisgender and heterosexual.  But as a man, who is Not Quite Black™ and not the right kind of Latinx, his urgency lands at…whom he can date without losing his “woke” badge.

He is a man who still needs outside validation to confirm his values because he isn’t sure he believes them yet. What is even a “hashtag woke thing”? What is he trying to prove, and to whom? Why do the stares of “Black and Brown people” affect him exactly as much as the blatant racism and microaggressions he suffered at the hands of the families of the white women he dated? Is it perhaps because he knows he will never have the privilege among white people that he has as a self-identified Brown man amongst Blacks like me?

The answers he seeks may well be buried in a tangent he never fully explored in his post.

“’You trying to be white now?’

“What does that mean — trying to be white? We’ve all heard it (maybe not all of us). I’ve said it. If we think about it, it’s really just a comment on power: ‘Chico, you trying to have power now?’

“Yes, yes I am.’”

Monday Musings

  • After that article about the “mommy blogger” whose kid doesn’t want to be on the internet anymore, and the implosion of famous branded couples one has to ask- is “branding” based on external circumstances* or the assumed continued presence of another autonomous human viable? When do we cross the line from “sharing relatable human experiences” to “this circumstance is my identity, pay me”?
  • I’m sorta tired of us applying the idea of “karma” solely to women we don’t like, who have done things we don’t like, when their man leaves. People fuck up, people break up, and “karma” hits those who mind their own the least.
  • Speaking of breakups and minding your own. All the secret messages you’re posting are not getting read. All the re-posts of memes titled with a “THIS” aren’t being noticed. S/He is gone, they will either figure out what they lost or not. Your task, baby, is the business of moving on. Start yesterday and put the google search down.
  • Solange makes art for herself and invites you to join in, or not. Watching people who need their consumption to identify them try to squeeze a meaning out of her latest project is amusing, but mostly annoying. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. We don’t need a 20-tweet rant on privilege and conventional thinness.
  • This might be the first time in two decades that Diddy is SANGLE single. Like without a “home base” single. Let that man grieve, he’s gonna be at it for a good minute.

*I am aware my blog was born of a breakup.

Yes, You Can

I often find when reading advice columns, what the writer most often seeks is permission.

Is it ok. Is it ok to feel bothered by this behavior after months of gaslighting to the contrary. Is it ok to leave. Is it ok to stay. I like this, does it mean I am broken. Am I weird for being this way, am I the only one.

This is a non-educated guess but judging from the epiphanies I see on social media this is common in therapy as well. Folks contorting themselves into different people, forcing themselves into triggering situations because not being bothered by them is surely something “normal” people do.

Is it ok to not be normal. Is it ok to just…not do this thing normal people do.

It is not lost on me that it is a strange post to be tied to a picture of a crispy-fried sunny-side up egg, but it happened to be my first one in years.

Why?

I detest anything but a completely set white, but I love a runny yolk. And I just discovered it is an Instagram foodie hack to simply…cook the whites first, then gently re-add the yolk.

Is this the most non-normal method of frying an egg I have ever heard of? Absolutely. Did I do just that and gobble it up anyway? Of course. Because I can.

Mosaic: Laid Off in the Land of Career Lovers*

To be “chosen” is a gift.

We are taught from childhood. Women wait, princes come. Women position and design themselves to be the best choice, princes choose. For the “gift” of being chosen the new princess is whisked away to a better life with the prince, to learn the ways of his people. Choosing you, and choosing to forsake all others, was his compromise. Folding yourself into his world is yours.

What is the cost of building a life?

Too often the work of building a life involved a man with a plan and me, left to draw plans. And those plans always involved a detour. Even the most equitable of partnerships required an adjustment that set my plans back. Now, the choices were mine. My mistake was not discussing the cost.

So what is the cost of building a life?

If I were to have children, it would have been with this man. Already a father, I was secure in his ability to parent and had already squeezed myself into his home, the majority of my possessions that weren’t sold off in storage. My job at the time had plenty of work lying around to gain experience to bring to a new company in a more senior position, but no upward trajectory. However, the benefits for partners and parents were unmatched. I chose to stay. He changed his mind. I moved out. Shortly after, I was laid off. With experience but no job title to match, I took a significant pay cut to re-enter the work force at entry-level. Cost: Five years.

*****

I stood in front of the ocean with the weight of my choices; it was always easier to listen to the Universe by the water. Taking on something as uncompromising as school made cultivating new relationships challenging and my interest in them did not match the effort that would be required. I stood in front of the ocean and handed the Universe my remaining “prime” years of romantic availability in exchange for this “selfish” block of time.

The Universe handed me a relationship in return.

Regardless of my much- negotiated need to be self-focused until I reached my goal I made some small concessions; I adjusted my class schedule to allow for more travel, and held off on redecorating my apartment as we discussed the particulars of an eventual move. Our pairing we learned was to be a seasonal one and while we remain quite fond of each other, our season eventually ended. Shortly after, I found out the last of the required courses I put off would not be offered for another year, pushing back my expected date of graduation. Cost: One to two years.

*****

So what is the cost of building a life? Where do those that chose to wait their turn go when their turn never comes up? How many times can one fold into another person? How many times can one start over?

These are the questions I asked when I decided to make a few non-negotiable life choices for the foreseeable future that will render me exponentially less malleable to “fit” into another life. While I still desire companionship and experiences, what that looks like when my autonomy is non-negotiable is drastically different from the partnership model I craved at 25.  I am not a “savage”; I simply have lost the desire to share in the structural work of living. I am a princess out of time.

I have been told a great many things about myself since expressing this choice; either I will be alone and bitter for life or the “perfect” man will come to change my mind now that I am no longer looking, as that is usually how it works in the movies. I have been told my choices were not necessary (please point out where I blamed anyone else for them, or their result) and I simply need to choose smarter when building a life in the future. A worldly, attractive and nurturing woman cannot *want* this life, not when she would make such a wonderful (helpmeet) wife. Your table cannot permanently be for one.

To be “chosen” is a gift.

It is a gift I choose to give myself in this third season of life. For many this is not a revolutionary way to live (hello, only children!) but I just got here. You can ride along, or not. But for now command of the steering wheel is not up for negotiation, and I can’t tell you if it will ever be again. I no longer lead with my nurturing foot. I no longer brag all that know me are made better for it. I do not race to prove utility in the hopes you will see me as a worthy choice. I’m just…here, starting over, with a table set for one.

But if you’re cute, I do have an extra plate.

*This post was brought to you by The Skinny Black Girl, who stays reminding me my best thoughts have no business being wasted on twitter.