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I Wrote a Book. Now, I Have To Go Outside.

As a woman of a certain age, I am pretty confident that not only do I know who I am, but I own who I am. The good, the bad and the indifferent. Though I’ve written about my personal choices for the enlightenment of others for years, I own I am a deeply private person who chooses with intention to whom I will expose myself. Though I make myself available to love, I own I am most content when left alone. Though I have fed my insatiable wanderlust with a collection of passport stamps and privileged opportunities all over the world, I own that I value the comfort of a steady income and a stable sister circle of black women who accept my type of crazy. Like any gemini, I am layer on top of layer. And for decades, I have peeled back each, ending up here: at peace and in love with the woman who I began becoming somewhere in my late teens.

I thought I knew me.

Then I wrote a book.

To be clear: writing the book is not what brought me to the epiphany that there were still more layers to unravel. Writing the book came pretty easy. It felt so much like breathing that I had a decent first draft in under a year.

It has only been these last few months leading up to publication that it has occurred to me I underestimated how much I do not enjoy inauthentic interactions. How much social media feels like one massive inauthentic interaction, even when you are being your authentic self.

I do not like to expose myself unless I can control who sees me. Unless I get to craft how they see me.

Because it is 2019 and I am a new author, social media interactions seem to be a requirement if I want anyone other than my mama and homegirls to buy my book (and my mama expects a free copy). I have been playing around on Facebook for about a decade. I became acquainted with Instagram and Twitter through my messing around with Facebook, but had only really given them cursory attention until my publicity manager made me cozy up more to these tedious little sites. I never thought of these platforms as tools for anything other than…well, playing around whenever I felt like going outside.

This is what I discovered when I was told “Use social media way more than you already do.” I am an inside kid. I have always been an inside kid. I was not one of those adventurers who eagerly awaited the day in summer camp when we went hiking or camping or some other such outdoorsy activity that was meant to challenge city kids to go beyond their comfort zones. I relished arts and crafts day when campers stayed inside in an air conditioned facility and expressed themselves on their own time and in their own space unless they felt inclined to invite in others. Apparently, these outdoorsy activities must happen on and off line a lot if I am ever to become known enough to get an email from Toni Morrison inviting me to her house for lunch.

What promoting this book has taught me is though a gregarious extrovert, I am not a person who likes to be seen. I wrote a book. In that book, I showed you Keturah. I said, “Hey, here I go with some thoughts and tings. Okay, bye.” I truly do not understand why people would now want me to show more of myself in order to get to know the woman who wrote the book. She. Is. In. The. Book. I get little satisfaction from showing more, actually. I will do it (on my own terms) because I know it is necessary. However, there is a significant part of me that finds it counterintuitive. Such exposure does not come naturally to me.

Shortly after going outside online, people started inviting me outside in real life, too. “Can you moderate a panel on women’s day?” “Can I ask you a few questions about traveling abroad, being unmarried, etc.?” “We want to feature you in this storytelling series.” It was these opportunities to promote myself that forced me to see it wasn’t just social media I found exhausting. It was being seen. It was being asked questions I didn’t particularly want to answer. It was being outside. Period.

At 44, I am forced to own: I have an intense need to control every aspect of my life. I wrote a book. I told people what I wanted to tell them in that book. And now, these people want me to tell them other stuff? But, why? I said what I said. Now, I’d like to take my many strips of colorful twine and construct my friendship bracelet quietly over here in the corner, please. Just come get me when it’s snack time.

I suppose I should be happy that there are still parts of me I don’t know know. This means I won’t run out of self improvement goals any time soon. I should also be grateful for the invitations to play outside. This must mean people like what I have to say when I get up on my soapbox. They must enjoy what is seen when I choose to show myself.

I have decided not to wait for the day when I will enjoy this process myself. Because I doubt that day will ever come. What I will do is own that it requires me to stretch myself in ways that I wouldn’t have had to had I not written this book.

Thursday, the camp counselor says we are going to some place far away and will do something called hiking and then practice pitching a tent or some such. I have chosen not to fake like I’m sick Wednesday afternoon. I will get on the bus Thursday morning. That is all I can promise to do.

Don’t Go. You’ll Die! (Traveling Solo While Female)

My first solo trip was to Atlanta. I was recently out of college and already dissatisfied with the unfulfilled promises of adulthood my teenaged self had dreamt up with vigor as I lived in my head throughout middle and high school. I had a job that was so inconsequential I struggle now to remember where exactly I worked and what I was doing. I had heard that Atlanta was some sort of Black Promised Land and had never left New Orleans long enough to fully appreciate that I was from and currently residing in the actual Black (Cultural) Promised Land so…

I woke up one morning and announced, “I’m going to Atlanta.”

I did not expect the commentary that followed. “You going all the way to Atlanta…by yourself?” It was the emphasis on the all the way that caught my attention first. To reach Atlanta from New Orleans, all one had to do was get on I-95 and then roughly eight hours later get off I-95, right? It took the second or third raised eyebrow for me to even hear the by yourself part. My mom and dad, of course, were supposed to be concerned about me getting in my car by myself and driving all the way to the neighbouring state of Georgia. I was their youngest child. A girlchild at that. Though level headed and responsible, I leaned toward impulsiveness sometimes. So, the imagined trouble I could find myself in was a reasonable response from my parents.

However, the by yourself from the mouths of friends and close acquaintances surprised me. I was asked if I worried about being bored or lonely for those seventy-two hours I would spend in the city. I was told that I should consider waiting until at least one other person could come along. “Safety in numbers,” a couple of friends said. Rapists, kidnappers and women beaters could be lurking anywhere within those 400 miles and that was not even to mention the men who were out to get me once I actually arrived in the city of Atlanta itself. “Don’t tell anyone you are alone,” a friend advised as I stuffed some clothes into a duffle bag. “Be safe,” I was told as I drove off. “What are you doing now? All by yourself?,” was a recurring question in the emails I opened once I got to the youth hostel where I would stay and logged on to let everyone know I had not been kidnapped since they last saw me.

In the twenty years since I returned from Atlanta, unimpressed and unmolested, I have traveled alone both domestically and internationally so many times I have to now force myself to at least make effort to include other people before simply booking a flight. Though not from friends who’ve known me since the Atlanta trip, I still get the by yourself question often enough that it makes me wonder why a woman traveling alone seems odd. Given it is the year 2019, and though violence against women is a very real concern in many parts of the world, one would assume that a female adult visiting a new locale without the accessory of husband, child or wing woman is not such an abnormality.

“Several times when I’ve checked into a hotel the staff were super concerned,” Ambra, a western woman currently living in China, said. “Like I’m there to kill myself or because I am depressed just because I’m by myself.” She went on to tell the story of a staff member coming out to the pool once just to see if she really were okay. Another time, (mostly) female employees chatted her up at breakfast, voicing well intended concern that she might be alone for some other reason than she wanted to be alone.

Natavia, an American expat currently living in China, had her announcement of an international move met with stories of sex trafficking throughout Asia. “They kept saying ‘Don’t Go!’ and asking me if I knew anyone here and when I said no, they’d come up with even crazier stuff.” Though the anxieties of her loved ones did make Natavia hesitant, she had a cousin who had solo traveled extensively and lived overseas alone. The cousin was curt. “Ignore them. Move to China.”

We know everyone means well when they ask us if we are sure we want to journey to a foreign destination alone. And we are also well aware that the dangers they imagine for us are not that far from the realm of possibility. However, those dangers are not that far from the realm of possibility when we travel to and from work in the same city where we’ve lived all our lives. Rapists rape in New Orleans during the day and night. Women take meticulous care not to get themselves raped from the time their parents find the courage to send them out the house without adult supervision until they inhale their last breathe. Kidnappers operate from the same playbook all over the world and there seems to be no fool-proof plan not to get yourself kidnapped when a professional kidnapper has decided he will — today and at this moment — kidnap. When people have asked me if I were afraid of getting trafficked or drugged or disappeared when I’ve traveled to India or Senegal or South Africa or Malaysia, I’ve always chuckled and said, “Well, if I’ve managed not to have any of those things happen to me here, then I’ll just keep that same energy in this other place. Maybe, I’ll get the same result.”

Even greater than concern for the female solo traveler’s safety is bewilderment about why she would choose to be alone on a travel adventure in the first place. After dozens of by yourself inquiries, I started to hear what people were really saying. And it was not tied just to imagined scenes of me being violated and thrown into a ditch. The visions of me touring city monuments alone. A quick flash of me eating the local cuisine alone in a restaurant filled with people. Taking pictures in front of famous landmarks. No one standing next to me. My friends and loved ones were not as forthcoming about their uneasiness regarding my aloneness. Sometimes I’d be asked if I ever got bored and lonely. When I’d respond that these emotions did occur and I just felt them the way I felt all the others until they passed, I’d be met with curious stares and silence.

“Truth is, I don’t ever feel alone unless I want to.” Latasha, who is originally from Cleveland, but has lived in three different countries since moving overseas, plans her solo trips to give her the option of interacting with others if she chooses. She loves talking with the locals in the countries she visits and her singleness makes that easier to do. She is often viewed as easier to approach because there is no one there distracting her from friendly banter with a stranger. When Latasha travels by herself, she notices a marked difference in how many impromptu conversations people initiate with her. “I also always try to stay in airbnbs, homestays or with friends of friends,” Latasha explains. This gives her the option of friendly human interaction if she’s had a day of solitary sightseeing or people watching.

For some of us, solo is our preferred method of travel. And why wouldn’t it be? You get to set your own schedule. Change it at a moment’s whim. You end up going to countries that truly intrigue you and not just places that are chosen because of compromise. You are beholden to no one’s budget but your own. No one’s accommodation idiosyncrasies. If you are a budget traveler who never spends more than $30 a night on an airbnb, then you can have your basic room with sporadic hot water. If you are unapologetically bourgie, then an American chain hotel will welcome you into its arms with thick, fluffy mattresses and 24-hour room service.

Aliki, a single British traveler, packed a bag and left London to tour Southeast Asia when she was only 19 years old. She went to Thailand and followed that up with Vietnam before checking out Cambodia and Laos. She was alone in each country and was not a part of a university study abroad or any similar program. “I still go on holidays with friends, family or my boyfriend,” she says, “but the majority of my travel is done alone.” Like the many single women I meet who travel by themselves more so than not, Aliki is not surprised that women who are fiercely independent in their daily lives would fully embrace navigating foreign destinations without a companion.

Between Ambra, Natavia, Latasha, Aliki and I, we have seen over half of the world. We have done so without any attempts being made on our lives. No sexual assaults to report. (Though we have had our share of inappropriate propositions from oddly confident men who took the L when told no and simply went away.) We’ve had no traumatic “close calls” that left us hesitant to take on the world alone again.

We have all traveled much farther than Atlanta. Much farther than North America.

And we are all still alive.

That Time My Neighbour Abandoned Her Baby

I lived in the East African country of Rwanda for two years. It was my first stop on a five-year long (and counting) adventure living and traveling overseas. I had chosen Rwanda for rudimentary reasons: 1. Five months before moving to Africa I decided I wanted to move Africa. 2. I was offered a job in Rwanda. 3. Rwanda was in Africa.

I had many experiences in Kigali which challenged me to examine my worldview. I came to appreciate a “cash economy” for its insistence that you only buy stuff when you have actual currency in your wallet to pay for it. I learned to look at traditional marriage as a very practical, sensible way to sustain a culture. Whether brought together by intense romantic love or crippling loneliness or simple pragmatism, combining two incomes and two sets of extended family made for a sensible way to build a life that would extend beyond yourself.

Rwanda — well, if I am being honest — many of the countries on the African continent, also confirmed for me that pronatalism destroys the lives of women and children. The dictionary definition of pronatalism sounds so deceptively benign: “a belief that promotes the reproduction of sentient life.” How harmless is that? Life is a precious gift. It is a miracle to be born. A greater miracle still to be guided with care through an entire life that extends well beyond one’s birth. Why wouldn’t reproduction of sentient life be a good thing to promote?

And this is what my time in Africa revealed. The continent went well beyond simply “promoting” reproduction. It made reproduction of life the only way for a female person to claim womanhood. It was such a bizarre experience living in a part of the world that thought nothing of making the word ‘woman’ synonymous with the word ‘mother’ and thinking even less of the ramifications of this thinking on women who were not built for or interested in motherhood. I encountered more than a few women in Africa who seemed to feel the same way about children as I did: they were cute and funny, but not worth the time and energy necessary to keep them whole and healthy until they moved out of your house. Unlike me, however, these women actually had children. Sometimes, several of them.

I am not an economist. I have no stats to offer that show the correlation between extremely pronatalist countries and rampant poverty among women. I am not a social scientist. Or an anthropologist. I cannot cite hundreds of case studies of women who were ambivalent (at best) about motherhood yet took it on anyway because that’s just what every day, every moment of their lives had been constructed to tell them women do: become mothers.

All I have is the story of Masha.

To understand why I even know the intimate details of Masha’s abandonment of her child, you have to understand the make up of our compound. There were two houses enclosed behind the iron gate of Beatrice’s property. She rented the main house, which was too big and had too many rooms, to me and my housemate. The bottom portion of the main house had been turned into a small, two-bedroom apartment, which was where Masha lived with her toddler and a house girl who couldn’t have been more than seventeen years old. The other house, which was slightly smaller and sat at the bottom of the steep incline I had to walk up everyday to get home, was rented by a young-ish couple with a school-aged child. The husband was the only person on the compound, besides Masha, who was Rwandan and spoke both Kinyarwanda and French while the rest of us got by with only English.

One day, Masha disappeared. It took about a week for us to notice. The baby was screeching at an ear piercing volume, which wasn’t unusual. I had observed this child for months from my perch on the balcony as she did the toddler stumble out of the house, wobbling on her chubby legs. Always screaming. Always brought back into the house and comforted by the house girl. Occasionally, by Masha. Both my housemate and I noticed how the screeches seemed to be nonstop now and we didn’t hear Masha’s voice responding to them in her curt French. When coming back and forth onto the compound, we were sure that we saw the house girl as regularly as we always had. But, no Masha. As the second week of fairly consistent screeching was approaching its end, my housemate and I decided to go to the couple at the bottom of the incline to see if they knew what was going on.

“She is away,” the husband told us. “She left the baby with the girl and I think the girl said she went to Uganda, but she was only supposed to be gone for a few days.” There was a rumour that one of her gentlemen callers had treated her to a luxury East African holiday spanning several countries. A beautiful girl with a figure that would make even the most confident woman a little spiteful, this seemed a believable enough explanation for Masha’s absence.

“Well, does her house girl know when she’s supposed to be back? Has Masha left enough money to feed them and pay the cash power? Will they have electricity much longer?” The husband at the bottom of the incline had no answers, but we all came to the logical conclusion that the answers to all my questions were probably no. I mean, this woman had vanished into thin air as if she were the mother of an eighteen year old who had just gotten her college acceptance letter in the mail. Surely, she just took whatever francs she had in her wallet and thew them on the table before hopping in the car headed to Lake Victoria.

My housemate was shocked. I was not.

There’s a term from 1990s Black American slang. Game recognizes game. From the moment Masha sauntered up to the top of the house to introduce herself, I spotted a woman whose heart was not warmed by children. A woman who tolerated them. A woman who preferred them in small doses. There was something in the way she bounced that baby on her hip as if she were just carrying a sack of potatoes up the incline that registered with me. It reminded me of when I came across small children who I thought were cute. I’d do a quick game of peek-a-boo and smile at their giggles. And then I’d go back to reading my book as they tried to get more funny faces out of me. My interest in the interaction rarely extended beyond this initial moment.

The first time Masha sat in our living room for an afternoon cup of tea, the baby was with her. The cute little dumpling was clean, clothed and well fed. She seemed happy and playful. She also seemed as if she were visiting these new foreigners with her auntie who had been asked to babysit at the last minute. Masha was not neglectful of the child as she crawled around our house. But she was not particularly nurturing or doting of her either.

My housemate would comment on how cute the baby was often. Each time, I would agree that the baby was oh so precious and adorable. I would watch Masha tote her around as if she were a brand new handbag and think to myself: It’s such a shame no one told this young woman that she didn’t have to have a baby. She could have done something else that interested her.

I didn’t think why did she have a baby in the first place if she wasn’t that into kids?

Six months before Masha abandoned her baby, I was sitting in the living room of the main house for the second time. My housemate and I had just brought Beatrice our security deposit and she had her house girl bring out tea and cookies to celebrate. As we chatted, Beatrice threw the two of us that expert Rwandan up-down — a level of judgmental side eye that can’t be truly understood unless experienced. Here we were, two women a long way out of our 20s who had no husbands and no children, yet were renting her gigantic home in the most expensive part of Kigali. Through her English-speaking son, she asked, “You have no husbands. No children. What happened to your life?” My housemate, a divorced woman who was childless by circumstance, chuckled uncomfortably and explained that she had put up with more than enough from her ex-husband before she filed for divorce and that their marriage, unfortunately, had not resulted in children. She got a little choked up on the “we never had kids” part. When it was my turn, I said marriage had never really interested me, though I could be talked into the right one and there was nothing that interested me less than loud ass children roaming around my house and touching stuff that didn’t belong to them.

Silence fell upon our pleasant afternoon tea. Beatrice’s up-down left my housemate and focused only on me. A brief conversation happened between her and her son, which seemed to be causing the son some distress. When he returned to speaking English, our conversation was suddenly about being prepared for the dry season and making sure the water tank was full.

Three months before Masha left her two-year-old with the seventeen year old house girl who was likely illiterate with no other employment opportunities, I was having a drink with an acquaintance who would soon become the only good Rwandan friend I would make in my two years in Kigali. She was mentioning how her recently married cousin had just announced her pregnancy to the family. “Well, dang,” I joked with my acquaintance. “She and the hubs didn’t waste no time on the procreation part, huh?” My acquaintance nonchalantly responded, “Oh, that’s just Rwanda. If you don’t get pregnant after the first year of marriage, people start talking. Asking questions. Wondering what’s wrong with you.”

I already knew why Masha had become a mother though she probably never really wanted to parent a child.

When I chatted with Nina Steele, she talked about being an African woman who bought into pronatalist conditioning, never questioning or challenging it. Having tried for several years to conceive, she eventually decided to accept that infertility issues would stand in the way of giving her husband a child. It was accepting this infertility instead of fighting against it that made her realize she didn’t even feel that strongly about motherhood. As a matter of fact, she was grateful that she would never experience it. She could enjoy the simple, yet fulfilling life she and her husband shared without the disruption in free time, expendable income and sleep that children brought. “I grew up in a very poor village in Ivory Coast and kept seeing these women have babies even though they couldn’t feed them. My own mother struggled with taking care of me and my siblings.” As an educated woman with an economically stable husband, Nina’s circumstances were obviously much more favorable than the women she watched struggle to raise children in her small village. However, the infertility in her marriage forced her to really reconcile with this expectation that she should want to have children. This was just good African values — marriage and motherhood. Though she had the financial means to raise children, was there any real desire to do so?

By the time Masha sauntered back onto the compound, the husband at the bottom of the incline had tracked down her relatives who had driven to Kigali and picked up the baby and house girl. I was not at home when she arrived, but I was told she came back with a really long story that painted her absence in a much more serious light than an extended vacay with Bae. Her child and house girl were back on the compound shortly after her return.

I forgot why Masha eventually moved out of the apartment at the bottom of the main house. She could have just found a better place in a more affordable neighbourhood. She could have moved back to Giseyni, which is where I was told her family had come from when they were told about their abandoned kin.

I have thought about her several times in the years that have passed since I left Kigali. It is very likely that she now has two children. It is more than possible that the birth of the second sentient life was celebrated with great gusto by every person in her life. I am sure the second child is clothed, clean and well fed. And much like the first, it is being parented by a woman who is indifferent at best to the demands of motherhood.

But, Aren’t Women Natural Caregivers?

My good friend, Lorraine, had what I like to call a Come-to-Jesus moment. She came to the realization that the life she thought she wanted as recently as a decade ago would have made her miserable. Furthermore, she awakened to this truth: she wasn’t even hardwired for the life she’d thought she wanted.

“I think the universe did me a favor by keeping my soulmate away from me during my childbearing years. If I had to do this shit every day for YEARS, well, I would make my husband and our offspring miserable.”

Like many women, Lorraine is single and childless mostly by circumstance. At 48, she has found herself unmarried and without a child mostly because she never made much effort to acquire either. She would have preferred a husband (she thought) and if their marriage resulted in children, she would have enjoyed caring for said children (she thought.) On a recent trip home for the Christmas holiday, she became the primary caregiver for the old folks in her family. Elders who were not so frail that they needed full time help, but who took full advantage of having a younger, more able bodied daughter and niece to run errands, cook meals and negotiate the tedious details of doctors’ appointments, prescription refills and grocery shopping. Lorraine cared for the adults who had once cared for her, but she was clear that she did not enjoy it. She also found she did not naturally possess the skills (or patience) one would need to be a good caregiver.

Lorraine joked that she was “shook hard” by this epiphany. She didn’t find honor in managing the lives of family members she loved dearly? She didn’t take pride in serving as the caregiver? Found it the complete opposite of a joyful necessity? She thought about how she had imagined her adult life as a teenager and young woman. While she was not aching to be a wife and mother, she assumed that when she became both, she’d fall happily into the roles. That’s what women do, right? Sure, women have their moments of fatigue when taking care of their families, but overall, they relished in the role. Eventually came to see it as some sort of super power. I am the backbone of this family. I keep us together. Right?

On a recent episode of my podcast, I talked with Doreen Yomoah about this assumption. That women, by virtue of their gender, have some innate skill, which makes them the default option when a child needed to be nurtured or an older relative tended to. Doreen works for a research center that explores this persistent myth that women, in general, are genetically predisposed for the role of primary caregiver. Through her work, she sees how many of us are so bought into the messaging that it should be women who take care of children, husbands, and parents that we never question why women are so “good at” taking care of others. Is it because we possess this special gene that men lack or is it because from the time we are old enough to be aware of it, people are making us take care of others whether we want to or not?

Young girls get their training for caregiving at Thanksgiving when they find themselves alone in a room full of toddlers they did not give birth to. Hours before, these toddlers would have arrived with adults who were legally and morally responsible for them. However, the 12-year-old girl cousins happen to look up from the television to find babies crawling around them. Their aunts and uncles have gone off to some other part of the house to hang with each other and just assumed their offspring would be kept alive by these older children who had been blessed with the caregiving gene. Meanwhile, the 12- year-olds who were not blessed with this magical gene are outside playing football.

It is very telling that even in this, the year of our Lord: 2019, women who come to Lorraine’s conclusion are surprised when discovering this about themselves. I don’t like giving care and I don’t believe I am predisposed to it. As I said to Lorraine, “I’ve known I was not a caregiver since I was 12.” While I may seem more enlightened for having my Come-to-Jesus moment while still a girl, I instinctively knew that I could not vocalize my knowing feeling that being a primary caregiver would not suit me. That I would be opting out of the role as soon as I was allowed to.

Because it was clear to me as a girlchild with little control over my daily life, I would not be allowed to say no to what so many assumed was my duty. Children would be left in my care without my permission and a cursory, “I am just going to sit in the front room talking with your mama for a while. All you have to do is give him his bottle when he cries.” Helping my grandmother manage her house would become my Sunday responsibility before it would my older and more capable brother’s. I would be expected to be a free babysitter to my sister’s child well before anyone ever thought to ask my brothers if they could go over to her apartment and take the baby off her hands for a few hours.

Yes, it goes without saying that some women are blessed with this magical gene of caregiving. These women do find honor and joy in nurturing children and managing the lives of vulnerable family members. However, as Doreen said on Unchained. Unbothered., “Women are just socialized from the time we are born to be primary caregivers. We are not naturally better at it than men.”

I am not suggesting that women abandon their old folk and refuse to care for their children. What needs to happen is we start calling a thing a thing. Women still take on the lion’s share of caregiving because we exonerate men from the duty even when many of them are just as capable as we are. There is no caregiving gene. There is just training. Girls are drafted into the training even before they’ve reached puberty. Boys get to skip it, if they choose. Not surprisingly, they opt for football.

Why We Need More Nova Bordelons on Television

Some believe her to be broken. She is no more broken than any of us who chose to enter this world via human beings, allowing those flawed creatures to parent us. Many believe she is afraid of love. These people are partially correct. She is afraid of a love that requires her erasure.

Of all the characters in Queen Sugar, Nova Bordelon interests me the most. While Ralph Angel tires me and Charley reminds me of half of the black women I have ever seen on any show that has black women in it, Nova has always struck me as something new. A portrayal of black womanhood we have only seen a flash of here and there in between the standard storytelling of tragic black women or ambitious black women. All longing for that one thing: love.

Nova Bordelon is not the first single woman to be portrayed as struggling with partnership. She is the first black woman I have seen on screen who struggles with finding love because she does not value the opportunity to find a mate over any other aspect of her life. She is one of the first black women I have seen on screen to repeatedly choose herself over the chance to get chose by a decent enough mate.

Her boyfriend left his wife for her. But, Nova did not stay.

She had a replay of her college years and entered into a relationship with a woman. Nova did not stay.

She is currently involved with a single man who is an academic and activist; he is as committed to racial justice as she is. While Nova has opened herself up to the quietly sexy Dubois in ways she has not to others, she is still a flight risk.

But, her potential to run is not simply because she is afraid of being vulnerable. It is not merely because for her entire life she believed her father betrayed her mother and did not value her as much as he did his son. “Free spirit” is the only term our limited language will allow us for a woman like Nova.  But, even that does not fully capture why she is in her late 30s and has nonchalantly walked away from potential love on several occasions.

She wants a kind of love that women like her have had no prototype on which to base their vision of partnership. In this version of love, she gets to continue to choose herself and not be penalized for it. She gets to put her work before her relationship when it is necessary and have her partner admire that quality in her, acknowledging that a woman passionate about her life’s mission will choose it over him at times.

It is no coincidence that Nova admitted her love for Dubois after he confided he, too, had made it to mid-life without children on purpose. And he planned to continue his life childfree by choice. When you are a black woman who does not worship at the altar of motherhood, you get used to good black men taking offense to their goodness not being enough to magically transform you into a baby-hungry maker of nightly meat loaf. Dubois asserting that his legacy would lie in the work he left behind, the altruism he extended to his community is what made Nova believe, with this man, she could be the woman she has always known herself to be. The woman that she feared would have to be erased if she entered into something permanent with any of the others.

She told Dubois she was tired of running. And that was true. But, the thing is: Before him, she had to run. When you are self-possessed. When being alone does not frighten or shame you. When wife is a title that mostly disinterests you and motherhood a role you do not need to try on to know it won’t fit.

When you are enough for you.

Saying yes to a version of partnership that might suffocate you is an unnecessary burden.

I long to see more of Nova’s struggle because it centers the black single woman that I know. She is neither frivolous and fabulous nor bitter and angry. She ages and reconsiders some assumptions she made once she has new evidence to redraw conclusions. But, these new inferences don’t necessarily make the complexities of her desires any more simplistic than they ever were.

Nova wants what she wants when she wants it. She wants it how she wants it. Because she has met her intellectual, spiritual and philosophical equal in Dubious, she is more likely to bend and consider this way of living and loving will not reap her what she needs emotionally. But, at her core: preservation of self will underscore every choice she makes. I want to send Ava and Oprah a thank you card for showing people what a Nova looks like and how looking like Nova can cause turmoil for the Novas themselves as well as the people who love them.

Finally, a woman who desires love, but not more than she desires herself.

The Rogue Tourist (Who Smelled Barbecue)

If you talk to my childhood teachers and friends, they would confirm I was a good girl who did what she was told at least 97% of the time. While I had a smart mouth that often wrote checks my ass could not cash, I reserved respectful obedience for authority figures and followed the directions of people who were in charge of leading me in different areas of my adolescent life.

My friends, family and teachers would also confirm that I was a fat kid who was easily driven to distraction by food.

Which brings me to the half-day tour of Phuket I recently took. I had every intention of hopping out of the van at whatever site the tour company had arranged for us 8 random foreigners who wanted to get in some semi-culture between sun bathing on the beach and consuming mojitos. At the baby elephant site, I hopped out of the van and fed the elephant. And then hopped back in the van right as the tour guide was summoning us to gather again. When we went to a mountain peak to take in one of many breathe taking views of the island, same thing. Hopped off van, listened closely to the guide give us the history, took a few pictures and then, back to the van.

I was a good little tourist for the majority of this trip.

And then, I got hungry.

Thing was: I didn’t realize I was hungry until I smelled the smoke of the black diaspora’s favorite cuisine: barbecue. We had just left the honey plantation and were now at yet another temple that seems to be a requisite site when touring any Asian city. The guide gave us a quick history and told us we could explore on our own, leaving us with a time and location to meet up again.

Listen, Children…When you see one of these scared temples, you truly have seen them all. This temple looked just like the one I happened upon in my neighborhood in Shanghai when I was trying to find the Walmart so I could buy some paper towels. It also resembled the one I saw in Bali, except more grand and blingy. Ornate walls. Lots of incense. Altars. Buddha statues. Yup, it was a temple alright.

It was my plan to find the toilet and the barbecue while my fellow travellers found enlightenment praying and what not within the temple.

And when I found the barbecue, several things happened that were not truly my fault.

Thing 1: The barbecue was absolutely delicious. The old man who had all this meat on sticks waiting to be thrown on this open flame had put some magical, crack-like sauce on these skewers and his charcoal had to be made from the dust of fairy wings because when I bit into my first chicken skewer, I felt like the Hebrews being sent manna from Heaven after Year #17 wandering around the dessert pissed because they still didn’t know when they’d get to the Promised Land. Because the chicken skewer was so succulent,

Thing #2: I had to order a pork skewer from the old man whose advanced age caused him to take an inordinate amount of time to barbecue meats. I only ordered 1 more skewer so I don’t know why it took him so long to grill it, but this is how things go. It would have been rude of me to rush him as he was at least two and a half decades older than me. To make use of the 5 or so minutes I had left before I had to meet the group, I went over to another stall where some sort of fruit drink was being offered. This, too, took a long time so when I came back to get my pork skewer, I realized I was hungrier than I originally thought and should probably get a beef one, too.

Thing #3: I had to feed a hungry child. This child did not say he was hungry. But, when I came back to the elderly barbecue man, I recognized one of the children from the family who had been on the tour with us throughout the day. We were coming up on hour 3 of this tour and the young lad had not even had a snack as far as I could tell. So, I asked him if he wanted a pork skewer. He did make note of the time and asked if we were supposed to head back over to the meeting point, but the sizzle from the grill, the aroma of the crack-laced sauce entranced him, too.

Thing #4: The elderly barbecue man did not have change for the big bill I gave him and thus ensued another lengthy event, wherein he roamed around to his other vendor colleagues trying to scrounge together my change.

Thing #5: I realized we had like two more stops before this tour ended. I would probably be hungry again so it would be smart for me to order 2 or 3 more skewers. As previously stated, the grilling process was inexplicably long.

When me and the young lad, who was visibly happier than he was pre-skewer, approached the rest of the group, I felt a bit of remorse. Well, actually, I didn’t really feel remorse. I felt bad for the other tourists in the group. They looked hot. And hungry.

“Wait…there was food?” One of them asked.

“I hope we still have time to visit the Big Buddha,” our guide passive-aggressively mumbled under his breathe.

Because my mama raised me right, I apologized for being a little late and setting us back on the itinerary.  The young lad was the one to rave about the barbecue meat and how he was glad he had the chance to have one.

I just simply crawled into the van that had pulled up once we got back and began eating my reserve skewer.

For some reason, it was really quiet on the ride to the Big Buddha.

A Salute to the Sisterfriends Who Sustain Us

I looked down at my phone to see a whatsapp message from a woman I had not seen in person for more than six months.

Do you remember that gorgeous man we saw at the Ghana Embassy in Kigali?

Although we had been keeping in touch since we had both left Rwanda – she moving back to London as I headed for Shanghai – we hadn’t had a lengthy text conversation since The New Edition Story aired and we debated whether Fake Ralph was cuter than Real Ralph at Fake Ralph’s age.

Uhm…yeah…I remember that statue of a man who looked like he had been chiseled from stone before being casually placed among all those regular-looking dudes?

I excitedly wondered what inspired this as her first message to me weeks after our in-depth analysis of Fake New Edition’s portrayal of the trials and tribulations of Real New Edition.

Wait…did that painfully gorgeous man end up in London? Are you about to tell me you just happened to cross paths and are now whatsapping me from his bed?

I got the slightly disappointing response of: No…I just thought about what a superb specimen of man he was. And had to share it with someone who would understand.

And then I didn’t hear from this friend again for another month.

In The Crunked Feminists’ Collection, Brittney C. Cooper dedicates a portion of one of her essays to what is often overlooked when the trite conversation about black women’s singleness comes up – normally brought up by a person of any race or gender who has more issues with the singleness of black women than these single black women have themselves. She writes about the blessing of having time. Time for herself, of course. But, most of all, time for the female friendships she has cultivated over decades worth of shared triumphs and failures. Cooper vocalizes something I have always felt when this social media need to write and discuss “think” pieces about everything finds itself regurgitating the same statistic about the unmarried every few years or so.

I spend no time bemoaning my lack of a husband. I am only mildly bothered when I do not have a Bae in my life. (And truth be told, the thing that mostly bothers me when there is no steady Bae is the long stretches of celibacy I am forced to endure since repeated indulgences in casual sex have never truly appealed to me.) While I am aware that being partnered presents multiple advantages as a person grows older, I do not tremble at the thought of common dangers impacting me greater because I will encounter them without a husband.

However, the thought of waking up one day when I am 70 years old and not having at least one of my good girlfriends still in my life terrifies the shit out of me.

I had just finished reading Cooper’s insight into female friendships when my homegirl sent me the random message about that Ghanaian Adonis for no other reason than she thought of me. I giggled and for weeks after, smiled when I remembered her random tribute to a beautiful man she knew I would appreciate.

Since moving to Shanghai, I have gotten several texts from a male friend who could have been Bae (or at the very least, a good enough placeholder for Bae) the entire two years I was in Kigali. I do not remember what those messages contained and while I was glad to hear from him, I was mostly indifferent when he hit me up to “see how Shanghai is treating you so far.” Another man with whom I shared dinner a few times has also sent me one or two texts since I left Kigali. I do not remember what they were about or if I responded to them. Though this dinner companion was as random as my homegirl, my response to him was not as immediate. His messages were sporadic like several of my girlfriends’ communication have been since I left. I have always responded to my girlfriends’ messages as soon as I have seen them. The guy I went out to dinner with a few times…well, I cannot say (with certainty) he always received a prompt response. Or a response at all. For those two months when I was in the United States after leaving Rwanda, I kept my whatsapp connected to my Kigali number so my girlfriends could communicate with me as easily as they had for the past two years. Wanting to keep lines open for potential suitors or past suitors never occurred to me. I still have the Kigali whatsapp number for that same reason.

I have written before about the persistence of loneliness and how it exhibits itself abroad (See, The Thing About Living Abroad Is…). Although I am still fairly new to this Ex Pat life, I can say with absolute assurance it is my formation of female friendships that has made this life livable the last three years and not the time I have devoted to dating men. My dedication to doing the work of connecting with other black women has helped assuage my loneliness more so than doing the work of sifting through online dating profiles to find a man who I am attracted to and who is my intellectual and financial equal. To be clear: I devote the appropriate amount of time to both my life as a friend to other women and my life as a lover to men. But when I think about how I prioritize the two, I am reminded of Cooper’s argument. We continue to flatten the emotional fullness of women’s humanity by making the story of the modern-day single lady all about her quest to cure herself of the illness of singlehood. We write story after story of women’s honest depiction of what it’s like to date and never marry, how dating has changed for the worse since the explosion of Tinder, how women manage to find ways to pass the time as they wait for their husbands to find them.

Why aren’t we giving as much time to painting the picture of single women that many of us can identify with most  – regardless of where we stand on marriage and the desire to end our single status? The time we have to connect with and cherish each other. To support and encourage each other. Hell, just the time we have to SEE each other. When I was in Kigali, one of the women in my circle of girlfriends was married with three kids. We tried to include her as much as we could in our impromptu trips to Giseyni and last minute dinners in Kimihurura. But, like many wives and mothers, she just couldn’t make it out to many of our get togethers. Her husband and children could only fill so much of her emotional needs. Before she took on domestic life, she had fully reveled in her ability to SEE her girlfriends whenever she needed them or they needed her. I sensed in her repeated requests to factor her circumstances into our planning that she had underestimated the value of the time her unmarried self had devoted to bonding with her female friends.

Three years ago, I left my beloved New York City and a country I was not sure I liked. I ended a serious relationship with a man I loved because he was not called to Ex Pat life as I was. I also left behind three women who I had spent most of my adult life with. The first year of my new life, the ex-boyfriend and I were still in communication. Every few months, I would find him in my DM on Facebook talking about nothing in particular, which led to us both chatting about how our lives were going. Somewhere around the 12th month, the DMs stopped coming. I felt a momentary pang of sadness. He had moved on and the likelihood of our ever being in each other’s online or offline lives again was slim. The pang dissipated, though, and when I do have thoughts of him now, they are fleeting moments of hoping that he has met someone who will take care of him. That he is working toward his goals. I don’t miss his DMs. I assumed they would end.

There is a much longer thread in my DM on Facebook that I started with three girlfriends shortly after leaving my beloved New York. In it, we talk about nothing in particular and everything that matters. For three years, the thread has been active, getting bumped after weeks of silence with a period rant or a hearty throwing of shade toward a celebrity, co worker, or commuter.

If that thread ended. If I bumped it with an observation that no matter how much money I spend on bras, they never seem to fully satisfy my boobs’ needs and these women never responded. Not just didn’t say anything in regards to this particular message, but really…just removed themselves from the thread, never to add to it again…

You would find me in the fetal position on my living room floor. I would be in tears questioning my life choices.

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