• March 2023
    S M T W T F S
  • Past Posts

  • Recent Posts

  • Blog Stats

    • 21,790 hits
  • Pages

Pose: The Best Family Drama on TV

I suppose I should start with the truth: I come from a fractured family. Though still in communication with every member of my immediate family, months can go by when I have not talked to any of them. My mother, my sister and definitely not my brothers.

I noticed my family’s distance as early as elementary school. I grew up well aware that while other kids in my class would probably spend at least one weekend over the summer at a family reunion or cook out in a humid park somewhere, I really could not recall any memories of cousins, aunts and uncles gathered together under a matriarch’s roof - the whole extended family reenacting its own version of the final scene in Soul Food. Neither my mother nor father seemed to have deep connections with family members beyond their own parents. In some ways, that disconnect has continued among their own children.

Perhaps this is why I can’t find words accurate enough to describe my connection to Pose, FX’s groundbreaking series about 1980s Ball culture in New York City. I was enthralled from the first episode when Blanca stalks through Washington Square Park looking for someone to co-opt as her own. As her family. She finds a young Damon sleeping on a bench because his own fractured family threw him away with an ease that baffles me. Their conversation is casual yet poignant. Blanca tells Damon she has seen how well he dances when he practices during the day. She tells him she, a woman who has just been given a reason to live after being informed she would soon die, is starting her own house and she wants it to be more than just a collection of trans women competing for their next Ball trophy. “I want it to be a real family where we all look out for each other.”

Her house becomes just that. She not only commits herself to taking care of Damon emotionally and financially, she extends her care to Pray Tell, father figure to pretty much every character on the show, and a number of impulsive young adults who have no one else to offer them a warm bed and even warmer heart when the world clearly states: “Your life means nothing to me.”
Pose is a tribute to chosen family. And it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the beauty in such a simple premise.

My family would never throw me away the way Damon’s family did. I can’t imagine my mother kicking me, a teenaged child, out of her house for any reason. And if she did lose her mind enough to do it, my own mind can’t process my father not coming to my suddenly ill mother’s home to collect me and my belongings. I can’t think of any reason why my siblings would tell their children I am dead when I am living and breathing a train ride away.

Though I can’t relate to the specific fracture in Damon’s and Blanca’s biological families, I can understand the longing to create a family of their own choosing. A family that understands them and accepts them in a way their bio families can’t. It goes without saying that none of the characters on Pose want to have to choose their family. In their quiet moments, they are candid about how much the rejection of their families still cut them to the core. They long for the connection they have with their chosen family to be mirrored with the bio family members who have tossed them aside. Blanca, particularly, deals with an incredible amount of emotional abuse from her siblings just to attend the funeral of her mother, whose only tool for dealing with a son who knew he was really a daughter was to banish her child from her life.

For those of us who have come to rely more on our chosen family than our bio one, Pose is the ultimate testament to family being much broader, much bigger than just the people with whom you share DNA and a house. In one season, The Evangelistas comforted one of their own as she repeatedly got her heart broken by a white man so white he could have been on a box of oatmeal, showed up to an HIV ward to stare their future in the face because their chosen father needed them to, demanded a prominent dance institute give their frightened son and brother another chance to audition for an opportunity that would save his life, and held each other accountable for looking out for a vulnerable family member when they had valid reasons not to bother.

I can’t remember the last time the big or small screen has offered such a heart breaking, exquisite portrayal of family. Yes, each episode Billy Porter delivers superb extraness, holding nothing back as he allows us a peek into a world we never knew existed. And the costumes and Ball scenes are themselves worthy of their own show. However, if Pose is to be praised for nothing else, I say we should be up on our feet, clapping like deranged seals because it graciously provides us the prototype for and a comprehensive definition of family.

The Penis Doesn’t Have Limitless Power

I have featured black women who identify as polyamorous three times on my podcast. I was prompted to pursue the stories of the non-monogamous because as a woman who was coming to accept that happily- ever-after marital bliss didn’t appeal to me, I was curious about how other women formed partnerships that were not necessarily defined by getting on an escalator with one nice man as you both cruised to the floor that housed the chapel and shared mortgage payments. I was certain my ideal love structure did not involve multiple partners, but had a feeling that these women who had the courage to claim the love structure that best suited them could offer valuable insight into how I and other women could create the romantic lives we wanted instead of the one we were supposed to want.

Evita, Olivia and Shira did help me unburden myself from the shoulds that black women are expected to carry on our shoulders as we shape shift to fit what the dominant culture and our community dictate is the best way for us to be in the world. However, what was even more invaluable were the messages I got from listeners after each woman shared her journey to ethical non-monogamy. A common message in my inbox was: “I thought I was the only one! I used to think something was wrong with me!” When I engaged in further conversation with these women who thanked me for letting them know they were not alone, there was another trend that was all too familiar. It was the tendency to be advised on how they could be cured of their allergic reactions to monogamy.

“You just haven’t met the right man yet.”

Woman after woman relayed having intimate discussions with sisterfriends and aunties about how suffocating it felt to commit themselves to only one penis, no matter how kind and loving that penis was to them. How they noticed that they were at their happiest when they were not trying to be in one relationship at a time, restricting themselves to just one emotional connection with one man until, for whatever reason, that relationship ended and they got on the next escalator with the next nice man. The sisterfriends listened and chuckled. The aunties nodded their heads, a non-verbal agreement that they, too, weren’t so sure they were committed to the fantasy of what they should want, either. It didn’t take long for the chuckle and the head nod to turn into admonishments that they should be more mature and patient and just believe that the right man was out there. “I hear what you’re saying,” they’d be told. “But, you just haven’t met the right man yet.”

This advice to hold off on making proclamations about what best suits you until you have fallen in love with the “right” man. It fascinates me as the thinking behind it is both illogical and condescending. The women who were messaging me were well over the age of consent. They were not in their teens, twenties or even thirties. They were not nursing their first broken heart, bitter at how painful love gone awry could be. They had tried loving the way they should love for years and came to realize that what they wanted made them happier than what they were told they should want. Yet, it was assumed that this knowledge of themselves was incomplete. It had not been sufficiently tested by an encounter with the magical penis that would cause them to redraw the conclusion they had come to after a lifetime of loving.

Why put so much pressure on the penis? It is expected to transform so many women who have so many desires they are not supposed to have. For the woman drawn to other women, the “right” penis is expected to lure her back to heteronormativity. For the woman who is only mildly tolerant of small children, the magic wand that is the male penis is expected to convince her that she should give motherhood a chance. For the single woman who relishes solitude and autonomy, one encounter with the right penis is supposed to send her into a fit of matrimonial frenzy, all of a sudden consumed with thoughts of diamond rings and white dresses. Is the penis really capable of all of this, though? Maybe the penis is just one little organ that provides women with momentary pleasure and the man to whom it is attached a mere mortal with no power to change the desires of the woman who loves him.

I can understand why so many men and women would believe that the peen is all powerful. I have participated in some questionable shenanigans on account of the peen. I have caught flights across continents to be closer to the peen. I have left angry, tear-filled voicemail messages trying to get myself unquit by the peen. I have even told half truths and outright lies in order to appease the peen. So, yes, for a straight lady, the penis can be quite convincing. It doesn’t take long for a happy hour table full of peen-appreciative ladies to swap stories of the many times they have compromised themselves behind some earth-shattering peen.

But, the power of the peen has its limits. To tell us straight girls that its power supercedes our own knowledge of ourselves is bold. And irritating. “I mean, I was sitting up there saying to her I have finally realized what makes me happy and she was telling me that I could not possibly know what I was talking about because I had not loved enough of the right men.” One of my listeners who had decided to “come out” as non-monogamous to a friend was the most clear on what this you-have-not-met-the-right-man retort really says to women. It asserts that your mind is not your own. Your decisions regarding your body are not your’s to make. You cannot claim what is best for your body and your life in the absence of a male partner. If you have had numerous male partners and still reached this conclusion about your life and your body, then you have not sufficiently tested your hypothesis about what truly makes you happy. “Just one more man,” this line of thinking says. “Yes, you have used your own intuition and life experiences to deduce that monogamy is not your ministry, but have you considered this other penis possibly waiting for you somewhere in the future?” Those of us who make choices exclusively on what we know is best for us are weary of this reasoning that reduces us to children who need permission to make the most rudimentary decisions.

Let’s allow the peen the right to have its one job. It does that job well. We do not need to burden it with tasks beyond its pay grade and level of expertise.

When Marriage Becomes God

This is not a take down of marriage. I am old enough to know that I know very little about almost everything. I am ill equipped to critique an institution that has sustained societies around the globe for generations. I am an expert at staying in my lane and minding my own business. Why some single women can’t envision an entire lifetime lived without a husband is not my lane. Questioning women who expend energy trying to salvage fractured marriages is not my business.

I will own up to this: I don’t get it. Marriage and why some would want it — crave it, even — yes, I completely get that. Building of wealth. Support while raising children. Commitment to more than just passionate, romantic love. Yeah, I dig why this would be a goal for folk. What confounds me are the assumptions about those of us who don’t crave the institution.

In one of the many online women’s groups I belong to, relationships were discussed. Someone commented on women who “allow” men to date them for years, never requiring — demanding — a wedding ring. The implication seemed to be these women devalued themselves. Were “allowing” men to waste their time. Most who replied to the post agreed that women (of a certain age) who did not end up with at least the possibility of a ring after a year or two of courtship were failing themselves. “Why would you continue to date with no goals for the relationship?”

I didn’t comment on the thread. It was far more informative to read all the perceptions of what made a 21st century partnership acceptable. And these perceptions seemed to have not evolved much from those born out of the 18th century. If a woman over the age of twenty-five enjoys the company of a male companion and they profess love for each other, then the escalator should arrive at marriage with expedience. The further away from thirty she was, the more it could be understood why she might be on a slow-moving escalator. However, if there were no eventual marriage and the couple did not both get off the escalator, then…this was a failure. And the bulk of the blame should be placed on the shoulders of the wasted woman who had allowed herself to be in a loving, monogamous relationship for years with no “goals.”

For a surprisingly large number of women, there is nothing else that validates a relationship more than having paperwork done on it. The assumptions about a woman who ended up unmarried after more than three years in a relationship were absurd. First, it was assumed that the ringless woman wanted to be married, but was afraid to pressure the boyfriend and chase him away. It also seemed to be understood that long term courtships not leading to marriage were just 36 months of hook ups with the same dude. “It’s like they’re just having good sex and then when that’s no longer fun, they move on.” This comment made me chuckle. As is the case in many adult relationships, unmarried couples are intimate. And just like when a married couple decide to end their union and the sex stops, the unmarried couple who dissolve their relationship also stop having sex with each other. When they meet someone else they feel connected to, they start having sex again. How is this evidence of anything other than grown ups behaving like grown ups?

What I don’t get is the deification of marriage. I am confused about how in this, the century of our lord: the 21st, matrimony is still being held up as if it is Christ on the cross offering women salvation. I will show up to anybody’s wedding with a nice gift and my hand reaching for a champagne glass. I will congratulate bride and groom and with sincerity wish them well. However, I would do that for my homegirl who decides she is quitting her job and starting her own business. I would big up a co-worker who bought a house. If my homie stayed in her job and never opened her own business, I would see no reason to be concerned about where her career was going. If my co-worker remained in his rental apartment, I’d see that as just a lifestyle choice. Why is there such a high moral value placed on the lifestyle choice of marriage? Why is the acquisition of a spouse seen as some sort of a prize and to not win one is to signify a loss?

When I chatted with Tracy Adams about her decision to divorce her husband, she spoke about how many people placed the word only in front of the words three years when they found out she and her husband were splitting up. “Y’all giving up after only three years?,” they asked incredulously. The implication being that to make such a choice required more suffering and agonizing than she had already put in through those 36 months. See, this was not the same as the homegirl who started her own business, realized she was better meant for the stability of being an employee so closed the bakery and went back to her old job. This was not the same as the man who began saving for a down payment on his house, but after doing some investigating into the housing market decided it better to continue renting. Tracy’s decision to hand back her prize after only three years represented a moral failure. She didn’t simply try to live a choice, realize it was the wrong one and then correct the error.

As Tracy said on Unchained. Unbothered., there is an expectation that women value being chosen so badly that they continue to work doggedly at a marriage, even when their gut tells them the marriage is not right. Non stop emotional labor is a fair trade off to hold on to the living, breathing proof they had won.

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.

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.

Love, I Salute You

I am one of those “late bloomers” who showed up to dating substantially tardy. In high school, a combination of about 50 extra pounds,  a jheri curl and an uncontrollable habit of waxing poetic about books in the middle of conversations about singers and TV stars forfeited my already lackluster game in the girlfriend competition. College was overwhelming on so many levels that the thought of embarking on a journey that others had begun years before me seemed both frightening and ridiculous. Post college, when I threw myself into the dating pool, I did what I had done when I was barely 10 and my father threw me into Lake Pontchartrain and TRIED to teach me how to swim. I thrashed wildly about as if the water which barely covered my head would take away my last breath before finally giving up and laying my substantial bulk on the water’s surface, content that if I were in a “drowning situation” as my father said, I could be saved by my stellar floating skills.

I supply this background into my romantic history because I have found myself in my first long term relationship. I am 38 years old. When The Yankee and I hit our 3 year mark this summer, I will be 39. 

Because I have always been a self-motivated over acheiver, I am genuinely surprised at myself for taking for granted the many life skills I could have been strengthening through a healthy, loving relationship. Somewhere in between my mid 20s to now, I became so accustomed to my life as a curious adventurer who pursued each and every arbitrary whim those gemini twins whispered into my ear that I never even thought to cultivate my other self. The self who shifts her priorities for a partner. The self who not only willingly cares for a lover, but relishes such a duty.

Today, I had a revelation that surprised me. Not only would I make a really good wife, I would probably enjoy being one.

I chuckled when this occured to me. I have never been anti-marriage; I just honestly never spent much time thinking about it. I attended numerous weddings throughout my 20s and 30s with no other thought than, “I am so happy for my friends.” I have spent time with married couples and even babysat their children feeling no other emotion than gratitude that I could hang out with happy people and their hilarious offspring. So, today as I sauteed pork chops and contemplated the two other meals I would make so the Yankee and I could have wholesome lunches at work, I was truly surprised at how happy it made me. I thought about how often I think about us – not just me – but US. At this point it comes rather naturally for me to stop in the drugstore to pick up something that I know he will need and to text him, asking him to bring me something I didn’t feel like stopping at the store to get. There is something to be said for having help. Those few times in the past I had thought about having  a husband, my mind immediately went to how much easier my life in a metropolis like New York City would likely be if there were another income I could utilize.  Now that I am in a partnership, I feel the most secure when I know someone else will bring in toilet paper because I for damn sure am not going back out to get it.  

I am grateful for THIS love in my life at THIS time. Because I have consistently developed into a more compassionate human who is able to tame her ego, I truly believe 38 year old Keturah is much better equipped to nurture a relationship of this magnitude. When I think back to the frightened, arrogant gatekeeper I was just 10 years ago, I am actually surprised that I managed to break 6 months in a relationship. This post is not so much a salute to love as it is to my decision to awaken to it. For while The Yankee is truly a wonderful boyfriend, had I not chosen to develop the skills that are crucial to love properly, this post would not exist. And neither would my first long term relationship. 


Narratives That Give Love a Bad Name

Ever since I was a girl, I’ve fantasized about seeing the world. Even when I was a pre-teen, I knew that by seeing the world, I did not mean vacaying in swanky resorts that felt like a night at the downtown Hilton in any nondescript American city and going on cruises, choosing the snorkeling excursion to add some adventure. As an avid reader, my imagination ran wild and when I played that “what do you want to be when you grow up” game in my head, I knew my life would involve leaving American borders for extended periods of time, if not forever. Something has happened to me these last several months. Perhaps, it is because I am looking at a solid decade at a wonderful job which I love in the best city in the country, but I am also beginning to feel the soft legs and mushy muscles of a woman too comfortable and in need of challenge. Perhaps it is because I am gleefully approaching 40 and realizing that this grand number warrants a grand life shift to accompany it. I have decided that instead of the vague “sometime in the future when the time is right” non-deadline, NOW is the ideal time to put my childhood dream into adulthood reality. Around late October, I decided to take baby steps along the way to the next phase of Keturah: global citizenship.

I set an ultimate move date: Summer of 2015. Picked an area of the globe that spoke to my heart: Africa, with specific focus on South Africa, Ghana or Ethiopia. As part of my plan, I spoke this goal into being – telling friends about my impending move and networking with colleagues who could be helpful in job searches. I have even plotted out my auditioning of countries where I’d like to live, planning a trip to Ghana in July with the possibility of exploring other countries in West Africa as well. I’ve picked the brains of numerous Africans – both living in Africa and here in New York City – and spoken with Black Americans who have travelled extensively across the continent. By speaking this almost reality into existence, I have already felt the soft gauze of lethargy and monotony float from my person. I am excited about my move even though it is almost two years away.

Out of all of the conversations I’ve had these last few months, the ones that have been the most revealing are chats I’ve had with friends about “What will you do with your man?” I’ve explained to friends that while The Yankee and I are definitely in love, neither one of us feels that this love is necessitated by marriage. Since we are staying together, we obviously are perfectly content with the status of the relationship and have talked about revisiting and reexamining it when the time comes. Like me, The Yankee is also fighting his way out of inertia right now. He, too, has just begun a new journey in his life. His journey is not necessarily tied to a move to another continent. In two years, it still may not be, either. With that said, I’ve shared with friends that my move to Africa is imminent. It is a pivotal step in the next phase of Keturah. It will happen. I would prefer it happened with The Yankee. But, it will happen regardless of him.

Saying this in the presence of women “of a certain age” has been a little unsettling. When I have calmly spoken about planning my life around my desires and those desires are not attached to what will or will not become of my romantic relationship, I have been startled by some of the love narratives on which many women base their decisions about relationships.

Love Narrative #1: The Ring Trumps EVERYthing (and I do mean every single other thing that you, as a woman of a “certain age,” should want for your life)

“What if The Yankee proposed to you in 6 months?” My friend, Theresa, asked me this bizarre question after I had spent a good 15 minutes explaining how important this move was to me and how not fulfilling it would leave me with a sense of discontent.

“Huh?” I truly was baffled by this question.

“I’m saying, what if he asked you to marry him because he wanted you to stay and create a life with him? Would you still go?”

While the sentiment in this question is one of genuine love of a man for his woman, if you truly examine it, the implication is a bit insulting. So, what if your man wanted you so badly that he had to stop you from fulfilling a significant goal in order to keep you? I mean, you do get something out of the deal; he will marry you, after all. Why not just put that global citizenship business aside for later? Take the ring, Girl. Take. The. Ring!

I asked Theresa if she had been listening to anything I had just said. Unless The Yankee proposed marriage after he had decided on his own that an international move was something he wanted to explore, why would I even consider saying Yes to his proposal? I asked her if she would have married her husband had he shown a disinterest in having children or raising them in the Christian church. Both of these are values that are supremely important to Theresa. If she found herself in a relationship with a man whose idea of family so drastically differed from her’s, no matter how much she loved him, marrying him would make absolutely no sense as his preference in lifestyle was not congruent to her’s.

“I actually would find a marriage proposal from The Yankee under the context you have set up rather manipulative,” I explained to Theresa. “Why would a man who loved me want to keep me from my heart’s desire?”

“Girl,” she sighed. “Most women would be like: ‘I got me a good man who loves me. Let me make this work.’ You are on some other level.”

Which brings us to…

Love Narrative #2: The Scarcity of the Soul Mate (in other words, romantic love is so rare and so limited, that when you have something that even slightly resembles a soul mate, you must NEVER, ever, NEVER, ever let him go!)

Although Theresa is a good ole Christian gal, many women with diverse values and points of view truly believe the narrative underlying her “you got a good man; don’t let him go” comment. Narrative #2 implies that the universe has placed a glass ceiling on love. There are finite experiences. Limited amounts of potential partners. If you have one truly amazing, fulfilling relationship that results in mutual growth and happiness, the chances of your having that again decrease with each passing moment.

Not only is this a hyperbolic fear that is often implanted solely on the psyches of women, but it is also illogical and makes little sense. Much like I am not the first woman to love The Yankee, he is not the first man to love me. It stands to reason that we are rather lovable people. No, we did not find each other easily and there were some dreary crazies in between our love just like there were some dreary crazies in between our past respective relationships. But, we have consistently sustained loving relationships that have brought us benefit and joy. If we decided to part ways, don’t our past experiences predict that there is even greater love out there for BOTH of us?

This fallacy that we will only find meaningful love with “The One” perplexes me. While I am not a cynic, neither am I a woman who believes that love is anything more than a choice to grow with someone. That choice requires you to make a host of other choices as you create a partnership with someone who shares your values and worldview. If I am being love at every single moment of my life, why would I not attract it more than once in a lifetime?

Love Narrative #3: In Matters of the Heart, Women can not Engage the Mind

This last narrative insults me more than #1, actually. It has been a subtle assertion by more than a few who truly find it surprising that I could walk away from a man I loved when there was no “real” problem with the relationship.

“I hope he comes to his senses when it’s time for you to move,” a friend commented after I explained that The Yankee was not hearing the call of the Motherland like I was.

“We shall see,” I responded. “There is still time so things could change. If they don’t, then I’ll have to make a difficult decision.”

When I have spoken about this inevitable decision, I have presented it as one that is not terribly complicated. Either he will want to come or he won’t. If he doesn’t, then I will have to end our relationship. I will eat a cheese cake. I will shed some tears. The sun will rise in the east; it will set in the west.

I have been told I am strong and evolved for being able to even think about this possible dilemma so calmly. While I will never dismiss any compliment, I am disturbed by the notion that ending a romantic relationship is fraught with purely heart-wrenching emotion. A near-crazed woman who can not face the reality of her relationship because of intense emotions taking over her still seems to be the dominant image of a “woman in love” that plays on the subconscious of even the most progressive men and women.

Yes, if I have to end my relationship, there will be sadness. It is not a decision I will come to lightly or joyfully. But, if the reality of my life and its circumstances means ending it, I am more than comfortable allowing my brain to take over when my heart is ill-equipped to do so. I fully endorse raw, messy emotions being underneath decisions in love, but I refuse to believe I am the only woman who’s more than capable of using her head even while her heart hurts.

I am sure many women proudly live by at least one of these narratives. And some would even say it is BECAUSE of these narratives that they have found themselves in loving relationships that have enhanced their lives. However, it should be noted that at the root of each of these beliefs is fear. Is it just me who finds it problematic that something we all agree is deeply important to the human experience should be rooted in a belief structure that appeals to our lesser selves? Shouldn’t we cultivate love narratives that perpetuate the belief that romantic love comes from a place of power? A place within our greatest selves that has not given in to the fallacy that we are fearful, weak creatures. The best romantic love is empowering. Our belief system about it should mirror this power.

How to Meet A Man

Recently, I received a text message from a good friend. It read: “What site you meant your boo on? I’m determined to have a boo myself in six months.” This was not the first time I had been asked this question in the year since I met and fell in love with a sweet Yankee who adores me. Another friend asked me for not only the online site where I met my boyfriend, but extensive advice on how to approach online dating because “you’re the only woman I know who has been successful at it.”

It doesn’t take advanced analytical skills to figure out what my two friends were really asking. How you got this man?

Trouble is: the answer to this question is not simply: “okcupid.com.” Because I don’t want to detract from their pro-active approach to finding love, I am reticent to tell them the full truth: Using okcupid (and any other dating site) had little to do with the resultant love I found.

I have utilized online dating sites for upwards of 7 years – well before the stigma of admitting you had to do more than simply show up wearing a form-flattering dress to any place where men congregated was removed from the reality of dating over the age of 21. My “success” rate had not been any better or worse than when I met men at social events, through friends or brave “Hey, how you doing” flirtations at the grocery store. Sometimes, I went on mediocre dates that fizzled into nothingness. Occasionally, I embarked on shaky relationships that “could be something” only to have them dissolve for the standard reasons shaky relationships don’t really make it past those first few months.

So, what do I tell my friends? Do I admit to them that when I faced the truth of who I was and made concerted efforts to overcome that truth did I find myself (quite unintentionally) in a very strong relationship?

Who I was/am: A deceptively detached and distant woman. I use the word deceptive because most people would not think of using these adjectives to describe me. I am quite a personable, social person. I love being around people and engage with them fairly easily. But what most people did not see (and what I did not see for a long time as well) was that my “friendliness” saved me the trouble of actually CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE. In many ways, my ease in joking and chatting people up were ruses. If you make enough clever jokes and spar well in witty banter, people are often so busy enjoying your cleverness and wit that you can exonerate yourself from having to show them anything else. You don’t have to open your life to these fellow human beings nor come up with an appropriate excuse (couched in witty humor, of course) as to why you don’t possess the energy or courage to enter their lives, either.

Do I place more difficult truths at my friends’ feet and tell them that this distance, this detachment was not exclusive to my relationships with men? And that in order to fight against it, I had to work just as hard not to succumb to my patterns with my best girlfriends as I did with the men I dated. I had to push pass my cursory dismissal of people’s desire to really know me EVERY SINGLE DAY. I had to be honest about what was underneath my distance from people. What was the cause of my quiet belief that genuine relationships with people took too much energy, required too much effort, asked me to risk too much. So, my fight to transform myself occurred at the sub-surface level and below the surface as well.

Yes, I did put some time and thought into my okcupid profile. Yes, I did log on several times a week just to “show my face and keep myself out there.” Yes, I emailed all the men who approached me even if there was not immediate evidence that we were a “match.” But, I’d done all that for the last 7 years.

My approach to dating had not changed prior to meeting the Yankee. The transformation was much more pivotal: Me. (Yes, it is really that simple.)

I am still actively creating causes to continue that transformation. And if the Yankee and I end up parting ways in the immediate or distant future, this transformation will not stall as a result. Just like the truth of who I was/am was not exclusive to my relationships with men, the work I plan on doing towards my human revolution is not exclusive to my boyfriend. It supercedes him.

So, it is about time for me to come clean and admit the title of this post is intentionally misleading. No, ladies, I can not tell you how to meet a man. What I can tell you, though, is the reason you are having trouble meeting men is likely linked to the reason why although you love her to death, you have great difficulty making that weekly “check in” call to your mother. Your disenchantment with the game of dating likely resembles your disenchantment with your boss, your co workers, and the field in which you have chosen to work. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know that weary look you get when breaking bread with a guy who is “okay, but…?” Well, you get that same look with some of your friends. The ones who make you slightly uncomfortable, but you don’t know why.

Yes, you can do the arduous (and sometimes painful) work of unraveling the truth of who you are and what you believe. But no, it will not guarantee you success in the search for a mate. It won’t even make the journey to love any easier or even fair. But, here’s the thing: if you are fortunate enough, you will have to make hundreds more weekly calls to your mother. If the universe deems you worthy, you will also have to negotiate relationships with that demanding boss and those “lazy” co workers for many years to come. And your frenemy just might leave your circle of friends to find another, but the likelihood of her replacement causing the same discomfort in you is pretty darn high.

It benefits you to DEAL WITH THE TRUTH. To work to create a belief system that honors you and all the humans with whom you will come into contact in this lifetime. Whether it results in love is really irrelevant. The only relevant outcome is your own transformation as a human being.

Love, Actually: Living Off My Father’s Inheritance

My father is preparing for his imminent demise. He is choosing to prepare for this by preparing his children for his imminent demise. This holiday season marks the second time we have been summoned to the house for a “family meeting.” Last year, I, personally received a letter in my mailbox in New York City. My father called me to make sure I had received it and to restate what the letter had already made clear in his careful, ALL CAPS handwriting. “I want to inform you of our family meeting to be held at 1 p.m. on December 31 at 1416 Meadow Street in Metairie, Louisiana.”

This year my father’s flare for the official (and melodramatic) has subsided and he has simply said to each of us: “Come to the house on New Year’s Eve. I need to talk to y’all again.” It is at this second meeting where I begin to sit with the reality that my father will be dead soon. Last year, his verbose explanation of how we were to handle his funeral, the house, our inheritance were merely reminders of how responsible he is and protective of the modest safety net he has built for us over the years.

But, this year his breathing seems a bit more labored, his step a bit slower, his energy even more clipped. I and one of my brothers are the only two of his children who know the doctor has suggested that our father would need to be put on dialysis in about a year. Because he is our father, he has told the doctor this will not happen. Unlike the doctor, my brother and I are positive that our father’s calm, yet certain refusal will remain even when the doctor’s suggestion has graduated to the recommendation stage.

This second meeting, which repeats much of the information from the first meeting, is only a guise. A way to seat the four of us together for three hours and remind himself that he has reached the most pivotal of goals. The son of a junk man who survived the Jim Crow South, “seperate but equal” public education and several major hurricanes beat the system. He has been able to build his own house, live off a good pension for the last decade and now, leave this house and some money to his children. He has proven to this country that despite its attempts to beat it out of him, this negro boy has, truly, lived the life of a MAN.

I feel myself begin to be overcome by…something. I do not know what this something is. I only know what it is NOT. I am not overwhelmed by the thought that in a few short years, my brother is likely to call me to come home because the result of my father’s refusal to be put on dialysis is our attendance at his funeral. I do not think my eyes get itchy because I know deep down I will never again live in this house that has become a symbol of victory for my father. A part of me thinks my eyes are itchy partly because it has occured to me during this meeting that I will never again live in the only city which my father and his father called home. (I think?)

What I know is that when my father hands us all our original birth certificates, my eyes somehow find their way to the section where my parents’ names and ages are listed. The yellowed paper tells me that on June 4, 1975, Marva Kendrick was 29 years old. This legal document reminds me that before she was thirty, my mother had been the wife of Gerald Kendrick for several years and had just given birth to his fourth child. This is not new knowledge for me, but for the first time I am aware of the sharp contrast between her life and mine. I have never been anyone’s wife or mother. For 36 years, I have simply been: Keturah, pursuer of passions, traveler of the world, observer of people.

And this is why my eyes are itchy. My mother’s is not the only life that is in direct contrast with mine. For my father, a life is created by staying safe. 1. Plan to stay in a pensionable job for 25 or 30 years. 2. Do not risk that job by paying much attention to boredom or the lack of challenge or growth you feel. To me and most of my generation, job security has become an oxymoron in the best of circumstances, a plain ole pipe dream in the worst. I have vaguely planned my career track based on my interests, talents and desire to feel challenged in every aspect of my life. Anytime I have been able to parlay any type of employment that is not a standard job that one finds listed in the newspaper, my father is absolutely awed by my ingenuity.

Looking at my mother’s information on my birth certificate undescores how drastically different my story has been from my parents and how different it will continue to be. For one, I doubt there will be children to sit down at my kitchen table with whom I will go through important financial documents. While I do own property, it is no more a smybol of my victory over the system than my secure, reliable job as a public school teacher. The condo I own now can be easily traded in for a flat in London or even sold simply to rent a nicer apartment in a better neighborhood. My Department of Education paycheck can be suspended for a year or two while I spend a year teaching in South Africa. I may marry. I may divorce. Neither will do much to add to or subtract from what I envision as a happy, fulfilled life.

And as I sit at the kitchen table in my childhood home, I come to the most powerful realization. My father is going to die. He may have already been told this by his doctor. And I, his doting daughter, will be able to handle it with grace. I am not afraid of his death nor my own anymore. I am not dreading the phone call as I had been years ago when I first began to notice his whezzing and coughing. I am prepared for it mainly because unlike my parents, I have chosen Nichiren Buddhism as my spiritual practice, a religion that is not based on Christianity’s premise that salvation from this cold, cruel world is granted by an all knowing, all powerful deity. While I do not propose that the Christian faith is not valid and unable to bring comfort to its believers, I am aware that I, unlike my parents, ventured out in my spiritual path just as I have in my profesional and personal paths as well. I CHOOSE the religion that brought the most to my life as opposed to remaining in the one that was the most familiar to me. The one with which others were most familiar. I chose Buddhism because it has been most congruent with the truths of life and the world than other religions. It has also been the most useful tool for transforming my life than the Christian faith. This reason for my being a practicing Buddhist instead of a practicing Christian, too, seems to be in direct contrast with my parents’ reasons for being psuedo-Christians all these years.

So, perhaps what had and still has me “overcome” by my father’s second family meeting is gratitude. A sense of sincere appreciation for the real inheritance he has already given me. I want to cry because I am thankful that he had the courage to navigate a world that was so limiting to him and for doing so in the most dignified way he knew. I am grateful that he prepared this country for me. If I didn’t fear it would steal his thunder, I would interrupt his auto-eulogy by thanking him for my inheritance. And explaining that it is, in fact, more than this four-bedroom brick and mortar victory in which we all now sit. It is so immense it can not be whittled down into numbers on a check.

%d bloggers like this: