Saturday, August 22, 2009


Every so often I go into "cave mode".

I leave my house only for work and grocery shopping. I stop answering the phone except for the Top Three (Mom, Dad and Val). I sleep way too much on my days off and can't get any sleep on the days when I have to work. My world shrinks down to something safe and semi-controllable.

It is at once comforting and uncomfortable. I am all alone with myself. I can play Civ IV for hours or read cheesy romance novels or dance around my apartment to In The Heights. I can eat weird pastas that I make up and watch Project Runway marathons and search for Guy Fieri recipes online. All the things that I might not do if I was out having a life.

But... I am all alone with myself. Scenes from past breakups play in my head. Fights with my parents or friends, secrets I've kept, lies I've told keep me up at night even if they are years or decades old. I am restless and oversensitive. I cry for no reason and every reason. I don't pick up my apartment and it starts to look as cluttered as I feel.

Then, slowly, things start to turn around. I start feeling better. I clean. I forgive myself. I laugh again instead of just pretending. I go to the movies or wander the aisles in bookstores. I people watch at the mall or catch up on all the gossip by the pool.

I realize that this may not be 'normal'. I know that part of it is a reaction to how cut off I am here in VA - from family and friends. But part of it is the darkness that I have always carried with me and that I sometimes tire of fighting.

This is the first time that I can remember trying to fight the urge to burrow. To shrink my world down into my little cave and stay there. I'm making vague plans to get out and about in the next few days. Little things like washing my car and cleaning my apartment. Going to Target and having a couple of people over for dinner. I'm trying to start small.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not 'Acting' Any Damn Thing

This post was brought on by a post over at Raving Black Lunatic. Now I love that guy's blog. His writing always make me think and generally elicits some type of "Amen" from me. But the thing I really like is that when we disagree he will hear me out and generally will respond with a thought provoking argument to match my own. We don't always end up agreeing but we always end up with respect. I appreciate it. My point is that this is not a rebuttal and if you haven't checked him out yet, you should.

He brought up the 'acting white' issue in a very specific way, but as with most things having to do with race, there are many sides to each issue. I totally agree with him about his main point and I think that distilling the argument down to the idea that Black children don't like it when other Black children are smart or studious and equate that with acting White is crap.

My experience with race, like many people of color, has been painful. I get bombarded by the idea that I am not Black (or Black enough) from both White and Black people alike. It pisses me off and hurts.

I got it in middle school on a trip to Africa with a group of kids selected from across our school district for an exchange program. My grandfather is from Africa and even though we weren't going to Cape Verde I was excited to be going to the continent my family is from. The other kids I was going with weren't so excited to have me. I couldn't really figure out why. On one of our last nights there I was staying in a room with one of the other girls in the home of a family in Gabon and listening to Digable Planets on my walkman. When she found out that is what I was listening to she was shocked because, "I didn't think you really liked Black stuff". I had no idea where that was coming from and I didn't have an answer for her. How could I not like 'Black stuff'? I'm Black. WTF? Looking back now I see that when they were talking about favorite music and movies and TV shows I was generally the oddball. At that point I was all about The Indigo Girls, My So-Called Life and Kenneth Branaugh Shakespeare movies. The fact that those were my favorites didn't preclude all the other things I loved, things that my travelling companions could more easily relate to - but it never occurred to me that they wouldn't relate to what I liked. I was naive in the extreme, but I was never trying to deny or escape my race.

It happened over and over again until I finally got it through my thick skull that I had to be different versions of myself with different people. That was how I made it through high school - mostly. I was still called out in my Drama class by my personal albatross, DM (I would name him, but he seems like the kind of guy who Googles himself on a regular basis and I don't want to give that jackoff the gratification of seeing his name in print). There were three Black kids in my class: me, DM and Kenny. Kenny was the most gorgeous boy I had ever seen and I had a ridiculous and not very subtle crush on him. DM took great pleasure in humiliating me in front of Kenny as much as possible and it was always racially based. The worst time was when we talking about A Raisin In The Sun and he said, "You're not even Black, so just shut up." Now I know that there are assholes in every race. I get that. But it scars you in a different way.

My family did the same thing. Terry and Kelly are the Black sisters, Linda and I are the White ones. It's bullshit. I know that. It still hurts. (point of clarification - that never came from my mom - who is racially mixed herself, but from my dad and his side of the family)

From many White people I get the whole, "You're not really Black", comment. Like that is a good thing. Like they would have any idea of what Blackness is. As if there are fucking levels.

So I get it from all sides. But now I just live my damn life. I like what and who I like and I don't make apologies for it anymore. My family has learned to shut up, because I stand up. I've learned that although words can hurt me - only I can let them change me.

Still, there are scars. Because the community that I look to first for acceptance and identity still has the power to wound. I am a Black woman and as such I generally am not shocked by White people making racist or insensitive comments. I know that I have a responsibility to be the teacher in those 'teachable moments'. You just never expect it from your own, no matter how many times it happens.

So I live my life. I'm just another extremely complicated person in an extremely complicated world. And this is one of my sore spots. Part of who I Am.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Missing My City

The very worst thing for a Charleston ex-pat to do when she is terribly homesick is read a Pat Conroy novel. But that is what I just did. I just finished South of Broad, the latest work of one of the greatest fans of Charleston, besides myself, to ever live.

It was, as expected, fabulous. If you liked Beach Music you will love this book. Conroy has a gift for getting Charleston and Charlestonians right. I should really just give up on trying to explain why and how I love the city so much that it drove me to leave and is now slowly, torturously pulling me home. I should just direct people to theior local libraries or bookstore and tell them to go check out Conroy.

I wish everyone could understand the great love affair that is living in Charleston. How it can scar and heal you, lift you up and shatter you with its great and terrible beauty. Conroy just gets it. He gets the people and he get the town. He understands the beauty and grotesquirie that make it home. In his novels Charleston is so detailed that you could use them as tour guides of the city. I could smell it, I could taste it. I knew the people (he used some real names - so some of them I actually DO know, Hi Mayor Riley!). If you can't come and see The Holy City, at the very least you should read some Conroy. And no, the movies don't count.

I miss home. I long for home, it is a physical pain sometimes. For a few hours yesterday and today I got to go home.

Thank you, Pat.

I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk. My soul is peninsula shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen. The high tides of the city flood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic. I grow calm when I see the ranks of palmetto trees pulling guard duty on the banks of Colonial Lake or hear the bells of St. Michael's calling cadence in the cicada filled trees along Meeting Street. Deep in my bones, I knew early that I was one of those incorrigible creatures know as Charlestonians. It comes to me as a surprising form of knowledge that my time in the city is more vocation than gift; it is my destiny, not my choice.

Pat Conroy, South of Broad