Monday, November 29, 2010

BIG Questions

I'm wrestling with two pretty big and somewhat linked issues right now, as I move towards a better and deeper self-understanding. I suppose it's somewhat impossible to study college's effect on student ide entity without pondering my own identity and the way Princeton is molding it. Anddddd I guess one of the purposes of even starting this blog was to get back in touch (or perhaps even in touch for the first time) with who I really am. 

Well I can't know who I am until I can definitively answer these questions:

1) Is my blackness or my womanness more important to me? Which comes first, and is that firstness justified?

2) Fact: I might actually be more non-black than I am of African descent. What does that mean for my identity as a black person? And for my ideas about black people in general?

Relatedly, I identify as a Black American. I don't like the term African-American as relating to ME, because I feel it should be reserved for first/second/third generation immigrants, like most other -American groups use the hyphenation, and that does not apply to me or my people. Not to denounce my African roots in any way, but I'm not even sure the majority of my blood comes from the motherland (I'm also German, French Canadian, Native American, Portuguese, and probably a few other random things). .I feel like the term African-American doesn't give respect to the fact that my ancestors are not all just from Africa. They come from... all over the world. My skin is not that of an African's. Neither is my hair. I know from conversations with my African friends, neither are the vast majority of my ideas and perceptions of the world. Those things and more all come from the eclectic blend of cultures and heritages within me, and within most of us who have descended from slavery--we all know that wasn't an institution built upon preserving the separation of the races--and I believe "black American" is the most fitting term (of those we have to choose from) to represent that blend. I also like "multi-generational African-Americans", a term Imani Perry tossed out in precept last week...

New word/action I've made up. It describes how I feel at the end of the night when we stand in front of Frist in the cold finishing our thoughts before we go our separate ways, and you make an impossibly delightful promise, "I'll see you tomorrow."

Saturday, November 27, 2010


^one of the words I made last night playing Scrabble on the defensive.

If I ever fall in love, I want it to be with a man who reminds me that I am a queen by treating me with the knowledge that I am his equal.
I always chuckle slightly to myself when I put a mug or a glass down after taking a sip of my drink, and see the perfect imprint of my lower lip marking the rim of the glass in some shade of red or brown lipstick. I like the way seeing that makes me feel. I can't really explain it, but it makes me somehow. "Strange/ like I [am] a woman or sumthin". Kind of sexy, too, even though those fancy (read: expensive) lipsticks that don't rub off are supposed to be sexier now. I can understand that, but I like the idea of leaving a little piece of me behind on my mug, or on that spot where a guy's neck becomes his collarbone [my favorite spot to kiss]. A lip-print I might be identified by. A reminder that I am a woman who takes the time to look "put together", and I was here.

Lauryn Hill I GET OUT MTV Unplugged

I like this as an anthem right now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanks, Giving

I always chuckle to myself when folks call this Turkey Day
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve always been a ham kind of girl.
I always wonder when folks call this Thanksgiving Day
who exactly I’m supposed to be thankful towards

For Jesus is someone else’s Lord and Savior, and I don’t
praise Allah either. My thanks are jokes to Life’s daily
demigods and I’d like something a bit more substantive
than thanking my lucky stars. The Universe just sounds like a
cop-out for people who don’t like the sound of God.
So who am I thanking?

My mother, for bringing me into this world and damn near
breaking her back every day to give me every inch of life she can spare?
The ex-stepfather I abhor, because if he hadn’t walked into my mom’s life
mine would have been displaced, my friends and family misplaced, a family
of two and two alone gone back to Georgia, my mom’s first home?

Georgia, where my family has lived since before we had a choice.
Should I thank my too-many-greats-to-count grandmother for surviving the passage
in the dank disease-infested bottom of that ship?  Or my grandfather
of the same generation for liking what he saw up on the auction block
enough to sneak away from his wife in the middle of the night  and
sell his daughter away when she was born with blonde hair and blue eyes?

Blonde hair and blue eyes, like some of my closest friends,
so should I thank the late Dr. King for taking the glory from everyone who’d
dreamt before him?  Chris Hall, my high school’s English Department Supervisor
for making me realize the dreams I’d dreamt weren’t lofty enough, that I was calling
a sledding hill a mountain when I had the tools to tackle Everest? Chris Burch,
my first sweetheart, for teaching me that sometimes it’s better when dreams don’t come true?

The admissions committee member that tossed me into the right pile, for reminding me that
sometimes, they do? Nene, for seeing what I was repressing and getting me involved?
India.Arie for reminding me to Slow Down and appreciate the Little Things, like
whoever instituted a monthly Soul Food Night at the Princeton Quadrangle Club?

Under chaos theory, tabula rasa, and the idea of alternate realities, should I thank everyone
 with whom I have ever crossed paths, for without them I might not be me? All six billion, eight-
hundred-eighty-four-million, thirty-seven thousand, eight-hundred-forty-six people on the planet,
because the world might somehow be different without one of them? Should I just thank myself,
or include things I simultaneously love and hate, like society and affirmative action, like my father? 

The power went out as we were warming the candied yams. I used my laptop as a flashlight during the
candles-and-matches-hunt, and as we joined hands to bless our candlelit Thanksgiving dinner, I realized
exactly how many people and things and bittersweet circumstances I have to be thankful for. They each
have their own masters, Gods, and engineers, and so today I will simply thank the ties that bind us all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I realize I've been making a long-running list

of things that are simply no longer acceptable in my life, things that I will not under any circumstances tolerate.

This list includes:

  • not getting at least 6 and a half hours of sleep a night
  • not having at least a solid hour for both lunch and dinner, meal time = break time
  • taking on new officer positions/leadership roles just because other people want/expect me to, not because I actually have a desire to
  • similarly, wasting time doing things I don't want or need to be doing, that I could be spending doing things I enjoy
  • limiting my overt portrayals of/references to my sexuality for fear of being judged
  • Maya-the-blogger and Maya-the-poet making war, not love
  • being on that dumb dating site.
  • Quad becoming my entire social life/losing touch with my friends from before Quad
  • NEW ADDITION: being so caught up in the black community that I have lost touch with the other things I care about, especially like LGBTQQA activism. It's not acceptable that SO MANY of my very close friends are LGBTQ, but I let being in the ridiculously-religious-and-thus-vaguely-homophobic black community at Princeton trump my lifelong ties to this other community. 
Reteaching Gender and Sexuality from Sid Jordan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There's no compromise? my friend asks...

Not when it comes to money, there isn't. You either spend it on something or you don't. It goes on place or it doesn't. 

I was talking to my mom on the phone today. Nothing special, I do this often. But as ebay reminds me that there's little more than a month til Christmas, I asked her today what she would like for Christmas. She told me not to get her anything. RED ALERT: This is NOT how my family works. We don't say don't get me anything to be polite before we say what we really want. Holidays are HUGE in my family. Something is extremely amiss. So I said, what do you mean don't get you anything? It's Christmas, I have to get you something for Christmas. And she very kindly asked that I please don't, because she's not sure she'll be able to get anyone else anything for Christmas. She said to focus on my brother and sister instead, so they can have something for Christmas.

In my Intro to Black Women's Studies seminar tonight, we briefly discussed the not-really-contested fact that the black middle class in America may very well have disappeared by 2020. Yes, by ten years from now. A lot of my classmates were shocked. Hell, some were downright appalled! But me, I can totally believe it, because my mother basically told me today that unless a miracle happens and she hits the lottery or something, my family cannot afford to celebrate Christmas this year. 

I don't know how or with whom to articulate this. I don't know how to say that the family of a girl who goes to Princeton won't even have a tree to put non-existent presents under this year. I feel like I certainly can't talk to anyone here about this. I miss C so much. I could tell her this. She would understand, and she wouldn't judge me, and she would hold me while I cry and be real with me about how she went through this when she was younger and it has to get better. If I'm being totally honest with you about these things, sometimes I feel like things like this, and the fact that I've been on food stamps, and got free lunch for the vast majority of my childhood and adolescence, and know how it feels to have the water or the cell phone cut off due to nonpayment of the bill...these are things that remind me that part of me just really doesn't belong here.

I can't stop asking myself How much of this is my fault? What did I do to contribute to this? I feel like the world's most selfish, most ungrateful bitch. I'm in a fucking eating club. Unlike most people, my parents don't contribute to my eating club membership at all; I pay for the entire thing out of the money I get from the university. But if I wasn't in a club, if I got a meal plan in the dining hall, the extra nearly $3,000 would have gone from the university into my bank account. That's money I could have used to help my mom. I used my Mellon Mays stipend to buy posters and accessories for my room, and new sweaters and boots, and countless other things I didn't really need. That's money I could have used to bring Christmas to my household, single-handedly. Would I have? is a whole different can of worms, but I COULD have. 

Should I have?  Am I justified in being disgusted with myself and my actions right now? I could have been Santa. It's not my job, but I could have been Santa. 

BUT I ASKED HER. When I got my Mellon Mays check, I called my mom and asked if there was anything I could do to help out financially. She asked me to cover the $200ish cell phone bill for the family for the month, so our cell phones didn't get cut off and we all lose all forms of communication with the rest of the world. I said of course, and handled the transaction right then, while we were still on the phone. She never asked for anything again. 

I'm sure it must be embarrassing for her, having to come to her daughter for help financially. But if I have more disposable income than her, I should help, right? Does that mean that if I have the potential to have even MORE disposable income, I should take the actions that bring that about, no matter what? 

But I can't ignore that being in Quad has positively affected my overall Princeton experience SO MUCH. Real family notwithstanding, my Quad family is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of my life. They make me feel understood, and cared about, and loved on a day-to-day basis while I am here. They help keep me sane. I effectively gave up whole parts of my life for them. And part of me is SCREAMING that I am twenty goddamn years old, and bringing Christmas to my family is not my responsibility. I know that a big part of making it in the black community is giving back to the community, but I'm still an undergrad--I haven't made it yet! It's know how when you're on an airplane, and the flight attendants give the spheel about safety, and you're supposed to make sure your oxygen mask is secure before you try to help other people with theirs? Does that still apply if you're sitting in between your mother, brother, and sister?

How can I reconcile what's best for me with what's best for them? How can I take care of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally and not feel as though I am neglecting them? Should I take on the responsibility of helping to keep them accustomed to the hanging-on-by-a-paycheck-but-always-somehow-able-to-make-it-work life we've been living for 20 years? And if so, how can I do that without running myself into the ground and giving up the things that keep me going? WHO COMES FIRST AND HOW DO I JUSTIFY IT BEING ME?   

...Am I a terrible human being for even asking that? 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Once I start, I can't stop

A Confession to a Dear Friend

Although it’s been said many times, many ways
I love you is the only thing I can think of to say
It’s an overused, undermeant phrase, and it doesn’t have the weight
I would like in the modern world, but like how I feel
it is simple and easy and fast. It is sure and it is true.

Now wait, before you get scared and run off, before you leave me
here in this chair that I abandon the spot I’ve lain claim to for
when you’re at the desk beside it, so that you may whisper to me intermittently,
and so that I may dangle my legs off the side and contemplate poking your leg
with my big toe. Before you join others in thinking I’m getting too heavy,

let me clarify that this is not to say I’m in love with you. This is not to say
I fantasize about your lips on mine, or the way your nipples taste, or the feel
of you filling the empty spaces in me. This is to say, simply, that I love you,
I love the person you are, the dedication you show to the things you do,
your mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, the tiny tight curls you won’t grow out.

This is to say that I just want to be close to you. That I will always abandon
that which is mine for the simple joy of sitting quietly near you, as we lose ourselves
together in vastly different academic worlds. That, though no one ever says this
to an ordinary person, I admire you, and have so much respect for the man you strive to be.
That if ever I were to have a son, I would want him to grow up to be just like you,

and that that may explain part of why I am always so overly concerned. That the way
you call me to ask a question that could have been texted makes me smile. That your
habit of touching my leg or placing your hand on my back while we’re talking makes me feel
like I’m at home. That pressure I put on you to lighten up is really just me trying to make you realize
 how absolutely wonderful I think you are. Simply that, for the rest of our lives, I am your friend.

Most of the time...

I love being a woman. I love that I can be soft while being strong, that caring always wins out over somewhat-overbearing. I love that I can be identified by my laugh, that I'm not afraid to draw attention to my curves or draw paw prints on my breasts. I love that it's okay for me to always want to give/receive hugs, that I can pepper my speech with the words "love", "honey", "dear", and "darling", that I can give myself freely and wholly to as many people as possible without any repercussions. I love the slop of my collarbone and the curl of my hair, and I love how it feels to be the only one who knows I'm wearing sexy underwear. Most of the time, I love being a woman. 

But on days like today, when I wake up needing to take 2 maximum strength Pamprin and 3 Advil, which are currently doing nothing to combat cramps from hell and the fact that every muscle in my body aches as I try to move, and all of the soda at the luncheon is caffeine-free, and I'm hungry but I don't have the energy to even eat a bowl of soup, and I can't trust how I feel because it might just be the hormones feeling, and all I want to do is sleep when all I need to do is work, I must admit, I get angry. I get angry that men don't have to deal with this shit. I get angry that I have to go spend a bunch of money at CVS on pads and tampons and pantyliners and spray. I get angry that my vibrator is going to lay around unused and unusable for the rest of the week. I get angry that the world expects me to keep on keepin on and be so fucking strong when my insides are literally crawling out of me. I get angry that the world doesn't recognize exactly how many sacrifices women make to keep up appearances and keep everything running smoothly. 

I still love being a woman. It's society that makes me angry.

My Mother's Daughter

I already blogged about this, but after going to this fantastic spoken word event on Friday Night, I'm feeling poetic:

My Mother’s Daughter
On nearly every flat surface to be found
in the living room on the second part of the first level
of a cramped townhouse in a worsening neighborhood
somewhere between small town and suburban New Jersey,
there are photographs of my mother’s daughter.

As my mother likes to note when her gaze falls longingly
on one of these photographs, or the headshot on my ID,
her daughter has beautiful, long, straight hair that curves inward
ever-so-slightly towards the ends, resting peacefully on her collarbone.
Her daughter wears glasses every day, and isn’t ever wearing makeup.

My mother looks at me, then her eyes dart to one of these photographs,
as if the frozen moment might come back to life and reassure her,
or transform the woman standing before her. There’s my daughter, she says
wistfully, as she smiles, practically begging the question: Who, then, am I?
A project she started gone horribly wrong? The little girl who had the nerve—

the absolute gall—to grow up with a mind of her own, a mind encased
by a hard head surrounded by black skin, a black face she has grown to love and embrace,
a face framed by a decidedly untamed collection of the coarsest variety of Shirley Temple curls:
they draw attention, seemingly warrant a ceaseless stream of comments and questions,
as if the choice to let my hair spiral into its natural thousands of revolutions

sends me spiraling into this unwanted label: revolutionary. As if just
letting my hair grow out of my head like anyone else is now somehow revolutionary,
funky, cool and new. As if my mane is a statement, not just a ’do.  Though Akon and
India were a mismatched pair, part of me wants to scream I AM NOT MY HAIR,
but most of me recognizes that, somehow, that’s not exactly true.

If the decision to rock the kinky curls and show my eyes to the rest of the world,
to be natural in one respect, and highlighted and emphasized in another,
is, in her mind or anyone else’s, all that separates the woman writing these words
from the girl in all the frames, then I have to say I am my hair. And my contact lenses.
And my smoky green eye shadow and stone-and-seashell jewelry. As if.

As if, like my mother hopes, this is just some phase I’m going through.
As if it isn’t what I never realized I’d been waiting years to do.
As if I were born to bear the yanks and tugs, burns and burning, to be beautiful.
As if Beauty is the skinny, fair, straight-haired girl who tames the Beast, and nothing more.
As if I should be so easily definable, classifiable, able to be labeled and thrown into a box.

Dear Mother, and Spectators: I have three different shades of powder. I switch with the seasons.
My bra size seems to finally have settled on somewhere between a 38- and a 40 D. You passed on
your big booty, but not the rhythm to make it clap. I stopped hiding behind my frames and my bangs;
now I ask the world to open its eyes and see me. I am exactly who Nature and our salt-and-pepper
shaken family tree intended me to be, and above all else, I, not her, am your daughter.

More confessions

1. I am very easily impressed and turned on by men who cook for me. Like, the actual physical process of watching a man prepare me a meal from scratch...*melts*

2. I'm really happy that shit didn't get weird between me and J, and that he still thinks we're close enough friends that he can make dinner for me and J***. 

3. That being said, I can't yet handle hanging out with him and his new girlfriend, which is sad because I think she's really cool. But she came over after dinner and I had no idea she was coming and as soon as she got there I felt like someone had injected me with a giant shot of awkward and I was actually dying to rush out of there.