Sunday, July 29, 2012

New life resolution

as inspired by this Thought Catalog post:

I want to only spend time with people I enjoy thoroughly, and only attend events I find delectable. I don't want to roll with whatever comes my way. I want to make active choices, and I want to choose well. If it's not doing things for me, I want no parts of it. I want to want to be doing what I'm doing in a moment in that moment.

That's higher-level taking care of yourself, in a nutshell.
My mother, who recently shaved her head after one too many bouts of crying while throwing out the strands and strands of her post-chemotherapy hair that came out in the comb every day, to me on the phone yesterday:
I have to admit, My, I felt like you. It was so nice to go out in the rain and not have to worry about my hair. 
She also recently sported her nearly bald head in a Wawa, instead of wearing her bandana or a wig. She said people were staring at her, and it was hard, but I could barely hear that over the sound of my swelling pride.

An update on my real-world friendships

Reblogged from Choosing Pancakes
That was me whenever I thought about my post-grad life before graduation and for my first few weeks of living in this city. I was stressed out about how I've never made a friend out of anything but proximity (and forcibly inserting myself into the life of a person whom I think is cool, evidently, which evidently has worked in the past) and I didn't understand how to bridge the gap between meeting people and befriending them. 

...Soooo I'm still making friends out of proximity, haha. This time, proximity being my office. I went to Jazz in the Gardens at the sculpture gardens near the National Archives with some people from work (none of whom I actually knew very well) and met a fellow Princetonian who works in another department! I've gradually been making more and more social visits to my work friends' offices and convincing people that eating alone in their offices when there are literally 300 other hungry people nearby is just silly. This culminated in me hosting a dinner party at my house on Wednesday night. Eight girls from my office--the five that I'm closest to and three that I didn't actually really know, all went to the grocery store with me after work to pick up the ingredients for shrimp fettuccine and cooked and ate and laughed and were merry together. They fawned over my house, too. (Side note: everyone keeps doing that. It makes me really happy.) And afterwards, about half of us went to this little...park is a strong word...more like vacant grassy lot near the office where they show outdoor movies on Wednesday night and watched The Incredibles. One of the girls, whom I hadn't known super well, baked ninja-shaped Incredibles cookies, complete with the red icing and little yellow i's on their chests. It was ADORABLE. 

I am now friends with three of them on Facebook and have one's number. She texted me on Friday night to see if I'd be interested in doing a singles "events and adventures" group with her...uh, duh. So, these developments excite me. 

I've also been hanging out with a decent number of Princetonians: most notably RG, but I've also seen AM once and will see her again Tuesday along with some other 2011s. I went to a concert with DA two weeks ago. I finally saw BK at the Princeton Club of Washington Nationals baseball game event last Sunday, and met/hung out with a Black 2010 guy I hadn't known before (who is unfortunately only in town for the summer). I had dinner with one of my assistant activities chairs from Quad last night (and learned that Ethiopian food is delicious). RP is in town on business for the next few months Mon-Thurs, and I saw her last week and will hopefully see a lot more of her over the next few weeks. MJP was here last week with her program, and when FS was here for the 4th, I saw him, too.

And in all of that hanging out, something has occurred to me: there is something incredibly refreshing about spending time with people who already know you, even if you aren't particularly close. I don't feel like I'm putting on a show for the new friends I'm making in DC or anything--even when I'm socializing with my work friends, I feel like I'm being myself. But still, I am ever in the process of introduction with them, I suppose. It's more stories and backtracking, more "a friend of mine from college" instead of "[name]". It's as if I'm demonstrating who I am and what I'm about, rather than simply living and breathing it like I can with people who already have some established sense of those things. The familiar feeling, combined with the catching up, reminds me that I didn't leave myself behind in all the changes of late. It is wonderful to literally bring the past into the present and watch it still fit. 

(I get to do this to an even higher extent next weekend: TN is coming to stay for two days! This also involves me taking my first paid-time-off day. I feel so fancy. Like, what, I'ma not come to work and you're gonna pay me like I came? What is this awesome world?)

But before you're all, "Omg, Maya, you're living the dream!", I have a confession to make. I'm unsure about the placement of that comma, and my post-college social network is beginning to look a lot like my pre-college social network. For those who aren't familiar with Maya of olde, this means that RG is the only non-White person I'm consistently spending any time with. Also, to the best of my knowledge, everyone I've spent time with is straight. And I don't really know how to remedy either of these issues. My housemates are White, my office is Vanillaville with a spattering of Asian/Indian, and though I know some of the other black recent Princeton grads in the city, RG is the only one I was close to in college. I came to rely on communities of people of color and a collection of individuals who fall outside of normative heterosexual boundaries during my time at Princeton, and I am fiercely adamant that those are not communities that I want to lose. I joined a couple of Meetups for women of color and/or Black women in the DC area and those for LGBT folks in the area, so hopefully some sense of community will come out of that, but from my experience at the Live Soul meetup for Musiq Soulchild, I'm scared that that crowd might be considerably older. So if anyone has any suggestions on that front, I'm all ears. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Maybe this helps to explain why I so thoroughly detest the phrase "on the down low"

It is a myth. There is no secret cult of Black men spreading AIDS among the community intentionally because they operate publicly as straight and have loads of random unprotected sex. 
I find it interesting that when talking about non-Black gay men who promote themselves as straight, the language is much more sympathetic. They are ‘in the closet’, ‘closeted’, and it is understood that this is because their lives and livelihoods might be at risk. 
But when talking about Black men, they are villainous, dishonest, spreading fatal diseases while searching for yet another sexual conquest. And this is a secret club of them doing this with hand signs and secret meeting rooms. 
The hypocrisy kills me.



Reblogged from Choosing Pancakes

Part of the point of blogging, methinks

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
--Anais Nin

The definition of style:

My coworkers are always complimenting me on my outfits and remarking about how they don't know how I can put them together every morning, or how I collected so many accessories or have things in so many colors, etc. This is what I want to tell them. My clothes are a reflection of me--regardless of where I'm going, I want to do right by myself. 

"Cousin Maya"

Black folks call everybody "cousin". Haha okay, I'm exaggerating, but I've had such an interesting past two days that it's time for another post about what exactly constitutes family. 

My uncle's wife and her parents came up to Maryland from Savannah, GA for a reunion on her mom's side of the family. My uncle wasn't able to come up with her, but she'd bought two tickets for everything, so she invited me to come out there with them and, not having any other plans for my Friday and Saturday, I agreed, though I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting myself into. 

They picked me up after work on Friday and we went to...I'm not sure whose house, actually, to a fish fry. My aunt isn't even particularly close to this side of her family, because most of them live in the MD or NJ area and she was born and raised in the Savannah area. Of course, she didn't tell me this until we were getting out of the car and walking up to the house. So I quickly prepared myself for some awkwardness, but that was foolish--these people were the type to hug first, ask questions later. I lost count of how many people embraced me BEFORE stepping back to ask, "Do I know you?" I would smile and explain that they didn't, that Gwen's husband was my mom's brother and I live in DC so she invited me to come with her to the reunion. That generally prompted something along the lines of, "See? I knew we were related somehow!" or "I bet you didn't know you had so much family nearby!"  It always prompted something (over)legitimizing the barely extant tie. 

I didn't feel as awkwardly out of place in terms of age as I generally do with my own family. My 38-year-old aunt was the person I knew the best, so I spent a bit of time hanging out with her and the grown folks, talking jobs and cities and whatnot, but I spent some time hanging out with a bunch of adolescent girls and even some little kids too. There were games of musical chairs and numbers that people in every age bracket played.

On Saturday we went to Six Flags America. I began my day with my aunt, her brother, and his wife, and rode the log flume with her brother's wife, but at lunch I met up with the teenage girls. There were a bunch of them, aged 16 to 20, with one possibly being older. We rode a bunch of roller coasters together and split a funnel cake. As I was getting ready to leave, one of the girls who lives in MD stopped me to get my number, and saved it in her phone as "Cousin Maya". She'd known me for all of 18 hours, but already I was family. I was family to these people before they knew my name. 

This reminds me of going to RG's aunt's house on the 4th of July and being told I was "family now," that I was welcome to come back whenever. That I was going to be invited to this upcoming event she was hosting...and the feeling of surprise when that invitation came shortly. He repeated that word when inviting me to dinner at his house sometime in the near future (an invitation his parents made earlier this month). And my surprise gave way to a feeling of humility and like I was being honored when I got another invitation from his aunt this evening, this time to attend his cousin's going-away-to-college party next weekend. That *feels* like a family event. I...feel like she meant it. 

Family is the people who take you in, plain and simple. And you can find it in the most unexpected of situations. #lessonsIkeeplearningoverandoveragain

Monday, July 16, 2012

On "Good" and "Bad" Neighborhoods

EY got to Colorado the night before last. Yesterday, she drove to the school that she's going to be teaching at and checked out the surrounding neighborhood, looking to see why people have suggested that she not live in that area. Her report back to me was, and I quote, "I could not [live there]. I mean, I could...but I would not be comfortable. I didn't see a single white person, and the kids walking around on the street were dressed like hoodlums." 

I couldn't have predicted word for word, but I knew what was coming after she said the word comfortable. I was dreading the rest of her statement. And once it was there, staring back at me in little black letters in our Skype window, I wanted so badly to get angry. To rant and chastise, to want to smack her. I wanted to ask how she could think and say things like this...but I already knew how.

I'd thought them, too. I'd thought them when I was room-hunting. I thought them when I was on the bus going to see my very first place and I looked around and saw that all the non-Black people who had been on the bus with me got off before I did. When I got off the bus at the corner by a gas station and there were (Black) men standing around in three-sizes-too-big white t-shirts and basketball shorts and sneakers just talking, and I seriously entertained the idea of crossing the street before I got to them (but they were on the side of the street I needed to be on, so I didn't). I remember later that night, being in a different neighborhood where I saw people on dates holding hands and brothas in button ups and felt safe. I recall chuckling at the way the Pakistani girl at the first place said that the neighborhood was incredibly safe, even if it looked a little rough around the edges, and that she'd never had any problems in the 4 years she'd lived there, while the 5 white girls at the second place all seemed more than a little uncomfortable with the ethnic mix of their neighborhood ("It's not the beeeest neighborhood..."). I recall thinking that the relativity of neighborhood quality was a fascinating concept, and that I should explore it more in a post.

Oh, how much more complicated it became. See, I didn't get anything but a crushed dream out of my solo place-hunting adventure, so later came back with my mother and grandmother. As they drove me from place to place, my Nana kept saying, "Oh, this is a Puerto Rican neighborhood." "Oh, this is a Chinese neighborhood." And the way she said it, it was clear that these were not places that she would like for me to live. My grandmother's favorite place, by far, was a basement apartment I looked at in Friendship Heights, which was as suburby as the city gets and where I saw exactly one person of color. I did not like it there--the apartment was stuffy and it was too far away from everything, much to my grandmother's disappointment.

The neighborhood I moved to is mostly Black, which my grandmother also had some commentary about (despite the fact that both she and my mother live in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods), but it is in the process of being gentrified. I am as likely to be hit on by a Black man in an oversized tee who has lived in my neighborhood for the entirety of his 27 years as I am to be smiled back at by a gay couple walking their dog. I don't live far from Howard, so when I'm lucky, I see a fine-ass brotha in a button up and he asks me how I'm doin. I get catcalled. I also get my "Good morning"s ignored by White women also on their way to work. We have a bodega-like store on my corner, a housing project down the street, a hipster cafe further down the street, and a farmer's market on Sundays. We have a baseball field and a basketball court. We have a rent-a-bike station. We have a public school and a charter school. We have a strong police presence. 

Getting catcalled doesn't scare me. This literally has happened every time I'm walking alone in an even somewhat urban environment--remember my posts from New Brunswick? But I am extra-vigilant when I'm walking home at night. And I have crossed the street--to the side of the street my house was on, but still--to avoid walking past a group of Black men when it's dark. And yet, it slightly offends me when my parents suggest I take a cab home, or RG doesn't want me to walk home alone. I hate the question, "Is it safe?" I want to respond that the color of my neighbors' skin does not make them inherently dangerous, nor does their style of dress or the comparative amount of money we make. I walk home, but I walk quickly, purposefully, and with my eyes and ears wide open.

Sometimes while I'm walking to or from work, or on my way anywhere else, I wonder whether I belong here, in the neighborhood where I live. I am a Black woman living in a historically Black neighborhood, but that doesn't preclude me from being a gentrifier. I am a sociologist living in a city, which means I know that Blackness isn't dangerous, but concentrated poverty is. My personal history includes both free lunch and an Ivy League degree, so I'm a little confused about my class status. And even as a social scientist, I can't tell you what does more to mark me "us" or "them," only that it depends who I'm asking. 

I can't tell whether I belong here, but like E, I knew that I couldn't live in that other neighborhood in NE with the Pakistani girl. It was too...all the things I am not with respect to who/what I am. I felt like I was in the hood, and it scared me. I was uncomfortable in broad daylight, and didn't want to be around after dark. I was uncomfortable there, even being me. I just don't know where to draw the line between things I want to call "comfort" and "caution" and things better called "racism" and "classism". It's like this essay, by Taigi Smith, that ChoosingPancakes and I read in a feminism class last semester, called "What "Happens When Your Hood is the Last Stop on the White Flight Express?" Taigi writes:
Do my low-income neighbors realize that the new buildings being put up like wildfire are not for people like them but for people like me, who can afford to pay inflated rents for renovated apartments in the hood? I am keenly aware of exactly what is happening, and I realize that neighborhoods don't have to be financially rich to be culturally vibrant, and that white people moving into poor neighborhoods do little good for the people that already live there. When white people move into black neighborhoods, the police presence increases, cafes pop up and neighborhood bodegas start ordering the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times...When I think about this, I am caught somewhere in the middle, because although I have the money to live in a neighborhood that is being gentrified, I still hear the words my black real estate agent whispered to me: "Just think of this as your own little castle in the hood."
When I come home at night and see the crackheads loitering in front of the building next door, I realize I may have switched sides in this fight. When I dodge cracked glass and litter when walking my dog, I realize that this neighborhood really could use a facelift and that the yoga center that just opened up on the corner is a welcome change from the abandoned building it used to be.
Walking the streets, I realize my neighbors and I are alike in many ways. We like the same foods, the same music, and most important, we are a group of African-American people living together in a neighborhood that is on the verge of change. But in the end we are also very different. If the rents go up, I will have options and they may not. They may have to move and I will get to stay. Although we look the same, we are different. We are connected by race but remain separated by a slip of paper called a college degree. 
Smith, Taigi. "What Happens When Your Hood is the Last Stop on the White Flight Express?"
Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, 67-9 

I beat myself up about it every time I cross the street to avoid a person/group that I'm approaching. Every time I smile at a non-poor-looking person on the sidewalk without hesitation. Every time I approach my corner and hope that "these fools" aren't hanging out across the street, and become painfully aware of how easy it would be to replace "fools" with a word with one more letter. I come into my renovated house with its electric fireplace and exposed brick and cook dinner and chitchat with my White housemates and watch The L Word and feel bad about the way I behaved. And that just makes it even worse. 

Everything-about-this-woman crush

Reblogged from As Far As I'm Concerned...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Things I want in my life:

a guitar-playing brotha.

Reblogged from As Far As I'm Concerned...

One of my favorite things about DC:

I have never seen so many dreadlocks in my life, and I am ever so appreciative.



There are, of course, people who insist that anger is never, ever appropriate. They are wrong. Anger is a natural human emotion, and as such has its place in our lives. Anger also has its uses.
Anger can drive us to defend ourselves instead of flee. It can drive us to defend others instead of stand by and watch, seeming to lend our approval to attacks on them. It can drive us to succeed against great odds. It can drive us to do things, good things, great things which we otherwise might not achieve.
Anger can also serve as a warning. When we get angry, it lets people know immediately that whatever they have done is not acceptable to us, that there is a real problem here, that they have hurt us. It draws a line: You may not treat me that way. And it does it in a way that no calm way of saying it can do.
“While I would not choose them as partners, I like some men I know who are sexist in their thinking, men who are liberal, benevolent, patriarchs, because I see other qualities in them that I value. This does not mean I accept or condone their sexism. Knowing that both women and men are socialized to accept patriarchal thinking should make it clear to everyone that men are not the problem. The problem is patriarchy.”
--bell hooks 

It's strange the way we carry all of our relationships around inside of us all the time.

How we live them and breathe them as we live and breathe ourselves. How we are living and breathing for and because of them. How we absorb the things that are closest to us, but somehow become only more ourselves, like how a sponge seems "right" only when it is soaked and full of water. 

It fascinates me to think of the things from the people I know and have known, love and have loved, that I have adopted as parts of myself. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Well, then some people should be quite flattered, because I have taken pieces of them and called it myself. 

Is it plagiarism when you don't realize you've done it until it's too late?

If so, then I've been plagiarizing my father for as long as I can remember. My mother never ceases to be annoyed that I adjust my glasses when they're sliding down my nose in the exact same way that he does. It never ceases to annoy my mother.

There is a hand gesture of dismissal that I stole from the first character I played in a one act play in college. She was a Black nerd from Harvard who took a field trip to Harlem to try to learn about "Black culture," and she was kind of partial to me, maybe because I was engaged in some Black culture(s) 101 myself, or maybe just because she was the first. Anyway, when I make that shooing motion, I am ever reminded of her and then. 

I picked up "hella" from my niece in the two days I spent in California with her when I was 18 and never let it go. I have taken things like "extra" from my little sister. "Nervy" and "deets" from FO. "Fascinating" from KS. "Hey ho" from SH. "Hey girl heyyyyy" from various Black 2012 girls. Various guttural sounds of disapproval from my mother. 

I steal hairstyles from people on the internet allllllllllllllllll the time. I pick up quotes and phrases and save them in some part of myself for use later. 

And most conspicuously recently, I have started expressing disapproval of something by frowning slightly, bowing my head, closing my eyes, and shaking my head no. I had a moment of realization a little over a month ago that this action was not my own. It has KS written all over it. But like all these other things from all these other people, I have adopted it and made it mine. Like the scar on my left forearm from my Wawa days, it's a sign that a relationship has left its mark on me.

I wonder how many more of things I consider to be parts of myself, I have actually quietly stolen from the people who are important to me. It seems to me that I am a Self partially constructed of Others. I carry your mannerisms in my own, feeling I and we simultaneously. I am individual and yet the result of hundreds of "us"es, which never cease to inspire me, no matter the years or miles.   
I feel like, every day, I get a little bit closer to not giving a shit what others think of me. It’s big, sweeping, short-lived moments of rebellious fist-waving, and then deep wells of this familiar grief, this prolonged insecurity. And the first thing I must do to heal from it is to fight for it. For my right to it. For every unhealed wound, for every metaphorical (and not) wince at the raise of a hand, for every bit of need I have for the approval of others, for acceptance, for praise, for affirmation. This need is not a weakness. It’s both a natural state of being and a battle scar. I have a right to my history. I have a right to be in-process. Still learning. Still healing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Why'd you let me have the number if you weren't gonna pick up when I call?"

I guess I should give the brotha some credit. It's a legitimate question. 

Let me backtrack. So on the Friday of my first week of work, two days after the man who got down on his knees to ask for my number, a man who had been riding his bike alongside a woman walking on the other side of the street heading in the opposite direction made a dramatic u-turn to come ride alongside me as I was walking home. We were approximately a block and a half from my house. What'syourname? Whereyoustayat? Howlongyoulivedthere--Iain'tneverseenyoubefore. SocanIcallyousometime? 

I answer his questions begrudgingly. I walk slowly. I am aware of the fact that he will probably interpret my slow pace as a sign that I want to be spending time with him in this moment. I most certainly do not. The correct interpretation is, I don't want this man to see where I live. I need to get him to stop walking with (read: following) me before we get to my corner. 

So when he asks if he can call me sometime, I stifle the parts of me that want to say, "" and "For what?". All I'm thinking is, 'Please, don't,' but all I say is I guess so...

He jams his knee into a metal fence as he tries to get his phone out of his pocket while on his bike, and I feel bad for the guy. So bad that, in a fit of compassion, I give him my actual number, rather than what I always tell myself should be my usual trick of changing one digit of my real phone number so that it comes out with the rhythm of my actual number.

And he rides off before I've turned my corner, and I feel as if I've safeguarded the location of my secret headquarters. But then, he calls me. That night. Twice. And the next night. And Sunday night at 2:30 in the morning (which, thankfully, does not wake me up). And Tuesday in the middle of the day while I'm at work. I begin to feel bad for the guy. And then I rationalize to myself, well, if he had anything to say to me, he'd leave a message.

Then he leaves a message. And my first thought is fuck, now I have to pick up the next time.

And then I realize, lol wut wait a minute, the fuck am I thinking? No, I most certainly do not. I am no more obligated to pick up because this man keeps calling me than I was obligated to give him my number because he was walking along beside me. I should have just been forthright from the beginning and told him I wasn't interested. Instead, I let myself play mouse to his cat because it was easier. And that disturbs me, when I think about it, but I can't rule out the possibility that he would have followed me all the way to my front door if I'd "played hard to get" told him to get lost.

Unfortunately, I came home later that week to find him hanging out with the guy who lives across the street, so my secret headquarters weren't safeguarded for long. He asked why I let him have my number if I wasn't going to pick up when he called. I wanted to say, BECAUSE YOU WERE FOLLOWING ME. Because I was in a good mood and didn't mind being flirted with at that exact moment. Because I felt bad for you. And outside of that moment, the only thing that was true was that you had been following me and I wanted you to go away. 

I didn't answer. He asked if I'd pick up if he called again. I said maybe. Another blatant lie. But one that shut him up so I could go in the house. (AS IF I NEED HIS PERMISSION TO GO IN THE HOUSE. I DON'T. GRAH.) I shut the door to the sound of him reminding me that he likes "them thick girls."

And when I came out of my house Monday evening and he was leaning against a car parked in front of my door for no apparent reason (which worries me, although he seems to know people who live on my block so it's probably nbd), he said I looked beautiful (which was the point--I was on my way to a concert) and I just said thank you. And thankfully, he didn't call again. 

But when the next one comes along, someone pretty please remind me to give out a fake number. Or, better yet, to just be able to say no, I'm not interested in you. No, I don't want to be speaking to you. No, I don't want you to call me. No.    

Monday, July 2, 2012

How technology has made me a wimp.

So I've recently become absolutely obsessed with The L Word. Like, watched the pilot Thursday after work, started watching the second episode late Friday night, and finished the entire first season over the course of the weekend obsessed. And I've found myself doing something that I often do in dramatic moments of television shows or movies that I'm watching online--I pause them because I don't want to deal with the stress/tension of the moment yet. Be it (rampant spoilers alert) House cutting at his own leg or Bette making her affair reality instead of fantasy or Jessica learning Mike Ross's secret, as soon as I see it coming, I click anywhere on the playing video to pause it and go check Facebook or read some things in my Google Reader or come write something here. 

It's like, the opposite of instant gratification, which is the thing everyone always talks about coming from our technological culture. Yes, we can download things in seconds wirelessly and yes, there are at any point in time 7 or more ways for me to get a message to my best friend in New York City instantly. Our entire lives are on demand. But there's another side of on demand: instant gratification on the one hand and...delayed stress on the other. 

Ten years ago, if I decided that I couldn't handle what was happening on my show, I would have had to wait for the rerun to find out what I'd missed. When I had a landline phone without caller ID, there was no screening calls to avoid people I didn't want to talk to--if I picked up the phone, there the person was, and I had to deal with it. Once upon a time, I talked to people face to face and didn't have time to make sure everything came out exactly the way I wanted it to, like I can in texting or chatting--one time the word chat was inherently linked to speech, rather than to the movement of fingers on plastic. 

It's like, we as a culture want everything right now, right this very instant, except when we don't, in which case we want to know that it's coming and be able to stop or postpone it. We have undo buttons on emails. It's mad. It's simultaneously awesome and really sad. When did life stop being live-action? When did we have to start pressing play?  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Not gonna lie; I teared up a little.

LGBT Youth Homelessness Infographic

And may you never wish that life would pass with background music in a black and white montage. And may you lust and hunger for every awkward second of real life, in all it's un-retouched glory.
--Reblogged from I Wrote This For You
And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling "This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!"

And each day, it's up to you, to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say "No. This is what's important."
--Reblogged from I Wrote This For You