Cult of Personality

“And during the few moments that we have left, we want to talk, right down to
earth, in a language that everybody here can easily understand.”

– Malcolm X (sampled in Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”)

I’m just a woman.  With a couple of kids, a job that pays the bills, a Hyundai with butterfly doors and a keyboard.  And I want to be heard.  I want to speak plainly, directly, and be understood.  Judging by the hundreds of millions of people who divide their time between Twitter and Facebook, I’m not alone.

My desire to be heard is the reason I established my small presence on social media.  What I enjoy most about it is the fact that I’m seriously an every day girl who has bits of awesome.  It makes me think that the woman next to me on the train or the dude hooking up my latte might have a hidden awesome story of their own.  Stay online long enough, and people assign certain characteristics to your “persona.”  Or sometimes, we assign those characteristics to ourselves.

For the most part, people see me as a nerdy/funny girl/ranting maniac.  I’m also very open about my stance and experiences with domestic violence, life as an expatriated New Orleanian, and struggles as a mother, who is also single and black.  Being frank, but (hopefully) friendly is my calling card.  I try not to treat subjects as taboo, but rather, get them out in the open.

When you’ve been around enough, certain things become running jokes (like me with “your dad,” and one of my very young friends being credited with creating the universe).  Other times, people just sort of assign labels to you, which can at times be annoying and counter-productive if you’re attempting to establish discourse.  Frankly, it’s just all part of the “cult.”  Because for the most part, not even half of these people know you – a large percentage of the other half only KIND of know you.*

So when it comes to my personal relationships, I am fiercely private.  I respect my privacy as well as the other person’s.  I have three blood sisters who are on Twitter, and I don’t follow any of them.  We have discussed our reasons for that, and mutually respect one another’s wishes. Though I occasionally use my children’s real names, I’m far more likely to use nicknames.  While I may laugh at an innocuous funny or generic issue, I keep most challenges with them private.

That spills over into my dating life as well.  I’m very hesitant to discuss who I’m seeing.  It takes me a while to divulge whether I’m seeing anyone at all.  Even one of my best friends gives me the side eye when she doesn’t hear about a fella until after we’re kaput.  I’ve always been that way, if for no other reason than because it don’t have a damn thing to do with yall.  I don’t think that people would single me out and attempt to torpedo my relationship.  Quite frankly, I doubt THAT many people care about my romantic maneuvers one way or the other.  But I care, and I care enough to guard my relationships with people.

I’ve developed friendships and relationships with people that I have met through social networking sites.  When that happens, our friendship and interaction typically goes off grid.  If I see a person as a confidante, then I like to keep a certain level of confidence.  Not everyone will rock that way, and that’s understandable.  But as much as I enjoy being heard, how I connect with my folk is something I like to keep very quiet.

*Sure, there are people who get on Twitter or Facebook and give the cheat codes to their entire existence.  I’m not referring to them.

“ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT, NINE!”

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have all the answers in this parenting biz.  Sometimes, I have to stay at work late just to get my mind right (read: avoid killing someone for their crazy antics).  Other times I sit in my car and think about the days I took silence for granted.  But overall, parenting is a rewarding, albeit tough, gig.  I doubt seriously that I am the only parent who pensively sits and thinks, “What would Biggie do at a time like this?”  Imagine my surprise when I realized he gave us a road map long ago.  Without further ado…

IT’S THE PARENT COMMANDMENTS, WHA?!

“Rule Number Uno – Never let no one know how much dough you hold.”

Your finances are not your kids’ business.  I will discuss how you should teach them to manage their finances in a later rule.  They should also be taught to not be wasteful with household resources and respect your hard work, but that’s the extent of it.  Kids don’t need to see your pay stub and know that after you pay rent, you can’t buy milk.  This is especially true if you were ill prepared to have kids in the first place.  It’s really your issue, so chuck it up and deal.  Plus, if your kids are too young to understand proper decorum, they will put you on blast.

“Number Two – Never let them know your next move.”

This is especially for parents of those squirrely teenagers.  I don’t believe in lo-jacking kids.  I place the responsibility of doing the right thing squarely on my kids’ shoulders.  They will get into just as much trouble as we did, if not more.  It comes with the territory.  That being said, you don’t have to make it easy for them.  Come home at different times, pop up at school from time to time, check that cell phone.*  But it’s not all combat.  Wake them up early and take them for a one on one breakfast or an impromptu road trip.  Show them that you’re not only paying attention when they’re doing bad.  Life isn’t about living by rote.  Teach your kids that.

“Number Three – Never trust no-bo-dy.”

Folks are crazy.  Not everyone is fit to meet your kids, be it family, acquaintance or romantic interest.  People should first be fully vetted.  It’s not about everyone being out to harm your kids.  Think about a person who is always draining and negative.  Think about how they take from you as an adult.  Now imagine the type of impact that person could have on a young developing spirit.

“Number Four – I know you heard this before: Never get high on your own supply.”

Stop eating all your kids’ snacks, yo!  We’ve all been there.  It’s midnight, and you can’t sleep.  Maybe there’s an SVU marathon keeping you company.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the house but Capri Suns, Goldfish crackers and Fruit Roll Ups.  You. Go. HAM!  Stop.  1. You don’t have your kids’ metabolism.  Too many nights like that, and you’ll be looking like your always shrugging about the neck area.  2. Your paleolithic gastrointestinal system just ain’t what it used to be.  Within 20 minutes, you’ll be feeling like a living, breathing WTF.

“Number Five – Never sell no crack where you rest at.”

So, crack…let’s not sell that at all, ‘kay?  But we all have our proclivities.  Whatever your recreational vice may be, keep it as far away from your kids as possible.  Your random booty calls do not need your address.  Your weed man should NEVER deliver to your house.  I’m not telling you what to do with your me time.  But be responsible when it comes to shielding your kids from that.

“Number Six – That god damn credit? Dead it.”

Kids need allowances.  Giving them a set amount of money to work with, as opposed to being an inexhaustible ATM is one of the best ways to teach your kids the value of money.  Here is where they learn about saving, management and responsibility.  When their dough is gone, it’s gone.  I don’t play that “advance on my allowance” game.  It is equally important that you set an example in being timely and consistent in making their allowance payments. The onus on on you to teach them how to be prompt in meeting their obligations to others.

“Seven – This rule is so underrated:  keep your family and business completely separated.”

I can’t tell you how many family squabbles I’ve seen go down because of family-helping-family child care.  Having your retired aunt take care of the kids may seem like a good idea, but that should really be your last resort.  In business, we often take far more liberties with family than we would with other people, and vice versa.  The biggest problems care providers have with the parents they are “helping” are financial compensation and timeliness.  The biggest problems I’ve seen parents complain of are supervision and what the kids’ minds are being fed.  Too many parents are showing up at 8 pm and paying $40 a week.  Too many providers are watching the stories and teaching the babies everything on the radio.  Emergencies happen, but leaving child care to the experts typically is better in the long run for all involved.

“Number Eight – Never keep no weight on you.”

Do I have to tell yall not to walk around with heroin bricks?  Didn’t think so.  I’m going to take liberties and substitute “weight” for “heat.”  People have guns.  Cool. LOCK ‘EM UP!  I can’t tell you how my heart shatters when I hear about kids getting their hands on guns.  Typically they don’t recognize how dangerous guns can be.  And even if your kids are thoroughly educated about guns, their friends probably are not.  Between accidental shootings, suicides and gun violence at the hands of other kids, it’s far better to be safe than sorry.

“Number 9 – Should have been Number One to me:  If you ain’t gettin bagged, stay the fuck from police.”

Parents, stop dry snitching on your kids.  As moms and dads, we have the inside tracks on our shorties, but that doesn’t obligate us to give other authority figures the cheat codes.  In some cases, our insights can unfairly work against our kids.  If you tell a kid’s teacher that your kid is “lazy” during the first week of school, the teacher may not take their requests for help seriously when they truly have issues grasping certain concepts.  It can actually stunt them from being able to develop who they are when they aren’t around you.  Our primary job as parents is advocate, not adversary.

“Number Ten – A strong word called consignment.  Strictly for live men.  Not for freshmen.  If you ain’t got the clientele say hell no, ’cause they gon’ want they money rain, sleet, hail, snow.”

Yes.  All that.  If you value silence, your sanity and a generally happy home, do not make promises to your kids if you can’t deliver.  It gets ugly.  Kids do not give a solitary flarn about your excuses.  Oh, and all those times they forget when you tell them to take out the trash and clean their room?  Yeah, that’s because that memory is reserved to remember stuff you said before they were born.  “YOU SAID YOU WERE GONNA TAKE ME TO DISNEY ON ICE!!!”  It doesn’t matter if you told it to your dead aunt in the 80s.  But our kids rely on us to keep our word.  That’s not an unfair request.  Things happen and breaking a few promises is unavoidable. But that should be the exception, not the rule.

I can’t guarantee you mad bread to break up, but this should at least guarantee you a retirement home with a door, running water and electricity.

Smooches!

B

* Complete privacy comes with adulthood/complete responsibility for yourself.  You’ll not plot cutting class on a phone with my name on the bill.

And there’s always room for growth

The other day, I read a post from a few years ago, as it pertains to using the term “That’s gay.”  This was around the time the PSA’s against using that phrase launched.  I decided it was a PC ambition run amok and thought people should lighten up. In the post, I even acknowledged that I wouldn’t use the term around my gay friends.  And…that’s not cool.

I’m by no means the speech police.  People are going to do what they do and say what they say, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.  This is partially attributable to the fact that you can’t change people feeling the way they feel.  But reading my words made me cringe.  In fact, I stopped using that term a long time ago.  This blog post was the farthest thing from my mind.  I didn’t forget writing it, but I just didn’t think of it as a big deal.

But the things we say are a big deal.  You can’t teach your children tolerance, but stubbornly refuse to consider the feelings of a marginalized group.  I maintain that not every group will be happy at all times, and there is something to offend everyone.  But I’ll amend that and say that when you CAN avoid being hurtful and an asshole, you should.  When you use a person’s mere existence as a pejorative, you are being an asshole.  There’s no other way around it.  I was being an asshole, and I’m sorry for that.  When that post was brought to my attention, I considered removing it.  But that wouldn’t unsay what I said, now would it.

At one point in time, my blog was merely a sounding board for me to relay my shenanigans to my friends.  They know me, and they know that they don’t hear me use that term.  However, my blog readership now extends to people who don’t know me at all.  It’s important for all of my readers – gay and straight – to know that I am not one who stubbornly adheres to intolerance.  If you guys ever start commenting (hint, hint), then I do want it to be known that this is not a free-for-all, where we can let hurtful speech fly.  I also hope that those who do think that using “gay” as a pejorative will reconsider. If it is hurtful to others, it is a big deal, and it is not their responsibility to tell you WHY it is hurtful.  It is for us to be honest with ourselves and examine why we choose to use that type of speech.

I’m growing.  Who’s coming with me?

Out the Box

People seldom differentiate you doing a thing from being a thing.  We harbor this compulsion to categorize.  Sing a song in public, you’re a singer.  Rescue someone, you’re a hero.  Throw a punch, you’re a fighter.  Be party to a physical indiscretion, you’re a cheater.  When a person performs an extreme action, negative or positive, we are loathe to allow them the full spectrum of their humanity.  Heroes can’t be rude to waiters; cheaters can’t love their kids.  When the streets is watchin’, there’s no room to deviate from the script.

This wouldn’t be as problematic if people didn’t buy into that brand of logic, particularly on the internet.  Far too often to suit me, when a person is branded a “thing,” they fit themselves into that box, no matter how rigid.  Sometimes, it’s interesting to see people stage tiny rebellions against their personas, only to slide back into the zone of what was assigned to them.  It’s not even always a “comfort zone.”  Just accepting a lane.  The Fugees hit the nail on the head when they asked, “Yo everybody wears the mask, but how long will it last?”

Rejected.  I believe the great animated philosopher, Eric Cartman said it best when he proclaimed, “WHA-EVA! WHA-EVA! I DO WHUT AH WONT!” At one point I did almost succumb to the pressure of finding a lane.  I’d considered giving my blog a “theme,” so that people would recognize me for writing about topics I’m only vaguely interested in.  Seriously…picture me a beauty blogger?  Right. I reject each and every label and category.  I may not be the best or most entertaining blogger or, but I never want to be disingenuous.  To be fair, the people who read my blog and follow me on Twitter seem to allow me a very wide berth when it comes to my expression.  I thank you for that, because I don’t really have a lane.  Being bright and funny helps, but by no means do I corner the market on that.  My presence on Twitter is no different than here.  I cuss a bit more on Twitter, but only because I believe in my extended writing, profanity can be a bit distracting.  I speak on whatever strikes my fancy, in a way where I am true to me.  I’m not shy about the type of things I like or dislike, because that’s my space to share myself.

One of my favorite moments in Twitter history is when Paulo Coelho, the mind behind The Alchemist tweeted that he was now playing Snoop Dogg’s Gin n Juice.  Within moments he tweeted, that he was not hacked, and he did like Snoop.  His willingness to show that type of humanity, made me develop a little crush on him.  It’s not the nuance of him liking hip hop.  I probably would have been equally enamored had he said he was watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”  I admired  his matter of fact delivery and how he made no big deal about it afterward.

It would be amazing if more people felt that type of freedom.  How willing are we to allow people to have that type of freedom.  In my relationship with my kids, there are things which interest them that make me want to HURL.  I remember my parents completely shutting down the music, television shows and clothes that I liked.  My interests felt like dirty secrets.  So with them, I approach them with an open mind.  Sure, I have the last word, but it’s far easier to reach common ground on a platform of reason.  I believe the same goes for people who are in “lanes.”  Open your mind to the possibility that you must might enjoy the unusual.  It doesn’t even have to be a “guilty pleasure.”  I once read somewhere that when tiny things bring you pleasure, you have no need to feel guilty.

I embrace being a dichotomy.  My favorite second line song contain the lyrics, “Take em off! Take ya m*********n draws off!”  I can also vibe out to Dvořák’s Nocturne in B.  Hang out with me and we could guffaw to “Friday,” or I could dissect the sexual imagery in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” or Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”  I’m neither a “hood rat,” nor am I an “intellectual.”  I’m a person, and not a persona.  You are more than welcome to join me in being the same.

Hurt People

I’ve spoken on this blog, and with one of my closest friends, about how we never know a person’s back story.  This holds especially true on the internet.  We only get glimpses of people.  I believe I approach my blog and Twitter with a great deal of candor, yet there are still chunks of my life that are private due in part to people’s ability to be cruel.  One thing holds true, especially in the social media age – great anger stems from great pain.

It had me thinking of my own circumstances.  My mother basically spent my senior year of high school dying before my very eyes.  My friends were at football games, prom and the mall.  My life was about home health nurses and hospital visits.  Once I was older, I went through a rather tumultuous divorce.  A few years after that, I lost everything I’d ever known.  Knowing that type of hurt and pain still did not give me carte blanche to punish others.

I’ll call a spade a spade here: many people go to the internet, and specifically look for a site or persona that gets their goat and wait for the opportunity to pounce on something.  Have you ever seen the comments on Youtube?  Their are people that will take time out of their day to watch the video of an artist that they hate, only to rip him or her to shreds.  Because Justin Bieber is an easier target than, say addressing their mother’s harsh criticism of their life choices, a bad relationship or just generalized loneliness.

I’m not exempt.  There are times where I am more critical or acerbic than is warranted, and I have to check myself and address the real issue.  I’m a human being that hurts like anyone else, and I don’t always deal with it properly.  Thankfully, even when I don’t have the ability to see when the ugliness is escaping, my friends and family will check me.  I have two Shauns in my life (one is a blood sister, the other, as good as one) and both of them have this hilarious way of saying, “WHAT is your problem?”  It makes me get myself together, or at least share with them and lighten my burden.

I’m not saying that when you are going through pain, you should “smile, though your heart is breaking.”  Feel what you feel.  Share those feelings in a safe space.  However, we don’t have the right to use our own personal misery as a projectile weapon.  Hard times don’t give you the right to be rancid.  If I consider you friend, my door, arms, ears, email, phone and IM window are as good as yours.  If you feel you can’t talk it out, back off from people briefly.  Not in isolation, but take a few quiet moments with your own thoughts to better help you articulate your pain.  Read a book.  Take a walk.  Don’t be one of “those” people.  It’s ugly, and it looks ugly on you.  “Hurt people, hurt people.”  G’on and get you some healing.

The Mom

Being a mother doesn’t make me a super goddess flower.  It doesn’t make me this special chosen being, who has ascended to a level past all childless women.  It doesn’t even make me good.  Sure, I think I try to be a pretty good mother; only because I try to be a pretty good person.  I often joke with my children that they drew the short straw in the moms category.

I make a conscious decision to not discuss beef with their father here because aside from the fact that someday, they will come to this blog and see the things I have said, he’s trying.  I can say that the dude is really trying.  With my acknowledgment of that, I see that it encourages him to continue to try.  There are days when I am resentful of this.  “So now I have to coddle you just to get you to ___.”  The fact is, if that’s what it takes for him to be there for The Chocolate Wonders, I’ll take it.

Effective parenting, though, is practice makes perfect at it’s finest.  Factually, he’s short on practice, but long on pride.  He wants to show himself, his kids – and in some part, me – that he can do it.  I commend that.  But with that pride still comes the lack of communication that can frustrate transitions that could have gone smoothly otherwise.  And that’s where we are today.  We’re on the way to hashing it out, but it was only because I was insistent on speaking to him, rather than allowing him to poke his head in the sand.

There are times when my method of dealing with adversity and unfavorable situations leave much to be desired.  Though I have grown leaps and bounds in that department, it is still a part of my reputation.  It’s what my sisters know of me, it’s what my kid knows of me.  As one of the most painful parts of what seems like another life, he knows it probably better than any other.  When I calmly respond to whatever the latest craziness is, he is as apprehensive as I am when he exhibits reliability.  It’s a trade off.  I’m doing my best to not fly off the handle, because when I unleash the dragon that is my tongue, it’s vicious.

I was angry, and had every right to be so on behalf of my kids.  So I would flame him on my blog, and on the phone, and on his voice mail if need be. I was right. He wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain.  And his inaction was causing the kids to separate themselves from him.  They were ambivalent about whether or not he would call.  The knew that I would tense up when I talked to him.  Though civil, I despised him.  Though I lied and said that I didn’t think about him one way or the other, it was a lie.  I could not stand him.  They were beginning to see him for what he was.  Irresponsible.  He was accepting the fact that he was being edged out.  I was “winning.”  Except…

They didn’t choose their father.  I did.  I was, dare I say, culpable.  If I just let him vanish into the ether, in what way could that possibly benefit them?  So I did everything I could to get them to rebuild contact.  I harassed him (nicely) when time would elapse and he hadn’t called.  I would drive to New Orleans to get them there.  I would drive them to Atlanta.  I made sure he knew about important events.  I made him a part of whatever was going on, despite the distance.  I felt like I was wasting my time.  I felt like I was doing everything.  I WAS doing everything.  I STILL do everything.  A good friend pointed out that I do everything, because that’s the way it is.  Simple as that.

And it’s worth it, because that’s their father.  They love him as freely and unconditionally as they love me.  I’ll do everything it takes to ensure that they continue to do so.  He and I will NEVER be friends.  But it’s not about my friendship, or even my preference.  If we don’t work together, nobody wins.  I’ll take a little stress and some headaches to help them win.  I’m so grateful that he is stepping up and doing the same.

Stripped

“When you have the same audience for a long time, I think you start writing what you think fits that voice.”
c. Cliff’s Crib

He gave me that very real, and necessary nugget of insight when asking about my own writing.  I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t occasionally ham it up a bit here.  Sure, I’m myself here, but there are times where I engage in a bit of bravado.  “All the world’s a stage,” right?  I enjoy being the clever bard.  I enjoy writing to entertain.

But sometimes, and this is no dis to the folks that dig what I do, I’m writing for you and not to you.  Though not totally wrong, it leaves room to become patronizing – totally unacceptable.  When I do that – when I prevent myself from growth – I cheat both of us with a stagnant product.  I think the folks that have been loyal to me actually come to me for something just a little left of center.  Not that I’m ground-breaking, but there’s a decided me-ness that I think folks like.  Being liked has always scared me a little bit.

I’ve always been a bit of a fringe kid.  My readership has seen a bit of an increase as of late, and I guess it sent me into a bit of a quandary.  I’m…decidedly regular.  I’m not an intellectual.  I’m not rich or powerful.  I’m just me.  This little black chick that grew up inside of books and her own head, who wasn’t used to being noticed.  So there’s a part of me that isn’t quite sure what people are looking for when they come here.  Am I supposed to be profound?  Funny?  How vulnerable can I be?  Will it be off-putting and people won’t come back?

When I write something that is enjoyed, there is a pressure to make lightening strike again, and I can get a little stuck.  I want folks to enjoy what they read – to come here with the knowledge that what they read will be fresh, insightful and real, even if unpopular.  The only voice I can give with any honesty is my own, and that’s the only voice that I will give.  Don’t be afraid to disagree with me.  I want to hear you.

This is my blog.

But you are always welcome here.