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Fathers: you can’t live with ’em, your moms couldn’t have popped you out without ’em.  Am I right?  Am I right?

*crickets*  *one chair squeaks*  *people start leaving*

Wait.  Wait.  Come back!  Bad jokes aside — and I can’t promise there won’t be more — I have a point.

I just haven’t figured out how to be my dad’s son.

I wanted to write a post today that detailed the range of steps I’ve taken lately, from baby to Bunyan, full-steam on a path towards new direction.  Miss Bianca and I are moving in together — and we got the place — and I interviewed last Thursday for a new job — and I got the job.  I’m starting a new blog project — a bloject — based on music and new artists because, since magazines like Vibe, Blender and Spin have closed their doors, I figure maybe there’s a space for a new voice.  I even caught the DC-hair-change bug that’s been going around and cut off the last 8 months of my hair.

My dad knows about none of it.

My parents divorced in 1991.  There was an infamous fight one night that led to my dad sleeping in the bedroom upstairs and my mom sleeping in the guestroom downstairs.  When my brother — then 4 — and I — then 8 — woke up the next morning, I talked to him about it.  We sat on the floor in the living room with our backs against the wall, arms wrapped around our knees, and I told him that when grown-ups fight, they get divorced, but that it wasn’t his fault.  Since the guestroom shared a wall with the living room, my mom remembers hearing us trying to put together our parents’ pieces.

Later that year, mom, little brother and I took a summer trip to VA Beach. When it was over, we were at a new house.  Apparently the divorce had happened while we were gone somehow — moving trucks and all — and we went straight from the beach to a new home without dad.

I think anyone who grew up without a perfect family structure — and I think that means different things for everyone — knows that you can’t really compare different families and the experience they bring.  But I still tried.  I’ve learned to believe that we didn’t have it that bad because at least I knew my dad, we saw him every 1st, 3rd and 5th weekend of the month and there was never any abuse problem.  It wasn’t enough, though, to simply not be the kind of dad of which anti-legends are made.  I wanted more.

These last few years have been really hard, largely because I couldn’t turn to him for help.  There comes a point when you’ve asked and heard “No” so many times that the questions become synonymous with the answer and are just as effective silent as they are spoken.

Since all relationships are currency exchanges, I can only give what I get in return.  And so I am silent, to him, about never taking the bar exam again, moving in with my girlfriend, getting a new job and finding ways to do what I love.  I simply can’t afford to undervalue my side of this exchange.

I’m not okay with that.  But I’m okay with that.

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Gimme an F: “F!”
That’s right an R and then two E’s.
I need a Verse: “Verse!”
Just soul clap and sing with me:
“We want it Friday! ‘Cuz Friday the Verse is Free!”
Welcome back, ya’ll, to the Change I Wish to See.

_____________________

So, I probably should’ve posted this weeks ago; you know, somewhere around Mother’s Day.  I wrote it years ago, with my mom in mind, though I realized later that it wasn’t exactly her story.

It’s about a child watching his mother stand on a porch and struggle with the decision to walk away from her husband.  The kid is concerned about her fear but encouraged by her strength, and so he pushes her to be a little selfish.

Happy Friday and thanks for stopping by.

heroine

you say you’re running away
that you won’t look back
and you won’t be afraid.
but he, knows
you’d be gone by now,
if you meant it.
he says, “come inside,
it’s the wreck of the day
and you can’t save nothin
til the stars slip away.”
you pull your hope to your heart
and lift your head to the sky.

don’t dry your eyes,
let it go.
there’s so much more than this to life.
don’t become his sacrifice.
live another day to fight.
it’s okay to cry,
let it go.
but there’s a world outside this porch, you know,
and if you leapt into the depths of it,
you would be my heroine.

you remember the days,
when your eyes bled tears
down the sides of your face.
but you vowed “better or worse”
and he vowed “never again.”
he begs, “come inside”
and he calls you by name;
and it sounds so sweet
when he calls you his babe.
you drop your head in your hands,
trying to hide all the fear.

don’t dry your eyes,
let it go.
there’s so much more than this to life.
don’t become his sacrifice.
live another day to fight.
it’s okay to cry,
let it go.
but there’s a world outside this porch, you know,
and if you leapt into the depths of it,
you would be my heroine.

it’ll be okay –
you’re stronger than he knows.
you’re gonna be ok –
the road won’t wind for long.
it’ll be okay –
you’re so scared of what may come,
but just push those fears aside,
there’s nothing left to risk alone.
and if you fall,
my heart was made for two,
and i’d gladly give up half of me
when you’ve given all of you…

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…

Welcome, to TMI Thursday!

LiLu has changed the world with her TMI series and today I’m playing along.

The rules: share “some completely tasteless, wholly unclassy, ‘how many readers can I estrange THIS week??’ TMI story about your life.”

The breakdown: a blog-based, group-love brand of humiliation.

‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾

P_0906sexed“The birds and the bees.”

I still don’t know why we call it that.  Which one is what I have?  But either way, it can fly — is that right?

But that’s not what I asked when my mom gave us the sex talk.

I couldn’t have been any older than ten, which means my brother couldn’t have been any older than six.  Six.  My mom was getting us started pretty early.  And this wasn’t an anomaly.  A few years later, a friend would “accidentally” order pay-per-view porn at my house.  When I called my mom as a preemptive defense, knowing she’d see it on the bill, she said in complete seriousness, “Well, watch it.  You might learn something.”

But back to the sex talk…

Mom called us down to the kitchen and the three of us gathered around our wooden easel.  It was a flip easel: on one side a dry erase board, on the other a chalkboard.  She had been drawing.  It was incredibly accurate, now that I think about it.  Some flaccidity here, a patch of hair there, an oval in the corner and a shaft approaching the oval…  There were two full-bodied, naked people, complete with facial expressions and a zoom-in view of their happy zones.

Mom started explaining that when the lady said, “Yes,”¹ we put our pee-pee in, we pulled our pee-pee out, we put our pee-pee in and we moved it all about.  She warned us, though, that if it felt dry inside it was because we were doing it wrong.

I loved learning.  And I never held back a question.  And at this point, a question was rumbling in my belly.

me: mom…
mom: yes?
me: what if we have to pee when we’re in there?
mom: …
me: can we just pee inside her?

The look on her face…  I have never seen her face that blank since that night.  You know how plain, white light is actually a blend of various colors?  Well, it was like she was thinking “horror + fear + disgust + disappointment” and it just showed blank, expressionless.

mom: make sure you go beforehand.
me: but what if, mom?
mom: then you politely say, “Excuse me,” get up and go to the bathroom.  You do not pee inside her.

She paused and waited for this to sink in for me.  At some point, I nodded and she nodded and then she went back to the talk as planned.  We’ve never brought up the question since.

I learned a valuable lesson that night, kids; one that I’ve carried with me for almost two decades: the vagina is not just some container.  You can’t just stuff things in there like it’s a hallway closet.  It has many purposes.  It just has one less than I first thought as a kid.

__________
¹To this day, I will not put the key in the ignition without this exact keyword.

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I don’t want to sadden everyone today, but we gotta get up from here, kids.

credit: ClickFlashPhotos

credit: ClickFlashPhotos

I get it.  I really do.  And we’ll get to that in a minute.

But I was on the metro yesterday, and the sadness was suffocating.  Every single face was its own perfect storm: furrowed brow, droopy eyes, frowned lips.  There was only reclusive color: a sea of grays and blacks and browns; the kinds of colors perfect for blending into shadows.

I felt out of place.  But not because I don’t have any reason to fret or fear or fall.  It was because when people are that sad, you feel as if they should be left alone.  You don’t belong in that moment.  They don’t want to be seen.  They want to curl up in bed, pull up the comforter and watch reruns of their favorite sitcom or the last movie they watched with him before he left or the first movie they watched with the her that got away.  They want them to themselves.

And there I stood in the middle of it, my eyes bouncing from face to glass to another face to floor, trying to notice unnoticed, feeling guilty for having boarded with a smile.

Then today, just walking down the street, I saw the second person I’d seen in the last two days sitting in a car at a light just crying; just sitting and weeping, waiting on more than the light to change.  I thought of Jonny Lang’s “Red Light:”

Too slow to roll
Put your life on hold
An open path
With nowhere to go
You start to wonder
While sitting at a red light

And I know none of them are reading this.  But for those of you who are, we gotta get up from here.  The energy in this city is fleeting.  I know part of this is because DC’s unemployment rate is 9.9% as of February.  That’s 1 in 10 of every person we know.

I get it.  My family is struggling, too.  Our last three years?  There are parts of it you wouldn’t believe if I told you.  The parts I can tell without (I pray) revealing too much of the lives of others…

All three parents have lost their careers: mom, dad and step-mom.  My dad lost his after 26 years, 5 days before his birthday this February.  It was the only job I’ve ever been alive to see him have.  It was part of his identity.

Two Christmases ago, my brother, mom and I spent Christmas at my place here in DC because it was the only home between the three of us.  Why?  My brother was still in the dorm stage in college.  And for the last three years, my mom has been living with friends in Pennsylvania.  We sold and packed our home in Connecticut three years ago to move to PA.  But a lingering complication has meant the closing on the PA house has still yet to happen.  We still haven’t moved my mom into that home.  For three years, she’s been with friends there, while everything that made our house our home is in storage: baby pictures, furniture, you name it.  My place was the only “home” any one of us had.  Our Christmas presents to each other were homemade gifts that year.  And the money I’m able to send home since then just isn’t “mortgage money.”

After failing the bar exam last summer, unable to rely on the promise of a law license to find a job, but also unable to hide the last three years and a law degree from my resume when applying for things like retail after the first 150 resumes to firms went unrewarded, I started the fall telemarketing, just to make ends meet.  Everyone I knew from law school was at a firm right away and I was asking people for money over the phone, during a recession.  One night, one of my randomly-assigned calls actually went to someone I had sat next to in a few classes.

In just the last few weeks alone, my brother has been in a car accident that nearly totaled his car, almost three years to the day his best friend lost his life in a car accident, and also had his home burglarized.

So I get it.  This thing called life will break us if we let it.

But my family still smiles when we talk to each other on the phone.  And we still laugh when we see each other.  And no one who has met me in real life lately would know any of this if I hadn’t told them, because I still smile when I walk down the street or sit across a table at happy hour.  Because at a time when everything seems so able to defeat us, I know we’re incapable of being defeated.

And though I may not have met you, I have to believe the same about you.  I just do.  I don’t believe the smiles we wear on our morning metro rides should be secrets, let alone never worn at all.  There has to be a way to deal with this while we face it, not just once it’s a memory.

Maybe you were one of those people on the train yesterday.  Or maybe you gave up on this post paragraphs ago because none of it seems like a big deal.  Maybe it’s just April and the rain.  I don’t know.

But for today, I hope at least some of you use the space to talk about why you’ve felt burdened lately (if you have) or why you’re still smiling anyway.

Because these are our options:

you can wait for ages
watch your compost turn to coal
but time is contagious
everybody’s getting old.
so you can sit on chimneys
put some fire up your ass
no need to know what you’re doing or looking for
but if anyone should ask..
tell them i’ve been cookin’ coconut skins
and we’ve been hanging out
tell them god just dropped by to forgive our sins
and relieve us our doubt

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In a pre-Facebook world, a 10 year-old boy finds a capsule holding nine items and a perfectly-folded** letter…
— —

dear Me,

1.guitar1

Learn to play this.  Now.  Do it.  Do it.  You know how unrighteously you sucked at the violin.  And though you’ll be nice with that trumpet for years to come, learn this.  Now.  You heard me.

2.im-sorry

Forgive yourself more than you think you should.  Start slow and get used to it.  This is an apology card.  Use it as often as needed.

3.mrs-doubtfire-poster-c10134484jpeg

Go see Mrs. Doubtfire.  It will break you into a thousand pieces.  You’ll cry openly in the theater because watching a bitter divorce on screen will mirror your life too closely to bear.  And you will wonder why your true story hasn’t had a happy ending yet.  But you haven’t cried about the divorce yet.  And it’s been two years.  It’s time to admit there are chinks in your armor.

4.journalromanoblack5x7_400

There’s this girl…  She won’t be the one.  And neither will the next one…  And that’s ok.  Leave your disappointment in this journal and let it be.

5.  Never be surprised by how strong you are.  The day you expect anything less is the day you get it.  There’s no item for this one.  That I’m writing you this letter is proof enough.

6.us_hundred_dollar_bill

In high school, they will vote you “most likely to succeed.”  You will be shocked that that many people even know you exist.  You will want to add this to your then-growing list of ideals to live up to.  But you don’t have to be their success.  You have to be yours.  And that’s allowed to be anything you want it to be.  But since I know how stubborn you are, here’s $100.  Start a savings account, now.  All those years of school are going to bleed you dry.

7.

3211316396_3b45e503c51

photo credit: the thirdrat

Be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the little things.  They are everywhere.  Do not ignore them.  Do not step on them.  Do not brush them aside.  I’ll get you started.  For instance, you’ll love these things.  Never forget how to use one.

8.n539985570_5934598_6149

You will worry at what moments you should be the big brother and at what moments you should play more of a father role.  You’ll be scared.  But don’t ever recess into this fear and be neither.  Be both, if you can, but never be neither.  Look at this picture: you are much of why he makes it this far.

9. wildernessdining_2043_16680275

Eat some vegetables.  These have been freeze-dried so they wouldn’t be a festering mess by the time you opened this.  I wanted to make sure we were perfectly clear that I didn’t mean broccoli swimming in cheese, but you don’t have to eat these.  You just better eat some.  Daily.

10. img_0003

This is an iPhone.  They play music and videos and you can get on the internet without all that damn modem whistling and it’s a PHONE.  Stay your ass in science class and find a way to invent more of these.  You are officially the coolest human being alive.

All the best,

You (+ a beard and some seriously needed height)

— —
*Thanks to Twenty Something Writers for the prompt.
**What? I have OCD and know a little origami.

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Morning.

I thought hard about not doing this post at all.  I’m exhausted and sick today.  But some judgment prevailed – better judgment?  medicated judgment?  who knows.  I haven’t even rewatched it myself since uploading it in a rush.

Somewhere in my kitchen circa 7 am…

Here’s the link to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure site.  If you haven’t been able to watch the video from wherever you are, the basic gist is that I’m running the Race for the Cure this June and for every person who comments today (“hi” is perfect), I’ll cut 5 seconds off my time.  Promise.  Consider it free sponsorship for a really good cause.

This also seems like a good time to remind any of you interested in joining us for Servathon 2009.  There’s still some time left.

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It is Free Verse Friday (FVF), but first I want to thank all of you for yesterday.  It wasn’t my moment, and so it feels selfish to admit how much it mattered to me.  But it did.  And if you plan on being at Marvin tonight around 8, I’ll thank you in person.

 

But the business…  Yesterday, I promised today would be a conclusion to that entry.  And it is.  This is an excerpt of something I wrote about a year ago.  If you want the whole thing, I’d be honored to email it to you.

If you know me, I’m one of the quintessential child of divorce types: I don’t think I’d make a good dad, afraid I’d…  I don’t know.  It’s irrational.  And it works itself out irrationally; like with this excerpt, one of many things I’ve written about what it would be like to be a dad.

These few words are about what I’d have to say to a son to explain to him the world he’s inherited.  Because whenever he’d become real, that would be it.  That would have been the best I could do, as far as making him a better world is concerned.  There’d be no more prep time.  And in light of the cartoon from Wednesday, it’s obvious there’s a lot to be done before I could proudly answer the questions I imagine he’d ask.

Thanks for stopping by.  Looking forward to seeing as many of you as can come tonight.

 

i don’t know god
but i’ve seen her in my dreams,
so i’m writing this open letter
just in case she reads.

but there’s no time,
i need more time,
to change it all
before he comes;
’cause once he comes
then there’s no time,
it’s way too late,
he’ll be my son.

so what do i do?
i can’t lie;
no, wait, no: that’s a lie.
but i can’t lie to kids, i can’t:
there’s something in their eyes.
so if i can’t fix the world
before he comes to question truth,
i’ll answer:
“the best defense against the rain’s
a pair of sturdy boots.

“because there will be many
who smile
to watch you fall from grace;
but there’ll be some not satisfied
unless they pull you down themselves,
who wanting more
than the discourtesy
of stabbing you in the back,
bask in the injustice
of doing it to your face.”

and i pray we’re not so blinded
by hatred and fight
that the DNA we give our kids
fails to give them sight.

because this letter is a poem
and this poem is a plea,
that my son,
the new black man,
knows not the trouble i’ve seen.

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