Your Picker isn’t Broken | you’re just using it wrong

“You can’t control who you fall in love with, but you better control who you love.”

From Pixabay, Pexels

So, you’re chugging along the path of life, and you decide you’re gonna make a pit stop for some lovin’. You see a bunch of signs ahead pointing in different directions: 

“1 mile to a one night stand with no call back”

“5 miles to an average 15-year marriage that ends in boredom and divorce”

“12 miles to a whirlwind romance”

“Next exit for a long-distance affair where you don’t have to worry about sharing your bed or favorite food”

“Prison penpal love ahead” 

“Celibacy on I-86. EXPECT DELAYS.”

…and so on.

You have a gut feeling that some of these options aren’t quite right. I mean, who the hell would take those exits to “Bruiseville” and “Wife Beater Valley?” Nonetheless, when you look down at your Picker’s navigation screen, it’s pointing straight at “Codependence Way”, and for the umpteenth time, you shrug your shoulders and take the exit without a second thought.

When you reach your destination and plop down next to Johnny-Come-Lately, you’re certain that he’s the one. Butterflies in the stomach? Check. Finishing each other’s sentences? Check. That cozy familiar feeling like you’ve known him for three lifetimes? Check. Great sex? Check! Yet, sooner rather than later, he proves to be just like every other guy you thought you knew, and you’re right back on the highway to nowhere. 

What happened?

From Godisable Jacob, Pexels

You know what your Picker is, right? It’s that part of your subconscious makeup that is largely responsible for your attraction to certain types of people, while others fly completely under your radar. It’s the inner GPS system that tries to lead you to your healing by way of relationship. 

There are certain things that you will never discover about yourself, lessons that you will never learn, without a partner or potential partner grating on your nerves and triggering your idiosyncrasies. (Because of this, I also liken it to a syllabus for the “classes” life puts us in, but I’m sticking with the driving analogy.) 

What’s love got to do with it? Not a damn thing.

Sorry. I know, it doesn’t sound sexy at all, right? What you thought was the work of a chorus of angels led by Cupid and a 90’s R&B group is most likely caused by biological imperatives, conscious biases, and unresolved, subconscious trauma. This is the reason why people say, “you can’t control who you fall in love with”. 

I, however, am here to tell you how you can (and why you better) control who you love.

If you are one of those people who seems hopelessly drawn to the wrong kinds of potential partners — people who are selfish, too materialistic, cold, emotionally unavailable, abusive, shallow, or generally noxious— then your Picker is playing a part. It’s purpose is simply not what you think it is.

If you think your head-over-heels attraction to a moron is a sign from heaven that you’re meant to be together, while you have little to no attraction to the kinds of people who would worship the ground you walk on, you’re probably misinterpreting your Picker’s dashboard readings.

Look, I’ve been there more times than I care to count. My skull is just as hard as anyone else’s, and I often need to be reminded of the very things I’m telling you. I know, firsthand, that feelings can be extremely persuasive. They can make a situation that could literally kill you seem like medicine for your soul—if you don’t understand their purpose. 

I’ve learned that feelings play a very important role. They are like sensors that tip you off to faulty thinking and behavior patterns, or issues that require your attention. They can even feed your Picker data that causes your subconscious navigation system to lead you into encounters with people who ultimately are not good for you. But the encounters are for your good. 

Did you catch that?

Problems occur when the Picker’s directives are interpreted as gospel, as evidence that you belong in a situation that is bad for you. Making matters worse is the fact that we are often inclined to remain in bad situations because they are familiar and do not require us to jump out of our comfort zones onto new paths.

The purpose of your Picker is not to lead you into seedy territory so that you can pitch a tent and stay there. Your Picker’s purpose is not to pick your life partner, or any partner, necessarily. It intends to help you pick apart the fears, projections, unrealistic expectations, and negative thinking patterns that prevent you from traveling a smoother path in life. It draws you into the mirror of another’s face, so that every time you look into your potential partner’s eyes and see their flaws, you can become that much more aware of your own— in order to grow and heal.

From The Lazy Artist Gallery, Pexels

If you had experience with someone early in life who was selfish, abusive, addicted, narcissistic… fill-in-the-blank, it’s highly probable that your subconscious mind will continue to guide you to those kinds of people, whether they show up as bad lovers, fake friends, nasty co-workers, bully bosses, nightmare neighbors, etc. The same holds true if you’ve picked up certain beliefs along the way that lead you to magnetize these kinds of people. Until you figure out how to free yourself from the shackles of those early experiences or negative thinking patterns, you’ll keep taking the wrong exits. 

It’s not what you attract, it’s what you keep.

Don’t blame your Picker. It’s doing exactly what it is supposed to do. I think all of the systems within our bodies and minds that are designed to run on autopilot often function exactly as they should. It is usually the challenges within our environments, along with our decisions and experiences, that throw them off balance or that prevent us from using them to our greatest benefit. 

From Rachel Claire, Pexels

The truth is, if you could closely examine many of the relationships that have stood the test of time, you will learn that those couples don’t have a magic formula. They aren’t always (or even usually) high on the fumes of Cupid’s pheromonic eau de toilette. Their relationships weren’t without cheating, lying, disappointment, or significant trauma of some kind or another. 

They may not necessarily light each other’s fire in such a way that their story would make you swoon with warm fuzzies and proclaim “awwww! as if you saw them confessing on an OWN series. They don’t make love like jack rabbits—well maybe some do. But many don’t, and that is perfectly normal for them. 

Yet the relationships last, or they are at least productive, peaceful, and satisfying for as long as they last. The good far outweighs the bad. 

Often, the distinct words that you will hear from at least one of them go something like this:

“I wasn’t all that impressed when I met him.”

“He wasn’t really my type.”

“A relative/friend introduced her to me.”

Lots of these relationships began with outside involvement, where a neutral third party (with a balanced mindset) who could see and appreciate the qualities of both people, suggested that they meet. There was little to no biologically-driven chemistry clouding their ability to recognize red flags or influencing them to rush ahead. Yet, something about the other person’s character, values, and willingness to work together drew them in and made it possible to build a stable and loyal partnership over time.

Now if strong, lasting love is not really what you’re interested in, if your heart is nomadic and you’re more wired for exciting flings and relationships that are short-term adventures, there is plenty of that to be had in this world. You won’t have to expend much energy to find it. Be safe and enjoy.

However, if you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve picked up on one of life’s timeless and most potent lessons: 

The things that are of the highest value and substance are usually in shorter supply, require more risk, and are harder to get and keep. Of course, the upshot is that the rewards are greater.

True devotion is Limited Edition in this world. It is highly exclusive. The raw ingredients for love are not scarce, but healthy committed partnerships can be, because stable love is not a fleeting feeling, and it must be cultivated. Many people simply aren’t up for the task. 

You can increase your chances of attracting somebody who’s ready to fully commit if you place yourself in close proximity to people who want to commit. So get off the highway to nowhere, and try a more scenic route. If balanced, lasting commitment is what you want, you will have to slow down, and be more selective and discerning.

For healthier, longer-term relationships, take the time to self-reflect and address your subconscious issues. Perfection isn’t the goal here, but at least become aware of what’s driving you. Then, when your Picker hones in on an immature, playboy/girl who brings out the worst in you, you will understand why you feel drawn to them. 

You can decide to drive off immediately with the full understanding that your feelings are offering you valuable clues. This attraction, no matter how strong, is to toxicity, and it is not a “sign” that you two belong together. It is a signpost, pointing to the inner work that will lead you to a freer life, day by day. You can kindly thank your Picker for pointing out your blindspots, leave the potential train wreck in the dust, and continue on the path of your development. 

Soon, you’ll stop driving down the path of foolishness at breakneck speed. You’ll take in some of the beautiful view, including all those sane and mentally balanced potential lovers that you might have sped past before. At the very least, you’ll avoid a lot of potholes. 

If you want to build relationships that last a while and that bring more good than bad into your life, think of relating like good nutrition and health. You can enjoy dessert, but if you lead with it and overindulge, you’ll end up sloppy, sluggish, and unwell. Period. Relationships built only on treats lack the muscle mass, bone density, and vital circulation that would keep them healthy. 

Choose levelheadedness over Love Bug Fever, sense before sensuality. Balance reason with adventure. You can have some of that double chocolate trifle romance. Just remember, it will probably taste better if it’s made well at a quaint mom & pop shop in town with a solid reputation for making kickass sweets, rather than slapped together in the back of a gas station shop just off Route 2 by some guy named “Slim”.

It’ll cost more, but it won’t make you sick.

NO REMEDY | When even therapy can’t help your effed up situation

Raphael Lovaski – Unsplash

There are times when motivation is a luxury that cannot be drummed up out of thin air, when one must push through life’s inescapable valleys on the fumes of sheer determination alone.

As an inspirational author whose aim is to help you live a life of Joy, I recognize that the meaning of Joy has to be much deeper than a simple feeling of happiness which hang glides on the whims of motivation. So I won’t (always) grandstand like some drill sergeant shouting mottos and maxims for self-mastery at you. I won’t act like some guru tossing sage quotes and pop culture cliches down from my mental temple, high in the vibrational clouds (at least not right now).

I acknowledge that there can be no light without darkness. In life we have to navigate the day as well as the night. 

The kind of Joy that builds fortitude has to be based in one’s daily decision to be grateful for life, no matter what. It is cultivated when one is determined to be their best even when their own inner cheerleaders have collapsed from utter debility, when the “go-go-go” shouting of the cacophony of coaches sounds like a distant, unintelligible murmur.

Sometimes the only way out is through. (Ok, sorry! That quote just slipped out.)

The other day at work, I was inspecting a newly reconstructed bridge, and I found a large, tattered coin resting on one of the parapet walls. It was a sobriety medallion that was heavily scarred, possibly from being tossed around the site in the upheaval of construction, maybe slammed by a jackhammer or overrun and scraped across the ground by the bucket of a front end loader. However it got there, I couldn’t help but wonder why it had ultimately been abandoned. Maybe the person to whom it belonged had dropped it unknowingly or relapsed and left it behind in a moment of discouragement. 

Embossed on one side of the coin is the well-known Serenity Prayer:

          “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

On the flip side is Polonius’s famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 

            “To thine own self be true.”

At first, I found that second quote to be ironic. I never knew it was part of the foundation of recovery counseling. In fact, as someone who grew up with front row tickets to the crack epidemic, I had plenty of up close contact with loved ones who were either drug dealers or addicts. I could argue that intractable self-centeredness is the most prominent side effect of both afflictions (and possibly even a key cause). I thought, why on earth would someone encourage an addict to be more selfish?

But then the quote brought to mind the ancient Egyptian directive, “Know Thyself”, and I made the connection. Again, I was brought back to center, to the need for balance in all things. This quote on the coin doesn’t encourage one to only be concerned with their own interests. It’s a reminder that you have to stand firm on a foundation of self-awareness in order to master your challenges. The prayer for assistance from a higher power is, for many, essential, but one still has to do their inner work.

The extended version of the quote helps to clarify its meaning:

            “This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.” 

Be true (honest with, accepting of, and loving toward) yourself, and you can offer the same courtesy to others. 

You have to be willing to look in the mirror and accept your shortcomings in order to improve. You also have to acknowledge your inherent value as a human being and accept your innermost pain, desires, and dreams as valid. 

That validity is a matter of fact that you will cling to when it becomes apparent that no one else can fully understand your circumstances, your yearnings, yours flaws and fears, your decisions and what drives you; when you are projected upon by strangers and loved ones alike, who are all barely making sense of their own journeys; when your sentiments are misinterpreted; when you’re all talked out and your attempts to explain have only resulted in more misunderstanding by even your most reliable confidants; when you’re trying to survive a global pandemic, and paying into a bottomless pit of never-ending therapy sessions is the last thing your budget (or your patience) will allow.

Stoicism is not a popular notion these days, but in the balance of effort and rest, it has its place. The Christians of 1 Corinthians 15:58 were admonished to:

“Stand firm…Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

In chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita, we find the concept of “sama-chittatvam”, which means equanimity of mind. It is the ability to remain calm with a balanced perspective no matter what circumstances arise. 

Thinkers the world over have stated this same message in myriad ways. Though your methods for overcoming adversity may require cunning, flexibility, and copious amounts of radical self-care, in your resolve, you have to be as stubborn as iron. 

J.MT_Photography – Pexels

And you don’t have to perform happiness, wholeness, inspiration, or success for anyone. Stop trying to explain yourself. Be still. You can literally go into Energy Save mode, conserving your attention for only the most essential and beneficial of functions. 

Just get through this. Just get up. Just make it through another day without bringing anyone, including yourself, harm. 

Try to remember that it is during these cataclysmic shifts of circumstances that new paradigms are born. If, in your lowest moment, the only thing you can pull together is a deep breath to get you through the next cosmic “labor pain”, breathe, and know that a new you is being born. It won’t always be this way. 

You still have the power to decide if the new version of you will be worse or better than ever.

Sit down, shut up, and live

By Pixababy on Pexels.com

There are times when I let my thoughts roam free as wild mares dashing across some quiet beach in the Outer Banks. It’s usually when I’m brainstorming for a creative project, reveling in my imagination to manifest the next level in my glow up, or daydreaming about my flavor of the week fantasy men.

More often than not, though, I have to corral my thoughts, or those feral beasts will stampede through my psyche and graze willy nilly on my peace of mind. It’s a daily challenge that nearly everyone faces on some level.

How does one navigate each day with consistent mental calm and clarity?

Good mental health is not an easy thing to maintain in a culture that is always pressing us on every side to be, do, and have something other than what already is. Even in our promotion of mindfulness and the practices that help us to maintain it, we often slip into perfectionism, greed, impatience, entitlement, and the rigid runaway-go-getter mentality that is ultimately unsustainable and opposed to the very stability that we want and need. 

Yet, with responsibilities and the fundamental human instinct to improve always bearing down on us, stagnation is certainly not an option. Life is a constant balancing act that requires minute-to-minute adjustment to the waves of change. 

How do you adjust AND stay on course? How do you avoid being taken out by the undertow?

By Annie Spratt on Unsplash.com

When I first delved into the philosophy behind yoga over ten years ago, “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” became one of my favorite mantras. I had learned some skills to manage anxiety which first became a challenge for me in my mid teens, and applying mantras like this was the next step in developing a consistently calmer mind. 

The phrase is one of the Yoga Sutras credited to the sage Patanjali, and the literal word for word meaning is:

YOGA = to yoke, to join, to unite

CHITTA = consciousness

VRITTI = fluctuations

NIRODAH = quieting of

The aim in applying this mantra is uniting consciousness and quieting its fluctuations—achieving a more balanced mental state by calming one’s mental chatter. 

It’s important to note that the elimination of thoughts is not the goal here. Many people who are newly drawn to tools like yoga and meditation often get frustrated with their inability to totally quiet their minds and stop thinking during practice. I used to feel the same way, but now I don’t think that is the point. We need our thoughts. How effective can it be to exert so much mental force in an attempt to wrestle one’s mind into submission? I’ve found that this is actually counter to the essence of mindfulness. 

I’ve never embraced complete removal of ego as a worthwhile goal. How can one be “mindful” without any awareness of self? How can one be, do, and have more or grow as a human being without some awareness of “I”, which is derived from the ego? 

It is necessary to balance the ego and the mind, and this ultimately involves balancing the thoughts.

The challenges of our current time cannot be underestimated. We’ve got a global pandemic in full swing which seems like only a backdrop to political chaos, a centuries old “soft” race war, severe economic uncertainty, climate instability, and cultural shifts that reveal a massive erosion of our people skills and ability to see the nuance in our experiences. 

For me, the COVID crisis has been like a canvas upon which a slew of stressors have been vividly painted. Homeschooling as a full-time essential worker, navigating marital separation and co-parenting, deaths of loved ones, strained friendships, and a raging skin condition that sometimes requires me to bandage half of my face, are some of the challenges that I juggle daily. I’m sure many of you reading this could describe some pretty colorful “paintings” of your own.

By Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

In times like these I kick my coping strategies into high gear, strategies that I learned while navigating some early life challenges and the highs and lows of daily life. I start with being brutally honest about what I feel.

In these times, I am in physical pain. I am hypervigilant and untrusting. I am extremely tired (mentally and physically) and likely sleep-deprived. Boiling hot resentment radiates from my chest. And I am hungry. Reeeeally hungry…for carbs and sweets mostly, but I seek blood. 

My dreams become more vivid. My sensitivity to light and noise increases. All my emotional grievances flood to the surface, begging to be purged, and any unfortunate soul with whom I have a bone to pick is in danger of elimination. I am the werewolf who pleads with her friend to lock her away just before the rising of the full moon, so I hide it well.

I journal it, speak it softly in prayer, and maybe confess it once and for all to that good friend in order to get it out of my system. I accept the fact that every single one of my emotions are here to help me, but they don’t run the show. They serve as a barometer of my circumstances and help me to determine what my priorities should be in any given moment. They are not in control. I am. 

So, once I remember that, I freeze. Now it’s time to really get quiet. I turn down the volume on all the input, opinions, distractions, advice, sales gimmicks, news feeds, DM’s, clap backs, passive aggressive snipes and lowbrow remarks, shallow connections and insignificant attachments, sensual parasites, and social weeds that threaten to deplete me. 

When times get tight, it’s not just economic and social measures that have to get a little draconian. Some heavy-handed self-preservation becomes necessary, too. Without slowing down, logging off, and getting quiet, there’s no way I can address the unhealthy habits and negative thought patterns that created all this chatter in the first place. 

Once I’ve gotten quiet, I can make better use of my time. I recalibrate my daily spiritual practice. I reaffirm my commitment to getting up early and getting centered. I sit outside and meditate at the start of my day, and spend my first moments just enjoying the natural environment around me. This helps me to recharge my sense of gratitude. 

By Diana Simumpande on Unsplash.com

I recommit to daily rest, and stop going to bed at ungodly hours (the hardest part by far). I get reenergized through exercise and preparing healthier meals. I can read more, write more, get lost in more uplifting music. I can sit on my ass and binge watch fascinating documentaries on Curiosity Stream. 

Soon enough, I’m ready to toss our bikes onto the back of my car and take the kids on a trail ride. A few days later I may have the energy to make a call to a cousin or friend I haven’t heard from in a while. The next day, I may even go to work without cursing. 

I demonstrate all of this openly to my kids, and even find humorous and age-appropriate ways to talk to them about it so that they can see me modeling the emotional intelligence that they need to develop.

Every time you come back to your senses, you recognize that you will need to push through some inertia—maybe a lot of inertia. You have to continue doing the THINGS, even if you don’t feel like it, and that’s fine. But beating yourself up and trying to grind against the grain will likely not work in the long run.

Get quiet. Conserve your energy, protect and take care of yourself from a place of yielding rather than resentment, and prioritize. You can’t do it all, but you gotta do something, so you have to do what counts. 

Self-care is more than pedicures, herbal baths, and good wine, although those are all things I thoroughly enjoy. It is making time to get to the bottom of why you feel hungry, angry, tired, and unsafe. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a rose-petal-laced milk bath and a little Pinot Grigio to help get you there. Our sweet indulgences, in reasonable amounts, can be valuable tools for keeping burnout at bay. Just make sure you sit down somewhere and develop a long game approach to your well-being so that you can truly experience quality of life and longevity.

I’m a July Leo with a serious jones for the beach, so excuse my extended metaphors about wildness, water and sun. Remember those Outer Banks horses I mentioned? Well, at some point during one of my ass-loafing nerd fests, I learned that they often swim between barrier islands to access new grazing areas. 

Horses can swim, but they find it hard to turn in water. They may even sometimes swim right out to sea because they instinctively want to swim in a straight line. But that’s where the greatest resistance is, and that’s where the danger is, because clearly, horses don’t belong in the deep sea. 

They don’t always see the value in following the path of least resistance, of turning, swimming along the shoreline, and using the natural current to push them to where they want to be. And I suspect they don’t like being tamed either, having bridles and reins strapped to their heads, and being our servants for life. 

Most things, however, require us to counterbalance the wild and the tamed. If you want your mind to help you ride off into the sunset of your best life, it must be trained, daily.  You also have to know how and when to let it jump into the ocean and simply swim with the current. 

By Nika Akin on Pexels.com

How to start a Tiny Garden in 5 Steps

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If you think it’s too late to start your summer garden, or that your small outdoor space has no room for one, you are totally WRONG!

It’s not too late to grow greens for Fall, herbs for tea, and more. To learn how, click below and check out my article in

Naturally You Magazine

Naturally-You

AND

For a quick list of all the supplies you’ll need to get started, click on the flower to get a copy of my Tiny Garden Cheat Sheet.

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Remember, you don’t have to have a green thumb to jump into gardening. You can grow that too, with curiosity, time and TLC.

Stop Apologizing for Living

Hormones are the gifts that just keep on giving!

And to suddenly go from

this 486531_465669296784425_1595158186_n_465669296784425  TO THIS image2_7612

IS A DAMN NIGHTMARE!

But ya know what, life goes on. In the JoyWell, we eat these kinds of challenges for breakfast. Many of you are experiencing health challenges, big, small, and in between. Here, we express gratitude and align with Joy, because in Joy we find strength and balance. No cowering, no hiding, no apologies.

This vid is a little off the cuff, cuz I had some things that just needed to be said. Accept it in its rawness, let it resonate, and marinate.

(For best playback, you may wanna open in YouTube, but that’s your call.)

Should we finally ban the N-word?

Image courtesy of Steemit.com

How simultaneously harrowing and splendid it is to live in a world so full of possibilities, so overrun with apparent contradictions and complexity! Always a hurdle to cross, a new, heavier mental weight to bear. Then just when you reach the cliff of your wits, a Royal Super Negro in a Vibranium microweave suit swoops down and carries you over the chasm… and to the next valley.

It keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? Yet, despite any of the clouds that may sometimes hover over the parade for our Blackness, we have many things to enjoy, reasons to celebrate, and so much to look forward to. #WakandaForever!

Image courtesy of polygon.com

 

 

Now, to more pressing matters…

Words are my stock and trade. And since it’s Black History Month, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some time to examine one word that has been analyzed and scrutinized within and outside of the Black community ad nauseam. The hot, ongoing debate around this word remains relevant for a number of reasons, especially because it evokes such visceral reactions within so many who hear it. That word is, of course, “nigga”.

As a writer, I am a firm believer that words hold the power of life and death, that each one has its purpose (or myriad purposes), especially the purpose to teach. I am uncomfortable with the idea of attempting to prevent anyone from using any word. Of course, many would agree that there are circumstances under which certain words are inappropriate—professional settings, in houses of worship, in the presence of elders or highly respected persons who would be offended, etc. However, proposing a wholesale moratorium on any word, in my not-so-humble opinion, is unnecessary and possibly even a waste of precious time. So, for the purpose of this article (for the purpose of my own personal expression on and off the page), and to avoid patronizing the very audience with which I’d like to engage, I will not be referring to it as the “N-word”.

I was compelled to do some soul-searching regarding the use of ”nigga” after watching a Ta-Nehisi Coates interview over the holidays. A white audience member asked Coates for his insight, because she did not believe in saying it, but wasn’t sure how to help her white friends understand that they also “should not” say it.

At the heart of Coates’s response was this: It’s about context and relationship. As an outsider of a community, with no meaningful relationship with that community, there is no way for an individual to understand the nuances of words used in an ironic fashion. They’d get the context wrong every time and expose themselves as ignorant and insensitive at best.

He gave the example of his wife and her best friend playfully referring to each other as “bitch”, along with an explanation of why it would be wholly inappropriate for him to join in their jesting. He also talked about a white friend of his who regularly jokes about escaping to his “white trash cabin” for vacation, and that he wouldn’t think to follow suit with something like, “I’m coming to your white trash cabin.” He mentioned the fact that some people in the gay community have used the term “fag” with each other for years, but that it is not something he would take the liberty to do with them. These are all circumstances in which he’d have neither the community relationship nor the contextual understanding to use these words in the way these people did.

He broke it down even further by explaining why he thinks so many whites take issue with being told that they cannot say “nigga”, regardless of the fact that some black folks throw it around with abandon. Whites invented the word, he explained, and what’s more? Whites navigate a world where they are told from birth that they own the world, that they can do what they want when they want. To be told that they can’t use a word that they invented, in a world that belongs to them, may very well feel like the ultimate affront to some whites. The question Coates was ultimately led to ask was, why would individuals who have no significant relationship with a community insist on having access to terms that they do not fully appreciate the context of?

This was a very intriguing explanation to me and one that I had never seen anyone articulate in quite this way. (You can view a portion of the talk here if you like.)

Now, I believe in letting people say whatever they want so we can see who they really are. And yet, while I don’t agree that anyone should use valuable time explaining to whites why their use of “nigga” will be seen as a threat by many, I think Coates’s commentary made a lot of sense. So, I decided to dig deeper and see what some other celebrated black thinkers have to say about it.

I started with a cursory search for related videos and came up with some material from Reverend James David Manning. Now, if you know anything about him, you understand that he’s hardly a celebrated black thinker in the sense that I mean it. But even a broke clock is right twice a day. When he defended his prodigious use of “nigga” for the following reason, I couldn’t deny the resonance of his comments:

“Why rob society of one of the best descriptions of behavior I’ve ever seen?… We need not kill the word, we need to kill the spirit.”

In a talk with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West,

Michael Eric Dyson had this to say about his own use of “nigga”:

“Nigga is a global phenomenon. That’s why I use the word with promiscuity.”

Explaining that it can be used to illustrate the ways in which the oppression of people all over the world is similar, he says he prefers to “Put it on front street… I know you’re calling me “nigga”. I won’t allow you to have the ultimate terminological privilege of naming me and fixing me with your narrow category…”

Killer Mike once described how he came to a deeper understanding of the history of the word “nigger”.  “The root word simply means ‘black’…negro, nigro, negre”, He commented. So, for him, the word is not the problem. The problem is that those who use it as a derogatory term hate all that is black. They’ve made black loathsome and therefore turned the word into something loathsome. (You can view his explanation here.)

Cornel West had this to say:

“If someone actually loves the people—Martin King, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Fannie Lou Hamer—if they wanna use the n-word for me that’s fine, ‘cause I know they love me. The problem is that there’s not enough people who use the word who love the very people who have been terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized by the powers that be. I think we have to be very, very careful and cautious in terms of whether the love is at the center of that word.” ( “The N Word” on The Stream, Aljazerra 2013)

West has advocated for a moratorium on the word. He’s concerned about an internalization of self-hatred which he believes will result when a person is not learned enough to understand the nuances of the word. However, is it true that using “nigga” disconnects people—particularly young black people—from their history? I’m more convinced that usage can possibly reveal that disconnection if a person already lacks understanding of history and context. In that case, you could take away the word and still have an individual who is aimlessly navigating the world with low self-esteem, little self-awareness and a grossly insufficient understanding of the world and life itself.

Image Courtesy of mymindfulmoment.com

Really, I can understand the sentiments of those who think the word “nigga” should go the way of chitlins and greens seasoned with fatback. Much like the artery-clogging variety of soul food that some still choose to partake in without restraint, the modern-day use of “nigga” is very much a choice, the responsibility for which lies squarely at our feet.

Still, unlike hog maws, “nigga” is a living, non-concrete thing. It has that transcendental quality that all words have, and it cannot be linked to our symptoms in a neat and tidy diagnosis like fried chicken and butter beans to diabetes.

We and our words have the ability to be many different things, to hold many different meanings and perspectives, without true contradiction. Actually (in looking ahead to Women’s History Month) I’m reminded of a famous song by Meredith Brooks where she declares, “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint—I do not feel ashamed.” This couldn’t be a better illustration of the complexity of life, humanity, and words.

She goes on to say, “Just when you think you got me figured out, the season’s already changin’ “. And change is, I think, what makes so many uncomfortable. Intricacy in ideas, in character, in words and communication, is something that many people simply wish to avoid navigating.

Yet words are not static. They are living things in and of themselves which change and expand and conform with time.

Many of us cannot accept that the word “nigga” holds valid meaning today, because the hateful acts around its root word, “nigger”, have simply been too heinous to accept. The idea that such a word can be reclaimed seems nonsensical to some, since it is still used as a weapon in the society at large. However, the fact that one person crafted and subsequently used a hammer as a weapon does not mean that I cannot use it as a tool or an instrument to simply make a noise that is pleasant to my own ears. Whether others understand my use of it is neither here nor there. It’s helping me build the kind of house, the kind of music, that I choose to enjoy.

I’m sure this debate will rage on for at least as long as the poison of white supremacy infects us. Still, no appearance of propriety conveyed in our speech, no moratorium on a word will stop emphatic bigots from seeing us as subhuman. And I’m pretty sure that the kinds of people who would use “nigga”, or “bitch”, or “fag”, or “cunt”, or any other word as a weapon wouldn’t care less about respecting the abstract notion of a word ban.

In the beautifully succinct words of a commenter from The Stream show noted above,

“People will speak. THAT must be accepted. Relinquish.”

 

Is the Bible Ground Zero for Rape Culture?

1. bible ground zero pic

When the recent “Me Too” campaign—intended to bring awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual violence—took the internet, and my Facebook news feed, by storm, I tried to avoid it. I tried to sit quietly and let it pass while looking on with empathy and an encouraging nod to those who were brave enough to tell their stories. I really tried to silence that overzealous, inner kid who raised her hand to answer almost every question in class years ago.

“Friggin know-it-all”, I told her, “stay out of it!” It looked too messy and was too emotional for too many reasons.

I sat on my hands (figuratively) for a good, I guess, fifteen minutes.

And then, in my mind’s eye, I got a glimpse of that same kid sitting in teen church, shooting her hand up to quote bible verses, dashing to the altar in tears for this or that altar call, sitting in her “prayer closet” begging God to forgive her inevitable, human idiosyncrasies time and time again. I saw her, and I remembered…

I spent years studying the Good Book, anxiously running around school and my neighborhood witnessing to people, trying to turn them away from hell, thinking that their blood would be on my hands if they missed God on my watch. I offered to minister in prayer to my classmates during lunch, presided over my high school’s bible club, walked the halls every day with a bible housed in a creatively decorated, pink canvas cover. I stood before a packed house at our senior year Baccalaureate Ceremony and gave an inspirational speech that brought many to tears.

Then I graduated from college and got brand new. I grew into a fuller understanding of who I was and what I genuinely believed.

I de-converted.

When loved ones ask why I “turned my back on God”, to this day, my answer is the same. I never left God, I left behind a doctrine that my conscience couldn’t bear, one which I felt was an insult to the God I had come to know and love.

It wasn’t hypocrites that turned me off. It wasn’t the Pastor in the Maserati. It wasn’t the fact that God never “delivered” my dad from addiction or that my young adulthood was full of failure and difficulty.

It was that Book…that Book that I finally looked at with fresh eyes, through the eyes of a flesh and blood human being who could no longer read it as a woman or as a person of color and not feel my stomach turn.

When the scales began to fall from my eyes and I recognized the beast of blind belief for what it truly was, I couldn’t go for the low-hanging fruit, the typical excuses for backsliding. This was too important for that. I went for the jugular. I went for the doctrine.

There were many problems with the doctrine, but what immediately stood out was the ethnic cleansing of the non-Hebrews. It was the barbaric acts of genocide committed by the Israelites all throughout the Old Testament. And it was, especially, the rape, sexual slavery and pedophilia that the Book normalizes.

It was Numbers 31:7-18 – …“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man…”

And Judges 21:10-24 – …“They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, ‘Go and hide in the vineyards. When the women of Shiloh come out of their dances, rush out of the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife…’ “

And Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – …”When you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as your wife, you may take her home to your house… However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom…”

And Exodus 21:7-11 – “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again….”

It was Lot offering his daughters up to the mob of savages who were beating down his door to get to the angel he was harboring.

It was an apostle instructing married believers that “your bodies are not your own”.

It was the rape victims forced to marry their rapists because, according to God’s law, they were subsequently considered “unclean”.

It was Deuteronomy 20: 10-14 – “When the Lord your God hands [the town] over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the Lord your God has given you.”

It was the fact that God’s leaders COMMANDED these heinous acts, and that the perpetrators were never punished. And according to the bloodthirsty authors, God never objected.

After a decade of fierce, fundamentalist loyalty, my eyes were finally opened to the fact that the bible refers to women as “PLUNDER”, as “SPOILS OF WAR”. How could I have simply ignored that?

In some translations (namely the King James Version), the exact word used to refer to us was “booty”. Ever wonder where that term came from and why it refers to a pirate’s treasure as well as sexual conquest?

Many would dismiss my sentiments saying, “that was the Old Testament”. But if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the God who condoned this barbarism is the same one who led Jesus to the cross.

(And if the Old Testament directive concerning tithing, for example, is still relevant, why wouldn’t the implications of these other verses be?)

I could no longer numb myself to these scriptures. I could no longer accept that God had some mysterious reasons for condoning such horrible things, “way back then”. The doctrine itself was enough to make me walk away. It was enough to break the fear of the hell I’d been threatened with my entire life. It was enough to make me see that it was not truly faith, but fear that I walked in all those years, and I walked out of the prison of blind belief and into a whole new world. I joined the ranks of many other (specifically) young, Black Christians who would always love Christ but could no longer accept “Christianity”.

**My God is not a sadistic, genocidal maniac who condones genocide and sexual slavery. My God has not fashioned me as property.**

This was my resounding thought. I’d spent too many years wrapped in grace, seen too many prayers answered to stoop back to what felt like such a barbaric belief system. I became insulted by the notion that this is who God is, and I had a feeling that God was, too.

When these kinds of acts were committed in Rwanda and Sudan we called it genocide. When the Chibok girls were abducted we called it sexual slavery. And yet, some think that because it happened thousands of years ago at the supposed command of the God of the Israelites, that makes it okay. Are we to believe that those captured women gave of themselves freely to the men who had just murdered their brothers, fathers, friends, loved ones and children?

Where does our sense of humanity go when we become pious?

Do we become so heaven-bound that we are no earthly good? How do the faithful come to ignore all the things that should make us uncomfortable when we delve into such scriptures? And why are these the aspects of scripture that ministers never talk about?

If you didn’t know, THIS IS WHERE RAPE CULTURE BEGINS: It is the perfect habitat for its growth. It is where the mentality can incubate, in the guilt, the shame and humiliation, the ownership paradigm, and the stratification of individuals into categories which later justify their mistreatment.

It is not the only place, but is the perfect place where slave law is established.

It is not the only place, but is it a primary place where women are separated into wives, concubines, whores, and spoils of war, where the less “clean” the less “moral” people are considered undeserving of a voice, of life itself.

It is certainly not the only place, but it is a well-known place where pedophiles are glorified, where they sit satisfied in pews, fat off the very life blood of the unprotected and the praise of the cowardly majority, where the affected spend their lives picking up the pieces in obscurity while the savages sit on holy thrones.

Is this your God?

Rhetorical Question.

The purported mother of Jesus herself was something close to 12 years old when she married Joseph. We can assume so because the age of marriage for girls then was around 12.

When children get sold into marriage to dirty old men in some far-off place in the world we call it tragic. When men lined up in droves to have sex with underage girls on To Catch a Predator, we gasped. But when the preacher waxes sentimental over Mary and Joseph we throw our hands up in praise?

Rhetorical Question. Please pardon me, I know Christmas is coming.

“Because of YOU, I am pathetic.” The Blame Game

Ever heard this song by Kelly Clarkson?

I’m well acquainted with it.  Very recently, I had a part-time job in a furniture store where the soundtrack included this heartfelt number.  And every time that sad, pathetic piano music started up, I wanted to run into the manager’s office and kick the stereo.  Many… many times.

See, the chorus of the song never sat right with me

“Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk.

Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt

Because of you, I am afraid.”

That’s it?

Some no good man did something that left her hurt and afraid.  (That’s happened to every woman on the planet, right?)  And, at least for the duration of this song, she was simply hurt and afraid and whining.  No resolution.  No power.  Just pathetic and blaming him, whoever he was, for her damage.

Whenever I think of this song, I’m reminded of all those pathetic quotes and memes that people are constantly sharing on Facebook about how many “haters” they have, hatershow they’re “cutting people off” who no longer serve them,

don't like
(Neither do we)

or how they’ve been hurt a million times and are still standing.

been hurtNo one ever posts a quote or a meme saying:

To whomever I have hurt, misused, lied to, “hated on”, cursed out, or

misunderstood in a time of struggle,

I’m sorry.

or

I’ve been a hater.

I’m hating on some people right now.

I’d like to do some of the things I see others doing but don’t know how

and that pisses me off.

And make no mistake, we’ve all done something to hurt someone.  But no, everybody’s a victim.  Everybody’s damaged goods.  And too many people want to stay that way.  They’d rather keep pointing outward instead of looking within.  It’s the blame game that keeps us hurting and attracting more of the very things that hurt us, because we focus on pain as if pain is a noble pursuit, as if being a martyr is preferable to having no one to blame.

Here’s the thing:  once I sat down and watched the video, I had a much better understanding of what Ms. Clarkson was trying to accomplish with this, actually beautiful, song.  The story depicted in it is very similar to my own.  It’s almost identical to the background story for Jane Luck, the decidedly unlucky heroine in my new novel Pretty Little Mess:  A Jane Luck Adventure.   The self-awareness laid out in the lyrics (whether she actually experienced this or simply is a conduit of expression for those who have) is a necessary part of the healing process.  We have to understand the source of a problem in order to solve it.

But I think that’s where the blaming has to stop.  Because once you peel back a few layers from the person you’re blaming, you’ll find that the pain they “caused” you could be traced to some pain that they blame someone else for.  And on and on ad infinitum.  And much of your pain may be stemming from your own interpretation of what was done, or your own assumptions about that person’s intentions–which could all be wrong.

The blows we inflict on each other can certainly be overwhelming.  I guess the key is to not wallow in the pain, however difficult the journey to a better place may be.

And the next time you think some “haters” are out to get you, consider this:  people like MLK had haters, Malcolm X had haters, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Malala Yousafzai had haters.  Maybe you just have delusions of grandeur. Everybody’s not a martyr, and everybody doesn’t need to be.

Okay, ENOUGH fear.

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 

“I’m afraid.”

“I can’t keep calm.”

“I fear for my black son.”

“I fear for my black daughter.”

“I don’t know if my husband will make it home safe.”

“I don’t know if I will make it home safe.”

“The world has gone crazy!”

“I feel hopeless.”

These are some of the sentiments that I’ve observed all week since the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas 5. And I’m sick of it. I am sick of fear. All of it. Fear is what got us here, people!

Now, hold on, don’t misunderstand me. I have a great deal of compassion for those who feel this way. You are me, and I know your trials, because I experience them too. We’re in this together.

I have my own black son, daughter, husband, brother, mother, father, cousins, friends, nieces and nephews, in-laws, and my own black self that I cover in prayer daily with hopes that we will live to be our best, free from unwarranted, systemic harassment. I can’t tell you how many times in the last 72 hours I’ve stared at my 5-year-old daughter and had to shake off the thought of seeing her stunned in the back seat of our car after witnessing some vigilante cop lose his natural mind. Heaven forbid it.

I watch the man that I vowed to care for through the rest of my life come home every day, and I’m relieved that he didn’t encounter some crazed, poorly trained, afraid-of-his-own-shadow, Barney-Fife-acting police officer on his way from work.

But this season has me feeling empowered. Yes, empowered. Why? Because this is nothing new. According to 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No Temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.” Oppression is ancient. Oppression is the steel reinforcement in our nation’s very foundation. We know these killings have been happening for centuries. But, we beat this before (the previous phase of it at least), and we can beat it again.

There is no reason for you to feel powerless unless you have chosen not to do your part. If you plan on twittling your thumbs, biting your nails, and simply watching from the stands while the winds of change blow around you, then yes, I guess you have a reason to fear. If you have no knowledge of your own power and the power of the creator within you, then yes, I can see why you are overwhelmed with fear. If you still don’t know that the Gods of our ancestors were themselves warriors, I get your fear. If you have forgotten that there really is no “they” and you’re currently blaming the mirror for reflecting this flawed world back to you, then I can see why you’re afraid.

See freedom comes in phases, and it’s cyclical, because unfortunately, humans get lazy. These trying times that ebb and flow through the eons are like labor pains, each one potentially getting us one step closer to birthing something better…if the baby isn’t strangled in the birth canal.

I respect your mourning, and I know that it is necessary. It is also necessary that you choose not to be paralyzed by your fear. Understand that the hopes, dreams, talents, strength, vitality, intelligence, and tenacity of all the dead are with us. In this sense, they never left us. Be quickened in the remembrance of them. And let the memory of them be your fuel as you move ahead in pursuit of justice.

You are a powerful creation, and what you submit to in fear will only expand. So instead, let each one that has been snatched from us empower you to continue doing what you should have been doing long before and what you should continue doing long after this phase is over: develop yourself, empower your family, and serve your community. Do that by any means necessary.

And if you still feel afraid, do it anyway.

 

 

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