I don’t want another friend to die needlessly

How do you process it when your worst fears for a friend come true?

…When you have to watch those fears play out in a long process of suffering that goes on for years?

…When there isn’t a damn thing you can do to help, because your advice falls on deaf ears?

…When your place in your friend’s life is too insignificant for you to make an impact, but too meaningful for you to back away?

I have a friend named Sabrina A. Jones. To our crew, the “A” is for Alize, but we all know full well her mama named her Sabrina ANNE. One of us thought she should have a name better suited to her spunky personality, and the rest of us agreed. It’s one of our many inside jokes.

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Sabrina passed away Saturday, July 11, 2020—weeks before her 39th birthday. She died after a decades-long struggle with several ailments, including heart trouble and overwhelming stress from which she just couldn’t seem to break free.

I cannot celebrate the tremendous light that she was in this world without acknowledging the pain that she endured and the battles she fought.

So I’m gonna go there, because I am tired of watching us die of broken hearts, unnecessarily, far before our time.

I am sick of using our lives as cautionary tales, as examples of what not to do and how not to live. I’m tired of grieving our lives as much as our deaths.

Twenty years ago, our gang of friends and acquaintances sat around a table at a Friendly’s restaurant laughing, joking, and having the best of times, like we always did. It was normal for us to roll twenty-deep into a restaurant and find a reason to celebrate. Graduations, birthdays, weddings, weekends, a good time at church—if there was an occasion, food was at the center of it. We were college students.  We couldn’t afford much, but a meal with friends was always doable.

I vividly remember looking around at the plates on the table that day and realizing that I saw almost nothing green. Nearly every plate was a sea of tan and brown, fried, unhealthy “food”. This was a long-standing habit, a way of life. I saw it and got scared, because I knew the clock was already ticking on us, and we hardly had a clue.

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Shortly after the outing, about four of us got on a phone call and talked about where we hoped our friendship would be in the years to come. I had already had a couple of health scares due to hormonal and nutritional deficiencies, and I couldn’t imagine living out the coming years in and out of emergency rooms. I didn’t want that for any of us. It was desperation that led me to blurt out,

“I don’t want to be standing next to somebody’s hospital bed because one of us has had a heart attack at 40.”

 

In fact, Sabrina’s first cardiac event was well before 40. She would ultimately have several.

We hear so much about self-care these days, and the message is sorely needed. Too many of us die for the lack of it. Too many of us desperately need to understand that our worth is not in our work, that we don’t have to earn love in score-keeping battles with selfish mates, that we don’t have to feel guilty for relaxing or leaving wiggle room in our schedules for doing nothing at all.

We don’t have to beg to live well, to be treated well, or apologize for wanting to.

Too many of us need a daily reminder that we were not created to be anyone’s beasts of burden. However, we also need to understand that the riches that we will find in good health must be cultivated. We have to develop a habit of making small, regular deposits into the bank of health if we are going to reap the rewards down the line. If we don’t, we won’t just be uncomfortable, or have a few extra doctor bills, or not be able to fit into our favorite bathing suits. We will experience severe deficits.

I grew up surrounded by women who had servants’ hearts—nurses, cleaning women, teachers, counselors—women who often cared for others more than they cared for themselves. That’s what good Christian women do back home in Virginia where I’m from, and where I met these friends who became my chosen siblings.

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One vital thing Sabrina and I had in common was that both our fathers were addicts. I was fortunate enough to see my dad achieve recovery to some degree, and to even witness him make a sincere apology for the mistakes he made years ago.

I can’t pretend to know the conversations Sabrina had with her father, a man who she worked tirelessly to shelter and support through his addiction. I can’t help thinking that if he made different choices, she might have finally understood that it was not her place to parent her parent, and that enabling an addict is ultimately detrimental to everyone involved, no matter how close the relationship.

Sabrina followed in her mother’s footsteps. From what we knew, Mrs. Jones was a hard working and devout woman who refused to turn her back on her husband, no matter how many times he turned his back on them. She died when we were all in college.

Then, in my naïveté, I hoped my friend would somehow find a way to use her mother’s memory as a catalyst for creating a better life. But instead, she embarked on a twenty-year journey of working frantically, eating poorly, failing to follow doctors’ orders, and refusing to obtain treatment for crippling depression that kept her in suspended animation.

I will not be the friend who sugarcoats or ignores that. She knows me better than that, and I’ve already asked her to forgive me for my anger and unwillingness to shut up about it. In my mind, all of her suffering is in vain if I sweep it under the rug and simply regurgitate the standard pleasantries that people say when a loved one passes.

A lot of women like us wanted to make our ancestors proud.

We understand that we rose up on their shoulders and, in their honor, we strive to achieve what they could not. We think we’re further along than the generations of women who came before us, because we accumulate accomplishments that our grandmothers didn’t have access to.

We celebrate the woman who works two jobs, runs a side hustle, and gets her doctorate while raising 3 kids. Yet we downright denigrate the domestic women, who tends fully to her home and to the children she chose to bring into this world. We ignore the woman who expresses zero interest in burning the candle at both ends in business or the corporate world.

We worship at the altar of overwork while our children sit at home alone or with dubious caregivers, as our bodies degenerate from stress.

Have we really come that much further, or did we just move to a different plantation? Have we really made progress, or did we just trade the whip for the surgeon’s scalpel?

Please forgive my candor, because trust me, I got the degree. I am the mom with the 9-5 and the business, and the packed out schedule. I, of all people, know what’s up, so I have to ask. What is the cost?

What does it profit a woman to gain the world and lose her heart and soul?

How good is it, really, to feed and clothe men who wave the banner of our independence as they hide behind it to shirk their own responsibilities? What is the long term benefit of breeding a generation of men who prefer to live like kept women to the detriment of their mothers, sisters, lovers, and children? Is throwing on the Magical Black Superwoman cape for every single battle actually helping us?

Too many of us are still putting ourselves into physical and mental chains.

 

What the hell is all this working, accomplishing, and driving ourselves into the ground for?

I lost count of the many times that we pleaded with Sabrina to take better care of herself. We would often call her, reminding her to stop working long enough to eat or to take her medicine. When she finally ate, oftentimes the food she chose was not the kind that would actually help to heal her body or sustain her energy.

And I know that lack of motivation to care for oneself is often an uncontrollable symptom of depression. I know what that does. I have an aunt who died of heart complications on April 13th who I suspect also struggled with depression.

I cannot be sure, because she also suffered from other forms of untreated mental illness for decades. She was a recluse, and I never had the chance to get to know her. When she collapsed while shopping, the doctors had to hunt down a cause, because she hadn’t had a checkup in nearly 30 years.

I currently have a friend who is battling breast cancer, and I can’t tell if her extreme isolation is cautious, physical distancing or deep depression. I can only check in and hope she answers the phone.

Sabrina went into a coma the same week that my state’s first lockdown went into effect. I was still planning to drive down to see her after work that Friday evening when I called the hospital she was in and realized that they would not be allowing visitors.

I sat in a weird state of limbo wondering what would happen for weeks, and then months, knowing that the last time that I would ever see Sabrina’s authentic smile in person was long gone. That time had passed years ago.

Sabrina’s birthday is a week after mine. We are Leos, lionesses of the same pride, and I definitely felt a unique connection with her. Years after I moved away from home to study in Philadelphia and later settle down with a family, she could still feel my spirit as if I was sitting next to her.

So many times, when I was feeling down or having a hard time, she called me out of nowhere, completely unprovoked, to ask, “What’s going on wit you’ girly. Something don’t feel right. I was thinking about you.”

Sabrina always made the rounds checking on friends, family, and strangers alike. We could be at the movies, a music festival, the mall, the grocery store, the mailbox, the gas station, in a public bathroom, and she would make conversation asking people their names, how they were, if they were having a good day, and on and on!

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A quintessential Sun Child, she struck up conversations with complete strangers of all kinds wherever we went. She had studied Human Services Counseling in college, and she lived to encourage others. She could hardly go anywhere without running into someone she knew and who didn’t seem happy to see her.

We knew a party had started whenever she came bouncing into a room singing some song and making up half the lyrics. And the childlike glee in her voice whenever she was truly happy or surprised or excited is something I’ll never forget.

When I sit outside and observe the trees, work in my garden, or light the green candles on my altar, I remember her telling me how much she liked that color. I remember that green is the color of life, abundance, and renewal, and I convince myself that she did not suffer for nothing.

I know what loyalty is because of Sabrina. I know what uninhibited love, which is not afraid to express itself and is not diluted by superficial bullshit and ulterior motives, feels like, because of Sabrina. I know what it is to be cherished, seen, and celebrated because of her. Love was something that she was never willing to put on hold, and that alone took courage.

As much as I wanted to see her live a long and full life, I have to accept that maybe she was just rewarded with an early graduation. I know she deserved that.

 

Earth is a place where the good-hearted, who hardly consider themselves worthy of life, suffer and die young, while savages live well beyond their golden years, destroying nearly everything they touch.

But earth is also a place where we can take the bad hands that life deals us and learn to play a more clever game. We can take the lessons, the good memories, and the inspiration that our loved ones gave us, and use it all as fuel for living unapologetically joyful lives. I think that is the least we can do.

Peace, joy, and balance are things that we have to choose to develop, but they aren’t really optional. They’re like essential nutrients that preserve our mental health. Sure we can choose to leave them off the plate, but we’ll suffer when we do.

For a black woman, maintaining stasis, learning to rest in carefree quietude, and not allowing her mental, physical, or spiritual health to be shaken, is in itself, a revolutionary act. And, as anyone with two good eyes should see, the time for revolution is now.

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SABRINA A. JONES, August 2, 1981 – July 11, 2020

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

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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.”

 

Polyamory in the news | SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, 2017 Remake

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Image Courtesy of Netflix

Are people still talking about Spike Lee’s remake of She’s Gotta Have It which recently aired on Netflix? Cool! I didn’t want to rush to an assessment, so I was sure to watch the full first season. Now I’mma throw in my 5 cents.

I loved and hated it, but ultimately love wins. Amor Vincit Omnia and all that jazz, but let me get the messy stuff out of the way first.

The narration felt forced. The characters were predictable, and sometimes came across as caricatures. The monologues seemed cheesy, often didn’t seem to reflect the way people actually talk, and revealed that the writers may have been working overtime to define the story through the characters’ lines rather than letting the story tell itself. The manner in which important issues were addressed lacked nuance. I could pick the series up at any episode and feel like I didn’t miss a beat.

Whew! I said it. Now let me tell you why and attempt to bring everything back to the happy ending that I ultimately experienced while watching…

Nothing demonstrated the predictability of the series like that smoking scene just after Thanksgiving dessert at Nola’s. From the moment that herb appeared, I could count down to the utterance of that classic and all too played out line from Friday, “Puff, puff, pass”, then something about “the rotation”.

There’s plenty more: Jamie’s an affluent professional, so his wife must be light-skinned and bougie, as all well-to-do light-skinned ladies are. Greer is a handsome model and single with “the biggest member”, so he is, of course, as arrogant and devilish as they come. Mars is young and the most down-to-earth of all the men, so he doesn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Shemekka’s fake booty explodes on her opening night. No surprises here.

Nola’s portrayal as a portrait artist left me annoyed at first, but I understood later what the writers may have been getting at. At one point, Nola’s work is judged by a prominent critic as “Pedestrian”, mundane, boring, lacking imagination. She’s a brilliant illustrator, but does she have the ability to convey original or layered thoughts? Until Nola read the critic’s article, this was exactly what I was thinking.

I tire of what passes for Black Art. I’ve seen enough strong black men and women with idealized bodies wearing loin cloths and carrying each other across the fiery thresholds of white supremacy. Many a talented illustrator can record the literal elements of what they observe. Few can deconstruct, abstract those things into art and inspire us to see them in a whole new light. It’s a reasonable assessment of Nola, but the hope is that she will evolve with time.

And speaking of being literal… can we talk about Spike Lee’s preferred style of driving points home with the force of a sledgehammer? It’s a violation of one of the first rules of writing: show, don’t tell. Sure, rules are meant to be broken, but only when it results in good art.

Listen, if you’ve already conveyed the meaning of a scene through the dialogue, scenery, body language, mood, etcetera, do you really need to drive the point further by playing a song with related lyrics at the very moment of revelation and then flashing the song’s album cover at the end of the scene… Every. Single. Time? Do you, as the presenter, assume that the viewers are so inept that they can’t understand the relevance of a song without the lyrics scribbled across the screen? I just couldn’t figure this out as a creative device, because it didn’t seem creative at all. It seemed heavy-handed, overused, and didn’t add anything to my overall experience of watching.

(I’m a little crazy, but) At times, I was yelling at the screen, “Why such staunch literalism???” The writers don’t just spoon-feed the audience ideas. They tie viewers up, slap ball gags in their mouths and proceed to shove the ideas in wherever they’ll fit. I’m, frankly, surprised some element of BDSM didn’t make its way into Nola’s loving bed.

Just when I thought Mr. Lee was going to keep his tail off screen, there he was in episode 7 at that bar with that Rev. Al coiffe, flashing a nametag that read “Joe” just as Frank Sinatra sang the line “So, set ‘em up, Joe” in the background song, One for my Baby. (Long sigh.)

Now, the “element in the room” (as Mars would say), the one idea that the writers chose not to explain, define, or overemphasize was POLYAMORY. And thank goodness they didn’t. If they wanted to, there are some perfect songs they could have used to shed a blinding, overbearing light on Nola’s opening night or the final dinner scene. Just the Way You Like it or Just be Good to Me by SOS Band, perhaps? In my humble opinion, the final episode revealed that this was one issue that they handled quite well, in terms of artistic style. The fundamental conflicts of polyamory were simply demonstrated in Nola’s attempt to introduce all of her men.

At this point, some of you may be asking, “Who does this Joy Outlaw think she is? Does she realize this is a Spike Lee Joint she’s talking about?” I know! I know this is a Spike Lee Joint! This is why the quality of the story-telling is so incredibly baffling to me. That man is the reason I started reading the dictionary at age 12 after seeing that brilliant creation Malcolm X, and haven’t stopped reading it since!

Lemme just get off my soapbox for a minute and tell you what I liked about She’s Gotta Have It, the 2017 remake:

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Image courtesy of Netflix
  • The scenery was absolutely beautiful. From the vibrant NYC setting, to the interiors, to the characters and their clothing, hair, and makeup, and of course, the art—it was all stunning.

  • Doc Jamison. That woman is as smooth as two freshly-shaven legs between satin sheets! I mean, Heather Headley came in as Doc Jamison and sprinkled Mature Black Woman Magic all over those scenes. I think every single actor gave a stellar performance, despite what they were working with. But Jamison’s lines were written in such a way that she came across particularly natural. In the words of Nola Darling, “She’s the kind of woman I aspire to be.”

  • Thanksgiving Dinner. It was sloppy, uncomfortable, inconsiderate, and a complete break from the etiquette of ethical non-monogamy. However, for Ms. Darling, it was necessary. Deal with it. And it made for a pretty good final scene (though I could have done without the appearance of an actual raspberry beret). I liked that polyamory itself was simply presented and neither demonized nor idealized. People are sloppy. No matter the relationship orientation, love is sloppy. Contrary to what Poly Public Relations would have you believe, such young poly relationships, and even those involving the experienced, are rarely executed with complete, polite precision. Nola is a rule breaker, and heroines don’t need to be pictures of perfection. They’re much more alluring when they aren’t.

  • I loved that the series attempted to tackle a slew of issues affecting women, along with other hot-button topics: Slut-shaming and women’s sexual autonomy, body image, black women’s hair and it’s personal and political connotations, street harassment, the internalization of racism in children, gentrification, and polyamory to name some. However, I felt like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to tackling the issues left each portrayal feeling rushed and… predictable.

I’m reminded of another series that puts polyamory under the microscope. For an entire first season, creator, Jackie J. Stone, was able to string along a trail of hungry viewers with 10-15 minutes episodes on YouTube in a series that examines the ins and outs of one issue and one issue alone. That series is Compersion by Enchant TV, and we want season 2! (Waiting.) Pardon my digression.

Can we divert from standard narratives for a moment and add a little gradation to the She’s Gotta Have It storyline, for curiosity’s sake? Would that give the characters more depth without taking anything away from the overall story, and add more interest?

What if Greer was bisexual? What if Mars was? Nola is, after all, pansexual, which means that she is not just attracted to cis-gendered straight guys and femmes. What if Jamie was happily married and polyamorous himself? Just for the hell of it, what if he was the kind of guy who worked with his hands, with an average income, but with the same refined taste and the same connections that allowed him to borrow that money for Nola’s painting? How would changing his station in life change the way his wife was portrayed?

What if Shemekka was a fully self-possessed and seasoned sex worker, whose work sprang from a genuine gift and a depth of knowledge in the sexual arts, rather than desperation and low self-esteem? Those women do actually exist. Would she have still chosen the injections? Would she have needed to?

Once I got to episode 5, I sat with a cubic zirconia-lined goblet full of wine in one hand and my remote control in the other. I held up the remote and said, “You know what? Life is short. I don’t have to do this to myself!” Then I turned to Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Paraquay.

But I was compelled to go back to She’s Gotta Have It, time and again, because it was beautiful and entertaining and fun to see so many reflections of my interests and experiences on screen. I cared because of that, and I wanted to give it a chance, to see what I’d learn, to see where the real value lay.

It is the Day of the Black Woman, and as I contribute to the annals of Black Girl Magic with the creation of my own book series- The Jane Luck Adventures– I’m trying to figure out how to do this well myself. I’ve made my own mistakes. I wonder, as I depict a young woman’s daredevil journey from a struggling college student to a mercenary, as I present to the world the story of a black female Indiana Jones slash James Bond-like character, how do I address the audience? How do I balance the level of abstraction so that readers and viewers are not alienated, but then not dumb things down to the point that I’m talking down to the readers? What do I give away, and what do I let the audience figure out and define for themselves? Will I give them everything on a platter or let them have the adventure of piecing together what the work means for them?

I loved the final episode of She’s Gotta Have It so much I watched it twice. I was absolutely jamming off Prince’s hit, since I’d been teased with it through the entire series and finally got to hear it all the way through. My husband had to come downstairs and find out what had me clapping, and singing at the top of my lungs. (That song just does something to me. You know that song that’ll make you damn near have a car accident if they mess around and play it on the radio while you’re trying to merge onto I-whatever? Yeah, for me, that’s Raspberry Beret.)

2. She's Gotta have it pic 3
Image courtesy of IMDb

That’s the value in the finish. Avid readers often ask each other, “do you finish books that you don’t like or that rub you the wrong way in the beginning?” The ones who understand the value in the finish usually see a book through to the end. I’m glad I finished She’s Gotta Have It, Season 1, and I don’t want to overstep. Spike Lee is clearly doing something right to have garnered a loyal, loving following for this long. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, and I don’t mean to disrespect someone who’s work I’ve come to enjoy and who’s intentions I believe are pristine. But constructive criticism is necessary. One cannot write in a vacuum.

I take my lessons wherever I can get them, and this experience was no different. After watching, here are my notes to self: Joy, you don’t have to try so hard to be artistic if you tell a good story. You don’t have to try so hard to be relevant, to position yourself at the center of the zeitgeist, if you just tell the story that comes from your heart. The authentic story, in its own way, is always timeless.

I think the fundamental story that Spike Lee is telling here is just that. I’m looking forward to season 2 and for both Nola and the series itself to evolve into something that truly does the art, and all of these beautiful artists, justice.

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.

Economic Exodus – the answer to inequality

Black-owned banks get rush of new depositors. Citizens Trust Bank Cynthia N. Day, President and CEO, and the Inaugural Next Generation Advisory Board (Photo: PRNewsFoto/Citizens Trust Bank) USA Today – Click photo for article.

I’on know what you been seein’, but in the days following the murder of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas 5, I’ve witnessed an exodus. My Facebook newsfeed has been full of optimism and self-determination in the form of advertising. That’s right—advertising. My friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have been buzzing about the solution to the lasting problems that we have been forced to face in the past week. That solution is personal sovereignty through increased support of black-owned businesses.

Yep, personal sovereignty- that little phrase that sometimes gets the side-eye due to the fact that it often accompanies some calloused proclamation that the poor should simply pick themselves up by their bootstraps and do better (assuming they have boots). It’s used to taunt the systemically disadvantaged. It has often been used to create the perception that poor people—who often need a hand up despite working themselves into oblivion—are not taking control of their lives.

But when your cries for equality fall on deaf ears, when you get tired of attempting to reason with those who cannot reason, when you realize that you never should have wasted so much time begging others to view you as human—you understand that personal sovereignty is the only answer. You begin to understand that you have your own resources and that the things that you can produce are just as good or better than all the things you once pleaded for from someone else.

Economic autonomy allows for community stability and wealth-building. Period. When your dollar circulates through your community 5, 10, 20 times before leaving it, that’s 5, 10, 20 additional people who have benefited from that one dollar (Analogy courtesy of Dr. Boyce Watkins). Over time, that translates into more income for local businesses, more jobs, increased investment opportunities, higher property values, better education opportunities, less debt, less crime—the friggin list goes on and on!

For those of you who are a little unfamiliar, this is a conversation that has been going on in the black community for decades. Why IS our hair care industry dominated by Koreans? Why ARE there so many fast food restaurants and liquor stores in a half-mile radius in economically depressed areas? Why HAVE so many of the neighborhoods that we loved been developed while the original inhabitants have been displaced? It is because we ALLOWED the economies of these communities to be dominated by those who take those dollars to other communities after locking up for the night.

Community loyalty. They know a lil’ sum about that in Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Ukraine, Le Petit Senegal, and other ethnic enclaves around the country. That’s called common sense, responsibility, pride in heritage, taking care of home, minding your damn business. Awesomely, minding your own business leaves you less vulnerable to economic meltdowns, job insecurity, and the unfortunate discrimination that still plagues this nation.

I saw a great meme today (courtesy of WEBUYBLACK, a directory of black-owned product providers) which said: NO JUSTICE…. NO MONEY. And it appears that these sentiments will not be short-lived, because as of yesterday the black-owned Citizens Trust Bank in Atlanta had 8000 new account signups. So, if you’re still mourning Rosewood or Black Wall Street and wonder why they were never rebuilt, may I remind you that it is a new age? Black Wall Street has gone digital.

The best thing about this exodus is that (while some “fasting” in the form of economic restraint may be in order) we don’t need a Moses to spend 40 days on a mountain to figure out our next move. We don’t need anybody to part the seas. We don’t have to beg and plead for any Pharaoh to let us go. All we have to do is take our cash and walk the hell out.

 

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