Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grief and other Adventures.



It's been about 5 months since I've written for anyone's blog. Truthfully, the delay started with a cracked laptop screen (which still isn't fixed by the way). From there, I somehow wrapped my mind around the idea that I could just take a break and blame it on the laptop. In all honesty I think I just needed to have one less thing on my to-do list.

I had high hopes for 2014. It just felt like the year of greatness. Of big things manifesting. Well, about 6 and a half months in, it's not nearly the year I'd hoped for. I let go of the man I loved, I lost a friend, my brother died, I lost a job, certain friends turned out to be wolves in sheep's wool, I've been duped on payment for jobs, and there's that devastating feeling of simply growing apart from some people as lives change.

That's a lot for six months, and I won't bore into the details of each of those horrendous boulders.  Point is, I didn't want the responsibility of blogging. So I stopped. I'm grown. It's my blog. I can do that, right?

Right... Except....

Here I am. Grieving still at so many losses. None of them has gotten better. In fact, some hurt worse. But I'm blogging. What gives?

Here's the thing about grief. It sends you on a roller coaster. Without. Mercy. Some of the things you may experience:

Doing extremely questionable, and risky things to distract from the pain.
Messing around with people you have NO BUSINESS  dealing with.
Crying.
Drinking lots of wine because you're classy. Then a little bit of Vodka because you're young. Then Tequila because clearly your tolerance is higher than it should be. Then eating ridiculous amounts of sweets because... F-it... Feels good. Then swearing off alcohol the next day.
Crying.
Saying EXACTLY what's on your mind, consequences be damned, because life is TOO SHORT.
Cursing in odd and randomly timed outbursts.
Cutting ties with the waste-of-space people you no longer have time for because they are only dragging you down.
Throwing things away in your house/apartment/room, because suddenly you have the strongest urge to start everything over.
Dancing.
Quitting jobs or taking days off because you are no longer fulfilled because "see above".
Staring at old photographs and crying.
Writing.
Crying.
Drinking more wine.
Laughing riotously.
Making playlists and crying.
If you're me... Dancing into a frenzy... Then crying.
Texting, then deleting the text before you have the guts to send it.
Sending it anyway.
Only taking condolences via text because it hurts too much to physically talk about it.
Swimming for hours at a time. Crying salty chlorinated tears and singing songs of worship, because it's 9pm and no one else is in this hotel pool.
Writing.
Crying.
Dancing.
Crying.
Impromptu-ish road trips.
Writing on the road trip.
Writing.
Writing.
Dancing.
Evaluating who you are, and what you REALLY want, because you desperately want to make the most of your life but Big G (upstairs person) hasn't exactly made it clear yet, or else you can't see it because all this grief makes you feel like you're still in survival mode.
Dancing.
Crying.
Writing.
Dancing.
Writing.

Those are my two escapes. Words and rhythm. I can't exactly blog my dancing for you, but trust me, it's happening.
As for the writing... That's why I'm back here. I forgot that I first and foremost blog for me. People like me tend to have this "work is play" thing going where we turn our talents, loves, and escapes into our day jobs, so we can do it all the time. The downside to that is forgetting to do the "play" part. This blog is not just a place where others can feel like they are understood. It's also my mental palace- to play and take risks, and release.

I don't know what the REST of 2014 holds for me. Better be a dang break. I just don't know if I can take anything else. But I do know that it is time that I give myself back the gift of blogging. Grief has me up and down and sideways. Sometimes I'm feeling like I can make peace with what has happened, then before you know it, I'm in tears. I don't even like tears! And there just doesn't seem to be any gap time. Everything has just overlapped everything else.

I don't come here to be cool or  witty or popular. Any resemblance to the aforementioned attributes is purely coincidental. I'm just a pretty nerd with an opinion. I have no desire to paint some false picture of my life as ultra-perfect or together. I come here to share my life with you, that you may see some of yourself in me, and we may be humans together.

Anyway, I'm back snitches!!!

Love you.
Later.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Depression is a Sexy Vampire: A Portrait of Mental Illness.


02.11.14
12:17pm EST

I’ve been lying on my living room floor more or less non-stop for the past two days. I get hungry, I scrap food together. Mostly I don’t eat. Venturing out for groceries to put in my nearly empty pantry seems to be out of the question. No meditation has touched my mind, no yoga has stretched my body. Just me and the infectious consumption of online tv for two days. It’s not comfortable. When I get up, I can feel a very real achiness in my body. I couldn’t tell you why I’m avoiding my bed. Couldn’t tell you to save my life. I just know some dark decaying complacency has settled in. Dirty dishes. Laundry that need’s folding. Laundry that need’s washing. Unkempt disarray haunting me from most of the rooms in my little apartment. I’ve gotten up three times to address it, but when I look, all I feel is overwhelmed, mildly inadequate, and a bit guilty for the seeming indulgence. Then the pallet on my living room floor calls for me to “come back to bed.”
I have depression. Sometimes it feels like over-reaching sadness that keeps you glued to every form of guilt and confusion imaginable. It’s in my hormones. In my brain. Something chemical. Most people think depression is just about feeling "sad" when something bad happens. This wasn’t that. Not exactly. Not as painful, but just as pitiful. It was like my spirit couldn’t be bothered. I don’t feel sad, I feel absent. Drained. I feel like gloomy fog. Tired, but of what?
Perhaps of everything. I haven’t given in yet, but there’s this lurking feeling. This shark beneath murky waters. It screams at me in silent pantomime. Somehow, my life became a never-ending parade of deadlines and dates I haven’t done the best job of keeping up with. Friends I haven’t seen in years moving on with their lives. People dying. Resources being sucked dry, not just for me, but for the people I love, around me. I'm not sleeping well. So it feels a little like the sad depression you think of. But more like the monster that lives within depression, the luring troll at the bridge, waiting to suck me down into the bog of stagnation. It feels like the depression I’m old friends with. Not the wailing, despairing, fearful ghost people know about, but the seductive vampire who is offering me a reprieve from all that ails me, through the “gift” of slumber. It doesn’t matter that my finances are finally taking a turn for the better. Or that I might have someone who cares about me very deeply. It doesn’t matter that I finally am beginning to feel like I have a life in this hometown city that has felt strange since I came home. Or that I actually enjoy my work. None of it matters. It doesn't work like that. Its not situational. It doesn't need bad things to happen to get in. All vampires need is an invitation.
I think of going outside. I know fresh air helps, and I know I need daylight in my veins. But before I can contemplate the benefits of drinking from the sun, I am faced with the cold. Memories of grey clouds, limited visibility, and freezing cold temperatures in my car that doesn’t have proper heat. I have memories of driving to my cousin’s house the weekend before and praying the entire way, because I landed myself on the freeway and almost had to pull over, driving at a near-crawl because I couldn’t see through the windshield. Why in Hades did I decide to do that? Anyway, it was this imagery that haunted me. Yes I’m from a notoriously cold city, born and raised. It didn’t matter. Winter was evil.
So I laid on the floor some more. Phones rang and I couldn’t bring myself to answer them. Texts popped up and I looked at my phone like it was a selfish lover, thinking only of itself, nagging me with that damned blinking light!
I’m nearly off the floor now. Well, I’m actually sitting there writing this, but I can tell that something in me is nearly through this. I think the worst of it has passed. I hope so anyway. I only write this because I want people to understand that depression has so many faces. It doesn’t have to be the stuff of legend. It can creep in sneakily, seductively, luring it’s victim with a release bigger than any drug. Darker too. Sometimes depression happens in fits. Sometimes it’s gone in a day, other times in a week. Maybe a month until the next happy feeling. Some people have no idea what is happening to them.  Some, like me, know they have depression, and realize that the moment will pass, although by the time we realize we have slipped into it, we are already in Wonderland. That’s what this one was like. I just realized that my body was going to do what it wanted to do. That I could do my best to fight it, but that would more than likely only engage the monster. It likes when I fight back. Like quicksand, the more I struggle against it while in the midst of it, the more I sink. Fighting is best done beforehand to avoid it altogether. But when the conditions are so perfect, it can be on me quicker than I understand. I have learned to cope though. I was foolish enough to believe, after I started my yogi process, that this would never happen again. I got lax. I didn’t keep up the fight, like a night watchman falling asleep at his post. However, years of experience with this disease has taught me that if I can just focus on one thought, that I will be ok; “it WILL pass eventually.”
That’s the only thing that keeps me. That knowledge. Seven years since I discovered the name of my ever so vigilant personal monster-under-the-bed. Seven years that I have had to understand it, learn how to fight it, and learn how to survive when it fights back. In that time it has grown from a roaring lion to a tiny kitten. I pray it never again becomes the lion. The lion can kill you, be upon you before you’ve had time to notice the sunshine. Still, it definitely grows to a lynx a time or two. In those seven years, I learned that the worst part of not knowing its name is that I thought It was me. I thought I was a problem, as opposed to having a problem. Now that I just “have a problem,” I can work through it like every other problem. I’m good for that type of work.
Earlier this year, my schoolmates and I discovered that we had lost a classmate to suicide. And nobody knew, it seems. Prayers went up, hands stretched out across a nation as people consoled each other. And some of us came out of the closet, like an empowered youth at a Gay Pride parade, announcing that we had been in his shoes, and understood. Others of us waxed poetic about the need for a church life or medication, or both. I wonder if he had named his demon. Or if he'd been able to talk to anyone about it. I wonder if it would have changed anything. 
They say it takes up to seven years to become an expert at something. I guess that makes me an expert at depression. I've had it for a lover, and I know all it's dirty secrets. Maybe some would consider me failed because I still have depression, but they who would say that would miss the point entirely. Yes, I still have it, but I am not depressed all the time. I am an expert at surviving depression. I know how much work it takes to “step off the ledge.” People don’t consider that, because they don’t realize how much work it took to work up the nerves to step on the ledge in the first place; to work up the nerve to take your own life. There's nothing cowardly about it. It's the act of a hopeless person who can't see their way out. It’s a rolling snowball on a mountainside, becoming an avalanche. Then when you are finally rolling, to be asked to stop it? It takes a lot of work to stop. And a lot of strength. Sometimes it takes a failed attempt before you understand the gravity of what is happening to you. Believe me, I know....
Surviving this internal war is no easy measure. When people say “it’s all in your head,” don’t they understand what that means? It doesn’t mean it’s less real for that person. It means they have nowhere to escape to. Mental illness is the hardest struggle there is, I think.



So, I’m hopefully getting off the floor today. I say hopefully because I’m still here, and it’s not easy. It’s not just a matter of moving my legs. It is a matter of moving my mind. I offer no specific advice to anyone. Just a story. Here I am. I am living with depression. I don't look like a "depressed person." I enjoy my work, I have loved ones. I pray. I enjoy going to the movies, and Starbucks like everyone else. But if you really look, there's a glimmer in my aura. A fierceness and passion in my spirit one only gets from battle experience. And I use it to my advantage. I have to surround myself with positivity. I do things I love because living with things I hate doing is not an option. I value laughter and sunshine more than I ever have.  I am mostly enjoying my very full life, while occasionally having to excuse myself a moment for the sake of saving the Gotham city of my mind. In fact, by the time you read this, I will be back to my happy life, having fought another fight, and lived another day. I am no longer ashamed, because I just got tired of being so. And I stop beating myself up for it, after these spells. It took seven years to get this way, to get this strong.  

One way or another, I’m getting off the floor. 

~Z


Monday, February 17, 2014

Jordan Davis: Acceptable Blackness, And Unborn Sons


There’s a gnawing hole in my heart. It’s been enlarging for years. It sits very carefully in the place where “mothering” should be. Many of you, by know, know I have no intention to bear children. It’s not a quiet fact. It affects my life in some marvelous and melancholy ways. It frees up all my future plans, and limits my dating life. But it has always been a part of my story. Until recently. Recently my decision became the story of a young boy named Jordan Davis. A soul laid to rest in a graveyard of brothers. Deaths at the hand of the “if only” statement. “If only he had turned his music down.” “If only he would have announced himself.” These young men, all brothers in arms against the idea that there is a line they must fall into. Their crime? Daring to be human, and respected as humans. Their ghosts haunt me. Loud whispers of “if only” plague my ears every time I look at the boys in my family. They are an army of comrades, lost boys whose only crime was not bowing down. 



Yesterday I sat in the kitchen of a family friend and watched her teenage son, my surrogate “brother” walk in from a date to see Porgy and Bess with his young girlfriend. The idea in it’s entirety was beautiful. Here was this young black couple, full of energy and light, off to partake in a production that bears much weight in Black Theater History. Beautiful.

As I sat in that kitchen, I noticed that he was finally bulking up the way he wanted. He’s an athlete. I asked him what he was doing that worked. “What you told me,” he replied. Great. MY little brother was finally bulking up, becoming stronger, becoming more muscular, because of advice I gave him. He was becoming a strong black boy.

“If only.”

It whispered menacingly in my ear. Did he hear it too? Was this silent brotherhood recruiting my baby? In a second I saw in him the same potential power that led so many others to their graves. I stared at him and wondered if there was anything I could say. Anything I could do to save him from the “if only’s” in the world threatening to take him down. There was nothing. He has a father and a mother who no doubt made sure he knew this world was not safe for black boys. But more importantly, it’s not safe for powerful black boys. And he was surely becoming more and more powerful by the minute. Anything I could offer would sound akin to asking him to peel off his blackness. Or cast aside his burgeoning manhood. I could not ask of him to do either.

It doesn’t matter that he is an athlete with good grades who comes from a two-parent home, and has college plans. It doesn’t matter that he wears his pants where they were cut to be worn, or that he favors bow ties and clean haircuts. He is no more deserving of life than his tatted, weed-smoking, pants-sagging brethren, judged by the mass majority as thugs and no-goods, not because they truly are, but because white privileged America MUST demonize them, or else face the harsh reality that they have been wrong in their treatment of the "negro" for all these centuries. Straight-laced or rebellious. These Black boys all deserve to live their own lives. They all wake up with dreams of being happy, well-fed, and loved for who they are. And my brother's clean, educated demeanor will not save him from the one instance of “if only.” It will not save him or any of my brothers, nephews, or cousins from the one time that someone decides that they are “stepping out of line,” and not playing the good little Nigger.

Maybe I should unload a clip into the next white woman that touches my hair without asking first, physically entering my personal space, as if inspecting my goodness and quality on some invisible auction block, so that she may deem me acceptable for the plantation of her mind. But then I would be subject to “if only.”

So me, my sisters, my brethren; we must do our best to be “acceptable,” and show appreciation for being “allowed” our basic human dignities. Maybe it’s our fault for asking permission in the first place.
My friends P and L are having a baby. And even though I sincerely love my blackness, I kinda worry about this baby looking like it’s black father. L is a strong, and beautiful white woman married to a wonderful and supportive black man. Times like these make me wonder if that will be enough to prepare her for raising a black child in an America that does not love black children. See, black mothers already know what kind of world they were born into. It’s like amniotic fluid. The distilled hint of being unwanted is there with us in the womb. We become painfully aware, at an early age, that this America is built to be better for some, and worse for “others.” And we have always been the “other.” I pray that L’s optimism at a happy future is tinged with real knowledge of the dangers that await her unborn love. This child who comes from outspoken, knowledgeable parents is even more susceptible to “If only” if it is a boy.

Teenagers are very rarely who their parents expect them to be. They often rebel. Now or later. I find myself, at 26, rebelling against much of who I was encouraged to be, not in rage or disobedience, but in pure unadulterated exploration of who I want to be. I didn’t rebel as a teenager. Jordan Davis, in his car, has every right to curse and yell. He has every right to listen to “thug music” as it was dubbed. Dunn was not an officer of the law, maintaining general peace. He was a person with a preference. A preference for white-washed, “clean” negro integration. Anything that affected his sensibilities needed to go. Jordan didn’t threaten his well-being. He threatened his sense of superiority. With his rebellious adolescent response, he threatened this man’s ideals of a perfect, picket-fence America, where diversity meant his neighbors are allowed to differ, but only in skin tone.
Any other difference ought to be stamped out, or kept hidden, or in check.

And there lies my issue. My desire to be child-free was NEVER about any love lost for children. In fact, I have made my career thus far about helping young people. At first my reasons were just about me. My goals and desires. My freedom. Now, I can’t help but add Jordan Davis to my list of reasons. What would I do with a man-child with my grandmother’s deep reddish brown skin? Or even my pale brown skin? 
“Ok son, go out into the world and be a man, but not too much. Be your own man, but make sure he fits the status-quo. Stand up straight but only when it doesn’t offend the sensibilities of white racists. In fact, reject anything that feels unique or powerful in you, because you may very well be gunned down for it.”
 That’s not a speech I am prepared to give. Mary of Bethlehem gave birth to a child she knew had to save his people. Even she wasn’t ready to see him die for it. Neither am I. There is too much of MY mother in me. Essentially, that means I might kill someone, about killing my child. Today I have another reason for being child free. I simply cannot bring myself to bring a black child into this world. Neither a boy or a girl. Neither is safe. Neither is embraced. Neither is truly afforded the true authority of human dignity in this country. Both would be born with balled up fists, having to fight to defend their right to be alive and be black, as soon as they are exposed to the world outside their mother’s arms.

I can’t do it. I’d rather focus on the young comrades who are already here. They need me. Or maybe I need them. You see, I am a volcano. Every day I wonder and question at what keeps me from stampeding my anger through the streets. Its my young people. They keep me from rampaging this constant gnawing anger in my heart. They keep me focused. They keep me submerged in love. Someone has to love them. Someone has to be here to clean them up and hold them when they come in from battle, then send them back out renewed. Someone has to say to them "your blackness needs no apology, but the world is pretty screwed up. Don't ever doubt your majesty. But you were born into a warrior race. Look to each other for the love you seek."


~Z


Monday, February 10, 2014

Imagination Creeps You Out.

Today I fell in love with a song. It's an old song from my childhood called "Pure Imagination." Gene Wilder sings it in his role as Willy Wonka.  It's at the point where the children, touring the Wonka Factory, encounter the completely edible garden known as "The Chocolate Room."  My favorite versions of the song are at the bottom of this post.



Now, I have always loved Willy Wonka. It's right up there with Peter Pan, and Narnia. Whole worlds right under our noses. Places where anything can and will happen, tucked ever so delicately away in seemingly everyday ordinary places. But today I listened to an instrumental version of this song, and it simply touched me. Many people call the movie an "acid trip." And I'd be hard-pressed to disagree, although my acid experience is nil. Mr. Wonka pushed his guests to the point of breakdowns, by simply exposing them to his unadulterated mind, his unfettered imagination. He gave them what they wanted, and they decided they didn't want it anymore. That's the real catch. Pure Imagination requires a level of belief that most human beings simply don't operate from. It's deeper than Creativity. Creativity helps us look at things that already exist in a different way; reimagine them, reshape them, improve them, fix them. Imagination is the god that Creativity bows down to. Pure Imagination creates from nothing. It fills empty rooms with strange and marvelous universes. It fashions whole beings out of inanimate objects. It is a life force. Children know this. They are masters at imagination, because when you are young, you just don't care enough about other people's views of you. And you don't know enough about what society thinks is right or wrong. Imagination is everything for children. But for the simple, fettered individual, it creeps them the hell out.

 Why the creep factor? Well, there are lot's of reasons. Real unfettered Imagination, once shared, almost always involves exposing people to change, and to the unknown. The unrealized. The unactualized. Societally, we have been notoriously uncomfortable with that- with facing things we know nothing about. We are obsessed with categorizing, explaining, naming, controlling, and identifying. It is the self-same nature that causes us to glorify "structured" and "safe" religion, but lock people up for seeing "angels." Especially when we ourselves cannot see them. Also, pure imagination is neither good nor bad. Which means it doesn't stop at cute and cuddly. To truly live in imagination means including the exploration of the dark, the dangerous, the uncomfortable. It's pulling back the curtain that we hide so comfortably behind. It's crawling under the bed with the monsters. It's asking to see Dracula's fangs. It's finding solace in the straightjacket. It's losing control.

 We are not a society that truly thrives on losing control. I believe in my heart that this lack of belief is to our detriment. It's why "artists" are always stereotyped as drug abusers. I cannot tell you how many people assume I smoke weed, or take X, and look a little miffed when I speak so ill of either. The career of the artist requires imagination, and in large quantities. If we simply fostered a culture that embraced losing control, and learned how to use that as a power, instead of viewing it as a weakness, perhaps so many of my human brethren wouldn't need drugs to escape. They could escape into their own mind. But even this escape creeps people out.

 I love fairies. Angels. Mythology. Mermaids. Unicorns. Never Never Lands and Portals to "Other" Places (like Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes).  I also like Vampires. Demons. Werewolves, Witches, and Halloween. Halloween is in fact my favorite holiday, and my religiously conservative friends simply don't understand. One of my favorite shows involves a species of creatures living amongst humans in secret. I remember my mom once saying "don't watch that stuff. It gets into your spirit." I laughed, thinking to myself that is exactly how I feel watching the evening news. Thing is, it's all the same to me. It's all fanciful and imaginative. It doesn't GET into my spirit. It COMES from my spirit. But the masses don't feel comfortable with that. How can something so seemingly "creepy" and "dark" come from something good? So I must be bad, or dark. Well not me exactly. Im sure my mom doesn't think I am creepy. Not totally. ;-)

 It's difficult to walk around with whole universes inside of you, itching to get out. Every time I open my mouth, I must first assess if the audience I'm speaking to can handle the depth of unknown I am prepared to present. This is because I am not yet brave enough to simply cast away all concern for others. I salute those who can and do express themselves for the sake of freedom, but many of them still had to start out with some limitation and "appropriation", in order to catch the attention of the masses. Being this way is a gift and a curse. It's a gift because my mind is the most colorful getaway I can imagine. It's a gift for reasons I can never really explain to you. It's a curse because I live in society. People want my imagination cutely packaged for their enjoyment. They don't want me to "go too far." Or else it becomes perversion, obsession, or something psycho-socially errant. But the irony is that pure imagination is far from perversion. It is a powerful force.
This is my favorite stanza in the song. It suggests that the world itself is a thing of paradise and beauty. The stuff of dreams; that in order to truly capture the magic of imagination, all we must bring to the table is our own mind, and truly experience the wonders of the world. It's back to that "pull back the curtain" idea. It suggests that the magic we seek in the world is already here, and all we must do is be open to the possibility. The possibility of what?        Well... Of everything.
Imagination will always be a legend amongst men. Da Vinci. Disney. The earliest priests or "founders" of every religion. Einstein. Picasso. Imagination will make you an outcast. It will make you unpopular. But it just might make you famous. And eventually revered. Not so much for the imagination itself, but for what you are able to do with it that people appreciate. To all my Imaginarians... Fear not. You are not alone. The masses may never embrace your talent. except as it pleases and benefits them. But never doubt that it is indeed a talent. It is the stuff of THEE Creator; the Capital Letter Creator. Never reject your imagination. Let it fill you with life. It is freedom! It is mania! Keep thinking. Keep imagining. Keep Creating.

 Creep 'Em Out.

 ~Z

  “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."  ~Albert Einstein

“Everything you can imagine is real.”  ~Pablo Picasso

“Fairy tales had been her first experience of the magical universe, and more than once she had wondered why people ended up distancing themselves from that world, knowing the immense joy that childhood had brought to their lives.” ~Paulo Coelho

“Children see magic because they look for it.” ~Christopher Moore (Author)

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself." ~William Blake

These two versions of "Pure Imagination" are my favorite modern versions.

Fiona Apple for Chipotle

Maroon 5