Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"She's a B*tch!" (Warning! Explicit Language!)

I have a colorful vocabulary. Always have. But, the more I mature, I am making a conscious effort to watch the words that I speak. Words have power. The Bible says that the power of life and death are in the tongue. So I'm doing my best to keep my potty mouth in check. Especially during this season
when many of us are praying and fasting as we approach the holy days. But I'm not perfect. Never have been, never will be. And  a few recent scenarios have me embracing one taboo word in particular. The word is "bitch".

Truth be told, I've always had an affinity for the word. I grew up in a household where curse words were as common as words like "the", "it", and "you". My parents used curse words as adjectives and nouns.

"Put the f*%$ing bag down!"

"Go ask your father what to do with that $#*t!"

"Mother#@&*%$! never learn!"

These were not unusual phrases during my upbringing, and depending on the inflection of the speaker's voice they may not have even been uttered angrily. Needless to say, I seldom cringe when I encounter people who use curse words in their everyday lingo. Still, I have learned that such language doesn't always have a place in society.

On an episode of "Iyanla Fix My Life", I watched as she admonished a group of women, insisting that they would not use the word "bitch" to address each other in her presence.

 "NOT ON MY WATCH!" she bellowed!

I felt convicted. "Bitch" was a word I have often used as a term of endearment for the women I love! I've been known to walk into a room full of my girlfriends and say, "Heyyyy, bitches!" Not in a negative way. But out of love and affection. So I listened closely as Iyanla gave her reasons for not allowing the word in her presence. She reminded the women that our mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors were often referred to as "bitches", "wenches", "niggers", and the like by their employers and neighbors, and that they were powerless to do anything about it. She insisted that these women - and women in general - not repeat that pathology. I took note. Clearly, what I had seen as a term of affection was quite the opposite.

So, I started to check myself. Then I ran into someone I know and the whole situation reared its head again.

I had taken the express bus home from Manhattan one evening, and was walking down the block heading towards my house. I ran into a guy I know. He's someone I know fairly well. But, we have never been particularly close. One of those "hi" and "bye" people we all have in our lives. I had my headphones on listening to A Tribe Called Quest.

 (Their latest album "We Got It From Here"  is FIRE, by the way.)

I was in my zone. Anyone who knows me is aware that when I walk down the street with my headphones in, I'm in my imagination ALL THE WAY! The sidewalk becomes my runway. In my head, there are paparazzi everywhere and they want a show. I strut when I'm in that zone. That evening was no exception.

As I got closer to this guy I know fairly well, I lowered the volume in my headphones somewhat - just enough to hear over the music. I said, "hi", and gave a wave as I walked past him. Then all hell broke loose!

As I passed him, I could hear a commotion so loud that it drowned out the music playing directly into my ears via my headphones. I slowed down and turned around to see that this guy was exhibiting quite demonstrative body language. I stopped, pulled my earbuds out of my ears, and asked, "What happened?"

"I'm saying!" (He was clearly PISSED and his body language displayed that.) "You didn't know who I was or...something!" He was being really demonstrative and...extra!

I frowned. I said his name. "XXXXXXX, right?" Maybe I was bugging and thought he was someone else.

He was still puffed up. "Yeah!"

Now I was really confused.  "Okay," I said. "I said hi to you."

"Yeah! 'Hi!' and kept walking like you don't know who I am. Like I didn't grow up with your kids!"

Now, I could sense that he was angry because he felt that my greeting hadn't been enough. "Hi" wasn't suitable all by itself. I stood speechless for a moment.  I looked at the guy he was standing with, hoping that he would look as confused as I was so that I would know that I wasn't crazy. The guy looked like he wanted to stay out of it.

"But, XXXXXXX," I said. "I spoke to you. You're acting like I walked by without speaking at all. What's the matter? You want a hug?"

He shrugged, still clearly miffed. "Yeah! I'm saying..."

I hugged him. Then I walked away. As I did, I thought back on all of the years I've known him. To be fair, he did grow up in the same general areas as my kids. They never played together. Never went to each other's houses or anything like that. I thought about the last time I saw him. It hadn't been that long ago. And my "hi" had sufficed then. I wondered what was different now.  In fact, as I thought about it, in all the years that I had known him, "hi" and "bye" had always been the extent of our relationship. I could not recall one conversation between us that ever went beyond that. I was perplexed as I entered my house. My sons were home. I told them what happened. Their reactions mirrored my own shock. My oldest son said this.

"Ma, why did you hug that clown? You have to learn to be a BITCH!"

My eyes flew wide. There was that word again. Seeing my reaction, my son clarified his statement.

"You're too nice. People are gonna start testing you with stuff like that. You're all the way up! They see that. You gotta learn to shut them down when they act like that. You should have looked at that fool, and said, "N*gga, I said hi! Now bye!"

I let that marinate, as I went upstairs and continued to think about it.  Am I supposed to stop in the middle of my travels and hug every person that ever grew up with one of my kids. I have three children, and each one has countless friends. Is a grand overture required every time I encounter one of them? I pushed it to the back of my mind and carried on.

 Then I went to brunch this past weekend with a dear friend. She has been incredibly successful and has achieved quite a lot for herself. She has also guided her son into a remarkable career of his own.
We discussed the art of saying "no" to people who feel entitled to you once you become successful. I told her that I have a fear of people thinking I'm arrogant or that I forgot where I came from. Her response made me nearly spit out my Bellini.

"I don't give a f*&#!" she said. "I used to. But then I stopped caring. People are going to think what they want. You can bend over backwards and they'll still have their opinions. So now I don't care. I say no, I mean no, and that's that."

I nodded. That was the attitude my son had been alluding to. Being a "bitch" not just for the sake of being mean. But instead adopting an attitude of not caring whether or not the person I'm dealing with likes my stance. I felt liberated. Here was a woman who had long been on a road that I am just beginning to travel. And she was giving me permission to pull out my inner bitch when necessary.


a female dog:
The bitch won first place in the sporting dogs category.
No. Not THAT kind.

  1. a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person,especially a woman.

That's definitely not the description I'm going for. Finally, I went to the urban dictionary.

A woman that doesn't give a flying f*ck anymore 

BAM! There it is! Sorry, Iyanla!

(Cue Missy Elliot song! )

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Farewell but not Forgotten

A strange thing happens as we begin to change.

Recently, I made the decision to sever a friendship that had existed in my life for more than twenty years. I met someone at a time when I was really vulnerable and despondent. That person was an angel in disguise for me, and helped me to develop confidence in myself. The person I knew then was sweet, gentle, caring, and kind. Over time, though, things have changed. The person I know now is cynical, bitter, and undoubtedly different. In fact, both of us have evolved from who we were back then. I find that neither of us truly enjoys each other's company anymore. Instead, we've just been sort of going through the motions in order to maintain the familiarity of the relationship. Doing just enough to maintain contact. But, neither of us are fulfilled.

Last night, while watching the latest episode of "This is Us", I saw this situation illustrated perfectly. Jack told his wife that he loved her. She retorted, "What do you love about me? About the me that I am RIGHT NOW. Not the me that I was when we first met."  He struggled to answer the question. Because, truthfully, he had been saying "I love you" more out of habit than out of the truth in those words.

The shift can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe we enjoyed a person's vulnerability but are not as in love with their confidence. Or maybe the relationship saw one person as provider and one as recipient. When those tables get turned, it can be a game changer. But, whatever the reason, once the relationship changes we owe it to ourselves to face it. Often times we say "I love you". But without any action behind it, the words are empty. Loving someone requires effort and movement. You have to demonstrate it, not just mouth the words. Anything else is just lip service.

The problem with walking away from relationships where love no longer exists - well, the problem for me, at least - is the concern over being perceived as unappreciative. As if by ending an empty relationship it negates all the years when love did exist. What if I am perceived as being ungrateful or disloyal? What will people say? But, these types of questions can force us to remain emotional hostages! They make us slaves to other people's thoughts and opinions. We should never remain in relationships solely out of obligation to some standard of loyalty. Life is too short for that.

Often, as we rise in our lives, we're plagued by guilt over the people and things we're forced to leave behind.

As I've said before, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or for a lifetime. And it ain't always what we think it is. Some who we thought were "lifers" are actually seasonal. I'm learning to go with the flow, and to trust that God's plan is more perfect than my own. I'm learning to view people's actions far more than their words. People say a whole lot. But, I watch what they do. And when they don't match up, I'm accepting the truth in that - even when it hurts.

More importantly, as I grow, mature, and evolve, I'm making room for more meaningful relationships with real love.  And in order to make room for new things, we have to get rid of the old sometimes. But, saying farewell doesn't mean forgetting the past.

Recently, at a friend's party I ran into an old friend from back in the day. We grew up together in the projects - a place that is very gritty and void of much glitz or glamour. As we chatted together - now as adults with children, grandchildren, and a whole bunch of life experience under our belts - I caught him frowning at me. Turns out he was offended by my use of the phrase "clutching my pearls". I had used it to illustrate my surprise at something. But, he seemed utterly disgusted. "Clutching your pearls?" he repeated, mockingly. "Ain't you from the projects?"

Of course I am. That's where I grew up, and it will forever be woven into the fabric of who I am. But, does that mean that I am forever confined to the vernacular and mannerisms of the projects? Does growing up mean selling out? Is it a crime to move forward, to mature and add new layers to ourselves? I smiled and assured him that I am certainly from the projects. But that's not the totality of who I am. I'm also a wordsmith, a lover of colorful phrases, and a woman who is constantly growing. After the shock wore off, I realized that there will always be people who are offended by your evolution. People who want to hold you to who you were when they met you. People who can't watch you move forward without reminding you where you started. Especially if where you started was at the bottom. And that's cool. The bottom is a great place to start. The problem comes when you are content to stay there.

Saying farewell - whether it be to an old friend or to an old neighborhood - doesn't mean forgetting where you came from. We can walk away and still carry the history. People and things can be gone but not forgotten. The lessons learned, the laughter shared, and the memories made remain. Even after the love has gone.

And that, to me, is better than just going through the motions.