Black Resilience: The Acceptable, Emotional Wall in the Black Community

This article explicitly discusses Christianity. I’m not religious nor do I strongly believe in any sort singular higher power- It is important that you note my obvious bias because of this. I won’t go into the specifics of my beliefs here, so as to stay on topic, but am happy to elaborate in separate discussions.

When is a person really, truly healthy? I am a physically fit, twenty-something with an abnormal fondness of dark green vegetables and exercising, but in spite of all this, I still don’t feel healthy. My blood pressure is far higher than it should be and I experience anxiety so strong that sometimes it makes me physically sick. As I delve deeper into the world that is my blackness, I’m finding truths connected to my stress I can never unlearn.

The tragic death of Brown Girls creator, Karyn Washington has raised the long suppressed and painful discussion of black stress and how we have learned to cope, or in many ways avoid, the roots of our stress and anxiety. It’s time we discuss new and better ways of coping with stress, because right now, black people, stress is killing us- literally.

The Root writer, Lottie L. Joiner, revealed a 2010 study with the devastating fact that black people, mainly black women, suffer from higher blood pressure, more strokes, and heart disease, all due to the higher levels of stress experienced; a lot of which stem from simply being black.

“US blacks are more likely to experience stressful situations, such as material hardship, interpersonal discrimination, structural discrimination in housing and employment, and multiple care giving roles than whites,” wrote Dr. Michelle Gourdine, author of Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness.

Historically, the church has been the place to relieve stress and find community for black people. We have found power through religion, from the empowering civil rights moment of the 1960s, led by peace leader and Christian pastor, Martin Luther King Jr. to Christianity as a catalyst of strength for black slaves during a time where no other hope could be found.

Christianity has become so closely intertwined with blackness, that even the fast-growing community of non religious black people cannot help but be influenced by it. For many black people, our church is our therapy, God is our mantra and pray is our meditation, but with the building proof that stress impacts black people more than other ethnic groups, perhaps religion alone is no longer enough.

It is important to note my upbringing is far from typical of not just black culture, but American culture as a whole. In the middle of the day in our homeschooling courses, my mother would have my siblings and me sit in a circle and focus on our breaths in what I later learned was a form of meditation. We attended a ‘new thought’ church that was so progressive, it was actually called ‘a spiritual center.’ For the first eight years of my life, I understood meditation and spiritualism through humanity as normal.

Then, as a preteen my family left our ‘spiritual center’ to attend a more traditional church. I remember asking my father why we left a place in which I’d grown to love and find such comfort;

“You need to get the black experience,” he expressed; a response I will never forget.

At our new church we were given sermons by a self-appointed Apostle who preached the gospel of prosperity and fear of our powerful Lord and Savior. The apostle told us to ‘do good’ for our God, to be strong in the presence of  evil and to not let  the devil bring us down.

In some ways, it was comforting to know that no matter what, I was protected by God. But on the other hand, in spite of the strength in community that was apparent at my new church, there was an overbearing sense of loneliness in accepting God as my only protector from the countless obstacles I would undoubtedly face. Not that all black people interpret Christian teachings as I did, but as an impressionable ten year old, this was my honest evaluation.

My background is unique in that I was given two separate philosophies in the most influential times of my upbringing. I have the unique perspective of a non affiliated, spiritual mind and later- a deeply religious, Christian mind; and I’m privileged to be able to analyze the implications of such a shift.

I learned from my time as a devout Christian that in particular, black Christians are taught to hold our own. We are taught to fight like hell so that we don’t go to hell, and God will reward us with prosperity; a goal for many black people, getting it’s appeal from the fact that we are an over represented group in the working class or under the poverty line.

Due to the major influence Christianity has had on the Black American community, I believe that this is true even for non-religious black people, that we either turn to God, or go within to solve our mental issues; and encroaching our issues on anyone else is a sign of weakness and instability. Often times, the furthest we move towards seeking help from our community is asking for pray, usually a request so vague as asking to be blessed in your ‘time of struggle.’

Rarely do we actually speak about our issue.

I understand that discussing religion is frequently a lost cause. People have their beliefs that are usually static, and so it goes. I am not here to challenge Christianity.  In fact, I believe that no path, spiritual or religious is better or worse a path than the other- so long as that path does not harm yourself or others ( as, unfortunately, many religions do).

I am writing to propose a discussion that involves finding new ways of building mental peace and healthy mentalities for black people, that may go beyond our modern understanding of  black culture so intertwined with conservative forms of Christianity: in forms of , mantras, counseling, discussing our lives with trusted peers,meditation, mantras, yoga, ect.

 

The real issue now is that we, black people,  have a detrimental communal understanding of what it means to be in control of your mind. To be really in control of ones mind is to understand that, just like the rest of our bodies, our brain needs constant maintenance. A mind in control is always present, not absent (absent in this case, meaning on default). Striving for mental health takes the sort of deliberate thinking that very few people recognize is even necessary. That is why we, as black Americans, understand the community that meditates to be a very small, elite group. I mean really, how often do you stop to think to breath?  Russell Simmons has released a book recently advocating meditation for people from all walks of life. While a pioneer effort for a black man to advocate for meditation, I fear his millionaire status and lavish lifestyle may overshadow his efforts in persuading the black community that such a practice makes sense for the average person.

I used to believe that a strong mind meant I could handle anything on my own. I thought that never needing to talk to anyone about my problems meant I was resilient, a warrior of my circumstances. Holding in my emotions gave me a sense of pride. Black culture suggests a hard shell equals a sound mind, when really, a strong disposition may just be a coping mechanism for pain or stress.

So many in my community shared this belief to the point that it felt normal, expected even, to stay silent, even when I felt I might fall a part. I recognize that there is great privilege in being able to talk out your problems with a professional, but for those of us that cannot afford counseling, we must acknowledge that expressing our feelings to our peers is not a sign of weakness. Taking time out of our day to collect our thoughts does not mean we are retreating.

For black people, walls can kill, and so we have no choice but to break them down. An no, more silence is not the answer.

 

Fortunately, this difficult discussion of black stress is showing up more in our media than ever before. This piece was written simply as an additional perspective to a fresh forum that already exists, and I really hope it continues.

Bi Matters: Female Bisexuality Misconceptions in the Queer Community

accepting all sexuality via VeralynMedia

NOTE: This essay is of the personal opinion of JasSoandSo. Because the author is a female-bodied queer attracted to cis women, this article will focus on female bisexuality.

When I initially met my best friend, she identified as specifically queer and avoided the dreaded “bisexual”  term like a cat avoids water. It wasn’t until recently that she confidently accepts bisexuality as a part of her identity. Why, you ask? Because bi-haters. The worst part is, I didn’t realize, for the longest time,  my own prejudice against bisexuality was no better than the bi-haters I’d actively accused.

In mainstream consciousness, the queer community is seen as a close-knit bunch. However, like any other social group, we have our own inequality issues. With the growing trans* visibility in our media,  we are (very) slowly growing in support and inclusion of transgender people within our community. But sadly, with all the progression we’ve seen with trans* issues, I find we (the queer community) are equally as stagnant, or even weakening, in the understanding of bisexual people.Seeing that the bisexuality spectrum represents the majority of the  LGBT community, it’s time we respect that fact.

MYTH- Bi people are just gay people that haven’t come out yet.

Today many of the people that once identified as bisexual now associate more with “queer,”  due to the growing understanding and redefining of gender.  Unfortunately, mainstream society hasn’t caught up with queer culture, and as of now we’re still known as LGBT and sometimes Q. Furthermore, the term “bisexuality” holds the weight of dozens of types of attraction that are far more queer, or genderqueer, than the term implies. The B in LGBT could mean anything from a person that is equally attracted, romantically and sexually, to both extremes of the gender spectrum (cis men or cis women), to a person that enjoys sex with both men and women, but is only romantically attracted to men.

MYTH- Bisexuals are indecisive or confused.

According to Buzzfeed’s quiz, ” How Gay are You,” I am “very gay.” Why thank you Buzzfeed, for confirming that for me. But in all seriousness, there is some validity in the phrase “very gay;” just refer to the Kinsey scale of sexual attraction.  I’m a Kinsey scale 6, meaning I have no attraction to the “opposite sex” ( in terms of the gender binary). I’ve found over my time, as an out Kinsey 6, that I’ve felt I had some sort of right to condemn those on different parts of the sexuality spectrum than myself. I’ve been, dare I say, elitist, about something as natural and innate as sexuality.

Full Disclosure:

When I learned the news that actress, Michelle Rodriguez, and stunning model, Cara Delevingne,  were dating, the most ridiculous thought came into my mind; That relationship’s not going to last- they’re probably just experimenting.  Umm…WHAT?

First of all, who am I to put a marker on the demise of anyone’s relationship? Second of all, their sexuality is not up for questioning by anyone but themselves. It sounds crazy, but there is a such thing called gay privilege.  I find myself deciding which bisexuality is okay and which is “unacceptable”, as if I have any say in the matter. My privilege as a gay person is that my defined sexuality leaves little to no room for question from possible naysayers. Bisexuality, on the other hand, is by definition, far more fluid. The fluid nature of bisexuality makes people feel the right to question anyone that identifies as such, as if their attractions are less valid, simply because it is not as black and white.

I believe other “very gay” people like myself, when met with bisexuality, find it difficult to know where on the bisexuality spectrum our romantic interest stands, in order to protect ourselves from getting too emotionally involved, in case that person is not interested or capable of romantic attraction to us.

  • Are they “experimenting?”
  • Am I their guinea pig?
  • Are they “confused”, or do they really know that they want me?

All thoughts that have crossed my mind when met with the possibility of dating a bisexual woman #notproudofthis.  From that discrimination, I, and many others like me, have grown unreasonably prejudice against all bisexuality.  Now my critique is coming from very personal experiences with self- identified bisexual women. I do not think i’m speaking for all lesbians or female bodied queers, but I do believe many can relate to this issue.

The issue with cherry picking which bisexuality is “okay” is that we should not be discriminating at all. You see, these discriminatory thoughts encompassed me, as if the question as to whether someone is actually interested doesn’t come up regardless of that person’s sexuality. Any relationship begins with insecurity of newness and the unknown. Just because I’ve had a few bad relationships with bisexual women doesn’t mean I should discount all people that identify as bisexual.

MYTH: Bisexual women only do it to turn straight guys on. 

A lot of how we understand sexuality is fueled through porn. Bisexual women in porn are almost always portrayed as hyper feminine women that hook up with other women, specifically for a male audience. Jezebel wrote an article denying the widely agreed upon belief that all women are, at least,  “a little bi.” But consider this article, because this is exactly the angle porn and most other media portrayals of female bisexuality reinforce; bisexual women are best compatible with straight, cis men. The queer community faces the negative repercussions of constantly seeing this trope perpetuated, because whether consciously or not, we may learn to understand female bisexuality as hetero-centric, a.k.a- not queer. Though a very dangerous perception sexuality, I fear that’s kind of what’s happened.

Undoubtedly, popular culture understands female bisexuality as a form of a cis-male arouser. I know many self-identified “straight” women that have made out with other women “for the fun of it,” while in front of cis male comrades. Consider Katy Perry’s song ” I Kissed a Girl,” in which Katy explains that while she just found out she loves kissing girls, she also hopes her boyfriend doesn’t mind. Then there are the countless female celebrities, often “straight-identified,” that make out with each other for the wildly exaggerated publicity that follows such a stunt.

Bisexual-haters be like…

Glee, Judging You via PhotoBucket

Glee, Judging You via PhotoBucket

 

My prejudice is driven by fear. I fear bisexuality because of the complexity of the term; the idiosyncrasies that cannot be assumed simply based on someone identifying as “bi.”   Fear is always the culprit behind prejudice, and my discrimination against bisexuality is no exception. So what if some bisexuality is a Kinsey scale 2 and others are 4? Is it not best we make each romantic decision on an individual basis rather than rely on faulty stereotypes to explain an entire group? Bisexuality is no less valid than gay, queer,  pansexual or otherwise. To make overarching assumptions of bisexuality is to devalue the person that identifies as such, and that’s just not cool.

Love is love is love… Love you, bi family.  - Jaz

UPDATED- March 16th, 2014- Jaz added note before article and also a title change.

Served ‘Lookin’ Ass’: Nicki Minaj serves Feminism to Rap Culture

Disclaimer: JasSoandSo is in no way a fan of Nicki Minaj.

Nicki Minaj, ‘Lookin Ass…’, via WhatNickiWears Tumblr

Nicki Minaj’s new single, “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” from her new album The Pink Print is total rapey, waste of time; or so Jezebel’s recent article argues. But is it really, though? As mentioned by a few music critics,  Nicki Minaj’s new song” Looking Ass Nigga,” is simply the NC-17 version of TLC’s ” No Scrub.” However, “Looking Ass Nigga,”does more to challenge the normalization of the danger in the male gaze then it’s feminist predecessor.

Let us start with “nigga.” A lot of you cringe a the sight of that word. Others of you will never, ever be allowed to say this word out loud, and please tell me you understand why. Regardless of it’s disgusting past, or the complete disregard for it’s power by using it in everyday conversation, “nigga” is a staple in regards to hip hop and rap language, and you can find it in just about any major rap song.  While I personally believe that no one, not even black people, should use the “n word”, it is possible that Nicki Minaj’s use of the “N” word was necessary in making her point. Stay with me. Would “Looking Ass Nigga” be as powerful a message were it called ” Looking Ass Boy,” or “Looking Ass Man,” or even “Looking Ass Dude?” Would there be such a fuss about the song or publicity regarding the song had it been named differently? I mentioned in an earlier piece that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. There is a place for softer progressive feminism and a place for radical responses to misogyny and oppression through patriarchy. For Minaj, this was a play for radical.

In case you need to be reminded of the sorts of misogynist lyrics you can find in rap songs today,  EliteDaily.com posted just a few of the lovely words to help you recall;

“My little sister’s birthday / She’ll remember me / For a gift I had ten of my boys take her virginity.”-  Amityville by Bizzare verse, Eminem

“Bitches ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the d*ck.” “Bitches Aint Shit- Snoop Dogg’s verse to Dr. Dre song

“Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / Til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!” – Eminem

Nicki Minaj’s style, language and number of insults in her new single parallel male-led rap songs in its aggression, so much so, it’s like listening to a literal response to misogynist rap music. For those of you familiar with black culture, you’ll recognize the phrase “lookin ass…” as the end of a “check,” which is slang for an insult or to “put someone in their place.” You can find someone using an insult like this in response to someone insulting them first, but please note, it is almost always in response to an insult that you can find this phrase used. Not only does it hold the title, but Minaj uses the phrase, “lookin ass…” throughout her entire song (ex. “diggin in ya booty den smell it” lookin ass nigga”… and so on). By doing so, she asserts herself as the winner of an argument, as the champion that gets the last word. It’s a position of power, talking down to the aggressor and making them seem weak in the process. The  desert imagery and mainly just Minaj, herself, shown on screen,  definitely reinforces the fact that Minaj got the last word on this one.

Branden Soderberg of Spin Magazine wrote a poignant article in support of Minaj’s new single in which he identified the rap diva’s use of two machine guns was to “murder the male gaze.” One could even argue that Minaj’s use of the image of Malcolm X holding a gun was actually Minaj’s attempt in appropriating herself as the Malcolm X of feminism.Though if that was her goal, she most certainly did not succeed in making that come across.

The problem with Minaj’s use of Malcolm X’s profound photo is that she attempted to appropriate an image clearly illustrating the oppressive and all-too-recent history of African Americans as an illustration of black masculinity as oppressive to the female body and femininity. By doing so, she completely ignores if not denies all that Malcolm X did for the black community, which is in itself, is ignorant and disrespectful. It’s a shame that Minaj’s ignorance is, so far, overpowering the strong message within her music video and lyrics themselves.

Regardless, only a certain kind of feminist can create a song so aggressive and deeply rooted in modern rap culture while still speaking pro-feminism and actually be heard. Thanks to Nicki Minaj’s major respect from fellow, male rap artist, along with her pop star appeal, she’s able to use the same language of those she’s accusing, to fight. This allows for a whole new audience to experience feminism in a way they may never have imagined. The power in the imagery of a solo strong black woman, dressed exactly how she pleases ( in a black, crocheted, see-through, mini-dress), holding machine guns, paired with lyrics that call out a number of wack traits- from men that think they can have sex with a woman just because they’ve got a little money (…”Even if that nigga flew me and all my bitches to Dubai…”) to men that lack culture (“Art on the wall, Basqui, fuck who see…”)- Ok, the last one is a stretch, but the point still stands.  Miley Cyrus can’t call out men  in the same fashion with the same respect, Lady Gaga can’t either; not even Macklemore- the-Great can do that. Please, note the sarcasm.

Of course there are many issues with “Lookin Ass Nigga,” from the normalization of guns, to the perpetual use of the N word (which is an issue within all of rap culture), but this piece is specifically to play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Feminism isn’t always wrapped in a cutesy little bow, and it’s important that we recognize when this is the case. 

F This: The Regressive Perception Of Modern Feminism

Feminist dirty word, via SoulsandSandwhiches wordpress

Feminism has adopted a negative connotation almost as obscene as four letter words your teacher wouldn’t let you say in middle school. Only instead of a class room, the term feminism is often silenced in our media, even by progressives that advocate for gender equity.  What’s so powerful about Americans’ perception of feminism today is that many people who dislike the term don’t even really know what it stands for.

On a recent episode of Barnard College‘s rightfully titled “Dare to Use the F Word,”  Barnard president and recent author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Debora Spar,  shared her thoughts on what she believes to be the shift in young feminist perspectives in 2014. When prompted on whether Spar felt young women want to be feminist, she responded;

 It’s a complicated question, without an easy answer.  Because young women, of course, don’t speak with a single voice or share a common attitude.  Some are quick to embrace the term feminist.  Others despise it. And many – sadly, for the mothers and grandmothers who opened doors for them – no longer really have a sense of what the word implies.

In a poignant piece by Sam Killerman,  the progressive mind behind “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” broke down some of the main reasons feminism is viewed so negatively today, including the fact that,  yes, there are men-hating feminist out there that give feminist a bad name. Case in point- I will reluctantly list a few quotes made popular by self-identified feminists:

  • “To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.”  -– Valerie Solanas
  • “The more famous and powerful I get the more power I have to hurt men.” — Sharon Stone
  • “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French
  • “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”  – Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor

Ok, you get it. Some feminist hate men. Some women in general hate men, and vice versa. But these women in no way represent the majority of feminists in modern day. I definitely do not support male-hate. Though it must be recognized that feminist-driven male-hate is a disgusting symptom of hundreds of years of patriarchal oppression. The same way society has adopted the “angry black man/woman” stereotype, stemming from black liberation after hundreds of years of slavery and equally dehumanizing Jim Crow laws, feminism has taken on an unsettling ‘mad woman’ stereotype . When regarding revolution from oppression, anger seems to come with the territory.   Liberation isn’t always peaceful; sometimes you have fight.

Unfortunately, this bad rap on feminism has taken a toll on on the the fight for gender equality. Jezebel wrote an article not too long ago, highlighting the many strong women in our media, and while definitely expressing empowerment for women, steer clear of the dirty “f word.”

Bjork said identifying as feminist would “isolate” her, claiming her mother was a feminist and isolated herself from men, and “therefore society” as well. Lady Gaga denied the label, stating she ” loves and celebrates men and American male culture,”- again equating feminism ( a position of equity regardless of gender) to hating men.

In spite of their strong female personas in the media, Sandra Day O’Connor, to Kelly Clarkson and many more progressive-leaning celebrities, all avoided the term “feminist,” recognizing it as too harsh a label to identify with. I find these women to be a very accurate representation of the young women and progressive young men they influence on a daily basis.

The term feminist has been through a lot, and it’s got the scars to show for it. In American history alone, feminism has led to the right for women to vote, a movement for better respected in the work place ( mainly a reserved right for white women a the time),  sexual liberation and better sex protection, and in much more recent history,  inclusion of women of color and the queer community in advocating for social education and equality for all.

Even with all the things feminism has done, we still need it today. Body shaming, , in our internet-driven culture is still damaging mentally and physically mainly among young women and girls,and people are still adamantly asking women if they really can have it all, a question never asked of men. The trans* community is still arguably the most discriminated group in the U.S., with the young, transgender homeless epidemic, transgender discrimination in the work place and transgender suicide rates rising due to discrimination. And those are only some of the thing. Feminism is in no way obsolete. Right now, there are a few great feminist fighting the good fight, but as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk, later featured in Beyonce’s “flawless,” feminism isn’t an elitist stance; it’s a stance for all.

So how do we even begin to make feminism seem less harsh for everyone?

In a 2011 Pew poll, “progressive” was deemed the most positively viewed  political stance. According to ThinkProgress, progressives believe in promoting equality and freedom against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability. They believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to the common good for all human beings, and that we all must cooperate to achieve a greater good. Modern progressives, whether they realize or not, are fighting for the same rights feminists have been for hundreds of years. Regrettably, the majority of Americans, though overwhelmingly progressive, disregard the many similarities of their beliefs to feminism, and in turn, leave the few, strong but tired feminist to continue the fight on their own. Instead of looking like a few passionate advocates, it’s time feminism looked more like progressivism, in that anyone can identify with the term without feeling “isolated,” or exclusionary. It’s time we recognize that feminism simply strives for gender-based justice the same way progressive strives for justice overall, and you cannot think progressively without also being a feminist.

According to Killerman, “the goal of feminism is to create a society in which individuals’ genders don’t restrict them from an equitable shot at success and happiness.” If you believe this, you are a feminist. So, let’s take it from there.

Everybody’s Genius: Genius as a Separate Entity

 “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

Einstein via Tumblr

According to the Webster dictionary, a genius is…

: a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable

: a person who is very good at doing something

: great natural ability : remarkable talent or intelligence

So in other words, a genius is just about any significantly intelligent human. Talk about vague. Keep in mind that the term “intelligence,” used twice in Webster’s definition,  is debatable  in it’s complexity, as well.

Kanye West infamously called himself a creative genius on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But not without a huge backlash from critics and viewers everywhere, offended by his “arrogance.”

Why do we dislike when creative minds like Kanye call themselves geniuses? If Kanye believes that he is remarkably talented at what he does, isn’t he by definition a “genius,” and therefore simply describing a fact about himself by using the word? Or is it that a term like genius is to be reserved as a compliment only? Since the definition of “genius” is so vague, has it become a term society uses to recognize individuals whose accomplishments rise above their peers? It is possible that the only difference between a highly intelligent person and a genius is an individuals desire to share their knowledge with the world? If that is the case, it’s possible that some level of community recognition is necessary for any person to be allowed to be called genius.

In other words,  if a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it make a sound? Is the late scientist, Heinrich Friedrich Weber, Einstein’s academic adviser (who was arguably one of Einsteins great influences) as much of a genius as Einstein, though very few people are aware he ever existed? We as human beings often answer yes to this question, incapable of recognizing our absence is an equation that in no way involves us. We cannot separate our consciousness from our perception. And therefore, there will always (always) be bias.

So to have a word in the English language so reliant on our perception of the world, as a collective and as individuals, is to ignore the complexity of human beings. If our consciousness as human beings is synthetic and simply based on perception, wouldn’t that make a term like “genius” utterly undefinable and therefore a fundamentally flawed term in the English language? And so when it comes to words like “genius,” we are definitely incapable of agreeing completely on who is a genius and who is not.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly successful ” Eat, Pray, Love,” gave a TED talk in which she argued that we should do away the term “genius” all together, in terms of using the word to describe an individual. Gilbert expressed the ongoing understanding in society, often universally, that creative minds are expected to struggle. The pressure of artistry that led Vincent Can Gogh to cut his own ear off is the same pressure that creatives of all genres face, on some level or another. The pressure to make art so great that the world recognizes it’s greatness. But is not all art from the heart of it’s creator worthy of being deemed relevant in our culture? Is not all art, as individual work as well as in relation to other creative work, what builds culture in the first place? What makes us so beautifully human is that we’re able to create art. To single out one individual as a genius because we greatly enjoyed some or all of their work is to miss the point of human creativity. Many writers, singers, musicians ect. will tell you that some of their best work just “came to them.” Gilbert mentioned this idea of working like a mule at the creative work until magically “struck” by genius. As if genius is separate from the person. It seems that human intelligence and creativity is different from genius. When there is high human intelligence, there is a mule at work, when there is human creativity there is a desire to share the artistically intelligent idea with the world, and at the rare change that there is genius in the work, there is an overpowering desire by those experiencing the work to share it with others.

Genius is the community’s response to works that go above and beyond. That is why no one cared for Kanye calling himself a genius. Genius is not an individual, and it’s not about ego. “Genius” is in itself it’s own entity.  To reserve genius for the work and not the creator is to understand that any human with the ambition, creativity and intelligence necessary, is capable of creating genius work.  I am definitely on team Gilbert to redefine our concept of genius and I hope that one day we can appreciate great creativity not by idolizing it’s maker, but sharing it’s brilliance.

What do you think it means to be a genius, mainly a creative genius? Am I missing the point? Overthinking it? Let me know your thoughts below. Please join the discussion!

But I’m a Feminist: On Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

This essay is featured on SheWired.comGirls Renewed

Millennials, hipsters, young, white feminist rejoice! Lena Dunham’s wildly successful series, “Girls,” is returning for it’s third season so soon you can almost smell the twenty-something angst rolling off your screen. You know you’re excited.

When “Girls” premiered on HBO, Metacritic.com named it the highest rated fictional series premier of 2012. Then “Girls” continued it’s awesomeness by winning an Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series, to it’s notable Golden Globe wins for Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical), as well as Dunham’s Globe for Best Actress in a TV series. No doubt, since it’s start, “Girls” has been a force to be reckoned with. And no wonder just about every one of my friends tunes in to watch “Girls,” without fail.

But it’s not all awesome possum for “Girls.”  After loving fans and loyal critics got over the brilliantly crafted writing style, fresh perspective, and edgy subject matter, they looked to the lack of minority representation.  Seriously, the social lens of “Girls” is so small, you rarely even see minorities in the background (be that Asian, Black, Hispanic, gay. lesbian, queer, or anything other than heterosexual,white, cis men and women). Sidenote; I’ll give “Girls” the one representation of a gay man, though extremely flat and stereotypical, does technically count. But I digress; On NPR, Dunham woefully responded to the criticism, saying,

“I take that criticism very seriously… As much as I can say [writing four white main characters] was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.”

Dunham’s NPR interview was in May of 2012, in the middle of the first season. So that must mean her response was the weak sauce premiere of the second season, in which Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino made a quick cameo as her black boyfriend. That’s right, Glover played Lena’s boyfriend who broke up with her by the end of the episode, and was never spoke of again for the rest of the season. To that, I say fail.

But why were people so pissed? I mean, “Sex and the City,” a show “Girls” is often compared to, had very few people of color. Well, they’re pissed because the creator of “Girls” is a self-proclaimed feminist who is supposed to be all for progressive thinking and equality. Because rather we should or not, we see “Girls” as a show representing a huge chunk of Generation Y. It is supposed to be a narrative all us Millennials can relate to, or so the media feels. And that is why Dunham has been accused of such passive artistry. Allow me to explain. A passive artist is a one-trick pony, a creative thinker that knows what of theirs sells, and sticks to those things and those things only. Lena Dunham, thus far, has been a passive artist, and while there is nothing wrong with having a niche career, it’s not alright for Dunham. This is because no one sees Lena Dunham as a passive artist. She has been called the voice of our generation, a strong female writer that represents young women and other Millennials. But to say she represents our generation is to assume a white, privileged female, hipster narrative on every Generation Y’er around- because that is, in fact, the narrative Dunham has stuck to in the whole of her television and film career; see “Tiny Furniture” here. The issue is, during the creation of “Girls,” Dunham never even realized the impact she had on media with her show, “Girls.” Here’s what she said about critics calling her “the voice of our generation,” when prompted on her character, Hannah, being high on opium;

“I don’t think I ever imagined that it would haunt me the way it is,” Dunham said in a recent interview. “The character was on opium! I think the ‘voice of a generation’ concept was lost with beatnik literature. Because of globalization and increasing populations, my generation kind of consists of so many different voices that need so many different kinds of attention. But if my writing can show what it’s like to be young, I’m happy.”

Lena Dunham was never trying to be a voice of a generation. Her goal was not to speak for us all, but to share her own, limited, yet interesting,  perspective. We, the media, and critics bestoed a responsibility on Dunham she didn’t even know she carried. I understand that. But as a strong, feminist voice in our media, I believe it is a responsibility Ms.Dunham must take on. I  hate to add to the pressure, but have you noticed the progressive shift in our society over the past few years? In 2008, our first Black president was nominated into office, gay marriage is now legal in 18 states, and the gender disparity equal pay have gone from 77% on the dollar to 93%. Get with the times, Dunham. Be a part of that progression. Use your voice for positive change, not just personal gain.

Not to say that one little tv show can change the world, but one little tv show can change how we see the world. Take “Star Trek,” for instance. On the surface, ” Star Trek” may seem like some nerdy. inter-gallactic, super-show with no real impact on society. But the show’s inclusion of a number of strong female leads, and characters of color, coupled with it’s undeniable success and popularity as a series, helped to shift how society saw minorities in media. It changed how we cast, and opened doors for future minorities to not have to be so trapped in limited, stereotypical roles.

So much of what we see in the media are mindless fillers for overworked people that really just want let their brains rest by not having to think about what the Kardashians will do next or which Beverly Hills house wife will fight whom. It’s not often we come across a television show that is not just extremely popular, but also intelligent. I’m not asking for Dunham to completely change her style or even change the show all that much. I simply ask that when creating one of her brilliant episodes, to recognize her voice as a powerful reflection of modern feminism, and make of that what she will.

 Here’s what I hope to see in “Girls,” season three;

 Rather than being a white-washed world, unaware of real issues dealt with by people less privileged, the show would recognize it’s privilege and add a tone of self awareness, similar to it’s often compared, tv relative, “Louie.”Whether “Girls” likes it or not, it is influencing our society with it’s representations, and a mis/lack of representation of minorities in relation to whiteness is troublesome to our culture. Visibility is a powerful thing. Just think, for an old, white-man, executive of some big entertainment company to turn on the tv and see a bunch of people of color on a show that rivals his own, he will notice. In modern culture, tv shows have the power to make real differences in the move to social change. And with the news that a the first black, female main character will be joining the cast,( Danielle Brooks from “Orange is the New Black”!) things are already looking up.

  As you can probably tell, I’ve been known to get my hate on when it comes “Girls,” but I stand by the belief that a well-written show, no matter it’s subject matter, is worth watching. Intelligent shows boost discussion, and promote critical thinking, and I’m all for that. So you go, Ms.Dunham. I’ll definitely be tuning in on January 11th along with millions of others, to watch Hannah and her friends act a fool. 

Cats and Queers Cats and Queers! : Cats and Queer Culture

Dogs are a man’s best friend, or so they say. But while men are throwing frisbees to their best buds in some park field, you’ll find a queer ( insert gay/lesbian stereotype here ) with their best friend,  the odd yet, loveable house cat.

Psychology Today enacted a study recently on the differences between self identified “cat people,” versus “dog people,” and they came up with some pretty stark polarities.

One thing I found interesting about this was that dog people tended not to differ much from those who identified as both a dog and a cat person and from those who were neither. Cat people on the other tended to differ noticeably from all the other groups, suggesting that cat people stand out from the crowd more.

Queer folks have a history of “standing out,” from drag queens to the world-wide, annual Pride Parade, where you’ll find millions of queers, queer’ing it up down a street near you. Because of the othering, or alienation of queer people throughout history, queer culture has rebelled against discrimination by adopting a practice of overt visibility, meaning to stand out against the norm on purpose. That is why today, many people assume they can spot a gay person in crowd. However, it is not their sexuality you’re seeing, but their expression of  “otherness,”  which in this case is their queer-mindedness.

Since the domestication of cats thousands of year ago, our furry, feline friends have been linked to strange or mystical counterparts. Due to their own mysterious nature, cats were associated with equally mysterious symbolism such as being the faces for many gods in ancient Egyptian religions to being considered the partners in crime for so-called witches of the witch trial era.Meanwhile, dogs have gone from good friends to best friends for just about everyone. They are known to be quite social, lovable and friendly. Similarly, they are featured far more often with “normal” humans as their pals than any cats have. Just check out this list of the top 30 (yes, 30!) dog movies.  Pairing their history along with a usual independent disposition, cats have developed quite a name for themselves.  Let’s just say dogs are definitely the better-liked of household pets…

The Difference Between Dogs And Cats, via Buzzfeed

Cats have been squared-off into the realm of other, along with weirdos, oddballs, and of course queers. It is only natural that they now be linked to queer people as our companions.

It must be understood that queer does not necessarily mean gay, as a self identified straight person can be queer-minded. It’s important that you know exactly what I mean when I say “queer,” so here’s a definition of queer in terms of our society according to Michigan International Spectrum -

Queer: Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing lesbian, questioning people, gay men, bisexuals, non-labeling people, transgender folks, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual. “Queer” originated as a derogatory word. Currently, it is being reclaimed by some people and used as a statement of empowerment. Some people identify as “queer” to distance themselves from the rigid categorization of “straight” and “gay”. Some transgender, lesbian, gay, questioning, non-labeling, and bisexual people, however, reject the use of this term due to its connotations of deviance and its tendency to gloss over and sometimes deny the differences between these groups.

It’s safe to say that queer culture has adopted the cat, and dare I say- made cat’s our mascot. We queers are all about otherness, and even those of us that don’t like cats, recognize their special place in our community. Here are some of the common reasons cats are associated with queer people, along with my commentary on each assumption:

  •  “Pet your (actual) kitty the wrong way and you’ll get clawed.  Same goes for your partner’s (figurative) cat.”-  via Comediva. Yes, lesbians are known to compare their kitty to other “kitties.” The phrase, “Women are like cats, men are like dogs,” relates very closely to this assumption. Following this belief- Cats are like women, lesbians like women, so lesbians like cats. – syllogism of the day.
  • If you’re a man with a cat, you’re super gay. – FALSE. However, many gay men do own cats. And straight men that have cats are most definitely challenging the gender binary, by having a pet that is considered more feminine.
  • All gay people prefer cats to dogs. Lower-case-false. No need to stereotype the gay community. While many gay people own cats, there are also many gay, dog lovers out there. There are also gay people that despise cats. Yes, they do exist.

So sure, dogs can stay a man’s best friend.  For or all intense and purposes though,cat’s are a queer’s best friend.

This essay is in response to a question I get quite often- “Why do gay people like cats so much? …Feel free to ask me equally bizarre questions below or in my messages, or on my Facebook page and I just might respond to you with an entire article!

Please enjoy these cat things below, courtesy of your resident queerdo, Jas.

Thirteen Things You Didn’t Know About Cats

Ellen Degeneres’ Cat Week Wish Comes True!

Jas in no way supports perpetuating stereotypes. This essay is meant to parallel the many similarities between how cats are understood in society and how they relate to queer culture. Jas is also hoping to make cats the official mascot for the queer community… =) 

Just Hire Me Already: Underemployment for Recent College Graduates

You are a recent graduate from an upstanding university and you’ve  got the student loans to prove it. Now what? You’re a barista at Starbucks. Nothing against the popular coffee chain; they’ve got some great lattes. However, in situation like this, the question raises itself as to whether the frequency of college grads in jobs like these represent a fault in our society? Or is it simply the way our society works now; college grads having to take jobs at Starbucks as they wait to take on the career they planned for after graduation? Whatever the reason this sort of job placement in this day and age, it’s leading to the frequent use of the term “underemployed,” a word that I’m not yet convinced society considers to be a phenomenon for us loan-ridden graduates.

 Investopedia defines underemployment as “those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time. This is different from unemployment in that the individual is working but isn’t working at their full capability.”

There is a reason of highlighting the lovely Starbucks. Ashton Kutcher, or Chris Ashton Kutcher as he pointed out,  in his acceptance speech for the Teen Choice Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, argued the idea that underemployment shouldn’t actually be a thing. When asked about his speech in a later interview, he clarified his opinion, doubling down with the belief that no job should be beneath anyone, citing Starbucks jobs, specifically.

The “That ’70s Show” alum also derided his friends who refused to take jobs at Starbucks or anything they deemed to be “below them. I think that the only thing that could be below you is to not have a job,” he said, with the audience erupting in cheers.

Not to place Ashton Kutcher in any state of authority on the matter of “underemployment,” but let us think for a second about his statement. Is a job a job, in spite of how well you think it fits you standards? The fact is, while 80 percent of prospective college students say they go to college to better their job,  only half of all college graduates are in jobs today that require a college degree. 

US News recently posted a “top college majors” list in which all of the majors they listed were based in at least one of the STEM industries; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The majors included more complex fields from Robotics to Petroleum Engineering to the obvious fields like Public Health. This may come as no surprise to most as we live in a technologically driven society. And while yes, it is quite important to have a strong science and mathematical foundation, liberal arts and creative degrees should not be discounted. In a recent article by Forbes, contributor Vivek Ranadivé argued the importance of actively practicing creativity. 

The people who will succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those that can think creatively and generate IDEAS that will propel economic growth.

He emphasized that while understanding technology beyond a proficient level is necessary, it means nothing without strong right brain skills to compliment it. An Adecco survey revealed that many tech savvy, recent graduates of today lack the “soft skills” necessary to work in teams and function in corporate environments. These soft skills, including interpersonal communication, time management, and adaptability are all skills that get more focus in humanities as well as more creative majors.

survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

So, unless the major is job specific, like Petroleum Engineering or Robotics,  is not necessarily a student’s major that determines their job. With this knowledge it’s clear that companies are really just looking for well-rounded applicants that have the critical thinking skills to handle what tasks that may come their way, which actually seems to be the problem. The Times  emphasized the issue of finding well-rounded grads has led to a job shortage problem. 

The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills.

There’s a lot to be said about our faulty economy for Generation Y graduates.For example, with many greedy employers aware of the state of our economy, grads are facing the consequences by being paid far less than they should be in entry level positions.

“Employers are taking college grads over high-school grads, but paying them high-school grad wages,” Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.  said.

But because of the shift in our economy students can’t just learn trades, but they must take advantage of their higher education to build all of their skills. It may be time for that 80% of college students that admitted they go to college to get better jobs to shift their focus to not just looking good on paper, but also learning and growing as much as they possibly can. Why not aim to heighten all your skills so that reluctant employers can’t help but stop and take notice?

 “College is what you make of it,” so the saying goes. It is arguably the best time in a young person’s life to better yourself- so why not take advantage of that? It’s tough to go into college without the nagging thought of your unknown future sneaking up on you and making you want to jump on that internship that would totally soup up your resume. definitely didn’t take advantage of my college years as much as I could. I skimmed through a lot of classes and remember a fraction of what I “learned,” as I’m sure many recent grads can attest to. But from my research I’m convinced to really win against this struggling economy, it takes more than just going through the motions.

I feel for you, recent-grad-Starbucks-barista. It’s hard out there. And you’re probably thinking your degree is useless.With so many grads earning minimum wages, the supposed benefit of attending college are so difficult to appreciate. However, truly, it still is.It just takes a little longer these days to reap the benefits. It is still the case that college grads earn more than 80 percent more than none college graduates over one life time. The beginning struggle to find a job is consistent with the state of our economy, but does not mean college is not worth it long term. Agreed, the state of our society when it comes to wretched student loans is ridiculous, but the long term benefits of scientifically proven better health to  upward mobility economically are all reasons to continue to give it a good ole’ college try.

 Check out this video and join the debate! Is underemployment really a thing? Or is a job-a job-a job? 

Diana Nyad: Dreamer, Champion and Feminist Superstar

Besides an irregular check-in on my hometown basketball team, the I am not one to keep up with sports. I watch the olympics for the gymnast and tennis for the aggression through oddly sexual shouts but have never been much of a sports fanatic. As a self identified feminist though, I support strong female athletes and am often disappointed by the lack of attention they get from well, everyone. To be quite frank, I am a part of that lack of support. For years I have found most fanaticism towards sport to be rather silly and unnecessary. It just made no sense to me that someone can have a horrible day at work because the night before, their favorite football team lost a game. How does a football game affect our society as a whole?

Well, I’m no longer an anti-sport feminist. That’s right folks, I’ve been swayed by a fascinating warrior of a woman, Diana Nyad. Nyad makes sport and athleticism relevant to non-sports fans because she uses her athletic abilities to parallel what it means to be the best human you can be. Here, let me explain.

Monday, September 2, 2013 Diana Nyad,64,  completed a 53-hour swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, making her the first person ever, in history, to make it without a protective cage. This was no overnight achievement. Not even years. No, this was a dream thirty five years in the makings.

Nyad first attempted the epic 110 mile swim at age 28, in the year 1978. Since 1978, she attempted the Cuba swim four more times, each time failing to complete the course due to various set backs from heart-stoping jellyfish stings to disastrous and unexpected weather or illness.In spite of failing four times in a row and being doubted from just about every media outlet of any importance, Nyad just knew she’d make it some day. Somehow, she “found a way.”

This time around Nyad came prepared with a skilled crew equipped with scientists to document her trip, her best friend and swim coach, jellyfish experts and even a team of kayakers to lead the way. She wore a suit that was well-tested to protect against jellyfish stings, a challenge she struggled with immensely in former attempts.She swam exactly one hundred and ten hours without sleep and only short breaks every 90 minutes to eat.And then she made it. Diana Nyad made it, at 64 years old, showing (among other things) that age really can be just a number.

Diana Nyad feat was so unbelievably amazing that many critiques quite literally did not believe it. After being challenged by a number of fellow long distance swimmers that couldn’t quite imagine anything close to her swim coming to fruition, Nyad defended all skepticism in a conference phone call with the Marathon Swimmers Forum, in which her crew’s navigator explained how the escapade was possible, in all it’s scientific detail.

Nyad sat with Oprah in a two-hour special where she spoke of her trails, her tribulations, and best of all, how she overcame and conquered. In the inspirational interview, Nyad spoke of her desire since childhood to be a star athlete. She spoke of her recognition, even at age ten, that life is short. That we come on this earth for a little time, so why not use that time to make a positive impact in whatever way that you can? She spoke of her resilience from past sexual abuse by her former swim coach and her new outlook on life after her mother passed. She spoke of way she feels so strong now in her mature age of 64, and touched on a number of topics except for the obvious; Nyad neither spoke directly about her gender being a factor, nor her sexual orientation as a drive for making an impact as a champion athlete. Instead, she had a very adamant and universal focus; determination, with the empowering mantra “ Find a way.”

”All of us suffer heartaches and difficulties in our lives. If you say to yourself, ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through, ” Nyad told Oprah.

Diana Nyad is an inspiration for not just women, or people “over-the-hill”; she’s an inspiration for anyone who has ever has a dream, anytime, ever. “Find a way.” The fact that she is a woman and also a queer woman is only icing on the feminist cake. No one cares or even remembers it took her 35 years, and all that really matter now is that she made it. Without ever mentioning the word feminist, she oozes feminism to the core by simply being.

Just one month after her successful, record-breaking swim, Nyad took the plunge again, this time into a pool set-up in busy Herald Square in Manhattan, New York. But this time, Nyad was coming from a completely different angle. Her Herald Square pool swim ran 48-hours straight specifically to raise money and awareness for all those affected by last year’s devastating Superstorm Sandy.In pure Nyad fashion, Diana helped raise a total $103,001 to go to Sandy victims as she made her way out of the pool, having swam every last drop of the 48 hours. So in other words, Nyad continued to be an awesome human being.

Diana Nyad had no doubt that one day she would make it from Cuba to Florida, and somehow after 35 years, she did just as she planned; she found a way. She reminded us why sports are so important in our culture.Resilience, power, strength, hope, persistence, teamwork, humanism through sports advocacy. Simple human characteristics anyone can strive to achieve. Rather than an elaborate speech after her successful swim that sunny September day, Nyad just made three powerful points

  “I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Of course this advice is not specific to sports, but every good athlete in all of history follows these three simple rules. Athleticism done right is simply a reflection of what it means to be a good human being, and Nyad is all that. So really, shouldn’t we all aspire to have an athletic state of mind, whether we like sports or not? Diana Nyad, the champion, sure makes me think so.

Blue Charm by Jas Joyner

      We’re barely moved in. Yet, my Barbie of a mother’s already decorated a sizable corner in our house to show off her gaudy pageant winnings from back in the day. She once told me her favorite award was a dark blue ribbon that read Most Poised in golden cursive stitching.

She’d say with a gratified grin,

“Even without a crown, royalty must have poise. Poise is the most important virtue  of any important person, you know.”

    Flash forward to now, as my mom scurries around like a little squirrel. Poise. Please.

“Get the boxes in the study first, Rainn! Bring them up to your room, immediately!”

      Mom pushes a big desk towards the hallway with all her might and I hear her squeal in despair. She could obviously use some help. I’m sitting on an uncomfortable step, doodling in the notepad she gave me for cursive practice as if I were writing something of importance. I’d help out but I can’t stand, my legs won’t let me; Possibly because I didn’t want them to. Ok, so I didn’t want them to. The stairs were hard wood and shiny like their second function was a convenient mirror for the ever- vain. I see why my parents picked this house.

     It’s nothing like the old house, and I’m not sure if I like it yet. She’s calling again, like a screeching alarm on a school day. What’s the point? I thought. Just because my bags are unpacked doesn’t magically make this place my home. I set down my notepad, full of doodles and four letter words. I’m 15 and a girl but I have this thing for vulgarity, in spite of that fact.   I’ve been told 15 year old girls should refrain from this sort of behavior. However, I pride myself in surprising my teachers with loud, spastic bleeps, Tourrets -esque if you will. My mom used to hate leaving her in-house work space to bail me out of the principal’s office.

She writes. My dad reads. For a living, I mean. I think that’s the only reason my mom got published, even though she swears her book was “worth every sparkling review.” It’s ironic how much positive reception she gets for writing about raising the perfect child.

I think they secretly wanted me to move from my old school. I had made such a name for myself; I don’t think they could bare it. Heaven forbid their flawless reputation be on the line. It’s a day’s drive to my old home. I guess I shouldn’t call it home anymore. I hate my dad for getting promoted.

I had a best friend. Dagan. Ok, only friend. He taught me everything I know about cursing and sneaking live rats into certain punk’s lockers. My parents hate Dagan. Or I should say hated, since they probably won’t see him for a while. I think that’s secretly a reason for our move, too.

     My new school reeked of plastic charm and good will. Uniformed robots would smirk and murmur as they passed me down the hall to the lunch room, with their neat little brown bags full of organic, jicama tossed-salads packed by their perfect littlerobot parents. I’d come home every day with my mom and she’d ask,

“Have a good day at school?”

I’d always give her some smartass remark like,

“Oh, mother, you know every day is a good day when you’re given the privilege to learn!”

She’d get annoyed with me then and stop talking. Sometimes she’d gather up the brass to critique my attire or my hair.

“Rainn, honey if only you would wear those dresses I bought you. They’re in the catalog! Just like those ridiculous slacks you chose to throw on instead. I’m sure the girls at school would be far more receptive to you.”

      She goes on but I tune out by then. I’d stare out the unblemished window of my mom’s vintage Beemer into an abyss of chic boutiques and five star restaurants; the kind you need reservations months in advance to get in .Mom loved those.

     I’m standing now, on those hard steps, contemplating my next move like my life depends on it. Mom still shouts as if I hadn’t heard her the first thirty times. I always wished for siblings. Not because I want automatic friends for life (not that I can’t use that). No, I want siblings so they can help carry the load of my parents.  How do they manage? My parents, I mean. All of the time and dedication it takes for them to put on such a show every day. It seems impossible, if you don’t have a backstage pass, like me.

I see all of those faulty ropes and curtains separating them from reality, and I wasn’t fooled. Honestly, I didn’t get how other people didn’t see it. I mean they weren’t’ the best actors in town, that’s for damn sure. But somehow, some way, people did fall for it. And I was stuck, by default, playing their perfect little princess. That was my role, even if I didn’t want it. And trust me, I didn’t want it.

Sometimes they’d even try to fool me, like I was some idiot sitting in for the day in place of their daughter. They’d do this thing where they shared what could be a perfectly normal, spousal love-peck on the lips. It would be that, if of course they actually loved each other. But instead they looked like what I’d imagine the adult form of my robot classmates would look like if they had a mission to save their planet and the only way they could is by touching together on the lips in an odd, yet simulated-romance kind of way. Why did they feel the need to perform for me? Once, I caught my mom fishing for a compliment from dad.

She asked, “ Oh, I feel old honey, I think I need botox. Should I make an appointment?”

    He didn’t say what he should have. He told her to get the botox. Ouch. If anything I think my mom wishes she was still that pageant girl. So she could at least present some sort of beauty to the world, even if she didn’t feel it. I think that’s when their relationship started dying. She tries so hard to be like her trophies, it’s ridiculous. Botox  day is when I acquired this X-ray vision on fakeness I’m so glad to have now. I go out of my way to be the opposite of how one would expect the only daughter of Harold and Blair Swenton to behave. You could call it a rebellion. I call it survival.

       I went down the steps, slowly but surely. I spotted those auburn curls as my mom marched grumpily to the front of the stairwell and plopped a box twice her size at her feet. She just missed them. I think to myself how funny it would be if she did.

“Rainn, this is unacceptable! I’m tired of you mopping around like the world is against you. You sit around like some miserable homeless child. You are far to privileged to be so ungrateful! Now get down her and gather these boxes with me!”

   I never understood what she meant by that. You sit around like some homeless child. She acted like just because she and dad had some cash, I should be floating around like some graceful Disney princess that just found out her father is secretly the king of  Happyville. I’m supposed to be happy now? Really?

I say, “I think I’d rather be homeless than living in this lie of a family!”

     My mom’s really pissed now; like she truly values our mother, daughter relationship; or the lack thereof. I laugh in her face, but regret it immediately.  A laugh, not in an amused way, but in a sarcastic, mocking sort of fashion that makes parents want to slap their children. Only, parents usually don’t go that far. You know, wanting to but not actually doing it. But at this point, I’m in perfect slapping distance, and she smacks me one good. It should hurt. I feel nothing.

     I don’t even want to hit her back. She doesn’t deserve my energy. In a weird way I feel like she didn’t mean to do it. I think she’s mad, but not at me. She’s mad because I’m right. At least I want to think that. I walk away. She shouts back to me but all I hear is       “Wawwawawwa.” like from Charlie Brown, except worse. Dad’s home. Mom runs to him like she’s the child. I see them from where I stand, in a corner full of tiaras, like I’m giving myself a time out.

      I hear her talking about me. Like she was the teacher’s favorite little tattle tale. I don’t care what she said. I don’t care what he said. I don’t care. He calls me. No use hiding anymore, I think. He nags and nags and calls himself punishing me.

“No TV, no computer games, no art class, this week, or next week, or the week after that!”

    He goes on and on through a list of things he thinks interest me. I wish I could say he’s wrong, but he not. I’ll miss those things for sure. Way to make your kid hate you more. I don’t even tell him about Mom. It won’t make a difference anyway. They’re a team, and I’m the outsider. I don’t want to play their game and they punished me for it.

   I wonder if Mom’s right. That I should be happy, because I go to one of the best private schools in the country, and I live in a house that’s ever ready for a Better Homes photo shoot, and my parent’s wealth and prestige automatically make me a shoe-in for the best prep SAT courses in town. Not to mention in spite of my defiance I’ll maintain all As just to piss off the teachers that hate me. This would lead me into a fine, prestigious university where I’ll double major in something like Classical Civilizations and Anthropology. My fake parents would be so fake proud of me. I’d be considered an accomplished young woman. My successful parents could brag about their little girl.

“She’s gonna’ be a success, just like her old man.” He’d say with a boisterous laugh to his country club buddies.

“I always knew she’d grow out of that awkward phase!” She would say with a tint of blue charm her fellow, wealthy housewives so admired.

   That would be my initiation onto their team. I’d be blue like the ribbon my mother won for Most Poised and anyone that wasn’t would envy me. And I could look down at the jealous ones on my charming, blue pedestal. One could assume I’d be happy there. If only they don’t see behind that charming, blue curtain.