Forcing Positivity. Why I don’t believe in forcing myself to feel happy when I’m not.

I think I’m getting better at this title thing. So, I’m not the best at fronting. If I’m upset or angry, you’ll know it. This is a crutch in some scenarios and an advantage in others. I’m not saying I’m always upfront, and I’m certainly not saying I’ve never lied before (I’ve told some doozies in my time), but on the whole, I’m very what you see is what you get. When I was younger, I wore my emotions all over my face. Behind the acne littered baby face, I was an angry kid. I’ve matured since my youth, but one thing remains…

I don’t like pretending I’m happy when I’m not.

I don’t like forcing happy thoughts or positivity when I’m upset. I like talking about what makes me angry. I like confronting the source of my malaise and dealing with it. Forcing happiness feels more like burying my pain, and that is something I just won’t do anymore.

My mother used to admonish me for my facial expressions. As I said earlier, I wore my emotions on my face. If I was said, I looked sad. If I was angry, I looked angry. In her mind, she felt as though I was fishing for sympathy. My mother thought me the little cunning one, and she was right because as I mentioned before, I used to be a habitual liar in my youth, but that was only a front to hide my own inadequacies. I lied to make myself feel bigger than what I was, isn’t that why most people lie?

I don’t like forcing happy thoughts or positivity when I’m upset. I like talking about what makes me angry. I like confronting the source of my malaise and dealing with it. Forcing happiness feels more like burying my pain, and that is something I just won’t do anymore.

But I was alway honest with my feelings. I NEVER lied about that. I just don’t think walking around grinning like an idiot will make you feel happy if you’re not happy. I find such a thing distasteful because (if you can believe this), it’s dishonest.

I’m happier now that I’m approaching 40. I have a better sense of who I am (I should think so since I just said I’m approaching 40) and I’m upfront about how I feel about things. It’s honest and being myself is such a liberating act. This is doubly so in a world intent on making one feel ashamed for owning one’s truth. Shame is debilitating. Shame is a parasite eating away at your self-esteem. Shame is also tiring, and I’m tired of being tired.

So fuck hiding behind a silly grin or a smarmy smirk (dig that alliteration!). I’m always honest now. Even when I lie (C’mon, it’s a Scarface reference). It’s such a happier existence when you’re in tune with who you really are.

Marriage…

I’m probably NEVER getting married. I don’t mean I won’t have a girlfriend, I just won’t get married. I don’t see much use for this peculiar institution. What does marriage fundamentally change between two people who love each other, and decide to build a life together? Indubitably, an unwed couple can do all the things a married couple can. Furthermore, with most marriages ending in divorce, there seems precious little need to contribute to an artificial institution that has no real bearing on whether a relationship will last or not.

And yet not ten years ago, marriage was all I could think about. I was consumed. It was relentless. Let me give you a little background. Around this time in my life, I was a Muslim. I had recently converted, and I was in my twenties. There was this ever present expectation that young people should get married as soon as possible to prevent zina or fornication (not that it helped, as nearly every Muslim I knew had fornicated at some point. Even having a boy/girlfriend was considered illegal). But marriage in Islam wasn’t some quick fix to get a nut (unless you’re a Shia Muslim, they have temporary marriage contracts that keep a couple married for a specified duration, and during that time, all they do is FUCK!), if one got married, it was expected to be for life, even if divorce isn’t considered a sin. Incidentally, divorce rates among North American Muslims are on the rise.

To be frank, I’m not surprised. As a Muslim, I had a deep abhorrence for marriage. I detested the contractual nature of it. It felt sterile, like a business negotiation. The expectations of each person in the marriage were steeped in old world misogyny. Women were expected to be submissive to their husbands (have you met the modern American Muslim woman?) and men were the providers for the family, the “bread winner” if you will. Now as I already mentioned, there is this overwhelming cultural pressure on young adults to get married. Compounded with the raging hormones that aren’t being satisfied except through premarital sex or masturbation (come on, you’ve done it! The masturbation, I mean. Maybe the premarital sex?), and you have a recipe for anxiety. When I converted, I felt the need to meet the right woman and “complete half my deen” which is what marriage was called. In case you’re wondering, a “deen” is an Arabic term meaning “way.” It’s like Tao, but it also can be used to mean Islam, as in Islam is the way (not really).

I met a woman shortly after I embraced Islam. I won’t say her name here; she might read this one day (doubtful) and decide to sue me. I don’t believe we ever actually loved each other, but we said we did. Now that I’m a few months knocking on 40 years of age, I can look back to that time with a sense of hindsight. We never loved each other; we were just horny. She moved to New Jersey because her family arranged a marriage with a man who lived there and for two years, maybe more I forget and it isn’t terribly important anyway, she lived with this man in matrimony and to hear her tell it, it was hell. They divorced and she was terrified no one else would marry her because of the heavy stigma attached to divorced women in particular in some, if not most, Muslim communities. When we reconnected, she was already divorced. We found each other on Myspace (yeah, it was that long ago). I noticed her status read divorced and at first I thought it was a mistake. I asked her about it and she confirmed she was divorced. I’ll spare you the boring details, but suffice it to say that over a period of a year, we got closer. We spent time on the phone and any computer with an internet connection and a camera. I’ll let you use your imagination as to what we did with the camera, but as a hint, we ALWAYS felt profound guilt afterward. We didn’t hurt anyone and it felt good at the time, but there was always this guilt.

Our relationship, if one could call it that, deteriorated over time and the last conversation we had resulted in her telling me she no longer cared about me–I made her mad a lot, but in my defense I think her anger was from a place of sexual frustration more than anything I did to her. You have no reason to believe me, but I always tried to be respectful to her in any case, but she was sensitive and most of what I said to her was always taken the wrong way. I hear she’s now married and a mother, something she always wanted. I hope she’s happy.

At the end of it all, I just want to be happy and I don’t see marriage as a vector for happiness. One day, I’ll meet the right woman and we won’t need to be married to be happy together. We just need to be together.

Fuck marriage.

 

 

 

 

Goddamn it! Not again!

I had it all planned out. I intended to write about the hypermasculine snowflakes currently melting over the new casting choice for Dr. Who. It was as if the male exclusivity of the character gave them the erroneous impression that Dr. Who was the property of the fragile male ego. But I can’t write about that because of Donald Trump. I know I said I’m sick of Trump. I know I expressed how inept he is at everything in life. I made the conscious decision to NOT write about him this week…

But then he fucked around and issued an executive order banning transgendered folks from serving in the military over Twitter.

I hate this man so much.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse. Just when you think the rabbit hole can’t go any deeper. Just when you think, “this can’t be real life,” BAM, the orange orangutan pulls another dirty trick outta his flabby ass.

To be frank, I don’t think this will go far. But that’s not the point. The point is that our commander-in-chief (ugh, I just threw up in my mouth saying that) thinks the government is like a business where he is king and can make unilateral decisions concerning our nation without the proper checks and balances. I know every civil rights organization from the ACLU and on will fight this injustice bare-knuckled if it comes to that (it most certainly will).

In these times of increasing tribalism, social and political instability and environmental turmoil, we must remain vigilant and we must repeat our mantra, our chant, our tether that keeps us grounded in reality…

THIS. IS. NOT. NORMAL!!!

Just keep repeating that to yourself. It certainly won’t stop the headache, but it will remind you not to normalize this type of bullshit.

And for people arguing that this stunt is just a distraction, that may be so, but I doubt the people most affected by this, you know, trans folks, feel any less justifiably angry about it. To reduce this to a distraction narrative, we run the risk of reducing the importance of Trump’s bigoted and un-American act. It’s important to understand the serious implications of Trump’s ban and my fear is that the distraction argument is a distraction in and of itself.

This decision will definitely appeal to his bigoted, backward, knuckle-dragging, willfully ignorant, ultraconservative, evangelical base who voted for him to Make America Great Again. Of course, we all know that phrase really means Make America white, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, rich and male-dominant again.

NEVER AGAIN.

The world is changing, people, and you can either get with that change or be left behind.

We Will NEVER Go Back!!

 

Familiarity breeds both comfort and contempt. People stuck in yesteryear do not want their world upended. These people long for a gloried past where everything was about them and for them. Tough fucking shit, those days are over. Don’t expect me to feel sorry for them. Those who voted for him asked for this.

WE WILL NEVER GO BACK.

Next week I promise not to talk about Trump, I don’t give a flying fuck what he does.

I’m sick of Trump.

I’m sick of talking about, thinking about and hearing about Donald-fucking-Trump. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. The more I hear about him, the more I lose faith in humanity. He is a walking, talking shit show. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, somehow, he fucks around and does the seemingly impossible. So, I’m done. I quit. No more. Uncle. Whatever. I’m just so sick of Donald Trump.

I’m also sick of this lack of civility and empathy which has become so rampant in our society. I’m sick of people going out of their way to be rude. I’m sick of feeling anger from people who have no real justifiable reason to be angry. I’m sick of people being afraid of change. It’s exhausting, really. I feel as though our society is being held back or that we’re regressing. It is maddening and depressing.

I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time seeing the proverbial glass as half full today (if you couldn’t already tell). And in the interests of continued honesty, I’m having a hard time writing this blog post.

I’m especially done with people who make excuses for the orange buffoon. If these people can’t tell they have been played, and badly at that, then what hope do we have of convincing them? Perhaps there is a sliver of hope, perhaps.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath, cause you know, I’ll suffocate and DIE.

High School History and Obliviousness

Long title, eh? So, the other day I thought about my high school history teacher whose name I shall not mention here for two reasons. The first is that I don’t remember her name, which as you’ll soon see is a good thing. The second reason is that even if I did remember her name, I wouldn’t sully my tongue or fingertips, in this case, using it. She was one ditzy lady though, so we’ll call her Ditz.

I forgot when the event in question happened exactly. High school was over 20 years ago, mind you. But I remember being in world history and a conversation we had in class veered into race relations, and I distinctly remember Ditz speaking about a student who once asked her what it was like to be white. Her response?

“I’m not white, I’m pink and beige.”

Yeah, I still remember the headache from rolling my eyes too hard. Yes, Ditz said that. What the student meant was, “what’s it like to have privilege?” or “what’s it like to be a part of the dominant culture?” The thing about being in a dominant culture is that one isn’t supposed to know it or be aware of their place in it. With that in mind, I wasn’t at all surprised by what Ditz said. Remember, she’s ditzy as fuck (assuming she’s still alive. She was pretty old then.)

What I also remember was speaking out at that moment by telling her his question carried more weight than she thought. I told her his question meant, what is it like to be the dominant culture? What does it mean to go into a store and not suffer the indignity of the sales associate bringing up the store’s layaway program–assuming they don’t stare at you as if you’ll spontaneously combust or rob them of every valuable item they have (and let’s face it, these examples are quite mundane compared to other more lethal instances)? The most insulting part was that on some primordial level, I think she knew that, felt uncomfortable about the question and deflected. I have no proof, but I think that’s what happened.

For the rest of the day, a friend (whose name I forget) and I spent our last period making fun of her. It was a fun diversion from the boring computer programming class we had as an elective. But what depressed me then and now is that there are plenty of Ditzes running around then and now. Most people don’t even think about their privileges. I’m a man, and with that gender and sex (yes, there is a difference) designation, I have certain advantages that my female counterparts simply do not have. The government isn’t telling me what to do with my dick. I don’t have to worry about earning less than my male contemporaries (cause I am male, duh). I don’t worry about some lunatic jumping from the shadows to rape me on my way to my car at night. I have no worries about not being taken seriously if I’m angry. And being called a bitch is no worry if I’m ever ambitious or persistent in what I want.

I’ve got a penis, and because of that, I’ve got it made. I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that.  And, I’d be a fucked up person if I did nothing to rectify this inequity.

Ditz is (or was, remember, she might be dead by now) white and with that comes its own advantages. I’ve already mentioned two, so I won’t recount more. What I will say is this, no one wants to admit they are privileged. No one wants to acknowledge that one’s achievements might have been possible not because of one’s hard work and dedication, but because of what one looks like. The idea of privilege destroys any hope of a meritocracy.

I doubt very seriously if Ditz learned or made an effort to understand. She didn’t that day and she probably hasn’t now or didn’t before she died, assuming she’s dead. Remember, she was old–OLD.

Now in this current political climate, and with virtually everyone at each other’s throats, we need to contend with the vice of privilege more than ever. The fear of losing it is why we have Cheetolini in charge now. C’mon, you know who Cheetolini is, don’t make me say it.

If Ditz had children or grandchildren, here’s hoping they woke up or at least they are waking up; and isn’t that where everyone is? We’re all in the process of waking up.

Expectations

I feel the need to get some things off my chest. Please excuse the cliché, but I’m in no mood for verbosity at the moment. Also, please do not call out the ironic hypocrisy of claiming to not be in the mood for verbosity while using a word like verbosity in the same sentence. As you’ll read onwards, my friends, I make it a point to be “wordy.”

Before beginning in earnest, let me get the obvious out of the way right away. This is a post about race. If this bothers you, please click that X button at the top right-hand corner of your web browser. Thanks. Now that I’ve vacated the bigots let’s begin.

As a person of color, as a black man, I make it a point to have a full and capacious vocabulary. This is part of a neurosis that I have about speech. See, I am the unfortunate recipient of a stereotype unfairly attributed to a genetic mutation for which I did not ask, but nonetheless of which I am proud. Or to be frank, people think black folks are incapable of speaking English correctly.

I cannot begin to tell you how this affected me throughout college. But since that is the purpose of this post, let’s attempt the impossible.

I graduated from Cal State University Long Beach with a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I double majored in film with a focus on critical theory. In nearly all of my classes, with the notable and obvious exception for a black studies course, I took in my first year, I have been the ONLY BLACK STUDENT, or if the fates were kind, one of two. This was nerve-wracking because in many ways I felt out of my element. I went from a setting where most of the students looked like me (I’m talking high school, here) to a setting where I was a distinct minority. I attended Leuzinger High School. This school was mainly Latinx and black. White people were the minority, perhaps not as small as I remember, but there weren’t many of them in direct contrast to black and brown students. Before going forward, I want to stress that in no way am I saying, insinuating or inferring that Long Beach State wasn’t or isn’t diverse. It is, but it is also largely a white campus. In my time attending, it was just as racially tumultuous as the country seems now. But that’s another topic for another occasion. The point that I make here is that I always felt as if I was put on the spot. I suffered racist jokes that shielded themselves from criticism because they were jokes. I had people ask me stupid fucking questions about Compton, I’m from Hawthorne. But the worst was always having to speak with diction and articulation. The worst was always having to write that way, too. If I ended a sentence with a preposition, I was toast.

See, I am the unfortunate recipient of a stereotype unfairly attributed to a genetic mutation for which I did not ask, but nonetheless of which I am proud. Or to be frank, people think black folks are incapable of speaking English correctly.

I entrusted this information to a friend of mine a while back. I expressed to him how the pressure of ALWAYS WRITING AND SPEAKING IN A STATELY MANNER felt like I was putting on a show, a different face. I also felt like a fraud, because it was in college where I learned the most about English. I felt as though I should have learned this in high school. This isn’t to say I wasn’t taught. In my teachers’ defense, I ditched A LOT. No, I mean a lot! I was completely unprepared for college. My friend told me that everyone felt that way and my experience isn’t a unique one. As an aside, the beautiful thing about being white (my friend is white) is that one tends to have a singular consciousness or this uncanny ability to see the world in one way and the precious (yes, I’m catty) assumption that everyone else feels the same as you do! But the point my friend missed is that it is different. He admitted he’s never felt stupid or uneducated if he did not speak with absolute coherence. He’s admitted that he does not know what it is like to be the only white person anywhere. But even now, my white friend won’t acknowledge that he has the liberty of individuality, and I am burdened with representation. If he speaks in an uneven manner, he can rest assured that the world will only judge him. If I take the floor in an unintelligible manner, I can rest assured it will be affixed to my entire group.

Truth be told, I’ve been editing this post as I write it. It might read in an entirely batshit way, but there it is.

I learned in college that America rewards white mediocrity and harbors unrealistic expectations of people of color. This isn’t to say that all white students attending college now, or ever, are or were mediocre. In fact, I would say I shouldn’t have to express what should be obvious by implication, but because of whiteness’ demand for individuality, one must preface any critique against whiteness, with “not all white people.” People of color are rarely given such courtesy, and when it happens, it is often begrudgingly, as if someone has to rip it out of them.

As an aside, the beautiful thing about being white (my friend is white) is that one tends to have a singular consciousness or this uncanny ability to see the world in one way and the precious (yes, I’m catty) assumption that everyone else feels the same as you do!

So now, at the age of 39, I am constantly ensuring that everything I write or say is grammatically correct, stylistically salient (whatever the fuck that means) and most importantly, coherent. This is a pressure marginalized groups go through daily. Some adapt to it better than others, but it’s there. If you’re the first black person to do anything, win a world series, win an Oscar, cure cancer, create an all-cure panacea that wipes out disease as we know it, there is tremendous pressure on you to NOT SCREW UP. This is impossible because like everyone else, black folks are human. Humans screw up, it’s what we’re good at. Fuck, I ended a sentence with a preposition.

I am working on not having such an outlook. A proper criticism of such an outlook is that I should get over myself. People aren’t that hung up on language. We live in an era of the word, bae. BAE! But it isn’t that easy. A downside to de facto segregation is that we don’t know each other. We have these ideas and these beliefs which are born from ignorance about each other which are rarely steeped in any truth. So when one of us is the only one of us in a group, we become the quintessential minority and a representative of our people. Anything we say or do can be used to excuse poor behavior, “Well my black friend doesn’t care if I say the N-word” or “I’ve dated a black woman in college, so I can’t be racist.”  This is how the burden of representation works. It’s like Atlus holding the world on his back. It is a burden that white people never go through, at least not to the extent that it can affect their lives in a profound manner that it does for people of color. My chances of getting a job rest on how well I communicate, but I must be ten times better than my white counterpart just to be considered.

I expressed in prior posts how the concept of race is killing us. 19 Arabs with box cutters and sticks up each of their asses later and America thinks every Muslim is a secret ISIS member. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma federal building, the band played on. Nothing to see here, folks. Just white folks being crazy is all. Wait, is that a Muslim going to that airport? Get him!

This double standard is pathological and sick. But it is a double standard woven into the tapestry of America, it is the thread, it is the needle. It is the ink, dried on the Constitution. It is a shield that protects whiteness from criticism. It must end.

My fear is that if and when it does, and I’m still alive to see it, I will still carry the knee-jerk expectation that people really are that attuned to my speech. I fear that if I speak incomprehensibly or don’t place a comma where one should be placed, any chances of anyone else who looks as I do to be taken half as seriously as I wish to be considered in situations such as those will be ruined. Sorry for the wordiness. You know what, I’m not. Deal with it. Brevity was never a high point anyway.

 

Resistance

While attending Cal State Long Beach for my undergrad, I joined an interactive theater troupe specializing in improvisational performance confronting social issues such as sexual assault prevention and anti-racism. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant ass, one could argue that I helped create this theater/peer-education troupe conveniently named, InterACT (yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose). It was in 2000, and I was a junior in college. I had recently transferred to Long Beach State from El Camino, and I met the man responsible for creating the troupe, Dr. Marc D. Rich. We had humble beginnings as we weren’t even a class yet. We were just dedicated students and a professor, who wanted to change the world–as cliché as that sounds. I think we did.

The point of InterACT was to be less of a traditional theater troupe and more of an interactive peer education troupe. Our work was inspired by Augusto Boal. Our performances were unique in that we treated our audience not as spectators, but spec-actors. This meant that after a performance, we would ask the audience if they approved of the resolution. When the answer was no, and inevitably it was–more on that in a minute–we would invite people from the audience to join the stage and try a different approach or go for a different ending.

An example of this requires that I give you a brief (brevity ain’t my strong point) explanation of how our performances played out. During my time, we had two major shows. One dealt with sexual assault prevention and the other dealt with racism. The sexual assault prevention performance was always interactive, whereas the racism one wasn’t so much (there were parts of it which were interactive, but nothing on the scale of our sexual assault prevention performance). We never reenacted any violence on stage, but it was always hinted that the protagonist was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. There were two parts to the performance. One with three guys, all drunk; two of which are ragging on one because that one’s girlfriend is out late without him. This leads to a scary encounter when she arrives home with her friends. The lead antagonist, as he is called among us troupe members is angry and takes his anger out on his girlfriend, who later confides in her friends what he did to her in the second scene. Each scene ends with our story’s protagonist either being assaulted or retraumatized by her friends who berate her for not calling them when it happened.

To touch on my earlier point, whenever we asked the audience if they approved of the original ending to both scenes, the answer was always a resounding, “NO!” So we gave audience members brave enough chances to come onstage and change the ending. This meant stepping into the shoes of one of the characters. This meant coming up with strategies to prevent sexual assault.

Since my time with the troupe, InterACT has become nationally recognized. They have led workshops on sexual assault prevention in the military and in college campuses across the country. I’m proud to say I had a hand in that, however small.

This is resistance. I am reminded of what Jennifer Lopez said during the Grammys. She quoted Toni Morrison and stressed that now was the time for artists to speak out. She is right. Now IS the time for artists to speak out. Now is the time for writers to write and painters to paint. Now is the time for more conscious rap music and Rock and Roll. Now is the time for actors and athletes to speak out and keep speaking. Now is the time for dreamers to dream and lovers to love. The root and heart of this resistance must be love. It’s all for nothing otherwise.

Now InterACT is needed more than ever.

If you want to know more about InterACT, click the link which will take you to their webpage.  Keep resisting my friends. As I said in my last (and hastily written) post, we’ve got a long four years ahead of us.