“I no longer have road rage, I have walk rage,” I joked to my friends at breakfast recently, sharing one of the ways which my life has changed since leaving Los Angeles.
“We’re in the city. People walk, take public transportation, taxis, Uber. We’re trying to get somewhere, not take leisurely strolls through the streets.”
Traffic, horrendously douchey driving and my resulting road rage which became way to commonplace for my liking (I don’t think it’s healthy to regularly wish for people to “get his someday, motherfucker!”) top the list of reasons why I left L.A. Now, after nearly two years of living in San Francisco, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve driven my car. My poor, neglected car which once held way too much import in my life.
My friends, all current L.A. residents, listened with amusement as I continued my mini-tirade.
“I get irrationally bothered when people walk slowly or when they don’t walk on the right side of the sidewalk. It messes up the flow. It’s so annoying! That and standing all haphazardly on the escalators, blocking the flow of people who are just trying to catch their train to work. Stand to the right! Climb to the left! It’s not that hard!”
Rant over, I sat back in my seat, satisfied at having released a string of words suppressed for too long.
“You’re supposed to walk to the right?” my friend K- asked with mock trepidation.
Wide-eyed, my friend L- added, “Yeah, I didn’t know that.”
I fixed them with a stare of disbelief and looked to I-, L-‘s husband for validation. He nodded at me in agreement.
“Yes! In this country, we walk on the right side of the street if there are others on the sidewalk. It’s like driving. You drive on the right side of the road. I know it’s different in some other countries. Anyway, that way if you’re walking down the street and are walking toward a stranger, you avoid doing that stupid, ‘Which way are you going? I’m going left, no you’re going right! Ok, I’ll go right,’ dance.”
“Oh, is that why that happens?” K- remarked with a half-smile.
“Yes,” I sighed, “do people not know this?? Am I going to have to blog about this?!”
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When did it become expected that we be attached to our phones? People can get at you all times of day and night. What are the boundaries? There used to be a time when people made plans to call each other.
They didn’t call during dinnertime.
They didn’t call when you’re sleeping in the early hours to ask “are you awake?”
They didn’t ask you to snail mail them snaps of your private bits after one date.
One of my texting pet peeves is when I read a text like this (which I seem to get especially from guys):
I don’t understand “hey” texts. How am I supposed to respond to “hey”?
When someone texts “hey”, I wonder: Do they just want to exchange short greetings? Is there a purpose to this text? If I reply, will I get drawn into a long textual conversation? A text novella?
“Hey. What’s up?”
“What u doin”
Is this rhetorical? Like when people ask, “How are you?” and then don’t listen for your answer?
Is he actually curious what I’m doing? What if he wants to do something and I just want to order pizza, lay around in my PJs and rainbow socks and watch stupid Lifetime movies? (Don’t judge me! Sometimes the allure of terrible, but snarkable TV movie fare such as, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story or the Tori Spelling classic, Mother May I sleep with Danger is too great.Anyway, I also watch 60 Minutes, so it balances out.)
“What u doin?”
“I’m [doing something really cool and impressive, yet believable]!”
“What are you up to?”
Argh! What am I supposed to say to that? What is the point of all of this?!
Nowadays, you see people whip out their phones at restaurants, tapping away as they ignore their tablemates; people with no home training lighting up their bright-ass screens in the middle of a dark movie theatre; of course, there’s the much maligned and dangeroustexting while driving; the “almost never a good idea” act of drunk texting; and while I haven’t been in years, I bet you people are texting while churching and I know they’re not texting Jesus.What would Jesus do? Probably not text when he’s supposed to be listening to the word of his Father!
Don’t even get me started on the travesty of “text speak.”
What really gets me though, is the timing question. What is an acceptable window of time within which to return a text? Immediately? 10 minutes? An hour? Within 24 hours?
Maybe I’m a weirdo, but I prefer not feeling like I’m at my phone’s beck-and-call. I try to respond to texts in a timely fashion; I don’t want to be rude. If I don’t reply to a text right away, it’s more than likely not personal.
I am of the belief that my phone doesn’t run me; I run it!
It’s healthy to spend time apart from your phone and all its lights and bings and chimes.
If someone runs smack into a utility poll because of texting while walking, I don’t want to say they deserve it, but…
Sometimes all that connnectedness is disruptive and even stressful. Technology is meant to ease our lives; enhance it, not rule us and dictate our actions. It’s okay to tell your electronic companions, “I need some space.”
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My career counselor told me she thinks I have post traumatic stress from my last two jobs.
I laughed when she said it. The past two years have been intense for sure, but post traumatic stress? Isn’t that usually reserved for soldiers, victims of violence – you know, real trauma?
I knew my sense of confidence and self-efficacy took a serious hit with thejob I left in 2013. I admittedly felt a bit raw going into the next place. Like jumping into another relationship when you’re on the rebound. However, unlike a relationship, working to bring in an income is essential to my survival, since the only person taking care of me, is me.
My career counselor also astutely assessed: “You probably felt increasingly anxious when asked for things.” How did she know?!
Due to the nature of my last role, I received many requests (or “demands” depending on who did the asking) to the point where when my phone would ring or chime, even outside of work, I’d sigh wearily and wonder, “Who wants something from me now?” I am fairly certain I experienced my first anxiety attack at that place, so…maybe she was onto something with the post traumatic stress. She does have a psychotherapy background, after all.
She presented this unofficial diagnosis after I shared with her that while job searching – feeling as though my life were in limbo until I secured a new job – when I reviewed job descriptions and envisioned what the day-to-day work might look like, I felt such an intense aversion. Worse than my revulsion at the idea of spending an afternoon with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Elizabeth Hasselbeck. As though one of those positions might beguilingly lead me into the arms of an invisible boogeyman, its massive hands slowly tightening around my dainty lady throat until I can’t breathe. Squeezing the life out of me.
Eep. So, maybe I am a bit burned out.
One morning, a few weeks after I lost my job, my youngest sister, C___, called me and when I answered, her words rushed out before I finished saying “Hello,”
“Keisha, omigosh! Ok, I know this is going to sound ‘all about me’, but can I just tell you? The best thing about you not having a job is I can reach you whenever I want to now!”
I chuckled. She was right. In the short time since I’d become a woman of leisure, she and I had spoken more often, almost daily. We even Facetimed! What is this magical world where one has time to face…time?
I traveled to Austin a couple of weeks ago for a needed vacation. Yes, you can need a vacation from the exhaustion of cycling through what I term “The Five Stages of Layoff Grief” and worriedly wondering what you’re going to do with you life. I also wanted to reconnect with another part of myself.
Having moved around a bit, people sometimes ask me, “Which place feels more like home to you?” Every place feels a bit like home to me. Each place I’ve lived and where I’ve experienced life in new and unfamiliar ways, has helped to shape who I am. The me that I am in San Francisco, the life that I live here, only represents one part of me, it’s one view of my world. Austin represents another. I have family there in the way of close friends and now my sister C___.
Importantly, in Austin, I’m more easily able to relinquish the fear of being vulnerable, fear of having my insecurities and weaknesses exposed. The walls that we gradually stack up as adults are more permeable in this place where I lived as a college student. There’s no putting up fronts with my Austin family. To boot, the town is friendlier; I could shed my tough city armor. I needed time away to breathe; to let the waist out.
I stayed with my sister, whom having newly graduated from college, just began a new job and rented her first non-college apartment. My last evening in town we assembled her new dresser while Mork & Mindy (RIP Robin Williams) and then The Cosby Show played in the background.
I loved being able to spend time with my little sister, doing nothing more than setting up her apartment. With our 13-year age difference and living so far away from each other, I miss/ed out on the chance to do some of these simple activities with her.
I also met up with several of my friends from college, including former roommates, my best friend and a friend, F___, with whom I keep in touch on Facebook, but hadn’t seen since we graduated over a decade ago.
Over breakfast with F___ – the food in Austin is excellent – we caught up on the goings-on in our lives since college. She’d worked for nearly a decade as a CPA until one day realizing she didn’t like it very much and didn’t want to do it anymore. As she described her emotional evolution, I identified with almost everything she described feeling.
I told her I felt like I’d become a robot. It happened gradually enough that I didn’t notice the spark fading from my smile, the twinkle from eyes. She nodded as I shared that working in the environments I did forced me to repress so much of my natural self.
Whether it be stifling my creativity and humor in writing a report – gotta be professional, no quips allowed! Or something as basic as adapting to the fact that a lot of people don’t say good morning to each other at work (or other social niceties) and you need to calm your friendly Texas ass down.
Simply not being able to say of the lazy, pompous blowhard with a penchant for taking credit for other people’s work and throwing others under the bus (and there are always these people), “This guy is a poison to the team. At least five people have left because of him, yet you guys are steady promoting this fool. If the company goes down, you have yourselves to blame for being blinded by bullshit;” or when you want to shout in a ridiculously contentious meeting, “We’re not curing cancer people, calm the fuck down! No one is going to die!”
F___ is currently exploring an interest in the film industry on the business side of things, and encouraged me to take some time to consider what’s I want to do next. As she smartly said, “Working for years and taking a couple of weeks off every once in a while isn’t long enough to get re-acquainted with who you are.”
She’s right. I’ve been out of work for almost two and a half months now and it’s not until just recently that I’ve felt even close to being me again. It’s as though I’ve been unwittingly enrolled in a crash course called: “Revisiting Keisha: 101.” I returned from Austin reinvigorated.
Perhaps my career counselor exaggerated a bit when she said I have post traumatic stress, perhaps not. I certainly don’t think my situation compares to more typical PTSD cases. I do know that I haven’t felt this free and light in a long while. I smile more, I laugh more, I write more, I read more and I have more time for the people I care for. Sunday night thoughts are no longer sullied with the pallor of the impending Monday morning. I’m enjoying seeing the world from a different perspective – it’s different with the daytime free! Even my career counselor, whom, up until a couple of weeks ago, hadn’t seen me in almost a year – since I took the most recent job – commented when she greeted me, “You look great! I can see it in your eyes.”
I don’t want to return to the way things were before.
There’s no other way to say it. It happened. I’m a bee killer.
I feel guilty about this bee-icide.
My approach toward insects is this: I pay to live in my home. They do not, nor are they invited. No creature with more than four legs should be taking up residence in my place. If the bugs stay outside, keep outta my abode, we’re all good. Invade my lair and all bets are off.
I spent a summer in Panama when I was a kid. One night, while settling into bed, a cockroach accosted me, boldly crawling across my pastel pink wall, mere feet above my twin bed. A bug as thick as a pack of Bubble Yum. The roaches I knew in New York, where I lived at the time, were typically the size of my little girl pinky toe. Gross and pesky, but manageable. Squishable. This cockroach was a meathead bug; ‘roided out.
In a panicked blur, I grabbed a small shoe, and THWACK! Nobody invited you, roach, GOOD.BYE! When I shared the story with the family I was staying with, the matriarch, a kind-eyed woman with a no-nonsense manner, fixed me with a somber stare and said matter-of-factly:
“If you kill one, the rest of their family will come back for revenge. You should be careful.”
I couldn’t be sure if she spoke the truth or not, her eyes twinkled, but her eyes always twinkled. I slept uneasily that night, dreams of being chased by vindictive cockroach armies disturbing my slumber.
Though I’m an adult and I know vengeful cockroach militias don’t exist, if ever I kill a bug, a nagging thought tries to take root in my mind, an immortal superstition, “The rest of it’s kind is coming for you.”
Since the weather in San Francisco rarely rises to uncomfortable levels, many apartment units, like mine, don’t have window screens. A recent series of humid nights brought with it a wimpy breeze and ravenous mosquitoes chomping on me like steak, dining for free, multiple times a week. I’m over being battered by bugs.
So, this bee.
It flew into my home one afternoon, using my screenless window as it’s portal. When it zoomed into my living room, my favorite cat did absolutely nothing. His feeble, half-assed attempts to catch it evolved into a game of his design, a cat-and-bee chase, only the bee was unaware of its participation and I became very concerned about getting stung. I watched his catnanigans for a bit, keeping one eye on the bee, the other on my useless feline, flipping, flopping and tossing in the air like a caught fish as he half-heartedly attempted to capture the fast-moving bee.
“Aren’t you going to do something, cat?! You only have two jobs: be cute and kill pests. Ugh!”
The bee, catching on to the cat’s plan, flew away from him and into my personal zone. Oh shit! Unthinkingly, I grabbed a broom and showed my cat how it’s done. Bee Smash!
I felt temporarily victorious – until I realized what I’d done. I killed a bee. We need bees! Bees are endangered! Did I not just have a conversation with someone about how we should try to avoid killing bees? Even though I initially scoffed and side-eyed the idea of sparing the life of an insect – sometimes these NorCal-ers take their organic-treehugging-sustainable-“nature, man”-hippieness to extremes and it’s easy to get caught up in – I am nothing if not soft-hearted when it comes to living creatures.
However, I acted on instinct. The instinct not to end up with my soft-hearted ass in the hospital. A bee stung me once – the same year as the great Panamanian cockroach haunting – and the incident ended with piercing pain and a trip to the doctor’s office. No thank you.
Filled with self-reproach – because of me, that’s one less flower pollinated, who knows how much I’ve messed up the circle of life – I approached the fallen bee, hoping that it’d still be twitching. Alive.
The bee remained still.
I poked it gently with a pen, careful not to get too close lest it was playing possum and decided to sneak attack.
It didn’t move.
I gently picked it up in my paper-towel-covered hand, walked to my window and placed it carefully on the fire escape. Solemnly I said to the bee, still slightly hopeful it’d flutter awake, “I am really sorry. I will not kill another, but can you guys not fly into my apartment? Also, please do not send your bee crew after me in retaliation.”
It’s 2014 and people are still squabbling over the meaning of the Confederate Flag.
Currently, the flag is a topic of contention in a Virginia town, where an “activist group” raised the Flag on a 90-foot tall pole on private property, visible from a freeway. According to an article from The Washington Post, one of the activists from the Virginia Flaggers, shared his perspective:
when he sees the giant flag along the interstate he feels pride and reverence
…he doesn’t think of the flag as a symbol of a fight to preserve the institution of slavery, in part because he believes the war was a defense against Northern aggression. The historical meaning of the flag, he said, should not be distorted by the message of the hate groups that have carried it — groups that have been repeatedly denounced by the Flaggers organization.
I’m pretty well acquainted with the Confederate Flag, a side effect of 13 years combined living in Georgia and Texas. When my family moved from New York to the South, I felt as I though I’d been involuntarily enrolled in a crash course on racism.
It was in Georgia where I realized the world as I knew it existed in terms of black vs white. Everyone seemed obsessed with everyone else’s race and your color gave people ideas about who you were before they even met you. Over the years, I’ve given some thought to the history of the flag and what it represents. When I see the Confederate Flag:
I remember a rainy day after school when my world changed irreversibly by these simple, yet loaded words:
“Get away from my house, niggers!”
A white classmate bellowed this greeting at me and my sister, an expression of glee and righteousness in his glare, a legal pad-sized Confederate flag pasted in the corner of the window from behind he which unwaveringly stared at us.
As my mom tells the story today, the sense of helplessness in her voice betraying her desire to convey strength, my sister and I initially refused to tell her what happened, though she knew by our solemnity and silence something was off.
She recounts, upon hearing what our peer shouted at us, resisting the impulse go tell some people what’s what and later shared her frustrations with my dad. To us, she explained that unfortunately, this was another one of those times when someone has hate in their heart for you because you are black. You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t let it hurt you. We can pray for them.”
Some people will hate me because I’m black.
It calls to mind an eye-opening conversation I had with a white co-worker, Sarah, as a teenager in Houston:
We were sitting in her new, glossy black truck, an early graduation present from her father. She called it a “dually” – which always sounded like “dooley” to me – I gathered a “dooley” referred to an over-sized pick-up truck with a giant ass.One afternoon after work, as she sucked on a cigarette, she told me: “You know…I’m not racist. I don’t hate all black people. Like, I don’t like ‘niggers.’ You know what I mean? Like you. You’re one of the good ones. You don’t talk all ghetto and shit, you’re not lazy and you’re smart.”
I shrank in my seat a little, stupefied by her words, unsure how to respond to the inherent supremacist subtext of her comment. In her voice I heard a sense of pride in her generosity and acceptance. She didn’t dislike all black people. Just the niggers.
I wondered, how does she distinguish who is which if she doesn’t know the person?We headed to her house. She had offered to lend me a pair of her cowboy jeans since we were meeting up that night with other co-workers to see George Strait at The Rodeo.
As we entered the garage, I noticed on the wall to my left, hung the largest Confederate Flag I’d ever seen. It covered almost every inch of space on the wall. The wall in front of me displayed several large shotguns. Knowing the racist apple usually doesn’t fall far from the even more racist tree, a current of fear ran through me when her dad, a tall, hardy man with a thick mustache Tom Selleck would envy, walked out to greet us, voice thick with the country, “Hey there, girls.”
In 1998, I was in college in Texas when I heard the news of James Byrd, Jr., a black man, dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck, by three white men in Jasper, Texas. 1998(!) and still people were killing black people for the simple “crime” of being black.
Two of his murderers were known white supremacists and at least one claimed membership in a Confederate organization. Sadly, his murder didn’t surprise me nor many other black Texans. As a black resident in Texas at that time, you lived knowing there are certain towns where you are unwelcome, where you may feel unsafe, where you may genuinely fear for you life.
Three vicious men, murdered James Byrd, Jr. less than 300 miles from where I lived.
I recall, also while in college and stumbling on a disturbing photo at the photography shop that handled parties for many campus organizations.In the photo a group of thirty or so white students, posed in their Confederate best, costumed like extras in Gone with the Wind, Confederate Flags galore. The occasion was a white fraternity’s annual “Old South” party.
It’s an (mostly) unspoken rule, at least it was when I was in attendance at that school, that black people don’t join white fraternities and sororities and to even attempt to do so results in an awkward situation for all parties involved. I thought of how uncomfortable I’d feel if I were to attend such a tribute to the “good old days” and how would I dress? Those times weren’t all that happy for people who looked like me.
One chapter of this same fraternity later went on to offend Mexican students with their “Fiesta” themed party.
[If anyone feels the instinct to play Devil’s Advocate and argue that there are black fraternities and sororities, I’d like to point out that much like Black History Month, Black Student Associations, BET and Historically Black Colleges & Universities, they exist in part, as a response to the exclusion from predominately white institutions. Thus, comparing the two would be a false equivalency.]
It reminds me of stories of angry white supremacist groups – not just in the past, but still in existence today – marching or rallying through neighborhoods with large black populations, their beliefs logged on posters with racist terminology, Confederate Flags proudly billowing, some terrorizing residents with racial epithets.
Finally, and I mean finally as in “the last point”, as this is by no means an exhaustive list; far from it. Of course, this flag is synonymous to me with the enslavement of Africans and Blacks, people from whom I’m descended. Synonymous with the side that fought, in part, to preserve that disgusting, reprehensible institution to maintain its economic interests.
To some, the Confederate Flag is a symbol of pride. I will never be able to view that flag through a filter of pride. To me, it represents pain and hate. It embodies the most depraved soulless and cruel elements of humanity.
I will not deny anyone their freedom to display the Flag on their private property. However, I am free to want nothing to do with it. Years ago, I wrote in my journal, where I listed reasons to move from Texas to California after college, “I want to live somewhere I don’t have to see the Confederate Flag every place I go.”
Update: Shortly after I posted this entry on my Twitter timeline, I received the following tweet:
you people are constantly in a state of taking offense – to nearly everything. You should consider going home to Africa.
accompanied by this avatar:
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1. My personal life was like, “Hey girl, where you been?” My days seemed to consist of either being at work, thinking about work or recovering from the exhaustion of an intense workweek that left me so spent all I want nothing more than to recline on the couch, watching cartoon movies and other non-mentally taxing fare. In addition to that, most Thursday nights in the winter I played kickball with the company team. “I need to get a life!” I told my sister, N, during a phone chat. She chuckled. “I’m not insulting myself. I mean I actually need to get a life. This is pathetic. This isn’t me.”
2. A year and a half after moving to San Francisco, I kinda actually have some friends. Imagine that!
I decided to throw a party. Well…ok, not really a party, but a small gathering in my home – a place the size of one of Oprah’s walk-in closets at her Montecito ranch. A partini? A partito? Parties are even better with a theme so I settled on a “girls’ night in” since I’m acquainted with more women than men.
For nine of the years I lived in L.A., I threw an annual post-holiday party. Sadly, the last two holiday seasons sailed by without an event. I didn’t know enough people to legitimize throwing a party.
Who would I have invited? The mailperson who insists on cramming grocery ads in my mailbox even though I have unsubscribed from the junk? (You are not fooling anyone by crossing out the apartment number!) The Spanish teacher whose class I took when I first moved here? Would he insist on conversing only in Spanish? My chatty, eccentric chiropractor? She’d be trying to recruit clients all night, no doubt. (“Stand here. Look in this mirror. Now, do you see how lopsided you are when you stand up straight?! It’s incredible, isn’t it? Come to my office; I’ll fix it! Life changing!”)
Or maybe the inquisitive, cherub-cheeked young checker at my local grocery store who always comments when I buy Now & Laters, “Oh! I haven’t had these since I was a kid.” The same comment every time. Well, I still eat them because my one true addiction sugar. I’m trying to get the monkey off my back, but it’s clinging to me like Spanx! And anyway, I hate when people feel the need to make commentary on my purchases.
I limited the guest list to 12, including me. A mix of women I know from work, friends of friends who are now my friends, a few women I met thanks to Girlfriend Circles and friends from L.A. who now live here. A fun, diverse group of women in their early to mid-30s (and one late twenty-something). Tip: I always invite more people to a party than my place can handle. Unless you’re throwing an “I’m handing out free cash and weed!” party, the acceptance rate will probably be around 60 – 70%. This is not a scientific figure, I just know from experience throwing many events. Plus, there are almost always last-minute cancellations.
Have you ever been to a party without music? I really don’t understand it. What kind of party is that? A wake?
DJ Keisha Keish streamed a mix of hip-hop, hip-pop & top 40, prompting song requests from the group and shameful admissions of liking music you know is offensive and sometimes downright misogynistic, but the beat is so damn good you can’t help yourself. See: almost anything by Juicy J.
Tip: Prepare a playlist in advance, keeping in mind the mood you wish to set. Consider asking guests for their favorite songs to add to the playlist.
BITES & BUBBLES
Inspired by friends who are avid Pinterest-projecters, I turned to the site to find ideas for the food and drink menu. I decided on a combination of fun finger foods like tangy barbecue meatballs, one “sophisticated” dish, recipe by Martha Stewart; and a bubbly, easy-to-make Kir Royale as the signature drink.
I saved prep time by shopping for most of the groceries on Instacart. Thanks to Google Shopping Express I also ordered party supplies online, including a couple of serving dishes I neglected to purchase and ordered the night before the partito for delivery the next morning.
Marshmallow popcorn balls
For a healthy choice: a berry salad with a light sugar glaze and optional creme fraiche topping.
The wine station before the guests arrived
Creamy Pasta with Peas, recipe from Martha Stewart
GAMES & GIGGLES
The party gave me the perfect excuse to break out the Cards Against Humanity game gifted to me on my last birthday.
The first player (The “Card Czar”) is determined by answering the question “Who pooped most recently?” Of course, this means as a group you have to actually talk about when you pooped. I learned more about my new friends’ bowel movements than I could never have imagined or necessarily wanted to know.
“I think at like 10 this morning after breakfast?”
“I go every morning like clockwork!”
“If I don’t poop daily I get really cranky!”
After titters, giggles and me being teased for the many faces of disgust I made each time someone said “poop” (damn my vivid imagination!), the game commenced.
We spent most of the evening talking and laughing, digressions in conversation alternating with each round of the game. Topics veering from secrets of aging well to the details of G’s recent engagement (“How did he ask?” “What a pretty ring!” “Were you surprised?”) and careers (one of my friends is a urologist which always fascinates people) and every single gal’s favorite topic: dating (blech).
I’d intended to have Magic Mike playing in the background. My friend E surprised me with the DVD for Valentine’s Day this year, knowing my uncharacteristic affinity (read: crush from afar of embarrassing proportions) for Channing Tatum. What a pal!. However, the WORST ELECTRONIC DEVICE I HAVE EVER PURCHASED aka my Blu Ray player wouldn’t play the movie. Gotdamn piece of nothing good.
Tip: Something inevitably will go wrong at a party; roll with it and adjust. Don’t freak out and be that host(ess).
The party wound down naturally after hours of belly laughing and too many champagne cocktails on my part. My guests left with smiles, new acquaintances made, good times had, exchanges of hugs and “We have to get together again soon!” As I closed the door behind the last guest just before midnight, I grinned with the satisfaction of successfully pulling off my first party in San Francisco.
A couple of weeks ago, seated with a girlfriend outside Philz Coffee, a random, late middle-age man passing by, grabbed my foot and shook it. He didn’t say anything, just shook my foot and continued walking.
What the hell?!
My friend and I looked at each other, puzzled. I didn’t say much and publicly shrugged it off. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react. Afterward, however, I sat feeling disturbed, my attention divided between my discombobulated thoughts and my friend’s excited chatter about her upcoming travel plans. What made that man think he had the right to reach out and touch me? Would he return? With the steady stream of pedestrians, many toting along canine companions larger than me, I uncomfortably wondered if anyone else might feel compelled to invade my personal space and grab a limb.
A few weeks ago, I opted for an Uber home after dinner with a friend. A few blocks away from my apartment building, I instructed the driver where to drop me off. He nodded, but a few seconds later looked behind him and said, “Uhhhh, there’s a police car behind me. I’m going to drive for a little while, see if he goes away.”
My heartbeat sped up ready to race. Danger! Danger! Why does he care if a cop is behind him? They exist, they patrol, they eat donuts and tacos. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you probably have nothing to worry about (in that neighborhood, with his skin color). The story I’d heard of the woman in West Hollywood who was allegedly kidnapped by her Uber driver in the forefront of my memory.
I prepared to weaponize. I will stab an attempted kidnapping motherfucker in the eye. I looked around and assessed my surroundings, people to ask for help if needed,or a place to run. Only 9pm, but my neighborhood is a quieter one and thus few people wander around late – it’s one of the reasons I chose it, fewer chances of being harassed on the street. The doors to the car were locked. This man is not taking me anywhere. My phone poised to dial 911, I requested, my tone firm, “Please let me out right here.” He drove one more block, my anxiousness increasing with each wheel revolution until finally he stopped the car, I got out and told him, “Never say ‘no’ when a female passenger tells you she wants out.” I don’t know what his issues were or his intentions, but the experience left me shaken. Did I do everything I could have to prevent a bad situation?
After, I read up on the incidences of assault and kidnapping on female passengers in taxis and shared ride services. One male officer suggested that women consider riding with a friend. I grew angry. Isn’t the point of taxis and other passenger services to provide convenience to get from point A to B? I have to adjust my behavior, put a crimp in my lifestyle, because there are some people, men – let’s be real – who think they have a right to my body. Though, I didn’t share this story – as much as it disturbed me – with anyone else because I feared the potential judgement of questions, “Were you drunk? How were you dressed? Were your clear with him that you wanted to get out? Did you flirt with him? Why were you out so late?” All the ways in which female victims are sometimes blamed for the poor behavior of their transgressors.
A few of months before the Uber incident, on my way home from a friend’s place after the sun disappeared for the day, as I boarded the bus, the bus driver, with his shaggy muted brown hair, 70’s pornstache, and Dahmer-style eyeglasses, greeted me with an approving glance and asked creepily, What’s a nice girl like you doing out here this time of night?” Is 7pm when all the “girls” are to pack it in for the day and stay indoors? I’ll admit, I stereotyped him, his appearance and borderline-lascivious gaze brought to mind the type of man police discover harboring missing young women for years.
A handful of other passengers were aboard, including two women – one young, one middle-aged. I decided to board, we’re all women riding the bus at night and there is strength in numbers. I texted my girlfriend to fill her in on the situation and updated my Facebook, a humor-tinged status referencing the fact that bus drivers here are sometimes as stoic as the men guarding The Royal Palace, and this guy was different. Should anything actually happen, people will know I’m missing sooner than later. Thankfully, I disembarked the bus without incident.
Last year, on our way to a piercing shop in The Haight, my sister N and I were leered at by street kids lazing on the sidewalk, leaning against a clothing store, looking lost, stoned and sketchy. One “kid” (he appeared to be in his early twenties), white with dirty, stringy blonde hair, shouted at us, “Hey ladies! I’ll lick your p–sy for $10.”
I shook my head, the taste of revulsion and disgust filling my mouth. I’ve experienced my share of insensitive and objectifying cat-calling, but this incident begged to stand out. We are more than our vaginas and ours breasts, we are human beings that deserve the respect we afforded them.
During dinner in The Mission with two of my ex-coworkers, Andrew and Melissa* – the same week as the foot-grabbing episode – Andy, one of the most genuine, big-hearted people you could ever meet, asked us earnestly for our thoughts about the national ongoing rape culturediscussion. He didn’t want to unknowingly perpetuate the behaviors and beliefs that encapsulate it. We assured him he’s one of the last men who should be concerned with promoting rape culture. As things tend to go, the men who should concern themselves are likely the ones not thinking about it. Similar to how, often the people most insistent on not talking about race, are the ones who need to examine their beliefs and behaviors.
After dinner, our trio headed to the BART station; Andy insisted on walking us to the BART and bus stops, because that’s the kind of guy he is. We ambled down Valencia Street, savoring our time now that we no longer all work together, when a lone man of average height, approaching from the opposite direction, eyes ogling me and Melissa, uttered, with his voice hinting at desire, “Sexxxxxy.”
I ignored him. No man worth my time will approach me on the street and call out to me like I’m a cow in the field.
Andy gaped at us in disbelief. “Did you guys just hear that?!” he asked.
I looked at Melissa, she nodded with indifference. I shrugged and told Andy, “This happens all the time. You get used to it.” He shook his head in sadness. I told Andy, “I’m glad you are with us though. Men respect other men. He won’t be bothering us.” Had Andy not been with us, who knows what would have happened? The three of us remained silent for some time, my words, “You get used it,” reverberating in my head. I have gotten used to and I hate it. I hate that I have accepted that this is part of life as a woman.
The news didn’t completely surprise me. I knew the company, which I’ll refer to as “Fancy Startup” (FS), planned to cut some jobs [the numbers-focused CEO told us weeks ago, “We have too many employees and still more to hire. We now have x hundreds of employees and plan to hire x number more. Do you guys think we should have that many? That’s crazy!” He laughed mirthlessly, “By year’s end I expect we’ll have the same number. So…”] I didn’t think I’d be one of the casualties, though it’s always a possibility when you’re not a coveted software engineer in the tech world. FS slashed a significant percentage of the workforce in a “restructure.”
Upon hearing of the news, which I shared freely – may as well, the media reported it – my friends and family have been supportive, offering encouraging words of positivity, platitudes about doors opening and closing and reactions from, “I am shocked. They are idiots who didn’t deserve you,” to “Want me to kick someone’s ass for you? and “Are you okaaaaaaay?”
I am okay. In fact, I feel relief. I feel FREE.
BYE BYE ROSE-COLORED GLASSES
I mostly enjoyed my first 5 months at FS. It’s definitely a fast-paced environment as advertised. Every week in the office felt like a month, with always always something going on.
Often the job sapped my energy. Intense days, often without lunch, or lunch eaten at my desk during a quick break between meetings, sleepless nights ruminating over the previous day’s events; early mornings awoken with anxiety, concerned with things to occur that day, worrying that I’d missed something on my to-do list. I drove myself crazy thinking about ways to improve my teams, techniques to do the best job I could do without the infrastructure or support in place to truly do so effectively. I was the first person hired in my position, which I’ll refer to as Thankless Role (TR): when things are going well, you almost always get no credit; when things are going poorly, you’re often the recipient of of blame and fingers pointing in your direction.
In a matter of weeks after hiring me last July, the company recognized the need for more people in the Thankless Role for other departments and hired three more in few short months. With my manager, the five of us grew close pretty quickly. We’re all experienced professionals with big name companies dotting our resumes and a lot of mutual respect for each other’s different experiences and personalities. The TR team and a few other co-workers helped keep me sane during the last 5-6 months where things ratcheted up to a level of near-constant stress and anxiety. I imagined if you touched me, you’d feel a current of hot stress bubbling under my skin.
By February, when the stress escalated to a level I didn’t know possible and the rose-colored classes finally slid all the way off, I posted on Facebook:
I told one of my co-workers that our company is full of overachieving, nerdy, “gotta get an ‘A'” kids who work themselves up into a frenzy when they fail to be perfect. The kinds of kids who would get upset when they’d get a 96 on a test instead of 100 and I’d want to shake them. (Then I’d go home with a 94 and my dad would be like, “But, why are you bringing home a ’94’ though?” Well, damn). Sometimes they raise my stress levels with their stress. I don’t like people making their problems mine.
By then I could tell the worker bee team players from those who talk a good game and only pretend to work hard while cheering, “Go team!” I sniffed out the self-promoters, the brown-nosers and the politickers (my least favorite type behind even the lazy ones). I sensed the trustworthy and those itching to chuck bodies under buses. Finally, there were “the sinkers.” The sinkers are the people that exist as human cement blocks. They are all to happy to attach themselves to you like a blood sucking eel, whether consciously or sub-consciously, and attempt to drag you down under the water with them. Whatever problems they have, they want to share them with you, have you sink down into the deep, dark water with them. They are dangerous and the office bred more than it’s share.
IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR FACE?
I’m known as a bit of a meeting taskmaster, which generally people appreciate. In April, we received the results of our annual peer feedback. I asked for feedback from 11 peers and more than one (anonymously) enthused about my facilitation skills, “I like being in meetings run by Keisha, because I know they will be efficient and end on time or early.” I hate meetings. Unless it’s a meeting for fun, with an agenda and an actual interesting topic (or even better: drinks!), I want to get in and get out. Many people don’t know how to run an effective meeting. It’s a skill you have to learn as it’s not really taught. I’ve sat through one too many meetings, the sole purpose for which seemed to give pompous directors and ambitious sycophants a platform to bestow their “brilliance” upon their bored, under-recognized, overworked, over-scheduled peers and subordinates. An hour (because 1/2 hour meetings weren’t part of the culture) of listening to people attempt to prove they’re smarter than the next person. Find a damn penpal. Get a therapist. Talked to a stuffed teddy bear.
In a meeting in March, a woman senior to me in age (by only a few years) and position (by only a couple of levels), gave me the dirtiest look I’ve seen since a random disheveled, wrinkled old woman on the street pushing a shopping cart full of assorted collected trash muttered angrily at me, “You stupid fucking bitch.” My only transgression being my bold existence.
I assume this woman is talented at what she does, though she sometimes appeared scattered and disorganized and is prone to veering off-topic and making disruptive, emotional outbursts in meetings. “Is it just me? Or is this just, like, really fucking stupid? I mean, what, oh my God!…” spastic body movements and eye rolls punctuating her words. During one such meeting, where eight highly paid people sat around for yet another assembly of wasted minutes getting nothing accomplished, stalemate after stalemate, because of ego-based arguments and general foolishness like getting into a disagreement because you don’t understand the meaning of “something is fluid.” (An argument ensued because a senior level person though it meant “fixed” and got upset that his idea wasn’t even considered. In that same meeting a grown man pouted as he complained, “I guess I should just sit here and pretend like I don’t exist.”)
I cut her off in this meeting – politely, I am skilled at diplomacy – suggesting we “table” that discussion for now. It was then that she hit me with the dirty look. I have since tried to recreate this look as I telegraph this story for others, but I can’t quite figure out how to contort my features in the ugly way she did. If my life were ever turned into a movie, her face would have transformed into a pool of slithering, hissing serpents like Charlize Theron saw in the face of the duplicitous laywers’ wives in The Devil’s Advocate. I was amazed; who is that unprofessional, especially at that age?
WHO IS RUNNING THINGS?
Given the breadth of my position – I worked with people across different departments and functional groups – I had unique insight into the goings-ons in many groups and holy! unchecked rampant dysfunction, Iyanla! Backstabbing, infighting, territorialism, competitiveness, badmouthing, defensiveness, posturing, ego-puffing, uncooperative actions, CYA-ing to the extreme, defensiveness – oh did I mention that already? – the list of maladaptive behaviors didn’t end.
Personally and professionally, I’ve been primarily frustrated with ineffectual management and the amount of time I spent existing in an unhealthy environment, absorbing the effects of such poor management in the actions of others, detracting from my ability to actually do the job they hired me to do. Being pulled in different directions by people who seemingly change their minds on a whim or have a vision they don’t clearly articulate into actionable tactics. Leaving employees confused, directionless, off-balance and stressed. Both my manager, who’s one of the long-timers at FS, and a couple of co-workers told me that while I have the fortune of working on one of the most exciting parts of the site, I also work with some of the most difficult personalities in the company. Gee, how did I ever get so lucky? Comfortingly though, they all told me I was handling it well.
AND THEN THERE WAS HER
I have never worked with anyone quite like her. The highly ambitious, Ivy League educated young woman who became a huge thorn in my side. She and I worked on the same team, one of many teams I was on, and while I thought she could be charming, is sharp and hard-working, and appreciated her collection of designer handbags and shoes, I quickly grew to view her as an extremely exhausting energy vampire. She’s high-strung and prone to catastrophizing everything, particularly when she’s stressed, which seemed to be most days the sun rose. She micromanages people out of her need to control things and oversteps her boundaries. She can be dictatorial and too often speaks to her peers in a condescending manner and interacts with her teammates in such a way that implies she doesn’t respect your experience or skills. My position was senior to hers and yet she felt comfortable directing me in how to do my job (because as she once told me, she “did it for a year.” Well, I’ve done it for 10. Shall we take out our swords?) and speaking to me as though I were her employee. One engineer left our team for another – she treated him like a wayward child and constantly criticized his behavior failing to make it constructive. She caused another team member to cry because she hammered at her so much, put so much pressure on her.
She and I seem to speak such different languages that our once a week, one-on-one to sync up on our team, inevitably devolved into a relationship discussion, about our working relationship, “When you say this, I feel this…” Also inevitably, she’d take the opportunity to inform me of all the tasks she thought I should be doing that I wasn’t. So often she projected her own bad behavior on to me that I wondered if I were part of some big, secret, clearly unethical, crazy psychological experiment to see just how much fucked up-ness a person can stand. She’d cut me out of things, approach me when there was a problem, too late for me to do anything about it, then blame me for the outcome. On one hand she’d express to me how important it is to be unified in front of our team and then in meetings shut me down when I expressed an opinion, undermine me in front of the team and/or be argumentative.
We were in a freaking relationship except I didn’t get any benefits, just the nagging & the headaches. With her, what you did was never enough unless you were by her side like a lapdog ready to sit when she directed. And if you accomplished this feat it was on to the next thing you needed to be doing, with barely a rewarding pat on the head. Always harder, harder, harder; more more more.
That was my least favorite team. You’re on hyper-alert, always afraid to fail, to come up short despite trying your best, to catch a glimpse of that disapproving look on her face. Waiting for her to get on your case for not doing something else she expected you to do, but didn’t communicate to you, or perhaps did, but in a language that sounds like high-strungese. For her eventually to sacrifice you and tell an exec that she thinks you need to be handled – I know, because I was in a meeting with her and an exec where she did it to someone else. I knew before that I couldn’t trust her, but after that meeting, my guard went up all the way.
She is fantastic at managing up, she’s Teacher’s Pet, and just like Teacher’s Pet, several of her co-workers don’t like working with her. Her mentor is one of the execs and another exec promoted her. When her promotion was announced in a departmental meeting, you could see the unhappiness of others in the room – and it wasn’t jealousy. Another friend of mine got promoted (they were the only two recognized as such in our department) and many were thrilled for him, he truly deserved it and is a pleasure to work with.
The situation devolved to the point where as time went on I began to have physical anxiety reactions to her very presence.
THE WORST MEETING EVER
In March, when a new Exec decided to restructure teams, and largely left the execution of it in the hands of feckless middle management, the process fell apart and the train veered way off the track into a fiery ditch of confusion, misdirection and frustration. There was little support or guidance. 25+ people directionless. I raised my concerns about the flying debris of confusion to various levels of management, careful not to make anything personal: a broken process and unhappy employees who feel like the execs don’t care is bad for business. Ultimately, I want the people on my teams to be happy and be able to do their jobs effectively. Largely, nothing changed for weeks. I grew more frustrated and my feelings of helplessness ballooned. How am I supposed to work like this? Nothing changed that is, until May when the din of dysfunction grew so loud hearing it was unavoidable and three execs scheduled meetings with the impacted teams to attempt to solve the problems they created. I was the lucky recipient of not one, but two meeting invites.
The morning of the WORST MEETING EVER, I headed to the ubiquitous Starbucks for a latte with burnt coffee. As I waited for my filled coffee cup on which my name would undoubtedly be misspelled even though I spell it out, I suddenly felt weak. My heart began to flutter and then race. My face broke out in a sweat. I felt hot. I literally had to have a seat. I couldn’t hear what was taking place around me with the blood quickly filling and then pulsing in the vessels in my ears. I focused on my breathing and though shaky, composed myself enough to pick up the coffee for “Aesha” when called.
I later asked on Facebook:
What does an anxiety attack feel like?
It was the meetings. The idea of these meetings with the whole team and three execs, yet another meeting full of unproductive conflict and tension, filled me with overwhelming anxiety.
The first meeting scheduled for an hour took 1 hour and 45 minutes! Like a family argument that makes you wish you could be anywhere but in that very place, a hot, enclosed room, ripe with the energy of heavy emotions, hovering in the air like smog. Halfway through the meeting a teammate leaned over to me to whisper, “This is so.fucking.painful.” I spoke no more than a few sentences to give the team a chance to express their challenges. Voices raised, figurative fingers pointed, the words “we don’t feel valued, we have college degrees in this subject, listen to us” spoken with most of this directed at High Strung Girl. I felt bad for her, I’m not heartless. To have a few people share, in a room full of people, just how much you have made their work lives difficult must sting and badly. She seemed stunned and remained largely silent, her faithful sidekick coming to her defense. The execs who’d bought into the package she’s sold them, were also stunned. Her reaction surprised me – how could she not know – sadly, the stupefaction of the execs didn’t shock me. They’ve been highly uninvolved in what’s going on with their own people.
In that meeting I knew I wanted out of the company. I started to plot my exit.
Not too much later, I’d find out that a few of my team members had similar problems with High Strung Girl, including having one-on-one meetings with her to talk about their working relationships, and similarly notified their managers of their frustration and seemingly their managers failed to take action [I can’t say this with certainty, but they sure didn’t think so]. Oh, guess what – at least one of their managers is good friends with High Strung Girl. How do you like that? They also let me know they’d witnessed how disrespectfully I’d been treated and supported me. I needed the validation. I’d been feeling alone in the insanity.
A few weeks later, Fancy Startup gave me the boot, a few weeks shy of my (partial) stock option-vesting one year anniversary.
In May, a new TR joined the company. As part of his interview panel, I advocated for his hire. He’d also formerly worked at another tech company with the exec that promoted HSG and whom I am quite certain was instrumental in my being let go. He’s been asked to take over my role. But, wait, I thought the company was restructuring? Well, more power to him, I hope he enjoys inheriting the mess of problems and the remaining difficult people (some did get cut).
I cannot count the number of nights I awoke thinking about work, the hours I lay awake in bed stressing over bullshit related to office politics and a need to defend myself from the very event that occurred. So, I am not sad. I am thrilled that I don’t work there anymore. I predict it’s on it’s way toward an even more toxic environment before things begin to improve, if they improve.
I am good at what I do. It took my last job for me to really learn to believe that. My peer and manager feedback in April was positive and I received a merit increase. In my time there I led several brown bag workshops, mentored another person who is also in Thankless Role, though junior to me, coached others through hard times with their own teams, started a business book club and solicited agenda topics for a weekly town hall-like meeting in addition to doing my actual job. I was no slouch.
I’ll miss my kickball team friends, the lunch crew, my other team members in the Thankless Role, the autonomy I had – when I actually got to do my job I enjoyed it – my standing desk and my professional and reasonable boss. However, that chapter is over now.
For the first time in 11 years – since the last time I got laid off, this is the fourth time(!) – I have few responsibilities. I have no job to get up and go to. Nobody asking me for anything. No stress, no dirty looks, no anxiety. I just have to take care of myself, my bills and my felines. I’m going to enjoy this for at least a short while before I figure out what’s next. I have more time to dedicate to family and friends who’ve received less of my attention because I was in meetings all the time or too stressed and exhausted to handle long conversations after work. So far this week, I’ve spent hours fun Facetiming with my youngest sister, chatted with my mom, spent another couple of hours talking to my middle sister. I’ve chatted with friends on and offline. I’m reading a book for fun, I went to the park in the middle of the day, with the other people who have daytime freedom: the kids, the retired, the stay-at-home mommies and daddies and the nannies. I had sushi & beer for lunch with another laid off co-worker, Mighty, and we toasted to our freedom. It’s summer and 70 degrees in San Francisco, who wants to waste time being upset?
This is one year out of my hopefully long life. The job was meant as a stepping stone. I knew that from day one. I learned A LOT and met a handful of wonderful people with whom I will stay in contact; now is a great time to move on. Each time I’ve been laid off, it’s led to a positive, life-pivoting change and I welcome it.
I left on my desk two post-its written by teammates of mine during a team-building activity I led after the WORST MEETING EVER in an attempt to repair the damage, still without support or guidance. They read, “You are good at team-building” and “You are welcoming and friendly. You are the glue that keeps us together. :)”
Recently during lunch with a co-worker, Mighty* – we’ve bonded in our search for sanity in the crazytown that is our work environment – she exclaimed, “Keisha, I have to tell you! Something you told me really helped me!”
A few weeks earlier, on our way back from lunch, dodging poo on the sidewalk (dog? human? who knows), sidestepping a disheveled-looking man angrily muttering to himself and quickly breezing past a urine-scented staircase, – in other words, a not atypical walk in certain parts of San Francisco – Mighty told me how she’d fallen victim to a scam on a popular website – a website which began as a consumer-to-consumer auction site, we’ll call it, “eCray”.
She sold an expensive electronic item to someone who conned her out of four figures. Distraught and poorer, she complained to eCray’s customer service who told her due to some loophole, “Sorry for ya, but you screwed yourself. Sucks for you though, we get that. Maybe call a lawyer? Ok, bye! Please shop again!”
Clearly exasperated and frustrated, she concluded, “I guess I’m just out all of that money! It was stupid! I can’t believe they won’t do anything!”
I recounted to her the tale of my great battle against the big online bookstore that put many baby bookstores out of business. But, I didn’t buy a book from them, I bought something else, because they sell other stuff too, everything actually, it’s pretty amazing. Let’s call that company, “Jungle.”
Due to a botched transaction with a reseller (they have stuff for resale too!), I was owed a refund which I never received. At the time, Jungle’s customer service that was so bad and it angered me so much I wondered if I needed therapy, after all, it wasn’t all that much money. But, THEY messed up and THEY needed to give me back my money. It’s the principle of the thing. So, when Jungle’s customer service hit me with:
“We are sorry for your inconvenience, but our policy states that we must be money-hoarding automatons with fake names – because you know and I know my name isn’t really ‘Brad’ or ‘George’ or ‘Angelina’, but something less easy for the average American to pronounce – and we can’t give you a refund. But, sorry, that sucks ma’am. Ok, bye! Please shop again!”
Screw that. I drafted a letter and an email – old school and new school – to “whom it may concern”, about the small amount I was owed, why it was owed to me and the amount of ridiculous shenanigans and fuckery that ensued when I tried to reclaim my money thanks to their blood-pressure raising, script-reading, customer service. In summary, I added how I’m not going to be shopping there anymore because they’ve left a bad taste in my mouth and I will never be the same. Ever.
Letter stamped, dropped in the mail and email sent to the VP of Customer Service, the VP of Marketing and the VP of VPness. That should about reach at least one person high enough who will care that a customer is so upset she’ll take her fight up the ladder and tell the whole damn neighborhood about it.
A few weeks later, I received a lovely email from a VP expressing intense regret at the unfortunate experiences I’d endured at Jungle’s hands along with a refund for the full amount owed and a gift card to buy anything I like (you can buy Q-tips! Q-tips delivered to your doorstep in two days!).
When I finished the story about my battle against the giant Jungle, Mighty let out a big breath: “Wow, I didn’t think of that. You’re right; I should do that, because I am so angry! That is so wrong, they should be protecting their customers!”
At lunch, she recalled the telling of that anecdote and being marveled by my perseverance. I offered as explanation:
“I guess I just never take ‘no’ for an answer. I never really thought about it, but I think I just figure there’s always a way around most things. There’s almost always someone higher up who can get you what you need or another solution around a roadblock.
I just keep trying until I decide either it’s no longer worth it or I’ve exhausted my solutions. I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and decide if it’s worth it.”
I added, “I think it’s a family thing.”
Ready for another story within a story?
I shared with her how Last Christmas, back in Texas to visit the family, I went to the movies with my mom and younger sister to see the film Mandela. Unfortunately, an older version of Martha and the Vandellas were there too, gossiping like church ladies. Now this is Man.de.la, a movie about a man of great historical importance, who, along with his fellow South African supporters, suffered through much violence and debasement as demonstrated in evocative scenes. Imagine having your stream of emotions interrupted by obnoxious braying:
“Honeyyyyyyyy, I couldn’t!”
“Hahahaha, I know!“
My mom and sister periodically turned around presumably to mean-mug them. A few other patrons in the mostly empty theatre attempted to shush them, but they’d start right back up again, clucking away like plump hens freed from their pen.
Ordinarily, this is exactly the kind of shit that sticks in my craw. I have paid damn near the price of a concert ticket to sit in this dark theatre with strangers and my family, eating overpriced artery-clogging popcorn because the stuff is addictive, and these women here, these women here, are bleating their way through Mandela. Mandela!
However, I was more fascinated with my mom and sister and their fascination with Rude, Ruder & Rudest.
My sister huffed. Then she stood up. She is 22 and has more confidence and self-assuredness at her age than I had my entire high school experience. She whispered, “I’m going to find the manager.”
A long 10 minutes later, my sister returned, shortly followed by a young usher, who looked like he’s capable of nothing more than wrestling a stuffed tiger, peered toward the back of the theatre where the three assmigas have caught on and were silently behaving themselves.
He stood in place for a beat, probably sizing up the women, shrugged – I’m sure he realized they could take him and the stuffed tiger he wrestled – and he exited the theatre without a word to them.
We were not impressed.
For a blissful half an hour, the women remained largely silent, shuffling and shifting weight periodically, almost as though the pain of holding back their witty commentary might eat them up from inside, until finally bits of conversation, varying in volume from a whisper to audible travel-level and worked its way toward us:
“and then…yeah, uh huh…right, so then…and he…”
Gah!. We did our best to ignore their voices as they chittered intermittently during the movie.
After the film, my mom approached the useless usher and requested to speak to the manager.
“Yes, ma’am!” He immediately turned and headed for a private door.
I think he would have flown to the manager to get there faster if he could. My mom’s tone indicated, “I mean business. You better get moving! Nobody’s playing here!”
When the manager arrived, my mom and sister calmly explained to the him the pain we suffered through having our Mandela experience ruined: Do you know how much movie tickets are these days? And my sister/daughter is in town all the way from California! and this is what she has to go through? I just find this unacceptable. We did not enjoy ourselves.
I stood silently in awe trying to avoid breaking out in a full smile of pride.
In less than five minutes, we emerged from the theatre having received an apology and 8 passes to see any movie we like.
“I wrote to the Vice President of Customer Service at eCray like you suggested,” Mighty said, “and I got it resolved! It was so fast! They refunded all my money! I have to remember this! Thank you for your help!”
Sometimes it pays not to take no for an answer.
* Name changed for the sake of making my life easier
It’s something I’ve heard often, that I’m a good listener. It’s probably the trait of which I’m most proud. Who doesn’t want someone to listen to them? Who doesn’t want to be heard? You can change the tone of a conversation or an argument just by letting the other person know that you are listening to them and reflecting listening behavior.
I value strong listening skills because too often I have felt like I have no one to talk to who will really listen. My closest friend tend to be those also described by as others as good listeners. By good listener, I mean, if sharing a story, they don’t interrupt to tell you their own story; clearly engaged in conversation such that their eyes meet yours, they nod in comprehension, their expressions change to reflect the intake of narrative. If you have a problem, they listen and offer support in the way that you need it, rather than tell you what they would do if they were you or what they think you should be doing. If you say something hurts your feelings, they don’t invalidate your expression of emotion by asking, “Why are you so upset by this?” or dismissively comment, “Maybe you’re being a little sensitive?”
Sensitive. That word. I’ve long hated that word. It rarely seemingly used in a complimentary way, especially when directed at women. Sensitive people or expressions of sensitivity are sometimes viewed as weak, emotional or neurotic. The US is a society that applauds typically masculine traits and too often derides more feminine traits, such as sensitivity, so it’s no wonder many, including myself, consider it insulting to be told they are sensitive or even worse, “too sensitive.”
This past spring, I participated in a past-life regression session with a friend of mine who does past-life regression therapy for a living. Her goal is to help people move past the trauma holding them back in their current lives, by uncovering the source of the pain, which is sometimes rooted in past lives.
We were bridesmaids together last year and I met her for the first time not too long before all the bridesmaids planned the bridal shower together. We bonded during the bachelorette party as we discussed everything from the significance of Jason Collins coming out to the potentially dicey topic of religion.
Something about her makes me feel like I can trust her with the kinds of secrets & vulnerabilities we hold nearest to ourselves for fear of being exposed for who we really are or who we fear people will think we and have our vulnerability used to hurt us, tortured by our own Kryptonite. When she offered to do a regression for me the next time I was in Los Angeles, but warned me it could get pretty emotional and raw, I had absolutely no qualms about taking her up on the offer.
Prior to beginning the hypnosis part of the session, she asked me a series of questions to assess my susceptibility to reaching a deep meditative state. She asked me if I am more of a visual or auditory processor and while I always thought of myself as more of an auditory processor, she helped me realize just how much I “see” life as a series of stories, images, themes and patterns.
The entire experience was incredibly intense and emotional, as promised. She said to me, “You have a sense about why people do the things they do and you see things in the world in a way that only a small number of people do. It can be isolating.” Even though I was in a “hypnotic” state, I could still comprehend her words and respond to her. She finished with, “It’s probably why you can get upset with people easily, because you see things they may not even be aware of and it frustrates you.” She’d practically reached into the depths of my past, unwrapped a box I had stashed way deep down, and seen a part of me I usually protect, hiding for so long I don’t even think about it.
“You exist on a different ‘plane’ than many people. Not that one plane is better than another, they are just different. You probably feel like an outsider sometimes. Even in your family; like no one understands you. It’s probably why you live so far away from them. You wanted to find where you belonged.” Girl, yes! Like it’s not enough that I’m a short, black, left-handed, female living in an America that prefers tall, white, right-handed males, I am even the weirdo in my own family.
So wait, I’m not weird? Why has no one ever told me this?
What she said really stuck with me. I began reading up on visual processing which led me to a series of links about a book named The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Of the book, a Marie Claire article shares:
…what all HSPs share is an uncommon ability to pick up on subtleties that others might miss — a look, a feeling, a message embedded in a seemingly straightforward statement. “It’s like they’re wearing an extra pair of glasses,” she says.
This sensitivity I’ve been beating myself up over for so long is actually much of what makes me who I am and there’s a lot of meaning in that one word. Being sensitive means:
1. I Hate to See Others in Emotional Distress
Last December, on my way out of the office with my boss and co-worker to have drinks before our holiday party, I noticed another co-worker dressed up and ready to go, but solo. I asked her if she had plans to get to the party and when she said “No,” I invited her to join us. My boss looked at me with a bit of wonderment and commented, “Keisha, that was so nice of you. So many people would have just left and not said anything.” Exactly. So many people do do that and miss out on opportunities to reach out to others. I’ve done that. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt alone or passed by as though I were invisible, whether intentional or not. It sucks. I didn’t ask her to join us because I felt pity or because I wanted to feel like martyr, I did it because she’s always been polite to me and I hate to see anyone alone if they don’t need or desire it. We’re human beings. We are social animals, whether some of us care to admit to it or not, and we seek acceptance and welcoming by others.
2. I am a Loyal Friend
If I decide I care about you, you can expect I’ll throw down for you, without question. I’ve been in three fights in my life that got physical (once with beer) and two of those times were in defense of a friend being picked on by an asshole (whom I am often good at spotting). The third time was a stupid fight with my sister, M, when we were in middle school, over whether you had to have seen Halloween III to understand Halloween 4. I don’t remember who won, but my mom came home in horror and put a stop to the fisticuffs. We were dumb.
3. I Can Smell Bullshit
You’ve heard the phrase, “Never bullshit a bullshitter”? Well, I have a very vivid imagination and know how to spin a tale and I can hear when someone is trying to sell me a baggie of crap. I can spot a bullshitter with ease.
4. I Love Animals
I got my first dog at five. I had him for one whole weekend and then he disappeared. My dad claimed she got sick or something, but I think he didn’t like that the puppy pooped on the floor and sent him back where he came from. Some of my friends laugh when I say I want to have a ranch one day with some of my favorite animals. Giggle all you want, but I will have an alpaca buddy one day. For now, I have the two kitties and not-so-secretly hope to meet an eligible suitor with a lovable dog.
5. I am Sensitive to the Moods of Other People
I have to protect myself from situations and people who are energy vampires or carry too much negative energy because I absorb it without intention. Last week at work, I had to leave a very heated meeting – one of the top 3 most painful meetings I’ve ever sat through in my entire worklife – because people were tense, argumentative, confrontational discontent, and frustrated with each other. Like a fucked up family dinner with no food and no alcohol for maximum suffering. Each unhappy sentence rolling off tongues felt like being hit with repeated soft blows by invisible balled up fists of bad energy. The minute I left the room, two-thirds of the way through this hour and forty minute torture session, and took a walk around the building, I felt better, freed from the emotions contained and simmering in that hot conference room.
6. Sometimes People Think I’m Psychic
When a guy I dated broke things off with me a few summers ago, I told a friend of mine, “He is going to marry the woman he dates after me.” My friend looked at me doubtfully, attributing my words to post-break up grief, I imagine, “How can you know that?” Sure enough, less than a year later, he was engaged to the woman he dated after me and they are now married. I just knew. The signs were there. I’m not psychic. I just saw the cues.
I’m rarely surprised anymore when someone I work with announces they’re leaving. The signals are almost always there, some people just notice them more than or before others. I am one of those people.
I’ve many a time been called perceptive and insightful and less frequently had people jokingly ask me if I’m psychic. I’m often not consciously looking for signals, but the patterns are there in the world, you look and listen for them.
7. I’m Conscientious
I’ve been told I’m polite and at times in frustration, I’ve had people tell me I’m too polite. I treat people the way I wish to be treated. My conscientiousness is the result of a couple of things. I have a mother who went to charm school growing up and thus taught her daughters how to be “charming.” Secondly, I simply believe in being considerate of others. That seems to mean a hyper-awareness of social observances that other people may not have. Boy do I get pissed in the BART station when some people don’t notice that everyone else is standing on THE RIGHT SIDE of the escalator, and you are the only clueless boob standing on the left, blocking the flow of stairclimbers. It initially strikes me as a rude move by someone who isn’t thinking of others, and I can’t stand when people are inconsiderate. Get some home training! However, as I am often reminded in life’s mysterious ways, not everyone thinks the way I do about manners and consideration and I have to demonstrate patience and give others the benefit of the doubt. Else, I risk spending too much time being too through with people for not behaving as I think they should. Life is too short for that.
8. I’ll Pass On The Violence
The older I get the less I am able to withstand images of violence or people in pain. Once, while trying to decide what to watch on TV with an ex-boyfriend, he landed on a documentary about the Holocaust.
“I can’t watch this,” I said.
“What? Why? This is important.”
“I know that. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of reading and watching about the Holocaust. Horrifying images are seared in my head. Joseph Goebbels is a disgusting human being and obviously Hitler should burn in 80 million hells. But, it’s going to make me really emotional to watch this. I just can’t. I’ll start crying and it’ll be a mess.” I could barely keep it together during the opening scenes of Up.It’s for that reason that I still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, even though I know it’s a highly lauded and important film. I visited the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam and I had to take a seat. It was too real. I recovered at a “café.”
9. I Love Beautiful Things
When I went to Paris almost five years ago, I fell in love with Picasso at the Pompidou Museum. I understood what the fuss was about. His art drew me in and that trip to Paris will always be linked in my mind with my discovery of Picasso and a new perspective on art. A lovely and romantic experience in a Paris museum, just me and Picasso.
I also see beauty in different ways, not only in classic or tangible aesthetics. My youngest sister graduated from college a couple of weeks ago. Her area of study is largely majored in by women. The graduates comprised of a plurality of ethnic groups including black, Latino, white and Asian students. Women, graduating by the hundreds. Women, who less than 100 years ago, couldn’t vote in this country. Women, who less than 50 years ago were barely accepted in the workplace. Black men and women whose enslaved ancestors only could dream about the freedom to study in a school, alongside people of different colors and graduate with a college degree. Individuals whose families may have struggled to reach the point where they could send someone to college. I imagined the ghosts of our ancestors sitting alongside their family in the audience, beaming with pride. In that moment I really felt the weight of the meaning of my bachelor’s degree for the first time since I earned it over a decade ago. That’s beauty.
10. My Sensitivity Isn’t Always Appreciated
I’ve had people tell me my thoughts are too intense or that I ask too many “serious” questions. At times it’s resulted in my retreating, reluctant to express my thoughts. A feeling of, “Don’t get too deep. Play dumb and light to get along well with others.” Again, that’s isolating, there’s a feeling of being unable to express your true self lest your observations or theoretical questions are met with a blank stare and a slow, “Uh…yeah, that’s interesting. What made you even think of that [weirdo]?”
More and more studies emerge suggesting that having high emotional intelligence, which is linked to sensitive traits like self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy, makes for stronger leaders. Sensitivity is being rebranded.
Being sensitive doesn’t have to mean being neurotic, weak, dramatic or soft. If you’re sensitive, embrace it; you’re normal and it’s okay. If you know someone who is sensitive, appreciate what they have to offer, perhaps they’ll help you see the world through a different lens.
I don’t know if I’m one of those “highly sensitive people”. I don’t feel the need to label myself with yet another adjective. What I am though is someone who can be sensitive and I choose to see that as a positive trait and not something to hide in shame. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, being who I am.
It’s a college party. I’m in a Soul Train line, surrounded mostly by white people, and it’s my turn to dance. A popular rap song is blasting from a giant stereo and people are losing their collective shit, arms flailing, bouncing up, down and around, shout-rapping (“shrapping?”) along but skipping the word “nigga”, some glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes. An expression that says, “See? I didn’t say it! Aren’t you proud?” “
God. I have to dance. I can feel the weight of their expectations. They are here for the entertainment. I hate these damn lines. How many people here even watched Soul Train? Where are the other two black people at this party? Why the fuck am I out here alone? Those fools are probably hiding. They knew.
I plaster a big smile on my face, take a deep breath, and begin swaying, hands in the hair, trying to look simultaneously sexy – there are cute boys here after all – and hip-hoppy. As I near the end of the line I take in everyone’s gaze, their chants slowing with each step I take. The other two black people have reappeared. I can sense their second-hand embarrassment. I bet they can even dance too! Why me?! A sloppy-drunk guy licks his lips at me. Disappointment hangs in the air. Black girl can’t dance? I have failed.
Screw you guys. My dancing is fine, you all need to lower your expectations!
Variations of this scenario are peppered throughout my personal black history. Black people have a reputation for being great dancers. The bar is raised for us. I have never been one of those fab dancing black folk, though I love to dance. I’ve danced for as long as I can remember. I took my first dance class when I was 6, in Brooklyn, with Ms. Francine. It didn’t last very long. I later asked why I stopped taking ballet classes and “someone” told me that I “wasn’t very good” and so it made me unhappy.
I should have learned then and just given up public dancing. But, as I have little recollection of this sentiment – being unhappy in ballet class – I can only assume that I found my lack of talent for ballet so traumatizing that I had to suppress the painful memories, leaving only the shiny happy moments in the quick recall bin of my memory bank. Instead, for years, I’ve suffered through the scrutiny of dancing while black in hip hop dance classes, a jazz dance class in college where I’m pretty sure my teacher wanted to cry in disbelief – it takes me forever to learn choreography; I couldn’t even get an ‘A’ in that freaking class – as well as parties and anytime a new dance craze mesmerizes the country and people assume I can teach them how do it. I can’t teach you how to Dougie either! Go ask YouTube!
Last year, at a friend’s wedding, drunk on free-flowing champagne – the videographer paid me extra attention and kept bringing me drinks; I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed the attention and he was cute – I could not stay off the dance floor. My partying nights are few and far between these days, so I hadn’t danced in what felt like a decade but was probably closer to six months. I feel alive when I’m dancing to a fun song with a high energy beat. It’s the closest I get to a meditative state since I can never seem to quiet my mind long enough to actually meditate meditate. If I’m having a bad day, dancing it out at home alone to Beyoncé, like I have no shame, like I think I could ever come close to approximating the sexiness she oozes as her body moves like a sultry snake, it reinvigorates me.
My friend’s boyfriend was also a fixture on the dance floor. As I danced near him during one song, he yelled over the music to me, “C’MON, GIRL. SHAKE THAT GHETTO BOOTY!”
Oh life. The situations you throw at me, you jokester you!
Let’s see here. It’s my friend’s boyfriend, whom I like and know as a decent, kind human being. I also know that he is South American and their views of race and their cultural history greatly differ from the US’. So, what I’m not going to do is act a fool. It’s my friend’s wedding. I don’t need to get stank. I am a lady.
I raised an eyebrow, half-smiled and yelled back, “I AM FROM THE SUBURBS!” Let’s laugh about it, shall we?
“WHAT THAT MEANS?”
“I AM NOT FROM THE GHETTO. YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!”
“OH! C’MON. I KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!”
I wasn’t angry with him. I knew he meant it innocently, but it’s like hearing the same dumbass joke for the 1000th time. It gets old and tired. I just want dance floor liberation! To dance however the hell I want without feeling the pressure of the gaze of dozens of eyes anticipating a live performance straight out of America’s Best Dance Crew. If you’re familiar with that show, you may have noticed that many of the dance crews are Asian. As a matter of fact, many of my Asian friends are better dancers than I am. When I dance too close to them, in comparison it’s that much more obvious that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
Lately, party Keisha has emerged from hibernation and she’s been itching to shake a tail feather. I know I’m for serious when I’m out and starting popping 5-hour energy drinks. There is a direct correlation between the amount of stress I feel at work and the intensity of my need to pop, lock and drop it. These days I wanna dance! I wanna be a Dancing Queen.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bar with a dance floor, hip hop music playing and me the only black person in the room. I was minding my business, doing my little dance, enjoying the song, getting Into the Groove, and one of the guys with my group chanted to me, “Go, Keisha! Go, Keisha!”
Oh hell no, there’ll be no starting of a dance circle with me in the center. I inched away from him and kept on dancing.
Sometimes I want to dance like a straight fool. Like I’m not worried about steps, rhythm, being sexy, pushing some pelvis gyrating dude off me or twerking for tips, but rather just feeling the music and going with it. I want to get all Duckie to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” I don’t think that is too much to ask. Freedom from the pressures of dancing while black.
A few days ago I was at my local greeting card store picking up what seemed like stacks of birthday cards because I tend to befriend and befamily* a disproportionate number of Pisces/Aries/Taurus people (those born in March and April, for the non-astrology folks). As I approached the cash register to pay, I kind of hoped that I wouldn’t be helped out by the somewhat eccentric older woman with the Thelma Harper hair and with whom I’d had an off-putting encounter around the Christmas holidays.
As I was packing away the holiday cards I’d just purchased (holiday-neutral, no religious symbols, no mentions of Christmas, baby Jesus or miraculous pregnancies) in the reusable bag I’d dutifully brought with me (you’re welcome, Earth), she wished me a, “Happy Holidays.”
“Thanks, you too!”
“Oh, thank you. You know, last week, I said ‘Merry Christmas’ to a customer. She snapped at me, ‘I am Jewish!’ Sor-REEEE. You don’t have to jump down my throat! Can’t say anything these days without somebody getting offended. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
“Then MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, young lady.”
I tilted my head in false sympathy for her plight and left.
Erm…okay. I mean, maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s religion? Maybe the customer is Jewish and in the religious minority in this country and gets tired of people assuming she celebrates Christmas? I mean, I get annoyed when ignorant dudes approach with me some fake swagger and a “Hey girl, what’s up?” trying to sound hood, but the same dude will greet my white or Asian friend with, “Hi, I’m Joe,” using perfect diction, sounding like they’re ready to give a speech to the President. It just so happens that I also speak Standard American English and am capable of understanding simple words like, ‘Hi, I’m Joe.” So, spare me the blaccent. Assumptions, assumptions. Just assy.
A few months later, I stood at the register and who else but eccentric older woman made her way toward me? Three employees in the store and I get her.
“All set? Oh! Let me show you our Easter cards!” She motioned toward the front of the store.
“Oh, no thank you.”
“They’re just right here. I’ll show you.” She started toward the cards.
Her voice was loud enough for me and the rest of the customers in the store to hear.
“Thanks. I don’t celebrate Easter.”
“Ahhhh…” she walked back to the register. The woman standing in line behind me tensed up, shifted her weight. The woman still hadn’t even rung up my purchases; she was too busy badgering me into looking at Easter cards.
I was raised Christian, but don’t consider myself Christian and don’t really make it a point to celebrate Easter. I do celebrate Christmas, but for the secular reasons.
“It’s just, there’s one with an [she lowered her voice to a loud whisper] ‘African-American’ on it. We don’t usually have those, so…”
Why is this happening? For real? I just wanted to buy some damn cards.
On the one hand, given I’ve written about the lack of color representation among greeting card choices, it’s positive there’s a card with a black person on it. But, it’s ONE CARD. What if I didn’t like the card? What if the person on the card was wearing some tacky ass outfit? Or looked ratchet? Or looked like a white person whose skin was painted a horrible brown shade that doesn’t exist in humans? Like I’m not supposed to notice the European features on the chocolate skin. They do that. Thanks for the charity. One card.
On the other hand: woman, seriously? Stop being so pushy and sticking your foot all the way in your mouth. It’s kind of ridiculous to single me out because you have one black card. She probably meant well, but c’mon.
“Yeah, not a lot of cards like that. I’ll have to check that out some other time.”
It seemed like it took her ages to ring me up before finally I could bolt from the store. The lone black customer has exited the store, off to do some black stuff. Goodbye.
Hi, I’m Keisha and apparently I get into fights with old ladies. Let’s take a look, shall we?
When I first moved into my apartment building I met the girlfriend of one of my neighbors. Her boyfriend had lived in the building for two years.
“How do you like it here? How are the people in the
“Oh, I like it. People are pretty quiet and nice, but…” she lowered her voice and moved closer to me, “Have you met the old lady that lives down the hall?”
“Oh, Gertie? Yeah, she seems nice, I saw her vacuuming the entryway. It’s sweet that she does that.”
She made a face as though she was less than impressed.
“Yeah…she’s just…kinda weird,” her voice trailed off and then as though she were re-energized, “Well, I hope you love it here! Good luck unpacking!”
This is how scary movies start. Everyone knows the black people always die first. Dammit!
I had indeed met Ms. Gertie. I know little about her. I try to engage her in conversation when I see her, but she doesn’t much seem interested. I
noticed once an accent fading in and out, so I asked her about it.
“Oh yes, I am from Ireland.”
I asked her how long she’d been living in the building.
“Oh, longer than you’ve probably been alive, dear.” She has the voice of a fairy-tale grandmother. Or the Wicked Witch: “I’ll get you my pretty (and your little cats tooooo.).”
In the 18 months or so that I’ve lived in the building, I’ve learned the following about the life of Gertie:
1. She lives alone and spent this past Christmas with her niece that lives an hour north inWine Country.
2. I can’t say with certainty how old she is, but I’m a good guesstimator of age (ask my friends) and I think she’s probably between 72-77.
3. She likes to vacuum. I don’t mean vacuum her place. I mean, the whole building. Often at 9:30pm on a weeknight. I don’t know what the hell she’s vacuuming or why; we have a cleaning service that comes weekly to tidy up. In any case, our building is extra clean. Maybe she’s bored and needs something to do. If she has a job, it doesn’t seem to be one that requires her to leave her place.
4. I had a drink with our former building manager once (a random occurrence, he’s nearly 60 and married; it was nothing scandalous) and when I asked for his take on our building and its residents, about Gertie he shared “Ohhh, Gertie. She’s a tough one.”
He winced. I chuckled. “Does she complain a lot?”
“You could say that. She just makes my job extra hard. She calls about every little thing that goes wrong.”
5. Every Christmas she decorates the indoor entryway to our building with a Christmas tree, lights, tinsel, garland and a 2-ft tall Santa Claus doll with a pale, waxy face that my sister N deemed “creepy as hell!” It’s festive and I appreciate someone making the effort, especially since I’m not putting up a Christmas tree for me and the cats.
6. She is fond of leaving passive aggressive notes with lots!of!exclamation! around the building:
“The LIGHT! in the laundry room! is BROKEN as of 1/5/14 @ 2pm! Please FIX it IMMEDIATELY! Someone could break! their NECK!”
7. My younger sister N was here last summer and stayed with me some nights. Gertie asked me: “Is that your daughter that stays with you sometimes?”
My sister and I are six years apart in age and black don’t crack so usually people ask us who is older. No way in hell does she look like my daughter! Is my black cracking?! Do I suddenly look old? My sister’s reaction when I shared this with her reassured me, “The fuck? Your daughter?! Why does she think that? Is this some racial thing? Like you’re a ‘young single black mother’? What the hell? Your daughter? Let me say something to her.” No need. I let it go.
8. I ran into Gertie when I was on my way out to dinner once, wearing a cute new dress and showing a perfectly respectable amount of skin. And even if I wasn’t, I am a grown ass woman and I buy what I want to wear, so I can wear what I want. The look she gave me. Like I was some loose harlot! When did I sign up for a den mom? This wasn’t the first time she side-eyed me when I was either coming from fun or going to fun. Of course I ran into her on way home from the Pride festivalwith stickers on my face wearing a rainbow feathered boa. I think she either hates fun or is jealous of fun. Either way, not my problem.
I couldn’t find my keys when I left for work this morning. I dug up half my apartment looking for them. I even missed my bus trying to find them. I have a
spare key to my apartment, but not to the building’s front door. It’s one of those keys that you can’t get copied at your local Home Depot. We used to have the access code, but when our building management changed, they
decided to change the access code too and not tell anybody. Hey guys,
maybe you should notify your tenants. Anyway. I figured I could either call a neighbor when I got home or call a friend to call my cell so I could buzz myself in.
Well, hold on there girl! There are other plans in store for you!
When I got home, I was happy to see Gertie sitting inside at the bottom of the stairs. I wouldn’t have to use any of my door plans! I tried again to see if I could find my keys, just in case, but came up with nothing. All the while, Gertie didn’t move. I fished around in my purse some more and finally mouthed to Gertie, “Can you let me in, please?”
She walked slowly over, met my eyes and growled, “NO. Call the [offsite] manager. You should have your key!”
R e a l l y?
I rolled my eyes and turned away. I wasn’t going to beg her to get into my own damn place of residence. A shoebox that I pay stacks to live in. Fuck her. I was mad I ever thought to send her mean ass a Christmas card.
For whatever reason, calling myself didn’t work – I was probably too agitated to focus. I looked through the directory and dialed my neighbors who live across the hall from me. They are a polite young couple who mostly keep to themselves and their two pugs. I also knew they’d be home because they’re pretty predictable and I know their schedule.
“Hi, this is Keisha, I live in #_ and I can’t find my key…”
“Oh, I’ll let you in!”
I could see Gertie stewing in the entryway. Her plan to teach
this wayward youngin’ a lesson foiled by cleverity (no, it’s not a word). Had I been less stew-y I would have booyah’d! all up in her face. Instead, I stormed in, I hope looking flawless, huffing, as she started in on me with, “You should have your
“DO NOT TALK TO ME GERTIE! I don’t want to hear ANYTHING you have to say. This is the WORST neighborly treatment I have ever received.” Neighborly treatment? Is that really the best I could come up with?
I almost never yell. I’m quite anti yelling in anger. But this crazy old goat got me yelling. Yes. Crazy. Old. Goat. I love old people. I love goats. I even love some crazy people. But I don’t love crazy old goat people. I hope I never become a crazy old goat so set in proving I’m right that I act like I’m constantly trying to headbutt people with my assholery, goaty beard strands swinging in the wind.
“Where’s YOUR KEY?
“I MISPLACED IT!”
I was yelling.
“How come none of you have your keys?! You all lose your keys? Sure! You think I”m crazy?”
Actually, yes, you crazy old goat. I don’t know who or what the fuck she was talking about and I don’t care. I am not “you guys,” I am the person who was standing outside with grocery bags trying to find my keys, getting super angry, as she banged on the window like a banshee, lecturing me and telling me to call the manager. I’ve never even misplaced my keys before!
“Gertie. I have a JOB. I have a lot of responsibilities. I am busy. SOMETIMES I MISPLACE THINGS. I have lived here for OVER A YEAR. YOU KNOW WHO I AM.” God, I really pulled the “I have a job” card. Who am I? Vicki Gunvalson?
“You should have YOUR KEY!”
“You KNOW I LIVE HERE! Do not EVER ask me for ANYTHING. EVER.”
Do not come to my house looking for an egg, sugar, an earthquake kit, or a rag to chew on as goats are wont to do…go ask somebody else, crazy old goat. All I got for you in this apartment are dead stares and no fucks. Look me in my face, I ain’t got no worriesFOR YOU.
I opened my door, walked in and slammed it with the force of Veruca Salt’s anger.
I cannot believe she let me stand outside the build, like a damn fool, just watching me and not helping. WHO DOES THAT?! I felt humiliated. Crazy old goat.
She continued muttering and bitching out in the hall, periodically moving closer to my door so I could get a good whiff of the shit she was spewing. I heard her
complain to a neighbor who must have passed by, “Keys..door..manager…I…crazy…”
Sometimes people misplace things. It happens with age. She should know.
She walked nearer to my door and complained into the air, “It’s like an insane asylum in here!”
This old bitch.
My keys were on the key rack under a sweater. In my attempts to straighten up, I hid my own damn keys.
I get a few days off from work next week and away from my apartment. I need it.
It occurs to me that she was just sitting at the bottom of the staircase when I got home. She didn’t appear to be doing anything. Was that crazy old goat just waiting to bleat at people about their keys? I’m now wondering if the Christmas decorations she puts up in the lobby every year are riddled nanny cams so she can spy on people coming in and out of the building, daring to have fun or forget their keys.
Damn crazy old goats.
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I just got off the phone with my dad. A 45-minute conversation.
Our conversation went something like this:
“I just tried calling you. Your voicemail box is full.”
“Oh, ok. Yeah, I never check it.”
“Someone might want to call you and leave you a message. Gotta check that.”
The only people who call me and leave messages are Walgreen’s pharmacy with an automated message letting me know that my prescription is ready. That’s it. So, not even a person.
“Ok, I will.”
Every conversation with my dad these days involves at least three themes: reminiscing about old times (and asking me if I remember them), commentary on current events & society (“Facebook is not an adequate means of communication. Your generation likes that. I don’t do that Facebook thing. Texting is not talking.”), and objections to the insane weather in Midwest, where he works.
He continued. Thoughts rolling out like waves. The only words I got in edgewise were:
“Uh, huh”, “Yeah,” “You’re right, dad,” “OK, dad,” “Oh, yeah, that is weird,” “I know I should go back to school and get my Master’s.”
With a college professor’s cadence, he touched on everything from the legacy he wants to leave in life, to explaining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to me (a concept with which, when he asked, I said I was familiar, but he explained it to me anyway), to how Seahawks’ Quarterback Russell Wilson got married “a tad too early” at 23. However, 49ers’ QB, Colin Kaepernick, can strut down the street with Beats headphones on and be a stud to women ’cause he’s single and therefore potentially attainable.
What is this conversation we are having?
I felt my inner teen threatening an appearance, eyes ready to roll all the way up in my head, familiar thoughts resurfacing in my head like, “God, dad! I’m not a kid, I knooooow!”
I hate that I regress like this. I’ll be 50 years old, eyes all the way up in my head, like I’m 13, thinking: “Daaad, I’ve been alive for 1/2 a century now. I know!”
Then he was told me about the shows that film in Chicago like Chicago Fire. Honestly, I was half listening; we were 25 minutes in. I have had a very
busy and stressful few weeks at work and had Ratatouille cued up because my brain couldn’t handle the mentally taxing reality of non-animated fare. I tried watching the latest episode of The Vampire Diariesthe night before and I couldn’t even follow the story; that’s how mentally exhausted I am. You know it’s a real “I need to metaphorically lobotomize myself” kind of weekend when even a teen drama about hot vampires is too much.
And then I heard him say, “My buddy and I saw, who’s that guy, from that movie…Magic…Magic ‘Something’…Mike…Magic Mike?”
“Magic Mike? CHANNING TATUM?!”
I wanted to squeal and church dance. My dad saw Channing Tatumin the flesh! I had so many questions. What did he look like? What was he wearing? I hope a tight blue t-shirt that made his eyes shine like the sun and did serious justice to his pecs. What did he smell like? Was he tall? Were there little singing blue birds trailing behind him? He’s so not my type. And yet…
How has my dad seen Channing Tatum and I haven’t?! That is why I moved to L.A.! To see hot male actors in the flesh! (Oh, you thought I had legit reasons?)
I didn’t squeal though. I kept it chill.
“Oh, him. Yeah, that’s cool.” I mean, ain’t no thing. OMFG! Channing Tatum! My friend, E, just saw him on her flight last month. Why is everyone seeing Channing Tatum but me?
“So, what are your thoughts, Keisha?”
Damn! In my Channing reverie I’d checked out and hadn’t realized he’d continued talking. In my fog, I recall hearing the words “cold,” “sub-zero,” and “damn heavy jackets.” I guessed the topic had shifted to the Midwest’s cold weather.
“Oh yeah, that’s really cold! We’ve actually been having an unusually warm winter here. It’s been like 65 and sunny. It’s actually…” I was going to say that we actually finally got some much-needed rain, but he interjected with:
“65. Ho ho! That’s like telling a starving man you had a buffet with steak! 65!! What’s the high?”
“Um, that is the high. It doesn’t get that hot here.” I laughed, but it’s actually not that funny. I’d like to wear shorts once in a while too, you know, and not have to worry about rushing home to change into pants before nightfall arrives and the temperature drops 20 degrees. Like I’m Cinderella or something, dashing home before she turns back into a fake ugly girl.
“65! I tell you….”
I could tell he was happy to be on the phone with me. He didn’t outright say that, of course. He’s not the type to skywrite his feelings or Oprah-ize, though he’s certainly become more sentimental with age. Jokes aside, I appreciate these conversations with him. They are endearing. Frustrating at times (and whose conversations with their parents sometimes aren’t?), but endearing. As I get older, I become more aware of my parent’s mortality and I value the time I have with them to get to know them as adults.
“…find someone you have things in common with. If you marry a slob and you’re neat, it’s not gonna work. Don’t believe in that ‘opposites attract’ business. You understand what I mean, Keisha?”
“Uh, huh. Yes, Dad. Often it’s those little quirks you think are ‘cute’ at first, that become the most annoying or tiresome.” See? I know things!
“Right. Speaking of dating: how’s that going?”
Did I say our conversations revolved around three themes? Well, make that four.
My concerned dad, seated in front of me in the booth, waited to hear whether I was self-sabotaging my romantic possibilities and thus crushing his dreams of seeing more grandchildren. Grandchildren from his firstborn. No pressure.
I’d returned to Houston to visit my family for the Christmas holiday. My dad had kidnapped me from my parents’ house, where funnily enough I’d been regaling my mom with dating horror stories. He’d returned from running whatever errands dads run and whisked me away. He didn’t tell me where we were going. I didn’t know until we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. I guess we’re eating then.
I knew I wouldn’t escape this trip without one conversation with my dad about my love life. I know he just wants me to find love. Of course, what’s amusing is my dad spent a large majority of my existence trying to keep the male species a universe away from me. He’d warn me: “I know what boys are like, Keisha, I used to be one.”
Once in high school, a boy called our house asking for my older sister. Unfortunately for him, my father answered. I couldn’t hear the boy, but I did hear my dad’s booming voice sternly admonish,
Young man, when you call to speak to one of my daughters you first
say, ‘Hello, Mr. ___, how are you?’ Then you ask to speak to my daughter. Do you understand me?
No doubt by this point, the kid was shitting his pants and “yes, sir”ing up a storm. My dad has a way with words and a voice that rightly suggests you best not mess with him. He hung up the phone on the boy. My sister was teenage-d pissed, which is pissed with a large injection of crazy-hormones. To the four girls under his protection eavesdropping upstairs my dad yelled, “Don’t be having none of these knucklehead boys with no manners calling here with some foolishness!” My whole family is full of “articulate black people”, but get us worked up and the blaccent suddenly makes an appearance.
Decades later, here we sat, dad and daughter, released from her cage years ago. My dad was essentially asking me what was wrong with my pimp game.
I hate this assumption that single women past a certain age are single because they have unrealistic expectations. That may be true for some, but I don’t think that’s the case for me. Trust me, I’ve done the self-reflection.
I sighed, as respectfully as possible, before answering, “No. I mean, unless you think wanting someone who is gainfully employed, ambitious, open-minded, clean, socially conscious, knowledgeable about current events, has social skills and likes to travel, is having high standards. Even then, someone can have all these great qualities, but for some reason, there’ll be no connection.”
“For instance, dad, I have a guy friend who told me he wants a basketball team full of kids. First of all, nobody in this area,” I said, while pointing at my “womb” region, “wants anything to do with five babies. Second, I wasn’t then and am not now young enough to be popping out all those kids. There’s not enough time! So, needless to say, he’s out. He’s a good guy, but I don’t want five kids.”
He nodded, pensive, and asked curiously, “What do you mean by ‘social skills’?”
I thought back to a Match.com date I’d gone on last spring.
His appearance was fine enough, but you know how “they” say that a woman knows within some number of minutes of meeting a man whether she’ll sleep with him? Upon seeing him, sex-repellent particles filled my body with a rush. No way it was ever going down with him. But, I thought, who knows? Maybe his personality will change things.
We met at a cafeI suggested because although he asked me out, he had no plans to offer. I’d been in San Francisco all of four months at that time, so I had a limited knowledge of date spots. My criteria were simple: Yelp-approved food, on a bus line and alcohol available. Ain’t nobody here for a first date without the option of loose juice.
He arrived before I did and I’m perpetually five minutes early to places. Points for timeliness!
The conversation was a bit stilted. He was a little awkward, more than “first date jitters” awkward. If he looked like he wanted to fall asleep while telling me about his job, you can imagine how I felt hearing about it.
“You’re really pretty. You must get lots of dates on Match. How many dates have you been on?” he asked.
A proper compliment (yay!) and an odd followup. “Thanks! This is my first date actually.”
Are we supposed to talk about this? Like comparing war stories of the online dating game? Show our battle scars in the form of baggage and skepticism?
“I’ve been on a few,” he shared. “The girls are pretty cool. Lot of people who seem to want to go do all these crazy, adventurous things though. I’m more of a homebody.”
The sex-repellent particles buzzed in my body like crackhead tics, reminding me of their presence.
Nope, no sir. Been there, done that. Not looking for a homebody! I am sure he will find a compatible quiet girl who wants to be home with him indenting the sofa, but I’m not that girl.
I sifted through my arsenal of conversation topics, attempting to the keep the conversation lively, pulling a little too hard on my beer. If I drink it, this will be fun.
Out of nowhere he asked, “So are you really 3_? A woman I went out with from Match told me she was 36, but she was really 38. If I had known she was 38, I wouldn’t have gone out with her. I mean, I have to think about having kids. She said she gets more hits when she says she’s 36. I didn’t ask her out again.”
What in the? I sympathize with the woman; I’m younger than she is, but not by much. I could be her in a few years: single and increasingly worried about aging out of the window of much male interest; feeling the weight of my declining fertility. But, I don’t lie about my age, or at all, really. I have spent the majority of my life having to convince people that I’m not as young as I appear. When I was 13, my parents tried a few times to buy me the 12- and under ticket at the movies to get the discount (“Keisha, just pretend you’re 12 if they ask.”). I would expressly and proudly tell the cashier I was 13, thankyouverymuch. My parents couldn’t be mad; I’d told the truth. My truth cost them two extra dollars.
The idea that I would age myself down made me chuckle. He sounded a touch paranoid. “Yes, I am really 3_.”
“Can I see your driver’s license? Haha. I’m just kidding.” He totally wasn’t kidding. I pulled out my driver’s license to humor him (I covered my address; I am nobody’s fool).
“See? 3_.” He nodded, satisfied.
“So, do you want to go on a second date? he blurted. The only thing is, I don’t drink during the week. But, I drink on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Who said anything about drinking? I know I showed more affection for my beer than for him, but I still had a third of a pint remaining! And what’s with the rules? Drink or don’t drink, that’s your prerogative. But, to have a rule about when you’ll drink it? How very opposite of fun. Rules for what days of the week you will and will not drink seems rigid to me. I don’t do well with rigidity. It makes me feel…confined. What about Thirsty Thursday? No drinking on weeknights? Get outta here with that crazy talk!
We didn’t go out again. He was nice. Nice isn’t a positive descriptor though. It’s just there. Sitting. Being nice. Doing not much else. Nice doesn’t light anyone’s fire. Nice doesn’t wiggle eyebrows. There was nothing wrong with him, he just wasn’t right, for me. He was nice though.
I concluded the retelling of this date to my dad with, “I am a social person. I like to meet people, I like to learn about people, I like to entertain. I cannot be with someone who will be on me like a boil if we’re at a social event. Following me around because he can’t make conversation on his own. Fearing what words might come out of his mouth. That will get old fast. He told me he’s a bit shy and a homebody. I wasn’t interested. He was nice enough though.” I don’t mean nice in that “women always reject nice guys for bad boys” way. No mature woman with sense is still chasing “bad boys.” I mean nice as in, neutral.
My dad made a noise I can only describe as a cross between a huff and grunt – a gruff – indicating he was absorbing my words and ready to move on. We were done…for now.
There is no great answer to the question of why I am single in my 30s. I didn’t choose a career over love or any of that nonsense posited in silly articles berating women for their single status. I didn’t push away great catches. I wasn’t tossing Idris Elbas or even Stephen Colberts (smart and makes me laugh? *swoon*) aside on the regular.
I dated around in my 20s, with some difficulty at times (thanks Los Angeles), and eventually dated someone for a significant part of my 20s, but things didn’t work out, for which I am actually quite grateful, though at the time it devastated me. We broke up a couple of months after I turned 30 and I recall thinking with a heavy heart, “I am now a 30-year old single woman. I am that stereotype. I will never find anyone now. Couldn’t we have broken up when I was 28? Nobody wants anyone after 30.”
I’d fed on a societal diet of sexist, limiting, defeatist, panic-inducing, judgmental, regressive, unrealistic views of female self-actualization and dating. I’d internalized a lot of it. I know better now. Those woeful thoughts have long been expelled, like the absolute crap they are, and I have a more measured and optimistic view of my dating life.
I am single because I am waiting for the right person. Unfortunately, I only have so much control over when and how I may meet the right person for me. It may be cliché, but I do want to be with someone I feel like I can’t be without and not just someone I can tolerate.
I would rather wait for the right person than be with someone I know I’m settling for because it eases societal pressure and judgement. I fear ending up in a bad marriage or relationship more than I fear ending up an “old maid” with cats.
Speaking of “Old Maid”, I played that gameas a kid. It occurs me to now just what a horrible game it is. What a message to send to young girls; nobody wants to end up with the loser Old Maid card.
Kids, look at this poor old wrinkled lady. She’s ALL ALONE. She can’t possibly be happy ALL ALONE! BEWARE, this could be you one day if you’re not careful, girls! ALL ALONE!
I date. Of course I date; I’m a young female with a pulse who isn’t a dog. It isn’t all that hard to find someone who will take you out, well, kinda – the quality may be questionable. With some people, I get the impression they think I’m sitting at home many nights, deciding whether to knit or cross-stitch, sullenly dreaming of a Prince Charming scooping me up, self-pitying my life of solitude. If I even so much as acknowledge I think an adult human with a penis is cute, it’s “Oh! Is he single? Did you talk to him? Are you going to ask him out?” It’s all said with a great sense of urgency, as though men are high-speed trains running on a tight schedule and I need to hop on the next one coming before it’s too late and the train makes it to the final destination, marriage, without me. It’s not that serious. Like, damn, I didn’t say I want to babymake with him. I am out living the best life I can and having a damn good time doing it! I already have many colorful stories to share along with the accompanying memorable experiences, and I have, I hope, decades remaining to create even more, with or without a romantic partner.
When in I was in my 20s, out at bars, clubs and restaurants, as I often was, I’d observe a subset of women in their 30s & 40s and their intense pursuit in search of “the one” before the clock ran out. The pressure came from everywhere. They were constantly talking about men, dating men, looking for men, talking about ways to attract men, places to go to meet men. Their eyes would automatically scan any room they entered for eligible bachelors as they halfheartedly listened to a friend prattle on about what she learned in the latest self-help dating book You’re Single Because You’re a Smelly, Toad-Like Nice Girl (but too slutty). There’s Still Hope For You! You’re Not a Total Loser!
It saddened me for them, but I also saw these experiences as cautionary. Some women truly did seem desperate, which is attractive to few; others were just earnestly hoping to find “the one.” I never wanted that to be in the desperate class. I have better things to do in this short life than obsess over men.
I don’t really share my dating life with many outside of a small circle. People are at times nosy, gossipy and easily jump to conclusions when it comes to the dating life of a singleton and I’m not here to be anyone’s live episode of Scandal. Save it for Olivia Pope. There’s still a double standard in societal perceptions of the dating lives of men and women.
There’s also a tendency of some to second-guess your behavior, to try to help you avoid coming off as a bad catch, or to give you unsolicited dating advice, because obviously what you’ve been doing isn’t working. I appreciate the advice random co-worker who probably last dated in the ’70s. Unless you can tell me how you’d handle a guy requesting you text him photos of your its ‘n’ bits after one date, I don’t need to hear it from you.
My dating life is none of anyone’s business and it’s not fodder for others to live vicariously through. I’ve had coupled up people say to me, “I have to live through your dating experiences!” No you don’t. If you want to be entertained by dating experiences, date, shake up your own relationship or watch Maury. Single people aren’t here for the entertainment of the paired up.
I’m doing what I’m “supposed” to do. I date against my “type”, I try different avenues to meet people, I get out of the house, I smile, I keep clean, hone my feminine wiles, etc. There is nothing more “wrong” with me than the next person with flaws. Married people can be crazy as hell too. It’s just there is only one other person being subjected to their crazy.
I know who I am. I like who I am. I enjoy my own company and the life I’ve built for myself. I can make myself laugh hard. I’m not on some “I don’t need a man” trip. But, I am not going to invite someone into my life if they aren’t going to enhance it or
complement it, that goes for friends or more than friends. I am fortunate to have much love in my life between my friends and family. I don’t lack love.
I ended 2013 happier than I’ve been in a long time. And I ain’t even got no mans! So, I’m cool. Don’t pity single me.
My dad sweetly said to me during one of our now regular discussions of my dating life, “Don’t get frustrated Keisha; you’ll be fine. You’re a [our last name]. You’re gonna be just fine.” Awwww, daaaad.
My parents had a couple of friends over one afternoon while I was in Houston. My parents don’t entertain as much as they used to, so when my dad told my sister N__ they were “having friends over”, my sister joked, “You have friends? Having people over? Who are we? The Winslows?”
I left my parents and their friends to their conversations and hung out with my youngest sister, C___. It felt like we were kids again. In a different room from our parents, the grown-ups, as they did grown-up stuff. My dad called me into the kitchen where they were grazing on tasty appetizers.
“Say Keisha,” my dad began, “we were just talking about having more grandkids…”
I wrinkled my face and silently walked right back out of the room.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.