Archives For Past and Present Collide

 

I was born into a family of musical impressarios. My oldest brother sat down at the piano when he was only three years old and delivered a perfect rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” At 3, my son was still pooping into a diaper and the only thing he would have done at the piano was give me a splitting headache.

I’m the least musically talented person in my family. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call myself a musician. The brother who is closest to me in age argues that I “am musical,” which sounds like the spoken equivalent of a participation trophy.

That particular brother and I have a multi-layered relationship regarding music. I have always been in awe of his talent; envious, proud and completely daunted by it.

When he was just 11 years old, he picked up a guitar and musical artistry poured forth. He was able to hear things the rest of us didn’t and could recreate songs note for note. He could rock 2-chord simplicity, making the song “Horse With No Name” sound amazing, but he could also carve out complicated, curving, epic solos.

HOW DID HE DO THIS? It seemed ludicrous for me to continue. His genius was too strong a contrast to my mediocrity and I gave up playing instruments.

That’s what happens when you are born into a family of musical geniuses. To be average is intolerable.

 

About a year ago, I started playing guitar again. I’m not great; I’m not even good. I’m fair. If I play a song, its recognizable.

It’s common for people over forty to take the “fuck you” pill. I’m heavily medicated on that prescription, and consequently, asked my brother to come over and jam with me.

Have you ever googled “what it’s like to be a musical genius?” There are no first hand accounts. People are loath to speak about themselves this way. But one night when we were jamming, my brother divulged to me the story of his musical genius.

He knew the minute he picked up the guitar that this was some kind of “gift from God.” He almost felt as if he was channeling. A force he couldn’t control took over, guiding his hands to greatness.

And therein lies the rub. He couldn’t control it.

He was in bands most of his life, but none worked out. Most of his childhood friends were incredibly talented musicians, and many went on to pursue careers in music.

But people shied away from playing with him on musical projects because his “gift” was so unpredictable.

He’d be in the middle of an extraordinary guitar solo onstage, the kind that people tout as ‘legendary’  – and then hit a sour note. Or three. He never knew when it would happen nor how to fix it.

He tried to harness his gift and devoted himself to the mindful execution of music. But musical training seemed incompatible with the “gift.” To work in this way would make his head ache to where he could not continue.

At one point he studied guitar with a prominent NYC jazz guitarist, a man who required an audition to even study with. During the audition, his musical voodoo poured out and the  jazz guitarist thought him much more advanced than he really was. After a handful of lessons in which my brother had no idea what was going on, he quit.

My brother’s entire life he never discussed his “gift” because he felt that talking about it would jinx it. It took him 40 years to tell me how he felt that day when he picked up a guitar and the heavens opened up.

 

 

He’s able to finally talk about it, because these days, he’s no longer afraid of jinxing outside forces. At 50, my brother has decided that he needs to start over and learn music from the ground up.

Yes, it’s grueling and draining, but it’s also feeding his soul, to finally reconcile technique with genius.

 

I always knew there was something magical about my brother; about all of them, in fact, when it came to music. Like most things, it was terrible and wonderful. They intimidated me, but I was raised with a love for music so profound that without it, life would be monotone. One long, silent birthday celebration with just candles.

To hear that this gift I’ve always envied was in fact a curse, something that has prevented him from pursuing his dreams of playing out in public his entire life, was an epiphany.

We’ve both arrived at our own musical epiphanies; simultaneously, but independent of one another. He’s starting at the beginning. And I’m finally playing again.

I stayed up all night the other night playing guitar.
My hands ached; my face was smeared with fatigue but my heart was buoyant. As the room was bathed in the streaky light of dawn, I finally realized that all that matters is how I feel when I play music, not how I sound to other people.

And that’s MY gift.

How much do you love music?? Do you play?
Doesn’t it suck to have a sibling SO much better than you at something?
Talk to me. I’m listening. 

 

Come hang out with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so I can have friends without leaving the house.

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I’ve spent a large portion of my life waging war against my hair.

It’s a nightmare. My hair is curly and frizzy. Not loose lustrous curls –  small, tightly coiled kinky curls.

I grew up being told I had “Black hair.” It was not meant in a pejorative way. I was a white girl in a black housing project. It was just a way to characterize the texture of my hair. Black people told me it was “nappy.”

White people made fun of me and called me “Nigger knots.”

 

When I was a little girl, every morning was devoted to the taming of this fuzzy tangled mess. For one hour, I stood at the sink, my legs cramping, holding back tears as the the heavy brush banged against my head.

My mother slathered my curls in Dax, and Ultra Sheen, relentlessly pulling and stretching my hair into submission. Finally she would wind it into two long, waxy pigtails

I longed for bone-straight, parted in the middle, 70’s hair. Laurie Partridge hair. My mother was less concerned with the Partridge Family and more concerned that I not run around with a wild mass of frizz jutting out of my head.

By the time I was 8, she was straightening my hair with chemical relaxers. They were foul-smelling products which stung my eyes and nasal passages. The lye dripped onto my neck and burnt my tender skin.

In between chemical processing there were searing hot metal combs used to press and flatten my hair into surrender. They straightened my hair, and burnt it  – as well as accidentally burning my ears and scalp too many times to count.

Curly hair is labor-intensive. I didn’t have the time or patience to wear my hair curly every day. When I got older, I no longer had to suffer drugstore lye and scalp burns. I went to black hair salons in Bedford Stuyvesant, where they knew how to deal with my hair.

Today, I still relax my hair. I use organic keratin and go to white people salons in the suburbs.

 

 

 

When I was a girl, to keep my hair neat during the summer while giving it a break from harsh chemicals, I got my hair done up in braids. Cornrows. This is a habit that has stayed with me, on and off, into adulthood.

I recently found out that these days, if I braid my hair? I am “appropriating a culture.”

Evidently, African Americans are tired of white people adopting black culture – music, hair, style of dress, speech – and neglecting to raise awareness for black issues. It’s not right to take the fun, hip part of being black and leave the bad parts behind. That’s considered “racial appropriation.”

I REJECT THIS.

If white people dress, make music and wear our hair to emulate African Americans, are we not paying homage to them? When did it become offensive to celebrate the aspects of a culture?

Kylie Jenner started a shade war when she posted a picture on Instagram in corn rows and low slung sweats. The disingenuous caption to the photo was “I woke up like disss.”

Is Kylie Jenner an asshole? Absolutely. But not for her cultural misappropriation. She’s an asshole because she was born into a family of assholes who make their livings being assholes.

Amandla Stenberg, the 16-year-old actress from The Hunger Games, decided to call her out by commenting on the photo:

“when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter “

I REJECT THIS.

I reject the idea that in order to embrace and celebrate black culture, people are obligated to direct attention towards police brutality and racism. And how does it help anything to publicly chastise Kylie Jenner in front of millions, to humiliate her in an attempt to expose her as racist? It doesn’t.

IT JUST DEEPENS THE DIVIDE.

 

Cultural appropriation allegedly occurs when ignorant white people pick and choose what part of the black experience to adopt into their lives, while simultaneously invalidating the challenges faced by black women who will never have access to white privilege.

We partake of a culture for fashion, all the while purposely disinterested in the adversity faced by that culture.

I REJECT THIS.

I resent the gross generalization that because I am white and choose to braid my hair, that I am unaware of race issues. To declare that by borrowing from a culture, we are, by definition, ignorant of that culture’s historical struggles, is ludicrous. That kind of stock characterization of white philistinism propagates racism and distrust. It invites ridicule; in essence, it’s wearing “white face.”

 

According to the black community, the history connected to these styles, the context in which they were created, is essential to wearing them. These styles are the contemporary remnants of slavery. A white person who wears these styles cares nothing for that context and turns black hair styles into travesty, empty fashion, mocking the black race.

In fact, by wearing these styles white people are systematically breaking down the rich history of black culture, and continuing to exploit the black race just as slavery and segregation did.

I REJECT THIS.

I am TIRED of being blamed for past generations’ idiocy. If, by association, I am guilty of the crimes of a system by being part of the system, then we are all guilty. Which renders the concept of guilt meaningless.

Stop blaming me for oppression and hate I had nothing to do with.

I just want to get my braids done.

 

I am sadly aware that African-American women have been made to alter their appearances to maintain their jobs and their respectability. Many have been forced to give up natural black hair styles in what can only be described as an attempt to force them to adopt a “whiter” look.

This is heinous.

But now, if I put my hair in cornrows, I am accused of using my “white privilege” to exploit black culture’s historical symbols to satisfy my shallow need for self-expression.

I REJECT THIS.

I should be free to wear my hair however I choose. I cannot change what has happened in the past. I can only fight for a better future. I know that even today, black skin still acts as a mark of negative difference. On many fronts, black America is in crisis.

But restricting MY personal freedom is not going to address racism and economic injustice. Cultural appropriation is just another way to create discord between races.

Am I only allowed to adopt the hairstyles or music genres, of my ancestors? If I am allowed beyond my own heritage, who draws the line, and where is it drawn? Can I enjoy the films of Spike Lee? The music of Miles Davis?

Culture is not black and white. Like many things, it lives in the gray area. It’s borrowed, repurposed, and reformed over and over again. Exchange of culture creates empathy, and tolerance. It’s what makes up the richly woven tapestry of our lives.

I refuse to view my enjoyment of other cultures through the lens of appropriation. If that makes me part of the problem – then so be it. Fling your accusations at me because of my white girl braids.

I’ll be over here, celebrating the beauty of cultural exchange by dancing through life to the music of cultures from all over the world.

Should white people wear cornrows? How do you feel about cultural appropriation?
Does that include doing yoga? Talk to me. I’m listening.

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At 3 am on a Saturday night I drunkenly crept behind the front desk of a hotel in Nashville so I could steal the key to the swimming pool.

The desk clerk, after answering a call about drunken revelry on the 5th floor, had left the front desk to investigate.

This was a distraction created, in fact, by MY friends. I was partying with a rock band and their entourage. Despite the 40 degree weather, several people decided that it would be fun to go swimming.

That was after the bicycle riding up and down hallways, rampant running through the hotel, whipped cream fights, clandestine couplings in darkened hallway corners, smashed furniture, hours of impromptu jamming, wickedly incriminating photos posted on Facebook, and all manner of depravity one would have with a crazy-ass rock band in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

REWIND

Saturday afternoon we started bar hopping on Printer’s Alley, an area renowned for its excessive alcoholic roguery. Nashville has as many drunken people as New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and not for any particular reason. It’s not Mardi Gras, or foie gras, or any-gras. It’s Tues-gras. So turn up, motherfuckers!

I was drunk by 1:00 in the afternoon, and I don’t drink.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when I party with C, my best friend, former college roommate and card-carrying wild child.

She’s been trouble since freshman year of college, when I tried to match her, drink for drink, one wintry night first semester. Seventeen cocktails later, I landed in the emergency room getting my stomach pumped.

She loves to tell  story. She told it several times in Nashville, to just about anyone who would listen.

She had her domestic time. That was while I was running around New York city, doing drugs and guitar players. But we’ve switched places, and now she’s a divorced empty nester. For the last few years, the hellraiser has been back to her old shenanigans.

She’s involved with a huge network of people who live and die for music, and travel the country to obscure 3-day festivals. I’ve seen some great shows with them locally. But I’ve resisted these 3-day, Bacchanalian festivals because I can’t drink like her. I also have a young child at home. 

Some of her friends were planning a trip to Nashville Valentine’s weekend to see Lydia Loveless play. Three days before the trip, I decided to go.

I’m still not sure why.

I’ll have to explore that with my therapist.

 

FAST FORWARD

 

Saturday night, already butt-toast blotto, we headed to The Mercy to see Lydia Loveless and her band. Lydia is a 24-year-old towering inferno of smoldering sexuality and “go fuck yourself.” Punk fueled, country rock driven, she’s the love child of Joan Jett and Johnny Cash.

She fucking ROCKED. She has an unbelievable stage presence and a powerful gritty voice that dances on your spine.

After the show, 15 of us, including the band, went back to the hotel. We partied until Bloody Mary time at 8 am. By 9 am the room looked like a battle field of depraved fallen soldiers, and C and I somehow got back to our own hotel.

 

We were scheduled to leave Nashville 5 am Monday morning. And then, it snowed. And it doesn’t snow in Nashville.

They are simply not equipped to handle the amount of snow and ice they received. The city was paralyzed. Airports shut down. HIghways shut down. Power shut down.

Our flights were cancelled. We rebooked them and set off in search of food. Our hotel was depleted of supplies since no deliveries were able to get in.

We ended up trudging through the ice and snow to a Holiday Inn two hotels away, where we parked our asses at the bar with all the other snowed in people.  As one of the few functioning establishments, the bar got mobbed.

Frustrated with being trapped in Nashville, everyone at the bar proceeded to get schnockered sideways, except me. Three days of drinking, and I’d had enough. I  was also the designated driver of this experience. C was fast becoming ridiculously inebriated as all the men at the bar tried to ply us with alcohol. She was having a grand old time.

I was not.

I missed my kid.

Little Dude lives with me full-time. I was not mentally prepared to be away from him more than a weekend. It took me completely by surprise to miss him that fiercely, when he generally annoys the fuck out of me.

The next couple of days turned into a nightmare of flights repeatedly booked and cancelled; highways shut down, no taxi service locally to get anywhere.

Tuesday afternoon we were hungry enough to trudge a mile and a half on the icy highway in high heeled boots to a Waffle House. We were warned by the hotel clerk that there were no sidewalks, just road.

I imagined the headlines:
Two Women In Search of Waffles Killed by 4×4 in Nashville”

By Wednesday, I was LOSING it. My kid was upset when I didn’t return on Monday morning as promised. Now he had seen on the news about the state of emergency in Tennessee and was really worried.

He is also an ADHD kid who goes askew when his routines are strongly disrupted.

On Wednesday morning the Ex reminded me that testing for the middle school gifted program began on Thursday. Now my kid was really melting down that I wouldn’t be there for the testing.

GUILT

He would not perform well on the test; not get into a highly coveted program he had talked about excitedly for months – all because I had to go to Nashville to party with a band.

I became part gladiator, part heat-seeking missile. I called my airline and demanded to speak to supervisors. I begged, pleaded, demanded-

JUST GET ME ON ANY AIRLINE, TO ANY AIRPORT, IN THE GODDAMNED MOTHERFUCKING TRI-STATE AREA. 

It worked.

I got booked on a flight that night scheduled to arrive at midnight.

At 2 am Thursday morning, I crept into my son’s room and just looked at him. I brushed his little sleep-flushed cheek and noticed again how his long, long eyelashes look like tiny butterfly wings.

 

Through adulthood I’ve held fast onto my identity as a quasi-Patti Smith who “lives outside society,” an identity that I altered but still maintained through motherhood.

But there are consequences to partying like a rock star when children are involved.

I would love to tell you that I am both devoted mother and wild child rock ‘n roller, and that I have successfully straddled the complex duality of this existence – but that would be a LIE.

I’m a MOM. It is my defining characteristic.

I’m my son’s only mother, and if I don’t get this right, I’ve accomplished nothing.

It doesn’t mean that my soul isn’t full of restless yearning; that the colorless mundane of suburbia doesn’t leave me unfulfilled in many ways.

I love my child more than life itself, but I’m too young to be buried alive in the suburbs.

I’m in limbo. Not fit for either the life I once lived, or the one I live now.

My son is 11. I have 7 years to give him the life he is entitled to. I will prepare him to be strong and independent, so when he leaves the nest, Mama can go back out into the world.

My story will not end here, in the drab suburban wasteland of New Jersey.

I’m looking forward to being a jacked up, wayward old cougar. And I will be grateful to have raised a responsible, mature son – who can bail me out of jail.

Just in case.

Can’t Find My Way Home

October 2, 2014

24 years ago, my brother died. I’ve never spoken of his death.

I wanted to pretend it all never happened.

I can’t anymore.

I had a brother. He meant everything to me. Today, I tell MY side of his story.

I finally break 24 years of silence on the Sisterwives blog. Without these women, I would never be able to tell this story. Alone we are enough, but together, we are STRONGER.

I have a lot of online support to come forward with a story like this. I have my other blog family, Stories That Must Not Die.

I have the support of bloggers like Laurie Works and Kim Sisto Robinson who understand.

I have friends like REDdog who look out for me, always.

And Gretchen Weber Kelly. She was the first person I reached out to about my brother. She lost her brother. And she preserves his memory with such beauty and grace on her blog, she inspired me to do the same.

Comments are closed here. Please join me over on the Sisterwives blog.

It’s Time.

xoxo,
Samara

I Bleed Therefore I Am

August 14, 2014

I’m part of a loving family that runs a blog called Stories That Must Not Die.

Rara left us this blog as her legacy. She wrote, “This is a place for the stories that are too sad, too strange, too big, too angry, too fierce, too everything. They don’t fit in normal places, so I made this one.”

You’re all my family, too. So I’d like to share it with you.

Peace,
Samara

 

*Comments are closed; please comment over at the Stories blog.

Stories that Must Not Die

wanna die

When I was a girl I was terrified of my mother.

She wasn’t a malicious person. She was just completely ill-equipped to live the life fate had created for her. She had no education past the 8th grade, didn’t know how to drive, and had no marketable skills. Her 46-year-old husband walked out of the door a healthy man and dropped dead of a heart attack a few hours later. He left her with 6 children, aged 2 – 12.

She was an orphan who grew up in a group home. There was no love there, only beatings. So she relied upon corporal punishment to discipline us. I have long forgiven her, because as Maya Angleou said, “You did the best that you knew how. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.”

She worked 3 jobs, 70 hours a week and was rarely home. So, if you provoked her…

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