Archives For Past and Present Collide

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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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I blame this play for EVERYTHING.

I met her in an acting class in New York city.

Do you know how many stories I could start like that? I met some of the most fascinating people of my life in acting classes.

In 1990’s NYC, I was studying acting with Betty Buckley. She was a “big deal;” you had to audition to be granted entrance to her class.

Betty Buckley won the Tony award for Cats. She was the original Grizabella, the shabby, decrepit old feline who plaintively meows her way through the song “Memories.”

She’s starred in a number of Broadway plays and a whole slew of movies. Before Cats, she spent several years portraying the stepmom in the television equivalent of swallowing ground glass, a banal series called “Eight is Enough.”

She was an amazing teacher but incredibly strange.

She began every class with a new-agey group guided meditation. You know, so the Solar Logos would take us on Astral Flight and we could all experience a Paradigm Shift. That.

Once, in the middle of it, she came up behind me and whispered, “I don’t know what you have going on with your mother. But if you’re going to be an actor, you’d better go into therapy and get in touch with it.”

I spent the next 5 years in psychotherapy. Thank you, Betty.

Nicolette distinguished herself from the rest of the class instantly, by the sheer scope of her physical beauty. She was stunning.

Her hair. I could write a whole post just about her hair. Her glossy chocolate brown hair spilled down beside her face, framing it perfectly. It was a curtain of brown silk.

She had enormous blue eyes, cupid bow pink lips,  and the golden proportion of perfect white teeth. Her body was cartoonish perfection with a tiny waist and oversized breasts.

Betty zeroed right in on her. She was known for having young female protegés who do all her errands, and take a lot of abuse from her. Nicolette quickly became her new handmaiden, which later irritated me to no end. She once sported a torn up lip where Betty’s insufferable bird bit her, while she tried to feed the feathery fucker.

Nicolette was so sweet. I couldn’t believe anyone THAT beautiful could be so sweet.

She wasn’t.

We were assigned to do a scene from “In the Boom Boom Room,” a renowned play about go go dancers in a sleazy night club.

Betty was relentless when it came to scene study. She demanded we bring in the same scenes repeatedly.

The scene Nicolette and I had been assigned took place in the dressing room, as one dancer, played by me, tries to seduce the new girl – played by Nicolette.

Because I was a method actor, I convinced Nicolette to perform the scene in our bra and panties. Method, schmethod. I wanted to see her in her underwear.

In the scene my character asks hers, “Have you ever made love to a woman?” I was so smitten with her I decided to grab her and lay a big old kiss on her. And because I wanted her reaction as real as the character’s – I didn’t tell her I was planning to do that

We rehearsed together all that first week, sans kiss. And then, we brought the scene to class.

When walked on stage in our underwear, mine jet black, hers, blood-red – there was a collective sharp intake of breath.

Actors are FREAKS. But still. Two nubile 20 somethings, in almost nothing? And Nicolette, with her breasts spouting all over the stage.

When I leaned in and kissed her, I thought her character would jump back in surprise.

Her character probably would have. Nicolette didn’t. So we just stood there, sucking serious face, for waaaay too long. Like, absurdly long. Like, “this isn’t even about the scene” long.

The kiss started from the neck up. A minute in, our bodies were pressing together.

And kept pressing…

“SCENE!”  Betty pussy blocked me and ended a kiss that tasted like dessert. Bitch.

And that’s how I found out Nicolette was a lesbian.

I felt like I had won the motherfucking LOTTERY.

The next time I went to her apartment to “rehearse” we did absolutely NO rehearsing.

How do women have lesbian sex? Ohh. I didn’t TELL you?

Must have been NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.

We did rehearse, on subsequent visits. Betty the big dyke made us rehearse that scene for 2 months. Finally she could find no fault with us.
“What do you say, girls?” she asked. “Should we call it quits? Or do you think you want to bring in back in one more week?”

“No, Betty,” I answered. “I think Eight is Enough.”

I was besotted with Nicolette. She was the first ultra feminine, girly lesbian I’d ever known.

She was flowery mini dresses; I was a black leather skirt. She was brunch, I was “Is this breakfast? Lunch? Fuck you!” She wore her lustrous brown hair in a French braid. I dyed my hair to match hers but when I put it up it looked like a Hefty bag with a twist tie.

She was a talented dancer. I played drums in a punk band, without knowing how to play drums.

But vive la différence, right? We became a Thing.

Nicolette’s personality was no flowery dress. She was a BITCH. And not your Basic Bitch, either. A prize-ribbon wearing, Grade A, Queen Bee DIVA bitch.

She was completely self absorbed. If I was sick, she would whine about missing a pedicure to bring me soup. She was a half hour late for every thing, every time. With NO apologies. She constantly one-upped me. If I had a headache, she was dying of a brain tumor. She was rude and impatient with waiters and waitresses. If we were out to brunch God forbid she didn’t get a bread plate. She was programmed to receive attention, and expected all of mine.

We might have survived all of this – had it not been her refusal to accept I wasn’t a lesbian.

Lesbians invariably try to convert sexually ambiguous women. According to Nicolette, I was a full throttle lesbian in unequivocal denial.

Yeah, NO. I like penis too much to be a lesbian. Sorry. I wasn’t quite ready to drive a U Haul truck to Lilith Fair.

We ended our relationship amidst of storm of emotions, talked about it until my ears bled, and eventually parted friends.

Nicolette and I lost touch for the next 15 years. Maybe, I just didn’t want her to know I’d gotten married, moved to the suburbs, had a kid.

Maybe,  I didn’t want to know I’d done that.

A few years ago, she found me on the Book of Face (where else?) and eventually we made plans to get together.

We had dinner in Manhattan. Nicolette was still beautiful. Maybe more so? And BITCHIER, if that’s even possible.

She was now running an ultra trendy club which cuts a wide swath in the currency of bitchiness.

After dinner we went to a club to scout some acts she was thinking of featuring.

We ended up on the dance floor, because some things never change. Neither of us can be in a place with a dance floor and not dance. There was also alcohol involved. Many of my bad decisions have been alcohol-fueled.

“When I’m Small” by Phantogram came on.

Oh, C’MON! That song sounds like the soundtrack to two women grinding on a dance floor together, kissing passionately.

I am NOT suggesting that happened. Her list of neuroses make me look like a stable, calm individual. And that’s scary.

So, she’s in my life again, this lesbian She-Devil. Demanding, critical, self-centered, spoiled.

Gorgeous. Charismatic. Brilliant. Effervescent. And those breasts…

I’ve tried to end this post for a few days now. I can’t. I just realized…it’s because, the story hasn’t ended. 

“I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You’d be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavors.”
~ Bjork

“I’d rather die, than to be with you…”
Perfect lyrics. She’ll eat my soul, this woman. Who, incidentally, looked exactly like the woman in this video when I first met her.

Have you ever had a friend who was impossibly bitchy? Do gorgeous people get away with that easier?
Can someone like women and not be a lesbian? 
Talk to me.  I’m listening.