Gang Form

For the past three weeks, I’ve been lacking a good night’s sleep.  There’s been that one cricket somewhere in a wall, near the doorway to my home that I just can’t find and kill.  What’s worse, I’ve been seeing crickets everywhere since.  In the kitchen, the bathroom, in my damn dreams!  The final straw for me, was the kitchen. Babies crickets crawling up a wall. Uggh.  After trying some home DIY remedies for about a day – “natural” type of things, I lost all hope and decided enough was enough. I called for pest control to come out and do its thing.

I spent the entire day and night elsewhere while they sprayed the space, and when I came home the following day, there were hundreds of dead crickets at my front door and doorway.  Clearly, my man from pest control had done his job well!  Never thought I’d be so happy to see such death.  But yeah, I was looking forward to getting a great night’s sleep.  First though, quick shower and a run to the grocery story…I washed my hair and threw on my baseball cap and ran out the door. 

When I returned from the grocery store in my car, the end of the alley way was closed off because of construction.  I had to back up and go around the block to get to my space from the other end of the second entrance. No biggy. It happens. 

As I made my way into the other entrance of my alleyway, a white van was parked on the ramp part of the entrance.  I could squeeze on by, but why would someone park right there?  It made no sense.  I waited for a moment and then carefully made my way past the small opening beside them.  As I passed on by, I looked over to see who it was.  I noticed it was a young woman, clearly looking frantically on her phone for what I assumed were directions. On the one hand, I thought it was smart that she pulled over to look for directions. On the other hand, it wasn’t the smartest place to pull over… I went on my way down the driveway.  And then I heard someone scream…

“What’chya lookin’ at, bitch?”

I checked my rear-view mirror.  From the opposite side of the opening to the driveway, this young Black woman wearing a white shirt and jeans was gesturing with her arms and now screaming, “Yeah, you. What you looking at? You have a problem or something?”

When I say it’s been years, I mean it has been decades since I did what I’m about to describe

I stopped my car, put it in park and got out the car.  I walked, almost ran, back up the driveway and when I got face to face to her I asked, “Are you talking to me?  Did you just call me a bitch?”

I was close enough to see the detail in the colorful, but mostly blackish grey tats across her neck, that ended close to her chin.  I stared straight into her eyes and said it again.  “Are you talking to me?”

She seemed startled but stood tough, her several long braids peeking out of her hoodie. “Yeah. What you lookin’ at?” 

I got closer. “First of all, I can look at whoever I want.  Second, I live here  and she’s not supposed to be parked there, my sista.  You sure you were calling me a bitch?”

She backed up a bit, pulling down her hood. “Naah, you didn’t have to get out your car is all.” Truth is, for all her bravado I could tell she was stunned that I was a Black woman and confronting her. I was so mad.

“Clearly, I did have to get out my car! Don’t be calling people names and calling people out for no damn reason because sometimes people will get out the car and confront you.”

Her voice lowered but she portrayed a quiet toughness. “Yeah, but you still didn’t need to get out the car, though.”

I got closer.  “Let me say this again – if you’re gonna call someone a bitch, that someone may actually respond.  So you best be prepared to answer for your words. You hear me?” I said it with such old school gang authority, I honestly don’t know what came over me. I was so angry with this girl.

She still wouldn’t back down. No apology was coming from her – but I could tell in her demeanor she knew she had made a mistake. 

I heard a car horn screech. I had stopped my car in the middle of the alleyway and left it there. Now I was blocking someone else.  A neighbor from across the way. A White guy I’ve never spoken too but have seen several times before. 

The young woman now interjected almost in a gleeful whisper, “Looks like you need to move your car.  See, like I said, you didn’t need to get out your car, ma’am.” 

I was thrown by my neighbor needing to get by. But I seared into the young woman’s eyes and said clearly, “You best be careful who you call a bitch. Not everyone is out to get you. And looking at someone ain’t a damn crime.”

I headed back toward my car but before I could jump back into it, my White guy neighbor who’d been honking his horn to get on by decided to interject: “Why did you even bother getting out of your car? Why would you waste your time with her -she’s crazy?” 

I took a deep breath. “Because. She’s not crazy.  She’s a young Black woman, in a White neighborhood and I was wearing a baseball cap.” He looked at me confused. I continued exasperated, “I needed her to know that I, a Black woman, live in this neighborhood – and yes that she belongs here too.  Not everyone is looking at her because she’s Black.  Sometimes, people are looking at you just because we’re looking.” 

He nodded his head in agreement, but I’m not sure he understood at all. 

I got back in my car and went to my garage. I pulled the car in and sat there for a minute. My hands were shaking.  Two decades later and clearly you can take the girl out of the hood, but the hood is always a part of who she is…  and that’s not a bad thing at all. 

That night, I finally got a good night’s sleep. Crickets no more.

I Prayed In My Car

Yesterday, it rained.

This wouldn’t seem like a big deal to most, but I live in Los Angeles were “rain” is at a premium. 

Anyone who knows me, gets that I hate to drive to begin with, but hate it even more in mist, rain, darkness, anything but perfect sunny weather at this point. If I won the lottery today, one of the first things on my list would be to hire a permanent driver. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. I’ve been saying this since I got my license as a teenager.  I’ve just never been a fan of driving and I don’t care about cars at all.  But, I do drive and yes, I drive well – just like everyone else thinks they do – it’s just not my thing. But, I had an appointment to meet with a client and since I’m a stickler for keeping my commitments, I went anyways even though when I started to leave, the rain was really coming down hard.  I can’t lie, I thought about cancelling for a second — okay, maybe more than a few seconds – Yaaasss, because it was raining!  I would have come up with another reason of course, like I was “sick” or something, but I truly considered ditching the meeting because of the rain.  Hee! 

Well, I went to my appointment.  And in case you missed it, I hate driving. I hate rain while driving even more. 

I prayed in my car. I did. Honestly, I realized yesterday that I do that pretty regularly. I’m not religious at all, but prayer (wishes, hopes, whatever you want to call it) is a part of who I am. People don’t know this about me – well, maybe one person does, the one who taught me this when I was a little girl, but every time I go by an accident, or see someone in distress, or just have a fear or need, I do a small cross at the top of my forehead with my thumb. Yes, I know, how very Catholic of me, but I’m not. I was “raised” Catholic, but I consider myself a recovering Catholic and actually, truth be told, I can honestly say, I hate the Church and most religion any day of the week.  But my faith in something “bigger” and “after this life” is on point and strong.  I also believe that whatever keeps me hopeful, empathetic, considerate and in joy, is a good thing.  Yeah, I pray most every day, maybe sometimes twice a day.   

I prayed in my car that my journey on the 405 & 10 freeways would be easy, that people would be kind, that other drivers would use their directionals (we call them blinkers – or blinkahs – in Boston). I prayed that my journey would be safe and that my car would not slip or slide and that my tires would hold out (the guy who changed my oil this year told me I needed new tires because they were worn out and then proceeded to show me the worn tread to make his point. This is in my head every time I get in my car. Thank you, mechanic guy.) – So, I did my little cross on my forehead with my thumb and went on my merry way. 

It was a lovely drive. I swear to God, or whatever you believe in, it was incredible! I mean EVERYONE used their “blinkahs” and even though there was one little mishap –  where a car tried to get into the next lane during a slow in the downpour while the opposing car was trying to do the same, they both noticed each other and one let the other by kindly. No horn honking, no middle fingers or exasperated looks – actually, there was a “It’s all good” wave by the person in the first car to the other car.  Seriously. In Los Angeles!  Amazing!

Now, do I think my prayer made that happen? Of course not.  I do not believe that’s how it works.  The God I believe in, isn’t messing with my head that way.  If that were the case, my “prayer” for a few million dollars would have already come true a long ass time ago!  Hahahahaha!  No, that’s not what prayer is for or about for me… 

When I pray, when I do my little cross on my forehead when going past an accident or seeing someone struggle, that pray is a reminder of my compassion. Prayer for me is about hope.  A wish that I be better than I used to be, no matter what happens. Prayer is what made me notice the best in people when a slight mishap occurred between two cars in front of me, in the rain, on the freeway, instead of being angry and frustrated that it ever happened at all.

Yeah, yesterday was a great day.

Real Power

Somebody posted a comment the other day about “power”.  It had me thinking about people who have real power. 

When I think about power, I consider people like Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey or someone like JK Rowling – there are others in different industries of course, like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates… we can go down the list of people, but the point is, I doubt these people ever walk around telling others how powerful they are…

That’s what I saw on this post on social media yesterday that got me thinking about what is real power

Simply, if you have to tell people how powerful you are, then you probably aren’t that powerful. 

People who have real power or authentic power are people who understand their influence and realize the responsibility that comes with being someone who can impact others so easily.   

I doubt very much that their goal was ever to be powerful.  I feel that being powerful is most likely a byproduct of who someone is in the world and can never be an actual goal.  People with REAL power tend to be people who inspire and uplift others. They know who THEY are, they know their strengths and most likely understand their weaknesses and therefore always open to learning something new.

To me, real power is a very elusive thing. It’s different from being a leader or wealthy. It actually has nothing to do with your title or standing.  Real power has everything to do with how others view YOU and nothing to do with what you can control. 

Hmmm. Just something I’ve been thinking about. Here’s the video I made before my run yesterday that got me thinking….

Carmen    

Getting It Done

I hate using the word “procrastination” because it has such a negative tone to it. Truth is, some of my best work is done when the tic-toc of the clock is closing in.  I know quite a few people who also function this way, successfully too! 

However, it’s not my favorite way to work. Not at all. I tend to be a very organized, “To Do List” kind of person. I love scratching off an item on my list and moving on to what’s next.  But sometimes there are items that just feel so big or torturous that I just don’t want to do them – that’s where procrastination plays a role. 

The things I don’t care about at all, are the things that get pushed aside in the wake of the things I love to do and want to do.  I’ve decided not to be too cruel to myself about it anymore and instead embrace the idea that I’ve mastered the art of procrastination.  That can be a new skill after-all. Why not?

Beating ourselves up for not always doing things the “right” way, tends to just make matters worse. Negativity isn’t going to make you work any faster or better! Instead, find a way to embrace what you may see as “faults” in your way of functioning and see if you can’t make what seems to be lemons, into lemonade! 

I procrastinate. It’s just the way I get some things I hate to do, done. Getting it done, is all that matters.

🙂

My Children, Our Children

When I see people treating children with such disdain, I wonder what these “people” think is going to happen when that particular child grows up?

If we look at our own experiences as children, whatever they might be, can’t we easily see how a child who is treated poorly, will inevitably grow up to be a broken adult?  Don’t we understand, logically, that a child who is nurtured, supported and loved – that he/she will most likely grow up to be a decent and productive person?

How are we missing this?

It’s logical, but also innate to our existence.  As human beings we tend to want to protect children – so how is it possible that sometimes, a lot of times, we don’t?

In my experience, it tends to be that we don’t value OTHER children as much as our “own” children. In a lot of ways, that makes sense.  But it’s also incredibly selfish and misguided.  Your child will someday affect my life when he/she grows up.  Your child will inevitably affect my child because they will work together, play together – who knows, maybe even marry each other.  Doesn’t it make sense then, that my concern for children should be more inclusive than just the ones that share my DNA? 

My heart breaks for the children currently at the border.  This “other-ism” – this ability to not care about a child in pain – anyone’s child – is more telling of who our society is, who we are as a people than anything else.  We don’t care because they’re not “my” child, it’s not even my friend’s child… but it’s more than that, isn’t it?

In America – in these United States – a country I love, the fact remains that a brown child is less valued than a white child.  It’s so much easier not to care when the child’s value is not as significant. Imagine for a moment, what the state of play would be if all of those kids at the border had been white, blonde-haired children from Poland or Ireland? I don’t think any of us – not anyone reading this anyways, doubts for one minute that the United States would be up-in-arms and taking to the streets to help those precious kids. The white ones.

It gives me no pleasure at all to admit this.  It kills me every day to see how “un-reactive” we are as a society to this horrible situation regarding “OUR” children, children of the world sitting in squalor because they need help.  And the United States, this grand country with so much wealth allowing it to happen is beyond comprehension. “Other-ism” is the justification for harming children.  I feel helpless most days. I tear every day knowing these kids will grow up one day and will remember how horribly they were treated, and those bruises and scars will not heal well if we continue to dismiss people as legit human beings deserving of love, kindness and support.

Because of my personal circumstances as a child, I was raised by so many different people – Black, White, Latino families. Regular people who didn’t see me as “other” but saw me as one of their own. A community that valued a child in distress. I was so blessed. It’s what my book CANELA is all about.  We need to find a way, to take care of all of our children – value them as they should be. Cure our hearts and our stupidity.

We. Are. Better. Than. This.

Julie & Nathan