Nonfiction

Running Toward 36 (With My Woes). 

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I’m turnin’ into a nigga that thinks about money and women, like, 24/7. That’s where my life took me; that’s just how shit happened to go. — Drake, “Know Yourself”

When I turn 36 in two months, I will cross over the benchmark of this decade where I’m closer to 40 than I am to 30, far closer to middle-age than post-adolescence. Subconsciously, during 2015, that must’ve been significant to me. This has been¬†the year that I started chasing. Finally, I stopped waiting for my dreams to find me working, and refocused my work so that it gathered like an arrowhead and flung itself forward.

I still don’t know what else I want to be when I grow up. But I know far better, thanks to 35, who I am right now.

A few days ago, I tweeted that the 30s are a revelatory set of years — and not everything you become during them is inspiring or pleasant; not everything you realize about yourself makes you proud. The truth is: the first five years of my 30s taught me just how many of my good traits are decision-based. They’re the result of waking up every day and choosing to be kind or generous or thoughtful or compassionate. None of that is innate. I’m not always tender with my child instinctively, for instance. Sometimes I take a deep breath first and set my intention on a soft word or a gentle touch or a question — “Was that nice?” or Was that the right choice?” — rather than yelling, “What’s gotten into you?!”

And, I mean: I fail.

I can be shallower than I thought I had become, either compelled or unnerved by physical appearance in ways I thought I’d conquered as a child. I still notice how people look before I notice who they are; how they look still impacts how I process who they are. It’s something I intend to continue rejecting, now that I’m aware just how much work I still need to do.

Even when I think I’m operating out of pure human kindness, I can discover, at the end of a day, that I was in fact motivated by the response I’d hoped to receive. The disappointment I feel when I don’t get it is what makes that apparent. ¬†Take this, as an example: when I was 33, I fell in love with someone, dated him for four months, and pined for him over the next two years. For him, I would run a gauntlet of errands, under the guise of just-friendship, attempting all the while to convince both him and myself that I was simply good-hearted, willing to accept what would never be — us, a couple, reconciled — yet still present myself to him, whenever he was in a bind. Love, after all, whether or not it’s met with equal or greater force, is kind. It doesn’t seek its own. It meets whatever need it sees, without expectation of repayment. This is what I wanted us both to believe. It’s who I thought I was: purely kind, unconditionally loving.

But I was stealing all kinds of repayment: the sight of him, his touch, the scent of him steeped in the cloth seats of my car, long after he’d left it, his conversation. I used it all as a kind of fossil fuel; I let it burn off my loneliness.

Worse, in my 30s, I’ve been on the receiving end of this very kind of attention, offered as under a label of friendship and undeterred by known disinterest in it. I’ve chosen not to reiterate my¬†disinterest, because these days, having someone familiar near can be far more appealing than resolutely sending him away.

I am embarrassed to admit that. I spent my 20s eschewing all behavior that could be called clingy or needy or desperate or validation-seeking. I prided myself on being able to take a hint. I always left first, even if I didn’t want to. I knew all the adages: Never make time for someone who doesn’t make time for you. Listen the first time. Follow your first mind. If he’s truly interested, you’ll always know it.¬†That I could know¬†those things as true and decide¬†to test them anyway isn’t something I enjoy disclosing about myself. The woman who does that isn’t the woman I believed I was.

My¬†30s have made me¬†different. My¬†30s, with a small child I¬†have yet to raise, whose future frightens me, for all its potential and for the possible ways that this potential will ¬†carry her far away from me¬†and lead me, in my¬†very old age, back to the silent, less vibrant life I¬†led before her, are the decade where my¬†worst qualities and greatest fears¬†are revealing themselves and it’s too exhausting to keep pretending to the world that I¬†don’t have them.

I am often afraid, especially in my friendships and with lovers. I do not want to let anyone go. I can say this now because I am almost 36 and I think, when a woman is still single at this age, this sort of admission is expected.

I do enjoy the life I’m carving out. I am a writer, which is really all I ever wanted to be in the world, and I am a mother, which I was never certain I wanted to be, but have risen to — with all my heart — just the same. Ten years ago, I would not have dared ask for more. I do not always dare it now.

But increasingly, I am challenging myself to own whatever I am and then to interrogate it. I am, at turns, angry and jealous and petty, short-tempered and selfish, and even, as this most recent failed relationship taught me, unwittingly duplicitous. I have done more than my fair share of compromising what I truly want. Now, I am becoming exacting about it.

I simply want to be good — to myself, to my child, to others, good¬†at my work and¬†at a love as yet unseen. I no longer want to pretend to anyone that I am sweeter or¬†more self-sacrificing than I am. And in the absence of that performance, in the midst of my daily choosing and failing, I want someone beside me making his own, similar decisions. Among them: accepting me just as I am and choosing, each day, not to flinch.

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Appearances and Publications, Nonfiction, Parenting, Pop Culture, Resisting Motherhood

Busyness, Business, Birthday, Buzzfeed.

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I haven’t been able to blog here in over a month and I miss it. I didn’t want anyone who follows me here to believe I’ve abandoned this space. It’s my sanctum. But I’ve had the very good problem of being swamped with paid writing work — in so much that some of the things I might’ve written here have been placed — or will be placed — at very cool websites.

Writing on deadline and being increasingly line-edited by people committed to making the work better than I can make it on my own (disjointed as my trains of thought have become with the noise of my toddler, the relocation of her dad to town, after years living on the other side of the country, and the demands of raising a child while working a day job from home) has been rewarding and humbling.

October was a rough month for me. My life felt racked with big, disconcerting change and I wasn’t sure how to adjust to any of it. I’m still figuring that out, but I’ve had experience. I have to remind myself that, in the years since my daughter was born, I’ve transitioned out of adjunct college instruction, moved from Michigan to Maryland, navigated the IEP and pediatric audiological processes with my daughter, written for various national publications, started an online community for single parents of color, and scored a fellowship in social media community engagement. I’m constantly criticizing myself for not being “further along” in my career, but sometimes, we’ve just got to stop and assess the ground we’ve already gained. In fact, if we don’t take the time to do that, we’ll reach a point where it’s difficult to know what’s left to conquer and which direction to turn in order to pursue any of it.

In less than a week, I’ll turn 35 — and it’s a good age, a good time. I’m not at all where I envisioned myself, when I was younger and strained to imagine what it would feel like to be just five years shy of 40. But I’m making my way and it’s been an incredible trip. The past month in particular has been teaching me things I’ve actively avoided learning:

  1. Forgiveness from afar looks different than forgiveness up close. And sometimes you think you’re over things, simply because you’ve enjoyed a great deal of physical distance from them. But there’s always a closing of that distance. There’s always a day of reckoning.
  2. I’m not my best self when I’m afraid. And it’s incredible how quickly and drastically fear can make you regress.
  3. It’s an honor to be receiving an increased number of requests to write. But it’s also okay to decline those requests when I’m overextended or just going through something that’ll compromise the quality (or punctuality) of the work. Not everything is about “writing through it,” and you¬†don’t always have to push yourself. Or, I don’t, at least. I shouldn’t¬†speak for anyone else there.
  4. If you sense that you’re plateauing, you probably are. Take on assignments that won’t be such cakewalks for you. (For me, that’s meant scaling back my unfiltered, unedited blogging here and letting my words go under other writers’/editors’ scalpels. It’s changing the way I compose and making me less certain of where a piece is going — which can be pretty thrilling (if also terrifying and debilitating).
  5. At some point, it can’t hurt to find yourself a therapist. I’ve never had one; finding one will probably be my birthday gift to myself. There are things I need to work on in the next five years that aren’t career-specific or even particularly measurable — social and emotional things — that I don’t think I can handle anymore without help from an objective outside party.

My performance of adulthood has sharpened in my 30s. Like Nicole Richie is saying in the gifs above, I’m finally ready to declare myself a grown-up. Mostly. I’m definitely still living like a glorified commuter student in a lot of ways. And that’s okay. Mostly. There’s no one way to live, no single set of social markers that we have to reach in order to declare ourselves mature or well-adjusted or highly-functioning. We just have to keep going.

So I plan to greet my next year of life, incomparable gift that it is, with contentment.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been published in Buzzfeed. Twice. Here, I’m talking about mothering and empathy. And here, I’m talking about Bill Cosby’s pre-Huxtable persona and how it leaves me feeling less shock and betrayal about the “good” doctor’s alleged bad deeds.

Also look out for a short piece on The Hurston-Wright Foundation I’ve penned for the Jan/Feb ’15 issue of Poets & Writers, a piece in The Guardian (hopefully; I’ll edit to embed a link when/if that goes live), and a long feature on black fatherhood in Colorlines, scheduled for publication in the upcoming week.

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