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“We want you back”

It’s only now, 3 days later, than I can begin to cry over the death of Michael Jackson. I experience grief for him the way I’ve grieved for people I know personally; shock, disbelief, sadness; the feeling that the person you’ve lost is everywhere and nowhere at once. Compounding things is the tragedy his life became; the complexity of his legacy; the somber lessons about fame, work, and music that we are to learn from his life & death.

I’ve written before about the need for celebrity grief. Grieving people in the public eye, or with whom we grew up, is necessary and a rite of passage. Our culture is shaped by people who live their lives publicly, and when those lives end we are required to look at them honestly, grieve respectfully, and see them for the complicated, human people they were. Those who want to place Michael (or anyone who has died, for that matter) in an “either/or” box are missing this crucial point: it’s entirely possible that someone can be complicated, deeply flawed even, and yet contribute something of value to the world.

I took special notice of Lisa Marie Presley’s statement, released on her MySpace page. It’s particularly heartbreaking, because Lisa speaks candidly of wanting to “save” someone she loved from his own self-destructive impulses, and of course, being unable to do so. Lisa says,

I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save him from certain self-destructive behavior and from the awful vampires and leeches he would always manage to magnetize around him.

I was in over my head while trying.

I had my children to care for, I had to make a decision.

The hardest decision I have ever had to make, which was to walk away and let his fate have him, even though I desperately loved him and tried to stop or reverse it somehow.

How many people die every day that could have been “saved?” What is our responsibility to someone who doesn’t want our help? Relatives & loved ones of drug addicts, alcoholics and other risk-takers experience this all the time. How much of ourselves are we supposed to sacrifice? When do we make the decision to stop saving someone else and save ourselves? Which is more important?

Later in her statement, Lisa says she hopes everyone who worried over Michael can be “set free.” I hope she includes herself. And in her case, God bless her, she’s witnessed the same type of death twice, which is two too many for any one lifetime. It doesn’t seem there’s anything anyone could have done.

Perhaps most upsetting is how young Michael seemed; how terribly naïve; how full of energy he appeared to be. Watching him dance and jump and move and laugh is heartbreaking, knowing, simply, that he was so alive and now he isn’t. It’s always a little easier knowing someone died after they were “ready”; when they had made preparations and accepted that their time was over. I don’t think Michael ever could have been in this category as he seemed way too committed to his Peter Pan existence.

And here he is, literally singing to his inner child:

How Pop Culture Helped Me Through My Breakup

In the difficult months following my boyfriend’s disappearance, I’d already uncovered an innate sense that I wanted to surround myself with positive things. I believe that a society’s culture is a window into that society; it reflects our experiences, our hopes, our fears, dreams, intuitions, etc. The key is finding aspects of that culture that will make you better, not worse.

TV: For a while, I couldn’t watch romances. I watched a lot of Law & Order.  But the show that helped me the most was “Charmed.” Yes, “Charmed”! There’s a lot there about trusting your intuition, finding love or finding yourself, when all seems hopeless. In particular, the character of Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) has to learn to trust her intuitions and believe that love will happen for her when it’s supposed to happen. As I was looking ahead to a seemingly endless period of being single, I took particular solace in this.

Film: Two weeks after the breakup, the Sex and the City movie was released. I wrote about it here. The breakup scene, rather than being a trigger, was very well done and thus exceedingly powerful. My decision NOT to be like Carrie was a powerful one.

Another helpful film for me was Shopgirl. The main character’s transition from living life as it happens and falling for an unavailable man, then deciding to give herself freely and receiving love in return, was incredibly helpful. I also found the quiet & slightly ethereal flow of the film incredibly soothing.

Music: This one was hard. I’m a musician, surrounded by music each day, and because of the immense grief I couldn’t stand to hear any music at all for several weeks.

My first return to the world was through the listening of music. Once, on NPR, I heard one of those “new album” reviews. The reviewer described a beautifully sung country song where the singer describes her regret at having left someone who was perfectly fine for her. I related this to my own situation, but in reverse, and my affinity for country music was born.

This was especially poignant, because most pop music (especially R&B) acknowledges romantic pain but offers only misogyny as an anecdote. Hearing singers describe love for their families and their relative happiness was incredibly helpful to me, and I still listen to it.

The album, by the way, was Ashton Shepherd’s Sounds So Good.

I Decided

A year ago this week, I experienced an awful loss. I’ve decided to chronicle it, and its recovery, in this series. This is part two of four. Read part 1 here.

At the beginning, I was confused and bewildered and at a loss as to why things had to end. He treated me well. We laughed a lot. We liked each other’s friends. We had all the “right” things in common. But he obviously had some flaws, the greatest of which was not yet obvious to me.

My mother says things happen “for a reason.” I’m not nearly as religious as she is, but I believe things happen for a reason, too. And if the reason for your trauma isn’t obvious, or if you’re not sure where God is, I believe you should give it a reason. Grief is a big thing, and this is how I got my mind around it.

Even though I couldn’t imagine it, I took the advice of my friends & family who, at that point, had a much better perspective than I, and repeatedly told me that this boyfriend was just a “preparation,” that this was all happening so I could be even more ready for the person I’ve been waiting for. It took me about two months to really believe this.

I also decided that I would be positive, surround myself with positive things, and listen to my intuition and ignore all those self-defeating voices I was used to.

Ceremony: Before he left, we’d been planning our first trip together. He left about a month before were to leave, and when that would-have-been weekend came, I planned my own trip. I got in my car, drove for a couple of hours, and found a beautiful spot to sit and think. Summer was beginning and there were kids running everywhere. I loved it and want to go back.

Travel: I had some money I’d put aside for the aforementioned trip, and immediately booked a three week trip to visit my mom and my best friend. Visiting my mom was tough (two whole weeks!) but it was GREAT to get out of the house.

Religion: I couldn’t yet muster up the energy to pray. My boyfriend had been an atheist, and in my warped “breakup-mind,” praying felt like betrayal. Still, I found a local church where the people were nice enough, and the sermons seemed made for me. I liked getting out of the house, also.

Journaling: Yes, extensive journaling, reflecting, reviewing, examining “patterns” and trying to cobble together an image of what a healthier relationship would look like. For this, I used the help of the aforementioned site.

Visualization: A friend told me that he had an incredibly strong feeling that this breakup was leading me to an even better relationship. On the plane trip home from seeing him, I visualized myself repeatedly running toward him, smiling, ring on my finger ready to show him. The vision sounds cheesy now, but it’s all I had to hold on to. Besides, it’s about to happen in real life. There are worse visualizations to have.

A Year Ago Today

I think people underestimate the pain of breakups. Because the experience of a romantic breakup is so incredibly universal, I think people take for granted the pain it can cause, the extremes we go to avoid that pain, and how it can be a catalyst for the rest of your life.

A year ago today, I sat here on the couch and my life changed. I didn’t know it would be changing. There were no signs, no “indications” I was always on the lookout for. One day, the man I was in love with very simply, and in a flurry of tears and barely coherent statements, got up and left, and then disappeared.

At this point I can see how familiar this story seems, how it looks like another “Modern Love” story (Oh God, I hope not.). But this story has a happy ending, one that is happier than I could have imagined. Looking back, I can see how this is exactly what was supposed to happen, and how the choices I made led straight to this happy ending.

In a breakup, when you’ve been left, you’re supposed to move on; cry for a day or two and go find another “fish in the sea.” In a breakup, judgment is all that’s left. Think of how we think differently of divorced people than we do of widows. It’s absurd, when study after study shows us that, psychologically, the grief is very similar.

When my boyfriend left, I grieved as though he had died. In a sense, he had. I’ll certainly never see or hear from him again. If he’d really died, though, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the fact that he chose to leave. I wouldn’t have lost all his friends and I could have looked at pictures of him as long as I’d wanted to.

When someone dies, we have permission to grieve. Even in our death-averse society, when someone dies, people know you’re grieving. No one judges you if someone has died. They give you the space you need.

On Susan Elliott’s amazing website, she describes the stages of grief more in-depth than I’d read about them before, at least in relation to a breakup. I at least felt less than crazy in feeling similarly to how I felt when my father was killed, years earlier. In analyzing grief this way, I knew that I had permission to feel what I felt, and that I had to face it head-on.

This grief was monumental, and what came after was, as cliché as it sounds, an incredible gift. The first step was giving myself permission to grieve, and then making an active decision that this grief was going to make me better.

This is part of a four part series, the rest of which will be published later this week.

Categories: relationships

Only skinny white girls get married?

Photo by Kate Headley

Photo by Kate Headley

Two issues for the title of this post: One is that I have been diving head-first into the bridal marketing industry, and it is terribly vicious. It’s difficult being a part of a process that excludes me so easily.

It’s easy to see how people get swept up in the emotional aspect of it all. I’ll scream if I hear the phrase, “It’s your special day” one more time! Hopefully, I’m savvy enough not to fall for the unscrupulous vendors. One reason I might be able to avoid the rampant materialism and “Bridezilla” marketing tactics is that the bridal industry isn’t actually marketing to me.

The other is that I have been looking up photographers for my wedding, and since I am a photographer myself, am very particular. I’ve been looking at high-end photographers in my area, and I’m sorry to say that few of them have ever photographed any black people. It’s not a simple matter of getting your camera exposures right (although that’s a minor factor) but also, marketing your services to blacks. All the beautiful weddings I see feature almost exclusively White or Asian brides. Even if a photographer has included Black weddings, they are usually not prominently featured on his/her blog or website. I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and I have nothing but questions.

Why aren’t we represented in Bridal marketing? Where am I? I am TIRED. Doesn’t the “wedding industry” want our money, too? Do they not believe we will pay them? I know black people spend money, so it’s not like we wouldn’t pay if we liked it enough.

Looking at the advertisments, one would think that only skinny White girls get married. Or, is it just that Blacks & Hispanics do get married, but don’t hire high-end photographers worthy of being featured in any “Real Wedding of the Week” features? Where are we?

“Put a Ring On It”

October 25, 2008 3 comments

I’ve always admired dancers for their ease of movement and the way they always seem intimately aware of & comfortable with their bodies.

I’m entranced by Dancer554 (aka “Shane”) and his interpretation of Beyoncé’s latest, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” It’s amazing! Apparently seduced by the virtuosic, Fosse-inspired choreography of the original, several dance enthusiasts have posted their homages. But Shane, apparently a professional dancer, is the best. And contrary to some of the comments, I love the outfit!

Beyoncé has always graced us with her “Independent Woman” persona, which exudes an impossible self-esteem (in this song, she has the wherewithal to go dancing right after a breakup!) and a constant “all-about-me” assertiveness, which is attractive to those of us who have been known to give a little too much.

It’s a sharp contrast to her very blase “admission” of her marriage to Jay-Z, where she seems to dismiss the whole idea of a wedding or of newly wedded bliss. Why hide the happiness? Wouldn’t the “Miss Independent” of her songs be overjoyed at finally having the love & commitment that she deserves?

Who are we to know what’s in Beyoncé’s head or heart? Either way, “Put a Ring On It” is a fair response to R&B’s rampant mysogynistic lyrics and society’s celebration of commitmentphobic men. Apparently, the song’s protagonist has given three years of her life to yet another guy who wouldn’t move things along (maybe he used the oh-so-ubiquitous “just a piece of paper” argument).

I’ll confess: this type of guy, the “piece of paper” guy, has been a figure that haunted my nightmares for years. I was always worried that I’d get “stuck” with one. You know the type; the one who wants to “live together” indefinitely and have you do everything a married woman would — except be married. The one who says, “I’m not quite ready yet” — and says it for a million years in a row.

This fear remained with me until I , Beyoncé-style, experienced a surge of self-esteem and fearlessness, and realized that being with one of these guys has nothing to do with “waiting for love” and everything to do with rejecting his fear and selfishness, and acknowledging my worth as a woman worth committing to.

A great deal of relationship turmoil forced me to realize that it’s my choice whether or not to be reeled in by one of these Mr. Big types (who, on the surface, usually seem perfectly fine). Loneliness is uncomfortable, but it’s usually just temporary and preferable to being stuck in this endless loop. And if I do end up with a guy like that, you can be sure I’ll be singing this song on my way out the door.

I Prefer Hope

Some of us can afford to simply “fall in love.” Those of us blessed with loving fathers, good examples, and a healthy self worth tend to gravitate towards men who want to treat them well.

For the rest of us, it’s not so easy. In the absence of positive relationship role models, we need to consciously program ourselves to accept love from a healthy person and conquer our fears that we’re not good enough.

My own journey to this acceptance involved lots and lots of fear, certainly not helped by all the hysteria-inducing statistical articles proclaiming, “Singles are doomed!” Like this one at cnn, where the author spends time complaining about how awful things are for Black women (and it’s true, things are a little more difficult for us) before offering a half-hearted note of optimism at the end.

The problem with articles like these is that they put too much power in the hands of others. Relationships aren’t easy for anyone, especially those of us with problems to overcome, but it can be done. I much prefer this article in Sunday’s “Modern Love” column.

In it, writer Kerry Cohen presents her tatooo habit as a metaphor for the self-inflicted pain caused by repeatedly choosing harmful or unsuitable boyfriends. Fitting, then, that she decides to get her tattoos removed when she meets the man who is right for her. No cataclysmic, Oprah-style revelation, no magical bells or music are heard. No exhortations to the reader to “do what I did so you can find love!” The article is short and so light on detail and introspection, but it appears that Cohen eventually just knows when things are right for her and responds appropriately.

Some quick research took me to Ms. Cohen’s webpage and blog, and it becomes clear just why I was drawn to this article. Like many, Cohen has clawed her way out of an abusive-man habit and learned to accept love, and, it appears, love someone else in return.

I prefer these types of articles. For some, healthy relationships come naturally. For the rest of us, we cannot view ourselves as hapless pawns of fate, destiny or statistics. This kind of mindset leads us directly to a broken-record of mistreatment. Instead, we need to be reminded that we have more power than that.

And for me personally, I needed to see that someone who once felt the same way I do at this very moment emerged successfully, and found hope.