In Defense of Darkness

August 29, 2016

On Sunday, August 28, I delivered another sermon (an annual thing for me) at my home church of UU Church of Medford, MA. I dealt with darkness in literature and religion. The sermon text is below.

In spring of 2015, I finally put together a small collection of short stories for publication online. I say finally because while a few of the stories were older shorts, one was a new one that was at last on paper in a form I liked. Once that was finished, I gathered all of them together, packaged it with an introduction and a cover image, and posted the collection online under the title “Starry-Eyed Halluncnations.” The title is as much a play on words as it is a state of mind at that present moment. In the introduction, I spoke about dreams as a writer that had been deferred by life, economics, choices both in and out of my control. A lot of what I had hoped to accomplish as a writer had fallen by the wayside, what were once hard and fast goals had become mirages and to get anywhere now, I would have to be less starry-eyed in my look at the world.

To say the least, it was a much dimmer view of my life, but then so were the stories in the collection. A monologue by a guy who turns out to be a rapist, a first person perspective of an office massacre, a speculative fiction piece about society where abortion is illegal, and a man so far down that suicide is his prefered option. I never stated the plots so blatantly on the back cover blurbs (you have to leave the audience wanting to read it), but it all hinted at a series of moody and dark tales. When friends of mine bought, read it, and posted reviews online, “dark” was the operative word used to describe the collection. What did surprise me were the reactions from friends in this congregation. The oft-repeated phrase I heard was “How could you write so dark?” or variations of it. My immediate reaction to that was what’s wrong with being dark? For these particular stories the dark mood was necessary and would be a betrayal of the narrative. Thinking about it later, I realized what bothered me was that “dark” was being used as a pejorative, as if being gloomy is a bad thing and against the norm. I think this irked me more than anything else. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect someone or anyone to be in a good mood all the time; so, too, the various things they may create need not always be uplifting and cheery. Certainly life isn’t this way, so I don’t know why we expect it out of those around us. Hearing that review, I had the impression that people expected me to be bright and sunny all the time even in what I write, and I know that I’m not like that all the time, and certainly my writing isn’t like that. So I wanted to look at why we see darkness as a bad thing and how it is used in both literature and religion.

When faced with all the questions about the tone of my stories, I flashed back to a source I rarely think about: the fables of the Brothers’ Grimm. I say rarely because when one often thinks of the Grimm’s work, they are thought of as fairy tales for children. While they are mainly for children, these stories are not exactly fairy tales and not as innocent as people are often led to believe. The collected works of 19th century folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are actually much darker than we may remember them. In any strange forest, wolves, witches, any number of animals or beings lie in wait for our protagonists to come in and be taken under their spells or guile for whatever purpose they seek. Make the right choices and you will be rewarded; the incorrect can cost you your humanity or life. And these are the tales that were told to their children for years and years hoping to impart wisdom and common sense.

Of course we don’t seem to remember the dark qualities of the stories, but often the lessons. Part of that isn’t because of the material but the attempt to brighten up things to the extent that dark elements are wiped out. The most egregious offender of this is Walt Disney and his company. For example, Disney’s first major animated feature was the Grimm’s “Snow White.” In the Disney version, the Queen, jealous of Snow White’s fairness, gives Snow White a poisoned (or at the very least cursed) apple that puts her in a deep, death-like sleep that could only be broken by a kiss from a handsome prince. The original Grimm story was different. The apple was truly poisoned and meant to kill Snow White. The rest is a comedy of errors. As the dwarves lay a vigil over Snow White in a glass coffin, a king rides through the woods and is enamored by her beauty. He asks the dwarves to allow her to be interred in his castle. As the king’s servants carry her down the hill, they trip, throwing Snow White out of the coffin, hitting the floor that dislodges the apple stuck in her throat and not digested, at which point she awakes from what can only be described as the strangest diabetic coma in recorded history. By trying to make the ending more palatable, it obliterates the original morale. Whereas the Grimm tale told of the folly of trying to stem youth and beauty and the consequences of ego, Disney changed it to be about goodness and beauty rewarded by true love.

While this may seem like subtle shift in tone, it has led to serious ramifications on societal thinking. The idea that someday my prince will come is a mantra we struggle against in stories, life and a patriarchal society. How many of the baby boomer generation had to be deprogrammed in that “it’s only a fable?” How often is such a lesson required in the movies produced and are inundated with? How many people still hold onto that moral? By making the original story all sweetness and light and family friendly, a false narrative emerged that was strong enough to have a life and consequences on their own.

One reasons for altering the events is out of protection, especially as these were lessons for children. The urge to protect our children from harm is natural and good. Trying to protect our children from everything is smothering and can lead to harm. While in later editions, the Grimms edited their stories to remove any sordid sexual innuendoes, the violence was kept in. In the “The Frog Prince,” while the Grimms took out the implication that there was an intimate relationship between the prince and the princess before they were married, they kept in how the frog was transformed back into a prince: the frog was thrown into a wall (it was changed to a kiss much, much later). In many ways the violence carried the moral weight of the stories. The protagonist was rewarded for good behavior and the antagonist was punished for their cruelty. In their story “The Juniper Tree,” the stepmother kills her stepson, tricks her stepdaughter into believing she killed him, and then cooks him for dinner to cover up her daughter’s crime. At the end, the stepmother is killed when a millstone is dropped on her head, and the stepson is brought back to life.

It’s also important to note how context can affect how we see how dark a story or action can be. Take the song “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash sung earlier. One of the lines in the first verse is “there were few who saw but all agreed/the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.” Having the Man in Black sing that lyric back in the 1960s obviously sets the stage for a gloomy song to follow. But having a black man sing that same lyric in 2016, with all the historical problems of the criminal justice system in a media driven society, has more sinister implications. Different context, different perception.

Cultural differences can also determine what might be considered appropriate. This is key to look at, as the Brothers Grimm were very keen to portray their stories in the light of a national identity (German in this case). In 1893, folklorist Marian Roalfe Cox collected all the variations of the fable “Cinderella,” and found 345 distinct versions that vary by countries, cultures, and morals. In the Grimm’s version, the punishment for the stepsisters’ cruelty was that birds—that Cinderella communicated with—pecked out their eyes, blinding them. As dreary as that may be, this was in the middle of the punishment levels. In the Philippines, the stepsisters were torn apart by wild horses, and in Indonesia, the stepsisters were killed, chopped up and presented to the stepmother as salted meat to dine on. On the lower scale, India had Cinderella forgiving the stepsisters who came to live with her and the prince (this is also the same ending as the Sesame Street version with Elmo). Yet no matter how harsh the punishment in any version, each one is considered a family fable.

As we bring the Cinderella story into this, one important feature that bears mention is the use of the “fairy godmother.” This was not in the Grimm version of the tale, but was a creation of French author Charles Perrault in 1697. He also introduced the glass slipper and the pumpkin carriage to the tale. In the Grimm’s story, as well as other versions, the magic interaction was at the hands of “natural magic.” Various Asian versions made a fish the girl’s protector and guardian; the Chinese version, the fish is the reincarnation of the mother. In the Grimm story, Cinderella took a twig given by her father from one of his journeys, planted it at the mother’s grave, and it grew into a tree which she would pray under; later a white bird would perch in the tree, Cinderella would tell the bird her wishes, and the bird would bring what she wished for. The version we hear and are more accustomed to—and codified by Disney—is the Perrault interpretation.

Part of the reason for this is religion and its impact on culture. While 19th century Germany was a Catholic and Christian majority, German paganism still survived at the time (in part due to the Grimm’s preservation of the folk tales of the German homeland). Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism was the overwhelming dominant religion in France despite racial diversity. At the time Perrault wrote his Cinderella tale, Catholicism was the state religion; so the necessity for an otherworldly intermediary to grant magical wishes to those worthy and of good virtue is more in line with canonical religion than say asking a tree or a fish. This in turn translates well into American Christian thinking when Disney gets a hold of it. Again it is this way of presenting the story—watched over by “fairy” godmother, the divine providence of the glass slipper fitting only her—reinforces a form of Christian magical thinking that is prevalent in society today. Not that the fable caused the thinking, but it certainly exploits a deep undercurrent within Western Christian thought.

This leads to a common problem in Christian thinking that unless it is of divine providence and affirming of God, it is heretical and inherently evil. Monotheism sets up an incorrect narrative that only the one God can bless, provide for, and rule the believers (“True Believers”), and that others are to be punished for their failure to believe, Having said monotheism does this, I must point out that Islam and Judaism recognize other faiths even if they don’t profess their beliefs, and they aren’t known for converting at the point of a sword as Catholics or Christians. One can also see the harsh, punishing God of the Old Testament as a very foreboding presence on the faith, however it seems that the stories of the Old Testament and Talmud are much like Grimm’s morality tales, warning people on what good behavior looks like and the rewards it entails. Also with the development of the Catholic and Christian churches and/or organizations, practices arose that normalized certain black and white perspectives that even subvert the idea of an all forgiving God. A perfect example of this would be the idea of Original Sin and views on homosexuality. Thus I use Christianity as the moral absolutist group, as the evolution of the church lends itself to such criticisms more so than Judaism or Islam. The lens through which one sees the world in the Western Christian thought is divided into black and white, good and bad, dark and light. If it doesn’t conform to Christian normative standards, then it is heretical, pagan or simply inappropriate.

What gets lost in all this moral absolutism is the nuances. Not everything in life is necessarily black or white, but often choices etched in gray that need to be decided by other human beings; and this can be seen in religions as well. Buddhism doesn’t see actions by judging them good or bad, but in terms of the impact of actions on our lives and others. In Roman and Greek paganism, the various deities had similar human vices, passions, and foibles, yet they were still deified. Neither of these contain black and white thinking or moral absolutism, but still imparted important lessons to their precepts. But the best example I can use to talk about nuances in religion and stories is the Taoist concept of yin-yang. This concept is about not opposites, but contrary forces that are complimentary and interrelated. The symbol is well-known: a circle with two swirling sides, one black, one white, with different dots inside the halves. Yin is the black swirl with the white dot. Yang is the white side with the black dot in it. It has been described as sunlight moving across a mountain and valley: with the light gradually moving across and revealing things not seen and visible things retreated to the shadows. In fact, one doesn’t exist without the other. One simplistic, yet meaningful definition I’ve come across said “the black side is the bad within nature; the white is the good within nature; the black dot is the bad within the good, and the white dot is the good within the bad; the whole circle makes up nature as we know it.” This is also reminiscent of a lesson learned in dramatic writing: find the comedy within the drama and the drama within the comedy. Well rounded storytelling isn’t a matter of either or, it’s about measures of both. Hence when stories are glossed over to paint a prettier picture than originally expressed, or sanitized to eliminate certain aspects, the stories fall flat or present a false positive meaning than intended. Stories and parables that make up religious texts are also about both, as well as the transformation of any character along the way. Good stories with a moral still can be the best way to teach young children (and some adults) life lessons; the ones that stand the test of time are not one-sided but have more nuanced tones, characters, and actions leading to the main theme.

Knowing that nature doesn’t exist without both positive and negative elements, why do we act or insist that all negative aspects or emotions of life is a bad thing? The answer can be as varied as the number of people on the planet. For many it’s a matter of not wanting to feel bad or feel the negativity of others. That to feel bad is only the start of a downward spiral that may have seemingly no end, so to ward against that is to never surround yourself with anything negative, dark or depressing. The biggest problem with that is no one can ever be constantly positive. If darkness, negativity, or however you would describe it is a part of nature, then such darkness is natural and a part of life. This is seen in basic psychology in that repressing unwanted emotions has deeper and more serious consequences than feeling it to begin with—supressing anger can lead to depression, unchecked depression can lead to potentially suicidal thoughts and possibly actions. Better to admit and deal with the negative feelings than wishing them away.

In some cases it is still a matter of societal pressures. Our society still sees things in black and white despite all the shades of gray surrounding us. We’re still under the influence of Western Christian normative standards and all that entails, including a disdain for anything dark or negative (“sinful”). As such that makes it harder to even approach the subject without scorn or derision, so we avoid it. That brings us back to the whole repression of negativity I just mentioned, and the vicious cycle continues without remedy.

Having said that, the question still remains as to why the stories I wrote were dark. In all honesty I answered that in the introduction the collection in “Starry-Eyed Hallucinations.” Each individual story had their own reasons for why dark and gloomy was the way to go, in subject matter as well as tone. The rapist monologue was a story that happened when the main character started talking in my head, and wouldn’t shut up. To quiet him down, I wrote his story. In 2005, I wanted to do a story cycle as a critique of the George W. Bush Presidency. Each story would revolve around a theme of despair that America was headed at the time: the uncertainty of the economy, polarization of discourse, disappearing ideas of how American life should be, and so on. The cycle never really manifested but the stories of the office shooting and the suicidal man in the hotel are now in this collection. The speculative fiction piece about abortion being illegal was something I had in my head for a while, but wasn’t able to work on for a long time. That was the hardest for me to write as I was doing it in my own downward spiral. Despite the spiral I kept trying to write. As I said in the introduction: “I’ve always been a writer, but for the longest time, I thought I didn’t have the time to carve out to write. The truth is I never had the wherewithal to make what time I had count. It’s a skill I never mastered. It’s one that every writer needs and has to make count. The way I realized how to do this was embrace any short form writing as a way to maximize time. It also gave me the accomplishment of finishing an honest writing project. Damn the word count, write a story and make it mean something.” Rather than repress the negativity, work with it. And it worked.

Not everything I do requires me to be positive, upbeat and perky all the time. More often I need the wherewithal to stand against a barrage of dark thoughts because that’s where the story is at. One of the great things about being a write is the ability to take negative energies and work it to create works of art, even positive ones. In my old apartment, I had hanging over my desk on the wall a Chinese caligraph of the word Chaos. I had heard that the chracters have within it for crisis and opportunity, but that is actually a mistranslation now taken advantage by motivational speakers. However there is something to be said about positive and negative energies to be creative. In the Hindu tradition, the universe was created out of the dance between Shiva the destroyer and Brama the creator. Destroying the old to make way for the new. We need to have a better relaitionship with negarive or darker things because both are needed. Positive cannot exist without negative, light can only exist in the darkness.

Blessed be.

Closing words:
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”—Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

As a progressive in a few Bernie Sanders Facebook groups, I realize some people in those groups really need to chill out! Not about Bernie, but about other progressives. Yeah I know I joined the group back in March when it was hard to take the media blackout, the gaslighting attacks, and the aggressive supporters, so it was good to find a community of like-minded Berners to help buoy me through the tough primaries. But now it seems like we’re becoming the bots that we all hate (you know of whom I speak).

We are progressives. Whether we are Berniecrats or democratic socialists or Greens or old school hippies, we are progressive in our politics. We are mature enough to be able to talk about our politics openly with everyone here and without fear. The Green Party has been an option for Bernie as well as fellow progressives in the fight against the oligarchy. In a revolution like this with who we are up against, we need all hands on deck. As such we should never try to shut down conversations about the Green Party just because Bernie is not specifically mentioned. As Bernie himself said at a rally in North Dakota, “The truth is you, not me. If there is any person here, any person here that thinks I’m coming to you as some kind of savior, that I’m going to do it all — all myself, you’re wrong. No president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody else, can do it alone. We don’t need a savior. We need a political movement.”

As a movement we need to stand together, not blindly but as the big tent party that the DNC elites don’t want us to be. The Greens are natural allies, and they’ve offered Bernie the top of the ticket if he wants it, but they also need help getting on all the state ballots. As I’ve said in many other posts and comments in this group, we are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You can donate to Bernie and travel to Philadelphia to help him out, but before you go sign a petition to get the Green Party on the ballots if you live in one of the 29 states they still need to get on to. Bernie told a packed town hall that “when we say that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that than when we say ‘hey this whole world is me, I need more and more. I don’t care about anybody else.’ That’s my religion, that’s what I believe in.” He talking the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have done unto you. We should be treating debates AMONG progressives of different stripes the same way, not reporting any post that doesn’t explicitly say “Bernie or Bust.”

We can and should be able to talk about progressive politics. All of it—Berniecrat, Green or straight independent. If we can’t do this here, we are no better than the shills and trolls we struggle against. I say this not as one who has given up on Bernie and pushing people to unite the party—the party is dead and needs to be replaced; but as someone who wants to see the next steps of the revolution happen now. This can be a lasting revolution if we are able to keep unity among us; but unity doesn’t mean lockstep. We need room to differ and present options. Options and differing opinions aren’t bad, they just are a different perspective for a solution. If we have to offer fealty to Bernie in every discussion we have, we won’t get anywhere. The reason Bernie has such a high favorable rating among fellow Senators is because he knows how to build bridges without betraying his values. We can and should do the same in this group.

If part of what is said among us Berners is true—what would Bernie do—he wouldn’t stifle different opinions or debates; he welcomes it. We should too.

I was never good at sales. I’m not very open by nature so the idea of pushing stuff on to people never was appealing—even if it was something people wanted. I’ve had sales jobs every so often over the years out of desperation and necessity, but I hated the task.

Political phone banking is similar, except you really are trying to get the word out about someone you believe in. I did it for Obama in 2008, as well as Democratic fundraising in 2010 (which was harder). But after all the crap I went through from the loss of a career in 2009, the spiraling decline through 2012, and dealing with single fatherhood for the last 3 years—all of which took a tool on my own mental health—I know I am no longer capable of doing any kind of telemarketing or phone banking.

The problem this time around is that the Bernie Sanders campaign needs the outreach of volunteers on the phones to help his run; not just getting the vote out but basic candidate knowledge. There has been a media blackout of his campaign since November 2015 and general dismissal of his candidacy up until now. Despite that he is a popular candidate, has a great platform, and can win if his message is heard. Sanders has been able to garner supporters by letting people hear his platform. So these phone banks become essential for his campaign. Yet I couldn’t do it. I want Sanders to get the nomination and the White House, but I can’t dial a single phone number without a panic attack.

Thankfully a friend pointed out that Sanders has a texting squad. They text get out the vote reminders, rally alerts, phone banking events, and such, to other Bernie supporters. I jumped on that in early March, but they had such a deluge of volunteers I had to wait until April so they can drastically upscale their operation so I can participate. I haven’t done a ton of shifts like others (the average is 3-4 text shifts a day, but I know one person who does 7-8 per day since their first day), but I’ve been regularly texting alerts to supporters for almost a month. I get plenty of “fuck offs”, but I get a higher amount of people thanking me for volunteering.

No it’s not cold calling numbers and trying to get support and/getting into arguments, but I believe every little bit counts. I’m better at writing anyway, and I can help a candidate I believe in. Luckily technology has allowed me to work around my mental illnesses and do necessary grunt work. I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing this all the way up to the convention and beyond.

A New Bernie Sanders Pledge

December 30, 2015

Okay Bernie Sanders supporters, we’re coming to a crossroad in the campaign. We’re about 40-plus days away from the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, both of which seem to be key to his White House campaign. We know that Sanders’ support is growing in size and breadth, and his momentum is steadily forward; however the media blackout against him continues and only further misleads the public. After every Democratic debate so far, each internet snap poll of viewers (which aren’t scientifically accurate) showed that they thought Sanders won each debate in overwhelming numbers (80% and over). Yet when TV news analysts were asked who won, each time they said Hillary Clinton won overall. Despite having NO SuperPAC support, Sanders has nearly matched Clinton in fundraising efforts thanks to having a history making two million individual donors in the fastest time period. Still Sanders is getting pushed out of the spotlight by Clinton and Donald Trump, and any other news event that doesn’t deal with politics. But Sanders hangs on in national polls, diminishing Clinton’s lead and polling better than any GOP candidate. He holds on, but soon holding on will not be good enough, Soon we will be tallying votes in caucuses and primaries, and if Sanders can’t come out on top in the early primaries, the campaign will be over. I know there is the growing pledge of Sanders’ supporters to write-in Sanders’ name in the general election if he doesn’t become the Democratic nominee. I’d rather talk about a different pledge: to make sure Sanders IS the nominee period.

If we really want to take back our democracy (née transform our American oligarchy back into a representative democracy), we NEED to vote for Sanders in every primary and caucus leading up to the national convention. If every person who donated to the Sanders campaign or clicked his name in the post debate polls voted in the upcoming primaries, he will win the primaries and get the nomination for president. No need to split the parties in November or write his name in; we can vote him into office proudly and faithfully. I understand the principle behind wanting to vote Sanders and only Sanders for president; what I’m saying is wee need to concentrate on February before November. Sanders can be the nominee if we first put our votes where our hearts are.

We need to have a new pledge: if you’ve donated to Sanders’ campaign, posted memes on Facebook, retweeted his comments, if you really think his voice in office would best serve the American people, pledge to vote for Sanders in your state primary or caucus. Find out what date your state primary is here and plan to vote. We can always revolt if things are rigged afterwards, but right now Sanders will be the nominee if everyone who says they support him vote for him in the primaries. He not only needs our pledge to vote for him, he needs our vote. Give it to him when the primaries come up.

Final Tally

December 2, 2015

So for the NaBloPoMo is 20 posts for the month. I didn’t get a list of how many words total, but I was glad to get a larger output of blog writing over the month, and I’ve had larger overall readers since doing this. Good to see that. I still need to translate all of that writing into writing my fiction and scripts. I’d love to translate my readership into book sales, but that’s something for another day. Right now I need to get a consistent writing schedule so I can get blogs or fiction done. That’s part of what this challenge was for: consistent writing. I worked but I need to build on that. Need to be productive again before I can market things. I’m trying to get better and plans and goals and all that.

Senses Working Overtime

November 23, 2015

While walking home from Sophia’s afterschool program on one of the chillier days this week, there was this conversation:

Sophia: I can smell the frost.
Me: Excuse me?
Sophia: I think I can smell the frost.
Me: How did you manage that?
Sophia: I don’t know. I can just smell when it’s cold.
Me: You don’t need to smell when it’s cold. You can feel it.
Sophia: I know but my nose bothers me when it gets cold.
Me: Mine too, I just don’t believe I can smell the air when that happens.

Luckily we refilled her allergy medicine the other day.

Lag Time

November 23, 2015

Yeah I know, I missed a bunch of entries for the NaBloPoMo. I need to post one a day for the challenge and I’m behind about a week, at least. The thing is I’m not sweating it right now (rare for me I know, but interesting nonetheless). Life will always get in the way somehow; whether it will be illness, a death in the family, busy workload, or a desperate need for grocery shopping. For me it was the last two, usually not a problem but this week left me exhausted. Your brain should be at least 20% power for you to create and write, and I think I was barely at 10% most the week. So I took a break.

There’s lots to do creatively and real world logistics and you can’t do everything at once as much as I’d like to. Sometimes you’ve got to ride out the stuff going on. The trick I’m trying to get better at not beating myself up about it (as much as I’d like to do that, too). Sometimes the best you can do is forgive yourself and move on to the next day. Now THAT is something worth incorporating into your daily routine.

Maybe NaBloPoMo…?

September 23, 2015

Not sure. I’m definitely considering it. I know I can’t do a 50,000 word project for November, but I certainly can post something on my blog every day for 30 days. Probably… Still thinking about it.

This past Sunday I had the honor to be a major part of the Martin Luther King Service at our church.  I did a sermon about King last year the week after MLK day, kind of extending the holiday, but this was my first time to be a part of the MLK church service. I got to read a lot of poetry–Langston Hughes and a Javon Johnson slam piece (which was AWESOME!)–but I also did something in tandem with the minister to talk about racial identities and privilege. Read interspersed was so revealing and hit home for a lot of people. I will try to get permission to use her portion as well, but for now I really wanted to post what I had written for my stuff. Was very exciting getting this together.


I am adopted and claim all the nationalities of all my parents.

I am Colombian, African, some South American Indian, Puerto Rican, and Jewish of Russian/Polish descent.
Some of these are known and sure, others are best assessments from forms I can gather.
Like many people of color, I can only trace my ancestry so far before the trail runs cold.

I am a Native New Yorker born and bred from 25 years in three of the five boroughs of the city.
My parents—my father a Catholic and my mother a Jew—married in a Unitarian Church and I was raised in the religion all my life, a rarity in this denomination.
I went to a private Quaker school for grade school and a public art school for high school.

My parents were both highly educated people.
My father had a Doctorate in Romance Languages and was tenured at Queens College where he taught in the Romance Languages department, mainly Portuguese, for most of his adult life.
My mother got her Masters of Divinity in Religious Philosophy from Union Theological Seminary, but never used her degree in her career.
She worked in rape crisis centers in the 1970s, for the New York Board of Health in the 1980s and eventually municipal union District 37 from where she retired.
My younger sister, also adopted, is the only sibling I have and the only one of the nuclear family without a college degree.
I myself have two degrees—a Bachelor’s and a Masters—and have taught adult education ed at colleges.
But you would never know this by my appearance.

I am a product of 1970s and 80s New York culture and politics, of latch key kids, of divorced parents, of too much TV, of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, of the changeover from comic books to Graphic Novels, of AIDS marches and homeless protests, of worn down Beatles albums and Broadway soundtracks.
My upbringing was middle class and somewhat fortunate, but because of my skin color it can never be called privileged.

I know this because when I look at the records of my birth parents—both Colombian—they listed themselves as “White”; yet when I look at my hands, I know they were not. They considered themselves white because in that society, you are “less than” if you are colored. But when my mother came here to put me up for adoption, she was noted as Hispanic.

Because I am a person of color:

    • While I know I’ve always been hired based on my ability, I can never be 100% sure ethnicity was a consideration.
    • While I know I’ve never not been chosen for a job because of my race, I can never be 100% sure.
    • When asked to speak publicly, I know it will be based on my ability and knowledge, but I can never be 100% sure if it’s not to speak on behalf of my entire race.
    • I have been followed around by security in store in a neighborhood I lived in for years.
    • People automatically assume I speak Spanish (I don’t and know very little of it)
    • I still struggle to find quality representations of my life in TV, movies, and entertainment.
    • When talking one-on-one about influences on my art, people are surprised when not every person mentioned is of color.
    • When talking in a group about influences on my art, I have to include artists of color because they will otherwise not be represented or recognized.
    • I have to teach my daughter to be aware of how systemic racism can affect her in addition to how gender inequality can affect her, both for her own protection.
    • I do not always feel “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

There are great things about my heritage and culture to show, but not given the privilege to accept or reject all the negative aspects of them—deserved or undeserved.
I am multi-racial and multi-ethnic, and racism affects my spirit.

No Joy in Mudville

October 18, 2014

Near the beginning of the month, a friend of mine tagged me online to do a 30-day Joy Challenge. This is where you post one thing on Facebook (or Twitter or blog) that brings you joy every day for 30 days. Since I got them to do a 5-day Positivity Challenge, it made sense to tag me for this challenge. But I didn’t think I was ready to do it at that time, but I would try soon. One more step in trying to improve my outlook on things. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized tat there was no way I could do a challenge about joy.

Gratitude is not too hard. Gratitude is about being grateful for the things, people and abilities you have in you life. For every thing I listed in my challenge, I am truly grateful to have and appreciate it every day. But joy is different. Joy is the feeling of happiness or bliss you get from special things, activities and people in your life. It’s internal feeling about external things. The problem is that I haven’t felt truly happy for a long time.

Even when I was bored at my job, still dealing with my daughter’s mother’s abuse and craziness, I was depressed for sure, but there were people, projects and things that could make me happy. I may have been more by-the-numbers, but I could occasionally feel good. Since the 2008 recession, the management trap that cost me a career, and the fallout from that and child court issues, I had all the joy knocked out of me. And it wasn’t all at once; it was a steady constant pressure that squeezed the “life” out of my life. My depression and anxiety didn’t help, but the external triggers were too much and persistent. While I’m nowhere near getting better, I have some perspective to see how it happened.

There are times when I feel some happiness, but not exuberantly enough to call it joy, and certainly not enough to do it for 30 days. I’d like to, but I’d be lying if I said I could do it right now. I don’t take for granted what I have, but it will be some time before I have enough joy inside to do a 30-day joy challenge.