Let's Go There

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You’re going where? You’re going alone? Without your family? Who’s going to take care of your daughter? You’re not going for work? Is your husband okay with that? Oh, the shade of it all.

For years, I’ve been leaving the country on my own for leisure and prior to being attached to a husband and child, I’d most often get asked, “You’re going alone?” Then all of the projections of their own fears would follow. “Aren’t you scared?” “It’s not safe for a woman to be alone.” “Didn’t you hear about (insert tragedy) going on there?” I didn’t care. I went anyway because their fears and projections had nothing to do with me.

Today, I get more of the same, but it’s more insidious and intertwined with my other identities. Today, I’m a wife and mother. I’ve been married for eighteen years and a mom for fifteen. And my traveling has slowed down since my younger days, but not by much. My first time leaving my family to travel was when my daughter was about nine weeks old. I’d planned and paid for a Caribbean cruise with my sorority sisters a year earlier, before I’d even gotten pregnant. I was obviously exhausted with a new baby who refused to sleep through the night and I was pumping several times a day. Everyone told me that it just wouldn’t be right for me to leave a newborn, everyone except my brilliant family doctor. I had a six-week check-up and told her that I was considering not going on the 3-day cruise because I had just had a baby. My doctor’s response was, “Why not? If you don’t go, I’ll go in your place.” She explained that after a grueling emergency C-section, heading back to a full-time job after a mere six weeks and a life being flipped upside down with a new human to care for, a 3-day break was exactly what I needed, and that a little time to myself was a great opportunity for my husband to grow even closer to his child and for me to get much needed rest. She told me how I could still pump while away and keep the milk on ice. It worked out like a charm and I slept for three days. I don’t even remember what those islands looked like. It was one of the best and most timely gifts I could’ve given to myself. I still thank my doctor for her sage advice.

The next time I left was for six weeks to study Spanish in Guatemala. My daughter was two. The most recent time was two weeks ago and my child is fifteen. However, I get the same reactions every time, so the age of my child doesn’t matter. Their concern is about me as a mother and wife. When I mentioned leaving to some friends and family members, I was met with resistance, stank faces and unsolicited advice (the worst kind). They asked over and over again, “But who will take care of your child? What did Jashed say?” It was so disrespectful and ignorant. All of these folks know I’m married, but the underlying messages from them were, “You have no business leaving your child because you’re a mother. Of course a man isn’t capable of caring for his child, so why would you even put him in that position, you heartless, self-centered wench?” Now, let’s focus on my husband for a second. He’s not average or incapable in any way. Definitely not at marriage or parenting. He knew nothing about parenting just like me before we had a child. He read, cried and learned on the fly just as I did. We figured it out together (not completely) and tried as much as humanly possible to share the parenting load. Here’s the thing. My husband sees me as Tina, not as a single identity. He knew my life before he came along. And he loves that I’m an explorer and lover of life. He marvels at my go-getter personality and my fearlessness. He has never, ever tried to stop me from living my dreams and he never will. He supports me completely and I support him. We don’t ask for permission to do what we do because we are grown and trust and respect each other and each other’s decisions. And that’s why we last, so don’t come for us unless we send for you. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to this shade folks have been hurling.

People have taught me about themselves through their responses to my travels without family. One, they value family and togetherness. That’s beautiful. So do I. I spend lots of quality time with both my husband and daughter. They are my center. I also value myself and my needs, wants and interests. I’m not one who has to be tied at the hip with my partner or my children. A little wiggle room doesn’t make us love each other any less or connect any less. I value individuality and being my own person. I try to make sure that I make space for my child and my spouse to have their individual time too. I think we all need it. It helps us grow and continue learning about ourselves.

Maybe I’m this way because I’m an only child or because I’ve been without one or both parents at different times during my upbringing and I turned out resilient and independent, something else I value. I don’t mind being alone. Actually, I crave it, that time to myself. I look forward to it and it’s no slight to anyone else. It doesn’t signal a problem in my relationship or my commitment to my family. Again, it’s about prioritizing myself at times. For some, this sounds selfish, especially for a woman to say. I know because I have that battle within myself and I have to remind my critical self that self-care is not selfish. It’s a radical form of self-love.

I also want my daughter to see that a mother isn’t just that. That’s one important part of the whole, but not the only part that matters. So often we lose our other identities as we grow into motherhood and/or wifedom. And we mourn her. We look up years later, after the kids have gone off into the world or after a divorce and wonder who we are. Part of that is a natural shift because life changes (as do we) and we have to adapt, but another side of that is that we allow ourselves to lose ourselves to claim others. You can do both. However, we opt to become proud sacrificial lambs and privately lament the loss of who we were. And at our worst, we become resentful or jealous of others who make a different choice and try to hold them back too because misery loves company. It happens with a sly glance, a slick word, or asking questions you know the answer to.

Let’s be better. Let’s uplift and support each other, challenge each other and be our own cheerleaders, celebrating when others scribble outside of the lines or actualize a dream or fulfill one of their personal needs. Let’s ask each other new questions like: “Can you tell me how you did it?” “What did you learn this time?” “What are you doing next?” “Would you like to know what I’d like to do?” “Can you help me?”

These types of questions don’t come with your own baggage attached and allow the other person to feel free to be who they are, unencumbered by the limitations you try to place on them. Better yet, ask yourself some questions starting with why you are so bothered by someone else taking time for themselves. The answers will surprise you and, hopefully, motivate you. Find your source to being authentically you. Snatch your full self, edges and all, and don’t let her go for anyone. See, I’ll never be one to clip my own wings. And neither should you. Now go fly!

A Moment of Reflection in Antigua

IMG_0555Antigua is my happy place. The imposing and picturesque volcanoes are alluring. They allow me to appreciate the power of nature, de la tierra. The climate is always moderate, so much so that they call it the land of eternal spring. The people are warm and accepting, always willing to help each other, and you, if you need it. The streets are cobbled and ruins are scattered hauntingly everywhere. People come from all over the world so it feels like an international hub where a café chat can take you on a journey towards deeper understanding. It’s a place of connection. It feels like me – worn, wise, charming, bright, and always open to the possibilities.

And although I only make it here every 6-7 years, it calls out to me at unexpected times almost as if it’s calling me home. This time, I hadn’t planned to come. My fingers just started clicking on the keyboard and before I knew it, less than an hour later, I had booked a flight. I hadn’t even told my family. I hadn’t checked to see if my host family that I typically stay with had space for me (they didn’t). And I didn’t have much money to splurge because my summer classes got dropped. No me importa. As soon as I booked the ticket, there was a settling in my soul. I felt at peace and was ecstatic about the possibility of getting there again, in mere days.

Truly, I just wanted a space to be. That’s it. No big agenda to write the next great American novel. No itinerary to do yoga in San Marcos. I just wanted no-thing. No responsibilities. No distractions. No mierda. I just felt the need to be. Still. To live simply and off the grid. I’m a firm believer in manifesting what I want. I don’t believe in complaining about anything unless I’m willing to change it and I’m well aware that the only one who can bring me back to myself is me, so I did what I needed to do in order to recalibrate. See, I’d had a long, grueling academic year and was exhausted – mind, body, and spirit. The year had been filled with new developments, big and small challenges, relentless grading, several successes, and a little growth. It was a good year, but an emotionally challenging one that often brought me home feeling haggard and disjointed. I was ready to recharge and do for me and me alone, guided by nothing but the moment.

So that night, I packed a tiny overnight suitcase and less than two weeks later, I boarded a plane to paradise. I was greeted at the airport by a handsome and familiar face that had grown up way too soon and he whisked me away to Antigua. The first day, I settled into an AirBnB that I intentionally chose outside of central Antigua because my spirit needed silence. I was running away from noise, the clamor of constant movement, the squeaks of external expectations and the grunts of over-stimulation. And I had finally reached nirvana. The home was a lovely two-floor hideaway complete with a meditation room, garden, koi pond, Guatemalan sauna, mini library, and rooftop deck with unobstructed views of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. As luck would have it, I even got the entire home to myself for a mere $315 for 14 days. Yes, I had hit the jackpot and I couldn’t wait to bask in the lujo of it all.

The next day, I decided to walk to town (40 minutes away) to re-acclimate myself and grab some groceries. I’d taken a few snapshots and had a few “oh, I remember this street” moments before I decided to go to one of my favorite little spots, Café Condesa. While taking in a modest breakfast of an over easy egg, black beans and a single panqueque in the patio area, I was asked to move inside because it was about to rain. I happily obliged and settled for watching the flitting hummingbirds from a distance. It’s the rainy season (with a forecast of rain each day I was scheduled to be there), so I just figured my luck for the day had run out. I finished eating and stepped outside where there were dozens of people standing under the terrace. As I was stepping into the street, I saw the same sweet face, Leo, who had picked me up from the airport and he told me to stay put because of the “rain.” He told me, “Tinita, look closely.”

I noticed that it was raining something that looked like mud drops. It quickly covered cars as those driving in it tried fruitlessly to clear the sludge from their windshields. He told me it was ash from Fuego. I was in amazement at what I was witnessing and my friend told me that it happens occasionally and that we just needed to wait it out. We were none the wiser. None of us in central Antigua had any idea of the destruction that was occurring at that very moment, as there is no alert system in place for these types of catastrophes. We thought it would be like the other minor eruptions that blew ceniza, arena or polvo all over the place. See, Volcán de Fuego is an active volcano and is one of the beautiful attractions of Antigua. There are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala and three are active at this time (Pacaya which I climbed in 2004 and Santiaguito). I chose a home with a rooftop deck just so that I could see that mesmerizing lava snaking down the side of Fuego in the evenings when all is calm and dark. That wasn’t the scene this time.

News reports later revealed that this was pyroclastic lava spewing hundreds of feet in the air and careening downwards between 30 and 90 miles per hour, demolishing everything in its path. Unwittingly, I’d found myself bearing witness to a catastrophic natural and national disaster that would take many lives and disrupt the lives of many others. What I saw was citizens and tourists taking immediate action once they realized the tragedy at hand. The grocery stores and streets of Antigua were filled with people buying and donating goods to support those in urgent need. Firefighters stood in roadways soliciting donations in between saving lives. Rusted pick-up trucks carried volunteers and supplies to and from the sites of tragedy.

Fortunately, the eruption didn’t have the same tragic impact where I was staying. Outside of lots of clean up, as there was ash everywhere, and the fear of breathing in ash or it getting into our eyes (most wore masks), we were quite safe in Antigua which is about 9-10 miles away from Fuego. Those living in places near the base of Fuego such as Alotenango, El Rodeo, and San Miguel los Lotes were heavily impacted and that’s where the majority of the casualties were. The news reported that Antigua was the place of the destruction because as one of the biggest tourist hubs, it has name recognition. That’s why I got dozens of frantic calls and texts from concerned family and friends asking if I was safe. I was. I still am. I’m not a martyr nor an adrenaline junkie, so if I felt unsafe, I’d leave. And so I remain.

There’s a saying about how life is what happens when you have other plans. My plan was to have an uneventful, insulated time in Antigua, but this event has taught me some valuable lessons.

  • I can’t run away from external stressors. They will find me anyway. So instead of running to an imaginary sanctuary, my focus has to be on developing better emotional responses to my stressors. I feel things and people deeply and this has always been my gift and my curse. I need to work to care while simultaneously detaching, putting down baggage that isn’t mine and managing the baggage that is. And thank you to my dear friend Tory and sage Pema Chödrön who helped me to arrive at this revelation. My sanctuary has to be internal, starting with my mind and spirit, then my fantastic support system of family and friends. I am blessed to have the type of top to bottom support that I do.
  • No matter where I am on God’s green earth, I am connected to community and with that comes responsibility. People checked on me and I them. We worked together to do our part in making things better on the ground. There were no heroes, there was no centering of the self involved. It was about prayer, direct action and service to others, to our global family. We are one.
  • Being sola is still really, really good for me. I’m a loud ass introvert, though most of y’all still don’t believe it and I need time to myself, my thoughts. I love going days without having to talk or exchange energy or explain or silence myself due to the fragility of others or share my space. The quiet time, this alone time, is restorative in a way that cleanses me and makes me feel very much alive and free.
  • Destruction and profound beauty can co-exist. I wanted to get away from the U.S. for awhile. The energy of the nation had me sad, anxious, angry, and spent often. Well, I hopped from one type of destructive setting (under Trump obviously) to a natural disaster. And through it, there was still tremendous beauty, love, light, and joy to be found. This holds true as well in my own home of America, if I allow it. While I fight for justice or fight battles at work, I can take all the time I need to revel in the beauty of life, shifting the energy to be one of love and light simply because I exist. I must tap into my power much more frequently.
  • No place is perfect. Paradise is an illusion. Life is what you make it, no matter where you are or who you are, so make that shit count. Every day. Live.

If you’d like to donate funds to support those impacted by the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, a trusted friend’s partner is coordinating efforts in Antigua. Click the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/guatemalan-relief

A la buena vida, Tina

The Super Mom Myth

Bring the Pain!

Before I married and had kids, I just knew that I would be able to do it all. I knew that I would be the perfect wife and mother, while living my dream of being a… what was that dream again?

IMG_7242Well, anyway, my point is, I had it all planned out and in my mind, I could handle whatever came my way because growing up I saw women in my life who really were Super Women; women who held their families together and kept on going at full speed ahead.

My mother made being a Super Mom look easy. As a child, I never needed for anything, and most times didn’t have to beg for what I wanted. She gave me full reign to go after my interests and supported me at every event. And this was the same for my siblings. She was everywhere, all the time…

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They Don't Dance No Mo

All right. Stop whatcha doing, cause I’m about to ruin the image and the party that you’re used to. I’ve been partying hard since 1978 when they called me “Tina Travolta.” It went beyond staying alive for me and I didn’t need people or sidekicks to have a ball. I have always been a party of one, shy but expressive. I was that kid undulating my little wiry frame in my grandma Angeline’s dark, dank, lonely basement singing off-key, “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy…” to my Uncle Klantz’s Rod Stewart album. Yes, mildly inappropriate, but that’s not the point here.

I was a dancing goddess and I knew it. Music was my world and I was the wind, blowing whimsically and rhythmically through it. From old-school popping cheers to Janet Jackson style moves where I’d jump off of rickety folding chairs like I was part of the Rhythm Nation, I found my pleasure center, a life-giving way to socialize without being social. My body spoke for me through its tempo, its physicality, and its insistence on being free. I graduated from grammar school sock hops and roller rink jams to pre-teen basement parties and epic house music soirees at various clubs and high school auditoriums across Chicago. There was no party like a Chi-Town party, cuz a Chi-Town party didn’t stop. We jacked, wopped, stomped, twirled, bobbed, percolated, and swayed from the moment we arrived until they turned on the lights telling us that we didn’t have to go home, but we had to get the hell out of there. This type of vibrant, groove-centered partying followed me to college where house and hip-hop collided, then meshed. My body balanced house music’s free form, live and let live style of movement with hip-hop’s more regimented B-girl expectations of breaking, cabbage patching and doing the Booty Up or the Humpty Dance.

By this time, I’d earned the moniker, “Belly Dancing Tina,” and a reputation as one not to step to unless you could throw down on the dance floor because I was going to give you what you came for and a lot more. If I got invited to a party, I had certain expectations — great music, space to jack, and maybe some refreshments for the parched. A host was being fancy if food was served and I was appreciative, but it wasn’t what I came for. I came to see the faces of folks I cared for, get some hugs, catch up for a quick minute about how they and the fam were doing, and then I made my way to the dance floor. I’m what you’d call a classic extroverted introvert. I’ll dance and perform before a crowd or audience, but I freak out at the thought of prolonged conversations with any and everybody, especially if all you want to talk about is work. Weren’t we just there? Leave it alone, man. Call it socially inept. Call it weird. Call it anti-social. Call it what you want, but don’t call me if you don’t have space for dancing or other activities where small talk isn’t required at your “party.” I had these expectations for most of my young life and then I got a damn job. Did you hear the record scratch?

There is a different kind of party on the scene that I’ve been getting invited to for the past nineteen years (I’ve attended four already this season with a few more on the roster): the work party, during non-work hours. Usually, it’s a house party invite from wonderful friends at work. It still classifies as a work party, in part, because I have to put in work to get through it. Remember, I’m an introvert, people. Remember, that culturally, my expectations of a party are really, really different. Where I’m from, there’s loud ass music, laughing, some fried food with hot sauce on the side, a few homemade desserts, bid whist tables, cheap liquor mixed in with some hidden high end bottles that not everybody can partake in and lots of dancing or unified drunken swaying and crooning, depending on the hour. Now back to this work party. Let me start with I love y’all and I rock with you or else I wouldn’t even consider coming to any work parties (like my husband, a fellow introvert, has warned me against for years). And thanks for the invite. Sincerely. But clearly, you don’t know me very well, so let me help you to understand my inner workings and musings because I can’t suffer in silence any longer, despite me loving you or your company.

I feel like you’ve bamboozled me. Like Rakim said, “You thought I was a donut; you tried to glaze me.” But like Cube said, “I ain’t the one, the one who gets played like a poot butt, see I’m from the streets, so I know what’s up” with a real party. There are two problems (unless you count the fact that I’m socially awkward) that I see — definitions and expectations. Tina’s definition: a party is a pleasurable social gathering where there is dance-grade music, lots of sweaty gyrations and arm movements, and generous smiles, unless you’re in a stone cold groove, then the mean mug is totally acceptable. Most of all, there is limited conversation unless you’re talking shit or unless you haven’t seen your man one hundred grand (look it up cuz I’m venting, not teaching) in a long time then y’all might kick the willy bo-bos for an extended period of time.

I know it sounds rude, but my inner Luther has escaped on this first day of winter break where I actually have time to think, reflect, dance (which I did all alone in my bedroom this morning), and write. So, let Luther, I mean, let me tell you how I feel about your disrespectful misuse of the word “party” and the party itself. First, your use of the word “party,” though it holds up in the dictionary (but who’d ever want to attend a dictionary party), is a horrible misnomer. What you have going on in it’s best version is more like a get-together, a cozy, lively gathering, a glorified book club, a kick back or a hip philosophy conference in Champaign, IL. And that’s cool, but say that. Don’t say “party” because in its worst form, what you really have can be categorized as a jazz-laden wallflower support group, a prattle fest, a committee meeting with booze, or a poly sci conference in Springfield (discussing Trump will never put me in a party mood). And it has an impact on me, on your girl. It’s painful. All of this relentless gabbing, pontification and questioning feels like a purgatorial investigation, so I’m forced to keep chewing so I don’t have to talk much or I constantly sneak away to the bathroom for a quiet reprieve.

And here’s where I insert: It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously, don’t be sad and try not to be too offended if you’ve sent me an invite and I actually came. It’s hard not to be offended with Luther-esque honesty, I know. But we can’t solve the problem if we can’t acknowledge it, now can we? These standard work parties are soul-crushing (and I see it on the faces of other introverts across the room and it’s like we need an impromptu support group of our own but we don’t want to have to talk to each other to do it). This type of “party” (which I refuse to take out of quotes because it isn’t really a party as this whole diatribe has tried to get you to understand) takes so much work and it exhausts me way more than grading essays at the end of the semester or dancing until 4am ever could. I actually enjoy the latter type of exhaustion. If you really want to get to know me or spend time in my head, read my writing, invite me for a one-on-one thingy (notice I didn’t use the “p” word), come over for Kwanzaa or let your body do the talking on that dance floor. I’ll open up and show you who I really am, drenched in sweat and a trance-like elation. We’ll have fun, unless you hate to dance like I hate confabulation. Let a DJ save our lives. And together, let’s save the life and legacy of the party. Now, for real, where the party at?

 

The Day After: A What Now Guide

Many of us are scared right now. Terrified. Disappointed. Sad. Angry. Shocked. Sickened. In disbelief.

It’s in this moment we realize that we are under active threat of a Trump presidency.

We were absolutely sure that in 2016 we’d made tremendous and immovable progress as a nation. We were proud of our accomplishments and our country, cocky even. We mocked Trump and saw him as a fatuous, barbarous being. A hilarious SNL skit. We knew that we had differences when it came to our beliefs and the candidates, but most of us didn’t realize how deep the rabbit hole went. Now, we are searching for answers. We are searching for the very soul of the nation that has just betrayed us. We didn’t see him coming. Not like this. It’s like being sucker punched in the gut, feeling the acrid bile rise in the throat.

And these feelings aren’t just because we missed another opportunity to elect the first woman to the highest seat in the land. That’s extremely disappointing, but there’s way more to it. Many of us are downright embarrassed, ashamed and fearful at this point. We know that Trump won’t make America great unless we are talking about making a great mess and we know we’ll be left to clean it up and rebuild long after he’s booted out.

We know Trump used his platform to fearmonger and divide. And we are mortified that it worked. We are pissed that we didn’t take him (or his constituents and their rage) seriously.

We know that there was a strong current of hate, violence, exclusion, and intolerance that undergirded Trump’s campaign message, but we thought the nation was beyond that. No one would really vote for him after all he’d said and done, would they? Yup. Not en masse though, right? Yup. Trump emboldened a nation to wear their discriminatory thoughts (which we fear will morph into action) on their sleeves and instead of tucking the bigot card deep into their politically-correct pockets, they are waving those cards around with pride and glee. That’s a wave of freedom.

We know that Trump’s slogan to make America great again was code for making America white af again and not just white, but this archetypal hetero, cisgender, racist, brash, Christian hero who can do and say whatever they want type of white. A blinding whiteness where those who are willing to shed this willy nilly diversity, integrationist and intersectionality bullshit and fall back into normative lines can reclaim the supremacy, dominance and privilege that is their birthright (insert sarcasm).

We know that these “great” American times were realms of terror for those who fell outside of these rigid racial confines. Choose any decade from the time Europeans stole this land to very recently and various groups will have horror stories to tell and wounds to show. Many of us are at risk of experiencing immeasurable pain and oppression again, right now, as a result of this presidency.

We know that within four years, many hard fought rights and privileges could be revoked from access to affordable health care and a woman’s right to choose to the right to marry the person we love and simply use the damn bathroom. Families are concerned that their marriages and unions will be overturned. That they won’t be able to use their spouse’s insurance or legally have rights to parent their own children. That people will be allowed to not service them in stores or government buildings and legally get away with it. And that there will be new Supreme Court justices to support it.

Some fear that as the President of our nation, Trump explicitly gives youth and adults permission to harass, bully, and malign others when they speak out against rape culture and sexual violence.

Some refugees fear being deported back to the very place they fled because of how they look or what religion they practice. Some fear that a wall of racial profiling will be built even higher and stronger so that Latina/o/x and others can be harassed and violated for simply existing.

Some people fear that their human rights and land will continue to be violated, overrun by racism and corporate greed. That environmental concerns will be sorely diminished and that climate change will descend back into fairytale and mockery.

Some of us fear that our children will be harassed, afraid, demoralized, or attacked for being different or for speaking out against injustice. For some, this is an imminent danger.

All of these things make us feel unsafe. We have lost a sense of physical and moral safety, as tenuous as it might have been. A Trump presidency scares the shit out of some of us. We’ve had a preview of how he operates and how people respond to him and some of us don’t want to be that type of America again.

Many of us don’t know what to say to our loved ones in the morning because we are still trying to process the bizarre thing that just happened and deal with the fear in our own hearts. After we sleep, pray, eat, meditate, hug, cuss or blame everybody but Trump, his voters and the systems of oppression and corruption that brought him to power, here’s what we can do.

Look at the big picture. This is bigger than Nino Brown. Take solace in your spiritual beliefs or look at this presidential election from a historical or global perspective. You can even do research and figure out who has an even worse leader than we will in January 2017 because misery loves company. You might find a silver lining or realize that though this moment in our nation’s history is bad, for many, it has been much, much worse and for a much longer time. Breathe that in. Twice. It is a wonderful privilege to just now realize how screwed up our nation really is. And many survived (and still are actively fighting and surviving oppression) and so can you, in theory. Make those people your allies.

Next, deal with your feelings and take some time to process them. Give yourself grace. This is a tragic situation with unnerving implications. If you have children or other little people who want answers, tell them the truth. Educate them to the best of your ability and in a nurturing way, say, “Shit is fucked up right now.” Then reassure them that you all are resilient. Give examples of when times have been difficult in your own lives or in history and how you or others pulled through. Let them share their feelings and together, hatch a plan to become or stay civically engaged. Some of us were never told how others were oppressed, how important our rights were or how crooked our leaders could be, which is why some of us are so shocked right now. This is a potential teachable and learning moment.

Accept where we went wrong as a nation. Everyone has to take responsibility and that goes beyond your ballot. This horror train started moving way before this election cycle. Trump gave it traction. Let’s process that and learn to lovingly hold each other accountable. We know that we can do better than this and that we want more out of our country. So let’s create it. Complacency won’t do. Form coalitions and get it done.

Then, count your blessings. There are always things to be thankful for even if it isn’t this presidency. Don’t let this fool steal your joy for the next four years because your ass will be miserable and that’s counterproductive. Find the balance in your life and your outlook. Know that the pendulum will swing back the other way eventually.

Finally, know that you have power and that this backlash to equality and access is as American as apple pie. Don’t pout and regardless of what Trump says, don’t let anyone grab you by the P. Reclaim your power, political and otherwise.

Get unified and mobilized like Chisholm and Hamer. Instead of shaming and creating more discord, find the middle ground and pull the fuck together. Clearly the force behind Trump is stronger than we’d anticipated, so we need all hands on deck. We must unite and advocate for each other, even when we don’t think an issue impacts us. It’s the asshole who only gets involved when they have something to lose. It’s one of the ways we got here tonight. We’ve got to support each other. We need strategy, leadership, involvement, education, outreach, unity, compassion, and love. We must get Trump out of power as soon as possible and re-envision the nation that we want to be. It’s ours for the taking. It’s for our children and future generations. So let’s get to work.

In solidarity, Tina

soiled spectacle

many of us are social media
peeping
seeking
seething
we scroll to see if there is a blip on your screen
that interrupts cat videos, date night pics, HRC debates,
your lush garden with tomatoes you didn’t know could grow that
large
like a tumor, malignant
the same one churning inside America
threatening to poison us from the inside out
and then burst
splattered everywhere
with its seeds going back into soil
that you nurture

you didn’t notice
or were too
sad
confused
ignorant
preoccupied
disconnected
busy all lives mattering or
black on black crime troping
or just too afraid
to speak
comment
hold yours accountable
about
the very thing that has been before you the entire time
we peek in to check your status to see if your silence
your complicity
our invisibility
is still there

it is

it hurts
just like the racism
that is killing us
for sure

Tina Fakhrid-Deen

#altonsterling #philandocastile

Why It’s Hard to Get Excited About My Child’s Acceptance into a Selective Enrollment School

My child got into one of her selective enrollment school choices for fall 2016. I’m happy for her. Really happy. My husband has already posted the great news on Facebook. I haven’t. There’s some anger, sadness and guilt which prevents me from celebrating this accomplishment, and it’s ironic because we’ve been stressed about this day for at least six years. That’s no exaggeration and we are not alone. I know that some of you are rolling your eyes, pulling out your tiny violins to hurl at me and telling me to get over my damned if you do, damned if you don’t middle-class guilt, but I can’t. It’s just not fair for these children. You have to be damn near perfect to get into these high schools, with no “B” grades and great testing abilities (cuz there are no re-takes). There are thousands of brilliant students from all economic backgrounds who apply and are rejected each year, not because they aren’t great students and kids, but because there aren’t enough high quality schools to go around. There are ten selective enrollment high schools and twenty-two International Baccalaureate (IB) schools. Everyone is clamoring to get in. This time, my child did.

Here’s the reality. My husband and I are both community college professors in mathematics and English, respectively. Our daughter was well prepped in the basics of “readin’, ritin’ and ‘ritmetic” at home. We were savvy enough to get her into CPS one year early and transfer her around to better schools if we sensed challenges in the pipeline. We were always correct, so our child always landed comfortably in a high quality learning environment. On top of all of this strategic fortuity and networking, we were financially able to enroll her into a six-week selective enrollment test prep class right before the exam. Our child has never seen anything less than an “A” on her final grades and doesn’t really know what failure looks like. Some of you are thinking that this is about meritocracy and that because we worked hard as a family, our child has now benefited from that hard work. This is a partial truth. Of course we worked hard just like everyone else, but the deck has been stacked in our favor. To not acknowledge that we are privileged economically and academically and that those privileges place us and our child at an advantage would be short-sighted and is frankly, how we continue to allow the oppression of others in this society.

We like to play the sidelines and act as if we are innocents, if innocence means turning our heads to what’s happening because we didn’t commit the offense. We do it regarding the legacy of slavery. We do it with the legacy of patriarchy. And now we are doing it locally with public education. We think that since we didn’t create the corrupted, broken, public education system, then we shouldn’t be held accountable or carry the guilt. The problem is this. We are not living in silos and as we are gaining in this sick game, someone else is losing – always. We are a community. We are in this mess together and if we can’t bring ourselves to care enough to demand changes to the debacle of a system before us, then we are all failing, despite who gets into where. It’s about Ubuntu.

The economic elites should not be the main ones who gain access to the good old boys’ club when that club means the right to a quality education which provides access to better life outcomes. This is not low stakes, people. These are real lives being impacted and determined by 900 points. I know this is how things have always worked in our country where just a few get to the top, so we are desensitized to it. However, it is wrong and we must work to make it right. Some people have the gall to balk and complain about the low-income students who get into a selective enrollment school with scores a smidgen lower than their children (meaning they were “A-” or oh, God, “B” students). Let’s be real. If poor students still got close to our children’s scores without the same life perks, then we should be patting them on the back and asking them to teach their secrets, not trying to figure out ways to keep them out in the name of “fairness.” There is a long, painful history that reminds us that things are not fair and why these “affirmative actions” still need to happen. Affirmative action is how in the hell I got here, in my current privileged position. I was that poor, inner-city CPS kid who got into a few TRIO programs in high school and college at the right time (before funding got cut off for many of these programs) and it changed the trajectory of my life forever. I’m proud of that despite the vacuous shaming that goes on around it. But that’s not the point. The system is not fair, so don’t kid yourself, and it’s even more relentless with the have nots.

So instead of focusing on equality, let’s shoot for equity where every “qualified” kid has an opportunity to be at the table and instead of a table for 3,000, how about a table for 17, 000? We must widen the options and give the teachers the tools they need to construct stronger schools from within. We don’t need to build another selective enrollment school. We must re-invest in public education and improve what we have using the amazing talent inside of CPS. We need new leadership that believes in public education. It shouldn’t be an accomplishment to land into a good public high school in the city of Chicago. That should be the default. It’s a massive distortion to think otherwise. It is an unconscionable situation that we have placed 7th and 8th graders in. A recent DNA Chicago article by Ted Cox revealed that this year’s selective enrollment schools “received 16,826 applications for 3,200 freshman slots for the fall.” Those are the facts. What happens to the masses, the rest of the bright and qualified students who can’t get in? That’s what I don’t have an answer for. That is why I am angry and torn as I write this, though proud of my baby. Yes, failure is a natural part of life. Our kids must experience it at some point. Failure can make us tougher, yadda, yadda, yadda. But the real failure is within us this time, within this system that adults have created. Through it, we are failing many of our children which means we are failing our future and the future of public education. And that reality, in the midst of all this societal progress, is cringe-worthy and makes me more than sad.

Good luck to you all who have received your acceptance letters to the schools of your choice. To those who are holding a rejection letter right now, know how brilliant you are and that we adults are working to make the system accountable to you. It’s not you, it’s us. You are wonderful as you are. You are enough. I apologize on behalf of a horrible system where this even needs to be a conversation. Tight hugs to you and I hope that wherever you land that you take your bright mind and resilience with you and make that school better simply because you have arrived.

In solidarity, Tina