Labeled

I often think about all the labels I wear, or have worn, over the years. First there was “son,” a dubious one indeed because I had no control over it. Indeed, I didn’t even really know it existed on a conscious level until I had been one for quite some time. I remember my mother leaning over me to tuck me into bed one time, and thinking: I’m her son.

Then there was “brother,” which has been with me just as long as son. I don’t know my life in any kind of context when I wasn’t a brother, when I didn’t have someone else who shared my experience growing up in that house. And we were close at times, while not at others. We battled for space, for time, for pretty much whatever spoils could have existed. That was the life of being a brother.

Next I guess you could add “neighbor” to the list, though I was a poor one. We lived a pretty sheltered existence, but there were others on the block who I connected with from time to time (large expanses of time between the connections). These boys and girls always seemed alien to me, like some kind of extra-terrestrials who lived completely different lives even though we lived right next door. Continue reading “Labeled”

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Internet-Only

“Ayo! I’m tired of using technology. I need you right in front of me” ~50 Cent

I don’t always use air quotes when I speak of my internet-only friends. Sometimes I say it straight, as if they were my regular friends, as if we met at the bar every Friday night for a shot, or a beer, or both, or many. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if we swapped recipes in my kitchen, or played Madden together like everyone did in the ’90’s. Sometimes I wonder if we would even be friends if we talked all the time, if our kids would hate each other on sight.

There was no way I could have imagined this world when I was a kid. If you knew people they were your parents’ friends, or they went to church with you, or they were both. Their kids were your de facto friends, but that was it. That was your sphere, and you never had any occasion to step outside of it, like the metaphorical box we are always begging people to think outside of these days. Back then, though, we weren’t supposed to embrace new people from far away.

Those were the days of “stranger danger,” which is funny because most people get hurt by those they know. But we were told to steer clear of the windowless van, the man with the mustache who looked just a little bit off, anyone who lived more than a block away, or didn’t know your first name. That was the age of not too many strangers, and when they were around we knew them. It was like the red-suited crewmen on Star Trek. You knew them because they weren’t household names. You knew when you saw them that they would be dying on the away mission because they were different, because they were “strangers.” Continue reading “Internet-Only”

Where Are You Now?

“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through this stereo, I’m writing you a symphony of sound.”¬†~Jack’s Mannequin [“The Mixed Tape”]

no_looking_backDo you ever wonder where they are? I mean all the people you’ve left behind, or the ones who’ve left you behind? I sometimes do. In the darkest shadows of the night, when I should just move on, I can’t seem to do it, because they come to me, like ghosts, vestiges of the persons they were when I knew them, when we were new and unblemished. But this distance, it blemishes them, it stains them with broad brush strokes that I wish I could unsee.

And I guess you can say I’ve been stained too, that I am not the same person I was either, that some of that is my own fault, or even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say me feeling that way makes it so. It’s even funny in a way because of all the things I could regret in life, some of the biggest regrets are the ones I don’t even remember, because something, in some way, alienated people from me. I shouldn’t even care. I should say that it’s their loss, but I somehow can’t bring myself to look at things that way. Maybe I’m a masochist.

I hear songs that we shared and I think of them. I listen to the melody and I can’t help but relive the memories that we still share, except now separately. When my phone vibrates I still think on some level that it might be them, that they might be texting to make amends, or at least to explain. Because the lack of an explanation is what makes it all so… incomplete. The lack of an explanation is the difference between the shadowed nights with ghosts and a good night’s sleep. When my phone vibrates I keep hoping that it’s the one line that will bring me closure.

“It was never you; it was all me.”

“It just wasn’t the right time for me, emotionally.”

“You never listened to me, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

I firmly believe that some people are only in our lives for an age to teach us lessons, to be there for that moment, to be a brief impetus in our lives, and that these people inevitably move on. But I can’t bring myself to think when the time’s up that only one of us would know about it. Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can move on to the next thing if something is left unsaid, even if I know the time has come to separate from whatever I’ve had with someone else.

Now that I’m older I’ve taken to reminiscing an awful lot. I find myself seeing time ago through some colored lenses, letting the blacks, whites, and grays blend together to form a kind of muted rainbow. I find that I think back a lot less, but that when I do it’s for those people I really thought would be around my life forever, either because they said they would or because, to me, it was merely understood. And for those ghosts I can’t help but hear specific songs and get brought back, every single time.

In spite of myself.

Sam

Learning to Listen

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” ~Dean Jackson

listening-manListening is a lost art. Believe it. There’s something to be said for sitting still, giving eye contact, and nodding along, not because you’re waiting for a chance to speak, but because you care enough to be there. I know too many people who are waiting to jump in, to offer suggestions, and to tell their own personal stories that may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand. But sometimes, sometimes listening should be just that — listening. Being there. Proving it.

And believe it or not, but someone you just met today can be a better listener than the friend you’ve had since diaper days. Someone who just walked into your life can be the friend to whom you can be most vulnerable and just let it out. Sometimes that’s better because you have no preconceived notions of them, and they have none of you. They can come into it as a fresh page ready to receive the scribbles of your soul.

I’ve had too many friends over the years who used me as just that sounding board, from those who I had known a while to those who I had just met, but something that was common to the vast majority was the assumption that there would be no reciprocation. I know this because these friends were never really there for me when I needed them, were never truly listeners for me because every time I saw them they were too busy talking.

Beware those who can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to listen. Odds are that if you let them in on your secrets, they won’t be secrets for long. And if they’re constantly interjecting their own thoughts how can they possibly be there for you? I know a few people who are always comparing whatever I’m saying with something that has happened in their life, even if there are absolutely no parallels, instead of just letting me vent, or get out my thoughts. They eventually moved on to other friendships, which was okay with me.

Because often that’s all I need is a pair of ears, a soul that obviously cares, and eyes that look into mine with empathy, with caring, with a firm commitment to be there for me. And that’s what I try my best to give to my friends who need me in turn. And it’s not reciprocity, the idea of “tit for tat.” It’s just being a good friend, no matter how often they may need me, or no matter how often I need them. They don’t keep score. They don’t disappear from my life, and I don’t from theirs.

Learning how to listen is a skill that is dormant from way too many people’s lives. It might have to do with the selfishness social media breeds, or it could be something else entirely. But whatever the reason, we need to bring it back. We need to empathize with others, to give them the gift of our time, because nothing is more precious.

Sam

Nineteen Blackbirds

071dc4f8b0101a81903a1265c72f1748Atop a razor thin wire thirty feet above my head, nineteen blackbirds are perched, resolutely, zombie-like, side by side by side, as if waiting for the bus. Their balance is perfect, so self-assured that most appear to be asleep standing up, the skimpy thread bowing under their combined weight but under no threat of ripping. Forked talons curve artfully around the wire, one by one by one in a straight line until no more talons are left to be seen, and I wonder why there aren’t an even twenty of these beasts.

I count again.

Above their heads the sky is a dusky¬† blue, shot through with pale sunlight, in places hollowed out by the expanse of creamy clouds. There is no breeze as I sit on a park bench looking unabashedly at these denizens of the air, but they sit in place, content to play possum instead of spreading their wings and taking flight. I want to make a loud noise just to see if they will react. I want to scream them into action because I can’t do the same in my own little insulated world.

I sit here silently instead.

Are these birds ravens, like the storied birds of literative lore, or the much maligned crows that often darken doorsteps with their shadow-like precision? Or maybe they’re the infamous birds of the apocalypse, the souls of demons dressed up in outer ebony plumage, waiting patiently for the world to end. I watch as other birds drift past, but not one stops to join this horizontal conference thirty feet above my head. I wonder if this is evidence of some kind of winged etiquette, or a collaborative clique, a nearly extinct class system come home to roost.

I wonder if they will ever move.

I know I have somewhere else to be, something in my world that requires a particular kind of attention, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. Instead I am engaged in a waiting competition of sorts, an intricate game of chicken where my opponents are actual birds. Quite rare indeed. They might as well be dead up there; they’re certainly dressed for it without even trying, these harbingers of a world bereft of color, sitting stolidly, impossibly, on a tiny wire.

I too am black.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the one on the far left shakes a tail feather, then two, then its entire tail is in motion, a plane motor kicking into gear. Seconds later it is gone, taken to the air in a blur of feathers and a sudden motivation that is impossible to gauge. The next one in line begins to stir moments later, an echo of its brother, already lost to the air, and the clouds, and the rest of the sky. Then he too is gone just as quickly, and I have already forgotten what he looked like, even though he was here for what seemed like an eternity. Seventeen blackbirds on the line, but they are no longer still.

I watch them take flight.

It is dizzying, staring up into the sky for so long, neck craned back to take it all in without missing a beat, but I couldn’t move if my life depended upon it. This is my world, and I am world leader pretend. And I can’t help but feel like a part of me is fracturing as one by one by one they leave, as everyone has always left me before, as they will all leave me again. It was a false comfort, those inattentive birds, as they sat like stone for so long, but they were never going to stay. Just like the raven iconically quoted, “Nevermore.”

The wire vibrates as the last blackbird releases its grip, hurtling itself into the cloud-strewn sky like a rocket taking flight. I follow the line as it undulates in a rhythmic pattern, then begins to slow down the longer the birds are gone, until it stops completely, as if the winged creatures were never there.

I open my eyes and realize they weren’t.

Sam

Black Friends

“It’s hard for me to make black friends.”

11965720-friend-friendship-relationship-teammate-teamwork-society-icon-sign-symbol-pictogramI saw this on my Facebook newsfeed today, but it’s always been just as true for me. For those of you who don’t know me, who are reading my blog for the first time, I am black. I say this because I think it matters in the framework of the above quote. A white guy said this on my Facebook newsfeed, but it’s just as true for me.

I grew up in an entirely black neighborhood, I was a member of an entirely black church, and I went to an entirely black elementary school, but that didn’t make it any easier to find black friends. There were many black people around, so I had many black acquaintances, yet I didn’t really get close to anyone. It may have been some combination of my initial shyness, my lack of common ground with them, and/or my low opinion of myself.

Or it could just be that too many black people are too familiar with too many other black people without really knowing them. That has always been a pet peeve of mine. I would love to get to know you, but when you assume that you already know everything you need to know about me I bristle. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never felt normal, whatever that means, so I hate assumptions of normality.

But I shouldn’t generalize, right? As I very much know, not all black people are the same, even if the culture calls for over-familiarization when it comes to other black people. Getting through the initial assumptions, though, they’re tough, especially when the over-arching societal structures don’t allow for getting beneath the surface when you meet someone new.

Besides that, I don’t meet very many black people these days, which makes it that much harder to make black friends. I made the decision to live where I do, to work where I work, and to be where I am, so that’s partially a byproduct of those decisions, but I have to be honest. Even if I met a slew of black people every day, what are the odds that some of them would be my friends?

It’s hard for me to make black friends, even though I’m black. Maybe even because I’m black. But I guess it’s hardest for me to make black friends because for me people are people, because it was difficult for me to even put the term “black” in front of so many nouns in this post. It’s hard for me to make friends, period, which is okay. I’m an excellent friend once you get to know me, once you get to trust me, but not many take that opportunity.

Which is okay, because I hear that quality of friends is so much more important than quantity of friends, no matter their color.

Sam

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