Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Place For A Spirit To Call Home

Is there such a thing as a haunted house? I don't necessarily mean one inhabited by the classic ghost we've seen in the movies. No, I'm thinking about how some houses have a history of bad things happening to the families who live there.

One of the houses I lived in for several years is a case in point. While doing a thorough cleaning of the heating unit, I found some medical records of the wife of the first owner. She developed MS, a particularly nasty disorder that causes nerve degeneration. I remembered hearing how the second and previous occupant, another woman, also came down with some sort of illness that required her to get a wheelchair, but I no longer remember her diagnosis.

After living there for three years, I got sick for an entire year, but even four doctors couldn't figure out the cause. A 5th doc told me I was probably under too much stress. This was plausible, as my son had entered adolescence and his defiance was overwhelming, but still, something felt like it was sucking the life out of me, literally. I couldn't even tolerate sunlight and had to wear dark glasses during the day outside, and had little strength.

Doctor #6 finally found out the reason: I caught Lyme disease from a damned tick bite. This pissed me off because it had crossed my mind when it began, and asked the first three docs, including a neurologist, to test for it, explaining that I went camping sometimes.

I swear those words fell on deaf ears; they couldn't wrap their minds around the possibility of a black woman living in the area catching Lyme. In addition, they ordered as few tests as possible because my now former health insurance plan was strict about this.

The good news is that medicine knocked that out after taking it three different times over two years, but wearing wrap around sunglasses for all that time was a bummer. I can't express how happy I was when I went a week straight and the sunlight didn't hurt, but this didn't happen until after I moved.


It got me to thinking about houses, though. I have always dreamed of them, often of my original childhood, but more often of being in homes I've never set foot in. Some of these dreams are recurring.

In them, I am always alone and exploring one, and it usually has a hidden room. This mirrors my personality. I'm innately curious and have always wanted to see what the magician or others conceal.

One of the most memorable dreams happened in the last house I owned. I discovered a cavern underneath it that can only be described as nightmarish. I didn't see the monsters, but I could feel their presence.

It was message, I think, from my unconscious that something had gone terribly wrong with my family. This was true - my son was descending into a mental hell that he's not quite yet climbed out of.

At some point I decided to move. I looked at other houses with an agent. (Can't do that now, no full time job yet.)

I noticed things that I didn't when house-shopping before, maybe because I had a heightened sensitivity of houses having a story to tell. Sometimes you get a feel for whether the occupants are happy are not. You may be familiar with the study of feng shui. It's an Asian way of thinking about the "art of placement", architecture and decoration to maximize tranquility and success.

(You might do better checking books on it at the library rather than googling, as you'd have to sift through too many commercial sites that are poorly done.)

There is something to feng shui, but there's something else. It's like spirit of the family who lives in a home permeates it. If you've ever walked into a room and felt a sense of unease, you know what I'm talking about. Law enforcement folks like detectives sometimes have this heightened sensitivity. A home need not be sparkling clean, either. Sometimes a too clean house and lawn indicates something ain't quite right.

The weirdest experience I ever had freaked out my realtor when I was undecided about getting another house or renting down the hall from my now late mother. She and I entered a furnished, four bedroom brick colonial.

Something about that house felt inexplicably sad.

I turned to her and said what I said before I could process the thought.

"Did the owner die?"

She looked perplexed.

"I don't know anything about the people who live here," she answered. "Why?"

"I don't know," I said slowly. "It feels like this house is crying."

Now, y'all know this lady must have thought I was nuts. She did exactly what I would have done: nodded her head and said, mmmm.

We walked around the different rooms some more, and in the kitchen, on a counter, there lay one of those folded funeral fliers. It had a photo of the lady who died, too. She must have been in her 70s. Sure enough, her name showed she was the owner of the house.

I was as astounded as she was, but meanwhile the feelings kept coming in waves. It was weird.

"This house misses it's owner," I said. "Don't know why, but I think it needs a big family, bigger than mine, with lots of kids to make it happy again."

I never did buy another house. Instead, I rented an apartment for several years, and last summer rented this house. Despite the moody landlord in the basement, it has a different feel to it, like it was meant for barbecues and company, and except for when Xavier goes bonkers, that's how it's been. Otherwise I like it, but it still doesn't feel like home, in my heart.

I've been thinking "a place called home", which can be a very different place than where a person actually lives. Many of us move so often that our spirits never connect well with the house or apartment we're in. The residence is seen as a temporary place, while it's inhabitants yearn for a real home.

This yearning is often under our radar. Our lives have stress, but I wonder what part rootlessness plays, from the social alienation we see and sometimes feel, to the personal level of something as basic as yearning to love a home that will cry for you when you're gone.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Except At Zero, We Never Stand Still

What time is it?

Sounds like a simple enough question, but I'm going to go much deeper than that. Can you think of a single aspect of your life, or in the world, that doesn't move forward - or backwards? That is frozen in time, never progressing or regressing?

Think of your habits, health, relationships, money, possessions, and opportunities, and anything that is important to you. Changes can be subtle or dramatic, and the goal of this post is to give you one amazing reason why.

But first, I want you to think of every asset and every challenge in every aspect of your life in mathematical terms, and I'll make it easy for you if numbers ain't your thing.

There is a wise, older physics professor named Albert A. Bartlett. I like what I've seen of him, a lot. His specialty is sustainable living.

Two weeks ago I stumbled upon an old lecture in 1999 and have been pondering other uses for his wisdom since then. Dr. Bartlett presented a unique, amazing and easy way of understanding the problem of population growth and diminishing resources by using an example he calls Bacteria In A Bottle.

I've taken it a step further.

In this post, I'll quickly show you how to apply this example to the problems in your life, along with the big picture. The advantage is you'll get a peak into the future, your future.


By knowing when a problem began, you can have a better idea of how it will progress if no action is taken to stop it.

Now for the easy arithmetic. If something grows "exponentially", it only means that it grows at a certain pace over time.

Pretend that one bacteria in a bottle is a problem you have.

This bacteria is an analogy for any kind of challenge, i.e., how you handle your money, homework assignments, office work, eating habits, excessive spending, loneliness, depression, anxiety, alcohol, drugs, gambling, health, dating, love, sex, friends, family, relatives, neighbors. Anything. Like many things or problems, they start off small, or seem small.

Below is his a visual representation his Bacteria In A Bottle metaphor.

It is 11 o'clock. The bacteria (your problem) is microscopic.

It has a lot of space in this bottle. It will grow by doubling in size every minute. We could just as easily say every month, year, or decade, but we'll use Dr. Bartlett's example and say that it doubles every minute.






Thirty two

The bacteria has been growing exponentially, or doubling their number every minute. As you can seen, five minutes have gone by, there are thirty two bacteria, and they still have a great deal of space.

If this bacteria is representative of a problem, it is still so small that it's probably flying under your radar and everyone elses.

What time do you think it will it be when the bottle is half full?

Take a guess.

Here's the answer:


Guess what time it will be when the bottle is full?

12 o'clock

The reason is that the bacteria did what it always did, and at the same pace - it grew by doubling every minute.

Now let's pretend that bacteria can think.

Let's go back a bit to 11:58. At that time they would have filled up only 1/4 of the bottle because they double every minute, at 11:59, they were at the halfway mark.

Some bacteria may been alarmed over the "sudden" rapid growth, but still thought they had plenty of space and time left, they didn't, because nothing changed in their behavior.

With the bottle full at 12 o'clock, the bacteria would have suffered in numerous ways from overcrowding and not enough resources, but they had remarkable good luck and found three empty bottles!

They sang and danced and celebrated. The one thing they didn't do was change their behavior, because they thought a major change had occurred and that they had plenty more resources to continue doing the same thing they always did.

Since they doubled their number every minute, guess how long it took to fill up three new empty bottles?

At 12:01, the second bottle is full.

At 12:02, they've doubled again,
and the 3rd & 4th bottles are full.

Note: hat tip to this site for the illustrations, two that I slightly modified to make the bacteria clearer.

You can watch Dr. Bartlett explain the Bacteria In A Bottle problem here, in Part 3, beginning at 3:25 minutes, if you don't want watch first three of eight videos that I uploaded.

Also check out Part 2 beginning at 5:00 minutes, and Part 1 is a definitely a don't miss; he explains how the number 70 is like a magic number. It's not; it may have been the genius of the guy who modified a Persian game called shantranj, which evolved into chess.

You can calculate the doubling time of anything by using the number 70, divided by the percentage of growth.

Here's an example that comes to mind. If your Internet bill is $100 per month, with a 7% annual increase, it doesn't sound like much of an increase. However, 70/7 = 10 years. (That's that magic number divided by the 7%.) The answer, ten years, is the time it will take for the bill to double to $200 per month.

If we're talking about your rent at $1000 a month, an annual increase of 7% will have you paying twice that ten years from now.

What if the growth is "only" 5% a year? This would be 70/5 = 14 years before the rent doubled.

So let's look at your weight. Say you weigh around 150 pounds and have had trouble keeping it down, and you gain an average of 4% each year.

"Oh, I gained six pounds this year," doesn't sound like a whole lot. When you do the math, though, 70/4 = 17.5 years is the time it will take you to double your weight.

At this rate, in 17.5 years of unstoppable growth, you'll weigh 300 pounds. This explains how those small moments of eating just a little bit too much add up big time, and why so many Americans are overweight and suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure in their 30s or 40s. Their bodies are the environment, and cannot sustain good health or even life from uncontrolled growth.

Now you might try to what several countries are trying with population problems and sustainability, by doing something called "smart" growth. This is where you see the trend in saving the environment. You may even own a cute T shirt that says I've Gone Green!, but if you haven't quite gone down to zero growth in the resources you use, the pollution you make or the number of kids you have, it only slows down the problem, not stops it.

As Dr. Bartlett said:

"Smart growth or dumb growth, both destroy the environment. Smart growth just destroys it with good taste. It's a little like buying a ticket on the Titanic. If you're smart, you go first class. If you're dumb you go in storage. The result is the same."

We often attempt to use smart growth to solve our personal problems as well. We see dieters, smokers, workaholics, alcoholics, addicts, gamblers and the sexually promiscuous attempt this. Their reasoning is mathematically sound, i.e., "If I cut back on xyz a little each day, by next month (or year), I'll be free of the problem."

Yeah, if you don't cheat and relapse. Otherwise it's true, but even zero growth
(or zero dysfunctional behavior) may not solve a serious problem. For these, you will need to go into negative growth to eliminate it.

To use the diet example again, the 150 pound person who loses 4% of their weight each year could theoretically weigh zero pounds in 17.5 years. This is more the case of slow-moving famine or disease, and of course, they'd be dead long before then.

Instead you see people use a different time frame with a different end goal in mind.

If they shoot for six pounds or 4% each month, they can stop after three or four months, depending on their goal - and then go into zero growth, not "smart" growth with the resource that tempts them (or you, if you have the weight problem). Having discipline and determination to do this is a whole 'nuther matter.

As Dr. Albert A. Bartlett said, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

Discipline and determination can bring some of our problems to zero growth. At least now you have a heads up on how and why our problems never stand still, and without behavior changes, you can guesstimate the end game of your own or those close to you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Modern Day Feudal Serfs, Stuck In the Land of Stuck, Not Caring That Healthcare Reform Is Good Or Told That College Loans Are In The Package

Yeah, that's a long title, but it fits.

Anyway, further below is an excerpt from today's post by Shark Fu, titled "On Shock And Tolerance".

In it, she was addressing the despicable behavior by Tea Party demonstrators against Health Care Reform at the nation's Capitol this weekend. This Tea Party mob sank to a primitive state that involved derogatory name calling of black and gay Congressmen and even spitting on one. I even hate to use the word primitive because it's an insult to primates.

You know, I started to go to this thing on Saturday morning. One of the largest and most organized hate groups in my opinion, Fox News, which is second only to the GOP, advertised the Tea Party rally the day before.

I thought it would be an educational experience for my daughter, because the DC-Maryland area is a bubble. A good bubble for minorities, but kids growing up here haven't a clue of what people are like who still live in the Dark Ages. We live only a short distance away and wouldn't even have to change subway lines.

"Cassie, you interested in seeing what white hate looked like in the raw?"

"No thanks."

I almost went anyway to take pictures of this prehistoric weekend of these prehistoric people and blog about it, but the battery in my camera was dead. Instead I enjoyed the weather. It should've rained on those worshipers of evil and injustice, but then that would have messed up everyone elses day who was outside and doing what normal people do: enjoying life and freedom in America.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from Shark Fu's excellent take on the haters and particularly how she put her finger on how tolerance is marketed by the bigot. Read the whole thing at her blog, link following quote:

"Tolerance is a shitty contract between the privileged and the oppressed.

The privileged agree to “tolerate” otherness and difference as long as the other doesn’t make demands upon them...like fighting for rights or equal treatment under law.

The other agrees to not challenge privilege in exchange for a false sense of security.

The health care reform debate and vote broke that contract…and beneath all that tolerance is a whole lot of ig’nance and hate, a kind of infection that hasn’t been treated because too many people have learned to tolerate the stench and pain."

~ Angry Black Bitch blog, 3/22/2010

Yeah, this is why I've always hated those diversity trainings at work that promoted tolerance. It always felt like they were going through the motions to look good, but were really covering their asses to avoid lawsuits. The only blacks in the office (me) or sometimes, two of us, would get stared at, and afterwards, nothing ever changed, including their hiring practices.

I try not to hate haters, but after seeing how the votes for Health Care reform turned out, it's a challenge. I figure some are just fiscally conservative, and others are too cowardly to risk the wrath of their party.

However, I see a bunch of those mofo's representing not the needs or wishes of their districts, but the board of directors for health insurance companies, other mega corporations, and the desire of a significant minority of the white majority to destroy anything that looks like justice for all, not just them.

Oh, I may watch my favorites, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, and Keith Oberman, but I also watch Glenn Beck, Hannity and O'Reilly, because the latter three, in my view, see us as the enemy and are constantly distorting us. We need to keep tabs on them.

Their greatest weakness is that they paint a picture where a win-win situation for all isn't good for whites. They are hired mercenaries for the wealthy. If there wasn't a single white person in the country, they'd still being spewing out hate-based propaganda to alienate and demonize the white working and underclass - just like they did in not so jolly old Tale of Two Cities in France and England in the 1800s.

I think that the Tea Partiers and generic racists are the equivalent of unenlightened white peasants and surfs. They are lied to constantly by the white elite that they could be rich "if only all those damn niggers would keep their place", or remain invisible and undemanding, and "if the Mexicans and Latinos would get the eff out of the USA."

Hell, if every black and Latino disappeared overnight, they'd still be living in trailer parks and run down old houses, because that's how the game always worked, and the reason so many of their ancestors fled Europe.

But no, they grow up yearning to be modern day princes and princesses, and I don't have a problem with that, but they're also brainwashed to believe that people of color, gays and non-Christians are holding them back.

Hell, the misinformation and omission of information has been so thorough that until today, hardly anyone knew that college student loans will now eliminate the middle men - banks. This will make them less expensive for the government, which in turn can afford to provide more loans for school, and is part of the health reform package.

But if the fixed news folks knew this, they kept that shit a secret. I didn't even find out about it until last Thursday through the Washington Post. I googled for other stories on it and there were damn few. So not only do We the People get this health care reform package signed by the President tomorrow, we'll get student loans as icing on the cake.


But no, the hardcore bigots don't seem to care about that. They would rather shoot themselves in the foot and burn this country to the ground, along with the Obama White House, rather than move forward from their Land of Stuck.

What a shame. We aren't holding them back. Health care reform won't hold them back. Those union busting corporations that only offers them shitty, part time jobs with no health insurance at big box stores has been holding them back, but they've been duped.

Well, now that civilization in this country has moved one step forward with the health care reform bill passing Congress, we can sit on pins and needles to hope one of the crazies doesn't take aim at Barack.

I swear, things have become too heated over this, and I worry about President Obama and pray for him every day, and the funny thing is, I worry less about the crowds he gives speeches to than the one of the GOP politicians with easy access to him going postal...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Good Idea Is Like A Gift,
And I'm Giving One To You

My head has been swimming with ideas for the past few months, ideas that haven't had time or concentration to do, at least until now.

One of the ideas I've kicked around was starting a kitchen table type of news opinion blog. It would be earthy, plainspoken, and hopefully, funny at times. Sort of like a cross between Rippa's Intersection of Madness & Reality, and Field Negro, and flavored by me, Kit.

I'm still undecided about this. From a news commentary perspective, the Internet is already a Tower of Babel. Need I really add more opinions to it? Even if they resonate with you? I have to think more on this.

Another idea is one I put into effect today that you might want to do yourself.

I made a blog for each of my children. My son, however, is an adult, and I wasn't sure he'd be interested in reading it. He surprised me as he often does.

"Go for it," he said enthusiastically. "I'll put stuff on it for you too."

"Like what?", I ask.

"My music... and things I might want to say but forget about later."

I smile, he smiles back with pride. His lyrics are probably one of the best ways he communicates his feelings.

So, why should you or I do this?

It occurred to me last year that although I'm young, my son is grown and will be on his own soon, and in only two years, and if my young daughter gets a scholarship and lives in a dorm far away, she'll only be 16 and might find late night soothing words and advice from mama just the thing she needs.

In addition, I also think about life is so uncertain. Any of us could unexpectedly check out. I lost my mother in 2004. I was lucky to have had her for as long as I did, and I miss her voice, her wisdom, her humor.

Thus, should something happen to me while my children are young, they would miss out on so many things I'd like to tell them, particularly my youngest who isn't ready for all the discussions I expect we'll have in the years to come. Thoughts on dating, friends, classmates and professors, co-workers and bosses, religion, spiritualism, money, the seduction of consumerism and materialism, you name it. Just little random bits of wisdom that I learned along the way.

As I've been writing this post, it hit me also that other young women might enjoy a similar type of blog, where I speak to you directly in a way that's different from this one, and I think it'll be different from any other I've seen out here in cyberspace.

*long pause... start creating second blog... will post to it Sunday afternoon, and from there on, each weekend*

Some births, like some decisions, come easy.

The content in this one aspires to be wise and nurturing, distinctly feminine, somewhat old-fashioned, and is called
Letters To A Young Sista.

It's for you to read and enjoy, all of you, sistas as well as brothas, for we are yin and yang, and at our best, we compliment one another.

In the meantime, below is the first post for the private blog for my youngest, as a starter idea how to set up one for your son, daughter, or loved one.


You'll Always Be My Boo

We're sitting here in my bedroom. I'm at the computer, you're sprawled across the bed. I am laughing and you are laughing at me for my perpetual nerdiness.

Today, the first day of Spring, I'm showing you this blog. No fancy layout yet, and the title of it is undecided. It's for you sweetie, just random thoughts about life that might be helpful to you in the future, when you're in college two years or in the event that I take that trip to eternity while you're still young.

Right now you're eating an orange.

"You know what's good?", you ask.

I raise an eyebrow.

You answer, "Putting it in the freezer for an hour before eating."

I nod my approval. "Better than ice cream and less fattening," I say.

"And what were you eating this morning?!", you demand.

Oh, but your I gotcha tone of voice. I laugh. You scold me and say, "Ice cream on pancakes!"

"It was a rare treat," my inner child replies, still smiling and not feeling a shred of guilt.

"Not at 8 o'clock in the morning!"

You give me that look. You're great at that. I chuckle.

"Okay," I concede. "Tomorrow I'll have a semi-frozen orange for breakfast."

This time you nod your approval. You're so special. You are a child, but I can see the inner-mother in you. Perhaps you should be writing sage wisdoms for me. I love you.

~ Mom

Friday, March 19, 2010

Barely Titled, Like A Life Barely Lived

Note: If you read this earlier today, I added an addendum this afternoon.

On the last day of this second most difficult winter in my life, I discovered that my son is on crack.

It happened after midnight today that I stumbled upon his stash. I had taken a nap earlier and had a lot of physical energy to burn. I decided to wash the blankets and put many of them away since the days have been warming up. I grabbed the ones in his room, along with several bath towels. One was on an open shelf.

Under it was a little container shaped like a vampire's casket. I remembered seeing it last Halloween when it had held a pair of costume vampire teeth.

The last time I saw it, it was empty and on his floor. Thinking it was now trash, I reached for it to throw it away. I shook it first and heard it rattle. I opened it.

Inside was a small amount of drugs and paraphernalia, but probably enough to get him ten years in a federal prison. There were little amber-colored, pebble-shaped crack rocks. Several white miniature things that looked like funnels. A round thingy that is small enough to hide in your hand, and when opened revealed a wax-like substance that smelled horrible.

Initially I wasn't sure of what I was seeing because I thought crack rocks were white. I googled. No, they're more often amber in color. I googled more to figure out what the other stuff was for. The picture revealed those things could be related to meth.

I returned to my laundry, then sat in the living room a long time, thinking a mother's thoughts. Meanwhile, my son watched mixed martial art videos on the computer, clueless that I had discovered his secret life and the probable source of his off 'n on batshit crazy behavior since November.

If I flushed them, I thought, and he's only selling it, he wouldn't be able to pay his dealer and could or would likely end up getting shot or killed.

If I called the police, with even what looked to my eyes like a small amount of drugs and paraphernalia, he'd likely end up getting sentenced five to ten years in prison.

Damn. If only the laws were designed to treat, not punish, individuals with non-violent and otherwise non-criminal histories, I'd have called the police nine hours ago and happily watched him escorted to a long term rehab. I mean, wouldn't it be cheaper (and better for society) to keep people like him in rehab for 18 months rather than jail for five or ten years? Well, not for the privatized, corporate, neo-slave plantations that get free labor.

I kept thinking. Memories less than a month old filled my mind of him putting a loaded gun to his head and daring me to dare him to pull the trigger when I told him he needed to look for a job. Damn, talk about a missed opportunity!

As I sat after midnight, I worried that he'd flip out again if I now confronted him with threats of kicking him out or demands he go into rehab. The gun is gone, but he's not above deliberately walking into a fast moving car on a busy street; done that, been there.

Rehab is iffy anyway; he has no health insurance, and there's always a waiting list for the few free ones. Knowing him like I do, he'd be lying that he was "only selling" and not using, and if a bed became available in a week, by that time he'd be claiming he was cured, and frankly I don't think I could deal with his hostility if I pushed the issue. On the other hand, I wonder if I could deal with his funeral, but then I wouldn't have a choice.

It's been a really long winter.

My last post of substance was two weeks ago. I've written two since then but published neither. The first was good but too long, and despite it's length, something is still missing from it. The other topic was passionate, but maybe too opinionated. I hate being preachy.

I've toyed with both posts when not job searching, but I've had little ability to concentrate on writing. I'm constantly wondering if one of the last two jobs I interviewed for will come through - so that I can have enough money to move the heck out of here with my 14 year old daughter. A full time job will be our escape hatch, but it pains me that my son refuses to find or accept one for himself.

And finally, the symbolism of what he hid his drugs in is not lost on me: a Halloween toy casket. This is an intersection of childhood playfulness and death, with nothing in between except vampirism. The undead. The not alive. No wonder he begged me for permission to kill himself.

The thing is, I'm not even angry with my son. I am profoundly sad for him. If he's smoking crack, that's horrible enough, but if he's also using meth, he is done. Finished.

And only 21 years old.


Addendum, 1:40 pm

He awakened at noon and approached me where I sat in the living room chair. It is green leather and a hand me down from my late mother.

"Ma, lemme use your computer," he said.

"Sit down first, please, we need to talk."

"About what?!"

Men must learn as boys that when a woman says this, the shit is serious and all about them. Face in a frown, he sat.

"I found the crack."

"What crack?"

I told him where and when, and lil' nigga went off.

"I am not a crackhead!", he yelled.

"I also saw the meth paraphernalia."

"Meth? I am so tired of you thinking I'm a drug addict! I AM NOT LIKE MY BIRTH MOTHER!"

"I saw, Xavier."

"Show me!", he screamed.

His fists were clenched and he looked sooo angry.

"Uh, I don't know if it's safe right now," I said. "You look pretty mad."

"Arrrgh!" he replied, and stormed into my daughter's bedroom to keep a distance between us.

"Go ahead," he screamed, "Get it! Show it to me!"

I went to his room, but then he came in, shadowing me. I looked on the shelf where I left it. He pointed. "There it is! Open it!"

I expected the drugs to be gone. They weren't.

"They're all here," I said, looking at him apprehensively.

"Those aren't drugs," he said with clenched teeth. "Damn you make me crazy!"

"It's looks just like the pictures of crack."

The word made him flinch.

"Crack doesn't look like that. See? This is kind of transparent."

My father was from Show Me state, so I went to the computer. The stuff does look an awful lot like crack, but not 100%.

He lit his lighter to a booger-sized "rock". It stank.

"Well what the hell is it?"

"Glue, like in the little container," he answered. "It's from where it got too hard when I was applying it to the [vampire] teeth and I rolled it up into little balls 'cause I didn't want to throw them on the floor... no trashcan."

"Can I take this to the police?"

"Be my guest."

I smiled my first smile of today. The only reason I didn't feel stupid is because I felt relieved.

"Xavier, I'm sorry."

"Ma, I keep telling you, I'll NEVER get on hard drugs. Weed and booze is bad enough. I've tried cocaine and you know this, but that was a long time ago and I'll never go back to that or mess with crack, meth, heroin, any of that..."

Then his face looked sad. He said, "You keep thinking I'll end up like my mother but I won't."

"That's not true. She has nothing to do with my worrying about you. Hell, three weeks ago you had a gun to your head. In December you were raising hell and overdosed on your meds when I got mad at you. I still haven't recovered from any of that."

"Ma, I wouldn't have shot myself," he said. His voice and face had some uncertainty. This was the first time he talked - really talked - about that day with me.

"Mom," he continued, "I thought about that. My blood all over the walls and floors and me dead. Your brain would have been fried. I couldn't do that to you. You'd have never recovered if I did."

"That's true," I said.

"I'm sorry I put you through that, but please, know that I'll never get into that hard shit. Guys get so bad they end up loosing their teeth, sucking dick for drugs or doing hard time. That's not the life for me. I know this, and you taught me better than that. So trust me, please."

And with those words on this last day of this season, I am freeing my mind and our relationship of the chains of the past... the baggage from his birth family, his hell-raising, gang-banging, and drinking and drug abuse, off and on for the past eight years.

"Spring will be here tomorrow," I said, looking out the window. "With it, you and I are starting over fresh. It's very hard to not judge someone by their many past actions, and just as hard being judged, but I am going to let it go and trust you to be a man, and do the things a man has to do."

Xavier looked so relieved.

"Thank you," he said.

For him, like me, it's been long, hard winter. I think we are both ready for the spring.

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Smart Black Men Talk About
Dating & Marriage

I put up the first part of a three part post for a few hours this afternoon, but took it down after I discovered that the Naked With Socks On blog just covered a similar topic on meeting the right guy and knowing if he or she is the one.

I've never seen any point of duplicating something when someone's done it better, so I'm glad they're doing this... saves me and you the time. In general, I think men are more authentic in giving advice to women - about men. Hell, they ought to know what makes them tick and what they want, right?

I am particularly impressed with their YouTube channel and on-going video collection, The Modern Day Matchmaker. So ladies, here are brothas giving advice, check them out.

Here's one more shout out to VSB: The Naked With Socks On guys will also be doing an eight city tour, including DC on March 27th. Our man Champ from Very Smart Brothas will be there too. Now that ought to be interesting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Starting Over: From Me To America -
Wondering How To Make It In An Era Of Overpriced Housing & College Tuition

Been apartment searching with Cassie this week. I swear, I must look like Santa Claus to her. She seems to think that pretty soon I'll be working (true), and then I'll be able to afford anything.

Got news for her -- I finally learned to really save in times of plenty, for the inevitable times of scarcity. Thought I knew this and I took a lot for granted. Several months of really bad underemployment taught me otherwise.

The first building we checked out looked really nice and is a block away from a Metro, which is a DC-MD-VA subway if you don't know. One of her friends and his mother moved there last weekend. I knew it would be out of my price range and she did too, but it's free and fun to look.

A sista gave us a tour. This was interesting because a white guy initially greeted us, but she entered the room and without a word, she was turned over to us while he waited on another white guy who walked in seconds after us, and also wanted to see the place. It was done so smoothly, this race and gender match up, that I doubt Cassie even noticed. I didn't mind, but it made me think of how far we have to go as a society.

The first apartment was designed more like a townhouse and has two levels, with a bedroom on each one. Ideal for roommates, but not what I had in mind for a mother and teen daughter; it was like two separate units almost. Cassie felt the same way.

The next one was better. It also had a second floor, but it was a loft that overlooks the living room.

Have a seat now. The rent for these two units: $1725 plus.


And they don't include utilities.

Double ouch.

"Tell me again how your friend's mama makes her money," I asked Cassie. "I thought she was a security guard."

"Nope. She's a cop."

Must've been on the force a long time, I thought. She's divorced and gets child support. If I had that, I doubt I'd spend it on a luxury apartment - unless my ex was so well off and generous that money wasn't a problem.

While the White House and the media focus exclusively on home owners, renters are being charged up the wazoo. The cost of a monthly mortgage payment for a $300,000, three or four bedroom house in this area, at 5% interest, is around $2K per month.

That's not a whole lot more than the rent at the place we looked at. On the other hand, buying a house now is dicey. I don't think the market has hit bottom yet and is a long way from it.

When Cassie and I move, chances are it will be to a two bedroom apartment that charges around $1300 a month, including utilities. That's still more than any of these places are worth.

Where I live, the salaries are higher than the national average, but so is the cost of housing, so you end up not coming ahead much better than if you lived and worked on Main Street, USA. I also have a fairly good idea what the owners paid for these buildings 10 to 30 years ago, and they're making out like bandits - and they are.

Apartments used to be for people who could not afford a house or the monthly house note. They paid less as a result. Now it's almost equal, but renters have no equity and can get kicked out legally in sixty days without the owner giving a reason - which happened to me and several other shocked tenants last year, I think that so the landlord could gentrify the building and increase the rent.

Rent is a little cheaper in the next county and in quite a few areas in my hometown, DC. I tried to talk her into us living there for the short term. The commute would be horrible for Cassie and I, and she'd have to be extremely secretive about where we lived so she wouldn't get kicked out of her beloved school, but the ability to quickly save might be worth it.

"I won't want to be home on weekends," she announced, when I proposed that plan.

"Ya think?", I said. "You might make a lot of neat DC friends."

"Not interested," she replied. "I like my friends now."

"Then you better kick butt on the basketball team next season," I said, "and keeping your the GPA high goes without saying. The way things are, I'm not sure that will be enough to get all the grants and scholarships you'll need. You sure you want to be a lawyer?"

"Yes, Mom," she said in that tone of voice.

"You better be sure, or you'll be in debt for decades, paying back those student loans."

That's so unfair, and I know it.

Just telling her that made me feel guilty. Not many people really know what they want to be at such a young age, and hardly know what's out there, what they'll be good at, or what makes them feel passionate, until they study and try different things. That's one of the main values of a well-rounded, four year college education.

On the other hand, Cassie said at the age of five that she wanted to go to Harvard, which blew me away because none of us ever mentioned it, and at ten said she wanted to work in entertainment law.

Thus, once we move, it looks like a small two bedroom in the neighborhood will be the way to go.

I think of all the families and young adults scrambling to get or keep a piece of the American pie. The average costs runs $30K a year for a private university. In-state is cheaper if you live at home, but it's still expensive; the U. of Maryland (tuition only) is currently $8,053 for undergrad residents, and $23,990 (tuition only) for non-residents. The current cost for undergrad tuition, fees, room and board at Harvard runs $52K a year.

Don't think I didn't buy a lottery ticket this week, and that one was for my boo.

It's no longer cost-effective for anyone to get a four year degree unless they plan on working in a field where a degree is absolutely necessary. Some of these aren't a passport into high paying careers either, especially teaching, nursing, and social work.

I'm thinking along the lines of a tale of two students, where two people get degrees, but one becomes an engineer or accountant, and the other a teacher or nurse. The first one is earning so much money they can repay their student loans in a year or three, while the other one is stuck in debt fifteen years later and struggling to keep up with a mortgage or rent.

Notice too, that the traditional 'feminine' occupations pay so much less.

Even this game is changing, and I wonder how safe accounting, finance, and law will be. The USA is broke and the dollar is anemic. What happens when the Great Depression II hits with full force, and if afterwards, when the dust clears, we have a whole new way of doing business, with possibly a new monetary system and currency? How much will be obsolete of what students in those fields are learning now?

And what happens to a society when young adult citizens haven't had the benefits of taking courses like philosophy, sociology, psychology, literature, and economics, because all they could afford was a tech school - which is about job training - and not provided with a well-rounded education? Or those who went anyway, majored in liberal arts or English or language or sociology, and end up as debt slaves working as a cashier at the local big box store? All that precious knowledge, under-utilized and benefiting so few.

Many questions, and a lot of ideas floating around on how people can get two basic things that weren't that hard to get fifteen to forty years ago: college for every kid who wants to go, and affordable housing for all.

Hope springs eternal that America's social pendulum will swing back in our favor... or is it not a pendulum, but rather, a spin toy that's lost it's rotational stability?

Addendum, 7PM

I couldn't have more surprised to learn today that on over 100 college campuses, students protested high tuition and budget cuts in California, and a few other states, which you can read about here and here and elsewhere.