You’re the most exquisite woman I have ever met. Your fingers are magical as you create anything that they touch. Your feet have led you weaving through the world going on the kind of travels I dream of doing. Your lips offer endless and affectionate kisses and drip with stories that will fill any listener’s soul. Your patch-of-white-birthmark is a mere metaphor of the light inside of you. Every inch of your body reflects the tender spirit within, and you beam sunlight throughout our entire family tree. You’re a sundress in summer, an umbrella in a storm, you’re every wave rapturously returning to the ocean floor.
Beautiful Sheila you are my grandmother, and I couldn’t be more proud of that. I hope I never skip an opportunity to laugh, miss a spectacle to see, pass a cheap flight, or forget a dear friend, reason being — I have inherited your intrepid soul. Moreover, I am compassionate for the vanquished, amorous for adventure, and fluent in giggles because I am your granddaughter. Grandma, you are entitled to the sweetest and richest days for the remainder of your life. I beseech the universe that there are long tropical days, cackling afternoons, glorious sights that bring you to tears, and delightful chats over treats ahead because you are well deserving. Life is full of too much scorn and fear and I have always seen you as courageous enough to believe in good, despite darkness, and relish in it. Therefore it would be my greatest heartache to see your latter days whither away by the prickly villains and the trepidation that only come along to corrupt our virtue.
I can speak for all of your children, children-in laws, and grandchildren when I say that we are all eternal carriers of your spirit. Your essence bleeds into our skin and satiates our being. We are Sheila Rosemary whenever we whip up a cake, create a sensational recipe out of nothing, sew up a rip on our clothing, give generously, catch a last minute flight to a brand new place, take a stroll in the park, or swap uproarious stories with an old friend. You are a dream and an extravaganza, and we couldn’t be more proud to have such a fierce relic as our matriarch.
It’s been trending how bad 2016 was. Its as if we’ve had a global shit show, and the mark of a new calendar year will reset all the bad that 2016 brought on us. There were too many celebrities who died. This is just one example of the items to have attributed to what many felt was a bad year. I’ve been reading these listacle articles that highlight the worst of the global news. I like how Kim Kardashian’s robbery and her lack of social media presence are just some of the things included on these lists, as if that really effected our lives personally. My favorite item of all these lists was the dangerous phenomenon of “memeification.” There’s a meme for every serious event or notion which may be the beginning of the demise of our western culture. I suppose. No one seemed to mention The Weeknd’s iconic hair cut though. That was a bummer.
Sure. I will give you this, 2016 definitely wasn’t a magical year. What year is? Aren’t there always hardships? Personally, I can’t say that 2016 was a great year for me. It was uncomfortable, infuriating, and at times even toxic, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
Beyonce made the anthem for 2016 with her Lemonade album, and she nailed my every feeling when she sang, “…with every tear came redemption, and my torturer became my remedy.”
Wednesday, July 21st 2016 was one of those bad days. I woke up with a tear streaked face and my body was aching from another night crying myself to sleep. I rolled out of bed, tears sprung from my eyes, and I blindly rummaged through my closet to find something to get through the unbearable heat while teaching. That month was the kind of month where I did just enough to get to work, teach faceless students, watch the clock till the end of my work day, come home to cry myself to sleep, and repeat. I was sad. The kind of sad that depletes all the colors away, throbs down to your bones, and can’t be shaken away with happy songs or Ellen TV show excerpts on YouTube. Damn you, summer ’16. It was excruciating.
It didn’t end there, fall was pretty shit too.
However, with all the heartbreak that wreaked havoc in my life, I refused to let it stench my soul. I didn’t just endure it, I let 2016 soak in and change me. In fact, the entire year was a depuration process to create the beginnings of something pretty special within. I have left 2016 wildly more accepting of all my colorful feelings, my intense nature, and my diligence toward deep connections. Most importantly, if there’s anything we can thank 2016 for is that hopefully it made our empathy increase. That’s all hardship is there for, right? Folks, I think 2017 will be remarkable, maybe we won’t get better world news events, there probably will be a few more celebrity deaths, maybe a war will spring up, politics may be horrendous, someone is going to hurt us–perhaps several people will, but this time around? We can say we made it through 2k16— we got this.
To add to the gorgeous goodness of 2016, I will include my favorite songs of the year. Because the 2k16 music game was killer.
- Ivy by Frank Ocean
- Don’t Touch my Hair by Solange
- All Night by Beyonce Knowles
- Renegade by X Ambassador
- Beautiful Scars by Alessia Cara
- Figures by Jessie Reyez
- Celebrate by Anderson Paak
I’ll never forget this friend I had in college who was always full of lipstick, glitter, and carefree whimsy. One day, she leaned in full of sunshine and whispered in my ear, “Mary a lady always does two things. Never wears sweats to a meal and always says ‘thank you’ when she receives a compliment.” I don’t know why but those whispers stuck. Maybe it was because she always managed to remain square in between feminism freedom and lady elegance, and I loved every bit of it. I wanted to emulate that and add my own soulful Caribbean flare. Ladyhood has countless constructs that should have been thrown out after the 1950s ended, but fashion, I think, the best thing about being a lady in our society.
Fashion to me is more than an interest, it’s a space that takes away words like ugly versus beauty. Otherwise plain girls are suddenly pieces of art to strut down a runway, and obese women with too much makeup have pizzazz, odd or eccentric face shapes are adorned then adored. Fashion is a massacre of rule breaking visually, and once I fell into it– I couldn’t get enough of it. I’m mostly an admirer, but occasionally I dabble with my own trend setting outfits only with the dream of having enough money to always be a woman that is fashionable and style conscious in my own way.
I believe there are three laws in beauty.
Number 1. No matter your size– your wardrobe should only have flattering clothes that support your own unique style.
Number 2. Eat healthily to live long, but never to fit in a dress.
Number 3. Move your body for something fun or a goal accomplished. Your goal shouldn’t be to go down a size.
My soul feels crushed when I see women exhibit frustration and discouragement regarding shopping for clothes. It shouldn’t weaken our will, but instead the whole affair should empower our femininity. Yesterday, I walked into a store, chose a dress that I knew would drape my curves in the right way, it’d be loose in the right parts, and tight where it counts for both sex appeal and classiness. And when I tried it on (after my purchase–because Korea has weird store rules)– I was right! It fit in the best way possible. It was more than the color, how it looked on the hanger, it was more than knowing my own body type and how material fits on it— it was all of that together to make that purchase easy for me. Moments like that fulfill a primitive part of my womanly-ness. The most satisfaction comes when I see a girl whatever size, friend or foe, rich or poor who can dress with all of the confidence in the world, strutting her colors and sense of style, and it comes together looking effortless. Its powerful.
Fashion exists for all. I wish everyone knew that. I’m constantly day dreaming about what the average bus goer sitting next to me or my neighbor would look like if Tommy, Coco, or Betsey Johnson got a hold of them.
May I entice the reader who can’t find her size for her favorite clothes to learn how your body curves and what clothes works best for it, to consider male clothes, dream up your ideal style and work at it, and never be afraid to make daunting statements– just find the most flattering way to do it. May I entice the reader who is at a loss regarding their own style, google your favorite singer, celebrity, or instagrammer and copy– because copying is the best form of flattery and creativity is just copying in an excellent and unique way. May I entice all to break a fashion rule, try sexy once a week, try weird once a week, and be confident in your own sense of style.
Sometimes, I try to express clearly what it feels like to be in the midst of a faith crisis. My atheist friends lean their head sideways, squint their eyes, and sort of nod slowly. Sometimes, I think the only way they can liken my experience to any of theirs would be the time they figured out the Tooth Fairy wasn’t the one giving them their money carefully under their pillow while they peacefully slept. So sometimes, for the fortunate intellects, I’ll say something like, “its a bit of an existential crisis”— and that’s not even all together true. It feels embarrassing explaining myself to other post-fundamentals my age, who already figured out the church was a bag load of shit by 21, but I was too busy dreaming of leading worship and starting my own bible study at 21. I wanted to be one of those with-it church people– the kind who drank, smoked, and swore and led people to “encounter the extraordinary love of God.” My Christian friends think I am in a season, and they haven’t fully grasped how actual and real this is for me. I am no longer the Mary that dreamt of a life of mission work, faithfully attended bible groups, and was a devout Jesus lover, because I know more than anyone there was a a big part of me that was playing a long, laborious, very untrue role, and I can never ever return to that again.
How do I convey any of this to anyone with or without faith while not sounding like a lunatic or someone suffering from severe multiple personality disorder (these are both still possibilities)?
So begins my attempt.
There’s an insurmountable amount of grief. I’ve been forever severed from something that completed my sense of identity for my entire life: loved by Jesus (I can hear my Christian friends and family saying, but you’re always going to be loved by Jesus, and its comforting to know they will always believe that. It really is. Sometimes, I tell myself that). That missing portion rears its head especially on the worst days when something goes wrong, and my instinctual feelings scream,” but this wasn’t supposed to happen because– Jesus.” I have to stop and recognize that that’s what it is, a lot of the time, but when I do, there it is that gruesome space that was once filled. The grief lays away in the midst of life’s aches, bruises, and fears. There’s a searing loss of hope that can lead to hopelessness if I’m not careful.
Anger. It was rage in the beginning, but now it flashes through me only every now and again. I can hear out calloused scriptural rhetoric and not just nod and bear it, I can genuinely respect their perspective. The church has a lot of mindsets that irritate me, but its not all bad. I think I would love the version of church I was wanting to emulate in my early twenties– even now. Three things probably still make me lose my chill. 1. Lack of empathy. That’s a human irritation, but I would say that religion does a great job of giving people a free pass to lack empathy. There always seems to be this innate reaction to give it over to God instead of feeling bad feelings and deeply caring for someone. Letting the shit unfold. When I encounter a Christian with real empathy (and I’ve been lucky enough to) I want to kiss them because when it happens, its really special. 2. Along with lack of empathy comes this acceptance of insulation from human normal feelings. There is this common idea that the bad feelings are a sin/a way to keep you from your God. There’s so many things with this idea that bother me, I could go on a long rampage, but I’ll just say this– this kind of thinking keeps people from being people. I don’t get why that would be a desire for anyone, but it seemingly is one. 3. Acceptance of social injustices. I guess the bottom line is: lack of empathy– and maybe its more frustrating to see those ideas spread within the church because its an entire construct built on teachings regarding loving others. Its like what? When did the point become patriotism? Or whatever else the evangelical church is pushing these days.
Freedom. Let me just tell you since 24 I’ve been on a long journey of shedding so much fears, layers of brain washing, and ultimately all the things inhibiting me from being the vulnerable, passionate, and empathetic woman that I think I am today. Don’t get me wrong! The church and Christ’s teachings will always play a role in how I devote my time, energy, and consciousness to social justice, but what I find beautiful is that I can do this outside of scripture and faith. I am human and full of wrong choices, despite that I strive to do better with the help of the people I love. That’s all there is to it, and within this simpler reality I’ve become much more comfortable with myself. The good and the bad.
Then there’s death. Its crazy that the biggest thing about Christianity outside of it is the death part. I never gave it much thought how comfortable I was with this incessant fear of hell fires. I’d say that fear could have guaranteed the trajectory of my life as a devout believer. It isn’t spoken about much between Christians, but its there— it’s like, are we really sure? I remember the first time I no longer believed in any kind of hell, It was after I had been listening to a pastor challenging the entire belief of eternal damnation, and I thought to myself, “well if there’s no hierarchy here then what’s the fucking point?” That probably was a cue crisis moment, but there were numerous of those because unraveling an entire religion is a lifetime of micro-crisis’. I remember the first year I could finally be honest with myself that I don’t buy it. I don’t buy any of it the Bible, the God, the church, the deity of Christ, any of it— the first plane ride I took was traumatizing. I kept thinking, “There’s nothing after this if I die! I’ll be nothing!” It was the scariest plane ride of my life. Fear of death humanizes us, and its strange how Christianity contorts that very exquisite, human, and connecting thing. Death haunts me more than it ever did at 7 years old, but when I feel it— its so new to me, I relish it, I am just like everyone else in this way, and that’s good for now. Mortal. Fallible. Human.
Community– or lack thereof. This is a biggie. The church is a lot of things that I cannot stand, but when things were good, and there were points where they were for a while, it was good. In university it was extraordinary, my friends and I had this grassroots and organic approach to the Christian life. We’d get together demand vulnerable subjects, pray, and deeply connect to one another. It was special, and those friends will always be dear people to my heart. I always have said that I wouldn’t have remained a Christian by my senior year if it weren’t for those meetings with those friends. What I see now is that connection and community are vastly, magnanimously, important to survival. Not just get-together’s or happy hour, but real raw heartfelt community and support seems wildly non-existent outside the church. Sometimes, I consider returning to church just to reprieve myself from some of the lonely aches even for just a little while. Additionally, there’s just a practiced amount of making intentional and rather intrusive connections with other people if you’ve been in the church long enough. I can’t seem to lighten my intensity and need for authentic deep conversations always and in part, that’s my personality but its also all those bible-studies.
So with all of that has been said, I am still Mary. For a while there, I wasn’t sure who I was and felt that I had lost all sense of me, the Mary that my friends and family knew and loved. The good parts. The parts that were irrationally passionate to cultivate change in her surrounding community, always willing to strike authentic relationships with anyone I encountered, deepen my understanding for the world around me, the desire for passionate love and how to do so when it is difficult, and the curious need to understand both the good and bad in others. All of this is still here within me it just is done without fear of failure, without fear of sin, or at least I am now on a journey toward that kind of person.
- Every time a ‘Congratulations! You have a new match!’ lights up my screen, I cannot decide if it is a congratulatory moment or an indication of my condemned fate as a single woman.
- Whenever I check the newest match I’ve made on Tinder, repercussions from my last swiping session, I always wonder to myself, what was I thinking?
- Whenever I hear one of my guy friends complain about some girl from Tinder that ditched or ghosted them for no apparent reason, I cringe thinking about the guys I’ve ditched. They are probably calling me a bitch to their friends too.
- Tinder kills me. It eats away at my inextricable standards, and shows me how unrealistic they are. I settle on Tinder, for a fun night to play. Uph! honestly? It’s usually an average night— ok, it’s just company for a lonely night.
- We all know online dating has levels, but let’s break it down. Tinder users hate being single, but not enough to take serious measures to end the plight of single-hood. OK Cupid is for those of us that are at least serious about dating one person at a time. Match is when you’re ready for a relationship. E-Harmony is the real deal; when you’re down for the whole show like the house, the kids, the car, and the white picket fence.
- We’re all so goddamn lonely. That’s what Tinder tells me.
- My profile tells Tinder a lot about me. The first picture says, I am happy with or without you, second picture says, I am down for a fun time, the third says I am into nature and artsy things, and the fourth says, I have friends too.
- Playing Tinder with your friends feels miserable. It’s like why do they get so many matches? I am sitting here with one match with a guy named Steve who is from nowhere Indiana, has a measly beard that was passable for a hasty swipe right, and is into Pokemon Go, Metallica, and comics.
- When you’re a black girl on Tinder and a white guy who works in IT starts his message to you with, “Whuz happenin boo…” Unmatch.
- I wish Tinder included a video of the demeanour, gestures, voice tone, walk, and overall VIBEZ on their profile because gay men and straight women alike know that all of that is 90% of what makes a man attractive to us. It would lessen thosedates— you know the ones, where the first 10 minutes you’re stifling incredulous shock and laughter at something like their voice tone sounding like a fucking mouse.
- Its insufferable when that guy with the well-paid job, wearing a flannel shirt on his main profile picture, has a well-groomed beard, and is a purebred dog owner matches with me and never sends a message. I have too much pride to message him first and say what I want to tell him. “You’re perfect. I think we should skip drinks, dates, and everything. Let’s get married.”
- I wouldn’t want it any other way, then for a man to find me attractive for my mind and congeniality– I mean, I’d like to think I am brilliant. Despite my intellect, I keep at least 4-5 “hey beautiful” messages in my inbox. They’re saved for the bad days.
There was once a time when we were strangers.
When you didn’t know how my eyes watered when I laughed too hard
I didn’t know how your freckled fingers danced when you spoke
We were once strangers.
I fell in love with all your shortcomings; not despite them but for them.
There’s been an ongoing invisible string tying me to your tides.
You made me wince with uncharted fears— cringing at what was to come between us.
I have been searching for more inside of you.
I’m left in shivers by what I’ve found inside.
I’ve been heartbroken by your seething pain.
Accosted by my empathetic convulsion toward you.
Catastrophic waves were how we tumbled into one another and I remained cycling.
The thunderous fires within me can no longer wilt from elements of reason.
The spidery rivers of affection run through my veins for you.
But together we’re no better than Sid Vicious and his beloved.
For you, For I
We are better now—
That we are once again strangers.