Monday, May 7, 2012

Literalistically Speaking.

I'm 32. If you've thought I was younger, it was most likely because I lied about it. Age; this heavy meal, carried around from the outside in. Perhaps some wear it well: like my grandmother. She just turned 93 and is mad as hell that she is, but (rumored to be) happy that she's made it this far. She cringes at her numbers; would rather invert the nine for a six, and in a fantasy that only she will ever be witness to: imagine herself again 39.

I don't blame her. And not because she'd whup my ass if I did (no kidding, this Gram don't take no bs), and not because I'm some sage (yet), but admitting to the defeat of lines, of downhilledness is some hard shit. Now, the alternative (death) is harder, necessary but got to age if you want to live. This is a hurting reality.

Some other realities are just as caustic. Take for example the volume lost post-breastfeeding (umm, wow), the reduced metabolism post 31 (holy shit), and the more serious reduction of emotional buoyancy (FML). I'm paddling harder now than I did in years past, when I had (seemingly) more to paddle from.

Life is as hard as people say it is. Sometimes harder.

I tried to explain to my 3 year old, a very emotionally-learned little creature, that if you are going to stare at someone, you must say hi. She took it literally: grimacing and forcing her hellos on people living on the fringe. Most are as curious as she is, looking back, wistful, wondering.

She asked me, after one of these DAMMIT HELLO sessions, why some people live on the streets, her fledgling logic demanded a clean response (she hates gray)

Why Mummah? They have to go into a HOME Mummah she continued. I explained that for some folks, this is all they got, and for some, this is all they get, earn, lose all the way down to.

I explained, that we are kinder to them because their lives are harder in most ways.

And she asked me how I knew that. Most likely trying to figure out if this was like the time I told her she'd get bugs in her bum if she sat on a cold floor, or kept wearing THE Tinkerbell undies. No. This wasn't a Mummah fib, not a fake ID, this won't get me a second look by a flirty bartender, or a compliment from a matronly sales woman. This was a truth Mummah lived. And Nana, and Papa too.

We lived on Huntington, and sometimes on Mass Ave our addresses wandering, fringe, lacy in their transparency. Fluid.

There are somethings only a literalist can understand.

Some reality is ugly, and not really worth lying about.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Got $10? Give 10.

Two years ago, I found out about NAMIwalk, a special walkathon coordinated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I walked with my then 19 month old daughter, my purpose was simple: raise funds and awareness of mental and behavioral health; as a means to reduce stigma and break unnecessary silences. And this year, I plan to do it again.

As you know, mental health is a topic very close to my heart, and my mother carries a very serious mental health diagnosis. That said, having a family member or loved one with a chronic mental health condition is no easy task, and it certainly isn't something people should go through alone. NAMI provides peer supports, community based education and skill development, and more. Please consider sponsoring me to ensure funding to the programs and supports provided by NAMI remain available to people who need it most.

The walk is here in Boston (Artesani Park in Brighton) on Saturday, May 12th (rain or shine). I have a fundraising goal of $320, which averages to about $10 dollars per day until my walk date.

To donate please go to my walk page:

To read more about my journey, please check out links to the right.
To learn more about mental and behavioral health, please visit NAMI:

Thanks for your friendship, and for your support.

Diane & Zora. Walking for Nana.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And sometimes we don't.

My mother makes hats. My daughter practices her letters. I listen to accents and the stories their people share.

We’ve each plugged ourselves in, found our respective ways to be. We know joy. We share fears. Some of the time.

I like to call this logic.

I recently started a new job... One I wanted and knew I could do. One I’d be happy to let define me for a while. Stretch me, even.

And so: I prepared. I read books, bought outfits. I put away all my flats to ensure I was/am always 6 feet tall (heels). I listened to the vocabulary of the hierarchy and made it mine.

I met my staff, my colleagues, my team. I admire them in how tentative some were, how open, how distrustful. I let the hierarchal speak go. Their accents captured me to listen to their own stories.

One day, when I came home I called my mother to tell her how important I was/I am. I was/am proud of myself. I was certain she'd be too. And she was. She started making connection: New job, new location? Yes, Mummi. She then asked me if I was doing data entry... I’m a director at a state agency serving refugees, immigrants. I manage 1/3 of all staff there. But she’ll never know that. Never,ever understand.

I try not to sink. I said in a very small voice “No, Mummi, no data entry”. My chin quivered. It would have upset her to hear me cry. It upset me to know how few people I have to share this with.

Something specific about having a parent, a mother who makes hats, a mother with a chronic mental health condition:

There will always be this separation. I will always be a hungry island. We’ll likely always have this grabbing-at-air –but-not-reaching each other thing.

We find ways to each other, most days.

But, as my 3 year old likes to remind me: Sometimes we don’t.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Request: Lie to me.

There is something my littlest valentine, Zora, and my longest-held valentine, Mummi, have in common, something that erupted in our shared genetic code, results in a sameness. Lays there with our common features: wide foreheads, deep set eyes, bowed lips and rounded noses. We tell stories. Lies, my Gram used to call them.

My mother fibbed about goldfish. Declared his bowl paradise. Made me see: everyone is a character, has a name, a place to be. I kept (and keep) an open ear.

My daughter talks plenty. Her stories involve alligators, her being in my tummy, when she’ll be a Mama, having to get to work and so on. Sometimes, they involve falls where no one really gets hurts, where “cooker-men” come to life from soft ingredients she can recall easily. Where her logic is logical magical.

She; this soft-ingredient wielder, loves to hear about when I, her own Mummah, was a little girl. I spin, but don’t go far from the truth. I tell her about cats in easter baskets. Being a forceful 2nd grader having my mother spin and dip me all the way home from school. I told her about the franks and beans dinner I had to endure for 2 weeks straight, and how during its tenure, I ate not more than one, perhaps two beans, our faded floor catching the rest, my stubborn behind bearing it's share of benign spankings.

She responds in her own fits of laughter, their winding and shrieking pleasure stories of their own. I worry for how long I’ll be able to tell her stories that don’t scare her from her secure slumber. I know I'm running low on warm-hearted tales, though I've plenty of other stories to tell. I warn her gently: “Not all of Mummah’s stories are happy, Tweetybird.”

She’s surprised me once by responding: “I know.”

And so, on this day, I hope everyone who may be reading this, and perhaps too, everyone who can’t to continue to spin your stories, share who you are and who you were with people who will listen, and listen yourselves too. Let your age be told in the brine we may have bound into our backs, like that of aging books. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Franks ain’t. Beans ain’t. But it does have to be yours. Let your stories be held and stored with someone who finds your lettering delicious…

And perhaps too, let that someone be you.

Celebrate yourself (too) today.

Much love, muchly.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Short stack: say it (too/instead).

As a kid, I didn't say much. I thought much, but: I lived in my head, I zoned out. Much of the time, I still do. But I've lost the relative shyness I had. I'm not a person anyone would likely call quiet, but I'm not a total stage-hoe.

I like to think I talk as much as I listen. In some places that ain't right, and in some places I'm likely considered a sage.


In any event, I have a hard time separating what I hear from what I see. And I'm not so certain I should. Words weigh a lot with me/on me. I am semi-dense (yeah, I admit it). You can buy me (please buy me) gifts, Monday through Sunday, but can't say why you bought them, or that they were expressly for me... and, well, I'll never know. #shrug Genetic emotional defect I say.

My mother bought me strange things. Still does. Some'd consider it junk. Sometimes I do. Sometimes it smells a lot like smoke. Sometimes it's strange; think: hair weave when (for now) I don't do that. Items I wanted as a kid but never got: an electric toothbrush (likely used), a AA bra (I'm thankfully bigger'n that now), and a damn g-string. For serious. A g. All wrapped up in a bag my mother hands me with a hug. How can you laugh? How can I be anything other than thankful? She does, after all have so little. She does, week by week, simply refuse to hear me (beggingly) say: No Mummi. Please, no more gifts. I'm good, Mummi. I am.

But the woman says, outright and without fail: I love you. Be safe, Diane. Don't get to be more than 200 pounds (giggle). Eat breakfast, Diane. Your hair looks pretty.

This woman with little, extends a hug. Talks to me, eye to eye, and never fails to touch my cheek. We position ourselves sometimes like grooming monkeys. It's pretty damn cute. It's pretty damn vulnerable. It's pretty.

And it's pretty hard to see, when ones heart is so vulnerable, when ones intentions are so bared, to understand: what the hell are those of us not plagued with such immediacy waiting on? Why is it so hard for those of us who don't have it so hard?

Love now. Because we can. Talk now, because we can/should.

And because all the other things: expensive gifts, while nice, don't say it as clearly, as succinctly.

And we likely need them/it to.

We do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Princess Girl’s Princess Boy (and an “armadino” too)...

I like to preach equity. Believe in access. Believe in leading my child in a place where difference isn’t so different after all.

I’m not into color-blindness, in fact, I’m incensed by it for two reasons: 1. it just sounds stupid and blind people can hear it, and 2. We are brown, and brown is decently awesome. Why pretend not to see it/us?

I tell folks a lot about my mom, mostly because I’m apple-eyed and she’s my Braeburn, but in part because I learned about my world through her perceptions, her experiences. Perhaps, more one than the other.

Case in point: Gender Identity.

I grew up (at least half time) in Boston’s South End in the 80-90s. Folks who know the area now, know it’s gorg, half gay, a quarter Chinese and very Puerto Rican. I grew up within earshot of the parties at the Villa, close enough to catch pizza at BHOP, near enough to see my father on the stoop at the Huntington Y. It would have been idyllic if we weren’t broke and bartering for time with Mummi’s diagnosis.

I had a sometime babysitter. She was trans, male to female; long legged and had gorgeous hair. I realize now she was in an abusive partnership, could hear Claudio beating the joy (among other things) out of her tiny frame. She was very sweet, albeit very unsafely vulnerable. I never had to ask my mom what my sitter was. I knew. And she was wonderful. Period.

When Mummi would talk about gender ID she had one simple thing she’d say (still says it): We’re all gay, Love. All. She thought of love and who you love as a continuum versus a binary: as in I can love him and her and him and her, or I can love them and them and them (too). I’d have to say I agree. I shruggingly agreeingly agree.

Fast forward to my daughter. A burst of articulateness and non-slick ponies. A small adult some days, others, my baby, my babiest baby. We went to the library and picked out some special books, one about an Armadillo who is different, who is defiantly not a bunny and isn’t totally pink in a homogenously pink and bunnied environment. “I think I would want an armadino, Mummah. We can buy it” she suggests, strongly.

We pick up another book too, about a princess boy. It’s very sweet, if curiously illustrated. The characters have featureless brown faces. The main character is a boy seemingly between gender lines, or not: perhaps not. He wears dresses, loves ballet, thinks himself pretty. He cries when he is taunted. His Mummah cries too. I want to cry a little when I read it to her.

He has lots of triumphs. His parents appreciate him. They let him know he’s cute too. He has the birthday he wants, unabashedly pink and princessed out. They carpool with his older brother on the way to his baseball practice. It’s non-fiction. The author's take on her kids experience, on theirs together. Righteous, right? But I have an obvious bias.

My child, dear child, loves the story. We made a mural of said boy-princess that hangs near our front door. Daddy cheered us both on as we worked. He's a steward of inclusion too. Zora shared her own thoughts:

“I think it's ok if him wears princess outfits. I would not laugh at him.”

When I giggle out of pride and perhaps something else, she scolds me strongly “Don’t laugh Mummah. Princess boys are NOT funny!” I stop. Hide the joy in my eyes at her open mind.

She finishes: “I would have a princess boy for my friend… if him had a face.”

Baby-girl is all about equity, all about friends with fly outfits, could give two hard boiled eggs about if "him a him, him a her" but she ain’t having that anonymous, no face, shit.

Nah, yo.

That’s my girl.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Autobiographical moment; picture this: Christmas

In the summer of my ninth year, I went to a psychiatric ward. I saw my mother’s eyes wide, wider, her fear a physical thing. She whispered something private into my ear; something like “Save me”. I couldn’t. She was kept. I was left to the care of others.

I was driven away in a small brown car. My grandmother and uncle moved me, room to room like one moves a wilting plant. Chasing sunlight? Finding a favorable shadow? Looking for some sense of viability? I went blank. I let the forgetting begin then, that much I recall.

In time, I relearned most of the things I lost. I learned how to cry, with real tears and not will death in my own taut beige skin. I learned to write what I meant, what I felt inside and not what I expected others would look for. I learned to answer, though this was a newfound trait, the many psychotherapist's and family member's inquiries I met as the year went cold: to hug my stuffed animals affectionately to give the impression of adjustment, to cast my eyes downward when I wanted to prove myself chaste and well-intentioned. It seemed to work.

As the Christmas season coursed its way down the snowy streets that arteried Roxbury, I was able to see my parents again. My taller-than-most father with the freckles and hazel eyes. His loud voice and I-will-kick-anyones-ass temperament. My mother with the lilting voice (much like my own in adulthood) and beautiful burnt sienna hands. We rode in a rental, went from discount store to discount store, my father carrying on a family tradition of Christmas. Ensuring, as my Nana always did, everyone who was from or rumored to be a Randolph got a gift. Every one of the 9 siblings, the 26 grandchildren/nieces/nephews, everyone got a gift.

My father was and is the greatest steward of this tradition. Uncle Randy’s claim to fame (positive one at least) is his entrance on Christmas night: one, maybe two garbage bags in had, handing out whatever comes out of the bag, to whomever is closest to him. My cousins and I joke about what the hell may come out. But, truth be told: we all get something.

This year, for the first time since I was nine, I went Christmas shopping with my parents. I went into a Building 19! I scoured the aisles at Job Lot! I found myself eyeing (for purchase) no name body wash! I even smiled at my father smoking a Newport outside of the car I use (almost exclusively) to pick up organic groceries, to ride my suburban commuter train, and/or to attend mommy and me yoga. Ain’t that some shit?!

At the end of the night, I brought my parents (against their remaining will) to my house. They’ve never been. They live in an apartment roughly the size of my kitchen. Smaller than my 375 square foot studio when I lived in Harlem. And a lot rougher around the edges. It’s a hard life. They have a roof over their heads, and a lot of determination. But they live a very complicated life. When they came in, my mothers eyes were wide, this time, with awe, happiness. She sat comfortably on our couch. Mundane for most. My mother hasn’t sat on a couch in someone’s home since 1990.

My father, lord is he my father. Wandered my house taking inventory. Coursed down into the basement. Counseled me on my loud ass toilet, the creaking doors, and how the house should have been built on some kind of thing I’ll never remember the word for. He told me to get the dry cleaning off the damn couch in the bedroom. To not let the cats go into Zora’s room, or get in her bed. Some other stuff too. I know he meant to say he was proud. I know him enough to know that’s what he was saying. He also drank Brian's rum. Nervy stubborn man. Thank God we left before the dishwasher starting rumbling.

On our ride home, everyone was quiet with contentment. I dropped them at the door of the brownstone, sped off and crept back to make sure they didn’t forget anything, and didn’t have to see me cry. It’s been a lot of rough years since 1988 when my mother and I were originally split. A lot of years (23) to be exact since we Christmas shopped as a family, and a lot of time in which, I didn’t want to do any of that shit.

But I got to. This year. And that was the greatest gift.

It really was.