Sunday, June 08, 2008

Setting Boundaries

Earliest memory of personal space and boundaries takes me back to first grade and the teacher's pet, Sandy, nursing an open sore on her knee she most likely sustained from the previous summer. As I recall, we sat next to each other in the back row in those flip-top wooden and metal square desks in Mrs. Johnson's class.

I felt compelled to smack her on the wound as she picked at the scab. She wailed like an injured wildebeest, which brought Mrs. Johnson over to see what was the matter. She sat teary-eyed and snot-nosed, and pointed at me as the culprit. It feels like another lifetime or world, but the classroom is just as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday.

I've never been troubled by the incident throughout my life, and still can't justify why I lashed out at her. I wasn't a bad child because I knew what would happen if I misbehaved. Call it an early surge of testosterone, or perhaps I was squeamish watching her play with her sore, and all I could do was knock her hand away.

Sandy was a favorite or teacher's pet for the succeeding four years in grade school, culminating in her being crowned the school pageant queen in fourth grade. Backstage at the pageant was my time to cry after not having been crowned king. I promised myself I wouldn't cry, but did so all the same. It was was after that horrible incident that I swore off talent shows and pageants.

My momma first established disciplinary boundaries with Mrs. Johnson after she paddled me and I leapfrogged atop a desk. I couldn't wait until I made it home to tell momma what had transpired in class. (Oh, you're gonna get it!) Momma made her way to class soon thereafter to lay down the law: "You don't hit my child. If he does something wrong, tell his aunt, and I'll take care of him myself." (My aunt still works in the administrative offices at the same elementary.)

Word traveled throughout the teacher's lounge, hallways, and with me each year that under no circumstances was I to be spanked, pinched, or otherwise disciplined. My fifth grade teacher strongly disliked me because of this, and the fact that I'd return from recess, spotless. She didn't know my momma, and the blessing out I'd get if I came home looking and smelling like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown.

She was the most masculine woman I'd ever known, replete with a few curly, errant chest hairs if doubts lingered in the mind. While not invincible, I was untouchable at school. Had she punched me in the chest as she enjoyed doing to the other boys in class, to discipline, fortify resolve, or impart some masculine rite of passage, my momma would've made an appearance. My momma certainly could've taken her back then.

Mrs. Jackson didn't get to beat up on me physically, but she overstepped the invisible boundary with childish mind games and name calling. I caved in once and purposely dirtied myself during kickball,which made her proud when she saw my grass-stained pants. I was a real boy, if only for that day, and not a pampered prince in a glass house with my aunt standing sentry. I realized then that I had to learn to negotiate boundaries away from my momma's watchful and sometimes overprotective presence.

Boundaries are equally comforting and restrictive. I knew just how far I could go in grade school and remain safely inside my imaginary fortified fence. I don't have any regrets from that time in school, but sometimes I wonder if I'd taken more risks if I weren't covered in my momma's shadow. A rubber band that's wound too tight is likely to snap, sending fragments here and yonder.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Friends, Associates, and Other Tales

What is the definition of a true friend? Is it someone who will always be there for you regardless? Does friendship include an unspoken or unwritten clause of unconditional love? I've never had friends like those portrayed in the movies and on television. Where are my band of friends from Four Weddings and A Funeral? My Thelma and Louise? I've oftentimes wondered if there's a Friendship For Dummies book that I never received, or a class in social etiquette that I opted not to take in college.

Women seemingly make and keep friends longer than most men. I think there's an inherent machismo in male friendships that prevents a close bond between men. In my experience, American friendships are different from international friendships. Southern friendships are different from northern ones. For all the differences, is there any truth in opposites attract?

What about friendships in the animal kingdom where there's less pressure to compete, be the smart one, the funny, or the prettiest one among your friends?
When I brought my second kitten home to provide company for the older cat, there was animosity at first, but it soon faded. Years later, they are respectful of each other's territory and treat each other as sisters. Are there lessons we could learn from our pets or a few episodes of Meerkat Manor?

I gravitated toward classmates in grade school because we shared similar interests or my mother or aunts knew their parents, and we were pushed in each other's direction. I've not been blessed with a best-friend-forever, and perhaps wouldn't know how to adjust to one person having full access to me (thoughts, dreams, concerns, and fears). Or does that hearken back to those scripted friendship movies and TV programs?

I was part of the It Crowd in junior high school. My concerns back then weren't about building lasting friendships wherein I'd fly across the country or world to attend weddings, christenings, and sit beside reading to an injured or comatose friend.

High school was an altogether different beast. There were so many cliques and factions, it made my head swim. Race and ethnicity wasn't an issue for me prior to my sophomore year when transferred to a predominantly white high school. I'd no experience with token or categorized friendships (black, Asian, rich, biker/rebel). One of the more interesting and perhaps sad high school stories involved a girl who up until college application time was white. However, she checked Hispanic on the racial identity box, and the monies and scholarship offers poured in. Imagine her (white) friends' surprise when they discovered she was 1/4 Mexican. It was Houston. Next door to Mexico. It shouldn't have been a surprise that her grandmother was Mexican. To their eyes, she was a fraud, and not a real friend because she had deceived their elitist white sensibilities.

My track record sometimes trouble me because I yearn for mature friendships that are based on realistic expectations: I expect you to be there for me no matter what, and I will do the same for you. I'm done with spoiled brats and fair-weather friends who call or e-mail when they need creative writing, copyediting, or a professional referral.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Presumptive Democratic Nominee

Where do I begin with the presumptive Democratic Nominee, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama? I wasn't alive during the Civil Rights Movement, but I know all too well what life's like as an African American. I grew up in Texas. Need I saw more? Life wasn't filled with thumbtacks on stairwells or a bed of roses.

Dare to dream in my lifetime that an African American male or female could become President of the United States. I don't think any of my grade schoolteachers ever fathomed the idea of biracial man eclipsing a white woman of questionable tactics and beliefs, as the chosen representative for the Democratic Party. Black History Month will take on a new urgency or appeal WHEN Barack is elected and sworn into office in January 2009.

Why is it such a historical moment in American History, when other industrialized nations have had or have women in top governmental and parliamentary positions? How much does America's tumultuous slave history figure into the discussion on race and politics? Why can't most people look beyond skin color and middle names, and embrace a candidate who wants to implement change for the country and the world?

It's not as if he's uneducated or unqualified for the job. All one has to do is look at the current and previous Republic presidencies for proof that this country needs to change. Affordable or universal healthcare in America should be a non-issue. Michael Moore's documentary is evidence that the American healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have long since been broken. I've personal experience with urban healthcare centers as an uninsured American.

Let's talk about the abysmal housing market for a minute. People have been, and will continue to lose their life savings and homes with a Republican in the White House. Affordable housing is fast-becoming a fantasy in New York and other metropolitan areas. The rich continue to gorge themselves on the middle and lower classes. Gentrification isn't the only answer to modernizing American inner cities at the expense and displacement of minorities that have longstanding roots in a community. At the current rate of new business and residential developments in Manhattan, I fear that we'll soon have a major exodus to rural areas where minorities haven't been welcomed, and probably don't want to live.

A friend is fond of saying hot mess. The political, economic, and social arenas are all a hot mess in this country, and I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama to bring the necessary changes to cool things off and right this country before it becomes an afterthought in the global landscape.