Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reality Sucks sort of...

So I’ve picked up a habit in the last 2 months since I’ve been home. I’m not ashamed of the habit, but it is definitely a habit.

I find myself watching a lot of reality television.

I’ve always watched some form of it I guess, but Milt is the reality TV watcher in our house. For years I just lived vicariously through his summaries and the trailers I’d see on television.  Never really getting into it, but knowing the characters and their trail of stinkiness and having funny conversations with Milt about them before we went to bed.

I never understood why anyone, especially a black woman, would want to be on a reality show. To me, it seemed, the lure of fame got old very quickly. Plus the idea that the nation wants to place you into the worse stereotype and you consent to that stereotype was very odd to me. What’s sexy about getting your wig snatched, having a drink thrown in your face, kicking and screaming while burly guys in black t-shirts (they always wear black t-shirts) have to pick you up physically and take you away from the situation? 

…but after I was fired I started really watching.

I actually felt good for a few weeks because these dolts were actually in a worse place than I could every be emotionally. I kept waiting for Dr. Phil to come out and help them.  When my friends questioned why I was watching I’d say:

 “I’m just trying to see what all this is. I’m not really into it.”
“Girl…you know I’m just trying to study why someone would do this to themselves. These girls are cray cray!”
“I don’t watch all the time, just a few snippets here and there”
“I’m just watching so I can understand what Wendy Williams will be talking about tomorrow”

But the reality is, I am hooked.

I’m especially hooked on seeing the black women.  So yes,  I watched and cringed through three episodes of the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) reunion show when Porsha snatched off Kenya’s wig and beat her like she stole something. I watched as Ne-Ne acted like a pompous
ass to everyone, and Phaedra dropped that killer lecture to Kenya about Apollo (wicked.) I even watched the painful (though the producers thought it was comedy relief) machinations of Momma Joyce with Kandi. (Having my own sometime complicated relationship with my own mother, I saw pain, not humor in that display.) Of course on a purely professional level I feel that it’s beyond horrible that Andy Cohen and his ilk think that American women are a sites of humiliation, buffoonery and painful comedic relief. But Andy and his crew save a special sort of agony for the RHOA women and they play right into it, only to wear evening gowns and 7-inch heels they can hardly walk in and sit on his couch and tear each other up.

I was happier than a pig in slop as I watched.
Not only did I watch it, I am immersed in what else is going on with them. I’ve become a voyeur, clamoring to know more about their lives (I read twitter whenever the shows are on.) I research the characters (who knew the internet held that many secrets about folks?) And I watch them even when the eventually end up on Iyanla, Fix My Life (Evelyn Lozada, Basketball Wives or Saigon and Erica, Love and Hip Hop New York ).
But yesterday I needed a distraction. Needed might be too strong a word here, I was just distracted.  And Milt and I started watching Love in the City on OWN. 
I liked it.
Here’s my list of why:
1.     No one was attempting to create a fashion line without knowing anything about fashion.
2.     Each of the women actually had a career of some kind.  Yes, there was definitely posturing, but they worked for their money, it didn’t sort of show up. 
3.     While their lifestyles looked perfect, the lingering specter of cancer, and infertility, and bad relationships were real indicators of what lots of women go through.
4.     The relationships they had with their extended families were very real. They didn’t make it all good. Because dealing with extended family is always messy.  Always.
5.     They were not young folks. I loved that they were in their late 30s and early 40s. Some folks I could finally relate to.
6.     They lived in New York and I knew every avenue they walked on and filmed on. (An added benefit!)
7.     I didn’t feel these women were fake I felt I knew these women. In fact I do know these women, I have lots of friends who are like them.
8.     I love shows where folks are reinventing themselves. I don’t kid myself that I’m like Bershan, or Chenoa. But I loved that they were showing women in their 40s that you can make a different narrative then the one that everyone thinks you should have.
9.     They make MISTAKES. Lots of them. I found myself yelling a few times at Chenoa (my favorite) and being pissed at her about her relationship with her estranged husband Carlyle. I was so sad for Kaiya because who gets broken up with at a table in a restaurant in front of your girls? She was humiliated, and I felt for her.  Tiffany’s double mastectomy and her relationship with her boyfriend was familiar and scary. And Bershan (my second favorite) who is going through this surrogacy thing alone (at least the show is showing her being alone) and a husband who is constantly on the road (or doesn’t want to be on the show.)
There were no physical fights. Let me say that again, there were four black women in the room and there were no wands, hair pulling, nasty name calling, or anyone trying to take anyone else’s man. There were arguments, but for me the arguments made sense.  Most of the arguments involved Tiffany, but she was the needy girl of the bunch. But she was also the one who had some of the most poignant moments in the show. She deserves much better than Bryan who had the nerve to take her hair when he moved his stuff out! As my husband said so eloquently, “you can take a black woman’s phone, Chanel purse, and even her iphone, but when you take her hair, now someone has to get cut!” And I appreciated that the other three women were outraged when she told them, but refrained from cutting, but you could tell they were thinking of ways to kill him. (Hell, I was trying to think of a way to kill him.)
But what I liked the most was the idea of the mommy narrative and how three out of the four women were dealing with it. Maybe I’m still reeling from the New York Post’s insane headline calling Chirlaine McCray a bad mother. But the mommy stuff is definitely on my mind, and apparently on all the minds these women. Kiya goes to a fertility clinic in anticipation of a partner and sperm that she doesn’t yet have. She has already determined that 40 is a death sentence for her reproduction system. Bershan is in surrogate craziness, while her husband travels the world.  Yet it’s Chenoa who is really, really interesting to me. She rejects mommydom.  Not because she has some hatred of children or pregnancy, but because it just wasn’t right for her. She tried the hormones and the surrogacy and egg harvesting and it just wasn’t for her. I loved that there was just a moment that she and her estranged husband are in the room together, she looks at him and says, “That’s (pregnancy and a baby) not what I want.”  I yelled at the television!  YES!!!! Please put more women like this and Chirlaine McCray on television.  Please.
Yes, I know. C’mon on critics…bring it.

“But Erica, you have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband, you are living the mommy narrative!” And you are absolutely correct…sort of. But to reject the societal narrative that binds women to being married barefoot and pregnant, is to me the ultimate narrative of feminism. I wish more women consciously chose it instead of listening to the Princeton Mom and her bullshit about finding a man at college to fertilize you. Say what you will about Chenoa, but she knows what she’s wants and her vision is revisionist, or at the very least, honest. Which is refreshing and very much needed in this time where Hillary Clinton is about to run for president and the narrative is already being spun that she is mentally unstable because she used to bleed every month and went through menopause. (Apparently if Mrs. Clinton has a hot flash she’ll blow us all up to kingdom come.)  

Chirlane McCray is also hella honest. To admit to a magazine that she was ambivalent about being a mother when she was 40.Then decide to stay home and take care of her kids in a way that she thought worked for her family. And THEN take care of her mother and mother-in-law so her husband could realize HIS dream. Yes! Yes! This is a woman I know.  This woman is my mother, and my aunts, and my neighbors.  In a town where the nannies are plentiful and the guilt suffocating it took some real chutzpah for her to admit that. But instead of recognizing her strength instead folks want to criticize her mommy skills.  Puhlease.
But here’s the reason I really like Chenoa and Chirlane.  
I too was caught up in the mommy narrative. I had had a terrible time during my undergraduate years in Rochester and Buffalo. I was in school to please my father and was trying to be a mathematician if I couldn’t be the mechanical engineer my father desperately wanted me to be. I floated around, did millions of things, but could never settle on what it was that was in me, because I was afraid all the folks I loved would stop loving me if I really was the person I wanted to be. But I did know that I had the ability to get married and have a family. And in my mind if I did this I could get my family to love me and forget the failed attempts at college. So I did.  I married, I had children and we were happy.  But it’s been hard. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had taken that leap, and been an English major and started my writing life then before the diapers, pacifiers, school supply lists, and Spring dances.  I believed that being a mother would make me happy, and it did, and it does. But I was also miserable.  I was alone for huge swatches of time with my first two children. Friends believed I was consumed with being mommy, so I wouldn’t want to do anything I loved to do before. Family just let me suffer, because that’s what the women in my family do, we suffer, and then we act as though everything is okay. I was consumed with doing it all perfectly because folks were watching, and the competition for the best mom of the year mug was always fierce. And damn it I wanted that mug!
I love that Chirlane and Chenoa acknowledge the craziness. They refuse to adopt it as their own narrative and strike out to be the authors of their own life. After reading bout Chirlaine and watching Love in the City, I started thinking about Alice Walker’s, In Search for our Mother’s Gardens.  There is one essay where she talks about what Black women could have been had they not had to be sharecroppers, or maids, or servants while racism and Jim Crow tried to destroy their spirits and their minds. To me Chirlaine and Chenoa are artists who were able to defy the story that others had in mind for them to blossom and plant themselves in their own gardens. It took me 44 years to find my garden, I don’t want my girls to wait that long.
But as my kids are still growing and blossoming…I’ll probably still be watching these folks on Love and Hip Hop, Real Housewives of Atlanta,  and Basketball Wives LA act the fool from their wheelchairs, hoping that maybe they’ll reject the narrative too.

But I won’t hold my breath.

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