When You Dismiss My Internet Friendships as Shallow

internet_friendsSomeone told me over the weekend that they have real friends, not “internet friends.” It was meant to be a verbal stab. But the place it landed was shiny and tough with scars from the many times extended family have complained about me using my voice, especially in a public forum.

I’ve been accused of posting my thoughts just to get “likes” and attention, been told that many people who support me in public are talking about me behind my back. This shot is a repeat; complaint number 137 turned into an implication that my relationships are fleeting, shallow, and false and that my voice is a betrayal. The narrative is that I’ve sold my soul for the false promise of the obviously inferior internet friendship.

The exchange was a reminder of how little that person understands what is important to me and what real friendship is.

It’s 4am. I’m staring at my journal thinking, do I even want to give this incident the dignity of taking up space here? Should I devote any more energy to this absolute ignorance? Maybe this precious time in the dark, before the demands of the day begin, should be a time for gratitude or meditation.

Then, I hear my housemate’s soft voice emanating from her room. She’s doing a last, out-loud readthrough on her piece about the violence of capitalism. She’s at the part of her essay that extols the virtues of complaint in our positive-vibes-only world. “And are you familiar with a certain Mr. Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a., The Christ?” she coos in Marxist lullaby. “That man was a power complainer.”

I smile and reflect on how Alexis came to be in proximity to me, sitting at our dinner table to share in our food and our favorite-parts-of-the-day ritual, retreating afterward to her space to put her deep thoughts and feelings into words.

I met Torski at a careers conference 8 years ago. She and I hit it off, and we kept in touch via Facebook. She decided to try a drop-shipping business, and I tried it with her. I attended a drop shipping conference in Vegas where I met Torski’s friend Karen, a powerhouse business coach who knew just how to put an unwanted male hanger on in his place. I loved her right away, so she and I kept in touch. The drop shipping didn’t stick for any of us.

But Karen and I formed a mastermind with another friend via Facebook groups. Each of our businesses made great strides that year. Karen said I should get a reading/business consult from Alexis Morgan. Alexis and I were both in Chicago, so we met up, and did some stuff together before life had us in different states for a while. But when Alexis wanted to come back to Chicago, she PM’d me, and we were soon making arrangements to turn our back room into a little apartment for her.

I think about my other internet friends. There’s Ana and the natural hygiene community she founded that is just as much about our personal ups and downs and generally curious conversation as it is about exercise, sufficient sleep, and the eating of raw fruits and leafy greens.

There was a time when I didn’t want to join support groups because I didn’t want to identify as a “survivor of X.” Gotta keep it positive, right? Well, I’ve discovered there is great healing in sharing with people who understand what you’ve been through, learning from those further along their path, giving a hand to those coming behind you. I’ve found those supports online, full of a camaraderie and understanding I didn’t find anywhere else. And it turns out, the dear friends have helped me make sense of the rough bits so that they’re not so front-and-center, so there’s room in my purview for genuine goodness, not Band-Aid positivity.

I think back to finding a copy of “War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims” by Melody Moezzi at my local library when I lived in Lake County, IL, feeling isolated both as a Muslim and as an artist and political radical in the suburban landscape.

The Muslims profiled in Moezzi’s book were people I could relate too. They were Muslim, but not bigots. They were Muslim and truly fighting for women’s rights, not saying that the real feminism was to be “protected” by veils and gender-based exclusion. They were Muslim and felt free to explore the meaning of prayer as it was performed in the mosque, in the mountains, or not at all; Muslim and loving who they loved, regardless of ignorant fatwas.

When I shared this with my therapist, she suggested I send the author a friend request. “Really?” I thought. Isn’t that kind of stalk-y? But I did, and she accepted and is still an “internet friend,” today, one I’ve grown richer for.

Ditto Dr. Amina Wadud whose book, Qu’ran and Woman, was a breath of fresh air after being surrounded by centuries of male scholarship on Islam. She introduced me to the concept of being is a state of Islam (submission to the Divine), versus attempting to live up to expectations of other Muslims. I was beside myself when she accepted my friend request, and though we don’t interact much, her loving, adventurous presence in my feed make me feel like I have an internet auntie who is also a brilliant thinker and spreader of joy.

Dr. Wadud’s daughter Ferishte, it turns out, is friends with Alexis. We’ve connected with each other too in this small online world, and I’ve learned much from her about being a badass woman and working with energy and intention.

A week ago, I made a vulnerable post that resulted in much moral support online. It also led to friends meeting me in the “real” world and providing much needed tactical assistance.

The internet has provided a platform for me to interact with people and ideas in ways that are valuable, no matter where they fall on the virutual/IRL continuum.

Friendship does not isolate.

Friendship does not devalue.

Friendship can live online.

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Teach Your Children Not to Harm a Hair on a Black Person’s Head

Face of a black boy in close-up.

Photo by Bahman Farzad

The morning of the Charlottesville Nazi march, my white-presenting daughter rubbed her black friend’s short hair and told him it felt like dog hair.

This happened in front of me and his mother. We’d been lost in our adult conversation, and neither of us knew how things had gotten here. “Your friend is in charge of his body,” I told my daughter. And she took her hand back in recognition of the bodily autonomy principle I’ve ingrained in my children to make sure they know they are in charge of their own bodies and to keep them from physically terrorizing each other as they work through their sibling rivalry.

It was one incident amidst a lovely two-hour visit. We all said goodbye and made vague plans to meet again soon.

But, as I reflected on our time together, the hair touching stuck with me. I hadn’t done enough in just stopping my daughter and affirming the boy’s right over his body. My daughter had no understanding of why this was especially important for someone in a black body.

That afternoon, one of my Facebook friends, the best friend of my housemate, was sprayed by pepper spray protesting the white supremacists in Charlottesville. I wished I was there, that I could do something. And I realized that I might not have. If I had no children, yes, I would have been there. But I’ve struggled with the notion of keeping my children safe and keeping me alive to be their mother versus the idea that that is a privilege black Americans don’t have. They never know when their body or their child’s might be violated.

I still don’t have an answer for that dilemma. But one thing I can do is make sure my children know that black bodies need to be respected and kept safe.

I wrote to the boy’s mother and told her that I realized there was an extra layer to my daughter touching the hair of her black boy and that I would make sure my children understood why that was unacceptable. She’d spoken to her son about it. He had chalked it up to my daughter’s 7-year-old innocence. I said that, yes, it was innocence. But if it ever happens again, it’s ignorance.

As much as we’ve talked about social justice and the racist foundations of this country, my kids and I had never gotten so granular as talking about the bodies black people occupy, the bodies that receive the damage and poison of a society that doesn’t value black lives. But we talked about it over dinner that night. I made the connection for them between racism and the harm it does to black bodies. I probably did it imperfectly, but they now know not to touch a single black hair unless they become a hairdresser with black clients or, possibly, are intimate partners with a black person who gives them permission.

I’m still not certain if or how I fit in on the front lines with cars running people down and pepper spraying Nazis, at least until my kids are grown. But if we can raise a generation of white children who wouldn’t harm a hair on a black person’s head, that is something.

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Consent and the Myth of the Cold Woman

Isn’t it funny that women are called cold, but no one questions why a man could be turned on enough to fuck a woman who has become a still mass of cells, each of them quietly (or noisily) saying, “No. I don’t want this!”

I hereby flip this. Any man who calls a woman cold is in fact outing himself as cold-hearted. Said woman is exactly the opposite of cold. She is so full of life, so sentient, that she cannot stand an assault to her personhood and must go into self defense mode, playing dead as evolution has taught her to do when a wild animal is near and she cannot run or fight.

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Sisters’ Book Burning (Fiction)

book burning

Getty Images

Upon waking, the first thing I felt was cheated. I’d planned it out, gotten my throat to swallow that disgusting crap, yet here I still was.

The crank window got me. Opening it was a laborious thing, like some occupational therapy exercise of 30 little circles. Who would have opened it on a freezing January night? The cold whiteness and freshness of the room held the answer. Angel.

I never thought of killing myself again.

It’s not that my life hasn’t been turned upside down and inside out. But since that day nearly three decades ago, I’ve been feeling my way towards home.

There is this green, lusciousness like a bubbling swamp or kudzu growing up from my womb and taking over my heart and my arms and my throat until I can’t contain it. This Greenness (yes, it deserves to be capitalized) has grown in love and heartbreak and it demands to be let out.

And to let you in.

It tells me it its tendrils have held you too, that it is mending your heart even now, if only you will let your sweet organ continue to beat a while longer.

There used to be a wall between us, me and the Greenness. It was a wall of infatuation with my man, a wall of agreeableness and low self-esteem put up by so many cat calls and lipstick commercials. All I felt when The Greenness fought like a wild animal against its lobotomy was a little constriction on my heart before I drifted off to sleep at night. Hardly noticeable.

Letting my fears and insecurities run the show didn’t turn out so well, so the Greenness is demanding the stage. The first thing it wants to tell you is that it knows about the men who tried to spray Roundup on you. From your father—who, knowing your sprout would curve in ways he found seductive, and probably thinking it incredibly literary and deep, in the tradition of Lolita and Freud, was inappropriate in his behavior and in his leering boys-will-be-boys energy, to your husband who has gone from being your oppressor to being the “whipped” man because he hasn’t figured out how to be a partner and can only think to end his oppression by making himself lesser than you. “Why don’t you just decide everything,” he insists, without a trace of sarcasm.

Of course, these two men are just the bookends, holding up copious volumes of gropers, detractors, and mansplainers. These pamphlets, novellas, and tomes have set the stage and parameters of my life too.

But let’s do this. Let’s tag the whole lot for a yard sale, a trip to the donation center, a book burning. Our lives will not be about them. They will be about us and the rainforest that emerges in our wake as we reclaim our factory-farmed, urban-creeped landscape.

Your own glorious story is waiting for you to write it.

But for that to happen, sister, you must hang on one more day.

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Flowers Need the Touch of Your Butterfly Feet (Fiction)

desert_butterflyI’m trusting you with my crazy story in hopes that it will help you free yourself. And don’t ask, “Free myself from what?” As soon as I mentioned freedom, your inner voice gave you that answer loud and clear. I don’t judge you for being flustered. I was there myself, just this morning.

I rose before dawn and waded through the flotsam and jetsam of my tiny office to the purple exercise ball that serves as my desk chair. Pushing aside the junk, I lit a candle against the dark cold of an April rain.

Pen in hand, I froze. Had my imagination had been dormant too long? Maybe this ballpoint Bic was a defibrillator. I touched it to the page to see if it held a charge.

“Yes!” said a voice. It scared the shit out of me, but I settled myself and put pen to paper again.

“Who are you?” I wrote.

“I’m Anne,” she said. I could just tell it was Anne with an E. “I am your office, or you might say the deva of your office, the energy form you’ve built here.”

I was going to ask for clarification, but I didn’t have time. Anne went on and I wrote furiously, trying to keep up.

“I have been your haven and, through you, a haven for all humans who vibrate at your frequency.

“You closed my door against the pain of the world and filled me with things that made you and your cohorts feel safe. Interesting choices you made.

“The little old desk from the alley only fits your legs if you keep your knees primly together while the exercise ball opens your hips as you work, like you’re in training to be a famed, and flexible, consort.” She laughed at this, a tittering so bubbly I could take no offense.

“There’s hardly room for you in here,” she went on. “The carpet is buried beneath a printer, camera equipment for your nonexistent vlog, papers, a suitcase, laundry, and that orange Eames chair knock off you thought was so cool.”

My eyes stung. Maybe I was like this office, full of incongruent junk and wasted potential.

“No, no,” she cooed. “Don’t you see? I am no wasteland. I’m a cocoon. Not just for you either, but for all who are about to break free.”

“So you’re some kind of mother goddess?” I asked.

Her blushing made a sound, like red wine hitting a silver goblet.

“You may stay in this cocoon as long as you like. But know that with a bit of work and courage, you could be floating on gossamer wings.

“I honor your fear. You’re facing 40 days in the desert, sweetheart. But there are flowers that need the touch of your butterfly feet and yearn for you to unroll that luxuriously long tongue in a dance of pleasure that will feed you and reawaken this barren land with blossom upon blossom, gob smacking scorpions and eagles alike.

“So, I ask you gently, isn’t it time?”

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Repair is an Act of Devotion (Fiction)

MId Century Goodwill Dresser Makeover-1126

Until I found myself raising three young children with an anemic savings account, no amount of “make it do or do without” admonitions could keep me from responding to every one of life’s needs with an appropriate purchase from Amazon.

The gluing and nailing and refinishing of old things was for grandmothers in threadbare dresses living off government-issued bricks of cheese. Bless their old hearts and the way that, even in their parsimony, they always had a fiver to slip into a grandchild’s birthday card.

I believed in abundance. The truth was that we were all deserving, if only we realized it and accepted the gifts that the Universe showered on us nonstop, gifts we could easily and graciously receive if we just put down our armaments, our thimbles, our darning needles.

I still think this is the case.

Where I became disoriented was in seeing abundance as a pursuit that required grand shows of faith. I bet it all, time after time, to prove my faith. I bought the 4-figure program, put everything in the car and moved across the country, backpacked through Asia, made protected love to dangerous people and vice versa.

My marriage was an accident waiting to happen.

In its wake, I find myself broken, but also as hopeful as the twenty dollars I sometimes seed into my savings account. My mate gone, I keep company with three young humans who incubated in my very own body and are still in orbit around me, depending on me for light and warmth and good sense.

We live our lives on a mismatched collection of falling-apart furniture, the wreckage of my 12-year marriage. The nervous banging of the wobbly dining chair makes me want to pull out my credit card, to throw money at this problem and watch the universe respond with the quality, attractive furniture my children and I deserve.

But with money in short supply, it’s an easy choice to wait and make do. It puts me in mind of my grandmother. She might have fixed the old stuff, even if she could afford new.

The slow and purposeful process of repair is an act of devotion. Its ceremony is not just required in hard times, but a way to get through them.

It is an act of discernment, too. Some things cannot be mended.

I look at our mid-Century modern dresser—a sturdy grande dame who’s seen better days—and tell the kids to get their shoes on.

At the corner store, we steer away from the sexy “As Seen on TV” aisle. This trip is about restoration. The old women I loved and pitied are now heroes to me as my own cronedom is gloriously foreshadowed in the wild, silver hairs that spring from my scalp in greater numbers each day.

I let my son choose between the two most promising brands of super amazing glue. It is temperature and impact resistant. It is the anointing oil that will consecrate our restoration.

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Cutting Out My Abuser is not Personal

crackIt’s rather troublesome that my dad is the one who introduced me to Leonard Cohen. But that’s okay. There are poisons come with their own antidotes and I’ve learned that my dad was one such killer/elixir combination. And it’s not even him. It’s not personal. Life itself is what kills you while making the food for the new person that will emerge from the ashes.

Like the second week of November bringing Trump’s election and Cohen’s death. Though the first was shocking, the second expected, in retrospect, they were both inevitable. There was solace, if not an antidote exactly, in Kate McKinnon singing Halleluiah as Clinton on national television that Saturday.

And solace has come for me in the peace that arrives with good boundaries. I reject the villains that seem to be rising in the world and in our country, but I see that they’ve always been there and that previous leaders were just milder flavors of the same dish. And perhaps that’s worse, like biryani with no chili; faded to a point where you can’t tell what it really is.

My anger at a country that would elect a regime that could grab me or my daughter by the pussy, inculcate my sons into a toxic cesspool of patriarchal masculinity, put us and other Muslims in concentration camps, endorse the new slavery of the school-to-prison pipeline for my black brothers and sisters was a crucible for me.

The crucible was made stronger knowing that 53% of people ostensibly like me, my fellow white women, had voted for this new world order.

What was wrong with them? Did I suffer from the same ailment? I mean, maybe I had the sense to vote for the person who wasn’t going to build a wall on our Southern border and implement a bunch of Nazi-like bullshit, but the root causes of their decision to either endorse or ignore those things, were those roots in my subterranean world also?

Were we white women allowing our desire for approval by white men, who would never see us as equals anyway, to influence our allegiance? This is where the personal becomes universal. We may be trying to please daddy or hubby, but in doing so we become agents of the patriarchy.

There was a lot of clashing of identities and stereotypes as I looked around and tried to understand. I still don’t know who my black stepmother voted for. She expressed confusion before the election about what to do because Trump and Clinton were equally poor choices in her eyes. I maybe could have understood that if Clinton’s faults were creating the “super predator” and contributing to the mass incarceration of black men. But it was more to do with “the gays” and “the baby killers,” I think, both of which conflict with her Seventh Day Adventist outlook.

My stepmother once told me I should stop speaking out for gay rights if it was upsetting my in-laws, that it had nothing to do with me and it wasn’t a hill I should die on.

Two weeks after the election, with all this fermenting inside of me, I could no longer serve the people who’d taken advantage of my love and trust. As I cleaned my house to host my father for Thanksgiving, it all felt wrong. I was filled with unadulterated rage, such that I said a prayer over the salad I made, asking that it not be filled with hatred and that it be good for all who ate it. I was reminded of all the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my childhood building one atop the other, an unbroken chain that mirrored the links between my parents’ pain and my own. It felt like I had to cut that tie or decide it was okay to knot it around my children’s hearts.

Just a few days later, there was a spate of stories about the trauma endured during filming by the female actress in Last Tango in Paris, an X-rated movie my father had screened in our home and where I was the only child in the audience. I stopped sleep and all important deadlines to make the first twist in the first link.

My open letter to my father was one of the hardest of a million steps I had to take to unshackle myself and my children from the narratives of our families and our skins and our countries.

So, though the letter was personal, it also wasn’t.

It wasn’t personal because I had nothing against my father. It’s likely he did the best he could with what he knew and the strength he had. It’s not personal because I just did what was necessary to save me and my children. It’s not personal because it’s universal. This is what we all must do if we’re to move forward.  Cutting out what we won’t accept, even if it contains aspects we love, is what we have to do to find out what’s under our soil, uprooting illness and fertilizing the healthy roots that have been graceful enough penetrate the earth and sometimes hang on by a pebble, waiting for this moment.


Chemchem and Chaka trees connected at the roots.

(Photo: Leonora (Ellie) Enking/cropped from original/CC BY-SA 2.0)

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