Dial “W” for WTF

[This is probably going to be a long story, so thanks in advance for however much time you spend reading it!]

If you’ve ever lived in New York City, you’ve probably seen one of those weird flyers on the subway. You know the ones, with the moon and stars and All-Seeing Eye of Providence? And then a phone number printed across the bottom in big block numerals. They’re honestly pretty creepy, but I always figured that the phone number just went to a fortune-telling hotline or something.

Or that’s what I thought until the other day, when I actually called. I went in expecting it to be a scam, because obviously any psychic or palm reader advertising on the F-train is trying to scam you. But, in my defense, I was bored. Like, really bored. Funny how many life-changing experiences are triggered by boredom, isn’t it? Plus, I figured that actually calling the phone number on a weird occult subway advertisement is a New York City rite of passage, like visiting the top of the Empire State Building or throwing up in an Uber. 

So anyway, a couple of days ago I called one of those 718-numbers. Right from the start something seemed off, because after I dialed the phone I never actually heard it ring. You know how usually (read: literally every single time I have ever used a telephone in my entire life), you hear your own phone ring a few times while the call finishes going through, and then it either gets picked up or goes to voicemail? Yeah, that totally didn’t happen when I called this number. 

What did happen is that as soon as I finished punching in the tenth digit of the phone number, hold music started playing. 

Now, in my experience exactly three types of telephone hold music exist: type one is public domain classical music with the sound quality of an illegally downloaded MP3; type two is generic “music” that sounds like it was recorded for The Sims and may or may not be arbitrarily Christmasy; and type three is Hall and Oates.

This hold music, however, was a previously unheard of fourth type. I honestly don’t even know how to describe it. Imagine that it was 3am and you heard a song come on the radio while lying awake in the dark, and out of curiosity you looked up the artist, only to learn that this song was the last one they recorded right before being killed in a freak accident, and then realizing that the lyrics of the song seem to describe the fatal accident that was about to happen- this song sounded the way that experience would feel. But, like, with a kind of dreampop vibe. Nightmare pop, maybe? 

I don’t know. I promise you that I searched high and low on Spotify for something that sounded vaguely similar, and I came up with nothing remotely comparable. It was just really strange, okay? Weirdest song I’ve ever heard. And this weird, indescribable, subtly disconcerting hold music plays for at least a few minutes. It’s hard to tell if the track loops or if it’s some kind of long-ass prog rock thing, but it definitely goes on for what seems like longer than a song should be. It’s for sure longer than Freebird, I’ll tell you that much.

So after a while, I figured that this was just some weird musical showcase. Like maybe I was listening to an underground radio station or some guy’s mixtape. And right when I was about to hang up- I mean the exact moment that my thumb was hovering over the “End Call” button- finally somebody picks up the call.

“Thank you for calling our hotline,” says a woman’s voice. “I appreciate you giving me a moment of your time.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I say. “So what exactly is this-”

Click.

Okay, so you can imagine how annoying that was. I spent all that time waiting patiently on hold, and as soon as I get through to a live person, the call gets disconnected.

So I called back, because at this point I’m invested in figuring out what the hell is going on here. 

When I call back, the same thing happens as far as going right into the hold music without ringing. This time it’s either slightly different hold music, or it’s the same hold music but it sounds slightly different somehow? I know that doesn’t make any sense, but I swear that’s what I heard. Maybe it was a remix, I honestly have no idea. But after the hold music plays for another however long, I start debating just hanging up. It’s really starting to seem like it was a fluke that I got through to someone at all the first time. 

Nah, fuck it, I decide. I’m going to stay on the phone until something happens.

And I’m not kidding, as soon as I think that to myself, someone answers the phone again. It’s a man’s voice now.

“Thank you for calling our hotline,” he says. “We thank you for giving us a few moments of your time.”

“What for, though?” I ask. “I mean, I know I’m the one who called you guys, but I was actually hoping to find out what kind of number this is?”

And get this: this dude starts laughing. Not chuckling, but full-on belly laughing like I’ve just told him the funniest joke he’s heard in a hundred years. And then all he says is, “Sure, if you’ve got some time to spare!”

And then: click.

Rude, right? It seriously pissed me off. I know a phone call isn’t necessarily a major investment, but I couldn’t help but feel like a lot of my time had been wasted. I felt like I had physically aged from dealing with whatever that bullshit was all about.

And that’s, like, part one of this whole thing. The next part is where shit starts getting really weird.

If You “Don’t See Color” Then You Need To Get Your Eyes Checked

This past Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that he had chosen Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. As a result of this, I’ve spent every day since this past Tuesday battling a stupid internet conspiracy theory about how Kamala Harris isn’t actually Black, but is merely pretending to identify as Black in order to further some kind of political agenda.

I assure you that it’s exactly as nonsensical and stupid as it sounds. I could get into all the nonsensical and stupid details, but I don’t think anybody here would enjoy that. I certainly haven’t enjoyed a single conversation that I’ve been forced to have about it.

The reason that I bring this up, despite it being a terrible topic of conversation, is because this has brought another pet peeve issue of mine to the forefront. You see, I wish I could say that getting sucked into conversations about this conspiracy theory has been the most irritating thing about the situation.

But no.

No, that honor goes to dealing with the people who are abjectly refusing to discuss this conspiracy theory because it would require discussion of the concept of color, ethnicity, or racial identity. The people who brush off the entire conversation with a declaration that they “don’t see color”.

Dealing with people who claim not to see color is invariably the worst part of any conversation about race relations.

If you’re one of these people, let me give you a quick explanation of why that’s part of the problem and not part of the solution:

As I’m going to assume you’re aware, different races are not treated the same way by our society. And that’s something that needs to be changed. But a problem cannot be solved if it is never acknowledged. Burying your head in the sand and pretending that you’ve never noticed the color of someone else’s skin doesn’t mean that you’re not a racist; it just means that you’re an obstacle preventing the necessary conversation about racism. It’s impossible to discuss racism when certain people are committed to pretending that race doesn’t exist. Not seeing color is just an excuse not to see the problems that occur because of color.

If you’re like the last person I discussed this with, you’re probably thinking, “But still, isn’t the ultimate goal in race relations not to see color?”

Here’s the thing- no, of course it isn’t. The ultimate goal is to see and appreciate how color makes us unique and different, but without treating certain colors as though they’re better or worse than others. Totally ignoring color isn’t the way to achieve that.

This is obvious to me, and I have trouble understanding how people who think the opposite are getting that idea. But it was recently suggested to me that the reason is because we have two different interpretations of the meaning of this famous quote:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Apparently, some people have interpreted this to mean that color should never be acknowledged, lest it leads to judgment.

Personally, I don’t think it’s that nuanced. All Dr. King was asking was that we stop judging people based upon their skin color. But not judging someone by the color of their skin doesn’t preclude you from seeing that their skin is a color, does it? That would be silly.

And quite frankly, apart from being silly, it’s offensive- or at least it’s offensive to me, personally. I’ve spent so much of my life being made to feel ashamed for being Black when all I wanted was to be accepted and appreciated. I’ve finally made it to a place where I can accept myself and appreciate how my Blackness is a part of who I am….and now you’re acting like what I wanted this whole time was for it to be ignored.

That’s not what I want. I want you to see the color of my skin. And if you can’t see my color while not simultaneously judging me for it, that’s your problem. If the only way you can stop yourself from attaching some negative value judgment to my identity as a Black woman is by refusing to acknowledge me as Black, then it doesn’t sound like “seeing color” was the problem. The problem is the way you see color.

I see color, and that doesn’t make me a racist. Are you sure that “not seeing color” doesn’t make you one?

Yet Another Installment Of The “Weird Times” Series

To say that life is one damn thing after another is too optimistic. The damn things overlap.

Somebody

It’s a weird time to be alive, right?

If you’ve been living in the same insane dystopian quarantine hellscape that I am, that phrase is both simultaneously validating and infuriating.

On the one hand, when isn’t it a weird time to be alive? Human existence is a crazy concept, and even more so if you take a moment to really think about it. We’re all a bunch of primates who learned to put on pants and speak in complete sentences, spinning around on a hot rock that orbits a hotter rock, in the vast and endless vacuum of outer space, moving ever forward in an unstoppable procession towards our own eventual extinction, attempting to make whatever sense we can of our journey along the way. That’s never not going to be weird.

But on the other hand, this really really is just a damn weird time to be alive. And that phrase is starting to get on everyone’s nerves, but none of us can think of any better descriptor, and so we keep on saying it. 2020 has been the Year of the Weird Times. The Year of Historic Times. The Year of Unprecedented Times.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one am getting a little sick of living in weird, historic, unprecedented times. I have other things that I’d like to do with my future apart from being interviewed by schoolchildren about what it was like to live under the Trump Administration and the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Second Civil Rights Movement. I don’t want to get a cool new name for my generation based on all the shared trauma we’re going through. I didn’t ask for any of this to happen, and I am most certainly not here for it.

I just really miss the Beforetimes, you know?

I miss the days when I could go weeks at a time- months, even- without seeing the President on television.

I miss having the luxury of not paying attention to current events, because there simply wasn’t anything going on that was important or consequential enough to demand my attention.

I miss not having to wear a mask when I left my house, and not having to worry that sitting too close to a stranger on the train would lead to my imminent burial in a mass grave out on Hart Island.

I miss thinking that the KKK and Nazis were relics of a bygone era and not something that I would ever need to worry about encountering on the street.

I miss not having to fight with random assholes on the internet every single freaking day about whether or not it’s our moral imperative as a society to care about other people.

And honestly, most of all I miss knowing precisely jack-shit about how American politics operated.

Remember the Beforetimes? We really didn’t know how good we had it.

I’m not even ramping up to any grand point here. I’m just mentioning that things are still weird right now, and I’m nostalgic for the days when things were less weird.

I want to look forward to the Aftertimes, but I’m also not totally sure that we’re going to make it that far. As a society, as a civilization, as a species- I’m not sure that we’re going to come out of this mess the same as we went in.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Change is the only constant, after all; time marches ever forward, nothing stays the same, and for the most part it ends up benefitting the collective good. Things tend to get better over time rather than worse, if you’re looking at the BIG big picture.

But that doesn’t mean I want to stand here watching it happen. It’s just….it’s a lot, you know? If things could slow down for a minute and just let me catch a damn breather, maybe I’d be more inclined to show a bit of excitement about living through several future chapters of a history book.

But that seems about as likely as, I don’t know, us putting aside our petty differences to fix climate change before the Earth cooks itself alive.

So for now, pretty much the only thing I can say is that this is- and please say it with me- a weird time to be alive.

But Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

I cannot save the world by myself.

That should be a patently obvious statement, but I need to be reminded sometimes.

You see, over the last couple of months I’ve donated money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Campaign Zero, and the American Civil Liberties Union. I’ve written a letter to the Attorney General of Kentucky. I’ve emailed, I’ve blogged, I’ve tweeted, I’ve posted, I’ve shared, I’ve commented, I’ve liked, and I’ve subscribed. I, as a millennial, have made telephone calls.

I did all of this for one simple reason. Because, as best summed up by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

I learned it from JFK, and from MLK, and from my mom and dad, and from my schoolteachers, and from Mister Rogers, and from It’s A Wonderful Life, and perhaps most of all, from The Lorax.

And so, I’m trying. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot save the world by myself.

I can beg and hope and wish and plead, I can scream into the void or directly into my congressman’s ear, and in the end, I’m still not going to be the one person who fixes everything.

The best that I can hope for is to be one of the people who helps to fix something. And that shouldn’t feel like a concession, but rather a goal to aspire to. I should feel good about the causes I’ve supported, the awareness that I’ve spread, and the movement that I’ve helped to grow. I should feel proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (well, six feet away) with other like-minded individuals who want to make a positive difference in the world, and I should take comfort in the fact that we’re all fighting this fight together.

That’s how it should feel.

But that’s not how it does feel. Instead, it feels like I’m the one kid who can’t figure out their section of the group project. I feel like I can’t possibly be doing the right things, or if I am, then I’m certainly not doing enough.

But to be honest, I don’t know how much more I can do. I don’t know how much time I can volunteer or how many protests I can attend. I don’t know how much money I can continue to donate. I’m not even sure how much mental real estate I can continue to give to social issues before it really does drive me crazy.

People, I’m tired. In my mind, my body, and especially in my soul, I am tired. But I don’t feel like I can stop to rest, because I still don’t feel like I’m doing my fair share of the work.

I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like I’ve done my fair share of the work. Even if I were to singlehandedly punch Systemic Racism into the sun like some kind of Black Superman, I know I’d still be kicking myself for not figuring out how to do it sooner.

I ask myself, “How many times do you have to roll the same boulder up the same hill before you stop thinking that maybe you just aren’t pushing hard enough? Before you realize that this boulder is bigger than you are, and that’s all there is to it?”

And I answer, “But what if I’m the Chosen One? What if I did have the power inside of me all along, and I’m just not using it right?”

And that’s when I need the reminder, yet again: I cannot save the world by myself.

The only thing that I can do is my best.

And that has to be enough, because that’s all there is. I can’t keep striving for more than that, because doing more than that is quite literally impossible. I can’t keep burdening myself with this stupid idea that I personally need to be the savior of the world, or else I only tried my pretty-hardest. I can’t work so hard trying to help so much that I burn myself out, and end up not being able to help at all.

So, I will stop trying to be Black Superman. But I will continue to donate, write letters, email, blog, tweet, post, share, comment, like, subscribe, protest, volunteer, and, if I must, make even more phone calls.

I cannot make all the difference. But- and this is what I’m sure JFK actually meant- I can still make a difference.

I cannot, and will not, save the world by myself.

But I can, and I will, help to save the world.

How To Succeed As An Author Without Really Writing

The summer that I was sixteen years old, I started writing the novel that I was certain was going to become my magnum opus. It was called Bright & Beautiful, it took place during the height of the Jazz Age in America, and it was going to be The Great Gatsby for a new generation.

That was twelve years ago. At the present moment the completed first draft of Bright & Beautiful is sitting in a bundle on top of my writing desk, waiting for me to finally finish editing and get cracking with the next stage of the process.

I go whole months without thinking about it, and then I smell summer in the air and feel that pull to jump feet-first back into the world I created and then left behind. For the last decade or so, this has been my regular summertime schedule: decide that this is the year I’m finally going to finish my book, go back to re-read, make a few little editing tweaks, get tripped up by the main plot snag that I still haven’t decided how best to resolve, decide that there’s always next year, and put the manuscript away until the next summer.

I wish I had a good reason for my inability to just buckle down and get it done. But honestly, I think it’s because I’m still waiting for a bolt of inspiration like I had in the summer of 2008.

And I’m still not ready to admit that I’ll never have another summer quite like that one.

Something about being sixteen years old makes you ready to take on the world, the whole time feeling like you might actually come out on top. At that age, I knew that the only thing I really wanted to do with my life was to be a writer- and so, I wrote. I wrote short story after short story, and then longer stories, and then even longer stories, filling anthologies and branching off into novelettes and novellas. I took a notebook everywhere, and spent every free moment jotting down snippets and phrases and ideas for various projects. I spent hours and hours each day working singlemindedly on Bright & Beautiful, and squeezed in a few extra hours of writing, which I used exclusively for screenplays, by staying up all hours of the night. It was the most prolific period of writing of my entire life, and the truly remarkable part is that most of what I produced was genuinely good.

During the summer of 2008, I was Ernest Hemingway in Paris; I was Robert Louis Stevenson with the hellish fever that bore Jekyll and Hyde; I was 1980s Stephen King on a rip-roaring bender.

But alas, those days are no more.

I don’t know if it was purely the confidence of youth, or a perfect storm of too many factors for me to identify, or the fleeting blessing of the muses who I have since displeased. But whatever the reason, I no longer write like that anymore.

I’ve since become one of those novelists mercilessly mocked in every forum that discusses writing. The one who is perpetually “still working on” a story that’s been sitting mostly finished for twelve years. It turns out I’m not so much an F. Scott Fitzgerald, or even a Stephen King, as I am a George R. R. Martin.

I tell myself that there’s still time to turn it around. I remind myself of all the writing I have finished over the years. I pat myself on the back for publishing a book of poetry, and for landing a side-gig as an entertainment/pop culture magazine journalist. I tell myself that I’m still a writer, even if I had to put my baby in a corner for a while.

But I’m not sure I’ll ever really feel like I’ve earned the right to call myself by the title “writer” until I’ve done something about my great unfinished symphony.

I won’t go as far as to claim that I still think my Jazz Age beach read is going to be the next Great American Novel. I won’t even commit to saying that I still think it’s my best work. I’m not even sure if I still like the story, or think it’s relevant enough to the world at present to be worthy of publication.

But if it’s not my Gatsby, it’s certainly my Rosebud. That one damned novel-in-progress is the reason that I’ve never finished any of my other novels-in-progress. I still have this idea that my first book finished should be my first book started, no matter how much the stars and my own personal failings conspire to make that impossible.

I keep promising myself, every year, that this year is going to be the year. But we’re halfway through 2020 and I’m still stuck in the same place as every year before this one. And I’m starting to get tired of breaking my own promises.

While I decide whether or not this is the year I really do break the cycle, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Bright & Beautiful that I find particularly apt. I hope someday you’ll all get to read it in full.

Summertime brought out the best and the worst of everything. 

We lost ourselves in the long lazy days, dreaming up the grandest of schemes and plans that came crashing down as quickly as the temperature rose.

We were restlessly alive, flitting from one distraction to the next like so many moths to a flame, phonograph records spinning round and round until we were dizzied by possibilities, hopelessly starry-eyed and ready to go, go, go from hell to breakfast.

We got sticky and sweaty and irritable, until we hated one another with such a blistering passion that our hot tempers rivaled the intensity of even the sun itself, until finally our frustrations came spilling over all at once in a catastrophic outburst that wrought our world asunder like the thunderclaps that cleaved the sky on those sizzling hot nights.

We sat outside into the wee hours of the morning, sipping drinks that had long since become little more than acerbic water, our thoughts as cloudy and muddled as the moon was bright, winding through those labyrinthine channels of conversation that could only be traversed in the twilight time of summer evenings.

We longed for the days that had passed, we yearned for the days that were to come, and we lived for that wonderful, beautiful, terrible and treacherous time that was now- every love felt like the first, every kiss felt like the last, and nobody gave a good goddamn whether or not the sun came up tomorrow.

Black Lives Matter, And There’s No Good Reason For That Statement To Upset You

I often find myself wondering why the phrase “Black Lives Matter” inspires such fear and anger in so many white people.

The obvious answer, of course, is that it’s because those people are racists.

As racists, they’re angry about the very idea that Black people ought to be treated like human beings, let alone that we might try to better our collective situation.

As racists, they’re afraid of a world where racial oppression no longer exists, because in that world they are no longer the ones in charge.

As racists, they probably still buy into that old boogeyman of “Black Savagery,” and may even expect racial equality to begin a slippery slope into a Django-esque Black Revenge Fantasy. (And by the way, should we get to that point, I’m calling dibs on the name Righteous Indignation for my kill squad.)

If you’re a racist, it’s completely obvious why you’re filled with disgust and hatred when you hear someone say, “Black Lives Matter.”

And maybe I could end the thought experiment there. Why do so many white people have a problem with the concept that “Black Lives Matter”? Why, because they have a problem with Black people. What did you think the answer was going to be?

But I don’t want to just write off every instance of “white person gets upset about the phrase Black Lives Matter” as simple racism.

You can call me an idiot for throwing Occam’s Razor out of my toolkit, and you’re probably fair in doing so. But in order for me to retain a solitary shred of faith in humanity, I need to believe that there could be something else going on.

I just can’t figure out what it is.

Well, not unless I assume that every non-racist white person to take issue with the statement “Black Lives Matter” actually just has a tenuous-at-best understanding of the English language. And I don’t even like to present that as a serious option, because to my ear it’s incredibly insulting.

But perhaps I’m now just hastily throwing Hanlon’s Razor out of my toolkit. Could it really be so simple as a lack of reading comprehension making everyone look like a racist?

It’s a place to start, so start we shall. Allow me to explain “Black Lives Matter,” under the optimistic assumption that maybe that’s all anyone needed to do.

When I say “Black Lives Matter,” I am not making a statement of Black Supremacy. (This is legitimately a real argument that I’ve heard someone make, and I’m going to address it as though it wasn’t made in bad faith.) To say “Black Lives Matter” is categorically not to say that “Only Black Lives Matter.” To hear it as such, while perhaps grammatically viable, is also incorrect to the point of being ludicrous. The statement “Black Lives Matter” means only that the lives of Black people have intrinsic value. That’s it.

Now, why do I make a point of saying so? Why do I specifically reiterate the idea that “Black Lives Matter” instead of saying, to borrow an example that I often hear touted by white people as a more acceptable phrasing, that “All Lives Matter”?

Well, this is where context is important. Because I’m saying “Black Lives Matter” as a direct rebuttal to the implicit statement that Black lives don’t matter.

Anyone who knows American history knows that this statement has always been a part of the framework of the United States. I could write an entire essay about all the ways that the Black population has been mistreated in the United States, and how each of those instances contributes to the overall message that Black lives don’t matter.

But at this moment, the statement is being made in the form of unchecked and predominantly unpunished police brutality against Black citizens. When yet another law enforcement officer skates by without being held accountable for murdering a Black person, that sends the message that Black lives don’t matter. And as a response, I state my rebuttal: “Black Lives Matter.”

Now, this is not to say that Black people are the only victims of police brutality, nor is it to say that we should only care about police brutality when it’s perpetrated against Black people.

But right now, as the result of recent events that have brought the issue to the forefront of everyone’s minds, we’re specifically discussing the issue of police brutality against Black people. Saying that “All Lives Matter” in that conversation is like saying that “All Biomes Matter” in a discussion about saving the rainforest. It’s not incorrect and it’s not unimportant, but it’s quite obnoxiously missing the point we’re trying to convey.

When you hear me say “Black Lives Matter,” all you should be hearing is me pointing out that, contrary to the way that certain law enforcement agencies see fit to conduct themselves, it matters when a Black person is wrongfully killed by a police officer.

Not a difficult concept to understand once you hear it all laid out, right?

“Black Lives Matter,” and there’s no good reason for that statement to upset you.

The Defense rests.

I’d like to imagine that anyone who got reflexively angry upon reading the title of this article is now realizing that they had nothing to get upset about. I want to believe that my optimistic outlook was correct, and the whole thing was just a misunderstanding since cleared up by my explanation of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” None of you were racists after all; you were just confused, and now you get it.

I’d love to believe in that world, or even that just one of those people exists in the world.

I would also like the men who killed Breonna Taylor to be charged with her murder, while I’m currently listing things that I want but am not quite naïve enough to expect.

What I want is for the phrase “Black Lives Matter” to make people care about the issue of racially-motivated police brutality in the United States.

But what I have come to expect, as it has been the case nearly every time I’ve used it, is for that phrase to continue to inspire a cascade of vitriol, abuse, racist insults, and straight-up hate speech.

Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Or maybe I’ll be unfortunately unsurprised to learn that I was correct in the first place, and there’s no amount of polite explanation that can silence a racist.

She Doesn’t Want To Be So Damn Protected

I’ve gotten a lot of beauty tips over the years. Most of them are absolute garbage, and just about all of them are thinly-veiled attempts at marketing a specific product. I’ve only gotten one piece of advice, about how to keep your skin clear and acne-free, that was worth a damn:

“Get enough sleep, drink a lot of water, and avoid greasy foods.”

Now, not to toot my own horn, but I know most of you have seen and commented upon how goshdarn pretty my skin is. I go through entire weeks-long periods of my life where skin care is pretty much the only thing I actually manage to stay on top of. And do you know where I got that miraculous little tidbit?

I learned it from Britney Spears, back in the year 2000.

Because of this, day-to-day I actually do stop pretty frequently to think about what I personally owe to the existence of Britney Spears. Do you?

Do you look back on all those slumber parties and school talent shows and back-to-school shopping trips and think about how Britney was right there, by your side, the entire time?

If you haven’t done so up until now, I think it’s about time. Because at this very moment, Britney needs us.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out #freebritney or just Google “Britney Spears conservatorship”. Something totally fucky is going on, to put it mildly. I don’t know what we can do, short of being supportive, so here I am throwing all of my support.

PSA over- please enjoy a “re-printing” of this Britney-centric article from my old site, As Blogged By Bryanna:

Britney Spears’ “E-Mail My Heart” Is The Forgotten Symphony Of The Internet Age

Do I even need to say that Britney Spears is an American icon? No, of course not. You know that already. But here’s what you don’t know: while we were losing our minds over the …Baby One More Time music video, we let the true anthem of our generation slip by unnoticed.

Strap in, because we’re going back in time.

Back to an age of no smartphones. No cellphones, even. Unless you were a drug dealer or corporate hotshot, you didn’t have a pager. Landline telephones were an incredible gamble. Maybe someone would answer, maybe they wouldn’t. Were they out of the house? Busy? Dead? There was no way to tell.

The idea of a) knowing someone was available before you sent a message; b) being able to see when they’d read your message, and; c) getting an immediate response was such an outrageous piece of science fiction that it might as well have been a scene in Planet of the Apes.

The original Planet of the Apes. That’s how long ago we’re talking.

And then, WHAM!

E-mail. A curious beast, to be sure. It was still just shouting into the void. But unlike having the satisfaction of at least getting through to the answering machine (remember those?), you wouldn’t even know if someone had gotten your message unless they e-mailed you back.

These were tumultuous times in which to come of age. And Britney Spears understood.

Just take a look at the lyrics to her 1999 classic, E-Mail My Heart. 

It’s been hours seems like days
Since you went away
And all I do is check the screen
To see if you’re okay

Think about how agonizing it is to keep checking your messaging app waiting to see if someone is typing back yet.

Now remember how much worse it was when you just had to wait and see what showed up in your inbox, because otherwise there was no indication whatsoever that the other person was even there on the other end of the conversation.

You don’t answer when I phone
Guess you wanna be left alone

The telephone: ruining lives since 1876. We didn’t even have the luxury of being able to count how many times it rang to figure out if they were deliberately rejecting our call.

And yet, in a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, in spite of all this anxious uncertainty, we still pushed forward and did the only thing in our power to try to make our voices heard.

So I’m sending you my heart, my soul
And this is what I’ll say:

CHORUS
I’m sorry
Oh so sorry
Can’t you give me one more chance
To make it all up to you
E-mail my heart
And say our love will never die (and I)
I know you’re out there
And I know that you still care (I know you care)
E-mail me back and say our love will stay alive
Forever
E-mail my heart

This was living. Sending a risky text these days is nothing. You’ll get a read receipt, and know that even a lack of response is still technically a response.

But back in the day? This was the wild west of the internet. No one really trusted emails to get through. It was a veritable dealer’s choice of terrible outcomes: undelivered, unread, or just unanswered? You might never find out.

But you could hope. Oh, how we hoped.

I can see you in my mind
Coming on the line
And opening this letter
That I’ve sent a hundred times

That’s a lot of times to send one message. And yet, it barely registers until someone stops to nitpick it in a blog post. Because we all remember the absolute desperation behind trying to get a response via e-mail.

Every part of communicating was an ordeal.

Here’s a picture of us two (us two)
I look so good on you (on you)
And can’t you please forgive me
For the hurt I put you through

If anyone was committed enough to go through the hassle of e-mailing you a photo in the 90s, you should’ve married that person. That’s the real deal. Whatever you did, Britney, the effort behind that photo is well worth 1000 words of apology.

But of course, we’re left without ever truly knowing what’s going on in the other side of this story. The chorus plays out again with no resolution to the narrative.

E-mail my heart
And say our love will never die (and I)
I know you’re out there
And I know that you still care (I know that you still care)
E-mail me back and say our love will stay alive
Forever (what-cha say, what-cha say, what-cha say)
Forever
Forever (what-cha say, what-cha say, what-cha say)
E-mail my heart

What-cha say, indeed. We’ll never know. A fitting end to a tribute to an era where countless e-mails disappeared into the abyss.

But here’s the best part. This song came out in 1999, remember?

AOL Instant Messenger came out in 1997. By the time E-Mail My Heart was gifted to our ears, we were already moving into the Ways of the New Millennium.

If you’re about my age, these are the days you remember even more poignantly. Those hours of rapt anticipation waiting for the little green dot to appear next to your crush’s name. Planning your entire afternoon around finding a time to chat with your friends, hoping your mom didn’t need to make a phone call. Telling the world everything it needed to know about who you are through a carefully selected Buddy Icon.

Looking back on the days we currently feel nostalgic about, we realize that a song about e-mail would already have felt nostalgic even then. Outdated.

And yet, E-Mail My Heart still speaks to us. It still connects us to that amorphous blur of hormones and technology that was growing up in the dawn of the Internet Age.

It captured the feel of an era. It’s so incredibly dated that it’s actually timeless.

Forever, E-Mail My Heart.

This Piece Has No Title But Pairs Well With Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” Playing In The Background

A few friends of mine, who I previously would’ve said were some of the more socially progressive and woke individuals in my acquaintance, recently instructed me in how to engage with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum without causing them offense.

“It’s important that we don’t give them an opportunity to weaponize our language,” I was told. “Refrain from using insults and aggressive or accusatory language when communicating with people you don’t agree with. Minds are seldom changed after being insulted or personally attacked, and it is likely that such language would cause those you disagree with to double down on their views,” they said. “And don’t just block people you disagree with. Try to change their minds. We can’t let the lines of communication be closed.”

Now, I can understand and respect this point. Fighting rarely leads to cooperation, that’s entirely fair.

But what is not fair, and what I cannot abide, is being lectured by the Heterosexual CIS White Male Tone Police about how I must handle my own oppression.

How dare you?

How dare you say that I cannot cut the lines of communication with my oppressors, but must meet every confrontation head-on? Do you know what it is to me, to my mental health, to my spiritual well-being, to fight tirelessly, day in and day out, to “change the minds” of people who believe that the color of my skin makes me unworthy of respect and undeserving of human dignity? You’re asking me to make myself into cannon fodder for your fight to retain the High Road.

And then you tell me that in these interactions, I must only follow your approved script. You tell me that I have to put myself into the line of fire, armed with only the weapons that you think fit to give me, and you say this while with a straight face claiming to be my ally and to have my best interests at heart.

Let me tell you something, and furthermore let me tell you this something without apologizing should it should like an insult, a personal attack, or the aggressive and accusatory language that you so abhor:

If you would claim to be on my side, rather than on the side of my oppressor, while in the same breath telling me that I must choose my words more carefully, that I must watch my language, that I must check my tone– if you would claim to stand against my oppression, while you yourself question my right to speak of my oppression in my own terms, to speak to my oppressors with the words that are in my wounded heart, then you are no ally of mine. Do not tell me that we are in the same boat, only to name yourself captain.

I have spent my entire life trying to speak pleasantly enough, politely enough, articulately enough, White enough, to be granted a modicum of respect in the face of people who believe that I am lesser. It has taken me years to grow strong and proud and unafraid of speaking my own truth and in my own voice. I will not be putting my right to self-expression back its box because a White Man told me to do so for the greater good. I don’t care who you’re voting for; it doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I can or cannot say.

I ask again, how dare you? What throne of superiority do you sit upon that gives you the right to govern the words that I speak?

Perhaps you think of me as just another Angry Black Woman, who cannot help herself without your emotionally-detached guidance. And I suppose, from your perspective, I am unnecessarily angry.

I envy the ability to see things from that perspective. I wish that I could watch Black Americans be enslaved, abused, beaten, mistreated, locked up, lynched, burned alive, segregated, denied life-saving medical treatment, run out of towns that they themselves built, slaughtered in the streets by officers of the law and fellow citizens alike, see their very right to personhood struck through with a red pen time and time again, and feel only cool pragmatism.

I wish that my life was so untouched by oppression that I too could smugly armchair quarterback the conversation. I wish that I had the privilege of caring so little about the way Black Americans are treated that I could watch it without getting upset. Truly, I envy your ability to remain composed and dispassionate as you watch these atrocities occur, knowing these are atrocities that will never threaten your life.

But I am not you. Our experiences are not the same, and I am tired of my lived experience always being the one to be marginalized. I am tired of someone else controlling the rights to how my story is told, and I will not be handing the reigns over to you to control me further.

For me, unlike for you, the conversation about social justice and the political future of America is not merely a debate club exercise. I am clinging desperately to a rapidly-disappearing sense of personal safety, to my own individual freedom, to my right to be respected as a person, and for my very right to live.

And you tell me to temper my anger, for only then can we have productive conversation. I will not temper my anger, because I am not angry- I am filled with righteous indignation.

And in my righteous indignation, I say to you that it is not my responsibility to make sure that the conversation remains civil now, when for centuries we have been treated with a lack of civility. The onus is not upon us to couch our complaints of oppression and tyranny in soothing language that protects the egos of those tyrants and oppressors.

If you believe that pleasing and inoffensive language is the best chance at change, feel free to moderate your own speech. And as you do so, please ask yourself why you dare to tell me how I must react “correctly” to being oppressed. Ask yourself how your actions, in denying my right to speak freely and of my own mind, are any different from those who would see me silenced entirely.

If you’re so concerned about whose uncareful use of language is the problem, look in the mirror. And don’t you ever fucking tell me again to watch my tone.

Okay, Let’s Talk About The Goddamn Fireworks

What on earth is going on in America right now?

Now, I know that’s an incredibly open-ended question. I could be talking about the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the sudden societal backslide in race relations, or the fact that the newest branch of our military is somehow losing a trademark battle with Netflix, or, you know, one of the thousand other insane things happening right now.

But no, I’m talking about the FREAKING FIREWORKS LIKE JESUS CHRIST ENOUGH WITH THE FIREWORKS ALREADY FUCK ME HOW MUCH LONGER CAN I POSSIBLY BE EXPECTED TO PUT UP WITH THIS UTTER NONSENSE IT IS EVERY NIGHT FOR HOURS I AM SERIOUS IT IS EVERY NIGHT FROM DUSK IF THEY EVEN WAIT THAT LATE UNTIL I GUESS NOT DAWN BUT IT’S CERTAINLY HAPPENING UNTIL THE STUPID HOURS OF THE MORNING AND I KNOW THIS BECAUSE IT HAS WOKEN ME UP MORE THAN ONE TIME AND LOOK I KNOW SOCIETY IS CRUMBLING BUT COME ON JUST COME THE FUCK ON WHERE ARE YOU PEOPLE EVEN BUYING FIREWORKS

AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

WHY???

Unless you live under a rock- and if you do, please tell me you’re looking for a roommate, because I would like to get some fucking sleep for once- you’re probably aware that America suddenly has a fireworks problem. From California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters, this land is INFESTED WITH FIREWORKS.

Now, from what I’ve gathered, one of two things is happening:

Thing One: Americans are collectively very stressed, and we’ve decided that the only release valve for that stress is to do the most American thing possible and just start blowing shit up. Fireworks are the most accessible destructive outlet for all this pent-up rage and anger and frustration, plus we connect them to the happier times when we used to celebrate America’s birthday without that twinge of guilt, and there you have it. We’re mad, we’re American, it’s summer, bing bang boom.

Thing Two: This is an orchestrated effort by government and/or law enforcement, in response to the protesting, rioting, and general unrest of the last few weeks. The Establishment is using constant fireworks as a tactic to disrupt our neighborhoods through sleep deprivation and generally heightened anxiety, hoping that this will impede our ability to mobilize in support of social justice. Or they’re intentionally creating a very visible problem to justify assembling specialized police task forces to roam our streets at night and do God-knows-what about it. Or they’re trying to desensitize us to the sounds of guns and bombs, so that when they go full Kent State on our asses we don’t notice in time to get out of the war zone.

Depending on your life experiences and current opinion of the government/law enforcement, one of these theories likely sounds a lot more believable than the other. And the point of this article isn’t to try to convince you, and getting into a debate about it is pretty pointless- because I don’t know what the hell is going on, and you don’t either.

But whatever it is, it’s SO LOUD AND IT IS EVERY NIGHT AND I AM JUST SO OVER IT AND NEW YORK CITY ANNOUNCED THAT THEY’RE DOING THEIR OWN SUMMER FIREWORKS NOW TO RAMP UP TO THE FOURTH OF JULY AND JUST STOP IT STOP IT I AM NOT HERE FOR THAT WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET SOME GODDAMN PEACE AND QUIET AND ALSO WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO ARREST THE MEN WHO MURDERED BREONNA TAYLOR AND I SWEAR BEFORE KING AND COUNTRY IF I HAVE TO HEAR FIREWORKS FOR ONE MORE NIGHT THEN SO HELP ME

As The Bard William Joel Once Penned

My whole life, I’ve struggled with an inability to speak my mind without immediately second-guessing myself.

I could speculate about exactly what causes this. Maybe it’s a subset of the anxiety disorder, maybe it’s from being socialized as a girl in a society that still largely prefers women to be seen and not heard. Or maybe it’s Maybelline, who knows?

Whatever the deeper underlying cause, the surface reason is a simple one: I care way, way too much what other people think of me.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that you should never give a shit about other people’s opinion of you. Obviously there’s a balance to be struck between “not letting public opinion control your life” and “still being welcome to participate in polite society.” It’s insane to really and truly not care at all how you’re perceived by other people. Only serial killers and Fortune 500 CEOs can get away with that.

But I am saying that it’s possible to care a little too much, or in my case a lot too much.

I’ve never been able to assert my opinion on a topic or, God forbid, disagree outright with someone without feeling like a rude, ill-bred little asshole. Somewhere over the years, I got it into my head that rudeness was the worst crime a person could be guilty of. And it’s rude to challenge someone else’s opinion, or to assert your own opinion too strongly in case they take that as a challenge to their opinion, which will undoubtedly offend them, and if someone is offended it’s obviously your fault for being rude to them, and so on, and so forth, and thus is written the story of me biting my tongue near-constantly, even in situations where I really should speak up.

It’s no way to live. It’s hard to get through life feeling like you’re not allowed to have opinions for fear of offending someone, and that expressing an opinion is tantamount to intentionally starting a bar brawl. It does a number on your sense of self. It stops you from standing up for things that are important. It keeps you from living your best life, or really from living your life at all- instead, you’re just living the closest approximation that you can get without anyone knowing that you have thoughts and feelings about what happens in the world around you.

So over the past few months, I’ve decided that I can’t go on being afraid to say what’s on my mind. I’m no longer going to let my life be steered by a near-pathological need to avoid upsetting anyone. No more falling into the same old trap of staying silent to avoid conflict. Now I’m trying to learn to feel comfortable being assertive and opinionated.

For some reason, I thought this would make my life easier. So far, it’s made things a lot more difficult, but for slightly different reasons. A real bitch of a Morton’s Fork.

For starters, I’ve learned that a non-zero number of my friendships were only surviving because I never had the balls to openly disagree with something that was said in front of me. I should probably welcome the opportunity for personal growth by weeding those relationships out of my life, but first I’d have to stop beating myself up for daring to think that I had the right to open disagreement.

Secondly, the thing about expressing an opinion is that you’ll then be called upon to defend it. This is something that I’m still struggling with, and will most likely struggle with for the foreseeable future. I mean, I know how to use my words and explain my position on an issue. I just don’t know how to do it without my heart rate skyrocketing in anticipation of some terrible outcome.

Every time I get into a debate, I’m running a mental countdown of exactly how many exchanges could possibly be left before it escalates into a full-blown argument where everyone decides that I’m the asshole. Even if I’m correct, polite, and articulate in my arguments, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s that paranoia of thinking that you hear someone coming down the hallway when you’re secretly up reading comic books after bedtime: I’m definitely doing something wrong by engaging in this conversation, so it stands to reason that I’m going to be caught and punished. Even though, generally speaking, the only punishment received is my own unwarranted inner turmoil.

At the end of the day (and this article), I guess that all I can do is learn to trust myself a little bit more. Emotions and anxiety aside, I know on an intellectual level that there’s nothing wrong with speaking up, speaking out, and speaking my mind plainly. It’s just a matter of reinforcing the behavior until it’s a habit, and not something that I need to spend a week steeling myself for and another month recovering from.

It’s hard to muster up that last little bit of self-confidence that it takes to stop second-guessing myself all the time, but I’m holding onto hope that it’s possible.

As my favorite song introspectively states, “Though you can see when you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right.”

For the first time in my life, I’m going to allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe, I’m right.