July 25, 2020


I do not want to write a blog.

My writing forte is my ridiculous personal and professional life–not science or world politics or revolutionary upheaval. I don’t want to get yelled at by strangers. I don’t want to speak on things outside of my expertise. I’d much rather speak of my sister’s freakishly large and shiny puppy who at seven months is already 92 lbs. She was all set to train him to root out morel mushrooms and it turns out he’s got a great nose but hates the smell of mushrooms. So if you ever need a too-large, extremely cheerful, exclusively flower sniffing dog, give her a buzz.

So I shall forge ahead. It’s overdue and I appreciate that people are asking for one.

This week I had a socially distant but in person meeting with two of my business partners, one who is European and an educated intellectual who generally resides in the South with a lesser-educated, Trumpian roommate who hammers him all day long about the Yankee plandemic designed to take God-fearing first testament lovers down into that blue layer of hell in which you are not allowed to bring an assault rifle or a confederate flag. So, as you can imagine, said business partner is starved for deeper political conversation with urbanites whose thoughts are more closely aligned with his opinions.

But my other partner and I, being New Yorkers, are exhausted and shell-shocked from the months of covid isolation and protests and riots. The last thing either he or I can deal with right now is a heavy discussion of any kind. We just want to get through each day, one at a time, relatively unscathed, until we can emerge on the other side with limbs and homes intact.

But third partner is young and knows everything that you think you know when you’re young and against requests otherwise, forged ahead, hammering second partner and I with a devil’s advocate diatribe arguing for all and sundry and lecturing us firmly about what we should be doing and thinking.

Ordinarily I would have somewhat of a mind to listen; I never purport to be the leader in a political discussion and will usually defer to the better-informed. But I can’t hear it right now. I absolutely cannot abide being talked down to or argued with in any even remotely aggressive way. I am broken and can’t handle the tension.

So after a time of what felt like being pummeled by words I could feel the tears rising and I told him to stop. He continued unabated, not to hurt me, but because he needed to expel all these thoughts and now that he’d opened the dam he was loathe to close it again. I could feel myself getting right to the edge of freaking out, and again told him he had to stop or I was going to blow.

My outbursts are intense. My close friends call it “the wrath of Raff”. Which can be entertaining at times. But I hate it. I don’t want to hurt anyone or make a room uncomfortable. The adrenaline can take a day to shake off and the guilt makes me feel bad about myself. I work hard not to get to that place anymore, but my immediate emotional response to distress of any kind will always be to first get angry. I’m hard-wired for it; I have to consciously remove myself from whatever is putting me in that headspace or I will descend into an irrational, reptilian brain state. If removed from the source of friction, I can calm down and re-approach whatever is happening more rationally.

In this case, however, that was not happening. I was cornered and getting weepy and he just WOULD NOT SHUT UP.

So I threw a fork at his head.

Happily I throw like a girl and it hit his shoulder. Equally happily, he is unfazed by my heat. He knows me well enough to know that the flames expire as quickly as they arise. He shut up, finally, retrieved the fork, and my New York partner and I took advantage of the pause to explain why, as New Yorkers, we are not enthusiastic about intensity or aggression on any subject right now.

I thought about my reaction to the conversation and realized that I am not as okay as I was assuming. I’m better than many. I’m not depressed, I have a salary coming in and a loving emotional support system. I don’t have bored kids to homeschool and keep safe. So I have been assuming and expecting that I’m fine and have no right to complain, forgetting that none of us are fine right now. We’re exhausted. We’re stressed. There is no end date in sight for the lid to come off of this pressure cooker.

When the George Floyd video first began circulating I couldn’t get through it. It was too painful. How could this be happening again so soon after Ahmaud Arbery? How does this keep happening over and over and over again? Remember the Rodney King riots? That was 28 YEARS AGO. Then it was back to business as usual. This time the rumblings started low and then quickly ramped up to a worldwide roar full of pain and frustration.

Living close to the epicenter of the protests has been a visceral and sometimes terrifying experience. On the first night in my apartment in Chinatown/Little Italy, which is very close to City Hall, I listened to nonstop shouting, gunshots, glass breaking, sirens and helicopters, all night long. I looked on the Citizen app and saw videos of fires in garbage cans and other flammable spots that had been started around my block. I hunkered down with the dog shivering next to me and waited, awake, for sunrise.

I took him out for a walk in the morning light and saw garbage cans and restaurant outdoor potted plants strewn in the street. Graffiti had appeared overnight, and a few windows were broken. The energy was quiet and creepy, in more than the usual quarantine quiet and creepy: a momentary lull in a dark storm. After the walk I texted friends and watched the news all day long, frozen in place on my couch.

That second night was the same: sirens, helicopters, smashing, fear. The looters used the protests as cover for destruction and mayhem. People came in from the suburbs thinking that protesting means chaos and setting fire to things, not realizing or caring that if a person sets fire to a Citibank in a vertical city like NYC, they also set fire to all of the apartments above that bank, destroying homes and livelihoods alike.

The next morning, all of the corner garbage cans were gone and the sound of hammers and rotary saws tearing through plywood was deafening as business owners shored up against more looting and violence. More action, but the energy just as somber as people prepared for another night of chaos and fear.

People lost their minds on Facebook, already keyed up from Covid insanity, now instead of trying to out-knowledge each other with mask outrage and varied science reports, it was white people trying to out-righteous one another with their wokeness.

I was shaky and emotional from the two nights of fear after months of isolation and I didn’t want to add to the noise. But I felt like not saying something wasn’t exactly right either. So I posted that I was not posting an opinion on the situation, not because I didn’t care but because I wanted to hear from my black friends on what they wanted from me during this pivotal moment in our history. I immediately got a series of lecturing comments from people (white) that mostly involved MLK memes about silence equalling death.

It was disheartening to say the least. These same people had already hammered the fuck out of me and everyone else with their expert covid opinions. When did half my friend list turn into self-righteous biddies? When did people STOP LISTENING? I deactivated my account for two days to try to regain some equilibrium.

I took the time away from the internet to sit quietly in my thoughts and examine my own role in contributing to the pain and anger that I saw before me, and to consider what I could do to help make it right.

I realized that my role in the problem, no matter how well-meaning, has been substantial:

My life has been a series of yeses and open doors. I am white, had loving, supportive parents, and after a painfully awkward childhood grew into being pretty. I have more often than not walked into jobs and been hired immediately. Two jobs I got hired on the spot by strangers upon casually mentioning that I was only considering that I might like to work. I was asked to front bands before anyone knew whether I could sing or not. I remember that ONE time that I was followed like a shoplifter in a drug store and it was 20 years ago. When I was arrested for assault many years ago, the cops stopped at a bodega and bought candy for me to take into jail. They also helped me surreptitiously pass off a spiked ring to my husband that caused a substantial injury to the face of the person I attacked, and which would have upped my charge to assault with a weapon. I brought them Cycle Slut tees when I got out. Every encounter I have had with male police has been equally friendly and attentive (females not so much). And people have given me all kinds of stuff over the years– clothing, photo shoots, hearts, opportunities, and I have blithely taken it all and swanned through the open doors without once considering that there was a problem with inequality or privilege.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been a good portion of pain and tribulation, abuse and trauma, but there have been far more inner demons than outer ones creating the conflict in my life. My chosen mode of destruction has always been self.

There is a man out in the world who regularly tells anyone who mentions my name that I am a racist, because about five years back, when he was barbacking at a local bar that my friends owned, I told him to keep an eye on a group of black kids who turned out to be his friends. There had been a rash of phone thefts up and down the street and the kids looked out of place in a bar full of ancient rockers. That was my first dive into self-examination. Would I have said the same thing if they were white kids? I think so, but maybe not. But I told myself that he was wrong.

When I worked in retail in NYC, you could predict that if you heard a Jamaican accent there was a good chance you were going to lose something to theft. Same with young and flamboyantly gay black boys, many of them were expert shoplifters. So anyone black was always closely watched. I didn’t work selling, I worked in the office, but one time I happened to be on the floor when a group of hilarious black women with Caribbean accents came in and began squeezing themselves into the tightest, sexiest outfits available. They were having a ball and handing me expensive items to bring to the desk for purchase and I was very much enjoying their energy and camaraderie. One of the other employees was watching very closely, as she had been instructed to do numerous times, and as a result ended up in a verbal dispute over that scrutiny with one of the women. The group, hurt and angry over being targeted, left without purchasing anything, their pile of clothing abandoned on the counter. I felt so sad for their fun being ruined and we lost a big sale that day. The sadness of that stuck with me and after that I avoided helping with sales.

My father, who would be 82 if he were alive today, called himself a “wop” and he had one friend who he jokingly called a “heeb” and another one who was a “Polack”. But I never heard him comment on race beyond that. It was just friends or strangers or assholes. When I was five or six we lived near a black family (in our predominantly white neighborhood) whose mother sang in a gospel chorus. My mother, a music lover, took me to hear her and the chorus perform. We were the only white people in a crowded theater and it was the first time I became aware that my world was not the only one. I was fascinated by the otherness; where had all these black people been hiding? But afterward we were back in our primarily white world and I forgot about feeling other. My best friend’s mom used the n-word one day, very casually but with disdain, and I was shocked. I told my dad and he said we didn’t use that word in our house.

So, barring that bar incident, I’ve been breezing through life assuming that I’ve been doing better than most. Now with lack of sleep, fear for my city, friends and personal safety, and after enduring months of quarantine weirdness, I broke down. I cried for days. I texted a couple of my closest black friends and told them I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry I never understood why you’re so pissed off all the time. I’m sorry that I didn’t mind that things are easier for me than for you. I’m sorry that I assumed that not hating other races was enough. And I’m sorry I’m making you listen to me saying I’m sorry because I know you’re not in a mood to have to make me feel better right now.

They were exceptionally kind. My friend Cid, who is an amazing cook, called up and offered to come over and make dinner so we could hang out and have a bit of normalcy. I love breaking bread with friends and this felt like a salve on the wounds of the soul. We talked about race a bit, but mostly we just talked like long time friends about our own personal experiences during quarantine. It helped me feel grounded and loved and it was a generous gesture on her part. Then I put her in an uber so she could get home before curfew and battened down the hatches for another night of sirens.

For the most part, in my hood, things are calmer now. The looters have dissipated. Some of the boards have come down, though not all. All of the Italian restaurants on Mulberry are going great guns with their sidewalk service and have used the window boards to create decks for tables on the street. Cuomo says the protesters won, that changes are happening to police policy and funding.

But what does that mean? We’re still in the middle of this pandemic. We’re still hurting. Criminals still need policing. We still have a self-serving, incompetent man at the head of our country who has all but declared himself to be a racist and a denier of scientific evidence. The ignorant garbage on both topics that I have seen from people on Facebook has me reeling. I am stunned that I know so many people who don’t get it and unfriend and unfollow people regularly.

There were helicopters overhead again over the last couple of days because the park near City Hall has become a teeming, grubby tent city of homeless and crazies who have latched onto the protests, which still happen daily, and the cops have been told to break it up. Trump is using federal troops to create more chaos. The virus is on the upswing in too many cities. Parents and teachers are stressing over how to have kids in school. Add to that the sadness of so many businesses gone or barely surviving. Every emptied restaurant, bar or storefront I pass is evidence of someone’s broken dream and most likely broken heart. It’s crushing. And still some people are treating other people trying to keep their businesses going like shit over merely being asked to wear a mask in a store.

America is firmly divided into two: blue vs red, mask versus no mask, science versus freedumb, BLM versus white “supremacy”, fear, hate and rage versus peace, love and understanding.

Yet on the spiritual side, which is my primary guiding force when I’m feeling grounded and sane (comes and goes), I am still hearing from all sources that this is a deep and necessary shift for us as a planet and people. That we are moving into 5D energy from 3D, and we chose to be here during this time, many of us as lightworkers, carrying that light energy within ourselves as much of the world wrangles with darkness. I want to believe this is true. I want to be a source of light. On most days I do believe it’s true, but at times it appears to be a pipe dream and I wonder if I am naive.

Often I feel like a child in a new world, not understanding so much, eyes wide open to new shapes and ideas as I try to navigate a new normal. I do finally understand that it is not enough for me to not be a racist, and that it is time for me to be an anti-racist. I understand that it’s time for revolution. I just don’t know exactly what the details of that revolution should look like. At the end of the day the only thing that I know for sure is that I have to be gentle with myself and others. I am so raw that anything else feels intolerable.

Tonight I took the dog out for his last walk of the day after writing most of this and had to stop on Centre Street to let the protesters march by. There were thousands of them, all singing and chanting together, some playing instruments, many carrying BLM and Pride signs, all or most wearing masks. It was organized and communicative, with bike riders at the back and sides to protect and keep everyone together. For once I was glad to be wearing my own mask because of course I cried for the 9 millionth time this year as I watched. It was so powerful in its nonviolence and unity. There is power and beauty in people getting together with a higher goal in mind. There is change on the horizon.

We will never be the same. I hope and pray that we will be better in this lifetime and not have to wait for far-into-the-future generations to fulfill that promise of change. I am endlessly grateful for all of you in my orbit. I am so sorry that many of you have lost people, lost jobs, lost your health, are worried about your businesses and careers and how you will pay your rent. I am sending you all much love and hope for our future.

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