For the Love of Conversation

Los Angeles is a busy place—most of us work 9 to 5 jobs and then spend forty-five minutes to an hour navigating traffic to get home. Once home, we tend to our pets, chores, make dinner, call friends and family, etc. It’s why taking the time, after all those domestic duties, to pick up the phone and chat with someone matters.

There’s something magical about talking into the wee hours of the night—both of you battling to keep your eyes open because you don’t want the conversation to end. One person says that they really need to sleep and then thirty minutes later the conversation is still going. It reminds me of conversations with my best friend growing up, Tammy. She’d call every Saturday morning after cartoons were over and we’d talk for hours. My mom would marvel at it—saying we stayed on the phone like grown folks. I don’t remember what we talked about, kid stuff I suppose, but I do remember laughing and not wanting to hang up. I looked forward to talking with her, to sharing that time with someone I cared about.

In the end, relationships are about just that, giving someone your time and being there for them when they need you. Even though I was a kid, if Tammy ever said she needed me, I’d be on my Huffy racing over to her house on the other side of town—I’d find a way. And that’s the point; some relationships lose sight of that. Those late-night conversations stop after the first few months of dating. People settle in and sometimes start taking the other person for granted. The relationship becomes less about communication and connection, and more about the roles each person now assumes. Even as an eight-year-old, I’d do anything for Tammy because she was my friend—it was honest and pure. Which is why when I encounter that same feeling in my adult life, I savor it. Being able to get to know someone, to invest time into that person is a gift. It’s what we were put on this earth for. We’re not designed to live as islands—isolated and withdrawn. We’re designed to interact, to communicate, to fellowship, and to love.

Los Angeles is packed with people but it still offers isolation. And though Warren Zevon sung about isolation being splendid, it can also turn depressing. My advice to dreamlanders who feel like they are losing connections to those who matter, pick up the phone, don’t text. Instead, have a real conversation because just hearing the voice of someone you care about, might be just the medicine you need.

Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems by James Baldwin

No man can have a harlot
for a lover
nor stay in bed forever
with a lie.
He must rise up
and face the morning sky
and himself, in the mirror
of his lover’s eye.


— From A Lover’s Question, Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems by James Baldwin

Baldwin had an incredible way with words. His poetry often goes under the radar but the richness of his Jimmy’s Blues collection is worth exploring. 

Analysis of a Serial Dater

My generation doesn’t know how to date, at least most of us don’t. There’s a prevailing thought that relationships are based on ‘hookups’. Gone are the days of courting, as my parents called it. The new precursor is a few dates and then a tipsy and often awkward ‘hookup’. That’s followed by a few text messages in which both parties try to play catch up and learn about each other so that it doesn’t feel so cheap. Emotionally, we’re a lost generation and only a few of us grow out of it, perhaps secretly desiring the types of stable relationships our parents had. But for far too many of us, the reality is serial dating.

Serial Dating is exactly what it sounds like, a string of relationships. Some may last a few months to a year, and others may sustain a few weeks. These types of relationships are usually never defined, which means they never reach a critical point where each party is forced to make the grownup decision of being ‘labeled’ as boyfriend and girlfriend. In most cases, at least one person in the party will say something to the effect of, “I just don’t do well with labels,” or “Why does it have to be a ‘thing’?” This is a red flag and a pretty asinine idea. When faced with these statements, a person should reevaluate the relationship they are in. If they are looking for something stable, they won’t find it in the serial dater.  

The inherent tragedy of the serial dater is that they waste their time and the other party’s too. Sure, in your 20s, you may find yourself dating here and there in college. You’re young and still learning about what you desire. However, once you hit 30, if you are unable to sustain a meaningful and stable relationship, then there’s something amiss. It’s even more dangerous if you’re a woman because you’re devouring your child bearing years with people you could never envision procreating with. The question is why do we do this? Is it that we simply are afraid of commitment? Or are we wounded from past relationships where we really gave it our all and were cheated on? Or are we just selfish?

Sometimes we serial date on purpose—we usually choose people that we could never see marrying. It’s a way to not get attached. This usually blows up in our faces, as we forge an emotional bond whether we like it or not. I’m not saying everyone should settle into a relationship and get married. There are some people who really would be terrible spouses and terrible parents. But for those who are just too afraid to commit to something meaningful because they don’t want to get hurt, I say stop living in fear. Every relationship comes with risk. It’s a dream to believe that there aren’t going to be risks involved—none of us are living in a romantic comedy. In the real-world people get hurt, but we learn from it because we must. Sometimes we get over that hurt and sometimes we carry it for a while. However, it doesn’t break us, we just learn what to look for in a partner—things that signal longevity. It’s hard, yes, but anything worth the salt is going to be.

The only solution to this, is not to compromise. If you know what you want, what you’re worth, then go out and get it. Don’t allow the need for companionship to cloud your judgement. Sometimes a night of loneliness is far better than a morning of awkwardness. Have faith that in time, you will find what you’re looking for. But if you give into the serial dating cycle, that person you really should be with might just pass you by while you’re wasting daylight.

Into the Abyss

We’ve all seen it, mostly in romantic comedies. The guy loses the girl, usually by his own ineptitude and sinks deep into boozing, poor hygiene and an affinity for wandering his apartment in a bath robe. You guessed it; it’s the aftermath of a breakup and it has become cliché—like some kind of 12 step program, and at the end they either move on or fight to get the girl back. The truth is there’s no easy way to recover after a breakup. For a long while, it’s going to be dark; it’s going to be the abyss.

However, breakups are healthy no matter how grim things may seem at the time. There are always going to be situations that aren’t healthy for us and we have to have the fortitude to get out of them. We have to learn to recognize those situations and move on because there’s a reason—there may be something better waiting. Recently I was talking to a co-worker, an ex NFL player who saw much success in his life. He owned companies, traveled the world and owned some amazing homes. And one day he lost it all—bankruptcy. His wife left him and he found himself back at square one. Then one day he gets a phone call from a woman he had met five years ago. Apparently she was cleaning out a closet and her phone book fell to the floor. It was open to a page with my co-worker’s phone number jotted down. She picked up the phone and called him that instant. They were married a few years later.

I hear stories like that and can’t help but wonder if we’re all preordained to be with someone; if all the dating and breakups are just part of the process. Though they hurt like hell at the time, they really are necessary. The trick is to not stay in the abyss; it’s to keep it moving. We owe ourselves happiness—we all deserve it. And out there is the right person who shares in your world view, your faith, and sees the same beauties of life that you do. They won’t try and change you but instead celebrate you. Love is supposed to exalt us; it’s supposed to dignify us and if it doesn’t do that, then it isn’t love.

In this Dreamland, it’s easy to get seduced by the newness of something—a new car, a new job, a new relationship. We all love the feeling, the rush of new. Yet sooner or later that novelty goes away and we’re forced to see the relationship for what it is. And deep down we know if it’s preordained and if it’s supposed to exist. The trick is to know when it’s forced and in that moment, you have to walk away. If there are doubts, there’s a reason. It’s best to cut your losses early. But for those dreamlanders like me, who are hopeful romantics and refuse to quit, it’s hard to say goodbye. So we learn the hard way and maybe, even if we lose it all, the one we’re supposed to be with will pick up the phone and say: “You’re not going to believe this but I really just needed to call you.”

 

Good luck Dreamlanders!

A Letter to Michael Brown (We’re all too late)

Photo Credit: http://www.NBCNews.com

Dear Michael Brown,

I’m too late; every black man who understands is too late—90 seconds too late, a day too late, months and years too late. We didn’t get there in time and you died in the middle of a street.

I don’t know if we were very different at that age. I imagine in many ways we weren’t. Some of the media pundits say you were a thug and others claim martyr. They march now, in your name, because of what you represent. You’re a placeholder, a meme, a tool, a t-shirt, an agenda for so many. And we’ll never know the real you, will we? To say the boy who shook down the convenient store owner for a box of cigars was the real you is easy, but that’s only one image in a giant tapestry. You were too young to be labeled as more than what you were—an 18-year-old black boy living in Ferguson.

I apologize to you Michael, and to the many who have come before you. Like you, I grew up with both of my parents. My father never did a day in jail. He was a marine, Vietnam vet, and later a therapist. My mother a college educated social worker. We went to church. I always felt loved, but as I grew up I also felt angry. It was a kind of anger I could never fully understand—it was in my bones. Looking back, I realize it was an anger rooted in a search for my identity. To be young and black is hard. The media says we’re dangerous and to be feared. It’s a long-standing narrative that hasn’t gone away and likely never will, and you and I inherited it. Meanwhile, our peers tell us it’s not cool to be smart. To excel at anything except sports is social suicide. We have to be hard; we have to let our pants hang low to say, “F*ck you to society”—and it’s passive aggressive. I’ve felt it. I know you did too. So we dive head first into the only place that seems to celebrate us no matter what—rap culture. I don’t call it hip hop or urban, because it’s not. Rap is a celebration of the proliferation of guns, drugs, violence, misogyny, and every stereotype we’ve been forced to swallow. The thing is most of us get the chance to grow out of it. We go to college; we get jobs and raise families—we join the military, even become police officers ourselves. Your life was cut short and we can only ponder what you would have become. In our culture, this is a rebellious phase, and it can get the better of us and we can end up dead. Teens in other cultures go through this too. It may be replaced with rock music and instead of blunts its joints, paint huffing, and Adderall. Truth is Michael, we can’t afford the phase anymore, we can’t afford to rebel like this. We have to find another way.

It’s the responsibility of every black man that survived this phase to look out for each other. We failed you—we failed all of you. No one is going to look out for us, except us. It’s a harsh truth but it’s not going come from the president, civil rights leaders, NAACP, or any other organization. It’s going to come from that brother who graduated from your high school, who went to college and got a good job, and swears he’ll never return to a place like Ferguson. That’s the problem Michael; we have to return to educate, to encourage and to save. It’s a community issue. We have to start taking care of each other. I wish, so desperately, I had crossed paths with you that day—that I had been in that convenient store—a moment could have changed everything.

We have to understand that not all police are rotten—for each questionable officer, there are ten outstanding. I don’t know what type you encountered that day in Darren Wilson, but my heart breaks wondering what lead to your demise. As a community, we have to do better. We need to find a way to save each other because we do need saving—and it’s a shame you had to die to remind us of that.

I’ll continue to pray for you and your family.

With love,

Aaron