Forty Backwards

I originally published the essay below (via Put On BLAST!) two summers ago (July 2006). Here’s the replay, with a few extra gems. The response was tremendous then. Thought you might enjoy it now.

Forty Backwards

Last month I turned 38. With 40 fast approaching, I’ve been more reflective than usual. I’ve begun to observe life from over my shoulder, glancing back at how things used to be. I’m ever cognizant of how me and my momma’s 40 is going to be so very different. When Jenny B. was my age, she had a 16-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old son, and had been married for 18 years. She came from the “stand by your man” era, when “shacking up” was not nearly as common as it is today.

Dr. King was assassinated the year I was born. Jenny B. wasn’t at a college campus protesting, or in the streets. She was a “country” newcomer living in a big city with a baby. Plus, she had a husband, a house, and a job to manage. Her journey was a proud domestic one, but her little girl would chart a different course.

Unlike my mother, I went to college right after high school. She and daddy insisted. And unlike many of her Baby Booming peers, I have never been married and don’t have any illusions about that institution. Children would be a welcome blessing, but I have chosen not to have any right now because the conditions just ain’t right. I do own my own company, however. I work with artists. That’s about as much nipple-grabbing as I can stand. I’m a far reach from my elder’s crown, but I’ve found a few gems to set. Wrote some notes about ’em. Would you like to hear ’em? Here they go:

From Jenny B.

  • Always give God the glory in all that you do.
  • In whatever you do, you’re either going to spend time or money. Make your best choices knowing that you have to give up one of them.
  • You cannot control people’s actions. You can only control your response to those actions.
  • There are certain people you have to treat with a long-ladled spoon so they don’t bite your finger.
  • You have to train people how to deal with you. Always be loving and sweet as you let people know that you are not the one to f**k with.
  • You cannot depend on me and f**k with me at the same time.
  • The best way to get a man is to chase him until he catches you.

My Father

  • Whenever I lost hope or missed my mark, Eddie Silver, an eternal optimist, would say, “You’re closer today, than you were yesterday, baby.”
  • My father’s simplest observations often reveal how discerning he is. I learned from him first, for example, that when dictating a telephone number, “‘O’ is a letter and ‘0’ is a number…as in, “our telephone number is (212) 555-62 “zero” 1, not 62 “oh” 1.
  • “Smooth talking men will gladly give nice women like you $20 today because he knows that he’ll get $100 from you tomorrow.” Those were my father’s sober words of wisdom after a nasty breakup from my first BIG relationship. At the time, I didn’t know that the man I was dating was a con artist. Well…I saw him conning other people, but I never thought that he’d con me. How silly. That warning from my father helped me to armor up a bit. Since then, I’ve been suspicious of, not mesmerized by smooth talkers.
  • “If a man greets you on the street and says ‘hi,’ sometimes all he really means is ‘hi.’ He’s not always trying to pick you up. It’s okay to smile back.
  • Daddy was the music man of the family. Romping through his record crates ignited my passion for music. My tastes would mirror his…from Nina to Stevie to Hugh to Prince.

My Brother Omar

  • There is a quiet innocence and deep-rooted gentleness even in the coarsest of exteriors.
  • Sometimes, people don’t want you to give them advice, even if that’s what you do in life. Sometimes they just want you to listen.
  • You don’t get what you deserve in life, you get what you ask for.
  • “I don’t work for my boss, I work for my money.”
  • “Of course, a woman can get her man to do just about anything, but she can’t make him mean it.”

From My Ex-Boyfriends and Other Adventurous Episodes

  • Men and women are not equal, but we are equivalent. We have different (not inadequate) ways of communicating what we need and want.
  • The truth is always used to sell the lie.
  • Con artists tend to talk a lot. Overly chatty people are either lying to you or themselves.
  • Never date a man that won’t show you his ID or driver’s license.
  • Even romantic relationships are about power. They move forward best when both people are on equal footing.
  • We are all dating the same man! Despite how loving and different they appear during courtship, there remains one indisputable fact: most (not all) men will eventually reveal themselves to be powerfully self-centered and/or emotionally under-developed. I have found that women who seek romantic love relationships with men – be the women Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Yoruba, Atheist, bohemian, corporate, Black, Latina, Asian, White, under and over 30, big-boned, slim, sweet or tart – have this same problem with men. It’s best to resolve that the depth of a man’s ego is unfathomable. We should stop trying to figure them out because it is never going to make sense how deftly he disregards your once cherished feelings. And if you think your man is different, please go gather more gems for your crown.

So cheers to the next forty years! And here’s one parting gem that is sure to bring you a sigh of relief:

Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. – – Don Miguel Ruiz (author of “The Four Agreements”)