shy history book review: falling for the girl who fell

Have I mentioned how awesome my bday month has been?  There were, of course, the gifts – and the friends – and the homemade red velvet cake – all delightfully spread throughout the month to give a special savor to March, this year.  Shoot, even Psych got in on the act, saving the best episode this season (Mr. Yin Presents) for my actual birthday.

It began in February, when I inexplicably went on a book-buying frenzy [a few times a year it must be done], and randomly picked up a slim, dark blue, hardcover with a simple cover art and an intriguing title: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.  I hadn’t heard of it, but read the blurb, and paged through to get a feel for the writing.  [This is how I choose all the books I read.]  The blurb grabbed my attention, immediately:  “Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on a Chicago rooftop.  Forced to move to a new and strange city, with her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin,  startling blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way.”

Maybe it shouldn’t have – but it’s so rare that I come across a book with a biracial heroine …umm…I can’t even think of another one right now – but maybe I’ve read one…I’m sure I have…I think.  Anyway, I read this book (this month) and really enjoyed it.

The style of writing make the book an easy read, even with some heavy stuff going on – and I have to admit there was a moment when I put the book down and just cried.  That’s not normal for me.  I was crying on behalf of the father, and I couldn’t stop.  So there I sat, in the Ford reading room, as I waited for my car’s oil change/checkup to be completed, crying over a book.

There are a few similarities between the protagonist and I, considering we have white moms and black dads, and our parents met in Germany.  But this girl who fell – while I see some aspects of myself in her, her story is miles apart from my own.

I remember growing up not-quite-white.  To borrow a quote from Thea I just saw tonight:

I definitely got the “the world will be yours message!” from my white mama. Imagine how confused I was when it didn’t work out. But I digress.

This is exactly the message I got.  The message Rachel’s mama started out believing.  The message Rachel started out believing.  I’ve been muddling my way through this race-crazy world ever since I landed on solid ground.  My head sometimes still likes to take off for the clouds, but it’s different now.  When I was little, sometimes I would actually forget I was brown.  And I wasn’t prepared for the way the world worked.  I’ve always been optimistic, prone to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and willing to be friends with anyone who wanted to be friends with me.  This often lead to overlooking comments, or the trends of who my friends’ friends were.

Our ideas of what life is like – what our lives will be like – are so shaped by the pictures we get from our parents, and mine was no different.  I imagined great and wonderful things – a possible presidency even, prior to understanding the hellacious nature of the job.  And really, when I was very young, most of what my parents focused on was teaching me that no one could keep me from doing whatever I wanted to do, just because I was a girl.  We didn’t really talk about color in our house until I was older. And even then, it was only dad, saying that he wanted to prepare us for things that mom hadn’t had to go through – for a world that would see us differently that it had seen her. But by then I was unreceptive, largely because we hadn’t talked about it when I was younger, and I was inclined to disbelieve comments about prejudice inherent in the system.

I finally started catching glimmers of de facto life in seventh grade, when my best friend in school – a fellow nerd – and I were talking about people in our class we thought were cute/we’d like to date.  He suggested a 10th grade boy for me, because he was one of the only two brown guys at school [the other being in K4]. (I decided not to mention my crushes on guys that were actually in our grade.)  Then, when I called a friend from my first yr in college and she told me they’d brought another brown girl into the program to replace me/fill the quota, I laughed.  She didn’t.  She told me she was serious.  But I was just scratching the surface.

I’ve learned a lot in the meantime.  Nothing like real-world demonstrations [i.e. The School of Hard Knocks] to speed your education in the ways of privilege. And being able to talk about issues with my dad [even though his feminism is full of holes] helps me get perspective on a lot of things that I’m just beginning to understand.  But I’m still optimistic.  Hopelessly.

And I notice the girl who fell has got two long braids just like I used to – and I’m glad my daddy was there to catch me when I fell.

shy moments: hot and cold [or BOYS BOYS BOYS!]

Ever read the Baby-Sitter’s Club books?  I read as many as I could get my hands on when I was about ten or so.  And even though I always wanted to be the smart, feminist one, I was harboring an inner “Boy-Crazy Stacey”.  I’ve been liking boys since I was in kindergarten, at least.  I don’t know why, when I was so young, other than the persistent romantic narrative that flows through fairy tales and other girl-media that I’d already been exposed to [even with the feminist slant that my parents had].

I came home from kindergarten one day and told my mom I was gonna marry this boy in my class named Kevin.  To this day I have no idea what his last name was.  (I was only at the school that one year.)  Apparently all the girls in my class wanted to marry Kevin.  We weren’t thinking about what marriage meant – other than possibly kissing [which at that time was a chaste peck on the lips].  I moved on to 1st grade and met a girl with the last name Love who introduced me to the concept of kicking boys in the nuts – as a game.  She would chase them and do this.  Or be in conversation with them and do this.  Before I met Miss Love, I had no idea boys had a particular weak spot.  Afterward, I filed it under useful info.  I didn’t join her, but I admit finding her antics amusing on several occasions.  She might’ve further influenced me, but I was only in 1st grade for a month, and in 2nd grade I met my next future husband.  He [like Kevin] was in high demand, and only just knew who I was, I think, but that didn’t matter.

Time marched on, as it does, and crushes changed from one boy to the next.  Sometimes I wonder if they ever even knew.  A few, I’m sure, did – others may not have even known me.  But there was almost always someone I thought about on those occasions that I wanted to think about someone.

As a kid, I had very few close girl friends.  Most of the girls I knew weren’t interested in being friends with me because I was a nerd, or because I didn’t have the right clothes, or something silly like that.  So I had a lot more guy friends than girl friends – starting in about 2nd grade, actually, and lasting through college.  When you’re boy-crazy, having guy friends can be complicated.  And I had my share of crushes on guys who would only ever be friends – that was basically the story of my teenage life.

Generally, I’d be friends with a guy, and realize he was crush-worthy, crush, and then get over it.  Sometimes crush – then be friends.  But the crush thing would usually fade slowly.

Until we moved to the perfect house for entertaining.

I was about 19, finishing college, and throwing parties whenever I got the chance.  I finally had a good group of friends at school and wanted to make the most of my senior year, so I did.  And one night I had some friends over and we were watching movies or something, and one of my girl friends told me a friend of hers she hadn’t seen in a long time was coming over cuz he was back in town, and she’d given him directions.  I’m a the-more-the-merrier kind of person, so I was happy to oblige, and welcomed the new guest.  Especially when I saw him.

***********NOTE:  I have a type:  curly brown hair.  I love it.  Like crazy.  In many, many forms.  But I LOVE curly brown hair.***********

You guessed it.  This boy had curly brown hair.  At this moment, I can’t remember his name, or much about his face [other than it was kinda cute] – but I remember he had curly brown hair.  This was duly noted, and I knew I wanted to get to know this fellow a little better.  But since he was a friend of a friend, I needed to feel her out first and see if she was into this guy or not.  She introduced him around and we all talked, and the more I learned, the more intrigued I was.  We were into the same things, laughed at similar humor, and …curly brown hair.  I think maybe my friend had a boyfriend at the time, or something, so I didn’t feel weird when he asked for my number before he left.

We talked on the phone a couple days later and the magic was all still there.  I was getting swept up in it all and it was fun and effortless.  There was a church event soon after that, and he came to that, and we hung out some more.  It was all good.  Full swing crush mode.

Then he called me a couple days later.

I don’t know what happened.  It wasn’t that he said something specifically off-putting, but there in the midst of  a phone convo, I went from being totally into this guy, to totally not wanting to listen to him anymore.  I started tuning him out.  For some reason, I remember specifically that he was talking about his uncle.  That’s when I knew this infatuation was completely over.  I wasn’t interested at all.  At all.  And he hadn’t done anything.

I still can’t explain it.  But I never called him again.  My friend asked me about it, cuz she wondered what happened.  And I think she ended up going out with him later on, and I didn’t care.   It had never happened to me before then, and hasn’t happened since.  Who knows why.

shy moments: a musical phase

Music has been a huge part of my life since before I can even remember.  I was singing for church with my family when I was little more than 2yrs old, and I really don’t even remember that.  But I’m sure that I loved it, because I always have, and still do.  I was raised fairly conservatively Christian, though it’s all relative.  Mostly my parents policed the media that my sister and I consumed, but of course this was all before we had any hint of awareness about it.

So my favorite songs when I was 5 yrs old were from The Sound of Music, or by Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and Helen Reddy.  You and Me Against the World got played a LOT in our house.  Most of the music we listened to though was Christian – and it was great, too.  Lots of Sandi Patty, Larnelle Harris, and Steve Green, with some Heritage Singers and The Brothers of Washington, DC (a little known group of guys that my dad went to school with) thrown in.

I didn't actually see the cartoon until much later

I didn't actually see the cartoon until much later

Both of my parents loved classical music as well, so we had records of Peter and the Wolf (the Disney version), and The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, plus a couple Chopin records.   When I was little, Peter and the Wolf was one of my favorites, and I would pull out my Tinker Toys and pretend that I was Peter, making some kind of weapon to fight the wolf.  When I was a little older (about 9), my sister and I would jump around – lightly of course, to keep the record from jumping – and pretend we were ballerinas when listening to Tchaikovsky.  So we were big music appreciators.

My dad was the one who brought new music into the house when I was a kid.  That’s how We are the World, That’s What Friends are For, and Whitney Houston’s debut album all made it into the house.  (My sis and I had also worked out a routine for How Will I Know by the end of 1987).  Every once in a while I learned a song from a friend at school – Always by Atlantic Starr, for example, or the theme from Beverly Hills Cop [which I saw years later].

Since that was the way that we heard new music, my musical world was still pretty small then.  My parents weren’t all that thrilled with MTV and it took us a while to wear them down enough for that to be approved programming.  I finally got a radio in my room when I was 9.  It was old [it was a radio, record player, and an 8-track player all together].  So I tuned it to our local college station that broadcasted NPR and that was what I listened to to go to sleep for the next 2 years.

I was homeschooled in 5th grade, so, basically out of the loop, in terms of pop culture.

In 6th grade, I went to private school again, and we didn’t do a whole lot of talking about music.  I was one of two black people in our class, and the nerdier one by far.  So when I was talking to one of the boys in my class and he said “word up”, I just said, “huh?”  Another guy was right there and was super surprised that I didn’t know what he was talking about  – “you don’t know what ‘word up’ is?”, “you know, like the song?”  And honestly, could you have expected a kid to know what it was without having heard the song or some other slang referral to it?  I didn’t know what they were talking about, and told them that I only listened to classical music.

I was a dork.  But I’m ok with that.

i have always found these girls to be unattractive...guess RP liked 'em

i have always found these girls to be unattractive...guess RP liked 'em

I was still keeping up with Whitney’s music, and by 7th grade I had seen a few more Robert Palmer videos.  So I was behind.  And nerdy by any standards.  But getting better.

Eighth grade brought a complete immersion in Casey’s Top 40, and total abandon in terms of pop music.  It also brought the beginning of the 90s, the musical era in which I was fully aware.  Kicked off with a bang by Mariah and Boyz II Men, the 90s were my time to fully explore whatever I wanted to hear.  I wasn’t all that adventurous really, but I devoured just about every piece of R&B created within that decade, as well as going back and discovering much of what I’d missed in the 80s.  I knew Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, but totally missed Prince.  I knew MJ and Lionel Richie, missed Van Halen – except for that last song Jump.

I’d always had a soundtrack to my life, music that defined and spotlighted moments, but now I was finally current.  I began to shed a bit of my dorkitude.  Never lost it all, though.

And of course, I kinda like Cameo. W-O-R-D  UP.

shy moments: freshman enlightenment

shy momentsMy first year in college was a one of the best years of my life.  I’d already lived a few different places and learned a bit about the world, but not much.  My world was actually pretty small.  Living in a dorm with girls from all over the country was cool, and going to an all women’s college was really fun.  I definitely think there are benefits – at least at that age.

There were about 25 or so of us in our dorm, and I was one of two girls that was in the habit of attending church every week.  That year held the only time I ever decided to just play hooky and stay home and watch tv.  What a horrible day.  So I learned my lesson – my faith is real, and I lose when I fail to respect it.

One girl was a bully, and found me to be her easy target – and I was.  I had girls like that in my life from the time that I was 5 until the time that I was about 17.  Mom fought the battle once, and got the 3rd grade bully kicked off the bus when I was in kindergarten (she writes letters).  After that, I was on my own.  Being shy made it harder for me to deal with bullies, and even now, I wonder at the marvel that I’ve essentially been bully free [with the exception of my current boss, who kinda fits that category] since I was a teenager.  I’ve never actually been able to do anything about them.

For whatever reason, one of my best friends, my first semester there, never told me she was a lesbian.  She ended up not coming back for 2nd semester, and my roommate filled me in, but I couldn’t believe she hadn’t told me.  I suppose she just never felt comfortable, though I’m not sure why.  There were other girls there who were out.  And I didn’t mind either way.  I feel like I remember that I was one of the few – if not the only – who didn’t know.

the only diff? Andy had more rouge. Really.

the only diff? Andy had more rouge. Really.

This was also the first time I had any kind of experience with Mary Kay.  The powers that were decided that it would be useful for us to have a Mary Kay party.  It’d be fun, and we’d learn more about personal grooming [that is…makeup].  I think at least 50% of us weren’t into it.  And then the consultant took my friend, Andy* – the one who wore ball caps and pny tails all the time – and gave her a “free makeover”.  Quelle horror! When the lady was finished, Andy looked like someone else.  At the time, I didn’t know who, because I hadn’t seen her yet.  Years later, I saw her makeup twin on The Drew Carey Show.  Andy was gracious, and moved slowly out of the room, finally making it upstairs to wash all that stuff off.  Thank God we didn’t have digital photos back then.

There was one girl in our program who was Wiccan, and at that point, I had no idea what that was.  I don’t think many of us actually did.  And she could tell.  So she invited someone to come talk to us about Wicca and what it was about.  It turned into a seminar kind of thing in our auditorium, but it was very interesting.  I remember making a point to go because I wanted to know more – I think a lot of people did.  I don’t remember the name of the woman who came, but I remember she was from the DC area, and had a Wiccan tv show on a public access channel.  The presentation included an interesting slideshow from the days before PowerPoint [how old am I?], and held all of our attention.  We learned about the first rule – do no harm or something like that.  That would be because of the rule of three.  That is, whatever you do comes back to you times three.  And she told us that they do cast spells, but they have to be good because of the rule of three.  And I think I remember her saying something about her coven casting a spell to make the Redskins win…

In the course of her talk she told us about how woman-centered Wicca is, and told us her personal story.  She told us near the beginning of her talk, actually, that she had recently been a man.  This was actually very clear [because of her figure, stance, voice, face, and myriad other signs].  She was married to a lady who was also a priestess in their coven.  Being, apparently, quite dedicated to Wicca, she told us that she aspired to be a high priestess, but was barred from doing so because she was a dude.  So she talked it over with her wife, and they agreed I guess.  She was a high priestess when she came to give the talk.

After the talk, she came back to the dorm basement and read tarot for people who were into it – I wasn’t.  Same place where the Mary Kay lady turned my friend into a clown, actually.

It was a crazy year – I missed my sister terribly, had the best baked potato I ever had, and the best strawberry shortcake, came to fear my Spanish teacher, began to curse like crazy and then had a change of heart, learned that I don’t like whole milk, rocked out to Black or White and Smells Like Teen Spirit, and watched the very first/only real season of The Real World.  Somewhere in the midst of all of that I took some classes, too.

*Name has been changed to protect the girl in the hands of the Mary Kay lady.

historical moments in the shy life [series intro]

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep because…oh yeah – a moth got into my house, made it’s way into my bedroom, and wouldn’t stop fluttering against the wall.  I have a thing about smooshing bugs – I hate doing it.  The gushy-ick makes me gag and shudder and I just plain hate it.  So I either shoo/cajole them out of the house/car or spray them with odorless Raid until they stop moving.

So my plan of attack?  Moths like light, right?  So I turned off the fan and light in the bedroom and turned on the hallway light and the guest bath light.  Once I’d gotten the moth into the hallway, I closed my door, turned off the hallway light, and left the guest bath light on.

A smart moth would’ve taken the hint.

This was a dumb moth.

It decided to crawl back under my bedroom door.

The dumb moth is dead.

Obviously, I couldn’t go to sleep with a moth beating itself against the wall and me thinking about the possibility of it landing on me while I slept [things moving around in my house while I’m asleep freak me out – this is one of many reason why I cannot foresee myself ever having a pet…besides fish].  So while I put my moth-light trick into effect, I was thinking about things…

Like my life.  And my blog.  And then, I suppose one thing led to another, as I stood next to the guest bathroom door in my pjs, holding my can of odorless Raid, and squinting because I’d already taken my contacts out.  I thought – hey – I should do a series on pivotal moments in my life.  I mean – it’s my blog – wouldn’t that be so amazingly interesting?

shy moments

I know I’m thrilled.