3/12/2023 0 Comments
Seasons of Life
With age, certain things become easier to see, like the way our lives move in seasons. Those moments when there are overarching themes and it’s our duty to recognize them and dissect what it is they are trying to tell us about ourselves, our lives, and how they are calling on us to determine where it is we want to be when that season is over. For the past year, I’ve been battling a suffocating bout of depression. If I’m truly honest about it, it's been creeping up for a good while now and I’ve tried my best to manage it while still weeding through the triggers that were setting it off. I’ve struggled with admitting the root cause because then I would be sitting in this season of my life and reevaluating where I saw myself in the future; I wasn’t ready to do that. The root cause or theme for this season has grown increasingly loud and I can no longer ignore it if I wish to thrive in future seasons.
My proximity to whiteness is killing me in both a literal and metaphorical sense. My proximity was manageable when I was single. I could build walls around the areas of my life where I wanted peace and keep those who were trying to get good white people stickers in strategically placed zones. I did the work I felt called to do and moved my energy when they crossed boundaries. I still experienced hurt, those gut-wrenching and soul-crushing moments when folks you have put your faith into show you that they are still 110% invested in whiteness didn’t stop, they merely became manageable. Recovery was easier because I had it all contained. I had places of refuge from the onslaught of inhumanity I experienced. Then I remarried and said I do to a white man and to a job position in a predominately white faith that had already shown me some yellow and red flags, but I made a leap of faith that ushered in years of trauma. I find past me apologizing to present me a lot. I thought those yellow and red flags were fixable, and I thought this interracial marriage would be different from my first one. I walked with faith and not facts, and time and time again my heart has paid the price for my faith.
It started off small, as it always does. In my marriage, it was comments and derogatory language by his friends and family that I would ask him to address and instead of jumping at the opportunity to show me my humanity was a priority to him he would become combative and demand that I consider how uncomfortable it would be for him to have to confront those people. He had known them for years. I was asking too much.
In my job, while I was fighting for my humanity at home, I was debating with my supervisor, a white man in his late 50s, on the best course of action for discussing racial justice. He didn’t want to make the white children and parents uncomfortable or have to deal with any potentially racially insensitive moments happening. He drove this point home by saying “what if some kid says at home we use the n-word and my dad says that’s fine”, except he didn’t say “the n-word” he said the word! The N- word. With the hard motherfucking r. He stared at me, and I stared at him and all I could get out was “I don’t even let my children use that word.” Then, I left for the day and called my spouse who had no real comfort to provide and somehow managed to make the whole moment even worse. So I reached out to friends who could hold space for me while I worked on drafting an email that stated what happened and how things would be going forward in regards to the professional relationship between my supervisor and me.
Small churches don’t have HR departments and the minister had already made it clear she wasn’t thrilled that I was given the job, so I was effectively swimming in shark-invested waters alone. When I finally started to test the waters and shared that a racist moment had happened -without going into details- I was asked “who did you tell” not “how are you”.
I wiped my tears and kept my head up, but my sanctuaries were eroding. There were no longer spaces for me to lay down my load and breathe. For the next four years, I went from one trauma experience to the next, all while navigating raising children, trying to build some sort of career, and moving through a pandemic that still isn’t over even though everyone else is over it.
I did my best to push all the hurt down. Every fight for my humanity, for my people’s humanity, chipped away at the walls I had built to keep my mind and heart safe. Every time I had to say this is what your family, your friends, or you have said to me, this is why it’s harmful, please correct it, and was met with an opponent instead of an ally, my wall crumbled a bit more. Every time I said this is how I and/or my children feel excluded by this activity because have a conservation about it and was met with resistance, the cracks from the years of abuse I had endured in other seasons of my life got deeper.
Every meeting or discussion where I pointed out an issue in the church and then was dismissed until someone white regurgitated what I said, took a sledgehammer to the layers of my walls that were clingy desperately to each other. Every meeting or class where a white person said I was angry or “acting out of character” was like chucking grenades at the walls that no longer had anyone left to defend them. My armor was gone. I no longer had spaces for renewal with the pandemic putting literal barriers between those who held space for me and myself. I wiped the tears and tried to keep up the good fight.
These issues were fixable, I told myself over and over again. White people can be moved and for some reason, the universe has put me in this body, in these spaces, at this time and it must be to help these people move to a better place. I chose my tone and my words meticulously in each interaction. I took my yellow brick road and covered it with eggshells in hopes that it would help me tread carefully. With each step, I erased my own humanity but I wouldn’t allow myself to see it until a stack of beautiful glass and crystal literally landed at my feet.
It started on a Monday afternoon, I had already spent the morning running errands and taking a small human to an appointment. I had items I needed to prep for that evening and I was on a tight but doable schedule. And then I glanced at the top of my fridge and thought “I’ve told them countless times to not stack those like that or they’ll fall. I’ll deal with it in a moment.”; as that last thought left my mind the platters shifted and tumbled off the fridge. I tried to catch them and watched helplessly as they eluded my grip and crashed onto the floor.
As I looked upon the broken glass all I could think about was the way each platter represented every cross I was bearing, every single day, and how often I felt voiceless. And I was angry about all of it. So fucking angry. I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to give my children a safe and loving home. I wanted peace. And in those pursuits, I put my peace to the side and there it sat on my kitchen floor, broken into a million fucking little pieces waiting for me to clean it up. I sat in my shower that evening crying trying to push the voice down that was screaming to be heard. After 30 years with my shadow mistress, I know she only screams when I’m being stubborn and ignoring the red flags my trauma has taught me to see clearly.
There was a theme for this season of my life and acknowledging it hurt in a way I couldn’t put into words, only my tears could spell it out as they mixed with the hot water. I’d given whiteness too much access to my mind, body, heart, and soul. And whiteness did with that access what it does with everything, it ravaged me and left me battered and broken, like the fragile glass that had littered my kitchen floor that afternoon.
I stopped ignoring the voice and leaned into what it was saying, run or die there is no staying. I calculated the logistics of death and realized I didn’t want that. I want to wake up every morning. I want to love on my children until I’m old and gray. And I want to continue to make the world a better place, but it needs to be in a way that affirms my humanity. Doing so means walking away from the people and spaces that I had once committed myself to. I left the church job almost a year ago and haven’t secured anything in that realm since, aside from some freelance projects. I do my best to honor red flags, raise awareness of the red flag, and then cease contact. As I sat in my shower, I had to ask myself if the few commitments I had in that faith were worth the investment of seeing them through before completely walking away. I told myself they were because they were a small step in a larger plan that I can’t quite see right now and that’s ok. I’ll finish my last projects this summer and the relief that provides me is invigorating. I’m on the right track. I feel it in the depth of my being.
Then I had to have a real conversation with myself about my romantic relationship. Things had improved, slowly and painfully from the day we had said I do, but they still weren’t where they needed to be.
There’s a beautiful song by Priscilla Renea called Let’s Build a House, in it she says:
“You on the edge, me on the ledge
Clinging to you, driving a wedge
Just tryna keep this thing floating
Let’s build a house, tear this one down
Might take a while but it’ll be ours
Let’s use the stones that everyone’s thrown
We need a sanctuary of our own”
I tried to weave those words into the gaps left by the pain that was inflicted. I had hoped they would be the glue needed to piece me back together so I could feel completely invested in the relationship; as the tears fell I found that those words created a false hope in my mind because, at the end of the day, I’ll never be able to fully trust that my humanity will be affirmed and protected by the people and institutions that have already shown that they would rather fight me than love me. Ultimately, I would have to rebuild the walls that whiteness tore down and for that season, those who caused harm would need to be on the outside of those walls and those who respected the distance and did self-reflection in the process may be granted entry in another season.
But that entry is not guaranteed.
I know that now. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever allow any white person or institution to get that close to me again. Does this mean that my current marriage is over? No, it isn't. We have an understanding. The house, my essence, is being torn down and rebuilt so that it is once again mine and mine alone. I’m using every stone that has been thrown at me to shore up my foundation. Once the fortress is built there is no guarantee that he will be permitted a key. He was given the choice to leave or wait, understanding that I’m not guaranteeing anything other than my own peace, he has chosen to wait.
What does the next season hold? Only time will tell. But for now, I’m ready to finish sweeping up the broken glass of this season in my life and move on to the next lesson with my walls firmly intact.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
2/14/2023 0 Comments
In Defense of Valentine's Day
Hallmark commercials, overpriced red roses, and blood diamonds for days. Our ideas of Valentine's Day are intricately linked to a capitalistic view of what love is. Like most holidays in Western society you have the Christian/Catholic story layered over the previously celebrated Pagan tradition. Valentine's Day is no different. Taking the celebration of Lupercalia, removing the ritual sacrifices, random picking of a sex partner from a jar of names, and public flogging of women by naked men -some of these traditions are still practiced privately today by followers of Lupercal- and tossing in the supposed patron saint of heteronormative romantic love with sprinkles from the rising greeting card industry (thanks to low postage cost) and you have the foundation for what we experience today.
There have always been haters of V-Day. From those who saw (and still see) its connection to Lupercal as godless hedonism to a corp of mostly white third-wave feminists who saw it as another tool of the patriarchy to keep women focused on things other than equality and equity. There's always someone willing to shade Valentine's Day celebrations. Even I toyed with tasting the nectar of anti-Valentine's Day sentiments for a while. It would be easy to say my anti-Valentine's Day sentiments were a result of coming into my identity as a woman and seeing the harm of Valentine's Day, but that would be a lie. It's over-commercialized, like most major holidays in our society, and we should look objectively at the way capitalism is equating love with spending money and the long-term effects it has on our ability to build meaningful relationships, but that doesn't mean we have to throw the arrow toting baby out with the bath water.
At the beginning of my journey through adulthood, I was apathetic and at times hostile toward Valentine's Day not because I didn't see the beauty in a holiday dedicated to love, because I did, no my disdain was rooted in my own longing that was going unmet. A longing to be showered with love, and to shower someone else as well, for no other reason than it was February 14th. After my divorce, while I was firmly in my "I can buy my own flowers" era of hyper-independence I took time to reflect on various traditions -which ones I wanted to toss away and which ones I wanted to get better at adhering to -, and Valentine's Day was at the top of the list of traditions that needed further examining.
My experiences with Valentine's Day go way back. I don't remember the first time my father bought me a red rose but I do remember when it stopped, I was in high school and dating the man that would eventually be my first husband. My father, in true narcissist form, acted like I had betrayed him and withdrew the few signs of love and affection he had shown me up to that point. Instead of teaching me what I should look for in a partner and how to establish boundaries, he taught me how to settle for less than my worth. So I did. Each and every year after that. Add the proximity of my birthday to Valentine's Day and there were many years where I was expected to be content with an all-in-one gift like a bargain basement disappointing all-in-one body wash, shampoo, and conditioner combo. Nothing ever felt authentic or meaningful, instead, the treatment of both days was rushed to check a box. Wanting to save myself the disappointment I removed the box and raged against it.
Why, do we hate Valentine's Day so strongly when our lives don't fit the cookie-cutter Disney image of romantic love? Because we've put romantic love on a pedestal and equated the lack of it with a personal failing. We sell ourselves short on all the love the world has to offer us when we only see Valentine's Day through the eyes of the perfectly posed Instagram photos and large bouquets on colleagues' desks. The reality is that Valentine's Day doesn't have to only focus on romantic love and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a day where you shower those you love in their love language for no other reason than you're happy they exist. Sure, we should be doing this all the time. But let's be real, we're not going to. Much like we're not going to be able to maintain the spirit of Christmas all year long we aren't always going to stop and think "maybe I should spoil my bestie today". Yes, I know there's Galentine's Day but that has always felt like a white feminist attempt to have Valentine's Day without having to commit to loving on everybody while still, conveniently, leaving themselves a pathway to celebrate Valentine's Day when the "right" partner comes along.
Valentine's Day has been placed in a box of unrealistic expectations for what it means to show up for and love on your people. Every year Valentine's Day gives us an opportunity to remind those we love and ourselves that love is powerful and it can be shown in a multitude of ways. It's saying yes to your kids playing hooky on the 14th -and joining them on the couch to watch cartoons and eat heart-shaped Fruit Loops-. It's brunch with your best friends where you remind each other that yes we can buy our own flowers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting someone else to as well. It's babysitting your neighbors' kids so they can have a few hours to hear themselves and each other. It's calling extended family that you often don't make time for. It's centering your joy and pleasure. It's an opportunity to focus on the thing that makes us uniquely human, the ability to love beyond the bonds of blood and duty. It doesn't have to be a day for bitterness and rage.
It can grow into a day that centers our desire for connection, love, and understanding. We can make it more than a Hallmark ad. Any day that calls us to love one another more deeply deserves the chance to grow beyond the confines that capitalism has placed it in.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
1/26/2023 0 Comments
Gold From Pain
In addition to this being a year of no for me, it’s also a year for examining my proximity to whiteness from family and personal relationships, to where and how I’m using my professional skills. And more importantly, the areas where I need to cut ties or remove the looking glass and where I’m willing to dig in and fight back to create the world I know we can have. In order to figure that out I have to start from the beginning.
I grew up confused.
My father was born in the early 60s, before Malcolm X and Dr. King took their last breaths, in the front seat of a car to a white woman named Karen and a Black man named Sam. In a time before Loving v Virginia, my father was five before his father’s name graced his birth certificate. They eventually married and divorced before I set foot on the scene. I don’t know much about my grandfather, he was born in the 20s and I’ve been told he was mean but when I look back with informed eyes on the dozen or so times we were around him before they lowered his coffin into an unmarked grave, I’ve realized his malice was the symptom to a larger condition. He was traumatized. And he inflicted that trauma on everyone around him. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, because he caused real harm to his children, but it does help me understand my own rage better.
We spent summers with my grandmother and extended family. I don’t remember when it started, but when I think back on my childhood summers they center around a small house built in the 40s that invokes more fear inside my mind than my grandfather ever has. It’s where I built the tunnels for how deep my rage would go as I learned all the ways I wasn’t right. How the way I moved through the world wasn’t Black enough while I simultaneously received praise for performing the white way, straightening that hair, losing that weight, clutching my bible, and cranking up the country music while carving myself into tiny pieces. Taking every comment on the ways my skin, my feelings, and my mere existence wasn’t right and filling in the gaps left behind with quiet rage that lead to a labyrinth of trauma.
Part of healing means acknowledging that people are operating from the various traumas they’ve tended into sparkling personalities and growing from those places is often harder than maintaining the illusions they’ve created for themselves, so they tend to keep with the status quo. You’ll never get closure from them because in their minds they’ve done nothing wrong, so you have to find closure in your own way. Half of me began when two people, operating from trauma, fetishization, and rebellion brought forth life. In their minds, I imagine, as so many do now, they believed they didn’t need to do more. That simply creating that life was enough, they could be colorblind and everything would sort itself out. That’s not how it works, though, we can’t fuck our way out of generations of oppression. That must be a deliberate act and it requires a lot of painful work.
When we play racial politics in the bedroom and then aren’t intentional with how we raise the outcome we create confusion and pain that ripples through the bloodline. We can’t learn to love ourselves wholly as we are when the kitchen table we’re feeding from was built by white supremacy and the meal we’re being served is poisoned by those who claim to love us.
On my maternal side, I come from a long line of Black women whose skin was kissed by the sun and whose trauma is nestled deep inside my veins. I’ve given up asking myself how different my personality would be if I had been raised knowing that being Black simply meant being myself. I’ll never be the sugar and spice, light-skin-compliant Barbie with an alphabet of letters after her name that everyone wanted. I’m an unhinged ray of fucking sunshine that’s sick of being told by whiteness how she feels and who she is allowed to be. There is no going back now, there’s only forward out of the confusion.
Forward means embracing the rage. Yes, I’m angry. I’m tired of keeping a constant log of names while agents of whiteness flail about acting confused about the current state of things when they’ve cosigned this hate with their silence after every dinner, meeting, and opportunity life has thrown at them to course-correct themselves and their fellow white brethren. I’ve had a front-row seat to the creation of Black bodies from a “well-meaning” white woman who skipped her happy ass down to the voting booth in 2016 and 2020 to cast her vote for Donald J. Trump and had only the vilest things to say about President Obama. Completely indifferent to the fact that her son looked like the man she called an un-American agent of terror. I grew up hearing she didn’t know any better. She’s from a different time. I grew up hearing my own father spout the same anti-Black tropes while picking Black women to warm his bed. He patted me on my head and told me, like all Black women, I would only be good for one thing.
He was my father, but he sounded like my grandmother. I was told that my skin color ensured that I had no real worth. I told myself, before I understood the weight of my choices, that I would prove everyone wrong. I would get approval from those who sat atop the privileged mountain. I dug my nails in. I kept cutting myself into pieces. Smaller… and smaller… swallowing each piece with a dose of rage. I birthed babies of varying shades and tucked away every comment the outside world threw our way that screamed we weren’t enough as we were.
I tried to keep my trauma from pouring over my babies because someone had to get this right, but trauma is like grains of sand. It gets in so easily. When you think you’ve got it pegged whiteness rears its ugly head and reminds you that nowhere is safe, that your guard must always be up, and once the sand is in it takes diligence to remove it.
I went into my 30s bucking everything I had been taught. I went natural. I expanded what I read and where I received information. I pushed back against the notion that my worth was to be dedicated by those who burn in the sun, trying my best to remember that I was the sunshine. And yet, the sand still got in because for all my internal growth, externally the circles were still the same. The same pale faces that smiled when I was sprinkling magic into their lives, but would morph into serpents the moment I asserted my worth and boundaries. It was the same shit again, I was a kid crying for help while everyone asked why I was whining.
I’m tired of crying.
I’ve watched white folks who claim to want change attempt to be relevant and hip when in reality you’re making a mockery of Blackness for approval and giggles while patting your chosen Blacks on the head for knowing their place and letting you behave in such a manner. I’ve watched the way you cut us the minute we don’t want to play your game. It doesn’t matter if we’re kin or acquaintances, when dealing with whiteness if you’re Black you’re disposable. Everyone knows this and does their best to ignore it, but true trust and growth can’t exist as long as you always expect us to be compliant supporting cast members in your life stories. This means you must be uncomfortable at all times if you really want Blackness to thrive. If you’re comfortable, we’re suffering. Either make the changes or admit you like it that way and stop pretending otherwise. You can’t have it both ways.
I grew up knowing that whiteness will always seek out those in the Black delegation who are broken and willing to sit their humanity on a shelf and be paraded around as a “good one” for the twisted acceptance that whiteness will never really provide. I’ve spent years learning how to sharpen my tongue while keeping it sheathed so I don’t upset whiteness. My father’s voice is always so clear in those memories… “There’s mixed company here, watch what you say.”... “You know the white people in your life can see this Rayven! What are they going to say?”
Fuck. What. You. Have. To. Say.
My anger is real. It’s valid. The hit dogs will always holler the loudest and I owe no one an apology for speaking my truth. I’ve spent nearly 40 years spinning gold from my pain and I won’t dull my shine any longer for any of you.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
― Anne Lamott
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
1/13/2023 0 Comments
The Myth of Perfect
This article was originally published on Ramblings of a Dysfunctional Homeschooler in 2015. Previous pieces from that blog will be uploaded here as I am willing and able to. In the piece below, The Spouse refers to my now ex-husband.
A little over a month ago I tossed an inflatable into the room we’ve lovely dubbed “The Library” and fired the first of what would be a series of shots on both ends that ultimately brought about the moment every couple swears they’ll never experience when they get married. The “we need to divorce” talk. There have been tears, rage, and more tears, because even when you know it’s the right thing to do that doesn’t erase the emotions that went into the relationship. Instead they bubble up, unexpectedly, encompassing you without a moment’s notice. You find yourself standing in a group of people completely in control and then out of nowhere the air leaves your lungs and your balance feels unsteady.
You struggle to regain your composure before anyone notices the haze filling your eyes, it’s painful and frustrating especially when the world doesn’t know the truth. You are at war with your emotions and logic, and even some days your spouse, but to the rest of the world you and your family are as they always have been. That’s the myth of perfect at work. Two weeks ago, The Spouse and I started the uncomfortable process of letting the outside world know where we were headed. His outing involved work. I went with social media because, I figured it would be like pulling off a band-aid. Quick and virtually painless. While it was quick, painless it was not.
Our lives go through filters. This isn’t a new concept brought about by social media, no matter what the newest trending article claims, it’s something we as a human race have done for generations. Always smiling and putting the best image of ourselves, our family, and our relationships forward. Every now and then a bit of the truth slips out, but, for the most part, our lives are heavily edited to produce a show we want people to believe really takes place. Maybe that’s why reality television is so popular, we’re all doing it and reality television reminds us that we’re not the only ones using more than Instagram filters when interacting with the world. Of course when bits and pieces of the filters fall away and people get to actually view the unedited footage there are questions. One question, or a variation of it, that I keep encountering is “You guys looked so happy and perfect, what happened?”
There’s that word, perfect. I won’t lie, we did look pretty damn perfect some days and not all of those conversations or pictures were put through a filter. Plenty of them were, though, and even more were left on the cutting room floor to never be gazed upon by anyone other than myself. Why? Because they didn’t support the myth of perfect. The myth that my marriage and my life were aspirations that others should reach for. I would often cringe when someone would tell me that they longed for a relationship like the one the Spouse and I had. Of course, they only knew the bits I shared and I made sure to never share the ugly bits. Having to share the ugly bits, or at least acknowledge that we had enough of them to terminate our relationship, has been painful. A variety of things seems to happen when you tell people where you truly are in life, you either get support, advice which isn’t always useful or solicited, questions you often don’t have the answers to, or booze and trauma vultures. And because you can’t peel away the veneer that the perfect myth places on life without taking some flesh with it, you get plenty of pain.
The pain is a double edged sword, on one hand it begs you to go back to the safety of the myth. It wants you to bask in the comfort of those rose colored filters where the reality of your life was lived alone and isolated from the prying eyes that would offer their half-baked thoughts and opinions on your situation. Then the pain grabs you and reminds you why it exist. It shakes you and rocks you to your core, preventing you from going anywhere but forward. While the truth hurts, pretending kills. So you stop pretending.
Now that you all know that dysfunctional wasn’t just a cute blog title, but an actual indication of the insanity in which our family has lived, where do we go from here? I know the question portion is coming.
*Engaging announcer font* Will The Bringers of Mayhem still be homeschooled? Was it the military that caused this breakdown of such a lovely family? Did you try hard enough?
The line of questioning folks throw at you boarders on fucking insane, while some are legitimate and ok to ask, others are not. I would say most, actually, are not ok to ask. I have to tell you all before you hit that comment button, think first!
I will go ahead and answer the most asked questions, because I’m nice like that: that’s what we all want to see happen, it’s not completely to blame nor is it totally blameless, and I don’t understand that question. What exactly is enough and who gets to determine when you’ve reached it?
If you ask me I will say yes, if you ask The Spouse he’ll probably say no. We see our relationship and its end through a different set of eyes and experiences even when some of those experiences were shared. That’s the reality of any human relationship. We all see the world through different eyes and different experiences. At some point in time those differences either become the relationship's strength or it becomes their weakness. No matter how many filters we apply or edits we make for the world, we still have to view our relationships with our eyes wide open no matter how much it hurts.
Copyright(c)2015 Rayven Holmes
6/11/2019 3 Comments
Free to Be You and Me
Once upon a time there was a prom and a personal determination to look phenomenal while being comfortable. To accomplish this, I slid on a gorgeous teal dress shirt that popped against my skin and then paired it with a fitted black suit jacket. One pair of ultra-black skinny jeans, some black and white high-top Chuck Taylors, a blinged out bowtie choker, a dash of red lipstick, and a head scarf from the Mother Land later; I was in peak “steal your girl” mode and immensely comfortable.
My father, on the other hand, was on the verge of an aneurysm.
He tried to persuade me to wear a dress. It was prom season and there was no shortage of gorgeous dresses I could scoop up for the night. I wasn’t interested in getting zipped into anything and when I informed him of this, he offered to get me a nice skirt and new top. Anything other than what I had picked out he pleaded. If it was feminine presenting, he was willing to buy it. I declined each offer, completely comfortable in what I had chose for myself. When my best friend arrived, he tried to persuade her to talk some sense into me. “She can’t go out like that” he insisted. My bestie, the amazing woman she is, brushed him off and stated that as her date I was dressed as I should be. After my father clutched his invisible pearls, we snapped some pictures and went out into the night, my father still shaking his head in disapproval as the Lyft drove off.
This was less than a month ago.
Growing up in a conservative Catholic family it was always made clear that men were to be men, the guiding sources of wisdom that were often incapable of controlling themselves. And women were to be women, silent, subservient, and the reason for all of man’s problems. They were created for each other and bound to the duty of continuing god’s perfect design through procreation. Anything outside of god’s perfect design was to be beat out of us until we submitted to his grand plan. Members of the LGBTQA+ community were at the top of that list. I spent my youth being a “tomboy”, refusing to believe that my gender could limit what I was capable of. I fought every dress I was forced into. Every pair of stockings would magically rip. Every belt lashing was a reminder that if I didn’t cry then, ultimately, they couldn’t win because they wouldn’t know how weak I was. When I was 18, I made the decision I had been raised to make when faced with pregnancy and gave birth to 7 pounds of potential. Someone once told me that my oldest son has a “very Christian name”, and it’s true because I was deeply engulfed in my faith when he was born. So much so, one of my dearest friends worried about coming out to me because they didn’t know how I would react.
Loving people who didn’t fall into god’s perfect plan and struggling with keeping who I was tightly boxed in, I found myself spending evenings pouring over my bible. I would read passages aloud as I held that small human who was full of potential. As the small human grew, another joined the fold, and the political landscape required I jump down off the fence. I found myself struggling to hold on to the faith I had been given. Eventually, I put the bible on a shelf and said goodbye to my faith. I had finally realized that the only way I could be a good mother was to shed what I had been raised with and create my own playbook. In the process of raising children brave enough to be who they are, I had to learn to accept myself. Every bit of who I am. From my natural hair and melanated flesh to my orientation, presentation, and lack of faith. The box that was prepared for me in my youth didn’t work with my parenting and the example I wanted to set for my children on how to live life unapologetically happy.
I never wanted my children to feel like they had to conform to someone else’s beliefs of who they should be. It was important to me that they grew up knowing they would be immensely loved, unconditionally, no matter where they fell on any of the spectrums that we use to define who we are as people. I've welcomed freedom of expression in how they present to the world. From jeans and sneakers to dresses and nail polish, they are free to explore and determine what is and isn’t for them. They are still working out who they are, with zero fear. While Professor Chaos and General Disarray identify as male, Stormaggedon identifies as non-binary. The fact that they felt empowered to say “I’m not male, don’t call me sir” makes every shackle from my youth that I’ve had to shed, and the pain that accompanied it, worth it. I never wanted my children to feel like they had to hide who they were from me. I never wanted them to know the pain of trying to squeeze themselves into a box that they clearly didn’t fit in. I wanted them to be free to be who they are and, in the process, I freed myself to do the same.
Parenting has had the greatest impact on who I am as a person. I’ve had to ask myself, with every decision I’ve made, “If this is the last choice I get to make upon this earth, is this the legacy I want to leave behind with my children?” It’s a heavy question to weigh. We’re given 18 years to mold humans, while navigating our own bullshit, it is simultaneously a selfish and self-less act. It doesn’t seem to get any easier but, I take solace in knowing that with hard work and a lot of personal growth the legacy I leave with my children will be better than the one that is being left with me.
At the end of the day, if we’re free to be who we are, and celebrated instead of persecuted, then there is no greater legacy to leave.
What legacy are you leaving?
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
5/1/2019 2 Comments
Oops I Did It Again...
Second weddings are strange. From debating on if you can wear white, obviously, the virginal jig is up when you’re walking down the aisle with three kids. To who gets an invite, it’s a no on your ex folks. It can be overwhelming. Factor in the immense anxiety that accompanies remarriage and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in a sea of bullshit instead of a comfortable bottle of wine.
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
4/19/2019 0 Comments
Ask The Smiths
We love our holidays and celebrate them with wild abandon. Each has traditions that have been tweaked and fine tuned over the years. New Year’s Eve is no exception. On New Year’s Eve, as part of our annual countdown to midnight, we do end of the year interviews. For the past six years, I’ve pulled out a list of questions and placed each of the Bringers of Mayhem in front of our Christmas tree. It is one of our traditions I look forward to the most each year. As they have developed as individuals their answers have morphed from simple words into eloquent thoughts. Watching this change happen every year has been immensely enjoyable. In accordance with my “if I want you to do it I’ll do it too” parenting style I would also position myself in front of the camera. I didn’t put much emphasis on the way my answers changed. This past New Year’s Eve my sister had a request that The Bearded One and I answer some couples questions. While this may seem like an adorable request to make of a newlywed couple he and I weren’t feeling the newlywed love vibes.
Our first holiday season as married partners attempting to blend our two worlds was a series of train wrecks. Factor in holiday financial stressors and we weren’t feeling anything but frustration. My sister knew this. My sister is one of my closest friends and my rock. She also firmly believes that 90% of relationship problems can be solved when you remember why you’re building your life with that person. The other 10%? Well that’s what divorce lawyers are for. I won’t say she’s right, because she already knows she is.
So on New Year’s Eve, The Bearded One and I sat next to each other, engulfed in our strife, and answered questions while my sister live streamed it on Facebook. By the end, we were laughing and she was asserting we are a strange couple. We are. But sis, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wandering around the woods at night as long as you’re prepared! Did the Q&A solve all our problems? Absolutely not. That’s what therapists are for. But, working on your shit should be fun sometimes and answering random questions about our life together was fun. Later that evening a few friends shared they would love to see us answer questions again. We figured why not, but the questions would have to come from others. The decision on when it happened was tossed into my court to figure out. After some thought, and seeing how busy our life is, I settled on twice a year. May and December. Yeah, next month. Surprise!
Here’s how this will work, on May 10th at 9pm we’ll go live on the Malice in Wonderland Facebook page. Questions are due by noon on the 10th. Either comment them below, send them through a Facebook message, or text me if we’re cool like that. We’ll hang out for about fifteen minutes on Facebook. If we make it through the questions sent in then we may take some during the live feed but do NOT bank on this. If there is something you want to know, and there is literally no limit to what you are allowed to ask, then send it in by NOON on the 10th!
I’ll post the aftermath either on here or YouTube or both. Who knows. Like with my life, I’m making this shit up as I go and calling it a plan when it all comes together.
If you got questions, get to asking!
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
3/1/2019 0 Comments
The Feast of Life
I was going to start this by saying it’s been a while but apparently, it’s only been about a month since my last post. Congrats to me for slowly creeping toward my goal of posting once a week again. So, what brings me to this junction of thoughts and virtual paper today? A theory. Yup a theory. Not a scientific one. This one is about work-life balance and a stove. I was introduced to the four-burner theory during a small business support group. For those who are unaware of this theory, like I was, pull up a seat and let me give you a quick crash course on it. This theory approaches our lives as if they are small four-burner stoves. Oh, you thought you were one of those grand stoves with six or eight burners? Me too. But apparently, in this theory, we’re not. We’re all tiny stoves that are slightly broken because in order to be “successful” you must cut off burners. So, if your existence was a meal, for this meal to be tasty you can only cook two items at a time.
Now each burner is an item. You have your family, your friends, your health, and your work. No hobbies. No spiritual or personal growth. Just your family, friends, health, and essentially wealth. When this theory is brought up in the work/life balance discussion success is usually meant in terms of one’s career and not overall enjoyment of one’s life. Since being introduced to this way of dissecting our lives, I’ve bounced around in my head what success means to me. I don’t see my life as a simple stove where only two burners can work efficiently at the same time. I know I can’t have ten burners going full blast at once. That’s a level of anarchy that I’ve been there and got the t-shirt for and have no desire to ever recreate. I get the general gist of this theory and the notion that we do have to occasionally put some things on the “back burner” so to speak in order to focus more on other areas. I hate the way this theory breaks elements of our life down into burners instead of realizing those are the meals we’re creating for the feast that is our life, though. My life is more than four burners. And I don’t gauge my success in this life by how well the work/wealth burner is doing. I gauge my comfort, as well as my family’s, by how well what I’m cooking on that burner is doing. But it isn’t the meter I use to determine if I’m winning at life.
There’s more to a successful life, for me, than having a winning career. There are moments with my kids, laughter with friends, self-discovery, and new experiences. Because of those things I’d rather tweak this theory to be a more accurate representation of the richness of our lives. Yes, there is give and take, but it doesn’t mean a burner has to be shut off. Simmer is a perfectly legitimate setting to use in cooking whether literally or figuratively. True to form, I crafted my own life theory and I shall call it the Feast of Life.
How does it work? First, let’s throw out that crappy four burner stove and upgrade ourselves to one of those commercial grade six burner stoves with a griddle and not one but two ovens. With this we can really do some cooking, but before we start throwing down in the kitchen, we must first know what courses we want to make and what ingredients we need to ensure a delicious meal. Every quality chef has a plan before they bust out the hardware. I’ve spent the greater part of last year breaking down the ingredients I need in my life and exploring the configurations of those elements that would yield a feast I can be proud of.
While the four-burner theory is a quick and easy way to dissect our lives, it doesn’t challenge us to dig deep into what we need to truly be happy in this one life we have. Sure, career success is great but is that truly what will bring you fulfillment in life? If so, awesome. If not, then what would? Now’s your time to sit and marinate on that. What areas of your life do you want to be remembered for? Break the notion that a successful life is one that can have a price tag put on it. Instead, look at what ignites that spark in you and run with it. That’s your main course. We all have one, it’s the area of our life that sustains us and breathes life into our existence. It’s the guiding hand as we're moving through this world making vital and even benign decisions.
For me, my main course is family. According to the four burners theory I need to put that on the front and crank that burner up to high. Easy. Except not really because nothing worth having in life is as simple as tossing a pot on high and calling it a day. To be able to call my life a success I had to take it a step further and look at what makes up the meal that is family. My kids are a given. As well as my spouse. But there’s more there. The Ex is family too, for better or worse we’re in the business of co-parenting the bringers of mayhem until we take our last breaths. Then there are the relationships with my parents, siblings, friends who became family, and various extended branches on my family tree that are important to me in one way or another. Each connection is an ingredient, family is a complicated dish in more ways than one; which means it gets three burners and part of the griddle. And half the bottle of cooking wine, but that’s a post for another day.
It’s up to you to determine how best to tackle your main course. What needs to simmer or be a rolling boil and when those things need to happen. The relationship with my boys is always on high, but once they are grown and living their own lives? It’ll get turned down. Life is fluid and our cooking should be as well.
Alright, we’ve got our main course bubbling away, what’s next? Our soup of course. Not a soup person? Well for the sake of this metaphor pretend that you are. A soup only needs one burner set to a nice steady simmer so the flavors can blend together nicely. You stir it every so often, check the flavor, and add a bit more kick as needed.
For me, I call that dish friendship. It’s dependable and brings comfort all year long. Especially in those moments when life seems bleakest. It’s complex, but not in the same way my family relationships are. It’s a meal I can survive on, and Thor knows I have, but I need both it and my main course in order to thrive in this life. What you set in your soup pot is the element of your life that won’t implode if you look away for five or ten minutes to tend to another dish but is still vital in creating a memorable feast.
We’ve got our main course and our soup dish. That still leaves us with two burners, two ovens, and the rest of the griddle. For me, the remaining burners and griddle space belong to my side dishes: health, career, and personal growth. The number of side dishes you have will be determined by how much of the griddle and how many burners you need to cook your main dish. Your side(s) are those things that compliment your main course without overshadowing it. My health, career, and personal growth are important elements because they aid in creating a well-rounded life by providing the tools I need to maintain the parts of my life that matter the most to me. What are the elements of your life that compliment your main course without demanding to be the star of your feast?
At this point, we’re breaking a sweat and the kitchen smells amazing, but we still have two piping hot ovens ready. What are those for? They are the bread and dessert courses. Also known as the filler and icing on the cake. These are the things that one could do without in their life but having them brings great joy and ensures a fulfilling life feast. For me, those are hobbies and bucket list items. These are items that aren’t tied to personal growth but instead add to the overall joy in my life. Things like tattoos, running a race, or celebrating New Years in Sydney aren’t vital to my satisfaction with life, but accomplishing these things did and would add that extra something to my feast that would ensure I went out of this life stuffed and victorious by my own standards.
Everyone’s feast is different. Everyone is fulfilled in life in their own way. For some their main course is work and their baked goods are their relationships with family and friends. Only we can decide how our feast will be constructed. It is our job as the head chefs of our lives to take the time to sit down and look at what success and life fulfillment truly means for us and then set to work cooking a feast that will be enjoyed long after we’re gone.
Our lives aren’t easy bake ovens or simple four-burner stoves where we can turn two off and keep on trucking. It’s time we turned the work-life balance narrative on its head and realize it’s all part of the same life. Balance is a lie. We’re all in search of fulfillment. Balance is just the hustle they sell you to keep you slaving over a small stove. Get a bigger stove and cook up the life that brings you the most joy. You’ll be glad you did.
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
5/21/2017 1 Comment
The Art of Bridge Burning
I still read my bible. Nowhere near as much as I use to but, every now and then my fingers long for the bible paper and the smell of 14 years of religious exploration. It’s nestled between old college textbooks and, ironically, a copy of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. It’s nowhere near my Dawkins and Hitchen’s books because, while I’m with those men on a number of points I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t find value in that worn book on my bookshelf. Beyond the bronze age mythology, there is poetry and wisdom. I linger over 1 Corinthians and Proverbs the most. Striving to do everything in love, even if it’s tough love, and to be mindful of the character that the company I keep exhibits.
That last one, the character of my associates, has weighed heavily on me this year. At the beginning of the year, I took a cold hard look in the mirror and asked myself, who I am? What do I stand for? Who do I stand with? And, who shouldn’t I stand with? From there I started backing away from the people and groups that didn’t fit within the values I want to uphold. It hasn’t been easy because ultimately it means judging people who in a generalized way might be "OK" folks. And while that can be difficult to do, I set the example for my children and must always choose our values over what’s easy.
What I teach my children will follow them the rest of their lives in some form or fashion. So I constantly have to ask myself, what am I teaching them when I let things slide? What am I teaching them when I excuse behavior that doesn’t align with our values on love, integrity, acceptance, respect, equality, and inclusion? Even if they don’t see it and hear it first hand, I know I’ve excused the behavior. I’ve taken a sledgehammer to the foundation of virtues and values I strive to build my family on. My heart knows when I’m not doing the work of upholding our values and it reflects outwards. Repeatedly ignoring one's beliefs ultimately leads to a change in beliefs, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything, right?
So bridges have to be burnt, or the house crumbles on its weak foundation.
But, do I need to be mindful of the associations of my associates as well? Or can I ignore the company my company keeps and focus solely on the character they present to me? Most, I believe, would argue for the latter but, I’m not so sure that’s the right approach because often times the character presented to us is a lie. With time, what lies in a person’s heart will reveal itself. But you can’t get back the time you’ve invested once that happens. So do we wait and see or burn the bridge before we’ve given someone the chance to show their heart instead of their face?
While I love the feel of bible pages, I dropped a deity in favor of something I could see, humanity. My faith in the desire of humans to be the best version of themselves nudges me to wait and see. To explore the hearts of those I encounter because I know we all put on a face depending on the situation we’re in. But my cynic, the part of me that’s stared into the black hole of disappointment that is often humanity, thinks waiting is wasteful. Why wait for the inevitable when you can move forward now while the bridge is still easy to burn?
I’ve yet to figure out the answer, and maybe there isn't one. Maybe this is a gray issue. An issue that's handled on a case by case basis as information about associations is received throughout the course of knowing someone. And the nature of your relationship is taken into account, too. Because you can’t hold someone you work with to the same standards as someone you routinely break bread with, or can you? In addition to information and relationship, we also have to account for ourselves. What are our limits? What are the lines that we don’t allow people to cross if they are to be associated with us? Because at the end of the day we are the company we keep and the company we keep says a lot about who we are.
So, what is the company you keep saying about you?
3/27/2016 1 Comment
Beauty, Pain, and a Movie Reel
It all started with a halfhearted promise. “I’ll make things better,” he said while kneeling in the muddy field. He loved me I told myself. He got a ring, he promised things would be better once we were married, so surely he loved me. Over the next eight months I inquired about wedding details, “I don’t care about that stuff” he would mumble before rushing off the phone. On my 18th birthday, I moved in with him. This was the beginning of the rest of my life I told myself. A life full of fantastic adventures with my best friend, or so I believed.
Our first attempt to get married a few days later was deterred by the incorrect birth certificate on my part, because there is a big difference in a certificate of live birth and a birth certificate, apparently. I slunk home depressed in my pretty floral spring dress. He looked relieved and eager to get out of the khakis I had requested he wear because “It’s our wedding day we should look nice”. “It's a waste of time”, the words lingered in the knots of my hair I had spent an hour fighting with. He thought it looked a mess. But, I knew he loved me, so I simply needed to try harder next time.
When the proper certificate arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later I was thrilled, he was annoyed. “When do you want to go get married”, the words danced from my heart and oozed through my lips. “I don’t know”, he replied. I shook off his indifference. Another couple of weeks passed before we had a discussion about expectations. I had no desire to shack up for an undisclosed period of time and needed to know if he really wanted the same thing I did. Blame my Catholic conservative Christian upbringing. Blame personal standards. But after a month, you’re either buying the cow or getting your milk elsewhere because I refuse to play house. After some grumbling, he lamented that he did want to get married and we agreed on a Friday afternoon. He didn’t want to wear anything nice or take pictures. I granted his wish with the hope that we’d have a nice wedding one day. I spent that Friday on edge. My heart and stomach jumped, jived, and wailed with each tick of the clock. I had to remind myself to breath as the hours turned into minutes and those minutes into the moments that would define the rest of my life.
The judge who married us was buried in a sea of child support filings and petty crimes when we walked in. The defeat of his day shone on his face as I slid the marriage certificate onto his desk. Immediately, he became animated and leaped from his seat with the joy that only the creation of marriage and new life can illicit in humanity. He retrieved his crisp black robes from the nearby closet and announced our impending nuptials to the collection of depressed bodies that were waiting their turn to plead their various cases. Then the judge reached for his phone and attempted to contact a buddy of his who worked at the local paper. He had no luck. My groom squirmed in his seat at the thought of having someone from the newspaper present at our nuptials. Even a small wedding announcement had been out of the question. After hanging up the phone the judge asked if he could read a bible passage during our ceremony. Still being some version of Christian I had no problem with this but, I turned to my groom to ensure it was ok. He nodded in that dismissive way only someone who is indifferent can and the judge smiled as he opened his bible. Clearing his throat he asked us to rise, I jumped from my seat attempting to catch my heart as it leaped with excitement and turned to my groom. He was still seated.
My mind always slows this moment down. I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in my mind, it becomes an eternity. An eternity of chances to run. An eternity to dance through the reel of what actually became a 12-year marriage plagued with abuse, infidelity, and loneliness. An eternity to live again.
An eternity to see every player clearly. The judge with his confused and apprehensive glare. The groom’s parents exchange of knowing looks for they kept his secrets better than he did. The groom’s disdain as he willed himself from the seat and my wide-eyed naiveté. As the reel plays in my mind, I always freeze this moment and stare at the child giving away her youth to someone who didn’t want to stand next to her. I look through the eyes of a woman at the life of a girl who simply wanted to know she was loved, and I know she never was. The woman knows that which the girl can not. She knows of the lonely nights ahead of the girl, whose tears will stain every pillow she would ever own. She knows the pain of her husband’s hands pressing against her pregnant belly. She knows the way his words will hang heavy in her heart for a lifetime. She knows the way laughter sounds when she’s in pain. The woman can never save the girl.
No matter how many times I play this reel over in my mind, no matter how many times I reach for that young girl, no matter how many empty bottles I attempt to watch it through; I can never save the girl. She always stands there eagerly awaiting her groom. She always takes his hand. She always says her vows with sincerity and passion as her brown eyes bore into his hollow blue eyes seeking confirmation that his heart beats as fiercely for her and her’s does for him. She always signs her name. She always stays after he pushes in her stomach and gleefully declares that hopefully he killed their unborn child. She always runs interference and handles everything as to not upset him. She always fixes the holes and stops asking about the stories that don’t mesh up. She always makes sure the children believe they're loved by their father. She always makes excuses for his noninvolvement, for her tears, for the sadness that hides behind her brown eyes. She always stays. Until she becomes the woman who doesn’t. The woman with the movie reel in her mind and scars upon her heart.
Divorce is easy. You pay someone to file paperwork and fight with your spouse’s paid henchman/woman on your behalf. You sign some papers. Then a judge, worn and weary from a life dedicated to law, declares you free from the shackles wrapped tightly around your left finger.
Healing. Now, that’s the hard part. Accepting your part in the chapter that was your marriage is hard. Acknowledging your ex-partner for who they were and always will be is hard. Stitching the holes in your heart with the rusty needle you find in the pile of your belongings is hard. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Smiling when you want to cry is hard. Living in spite of the pain is hard. Fighting your demons by yourself and realizing there are far worse things than being alone is excruciatingly fucking painful. The healing is hard and the tunnel to the light is long. But, there is beauty in the struggle. Even if we can’t always see it right away.
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