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
I get questions from time to time about all sorts of things. How to manage single parenting and homeschooling. Red wine. How to get through a divorce. Red wine. And how to be a less shitty white person. The answer to that question isn’t red wine. Sorry, not sorry.
The most recent, “How do I not screw up while being white” question I was asked about was Juneteenth and how to recognize the holiday when you’re not Black. I figured it’s been a while since my last post so I would put my response here for all my white readers trying to be better in 2020. I’ve expanded on my original answers to offer a bit more depth to all of you. You’re welcome.
So, you want to celebrate and recognize Juneteenth:
Begin your work now:
Copyright©2020 Rayven Holmes
11/2/2016 1 Comment
How Do You Do It All?
“You have three kids?!” The question falls out of the mouth of an acquaintance and rings out across the table of a crowded bar. “How do you have time to hang out?!” It’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with. Even when I was “happily” married, people often inquired about how I managed to do anything with three kids. Since my divorce came with sole custody of my children, the question comes more frequently.
I respond now, as I did pre-divorce, with a simple shrug and a joke or two about never sleeping. The reality is that I don’t do it all. My life happens, just as it always had, because I prioritize what’s important to me versus what I or my family wants or needs. How do I have time to run? How do I have time to see friends? Teach my kids? Work? Brush my teeth? Sleep? Get laid? I prioritize what I can do, accept that which I can’t do, and buy stock in Energizer.
Truth be told, we can’t do it all. None of us. “Doing it all” is a lie sold to us to keep us too busy to enjoy this one little life we have. We’re inundated with planners, Pinterest organization ideas, and books about creating a 25th hour in our day. While some of it can be useful, and I utilize a number of tips and tricks to make the most of my time, at the end of my day I still only had 24 hours to use. Those 24 hours are precious. They are little lives inside our minuscule existence. So, what do I do with my 24 hours to give the illusion of “doing it all”?
I trade doing the dishes for a pizza and beer with friends. Sure, I could put having an immaculate house over my friends but, when I’m on my deathbed those dishes won’t mean shit to me. The relationships I have and maintain will, though. Why should I put dishes before connecting with friends in person?
I swap teaching time for meetings and arrange meetings around appointments. School can happen at any time of the day, it’s one of the perks of homeschooling, most businesses operate during traditional business hours. I acknowledge that and adjust our schedule accordingly when needed.
My grass hasn’t been cut in two weeks. It’s not a priority and eventually the autumn leaves will overtake my yard and after the boys and I have shared a fun day of rolling in the piles I’ll care because who the hell wants to bag all that shit up?
I plan weekly runs and refuse to do anything else during that time that isn’t crucial to the health and well-being of my family because my health and well-being are important too.
I delegate chores to my children. I can’t afford to have someone come in and clean my home, cut my grass, or run my errands. But I have three healthy kids who can pick up after themselves, make meals, scrub a toilet, and put the groceries away when I get home from the store. It builds character, plus my pee goes in the toilet bowl so why should I scrub that crude on the bottom?
I’m constantly negotiating with Me, Myself, and I. We’re always having discussions about what’s important and why. There are plenty of people who would, and do, tell me I don’t prioritize properly. In their opinion, the clothes should be folded, my car should be clean, and every single deadline I have should be met ahead of schedule before I plop my ass on the couch and binge watch Netflix while plowing through my kids’ Halloween candy. I wager there are plenty of people in your life who will have something to say about the way you prioritize your 24 hours.
To those people, I say Fuck You!
Yes, a big giant fuck you. Why? Because our 24 hours belong to us and we are free to make of them what we wish. Ask yourself, are my kids fed and cared for to the best of my ability? Are my bills paid? Do I still have a job? If the answer is yes, who the hell cares if you put the dishes off one more night? No, your house won’t be picture perfect, you won’t always get to say yes to that night out with friends, or that second bedtime story but, you’ll be sane and connected to yourself and those who matter most which is far more fucking important than a spotless kitchen.
As someone who has danced with the depression devil her whole life, I’m far more interested in doing what I need to feel human over “doing it all” to appear superhuman to people whose opinions don’t matter in the long run. “All” is an unrealistic goal that no one human can reach on their own. And who of us has the funds for the team of people needed to do it all and do it well? No damn body I know. So say fuck it, prioritize your life based on what you and your family need and in the immortal words of Elsa when it comes to everything else “Let it go”.
Let that shit go.
On Sunday night, I made a prediction that on MLK day my newsfeed would be full of “feel good” MLK quotes and painfully silent to the current issues affecting the black community the day after. Naturally, I was right. My newsfeed was alive with King quotes. Or was it? There were plenty of quotes about choosing love over hate, which follows King’s philosophy but, I was curious to see how accurate those quotes were. I set out Googling the quote I saw the most, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”. What I found was interesting. The quote in question is a cherry picked sound bite from his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Those two lines aren’t even sentences or part of the same sentence. The full quote is as follows (with the sections of the aforementioned quote bolded):
“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
The cherry picked quote conveniently ignores that King was speaking about a specific kind of love. A love that is strong and demanding, which links back to the point he was making at the beginning of his speech when discussing love and power:
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
He wasn’t speaking about some magically warm and cozy love where we all take hands and skip merrily down the street. He was speaking, as he often did, about love that got its hands dirty and changed the world. A love that demanded justice for every human that walked this earth. Even if that demanding love brought you discomfort because he knew that in discomfort we create change.
As MLK day fades into the Facebook memory banks of cherry picked quotes and feel good posts that sanitize the man’s legacy, stop and think about the love you put into the world. Is it really a love demanding of justice, are you actively working to end racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism (for ALL women), classism, and every other fucking -ism and -phobia out there? Or are you absentmindedly sharing more noise without thinking further about the actual context of the words spoken and continuing to remain silent about the oppression of others all while happily patting yourself on the back for being a “good” person?
Where Do We Go From Here Speech
1/17/2016 0 Comments
Since it's a new year, for shits and giggles, I'm going to take some time to share 10 simple truths about myself. So buckle up, readers!
1. I love the word fuck. I use it every fucking chance I get. It’s a beautiful word. It’s linguistic magic.
Even my Facebook statuses reflect this love:
Yes… fucking and people were my top two words in 2015…
2. Fucking people annoy me. The results of this annoyance are either well-crafted blog posts or rants on my personal Facebook page *hence those being my most used words*. If you are hip to that whole Myers-Briggs thing, then it makes sense based on my personality. I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the level of stupidity in the world than my actual personality but, hey it’s kind of fun to know which Doctor Who character you are.
3. Of all the fucking people that annoy me, I annoy myself the most.
4. My inner circle is full of people whose mere existence brings me so much joy that I don’t even care they’re humans.
5. A debate over Prop 8 is what finally knocked me off my fence of doubt and into the field of godlessness. Even though I’ve been an out and proud heathen for 7 years I still listen to K-Love on occasion. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song Brother was one of my favorite songs from 2015. Seriously, Google it! It’s fucking fantastic! Better yet, enjoy:
6. I was offered a scholarship to Mars Hill College to study Youth Leadership (youth ministry). I had lofty ideas about what young people should learn about love and acceptance. I still have those ideas, minus the Christianity.
7. Losing my religion was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Losing the top spot to a 2009 pregnancy lose and the ending of my marriage last year.
8. I never planned to homeschool my kids. We’ve been at it, officially, for eight years.
9. When it comes to parenting I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
10. I’m fairly certain my children are aware of this fact.
What are some of your truths? Do you have the adulting parenting thing figured out or faking it until you make it? Are you still dancing in tube socks to Bruce Springsteen? Tell me more, tell me more, right down there in the comments.
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Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk