Bully


I find it fascinating that bullion means “gold” . Supposedly, the Anglo-French built a word family around boiling, skimming, and trimming.  The next two terms in my digitized Collins Dictionary are “Bull-ous” and it means “blistered

And then there is the word “bully”. 

If you need context about any word, a worthy dictionary often includes basic knowledge about a word’s country of origin it’s related language sisters and brothers. When I was an undergrad, it was really important to know how words were built. Every language builds words a bit differently. 

Still, I knew the word bully meant long before I looked it up.   

In  case you’re wondering…

A bully is a person who hurts, routinely bothers, threatens, and weakens someone else. I never needed to go to school even to know what a bully was. 

So maybe a bully is the golden boiling down of a weaker being’s essence. Yes, a bully is a blistering heat striker in the poetic sense. 

My first bully was often an elder. Usually, it was an arrogant person who gave me an order. And because I did not always feel worthy enough to be curious, I complied most urgently. 

Many elders of the (old-school), men and women that grew up in the 40s, 50s, 60s and before, were products of bullying. If you were lucky enough not to have terribly rough parents, you had rough neighborhoods to harden your resolve.. 

My point is: intimidation got results. 

My adolescent years are filled with memories of adults saying: “If I have to tell you one more time…” 

There were clauses like: 

“I’ll beat the black off of you… 

   Man, I’ll punch you 

                                    I’ll slap you

                                   Don’t be a wimp, or a girl. Be a man. 

When you’re a boy growing into a man. Men learn early or hallmark job is to dominate or subdue. 

Men are either at the seat of honor…. Or we’re pawns in a cycle of generational abuse that we’ve been taught to emulate. 

Paul’s Roman letter talks about confession and how confession is part of salvation. 

Have you ever read the 10th chapter of Romans slowly and really thought about what it means? 

Somewhere about the 9th or 12 verse… you’ll come to  faith comes by hearing. 

I’ll always believe that we believe what we hear about ourselves from others, more frequently than we believe other facts about us that have never been said. 

There is power in confession. 

So if a person is surrounded by bullies for many years, the trauma from years of threats, cut-downs, assaults, and wars will be difficult to overcome without the proper support. 

When your a person of faith and spirituality, you’re often bombarded with message of how positive and abundant faith is supposed to be. But there are two or three sides to every developing story. And bullying is a persistent reminder that evil is always just as present as good.

A bully is good at making sure a low or more sensitive person develops “a bad hope”. 

Your brain is “programmable”. And bullies that are threatened by your unique abilities will find a way to produce content and shows with your shy or sensitive mind frame that tell you that your talents are useless except in the frame that works best for your “bully”. 

It’s as if you’re the golden ticket, and your bully is Wonka telling you that you’re denied access unless __________ or _________ happens. 

As a disabled man, I am constantly changing my mental programming to match my growth potential. I noticed that within the last several months. I have edited down the amount of television I watch. Because the stories on most network television shows are not matching the level of curiosity that I have about the world around me. 

This is what I mean by changing your program. A bully is set on the weaker person’s shame. 

The “stronger” bully will use a subversive program to get you away from the things that drive your mental and spiritual growth. 

Recently, I have been keeping track of the (hate speech) that I’ve thrown at people. I notice that when I heard programming—-music, stories, films, and other media—that lacked purpose and insight, I was more likely to bully myself and my neighbors with negative talk. 

For me, when I did not spend time evaluating the purpose, intent, and emotions of my routines and choice-points, I would fight to dominate the conversations, stories, and tastes of other people. 

And men are socialized into being bullies because we see it in very small ways across a vast amount of platforms everyday in contemporary media. 

Recently, I have scratched the surface about how I became the very bully that I was fighting hard to avoid. 

Because I was constantly sharing space with men and women who were “bull-ish” and aggressive in the leadership styles, I once believed I had to be like they were to achieve my own version of success. 

It is terribly important to ask ourselves about our self-talk. We must ask ourselves about the conversations we allow ourselves to participate in. We must be aware of what happens internally and emotional when we allow a bully into our cone of influence. 

A bully is subtle. A bully will not always appear to be harmful. A bully is not always identified by success. Sometimes bullies are “golden”, a rock caught in the cog of progress.  

I am a man who used to bully people with my words because I got bullied. It’s a fact. 

I would judge others more than I listened. I would be so motivated by self-interest that I could not account for the times when I shut authentic support out. 

The flattering person can very well be a bully in disguise. In my reconnection with own introversion, I am learning the subtle pitfalls of bad actors. 

Sometimes bullion is a rock painted gold. 

ELIJAH

I have never been to Baltimore, Maryland. I have never seen Elijah Cummings in person. I have never met his family and I cannot imagine the gravity of mourning his friends and colleagues are facing. However, when I saw him on my television presiding over a very tense committee of Democrats and Republicans once, twice, or perhaps three times, I stopped in my tracks. 

Here was a man that reminded me of the power that under-girds an African-American father’s love for his children. Cummings had children that did not always look like him. His children did not originate from the same social strata. 

I think it helps that I had not seen him as a student of political science, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, or a lawyer primed from the foundry of Howard University. 

I’m elated that I did not know he wrote a newspaper column.

The knowledge of his past accomplishments might have stoked arrogance in me: the same arrogance that arises when a seedling of a pupil tries to use his knowledge as a false substitute for life experience and surety. 

 A week ago Congressman Cummings wrote about how rising drug costs make it nearly impossible to receive life-saving treatment when you’re an elderly American. 

Among the bills Cummings supported was H.R 448, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act.

This bill if passed could cut the amount of money I’d pay out of pocket if I need a drug I cannot afford. (448) is a concept law that would allow negotiation and grants to help low-income people like me have the ability to get treatment. 

I recently became eligible for Medicare given my status as an adult with Cerebral Palsy. I only recently learned about how expensive health insurance becomes once you age out of the service cap that exists mainly for youth and children. 

When I saw the Honorable Mr. Cummings preside, I remembered singing the hymn: “Elijah Rock, from my choral days in school. And I got happy because I knew that Mr. Cummings was stating ideas that I had been thinking. 

It was beautiful to see him speak clearly and precisely about his reservations about the nefariousness of the Trump Administration. I can only gather that he had the pride and discretion of most people I know that serve others during a major illness. 

Elijah Cummings lived to be 68 years old. Sickness seemed not to deter his drive to serve his fellow Americans. I have known many elderly people living with sickness who bravely attuned themselves to the needs of others. Psalms 90 speaks of the futility of human plans, how our days are ordered. For 70 years lived is a graceful victory. 

He made it, sans two of them. If anything Psalms 90 is painful reminder that we should not spend our lives without God’s mercy. O, that we know that we don’t have to be doing whatever it is we are doing!

I find that it is often challenging to live with Cerebral Palsy and serve the patrons of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library System. But Elijah Cummings as an orator and human being reminded me that service to others has less to do with how you feel about them, and more about the will to search for the good in troubling situations. 

I learned from the small minutes and moments in between strife and contention that television only tells the story we fantasize about… and not the story begging to be discovered underneath. 

I can only hope that as I continue gaining ground in public service that I number my days and people see my professional life going forward as an extension to focus on what I have in common with others versus the ocean of disparate details that drive me ever closer to enmity. 

Thank you for your public service, Mr. Cummings. You made me proud to be a Black American man. I would hope that I can use some part of your example to increase dialogue between people fighting for survival in our complex and passionate nation.

About Mental Health and Suicide: My Journey

I had considered suicide. When you’re born with a neurological disability and placed in a world that pays so much attention to appearances, it’s difficult to get the right feedback about whether your life has value. 

My first thoughts of sucide attempt began when I was 13. I think this may have been when I discovered binge-eating. My grandmother placed much weight on making sure that I got enough to eat. In fact, she even could be accused of giving me an overabundance of food. 

In her defense, she shared later that her generation was different. She was terribly worried about everyone eating well because things were not always this way when she was growing up. 

I always loved my grandmother’s cooking. But I had gone from eating portions of food, to eating huge spreads of food in one or two sittings. This ebbed and flowed for years after she adopted me. 

Food was the way to the heart. One day, I ate one plate of red beans rice and cornbread. Or was it sphagetti and chicken with french bread. It’s hard to remember which dish it was. Grandmother was a champion at food preparation for many people. 

 Anyway. I had what I thought was a reasonable helping of the dish. And I  was done eating.

 My grandmother took this to mean that she was counterfeit because surely I didn’t like her food anymore. I was customary that I ask for more. 

 Surely, she was to blame for why I didn’t want more food. 

When you’re in Louisiana or maybe any Southern state,  it’s an insult to refuse cooked food when it’s offered. Elders believe it to be sacrilegious because it’s a point of connection. The idea is: 

“If you cannot eat with us, you don’t like / love / or accept us.”

 Because there were times when my grandmother used food as a method of control and manipulation, I began either starving myself or waiting until the wee-hours of the night to get food. 

With food and community came chores. If you had the nerve to eat at the table, you cleaned and cleared the kitchen, table, dishes, floors, and whatever else was used in “preparation”. 

I believed that if I ate more, I’d bulk up. When I didn’t bulk up, I believed I was not a worthy enough person. After all, my dad was a corrections officer. My uncle became a firefighter. My step-father painted homes, My grandfather steam-cleaned houses. 

I was disabled, rail thin… and not very physical. I associated my male-ness with the men I saw around me. They all very physical, tough people. And I wasn’t tough enough. 

So I considered ending my life. I didn’t think anyone needed me enough. My grandmother seemed to only appreciate me when I fit her standard of who she wanted me to be. My dad only seemed to care about me when I was perceived as LOUD and SCARY. 

Beyond a song, a great poem, a speech, or a recitation, what could I truly contribute to the sea of people around me who seemed to have it all together. 

When I first heard Avril Lavigne’s Ordinary, I became serious about suicide. I identified with the verse in the song that spoke about “feeling danger just to feel alive.” 

I was going to write a note and take some sleeping pills. I had been left alone so much. That I was sure I could get away from the world without being noticed. 

How did  I save myself? 

The truth is: I didn’t. I did not know that people were praying for me. I didn’t know that my mentoring teacher and English teacher, librarian, and guidance counselor had seen me. I didn’t know that many people saw what I’d gone through without needing to know everything about me.

I didn’t know that in my writing there was a future story I’d tell. 

The journey of faith hasn’t been easy for me. I think my life changed the most when I almost lost my life. 

I was dating someone who was my polar opposite. Blinded by my “love”, I was not aware of how destructive our relationship was.

When a speeding drunk driver knocked me unconscious in the Spring of 2011, I decided to trust God. I only had to get killed once to understand that my life has to matter to ME. 

I WAS UNCONSCIOUS according to the people I had been with … for 7 minutes. 

When I came to… I knew I would CHANGE my heart. I knew I would refocus on God.

There are many people in the world entangled with risky people. These people don’t truly value life. Or they wouldn’t purposely endanger themselves. 

Hunter Hayes writes: “Soul be still. Stay where you are. And take the time to take a breath and count the stars. “ (Wild Blue, Part One ) 

The Los Angeles Times wrote in June 2019 that suicide rates are at their highest since the 1960s. That is almost 15% per every 100,000 people. I’m glad that I beat suicide. But it took a community of people who saw me differently. It took a person willing to look deeper and change himself.  I am learning to take a breath and renew my own strength. But it has taken an exercise in knowing that others are struggling just like me. I have to know that I cannot give up on myself. 

From Yellow to White

For the past several weeks, Blessed are those who mourn has reverberated in my head. When I distract myself with tasks, it whispers clearly once the chaos settles. Matthew 5:4 just dwells.

By faith, I might make 35 years old in the coming December. I thought I was done mourning. But God has said no. Today again came: Blessed are they that mourn. That pesky verse from the Sermon on the Mount does not relent.

And with it I pause and see the word “suffer” as though it is written across the top of my forehead. In many ways, Cerebral Palsy has branded me with that word.

Suffer…. then mourn

Then suffer again.

Very few can conceptualize why internally I project as though I am fighting against the grain of my reality. I took a moment today and looked around the memories of my grandmother’s old home.

The home that sheltered me from Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, and Rita. The home that was a stream of drunkeness, ridicule, hard conversations, and card games. This home is and was the seat of sibling rivalry, spiritual gathering, worldly pursuits, and dirty secrets.

For all the blessing such a home gave, it remains a solid shell of the season to come. In its walls inhibit the tears of a clown, the heartache of divorce, the shadow of death, and the breeding of new growth.

I woke up from slumber today in the waning light of the sun. The light makes walls look like a pungent yellow. The only yellow that resembles it is the color of cloudy urine. It’s a yellow that browns like craters, lingers upon unclean counter-tops, a ghastly yellow like the nicotine droppings upon edges of a newly printed storybook.

That some color blotted the cleanliness of a New York home in Baldwin’s mountaintop story. And I realized that yellow even with new fixtures, boards, plaster, paints, and wall coverings might never be totally gone.

I mourned about that yellow as I poured cheap coffee in the East Baton Rouge Parish Library mug that I had received for reading books, words of life on slates of promise.

And I sat down smiling at God for the little bit of faith I had that brought me to this Monday.

Success with the library system is a gift that comes directly from the worried sadness I feel constantly. I made myself a tuna sandwich and a spinach side salad and listened to a song by Jordan Feliz. The song was called “Never Too Far Gone.”

When I get quiet in the silence of my own mind, I don’t value the persistent hum of speeding cars pulling aimlessly into driveways, whirring lawn equipment washing away the leaves of a timid season, or striving rifts between men and women who have already pledged in their tones to talk at each other rather than addressing their grievous feelings.

I have faith that God has not forgotten me. When I added my picture among the billions of images that inundate the Facebook and Instagram servers, a bit of suffering lingered behind my smile.

Yesterday was World Cerebral Palsy Day. This is a day I try and remember as hallowed because Cerebral Palsy has been how I got educated. Cerebral Palsy is how I got humiliated. And it’s also what I am first…even before I realized the full weight of being black and male.

I used to scorn Oprah’s character in The Color Purple. I used to tell myself she was ignorant for sharing how often she had to fight within her sectioned off Southern world. But for a long time, I was Sofia and I could no longer mock her because I finally understood her pain. I finally realized what a life of anger and pain does to a fragile heart.

I used to believe that all my suffering was made manifest in arthritis, in the immovability of joints, the tremor of veins, the stiffness of palettes.

I thought it was in being alone. Now I know that suffering is simply part of the joy of life.

I had to become acquainted with the different seasons of suffering before I had the knowledge to look deeper. I now understand that my suffering is not about yellow, the bloody ruddy orange of release. My suffering is a condition of understanding that peace is present in releasing things.

I’ve released people into the atmosphere realizing that I can matter without needing to court them. I am learning how to travel light, to dream beyond the yellow wallpaper, to seek my own vessels.

I have become content with watching the train pass. And I have boarded my own car.

Mourning and suffering is a process we should not run away from. Because I did not release my sadness properly, God has allowed it to show up in triggers, songs, tales, and stories that connect the cord to his grace.

The strum of information does not stop. I have stopped myself. I need to pause, to process, to cancel, to consider, to connect with God more than I connect with the trouble of the world.

In my English, I find him. He sits there explaining to me that information is power. In my streaming music selections, I see him telling me to appreciate his grace. In my shifting opinion, I see Jesus orchestrating my perfection.

I am in the midst of a purge. I do have Cerebral Palsy. But I am slowly and steadily aware that some people I once valued cannot join me on this new journey. I am being made new in this current season.

There are different pieces to THIS puzzle, pieces propelling me AWAY from my comfort zone. And I cannot simply forgo worshipping God just because one person is not ready. I’m ready to go and live in the light. I take no thought whether I am followed.

God does allow suffering. He does allow mourning. But through the tears, he will turn putrid, stained yellow into white. He takes my weathered eyes and releases my triggers. I have anxiety about what is to come. But God is my balance beam. And I must spread myself upon the new plane.

I must scatter my bread upon the water and chase authenticity. For one full connection is a thousand times better than three frayed, wiry fragments.

For a fragment of suffering is poison for a season of complete sentences.

Mr. Gotta Body

I have inhabited the space of plus-sized women for many years now.

The woman who raised me is a plus-sized beauty. I have observed the confusing beauty of her. She is graceful. She is tough. And she, the plus-sized woman, will make any thin scrawny individual appear as though he or she is just taking up space. I am always preaching acceptance and compassion of all body types. I habitually tell any woman (no matter what size they are) if I admire a blouse, dress, hairstyle, or ensemble that is a knockout.

I even follow Gavin Queen, a wonderfully kind man who I call my brother. His feature on the BBC documentary, The Naked Truth, allowed me confront my own issues with not feeling “manly” enough or fit enough. Gavin made it okay to acknowledge that even a straight, married man could struggle with body image problems. I believed that if he could love his body and his wife, I had hope.

But let us go back to this complimenting ladies thing.

My efforts to shower awesome females with encouragement often evoked skeptical expressions, upturned faces, and sometimes enmity and hatred. Most women I compliment seem to not know how to take a genuine compliment. I don’t know why. But dresses are never pretty enough. They are just ” this outfit I’ve had for years”. The hair is never “done” enough. Hair is another thing black women cannot accept enough praise about.

Although I’ve spent two-thirds of my life being shamed for wanting compliments from people about anything I wear, say, and or think. I (according to them) can never understand what it’s like for a person ( namely a Woman) to look in the mirror and not feel pretty.

Maybe, many Louisiana women are just under a major amount of pressure. I get it. I know you wear many hats. You’re the soccer mom, the faith leader, the musician, the PTA planner. You’re godmother, provider, businessperson, teacher, cook, boss, therapist, funeral director, and travel agent. Your life is constant teetering between sensuality, nurture, responsibility, leadership, and sacrifice. And that is difficult. You are told by us MEN that you must always look put together.

Being around that aesthetic did nothing but frighten me. Where is the slot for the man who doesn’t need you to be superwoman…. or self conscious about how bloated you feel.

I knew those issues were unique to my mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, daughters.

I was more concerned that people would find out that I was just pretending to have my image problems together, because being honest wasn’t working so great.

School (elementary, middle and high) forced me to manufacture confidence about myself. That adrenaline-peppered confidence, was really fear about appearing to be “other”. My father didn’t want me to be a chump. It was enough to be smart and well-read. I had to be HARD and TOUGH… even though my muscles and limbs were not like that. So I had to feign bravery even if I felt like a clump of dirt tilled into the ground.

I wanted to be ignored about my body because of my unchangeable Cerebral Palsy. I couldn’t pretend to fit into the cliques my school had. And the “otherness” I felt had always been there. And because I could not obscure my condition, I was noticed. People routinely stuck their feet out in front of me just so I’d lose my balance.

And my balance is a very nimble thing. My limbs work to form this delicate cocoon of space. I move within that space. My body was an instrument and as scrawny as I was, I either needed to use it lest make things worse for myself.

Rubber bands were flung into my eyes. I was a light-weight. My scrawny body was not athletic. I wasn’t physically strong. I didn’t believe I was. This was all in my head given the number of involuntary falls I’d have when my feet either missed the floor or failed at sensing the bend in the path ahead of me.

I hated physical education. I did not care for sports. And no one understood why I wasn’t the typical man’s man who could run to the safety of football, basketball, wrestling, and volleyball. “You’re a guy aren’t you” was the continued criticism I received from confused, ignorant people. Men and women alike frowned at my lack of perceived masculinity. Nerd was a bad thing. HARD and rough was the thing to be.

And then I’d soak in all the stories from those around me who obsessed about their feet, hair, jean sizes, blouses, tops, shoes, jerseys, sneakers, etc.

And I’d think: You, for all your complaints about your weight, don’t have to obsesses like I do. From your prospective, you’re trying to be smaller or heavier to fit some self-made expectation of bravery. Maybe, you’re trying to get into your favorite dress again. But I was permanently terrified when my orthopedic told a 12-year-old me: Don’t gain much more weight. Your body is only equipped to support so much weight on your joints.

And while I got made fun of for NEVER being brawny, lashed out at for not being a HUSKY football sized person…

I was holding my breath and stress eating through my teen years… because the women in my life were convinced that I was starving to death.

So I was always skating in between weight classes!

I danced in and out of the boundary between not appearing anorexic and not adding extra stress to joints, arms, and legs that don’t really like me all the time.

Men who have sports as a bedrock are fitting a weight-class. And the weight-class is their gift. Once a team is made, they immediately get a family, a community, a set of guidelines.

But my size seemed to isolate me. Even plus-sized women eventually find other women that they can share their pain, joy, and shame with. I HAD NO PERSON LIKE THIS. For years, there was no one.

Lizzo, Kelly Clarkson, and Ariana Grande have audiences. They have people who are not isolated by their artistry. These women are different… with different stories and sizes but they are not “ISOLATED”. Better yet, none of these woman have Cerebral Palsy.

I have a decent body and it’s not in terrible shape. But I didn’t believe that for several years. And I ate way too much food hoping that I’d change how it looked so that I’d fit some mold. I was WRONG to do that. But when your self-esteem is low and you’re only a buck 50… no one thinks you’ll stress eat. Because “you’re so thin”.

I have never had the constant feedback of being noticed for “my beauty as a person”. Things like my smile, my jokes, or my personality are things no one talks about at length. People just say: ______, you so crazy. Then, I accept their statement and then play “devil’s advocate” to decode what they actually meant.

The answer is always indefinite. So I interpreted these crazy declarations as: Harold, you’re weird. Not Harold, you’re funny or interesting.

When I am animated, I fear that people will see my wobbly body and mis-label my genuine excitement as yet another reason to ridicule and reject me.

So I don’t see how anyone assumed that I was always happy with my body. I always knew how to do that “Mr. America” fake smile because it’s the one non-disabled people expect… because they are uncomfortable with the idea that disabled people go through dark, bitter periods.

I’m just supposed to be the one who is your cheerleader. I can compliment everyone else’s beauty except my own. Women, men… EVERY one. You name it. I am often “the brave cheerleader”. I’ve done this because doing it was “being the bigger man”, being the noble supporter, embodying the graceful counselor.

I have nothing against women and their negative experiences surrounding sexual and emotional objectivity. In an odd way, I am much like these ladies. I have been objectified in different ways as as a man, surely. I do understand in part because I have been the caregiver for the ladies I love. I have shared funny stories. I have dried their tears. I have sometimes been the only person able to bear the mourning within their stories.

But the collective pain we both feel is what draws us together. If I look at television and stare at the ladies with hemiplegia or quadriplegia… the little women.

I stare in disbelief. I don’t think it’s funny that these women are being treated as “caricatures” of the Real Housewives by people without these conditions who just need to laugh. That’s my observation.

I’m hard-pressed to be entertained by the very spectacular fights the “little women” have. Instead, I feel like I want to hug them and be their therapist. I want to ask them if they know the others are watching their show to feel better about their “big-sized” fights.

When I heard Lizzo’s interview on NPR, I was in the passenger seat of my friend’s car on the way to Target. I was struggling to make connections with her struggle about her own body. I was wondering if because I’m a BLACK person from a Southern state I’m supposed to latch on to what I thought was more reinforcement of something foreign to me.

Perhaps, it’s that she’s interfaced with communities that I don’t know about. Maybe she’s experienced a life of setbacks that are reminiscent of Ms. Tiffany Haddish. While listening to her, I heard a resonant pain. This pain is common to many black women I know.

This pain is a deep need to simply tell the truth without worrying about how it is received. I felt concerned for the interviewer. I could understand the interviewers questions better than I handled Melissa Jefferson’s (Lizzo’s government name) answers.

Maybe it’s not meant for me to identify with the trauma of every man, woman, boy and girl. But I can be empathetic. I can power through the cognitive dissonance and accept that as Americans we are still in the midst of understanding the myths of what is sexy, healthy, or even reasonable. My Advanced Writing professor Dr. William Broussard warned me about cognitive dissonance. He told me that acknowledging cognitive dissonance and learning to deal fittingly with it, helps us as writers and scholars move past our prejudices. We acknowledge that to get past the noise of confusing ideas, we must be willing to dialogue in the midst of our emotional hangups.

I’m still lean as a bean pole. I no longer wish to be a beefy person, or a husky guy. I understand that for now that’s not a “regular size” for me. I actually admire anyone who loves his/ her or they (s) body type enough to celebrate it.

I have respect for the women who have inspired me to dream past the nervous “always feeling small” boy I was. I’m better…. but the advent of LIZZO is confusing.

Is there are line of demarcation between tasteful fashion and fashion that feels good? Is the boundary still being set by those “shadow people” who struggle to find the nerve to dress as a reflection of their feelings?

I’ve never been terribly great at dressing to advertise my chest, abs, and buttocks. I tried that when I was in my 20s. It was dismal failure. In the nearly 30 months since joining the library system, I tow a fine, accessible line between comfortable and semi-conservative. Having Cerebral Palsy is not placed in the same circle as feeling beautiful and confident.

Cerebral Palsy is that delicate, intimate thing that I could never make masculine on my own. It’s a first-tier existence that still feels more alien than athletic. Surely, there are disabled athletes that are brick fortresses of bodily vigor vying to use their engineered shoes and specialized appendages to be super-girl and super-man.

But what of the men and women like me that abide in truly customized disabled identities, the ones that aren’t as athletic but live inside wheelchairs alongside gently- used medical walking sticks, and reachy-picker-uppers?

We have a plus-size too… a big truck-sized weight called disability that we can’t always be-dazzle with a representative.

Because sometimes the one that is selected to represent “the disabled” isn’t completely like us. The “other” chosen to be us… is sometimes just another version of other: a square peg in a round hole.

They are “characters” paid to look like us… as if we truly are “portrayed” like them. And the actors cannot always get it right.

The closest actor I’ve seen in recent times that reminded me of myself was the deaf actor in “Baby Driver” CJ Jones is him.

CJ Jones is deaf. But his appearance on W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America allowed me to see a person that places his disability front and center and simultaneously respects himself and his craft as an artist. There is a regal and genteel quality about him I gravitated to. He’s not perfect. But he’s closer to what I see in my future. He inhabits a body that I see later on down the pike.

I started this conversation talking about bodies and body image. And I ended up discussing disability. This to state that maybe loving our bodies is about choosing to see ourselves as more than the outer body others see.

CJ Jones, sharing his story, helped me understand that I cannot value my own body if I cannot see my self as human, first.

We are all humans together in the world. Rather than the different things that make us “fatter, smaller, leaner, and bigger… the things that make us tribal…

We should engage the things that make us more alike. And I understand that’s hard. But that truth is the reason I write. Every story isn’t the same. But every story deserves to be told even if it takes time and patience to uncover that story’s purpose. There will be dissonance. And where there is dissonance… Ceilings can shatter and conversation can start anew.

I D O L S

IDOLS

I had a problem with idol worship. When I was not trumpeting the awesomeness, of computer technology, I was praising the perfection of the people I admired. For years, I adored any person that gave me comfort. When you idolize a person, you make the error of promoting the picture of them. I had forgotten that the problem with idols is: the outer visage. We never see who people truly are if we are using their “public picture”.

Publicly, my friend Stan (not his real name) was a lovable chef and a great “payer of compliments.” And if any person is without positive feedback, Stan was the man. 

It was easy to idolize him because if he tells you, you’re his “world”, and you don’t value yourself enough…you will agree with Stan. 

Stan was a scamp. He was brave enough to know what to say and when to say it. He also knew how to contort his face to con anyone into trusting that he was authentic. 

I adored Stan because I believed he had listened to me complain about my problems. He had been my cheerleader when I had failed at dating someone I liked. He had been the perfect sidekick for my misery loves company charade. Stan had even convinced someone he once dated to do odd little favors for him. 

On the outside, Stan advertised himself as a misunderstood, loveable person. This was only according to him. Over the course of several years, my social circle got bigger. 

I began to discover that nearly every person that knew Stan did not want to see him anymore. 

There was Sandra who revealed through a mutual friend that Stan was a cheater. Sandra told Michael who had worked with Stan, that he always borrowed money. 

This constant need to borrow money would eventually cost me hundreds of dollars over several years. I was like Savannah on “Waiting to Exhale”. I could not look past the image that I believed Stan was. But Stan took advantage of my kindness. 

An idol is a creature designed by any cooperative group of people. We all, with our own blind intentions, sculpt a vision of those we hold affection for. 

In patience and kindness, we forget how warped our understanding gets. We oblige the failed connections, the missed phone calls, manipulative behavior, and the blind trust. And we affix our hopes on the sculptured art we have made on our own. 

But these sculptures are made from the pride and arrogance our own thought. We do not adequately test all things involving the person we admire. We do not readily do the editing. We simply approach the data, the picture, and the feeling without asking questions of discernment. Worst of all, we lose our “spiritual” components because we look only to what friends say. 

And friends are not who “friends” are made to be. I had made Stan into my own object of affection. I had refused to acknowledge Stan’s pathology for loneliness and moreover how my constant contact with him, turned me into a bully among the very people who were trying to impact my life positively. 

When people are on a trajectory of loneliness, they tend to choose the loneliest people to connect with. Tragedy becomes the unseen currency that binds confused individuals. 

Idol worship is a sickness that men and women contract because acknowledging an identity crisis is more painful than emulating Rihanna, Beyoncé, Meek Mill, or Tupac. 

I’m an artist. I know the pain and desperation that occurs when you’re reaching for a dead relic like Kurt Cobain. The lure of a dead musician seems better than looking patiently for a living inspiration. I am not saying that we cannot celebrate the positive strides of dead people. I’m only explaining that there is a difference between acknowledging the past…and trying to create it in real-time. 

There are people that have gone past mourning the dead. It is as though (Stan) — the devoted letter-writer to Eminem and Stan (the swindling Zbornak ex-husband) inspire hurting people so fervently…

They must find their own chaotic, contrived way to recreate the trouble. Idols have never had the power to save us from our pain. In my experience, STAN (and everyone like him) delayed me from facing the pain and promise of my choices. 

In the end, you must free yourself. And you must have faith that you’ll survive until God sends an answer. Years later, I never heard from Stan again. But thankfully, I got myself together. Be careful who your shepherd becomes. The wrong individual can potentially lead you away from a gift that was unique made for you.

Thoughts on Identity and Cerebral Palsy

I write often about identity often because living with Cerebral Palsy, a developmental disability, is a direct window into how people see, understand, and dare I say it, tolerate me. My best friend says often to me: No one wants to be tolerated, Harold.

In recent years, I have been on a collision course with this very statement understanding that despite my best efforts, most people did just what my friend said should not be done.

How do you tackle the complex task of finding your own truth, when those around you have comp-licitly planned to only give you a “tolerant” story-line? If identity is the things that make you similar or the series of quirks that make you, who you are…

How have those who say they “know” me shaped what I am “compared” to? How many other Cerebral Palsy patients have gone to college, survived the conflict of Creole, African-American identity, and mostly survived to tell about it?

You must watch how much power you give people and their opinion…

The first thing I struggled accepting was: People habitually acknowledge only the parts of one’s identity that seem most safe. Once that happens, it is nearly impossible for people change their stubborn self-willed minds.

I had to confront the idea that there are some people who will always see me as some weird, cartoon-character of a person.

I’d like to think that I’ve been a great actor, able to mask a good stage show of the discomfort I have experienced knowing that my Cerebral Palsy is the one thing about me I truly pretend my way out of.

This fact is supported by the thousands of onlookers I encounter on any given day at any grand ole’ time.

These onlookers are defined as: casual people that find it freeing to stare at me, make inappropriate jokes at my expense, don some caricature of me when they think I don’t see them.

Worse yet are the parents of children who come away from my vicinity too afraid to explain to their young ones, that you should not ridicule a disabled person… especially if the disabled person can see you doing such a wretched thing.

Maybe, that onlooker is your six year old kid.

Maybe, it is your eighteen year old daughter who is presently waiting tables at Applebee’s because she is constantly going over that very limited data plan your wireless company made you keep.

Perhaps, it’s you. You were shopping at Walmart and you saw me trying to buy a loaf of bread and thought something is off about that guy buying bread.

You were an on-looker who did not have the heart to dialogue with me about this weirdness between us. So in an effort to be tolerant and a bit evasive, you said it’s better if I ignore that weird look I gave that dude in aisle 4.

When people see me walking, talking, dancing, and interacting, I can imagine they might see some pious know-it-all masking himself as a “special needs” person. I have something I’d like to say to those people. That whole idea that I’m this person trying not to be just like you, is some lie you told yourself to obfuscate the notion that I am okay for living with Cerebral Palsy.

For the record, my mental and physical characteristics have never really fit with that whole “living with Cerebral Palsy thing”. In fact, Cerebral Palsy was for a long time … the condition that had people selling the story that I was mentally retarded, because these people just refused to face that I potentially knew more than my “physical limitations” represented.

For years to combat my knowledge gap, I became a sage or oracle of some sort. Because having arthritis, swollen feet, rock hard hamstrings, and veins full of anxiety medication was too much like failure. And I was determined not to damage my affinity for sarcasm, wit, music, and poetry.

While I built my own knowledge base, I reveled in the idea that although my emotions were driving me nuts, my learning never stopped.

But knowledge without direction is just arrogance and pride. And those two together amped up my anger. I was angry about the missed dialogues that I failed to have with people I loved. I was angry about the missed opportunities to be with people who treated me less like something to fix, and more like something to believe in.

I was angry that I watched the people I had helped abandon me. And more often, I was afraid that I would forever be living my truth dependent solely on the shoulders of other people’s identity. The truth is: I had been a locked away sponge soaking up the thoughts, dreams, fears and strifes of all these complicated people. And that only made me a temperamental, anxious, git of a person.

But no person with Cerebral Palsy lives in a vacuum. We all must take the ashes of a life burned down, the trauma of confused onlookers, the judgments of angry deceivers and decide never again to be tolerated. I needed to find out who I was despite my physical problem.

I finally did go to therapy. I discovered that because I had settled for being tolerated… There were very few people that I truly connected with. And that’s what human beings are looking for. We are built to be connected with.

We are not looking for the person that places us on a pedestal and tells us we’re perfect. If we were looking for perfection, there would not be so many stories of men and women with seemingly perfect lives deciding to kill themselves.


We are looking for at least one person that knows that our favorite TV show is “Absoutely Fabulous”, or that we only like a certain variety of Sara Lee Bread from the supermarket. We are looking for the man that consumed by his girlfriend’s passion for literature, read every book that Toni Morrison wrote just because he knew she admired her.

We are looking for the person that can hear every detail of our tragic lives and say: I’ll help you get through it.

The thing is: Character is more than the set of qualities we pick up from our doting parents. And identity is more than the boxes checked on that form you get while applying for a loan, a doctor, or a license. I wish that someone had told me sooner that having Cerebral Palsy was not the reason people were ugly to me… that Cerebral Palsy was one primary characteristic in a series of other complex parts of my onion.

I wish someone had said to me long before I needed a therapist…that Cerebral Palsy is not a reason for selfishness, pity, or shame. Being viable is not the same as the as being connected.

I used to believe that if I was “proficient” at the game of life, the viable things I offered others would come back to me.

Tolerance cannot heal invisibility. Humans have a very elastic threshold to face things they find intimidating. Being someone’s therapist, mentor, researcher, singer, musician, social worker, publicist, editor, or motivational speaker was the shiny object offered in exchange for the hours of static noise when my own passions were frenetic.

Today. I am better at not reacting to the verbal abuse that plagued me all those years before. I am better facing the idea that I must seek my own purpose. And when I began behaving in relationship to my disability instead of in opposition to it… I learned that I could be fulfilled without being angry and frustrated.