Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's Talk About Love (Languages)

(originally posted on Velvet Park Magazine on July 14, 2009)

Half way through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, I thought to myself, “where the hell was this book three relationships ago!?” When I checked the copyright page, I discovered that this book has been in print for at least 17 years. So this review is for the other nine people in the country that have never heard of Chapman or his insightful book.

If you are lucky, you have been in love at least once in your life. That butterfly feeling in your stomach when the object of your affection walks into a room and you can’t wipe that big ass grin off your face. But at some point those butterflies turn to moths and suddenly, when your ball and chain shows up, you can’t help but roll your eyes. What happened? For many of us, we never figure it out. We just call it quits and move on to the next relationship. Well Dr. Chapman has an answer for all those interested. All the news is useful, but not always easy to hear.

Case in point: The “in love” feeling that is present in the beginning of most relationships lasts for about two years for the average couple. That’s why you hear folks saying, “The first couple of years were great, but then he/she just started to change.” According to Chapman, the euphoric “in love” feeling is a necessary function, but the way we act during that period can be confusing to our intended and set up a series of expectations that we will not be able or willing to fulfill later in the relationship. This is the time when we tend to throw caution to the wind and do things we normally wouldn’t. We eat foods we hate. We watch movies we think are stupid. We tolerate their obnoxious best friend. We are so enamored by this new love that we convince ourselves that what they like we like. And they are doing the same thing for us.

I have a friend that is married to a firefighter. When they first started to date, she would go to the firehouse and sit with him on the nights he was in charge of the “watch.” She would make him his favorite dinner, bring it and a big thermos of coffee to the station and they would sit from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. talking and getting to know each other – and keeping the inhabitants of the firehouse safe. At 7 a.m. she would go home, take a shower and go to work. She did this for a year, never missing a Thursday that he was on watch. During the second year of their relationship, she cut back to doing the watch with him maybe twice a month. By the time they moved in together during the third year of their relationship, he had to practically beg her to come down to the fire station.

According to Chapman, my friend and her husband experienced a normal shifting in their relationship. He says that after the “in love” period starts to cool, the couple starts to feel like they need to return to their individual habits and idiosyncrasies and here is where the poop hits the fan. Suddenly your partner starts to wonder who is the evil, cold, messy, inattentive, always late doppelganger that has taken your place. You are no longer on the same wavelength with your honey bunny. But if you take the time to learn your partner’s love language you have a better than average chance of moving your relationship to the more solid foundation of “mature love” and avoiding the pitfalls that plague so many relationships.

Chapman defines the five emotional love languages as Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. During the average falling in love period, we tend to do all these things consistently and frequently. But, in reality, only one or two of these languages actually speak to the person you are with – everything else is just gravy. When the cooling off period begins and the relationship begins to settle, there is a high probability that your honey might stop doing the one thing you value the most.

Back to my friend and her firefighter husband. My friend’s primary love language is Acts of Service (so is mine). So when she was showing up to the firehouse with dinner and coffee and taking care of him, that is how she was showing him she loved him. In reality, my friend is a huge fan of sleep and it was a big sacrifice for her to spend all those Thursdays (after a full day of work) with him. On the other hand, her husband’s primary love language is Quality Time. He relished having this special alone time with her every week and missed it terribly when she stopped coming to hang out with him. The food and coffee were nice, but he wanted her time.

It is not unusual for a couple to speak completely different love languages. How we express our love is informed by our family of origin, where we grew up and cultural determinations. Because you and your one true love most likely grew up in very separate ways and places, you will express your love differently. It is like a New Yorker and a Southerner getting together. Sure, they both live in America, but they see and experience the world very differently.

Besides the assessment profile in the back of the book that is designed to help you determine your love language (Warning to my same-sex loving brothers and sisters - the profile uses the traditional terminology of husband and wife, but don’t let that distract you from answering honestly.), the other most interesting chapter in the book is entitled “Love Is a Choice.” For most of us, we think that love is something that just happens to us. We either love the person we are with or we don’t. But I think Dr. Chapman is rather radical in asserting that we have more ownership over our love lives than we act like we do. That ownership is even more necessary when betrayal or hurt comes into the relationship. So, if your love boat is heading toward the jagged rocks of break up, Chapman says you can take control of the helm and steer yourself into smoother and calmer waters.

Some romantics among us will push back against the notion of having to work at being in a loving relationship. They believe it should just happen. But these are the same people who find themselves blindsided when the natural ebb that happens in any relationship shows up and they’re left wondering where all the love went.

Is this book going to be the magic fairy dust that resurrects your relationship? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will give you some new tools to talk with your love puddin’ and get a better understanding of what they are trying to say to you.


Monday, July 6, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (The Wrap Up)

Amanda got on a 1:55pm Southwest flight to Baltimore Washington International Airport today. That means our week of laughs and adventures has come to a close.

We had a blast! We had more of a blast the more of L.A. we got to see. I almost thought the child wasn't going to get on the plane the way she was raving about wanting to live here. Between pedicures and Pinkberry I continued to learn tons about my "little sister." She is truly wise beyond her years and a very sweet and kind spirit (I already knew that part).

My mother called as I was dropping her off and inquired how I was going to feel now that my last tie to home was getting on a plane. I told her I would let her know tomorrow. For now - yall can check out the Michelle and Amanda Show wrap up video. Lots of food, giggling and some sweating...lol


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Michael Jackson: My Sister's First Love

(originally posted at Velvet Park Magazine)

When I got the news last week that Michael Jackson had passed away at age 50, the first person that came to mind was my sister Lisa “Pebbles” James.

I immediately knew that had she lived to hear about this moment she would be devastated. Her love affair with Michael Jackson lasted well into her 20s — after he was morphing into some other version of himself, after he no longer looked like the Michael Jackson from her prized Off the Wall record.

I can’t in good conscience climb on the Michael Jackson bandwagon and call myself a true fan. Sure, he was talented and clearly had an amazing work ethic, but I liked him better when he was still a Jackson 5. However, when we were kids, my sister Lisa was a fan to beat all fans. At 10 years old she knew everything there was to know about Michael Joseph Jackson - without the aid of the Internet. A relatively “obedient” kid, she would risk a butt-whipping so that she could hang out at the local mall, past curfew, in the People’s Drug (later to be CVS) magazine aisle reading every publication that had his face on it. On other days she would torture our younger sisters for hours by making them watch her deconstruct his latest dance moves and replicate the entire routine in her tiny bedroom.

Although she was clear that I thought her crush was stupid, she still engaged me every morning as we got ready for school with a dozen Michael Jackson questions before we ran off to catch our bus. Do you think Michael Jackson has to wear deodorant? Do you think Michael Jackson gets lonely? Do you think Michael Jackson has to clean his own room? Do you think Michael Jackson goes to the bathroom? To that last question, I told her, "No. I think he pays someone else to do it for him." Even now I can’t help laughing to myself thinking about the look on her face when she actually contemplated that possibility.

There is only 16 months between me and Pebbles, but those months seemed like years as it related to our personalities. At 12, and as the oldest, I was already building sarcasm and cynicism into my personality. Not her. She was the “feeler” in the family. The quiet one who thought deeply and could cry at a moment’s notice. I think there were days that she felt like an outcast in the family, this dark-skinned girl that didn’t feel attractive, as she entered her teens, and lamented that she didn’t have anything that made her "special" in our loud and demonstrative Jamaican clan.

As the second born, she had the misfortune to have an older sister who stayed in trouble. If I wasn’t breaking curfew or stealing something, I had the bigger personality that easily dwarfed her more mild-mannered and contemplative energy. I think that’s why she was so attracted to Michael Jackson. She recognized a loneliness in him that she thought was a part of her life as well. She saw a kindred spirit in her beloved moonwalker.

Pebbles gave a lot of thought about who she thought this young man was and how this sensitive soul was making it through the world. Sometimes she would construct these elaborate stories of how she knew that his older brothers were jealous of him and that they were probably mean to him after the curtain came down on their performances. She was convinced that she would one day meet him and they would be best friends. Even at age 10 she sensed that Michael Jackson was short on those.

One distinct memory stands out as it relates to my sister’s love affair with Michael Jackson: When she was about 12 years old, she started to develop a strong relationship with God. We had been raised in an ultra-religious home and she was the first one to seriously take on the charge of “accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” One of the first things she did was to purge her record collection. This was a sign that she was relinquishing all ties with her worldly obsessions. In the dumpster went the latest Stacy Lattisaw, Prince, Anita Baker and some New Edition. From my heathen perch on the living room couch, I noticed that the only records to survive this Christian rebirth was the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and every Michael Jackson record that she owned. I questioned why he was spared. She informed me, without a hint of irony, that she thought God would not mind if she loved Michael Jackson, too.

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 5)

We decided to make another minor detour this morning and head over to see the Grand Canyon. I've actually seen the Canyon before so this trip was for Amanda. Oddly enough I didn't know she was scared of heights. The things you learn on long road trips. So you can imagine what her face looked like when she saw the Grand Canyon. Part awe, part horror. I forgot how spectacular it is. It was great to remember that through Amanda's eyes. Again, we took tons of pictures, so if you are on Facebook you can check them out over there.

NOTE: While watching the video check out the people on the rocks behind our heads. They were actually throwing a football at some point on a ledge with no guard rail. You can only see this kind of stuff if you leave home...lol.

After hanging out at one of the "Wonders of the World," we hit the road around 11:00am our time. It was more of the same. Desert, heat, wind, desert, heat, more wind. We crossed into California around 3:00pm (PST). The Mojave Desert greeted us with 107degrees! As we drove toward Los Angeles it got cooler - 88 degrees by the time we got into L.A. proper.

We arrived in Los Angeles, California at 6:42pm (PST)! I am still sort of in denial that I am here. There has been a lot of planning regarding this relocation, but I don't think I gave much thought to how I would feel once I was actually here. I am both frickin' excited and scared. Now that I am here - what now? I don't mean what now like there is nothing to do. There is plenty to do. I have a script that needs to be finished in the next week. I need to buy a new printer. I need to surrender my sister Debyann's GPS and buy my own. I need to buy a desk for my room. I need to put said room together. I need to send out rejection and acceptance notices for the next anthology. But after all the tasks are done how does one go about living and connecting in a new place like LA?

I'll let you know how I'm doing:)

Check out our latest video. I think we will keep doing them until Amanda leaves on Monday.

Friday, July 3, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 4)

We are exactly 382 miles from Los Angeles! We have stopped in Williams, AZ for the night.

We could have made it to our final destination today but we decided to do the tourist thing. Dana recommended that we visit the Acoma Sky City Pueblo in New Mexico. We took tons of pictures (if you are a Facebook friend you can go and check them out) and some footage of the land leading up to site (you are not allowed to take video of the actual space on the mesa.

I am always leery when I sign on to be a tourist, especially when I am in someone else's actual living space. There is always the possibility of someone saying or doing something stupid. The folks on the tour didn't disappointment.

Fred was a our tour guide for the 80 minute excursion. He was basically responsible for entertaining 20 adults and making sure we didn't break any traditional rules or fall off the mesa. I was surprised how many times he had to redirect grown folks. They acted like because they paid twenty bucks they could just trample all over the land and do whatever. By the end of the tour the irony of their behavior was not lost on me.

Any ol' way

The tour was fascinating. The history(the Acoma people were invaded by the Spaniards and made to accept Catholicism in very brutal ways). The ruggedness and beauty of the land (being on top of that mesa made it clear why it was called Sky City). Fred's pride in the accomplishments of his ancestors (the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680).

The minor detour was definitely worth it and driving through the desert of the Southwest is absolutely breathtaking. We ended our night at a restaurant with a singing cowboy (see end of the video) and a juicy steak.

Check out our video for the day.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road - Day 3

600 more miles closer to L.A.

We are in Albuquerque, NM tonight. The ride didn't feel as brutal today. The landscape continued to get flatter and the temperature hotter, but we wouldn't trade in this experience for anything.

Everyone kept warning us about the drive through Texas, but Oklahoma was the state that just kept on giving. I swear we drove from one end to the other. We just kept saying, "are we still in Oklahoma?" For most of the 600 miles it seemed the answer was YES! We drove through the panhandle of Texas and felt like we were in the state all of five minutes. We did get to see the "biggest cross in North America" while driving through the state. It was quite the sight.

Our day ended with dinner with the lovely Dana in the equally lovely Albuquerque, NM. Dana and I have never met but are Facebook friends. She invited us to dinner when she heard we would be passing through her neck of the woods. This was our first opportunity to sight see on this trip. Albuquerque is a city with a whole lot of personality.

We are actually a day ahead of schedule and we might slow things down a little tomorrow. Dana suggested some places we can check out and we might just hang out in Arizona a little. We'll see how we feel tomorrow.

Here is our video for the day. Don't judge us too harshly on not using sunblock...lol