READER’S NOTE: This is the introduction to a proposal for a book of women’s essays called The Vanity: Reflections that I conceived about a year ago. The idea is to collect the thoughts and stories of women still in the process of making their dreams come true. The essays would be written from the perspective of a woman seated at her vanity, looking into the three-way mirror of past, present and future. What do you see? What will come of all the labor, sorrows, hard work, unexpected joy and laughter along the way. I wrote this piece to a group of women whom I admire regarding my own journey. It serves as an invitation for women to submit their own personal essays for The Vanity, a project that I still hope to produce. Talk to me and tell me your story of life orbiting your personal sun.
INTRODUCTION TO THE VANITY
There are times in one’s life when it is only possible to look forward, then there times that one spends looking back and then there are strange episodes when one is compelled to look in both directions at once. It’s a curious vertiginous feeling, set with much turbulent emotion and most of all uncertainty.
experiencing things that I never anticipated, that I feel inadequately prepared for. Most of all I feel entirely unequal to these tasks, which call for something, someone else, but certainly not me.
Nevertheless this is the hand I’ve been dealt and the road I must walk and the the shoes I am traveling in at present though they are pretty, dainty types. The kind that look stunning for a party lasting well into the night while swilling champagne. The fact is that right now I need work boots. There is much to be done and there is no one else for the task. For better or for worse I am the one who must do it. So enough of the bellyaching. Excuse me while I change. It’s best to start early and work hard particularly when you can’t be sure of what challenges you may encounter.
Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Politrixie and I turned 40 years old last Saturday. I am no longer the young girl I can see so clearly in pictures and in my mind’s eye but I am far from old. The biological clock is definitely ringing….LOUDLY with great URGENCY but I have time. Time to create the family I want. Time to find a husband if that is my desire. Time to bear children and become a mother which is a deeply important role I wish to experience, the warmth of baby fat against my skin, seeing the physical features of a new soul that has been birthed through my own body.
But somehow I have reached a strange DETOUR in my life. I must have strayed from the main road without realizing it somewhere….back there. I ambled off the paved lit glamorous city streets in my sexy but tasteful pumps, and like Dorothy on her journey to Oz have found myself traveling a road quite unfamiliar to me in a pair of exceptionally unsuitable footwear. I know that when I began my journey, when I left home at the age of 18 for my dream city, for New York City where I would attend college and graduate I was heading in the direction toward…..well super-stardom of course.
No. Not as an actress or a performer (but aren’t we all performers in Life?) Certainly not as a reality star that new breed of celebrity that validates the narcissism of our culture since MTV’s “The Real World” premiered twenty some odd years ago. But I was a superstar to my family. A smart girl, an ambitious girl, a girl with the weight of her family expectations and her proud racial history preparing to unleash my intellectual talents on the world. After all I had always been taught that the World was MY oyster, and was I not a pearl in formation? So I was energetic and joyful, eager to please and ready to work hard to prove myself in order to earn the glorious fruits that can be materially gleaned from meretricious labor. Because that’s what happens to people who do a good job in life, is it not? You do your duty. You meet the sun each day and work hard at your chosen trade or profession and you are rewarded with a glorious life ever after.
In pursuit of that dream I graduated from college the class of 1999. In January of 2000 I proceeded starry-eyed to Washington DC in my new professional wardrobe and sensibly fashionable Salvatore Ferragamo heels. I was working on Capitol Hill to serve the lords of government. It was like all the beloved trash novels and romances I fed upon from the time I was eleven years old. I was a courtier at the end of the 20th century in the most powerful court of the world. President Clinton was King, and the nation was still rich and frivolously happy in its wealth unaware that in one year, on a single day, the world would change forever and everything that occurred before that fateful day would render a sepia toned nostalgia to that past.
The memories of my time in Washington DC are a whirlwind of parties that we lowly staff assistants attended in order to eat and drink for free because we were quite poorly paid. No one of importance bothered our class of staffers, we were insignificant. But there were a large number of insignificant individuals to have fun with all between the ages of 20 to 40. I realized on my third day of work that I would never make a politician, and my experience of that world during the outgoing year of President Clinton and the incoming of President George W Bush is one of disillusioned principles and deflated dreams where I was forced to accept the truths of power and money over the idealistic illusions of We the People.
So I moved on from the great royal court to a new setting. My father had instilled in me a sense of success that addicted me to high achievement in order to participate in the glittering circles that he esteemed. Washington DC’s courtier/politico lifestyle had been a part of that dream he had for me. Only one more stone needed to be set in the crown of glory, as he saw it, which is what lead me to the Ivy League. For a black woman, steeped in the history of my culture and knowing that these exclusive circles had always been far beyond the limitations set for even the most brilliant and wealthy individuals of my culture, it was the final gift of good-girl, obedient, meritorious achievements that I could give my father. I earned a Masters degree in 20th century American History.
It would seem that my road had been paved in gold. I had every key for entry into the hallowed and esteemed halls of that diaphanous and fickle thing we call Success. I was walking the best road attired in the best clothes, the best shoes, the most flawless jewels. Every honor that had been bestowed upon me, every reference who vouched for me, every THING declared that I was A+ person who deserved an A+ life.
Is that not the definition of a super-star? I was the great hope of my family who would firmly plant our lineage and future generations upon the exclusive planes and private roads that hide the best people from the ugliness of the worst lives. No poverty for me. No unemployment. I had never known want. I had been privileged in my growing up. And now I had earned every certificate of validation to guarantee that I would now be able to travel First Class because that’s how a star travels. Unfettered. Untroubled by the worries and meanness of the lives of the 99%.
I was going to live a super star’s life of comfort, luxury, beauty and gentility. Because I was an A+ person. I was among the rising glitterati of my generation. True I hadn’t yet settled into that life but I had every right to believe — based on what I had been told…by everyone….parents, teachers, preachers, friends, even strangers — I had every right to believe that the life I desired was mine for the taking.
And then….everything went wrong. Somewhere I strayed from the grid-mapped streets that were familiar to me. I wandered into a place with no streets at all. No signs declaring THIS WAY NEXT EXIT.
I was alone. In the dark. Afraid. And it didn’t matter one bit what I was wearing because alone in the darkness the primeval fear that clutches your heart makes irrelevant your fashion or style sense. How the hell did I get so far from where I began? Could I ever find my way back? Or was I stranded here in this strange disorienting alien land forever?
Now I was being challenged with everything I knew. Being forced to learn new skills, apply unknown remedies to unfamiliar problems. But I learned. I adapted. I grew up and acquired skills, talents, and sense I had not reckoned on. But still I am lost and still I feel that I dont know where I am going nor where I will end up.
I could tell you in detail of the amazingly intense moment when I lost consciousness alone in my apartment in Philadelphia and nearly died. I could tell you how I have lost many family members to old age and cancer. My father died two years ago and I have learned for myself what my grandmother once warned me, that a woman with no father and no husband is a vulnerable woman.
I could tell you of how my mother was swindled and her life’s savings evaporated as if it never existed. The despair at selling the family home, yet so many more lost their homes foreclosure from disreputable banks. We were lucky enough to actually obtain our asking price. I could tell you of my dear mother’s suffering health from our severely reduced circumstances. I could tell you how I, Daddy’s little Princess, the super star, the One Who Would Succeed, learned of delirious hunger as hallucinations of exquisitely gorgeous chamber music played in my head and the colors danced across my eyes.
I could tell you of my mind as it was seduced by the euphoria and despair of bipolar disorder.
I could tell you of these things but the stories are not unique and the suffering I have experienced is little more than what more than 90% of the humans on this planet endure over a lifetime.
But as a young woman at the tail end of Generation X I cannot help but look around and wonder. Is this my hallucination? Am I the only one to be experiencing these soul wrenching changes of such unexpected violence. Nothing in my life has prepared me, the A+ student, for these tests. Besides being incapable of mind reading I cannot know of what other women are experiencing in these turbulent times. And there is the secret shame that many former superstars hold so vigilantly, they mask the shame and disappointment of not having obtained what they were told was THEIRS. SUCCESS was our possession even before we earned it, we were told.
And now I cannot help but wonder: What is Success? What has the Journey up to this point been for others? I am passionately committed to discovering what answers have been learned from all the other A+ students, the superstars, and wunderkinds that I have known.
Perhaps if we pool our knowledge we can find our way from the lost city and the roads that dead end….back into the light. Maybe we can find our way back home from this existential desolation. Maybe we can learn together and accept with gratitude the truths that the material world is fraught with danger and deception, but there are other beautiful and worthy fruits that nourish and complete the body, the mind and the soul.
So these are the thoughts and ideas that have pushed me into discussion with you. You are all women I admire and respect. I am reaching out from my darkness to listen to you. I wish to pool the tiny light I have with your own that we can create a bonfire of warmth and illumination.