Archive for May, 2010

My First Haters

May 31, 2010


I’ve always been opinionated, and I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, whether in a real-life discussion or on my blog.  I suppose it was inevitable, therefore, that some of my posts would rub some people the wrong way.

That doesn’t bother me.  I’m all for spirited debate.  Except . . . I haven’t gotten any.

It seems some of the people who disliked my posts, in particular the one about men, or the one about celebrity divorce settlements, chose not to post comments on my blog.  They also chose not to debate me on Twitter or Facebook, where I usually post my newest blog posts.

What they did choose to do was make cowardly ad hominem attacks on Twitter.

I’ve gotten one or two “you’re divorced, right? figures” comments on this blog.  I haven’t thought much of them.  What exactly does it figure?  Figures that I, a divorced woman, would be interested in the subject of divorce? 

Or does it “figure” that I’m divorced because I’m a bitter, unlovable hag, as evidenced by my writing and my opinions?

Apparently I’m supposed to believe the latter.

Sorry, but no.  Anyone else who wants to believe that about me, believe away.  And feel free to believe, based on a few blog posts and tweets, that you know all you need to know about my marriage and my divorce.  As long as I write about divorce and custody issues, I guess it’s understandable that people would try to construct a story about my own divorce.  Until and unless I choose to publish my divorce story, good luck with that.

I’m just disappointed that the people in question chose to resort to personal attacks, instead of making rational counter-arguments to the positions with which they disagreed. 

In the end, though, I’m pleased that people are reading and reacting to what I write.  Thanks to everyone who visits my blog and read my posts.  Whether you agree or disagree, I appreciate your readership. 

I do not, however, tolerate personal attacks, on me or any of my commenters.  As long as you keep it respectful, debate away.

Men Aren’t Simple

May 23, 2010

Recently on Twitter, @taralconley asked “Who out there feels the need to date someone who is as (or more than) financially, spiritually, and/or intellectually powerful as yourself?”  Disappointly, and not surprisingly, a number of men responded that all they need is what one man referred to as the “three goods: good looks, good sex, good cooking.”

This, of course, is utter and complete bullshit.

Many men are vested in the notion that men are simple.  This belief works to absolve them from responsibility for what goes wrong in relationships.  You want to make me happy, they say?  Just look good, feed me and fuck me.  Accordingly, if your man isn’t happy in your relationship, it’s all your fault.  His dissatisfaction is attributable to something you’re not doing, or not doing well enough.

It also helps him to make you wrong by comparison.  If your needs are complex, there’s something wrong with you.  You don’t have to do much to make him happy.  His needs are simple to satisfy.  Why should he have to work so hard to satisfy yours?

Sigh again.

Setting to one side the notion that any human being has the capacity to make another happy — topic for another blog post — I have never met a simple man in my life.  My father wasn’t simple.  My brothers aren’t simple.  My ex-husband remains one of the most complex people I have ever met.  If anyone ever figures out how to decode him, his needs and his behavior, they’ll deserve a Nobel Prize.

But we women often fall into the trap of trying to do just that, to decode the so-called “simple” man so we can figure out how to really meet his un-stated needs.  Spend enough time with a man, and you start to understand just how un-simple he really is.  Meet his family and his friends, and the ah-ha moments just keep flooding in.  You understand his insecurities, his faults, his strengths and his weaknesses.

In the process, we find ourselves blaming that girl he liked in 7th grade, his baby mama, his ex-wife, his messed-up sisters, and especially his mama for how he turned out. 

And in the meantime, he’s still free to chase after that gourmet chef with the perfect ass and a great head game, because there’s always going to be at least one of the three “goods” where you’re falling short.

It would be great if men stopped claiming to be simple creatures with simple needs.  It would be great, but I’m not waiting for it to happen.  I’m also not messing around anymore with any man who claims to be simple, or who claims his needs are.  It’s not a woman’s job to unpack a man’s psyche and uncover his issues.  That’s his job.

And if he’s not willing to do the work, then it’s on to the next one.

An Incivil Action: Child Custody Litigation

May 14, 2010

Writer Debra Dickerson shocked many when she revealed recently that, as a result of a five-and-a-half year custody battle with her ex-husband, she and her children are now homeless.

Dickerson and I crossed paths briefly at Harvard Law School: I was a 3L when she was a 1L.  I knew of her, though I can’t really say I knew her.  Dickerson chose not to practice law and became a writer instead.  I chose not to be poor and unable to repay $90,000 in law school debt, so I went on to practice, although the desire to write never left (hence, this blog).

I empathize with Dickerson, not because we have HLS in common, but because of my own experiences with never-ending child custody, visitation and support court battles.  I, too, had a lengthy and expensive divorce.  I, too, spent over $100,000 in legal fees — most of them in an unnecessarily protracted custody fight.  I contend my ex never really wanted custody, but included it among his demands to gain settlement leverage.   And unfortunately, because divorce = litigation, we had to fight it out. 

Child custody contests are indeed battles, ones in which the most forceful weapons are the children.  In litigation, someone has to win, and someone has to lose.  And when kids are used as weapons, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re the ones who get hurt.

I’m still in the midst of visitation issues with my ex.  And although I admire the professionals who are involved in my case, the process is completely illogical.  I strongly believe that child custody–and divorce, for that matter–should not be determined through litigation.  In New York, it is possible to avoid litigation if the parties negotiate a separation agreement (which they file with the court), remain separated for at least a year, and then file for a judgment of divorce based on the separation agreement.  But this approach will not work for everyone.

Negotiating a separation agreement can be a very expensive process.  A separation agreement is, in essence, a settlement agreement, and settlement negotiations are still quite adversarial.  Unlike a regular contract negotiation, a settlement negotiation involves two parties who would otherwise be suing each other, attempting to resolve their conflict by contract.  Therefore, the parties and their lawyers are often positional rather than conciliatory in approach, and unreasonable demands made out of anger and hurt can derail the process as easily as as in court.  In most cases, however, people who decide to divorce by separation agreement generally are motivated to agree and avoid litigation.

The underlying motivation is a key reason why separation agreements do not work in every divorce.  If one party wants to settle and move on, and the other party wants to fight to the death, trying to negotiate a separation agreement would be a colossal waste of time and money. 

I believe every divorcing party should be required to undergo counseling, and custody matters should be resolved through mediation. Mandatory counseling and mediation would create an atmosphere of resolution and agreement, not war.  A mediated child custody settlement, assisted by counselors skilled in navigating high conflict divorces, could keep both parties focused on the children’s best interests, since neither side would benefit from making false or overblown allegations.  The goal would be to reduce the number of pointless, endless custody and visitation battles that hurt everyone, especially the children involved.

The particulars of Dickerson’s situation do not matter to me.  I don’t want to know, nor do I care, which party is “at fault” or who has done or said what to whom in the last 5.5 years.  I’m sure, in 5.5 years, there’s probably plenty of blame to spread around.  But I feel compassion for the pain and suffering her family has endured and continues to endure.  I hope that, as news of her plight spreads, the court intervenes to force the parties to settle this lawsuit and resolve their differences in a way that allows for co-parenting and healing. 

I don’t know if my mediation and counseling proposal is workable in practice.  I do know that the current system is broken.  We need a better process for deciding custody cases.

Jillian Michaels: Endometriosis Is Why I Won’t Get Pregnant

May 13, 2010

Jillian Michaels has explained her “I can’t handle doing that to my body” remark about pregnancy.  In an interview with Momlogic, Jillian revealed that she has endometriosis and polycystic ovaries, and that fertility would be very difficult for her without surgical intervention.

Michaels admitted that the firestorm over her misconstrued comment took her by surprise:  “It also made me realize that I need to be much more careful and on my feet about a topic like this.  Shame on me for being ashamed!  Had I not been ashamed about it…if I had been 100 percent honest, none of this would have happened.”

Many have said Michaels owes no one any explanations and should not have felt pressured to reveal her health issues to the world.  I think she did the right thing by explaining her comments.  As I pointed out in my post about Michaels, and as she admitted in the interview, moms are important to her.  Her business depends, in part, on helping moms get fit post-pregnancy. 

Michaels needed to do a bit of damage control.  Not only did she do so with grace and humility, she also shed light on a reproductive disorder that affects many women.

Child/Spousal Support Awards of the Rich and Famous, and You

May 12, 2010

Every time there’s a news story about the divorce/custody battles of rich people, the Twitterverse explodes, with people complaining like their own pockets just got hit.  Reports that Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt will have to pay his estranged wife $637,000 in temporary spousal support sparked all kinds of outrage.  On Twitter, one man said, “I just don’t think you should get married if you can lose more than a 3rd world country in the divorce.”   Women, too, wondered if the prospect of going broke in divorce justifies delaying or avoiding marriage

Get a grip, people.

I’ve been married.  I’ve been divorced.  And I lost a whole lot of money in the process.  But the money didn’t go to my ex.  It went to our lawyers (both of whom I had to pay).  It went to the lawyers because instead of accepting a reasonable settlement offer, my ex went looking for one of those huge celebrity paydays and wound up with next to nothing. 

Anyone who is afraid to get married because of a celebrity divorce, or who expects their own divorce settlement will be like winning MegaMillions, is delusional.  The following facts may help you get over your fears or fantasies:

1. You’re probably not rich, and you’re probably not married to a rich person.  Accordingly, it’s unlikely you’d emerge from a divorce either super rich or financially devastated.  My marriage was coyote ugly, and I would have gnawed off an arm and a leg if that’s what it took to free myself.  Still, if we’d been able to settle, we both would have wound up better off.  Hopefully, your marriage won’t end in divorce, but if it does, divorce will cost a lot less, financially and emotionally, if neither party makes unreasonable and unrealistic demands.

2. Child support and spousal support are not the same.  Child support is awarded to help take care of the children’s needs.  Awards are made based on complex formulas that vary state-to-state, but that generally take each spouse’s then-current income and expenses into account.  The fact that Kelis may have sold a bunch of records 5 years ago is irrelevant to her current income and her child’s current needs.

3. Spousal support is where “big payback” fantasies go to die.  Spousal support is awarded to help take care of the needs of the spouse.  It is awarded most often in cases where a spouse has suspended his or her own career to support the career of the primary wage earner.  That’s probably not you.  If both spouses are working and earn enough to sustain themselves, it’s unlikely spousal support would be awarded to the lower wage-earner. 

Jamie McCourt’s job was being the wife of a rich baseball team owner.  She helped her husband maintain a certain community profile and image–including by being a non-working spouse.  As a result, she has every right to expect him to contribute towards her living expenses until the divorce judgment is final.

4. Rich people have expenses you can’t imagine.  Perhaps you think Kelis should be shopping for her child at The Children’s Place.  Maybe you think Jamie McCourt should move into a West Hollywood day rate motel until she can get a job at Hooters.  That’s what you’d do, right?

That’s why you’re not rich.

If a person’s net worth eclipses the GDP of a third world country, he’s expecting to have to shell out some dough to his soon-to-be ex.  News reports mention that Jamie McCourt originally sought $1 million per month in spousal support.  What’s really telling is that Frank McCourt offered her $150,000/month—nearly $100,000 more than the Kelis child support award that had people up in arms.  Truly rich?  Nas and Kelis aren’t even close.  If Frank McCourt could afford to offer $150K/month, another $500K/month probably isn’t going to bankrupt him.

5. For the benefit of the person who tweeted “The chick isn’t even hot” in reference to Jamie McCourt’s support award: hotness is not a factor considered by any court in entering an award of child or spousal support.  If it were, every star male athlete, actor and entertainer would be vying to marry the ugliest woman on the planet.

6. A pre-nup is unnecessary if you don’t have shyt to begin with.

So the next time you find yourself worried about the latest celebrity divorce payout, remember—unless you’re the celebrity in question, it’s just gossip to you.

What is Blackness?

May 3, 2010

Thomas Chatterton Williams’s recent post on The Root, “What Obama and Drake Have To Do With Being Black,” attempts to explore what he refers to as the “vexed zeitgeist in which, for African Americans, racial integrity overwhelmingly equates to embracing the narrow values of the black street culture of the past three decades: hip-hop culture.”  To do so, Williams compares and contrasts President Barack Obama and the rapper Drake. 

Williams theorizes that “the shadowy figure of the mulatto” is the most poignant illumination of blackness.  This theory assumes all biracial people have the same experiences with race and are forced to choose an identity from a finite set of options, a proposition that is easily refuted.  In fact, apart from being biracial and male, President Obama and Drake appear to have very little in common.  As a result, Williams’s attempts to find similarities in the two men’s backgrounds often feels forced.  For instance, Williams says that both men were raised in “staggeringly un-black settings,” even though Drake’s hometown, Toronto, has a sizeable Afro-Caribbean population, unlike Obama’s hometown of Honolulu.

It is clear that Williams views Drake as a poser.  This mostly seems to be because Drake is half-Jewish: “he had a bar mitzvah!,”  Williams amusingly notes.  Apparently one cannot be both Jewish and black.  Somebody better tell Omar Wasow.

Williams scolds Drake for choosing an identity that Williams finds inauthentic:  “Drake, in his professional choices and his public demeanor–and most certainly not in his inherent physical attributes or ethnic background–has packaged himself to fit neatly into the contemporary vision of what blackness must be–or, at the very least, must worship….[H]is presence on the black scene, unlike Obama’s, has done next to nothing to challenge the ingrained prejudices of a culture that consistently prizes street knowledge over book learning, being cool over being disciplined, and elevates hustlers and criminals to the highest positions of cultural importance.” 

But why should Drake be expected to challenge anything?  Just because he’s biracial–and half-Jewish, at that?  Drake is a rapper.  It stands to reason that, regardless of his ethnicity, his public image and stage persona would embrace hip-hop culture.   There’s no more reason to expect Drake to “challenge the ingrained prejudices of a culture that consistently prizes street knowledge over book learning” than, say, Lil Wayne.

Writer Danielle Belton, on her blog The Black Snob, says that Williams is really talking more about American anti-intellectualism than blackness.  Perhaps his arguments would have been more coherent if he had focused on anti-intellectualism.  But Williams, who is himself biracial, mistakenly assumes his own Imitation of Life racial and cultural identity crisis illustrates a universal experience.  He writes that “mixed-race blacks–while occupying a position in the culture that is at once privileged and cursed–are the physical incarnation of a racial dilemma that all blacks inevitably must confront: To sell out or keep it real? That is the question.”

Williams’s narrow definition of blackness undermines whatever point he is trying to make.  “To sell out or keep it real” is not a universal black dilemma.   Williams conflates blackness with hip-hop, and whiteness with education and upward mobility.  The fatal flaw in his reasoning is that he frames his arguments using the same false dichotomies he attempts to deconstruct. 

Blackness and hip-hop are not, of course, one and the same.  Hip-hop is only a part of the black experience, and a relatively small one at that.  Therefore, the notion that all black people are forced to choose whether to identify with hip-hop and remain authentic, or “sell out” and thereby become less black, is ludicrous.  Moreover, associating education and upward mobility with “whiteness” is dangerous and offensive. 

It is true that young, middle-class black males often gravitate to and imitate images from hip-hop culture that bear no resemblance to their day-to-day lives.  I’ve seen it within my own family, and it’s one of many aspects of black American culture that Aaron McGruder spoofs in The Boondocks.  And yet, many of these same young men also go to college, take jobs with Fortune 1000 companies, and live otherwise unremarkable, upwardly mobile lifestyles.  Indeed, it is entirely possible to be black and embrace hip-hop, while also being middle class, educated, suburban, and well-read, all at the same time.

Williams has fallen into the trap of what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie eloquently refers to as the danger of the single story.  In a speech recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009, Oxford, UK, she said: “That is how you create a single story: show a people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” 

There is no single story of blackness, no single concept of the black experience.  Throughout history, persons of African descent have struggled to tell stories that reflect the richness, uniquenes and variety of our experiences.  In doing so, we must also avoid the trap of the single story ourselves, by not insisting that those stories fit solely within the framework of the largely negative mainstream vision of “blackness” and black culture.