You deserve what you want. To the best of my knowledge, it usually isn’t much. Good food.
In my article, “Why Dating is a Waste of Time (for single people),” I made the case for slowing down the race from swipe right to the coffee shop to bed. Dating, after all, is more about impression management — touting our desirability — than about a good-faith search for real compatibility. How can anybody really get to know another person in that process?
So he helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other young men and women sat at a segregated lunch counter, well-dressed, straight-backed, refusing to let a milkshake poured on their heads, or a cigarette extinguished on their backs, or a foot aimed at their ribs, refused to let that dent their dignity and their sense of purpose. And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities in any major city in the South.
Now, this country is a constant work in progress. We were born with instructions: to form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we are imperfect; that what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than anyone might have thought possible.
That same year, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate bus facilities was unconstitutional, John and Bernard Lafayette bought two tickets, climbed aboard a Greyhound, sat up front, and refused to move. This was months before the first official Freedom Rides. He was doing a test. The trip was unsanctioned. Few knew what they were up to. And at every stop, through the night, apparently the angry driver stormed out of the bus and into the bus station. And John and Bernard had no idea what he might come back with or who he might come back with. Nobody was there to protect them. There were no camera crews to record events. You know, sometimes, we read about this and kind of take it for granted. Or at least we act as if it was inevitable. Imagine the courage of two people Malia’s age, younger than my oldest daughter, on their own, to challenge an entire infrastructure of oppression.
Yes, my heart said Lisbon. I gave myself enough time to get it together. To start anew. To seek simplicity. To fall in love. To maybe make some wine. And write … Write always. And write clearly, and unlike anybody else. Maybe a book or six. Maybe I’d play guitar. I would definitely speak Portuguese. I can now. Um pouco, anyway.
But that came not to pass. After all the work I did throughout my life, including monolithic, seven-year sojourn of learning to write, changing careers, going from sleeping a Walmart parking lot in a rental jeep, to becoming an independent literary entity too big for the $100B tech conglomerate that pulled me out of the hellhole I found myself, stashing enough away to not just visit, but move, after years of desiring to do so, it all fell apart because a virus-carrying bat flapped its wings at a wet market in Wuhan [this is metaphorical and alliterative, not the actual events], and because of all the underlying American lies that made a pandemic go viral and do the bulk of its dirty work here.
Nobody really banks on a pandemic in their future calculus, and now America’s exploding. But, make no mistake, I will get there. I will seek out what I am looking for. I deserve at least that much and candidly you all do. Every last one of you. You deserve to be unshackled from this cavalcade of lies.
John was only twenty years old. But he pushed all twenty of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, all of it, that his example could challenge centuries of convention, and generations of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities suffered by African Americans.
Still, it’s hard not to internalize that as my own failing, as I myself, if I was adequate and committed enough, would’ve found a way out already, if I was hungry enough. If I hustled enough. If I was good enough.
John got a taste of jail for the first, second, third…well, several times. But he also got a taste of victory. And it consumed him with righteous purpose. And he took the battle deeper into the South.
But I digress. The point is, now that women are stepping up and speaking out for what they want, and now that everybody knows that horny isn’t just a guy thing, we need to take another look at issues of consent.
As a boy, John listened through the door after bedtime as his father’s friends complained about the Klan. One Sunday as a teenager, he heard Dr. King preach on the radio. As a college student in Tennessee, he signed up for Jim Lawson’s workshops on the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience. John Lewis was getting something inside his head, an idea he couldn’t shake that took hold of him — that nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were the means to change laws, but also change hearts, and change minds, and change nations, and change the world.
Not that I have never turned down sex. But the times that I was propositioned and declined, I had reason to be leery, as the offers were from strangers or near-strangers, and I was pretty sure one of them wasn’t interested so much in me as in a place to sleep that wasn’t in her car. (She had some major issues, too, but holey moley she was hot.)
Consent is an enthusiastic and freely given yes to any sexual activity. It must be given before each sexual activity, even if it was given before to the same or similar activity. Consent cannot be given under pressure, or by a person who is under age, or by a person who is intoxicated. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
What we don’t think about is the subtle pressure coming from the way a man’s role in the dating culture is defined. Men may be the askers, but women are the choosers. They decide which men get lucky, which ones lose.
Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy. John was born into modest means — that means he was poor — in the heart of the Jim Crow South to parents who picked somebody else’s cotton. Apparently, he didn’t take to farm work — on days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he’d hide under the porch and make a break for the school bus when it showed up. His mother, Willie Mae Lewis, nurtured that curiosity in this shy, serious child. “Once you learn something,” she told her son, “once you get something inside your head, no one can take it away from you.”
I choose to believe better lies. I choose to leave this place. I choose to reject it and renounce it, to extricate myself from the tragicomic context that is my upbringing. Lies, like turtles, all the way down.
I exist to call bullshit, and so I do, with more bullshit. And I chose, and still choose, to do so from Lisbon — or, San Francisco on a Cleveland budget, in a country that’s one of the most miraculously risen social democracies of the past 50 years.
If deeper knowledge kills the buzz, so be it. That means the buzz was doomed already, and it’s better knowing that before you’ve gotten so entangled that you’re going to be in pain when you fall out of love or lust.
If you want to know if you’ll be happy sharing more than sex and good times with someone, you have to spend some time with them and do more with them than just play. You have to learn about each other’s lives, meet each other’s friends and families, know each other when your charm’s turned off.
John Lewis — the first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people, including me at the time, until his final day on this Earth — he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work.