The Cardi Question

Artwork by Dale Dobson

 

“This will all be worth it.” No one could ever tell me, though:

What is the “this”
What is the “it”

Instead, it was always the same thing: “You’ll have to stay alive to find out!”

As fuckin’ if.

I sit and labor over simile and metaphor. I stand and labor, too, because someone once told me that you digest food better when you eat standing up. I have seen Cardi B stand as well as sit. She seems to do well either way.

Item 1: Cardi allows me to indulge in my dreams.

I live in my hometown. I live with my mother and father. I answer phones and write poems on the work computers.

Someday, someone posts pictures of me from before I could afford expensive hair and says that I always kept it real. People ask my opinions on things and I give gentle-but-cutting responses about the more important things I have to do.

“I never said I don’t care for her. I said I don’t care about her.”

I would like to own an autoharp and play new-fangled folk music. I would do a different cover of a song I love at every show. I would like to be a fashion statement, but I would also like to be myself. I would like to be Cardi, but also myself. I would like to be Joan Baez, but also Cardi, but also myself.

I read and reread my own words. I think I know what I want to be, and I sure know what I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be Another Think Piece on something that everyone’s already thought about. I don’t care to be A Queer Black Writer writing Queer Black Words about Queer Black Things. Somehow, it feels like defending myself.

Item 2: I have been alive for two fewer years than Cardi. As long as she has time, I have time.

It is important to believe that you have time, especially when it seems to be taking a long time for anything at all to happen. If you cannot believe in time, then you cannot give yourself the grace to use it. Cardi makes me believe that there are enough hours in the day, enough days in the weeks and months and years of just fucking trying.

In 2013, I spent most of my days avoiding homework, spending money for bills on Starbucks, and making myself vomit at work. I was Not Doing Well. That was the year I first saw her. She had bangs back then and a gnarly bottom row of teeth. As I washed chunks off the back of my hand and braced myself for gauntlets of verbal abuse from middle-aged women buying tacky mesh wreaths, Cardi made me laugh, and that was enough.

Years later, Cardi poses for Cosmo and sits next to Anna Wintour’s haircut at fashion week. I keep my meals down. Cardi got a Maybach, and I’m spending money I actually have on Starbucks (but only on double star days). Cardi has a diamond ring that can be seen from a low-flying plane, and I read poetry to people who came there to hear it.

Anything can fucking happen.

Once, someone asked me if I wished I was white. Well, she actually asked me:

“Wait, you don’t wish you were white?”

I told her from behind my sleek, permed bangs that I’d rather die than have a sunburn. Anyway, I was the Whitest Black Person for miles around. I was The Exception. What need did I have to be white, when they’d already told me I was One?

And now I look back and I cringe. How could she have known? How could she have had the courage to say it out loud? Because the truth remains, that if I was a white girl, there would have never been any question. There would have never been any need for an answer.

Item 3: Cardi is not a golden hologram.

If I were to elevate–and thus reduce–her to such, there would be no dream and there would be no time. She is not a role model to me of how to be a citizen or an artist, but she does empower me to take my own time and believe in my work. I have never looked to her as the example of how to do the thing or which thing to do; she is only proof to me that thing is doable. She forged and continues down her own path, and that encourages me to take mine.

I read and reread my words.

I read and reread treatises on Cardi and her blackness and her latinaness and her hoodness and her ness-ness. I wonder if Cardi feels watched. I wonder what it must be like to be read and reread.

Item 4: Cardi asks for no permission, and this gives me permission.

There is no pigeonhole for Cardi, because she is no pigeon. She wears ball gowns and she wears knee high boots. Cardi is never cold. Cardi has no expectations. Cardi is Cardi and also herself.

What is the “this”
What is the “it”

The Cardi Question is what I ask myself when I write and when I choose to get up and keep living and find out. She is the reassurance that I don’t have to defend myself. She represents the power of just existing, of continuing on and remaining authentic, even as your authenticity is monetized and picked apart.

Cardi B represents the potential to be a Someone Like Me for a frightened misfit while still remaining my actual self. She offers no explanations and allows her various identities to overlap and speak for themselves. She is vulnerable and available and hilarious and Really Human. I can’t necessarily call her an activist, can I? Still, her very presence seems to advocate on my behalf, letting me know over and over:

This is it. This is life is as good as it gets, and it is enough to make something unbelievable. I cannot help myself. I will root for her always, because to root for her is to root for myself. Cardi B is better than the American Dream. She is proof of what every counselor, therapist, or well-meaning so-and-so ever told me. She is the reassurance that if I can just stay alive, show up, and keep giving a shit, this will all be worth it. Anything can fucking happen.

Google search: is it better to eat standing or sitting?

There is no scientific proof to support the appropriateness of either position.


Alex is a writer. They are a recorder of the mundane and a lover of sacred shapes. Alex also loves pine trees, activism, and their black cat. Alex can be contacted at alexrtheus@gmail.com or via astral travel--the only way to fly.
Dale Dobson is a maker, collaborator and representative of talent. She is the Executive Director, of the Maysles Documentary Center, in Harlem. She has a life-long love affair with the ocean and a fascination with all things metaphysical. You can follow her work on Instagram or her website, iconiclinx.com.