I have a really good friend. She is one of my best friends, a true soul sister. We met in a professional capacity and immediately bonded because we were both about to get married. That was decades ago. At the time, we found many things in common around the idiosyncrasies and craziness of wedding plans and getting married at an older age. This friend of mine is a free spirit with an enormous heart. She can be a little flaky, but I love her like family.
She is one of those people who will always show up exactly when you need her, and always, but always, will say exactly the right thing even if it is simply not saying anything at all.
Having someone like that in your corner is not only important, it is vital. She is the person I call when I need to vent, with no need for explanation, no need to apologize. I can be authentic and real. I try to be that person for her too.
The other day she had an issue going on. She called me, and, somehow, I knew that I needed to pick up. Such is it with soul sisters. I literally had a three-minute break between Zoom meetings. I picked up the phone and for the duration of my break she had an epic rant about something that happened to her. Although she was upset and angry, it was actually kind of funny. When she was done, she paused and said, “That’s it.” We laughed. I said, “Sorry, I gotta go.” And we hung up.
The ability to rant and get things off your chest is incredibly important. To have a person to rant to is as essential as the rant itself.
What I know to be true about ranting is that to be a good rant listener, you need to be able to withhold any response. All that is needed is that you be present, catch the rant and take it away. I am a great rant catcher, yet another gift my students have given me.
In my classes, I hear the most epic of rants.
Sometimes, even on Zoom I physically lean forward to listen and concentrate so that I can separate the details and fully understand what the rant is about. Rants have this habit of encompassing many details. My students’ rants are complicated and multilayered. Many players are involved. If you are a grown-up who has been systematically deprived, as well as the victim of racism, injustice and all-around misfortune, all of your crap tends to be funneled into every single rant. That is actually one of the main things we teach and try to work with participants in our programs: helping them learn how to divide and conquer. Not everyone needs to know or will care about every detail of your story. Actually, if you burden someone with too much detail, they will shut off and not listen at all. And, if you want to solve a problem, you have to focus on one issue and not try to tackle thirty issues at the same time.
And that is exactly the problem. There are so many issues.
“Ms., I need a job, but I have a record. I really ain’t got skills and I don’t read well. My baby daddy gives me no money. My sister is locked up again and I gotta take care of her babies. Then my brother went back into sober living cause he was drinking. I don’t know how to help my daughter with her
homework, and I am so fucking hot I want to scream!” She ranted for a long 15 minutes. And I am writing only the highlights here.
I was quiet when she finished. At the end, unlike after the rant with my friend, there was no laughter.
She seemed frustrated and sad. I said softly, “That is a lot.”
She was quiet. “I know,” she said. “It is a fucking disaster.”
“I hear you,” I added, “When you say it all at the same time, in one breath, it must feel like that.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I tried to break down the rant very carefully.
“Well, you talked about so many things. You can’t start taking care of anything when you have to take care of everything.”
I pissed her off.
“Ms., everything is a fucking disaster. You ain’t listening!”
I said calmly, “I listened to every word.” I repeated to her, counting on my fingers one by one, what she just told me:
“1. You need a job;
2. It is hard because you have a record;
3.You feel like you don’t have any skills. In addition, you do not read so well;
4.Your baby daddy does not give you money;
5.Your sister is locked up and you are taking care of her kids;
6.Your brother had a relapse and is back in sober living;
7.Your daughter is having issues with her homework and you do not know how to help her;
8. And the weather sucks.”
She smiled a little.
“Everything feels connected, because it is happening to you. Can we try to separate things and figure out how and what to do about each thing?
Also, there are things you have control over and things you don’t. Your sister is locked up. Your brother is in sober living. That is on them. Your daughter is in school. That’s good.”
She cut me off and said, “Don’t go saying there is something positive in all my shit. I hate that, Ms. Honest to God, I hate when people fucking do that!”
“Why?” I asked. My question caught her off guard.
“Where are you going with this, Ms.?” she asked.
“You can’t do anything when you are mad and negative about everything,” I said.
“It’s great your kid is in school. Better than her being in the street and doing meth.”
She laughed out loud. “Call the school and ask for support. I am sure they have it. Ask for help where you need it.
Did the court tell your baby daddy he has to give you money?”
“No,” she said, and to this we all laughed.
And someone in the group said, “Girl, he ain’t gonna give you no fucking money if the judge don’t tell him to.” Someone else said, “That’s bullshit! Don’t get the court involved.”
“Hold on,” I said.
“See, this is a whole issue by itself. You need to think and talk to some legal person to see what you can do about this.”
She smiled and nodded. “I feel you,” she said to me.
“Now, to the biggest issue. You have amazing skills. Reading isn’t one of them. That’s not great, but it is what it is. You can work on that skill and at the same time look for a job that doesn’t require it. I am not saying it is easy, but when that is standing by itself, it is not as bad as when it is hanging out there with all your other problems.”
She looked at me for a bit and laughed again.
“Ms., my problems are like the gang bangers. Together they are fucking tough, but alone they are less. I gotta make my troubles lay down the flag (that means to not be an active member in the gang) and deal with each one.”
This story happened before COVID, so I was able to get out of my seat and actually go over and give her a hug, a great big, long hug. Remember those hugs, those hugs that once you give them, you really don’t have to say anything?
Man, I miss those hugs!
I miss them so much!
“You are absolutely right,” I told her.
“Can I still bitch about everything though?” she asked me.
“Absolutely, girl. Rant as much as you need to. I am the rant catcher and I am here for you.”
We hugged again, laughed, and said no more.