Lessons I learned at the taping of Oprah's Life Class

Lessons I learned at the taping of Oprah's Life Class

This past Monday, I was a friend's guest for the taping of Oprah's Life Class, with Iyanla Vanzant. The topic was "Single Moms," so, I was a fit.

I have struggled with what I want to say about my experience. Just underneath the fun of “out of the ordinary”-ness, and the splendid time spent with one of my favorite new friends, my truth about the experience feels a little scary to share because, well, it’s Oprah y’all. And I live in Chicago. She’s a Beacon of Light to so many people, and it is hard to say anything negative about someone held in such high regard by so many, myself included.

But I promised myself I would find a way to write my truth, even if it is uncomfortable. I promised myself I would be honest, even at the risk of ruffling some feathers. I promised myself I would always aim for the bullseye of kindness with my words. And just this morning, I made the decision to (TRY TO) keep the language rated PG-13. No promises...

And I feel like I dragged a lot of you in there with me through social media. I can't just drop it.

But this is uncomfortable. Because my day at the Oprah taping left me with a sadness that is still wringing its hands, even today.

I’ll just tell you about the day, okay?  And I will do so with bullet points, to make it all feel a little jauntier.  And I will leave you with a nice exit, I promise.

  • Harpo Studios felt a little like the Captain EO show at Disneyworld.  Yes, it’s entertaining, sure. But it feels….done. Over.  It doesn’t help that the studio was recently used by Rosie O'Donnell for her short-lived talk show. Harpo Studios has become its own hand-me-down.The name "Oprah" has even lost its sway with stingy parking garage attendants in the area:  No parking for you! Not even if you are going to see Oprah. You know what? ESPECIALLY if you are going to see Oprah. Blehhhhh… I went to a show in Harpo studio years ago, back at the very Zenith of Oprah Madness, and I’m here to report: It just ain’t the same.
  •  Oprah….**sigh** I just can’t. It’s too heartbreaking.  I hope she was just having a bad day. Maybe she was super tired. But it was really hard seeing our Best Girl with eyes so dark.
  • That last one was really hard, so let’s try this: Everyone was monster thrilled to be there, all dressed UP in their Oprah clothes. One woman  got the opportunity to remenisce with  the billionaire talk show host about a time, years ago, when Miss O had given her some shoes for whatever reason. I missed the details, but the gist is that back in “the day,” when Oprah ruled the world, she was still keeping it real. The woman got her picture taken with Oprah and the shoes.
  • I got a free sub sandwich

But here’s the part that’s not quite zippy enough for a bullet point.  The topic of the show was  “issues facing single moms today.” And it became clear, very quickly, that not all single mom experiences are created equal.  I have a very amicable 50-50 split of time and money with my ex. The venom has evaporated. (sure, there's an occasional flare-up here and there, but the ball is never dropped where our kid is concerned)

The show's entry point was "guilt and shame," which generated a rather joyless conversation about the single mom experience. The dialogue  swept all the proverbial crap out from under the bed, and then we collectively stared at the big pile on the floor in the middle of the room

The intention seemed to be to create bonds between women over some super unfortunate scenarios in which the exes were not so kind, or gracious, or even present in their child’s life.

The intended audience seemed to be women who were perhaps a bit newer in their Relationshift. (Definition of made up word: the period of recovery after a significant break-up/divorce) It seemed to be for those still tangled up in the still-collapsing web of “Wait, what just happened?”

The intention seemed to be to move women through some common sticking points (in a rather dramatic fashion).

The intention seemed to be to sell someone’s book. (We did not go home with a free copy…)

Let’s face it: the day was about making a television show.

To me, the spirituality felt uneven, random, even slightly dangerous. The ideology felt cherry picked, with loopholes that allowed for a little “mean” to sneak out disguised as strength.

Tyler Perry was considered an “expert” on a single parenting panel by proxy, having just made a movie with “Single Moms” in the title. (To her credit, actress Nia Long did have some valuable personal experience to share with women in similar situations. But even those credentials felt a bit casual to be offered up in a “Master Class.”)

Women shared insanely personal moments that were then wrestled to the ground in an entirely too public forum for my comfort level.  At times I could only look down at my shoes. (Which were, hands down, the least fancy pair in the room)

I found it hard to stay in the muck for so long. From the beginning of my "single" journey, I have craved Onward.  I have fought like mad to shake off all that Old Stuff so I didn’t bring it with me into the New Stuff.

At one point during the show, I wanted to stand up, pump my fist in the air and scream, “BEING A SINGLE MOM RULES!! MY HOUSE, MY RULES! NO ONE TELLS ME WHAT TO DO! BLAMMO!!”

I doubt it would have gone over well, as there was a tone being set. A specific momentum. (A Mom-entum? Stahp!!)

But here’s that happy ending I promised: Once I regained my balance, and lifted my head eyes up from my shoes towards the truly beautiful souls around me…I saw people being touched by what we were witnessing. I saw a group of people moving through something together.  The tweets of audience members being projected on the walls were brimming with heartfelt gratitude.

It worked for them.

So I held my clenched, icy fists up to the warmth emanating from the women around me, and before long my sour judgment melted. Underneath the chill of my detachment was a genuine happiness for those around me having what seemed to be a most profound experience.

I am still saddened and surprised by the amount of guilt and shame I heard expressed by so many single moms. Shame at having “failed” at their relationship. (Whaddaya mean “failed??” In my book it feels more like a “Victory” to have wriggled out from under the dead weight of such brokenness!)

But to cast a net of spiritual superiority across the room?  Not cool, JA.  So now guilt and shame are “greater than” rage? Isolation?  Pride? Loneliness? Mmmkay, Ms Kettle…

So here, finally, are my life lesson learned in Monday’s Lifeclass:

  • If it ain’t your battle, stay off the battlefield, JA.  Not everything is about you.
  • Listen for the similarities. There are always similarities.
  • Onward
  • You don’t like it? Then don’t buy her book.
  • Love you, O.

That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thanks for reading. It means the world. Carry on...

Old Single Mom

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