It’s easy to write opinions of life: no judgment, more compassion, allowing people to be themselves. However, it’s quite another to put those words into practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had ample opportunity to do just that. Kesi’s graduation brought family and friends into our space. The celebration offered me the chance to fine tune myself within specific relationships.
I’ve written before about how my mother-in-law rarely visits. Well, we invited her to come down for Kesi’s graduation, and to each of our surprise, she accepted the invitation.
I began to worry.
Will she judge any and everything as she has in the past? Will the house be pristine enough for her? I thought about all of the encounters we’d had where my sense of inadequacy overshadowed her presence. After a couple of weeks of fretting, something finally dawned on me. I have to allow her to be herself. If she judges the girls, our home, or me, then so what? I’m confident with who I am and it matters not what she or anyone else thinks.
The other shift I had to make was to recognize the year. It’s 2017. I needed to function with her the way we both are in this year, not 2008 when she called Kesi fat every day, and I held back from saying much. Not 2012 when she had to shorten her visit with us because she’d double-booked herself elsewhere. It’s 2017.
Once I made those two changes, I was a much calmer person ready to receive company.
We had a wonderful time. My in-laws and I picked Desi up from school early. We shopped for groceries. We laughed and talked about all sorts of things. It really was a pleasant time. My MIL helped me by cutting all the fruits and vegetables for the party. Ultimately, it was a pleasant visit. But I realized I still have a little growing to do.
“Don’t go in the house and clean everything up,” I ordered at eleven o’clock at night.
“Why not?” she asked.
I shook my head, “Cause that’s what you’re about to go do.”
“You trying to stop people from being themselves again?” Dwight asked.
He was right. In that moment, I was doing it again, not allowing her to be her. After it was brought to my attention, I let it go. She cleaned all of the dishes and the kitchen. I went to sleep. And both of those actions were perfectly fine.
While I was functioning with my MIL in the present, my cousin’s husband, let’s call him Buddy, was interacting with me in the past.
Buddy has a history with crack-cocaine, drinking, and physical abuse. Because of this, Buddy hasn’t been welcomed in my home or around my family for over 20 years. He recently began rehab, so Dwight and I agreed that it was okay for him to re-enter our family’s functions.
Everything was going well. My cousins, Buddy, and I played Spades. He drank the Paul Masson Brandy that he’d brought. He devoured the case of Corona he’d lugged in. We laughed. We talked. They won the game.
The night wore on. A corner of brandy sat in the bottle. Three Coronas remained.
“You know I think God sent her to me,” he said pointing to his wife, “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”
“I agree, Buddy. She’s the only one who could be with you.”
What did I say that for? Buddy went into a tirade.
“Kathy, you know you never did like me,” he started.
“That was the past. I thought we were cool now?”
“Naw. Naw. You never did like me,” he continued.
I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the story. Basically, I tried to convince him that it is 2017. He’s in rehab. We are getting along today, and that’s all that matters.
But that wasn’t all that mattered. He hobbled off to complain about my family and me to anyone else who would listen. About an hour later, he got into a verbal altercation with my aunt, his daughter, and his wife. His thirteen-year-old daughter’s eyes were beet red. Everyone’s lips were tight. Pursed.
His inebriation cut the thick silence, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH FROM THIS FAMILY!” he yelled.
And so there it was.
It didn’t matter how nice I was to him or how great of a time I thought we’d had that day. Buddy lived in a past of hurt and functioned from that past that weekend. I don’t want to ignore the fact that alcohol also exacerbated the situation. I’m not sure why he felt the need to get uncontrollably drunk. And I don’t want to guess.
The next day, he stayed at the hotel and didn’t emerge until it was time for them to return home. Even when he did come by the house to say good-bye, Dwight had to coax him out of the Expedition. Even when he did come in the house, he averted eye contact. He was embarrassed. We all hugged him and thanked him for coming.
There it is, one happy ending and one work in progress. But that’s how life is, right? Everything isn’t always tied up nicely with a bow. Flawed and traumatic relationships take time to heal. That’s just the nature of the human condition.
Recently, I announced that I was one of the top-ten finalists for the Still I Rise Grant for Black Women Writers. Although I didn’t win, I’m pleased Alternating Current decided to publish The Transition via The Coil. Here is the link. I hope you enjoy this story about my relationship with my father.
If you ever plan to submit your work for publication or a contest, then you should also plan to submit a cover letter. My journalists friends initially suggested a cover letter only include two quick sentences with the title of the work, word count, and brief summary. I’ve found a letter like that was fine, until I began submitting for longer projects, like book chapters. Sometimes, those editors and publishers want in-depth descriptions, and they usually provide guidelines if that’s the case.
That’s what happened when I recently submitted to win a grant for Black women writers. Although I didn’t win, I was one of the Top 10 Finalists. Consequently, two of my manuscripts will be published with their journal as soon as this Friday.
I’ll share that publication once it’s published. In the meantime, here’s the cover letter I wrote.
Life as a Black Woman
I learned the importance of my blackness when I moved from Detroit, Michigan to Jacksonville, Florida. It seemed the Duval County school board hadn’t fully integrated. Consequently, the job fair I’d attended in 1997 held a surprise. On one table, there sat a white paper with the words: Vacancy Black English Teacher. After an awkward conversation about my recent graduation from a teacher education program, the white, male principal offered me a position.
That was the first time my blackness preceded my qualifications.
I learned the intricate nature of being a woman during my six-year, doctoral program. Single, childless professors rarely took me seriously once they found out I was married with two young daughters. Similar to microagressions based on race, I could never put my finger on one discreet moment. It was more intuitive. More subtle. But somehow proving I could mother, wife, teach, and learn seemed to become an integral part of attaining the prestigious degree.
That was the first time my intellect was challenged based on the social construction of gender.
I learned what it meant to be a Black woman in academia when I applied for a permanent, tenure-track position at a research university. I submitted my application two separate times. I didn’t receive an interview. The third application was for a one-year, clinical position, teaching only. The institution hired me with a simple Skype conversation.
My new colleague was the person they’d hired in the English Education position I’d sought. He was a white man. His terminal degree was not in English Education; mine is. At the time of hire, he had one scholarly publication; I had three. He had five years of K-12 experience; I had ten. He had no years in higher education; I had two.
That was the first time race and gender intersected to create a sense of dual oppression.
To say that being a Black woman is a double-edged sword is cliché. But it must be said. It’s getting a job because I’m Black and not getting a job because I’m not white and male. It’s reading and teaching about white privilege and male privilege, nodding in agreement with textbook theories, but then having both thrown in your face by the very institutions that preach those concepts.
It’s ironic, really.
I’ve learned what it means to be a Black woman by attempting to participate in one of America’s most hopeful institutions. By attaining the highest degree possible and asking for a seat at the education table, I’ve learned that racism and sexism still exist, both as independent forms of discrimination and as collaborative acts of subjugation.
However, I have chosen to be a Black woman who uses her voice as an act of change. Neither my pen, nor my opinion can be taken from me, no matter my race or gender.
Have you ever had to contemplate your race or gender and their impact on your place in society? What’s your experience writing a cover letter?
Miss Sharlene was the 11th woman I’d interviewed. She invited me to sit in her living room and listen to her stories. For four hours, she described each and every marriage in detail. Here was a woman, old enough to be my own mother, outlining over 40 years of marriage to three different men: an adulterer, an alleged drug dealer and a drug addict. For much of our conversation, I sat with my mouth hanging open. The remainder included laughter and a lot of mmmhmmms.
Concept: With Miss Sharlene, I grappled with re-telling each marriage. Did readers need to hear about each man? Ultimately, I figured that’s what would make her story different. The book didn’t have the life experience of an older woman to demonstrate how one could fall in and out of love and continue to be unhappily married over and over again.
Like many of the women, Miss Sharlene sounded as if her husbands had done something to her. But surely, I thought, she must’ve learned something about herself with each of these unions. So, I asked her one question in order to prompt self-reflection. What advice would you give to younger women? That’s when Miss Sharlene provided me with lessons:
- You have to learn a person before you get married, but learning a person happens on a daily basis.
- Just cause you get pregnant from somebody does not make him your man or your husband. It makes him your baby’s dad.
- There’s no perfect person. We as women are not perfect. We have imperfections. But the thing is, we’re looking for perfection in a man. And that’s where we go wrong.
- We can’t be in a relationship when the person feels like we are his savior. You can’t save a person.
She actually gave me seven lessons. I wrote these verbatim in the book, but placed them at strategic points so that they seemed as if she had applied them to each of her marriages.
Commentary: At the time of our conversation, Miss Sharlene was two years newly wed to her fourth husband. I was shocked. Was she a hopeless romantic? Was it religion and the bible that kept her seeking marriage? Maybe it was her age? I didn’t ask her any of these questions because our interview was already lengthy.
But this came to mind. It’s easy to judge Miss Sharlene, or any woman for that matter. When we read about someone who’s been married 3-4 times, it seems obvious what the “issue” is, even when the men and relationships seem different. But none of our so-called challenges are ever apparent to ourselves. They can be though.
We have to be willing to look in the mirror and face what’s there. Change cannot happen without self-reflection. We have to be willing to admit our backgrounds have not only affected us in the past, but also shaped who we are in the present, including what types of relationships we attract. And ultimately, we have to take responsibility for the choices we make, whether conscious or subconscious. Otherwise, we’re doomed to be stuck in a cycle, same relationship, different man.
With that said, I included Miss Sharlene in the Detached Wife section because she seemed to be disconnected, not from her husbands, but from the reality of her self.
Next month we’ll be discussing the last wife in this section, Pamela. Be sure to order your copy and catch up so you can join the conversation!
Side note: Many thanks to Mek over at 10000hoursleft.wordpress.com for the featured image.
My oldest goddaughter was kind enough to surprise me with a new camera after she graduated with her MSW! Who does that??? Anywho, I’ve been over the moon about it and the first place I decided to try it out is Atlantic Beach. The zoom on this beauty is 42x!!! That’s how I was able to capture a man waaaaay out in the ocean paddle surfing.
Hope you enjoy future “Inspiring Images”!
Recently, I began an editing service business called Writing Endeavors®. While I’m happy for you to procure my services, what follows isn’t necessarily about the business. It’s more about the process of actualizing dreams.
People ask me all the time how I do fill_in_the_blank. The answer is simple. I just do it. Take this business for example. Over the years, friends have asked me to edit work for them. There have been times when I decline and pass the work on to someone else. Sometimes I’ve edited for free. Other times, I’ve worked more like an independent contractor; we create an agreement and the person pays me.
As recently as February, I edited a first-time book for a friend’s son. Shortly after, a thought occurred. The urge to begin my own editing service business flashed in my mind. I needed to stop passing work to colleagues and friends and do it myself…for a fee.
The next step was to tell Dwight. Announcing my plans to him somehow solidifies things. He’s been with me long enough to know that once I say it, then it’s as good as done.
What happens next is what I’ve learned to be the difference between myself and other people. I typically research how to do things while I’m doing it. For example, I didn’t know if I should create a business first, or trademark a name first? Well, after working with Legal Zoom, I found out that you create the business first. So, I did that. The business was created March 21st.
Afterwards, I trademarked the business’s name. During that process, I learned the difference between the little TM symbol and the R in a circle sign. The first is something you can use, whether you registered the name or not. The latter means registered trademark and allows the owner to sue if someone else tries to use it.
More questions cropped up, as is common with on-the-job training.
Should I create a whole new website just for this business, separate from selling books and blogging? Should I pay for this website, or be comfortable with using an extension, like .wix? How about registering the business with the county? The state? The government? What’s required? When am I supposed to pay taxes on this business? I found all of that out…as…I…went…along.
I don’t want to paint an idyllic image. I’m not dancing through poppy fields while establishing a business. Functioning this way can sometimes be a tad stressful, like when the state notified me that I’d missed a deadline for reporting income, even though there was no income. But here’s the reality. I know that dreams might not materialize, unless I just begin. I know it’s important to just get going and trust that the rest will work itself out. I know this because it always does.
So, I have one question. What are you waiting for?
Today is my 44th birthday! You might remember this from last year. I’ve added a 44th lesson:
- Pay attention to nature.
- Some friends don’t last forever.
- Physical life doesn’t last forever, but death will continue to surprise you.
- If you don’t like the life you’ve created, then make steps to create a new one.
- Be yourself.
- Love yourself.
- Be nice to people you don’t know.
- People will let you down. Learn how much letdown you want to tolerate from any one person.
- Learn when it’s time to let go.
- Learn when to hold on.
11. You always have a choice.
12. No one owes you anything.
13. You don’t owe anyone anything.
14. Sometimes friends act more like family.
15. Be honest with yourself and others.
16. Kids are not a do-over. They are individuals with their own experiences.
17. If you want more love, compassion or empathy, then give more love, compassion or empathy.
18. You can’t make people like you.
19. It’s never too late to grow.
20. Change is inevitable, whether it’s biological or spiritual.
21. Be grateful for all the so-called bad stuff that’s happened.
23. Accept apologies.
24. Folks will fill in the blanks of your life AND make up their own stories about it; so what?
25. Mistakes are inevitable; try anyway.
26. Institutions look out for themselves.
27. You will attract people and experiences that reflect how you feel about yourself, whether you believe that concept or not.
28. Treat people the way you want to be treated, even if you don’t think they’ve done the same.
29. Nothing is finite.
30. Recognize how you feel in situations.
31.You can’t blame your parents forever.
32. Wisdom doesn’t always come with age.
33. Listen to your children. For a long time, they are a reflection of you.
34. Don’t try to convince people that their belief system is wrong, stupid or inaccurate.
35. Fear nothing.
36. Know yourself.
37.One way to avoid manipulation is to be clear about who you are and what you want.
38. Judging does not equal caring.
39. Treat the homeless as you would your own mother.
40. Exercise so you can continue to move your body in ways you enjoy.
41. Learn something. But figure out if you need to pay for the knowledge or if you can Google your way through.
42. There is no correct way to live life.
43. We’re all connected.
44. Be of service.