Behind the Kwote: Self-love

At the risk of sounding totally nutz, I’m sharing with you a letter I wrote to myself in 2014. I’d forgotten about it. And as I re-read the words, the whole experience seems surreal, almost as if someone else really did write this to me. This, along with many other things is what helped me make different choices about who I wanted to be in this world.

Dear Kathy,

First, love yourself more. Self-love is very important. You’ve even quoted Whitney Houston on Valentine’s Day, “The greatest love of all is learning to love yourself.” Self-love is the most important thing that you can learn on this earth. The sooner you believe you deserve love from yourself, the sooner all other forms of love will shine and make sense. Loving yourself will help you feel more confident. Loving yourself will help you open up to the love of others, some of whom have been trying to love you with their whole hearts most of their lives.

Second, you are not perfect. No one is. Sure, you’re perfectly made the way that you are, but you are human, which means that you have flaws. Do not beat yourself up for these human ways. Everyone is born with something that is bound to make them feel bad or serve as a life lesson. You are not the only one with these imperfections. Accepting them will help you complete the first task, love yourself.

self_love_goal_kegarlandThe third, and final thing I want to tell you dear heart is to listen to your instinct. Your inner-being knows what is best. You have feelings that alert you to when something doesn’t feel right. Listen to those feelings from now on. Ignoring them only makes for a more challenging time. And life here on earth is not intended to be that challenging. Remember, you create your experiences by the choices that you make. Make conscious and healthy choices for you, whether it be for relationships or for professional standing.

With love,

~kg

Happy Valentine’s Day! What would you advise your former or future self?

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Monday Notes: New Paradigm…Old Mindset?

For the twenty-seven years that I had a relaxer, I’d been taught to only wash my hair once a week. Also, while using chemical treatments, I’d learned to be careful during workouts, in the shower, in the pool, and in the rain because if my hair were to get wet, then the style would most certainly be ruined, creating hours of beauty restoration.

However, in 2011, when I decided to wear my hair in its natural state, I found that wetting my hair wasn’t nearly as horrible an experience as it was with a perm. In fact, I learned that for my hair type, I had to wash it more often than once a week to maintain a “fresher” looking style. Water is good.

hairFor the first five years, I managed to wash my hair twice a week to maintain twist-outs. Since cutting it and wearing a wash-n-go style, my routine has increased to as much as every other day some weeks.

I’ve tried applying the old mindset with this new paradigm, sometimes waiting up to five days to shampoo and condition. You know what happened? It took me twice as long to detangle it. When I was done, there were clumps of hair everywhere, in the comb, on the shower curtain, and on the bathroom floor. And my head hurt. It was a mess.

That’s when it dawned on me: you can’t use yesterday’s mindset with a new framework.

img_5766We’re still in the season where people are considering a change and I think this message is critical. Many times we want to adopt a new practice, but we want to maintain the old way of doing things. We develop new relationships, but hang on to the ex in our DMs. We exercise, but still eat fast food three times a day. Or vice versa. We learn to eat healthier, but don’t make time to exercise. That doesn’t always work. New ways of living require new ways of thinking for comprehensive change to occur.

With that said, I know it’s not always easy to make behavioral shifts. Returning to an old mindset is simple because it’s been ingrained in our brain for so long. Maintaining a new discipline seems counterintuitive to what we’ve learned. But it can be done with a few small changes. For example, I think about where I have to be each week and then plan hair washing accordingly. If I have to leave by seven in the morning, then I plan to wash my hair the day before. This eliminates a stressful morning of hair maintenance, yet continues my natural hair practice.

The same can be said for other lifestyle changes. Maybe it’s too much for you to plan out every single meal or to wake at 5 AM every day to workout. But I bet you can plan one meal a day or find an enjoyable exercise at least once a week. Either way, a new mindset is possible.

What helpful tips can you share for maintaining lifestyle changes? How have you successfully shifted into a different paradigm? Have you ever found yourself sliding back into an old mindset while trying to change? If so, what did you do to get back on track?

Let’s help one another create a new mindset that matches our new paradigms.

Monday Notes: Being Yourself

I was raised in a family with a lot of rules about how to function in socially acceptable ways. I grew up in the ghetto where I had to learn a whole different set of rules for safety. And I attended schools with routines that didn’t fit either of the first two situations. A lot of times, I sat quietly until I determined which set of rules I was supposed to apply. For decades, I learned not to be myself and for just as long I had to unlearn it by simply trusting that who I am in each moment is okay.

I know this to be true because being myself has served others well, even when I wasn’t aware. For example, my goddaughter visited me over ten years ago because she was going through personal problems that left her feeling less than worthy. She was suicidal. Instead of embracing her in a big bear hug, I asked her one simple question, are you fucking crazy?

img_5554There is more, but my point is I didn’t stop to wonder if I should use a cuss word, or try to figure out what type of language would comfort her best. I didn’t offer a hug because that’s not my thing. I was myself in that moment, and years later, she’s grateful for that conversation and more because she viewed them as helpful.

Likewise, a former student reached out to me a couple years ago.

“You saved my life,” he said.

His statement was bold. I was humbled. How could little old me have “saved someone’s life?” He recounted a time when he was traveling down a path of self-destruction. His mother had begged me to encourage him to apply to a university. Because I take everything I do seriously, especially educating people’s children, I did as she asked. I bugged the heck out of him about applying, and to get me off his back, he applied to one, Florida International. He was accepted and the rest is how he redirected his life.

In both of those situations, I didn’t think twice. Actually, I didn’t even think once. I just acted according to my personality and beliefs at the time. I’ve since grown to believe that’s what being yourself is all about.

img_5553If you have to stop and ponder on how to perfect your words and actions for the person or the moment, then perhaps those people and experiences are not aligned with who you are in the first place. Because I’ll tell you what, being yourself will never require you to change parts about you to accommodate others.

Let me know what you think. Have you struggled to be yourself? Do you think it’s possible to be yourself 100% of the time? Do you change who you are to fit the setting?

Reflections of a Commuter

img_508946,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.

The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.

August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.

I-75-interstate-75-highway6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.

As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.

But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.

57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.

A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.

12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.

My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.

img_5101Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.

Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?

*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Monday Notes: 3 Ways I Function that Counter Society’s Rules

Everybody isn’t like you Kathy I’ve heard this sentence a million times. It usually follows my telling them how I live and interact with people. Over the years, I’ve learned what they say is true: everybody isn’t like me. I think a little different. Here are three of those differences:

I don’t function out of obligation. I mean I used to. I used to feel as if I had to do something or go somewhere just because of who the person was. If my “boss” was having a shindig, then I felt obligated to attend. When my grandmother purchased my first car (and I had to make car payments to her), I in turn felt required to do pretty much whatever she said. But I turned a new page around 2011. Around 93% of my life is spent doing what I desire. Period. If I’m at your soiree, then please believe I want to be there. I don’ feel obligated to show because you’re my cousin or co-worker; I’m there because I want to be and have made myself available in that way. Making this decision has created a sense of liberation, not only on my part, but also on others’ as well. I don’t expect for people to do things for me just because of who they perceive me to be.

img_5195I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Around mid-2015, I posted something like this to FB: I’m no longer proving I’m a good friend, family member, or co-worker. I meant that with my whole heart. Perhaps this can be part two of the obligation section. For a long time, I wanted people to know they could count on me. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I’d begun doing things that were not aligned with my character. Consequently, I didn’t say no to a lot. For example, my then best friend used to visit the States every other year. Because I wanted her to know I was her friend, I agreed for her to stay with my family and me for 2-4 weeks at a time. Through this process, I discovered that three days is really my maximum for visitation. Therefore, 14-28 days was overload to my soul. But I agreed because of some unwritten social contract: this is what best friends do. The proving myself days are over, both professionally and personally. You’re either cool with me and how I engage, or you’re not.

img_5196I recognize patterns and then step out of them. I’ve become reflective as a way to take ownership for who I am and the choices I make. Because of this, I’ve gotten adept at discovering my own patterns of behavior, looking for root causes, and then choosing different paths. For example, I recently realized that finding a job I like is challenging. There’s always something I absolutely hate. Consequently, I’ve had to think deeply about why that is because quitting and getting jobs every 2-3 years is exhausting. I’ll likely follow this up with a longer post, but my point is, enough is enough of this cycle. I have to figure out what’s going on inside so I can step out of this behavior pattern.

Are there ways that you think or act differently than what society tells you to do? Do either of these resonate? Let me know what you’re thinking.

August 12th

August 12th was a beautiful day. We’re in Florida so it was 98,000 degrees, but it was a beautiful 98,000 degrees because my friend, Tarra had just returned from China. She’d been singing in a Shanghai nightclub for the past eight months.

WhatsApp kept us close. Text messages, videos and voice-recordings preserved our relationship.

“Plan a day for us,” she texted before her arrival.

I agreed, but I forgot to tell her that I rarely plan things anymore, not entire days at least. She’d find out soon enough.

We began that Saturday with breakfast at our favorite spot, Another Broken Egg.

“Do you mind if I invite John?” she asked.

I didn’t mind. I’d visited John’s home with her last year. Blue crab and conversation permeated the air and left me with a fondness for him. It was fine.

img_4677We talked and laughed over fried green tomatoes, lobster and Brie omelets, and shrimp and grits. Tarra’s overseas stories captivated my imagination, and reminded me of every other artist’s story; the opportunity to sing in another country was fascinating, but underhanded business practices seem to be the norm.

Once breakfast was over, a girl outside agreed to photograph our mini photo shoot:

Tarra by herself.

Tarra and me.

Tarra and John.

John and me.

Tarra, John, and me.

I’m grateful for younger people who understand the importance of documenting events. She didn’t ask questions or look annoyed.

A few weeks prior, I’d asked Tarra if she wanted to do a wine tasting.

“I’d love to,” she responded. “I’ve never been to one.”

Doing things that someone has never done before excites me. I dusted off my Cooper’s Hawk wine tasting gift card and we headed ten minutes up the street. My friend had only had an African Shiraz and hadn’t been very impressed. Now, we were on a red wine mission.

As the sommelier poured and explained each glass, I laughed as Tarra’s former educator-self shone through. Check + for Rosé. Check – for Lux Pinot Noir.

We talked about over-40 lady issues, her relationships, and my children. I shared my latest writing projects with her. We high-fived and toasted to achievements and marveled at how we’d attained them in the first place. That’s the type of friend she is. We’ve deemed one another Dream Partners. She was there when I completed my PhD and I was there before she stepped into her calling. Everyone needs someone to say, “You can do it,” especially when you’re not so sure you should, much less can. She’s that friend.

I checked my phone. It was two o’clock already.

“I have a confession,” I began, “I know it’s not like me, but I didn’t plan the rest of the day. I’ve changed quite a bit…not as anal as I used to be. I figured we’d just find something to do.”

“You know. That’s not like you at all, but we can do whatever.”

A thought popped into my mind. “Let’s take a riverboat tour!”

She agreed. Twenty minutes later, we were downtown and looking for the loading dock. We’d also lucked out and could do an hour tour with another group.

st_johns_river_artworkBy now it was 158,000 degrees outside, plus those eight tastings were slowly taking effect. I fell asleep about 15 minutes in, so much so that when Tarra woke me up just in time to take this picture, I didn’t even remember that I was on a boat. My photog instinct kicked in just in time. And I’m grateful because this is something I’ve only seen from the water.

“You’re welcome!” She said. “I thought you wouldn’t want to miss this.”

“Thank you,” I said, wiping my forehead with the toilet tissue the tour guide had handed me when we first boarded.

Our water taxi lasted much longer than an hour. The captain’s and tour guide’s shifts ended, and somehow, we ended up taking another lap around the St. Johns River with the new crew.

img_4725We disembarked by five o’clock and headed to her friend’s get together. There, three other women welcomed Tarra back to the States. One of the lady’s husbands had made blue crab, shrimp, sausage, and eggs, a Jacksonville staple. We sat around the round, glass table and reveled in Tarra’s growth and presence. It’s hard not to leap spiritual bounds when you’ve been living independently overseas.

My phone read 9:00. It was time for me to hug Tarra good-bye and head back home.

I reflected on the twelve hours we’d shared. They were easy. They were calm. They were relaxing. They were exactly how I would expect spending the day with a friend should be.

Journey to the Center of My Heart: Trusting My Inner Voice

The year after my mother died, my father packed up all of my belongings in trash bags and sent me to live with my maternal grandmother. I was seventeen. One day after I’d gotten settled, I confided a feeling I’d had.

“I’m going to write a book,” I said with a smile.

“Oh yeah?” She asked. “About what?”

“About my mother’s death.”

“You think you’re the only whose mother’s died?” She replied.

feedback_opinionI want to share this with you, not to bash my grandmother. Twenty-seven years later, I know that people’s conversations and comments have little to do with me. I’m sharing this with you because I never wrote about my mother. Her response led me to believe that not only was my topic one in a million, but that no one else would want to read it.

So I didn’t write it. In fact, I didn’t write much of anything for the next 25 years.

I became a high-school English teacher, got two more degrees, and became an education professor.

The urge to write crept back around 2014. I asked my little sister friend to create this very WordPress site for me. She did. I took it from there and learned the ins and outs of blogging. I continued to follow my intuition. Blogging gave me more writing confidence. Blogging 101 and 201 gave me more tools and knowledge. Following people like Janice Wald gave me more tips.

2015 rolled around. My dad died. I felt a flurry of emotions and another urge of intuition: Write about it. This time I didn’t tell anyone, not one soul. I sat in my stepmother’s guest bedroom and wrote the entire story of our failed relationship from 1989 to his death in 2015. I included all of the murky, emotional details that people rarely want to discuss or feel. By the last keystroke, I felt satisfied. But it was too long for a blog post (that’s something Janice Wald taught me).

I broke it up into five separate posts and called it a series; that’s something I learned in Blogging 101 or 201. The response was positive and endearing. Once again, this validated a choice I’d made to follow my heart.

A few months later, I had another stroke of intuition: Find a local writers group. I sought out the Florida Writers Association and considered entering their annual writing contest. Mek, a blogging friend I’d written with had been taking writing courses. She read The Transition and offered genuine suggestions.

I entered the contest and won first place for Creative Nonfiction of an unpublished piece. Did I need to win to prove I should follow my heart? Not really. I’d already felt good by simply writing it. But there’s no doubt my choice to write was again validated.

Now I had an “award-winning” piece of literature. It came in handy when the Still I Rise Grant required three writing samples. And although I didn’t win, as some of you remember, Alternating Current/The Coil published that piece during Father’s Day weekend.

Furthermore, Alternating Current then nominated The Transition for Best of the Net.

meditating_1This is just one example of why I’m adamant about listening to your inner voice and tuning others’ out. This is why I almost beg people to follow their hearts. Those feelings, voices, visions, or whatever come to you, they’re not accidental. They are specific nuances sent to guide you towards what you and only you should be doing.

Furthermore, I finally realize my grandmother was right. I’m not the only person whose mother (and father) have died. However, I’ve also recognized my ability to string words together that convey relatable feelings for people who’ve been through similar experiences. Today, I’m glad sharing about my life through writing has not only helped others, but also shaped a clear path for me as I continue to follow my heart.

Monday Notes: Writing Endeavors®

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.

bradburyPeople 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.

img_3635In fact, I just started editing a client’s dissertation, while still in process of learning more business-related info.

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?

Astigmatism and a stigma

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the fifth grade. We all lined up as usual to take our public school vision test. I giggled my way to the front of the line. This would probably go like previous years.

Finally, it was my turn. Was that an “F” or an “E”? Was that an “O” or a “C”?

“Kathy,” the visiting optometrist started, “it looks as if you’re going to need glasses.”

I was already different than the children on my block. They attended the neighborhood school and I was bused to a magnet one. My hair hung down my back, while other girls had cornrows or braids with colorful beads. I spoke “standard” English when everyone else used “ain’t” and double negatives with ease.

And now I had to add wearing glasses to this list?

My first reaction was a single tear from my near-sighted eye. Another soon formed and trickled down my cheek. Before I knew it, I was full-on crying, in front of the whole fifth-grade.

The visiting optometrist whispered, “Now dear, you don’t want to make the people who wear glasses feel bad, do you?”

She was talking about Alexander Adams, a kid named after a president. She referred to Eli Korner. A nice boy, but not someone I wanted to be in the glasses gang with.

So my mom took me to a place called For Eyes. My first pair were lilac. If I had to wear them, then I was going to look as cool as possible doing it.

***

Fast forward to 1991. I had just graduated high school and had a job. All this time, I’d been wearing the glasses that someone else could afford for me. This time, I’d wear the glasses that I wanted.

My first pair, with my own paycheck were Laura Biagotti’s. I’m pretty sure I paid over $200 for them. But it didn’t matter. I was fly. Ironically, I’d also decided to ditch wearing them in public. It was time for me to enjoy the convenience of contacts.

That was back when you could get a pair of annuals and they would last, well, all year, as the title suggests.

I wore those contacts so much that Dwight didn’t even realize I needed to wear glasses. I slept in those contacts so much that the optometrist had to threaten not to give me a prescription because you know, you’re not supposed to sleep in contacts.

Every year, I’d renew my contact lens prescription. And every other year, I’d renew my eyeglass prescription, wearing them at night only. I held on to this routine for 25 years.

***

Much like many prescription holders, my eyesight worsened over time. Much worse. But it didn’t matter. I could hide the truth behind my contacts. Decades later, companies discontinued annuals and only offered monthlies.

Everything was good, until this year.

My eyesight had worsened still. Because according to Dr. Suddath, no matter what, when you’re over 40, your vision will continue to decline, regardless of the starting point.

My current prescription is: -7.50 with a -1.75 astigmatism and -8.25 with a -1.00 astigmatism.

All this technical mumbo jumbo means I can no longer wear monthlies. My contacts only come in dailies, which cost $106 per month. Say what?

This means, as my good friend Mek suggested, “Maybe you should embrace the glasses now?”

And suddenly, I felt like I was ten again. I cried and cried, like a week ago y’all.

It might sound silly. But there was a slight fear.

Most people don’t even know I wear glasses, for real. Most people don’t know that if I didn’t have these contacts in, I wouldn’t know who was standing in front of my face. Most people don’t know that wearing glasses is what makes me feel 10% less confident in public spaces.

Most people don’t know that I’d been holding on to a feeling of inadequacy for 33 years, all because I couldn’t see clearly.

Sheesh! 

I had subscribed to a stereotype about wearing glasses and safely hid behind contact lenses. Well, it has to end here. I’ll have to shed this made up stigma and find the right frame for my (public) comfort level. 

The journey to loving me for me in this and every moment continues, glasses and all.

Do you have any hidden insecurities you’ve held on to since childhood? Share them below so we can support one another.