Monday Notes: Practice What You Preach

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.

My Mother-In-Law

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.

img_4078Buddy

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.

Monday Notes: Cover Letter/Life as a Black Woman

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.

img_3807The question was something like, What are the challenges of being a Black woman in America? After mulling over a few notes, here’s what I came up with:

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? 

 

Monday Notes: 5 Ways to Become a Writer

img_3443Sometimes I jot down a note and it’s very negative. When that happens, I re-focus and make it a positive post, like this one.

***

I’ve written since I was in elementary school, fifth grade to be exact. However, I didn’t consider myself a writer until six years ago. Once I accepted this part of my identity, I started observing and listening to writers and “aspiring” writers. I’ve determined if you want to be a writer, then this is what you’ll have to do:

Start Writing Now that my writing is public knowledge, people confide in me. Cousins, the man at the Florida Writers Association conference, and the woman who asked me to ghostwrite her novel each want to write. But when I ask them what they’ve written so far, the answer is nothing. I advise each of them the same. Start writing. Whether it’s a public blog or a private diary, the first step is to begin.

Make Time to Write I often thought my job was getting in the way of writing. That wasn’t the truth. And because no one was going to offer me more time in the day, I had to shift my priorities. Instead of watching the Today Show every morning, I wrote for two hours. Then, I began my regular day. Where could you shift your priorities so that you can make time to write?

Take Time to Edit After you’ve written something, consider that your first draft. All writers have first drafts, and second, and thirds, and…you get the picture. As a former English teacher, rarely have I seen a masterpiece written in one fell swoop. When you take time to write, that means you might find yourself pondering over the use of the word stroll, saunter, or walk because you know each one of those words will change the connotation and flow of your sentence. So take the time to think about the words you’ve written in a meaningful way.

You Think Your Stories Have Already Been Heard Probably. I mean an infinite number of books have been written and read. But not yours and not the way you can write it. Comments about The Unhappy Wife have validated this concept. Recently, Story Teller Alley approved me to sell my book on their site. One of the reasons it was accepted is because of originality. A reviewer said,

Although stories of unhappy marriages have been told before, because these are all true stories and each person is different, the stories are all different.”

I’m glad the innovation shone through. Sometimes people read the title and assume they know what’s inside. But it’s a false assumption. Likewise, if I would’ve thought these were trite narratives, then I might not have written the book. So my advice? Don’t worry about it. Somebody wants to read it the way you’ve written it.

You’re Worried about What Other People Think If you follow my blog, then you know I write about many things that have happened in my life. Stories include family, friends, and people I barely know. I couldn’t write half of what you read here if I stopped to worry about someone’s hurt feelings and reinvention of history. Initially, an Anne Lamott quote helped me forge ahead with authentic writing, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That quote changed my entire creative nonfiction writing life. The other part that has helped me write the truth is to separate fact from emotion. For example, it’s a fact that my dad packed up my belongings in the middle of the night while I slept. Consequently, I felt abandoned and pushed aside because of what occurred. Stick to the facts and make clear when you’re describing an emotion.

I hope one of these sparks the writer in you. Trust me. Someone, somewhere is waiting to hear your voice, even if the someone is you.

My Role as a Mother

img_3358For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.

Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”

Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”

That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.

“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.

So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.

By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.

And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?

Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?

Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”

Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.

“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.

“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.

Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.

Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”

My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

img_1006And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?

Monday Notes: Agreement #2

A few weeks ago, a “friend” of mine read one of my FB posts, followed the comments, and then sent me this message via inbox:

You be so fake in your comments.

Or something like that. I can’t give a direct quote because after we conversed, I deleted the message. His unsolicited opinion bothered me that night. It stuck with me because of how I’d replied. Initially, I defended myself. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t being “fake.” It continued to irk me because I’ve worked so hard to be my authentic self no matter where I am, social media, in person, wherever. I’ve made conscious decisions to shine my personal light. Then, it bothered me because it bothered me. Have you ever felt like that?

It lingered in my thoughts for about 48 hours. By that time, I knew I had to remove him and his words from my consciousness. They were both taking up too much space in my mind. That Sunday night, I flipped through don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, until I found the one that fit: Don’t take anything personally.

If I see you on the street and say, “You are so stupid” without knowing you, it’s not about you, it’s about me. If you take it personally, then perhaps you believe you’re stupid.”

img_3174After reading a few more pages, I meditated, sipped my lavender tea, and let go of the incident.

About a week later, one of the ladies from the book club I’m hoping to join reached out to me and said, “I like your spirit.” This comment elicited the opposite emotion. I was elated. Who doesn’t want to hear nice things said about her personality? And like I’d mentioned above, I’ve worked on portraying my true self. So, I was overjoyed that someone I’d just met noticed a positive trait.

But I had to remember agreement #2. It still applied. You see, Ruiz continues to explain that even if someone says something that you agree with, then there’s still no reason to take it personally. A person’s opinion, whether positive or negative, is based on how that person feels in that moment. Tomorrow, the same person might have something horrible to say.

don_miguel_ruiz.jpg

The first time I read this it didn’t quite click. After receiving two different opinions within a week of one another, it now makes perfect sense. Not only is taking other people’s opinions personally exhausting, it can also be an indication that you’re not secure with who you are. If I know that I’m an authentic person, with a great spirit, then others’ opinions should be neither denigrating, nor uplifting. They should just…be.

Let me know what you think. How do you deal with other people’s opinions of who you are? Do people offer opinions of your personality?

*Edited for Forgiving Fridays. Participate here: https://forgivingconnects.com/2017/05/05/todays-forgiving-fridays-i-have-a-question-3/comment-page-1/#comment-3373

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (#3)

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ll update and re-blog the post every four weeks.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?

Read about the first two ways here.

 

 

Monday Notes: Random Thoughts 💭 

Sometimes I keep notes of random thoughts I intend to develop into more in-depth blog posts. They never quite make it. Here are a few varied ideas that I’ll probably never write about in detail.

img_3191Here in the States, especially in the south, state prisoners don their orange jumpsuits and work on the highway or street. I can never tell what they’re doing because the imagery is too strong. Because of the disproportionate number of Black male prisoners and the high number of white correctional officers, these scenes oftentimes look like a white overseer of Black slaves. It bothers me.

img_3192Last year was the hottest summer on record. Every beach day, my skin felt as if it might peel off. It’s never felt like that before. My thoughts were confirmed by Rosaliene Bacchus. It really was the hottest summer on record. But it wasn’t just summer that was hot. This winter was unusually hot. Even though I live in North Florida where we typically have cooler weather, the past two years, I’ve worn shorts and short sleeve shirts a lot of the time. It was 90 degrees one “winter day.” There was no discussion on the local or national news. The only words I kept hearing were “record high,” and I wondered if this was purposeful to keep people from thinking about the impact of global warming.

img_3193Do you do this? Do you call people selfish because they don’t do what you want them to do? I’ve done it before. My cousin came to Florida to “visit me” but spent all his time with his girlfriend. I crowned him the King of Selfish. But as I write this I’m wondering, who am I to judge his selfishness? It happens. Sometimes we do what we want to do, with little regard for anyone else. If I was going to flesh this out, then I’d revise it to suggest this: Don’t make people feel bad because they don’t do what you want them to. People can do whatever they want.

img_3194Since The Unhappy Wife released, I’ve found myself having several conversations about relationships. I don’t mind it at all because I’m learning a lot about how and why people choose romantic partners. One common reason for women is financial security. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be secure, but I always have a bunch of rhetorical questions. Why don’t you make your own financial security? Wouldn’t that leave more space for love and stuff? What will happen if the husband loses his job? What if he doesn’t work for years because the economy is bad? Will you leave? I never ask people these questions. I just jot down my notes and keep my mouth shut.

I rarely write such randomness. Let me know if you have any comments about this hodgepodge of notes .

Monday Notes: Being Christ-like

When I was 16 years old, I asked my Grannie if she’d heard what the preacher said. Whatever it was had confused me because it was illogical. It made zero sense.

“Oh, Kathy,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’re not supposed to actually listen to what he says. You’re supposed to make your grocery list or think about the week, or something like that.”

And so, I learned that going to church is ritualistic. It’s a centuries old past down tradition for some, where going through the motions is sufficient. This is not a blanket statement, but I’ve noticed that this is how many operate.

Being Christ-like is least of some people’s concern.

That’s my earliest thought of how baffling religion seemed. My next memory is when my father became Deacon Gregory at Starlight Baptist Church, off 113th Street in Chicago. I was in my mid-20s. He was proud. His wife was proud. His stepdaughters were proud.

When my family and I visited, parishioners beamed with more pride.

“Your dad is such a great man! He’s such a good deacon! You must be proud!”

img_3080I smiled and shielded my thoughts. I haven’t seen this man in two years, and if I wasn’t here now, then no telling how many more years would pass. I let them hold on to their beloved deacon. He seemed to be doing more good for the church than with me.

Were his actions Christ-like? Perhaps with them, but not with me.

My wonderment with religion continued into my 30s where I found my own sense of purpose and meaning for life. It shifted into spirituality once I recognized the universality of all religions. There are certain principles inherent in each one.

But I couldn’t let go of how people just seemed to go through church motions.

For example, when I suggested to a friend that she stop judging another person, she responded as if I was crazy. She replied as if not judging was some nutso idea that I’d developed from the crevices of my brain.

“Do you mean stop judging in your head or do you mean stop judging out loud, like don’t say the words?” she asked.

I wondered if she’d ever asked her preacher to clarify what he meant when he said don’t judge.

Instead I replied, “I mean at all. What right do you have to judge someone else’s choices or decisions?”

She went on to describe her understanding of my suggestion. She’d stopped giving her opinion about her sister’s life because she realized it was her sister’s life and there was nothing she could do about it.

Exactly.

compassion+godly+woman+dailySimilarly, this thought crept back into my head when people began to judge Kanye West so harshly after his alleged breakdown. I wrote about this already, so I won’t re-hash. However, that post wasn’t about a so-called crazy rapper. It was about how once again self-proclaimed Christians are sometimes the first to be least compassionate. They are the first to call someone an asshole. They are the first to condemn someone to dark places.

They are the first to become defensive when I bring it to their attention.

Like the time when I asked this FB question: What’s the point of going to church if you treat someone like crap?

My question, as always was intended to promote thought and conversation. But I could tell that some people seemed offended. Wounded.

Answers ranged from “To grow stronger in Christ” to “We all fall short.”

It confused me. I thought if you were growing stronger in Christ then you might be doing things that are Christ-like. Christ cared for the poor. Christ hung out with prostitutes. Christ washed people’s feet and spread love.

Well, according to the Bible anyway.

Over 25 years later, I realize some people must have gotten the same advice my Grannie gave me. Maybe they’re all making their grocery lists.