Monday Notes: Nail Salon Thoughts 💅🏾

I’m sitting in a nail salon.

Every time I go I feel guilty. Sitting here while Vietnamese women rub my feet and pamper my body seems wrong. Couldn’t I do this myself? I used to. I used to cut my own toe nails and paint them too, with vibrant reds, oranges, and purples. But now? I act as if I don’t know how to reach my toes. They do it better. I’m convinced.

As I sit, I listen.

I want it round, not square. She has to help her because only she knows reflexology. I don’t like this color; can I choose something more nude? This last one comes from a six-foot woman, with a thick accent whose feet were already submerged to her lower calf in the tub of bubbly water. She expected the nail technician to stop working, walk to the front of the salon, and get a new polish for her.

nail_salon
This image doesn’t belong to me.

Every so often, I ignore my book’s pages. The overweight woman in front of me eats her Taco Bell bowl and slurps her over-sized drink  as someone scrapes the bottom of her heels. The middle-aged woman two seats down mmmhmmms and ahas her way through a conversation. She must be going on vacation because she speaks of taking her suitcases down from wherever they’ve been hibernating, while someone massages the tops of her feet with hot stones, turning them cherry red. Another woman lies flat on the black massage chair. An employee shuffles over to slather thick, yellow wax on her eyebrows, eventually ripping it and her tiny hairs off one strip at a time.

I just messed up a toe, another woman whines as she walks towards the front of the salon, with her black terrier leashed beside her. All of the patrons exchange glances. No one knew a dog was there until that moment. Her nail tech says something in what I assume to be Viet-Muong and briskly moves ahead without her.

I wonder why we do it.

Why do we get caught up in consumerism that somehow turns to a perceived necessary part of life…mine and yours? Today it’s pedicures and eyebrows. Tomorrow it’s something else society will have convinced us we need, something women need. It’ll always be something because we women are always in need of improvement. Right?

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Monday Notes: Some People

img_6288Some people will only call; they’ll never visit. Hearing the sound of your voice is enough to fill thousands of miles between.

Some people will only text; they’ll never call. lolz, emoji smiles, and gifs are enough to remind them of the place you hold in their hearts.

Some people will only check social media to determine your well-being; they’ll never text. Reading about your last coffee house visit or your latest societal gripe is good enough to know you still exist.

Some people will allow you to fade into a distant memory, assigning your time together as a seasonal happenstance, relegating your relationship to a blip on life’s journey.

Most will do what they want to maintain a relationship. Who are you? What’s your relationship style?

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.

Monday Notes: Where Does Your Power Lie?

all_the_womenI forgot to tell you all, I’m published in a special anthology. The purpose of this book is to raise women of color’s voices about issues important to us. It’s published by a woman of color because who else is more qualified to raise our voice than someone who looks and feels like us?

I’m excited to be mentioned in a book with greats like, Natalie Baszile and Marian Wright Edelman. Aaand, I’m thrilled to be a part of a project that is receiving high praise from USA Today and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

But, that’s not why I’m proud.

I’m proud because this exemplifies where my power lies. Writing gives voice to my experiences that merely talking about them does not. My personal essay demonstrates this. It is about affirmative action. In my writing, I don’t politicize the policy. Nope. I humanize it. I describe how it feels to be an affirmative action hire, not once, but twice within two decades.

What’s funny is I’d tried discussing these feelings with friends and family members to no avail. The common sentiment was so what? What does it matter how you received your job? Several weeks ago, I shared the book with my Grannie and she said this after reading my chapter.

“Oh. This is about self worth. This is about more than a job.”

She finally got it after she’d read an emotional account.

img_6121Some people effect change through social justice activities, such as marching and rallying, others through their written words. Neither is more right, but I’m comfortable saying that I’m in the latter group.

Happy Women’s History Month! If you’re interested in reading All The Women in My Family Sing, then click here.

Monday Notes: When Being Yourself Isn’t Easy

Be yourself. Love yourself. Create boundaries. Speak your truth. Allow others to be themselves. If you’ve been following my blog for even a few weeks, then these should sound familiar. They are mantras by which I have lived over the past five years. However, I never want anyone to read these and believe that I think they’re easy. They are not. And usually I’m reminded by how challenging they are whenever a family member arrives.

This time it’s my grandmother.

img_6084Growing up, I spent a lot of time with Grannie. She was born in 1926 and holds certain opinions. One of them is that children should be seen and not heard. And if you spoke out of turn with her, you either were slapped, or told to shut up.

Much of my childhood and early adulthood I remember wanting badly to not only be heard, but also to be understood. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a communicator and have a lot to say…all the time. Being around Grannie meant silence, unless I was directly spoken to. And as exaggerated as it sounds, it always felt like an assault on my spirit.

shhBecause the caveat for speaking my mind seemed to be becoming an adult, I thought surely that when “I got grown” I’d be able to use my voice with her. The answer is yes and no. It seems I can share what I believe or know is true for myself, but not at the expense of a disagreement or misunderstanding. At the age of almost 45, my insides still begin to swish around when I answer Grannie truthfully. When this happens, I remind myself that I’m an adult, whose words are important. And no matter how much I’m shaking on the inside, I take a deep breath, speak my mind, and if an argument ensues, I deal with it.

This occurred during her most recent visit. It began with a simple question: Do you want eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast?

“I want whatever you’re doing,” she answered.

“Okay,” I said. “When people visit, then I usually make breakfast.”

Just like that. The conversation shifted.

“I’m not people,” she said.

“Yes you are Grannie,” I replied. Cue shivering insides.

“I’m not people,” she repeated.

Not one for morning confrontations, I looked at her and said, “This is not a big deal. This is a yes I want breakfast or no I don’t.”

“Yes,” she said and went back to reading.

But this wasn’t over.

The conversation continued when she asked if my feelings were hurt because she didn’t attend Kesi’s graduation or my 43rd birthday event.

“Whenever people…” I began.

“There you go with the people again. I am not people. I’m special.”

She’d traded slapping and shut up for interrupting my words. At this point, I could feel myself getting angry. Instead of pushing it down as I would have in the past, I let myself be mad.

“Yes Grannie you’re special. But I treat people the same no matter what.”

“You do not treat people the same,” she said a little louder with a mouthful of eggs.

Cue shaking voice. “Grannie how are you going to tell me how I operate with others?”

Grannie paused. She seemed to be thinking about what I said. How could she really tell me how I function? She couldn’t. She doesn’t see it because she lives over a thousand miles away.

Her next words? “You might treat everybody the same, but I don’t like it.”

“Aha,” I said. “That’s what it is. You might not like it, but that doesn’t make it not true.”

“Well, you might make breakfast for everybody, but you better not make everybody your grannie,” she added.

This scenario ended with me laughing and saying, “That’s impossible. Everyone can’t be my grannie.”

I realize that I could’ve ended this conversation by simply saying, “okay” at the beginning. I understand that I could’ve stopped the discussion when it entered “I’m special” territory. But that’s not me. Years of silence have shown me that if I have something to say, then it’s okay to voice it, even if everything about the exchange is invisibly scary.

Also worth mentioning is that having unresolved issues that creep up in interactions and conversations seems to be common for everyone. But as I’ve said before on this blog, other people’s issues are not your responsibility, even if the person is your grandmother.

The only person you can ever control is you.

So, in that moment, I’m glad I controlled myself and still managed to speak my mind. Did I have more to say? Of course. Something in me still wanted to be heard. Understood. But it wasn’t going to happen that day. That’s something I realized. However, I also recognized my growth. No matter how tiny, it was significant. And this was a small success for sure because I was mostly silent for the remainder of her visit. But that’s okay too. Small victories are what have lead me towards the direction of being my true self. Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll speak up twice. Or better yet, maybe I’ll release the desire to be heard.

 

Monday Notes: What’s in a Name(sake)?

A few weeks ago, I received an email confirmation from our new housing association. It was addressed to Katherine. What’s wrong with this you might ask? Well, my name is misspelled. There’s no “e” at the end. Who cares you might be thinking? ME! I know it seems quite the trivial thing, except it’s not. It’s something that has plagued me year after year after year for as long as I could write my own name and then correct people when they spell it however they want.

img_5779I’ve had cashiers and bank tellers ask me if I’ve spelled my name incorrectly, “because you know there’s no “e” at the end of it.” Can you imagine someone asking you if you’d misspelled your own name? People are nutz.

My stepmother misspelled it on the handmade wedding favors she’d created. All 200 mini-scrolls said, Congratulations Katherine and Dwight!

After a couple of decades of this, I’ve come up with some strategies. I spell it real slow and then say nice and clear, “There’s no “e” at the end of it.” And you know what happens? Fill-in-the-blank person still puts an “e” at the end of it.

This happened recently. I sent my email address to someone and made sure to note the no “e” part. You know what she did? She argued me down that she’d sent the email and didn’t know what happened, until I asked her to please go back and make sure she didn’t misspell my name. Guess what? Oh never mind. You already know what happened.

So, how did I get this name? Well, it’s kind of a funny story.

For the longest, my dad’s side of the family would insist that Aunt Cat was my namesake. They’d refer to her this way, saying things like, have you talked to your namesake? In my mind, I would just shake my head and disagree because I knew she couldn’t have been for one simple reason: my mother disliked the lady.

About fifteen years ago, Aunt Cat had a milestone birthday. Her daughter thought it’d be a great idea to create something handmade, so she called me up.

“Kathy, can you please contribute to Mom’s scrapbook? I mean she is your namesake and all?”

“She is not my namesake,” I clarified. “But I’ll send something.”

“Uh. Yes she is. You were named after her.”

I didn’t continue the conversation. Instead, I called my dad. This had to be squashed once and for all.

“Oh yes. You were named after her,” he confirmed. “Your Aunt Cat was my favorite cousin at the time, but your mom didn’t like her.”

Right. Right, I thought.

“I wanted your name to be Catherine, like hers, but your mom said ‘no.’”

I nodded in agreement to the phone.

“So she compromised.”

“Huh?”

“Yes. She said your name could be Catherine, but it had to be spelled completely different, with a “k” and no “e” at the end.

Hmmmph. I was wrong. And that was a clever move, sort of. I suppose my mom couldn’t have predicted that decades later I’d still be correcting store clerks and housing associations. The same way I didn’t realize that my oldest daughter would spend a lifetime correcting people’s pronunciations (it’s Kesi, like Kasie, not like Keeesie). Or the way my youngest has to repeatedly say Desi isn’t short for anything; it’s just Desi.

img_5520Names are interesting. They are the result of your parents’ creative expression. Maybe that’s why I continue to be so bothered when I see it misspelled. My mother’s innovation is woven into those eight letters. I want people to recognize that: it’s Katherin with no “e.” I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Do you?

I know my name is not the weirdest thing out there. Do you have a “strange” name that’s caused a lifetime of confusion and misspellings? Do you have an interesting story about your name?

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?

Monday Notes: *When You Know Better

img_5728When you know better, you do better, and when you do better, you have some semblance of clarity. You know yourself, and you no longer walk the fine line of being one type of person in public and an entirely different one in private. You learn that it’s either okay that you speak from your heart, or it’s not. You learn that people will be comfortable with who you are, or they will not. Either scenario is fine.

When you know better, you do better, and when you open your eyes and begin to see other people for who they are, instead of who you want them to be, then you can truly choose. You can choose to highlight the excellent parts. You can continue to allow the bad parts into your space and energy. Or you can determine if the good outweighs the bad. You can decide with whom you want to engage and how.

Do-the-best-you-can-until-you-know-better.-Then-when-you-know-better-do-better.When you know better, you do better, and when you do better, you accept better. What is better for you? Is it a better job that is aligned with your passion and skillset? Is it a better relationship that mirrors your values? Is it a better home that reflects who you are? Whatever “it” is, when you know better, you’ll feel what’s best and draw it into your life. There will be no choice; like attracts like.

And when you do these things altogether: be your true self, see others for who they are, and accept better circumstances, then you can live a more peaceful life.

But first you have to know better.

Happy New Year good people! Are you making any changes this year? Will you continue walking a similar path because it’s working for you? Feel free to share; you never know who you might meet right here in these comments. As for me, I’ll be publishing another book and focusing positive feelings towards the type of educational setting that’s right for me. 

*inspired by Maya Angelou

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.