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?

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RE-Defined: DISCIPLINE

I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot. People have asked me how I accomplish things, and I never have a clear answer. I think I do now. Discipline.

In 2009, I quit a school instructional coaching job so that I could focus on finishing my dissertation.

“Who do you know that can actually make themselves sit for hours during the day to write?” my very good friend had asked when I shared my decision.

“I can,” I replied.

And that’s what I did. While Dwight was at work and the girls were at school, I analyzed data and wrote eight hours a day for nine months. I know my friend’s comment wasn’t a judgment against what she perceived me to be able to do or not do. It was more about what many people cannot and will not do…discipline themselves to achieve a goal.

But I want to be clear. I didn’t magically wake up with a spirit of commitment towards projects. It was taught.

typewriterYears ago, when people typed things on typewriters, I had a fifth-grade report due on Haile Selassie and Ethiopia. I’d made several mistakes and had to use that awful liquid paper/correction fluid stuff to cover it up and re-type words. It was a bumpy sludge of a mess.

My English major mother peered through her glasses to see how it was going.

“Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.”

I didn’t say anything back to her. In 1983, children simply sat there and seethed with anger and did what they were told. Or at least that’s what I learned to do.

I sat at that brown dining room table for hours. I wasn’t allowed to watch television until I finished. I ended up re-typing that essay three times, well past The Love Boat and Fantasy Island…and well past my bedtime. But it was done properly. What’s more is because of my mother’s correction I’d learned self-discipline. I’d learned the importance of focusing on one task (typing) and ignoring others (television). I learned to sit quietly and perfect something until it was “right.”

Today, being disciplined has served me well. I function within a distraction-based society by turning my phone over when I’m working and turning it off altogether while I’m sleeping. I’ve learned to take social media breaks when I’m indulging too much, so that offscreen life and people can take precedence. More importantly, I still practice sitting quietly and focusing on the day’s project until it’s complete.

Thirty-something years ago, I typed and re-typed those words through ten-year-old, tear-filled eyes. Now, I’m grateful for that early lesson because I see it as having shaped a positive and useful trait: discipline.

What about you? Do you have a positive superpower that you attribute learning from your parents’ rules? Are you disciplined? Do you want to be more disciplined? Feel free to share below.

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 on 12 Months of Maintaining the Christmas Spirit

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year ~ Charles Dickens

If you’ve been following my blog for the past 12 months, then you know I’ve been experimenting with different ways to maintain the Christmas spirit, which I’ve defined as being of service to the community.

To that end, I have to say that giving back for 48 weeks helped me in ways I didn’t know it would. Volunteering helped to improve my core self. Here’s how:

1494606711233Connecting with people felt intimate. Whether it was the children I tutored, or the men to whom I handed goodie bags, connecting in these ways felt more genuine than making small talk about someone’s day. Spending time with the Congolese student included more than just my supporting her literacy. It required my listening to stories about her older sisters. By the time they picked her up at the end of the hour, I felt as if I knew each one. Similarly, handing a stranger fruit and toiletries, and then having a 30-second conversation yielded a heartfelt exchange. There was no pretense in any of these situations; there was no need for either of these people to pretend to be anyone other than themselves. Consequently, there was no sifting for the truth in the moment. Each instance was authentic.

img_3054Giving symbolizes abundance. If I give something (time, money, attention) to someone else, that means that I possess time, money, and attention. I’ve mentioned this before. Many times in the past, I didn’t want to release that $1 because what if I need this dollar for fill-in-the-blank? This has been a solid lesson for me. The reality is we always have an abundance of everything if we do one of two things: (1) stop and take account of our excess or (2) shift our priorities. Most of us have careers and families; however, there are many ways to be of service that occur on the weekends, or allow you to bring children of all ages. It just takes a little research.

Caring about people in society added a dimension of compassion for me. It opened up a heart space that’s different from showing consideration for family and friends. Sometimes it’s easy to do things for friends and cousins because there’s still a bit of obligation there, plus you just want to. However, it takes an open heart to give time and energy to a seemingly random person you may never see again who is not labeled “family.” One thing that helped me from the onset is that I believe we’re all connected reflections of one another. Caring about so-called strangers reinforced that idea. You don’t have to be biologically related to me to receive care. We don’t have to have history for me to help out. This is a distinction that I think will shift how we relate to one another in general.

The past 12 months began as a “project” to determine how and if I could maintain “the Christmas spirit.” While I’ve discovered both unique and traditional ways and learned the answer is yes, I’ve also uncovered a way to consciously live in the world. We can’t care about all of society’s ills, but we can focus on one human issue and deliberately give our attention to it.

Thanks for riding along with me this past year. I appreciate it.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (10 and 11)

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’ve updated and re-blogged the post every four weeks.

Well good people, it’s already Christmas again. Isn’t time a funny concept? I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole of philosophy about the time-space construct, but I will say it’s funny how time seems to go by quicker the older you get.

10Anywho, this year-long project really became a part of my being. I could tell because when Thanksgiving rolled around, I didn’t have the urge to do something nice for someone because I’d been of service the entire year. However, I did purchase a Barbie doll and give to Toys for Tots. This program runs from mid-November through December if you’re ever interested in giving. Toys can be dropped off at most Toys R Us.

A week later, when December 1st hit, I really hadn’t thought of a bang-up way to end the 12 months of service, so I combined two of the year’s ideas.

11I began the month with a random act of kindness, and I have to tell you, it was quite natural. An older woman pulled up behind me in the Publix grocery store line. She was in one of those motorized scooters with the baskets attached.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

I’ve learned to ask first because some people get super ornery if you assume they can’t do it themselves.

She kind of glanced up at me, and then said, “Actually, I do.”

I placed all of her groceries on the conveyor belt, and she was pleased. She thanked me over and over again, and told me how much easier that made her shopping.

Imagine that. One act that took less than two minutes made this woman’s day.

Next, I decided to end the year the same way I began it, at the Clara White Mission serving breakfast to those who need it. I’ve since learned that the people who frequent this mission are not always homeless. Sometimes they are newly released prisoners; other times they are simply people who can’t afford to eat.

Either way, I spent three December Mondays with them.

I wished there were some grand finale with fireworks or something, but I suppose the endgame is the internal transformation that has occurred. And you’ll have to wait until January for that reflection 😉

If you celebrate something during this holiday season, then Happy Holidays to you! If not, then I wish you well on this day. I do hope these 12 months have been an inspiration for each of you to contribute to society in some way.

For a reminder of how I served the previous months, click here.<<<<
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12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (9)

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.

A couple of months ago, I asked for service project suggestions. Although I received some great ideas, one stood out. Ann from Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50 mentioned collecting duffel bags for foster care children because they’re always in transition and rarely have luggage. First, I contacted a couple of friends to find out if they could point me in the direction of a foster care home specifically for minority children. They could not. That’s when I used trusty Google.

nineThrough a simple search, I found Family Support Services of North Florida. Their community service liaison, Dani said they actually needed diapers. A light bulb literally went off over my head. For October, I decided to host a virtual diaper drive. I’d planned on buying a pack of diapers each week anyway, but it seemed that including others would be even more helpful.

I was quite surprised by the outcome. A friend of mine from Illinois immediately sent $15 through Messenger. I transferred the money and purchased my first box. Other friends ordered diapers through Amazon or Walmart and had them sent to my home. Another friend who lives here in Jacksonville physically dropped off a box. A few bloggers participated by also mailing them. Wanda is one. And Michelle was another. Four weeks later, I was able to deliver 2,212 diapers.

I am grateful that, together, we were able to support a baby or family in need. I know I said number seven (paying it forward) was my favorite one, but this diaper drive has replaced it. I really believe we need to encourage each other to be more giving in multiple ways. I hate to get all preachy, but a lot of times we expect someone else to help out or we think “help” has to be a grandiose idea. Or, we believe we have to join an organization to impact society in positive ways. Well, I’m here to say that support can be as simple as dropping off or sending a box of diapers at your local foster care home. If you don’t do it, then who will?

Read about previous months’ service projects here.

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.

Monday Notes: Faking It ’til you Make it!

Growing up I’d always been told that I had to be twice as good as white people to be seen as just as good at what they do. This was the rule, simply because I was a black girl. Being raised in Chicago and attending a diverse elementary and high school for gifted students, this never proved true. We seemed to each be held by our own merits. We were all smart, and if we applied ourselves accordingly, then we achieved greatness, accordingly.

As I ventured through undergrad at Western Michigan University, I still didn’t see it. I mean I worked hard, but my own productivity and those around me seemed to equal the work we put into it. Working hard equaled success like As and Bs. Doing less proved attaining less, such as probation for poor grades. Seemed simple.

This trend continued with graduate work and ultimately with my doctorate. I really had begun to believe that the rule I’d been given about working twice as hard was false. Everyone around me seemed to be working just as hard and we were on equal footing.

But the truth was unveiled in one of the most unlikely places, academia.

I remember these events like they happened yesterday. I’d applied for a tenure-track position at the same institution…three times. Even though I was more qualified because I’d been in an academic position for two years, and even though he didn’t have the specific type of degree they’d asked for, they hired him instead. The following year, they hired me as visiting prof. This not only meant that he ranked higher, but that he also made about $12,000 more than I did.

He was a charismatic, white male, whose six-foot stature commanded attention every time he entered the room. He was a talker. You know the kind who has a story for every situation? The guy who’s like, “Yeah that reminds me of the time that…”

He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t know what he was doing. And as it turns out, he had a story for that as well.

He fondly remembered a time during his graduate career when he had no idea what the professor was talking about. He recounted this story to the program coordinator and me. She sat in her comfortable chair, glancing every so often at her Mac, then up at him, and back to me, where she offered an eye roll.

“So, the professor kept talking about some theory that he thought I should know. And, you know. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just nodded along and you know…I was just faking it ‘til I made it. You know? That’s how I got through.”

I didn’t know.

Remember, I’d spent twelve years working hard to attain everything thus far. I had no idea what he meant when he said he faked it ‘til he made it. Did he mean he faked it to here, where we stood…side-by-side? Surely that couldn’t be true.

img_5125It wasn’t until the following year when he had to teach a methodology course that the curtain of my naiveté was removed.

He knocked on my door.

“Got a minute?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He pulled up a chair. The difference in our stature was obvious, even while sitting. We faced one another, feigning a position of equality.

“How do you teach this?” he asked.

Jesus Christ, I thought. He really had no idea, and he wanted me to teach him how to do his job. He had a PhD, just like me. But he needed me to demonstrate how to teach the class because he lacked background knowledge and experience.

So, I explained it to him.

I seethed with resentment for several months. But once I calmed down, I learned something valuable. Systemic racism exists and structural inequality is real. White privilege is not just a theory or hashtag and the patriarchy is alive.

But what can any of us do?

I believe a first step is to be transparent about our experiences and situations. Maybe speaking candidly will open a space for change to occur among those of us who care about such issues. Because one thing’s for sure…raising another generation who’s taught to work harder than them to make it where they are seems like a disservice to everyone.

Thoughts are always welcomed.

 

Got Boundaries?

Well do you? Do the people with whom you interact know exactly how far they can go with you? Physically? Emotionally? Psychologically? Do you know how far you want to go with others?

I recently listened to an Iyanla Vanzant episode centered on relationships. You can find it here. In it, she suggests that we not only establish boundaries in our relationships, but that we also make those boundaries known to individuals. Another useful step is to ensure those people know what the consequence will be if they should violate your stated boundary.

I can see how this will work with children because, well, adult-child relationships definitely require boundaries. For example, my 15-year-old, Desi and I were texting one day. In it, she replied, LMAO. To which I responded, you don’t get to laugh your ass off with me ma’am. She hasn’t done it again. She tested a boundary. It failed. She learned how far she could go.

But what happens when there are two adults and something more serious? Remember Buddy? According to Iyanla’s lesson, I should have stated something like this ahead of time: Buddy, I will not tolerate drunken, violent behavior. If you become drunk and violent, then you will have to leave our home.

While I have no problem having a boundary conversation with most adults, I do wonder if I can establish boundaries and allow the person to be him or herself, simultaneously.

Stay with me here. You know I value allowing people to be whoever they are; however, if I establish a boundary, then aren’t I asking the person to not be themselves while they’re in my company? So, is it better to ask Buddy to be mindful of his drinking limit, or just not invite Buddy to the next family function? For most of my life, I’ve just done the latter. That way Buddy can be himself…at…his…home.

I suppose my question is, can you establish boundaries and allow the person to be him or herself at the same time, or are these two different philosophical ways of living life? Can the two work together?

I know this post is more questions than answers, but that’s how (my) life is most times. Let me know what you think. Which do you prefer? Are you a boundary-setter? Tell us all how you do it.