Turning 50: Advice I’m No Longer Taking

I’m turning 50 on May 23rd, and in true kegarland form, I need to process and document it. Being on the earth for half a century, interacting with people, has taught me a few things, and I’ll be sharing them with you through June.

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is advice I was given in my youth.

When I was a child, my mother used to say, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” and I totally understand the sentiment behind the suggestion. If you want someone to listen to what you have to say, then you should maybe consider your tone and choice of words. When I’m writing, I do think about those things. And for about ten years, beginning in my 30s, I also tried very hard to take a beat before I opened my mouth to communicate.

But this didn’t serve me well. A lot of times, I ended up sugar-coating what I really wanted to say to appease the person and suppressing my tone and intent, which physically affected me. So, no more.

If I see that there is information that would benefit you because you may be headed down a difficult path (in my opinion), then I don’t worry about my tone or choice of words. I’ve learned that two things can happen: either the person will receive my message as intended, which is typically to be helpful, or they will focus on how I communicated, which leads to the use of negative adjectives (i.e., rude, mean, arrogant, know-it-all).

But at 50? I’m not worrying about that anymore.


In addition to my mother, my grandmother, who was born in 1926, used to also provide advice. Many times, she told me to simply talk about the weather in social situations, so as not to get into arguments with people. I mean, you can’t argue about if it’s raining or not. Again, I understand why this is. Most people at your job, at the grocery store, or in the parent pick-up line, don’t want to really hear about how you’re doing, even though they asked. We’ve become accustomed to using hello, how are you? as a greeting, as opposed to an expression of care.

But I want you to consider this: How hard would it be to answer honestly? You don’t have to tell someone your life story, but you could say something like, I’m having a rough day. And maybe we can learn to respond in kind. You don’t have to go into fix-it, therapist-mode. You could just say, I hope you feel better.

See how easy that is?

Another thing we could do is re-vision how we interact in situations that are supposed to be more intimate. If I spend hours driving to your home for a holiday, then I don’t want to talk about how awful your job is. I want to hear about why you’re at a job you hate, with a boss you dislike…after all these years. Again, I don’t want to fix it for you. I just want to discuss something that matters…to you, something that helps me to understand who you are as a person.

So, I’m leaning into engaging in more thoughtful ways with people. If I ever ask you how you’re doing, then I want to know. And if we’re spending time together, then I’m probably going to ask a deeper question that goes beyond surface-level descriptions. If you choose not to respond, then that’s fine, too. Everyone doesn’t have to be like me. I’ve lived long enough to know that my intent will always prevail, and as a result, bring likeminded individuals into my space so that we can commune.

Post-script: To be clear, I have no intention on spitting venom toward others, but I’m also not worrying about how I say things. Folks either get me or they won’t 😉


Monday Notes: I Don’t Want your Child (or Dog)!

I vibe with dogs and kids. That’s the way I’ve always been. If you have a dog and 24 hours, then we’ll probably be besties. The same applies if you have a child under 12. He, she, or they will be my best friend by the time I leave your home. I’ve accepted this about myself; however, those outside of my immediate circle don’t know this information, and thus, problems arise. Sometimes, people think I want their kid and dog, or at least that’s how they act.

When I visited my in-laws, my youngest niece attached herself to me as soon as I arrived. We’d never met, yet she stuck by my side and offered me a snaggle-tooth grin every time I looked her way. She followed me around the house and said she wanted to come home with me. She sat beside me at church and whispered jokes.

“Does anyone want to give their life to Christ?” the pastor asked.

“She does,” she shouted, pointing at me and trying to raise my hand.

“Oh yeaaaah?” the pastor’s eyes brightened.

“No. No,” I assured him, and then to my niece, “you trying to get me in trouble…at church???” I teased, giving her a side-eye.

She returned a gapped-tooth smile.

She insisted on sitting next to me at dinner, her mother on the opposite side of the table. “You like your Aunt Kathy?” she asked, through a tight grin.

When we returned home, she began calling me “Mama,” instead of Aunt Kathy.

“You don’t even know her name,” her father said, clearly bothered by her instant affinity.

I remained quiet as insecurity filled the air. Children don’t have to know your name. All they have to feel is safe and seen. It’s a vibe. I don’t want your child I wanted to holler. She’s clearly starving for attention. Instead, I lay on the couch and pretended to be sleepy, in hopes that she’d leave me alone and perhaps spare her parents the sound of her eight-year-old voice calling me mama.

The next day, she cried and hid under the table because she didn’t want me to leave.


Fast forward years later, and I met a three-year-old cousin, who hadn’t seen me since she was born. At first, she was shy, as many tots are, but eventually, after I began asking her questions, in Spanish and English, and wiping her runny nose, she warmed up, so did her parents’ ten-year-old dog.

Her parents and I went to a store, where I asked, “Do you like toys?”

Her head bobbed up and down.

“Good. Let’s go look at some,” I suggested. “You wanna go look at toys?” I asked with my hand outstretched.

More head bobbing.

“We’re gonna go look at toys,” I announced to her mother, and then she put her tiny hand in mine and we traipsed away toward Barbie and them.

We picked over Pepa the Pig trinkets and a box of Marvel bowling pins. “You like those?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said quietly.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“A skate…”

“Issa skateboard,” her mother said. “You know how to use a skateboard?” she had found us and decided she’d show her child around the toy aisle. As her mother showed her how to kick and push, I slowly slipped away because it started to feel a lot like my niece and her mother years ago. It felt like insecurity, as if she didn’t really want her daughter to be with or like me, even though she was and did.

I thought I was tripping, projecting even, until we returned to the house where the mother’s dog greeted me at the door as if we were old friends. He barked for me to pick him up, and feed him the attention he, too, craved and lacked since his doggy parents had had a baby and become mommy and daddy to a human.

He sat on my lap and we played a game where my fingers came close enough to his mouth for him to snap at them, but not really catch them. He barked and snarled and wagged his tail with happiness. Like the toy aisle, where she skated her way back into her child’s view, the mother made cute clicking noises to distract her pet from my lap and from the fun, but it didn’t work. Instead, he settled down right next to my thigh, licked my hand, and then fell into a deep sleep with a slight snore.

My cousin, the mother’s husband, laughed at the sight, and said, “You gotta new Mama now, huh,” while his wife looked on fuming.

Again, I wanted to yell, I don’t want your child (or your dog). I just don’t mind offering a little attention.

But of course, I didn’t say this. Again, I shied away from the dog and the child and made as little eye contact with both.


I hope you hear the empathy in between these narratives: I’m a mother, and I wouldn’t want one of my daughters calling someone else mother. I’ve owned a dog, and I wouldn’t want my dog sidling up to someone else as if he didn’t have an owner. However, I also understand children and dogs. They both need constant attention, something that is oftentimes impossible in today’s busy world. And if I happen to be around for a couple days, I’m happy to offer it.

At the same time, I understand the careful balance of human beingness that has to be in place. I’ll only indulge if everyone is comfortable in the situation, but sometimes, ego makes that impossible.


Monday Notes: “Where’s Waldo”

I call him “Where’s Waldo” because he wears a red and white striped shirt and blue pants. He’s an older man, who frequently walks around the neighborhood. During the summer months, he walks to the pool, strips down to his swimming trunks, and does several laps. I’ve watched him repeat this pattern several times from our community gym’s window.

Sometimes when it rains, and he cannot swim, he comes inside the gym. This is how we met.

“They should have another treadmill,” he once said, taking slow strides.

“I agree,” I replied, while using the elliptical. “I’ve told them that before.”

“I can only walk. And swim,” he added. “I have an injury, so I can only do those two things.”

“Maybe you can ride a bike?” I offered.

“I can only walk. And swim,” he repeated.

Before he left, he waved good-bye and bid me a good day. I did the same, and as is customary, I felt a little closer to him. I wished I would’ve asked him his name, so I could stop secretly calling him “Where’s Waldo.”


The next time I saw him was a few months later.

I drove to the fitness room, as usual. As usual, I sat my yoga mat next to the treadmill, wiped down the surface, and placed my phone, water bottle, and towel in each appropriate place. Then, I went back to my car to get my free weights.

That’s when I saw “Where’s Waldo.” He was either headed to the pool or headed to the gym.

“Good morning!” I said, happy to see him.

“Morning,” he mumbled.

Turns out, he was headed to the gym, because when I returned with my weights in hand, there he stood…on the treadmill.

“That’s my stuff,” I said, pointing to my belongings: the white towel, hanging on the equipment’s right arm, the water bottle in the cup holder, and my phone, sitting in front of him.

“Well, get it then,” he spat.

“Oh no,” I clarified. “I was about to use the treadmill. That’s why my stuff is here. I just had to get my other things.”

“Well, I’m here now,” he said.

For a moment, I thought he wasn’t for real. However, his wide-legged stance implied that not only was he not playing around, but he also wasn’t moving.

Though there were many thoughts rolling around in my head, they weren’t polite, and I’ve been working on being as kind in speech as possible.

“This is incredibly rude, you know.”

“So,” he replied.

I’m positive I resembled the wide-eyed emoji. I stood behind him…on the treadmill and retrieved my belongings, and I said, almost in his ear, “I hope you have a good day.”

“You, too,” he said, with a laugh.

Then, I practiced what I knew to do, so I wouldn’t let this man’s behavior dictate my morning:

Grounding: For those of us who ruminate, it can be quite easy to keep going over a situation, until it culminates into a bunch of “what-ifs” and “I should’ves.” That’s not helpful. For us, it’s important to ground ourselves in the present moment. So, I called my husband and told him the entire story. I didn’t need validation that I was right, but rather, I needed a way to release the narrative, so it wouldn’t fill my head. Talking to Dwight for five minutes helped.

Exercising: I was red with anger at this man’s behavior and my helplessness in the situation. I almost went home. But then I remembered, exercising helps move energy around and out of the body. I was actually in the perfect place to be angry. I stayed in the fitness room, and worked out in a different order. He left after 20 minutes, and I was able to use the treadmill at the end of my routine.

Ignoring: In the past, I would’ve placed my phone call to Dwight inside the gym, so the guy could hear the conversation. That’s called being passive-aggressive, and I’ve worked extremely hard to not embody this trait anymore. Long ago, I also would’ve stared the man down, which probably wouldn’t have ended well. Instead, I set up my equipment so that my back would be to him. I needed to work out, but I didn’t need to look at him. Our interaction had ended.

Like I’ve said before, we’re living in some weird times. You never know what folks are going through, and it’s important to reman level-headed. People seem to be on edge, which is understandable. But it’s important to remember that we can only control ourselves. I couldn’t make the man get off the treadmill, but I could control how I reacted in the situation, which prevented things from escalating.

Be safe out there. People are unstable, and sometimes peace relies on you.

October Blogger Spotlight

I’ve been spotlighted! Jen over at Bossy Babe interviewed me for her blog, and I think she put together a really nice feature. Head over there to read and comment, if you’re so inclined 😉

BosssyBabe

Welcome to my series in which I spotlight one of my followers. I’ve always had a deep fascination with people: how they became who they are, the struggles they won, and the hard lessons they learned over time. All of these scars and stories make up a person’s life. While I think it’s important to reflect on your own journey, it is also equally important to hear other voices and see diverse perspectives. In this series, the spotlighted blogger will be able to tell their story through curated questions I’ve asked of them.

October’s blogger feature is someone I greatly admire for her insight and candor. I love how she unabashedly expresses herself through her unique perspective. She is a prolific writer whose work has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now (Black Women Share their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage and Hope), The…

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Monday Notes: Emotion Words

There’s a scene from Four Christmases, where the main character’s nephew unexpectedly learns there’s no Santa Claus. Once he finds out this heartbreaking information, the little boy takes off his clothes, jumps out the window, and runs away.

“When he gets to hurtin’ inside and can’t use his emotion words, he takes to streakin’,” his mother says, as the little boy leaves his underwear behind.  

We’ve all been there, I think, running away from the thing that hurt us, our drawers limp on the windowsill. We’ve all had a moment where we’ve felt an emotion but didn’t know how to express it in a healthy way; however, since this movie released in 2008, I’ve noticed not knowing how to use your emotion words can present differently in each of our lives.

A personal example I have is my grandmother. Her sister is in a nursing home, and because my grandmother is in her nineties, there’s really nothing she can do about it. One time after visiting my great aunt, my grandmother told me about how she broke out into hives. Eventually, she realized it was because she was worried about her sister.

Books like The Body Keeps Score and people like, Louise Hay have written about how the energy of our emotions can be stored in the body, resulting in specific pain or illness. So, when my grandmother retold this story, it seemed obvious to me what had happened. Instead of being able to say something like, “I feel helpless because my only living sister is living with dementia in a nursing home” or even being able to sit and cry about it (remember, my grandmother lives by if you’re sad, you better scratch your butt and get glad), she seemed to have held on to her real emotions, and the result was hives.

A more global rendition of not knowing how to use your emotion words is when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. Although this event was unfortunate for multiple reasons, it was a great example of what can happen when you don’t know how to take time to process emotions in a healthy way. Not only can you hurt yourself, but you can also hurt others and jeopardize your career. I don’t think it’s ever okay to put your hands on another person; however, this moment was an opportunity to show us that no matter how happy you may appear on the outside, and no matter how much money you may have, anyone can have unresolved issues that may result in not knowing how to use emotion words.

Finally, I’ve had several moments where I’ve learned to bury emotions so deep that when they resurfaced, I didn’t know how to deal with them, much less communicate how I felt in an effective way. I’ve written about that here and here. But luckily, I’ve taken time to learn how to use my emotion words so that I no longer injure myself or others. Here’s how:

  • Learn to feel emotions when they appear. For example, if something makes you sad, then take time to notice the sadness in your body: where is it?  How does it make you feel? You may even want to announce to yourself, “I am sad.”
  • Consider journaling about why you’re having the emotion. In the Will Smith scenario, I’d bet money he wasn’t really upset about Rock’s joke; something else was going on. We’re no different than a celebrity. Sometimes, what’s angered us is an unaddressed trigger. That’s worth exploring.
  • Find ways to release the emotion. One thing that helps me is exercising. Last year, I was so negatively affected by someone’s actions that the space around my heart physically hurt. The only thing that helped was a thirty-minute run/walk on the treadmill. Once I was done, I felt lighter and less bothered.
  • If another person is involved in your painful emotions, then maybe you need to have a conversation with that person…when you’re no longer angry, of course. Write out what you will say in a loving way, and then give them a call, so you can engage in positive dialogue about the issue.

Welp. That’s all I’ve got today. Feel free to add any advice in the comments. I’m all about helping one another as a community.


If you want to hear about the three levels of emotional fitness, then watch Mastinkipp’s explanation:


Monday Notes: Don’t Pop up on Me (Please)

March 2022, my stepmother, MJ reached out to me saying she’d be in Jacksonville sometime in August. 

“Okay,” I told her. “Just be sure to let me know ahead of time…when you know the date for sure.”

She agreed. 

The next time I heard from MJ was August 15, 2022 at 4:30 PM, when she texted me the following:

Hi Kathy

I am in Jacksonville at my friend’s house. I got here at 10:30

am this morning and I will be here until Friday. I would love to see 

you and the family.

Her daughter is going on vacation so I don’t have a ride. Give

me a call. 


August is the worst time to visit me, no matter what my relationship is with someone. I begin the semester in the third week, and to maintain a low stress level, I start revising syllabi and classes on August 1st. 

Also, I’ve learned to keep a very strict schedule, in general. Hosting or visiting with unexpected guests is not on the agenda. Hence, the reason you have to let me know if you’ll be in town, especially if you “would love to see me and my family.” 

In addition to planning for classes, the week I heard from MJ I also had an editing client scheduled, an unexpected trip to the car dealer, and a prior commitment to attend family game night at Dwight’s job

I couldn’t fathom how someone could plan a trip to a city, purchase a flight for a specific date, and not mention it to me. If nothing else, it seemed inconsiderate and rude. 

But I’ve been working on not freaking out when an unexpected non-emergency occurs, as a way to practice being calm when an actual emergency occurs. So, I meditated and gave her a call. 

“I thought you were going to let me know when you were coming?” I asked.

“Oh. I was, but something came up, so I didn’t.” 

Even though her flippancy set my belly on fire, I told her I’d pick her up on Thursday. I’d bring her by the house. We’d go to family game night. We’d take her to dinner with us.

“Okay,” she said.


Wednesday, MJ texted me, again:

Hi Kathy. What is your plan for tomorrow? What time are you coming

over here? 

I want to go to the beach while I’m here. My friend’s daughter knew this

but she is out of town working for the next two days. She is a traveling

nurse.

So she called a friend of hers to take us to the beach tomorrow. 

So please call me so I can change the time or day to go to the beach,

because I want to see you before I leave. My flight leaves at 5:45 PM on 

Friday.


My I’m not important trigger kicked in. 

“I deserve for people to visit me,” I said to Dwight. “I deserve for someone to plan ahead, with a date. I am not crazy for thinking this,” I continued. “And how does she plan a beach day on the day I agreed to come get her?” Then, I added, “Well, at least she came to Jacksonville, I guess.”

But I caught myself. I stopped myself from tying my worth to what other folks do or don’t do. 

And I didn’t get caught up in the “at least,” part of it, because that’s where we get ourselves into trouble. The phrase “at least” is not a positive way to frame something. It minimizes what you want or need in a situation. Sometimes, it represents the minimum action you think you deserve, which again, can cloud perception when tied to your self-worth. 

Even though I didn’t spiral, my stomach was so twisted in knots that I had to lie down. After resting, I realized I wasn’t responsible for how MJ decided to move in the world; her actions had nothing to do with me…at all. I called her back and told her to just go to the beach with her friend. We could take her to dinner afterwards.

At first, she agreed, but then she called back and said her “heart hurt,” with the idea of going to the beach, instead of seeing us; so she’d cancel her beach date.  

“Good,” I said. 


Thursday was pleasant. 

Friday, Dwight graciously drove MJ to the airport (because she also didn’t have a ride there), while I made my one hour and 45-minute trek to campus. I arrived at work by nine to attend a three-hour convocation, made finishing touches to courses, and returned home around six that evening. 

That night, I slept for nine hours. 

Saturday, my oldest daughter and I had lunch, and when I returned home, I slept for another three hours. Saturday night, I slept another nine hours. 

Stress exhausts me, more so because my parasympathetic nervous system is a little wonky. Whether obvious or not, beneath the surface, our bodies are always reacting to perceived stress. The kicker is that my body thinks a pop-up visit from my stepmother is the same as finding out my daughter was in a car accident, for example. Both feel exactly the same.  

So, as I re-learn, un-learn, and learn ways to function as a person with knowledge of my nervous system, one thing I know for sure is that I will not tolerate people popping up to visit, even if they are only 15 minutes away, like MJ was. 

It will not matter if the person understands or doesn’t understand. It will not matter if they think I should bend to their whims, expectations, and lack of social graces. 

Ultimately, I’m the one who has to deal with the fallout that occurs in my body, and being physically exhausted two days after is not worth it. 

And even though I know my self-worth is not tied to how people interact with me, I also know I am better than to be treated as an afterthought, and I will not be responding to that type of behavior, either, as I move forward.


Writer’s Workshop: Improve FLOW by Removing 3 Words

I love writing that flows. When I read a book, I like to feel as if I’m riding a wave or listening to a smooth melody where the notes come together in concert to create beautiful harmony. When writing flows, you don’t want to abandon it. In fact, you may re-read sentences just to appreciate the beauty.

How do writers combine words to create flow? One way is to follow a specific rule. Now, I know in the last Writer’s Workshop I told you to dismiss rules, but I should’ve added the word sometimes.

So, here’s the advice: Remove these three words as much as possible: that, adverbs ending in -ly, and the.


THAT is considered a filler word, meaning it just adds space on the page. As much as possible go through your writing and try to delete “that.” It will make your writing and message much cleaner. Here’s an example:

She had made Daddy promise that he would come straight home.

*She had made Daddy promise he would come straight home.

Do you see what I mean? The word “that” doesn’t add more meaning to this sentence. It just increases your word count. This isn’t to say you never need “that” in writing. Sometimes there’s no way around it. But if you can do without “that,” remove it.


ADVERBS ending in -ly can also be cumbersome. The rule here is to replace -ly words (i.e., quickly, smoothly, etc.) with actual descriptions of what you’re talking about. Here’s an example of replacing adverbs.

“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled sheepishly and nodded approvingly.

*“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled and nodded at approval of my dress.

Sheepishly and approvingly drag the sentence along. Here you have two choices: remove the adverb altogether or remove the -ly and add descriptions instead as this author did.


THE is a little trickier, which is why I’ve left it for the end. Although it is natural to use “the” when speaking, a lot of times this small word can bog down your writing. “The” is not always necessary. Don’t believe me? Go check out your favorite piece of writing. I bet “the” is used sparingly. Here’s an example of what I mean:

            We cut out the clothing we thought would look good on me.

            **We cut out clothing we thought would look good on me.

Here, “the” isn’t needed. If you can understand the sentence without using “the,” then ditch it.

I hope these three tips help to improve your writing, but I suggest trying one rule out at a time and only after you’ve written a draft. Editing and writing at the same time can oftentimes destroy your flow.


*The first two examples come from Mbinguni’s Looking for Hope, which I also recommend reading.

**The third example is from Sister Souljah’s A Deeper Love Inside.

Both were written perfectly in their books. I added the fake, bold first draft example.


If you’re interested in hearing more about my personal writing process and flow, then my talk with the Pasadena City College English Department may interest you: PCC Visiting Writer K. E. Garland.

Monday Notes: How to Release People and Experiences

<Woo-woo alert> 

Everything is energy. Science tells us that much. It’s the reason you lose weight when you exercise and gain weight when you eat too much: it’s an energy exchange. 

You know what else is related to energy? Frequency. Science teaches us that waves carry energy. The amount of energy they carry is related to their frequency and their amplitude. The higher the frequency, the more the energy, and the higher the amplitude, the more energy

Throughout my life, I’ve come to know two things: one, we’re all composed of energy; therefore, it’s possible to be connected energetically, and two, because we are composed of energy, we can also function on different frequencies. Have you ever received a phone call from someone you were thinking about? Ever walked in a room and felt a little off? For me, the concept of energy and frequencies explains these happenings. 

Still with me? Cool. 


I’ve written before about the importance of releasing people, situations, and experiences, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained how I do this. What follows is my own process based on a compilation of suggestions from books and podcasts. Here are three basic ways I release people and experiences: journaling, cutting energetic cords, and purging

JOURNALING

Recently, a person I befriended in the late nineties commented on this blog about something I did that bothered her. I responded and told her to reach out. She never did. Instead, nine months later, she contacted Dwight, asking if we could both meet her for coffee. My husband told her we could meet, but only after she and I had a conversation, to which she replied, “no thanks.” 

I was angry for a few reasons, which I won’t get into here; however, I knew I needed to release this former friend because we no longer vibed in a way I valued. To release this connection, I journaled something like this: Dear XXX, thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being there when I needed you. I release our connection and am grateful for any and all lessons that came with it. 

I’ve completed this process with a few others in the past, and miraculously, I’ve not heard from them anymore. Our journey together has ended.

CUTTING ENERGETIC CORDS

I completed a doctoral process from 2004-2010. Those six years were the most stressful of my academic and professional life; the experience shifted my perception of universities and myself. I didn’t realize how much grad school changed me until last year, when I had to face my digestive issues. 

This release required phases. First, I began by journaling about my doctoral chair in detail; I included everything I perceived that she’d done as my alleged mentor. I wrote about each year of grad school—things I’d not shared with anyone. Next, I envisioned my doctoral chair’s face and image. Then, I wrote a letter to her, which is a type of journaling. I always begin with gratitude for the person and experience. Next, I wrote an in-depth description of what I wanted to release. In this case, it was my perception of what I thought was supposed to happen in grad school, judgment about my doctoral chair, and judgment about myself as a doctoral student and candidate. 

The final part of this was actually cutting the energetic cord. Here is where I meditated on what I’d written and physically saw myself severing ties/cutting the cord with my chair and the process. 

Prior to this, I couldn’t discuss being a grad student without spiraling into anger. Since cutting the energetic cord, I’ve felt more at peace about attaining a doctorate and what it has meant for me, overall. 

PURGING

Sometimes, a person has been in your life so long that simply journaling is not sufficient enough to release them. Other times, an event may have had such a huge impact in developing who you are as a person that you need to do more than cut an energetic cord. When this is the case, then purging is an option. 

When I found my biological father and his family in 2018, I’d already accepted the circumstances of my biological mother and subsequent adoption in a healthy way. Acquiring new information from my father landed me back in a rumination of what-ifs and a narrative of poor me. Journaling and cutting energetic ties weren’t enough to move me through. 

So, in December 2021, I gathered up pages of my journal and set them on fire in a barbeque grill at a local park. This is called a fire purging ritual

Immediately, I felt free from the burden of my biological father, his wife, and my younger sister. It was magical. I understood that they entered my life for a reason, and I had the power to release them back to wherever they came from…with love.


A COUPLE MORE THOUGHTS

  • Releasing people is not about cutting people off; it’s about moving on. Prior to releasing, I always attempt to hold a conversation to express concerns, so we can move forward together. When that doesn’t occur, then I have to move on independently. 
  • Always release people and experiences with love and gratitude, because in my opinion, there’s a reason why you engaged with those people or had specific experiences. We all help each other in one way or another.
  • Everyone doesn’t need to complete these processes. Some of us have the ability to go with the flow, move on, or accept an it-is-what-it-is mindset. What I’ve described here is helpful for those of us who don’t function in that way.

Monday Notes: The Power of Story

Shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I received several notifications from writing platforms. These publications had an urgent interest in “personal abortion stories.” Suddenly, hearing about women’s lived experiences was integral. I understand why. 

Stories are important. 

It’s one thing to be marching around in your knit, pink pussy hat; it’s quite another to share why you feel the need to. 

Sometimes, marching is easier than telling the person who disagrees with you that, you too, had an abortion at one point in your life. However, I’d argue that the narrative you share is what will actually create empathy, and eventually, a nuanced understanding of an issue.

Personal story is why the #MeToo movement was partly successful. For the first time that I know of, not only women, but also men were discussing definitions of sexual harassment. Is giving someone a compliment okay? Can I ask my coworker out on a date? If someone says, “yes” to sex, and then “no,” what should happen? I believe the only reason we were able to openly have conversation is because your favorite celebrity, your mother, or your friend shared a #MeToo story, and you offered a compassionate ear.

But personal stories are hard to share. 

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it seems we’ve collectively bought into a similar message: life should be lived in shame. Sometimes, we do it to one another. For example, anytime you suggest for someone not to openly share what happened to them, you’re encouraging them to live a secret life of shame. And so we keep things from one another, but to what end?

I guarantee you know at least one woman who has had an abortion, and I’d bet money that at least one person explicitly or implicitly told her to hide her story. Subsequently, women who’ve chosen abortion live with the following: shame for getting pregnant, shame for getting an abortion, shame for not choosing motherhood, or D: All of the above. 

Even those of us who lived in homes supportive of our choices still navigated a bickering country that saw women who had abortions as another type of human being, separate from society and meant to be shamed, shunned, and lectured. We were seen as people who committed shameful acts. We were called murderers. In our own ways, each of us wore handcrafted scarlet letters, even if the only one who saw that red “A” was us when we looked in the mirror. 

So I get it. Choices can create isolation, and sharing about them can feel as if you’ll be further ostracized from society. 

But stories are important. Shared narratives make something less of an anomaly. 

So, I was thinking…What if instead of scaring and shaming women, we actually provided them with our own sex stories: stories about contraception, stories about sexually transmitted infections, stories about sex without love, stories about sex with love, stories about pregnancy, stories about birth, stories about miscarriages, and stories about abortion. The stories about abortion would be encompassed in stories about sex, not as fear tactics or moral instruction, but as an option for what could occur, should you need it.

Personal abortion stories should’ve been a part of our sex conversations since 1973. Now, it seems major publications are seeking narratives as a reactive form of storytelling. The conservative, Republican Supreme Court has “gone rogue,” so we need abortion stories—NOW! 

Sheesh! Reactivity to issues seems like an immature and exhausting way to be in the world. 

Personal abortion stories should have been part of our lives over the past fifty years. Perhaps, if more women discussed the commonality of our experiences, then we’d be less likely to allow a court, men, or anyone else to take away our rights. But as long as we’re tucking our lives away in the crevices of our closets and acting as if we know not of what those other heathens speak of, well…we get where we are now. 

Please don’t mistake this for victim shaming. It just seems that at some point, we have to stop living in shame for fear of what others, especially those who look like us and may have had similar experiences may say. Maybe if we would’ve shared “personal abortion stories” sooner, we would have a different national narrative. 

Or maybe I’m living in la-la land, we’re all powerless, and Roe v. Wade was always going to be overturned. I’d like to think otherwise, though. I’m a writer, after all, and believing in the power of story is what gives me hope.


Writer’s Workshop: Voice

My first blog post was “Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother.” In it, I describe my observations of a friend’s mother, juxtapose her mother with how I felt about my own mother, and then explain how I hope my own daughters will see me as a mother—when they eventually begin to reflect.

Out of all the texts I received, I appreciated my journalist friend’s the most.

“Kathy, this is good,” she said. “You have what they call voice. In grad school, they used to always talk about how you should have voice in writing. You have it.”

In literature, “voice” refers to the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-find-your-writing-voice

Whenever I write, I want the reader to experience exactly what I was thinking or feeling.

But how do I do this?

Brace yourself.

I may tell you something that goes against what you’ve been told before:

I pretty much write how I talk and think. Even that last sentence is an example. I promise you a grammar program will tell you to remove “pretty much” because it’s unnecessary, but I left it in because that’s how I talk and think. If we were together, and you asked me how do I write? I’d say I pretty much write how I talk and think.

What is also helpful is my brain’s duality. I was raised in a family that valued so-called standard English, so I grew up learning the syntax appropriate for news personalities and job interviews. However, I was also raised on the west side of Chicago, which by all accounts is the hood. I quickly learned how to switch the verb “to be” around or to insert a cuss word so as not to be accused of talking like a White girl. I’m not special. Many Black people know how to codeswitch in this way.

What this means for my writing is I can create a sentence that appeals to White folks and Black people…or should I say Black folks and White people. You see how just interchanging those two words—folks and people—shifts meaning and tone?

I also want my writing to be accessible. I want to have a conversation with you. In order to do that, I have to write how I would talk if we were together having a latte, green tea, or Caipirinha. So, sometimes I stop, and address you directly. Maybe I’ll add a question, like what do ya’ll think to invite you into this conversation we’re having, while also throwing in the Southern dialect I’ve acquired from living in Florida for over two decades.

Most of my in-real-life friends who read my blog say, “Girl, I could hear you saying…” And that’s what I want.

To reiterate, if you’re concerned with developing voice in writing, then you have to determine what “vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax” you want to use and why. Only you know what that is.

And remember, voice, kind of like personality, cannot be imitated because it’s something only you possess. (Full disclosure: I sat here for five minutes flip-flopping between the word possess and own).


Do you worry about voice in writing? Does it matter?