Remembering anything is possible has been one of my goals since 2017. It’s the first sentence on my list of goals that sits on the right side of my bathroom mirror. I remind myself of this because it keeps me not grounded. It reminds me of life’s possibilities.
Recently this statement was reinforced. One of my colleagues contacted me and asked if I would be the keynote speaker for a session at our national literacy conference. Their original speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson. Laurie…flipping Halse Anderson! If you don’t know who she is, then click here. She had a scheduling conflict and had to bow out. Because my colleague knew that three other women and I have an edited anthology coming out October 2020, he thought showcasing our work would be a good fit.
I had zero hesitation. I knew I could deliver the keynote because my co-editors and I have a strong message about marginalization in sports media and a desire to highlight how we talk about or don’t talk about issues of diversity and representation. Think Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and the most obvious, Colin Kaepernick. But I digress.
My point is never in a million years would I have thought I’d be replacing Anderson or giving a speech about this topic in November 2019. But anything is possible. All you have to do is be open to the anything and maintain alignment with what you value.
If you have 14 minutes to spare, here’s what I had to say:
“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.
Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.
Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.
Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.
And finally, there’s me.
This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.
After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.
“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.
I revealed that I had a story in this book during the pre-release stage. I’ve also written 3 Ways to Avoid being an Unhappy Wife, where I describe my struggles with marriage. I wrote my own story somewhere in between the third and fourth wife’s interview. It didn’t seem authentic of me to ask women to trust me to re-tell a story about their lives if I wasn’t going to do the same. The difference was that I wasn’t trying to hide many details. What you read is pretty much how things happened.
I knew I was a detached wife way before I created the section. Some of this blog’s content has shown how I became a detached human being. Adoption, my adopted mother’s death, and my adopted father giving up parental rights all shaped me to be the type of wife I was to Dwight.
When the slightest things changed in our relationship, I detached. Sometimes that leaves an opening for infidelity.
Concept and Commentary: Before I found myself in this situation, I thought emotional affairs were the most ludicrous thing I’d heard of. I remember watching an episode of In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman, where the husband was confiding a lot in a female co-worker. It seemed so silly and harmless to me, until I found myself in a similar situation.
What I wanted to show in my firsthand account was how quick and easy it is to slip into a barrage of texts or instant messages that mirror infidelity, especially nowadays. The advent of Smartphones, tablets and apps have made it easier than ever to create communication outside of your marriage to fulfill whatever needs your spouse won’t. It produces an even deeper illusion than a “traditional” affair because there is usually little physical contact. You can portray whoever you want to the person on the other side of the screen.
The other concept I wanted to show is the idea of consciousness. On page 42, I wrote, “What was happening? Why was this happening? How did I allow this to happen?” Of course when I re-tell the story, it’s obvious how it happened. I was attracted to the guy and then used our text messages as an escape. Duh. But at the time, I was really baffled.
That’s when I learned this: Things don’t just happen to us. We are constantly co-creating, whether we believe it, or not. This situation pushed me to pay more attention to the life I wanted to create and the person I wanted to be. I had to be attentive to not only the energy I was putting out, but also the words and actions associated with that energy. I became more mindful about who I wanted to be so that everything was aligned.
Still haven’t ordered and read your copy? Order here.
I’m glad I fell in love in my youth.
I’m glad I fell in love when I was younger because I was not as conscious of all of the things I wanted and needed. All I knew is that this guy is a cool dude. He likes hanging out, having a drink or two, or four and walking in the rain. He was about to graduate with an accounting degree and wanted to work on a cruise ship.
I thought that was brave. I mean who finishes undergrad and then aspires to work on a cruise ship?
I didn’t have the list that so many of my friends over 25, 35, 45 seem to currently have. I didn’t even have the list that has accumulated after two decades of marriage.
I wasn’t thinking about if he saved money or if he had a 401k. He made about 27k at first, and he spent most of his money. I wasn’t consciously thinking about how or if he would love our future kids. We eventually had two daughters; he avidly watches superhero films with one and advises the other about the importance of self-respect. I wasn’t worried about if he would clean the house or take my car to the shop. He ended up being obsessive about cleaning, at first, and he rarely serviced any of my cars. I wasn’t concerned about if he’d support my future goals. He does. Always.
He played tennis and I barely ran across the street even if I saw a car coming. He only ate rice for lunch and dinner, while I devoured several servings of any and everything in front of him. One of our first dates was to Red Lobster. Because he didn’t have enough money, he let me eat what I wanted while he ate salad and cheddar biscuits. I didn’t condemn him for not having money, cause he was 23. Plus, I didn’t have any money either.
I didn’t follow a 90-day rule.
I didn’t care if he believed in God, was a Christian or an atheist. Our philosophies about a higher power developed and intertwined like violet Wisteria on a white trellis. Most days we would just be. We would talk about hypothetical situations and what-ifs grew to be realities.
I didn’t read a bunch of magazines (or blogs) about how to get a man, how to keep a man, how to stop your man from cheating.
I’m glad I fell in love in my youth because I had the time and space to follow my intuition and my heart each step of the way.
And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 22 years of our marriage.
One of the best decisions I’ve made this year is to turn off my notifications. This has been life changing for me. Warning: What follows is not satire.
I first had the idea to turn off my notifications when I began preparing for the new academic year. You see, every year on August 1st, I spend between six and eight hours creating new videos, revising my syllabi, and updating documents. Usually, I place my phone face down on the desk, set my timer, work for an hour, and then check social media on a break.
But this year, I’d read that even if you place your phone face down, then it’s still a distraction. It’s better if it’s completely out of sight (full article here). I wasn’t willing to leave my phone in another room, even if the other room was in my house, but it did occur to me that I could silence it a bit more.
That’s when I turned off all of my social media and email notifications.
The brain is a funny thing. When I took my break, I looked at my phone as usual, but not seeing the little red dots made me not want to click on any of the icons. Don’t laugh. I’m being pretty transparent here. I couldn’t believe I had been a slave to those dots and associated numbers all…these…years!
The week that I turned off my notifications brought on a new sense of focus and discipline. Although my new routine only lasted seven days, it did shift the way I use my phone when I’m supposed to be working. I still post primarily in the morning, but during the remainder of the day (if I’m busy), I check social media less frequently. Instead of popping in every hour, I typically wait until the end of the day to read, scroll, and comment on any and everything.
I was so excited I thought I’d share this with the social media community and my youngest daughter. Her response? Uh, yeah. Your notifications go off like every two seconds so I’m sure that would be helpful.
Teenagers. I’m hoping you all won’t be as dismissive.
Let me know how you function with your devices. For example, Kat, over at Maybe Mindful participates in #SocialMediaFreeSunday, which might be more do-able because it’s only a 24-hour period. How about you? Are you a slave to those red dots like I used to be? Do you take breaks?
When I was twenty-two years old, my Grannie called me fat. We were discussing clothes, maybe my bra size or upcoming wedding dress size or something like that. And that’s when she said it.
“You’re supposed to wait until you’re married and have kids to get fat. You’re not supposed to be fat before you even get married.”
I was 125 pounds and a size six.
I probably met her criticisms and judgments with silence as usual. But let’s be clear. I cared about what she said. She was my Grannie and as far as I knew, she’d experienced more than I had about how women were supposed to look and act.
After that day I obsessed about my weight. I read up on how to lose pounds.
One popular way in the 90s was to count calories. So, I counted. I ate no more than 1200 calories per day. That meant I usually had a baked potato or salad for lunch.
Five times a week, I popped in a Donna Richardson tape and sweated to old Motown hits in Dwight’s apartment. By the time, our wedding date rolled around, I was an abnormal 100 pounds and wore a size one. Even in my youth, I’d never been so small.
On our honeymoon, I ate all the tacos and drank all the Margaritas. Subconsciously, I was married, and according to Grannie had a license to get fat. I returned to a size considered normal for me.
Years later, both of our daughters visited Dwight’s parents, whom they affectionately call nana and papa.
Although I’d already been briefed about the trip’s happenings, I asked the obligatory question anyway, “How was your visit?”
Desi spoke up. “It was okay, but Nana just kept calling Kesi fat.”
It was true. She’d ridiculed Kesi’s nine-year-old frame the entire two weeks and actually used the word, fat. Though she never said a word about the incident, weeks after Kesi returned home, she ate less. I could tell she was affected.
Consequently, I sprung into “save my daughter” mode and insisted on having a conversation with Nana. But as I reflect, I’m not entirely sure if I was protecting my daughter, or if I was just triggered. Was my twenty-two year-old self projecting my own past hurts onto the situation? Was I speaking to Kesi’s Nana or saying what I wished I could have to my own grandmother a decade prior?
My point for sharing this is twofold. First of all, I think we ought to do better about how we speak to and about our daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, and goddaughters. Whether they admit it or not, they look up to us as ways to be in the world. Because of that situation, I rarely comment on others’ weight gain, especially not my own daughters’.
Secondly, the more I try to be conscious about how I interact in the world, the harder I believe it is. While I do subscribe to everyone being him or herself, it also seems to be worthwhile to try as much as possible to first be aware of our insecurities and pasts, and then try as much as possible not to project those onto someone else.
I’d love to hear what you think.
Today’s answer comes from Jay Thomas, Dating and Relationship Strategist.
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!”
I 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.
Similarly, 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.