Monday Notes: Semi-Finalist

Guess what? Remember My Mental Health Matters series from last year? Well, I entered it into the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palms Literary Awards blogging category, and it’s made it to semi-finalist status!

Crossed fingers that I’ll make it past this point.

Here are the articles that are up for review:

No matter the outcome, I want to take this moment to personally thank all of you for continuing to rock with me on this blog. It brings me joy.

Monday Notes: On Aging (The Gray Area)

In the United States, there seem to be two choices: you’re either young, or you’re old.

That’s it.

When you’re young, you’re hella attractive. You have lots of energy and the latitude to make so-called “silly” choices—in music, in relationship, and in the overall living of life.

When you’re old, you’re hella unattractive. If you’re “brave,” you let your gray hairs grow wild and speak your mind like a toddler, but more often than not, the elderly are depicted as being crazy and forgetful pains that society either tolerates or ignores.

Well, what about people like myself, who are middle age? Where do we fit?

Kind of like my generation (X), I noticed we don’t fit anywhere.

On the one hand, I blame pop cultural and preformed societal views. We’re too old for skinny jeans, but not old enough for a Mumu. Too old for the club, but not old enough for the senior center. Too old to “start over,” but not old enough to retire.

On the other hand, friends and family tend to limit us. For example, if I decided to do a TikTok video for the Touch Down 2 Cause Hell challenge, eyebrows would raise. In fact, I’ve had people question why I even watch and know about these social-media challenges. I’ve never asked, but I surmise they think I’m “too old” to be aware. Based on the wide-ranging TikTok video demographics, I know this isn’t true. Anyone can lip sync and dance. But I do think there’s a reason why we’re so impressed when an over-fifty person twerks on beat. It’s seen as an anomaly.

Because I like to play contemporary rap music in my Jeep as loud as possible, my sister once called me a twenty-year-old forty-six-year-old. Maybe I should be like the phlebotomist I met who blasted the smooth crooning of Anita Baker’s love songs, or perhaps, I can mirror one of my favorite bloggers and deem only R&B from the seventies and eighties as respectable. Just kidding. I’m good with the music I prefer; however, I think others believe I’m “too old” to be listening to what I do…how I do.

If that isn’t enough, I have a thirty-something friend who has referred to one of her forty-year-old friends as “old and crusty.” She’s also admitted that she fears growing older and putting on a few pounds, possibly looking different than she currently does. There’s the other friend who has described her daughter as “cute and young,” while grumbling about how said daughter isn’t “like us…old” (and I assume not cute). And finally, there’s the friend who recently left me a birthday message deeming both of us as now “old,” because we’re approaching fifty.

It makes me tired. I’ve never spent so much time announcing that I’m not old or emphasizing that I’m getting oldER.

<insert big ole sigh and eye roll>

Let me leave you with this final story: A few years ago, one my cousins partied with me in New Orleans. He’s the type of person who stays on the dancefloor until the club closes, and this night was no different. He took up so much space with his moves that party-goers started screaming, “Go Old School! Go Old School! Go Old School!” in unison. It was like a scene out of a movie. He be-bopped around, sweat pouring down his face, shirt drenched. Then, he did it all again the next night.

Why can’t we acknowledge the gray area and let people live their best middle-age lives, whether it fits our societal norms or not?

I’ve frequently thought about that night. Aging is something we’re all doing, every moment, but proclaiming to be old is quite another thing.

I’ve wondered why my cousin couldn’t dance his heart out without being labeled “Old School?” Why couldn’t he just be a human being having fun in life?

More importantly, why can’t we recognize there are more than two types of people? Pun intended—why can’t we acknowledge the gray area and let people live their best middle-aged lives, whether it fits our societal norms or not?

Let me know what you think.


Here are some other articles from bloggers who discuss aging:


Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Rethink your Rhetoric (Part VI)

A vacation can be however long you want it to be. But not everyone knows this. I know because of the feedback I received from friends and family when they found out we’d be gone for eight weeks.

Friend A: Are you going to get a job there?

Me: Ummm I have a job already.


Friend B: How will I talk to you?

Me: Ummm the same way we’ve been talking. Zoom, Google Duo, FaceTime?


In-Law: Don’t work too hard over there!

Me: I gotta work so I can pay for this trip lol

In-Law: Yeah, right. Don’t even try it.

Me: 😬 ha-ha


Friend C: What are you doing over there?

Me: Working.

Friend C: Doing what?

Me: 🧐 My job.

This trip and others’ responses to it reminded me of a term I came up with a few years ago: #RethinkYourRhetoric. It was a way to remind myself and others to think outside of our societal and self-imposed boxes.

Many people I talked to have one idea of what a vacation is. It’s 3-8 days. You save your money, leave, and return (sometimes tired).

But that’s not the only way you can see another place, especially in times when most companies are fine with remote working and while millennials seem to be paving the way as digital nomads.

Depending on your position and job’s expectations, you can work from anywhere, which means the world is literally your oyster.

This type of travel also allows for the following:

  • Working. Dwight and I worked just like we would in the States—Monday through Friday. In fact, I’d argue I worked a little more because I shaved off two hours by not working out religiously and watched very little TV. My workday began around seven in the morning and ended at varied times in the evening, depending on if we had to cook or shop.
  • Relaxing. Unlike traditional vacays where you’re running around trying to see all of the things in a set amount of time, extended travel helps you to view surroundings in a relaxed frame of mind. Every weekend, Dwight and I took a road trip to another part of the country and returned back to our Airbnb refreshed and ready to work at our jobs.
  • Immersing. A longer period also means you can immerse yourself in the culture. Meaning, you can practice and improve upon speaking the language and also learn and live the country’s customs. There’s nothing like learning Costa Rica doesn’t use plastic bags for shopping, while translating the cashier’s words and angry tone after you’ve bought a bunch of stuff and don’t know how you’ll get it home.

I never advocate for someone doing what I’ve done. That’s not what life’s all about. However, I will always encourage others to rethink their rhetoric. Most of what society teaches is to keep you in a bubble, and once you’ve mastered those lessons, you’ll keep yourself coloring in the lines.

See what happens if you think about something a different way. See what happens when you rethink your rhetoric.


Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Freedom (Part IV)

Dictionary.com defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Here are a few truths about me:

I am probably the most liberal person you know, politically and non-politically. In general, I believe everyone should do what they want to do. I don’t believe in being reckless, per se, but even if someone decides to be, then I think even that’s their right. My screensaver says, “You do you. I’ll do me.” This is my mantra.

I don’t believe in having “bosses.” I have a couple of friends who call the person directly over me my “boss.” That’s not odd, I suppose. Most people do. But I always reject the term. In my mind, when I work somewhere, I’m in collaboration. You’re probably over me because you or someone else decided you were the best, most efficient person to organize and disseminate information (this is usually the educational hierarchy). We work together, and I have the freedom to agree to do something or decline doing something, with the onus of consequence on me. This is how I’ve operated at my last four jobs.

I am married to a man who doesn’t ask a lot of questions about my whereabouts. If I leave the house and say, “I’ll be back in four hours,” he doesn’t call me every sixty minutes asking me questions…about anything. When I left last year to visit Panama City Beach by myself, we verbally checked in once a day. I could never be with someone who required more; it would seem a bit naggy to me.

In my non-romantic relationships (e.g., family and friends) I function in similar ways. If you want me to call you every day, I’m not the friend for you. If you want me to reach out every Sunday at 2pm just so you can hear my voice, I’m not the right family member for you. I text when I’m thinking about you (sometimes), and if you cannot text, like my ninety-something-year-old grandmother, then I call…like once a month.

Back to living in Central America…

I outlined reasons we left the country, but I also knew I needed to leave for a change of scenery. Dwight chose the perfect Costa Rican Airbnb in the mountains. I’m more of a beach and metropolitan person, but it was refreshing to wake up, cook food, and sleep surrounded by mountains. And although Panamá City is a metropolis that is a lot like other major cities in the States, it’s not North America. It’s like living in a history lesson with people who are stuck in a colonial time capsule.

I needed to see other people and what they were doing. It was interesting to watch how Costa Ricans got to and from work every day. People rode horses; some walked; others biked; many drove motorcycles. It was cool joining the Ticos’ rhythm and abandoning my own. Though hearing roosters at six in the morning was annoying, I grew used to it. It became a part of my surroundings.

I needed to speak with people different than myself. From first through eleventh grades, I learned Spanish. I didn’t think I was as fluent as I am. It turns out that children who learn a language early on store it together with their native language. I’m not saying I can hold a quick-paced conversation with a Panamanian, but I can certainly understand what the Uber driver is saying, who by the way rated my Spanish as “que bien.” It was fun for me to recall words I thought I’d forgotten, but apparently are stuck in my brain somewhere. Speaking with people in another language challenged me in ways it wouldn’t have at home.

Some people are born to be quiet to demonstrate the value of silence; others are meant to be painters as a way to help us see the world differently. I was born with a natural sense of freedom that requires a certain lifestyle, and I think the result is I get to show people how to be free. This trip has reinforced who I know myself to be.



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Patience (Part III)

I’m writing this as we’re headed to Puerto Viejo. We are stuck on the side of a mountain because, according to Waze, something is obstructing the road. We don’t know what or (God-forbid) who it is, but we are forced to sit here.

And I am forced to be patient.

Even though I’m on Claro, Costa Rica’s network, my phone flashes a big E…no signal. I can’t even spend my time mindlessly scrolling social media, something I would’ve done if I were stuck in traffic at home.

As I sit here, I’m wondering if I had to leave the country to learn specific lessons. This is only Day 3 of our trip, but I’ve had to be patient since we first began this journey. On April 12th, our Jet Blue flight was cancelled, and we had to quickly find a new one on United. This required a ton of patience, especially because our flight was scheduled for 6:30a, and I received the alert at 3a.

When we ordered breakfast sandwiches at the airport Starbucks, our eggs were frozen; I had to take them back…twice. Typically, I would’ve gone off on each one of the baristas, but I didn’t. Whether it was the ashwagandha in my new probiotic that kept me calm or the meditation I’d been doing, either way, I exhibited patience.

In both situations, there was little I could do. If we couldn’t find a flight, we would’ve waited until we did. At Starbucks, I couldn’t jump over the counter and make my own breakfast sandwich. Well, I guess I could’ve, but then you would be reading a different kind of post.

I suppose you don’t have to leave the country, but sometimes you do have to engage in different experiences to level up certain skills. For patience, I think you must be put in situations where there are little to no alternatives.

In front of us, there’s a man transporting three kid-sized mattresses on top of his Toyota. He’s gotten out of his car no less than three times—once to remove the side ties holding the mattresses, another to ask the trucker in front of him what’s happened, and another to walk a few cars ahead to see the “obstruction.” Eventually, he stopped getting in and out his car, and instead, illegally drove in the other lane to be ahead of everyone, where he was still stuck.

He is not patient. And I imagine, if I was in my home country, I wouldn’t be either.

But today that doesn’t matter. I’m here. I’m waiting. I’m forced to be patient. I hope to maintain this lesson when I return home. We don’t need distractions. We need patience.

postscript

I could’ve named this article law of allowing, silence, or whatever else. My larger point is that sometimes, we need to leave our comfort zones to learn specific characteristics. For example, when my father died, I developed a deeper level of compassion that had been, up until that point, challenging for me to feel. I couldn’t have learned compassion by simply sitting at home, reading about it, and trying it out with family and friends. I had to be thrust into a situation that required it.

Written 4/16/21 (We’re home now).



Monday Notes: Empathy

Tupac had a song called “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” I remember when I first heard it. I was alone in my dorm room.

It starts like this:

I hear Brenda’s got a baby

But Brenda’s barely got a brain

A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name.

I don’t know if it was the soulful harmony that preceded these words or the actual rap, but I was captivated.

The song goes on to describe how she didn’t know her parents. One of them was a drug addict. But here’s the kicker. Her cousin became her boyfriend and she ended up pregnant! And guess what? Brenda was twelve.

I remember being glued to the black and white video. Tears streamed down my face and I hadn’t even gotten to the worse part. Brenda had her baby, threw it in the trash, and then became a prostitute.

What in the entire…

Anywho, it was too much. And I remember it all. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried as if I knew Brenda personally. Even though I didn’t know anyone remotely close to a “Brenda,” I remember feeling the pain of being a twelve-year-old, who was pregnant with her cousin’s baby. And then I felt the pain of being a baby thrown away in the trash.

That’s how I’ve been my whole life.

Some may say I’m an empath. I’ve never claimed it. But I do admit to being empathetic. It comes naturally.

It doesn’t matter if I know your backstory or not, I have the ability to listen to what you’ve told me, recognize, understand and share your thoughts and feelings.

My problem, until recently, has been realizing that not everyone has this ability, which coupled with my (sometimes) judgmental nature, caused problems.

For example, when my father died, my cousins wanted my stepmother to pick them up from the train station. It was remarkable to me that they would ask a recent widow to do something more equipped for a Lyft driver. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why they couldn’t put themselves in a grieving woman’s place and sense she may be a bit too sad to function normally.

I recognized it again when my goddaughter brought her godson, Mark to our house a couple years ago. We were decorating Christmas trees.

Mark bounced around helping each person with their ornaments. He danced when we turned on some music, and when we watched Frozen, he belted out a song as if he was Anna herself.

But when it was time to go, he shriveled up like a roly-poly pill bug and sulked around the house until it was time to go.

And I felt his sullenness.

Without my goddaughter telling me parts of his homelife, I sensed that wherever he was going, there was no joy. For some reason, he was crying on the inside. He was more than just disappointed because he’d had a good time at our home. His sadness held an untold story.

“I feel sorry for him,” I said out loud.

“You always feeling sorry for someone,” a friend of mine replied.

I couldn’t understand how she or any other adult who witnessed the same Mark I just did, didn’t feel similar. Aside from my goddaughter, why didn’t anyone else feel his sorrow?

But now I get it…kind of.

For some people, empathy is a learned behavior that can be developed by reading fiction or purposely practicing how to walk in others’ shoes. It’s a skill, like active listening.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this information, though. On the one hand, I understand we can’t all go around crying over music videos and lyrics. On the other hand, I do wish people were more empathetic. It seems more empathy might create better families and communities…somehow.

So, I’ll end with the above thought and let you decide. Will empathy weaken or strengthen us?