Monday Notes: Nine Days

I recently watched a film called Nine Days. Basically, a reclusive man conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born. A large part of the process requires the souls to watch human beings live their lives via televisions screens. At one point, Will, the recluse who leads this process, asks the souls what moment stood out to them, and that’s what got me thinking.

The film is clearly about recognizing life’s value. One way to do that is to stop and enjoy the moment in the moment, kind of like mindfulness. Even the souls who “lost,” and weren’t offered an opportunity to live, were still offered an opportunity to have Will recreate a moment prior to disappearing into oblivion.

Life is a gift, and the moments of our lives should be cherished.

That’s part of the film’s message.

But it seems like it would take a lot to live in 100% appreciation of one’s life. When my daughters were six and four, for example, I couldn’t imagine stopping to enjoy or appreciate moments. Many times, I hoped all of us would make it through the day without incident. Sure, I appreciated major events, like the time my grandmother and her sister babysat, so Dwight and I could take a group of high school students to England. But what about “small” everyday moments? I don’t even remember those.

In the movie, one soul’s last moment was a recreation of standing in the sand, on the beach, while the waves crashed…in silence. I’ve been to dozens of beaches, and I was grateful for each visit, but going to the beach is like brushing my teeth. How can we stop ourselves from taking moments for granted?

Can we really learn to live in and enjoy each moment without distraction?

When I say distraction, I don’t just mean a technological device. Sometimes, the thoughts in my head are distractions when I’m supposed to be listening to a friend. I’m sure you have your own to choose from. My question is can you pause your distraction, while you fully engage in and appreciate a moment that matters to you, a matter you intentionally created in the first place?

Since watching this movie, I’ve begun reflecting on special moments from my day. This is different than journaling about gratitude. Instead, I simply think about the whole day, as if I’m one of those souls watching myself. What would I value from this day if I weren’t alive? What would I wish for if I didn’t have a body? Then, I choose a couple of moments that were important. This seems like a legitimate way to honor your own life.

What moment would you choose?

What if you were a soul looking at human beings living life? What moment would look meaningful to you? Eating a delicious meal? Hugging another body? Or what if you were the soul who didn’t “win” a life? What moment would you want to experience right before you disappeared into nothingness? Laughing with friends? Creating art? Whatever you chose, do you value those moments now? Are you fully immersed?

I’m sure many of us, at some point, live life by rote memory as if none of it is special. Yesterday could’ve been today, which could be tomorrow, especially since COVID hit. However, Nine Days really helped me conceptualize what enjoying a moment is, and I think it’s something many of us need right now. There seem to be two ways: either get in there and enjoy the moment’s imagery (smell, touch, etc.) or reflect on a moment that was important for you that day. Either way, I know this has helped me live with deeper appreciation of the life I have, and I hope it helps you, too.



Monday Notes: Award-Winning Blog

A lot of times, I do things based on how I feel in the moment. I attribute this to a strong sense of intuition.

This year, my gut led me to judge the Florida Writers Association’s (FWA’s) Royal Palms Literary Awards (RPLA). I had done it before, but it was a long time ago. I felt it was time for some writerly service.

When I read the guidelines, I saw there was a new category: blogging. “What?” I thought. “I have a blog. Will this be a conflict of interest?” I decided it wouldn’t be. FWA is hella professional; they use rubrics and very careful directions, so I made a firm decision to go for it.

When I read that entries could be singular or a series, again, I was a bit excited. “I’ve done many series,” I thought. But which would be appropriate?

It was between Corona Chronicles and Mental Health Matters. I based my decision on stats. Both series were released during 2020, but Mental Health Matters was pretty successful in terms of readership.

Entries were limited by word count, so I had to decide which part of the series I’d submit. Again, I based it on stats, not on which ones I personally liked. According to WordPress, the following were hits:

So, I got all of my materials together and emailed them.

Months later, I was quite surprised to learn I was a semi-finalist.

Then, over the weekend, during the virtual ceremony, I was again surprised to learn I’d actually won. FWA awarded me first place in the blogging category!

But guess what? I wasn’t as excited as I was the first time I won a writing award, and here’s why:

  • I’m a different person. I’ve learned not to rely on awards to make me feel good about myself. Sure, I’m happy, but I’m not ecstatic. The first time I won was 2016, and I was still developing my identity outside of external rewards, so it was still exciting because I was associating it with my self-worth. Today, I know awards and compliments are not connected to how great of a person I am.
  • Awards mean something in the writer community. This second award gives me credence in the writer world. I can add this to my CV when publishers ask for it. I can include it in my bio. It means something because other people believe it means something. I get that and use it accordingly.
  • Comments on my blog are the real reward. And they are no match for any award. The other day, I legit teared up at a blogger’s words because it was so authentic. This has happened before. Anytime someone tells me they understand what I’ve said, or a story resonates with their experience, or I’ve helped them feel heard and less alone, I feel a sense of purpose and deep satisfaction. That’s something a state award can’t give me.

So, yes. I’m appreciative and proud of myself for having won another award for writing, specifically for something I literally do for free just for authenticity and connection. However, I do know that it is not the end-all be-all for my talent. What truly matters is how I’m impacting the world with my words. And for that I’m truly grateful.



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).