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.
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?
A few weeks ago, three friends reached out to me to ask if I’d watched Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey yet. I love Christmas movies and didn’t even know it was a thing, so I was super excited to run home and watch it as soon as I could. Here are four things I liked about the movie.
The cast is Black. Representation in media is important. I came of age in the ‘80s. At the time, the only Christmas film I had that included people who looked me was The Wiz with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, and even that was an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. As I grew older, I enjoyed watching Christmas movies…a lot, but there still weren’t many that included an all-Black cast. As of today, there are about eleven, including some fan favs, like The Preacher’s Wife, The Best Man Holiday, and Almost Christmas. So, I’m quite pleased to add another all-Black Christmas movie to the list.
There is a dysfunctional father-daughter theme. Most of you know I’ve edited and contributed to a book called Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships, so I was super happy to see this movie normalizes that theme, while not blaming the father or the daughter for the dysfunction. There was one part, in particular, with which I could relate. The narrator says, “Jessica didn’t just lose one parent, she lost two.” That’s exactly how I felt when my mother died and I think this film did a great job of demonstrating how dysfunction occurs, without centralizing the issue or overexaggerating events.
Jeronicus Jangle is a Black male professor. I’m a professor who has worked fulltime at three different institutions. I have encountered two Black male professors in each department. I’ve also graduated from three different universities in three different cities and have studied under three Black male professors in the English and education field. There aren’t a lot of professors who fit the demographic. I’m not sure what the statistic is for math and science, which is what Jangle’s character was, but I’m willing to bet it’s low. Kind of like having an all-Black cast, this type of representation matters, too.
The songs are inspiring and uplifting. I’m glad no one told me Jingle Jangle was a musical, because I probably wouldn’t have watched it. I absolutely loathe musicals. There’s something about people breaking out into song and dance in the middle of a script that’s uber annoying. But, as I prepared to write this blog post, I re-watched the movie and really listened to the songs. Each one is very motivational. My favorite is sung by Journey (Madalen Mills), Jangle’s granddaughter; it’s called, “Square Root of Possible.” And the chorus is,
I mean, really. How much more inspiring can you get than this song???
Have you watched Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey? If so, let me know what you liked about it in the comments. If not, I suggest checking it out on Netflix. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s nice to have a new sunshiny movie to watch.
Sooo, I was scrolling along on Facebook and ran across a friend from grad school, Amanda. She and her husband, Josh have created a PODCAST to hash out how they’ve been handling the pandemic with their teenage daughter and three-year-old son.
I thought it was a creative and authentic way to show that we’re all figuring things out in our own way, and I understand the constant need to create during pandemic times, so I’m passing it along. It’s about 30 minutes. I hope you enjoy The Wilsons Do A Podcast During a Pandemic.
What have you been doing? Have you been more or less creative during these past weeks?
Usually when I think of privilege, I think of other people and their social freedoms. You know…white, male, etc. But this pandemic has forced me to consider my and my family’s own privilege.
When Desi’s school district first announced classes would be online and when Dwight found out he’d be working from home, he immediately went to Office Depot and purchased two things: a lap desk for our daughter and a range extender for the home because neither of us can afford to have slow internet.
When I received a parent survey asking about access, I had to take a good look at ourselves.
- cell phones (3)
- MacBooks (2)
- tablets (2)
- work laptop (1)
We have more than enough access.
When my job asked how quickly I could begin teaching online, the answer was simple…immediately. Eighty percent of my classes were already online and the one that wasn’t was previously set up for online learning because it’s hybrid.
As I listened to friends who live in New York and bloggers from the same area, I realize space is a privilege. Our home isn’t large, but we have separate rooms from which to work. Our spare bedroom is set up for me to grade or virtually meet privately with students. My teenage daughter is comfy logging on to Google Classroom from her bed. And Dwight has joked that the entire downstairs is his office. Even when I want to “get out,” I don’t have to leave the house. I can sit on our screened-in patio and eat meals and write.
That leads me to another privilege: location. We live in Florida. Unlike family members, who are in Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, I’ve been able to work out in my driveway, take bike rides, and practice yoga (on the patio). The weather’s been between the 70s and 90s. I don’t have cabin fever.
Though circumstances are sad, I’m grateful our daughter is a senior. I won’t have to worry about what the school district is doing in the fall. Stay online or don’t stay online, both of our daughters’ K-12 education is complete. I only halfway feel this way; online education for the nation is not a great idea for a host of reasons. But see how easy it is to slip into a self-centered perspective?
I’m thankful my husband and I have occupations we can still do from home and that I have a thriving business that’s kept me occupied with editing dissertations and independent novels throughout this pandemic. *We’re not worried about finances.
Initially, people were asking what’s changed or what have I learned from these times. And for a minute, my answer was nothing because I’d already adjusted my life according to what I’d determine is right for me.
As I think long and hard, my answer is still nothing. But a few ideas have been reinforced.
It’s always important to acknowledge our specific privileges and then consider life from others’ perspectives as a way to break out of our bubbles and gain diverse understandings. Some people are a little more worried than I am because they’ve had to figure out how to make life work, not make adjustments…literally learn how to do life. They’re waiting on their government-funded stimulus checks so they can eat and pay bills.
Others are a little more whimsical because their local news reports sound different and their government restrictions are few. For example, an IG follower in Brisbane posted a photo of herself getting a haircut…at a salon. Someone in California would probably shudder to think of committing what they would view as a socially irresponsible act right now.
Think about life from another person’s perspective. An alternate point of view may lead to a shift in empathy, thus opening a space for other things, like dialogue, grace, or service. And without sounding too preachy, I think it’s worth reminding that these traits are important not just now, but always.
*Oh, and about those finances…privilege has also allowed me to give more. Because I’m not driving anywhere, I’m saving on gas. Because we’re eating out less and spending fewer dollars on entertainment, I’ve watched my discretionary funds grow. With the money I’ve saved, I’ve been able to be of service to my alma maters and to a few family members, and for that I’m grateful.
In what ways are you privileged these days?
From June 18th to July 1st, I decided not to communicate with people I know (and love). With the exception of my husband, two daughters, and a siSTAR video I’d committed to, I was silent. This included my not responding to text messages, DMs, phone calls, emails, and social media.
First, I alerted everyone I could through social media so that people didn’t think I was ignoring them. In this social media age, people’s feelings are hurt quite quickly if they don’t hear instantly from you. This worked for the most part. For family, like Grannie, who are not on these platforms, I simply left a message on her answering machine asking her to please wait until July 1st to speak with me, unless of course, there is an emergency. For others like my father, who sent photos of his grandson’s kindergarten graduation, I replied with the photo you see here. And for my cousin who called with news of their newborn baby, I begged Dwight to call him back so I could listen, but not respond.
Why, you might be thinking?
I needed time, space, and silence to disengage so I could hear my inner thoughts.
Recently, my sister gifted me with a numerology reading. In our conversation, the reader said, “Everyone isn’t worthy of your time.” That is one of the most poignant statements I’ve heard in 2019, and it really made me pause. Aside from thoughts about friendships, I decided to use my fourteen days of silence to assess the many collaborations and projects with which I’m involved. Will I continue with Project A, B, and C? Are these projects aligned with my personal mission? Even if they are aligned, are they worth the time/energy investment to continue? To make these decisions, I needed time, space, and silence.
Also, I wanted to focus on how I would generate extra money for the remainder of the year. Contrary to public belief, many professors do not make a huge salary. Like other professions, it is contingent on lots of factors: discipline, rank, and institution. Being quiet allowed me to think deeply about how to attract money and from where.
Along with these fourteen silent days, I also decreased my sugar intake. This isn’t new to me. About four years ago, I did a 21-day detox that excluded all sugars. This time, I followed the recommendation that women have no more than 25 grams per day. Initially it was challenging, and I hovered around 24-50. But overall, it was a success. When I remove sugar, my brain becomes clearer; subsequently, my thoughts and dreams are also lucid. And combined with silence, it’s like a veil was removed, revealing the direction in which I needed to travel.
Although I wanted badly to celebrate the birth of my cousin’s baby, and although it took everything out of me not to respond to email plans for our DC reading or to text Bree to find out how she did at the Daughters’ Lives Matter event, or to comment on blog posts, it’s okay. It’s okay not to be at everyone’s beck and call in each moment. It’s okay to tell people you need a minute…away, just for yourself. In this instant communication society we’ve created, it’s okay to say, hold on wait a minute while I get myself together.
Trust me…their good and bad news will still be there for you to praise or lament. Their worlds will not crumble. And, you my friend, may feel more healthy and whole.
If you haven’t read Part I and II, then here’s a re-cap. I was a little hurt that none of my close friends had asked me how the latest book reading went.* As a result, I’d thought about it and concluded the following:
- I should be grateful for those who showed support in the moment and
- I shouldn’t be concerned with affairs of the ego.
My third conclusion is simple: Everyone is not a friend to me.
While it’s an easy lesson, it’s been a lifelong challenge to discern. As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m a friend to everyone. I treat people similarly. I don’t have hierarchies of distinction. For example, the friend I’ve known for twenty years will receive the same friendship and loyalty as the friend of twenty days. I’m cool with that. However, what I’ve had to learn, even in my late 40s, is that everyone is not a friend to me.
This was brought to my attention by my goddaughter and husband, with whom I had dinner after the book reading. My goddaughter suggested that some see me as some sort of grand persona, and because of that, folks I call friend might not realize I have the same needs as a ‘regular’ person, thus never creating a friendship. My hubby asked me to think about a specific friend. Why are you friends? Has she ever asked about what you’re doing? The answer was no, not really.
During my fourteen days of silence, I thought about this further, but on a grander scale. I call it a friendventory. (Do you like that word?) With my friendventory, I thought about all the people who I consider close. I asked myself two questions: (1) why are we friends and (2) how is the relationship symbiotic? I’m not going to use this space, time, or energy to name anyone specific, but I did develop three categories.
#1: We are friends because they need/needed help. I’ve developed quite a few relationships this way. People tend to come to me for advice because they think I know something. It doesn’t matter how many times I say you know what to do to put the onus of their lives back on them, they still ask. Likewise, because I like to talk, some sort of relationship tends to blossom. However, these people rarely ask about the happenings of my life.
#2: We are friends because we have common interests or like to be around each other. That’s it, right? That’s what friends are essentially. Whether we met at school or a job, there are several people I can pick back up with as if no time has passed. We have lengthy conversations about mutually agreed upon topics. Neither of us must explain what the other means; we nod in agreement at most things, and when there’s a disagreement, it’s not an issue. The relationship is comfortable and unforced. These people are my friends.
#3: We were only associates, not friends. Although it may feel like it in the moment, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that for some people, the relationship never left the associate category. We may have met via some joint venture (e.g., work, school, writing), and we might even have pleasantries, which result in being friendly, but we are not friends. Ego and judgment aside, people in this category have shown me that they are not interested in being a part of my life or in developing a relationship. I would provide examples, but somehow, I think you all get the point.
*Since writing this but before publishing it, someone I consider a friend did text me and ask about the reading 🙂