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?

Monday Notes: 4 Things I Liked About Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

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,

It’s so possible
Watch me rise high above my obstacles
Watch me become who I’m supposed to be
Oh, the possibilities
‘Cause the squarе root of impossible
Is possible
In me
In mе

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.

Corona Chronicles: Creativity

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?

~kg

4/14/20

Here’s the FB link.

Corona Chronicles: Privilege

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.

photo of woman looking on computer
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

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.

woman in gray sweater using laptop beside glass window
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

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.

perspective_kegarlandIt’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?

4/9/20

~kg