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.



Monday Notes: UPDATES!

I’m one of those people who busies herself with all of the things when faced with adversity. So, while some people were in a worried frenzy last year, I was sitting at my laptop writing my life away. This is probably a form of escapism, but I don’t wanna get into that today. Instead, I want to update you on what my creativity yielded thus far:

Stories of Sport: I’ve already told you about this one, but I have to share again. During the beginning of 2020, I’m not ashamed to say I pushed my colleagues to complete a monograph. I’m not the kind of person who puts off projects or abandons them. If I say I’m doing something, then you can believe that it will manifest in some way. And if you said you’re helping, then I’m going to be on your tail, like “Let’s go!” It didn’t matter if we were facing a collective unknown, and it didn’t matter that there were global protests in the streets. I’m glad we persevered. We’ve received nothing short of high praise for a timely publication, and I’m pretty proud of it. My institution even ordered a copy for the library, which is now on hold because people are wanting to read it, something I never considered.

Tough Love: March 2021, one of my essays, “Tough Love” was curated with an organization called the Lungs Project. A close friend sent me their call for essays focused on all things love. At first, I wasn’t going to submit because I didn’t want to write about something sappy. I never do. But then, I had an idea to write about my grandmother and the way she interacted with me during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Maybe you’ve heard of the phrase tough love? If not, it’s associated with raising someone in an abrasive way to toughen them up. Unfortunately, this was published and offered during a limited time, but as soon as I read what my author’s rights are, I’ll share it here if I can.

There’s Strength in Softness: Mid-May 2021, Raising Mothers published one of my essays called, “There’s Strength in Softness.” I wrote this last year, too, but I had nowhere to publish it. This is a frequent happening in my life. I’m compelled to write something, so I do, and then months (sometimes years) later, there’s a call and I’m ready with an essay. Anywho, when I saw Raising Mothers’ theme on tenderness, I knew I had the perfect writeup. This one is based how generational patterns persist.

But here’s the cool part: while I was preparing Strength for submission, I was a bit stuck as to how to end it. One day while practicing yoga, the instructor said something she always says, “Sthira-Sukha,” which means there’s strength in softness. That’s where the title came from and also how I knew this essay was destined to be public. This pub is one of my favs to date because during the process, the editor really pushed me to dig a little deeper and use narrative nonfiction to tell a story, as opposed to using the blogging skills with which I’ve become accustom. I worked hard for this one.

Good Enough: June 1, 2021, another Chicken Soup for the Soul (CSS) series I’m Speaking Now: Black Women Share their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage and Hope will be available for purchase. In it, you’ll find an essay I’ve written called “Good Enough.” My story is about being an Affirmative Action hired prof who worked alongside an arrogant, white male, who didn’t know how to do his job. It may sound familiar because parts of it were first written on this blog. The beauty of CSS is that they don’t care if you published the work somewhere else; they’ll still publish it…and pay you. The other cool thing about this publication is they did a book trailer. And to my surprise, guess whose chapter is featured twice? Here it is, in case you’re interested:



That’s it for my updates! Let me know if you purchase a book or read any of these works.

Writer’s Workshop: Introductions

Introductions are important. Just think about your favorite song. Whether it’s the way the first note comes in or it’s the way an artist says the first word, the introduction to a song determines if you’ll continue listening or fast forward to something else.

Writing is no different.

A good first line or paragraph lets me know if I’ll be reading more of what the author has to say.

Let’s look at this intro to My Dead Parents:

My mother, Anita, died in her sleep in 2010, when she was sixty-four and I was thirty-two. The official cause of death was heart failure, but what she really died from was unabashed alcoholism, the kind where you drink whatever you can get your hands on, use your bed as a toilet when you can’t make it to the bathroom, and cause so much brain damage you lose the ability to walk unsupported. The case of her death was herself, and her many problems. (Anya Yurchyshyn)

As someone who spends a lot of time reading and studying the writer’s craft, I loved this introduction. As soon as I read these eighty-four words, I thought man, if this is how the story begins, then I can’t wait to read the rest of this book!

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Therefore, I focus for several minutes (sometimes days) on how I will begin any piece of writing. Let’s take “Monday Notes: Seeking Perfection” as an example. Because this was a blog post, I knew I couldn’t waste time getting folks engaged. Initially, I wrote this:

I awoke in a Northwestern Memorial Hospital bed with two women staring at me, one was the nurse and the other, my mother. They told me I’d been hit by a car.

This wasn’t the most engaging introduction for a few reasons:

  1. Readers need to know why I was in the hospital sooner.
  2. Narrative is important. People prefer stories, even if they’re brief. So, I opted for an anecdote.
  3. Beginning in medias res (in the middle of things) is a strategy, but I’d begun too far in the middle. I needed to pull it back to provide a bit of context.

Ultimately, the introduction became this:

I was hit by a car when I was fourteen years old. It was a Saturday. Because my father was the youth pastor, we were going to church to pick up teens for an activity. When we arrived, my then best friend stood across the street in front of the building. She yelled out my name, and without a second thought, I darted into traffic.

This first sentence may be a bit of a shocker. Most people (friends, family, or bloggers) don’t know I was hit by a car. So, I’d argue that a reader would want to read more about this. The next few sentences rewind the story a bit so that you can understand how I was hit in the first place. Then, the remainder of the blog delves deeper into the actual topic: A small imperfection, such as chipping my tooth has bothered me since I was a teenager.

There are many ways you can begin your writing. I’ve just described one: beginning with a narrative. You can also ask a question, begin with a quote, provide a statistic, or give a description.

Have you ever thought about how to begin your writing? Do you just start writing? Do you have a favorite first line from a song or book? Let me know in the comments.

Monday Notes: Seeking Perfection

I was hit by a car when I was fourteen years old. It was a Saturday. Because my father was the youth pastor, we were going to church to pick up teens for an activity. When we arrived, my then best friend stood across the street in front of the building. She yelled out my name, and without a second thought, I darted into traffic.

As the story goes, the car hit me, my body flew up in the air, and I landed on the man’s windshield.

I awoke in a Northwestern Memorial Hospital bed the next day. Aside from being unconscious and sore, I had also chipped my front tooth. Out of all the details my mother, the nurse, and best friend relayed, missing about twenty-five percent of my front tooth is what filled my eyes with tears.

Consequently, every five years, since I was fourteen, I’ve gotten a filling for just that part of my front tooth. It’s been a lifelong hassle. Some years, shading was either too off-white or not white enough, leaving that one tooth in a mismatched contrast. Other years, I didn’t have enough money to get it re-done and had to suffer the coffee stains that remained. Some years, the tooth was too short or too long.

2019

The last time I had it re-filled was 2017. Not only was the shading off, but the dentist had shaped the tooth to be facing to the right.

That’s when I decided to find a new dentist.

“If you want it to look perfect,” new dentist said, “you’ll have to get a crown. That way, it’ll be computer generated and you can get custom shading, so it’ll match your other teeth.” “Plus,” he continued, “you can’t keep getting this filled. It’s deteriorating.”

I saved my money and made my appointment for November 30th. I carefully chose this date because classes would be ending, and I would have the semester break to get used to a crown.

As I lie in the chair, I knew I’d made a bit of a mistake.

I didn’t realize the dentist had to file down most of my tooth. This is standard, so the crown will fit over it. I should’ve googled the process ahead of time.

I knew I’d have a temporary crown for three weeks, but I didn’t know it could fall off, which is exactly what happened.

Not having a front tooth was stressful. Dwight and I have been together since 1993. Last month is the first time he’d seen me without a front tooth. Hell, it was the first time I’d seen myself toothless. And let me tell you, having a little baby tooth right in the front of your mouth creates a black hole only fit for hockey players and such.

The second time it fell off, I was with a friend. Though I was embarrassed, I was grateful we were at her house and not at a public restaurant.

The third time it fell off, I was tired. I’d been so stressed about not having a tooth that I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, I awoke with a pain on the right side of my mouth from where I’d been grinding all night. So, I just left it off until my appointment arrived.

December 15th, I received the permanent crown. Let me tell you something. It’s beautiful. It’s the best tooth I’ve ever had since I was fourteen.

But it’s different. It feels like a foreign object in my mouth.

I’m a tad bit traumatized from the temporary and don’t really want to bite into anything, so it takes me twice as long to finish a meal these days. Jamie, the dental assistant, who’s become my bestie at the office has assured me it’s fine and the tooth will not fall off.

2020

I can feel a slight space between the crown and the back of my actual tooth, but again, Jamie took a picture, showed it to me, and explained that it’s fine. According to her, the dentist will not attach it to my gum line because it may cause irritation and gum disease.

This. Feels. Weird.

So, yeah. This is one of those rare times where I feel as if I’ve made a huge mistake. Instead of seeking to have the perfect tooth, I should’ve sought some level of acceptance of my imperfect smile that only I seemed to have noticed all these years.

Yep. I think that’s the lesson here.

Do you have a crown? Implants? Dentures? An area of your body you wish looked a little different? Let me know about your experience in the comments, while I adjust to this, um, new situation.