Monday Notes: Agreement #2

A few weeks ago, a “friend” of mine read one of my FB posts, followed the comments, and then sent me this message via inbox:

You be so fake in your comments.

Or something like that. I can’t give a direct quote because after we conversed, I deleted the message. His unsolicited opinion bothered me that night. It stuck with me because of how I’d replied. Initially, I defended myself. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t being “fake.” It continued to irk me because I’ve worked so hard to be my authentic self no matter where I am, social media, in person, wherever. I’ve made conscious decisions to shine my personal light. Then, it bothered me because it bothered me. Have you ever felt like that?

It lingered in my thoughts for about 48 hours. By that time, I knew I had to remove him and his words from my consciousness. They were both taking up too much space in my mind. That Sunday night, I flipped through don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, until I found the one that fit: Don’t take anything personally.

If I see you on the street and say, “You are so stupid” without knowing you, it’s not about you, it’s about me. If you take it personally, then perhaps you believe you’re stupid.”

img_3174After reading a few more pages, I meditated, sipped my lavender tea, and let go of the incident.

About a week later, one of the ladies from the book club I’m hoping to join reached out to me and said, “I like your spirit.” This comment elicited the opposite emotion. I was elated. Who doesn’t want to hear nice things said about her personality? And like I’d mentioned above, I’ve worked on portraying my true self. So, I was overjoyed that someone I’d just met noticed a positive trait.

But I had to remember agreement #2. It still applied. You see, Ruiz continues to explain that even if someone says something that you agree with, then there’s still no reason to take it personally. A person’s opinion, whether positive or negative, is based on how that person feels in that moment. Tomorrow, the same person might have something horrible to say.

don_miguel_ruiz.jpg

The first time I read this it didn’t quite click. After receiving two different opinions within a week of one another, it now makes perfect sense. Not only is taking other people’s opinions personally exhausting, it can also be an indication that you’re not secure with who you are. If I know that I’m an authentic person, with a great spirit, then others’ opinions should be neither denigrating, nor uplifting. They should just…be.

Let me know what you think. How do you deal with other people’s opinions of who you are? Do people offer opinions of your personality?

*Edited for Forgiving Fridays. Participate here: https://forgivingconnects.com/2017/05/05/todays-forgiving-fridays-i-have-a-question-3/comment-page-1/#comment-3373

Journey to the Center of My Heart: Trusting My Inner Voice

The year after my mother died, my father packed up all of my belongings in trash bags and sent me to live with my maternal grandmother. I was seventeen. One day after I’d gotten settled, I confided a feeling I’d had.

“I’m going to write a book,” I said with a smile.

“Oh yeah?” She asked. “About what?”

“About my mother’s death.”

“You think you’re the only whose mother’s died?” She replied.

feedback_opinionI want to share this with you, not to bash my grandmother. Twenty-seven years later, I know that people’s conversations and comments have little to do with me. I’m sharing this with you because I never wrote about my mother. Her response led me to believe that not only was my topic one in a million, but that no one else would want to read it.

So I didn’t write it. In fact, I didn’t write much of anything for the next 25 years.

I became a high-school English teacher, got two more degrees, and became an education professor.

The urge to write crept back around 2014. I asked my little sister friend to create this very WordPress site for me. She did. I took it from there and learned the ins and outs of blogging. I continued to follow my intuition. Blogging gave me more writing confidence. Blogging 101 and 201 gave me more tools and knowledge. Following people like Janice Wald gave me more tips.

2015 rolled around. My dad died. I felt a flurry of emotions and another urge of intuition: Write about it. This time I didn’t tell anyone, not one soul. I sat in my stepmother’s guest bedroom and wrote the entire story of our failed relationship from 1989 to his death in 2015. I included all of the murky, emotional details that people rarely want to discuss or feel. By the last keystroke, I felt satisfied. But it was too long for a blog post (that’s something Janice Wald taught me).

I broke it up into five separate posts and called it a series; that’s something I learned in Blogging 101 or 201. The response was positive and endearing. Once again, this validated a choice I’d made to follow my heart.

A few months later, I had another stroke of intuition: Find a local writers group. I sought out the Florida Writers Association and considered entering their annual writing contest. Mek, a blogging friend I’d written with had been taking writing courses. She read The Transition and offered genuine suggestions.

I entered the contest and won first place for Creative Nonfiction of an unpublished piece. Did I need to win to prove I should follow my heart? Not really. I’d already felt good by simply writing it. But there’s no doubt my choice to write was again validated.

Now I had an “award-winning” piece of literature. It came in handy when the Still I Rise Grant required three writing samples. And although I didn’t win, as some of you remember, Alternating Current/The Coil published that piece during Father’s Day weekend.

Furthermore, Alternating Current then nominated The Transition for Best of the Net.

meditating_1This is just one example of why I’m adamant about listening to your inner voice and tuning others’ out. This is why I almost beg people to follow their hearts. Those feelings, voices, visions, or whatever come to you, they’re not accidental. They are specific nuances sent to guide you towards what you and only you should be doing.

Furthermore, I finally realize my grandmother was right. I’m not the only person whose mother (and father) have died. However, I’ve also recognized my ability to string words together that convey relatable feelings for people who’ve been through similar experiences. Today, I’m glad sharing about my life through writing has not only helped others, but also shaped a clear path for me as I continue to follow my heart.

The Ultimate Inside Job: You

Royalty Free Image
Royalty Free Image

Spiritual growth is an inside job. That’s why I work on myself constantly. For me, inspiration stems from relationships and experiences within those relationships. For example, I’d noticed that people with the title mother oftentimes wrap their love in judgment. My mother-in-law, grandmother and stepmother have all, at some point passed judgment on something they thought was best…for me. Whether it’s getting my oldest daughter’s hair done more frequently, not moving around so much or engaging with my dad in ways someone else saw fit, each of these women have offered unsolicited advice about how I choose to live. Conversely, I’d inherited a few of these traits myself. My younger cousins claimed I was “too judgmental” and my own daughter once said I was so “judgy.” I probably was. What finally did it was a group conversation I had with a few friends. One thing led to another, and summer 2013, I decided to try and judge less.

It’s a lot harder than just saying it.

Think of judgment as a big box that encompasses many other things, such as superiority and arrogance. In order for me to stop passing judgment, I had to see myself as equal to everyone. I had to step down from my proverbial moral high ground and stop wagging my opinionated finger at others. We’re the same. I’m equal to the drug addicted, the shop-a-holic and the teenage mom. I’m not better than either of these people, thus I have zero right to judge their lives. If I’m feeling judgmental, then I remind myself of this: anyone, at any moment could judge what you’re doing or have done in your life. Who am I to pass judgment on anyone’s life or life choices?

Image. © 2016 K E Garland
Image. © 2016 K E Garland

My next project was learning to trust my intuition. I’ve always had a good sense of how I felt, but somewhere along the way, I’d stopped fully listening. That is until I read T.D. Jakes’ Instinct. My husband and I were having some rough times and I’d met a friend to vent. I didn’t know what to do. She suggested we read the book together. Though I’m not religious, I am open to new ideas, so I agreed. I was so inspired by this book that I attempted a Facebook group centered on the ideas. That was a flop. But my renewed sense of following my heart was not. Using one’s instinct means consciously living life and being mindful about those pesky feelings. You must be perceptive and pay attention to that thing in the pit of your stomach that’s warning you about where you are and who you’re with. Though Bishop Jakes situates the concept in a discussion about passion and purpose, he also touches on relationships. He describes how people grow, sometimes together and sometimes apart due to monotony. Either way, instinct can show you how to proceed. I’d decided then and there to be quiet so I could hear. I quit a job that was too far to drive, wrote a book of Kwotes, started a blog, and just celebrated my 19th year of marriage. I firmly believe intuition is an underrated tool that we all have.

The last principle is a result of my father’s death. So I’m still figuring it out and listening for answers. When my dad died, I needed a lot more compassion and care than I thought I would. Because I had been following my intuition, I was in tune with my emotions. I requested empathy from specific people. It didn’t matter though. Considerations from them didn’t flow like I thought they would. I was very confused. All this time I thought that compassion was an easy sentiment to provide. It turns out that I was mistaken. Compassion is made up of three parts: (1) putting yourself in another person’s place, (2) imagining what she or he might be feeling and (3) doing something considerate. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. It’s a challenge. It takes extra effort. As it turns out, it’s something that I shouldn’t have sought out. So I stopped. Instead, I began showing other people compassion. Like I said, this one is a work in progress but already I feel better being compassionate, rather than seeking it.

“I’m not perfect.” We use this phrase often. But what does it mean? Does it mean that you stay stuck in your imperfect self, while asking forgiveness for bad behavior and judging other people’s perceived imperfections? I don’t have a universal answer. But I do believe that we can all be better than we were yesterday if we try. How are you willing to be a better you? What advice would you add to this?

kwoted

Behind the Kwote: *Flawed

flawedI’ve spent the majority of my life in shame. I was ashamed of being adopted. I was ashamed that my mother had a terminal illness. Then, I was ashamed that my dad gave up his parental rights. I was ashamed that I had to move to a small town my senior year and graduate with 25 people I didn’t really know. I had developed eighteen years of shame.

Once I began undergrad, I unconsciously created my own shameful experiences. Lovers and sexual indiscretions piled up. At that point, the shame covered me. But I kept it hidden.

So there I was, carrying and hiding decades of shame. I doubted that others had similar challenges. Everyone looked so perfect to me, with two loving parents and crystal clear paths paved with luck and fortune. Around 2004, I attracted more authentic conversations. Former students, friends, family, and coworkers opened up to me about their pasts and presents.

Boy, was I wrong.

Everyone else felt just as crappy as I did. They hid it, like me. Consequently, I began to reflect not only on my own, but also other people’s experiences. Rarely do friends and family want to share their innermost feelings for fear of being judged. For fear of being shamed. What is this cycle we’ve created? We live in shame and don’t talk about it because we don’t want to be shamed.

Once I figured this out, I wrote this kwote as a reminder: Don’t worry; the person next to you is flawed too!

*Disclaimer: Typically “flaws” refer to outward appearances, but I use it here to discuss so-called inward flaws.

Saying “F*ck you” versus Releasing Expectations as a Way to Deal with Rejection

I was introduced to rejection when I was born. My schizophrenic mother abandoned me in an apartment when I was five months old. As a result, I had implicitly learned that sometimes people give up on you when they are incapable and life is unbearable.

When I was seventeen, the cycle repeated. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t belabor the point. But, in 1990 my dad gave up his parental rights, once again teaching me the same invaluable lesson: people give up on you when they are inept and life is too much.

Like many people, I developed some coping mechanisms. I began to read people and interpret their actions. Any slight rejection equaled an abandonment warning sign, and warranted a preemptive, “F*ck you” before I thought the other person would pack up and leave.

You don’t want me in your life? So. I don’t want you in my life. Deuces!

You’re rejecting me and my personality? Nope. I’m rejecting you and your personality.

aloneFor a very long time, that’s how I functioned. It was unhealthy. It was immature. And it left me by myself in some ways, because eventually, when you hand out a round of unwarranted “F*ck yous,” you’re bound to be left standing in a circle by yourself.

I had to change.

About six years ago, I learned to release expectations instead. Many people have wondered how I can release expectations of people with whom I share a relationship? The answer is not easy.

First, I recognize that people can reject parts of my personality, but that doesn’t mean they are rejecting me. Next, I write these words: I release expectations of name-of-person, until I feel liberated from the situation. Then, I remind myself of these things:

Saying “F*ck you” means leaving a person alone, forever and ever. Releasing expectations requires letting go of who you think that person is supposed to be.

For a long time, I thought my mother in-law would be like an extended family member for me. I envisioned her visiting every year and doing grandmotherly things with the girls. Listen. That hasn’t happened. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times she’s come to see us. It feels a lot like rejection. Now, of course I would never disrespect my MIL. But a former me would’ve just left her alone. Instead of doing either of those, I have released my fairy tale like expectations of our relationship. When she calls, I’m happy to hear from her and if she doesn’t, that’s okay too.

Releasing expectations means allowing people to be who they are.

This might seem to be the same advice, but I see it a little different. Allowing people to be who they are means less judgment on my part. For example, during much of my marriage, I wondered, Why doesn’t my MIL call? Why does she need a personal invitation to visit? Why won’t she just act like my grandmother and schedule a visit? These are all judgments about how she interacts with us. And it’s quite simple, if I’m judging, then I’m not allowing. Who my MIL is, is who she’s shown herself to be. That’s perfectly fine. At this point, I allow her to be who she is, free from my criticism. I don’t expect her to be someone she is not. Think about it. Don’t we all want to be accepted for who we are in this moment?

Saying, “F*ck you” means the door is closed and locked. Releasing expectations symbolizes an open invitation.

My former self would’ve definitely perceived her actions as rejection, and then met it with a closed heart. But not today. My MIL is welcome to visit our family anytime she’d like. I have no ill feelings and I hope that she will. But again, I don’t expect an action either way.

Let me know what you think. Is there ever a time when releasing expectations just isn’t good enough? You know I’m happy to hear your thoughts!

Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother

My first public blog post…

A few years ago, I attended one of my former high school student’s baccalaureate graduations. Also in attendance was her mom, a single mother of three young adults. She had literally arrived just in time for this commencement, which was 706 miles away from home. She donned a black, sequenced matching shirt and pants. Her luggage was in tow. This scene was typical; she wore her challenges. As Langston Hughes might say, life for her ain’t been no crystal stair.

But still. No matter the situation, this lady was always there for her daughter and her other two adult children. She might be the loudest one in the crowd, but that was because she was supportive. She might have snuck some popcorn into so-called prestigious events, but that’s cause everybody knows that concessions at large events cost too much.

I watched her quite a bit that weekend. She snapped 27 pictures on her disposable camera. Tossed the throwaway in her bag and snatched a new one. She did this four more times. I watched her “save” the graduation chicken because essentially, nobody else there really knew how to grill it. And I noticed how she loved her children, the best way she knew how, given her experiences. By Sunday, Mother’s Day 2013, something dawned on me; this mother is no different than I am, a mother of two daughters, or any mother for that matter. So I posted this: The longer I am a mother, the more I understand that each mother just does the best she can, given her circumstances.

1462536161555Then, something else happened. I thought about my own experiences as a daughter. Many times I felt embarrassed because my mother carried a terminal illness that would lead to death, kidney disease. A lot of times, I wished my mom were someone else. So much so that she had offered to take me to see Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, but I declined. As much as I loved MJ, I didn’t want to be asked if this was my grandmother, again. It wasn’t until years after my mother’s death that I realized how much of a gem she really was.

In between dialysis treatments, she led a fearless life. She was deeply involved with NAPHT (National Association of Patients on Hemodialysis and Transplantation), volunteered as a Sunday school teacher, worked part-time, supported anyone she called family and friend, and all the while actively chose to raise me, this daughter she had adopted. My mother had ensured that I attend the best public magnet K-12 Chicago schools, which provided me with rich childhood experiences. In fact, I attribute my spirit of service, advocacy and motivation in part to observing my own mother do the very same things. So while there were moments of adolescent shame due to my mother’s physical appearance, there’s now an adult appreciation because I recognize and honor her for doing the best that she could, given her circumstances.

Now, I’m the mother of two fairly quiet teenage daughters, who would rather I remain silent than speak out about small infractions. These daughters turn a side-eye with every picture I capture and every post that “tells their business.” My oldest claims that she won’t tell me anything because I’ll tell everyone (guess this blog partially proves that). My youngest daughter would rather become invisible than to watch me dance in public. I’m often met with a lot of, “Are you wearing those shoes with that?” when leaving the house. But I hope that one day they’ll understand that it matters less if my shoes match my shirt. I hope that they’ll understand the reason their mother took a 320-mile commute every now and then for a career she felt called to do. I hope that they’ll remember family trips, game nights, healthy food, and movie dates. And when they’re feeling as if I could have done more, I hope they’ll remember that I too, did the best that I could, given my own circumstances.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*Natural Responses (The beginning)

In 2010, I decided to wear my hair natural. In 2011, I wrote about it. In March 2014, I decided to send it to a well-known blog, For Harriet. They “loved it.” 1200 likes reminded of what I was supposed to be doing here on this earth. Being myself and writing. While I’d definitely revise it if I were to submit it today, I recognize it as a nudge towards my path. Here’s that submission.

There have been many responses about my natural hair. The most common of which I have become accustomed to is the African-American cashier’s response.

“Twenty-two fifty two,” says the cashier.

Eyes gaze up towards my hair.

“Here ya go,” I reply as I remind her that we’re conducting business here.

Eyes dart back to our hands.

“Out of twenty-five?” she asks.

Our eyes briefly meet, then a quick glance to my hair.

“Yep,” I say.

She counts the change, and presses it into my hand, “Two dollars and forty-eight cents.”

She takes one last look, and says, “Your hair is cute.”

I’ve practiced what comes next. Big smile and then, “Thank you so much. That means a lot.”

I have grown used to these types of responses. The ones that end in “Your hair is cute” are always easy to receive. What I have not become used to are the reactions of individuals with whom the relationship is more intimate. The colleague, the friend or the in-law’s response is much more cherished, and subsequently when perceived as negative, much more hurtful.

The first uncomfortable conversation I had about my hair was at the university where I work. At the time, I was one of three African Americans in the College of Education. My two closest colleagues were white, middle-aged women who were self-proclaimed, progressive educators who had researched and taught complex concepts, such as white privilege and critical race theory. My co-workers had only seen my long, brown hair in a relaxed state; therefore, I felt it necessary to prepare them for the upcoming change. It went something like this:

Me:                 I decided to go natural.

Colleague 1:     YAY! I can’t wait to see what your hair is going to look like.

Colleague 2:     What’s that mean?

Colleague 1:     It means she’s going to wear her hair the way it grows, like um, Halle Berry. I bet it’s going to be pretty. This is going to be fun.

Colleague 1:     Oh, does that mean you’re going to have an afro?

Me:                 I don’t know. Cause I don’t know what it really looks like.

That wasn’t as bad as I thought. The conversation seemed supportive, inquisitive and possibly uplifting. However, that was the discussion that ensued when my hair was still relaxed.

It wasn’t until I wore my transition hairstyle of flexirods that Colleague 2 shared what seemed to be a concern:

Colleague 2:     Your hair looks nice, but I hope that it doesn’t get like Esparanza Spalding. Her hair is just obnoxious. I really don’t remember how I replied because quite honestly, I had no idea who Esparanza Spalding was; you see my musical taste only include rap and R&B. I had to Google this Esparanza Spalding person. To my surprise, Esparanza Spalding had the biggest and most gorgeous afro I had ever seen. What was obnoxious about this? In fact, how could hair be obnoxious? Unfortunately, the conversation had passed, and there was no reason to re-visit the topic.

Then, something strange happened.

Eight months later, when I was fully natural and sporting my teenie weenie afro (affectionately referred to as a TWA in the natural community), Colleague 2 and I had another hair conversation. I was describing how my youngest daughter likes to feel my hair and sometimes jokingly hides items in there. During this conversation, she asked me if she could feel my hair as well. I’m pretty open about this, so I agreed. Lo and behold, she said it again, almost verbatim, It feels…it feels, kinky. But I hope that it doesn’t get like Esparanza Spalding.

Her hair is just obnoxious.

I know. I know. This time I knew who Esperanza Spalding was. This time I knew exactly how much was implied in this singular comment. I had an opportunity most people would kill for. I had a “do-over.” You know the kind where you’re re-telling the story, and this time you say what you were really thinking?

I also know that an educator like my colleague, who is well-versed in and even teaches others about white privilege should be able to understand how her comments are situated in a history of racial oppression and expectation of beauty espoused by people who look like her. And given all of these factors, I, of all people should have been able to have an honest dialogue with Colleague 2 about this very subject.

But I didn’t.

Perhaps it was because I could not believe that Colleague 2 had said this not once, but twice, symbolizing a true thought of hers; a big afro is obnoxious. Perhaps twelve years at predominantly white institutions had taught me to hide initial responses to similar comments because I’ve learned the price for speaking candidly is sometimes not worth the lesson. Whatever the reason, I managed a quiet, “Hmmm.”

Another missed opportunity occurred with a family member. Last December, my family and I traveled to my husband, Dwight’s hometown of Detroit for his cousin’s wedding. This visit was special not only because of the occasion, but also because we had not seen some of these family members for over five years. All of his family would be there.

We pulled up to my in-laws’ house at the same time as his aunts and cousins. We exchanged the usual pleasantries. You know the, oh, have you lost weight? And the, so tell me what do you do at your job? And, the girls are getting soooo big! comments. So far so good, I guess. No comments about my afro. Until, an aunt stopped me in the middle of the kitchen. She and her two sisters had worn very short, natural curly styles for at least ten years, so I didn’t really expect what came next. It went something like this:

Auntie:                        So, you went colored, huh?

Me:                                (chuckles nervously) Yeah, I guess so. You are a mess.

Auntie:                        Well, I went colored a long time ago, but you went aaallll the way.

This is one of those situations that your girlfriend re-tells, and you proceed to describe how you would have given Aunt So-and-So an African-American history lesson on how comments like these destroy our people’s self esteem. You would have also referred her to rent and view Chris Rock’s Good Hair (2009) or at least re-visit Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988) scene “Good and Bad Hair.” And if she’s not into popular culture films, perhaps she could read up on the issue through a couple of blogs because you love your natural hair.

But this is not what I said.

What I did was continue the conversation. Maybe it was because I was not as confident as I had thought when we first arrived. Maybe it was because of the intricate and delicate relationship that had developed between my in-laws and me. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the language to respectfully engage in the conversation. Whatever the reason, we continued with the pleasantries.

Auntie asked me what I was doing with my hair. I told her. She asked me if I performed this routine every night. I answered her. She told me it was “nice.” I thanked her. We went back to discussing what I do at my job.

*Originally published on For Harriet.