Monday Notes: The Importance of Time and Space

It’s Monday. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And I’m sitting in my bed in my PJs after taking a two-hour afternoon nap. I am refreshed.

This might not seem like a big deal to some of you but for me, this time and space is divine.

You see, I’ve been doing something I typically don’t do: running nonstop, without thinking.

December 7th-9th, I went on a scheduled girls trip with high-school friends.

December 15th, I hosted an all women’s brunch at my home.

December 21st-23rd, I met my paternal, biological sister for the first time.

December 24th, I took our four-year-old goddaughter to breakfast and the movies.

December 29th, I attended a party with a former friend that went left.

January 4th, I spoke at our institution’s general meeting.

January 7th, the semester began and I started a professional relationship with an elementary school.

January 9th, I flew to Chicago to pay respects at my namesake’s funeral, the person I’d written previously about.

January 10th, I visited my maternal, biological sister, who I’d not seen in at least ten years.

January 11th, I met my biological father (and his wife, and her daughter, and my youngest sister) for the first time.

January 14th, my youngest daughter revealed something personal that sent me into a tailspin of Mommy guilt.

January 18th-19th, my friends’ six-year-old son spent the night with us.

I’m tired. Emotionally.

If you follow me on any social media platform, it may look as if this is the norm for me. In some ways the activity is. However, it is not normal for me to engage in back-to-back emotional events, sans reflection. I usually have time to sit and think about the people with whom I’ve engaged and interpret what that says about them, about us, about relationships, and about society at-large.

Eventually, I will write about one or all of these events. But for right now, I’m sitting in time and space without expectations from myself or anyone else. Consequently, I’ve reached a point of understanding.

I understand how easy it is to simply roll on to the next experience or situation and to not think about who you were in the last moment. I recognize how an occupied life sets the stage for missed opportunities of growth. How can you grow (emotionally, spiritually) if you don’t stop to reflect on specific circumstances, especially those that are tied to your heart?

What I’ve also realized is that I’ve created a life that has built-in time and space. In my daily life, I neither move too fast, nor too slow, so that I can meditate, exercise, rinse and repeat. What I haven’t done very well is set aside time and space during moments of unexpected life events, like funerals and biological family meetings.

But from this moment forward, I will. I’ll remind myself to step outside if I’m feeling swirly in the belly; this is my body’s signal to me that I need to sit down somewhere. I’ll remind myself to find solitude in the midst of a crowd. I’ll remind myself that pranayama breathing is just as useful off the mat as it is on.

I’ll remind myself that creating time and space is important for my well being. And, most importantly, no one can offer me the time and space I need, but me.

~kg

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Reflections of a Commuter

img_508946,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.

The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.

August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.

I-75-interstate-75-highway6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.

As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.

But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.

57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.

A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.

12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.

My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.

img_5101Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.

Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?

*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Astigmatism and a stigma

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the fifth grade. We all lined up as usual to take our public school vision test. I giggled my way to the front of the line. This would probably go like previous years.

Finally, it was my turn. Was that an “F” or an “E”? Was that an “O” or a “C”?

“Kathy,” the visiting optometrist started, “it looks as if you’re going to need glasses.”

I was already different than the children on my block. They attended the neighborhood school and I was bused to a magnet one. My hair hung down my back, while other girls had cornrows or braids with colorful beads. I spoke “standard” English when everyone else used “ain’t” and double negatives with ease.

And now I had to add wearing glasses to this list?

My first reaction was a single tear from my near-sighted eye. Another soon formed and trickled down my cheek. Before I knew it, I was full-on crying, in front of the whole fifth-grade.

The visiting optometrist whispered, “Now dear, you don’t want to make the people who wear glasses feel bad, do you?”

She was talking about Alexander Adams, a kid named after a president. She referred to Eli Korner. A nice boy, but not someone I wanted to be in the glasses gang with.

So my mom took me to a place called For Eyes. My first pair were lilac. If I had to wear them, then I was going to look as cool as possible doing it.

***

Fast forward to 1991. I had just graduated high school and had a job. All this time, I’d been wearing the glasses that someone else could afford for me. This time, I’d wear the glasses that I wanted.

My first pair, with my own paycheck were Laura Biagotti’s. I’m pretty sure I paid over $200 for them. But it didn’t matter. I was fly. Ironically, I’d also decided to ditch wearing them in public. It was time for me to enjoy the convenience of contacts.

That was back when you could get a pair of annuals and they would last, well, all year, as the title suggests.

I wore those contacts so much that Dwight didn’t even realize I needed to wear glasses. I slept in those contacts so much that the optometrist had to threaten not to give me a prescription because you know, you’re not supposed to sleep in contacts.

Every year, I’d renew my contact lens prescription. And every other year, I’d renew my eyeglass prescription, wearing them at night only. I held on to this routine for 25 years.

***

Much like many prescription holders, my eyesight worsened over time. Much worse. But it didn’t matter. I could hide the truth behind my contacts. Decades later, companies discontinued annuals and only offered monthlies.

Everything was good, until this year.

My eyesight had worsened still. Because according to Dr. Suddath, no matter what, when you’re over 40, your vision will continue to decline, regardless of the starting point.

My current prescription is: -7.50 with a -1.75 astigmatism and -8.25 with a -1.00 astigmatism.

All this technical mumbo jumbo means I can no longer wear monthlies. My contacts only come in dailies, which cost $106 per month. Say what?

This means, as my good friend Mek suggested, “Maybe you should embrace the glasses now?”

And suddenly, I felt like I was ten again. I cried and cried, like a week ago y’all.

It might sound silly. But there was a slight fear.

Most people don’t even know I wear glasses, for real. Most people don’t know that if I didn’t have these contacts in, I wouldn’t know who was standing in front of my face. Most people don’t know that wearing glasses is what makes me feel 10% less confident in public spaces.

Most people don’t know that I’d been holding on to a feeling of inadequacy for 33 years, all because I couldn’t see clearly.

Sheesh! 

I had subscribed to a stereotype about wearing glasses and safely hid behind contact lenses. Well, it has to end here. I’ll have to shed this made up stigma and find the right frame for my (public) comfort level. 

The journey to loving me for me in this and every moment continues, glasses and all.

Do you have any hidden insecurities you’ve held on to since childhood? Share them below so we can support one another. 

A Small Freedom

Look at what the new world hath wrought ~from A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

Two years ago, I had dinner at a local place in Alexandria, Virginia. As is commonplace for me, I asked the waiter, a thin, olive-skinned, curly haired young man to repeat his name.

“It’s Mo,” he said.

I took note of each of his features. “You don’t look like a Mo.”

“Well, if you knew my real name, you’d say the same thing.”

Mo continued to answer our questions, this time about the menu and its oddities. As soon as he finished, I started back in.

“So, are you gonna share your real name with us?”

Mo then told us that his name was Mohammad. It was actually Mohammad, middle name: Arab, last name: Arab. Mo’s entire name is Arab. He joked about how difficult it was to fly and how it just minimized quite a bit of confusion for him to go by Mo.

I’m not sure if Mo realized how uncomfortable he looked explaining his identity to me, a stranger. And I totally understand that his uncomfortableness could have been due to an unknown patron engaging him about his “real” name, an unexpected topic for a server. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Mo was a bit squirmy.

But that’s when I felt compassion for him.

I go by Kathy, but when someone asks me my “real” name, I  simply (and proudly) state that it is Katherin…no “e” at the end, Elizabeth, Garland. No hesitation. My name doesn’t accompany jokes about societal judgments, cast just because I want to do something that people do everyday…fly. I can speak my name with pride. It is a small privilege with big benefits for my so-called American life. I can speak my name without assumptions. No one (as far as I know) has made prejudiced jokes and committed microagressions towards me because of my name. I’ve never been ashamed to tell someone my name. In fact, there have been several occasions where I meet another Cathy/Kathy/Kathie/Cathie/Katie and we marvel over the unique spellings of not just our full names, but also others.

And then I felt a bit of sadness for Mo. I felt sad because your name, no matter if you love it or hate it, is a part of your identity. Your name, aside from your actual presence is one of the first things that people learn about you and who you are in the world. To not be able to speak your name, with pride, is in essence a form of shame.

That is what saddened me.

It is my hope that Mo and everyone in our country will one day have the strength to shed societal shame and speak our names with pride, no matter what we believe the name conveys. How free are we really if we can’t do something as simple as announce our names for fear of being judged? I’d say that we’re not really that free at all. What do you think?

Choices and Consequences

“Just because it wasn’t conscious doesn’t mean it wasn’t a choice” ~ Kwote #80

I remember the day quite vividly. I sat on my bed and turned the TV on, not because I wanted to watch whatever was on, but because it provided background noise, in my otherwise quiet Georgia apartment. I flipped open my laptop, and logged onto Facebook.

Scroll.

Scroll.

Scroll.

Like.

Let me see what my oldest goddaughter is up to these days, I thought. I knew she was taking Driver’s Ed and I wanted to see if there were any updates. Last post she was falling asleep and I had begged her to wake up and pay attention.

Hmmm. This is strange.

I typed her full name into the search bar.

“Do you know —? To see what she shares with friends, send her a friend request.”

Huh? Of course I know her Facebook. She’s my goddaughter. Of course I know her, she’s my aunt’s oldest daughter, thus my cousin. Send her a friend request? But we were already friends…on Facebook.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been defriended from social media before, but there are a couple of stages you go through:

Stage 1: Disbelief This couldn’t possibly be.

Stage 2: Anger I know this little heifer didn’t defriend me.

Stage 3: More disbelief Let me check other people’s pages. She’s still friends with my daughters, her dad, her mom, and other cousins.

Stage 4: Acceptance So, she’s just defriended me.

I was still fluctuating somewhere in between disbelief and acceptance. This Facebook friend wasn’t some high-school sweetheart from yesteryear. And she wasn’t some person I’d met at a conference one time. Nope. This was my aunt’s daughter, my cousin and my pronounced goddaughter. Next on my agenda was a phone call to my aunt, immediately.

“Hi, Aunt –! May I speak to –?”

“Why?” she asked.

Why, I thought. What was this about? I didn’t think I needed permission to talk to her.

“Well,” I began, “It seems as if she’s defriended me on Facebook and I wanted to know why.”

Now, before I continue with this story, I understand how very petty this must seem. But what I kept thinking is how in the world will I ever know what’s going on with her or her sister if I’m not even sharing a social media space with them? She doesn’t call me. When I call her, she gives one-word answers (typical adolescent phone convo). Instead of passing the phone, my aunt and I had a conversation about this defriending business.

“Yes. Yes, she did,” my aunt replied matter-of-factly. And then she added, “She came to me and said, ‘I’m going to delete Kathy, okay?’ and I said, ‘okay.’”

Huh?

What was I listening to? So my aunt approved her daughter’s deletion of me on social media? My feelings were a bit bruised. What could I do? Through further conversation, I found out that it was because I recounted a situation where she had cussed at her dad on said social media. My cousin had written, “Pay the f-ing bill Daddy,” upon finding out her cell phone wasn’t working. Consequently, our grandmother gave everyone a lecture. Including me, ironically for not reprimanding her more harshly for the disrespect.

So we continued talking.

“I feel as if she hates me,” I confessed to my aunt.

“She does,” she admitted.

Then I found out why. It was because something had been going on without my knowledge. You see my teenaged cousins live about an hour and a half away from our grandmother, and at one point in their lives, they actually lived with our grandmother. What our grandmother had been doing is praising all of my accomplishments: Kathy has a Ph.D. Kathy got a tenure-track position. One time, my grannie actually described throwing one of my publications across the bed and telling her, “Read this. It’s scholarly writing.”

This adolescent girl was filled with resentment. So much resentment that she often begged her mother not to pass the phone when I called. She seemingly couldn’t discern our age difference was a major factor in comparing our achievements. At the time, she had yet to graduate high school, but was implicitly being compared to my achieving a third degree.

This wasn’t fair to her or to me.

But here comes the lesson.

I complained and complained to my therapist. I whined about failed attempts at being a great godmother. I complained about not being honored as an inspirational person who could relate to her (we’re both adopted and I could see my cousin’s evolving mirrored issues). I droned on and on about how her dad, nor her mom would even make them do anything related to me. Oh, I was full of ego about the situation.

The therapist listened, as licensed professionals are paid to do. She nodded and scribbled on her legal pad.

And then she said this, “You chose to be the type of godmother you wanted to be to them.”

“Wha?” I asked in between sniffles.

“If you wanted to be the super-cool godmother who they flocked to when they couldn’t talk to their mother, then you would have chosen different actions,” she explained. She read my choices from her pad:

  • Telling your grandmother about her Facebook actions
  • Asking her why she’s wearing a bathing suit on social media
  • Commenting on her driver’s education status

Those are not things that would make her feel as if she could come to you.”

I would be lying if I said I had an on the spot breakthrough. The therapist had to explain that well-intended, unconscious choices are still choices that lead to specific outcomes. My actions, coupled with her teenage choices meant there would be no relationship.

Eventually, I got it.

The therapist was somewhat right.

What eventually helped me understand the concept are the words unconscious and conscious. It’s true. The choices that I made with my goddaughter were very unconscious. Involuntary even. They were based on how I was raised and the types of expectations to which I was held. Ultimately, this experience taught me to be more mindful about  choices that I made with other people because I understood there would always be a specific consequence.

I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made with her. But now this is crystal clear. Whether the choice is intentional, unintentional, conscious, or unconscious, consequences will always be tied to our choices. So the best we can do is to always be as intentional and conscious as possible.