December 7th, 2018, I took a girls trip with five women. I’ve known one of these women since first grade and the others since seventh. While many of us have gotten together separately over the years for high school reunions or visits back home, the six of us hadn’t been together as a group since high school.
I admit I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m happy to report that it was one of the best trips I’ve taken with a group of women. We all got along just as we had over two and a half decades ago. It’s as if we were the same people, just 45 years old, with more life experiences to share.
Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on what made our time together so special.
We’re similar. All six of us attended an academically talented and gifted school called, Whitney M. Young for both the Academic Center (7th-8th grade) and high school. At the time we attended, it was the best high school in the nation. Meaning, we’re all not only intelligent, but we’ve also faced some of the same challenges throughout life when it comes to education and career choices. I mention this not to brag, but to highlight that when friends are similar at a core level, then deeper conversations ensue. Most of the time, we didn’t have to provide background information prior to talking about a shared issue.
We respected our differences. Prior to this trip, I believed that friends are such because they have similar interests; therefore, there is little need for compromise. You know what I mean? But that weekend revealed that while we are similar in some ways, we’ve grown to be different in others. That Friday, one of us wanted to sing karaoke, so we made our way to City Walk’s Rising Star. Another friend exercises daily, so she awoke each morning before everyone and walked on the beach. To our surprise, one woman enjoys watching NASCAR; so, we all paid our $20 and toured Daytona International Speedway. These are just three examples. While we weren’t necessarily fully invested in each other’s events, we each partook. I can only speak for myself in saying the reason I participated in everything is because we were there to visit with one another. Whether that be at a fancy dinner, on a jet ski, or at the pool, I was happy to compromise to hang out with women I considered to be friends.
We listened. On this trip we had constant, intimate conversations. We not only revealed events that had happened over the years, but also how we felt about these experiences. Not once did I feel negatively judged for sharing myself or my shortcomings. At no point did I think, “I shouldn’t have said that” for fear of the side-eyes or subsequent comments that accompany saying something not aligned with society’s values. Once again, I attribute the warmth of this inviting and supporting environment to the quality of women I’d unconsciously chosen to befriend years ago.
I’ve spoken a lot about relationships on this blog. But this trip solidified my overall feelings about them. Whether friend, familial, or romantic, good relationships feel warm and loving. They are non-judgmental and, in some ways, symbiotic. They are as natural as the ocean’s waves and as long lasting or fleeting as the sand that surrounds it.
As of today, that’s my answer on this topic. Let me know what you think.
“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.
Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.
Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.
Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.
And finally, there’s me.
This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.
After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.
“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.
Where does talking about women behind their backs fit into women’s empowerment? I was faced with answering this question for myself after three different circumstances occurred over the course of two months.
Situation #1 is a combination of many experiences. It usually starts in a group DM. One person may say, “Hey, did you know that Sally did blah, blah, blah?” And because we all know Sally, but Sally’s not in the group, a conversation and judgments about her may ensue. I have been known to either start this type of dialogue, participate in the conversation, or throw in an lol or appropriate gif.
Situation #2 is also a common one I’ve found myself in. Two women don’t know each other, but for some reason have crossed one another’s paths. I associate with both women. Sally does something Sue doesn’t like and because I know both, I’m listening to each share their dislikes. I may also interfere by throwing in a, “Hey why don’t you think about it this way” because I feel a sense of loyalty to both and I’m equally associated.
Situation #3 surfaces every now and then. Again, it begins with my knowing two women, who also may know one another, but aren’t necessarily friends. Sue asks me a question about Sally. Just for the sake of example, it could be something like, “Why does she always wear her pants backwards?” Because I know Sally and I have insight into why her pants are always backwards, I answer. I never tell Sally; however, I do secretly continue this defense of her and her backwards-pants wearing.
I’ve decided participating in any future, similar conversations is wrong. Here’s why.
Many of you know my overall goal is to raise women’s consciousness; however, how can I be raising women’s consciousness in one breath, while talking about women behind their backs in another?
I can’t. It’s out of alignment. And I won’t be doing it anymore.
From here on out, I will not be discussing other women in the confines of text messages, DMs, or lunch dates. I also won’t be listening to other women discuss and judge women I know (or don’t know). My new direct phrase will be: Let’s talk about all the amazing things going on in your life and what you’re doing (or something similar). And finally, if someone wants to know why Sally always wears her pants backwards, I’m going to suggest that they pick up the phone and ask Sally.
Women’s empowerment is about more than writing, blogging, or speaking engagements, where women share their wounds and heal. It’s about not creating more cuts for someone we each refer to as “sis.” It’s about the way we carry ourselves when no one’s looking. This includes private conversations.
Let me know what you think, if you can relate to either of these situations, or if you have another one to share.
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 🙂
Yesterday, I shared how disappointed I was when close friends didn’t ask me how an important event went.* As I mentioned, I processed my feelings for several days. Meaning, I talked to Dwight about it, until every angle was exhausted; I removed myself from speaking words to anyone outside of my husband and daughters so that others’ thoughts didn’t influence my intuition; I lit some sage incense and meditated for fifteen consecutive days; and I journaled about the answers that came to me.
During meditation, I heard a very distinct message: Do not be concerned with affairs of the ego.
My understanding of “ego” comes from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (2005). Loosely summarized, he says that it’s the I, which we all develop, but which none of us really is. Tolle calls it “a misperception of who you are, an illusory sense of identity” (p. 27).
Our egos are stories that we’ve told ourselves about ourselves. This can range from the type of mother you think you are to the type of co-worker you appear to be, good, bad, or otherwise.
I was steeped in my identities.
I am an author.
I am a writer.
I am friend.
I was swimming in my stories.
I am an indie author, who doesn’t have major names behind me offering marketing, etc. I need a different type of support. I’m a writer, whose main purpose is to raise consciousness by sharing my authentic self. Is this noticed? I’m a good friend, and if I’m a good friend to others, well then, they will be an equally good friend to me.
I’d gotten lost in my ego.
Yesterday, I also said that my close friends were in their ‘life’s bubble’, but quite honestly, so was I. I was in my oh my god, I can’t believe we’re having another reading in a different city, like a book tour bubble. My look at me being a different type of indie author bubble. I was also in my people cried and began to think about their circumstances in a different way bubble. Is this what raising consciousness looks like? And in my good friends ask each other about important events bubble of judgment.
You might be wondering what I’ve done as a result of these revelations. I’ve returned to two things I’ve been working on the past five years: having no expectations and not judging others. Neither is an easy task, but I do want to clarify.
Having no expectations doesn’t mean not having standards for people. In this scenario, it simply means I shouldn’t have expected my friends to call or not call. Subsequently, if someone did ask me how everything went, then that’s fine; if not, then that’s okay too. Also, for me, not judging means not passing judgment on my friends’ actions. If a person doesn’t reach out and show interest, it doesn’t mean that they’re a “bad” friend; likewise, if a person does ask for an update, it doesn’t mean they’re a “good” friend.
So, this is my second conclusion: Identity + Story = Ego. Don’t be concerned with affairs of the ego. And stop making up stories about yourself and others.
Tomorrow, I’ll share my third conclusion.
*Since writing this but before publishing it, someone I consider a friend did text me and ask about the reading 🙂
On June 13th, I hung out with my friend, Tarra. We ate fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, and lobster brie omelets. We discussed our deceased mothers and newly found biological families.
Tarra is a singer and actress. She’d just finished a show and needed rest. I was preparing for the Atlanta reading and needed to calm myself prior to attending. So, we also spent time at the beach, running through opened doors and moving with the ocean’s waves.
Somewhere during the day, she confided that she was thinking about who wasn’t at her shows, who didn’t support, who didn’t reach out. She knew she should focus on who was there, who did support, and who made time for her. She admitted this was something she should work on.
I agreed. But I also added, “It’s hard.”
Two days later, we had the Atlanta book reading. Even though it was an awesome event, not one close friend reached out to ask how it was, not even Tarra. Please do not misunderstand what I’m saying. Friends did contact me. They texted to tell me about the terrible and wonderful happenings in their life’s bubble. They just didn’t ask about this very important gathering I’d been talking about for months.
Like Tarra, I began to think about all the close friends I have and why they wouldn’t simply text and say, how was the reading?* I started to text each one and ask him or her personally, but quickly tossed that idea. I really don’t like to ask people to be who I want them to be. I’d much rather simply be aligned in thought, action, and behavior. Plus, I knew it was something I needed to work on, not them.
After processing my emotions for several days, I came to a few conclusions. The first is, like my friend, I needed to focus on who was supportive and who showed care that day.
The first is my husband, Dwight. He is always there in some way. Even when he can’t physically be present, he calls, jokes with me to lighten my mood, and wishes me well. He texts or calls after every event and asks me how it went and how I felt about the outcome. I appreciate that.
The second is the group of women who made the event possible. Bree spent her time, money, and energy planning a successful reading. The other three women traveled from other cities and states to share themselves with strangers. In my point of view, this is miraculous, and it’s definitely not something they had to do.
The third are people who attended. I didn’t do a head count, but at least 40 people came. Included in the audience was my stepmother, stepsister, a former Georgia College student and her mother, and a blogger I’d met for the first time (shout out to Yecheilyah).
Though my feelings were initially hurt, reminding myself that I did have support that day has shifted my energy about the situation.
That’s my first conclusion: focus on who shows up in ways you value.
I’ll share my second conclusion tomorrow.
*Since writing this but before publishing it, someone I consider a friend did text me and ask about the reading 🙂
Some of you will recall that I had a book reading in Jacksonville, Florida. It was Women’s History Month and my intention was to introduce the book, Daddy in a public way with at least four authors. I did that and it was successful.
With the Atlanta book reading, the intention shifted. One of my co-authors, Bree had a different purpose. She aimed to provide a space for healing.
It began with her creating another title. Instead of the book’s title, Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships, she decided the theme would be, Dear Daddy: Intimate Conversations about Father-Daughter Relationships. And let me tell you, her intention set the tone.
Additionally, Rosa Duffy, the owner of For Keeps Bookstore also had a goal. If you haven’t read about her, then please do so in this Atlanta magazine feature. Her intention was to have an open place for rare, African-American books. Her establishment is in an historical district, and she wanted a place for people to saunter by and say, “hmmm…let me see what’s going on in there.”
As you know, my intention when I write is to raise people’s consciousness, specifically women. I want us to see ourselves in writing and to connect with words and ideas, and then do, act, and speak differently.
Much like other happenings in the universe, these three intentions converged. We each accomplished our desired outcomes.
We had intimate conversations. A man in the front row pulled out his journal, started writing feverishly, and then held his partner’s hand for the remainder of the event. He didn’t share. He didn’t make eye contact. But I can tell he was moved.
A woman happened to be walking past For Keeps Bookstore, opened the door, sat down, and connected with the stories being told. She even had an endearing conversation with one of the authors and will probably collaborate with her to continue healing hearts in some way.
Women spoke out about their experiences with their fathers. They shared their pain, and then the conversation took another direction.
Similar to the last reading, a few women expressed the fact that they didn’t realize not everyone had great fathers. But this time they communicated a growing awareness. They felt the need to thank their dads more; to appreciate the time they had left with their fathers; and to simply be more grateful. It became a time to honor everyone’s feelings, even if they were dissimilar. My husband even shared his sentiments. On that day, we were each mindful of one another; we created a dialogue and communicated in an empathetic space.
Once again I’m thankful for this reading. It was different. The energy was intense, in a progressive, Atlanta kind of way.
If you missed the first two readings, then no worries. We’ll be convening in Washington, DC in the fall.
For my birthday this year, Grannie sent me one of those white, over-sized UPS envelopes. It was filled with memorabilia from 1990-1991, the year I stayed with her. Among my ACT scores and college acceptance letters was also a handmade card from a woman who was my best friend in undergrad. Her name was Bobby.
As soon as I read it, I began to cry…real tears.
The card, a piece of 8 ½ x 11-inch paper folded horizontally, included heartfelt words about me that she’d written for my 20th birthday. She’d expressed how she couldn’t afford to buy a card but how she’d hoped this gift would suffice. Bobby ended the sentiment by saying that I was what she considered a good “friend.”
That’s what made me cry. Bobby and I were friends for a maximum of two years.
During that time, people mistook us for cousins or sisters. We had the same skin tone and haircut and we were always together, no matter what. When she found out I was from Chicago, she nicknamed me Brini, after the infamous housing projects, Cabrini Green. I dismissed the offensive association because that was all she knew about the city. Because she’d deemed me ghetto, she would sing the Sanford and Son theme song when I entered the room. And because I didn’t have a lot of friends in undergrad, least of all a best friend, I let her.
Bobby was there when I first met Dwight. We double dated one night, and she cooed as he pushed me on a swing, “Brini’s in love!”
She and I flew to Charlotte, NC to attend my cousin’s graduation. She, Dwight, and I visited my family in Chicago. I was welcomed in her Detroit home, where her mother would make gumbo from scratch and send bowlfuls back so that we wouldn’t be hungry.
We were so close that we thought we’d join a sorority together. Unlike Bobby, I didn’t read the application thoroughly. I began to hand write my answers, instead of typing them. Upon realizing my error, I then used Wite Out and typed over the bumpy sludge. It was a mess. I submitted it anyway. Unlike Bobby, I was unable to attend an underground Christmas party in Detroit. And, unlike Bobby, I botched my interview.
Winter semester rolled around, and a mutual friend stopped us in our dorm’s hall, fishing for information. “Bobby, I heard you were on line.”
I responded for both of us. “We’re not on line,” I confirmed.
“I haven’t heard anything about you Kathy. Just Bobby,” she said.
The decline of our relationship hit me in that moment. Bobby was on line; she was initiated into the sorority that semester, leaving our “friendship” in the past. I’d see her at parties or on campus donning her shiny paraphernalia with her new circle of sisters. We didn’t speak the remainder of my time in college.
About five years later, after Dwight and I had married and had our first child, somehow Bobby and I found one another through email.
“I’m sorry,” she wrote, “I know Dwight must think I’m horrible.”
I don’t remember my exact response, but I know it wasn’t nice. 1999 was the last time we communicated. I thought I’d unleashed the hurt of the situation in that last email. I thought I was over it. But it turns out, I wasn’t.
I’m sharing this because I was shocked that over twenty years later, her handwritten card would trigger such emotions. Clearly, I hadn’t released the sadness of the relationship. I’d just buried it. And so it is for many of us. Sometimes we think we’ve dealt with something when really we’ve just repressed it and replaced it with a coping mechanism.
But this time, in May 2019, I figured out why I was so hurt by the loss of our bond. Four years before our meeting, my mother had died. Three years prior to our friendship my father had sent me to live with Grannie. I’d already decided that I wasn’t good enough to be loved and her additional abandonment solidified it.
Like previous narratives, I had to also let this one go. Bobby was the type of “friend” she was because of herself; it had nothing to do with me.
Today, I’m clear about that. Should I come across another memento representing our friendship, I’ll send out new energy by thanking her for her companionship and wishing her well.
If you’re wondering, I’ve also since realized that real friends don’t offer up nicknames associated with infamous housing projects and television shows centered in a junkyard. But I’ll save those lessons for another blog.
About fifteen years ago, two women had befriended me. One of them had a child the same age as my oldest daughter. At the time, she’d given birth to another, by a man, whom she was no longer with. During our friendship, she’d started dating and married another person altogether. The other had five children by one man, to whom she was divorced. Having remarried, she and the last one of her children lived with her new husband, who she’d eventually divorce.
We would usually convene over one of their houses, sip alcoholic drinks, and discuss women things: sex, periods, men.
On one occasion, we sat around a dining room table, red cups in hand. They both complained about their relationships. I don’t recall the details, but I do remember chiming in with whatever was bothering me about my husband.
“You don’t get to say nothing,” friend two interjected, “not when you’re married to Mr. f*ckin’ Rogers.”
They both howled with laughter. I gulped what was left of my drink and sat speechless for the remainder of the night.
Long before I’d met these women, my grandmother had taught me to sit in silence, to ignore how I felt about my experiences. Nothing I said was important enough to add to any grown-folks’ conversation. And because I was always surrounded by adults, I’d discovered that nothing I had to say about living life was ever of value, even if it was my own.
That one moment exemplified why I was rarely vulnerable with specific people. When I was twelve, there was one best friend with whom I stifled feelings about my parents. Her mother had moved thousands of miles away from her ghetto Chicago neighborhood to be a hairstylist for celebrities in California. My friend was left to be raised by her grandmother. To her, the image of my life was perfect. What could I have to complain about with two loving parents, adopted or not?
Years later, after we’d both had children of our own, that same friend confessed, “We’ve known each other for a long time, but I don’t feel like I really know you at all.”
It’s no wonder. I’d become a master at masking my true emotions about a thing, while hurt festered in the fiber of my being and manifested as inappropriate adult behavior.
This is what can happen when we devalue the voices of those around us. This is what can occur when we lack the ability to empathize. Those we claim to care about and to love may learn to either shrink their existence to make way for the largest voice in the room, or they may seek to be seen and heard in unhealthy ways.
I’d learned to do both, depending on the situation.
Today, however, I function in healthier ways with people whom I choose to interact.
With my children, I give them the space to give words to their emotions. If you talk to either one of them, you’ll notice they begin with the phrase “I feel like…” quite a bit. I believe it’s because I’ve always encouraged them to reflect and feel, whether I want to hear it or not.
With my friends and family, I listen to what people have to say. I never compare pain. If you’re upset by something I don’t understand or that isn’t of value to me, then okay. I’m not the emotion police. All feelings are important and have the right to be heard, no matter their size or subject.
With myself, I refuse to be silenced simply because my life is different than those around me. I know that different doesn’t mean less important. I don’t allow friends or family to guilt me for having things they do not. For example, just because you cannot find a happy healthy relationship, doesn’t mean I cannot discuss how being married has affected me.
Finally, I’m more discerning about the people with whom I’m aligned. This act alone has helped to create relationships that are more satisfying and symbiotic. In this way, I know that I’m participating in partnerships that are both valuable and valued, and by extension, so am I and what I have to say.