Corona Chronicles: Shelter in Place

I’m sitting on my patio, watching a little brown boy in a white shirt and gray shorts. He’s riding a hoverboard on his knees. First, he goes straight all the way to the cul-de-sac, where he whirls around and comes back towards me again. Then, he twirls in circles, one, two, three times, until he’s facing straight again. Music is playing but not loud enough for me to hear the melody or words, just enough for me to know he’s listening to something while he spins in circles, passing the time.

brown squirrel eating

To his right are two squirrels. I’ve been watching them for twenty minutes. One sits close to a tree, eating something between his paws, probably a nut. I’ve always known squirrels were skittish, but I never noticed how much. It seems he can hardly enjoy whatever he’s nibbling in between sporadic looks toward distracted noises. He scurries up the tree and sits on a branch and I briefly think about making a squirrel house, with nuts and such. Who am I kidding? I don’t even want to help my husband build things for our own house, much less build a whole home for a hungry squirrel, who seems to be doing life just fine without my interference.

Now, my across-the-way neighbor has come out. He and his wife are in the at-risk age group for coronavirus; his white hair tells me so. Friday, he washed his patio screen with a hard-bristle brush while the trees on his Christmas pajamas danced. I drowned out the repetitive grating during online yoga. Saturday, I saw him drive a two-seater sports car for the first time. His wife slowly backed their white SUV out of the driveway, making space for him to zip into the one-car garage. Today, he’s semi-dressed for an outing: light-blue, short-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt, navy casual shorts, barefoot. We have an automated sprinkler system and rain has begun to drizzle, but for some reason he’s decided to water the bushes.

boy s blue crew neck shirt
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Two hours have passed. There’s a father-son duo riding their bikes up and down and up and down the street to the same dead-end hoverboard-boy glided towards. This is the fourth time I’ve seen them. I wonder if the father is wearing a helmet to model good cycling practices for his son, who looks to be no more than five years old, or if he wears it because he really believes it will protect him, should he fall on this short jaunt. I also wonder where the mother is. I always question mothers’ whereabouts when I see fathers and their children. It’s probably a result of my own social conditioning. Here they come again, a fifth revolution.

I’ve sat here long enough. I know because hoverboard boy is back at it, this time a bit more dare devilish with his twirls. I glance up to see him belly down on the concrete. He’s limping back to his garage. He returns with his bike.

I wonder if anyone heard me cackling with my sister for hours the other day or if neighbors watched my husband and I eat waffles, sausage, and eggs in our PJs this morning. Is someone sitting in their home office, peering out their window at the brown woman, wearing glasses, trying to preserve her final month of contacts, while tip-tapping away on her orange laptop? Are they guessing what I’m writing, creating a narrative about why I’ve been sitting here for three days? Or, have they assumed as I have that we’re all creatively sheltering in place?

P.S. I wrote something similar three years ago from Starbucks. It’s funny what can change in a short amount of time. While I realize I cannot go to Starbucks and people-watch, I can make my own coffee, sit on my screened-in patio and create a similar experience. Adjustments. We all have to make them and function according to our current circumstances.

4/5/20

~kg

 

Corona Chronicles: Reading as Escapism

In 1990, when I moved to Covert, Michigan to live with my grandparents, I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do about living in a remote town of fewer than 2,000 people. There was nothing I could do about not seeing my father. And there was nothing I could do about missing my friends, some of whom I’d known since I was six years old.

I had little control over my life, and I’d succumbed to the idea that I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring or how the next day’s unknown events may disrupt whatever today’s new normal was, kind of like now.

So, in between finishing high school, working at a bank as a 10-key data entry clerk, and messing around with my new boyfriend, I read.

img_3543I read Stephen King novels. There was something about reading scary-ass narratives that could never happen to me that was more comforting than reality.

Misery helped me focus on a crazy nurse, who held her favorite writer hostage and tormented him.

Firestarter swept me away to unbelievable events centered on a father and daughter who’d gained telepathic powers and the ability to set fires.

The Dark Half is a little harder to explain, but let’s just say reading about a fictional author with dissociative disorder was captivating and kept my mind on other things, kind of like now.

img_3500I’m always reading, but lately, I’ve  been reading more, faster. I started Octavia Butler’s Kindred right at the beginning of our country’s serious discussion of the pandemic and finished it just as Florida’s restaurants were mandated to do take-out only, about two weeks.

Right after, I was compelled to find another book. As I’m writing this, I’ve decided on Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal. It’s a light read that shelters me from 24-hour news cycles and fear-based social media updates.

Unlike when I was seventeen, I’m not burying my head in the sand. I’m fully aware of how I feel and what’s going. I sense the world’s pulse. But I’ve easily slipped into a coping mechanism and I wonder if that’s the way we all function.

Hoarders hoard and fearmongers spread fear because they’ve been triggered. Folks who call others “dumb” and “stupid” for attending Mardi Gras or other group activities may be repeating phrases spoken to them during their childhoods. Like me, they’ve been here before on a smaller scale, but maybe they’ve not been able to process their emotions to understand other ways to function. Being triggered is a thing that’s real, inherent. 

Usually, I write for others, but this piece is more so a reminder from me to me not to judge how others are handling social distancing, quarantines, and death. However, I’m sharing because I do hope in some way it also reminds us all that we’re each doing the best we can, considering our past backgrounds and current circumstances. Even though it may look a little different, we all seem to be in survival mode.

So, if you have some book suggestions to help me escape, add them in the comments below.

3/28/20

~kg

Parts were written for this essay published on The Mighty: How Reading is Helping Me Fight Through Feeling Powerless Over COVID-19.

Monday Notes: Putting People In Boxes 📦

274c37f1-2160-49fd-830b-7fbc98aa85e0Last weekend, my family and I celebrated my goddaughter’s birthday. Our hotel had board games and a pool table in the lobby. Thanks to Dwight, we had an impromptu game night that lasted to midnight.

As is common for the 21st century, I took some photos and posted them to social media. A few people were surprised that I posed with a cue. And I was surprised they were surprised. Sometimes I’m able to let comments like these roll off my back; but this time, I was bothered, not only by their surprised reactions, but also by their accusations that I couldn’t possibly know how to shoot pool.

***

My great uncle, Uncle Webber taught me how to play when I was around 12 or 13 years old. He and Aunty Belle had just bought a home in Maywood, a Chicago west suburb. They had one of those garages that dips under the house. When you exited the car, you opened the door into the basement.

In their basement was a pool table, and that’s where I learned to play. Uncle Webber taught me. He taught me how to hold the cue. He showed me how to chalk the cue, and he helped me understand the rules of the game. Because I visited Aunty Belle and Uncle Webber often, I frequently practiced basic rules, like hitting the ball on a specific side to execute a shot.

I’m not saying I walked around the west side with a cue in my back pocket, hustling people, but I learned enough to know how to play. Just like riding a bike, those lessons stayed with me. When Dwight suggested we play the other day, I reviewed them and proceeded as I remembered.

But you can’t say all this on social media. There isn’t enough room, and it’s social media inappropriate, I suppose. Instead, I posted a few one-liners and lol’d my way through.

This has happened before. People are shocked that I do something other than teach or write. Playing pool is just one example. People are amazed that I cook food, which seems absurd, considering how much I like to eat and that I have a family, who throughout the years, has required meals.

I get that we can’t know every single facet of everyone’s identity or life. But that’s exactly why I think we shouldn’t assume that the 2-3 parts people show us is all they have to offer. Most people are multidimensional. While I teach for a living and write to promote thought, I also cook, play Spades, volunteer, read tarot cards, workout regularly, dance, and practice yoga.

Let’s stop putting friends and family in boxes and actually try to get to know one another. It could be as easy as starting a conversation that begins with, “I didn’t know you did blah blah blah,” which could lead to a cool story and a deeper understanding of an individual.

***

A few hours after I wrote this, I saw this video on FB that shows exactly what I’m saying:

Monday Notes: Tommy Hilfiger

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In 1996, I heard that Tommy Hilfiger said that he didn’t make his clothes for black people. I admired Hilfiger’s clothing, but there was no way I was going to purchase another piece, if indeed, he was going around making racist comments.

So, I didn’t.

Four years later, Spike Lee’s satirical film, Bamboozled, criticized America’s race relations. In it, Lee also ridiculed America’s fascination with brand-named fashion and alluded to Hilfiger’s alleged racism, with a parody he called Timmy Hilnigger.

As an avid Spike Lee fan, I was amused. I thought it was clever, and I was happy to be on the “right” side of an issue. My position remained, and I didn’t buy any more Hilfiger clothing.

That is until Saturday, September 14, 2019.

On that weekend, I was looking for something appropriate to wear to a tea that I’d been invited to. The host was going to wear a dress, and according to Google, I should too. I ended up at TJ Maxx because I had no intention on spending a bunch of money on clothes I may or may not ever wear again.

img_1646After several minutes, I found a cute, classic navy blue and white dress. The only issue is it was by Tommy Hilfiger! Yes. Twenty-three years later, I was still holding out on my Hilfiger ban. But I tried it on anyway because like I said, it was cute.

It looked even more fabulous on, and I had no hesitation. I was buying this $40 dress, racist Hilfiger or not.

The next day, I showed Dwight, who also agreed it was nice.

“Too bad I’ll be wearing clothes by a racist,” I said. “I’m choosing to exert my willful ignorance for fashion.”

Dwight pushed back a little and wondered what Hilfiger had actually said decades ago. His point was nowadays, people take things out of context, so how did it come about that Hilfiger allegedly said he didn’t make clothes for black people?

Unlike 20 years ago, this time I could Google it. That’s when I found this: Did Oprah Winfrey Throw Tommy Hilfiger Off Her Show for Making a Racist Comment?

And this, Tommy Hilfiger Addresses those Racist Rumors from 1996 One More Time.  

And finally, this, The Racism Scandal that Rocked Tommy Hilfiger.

In case you don’t have time to read these, here’s what I found out. Tommy Hilfiger never said those words, ever.

<sigh>

This revelation is a little more than disturbing. I can’t imagine having built a company, with a primary goal of being the best in my field, having succeeded in that goal, and then having an untraceable rumor ruin my reputation and decrease sales.

What’s equally disturbing is how quickly we will stop supporting businesses with little to no facts. It’s called cancel culture. While I’m not opposed to boycotting businesses with verified questionable practices or opinions and morals not aligned with what I believe, I am opposed to canceling a company or brand simply because of a rumor.

After this incident, it’s clear that I have to do better. But I’m starting to believe we all do.

Monday Notes: Everybody Is Not A Christian

I’ve held off discussing much about religion on this blog because I haven’t felt the need. However, recent comments have revealed people’s assumptions. Some people think I’m a Christian.

One example comes from a client. I missed her call. I think it was a Wednesday. Because she couldn’t reach me by phone, she emailed. In her note, she mentioned that I was probably busy at church (Bible study). I wasn’t at Bible study. I was at home, sitting on my couch, watching TV.

6739b4f3-6728-4a5f-b619-0be05846a9e2A similar assumption occurred with another client. He was explaining how he’d be in Jacksonville for some type of religious convention. He told me that I’d enjoy it. I just listened as he talked. I think my silence led him to engage in a guessing game of sorts.

“I know. I know Doc. You probably have your own church that you go to and you can’t be fooled up with mine, but I think you’d like to come. I’ll send you the information.”

I laughed and told him it sounded like a place where I could sell some books.

2b958bba-a7d1-458e-ac31-32b51e56dc18-516-000000333c818582This is what I usually do. I listen to the person. Laugh it off and let the conversation die. Past experience has taught me that saying something like, I don’t go to church; I don’t follow organized religion; or I’m not a Christian leads to full-on conversion techniques. Christians, in particular, either (a) ask me to attend their church or (b) outline reasons why I should follow their religious lead.

In the past, I’ve explained my religious background. My mother was a Sunday school teacher. My father was over the children’s ministry, and eventually, he became a Baptist deacon. My paternal grandmother was a staunch Catholic. One of my stepmothers was Apostolic. I know how to finish the phrase, “God is good…” as well as “God of mercy…” I know in some churches, I’m supposed to hold up one finger to symbolize excusing myself out of the sanctuary. I know the difference between AME and Methodist. Jesus Can Work It Out is one of my favorite gospel songs and I was thoroughly offended when Google Chromebook sampled it for a commercial. I’m familiar with hymnals, scripture, and all other manners of church behavior. But I am not a Christian.

What I’ve tried to explain to others is that it is because I’m well versed in Christianity that I choose not to participate.

The notion that my choice is not out of ignorance of the faith seems to baffle some people. In fact, it causes downright cognitive dissonance.

One day, my dad actually said to me, “I know you at least still pray because you’re doing so well.”

He couldn’t believe that my perceived success could be due to anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, and some sort of private conviction.

d9149271-a384-4edd-944a-c18da7b625a7-516-0000003386e4911eListen. I get it. There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Seventy percent of Americans are Christian (Religious Landscape Study). So, if you were to assume, then statistically speaking, you’d probably be right.

I guess my point is, as long as there are six other options that I could’ve chosen, the best thing to do is not to assume. While I’m at it, the most respectful act is also not to try to convert people once you learn they have other beliefs. Non-Christians are not wanderers who’ve lost their way. They actually might be thinking individuals, who’ve chosen a different path.

Monday Notes: “That Could Never Be Me!”

“That could never be me!” Have you ever used this phrase? I have. I used to say it a lot whenever I’d hear about sexual abuse victims. I used to say it because I was molested by my own father. I’ll spare the details, but I will share this. As soon as my mother returned home from Wisconsin, I waited for my father to doze off in front of the television, and then sat on their bed. I told my mother what happened.

“I’ll talk to him,” she promised.

The next day, my twelve-year-old self needed answers. “What did he say?”
“He said he was testing you to see if you’d say something. It won’t happen again.”

And it didn’t. If it would’ve, I already had a plan. I was telling her mother. And if that didn’t work, then I was telling a school official, because even in the seventh-grade, I knew something was unusual and inappropriate about what he did. From that point on and in my arrogance, I declared, that could never be me whenever I’d hear about other victims who suffered such acts for years.

But recent allegations from MJ and Robert Kelly victims have me singing a new tune. Now, in conversation, I suggest to others to have compassion for victims and parents because that could be your child. You know what they say? You guessed it. That could never be me!

In fact, one friend stopped scrolling through his phone, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “That could never be my kids. Kathy, that could never be one of your kids!”

teddy_bear
 Photo by serenestarts at Pixabay

I said this to him, and I’ll say this to everyone. Depending on how old your child is, you don’t know who your child is talking to right now. You don’t know what they’re doing. I stand by this because, unless you’re with your child twenty-four hours per day, then you really don’t know. And, from what I understand, children are typically sexually abused by someone close to them, not some stranger lurking in the dark, offering them candy.

 

Also, I’m sure none of us wants to think about this, but your child could literally be the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted teacher or coach. You…don’t…know, unless they tell you, which also may not happen.

A friend of mine recently found out that her child was molested at school when he was five-years-old. He’s nineteen now. She just found out. It’s not because she’s a bad mother. It’s not because she’s not had his interest at heart. It’s because things can occur that we, as parents, don’t know about.

My intent here is not to scare anyone or to have you hover more into helicopter mode. My point is the next time you hear about an alleged sexual abuse victim, maybe you could shift your perspective and think about it as if it were your child, or your sibling’s child, or your best friend’s child. Because even if you think it couldn’t happen to you, it could happen to someone you know, and that person might need a bit of compassion.

Monday Notes: Facebook Break (2019)

Every now and then, Facebook (in particular) gets on my nerves. Or maybe it’s the people on Facebook. Either way, sometimes, I tire of how people post, what they choose to share, and the overall monotony of it all.

So, I take a break and deactivate.

These breaks usually last 30 days. This time, though, I noticed two things in my absence and I almost said adieu to the social media site for good.

facebook-1905890_1280Facebook has made seasonal friends into lifetime ones. Have you all heard this phrase before: People are in your life for a reason, season, or lifetime? Well, I for one think it’s true. But what I’ve noticed is that Facebook makes every relationship a lifetime one, and that’s just unnatural. There are some people with whom you were only supposed to be in contact for those three years that you had that job. He or she was your co-worker. They were never supposed to know how your vacation went, or the college your child is attending, or that you love your cat so much that you have hundreds of photos of him. He was just Mike, from that job you had in 1998. And when you quit, you were probably supposed to leave him in 1998, not allow him access to the remainder of your life.

This goes for family members too. I remember when we first started our Facebook activity. Dwight was very discerning about who he would add, even if it was family. It used to baffle me. Why won’t you add my cousin??? It’s my cousin! Now, I understand. My cousin is crazy in person and she might also be crazy on social media. Family can be in your life for a reason, season, or lifetime too, so yeah. There’s no reason to befriend them on the interwebs when you might be avoiding them in regular situations, like Thanksgiving dinner.

twitter-292994_1280People think they know how you’re doing. Folks sincerely believe they know how you’re doing if they see you living your best social media life. One year, my aunt rattled off facts about me in an effort to prove just how much she knew about me. My cousin recounted how much my father “knew about and loved my daughters,” even though he’d never spoken to them on the telephone and visited twice. Facebook has become a replacement for other types of interaction. But let me tell you what happens when you’re inaccessible to people in that way. (Some) people revert to checking up on you the “old-fashioned” way. They call. They text. They ask how and what you’re doing. In fact, one friend said she’d gone on FB to find out what I was up to, but I wasn’t there, so she texted. While I appreciated her and others’ concern, it’s clear that it’s a lot easier to see how someone’s doing by just waiting for them to pop up in your feed, than it is to reach out and ask about their well-being. However, I’ve argued before that it’s not a genuine way to gauge someone’s wellness. It’s just a highlight reel, and not always an authentic one, just the positive, sunshiny version, chosen for its best angle and lighting.

Anywho, by the time you read this, I will have reactivated my account and returned to interacting with hundreds of “lifetime friends” and their filtered moments. But I have a feeling the end is nearing for this social media giant and me.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (10 and 11)

Here are the next two ways I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

10This year-long project really became a part of my being. I could tell because when Thanksgiving rolled around, I didn’t have the urge to do something nice for someone because I’d been of service the entire year. However, I did purchase a Barbie doll and give to Toys for Tots. This program runs from mid-November through December if you’re ever interested in giving. Toys can be dropped off at most Toys R Us.

A week later, when December 1st hit, I really hadn’t thought of a bang-up way to end the 12 months of service, so I combined two of the year’s ideas.

11I began the month with a random act of kindness, and I have to tell you, it was quite natural. An older woman pulled up behind me in the Publix grocery store line. She was in one of those motorized scooters with the baskets attached.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

I’ve learned to ask first because some people get super ornery if you assume they can’t do it themselves.

She kind of glanced up at me, and then said, “Actually, I do.”

I placed all of her groceries on the conveyor belt, and she was pleased. She thanked me over and over again, and told me how much easier that made her shopping.

Imagine that. One act that took less than two minutes made this woman’s day.

Next, I decided to end the year the same way I began it, at the Clara White Mission serving breakfast to those who need it. I’ve since learned that the people who frequent this mission are not always homeless. Sometimes they are newly released prisoners; other times they are simply people who can’t afford to eat.

Either way, I spent three December Mondays with them.

I wished there were some grand finale with fireworks or something, but I suppose the endgame is the internal transformation that has occurred. And you’ll have to wait until January for that reflection 😉

If you celebrate something during this holiday season, then Happy Holidays to you! If not, then I wish you well on this day. I do hope these 12 months have been an inspiration for each of you to contribute to society in some way.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (6)

Again, I’d forgotten to maintain the Christmas spirit after Christmas, so for this blog, I invite you to read the comments where others have made suggestions if you want to practice this for 2019, oooorrr add a comment and let us know how you give back throughout the year!

no_6Soooo…one day I looked up at it was July 25th aaannnd I hadn’t maintained the Christmas Spirit for that month! Turns out the summer is the time when I’m most forgetful about these things cause I’m out frolicking and stuff.

 

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (3)

Here is the third way I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?