*RE-Defined: Thanksgiving

Saying, “thank you” after someone handed me a gift used to be my ultimate expression of gratitude. That’s how I was raised. Once I had a family of my own, my husband and I encouraged similar behavior for our own daughters. Make sure you say thank you we’d sing in unison. I thought it was a common cultural practice. As a result, I began to reprimand others for not making their children thank me for birthday or holiday presents. Things had gotten out of hand. Don’t get me wrong. There is significance in thanking a person when he or she hands you something. In fact, I still believe it’s a gracious response. But somehow my concept of gratitude was limited to just this act.

I needed a gratitude overhaul.

After careful soul searching, I figured out the problem. I was seeking gratitude when I should have been living in a spirit of gratitude. But how? How does one achieve this? I decided that one way was to send fewer material items and provide more authentic expressions of appreciation to people who had impacted my life. I decided to be gratitude.

The process was simple.

I chose a month and then told one person each day how grateful I was for him or her being in my life. Loved ones felt compelled to return the favor. As a result, it became a sort of gratitude exchange. My intention was to make them feel valued. But they also wanted me to feel equally loved. This even and immediate trade happened with all of the people that I contacted, except my goddaughter, Kotrish.

When I told Kotrish that I was grateful for her presence, this young lady’s response was, “Thanks. That was unexpected.” My old self wanted to judge the reply. But I remembered the purpose was to appreciate others, no matter the reaction. I accepted it and continued on.

So, the month of gratitude ended. Christmas had come and gone. A new year had begun.

The memory is still clear. I had just returned home from work. Waiting on the dining room table was a salmon-colored envelope addressed to me. Inside was a matching salmon-colored thank you card. Kotrish had handwritten a note filled with ten separate thank-you statements. I cried. It meant so much to me that I carried it in my inside purse pocket for weeks. The blurred blue ink shows how much I’ve held it. Its tattered edges reveal how much I have opened it. I thought this would be the only card.

But I was wrong.

Her testimonials continued. For the next year, she sent four more handwritten thank-you cards every other month. Each one is different. Each one is heartfelt. Each one is better than any other gift I could ever receive from her.

I know it is customary to exchange store-bought presents during this time of year. But perhaps you can gift your loved ones with an additional item. Maybe this holiday season, you can offer an expression of gratitude. Jewelry will fade and clothes will soon be outdated. Telling others how much you value them? Well, that could last an entire lifetime.

*This was originally published in Natural Awakenings November 2015.

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Monday Notes: Cover Letter/Life as a Black Woman

If you ever plan to submit your work for publication or a contest, then you should also plan to submit a cover letter. My journalists friends initially suggested a cover letter only include two quick sentences with the title of the work, word count, and brief summary. I’ve found a letter like that was fine, until I began submitting for longer projects, like book chapters. Sometimes, those editors and publishers want in-depth descriptions, and they usually provide guidelines if that’s the case.

That’s what happened when I recently submitted to win a grant for Black women writers. Although I didn’t win, I was one of the Top 10 Finalists. Consequently, two of my manuscripts will be published with their journal as soon as this Friday.

I’ll share that publication once it’s published. In the meantime, here’s the cover letter I wrote.

img_3807The question was something like, What are the challenges of being a Black woman in America? After mulling over a few notes, here’s what I came up with:

Life as a Black Woman

I learned the importance of my blackness when I moved from Detroit, Michigan to Jacksonville, Florida. It seemed the Duval County school board hadn’t fully integrated. Consequently, the job fair I’d attended in 1997 held a surprise. On one table, there sat a white paper with the words: Vacancy Black English Teacher. After an awkward conversation about my recent graduation from a teacher education program, the white, male principal offered me a position.

That was the first time my blackness preceded my qualifications.

I learned the intricate nature of being a woman during my six-year, doctoral program. Single, childless professors rarely took me seriously once they found out I was married with two young daughters. Similar to microagressions based on race, I could never put my finger on one discreet moment. It was more intuitive. More subtle. But somehow proving I could mother, wife, teach, and learn seemed to become an integral part of attaining the prestigious degree.

That was the first time my intellect was challenged based on the social construction of gender.

I learned what it meant to be a Black woman in academia when I applied for a permanent, tenure-track position at a research university. I submitted my application two separate times. I didn’t receive an interview. The third application was for a one-year, clinical position, teaching only. The institution hired me with a simple Skype conversation.

My new colleague was the person they’d hired in the English Education position I’d sought. He was a white man. His terminal degree was not in English Education; mine is. At the time of hire, he had one scholarly publication; I had three. He had five years of K-12 experience; I had ten. He had no years in higher education; I had two.

That was the first time race and gender intersected to create a sense of dual oppression.

To say that being a Black woman is a double-edged sword is cliché. But it must be said. It’s getting a job because I’m Black and not getting a job because I’m not white and male. It’s reading and teaching about white privilege and male privilege, nodding in agreement with textbook theories, but then having both thrown in your face by the very institutions that preach those concepts.

It’s ironic, really.

I’ve learned what it means to be a Black woman by attempting to participate in one of America’s most hopeful institutions. By attaining the highest degree possible and asking for a seat at the education table, I’ve learned that racism and sexism still exist, both as independent forms of discrimination and as collaborative acts of subjugation.

However, I have chosen to be a Black woman who uses her voice as an act of change. Neither my pen, nor my opinion can be taken from me, no matter my race or gender.

Have you ever had to contemplate your race or gender and their impact on your place in society? What’s your experience writing a cover letter? 

 

Be Mindful

Hate to gross you out but you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to share a lesson learned. What you’re looking at is my burned hand. It’s in process of healing. On December 30th, I held a convo with my oldest daughter, Kesi, while simultaneously pouring boiling, hot water into a mug. Because I was listening to her and not paying attention to how the scalding water got into the cup, I totally missed the destination and emptied it over my left hand.

Here’s why I’m sharing.

A lot of my writing is about being mindful and paying attention in grandiose ways: yoga, eating, working, relationships. Really, we should be mindful in each moment. Either I should have poured water, or I should have finished my conversation. As simple as it seems, I shouldn’t have attempted both. But I’m a product of my environment. Our culture values multi-tasking. However, it didn’t serve me well here. Once my hand was on fire, whatever we discussed turned insignificant. Cold water. Neosporin. Gauze. Holding back a teardrop. That’s where my attention shifted. And trust me, that’s all I was focused on at the time.

It’s really hard to be mindful in each moment. Today, I’ll just start with paying attention to how I pour hot water.