Turning 50: Advice I’m No Longer Taking

I’m turning 50 on May 23rd, and in true kegarland form, I need to process and document it. Being on the earth for half a century, interacting with people, has taught me a few things, and I’ll be sharing them with you through June.

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is advice I was given in my youth.

When I was a child, my mother used to say, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” and I totally understand the sentiment behind the suggestion. If you want someone to listen to what you have to say, then you should maybe consider your tone and choice of words. When I’m writing, I do think about those things. And for about ten years, beginning in my 30s, I also tried very hard to take a beat before I opened my mouth to communicate.

But this didn’t serve me well. A lot of times, I ended up sugar-coating what I really wanted to say to appease the person and suppressing my tone and intent, which physically affected me. So, no more.

If I see that there is information that would benefit you because you may be headed down a difficult path (in my opinion), then I don’t worry about my tone or choice of words. I’ve learned that two things can happen: either the person will receive my message as intended, which is typically to be helpful, or they will focus on how I communicated, which leads to the use of negative adjectives (i.e., rude, mean, arrogant, know-it-all).

But at 50? I’m not worrying about that anymore.


In addition to my mother, my grandmother, who was born in 1926, used to also provide advice. Many times, she told me to simply talk about the weather in social situations, so as not to get into arguments with people. I mean, you can’t argue about if it’s raining or not. Again, I understand why this is. Most people at your job, at the grocery store, or in the parent pick-up line, don’t want to really hear about how you’re doing, even though they asked. We’ve become accustomed to using hello, how are you? as a greeting, as opposed to an expression of care.

But I want you to consider this: How hard would it be to answer honestly? You don’t have to tell someone your life story, but you could say something like, I’m having a rough day. And maybe we can learn to respond in kind. You don’t have to go into fix-it, therapist-mode. You could just say, I hope you feel better.

See how easy that is?

Another thing we could do is re-vision how we interact in situations that are supposed to be more intimate. If I spend hours driving to your home for a holiday, then I don’t want to talk about how awful your job is. I want to hear about why you’re at a job you hate, with a boss you dislike…after all these years. Again, I don’t want to fix it for you. I just want to discuss something that matters…to you, something that helps me to understand who you are as a person.

So, I’m leaning into engaging in more thoughtful ways with people. If I ever ask you how you’re doing, then I want to know. And if we’re spending time together, then I’m probably going to ask a deeper question that goes beyond surface-level descriptions. If you choose not to respond, then that’s fine, too. Everyone doesn’t have to be like me. I’ve lived long enough to know that my intent will always prevail, and as a result, bring likeminded individuals into my space so that we can commune.

Post-script: To be clear, I have no intention on spitting venom toward others, but I’m also not worrying about how I say things. Folks either get me or they won’t 😉


Writer’s Workshop: Voice

My first blog post was “Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother.” In it, I describe my observations of a friend’s mother, juxtapose her mother with how I felt about my own mother, and then explain how I hope my own daughters will see me as a mother—when they eventually begin to reflect.

Out of all the texts I received, I appreciated my journalist friend’s the most.

“Kathy, this is good,” she said. “You have what they call voice. In grad school, they used to always talk about how you should have voice in writing. You have it.”

In literature, “voice” refers to the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-find-your-writing-voice

Whenever I write, I want the reader to experience exactly what I was thinking or feeling.

But how do I do this?

Brace yourself.

I may tell you something that goes against what you’ve been told before:

I pretty much write how I talk and think. Even that last sentence is an example. I promise you a grammar program will tell you to remove “pretty much” because it’s unnecessary, but I left it in because that’s how I talk and think. If we were together, and you asked me how do I write? I’d say I pretty much write how I talk and think.

What is also helpful is my brain’s duality. I was raised in a family that valued so-called standard English, so I grew up learning the syntax appropriate for news personalities and job interviews. However, I was also raised on the west side of Chicago, which by all accounts is the hood. I quickly learned how to switch the verb “to be” around or to insert a cuss word so as not to be accused of talking like a White girl. I’m not special. Many Black people know how to codeswitch in this way.

What this means for my writing is I can create a sentence that appeals to White folks and Black people…or should I say Black folks and White people. You see how just interchanging those two words—folks and people—shifts meaning and tone?

I also want my writing to be accessible. I want to have a conversation with you. In order to do that, I have to write how I would talk if we were together having a latte, green tea, or Caipirinha. So, sometimes I stop, and address you directly. Maybe I’ll add a question, like what do ya’ll think to invite you into this conversation we’re having, while also throwing in the Southern dialect I’ve acquired from living in Florida for over two decades.

Most of my in-real-life friends who read my blog say, “Girl, I could hear you saying…” And that’s what I want.

To reiterate, if you’re concerned with developing voice in writing, then you have to determine what “vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax” you want to use and why. Only you know what that is.

And remember, voice, kind of like personality, cannot be imitated because it’s something only you possess. (Full disclosure: I sat here for five minutes flip-flopping between the word possess and own).


Do you worry about voice in writing? Does it matter?