On New Year’s Resolutions

Creative Commons/vanhookc

Creative Commons/vanhookc

For the last week, my Facebook news feed has been filled with people letting all their friends know that they don’t make New Year’s resolutions and sort of mocking those who do. On one hand, I get it. Not many people who make resolutions on January 1 will actually see them through to the end of the month. Forget trying to stick to them for an entire year. On the other hand, I don’t see anything wrong with people having the desire to make changes, even if they find they can’t stick with it.

To my Facebook friends’ credit, many of them stated—in different and lovely ways—that they try to be a little better today than they were yesterday. I think that’s a worthy resolution to make every day of the year. Imagine if everyone had that wish and followed through with it.

And therein lies the problem. Too many of us wish for things instead of taking action to make things happen. Believe me, I’m raising my own hand here. If only I had a dollar for every time I wished and hoped on something and left it at that.

Not this year, though. As I look at life differently, I understand more and more that the best things that happen to me happen because I took some kind of action, whether huge or seemingly insignificant.

All my resolutions, or goals, for 2014 can be condensed down to this: to keep my promises to myself. I’m pretty good at following through for others when I tell them I’m going to do something. I take pride in my word being my bond. But I let myself down all the time. I owe it to myself to be just as good and full of grace to Alexis as I hope I am to others.

How will this year be different? Well, I have a plan of action that anyone can use. You can read about it here on Good Enough Mother, where I also blog. Actually, I’ll be posting there quite a bit since I will be managing editor effective Monday. This job has been part of my goals for a while, and I got it with action, not just wishing.

Have a happy, powerful, and action-filled 2014!

Miley, It’s Not Your Fault

Creative Commons/AlexKormisPS (ALM)

Creative Commons/AlexKormisPS (ALM)

Ah, Miley, you never seem to get tired of the attention you so clearly crave. I don’t blame you, really. Through no fault of your own, you’ve spent your entire life in the public eye. Your father is in the music business and you yourself experienced overnight success as an actress and a singer with Hannah Montana at the tender age of 13—an age where other 13-year-olds are pimply and full of junior high school angst.

Let me be clear: I don’t hate you at all. We’ve never met and probably never will meet, so it’s hard to work up so much emotion for a stranger. I don’t even dislike you and I’m not banning your videos from my home (of course, my children are too young to know who you are. I might feel differently if they were preteens). I’ve only tangentially been aware of your existence because my music choices tend to lean more toward hip hop and R & B and the magazines you tend to grace are not on my reading list.

I’m not here to disparage you. I’m not here to blame the downfall of society on you. I’m not going to tell you that you’re hurting your father’s achy, breaky heart. (Surely, dear reader, you saw that one coming!)

One thing we can’t get enough of in America is an entertainer we love to hate. Much to your delight, that’s you right now.

I had never heard your singing until this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. I had to catch your performance on YouTube the next day to see what all the fuss was about. I thought you had a terrible voice, but then I found a link to two covers you did—Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

I’m embedding the video here because I think others should hear the purity of your voice. It is amazing and you have an impressive vocal range. You probably haven’t reached the pinnacle of what you can do vocally. The VMAs did you no justice at all.

Thinking back to your VMA performance, I realize that it wasn’t about singing—it was about being shocking and daring. It was about putting on a show. It was to get people talking about you. Now we’re talking about you again because of your video for “Wrecking Ball.” Just today alone, no less than three morning talk shows I watched mentioned this new video. The video was released yesterday and it’s inching toward 26 million views on YouTube. Well played, Miley. Well played.

It’s not your fault that in the last few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with your latest antics, but we have to go searching for information about Syria.

It’s not your fault that people act like you invented twerking, when it’s been around in one form or another at least since you were a toddler (and probably sooner—ask any strip club devotee).

It’s not your fault that we think you’re so misguided because of the way you behave on stage. We act like it’s the first time we’ve been shocked by an entertainer’s behavior. We used to think Elvis’s hips were scandalous. Were we ever so young?

None of this is your fault, Miley, because we made you. This isn’t to say that you’re completely blameless, but the people who should be chastening you are your parents. They probably are, but as you have made plain, you are an adult. A young adult on the cusp of 21, but old enough to make decisions on your own about your career, your image, and your life.

You want to twerk? Blank stare. You want to take off your clothes in a music video? Yawn. You like to use sex to sell yourself? Big deal—sex is used to sell everything. If we really hated what you’re doing, the best thing we could do is to ignore you. We don’t have to buy what you’re selling. But, no, we’ve chosen to embolden you to do more of the same because—let’s face it—we’re talking about you right now. It’s hard to capture the public’s attention (but not impossible) when you’re fully clothed and not acting like a circus monkey. That didn’t start with you; it started with us.

We could choose to heap admiration on you for performances like the ones posted above. If we did, then you would do more of it. You’re smart, Miley, because you understand who we are. The only question left is, why don’t we understand who we are?

Happy Anniversary To Us

me and D

Ben Affleck kicked up a little kerfuffle last February during his acceptance speech upon winning the Academy Award for Best Picture for the film Argo.

He made some very inspiring statements, but the takeaway for most people were these words to his wife, Jennifer Garner: “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.” In just two sentences, Ben enlightened us (or reminded us, depending on marital status) that a fundamental reality of marriage is that it is so much hard work.

The first few years of marriage—when the couple is still in the honeymoon phase—is magical. I got married in 2004 and my first few years were so magical, I felt like I had the best parts of being single and the best parts of being married. Darius works the second shift, so he wasn’t home in the evenings when I got home from work. I love spending time with myself, so that didn’t bother me at all. His not being home was great when I was in graduate school. I could study and do my master’s work without worrying about him being too loud. I would get that fluttery, butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling looking forward to Fridays, his day off, because that was date night.

Fast forward to 2007 when we had our first child. Darius working second shift didn’t look so good anymore when I had a full-time job and a squawking, hard-to-satisfy baby. Date night became diaper night. And diaper day. And diaper afternoon. Et cetera. The magic was over.

It was as if dark cloud with our names on it hung over our house all the time. The fights would get epic. (I should say here that they were always one-sided. I do the yelling, screaming, and crying while Darius maintains his cool. In the 17 years I’ve known him, he has never so much as raised his voice to me.) I wasn’t happy with all the work that was going into maintaining a marriage.

I was busy trying to mold Darius into the “perfect” husband. You know, the one who anticipates your every thought and need. The one who never complains about watching his own children, and who in fact says, “You need some time with your girlfriends on my day off? No problem! I love hanging out with the kids!” The one who not only doesn’t make messes, but also sees messes and cleans them up without being asked.

Then I realized that I was doing the wrong work. What was making my marriage such hard work was that I was trying to change Darius, when I really needed to work on myself. I needed to accept him for exactly who he is. He didn’t trick me—the person he is today is the same person I married on September 4, 2004. I knew what I signed up for. This isn’t to say he’s a bad person; he’s actually quite wonderful. It is to say that we both created unnecessary problems because we didn’t always see that while love is something we feel, it is, more importantly, something we do. It is present in our actions. It shows itself every time we choose to let it blossom. It is always ready to burst forth when we can see a spouse with the eye of wisdom, patience, and compassion.

Trying to change someone else is impossible. Ain’t gonna happen. But we all have a better than good shot at working on changing ourselves, which will yield great results in all our relationships. This is the true hard work of marriage because it is profoundly difficult to change yourself.

So, today, on my 9th anniversary, I will echo Ben Affleck:

Darius, happy anniversary. I love you. I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 9 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with. Thank you for showing me that I have unlimited power and choices in this relationship as long as I look within first. All good things in this marriage start with me.

A Little Sunshine For You

Just when I started thinking about what should write about on this lazy Labor Day for this 30 In 30, I found out that I got a Sunshine Award.

Well…not really. Let me explain.

One blogger that I really enjoy reading, Fadra Nally, was given a Sunshine Award by another blogger. This award is given to you by other bloggers. The only requirement for receiving the award is that the person enjoys reading your blog. How cool is that? Once you’re nominated, you answer the 10 questions given to you and then nominate 10 bloggers you like. Fadra didn’t nominate 10 people because she thinks we’re all fabulous, but she did invite us to nominate ourselves. That’s what I’m doing here.

So, the rules:

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1. Include the Award Logo (above) in your blog post.

2. Link to the person who nominated you.

3. Answer these 10 questions about yourself.

4. Nominate 10 bloggers and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog (I’m nominating only 2).

The questions:

1. If you couldn’t blog anymore, what would your “outlet” be?

I’m not sure if the question is really asking what my outlet would be if I couldn’t write at all or just couldn’t blog. Of course, I’m probably reading too much into this, so I’ll just say that I would write if I couldn’t blog. Maybe get that novel out that I’ve been holding in since I was a teenager. Now it occurs to me that maybe I should stop blogging and write the novel!

2. If you could go to a spa and get any treatment they provided, what would you get?

I’ve only been to a spa twice and both times I got a massage. It’s so indulgent. There really is nothing like undressing down to your skivvies so that a complete stranger can rub their hands all over your body.

3. If you could go back in time, would you have followed a different career path than you did? What would it be?

Before I decided to be a teacher, I wanted to be a TV journalist. I loved writing and I thought that would be cool job to have. But, I’m glad I didn’t try to follow that path because that wasn’t my life’s work.

4. You can plan any type of vacation you want. Would you want relaxing or adventurous?

This is easy. I’m going for relaxing, especially if I get to leave my four young children at home. I like adventure, but I like using the bathroom without somebody banging on the door even more.

5. What food do you hide from your kids and sneak after they go to bed?

Definitely chocolate chip cookies and Twizzlers. Most times my kids don’t even know I have them hidden in my room. It would be abusive to give them as much of those treats that I eat.

6. What TV show (that is currently on) are you addicted to?

I can’t say that I’m addicted to any TV show. I don’t have many opportunities to watch it. I really enjoy watching Project Runway, although I’m behind on it. They’ve probably picked a winner for this season. If they have, don’t tell me who it is. I’ll catch up with On Demand.

7. What was the best book you’ve ever read?

This is profoundly tough. If I only get to pick one, I’m going with Empire Falls by Richard Russo. It’s one of several books I’ve loved so much that when I finished it, all I could do was sigh, hold the book to my chest, and wish for more.

8. Do you play a musical instrument? If not, what would you play if you could?

I don’t play an instrument now, but I used to play the flute.

9. What was the first and last concert you’ve been to?

First: LL Cool J at the Genesis Center in Gary, Indiana.

Last: Maxwell at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

10. What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving. I love it because it’s a holiday that everyone can get behind. A holiday to celebrate all the things we’re thankful for? Yes, please! We should celebrate it once a month!

Well, that was fun. Who doesn’t love answering questions about themselves?

The two people I’m nominating are bloggers I subscribe to and make a point never to miss what they have to say:

Ari Speaks

LadyBuddha Speaks

Check them out sometime.

And, finally, a programming note: I’ve rethought doing 30 blog posts in 30 days. It’s just too ambitious for my life right now. It’s better to write fewer high-quality posts than to write 30 days of not-so-good material because I’ve spread myself too thin. So my new goal is to do 15 posts this month—about one every other day. But I’m still calling it 30 In 30. 15 In 30 doesn’t have a nice ring to it.

Here I Go Again…

It’s been seven weeks since I last blogged. I try to write as much as I can, but my writing has fallen to the side a bit because I started a business that provides professional development to educators. I love education and although I don’t plan on teaching again, I want to stay connected to the field and do something useful within it.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about getting back to writing and considered doing another 30 In 30. I attempted one in March, but only did one post a day until about the 18th. I hadn’t completely decided on the 30 In 30 until I saw this morning that a fellow blogger was doing another one herself. That provided motivation and I hope she sends me some encouragement along the way (Nicole, that’s a not-so-subtle hint!).

I’ve had so much on mind that I want to write about. If only I had a dollar for every time I said, I should blog about that. Well, I wouldn’t exactly be rich. The point is, I can afford to take 15 or 20 minutes out of my day to put pen to paper–or far more likely, fingers to keyboard.

So here I go again. Please join me as I dig around the corners of my brain and stop talking about writing and start being about writing.

I hope.

Argh! I don’t sound too optimistic about the whole thing, do I?

I will do it.

See you tomorrow…

The Weight of Centuries

I’m participating in Stream of Consciousness Sunday. This is where you write about whatever comes to mind based on a prompt by the host, Jana. Or you can write about the topic of your choice. I’m going to use Jana’s prompts. You just write for five minutes, no editing or spellchecking. As one who used to edit for a living, that is going to be impossible. I’ll give it a good shot, though.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt: Free Writing, Baby!

SOCSunday-janasthinkingplace250
The George Zimmerman acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin left me unable to fall asleep until 1:00 in the morning. I woke up feeling better and more positive, but still a bit anguished. I’ve had to remove myself from social media for today and the next few days because the level of vitriol, ignorance, and anger coming from all sides makes me feel sad.
There are people who simply don’t get why so many black people feel angry today. They don’t understand why many of us don’t just accept the jury’s decision and move on. They have no idea that our anger is based on our long history of injustice in this country. Yes, it’s about Trayvon Martin, but it’s about so much more.
On September 15, 1963, my first cousin (my mother’s brother’s daughter), Carol Denise McNair, was one of four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I never knew her–she was killed 12 years before I was born–but I am thinking of her and her friends today. I’m thinking of all the men, women, and children whose lives were unjustly sacrificed.
As humans, our feelings and emotions are formed by our experiences. It is with the history in my own family that I think of Trayvon Martin and what I feel was a miscarriage of justice. You may not agree with my feelings, but they are mine and I get to own them.
I’m going to close with thoughts that my Facebook friend, Precious Muhammad, wrote on her wall last night. I think it beautifully and eloquently explains how I feel. They are her words, but I feel like she was reading my mind.
“Feels like the weight of centuries on my chest, we’re still suffering from the weight of centuries. Takes your breath away and you have to tell yourself: Breathe! Trayvon died carrying the weight of centuries, black youth die in Chicago (and other parts of USA) carrying the weight of centuries. It’s almost evil to pretend that weight isn’t there, that it’s not a part of the equation. We are a people who were LITERALLY castrated; hung from trees in front of mobs of people, including children; bombed in churches; shot in our front yards; dragged behind cars by ropes and chains; sold on auction blocks, naked with no regard to our right to dignity; ripped from our mothers’ bosoms while they were forced to care for their slave masters’ children; packed like sardines on slave ships and forced to wallow in our own excrement; our NAMES, our RELIGIONS, our CULTURE ripped away from us; forced to eat the worst parts of foods from the master, that negatively affect our health even today: let’s call this the legacy; refused education and beat for trying to educate ourselves; maimed and killed for running to freedom; we couldn’t even fully vote less than 50 years ago without getting beat down with dogs sicked on us and on and on and on and on. This is our American history. Do you not think it would have a devastating impact on our communities even today? Please, I don’t want to hear anybody say anything about how they can’t understand why black people are upset today. We have the weight of centuries on our chest, the weight of centuries.”

Start Living Now

I’m participating in Stream of Consciousness Sunday. This is where you write about whatever comes to mind based on a prompt by the host, Jana. Or you can write about the topic of your choice. I’m going to use Jana’s prompts. You just write for five minutes, no editing or spellchecking. As one who used to edit for a living, that is going to be impossible. I’ll give it a good shot, though.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt: Free Writing, Baby!

SOCSunday-janasthinkingplace250

“Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion. Stop withholding your love until that special person materializes. Every day you are alive is a special occasion.”

–Mary Manin Morrissey

Years ago, I walked into a Victoria’s Secret store and I was overcome by the scent that greeted me. I asked a salesperson what that delicious smell was and she told me it was Dream Angels Heavenly. I immediately purchased the bottle of lotion pictured here and then, just as quickly, stored it away promising myself I would use it on special occasions.

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I used this lotion when big events happened: when I went out on a date with a person I was really excited about, when my friend got married, when I got married. I thought about using it on ordinary days, but my so-called common sense would take over and I’d think, “There’s no point in wearing this scent to work.”

This was 2004, folks. The occasions that I decided were “special” weren’t everyday events and, the truth is, they were few and far between. So here we are nine years later and I still have the bottle. Why?

It was around 2009 when I discovered my Dream Angels Heavenly tucked in the back of a dresser drawer. I had such pleasant memories associated with its purchase and the times I wore it, I decided to use it that day. When I smoothed a little of the lotion in my hands, I was taken aback by the smell. It wasn’t a bad smell, in fact, it was still lovely; it just wasn’t the smell I remembered from five years before. It didn’t blow me away like it did at Victoria’s Secret. I was disgusted with myself because I let that bottle go bad. I should have worn it every day, run out of it, and bought 10 more bottles if I felt so inclined.

The lesson for me was this: if I don’t think I’m special enough to wear a perfumed lotion whenever the spirit hits me, then other people won’t think I’m special in any way. It’s not like anyone knows about my lotion, but my attitude about my worth is transmitted to everybody I come into contact with. The lack of self-worth has a scent, and it’s not as sweet as perfume. It’s a look on the face. It can be seen in a walk and in how words and emotions are communicated to others.

I think we all want to send a message to the world that says, “I’m one of a kind.” But how can we if we don’t treat ourselves as one of a kind? This not-quite-empty bottle is a reminder to treat every day I draw breath as a day to be savored. They are days to be lived fully. They are days to be enjoyed, to laugh loudly, to love fiercely, to use the good china. They are days that are sacred, even when “nothing” happens.

Asking

I’m participating in Stream of Consciousness Sunday. This is where you write about whatever comes to mind based on a prompt by the host, Jana. Or you can write about the topic of your choice. I’m going to use Jana’s prompts. You just write for five minutes, no editing or spellchecking. As one who used to edit for a living, that is going to be impossible. I’ll give it a good shot, though.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt: Asking

SOCSunday-janasthinkingplace250

I’m a fan of asking questions. After all, how else do you get the information you need unless you inquire? But I’ve learned a thing or two about asking: there is a right way and a wrong way to ask questions.

Words have the power to hurt or to help, to wound or to heal. Questions that are phrased correctly are the very breath of life and those phrased incorrectly are the kiss of death.

I have a friend who is struggling with severe problems right now. She lost her home to foreclosure last year and her new living arrangements have since fallen through. She had to move in a hurry and landed at a homeless shelter. Her two children are living with a friend as she simply can’t bear having them in the shelter. She came to visit me a while back and she talked a lot about her life and the decisions she’s made that led her to this point.

In my experience, there isn’t much you can say to a person who is in the middle of extreme suffering. There are no words that are going to put everything back together . All I can do for my friend is listen, sympathize, and offer emotional support. The way I offer support is by asking questions.

“How are you really doing?”

“Are you taking care of yourself?”

“Would you like to use my computer in your job search?”

I asked lots of questions. When my friend was leaving, she said she felt much better and thanked me for helping her. I know that my questions helped her because they gave her a chance to talk, which is what she really wanted to do, and she got a chance to verbalize the things that have been dragging her down. I could have asked different questions that would have made her feel bad or come off as judgemental, but that’s not the person I am. I hope my questions helped her see that every problem, no matter deep, has a solution and that she herself is going to be part of that solution.

Asking questions (the right way) helped me bring out my compassion and helped my friend bring forth her inner resources.

Falling Off The Writing Wagon

I’m participating in Stream of Consciousness Sunday. This is where you write about whatever comes to mind based on a prompt by the host, Jana. Or you can write about the topic of your choice. I’m going to use Jana’s prompts. You just write for five minutes, no editing or spellchecking. As one who used to edit for a living, that is going to be impossible. I’ll give it a good shot, though.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt: What have you fallen out of the habit of doing (or not doing)?

SOCSunday-janasthinkingplace250
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve picked up some pretty good habits. I’m eating less and exercising every day. I’m at the point where I don’t miss a day of doing some kind of physical activity. As a result, I’ve lost 29 pounds and I’m still losing. That’s a good thing.
But in finding time to exercise, I lost my writing time. In order to get my exercise in, I get up around 5 in the morning. Before January, that time was reserved for writing. I’ve fallen off the writing wagon.
I want to get back on. That’s why I’m here today doing this Stream of Consciousness Sunday. When I saw the topic, I knew exactly what I was going to write about. I’ve barely touched this blog this year. I had a goal of writing something for it every other day. I had a goal of adding interesting features to it. As you can see, that hasn’t happened. I know I have a novel in me somewhere. I’ve even started one, but I can’t even remember the last time I worked on it. All I know for sure is that it hasn’t been in 2013.
It’s time to get back to who I am as a writer. Oh, I still write, but it’s for someone else. Nothing wrong with that–especially since it’s a paying gig–I just need to do a lot more for myself.
Maybe I should make a goal to enter a contest. It has something that I apparently need to write: a deadline!

Why I Love Charles Ramsey, Sweet Brown, and Antoine Dodson: The 21st Century Griots

Just in case you’ve been living in Antarctica with no access to the Internet for the last few years and you’ve missed these YouTube sensations, I’ve embedded video of what they’ve done for their 15 minutes of fame:

There was a time when seeing people on TV like Charles “Dead Giveaway” Ramsey, Sweet “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” Brown, and Antoine “Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife” Dodson embarrassed me. It seemed like every time something went down in the ‘hood, the local news outlets would find the most snaggle-toothed, ig’nint, do-rag wearing fool to interview. I know many black people who had, and still have, that same feeling. Part of the embarrassment comes from knowing that people of other races—particularly white people—are watching the same news clips we are, and everybody knows that when you see one black person on TV, he or she represents all 42 million of us in America. I’m being sarcastic, but there really are people who paint all black people with the same broad brush strokes—almost always negative.

Whenever I became friendly with a white person, questions I used to get asked by some are, “Why do black people say ‘ax’ instead of ‘ask’, like fried chicken, talk so loud, wear their hair ‘like that’?” Each question was more ridiculous than the one before it. Sadly, they are legion. Try Googling “why do black people” and see how that question is completed for you.

When I first began seeing these amusing news clips, I used to wonder what the big deal is. I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana–a city that is about 85% black. Other than college and a 4-year stint in California, this is where I’ve always lived. I’m surrounded by people who speak in colorful catchphrases. I talk and act like this from time to time. (My non-black friends would be surprised to know this about me. There are times when I wear the mask.)

Even though people have pointed their fingers and laughed and used Charles, Sweet, and Antoine purely for their entertainment, I understand that they didn’t wake up the morning of their life-changing events looking for their moment to shine. They were just living their lives when someone with a camera came along and wanted their stories. In the telling, they had the courage to be exactly who they are. I love when people love themselves enough not to present a façade that has no connection to who they are at every other moment of their lives.

Don’t we like it when people keep it real? Don’t we appreciate when people are unafraid of what anybody thinks of them? Don’t we all tell our children to “be yourself”?

I admire that the black community—just like all races—has unique cultures within the culture. The people I’m talking about here are the most kaleidoscopic storytellers—the people who keep me laughing with all the “yeast” they put in their stories. I have these people in my family, I’m friends with them, I’ve worked with them. Most importantly, I respect them. They are the griots of our time. And what is a culture if it doesn’t have people who tell amazing stories with imagination and flair?

I realize that some people don’t care to understand the beautiful intricacies that are part and parcel of black culture. It doesn’t matter because I understand, and there are countless millions who understand and appreciate who we are.

To all the Charles Ramseys, Sweet Browns, and Antoine Dodsons out there, I salute you. The people who think they’re laughing at you don’t understand that they’re laughing with you. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for showing me that I have nothing to be ashamed of.

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