I Care: Advice from Beyonce

Listen: Beyonce- I Care

Be Who you are

I’m a loner. Always have been. I feel more comfortable being alone. There could be several reasons for that. I’m an only child. I never had siblings to socialize with. Sure, I had cousins, but that isn’t the same. Back in the 90s, if you didn’t have a mom and a dad–you were picked on and bullied. I never had many friends. I have never known how to talk to people. I’m inherently uncomfortable around strangers. I make it a point to find as many ways to avoid human contact in public as possible. I don’t know what it is. Sure, it’s anxiety. But is it more than that?

I have already established in previous posts that I don’t trust easily. There are reasons for that. It’s been a long journey to being 26. A long, painful one at that. I have walls up but they serve the purpose of protecting me from potential pain. Life has taught me to what I hope to be an excellent judge of character. I am hypervigilant. I don’t miss anything and my memory is both a gift and a curse.

As humans, we try to pretend that we don’t care what people think of us. But that school of thought is ridiculous. The truth is that everyone judges everyone. Judgement is a fundamental element in natural selection. The difference is that some of us are compassionate enough to find the strengths in someone’s weaknesses. But then there are those of us who ridicule and criticize. That’s the difference between a hater and a supporter.

I have tried damn hard to pretend that I don’t care what people think of me. But if I am being honest with myself–I care. I care because I want to be good at being a good person. I want to be genuine, authentic. I care a great deal about social justice and people who have less than I do. I even care about people who have more than me. I care about people. But I can’t deal with being around people all the time. Where is the sense in that?

My theory is that I have a habit of taking on other people’s’ stress–their issues. I internalize and empathize to at some points to a fault. I have learned that about myself. And the best thing I can do for me is to learn how to say no. I’m trying to teach others like me the same.

I have spent many years trying to find my own identity that is me to the core and not layers of others. It took a long time to get here, but I think I have a pretty good grasp on who I am. The issue I seem to be having is convincing other people that I am who I say I am. As I’ve stated in other posts, people like to use the terms “bitch,” “selfish,”  and “rude” as adjectives to describe me. In my heart, I KNOW I am none of these words.

I see myself as a product of my experiences. I have been heavily influenced by the way my Grandparents raised me. I am independent because that is what I was taught to be. I am wise because of my life experience and my love of books and all things educational. I am compassionate and for the most part, pretty damn understanding. I care about the environment. I care about people. I’m not an animal person but I appreciate them. Honesty and loyalty are real for me. I am real. I am very direct, and most times I get criticized for it. Because no one likes confrontation. I am not afraid of the truth or its delivery. If you ask me something, expect the full, blunt force of the truth. Nothing less. I am funny. I love to laugh; and what better gift is there but to spread joy? I have feministic views. I love women. Especially black women. I am true to my roots with my natural hair and melanin. I want us all to succeed. I will always tell a woman how beautiful she is, that I like her outfit, or anything that will uplift her. Empowerment is important to me. Both for men and women alike–no matter what background. I do a lot of selfless things daily but I never get recognition for it.

Clearly, I know who I am. But do other people see me how I see myself? Logically, I know that there are bad people who are well liked and that there are good people who are overlooked. I also know that “nice” does not necessarily mean “good.”

I asked people who knew me personally on Facebook if they thought I was a good person. Because, validation.

M: I believe you are a good person because you are a good advocate for other and yourself. You don’t go out of your way to harm others. You are not purposely cruel. You are kind, smart and loyal. You might not show it but you are a big (whispers) softy. You carry the world on your shoulders. And no one knows. Not because you are evil, cold or unkind but because you have learned a way to survive. DO NOT and I mean it DO NOT let the way people PERCEIVE you, DEFINE you. You have gotten this far because you have successfully (even if at times it felt like a failure) navigated thus far. You are a strong Sail in the middle of a Hurricane.

A: You’re nice and fun. You have a good head on your shoulders and you tell it how it is.

K: They should you are kind, caring, helpful. You have a beautiful soul. Others should know that just by having one conversation with you.

A2: I think you are a great person. Maybe to some people they just need to get to know you better. Once they get to know you, you make people laugh, and you are a great person to talk to. You give people compliments. Everyone has bad days, it doesn’t mean they are bad people. Keep being you

D: Um, obviously. Your line of work proves that alone. Plus, I’m only friends with good people 😝. The fact that you care whether or not you’re a good person proves it too. Assholes don’t care about the impression they make on people.

I am not someone who opens up easily to others. Like I said, I have no idea how to talk to people unless there is a situation where I feel comfortable or the awkwardness is mutual. The point I am trying (and I think failing) to make is that I want people to see me as a good person. I could give a damn if they like me or not. But you will respect the fact that I hold my own and I am AM A GOOD PERSON. I don’t have to be liked. I don’t need a lot of friends or followers. I just want who I am and the movement that I represent to be respected.

People will never understand me fully. I have accepted that. Like M said, I have many layers and it takes a special person to be patient with me and discover the richness and purity that resides in my soul.

 

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THUG Life

THUG Life

As a young black millennial, I have been making efforts to consciously read more books based on the black experience. I read a lot of books, but most of the time I’m reading about people and places I can’t wholly connect with. I have only read a handful of books in my lifetime that I could relate to. I have been searching for more opportunities to read black authors and books that contain black characters.

I have been a little out of the loop in terms of new releases and I stumbled upon an advanced reader’s copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give by chance. A co-worker told me she found an ARC I would like that was based on the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was intrigued. I took it home and attempted to read it. At first, I couldn’t get into it. Not because the writing was bad, or the subject didn’t peak my interest, though. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to read a lot of the same types of books for a while. It just so happened that at the time I tried to read this–back in Jan/Feb–I was waist deep into a pile of thrillers. I couldn’t focus. Eventually, I got off the thrill ride and was able to pick up The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter is a sixteen- year -old girl who finds herself navigating between the world’s the Hood she lives in and the suburban Prep School she attends. Starr’s world comes crashing down when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr is the only witness and everyone wants answers as to why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by the police. Khalil’s case makes national headlines and the black community is furious. They want justice. Starr finds herself blurring the lines between who she is at her school and who she is at home. Is she betraying black men by having a white boyfriend? Is she betraying her Hood by wanting to get out?

I can only describe the experience I had reading this book through the perspective of a young black woman. I found that I had to read this slowly and deliberately. I had to put it down several times. Either I was too enraged, to hype (slapping my knee and hollering in agreement), or just grieving for not only the characters, but the black community as a whole.

In my opinion, this book gives a daringly accurate account of the black experience. Although I didn’t grow up in the Hood personally, I experienced many of the things Starr, her family, and her friends experienced.

“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is non -confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.”

Starr is remarkably intelligent and insightful. She is aware of the power of presentation when it comes to “fitting in” and not wanting to be stereotyped. I still struggle with maintaining both sides of myself. As a kid, I was taught how to speak so that white people could feel comfortable–but it’s never been comfortable for me, just like it isn’t comfortable for Starr.

Starr’s family is one example of what a family looks like growing up in a poor community. I enjoyed the fact that Angie Thomas incorporated gangs, alcoholism, and blended families into the story. It made it that much richer in substance. These are issues that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the black community BUT for the purpose of this story, it worked. I loved the dynamic between Starr and her parents. Her father, Maverick, is an ex-con/former gangbanger and has educated himself and his kids about how to deal with the police. I can recall having the same talk with my Grandfather as a kid.

As for Starr’s relationships with the kids at Williamson  Prep–it’s what I would expect from a teenager. It’s difficult as it is, trying to navigate friendships in high school. But when you had the media and the pressure of social injustice–something is bound to happen. I, for one, was ecstatic when Starr molly-whopped Hailey. She deserved it.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

This book is a must read. For educational or motivational purposes, you choose. But you must read it. I mean REALLY read it. Marinate with it and let it sit. Let it be uncomfortable. Let it scare you. Allow this book to make you angry, let it make you cry. If the only thing you take from this book is that having a voice and an understanding of how to use it appropriately, then Angie Thomas has done her job. It’s up to US to make the changes happen.

The question you are asking yourself shouldn’t be “Am I racist?” It should be: “what am I doing to stop the spread of hate?” In ALL forms.
Thank you, Angie Thomas, for writing OUR story. I REALLY hope the message isn’t lost when this is made into a movie. Five Stars!

Knowing When to Let Go

I come from a long line of people who are afraid to or don’t otherwise know how to let things go. I’m talking material things, feelings, relationships, that ratty old sweatshirt that belonged to Eddie n’ them back in the day. You know, the kind of people who think that cutting people off because of old grudges is productive.

I grew up with the idea that possessions can have value the same way that people can. Let me explain. My Grandmother was a pack-rat–she was a lightweight hoarder. She had so much STUFF. Picture this: a 150 year old victorian duplex with ten rooms on either side filled with as much victorian furniture she could find. She was a collector of antiques and spent a lot of her spare time yard-saling or perusing through the isles of the local thrift shop. Then there were those family heirlooms that she refused to get rid of because cousin so-and-so got it from great-great uncle what’s-his-name. When we moved from our big house to a smaller house in the midwest, we had to downsize and it broke my Grandmother’s heart to see the things she kept close to her for comfort disappear.

As a kid, I came to understand that family was important. Those big dinners, sleepovers, and bike rides meant something. They meant that we were bonded. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I think that these are some of the reasons why I have struggled with the divided band of relatives I have today. When I was younger, I was taught that “blood is thicker than water.” But as my experiences have changed and my view of the world has transformed, I believe that loyalty and honor make you a family, blood just makes you related. But that’s another conversation for a different time.

Like my Grandmother, I have the habit of holding onto material possessions that I connect with positive memories or emotions. I have allowed myself to become complacent in relationships that were not good for me. I stayed at jobs I couldn’t stand because it was convenient for whatever reason and I was comfortable with that. I have lived the majority of my life afraid to let go. Of things, possessions, relationships, etc.

I was bullied a lot as a kid and I can only think of a few friends. More often than not, whenever I would develop an attachment to these friends, someone else came along to “steal them away from me.” I didn’t like sharing my time with other kids. Eventually, my friends thought I was annoying, creepy, or just “not cool” enough to be associated with. So I was left alone and bullied. I would write notes to my former friends begging them to be my friend again. It never worked. And I looked like a loser begging for people to talk to me.

As I’ve grown up, I have learned that nothing changes if you’re comfortable. Everything happens for a reason. There is a lesson in every struggle. Somewhere between my adolescence and into my adulthood I have figured out that it’s okay to let go. I have purposefully walked away from the people, places, and things that were not beneficial to my journey to happiness. I had to let go of the thing I kept close to me as a security blanket. Letting go was difficult, but boy has it been worth it.

I made a goal for myself that 2017 would be my year. Mind you, I say this every year and nothing has ever changed. But this time, I made changes and accepted my struggles for what they are. I let my past family issues go and was able to gain some sort of closure. I moved out of an uncomfortable living situation and into a new apartment. Most importantly, I got a new job.

I had been at this particular agency for 5 years and hadn’t had a raise in 3 years. I was looked over for promotions. I wasn’t being paid for the amount of work I put in each day. I never felt supported by my peers or my superiors. I stayed for so long because the job and location was convenient and familiar. But I was killing myself for nothing. It felt like there was no one there that believed in me, my vision, or anything I had to say. I got uncomfortable enough in my predictable world at this agency that I knew it was time for me to go. So I applied for other jobs and I left. Would you believe that my former supervisor never said goodbye or good luck? I was there for 5 years. Apparently, it didn’t matter.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining–because I am not. I just want to point out that the people, situations, or things that we think are valuable to us may not reciprocate those feelings. But letting go teaches us to put one foot in front of the other. It teaches us that we are stronger than we know. Letting go has been liberating for me. In retrospect, I was terrified of letting go because I am comfortable with familiarity. Not anymore.

I want to live my life having taken risks. I don’t want to be afraid of change. I want to experience something new everyday. I know it’s hard, but sometimes you just have to let it go. But, you have to know when to let go. When it isn’t helping you grow in a positive way it’s time to walk away. If the passion is gone and you aren’t challenged properly, let it go.

Think about it: do soldiers hold onto grenades after pulling the pin? No. They let it go because it is detrimental to their well-being to hold on. So let go. Live your life. Be you unapologetically, and most of all, BE HAPPY.

Jagged Little Thrill: Right Behind You Review

As I’ve said many times before, I LOVE a good thriller. Anything psychology or crime related. My favorite TV shows and movies all revolve around psycho killers and sociopaths. Think: Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, Hannibal, etc. I have always been fascinated by the criminal mind and mental illness. This fascination has extended to my reading activity. After reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl a few years ago, my craving for psychological thrillers has been insatiable.

A year or so ago–when I spent a lot of time at Barnes and Noble before working there part-time–I discovered the intriguing cover of Lisa Gardner’s now NY Times Best Selling thriller Find Her. I had never heard of Lisa Gardner or read any of her books, but the cover and description sucked me in. I was not disappointed. Find Her is a crime/thriller hybrid about surviving/coping after being a victim of a gruesome crime. Anyway, when I saw Right Behind You hit the shelves at work I knew that I had to get a copy. Not just any copy, but a signed copy. Thanks to working at at Barnes and Noble, I heard that Lisa would be at another store in my state. Rhode Island is an hour in any direction, so I thought it would be worth the troop. I missed the discussion beforehand, but I was able to chat briefly with Lisa, get my book signed, and take this awkward picture with her.

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In my feeble attempts to get a friend to read this with me, it ended up sitting on my bookshelf for a month after I bought it. Eventually, I got impatient enough and started reading it on my own. I didn’t really need a reading partner, did I? I didn’t really think so. I dived in headfirst and immediately became submerged in the plot. This one was immediately relatable to me.

In Right Behind You, we learn that retired FBI Profilers Quincy and Rainie are about to adopt 13 year- old Sharlah May Nash who hasn’t seen her older brother, Telly Ray Nash since he murdered their parents to save their lives. The Nash siblings endured abuse and neglect from their drug addicted, alcoholic parents. Telly had to beat his drug enraged father with a baseball bat to save his baby sister. Now, eight years later Telly is the main suspect in what appears to be a vengeful killing spree. Is he the killer? Is Telly on the path for revenge?

I hate reading reviews with spoilers, so I refuse to give any details that give away the plot. But I will tell you why I loved this book so much. I work with kids in the system so I have an understanding of the trauma that causes kids to be removed from their parents. Telly and Sharlah’s case is one of many examples. With that, the trauma they endured I have seen first hand in the faces of my clients. Telly became the parentified child when he cared for his baby sister. Even through the abuse, Telly proved his resilience when he was taking Sharlah to the library and reading to her. Sharlah handed Telly that bat to save both of them. These are the reason I love working with kids–their resilience.

Now eight years later, we learn that Telly has struggled with his identity and the kind of man he wants to grow up to be. Is a hero? Or is a he a zero? I have had the privilege of working with kids who have been subjected to endure situations out of their control in which they were exploited, abused, and/or neglected. I have seen kids come from darkness and make it out on the other side. In some ways, I’m one of those kids, too. Perseverance is a beautiful metamorphic process.

Gardner wrote this both thoughtfully and provocatively. Reading this from my point of view, she captured the emotions and struggles that kids in the system must face. Furthermore, she captured the importance of bonding and the difficulties that foster children and foster parents struggle with. What does it take to be a family? When do you know you’re a family? These are questions where I feel Gardner hit the nail on the head. She took her time developing this plot and telling this story.

I haven’t read any of the other Quincy and Rainie books, but I can see how these two profilers have influence and understanding of the human condition. Quincy and Rainie put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being able to bond. In my line of work I have seen kids who are still able to bond with staff and mentors. I have also seen kids that are unable to bond–these are the kids most at risk of resorting to crime. There was decent balance of good and bad in Right Behind You. It wasn’t rushed, it didn’t ever stagnate, and I was exhilarated with every page.

My Strange Addiction: Books

My Strange Addiction: Books

I have been reading books for as long as I can remember. In pre-school, I somehow got my hands on Jack & Jill and See Spot Run. You know, the board books with all the pictures and semi-large print? Yeah, those bad boys. I carried them everywhere I went. I would sit in corners trying to put all the words together. Even then, I was enchanted by the pages of a book. When I got to kindergarten, I recall being taught the alphabet and how to phonetically pronounce letters and words.

It was in kindergarten that I remember being introduced to the idea that “Reading is FUNdamental.” I can’t remember why I was so entranced by books. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have cable. Maybe it was being an only child and having to entertain myself. It could have been any of these things. I just always always wanted books. My Grandmother was always willing to buy me books from Scholastic Book orders. Do they still do those? Or am I dating myself?

By first grade, I could read fairly well on my own. I wrote my first pop-up book about a prince and a princess. By the time I got to middle school, I had written a dozen books. In seventh grade, I found poetry. English/Language Arts has always been my favorite subject in school. To be a good writer is to be a good reader first. Or at least that’s what my English teachers would say.

Books and writing have helped me keep me sane all these years. Books protected me from boredom. They have given me strength and encouraged me to develop an active imagination. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.” This is true for me. Books are the security blanket I haven’t had to get rid of.

I can’t remember the last time I left my house without a book. I always have backup plans. If I don’t have a paperback or hardcover stuffed into my purse, my kindle is shoved somewhere in there, or I have several books loaded onto the kindle app on my phone.

When I first got my Kindle a few years ago, I stopped buying physical books because it was cheaper. However, I found that reading is a complete experience for me. That is, a physical one in addition to a mental one. I need to smell the paper, feel the weight of the book in my hands.I discovered that with each page turned, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Especially if the book is 500+ pages–I didn’t have that with my Kindle. So now, I don’t use my Kindle unless I am reviewing ARCs on Edelweiss or NetGalley. I work in a bookstore, so I spend a lot of time perusing through books on my breaks trying to find something new to read. The discount isn’t too bad, either. 🙂

I have accumulated so many books in the last few years. When I’m anxious or stressed out, I buy books. There are worse things to be addicted to, right? I have to tell myself (and my coworkers) that I cannot buy any more books until I am finished with at least 2 of the 150 I have sitting in my bookcase at home. The struggle is real, man. People are always telling me to borrow books from work or the library. But for some reason, that doesn’t satisfy me. I need to own the books I read–I just have to see them on my bookshelf and in my room. I covet them. And I am not ashamed.

In my defense, I am always trying to give books away or encourage others to read. I’m always buying books for other people in my life. I have converted several non-readers into fellow bibliophiles in the last year or so. I thoroughly enjoy talking to people about books. Something inside me just comes to life and I am instantly animated. I love being able to share my thoughts and hear the perspectives of others. You can learn a lot about someone just from knowing what their reading preferences are. Me? I love a good thriller, but any sort of fiction will do most of the time. I love the exhilaration of trying to figure out the plot that a good thriller should provide. Some of my recent favorites include Lisa Gardner’s Right Behind You and Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby.

I have been told that people find a hard time relating to me because I am so direct and literal. But if you can talk to me about books, I promise I’m not as scary as my facial expressions suggest I am. 🙂  Feel free to check out my reading activity over on Goodreads by clicking here!

The War on Black History

The War on Black History

Times are hard right now. Donald Trump is President. He is inexperienced in politics, yet he is fluent in bigotry and ignorance . His chosen Cabinet members are no different. We are at war. Again. And I don’t mean the overseas, bombs, and tanks kind of war. No. This war is taking place right here in what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world. These United States of America. This war is taking place in our streets, in our schools, in our businesses, and our places of employment. This war is inescapable. It is on every news station, in every magazine, reposted and re-shared over and over again on blogs and social media.

Trump would have us believing that the refugees and displaced people he is attempting to restrict from entering the U.S. are terrorists. Yet, the real terrorists wear badges and sit on congressional committees. The real terrorists have money and power–a dangerous potion of influence and media domination. In my opinion, the greatest threat to America right now, is Donald Trump and all his minions. “Make America Great Again.” When did it stop being great?

I’ll say it again, when did America stop being great? Or really, when was it ever great? What makes America so great? This is a nation bred on stolen land and free labor. This is the very nation that the Founding Fathers stole from black, brown, and native people to build upon–to flourish and prosper with the price of my ancestors blood, sweat, and tears. This is the same nation that does not even belong to whites–but has been dominated and built to benefit whites–that is denying people who might look like me entry into the U.S.

But I digress, that’s another story for another post. We are at war. I am no vigilante, but I am an activist. I am a black woman in America. And this war directly affects every part of my ancestry, my DNA. Every time I turn on the news or see anything Trump has said, I am internally cringing. My people–all brown people, really–are in danger. We are being hunted like Trayvon Martin. and captured like Sandra Bland. Can you believe that it’s been over 4 years since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted? This is my generation’s Civil Rights Movement. This is our time to build on what our Grandparents marched for with Dr. King and countless others.

But we have to be smarter, faster, stronger. We are 8 days into Black History Month and I haven’t heard a single white person make any mention of it. Not at work, not at the library, not in the streets. Why? Well, this isn’t new. Everything I have ever learned about black history, I had to research it for myself. America was never meant for us to flourish in. The “Justice System” never took into account black or brown people. America was never meant for us to grow and become some of the most influential men and women in history. That’s why so many of our people are locked up in the prison system, uneducated, and displaced. It is how America has trained us to be. Now is not the time for silence. We can’t be afraid to speak our mind, say what is or is not right.

We can no longer be pacified by people telling us that “it’s not as bad as it seems.” Would you tell a sexual assault victim that? Would you tell a war veteran that? Because that is what we are. This is real life for us. It seems so ridiculous that in 2017 I still have to walk out my front door and be so concerned with being assaulted because I am black or because I am a woman. And if something were to happen and I took matters into my hands and the Police get involved, I would be the one in cuffs. Because I “should have sought help.” In a country where the “help” does not apply to me.

This is the kind of war that came to rise when Hitler attempted to eradicate Jews. This is no different. Yet, America was quick to the rescue then. What about now? Because this war takes place on our soil, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our hospitals. Who is coming to OUR rescue?

I’m terrified for the kids I haven’t conceived or given birth to yet. I’m afraid for the family I haven’t been blessed with yet. But I’m gonna keep fighting.

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The Phoenix, Part 2

She has risen.

She has been reborn again and again.

She is constantly evolving into the woman she desires to become.

A product of mistakes, she is familiar with pain and struggle.

She is the meaning of adaptation and evolution.

She’s been burned by the flames, only to be re-constructed by the remnants of her own ashes.

Of her past. Remnants of the pain, deceit, depression, and hopelessness.

The sweet smell of change wafts through the air—

It serves as her personal aroma of incense.

Close your eyes…can you smell her?

Can you smell the bitter sweetness?

Can you taste her strength on your tongue?

Her beauty is more than skin deep.

She is not defined by a mask or a sheath.

She is everything inside and underneath.

She is plain Jane to the naked eye,

But truth is, she is Extra Ordinary.

Her simplicity cannot be duplicated.

Her past remains in the still-burning embers in the fireplace,

But her future is in full bloom.

Out of ashes she arose—

from the flames of hell.

But here she is, radiant and powerful in her own right.

Written in 2010.