Monday, January 19, 2015

Selma is Now (On the commemoration of MLK, Jr.'s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Selma protests)

My First Visit to the MLK. Jr. Memorial, July 2014
"One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours"
 - "Glory" by John Legend and Common

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the movie "Selma," starring David Oyelowo and featuring Oprah Winfrey. The film was directed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay, of whom I'd heard because of a friend who works in the film industry. As a director, she is a relative newcomer to mainstream Hollywood, and while I have not seen her previous films, I understand the impact she's had on my friend, who is still working to achieve success in such a tough field, and I can appreciate how her integrity and work ethic as a filmmaker have led to where she is now, with Selma.

I speak of Ava DuVernay because, if you look at her IMDB, you can see that she's worked for many years in the film industry as a publicist, editor, writer and director. Selma is only her third feature film, and most may never have heard of her before this film, but as an African-American woman, she directed this film with such nuance that I think only an African-American woman could. As I watched the movie, I reflected on snippets of her interviews about "Selma," and I connected with Ms. DuVernay's voice in this film. "Selma" is about Martin Luther King, Jr., the struggle to bring the Voting Rights Act to pass, and the violence that protesters during the Civil Rights era suffered, but it was also about a man and the women who worked alongside him, women who stood at the front lines yet never received the same accolades or recognition as MLK, Jr., women and girls who were beaten and killed, not only because of their race, but because they were brave (and crazy) enough to raise their voices to demand justice and equal rights.


Scene from "Selma"
As I watched Selma, I could not help but realize that, while this had happened in the 1960's, it still resonates too strongly with the issues people of color face today. In one scene, the protesters got down on both knees and put their hands behind their heads. It made me think of the protests that have been occurring in recent months. The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture, demonstrating the gesture eyewitnesses have said that unarmed teen Michael Brown made as he was being shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri in August of last year, flashed in my mind while watching the film. In that scene, 1965 and 2014 abruptly came together as one single moment, my heart and mind confused, angry, tired, and fearful all at once.


Howard University Protest

Watching the film, I appreciated all of the work of the activists who truly endured suffering during the Civil Rights era, but one question kept coming up in my mind, soul, and spirit: "WHY are we still struggling today?" Why are Black and Brown people in the United States still dealing with not only violence and injustice at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve, but even the Voting Rights Act - one of the most effective pieces of legislation to come out of the Civil Rights era - being tampered with by the Supreme Court and the states? Why are we still having to protest and organize over, not just equal access to voting, but the right to simply walk down the street without fear of being murdered for being Black?
Scene from "Selma"

Ferguson Protest
And as I watched, emotions churned within me, and I asked myself, "What am I doing, and what can I do, to contribute to this work?" I left the theater angry, sad, amazed, and proud. There was so much that the activists of the Civil Rights era did right, but the movement was literally assassinated by the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, de facto segregation, poverty and unemployment, pouring drugs into urban communities, educational inequality, so on and so forth.


Ferguson Protest
A few weeks ago, I was forced to make this blog and my Twitter account private and block someone from my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts because I was being harassed for expressing my views on recent events. To make matters worse, this person is a retired police officer. I was afraid of what might happen to me and that I might possibly not get the help that I needed if the harassment progressed from social media to a physical confrontation. The fear is what caused me to stop talking about Ferguson, Eric Garner, police brutality, and social inequality. The fear of what might happen to me or my family caused me to lose my voice. 

Scene from "Selma"
While I am not against police, I am against police brutality and the excessive use of force. While I am not racist, I am against institutional racism and systemic inequality. While I do not hate men, I am most definitely a feminist. This morning, waking up with "Selma" and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on my mind, I knew what I could do, and what I would do. 

I will use my voice again, and I will not let fear stop me from using my voice. 

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr. And thank you to the women in the struggle - I speak your names:

The Four Little Girls killed in Birmingham: 
Addie Mae Collins
Cynthia Wesley
Carole Robertson
Denise McNair

The Women in Selma:
Diane Nash
Annie Lee Cooper
Amelia Boynton Robinson
Viola Liuzzo
Coretta Scott King

And thank you, Ava DuVernay, for giving a woman's voice to this inspiring film.

"When the war is done, when it's all said and done, we'll cry 'Glory, Oh, Glory'" 

- "Glory" by John Legend and Common

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Open Your Heart

Image Courtesy of Helen Green
It's the time of year when the streets are lit up with twinkling lights, people spend entirely too much money shopping for others (rather than, or as in my case as well as, for themselves), travel plans are made, and families and friends come together. "Elf " is on almost every day, sappy holiday romance movies fill the Hallmark Channel, and tears may show up at any time because, like the Grinch, our hearts are growing three sizes too big. It's Christmas time. Holiday time. Winter break.

This post is about romance, dating, and love. It's about getting up again after having been down for a very long time. It's for those who like the feeling of their heart swelling and tears showing up in the corners of their eyes. And if that's not you, you should probably read this. Because this is most definitely for you.

Over the past two months, I started dating someone. He is the first person I've consistently dated in a very long time and after having been in an on-again, off-again relationship with someone who pretty much committed every sin one possibly could against the person he supposedly loves. That relationship ended for good when he told me he'd had a child with someone three years prior. (Yes, while we were probably "off", but when we got back "on", he still waited three years to tell me.)  And that relationship was one of the most heart- and gut-wrenching relationships of my life. That person seemed to be my soul mate, we understood each other, and we knew each other inside and out. Very intense.

When I moved from upstate New York to the Washington, DC area, I had done a lot of cleansing. I got rid of a lot of old stuff, including my old bedroom set from when I was married. I wanted a clean slate in every part of my life, including my love life. I decided, just three months after finally settling down with a new apartment and new job, to go online and see if I'd meet anyone. I found a free trial for a popular dating site, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I had gotten several emails from men in the area. I started corresponding with a few, but some were duds, one was overzealous (he offered to wash and blow dry my hair and arch my brows!), but one seemed pretty humble and unassuming, and he was respectful. He actually caught my attention because he made a reference to one of my photos that told me he paid attention to national news and politics, which is kind of one of my obsessions. We met after corresponding for a week or so and had a nice conversation. It went well and he said that he wanted to see me again.

Interestingly enough, my ex surfaced around that time as well, asking if he could come and visit. I didn't say no, but those plans ended up falling through, so I was able to meet Mr. Nice Guy.  Why didn't I say no, you ask? Because when it came down to actually going out on a date, I thought I couldn't do it. I thought that my ex, Mr. A-Hole, was still too present in my heart. He was talking about trying to work things out and starting over (as usual), and although I knew that it would never work between us, I still had a teeny glimmer of hope that maybe things could get better, if I gave him another chance. Truth be told, I was so used to Mr. A-Hole, and I was scared to meet someone new. God, fate, and destiny did not allow us to reunite, especially during a time when I was attempting to start fresh, and I learned a huge lesson after these past two months.

A couple of days ago, after six dates with Mr. Nice Guy, things ended. Mr. Nice Guy, it turns out, has some difficulty dealing with life when it doesn't go exactly as planned. I wanted to like him because he was nice to me. And then he wasn't very nice to me. We went out a couple of times in DC to see some very nice Christmas shows, and during the entire time he found things to complain about, and he seemed to "jokingly" put down my suggestions, though he is not much of a decision maker. He didn't want to walk two blocks to the theatre from the parking garage. After the second evening of listening to him complain incessantly and blame me for his having to walk, including pretty much cursing me under his breath, I told him he had a choice, and he never had to go anywhere with me again. He dropped me off, and that was the last time I heard from him.

On one of our dates, I asked Mr. Not So Nice Guy why he was single. He seemed nice and he wasn't unattractive. He said that he doesn't meet a lot of people he can relate to (I was one of those people) and that, having been alone most of his life, he doesn't think very many people would be willing to accept his habits. After our last date, I knew why he was still single. He refused to open his heart up to anyone. It showed in how inflexible he was and how much he complained when he was out of his comfort zone. It showed in how he didn't want to get close to me at any point in our relationship. Every time he would kiss me good night, I could see how hesitant and awkward he was, how much thought he had to put into it. Even sitting in the theatre with him, I could see that he felt uncomfortable if our shoulders touched. He didn't want anyone sitting next to him, and as I watched other couples hug and kiss and be romantic, I knew that would never be us, no matter how many more dates we went on.

I find it interesting that the men I've come across, once hurt, find it so difficult to allow someone into their lives. I've been hurt, and I've felt utter loss, in the same ways the men I've known have. I have thought that I would never love again. I have felt betrayal and broken trust so deeply that I spent years not wanting to open up again. And yet, I know how alive I feel when I do open up, even just a little.

I'm sad for Mr. Nice Guy because I knew he was excited to meet someone he could talk to, who liked some of the same things he did. He seemed so used to things ending the way they ended for us a few days ago, as if that's how it usually goes for him, as if being "forever alone" is supposed to be his default status. If he had opened up to seeing walking a few blocks as an opportunity to explore, to spend time with someone he liked, to even have a romantic walk in DC at Christmas time, the night could have ended differently. Instead, he only saw things as an inconvenience to his comfort, and blamed me for his discomfort (even though he was driving and could have chosen a different place to park). So Mr. Nice Guy will go back to being alone, which is his comfort zone.

I'm happy for myself, because as I stated earlier, I learned a huge lesson about love. Although I thought my ex had a pretty firm grip on my heart, dating Mr. Nice Guy taught me that I could move on, that I could be treated the way I deserved to be treated, but also that I could determine when I wasn't being treated well and speak up for myself. It taught me that I could start over, that I could give love a chance, and that taking the risk of opening up feels better than withdrawing into my shell and freezing everyone else out.

My prayer is that Mr. Nice Guy learns that lesson soon, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Peace in the Journey (On Being Humbled)

I've been wanting to write for a while, but I haven't because lately, I haven't felt very inspired.  I wrote a post a couple of months ago about being happy, and I'm embarrassed to admit that, once again, I'm not happy.

I keep struggling with the issue of happiness, and every time I write about it, I think that I have the answer, but I don't.  I always seem to think that the next step in my journey is bringing me closer to happiness.  This is something that we all struggle with, I think.  We have been taught that happiness is the destination.  And while I have even tried to instill in the young women I advised and mentored that "It's the journey, not the destination" that counts, I still struggle with the journey.  I still seek that destination.  And for me, that destination equates to happiness.

I thought that if I were in the right place and felt good about my job, I would be happy.  I thought that if men at the very least noticed me, I would be happy.  I thought that if the weather were warmer, I would be happy.  And while some of those things have happened, they still aren't enough. The job is not what I thought it would be, and again, I am learning that because someone is a supervisor or manager, it doesn't mean that person is a leader.  Men do a little more than notice me now, but they're not doing exactly what I want them to, in the way I want them to do it.  The weather is warmer, but the amount of time and energy it takes to get around in this area means more time is spent indoors or in a car than enjoying the weather.  In other words, this is a season in my life where everything is out of my control, and I don't like it.

Found on Facebook
For so long, I have been comfortable.  I was the go-to person at my job.  I knew how to get things done fairly quickly and effectively.  I had settled for an on-again, off-again relationship that gave me the feeling of being loved without the daily sacrifices that one usually makes in a committed relationship.  I arranged my life so that I had as little inconvenience as possible.  I basically made life as easy for myself as possible, challenging myself only to the point where I could pull back easily: take doctoral courses, they get too difficult to manage, take less classes or just take a leave of absence.  Have someone tell me he loves me, that gets too difficult, do or say something to push him away so that I don't have to invest emotional energy.  Move closer to work.  Be friendly, but withdraw or disappear often enough so no one
would actually rely on me for anything.  This comfort I created for myself protected me from being hurt and made me feel almost invincible.  I came off to many as confident, empowered, successful, and smart.

Finally, the facade broke, and I made a decision to jump off the cliff of comfort (I know, corny).  And here I am, in this new place with new people.  I am feeling my way around work, around new relationships, and around this new place that seems to provide everything I need but feels like a mountainous challenge to get to so that I could enjoy it.  I find myself retreating and withdrawing.  I find myself wondering who I really am and if I really am this lovable person that I always seemed to be for the last ten years or so.  I find myself humbled by my experiences - being low on the totem pole at work, my self-confidence misunderstood (and attacked) by some, not being ferociously pursued by a romantic interest.  Every day, it feels as if the person I have been for so long keeps falling away in pieces, leaving someone unrecognizable even to me.  I don't know who I am at the moment.  My support systems have been hiding places for me, and so I don't want to rely on them right now, because I understand that hiding is the same thing as being in control, creating a comfort zone, and remaining safe.

I am not there.  I have not made it.  I am living day by day, moment by moment, feeling intense discomfort and discontent.  I am not there, but I am here.  I know that this part of my journey is meant to take me somewhere I haven't been before.  Maybe I haven't been able to commit because I think I'm a failure at commitment.  Maybe I need to stop thinking that relentlessly intense pursuit is a sign of long-lasting interest.  Maybe it's the little things - small demonstrations of thoughtfulness rather than grandiose romantic gestures - that lead to getting to know someone genuinely and not the image of Prince Charming that has probably sabotaged all of my relationships.  Maybe work isn't the place for me to throw all of my energy into, because in reality, people are more important.  Maybe I need to stop seeing work as a place where I serve the institution or the person I work for, but just as a conduit to serve people in a way that aligns with my purpose.  In other words, I am not there to please those that hired me; I am there to turn on a light for the many people I encounter who cannot see how to achieve their goals.

I am here.  This is just another step in my journey, not my destination.  I am completely out of my comfort zone, feeling emotionally, mentally and spiritually naked.  In this nakedness, I must find peace.  And the peace in this journey, for me, is that this isn't my destination; this is a kind of "threshing floor," a place where negativity can be stripped from me so that I can be made more pure to go into the next step of my journey.

Humility comes as a result of the exposure of ego.  As the negative aspects of my ego are exposed (either through self-awareness or by the actions of others towards me), I am more humbled.  In that humility, I can learn.  As I learn, I am prepared to take the next step.  It's time to let go of the old to receive the new; old mindsets and habits must give way so that I can be prepared to step into a completely new experience.

And isn't that why I turned my own world upside down in the first place?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I Stand with Ferguson (They May Come for Me Next)


I'd never heard of Ferguson, MO until two weeks ago.

On August 9th, a young man named Michael Brown was shot while his hands were up, demonstrating the universal sign of surrender.  He was shot by a Ferguson police officer named Darren Wilson.  Michael Brown was Black.  Darren Wilson is White.  

In the past two weeks, coverage on television and social media outlets has painted a picture of Ferguson, MO as the United States' version of Gaza or Baghdad, as military tanks rolled down the streets and police officers dressed in army khakis and pointed their guns at protestors, both peaceful and angry.  Community members as well as outside supporters and agitators came to the site of Michael Brown's death to demonstrate their frustration with the treatment that African Americans have been subjected to since the existence of what we call the United States of America.  

Over the past two weeks, some of my friends have been very vocal about what has been going on in Ferguson.  There is a core group of people on Facebook who have been daily posting about the events in Ferguson, or about the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, or about the trial of the man who killed Renisha McBride in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and of course these events cause us to reminisce (sadly) about the deaths of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, New York.  Out of my over 750 "friends", about 10-15 of us have been consistent in bringing to light the injustices suffered by people of color, especially this summer, especially at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve our communities.  Some of my friends have asked the question, "Why aren't more White people speaking out?"  And some of my friends have had a difficult time understanding what is happening in Ferguson.  They do know that an unarmed man was shot by a police officer, and some may empathize.  But some of my friends don't get why this is a "Black" issue or a "race" issue.  Most of my friends have been silent about this incident.  And yes, most of my White, Latino, and Asian friends have decided to stay in their bubbles of relative safety and post about babies or puppies or the latest show they are binge-watching.  I am not here to judge others' opinions or their decisions about what to post on Facebook, or to get everyone to agree with my opinion.  I can only express why I choose to share my opinion on my social networks as well as with anyone who wants to engage in these kinds of discussions in person.

I grew up in housing projects in Brooklyn, New York.  My family subsisted on welfare, disability benefits, food stamps,and medicaid.  My father couldn't work because he couldn't see out of one eye, and my mother couldn't work because she couldn't read or write.  Nowhere in that mix of circumstances can one find any kind of privilege whatsoever.  I remember filling out my financial aid applications for college, and it was so easy, because I just wrote zeroes down the page.  But that financial aid application was tied to college applications, which were tied to an opportunity to "get out" of my situation.  An opportunity to experience some of the privilege that I was not born with. Going away to a private university was a dream come true for someone who came from such humble means. This narrative could be anyone's - Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American.  There are people who have grown up in the Appalachian mountains or in rural areas of the country who could have had the same type of experience as me, growing up.  Eating "welfare cheese" and drinking powdered milk, getting the ugliest glasses because that's what Medicaid paid for, and living in apartments or rented homes that were falling apart because that is what we could afford - that could be anyone in this country, regardless of race or ethnicity.

But that first weekend in college taught me something about race.  There is something unique about the experiences of those who wear brown skin of all hues.  That first weekend, my friends and I decided to hang out and get something to eat on the main street of our college town.  As we stood there deciding what to eat, talking excitedly about what was ahead of us for the next four years, my friends - one Haitian-American, one Dominican-American, one Nigerian-American, and me, a Puerto Rican-American - watched as a Caucasian American walked up the street and shouted, "THIS IS WHY WHITE MEN CAN'T STAND NIGGER GIRLS, BECAUSE YOU'RE SO FUCKING LOUD!"

This happened to me twenty-five years ago, this first time I was called the N-word, and I remember it as if it were yesterday.  Up until that point, I had lived a life where I never really thought about my race (or even knew that I was not part of one race, but an amalgam of three), and I never really understood why Black people talked about race so much.  Up until that point, I thought I was different from my Black friends.  But in that moment, each of us from our different countries and with our different (but very similar) languages and cultural traditions, became the SAME to that White man.  We were all NIGGERS.

And that's why Ferguson, MO is about race.  Because, my dear White friends, and friends of White people, a White person is not going to be called a nigger in the street on his or her first weekend in college.  A White person is going to learn about the "Great White People" in his or her history in school, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, while a person like me never learned about Malcolm X, or Angela Davis, or Assata Shakur, or Audre Lorde, or the Black Panthers, or Nicolás Guillén, or Julia de Burgos, or Pedro Albizu Campos, or Lolita Lebron, or the Young Lords Party, until I went to college and became committed to learning about who these people were and what they contributed to history, art, politics, and social justice.  A White person is not as likely to be shot by police, even if he or she commits mass murder (e.g.: James Holmes, Jared Loughner), while an unarmed Black or Latino person is likely to be shot and killed on average twice a week in America in 2014.

That's why I stand with Ferguson, MO.  You may not want to see it, but this poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller demonstrates what happens when we refuse to acknowledge that this country was built on racism and that racism is the cornerstone of the social injustices we hear and experience daily:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
























Sunday, June 29, 2014

Revisiting "Happy"

Courtesy of telligent.com
I wrote about the idea of happiness a while ago, and in that post, I stated that happiness is an emotion, or a temporary state.  I've asserted previously that there is a difference between happiness and joy - as I stated, happiness is temporary (and usually provoked by a circumstance), while joy is a lasting state that doesn't necessarily need a specific situation to bring it on.  Happiness comes from without, joy comes from within.  I still think I am right about this, and while I can't really prove it, I know that I have felt the difference between the two.  But I am now coming to a new understanding about happiness and joy, and how the two states of being can work alongside one another.

Over the past few years, I have had numerous people tell me that I wasn't happy, and that they want me to be happy.  Many times, they equated happiness for me with being partnered.  Unfortunately, the very few times that I have been partnered weren't the happiest times in my life.  So I am not sure that being partnered would make me happy, but I do think that the right person in my life will add to my happiness.  That is, if I have some happiness for him to add to.

In my previous post on the topic of happiness, I pretty much insisted that I was happy.  I lied.  I wasn't.

I'd moved to western New York (what most people call "upstate") several times; once for college, once when I was married and my husband basically told me that I was going with him or else, and, once that fell apart - because, hello, too controlling - once more for graduate school.  The final move took place during the time said marriage was falling apart, so no, I was not a happy person, though I am adroit at keeping a smile on my face regardless of the circumstances.  I wasn't one hundred percent sure where life would take me once I'd completed graduate school, but I never thought that I would live in western New York for THIRTEEN years.  THIRTEEN.  So many negative things associated with that number.

Long story short: I really wanted to move to the DMV region (DC/Maryland/Virginia; not the Department of Motor Vehicles, obvs) after grad school (actually, way before that, but I'll get to that later), but I was busy doing a 1,000 hour internship, a 20 hour per week graduate assistantship, writing my Master's thesis, and studying for the National Counselor's Exam while trying to apply for a job.  Well, I applied for one job, and I ended up getting it.  It was a sweet gig, and since the standard of living was low and my credit had taken a beating during grad school, I decided to stay just for a little bit to get back on my feet. That "little bit" turned out to be a longgggggggggg thirteen years.  I hated it there, I knew I hated it, everyone I knew knew that I hated it, and I never felt settled there.  However, I tried to make the best out of a less than ideal situation. I joined a church, a book club, a gym, a library.  I went clubbing for a short period of time, ha ha.  I moved a few times to try to find the "right" feeling.  I was like the Prince in Cinderella, looking for the perfect fit for the glass slipper I was toting around.  It was never right.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I felt that something was wrong deep inside of me.

I hated it when people pointed that out, because I was never sure if they understood that I wasn't happy because I was in the wrong place.  It felt like people were accusing me of not being happy, as if I had deliberately chosen unhappiness.  And in some ways, I can admit that I did.  I chose to stay in western New York for so long because I was afraid to fail in the place where I actually wanted to be.

The DMV region was always the destination of choice for me.  I remember visiting Virginia Beach with my sister when I was nineteen, and then again as a graduation gift with my sister and nieces.  I loved the trip, and as a poor kid growing up, I hadn't been too many places outside of New York City.  I visited the DC area again with a friend, staying in Fairfax this time, and I enjoyed it. All three times I thought it was more so the fact that I was on vacation, but those experiences stayed with me for a long time.  Previous to moving to this area, I had never stayed a full week here (as I have during other vacations). However, something kept drawing me to this area of the country more than any other I'd visited, and for over twenty years. But life took me the long way to reach this destination.

Even my short stay with family in Maryland this year still didn't feel right, as much as I'd wanted it to, because I had quit my job and just decided to move, so yes, the risk needed to pay off.  But I understand now that it didn't feel right because it was just a stop on the journey to where I am now.  So when people would ask how I was feeling, if I was happy with my decision, it was difficult to say that I was happy.  I was happy with my decision to leave western New York.  As a matter of fact, it felt like this:

Courtesy of Tyrese Gibson's Facebook Page, LOL
But I still wasn't where I wanted to be.

The job I took here in Virginia was not the job I wanted.  Correction: it was not the job I THOUGHT I wanted.  As a matter of fact, I was thinking of withdrawing from the search process the day of my interview. I drove to my interview exhausted, with a headache, and knowing that I had to do a presentation that just felt like too much for a job I wasn't that interested in.  I give all of the credit to God, because before I went in there, I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to do the interview for me.  I walked in and immediately felt that I was in a good place.  People seemed genuinely happy to meet me, and I walked out of the interview, sans headache and funky attitude, knowing that if I were offered the position, I would take it.  I literally went through five different interviews for this position. All the while, I did not really know that the job was what I wanted to do.  But when I got the offer, and then got the salary offer, I realized that this wasn't about the job function.  This was about going from a place where people were resentful, or maybe even unaware of my value, to a place where before people even knew me as a person, I was valued.

Circumstances also required me to move quickly, so in a matter of a twelve days after receiving the offer, I was moving just my clothes, shoes, and some dishes into my new apartment about ten minutes from my job (in DMV traffic.  So, heaven.). I have been here for three weeks now, and this is worth sharing: I suffered from insomnia for the entire time that I lived in western New York - waking up at 2 or 3am, and staying up for 2-3 hours, consequently being exhausted and more often than not, late to work, which caused me to be stressed out and feel depressed.  Previous to that, I'd slept like a baby.  For the past three weeks, I have been sleeping on an air mattress with none of my furniture or the things that make a home comfortable, and I have been sleeping like a baby every single night.  Every. Single. Night.

People ask about this new move that I made, and it's been difficult to verbalize how I feel.  But I know now that feeling valued is something that I needed in a workplace.  Being in a place where my supervisor is constantly acknowledging the totality of my previous experiences - where in the past people either downplayed or completely ignored it - means a lot to me.  Being in my own apartment in a place that has been attractive to me since I first visited over twenty years ago feels right.  

I wake up in the morning, and I think, "I'm happy".  

Here's my new definition of happiness.  Happiness is when your inner peace and joy align with your outer circumstances.  And now that I am happy, I can't even begin to imagine how many more good things will come into my life, because everything on the inside of me is finally conspiring with the universe on my behalf.  



Saturday, June 21, 2014

A New State (Get Yours)

Courtesy of my lovely friend and former student, Mah-G, a magical human being. :-)

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…
(Courtesy of everyone's friend, Wikipedia.)

I just started a new job in a new state last week.

Over the past six months, I'd written a few blog posts about my decision to leave the job I'd had for almost seven years and move to a different state (which you can read here, here, and here, if you are so inclined).  In those posts, I touched on some of the practical aspects of unemployment, but mostly, I discussed the things I was learning throughout that part of my life's journey.  I thought that once I found employment, I would write a post about the end of that process, but what I find interesting is that I don't feel like there is an "end" to write about, besides saying, "I got a job" after almost six months of being unemployed.

So, yes, I got a job, and I started it last week.  I moved to a new apartment in a new state.  But that's not the end of the story.

I keep getting asked the question, "How is your new job?" And to be honest, I don't have a great answer. So far, so good, is the best answer I can give.  I like the people, and I like that my schedule is flexible and that I can wear jeans on Fridays (Yay!). I like that my new supervisor seems to be someone who will help me grow professionally and who is a down to earth, confident woman of color with no apparent ego issues (More yay!). Other than that, there isn't much I can say. I'm thankful to be employed.

While part of the reason why I left my previous job was because it was really just time to go, another reason was because my spirit and soul were not being fed in that region of the state (or country, but go with me here).  I needed to leave from that place because nothing was changing around me, and everything within me was screaming for change.  I felt as if I was dying inside, and honestly, I don't know if I ever didn't feel that way for the thirteen years I was there, I think I just tried my best to deal with the situation I was in.

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…

So yes, I took the plunge and moved, first to a state where I had family and friends, and now to the state where my current position is located (thankfully, still close enough to family and friends).  And I really don't know what I expected to happen between the time that I left my previous job and now.  I thought I would probably spend more time writing my book.  I thought that I would read more and work out more.  I thought I would have some type of epiphany and discover what I was supposed to do.  I thought that some of the people I met along the way would be people I would become friends with.  I thought I had found a new mentor.  None of that really happened.  I really just moved to a new state and started a new job, and there is nothing magical about either of those things (if we're being pragmatic, which I am not prone to be).  

This process of going from being employed, to unemployment, to being employed again wasn't really about work, if you ask the people who know me best.  They would say that I have worked really hard and that I deserved a break.  And even I would say that I moved so that I could focus more on family, both my immediate family as well as the family I hope to have one day.  However, I learned how much I value work while I was unemployed.  I didn't do any of the things that I thought I would do during my break because I spent so much of that time focused on work: looking for work, doing part-time work, working on my job-search skills, networking, working on letters to help people get into school so that they can find meaningful work, and doing housework.  I viewed the six months I had off from work as more work, and I took on any and everything that would make me feel like a contributing member of society.  I didn't rest and relax as much as I could, or should have.  And I don't regret that. I don't apologize for it.  Even though I wasn't gainfully employed for half of this year, I was busy working to get to where I am today.  At this new job and in this new apartment in this new state; both a physical state as well as a spiritual, emotional, and mental state.

State commonly refers to… the present condition of a system or entity…

If there is anything that I learned in the past six months, it's that putting yourself in a position to receive something new takes work on your behalf.  It doesn't just happen because "it's meant to be".  I do tend to use that phrase often, but in reality, if I had not put in the time, energy, or effort to pack up and move, or to create the Excel chart to keep track of my job search, or to connect with any and everybody I needed to support me in this process, I would not be here today.  I believe that people and events do align to create the opportunities for new things to happen in our lives, but that only works if we are open to those people, and if we play our part at those events.  Nothing happens to me that I have not set in motion to occur.  You have to make your destiny, and along the way, God, people, and situations will lift you, hold you, and guide you towards that destiny.

I woke up one morning and DECIDED that the life I was living was no longer the life I wanted to live.  I CHOSE to step into many unknowns, with faith in God and the support of my family and friends.  I BELIEVED that wherever I landed, I would land safely.  And I TRUST that this is not the end of my story that began December 22, 2013, when I drove away from the state, and the condition, that I'd inhabited for thirteen years.  I KNOW that this is only the beginning of something new and great, and my soul and spirit are excited to see what new adventures await, in this new state of being that I have worked to reach.

A new state.  Get yours.  It takes work, but it's worth it. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

Reunions

The Class of 1989 at our 25th Year Reunion
Last weekend, I attended my high school homecoming.  This was our 25th year reunion.  It seems almost unimaginable that I have been out of high school for that long, and though so much has happened since that June day in 1989 when I walked on the stage to "Pomp and Circumstance", homecoming always brings back wonderful memories of those younger, more carefree days, reminding me of who I am at my core.

The prospect of attending a high school reunion is often portrayed on television sitcoms as fraught with anxiety about several things, such as the inevitable weight gain or hair loss we have undergone, or the question of the level of success we have reached and if it is comparable to our peers' successes.  I'll be honest; even as I remembered how much I enjoyed my 20th year reunion, I still felt the same anxiety that usually transpires on those sitcoms.  While I was excited to attend the events, the Facebook event page showed that a lot of people were going who I was not close to in high school.  I imagined I'd be sitting at the bar alone, sipping a drink and watching my classmates trade fond memories and ask each other, "Who is that?" while watching me nurse my glass of Chardonnay.

I was also anxious about something else. There was a possibility that someone would be at those events who I'd told last year never to contact me again.  Since that moment seven months ago, I'd been concerned about this particular reunion.  He had broken my heart repeatedly, and while I had moved on from my past in many ways, I wasn't sure what my reaction would be if I did see him again.

It took me a long time to get ready on the night of our first event last Friday night, more so because my anxiety was making me feel physically sick than any kind of vanity.  But something made me go despite my fear of seeing him again.  I told myself that I wanted to go, that I wanted to have fun, I wanted to see my classmates even if they didn't remember me, and, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know if I'd gotten stronger in the time since I broke off that connection completely.

He was one of the first people I saw when I walked in.  I was surprised by what I felt; a level of comfort that someone I knew was there, as opposed to the fear, or maybe even brokenness, I thought I would have felt.  But before I could even decide if I was going to walk past him or stop and at least acknowledge him, another classmate came up to me and said hello.  Then another, and another.  And little by little, almost every person in that room greeted me with a hug and a "Hi, Patty" (a nickname I don't remember earning in high school, but that's what almost everyone seemed to call me that night).  And before I could get very deep into socializing, he came up to me as well, giving me a long hug and telling me a whole lot of stuff that was just as sophomoric as if we were still in high school.

I moved on.  And I socialized, and had fun, and truly enjoyed being in this space with these people who I was not currently friends with, but who, for some reason, made me feel welcome, and even cared for. While I knew this person was there, I genuinely could not see a reason to let him, and the things he'd done to hurt me, ruin my night.  And I definitely had a great night.  (Let's just say YOLO was in full effect.)

At one point during the night, however, he came up to me and shared some news that took some of my breath away (and not in a good way).  He asked if we could get together before I left town, and I said okay.  We got together a few days later, and he shared a few more details.  As he did, I sat there, feeling like one boulder had settled into the pit of my stomach and another on my chest, so that I was not able to breathe.  He then asked if he could be a part of my life again.  We had a long conversation about what was wrong with our relationship and what the point of reuniting in any manner would be.  I was very clear that he'd had more than enough chances to do the right thing as it concerned me.  And while we both said we still love each other and still think about each other every day, I was still dubious about his true intentions for wanting to start over.

I went home and cried - I had held my emotions throughout the weekend, and with the additional information I'd been provided, I had more to be upset about.  And I cried, and cried some more.  And then I got angry. I felt a slow, long, simmering anger that continued throughout the week, threatening to manifest itself through Facebook rants and Twitter subtweets.  (Instead, I shared less emotional and more philosophical perspectives on accountability, love, and the like.) Of course, I asked myself if I could possibly start over with this person, someone who I'd felt emotionally and psychologically abused by, someone who had no empathy or compassion for anyone but himself.  Despite all of that, I did have to admit that I still felt connected to him.

During our lunch meeting, he asked me if there was anyone else that I was excited about.  If there was anyone that I loved or could imagine being with.  He asked (not for the first time) that if I loved him, how could I possibly be with someone else?  And I thought about that.  I wondered if I would be living a lie if I moved on with someone else.  Part of me wondered if he was right, and we were supposed to be together because somehow, even when things were hard or horrible between us, we still found a way to reunite.

Then I got past my emotions, and I thought about something else.  I thought about how friendly all of the men were throughout the weekend.  I thought about the men who let me know, to varying degrees, how attractive they thought I was.  I thought about those two men who checked to make sure I was okay on Friday night before I drove home.  I thought about the ones that I'd connected with after the reunion through Facebook or phone conversations, and how, in some ways, I felt more supported and more cared for after last weekend.  I'm not discounting the connections with the women - we always seem to be genuinely happy to be together - but it was what I noticed about the men made me realize something.  Those who were at our reunion events with their wives and significant others enjoyed being with them.  Showed them off in some ways.  Had fun with their partners.  Those who were there alone were attentive and enjoyable to be around.  I felt warm being around these people.  Not hurt, not anxious, not fearful.  And these men reminded me that men can be good; men can be caring and concerned about someone other than themselves.  They reminded me that I don't have to settle for someone who says he's always loved me, but was never able to demonstrate that love in any meaningful way.

Most importantly, this past week of reunions gave me the opportunity to assess where I am mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after having moved to a different state earlier this year.  The purpose of moving was to remove myself from a toxic environment and create opportunities for personal and professional progression.  After seeing this person, I was anxious that reuniting with him would take me back to a place I thought I'd moved past.  I thought that maybe he was supposed to always be a part of my life in some way, regardless of how much he continually hurt me.  And for a few days, I lacked the peace and contentment I'd experienced since making the decision to change various aspects of my life. But when I thought about what I've learned about myself in the past few months - specifically that I took a risk to make my life the absolute best it could possibly be, and that I AM BRAVE, and that I refuse to SETTLE and be stagnant - I realized that some reunions should not be prolonged, because they aren't meant to create new and meaningful connections.  Some reunions are meant to take you back from where you came.  And while going back to the place you once called home is usually enjoyable, going backwards never is.