Monday, May 30, 2016

Perfectionism: the Enemy of Relationship

 Courtesy of www.quotationof.com
I am a (recovering) perfectionist.

I wrote my name at three and started reading at four. In kindergarten, I had a conditional friend who would stop playing with me when I could read words she couldn't. In the second grade, I was called "Brainiac" and "Walking Dictionary," as if those were insults. I was threatened with getting beat up because I consistently won academic competitions and awards, and I didn't get the lead in the fourth grade play because my classmates thought it was enough that I was class president multiple times, a cheerleader, and, of course, the teacher's pet. I was not just good at whatever I set out to do, I was the best. If I couldn't be the best, it wasn't worth doing. 

In my years working as the coordinator of a women's leadership organization at a higher education institution, my approach to leadership evolved. Witnessing perfectionism in the young women I was leading showed me how destructive such a trait could be. I saw women taking on all of the work meant for a team, because, "if I want it done the right way, I have to do it myself." I witnessed the resentment that would eventually come as a result of not being able to say no. And I also saw arrogance and pride alienate really great young women from their peers. I knew that much of this attitude came from me - the person who thrived under pressure, who took on way more than one human should be capable of;  I was their example of a woman in a leadership position. Yet, the perception that I had it all together was just an illusion. There were so many nights when I would drive home after a successful event, feeling accomplished, but knowing that when I got home there was no one with whom to share my achievements. No celebratory meal or glass of champagne awaited me; nothing but an empty apartment, a shower, and bed.

At some point, I realized that I didn't want the young women I was mentoring to feel as alone and empty as I did. I wanted them to feel supported by one another and to know that perfectionism was not only unattainable, it was harmful to their relationships. I don't remember the day I said this phrase and why, but once I said it, it stuck. I'm sure we were debriefing an activity when I said, "Strive for excellence, not perfection." I remember thinking that we weren't holding ourselves accountable for finishing well because we were spending so much time aiming for perfection - an impossible task. We would give up or procrastinate rather than try and fail, and in avoiding failure for the sake of achieving perfection, we were letting each other down. I began to tailor my training sessions around working to develop areas in need of growth while celebrating our strengths. Our activities were created with the goal of appreciating our respective journeys rather than awaiting a perfect result. The outcome was that our relationships with each other grew stronger than ever, more genuine and authentic. I am proud to say that many of the women grew in confidence; not just in themselves, but in each other.

It's been a couple of years since, and I currently work with young people ages 12-18 who are gifted and high achievers. They, much like I was in elementary school, are the "walking dictionaries" among their peers. But in this age of technology that moves faster than the speed of light, young people are smarter than they've ever been. Because my students live around the country, I have to schedule time to talk with them over the phone. Often it is so challenging to schedule calls, not because I have so many that need to fit into my own schedule, but because they have multiple activities scheduled throughout the week. When talking about any endeavor, they must win, they must be the best, the first. In them, I see myself as a young child - needing to be the best in order to feel accomplished. Needing to be perfect in order to be valued and affirmed.

I struggle now, because high achievers expect the person advising them to be the most knowledgeable, the most able to get them into the best colleges and universities, the one who has the answers to all of their questions. They trigger the perfectionism I'd thought I'd recovered from. I find myself tipping the balance between work and life - once again, waiting to hear the words, "well done," but coming home to the emptiness borne of my own ambition to be perfect. No one benefits from striving for perfection, least of all those of us who never fail, because we are afraid to take the risk of trying something new and different. 

What if the "new and different" is what we need in order to live the lives we were intended to live? What if striving for perfection is keeping us from the very thing we need in order to feel fulfilled in this life - relationship and fellowship with others? What if, instead, striving for authenticity in our relationships is actually what will draw unto us that which is perfect, and good, for us

As with anyone who is recovering from an illness, there's a possibility of relapse. But, to paraphrase the cliche on recovery, "the first step is admitting the problem." I humbly admit that I have a problem with perfectionism, but I won't continue to strive for it, nor for excellence. Rather, I choose to strive for authenticity. At the end of my life, I don't want to be able to say that I accomplished so many things all alone. I want to say that I left love in the hearts of many. 


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Let's Go Crazy! (It's What Prince Would Have Wanted)

Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016
"Dearly Beloved,
We are gathered here today
to get through this thing called life"

Another one has left us.

Two days ago, I went on Instagram and saw that one of my college friends posted a photo of Prince captioned, "Rest in Power, Prince." My response? "Nooooooo!" Back in 2009, when I learned of Michael Jackson's passing, I cried. In 2012, when Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub, I was extremely sad and upset that drugs were such a demon for her. When David Bowie died this past January, I was reminded of my mornings spent getting ready for school and listening to the pop station in New York City, bopping around to "Modern Love." On Thursday, April 21, 2016, I scrambled to find what I hoped was not true: Prince could not have died. He couldn't have. And in those first few minutes, I couldn't find anything saying he was dead. Then, just a few minutes later, the news broke: yes, Prince Rogers Nelson was dead. 

Why is this a big deal to me?, you might wonder. Well, it's hard to explain, but I will attempt to. I grew up in the era of MTV and the advent of music videos. I grew up listening to, and watching, David Bowie, Sting and Billy Idol. I carried Michael Jackson everywhere with me (he was on a button on my jacket), Whitney Houston sang the soundtrack of my childhood love life (LOL), and Prince? Oh my. I remember going to a friend's home after school, whose mom was cool (or irresponsible) enough to let us go into her room with another friend and three boys to watch Purple Rain, the movie. (If my mom knew what I was watching, she would have never let me talk to that girl again, much less go to her apartment.) I got some kind of education watching that movie. I mean, who could get 'Darling Nikki" out of their mind after that performance?

Prince's music and his videos were everywhere. He was the ultimate gender-bender, yet so masculine. I didn't comprehend his talent or even his sex appeal at the tender age of 12, but I knew he was special, different. And I knew that, when "1999," "Controversy," and "Let's Go Crazy" came on the radio, I was given permission to go crazy, get nuts, kick my shoes off and dance - letting go of all of my inhibitions. I was a perfectionist and a people-pleaser throughout my childhood, but Prince gave me permission to stop thinking about anything and anyone but my own body and my heart. He gave me permission to enjoy life

We grow up and adulthood teaches us to prioritize, to plan, to set goals. We lose the ability to let go and go "crazy." We wake up exhausted, sit in traffic for hours or doze off on the subway, go to work, and come home to figure out dinner and go to bed, just to do the same thing over and over again. We give our life over to others - our jobs, our families - and forget who we are, and what keeps us motivated and passionate about life. Our energies are focused outward, and we lose spontaneity - dying a little inside over time. Prince? Prince, to me, was the ultimate life live-r. He worked hard, yes, but all of his work was focused on becoming the greatest musician, the greatest performer, and it was obvious to us all that his energies went towards what he was most passionate about. He was in total control of himself, yet even in that control he understood the need to go crazy. 

"We're all excited
But we don't know why
Maybe it's 'cause
We're all gonna die

And when we do
What's it all for
Better live now 
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door"

I never got to see Prince in concert, just like I never got to see Michael Jackson, or Whitney Houston, or Luther Vandross in concert - huge regrets of mine. I thought I had learned to live and enjoy my life, but as I reflect on this larger than life person and the huge loss to the music industry (and all of us), I realize that I have not given myself permission to "go crazy" in a very long time. I have become so weary due to the responsibilities of adulthood and my own personal losses that I haven't given myself permission to enjoy life and act on my passions. 

We live in a time of social media now, something Prince was not a fan of. What we post gives others the perception that we are enjoying life, but I wonder how many of us would honestly say that is true? I know we all have to work, and we have to "adult," but how many of us continue to focus our energies outward and away from what we're most passionate about? 

I'm going to look for that purple banana now. 


"Let's Go Crazy" lyrics by Prince Rogers Nelson.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Losing Me, Finding Me

I was going to shut this blog down for good a few weeks ago.

I realized that the readership I once had doesn't seem as enthusiastic about reading my blog posts. When I first started this blog, I would get comments and messages saying that my words resonated with people. People would share their innermost thoughts and feelings with me, telling me they felt understood, and in those moments I realized that my words had the power to heal. But they don't seem to have the same effect these days.

I've written about happiness, love, feminism, racism, my students - anything I have been passionate about. And I often share with the understanding that I am taking a risk by saying too much, giving too much away, just BEING TOO MUCH. There have been times that I've sobbed while writing and times when I've felt triumphant and even other-worldly, as if someone were writing through me.

Not so much lately.

I've been struggling with pretty much everything in my life. Nothing has been easy in the past year since I uprooted myself from a stable job and a place where I was accepted and loved as is, and came to this new place where no one knows me and no one seems to care how "amazing" I used to be. I am in a place where authenticity is not something to be achieved, because it is not understood as a concept. As much I am used to change and growth, I am in a place where people "are who they are" and I should not "expect them to change." It's like hitting brick walls and expecting them to bounce back. There's no other way to describe my experience so far. As a result, I have been expending energy becoming defensive, protected, and guarded in every relationship. I have become everything I've worked so hard to let go of, everything I told the young women in my life not to be. I let life beat me.

I know this because last week I was talking with one of the young professionals I supervise, and as I was looking for a way to resolve a problem, I decided that taking myself out of it would demonstrate that my ego was not as important as helping the team to run well. She said something to the effect of, "You are saying you are being humble in this instance, but you really sound defeated." Finally, someone truly understood my experience as of late, and I could feel the entire universe releasing a long-held, pent-up breath. My spirit told me, "You've lost who you really are."

Two weeks ago, I met a man with whom I'd been corresponding through a dating site and phone conversations. It wasn't easy at first, as he continues to remind me. "Remember when you wouldn't return my texts for four hours? When you would tell me specific times to call you and you wouldn't pick up?" What he knew, without me saying it, was that in those initial calls or texts, I was finding reasons not to engage. I didn't want to try - I had tried before, and it didn't work out. I had tried, and gotten so unbelievably hurt and betrayed that, even though I wanted to try again, I didn't want to try again. I got super defensive and refused to acknowledge those texts and calls. Then we had a snow day, and he called while I was doing nothing. I just picked up because, in that moment, I had no reason not to. The first words out of his mouth were, "Let me ask you this: Do you WANT a relationship?" He proceeded to tell me exactly how he felt about my antics, and somehow, rather than hang up on him for being so aggressive, I listened. And we talked. And somehow, two hours had gone by. Two hours of my precious time, that is usually planned. I plan phone conversations, okay? And at the end of those two hours, we got off the phone much in the same way teenagers do. "I'm really going to say goodbye now, okay? I'm really going to hang up." As I hung up, I breathed a sigh of surprise and relief, the universe sighing and smiling with me.

I talked to him again later that night after having cleaned my car off and getting back upstairs feeling a little sore. He told me to run a hot bath, get some candles and a glass of wine, and to just relax. I did it simply because he told me to, and I was so relaxed that I slept like a baby and felt as if I had given something to myself that I had not in such a long time: the gift of self-care. I don't know why I had not ever thought to pamper myself in that way. Yes, the bath was relaxing, but I left that experience with more than loosened muscles; I left feeling valued and appreciated by ME.

Photo Credit: M. Gerade
In the past two short weeks, this man has somehow reminded me that being spontaneous is a good thing, that everything doesn't have to be planned, that any time we are able to, we should make the time to see each other, and no matter what we do or for how little time it may be, there is value in those moments. He frequently remarks that he likes me - the "conservative" me that he first met through online photos, our first conversations, our first date - and the me who has opened up and accepted to go on this adventure with him. He believes that I have grown in such a short amount of time, but what he doesn't know is that who he sees now is really me. Being guarded and evasive was my defense mechanism, but he knocked that wall down as soon as possible to get to who I really am, a loving, compassionate, funny person who is willing to stop planning and start living. Again.

I have found me again. And this is why I write this right now, regardless of who reads. Because this is a part of who I really am. I am creative. I am expressive. I am, sometimes, too much. And I love it. I love ME.

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.