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