Post-Election Awareness

I find that now, as the dust settles on an election where the popular vote and the electoral college were at extreme odds, I am almost hypersensitively aware of my surroundings. Being a woman of color, I’ve been the subject of hateful and derogatory speech in the past, and I was raised to always pay attention to my surroundings for safety, but this is different. This time and space we find ourselves in as a country is different. On a personal level, I find myself hyper aware — practically on edge — gauging my level of safety in every room I enter. 
This week has been emotionally draining for me. I flew to Chicago for conferences, and  I made a plan with colleagues to meet at the hotel lobby bar, so that we could make a plan for dinner. The hotel lobby is this vast room, with detailed paintings spanning the ceiling, high above massive chandeliers. Seated at the bar, I drank a Manhattan and greeted colleagues as they arrived. As our group grew, the bar area became fragrant with the scent of garlic fries and buzzed with general merriment. 
As we sat unwinding and catching up, a man sat to my left, between me and a dividing wall. I sat turned in my chair, facing my friends, with my back to him. He was quiet for a time, but he began speaking to the bartenders about my group once he gained some liquid courage. He gestured toward us and said to the closest bartender, “I bet they’re talking about Trump.”

To this, I turned, and said, “We weren’t, actually.”

My response surprised him. “Oh, so you can hear me? I didn’t think you understood what I was saying. You didn’t turn around before.”

People who know me recognize my dry humor, but my response was not intended to be funny. “Yes, I understand and speak English just fine.”

To this, my friends ears all perked up, and they took notice of the man next to me. The watched as the man and I spoke for an hour, while he quizzed me on race relations and why it is that “Afro Americans” felt the need to be at the center of gang violence and drug trades. In my heart of hearts, I believe that this man really wanted to know how to get to know people of color, how to come from a place of respect, and how to start a dialogue. He just had a terrible delivery. 

Our conversation grew heated at moments, and there were several times that he had to walk away to digest what I had to say. I chose not to flower my words; I was as blunt as I could be, because I wanted him to understand the gravity of his approach and how it was perceived. If he really wanted to start a sincere dialogue, he needed to calibrate for his audience.

As we continued to talk, there was a moment where I realized that, as obtuse and completely unaware as this man was, he was genuine in trying to understand the struggles that people of color experience. He didn’t have friends outside of his own demographic, he was a self-proclaimed Republican who had not supported the President Elect, and I got the sense that he was really trying to figure out how to define his identity moving forward. 

I had to walk away toward the end. I excused myself to go to the ladies room, but it was primarily because I was so overwhelmed at the prospect of having to justify my frustration and challenges I’ve faced simply for being a person of color. When I reached the restroom, I burst into tears. I didn’t want him to see me cry; that what he said or how he thought affected me. That he unintentionally made me feel inferior. 

I regrouped and came back for our last round of conversation. He was a bit drunk by this point, but he was still talking. I finished my drink and decided I’d had my fill. I looked away, and tears filled my eyes that I couldn’t hold back. One Donny friends saw, and she came to envelope me in a big hug, as other friends and colleagues crowded around me. The man sensed that the conversation was over, and he left quietly, but I know he felt bad. 

I explained to my friends that, though this was a tough conversation, I appreciated that this stranger took the time to try and hear me out. He tried to process what I’d said, and he took the time to walk away and came back for more. I had to respect that. 

These conversations aren’t easy. Ones where people have assumed the absolute worst about your culture, your family, and you have to find a way to reconcile what they were taught and what really exists. It is so overwhelming to teach someone a history they didn’t learn in school or in life, to help someone understand that my community is how it is as the result of continuous prejudice and discrimination.  

I can’t even imagine what the harder conversations will be, how my nerves will fare, or if emotions will get the better of me. I don’t want to think the worst of these next four years, but I’m going into 2017 understanding that it could be more challenging than anything I’ve faced thus far. 

Let’s prepare ourselves. This next year is going to be a beast. 

Building Better Habits

I’ve been allowing too much time to pass me by, not only when it comes to writing, but with life in general. I have too many goals to hide behind the guise of being too busy, too tired, over-committed, or unable to focus. 

I keep waiting for someone to come along and allow me the opportunity to cook, teach, write, be active, love, volunteer, save, and practice self-care. Waiting, as if I can’t take a step forward and open these doors myself. Waiting, perhaps more out of a fear of failure than anything else. I keep waiting, but it’s time. 

If you want to create a positive habit, you have to make a routine and set out to complete it every day. No excuses. No waiting. No one is coming to do it for you or for me. Open the doors, and move forward. Even if the routine is built and completed on faith every day, each completion is a successful piece of the positive habit routine structure being built and solidified. As the routine becomes habit, confidence and contentment build. 

Anything is possible. Now tackle the blank book. 

Don’t Speak 

I ran into that same man again at the cigar lounge, the one that calls me “Sweetie.” Mind you, it’s been weeks since I first encountered him. I’ve seen him since that first meeting, but this is the first time that he talked to me.
I still have a negative feeling when I see him, so I stay away from him. I focus on my friends, my drink, my cigar. I have zero interest in making this man an ally. So what is the first word out of his mouth as he addresses me? “Sweetie.” Who’s surprised? He says, “Sweetie, where did my friend go? Are you two leaving?”

This time, he had a friend standing with him. I looked him in the eye and I made sure to enunciate as I spoke. “My name is…” 

He rolled his eyes, grabs my hand to shake it, and says, “I’m sorry for calling you sweetie, you’re not sweetie at all, nothing about you is sweetie.” And he is right. Nothing about me is sweetie. For him. 

I don’t give him a reaction, because he isn’t worth it. I think I actually walked away while he was mid-sentence. The other guys tell me he is drunk, but that really isn’t my problem or concern. That isn’t a free pass to act any way you want, or to talk to anyone any way you want. 

I literally cannot stand him. I vented, left (which I was already in the process of doing), and I sincerely hope this man learns to keep his distance from me. 

Ugh. 

How Not to Approach a Woman

I had a strange encounter last week, and I was surprised at how irritated I became.

I frequent local cigar lounges, and I’m most often a visitor at one within my own neighborhood. Can’t beat the proximity. As a woman who enjoys an occasional cigar and a glass of good scotch or bourbon, I have no problem visiting these establishments on my own – I don’t need an entourage to feel comfortable in my own skin. Especially when visiting the bar in my neighborhood, I enjoy being alone, because I’ve created a sense of respite there.

Though I enjoy my alone time, I am a social being, and I can enjoy conversation with almost anyone. Almost. I do find, at times, that being a woman in a cigar lounge is viewed by some as crossing into the inner-sanctum of Man Time. The women present acknowledge each other without issue, most likely because we see strength in numbers. The men turn their heads and observe every instance of femininity in the room. We’re watched, often judged, and then incessantly questioned about our choices. Surely we’ve come to the wrong place, or so they think.

During my encounter, I sat alone at the end of the bar watching Copa America. I was smoking a good cigar and was nursing a glass of scotch. I was texting a couple friends (and possibly posting a picture on Snapchat). The bartenders know me by name, and I’ve settled into a comfortable routine at this establishment.

A man arrived and sat a few seats away, at the corner where he could face my left side, addressing me as “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” Clearly, it never occurred to him to actually introduce himself or ascertain what I might like to be called. He asked me if he could borrow my lighter, as he’d forgotten his own. After I slid my torch lighter (freshly full of butane) down the bar to him, he asked me if my lighter even worked. His question caught me off guard, and I simply turned to look at him as I puffed my well-lit cigar.

He scrutinized the lighter and watched me for reactions. He lit his cigar and slid the lighter back to me. “Thank you, Sweetie.” By this time, I was having a visceral reaction to this man. I winced at “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” The more he watched me — judged me — the more I felt my eye wanting to twitch. I turned my attention back to my phone.

“So I notice you’re smoking a cigar. And what is that, bourbon or Scotch?”

“Yep. Scotch.” I said. I find that when I don’t like something, I either shut down or get extremely vocal. My preference is to shut down; I don’t want to make a scene. What I wanted to say was, “Why is any of this your concern?”

“How long have you smoked cigars?” He asked suspiciously.

“A few years now.” I didn’t want to engage in conversation, so I responded to a few text messages from friends.

“I see. So a cigar smoker and scotch drinker. What is it you like about cigars anyway?” His eyes narrowed at me, and my irritation grew.

“I just like them, hard to explain. Why do you smoke cigars?” I looked at him, I’m sure exasperation was all over my face, but he ignored my question because he wanted to continue evaluating me. I didn’t bother trying to give him a real answer; I wasn’t actually interested in continuing the conversation.

“Are you texting all of your friends? You sure do seem to like to be on your phone.” He puffed his cigar and watched me.

“I’m texting a few friends, not all. I call it being responsive.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my annoyance.

“So you would rather talk to your friends than talk to me?” What I couldn’t quite recognize is that this man actually thought he was flirting with me, that I should be impressed and grateful for his attention.

I maintained eye contact with my phone, responding to messages as they came in. I sent a text to one of my friends asking them to continue texting me, because I was being harassed by an older man.

I think “harassed” is the right word. I’ve been reduced to pet names, had my equipment insulted, and had my very presence questioned. Surely, I couldn’t be a regular, a real cigar smoker, or have a real appreciation for brown liquor. Surely, I didn’t belong in a cigar lounge.

Before he could ask another question, a couple walked up to greet him. They sat to my left, leaving one seat between us, and provided a slight barrier between myself and this man. The couple greeted me, and I exchanged pleasantries and a smile before returning my attention to my cigar and my phone. They seemed fine.

The man wasn’t finished though. He ranted to his friends about millennials, how they couldn’t hold a decent conversation and all they cared about was their technology. His friends looked at me, understanding the complaints were made about me, and then I had three people watching for my reaction. I gave none, which apparently confused them more, only fueling the man. His male friend asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. His female friend asked me if they were bothering me, and I said no. I’d just had a long day.

Friendly servers and managers walked by, and I greeted them, laughed, and talked freely with them. I could see the man redden, because it was clear I just didn’t have interest in talking to him. Two more of his friends joined him, sitting around the corner of the bar, though these two had some relationship issues going on. The man continued to watch me; I could feel his eyes on me as I enjoyed my cigar and ordered a second drink.

Another friend joined their group, a man I’d seen before. Before my scrutinizer could say anything, the man introduced himself to me, asked my name, said he remembered my face from a few different times in the lounge. We shook hands and smiled, I remembered his name, and he asked me if I minded whether he sat next to me. I told him I didn’t mind, and the man at the corner of the bar fumed while my new friend and I made easy small talk. There was even a bit of light flirting.

The new addition to the bar tried to include me in conversations that his friends were having, so I spoke up when asked (they were talking about O.J.), and he and I continued our own conversation. I didn’t want to invite his friend to begin asking me another barrage of questions.

Perhaps I was being petty, but I made sure to hug my neighbor as I called it a night. I left earlier than I’d planned, but I didn’t like the change in energy when the man came in, and I’d had enough. I spoke to everyone at my end of the bar but the man, and I really didn’t care how rude that made me look.

On my way out, I told a host and a manager (two of my friends) what transpired. Though I certainly could have said something or moved further down the bar, and they both knew the guy to be a jerk, I decided to laugh off an awkward encounter and make a mental note to keep my eye out for him in the future. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.

There is a way that you can talk to a woman without demeaning her, questioning her, or making her feel like she shouldn’t have knowledge or experience simply because she is female. Just because you are a man and you ask a question, you are not entitled to a response, regardless of your age or stature. We aren’t here to be your entertainment, to be studied, or to be presumed ignorant because we choose to do something that isn’t innately feminine. You aren’t owed an explanation and we don’t need your approval.

It’s none of your business, I’m not your sweetie, and if we cross paths again, I’ll tell you so. Please don’t kill my vibe.

Sunday Rest

There is something about a truly restorative weekend – one where you get everything done that you need to accomplish, you enjoy quality time with good people, you have something decadent, you rest, and you feel prepared for the week ahead. Your living space feels de-cluttered and free of chaos. You expressed yourself in some creative way.

I don’t typically have this experience, but this is always the goal. More often than not, the only way I could accomplish all of this would be with an extended weekend. Even a three-day weekend feels short. Definitely works if we institute a four-day weekend.

A three-day workweek may not be very long, but I can tell you this: if I was looking forward to a four-day weekend, I’d be incredibly productive.

Though much of my time this weekend was eaten up by travel, I got to spend quality time with some good friends, have a good cigar and some cocktails, enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful Sunday, run some errands, and relax while watching my team in the playoffs. Maybe I didn’t get as much accomplished as I would have liked, and I didn’t necessarily prep for the week the way I’d like to, but I got in many of the good things. I didn’t check my work email too often, I laughed and had some really thought-provoking conversation, and I got to see some friendly faces.

One particular conversation touched on important aspects of life that matter most: finances, personal health, and friends/family. Though these things may seem narrow, they’re really umbrellas for career, personal goals, happiness, autonomy, etc. The other stuff is just ancillary. It was nice to feel like someone else related to that. Those three are enough to juggle, without worrying about outside factors that can certainly be complementary but aren’t necessities.

There are a lot of things you can’t control, but within these three categories, there is more than enough to focus on. Let the other stuff fall into place.

Protect Writing Days

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Err on the side of writing. Meetings will always be there.

Revisiting Storms

As I get to know my new colleagues — my counterparts– I find that we connect well, we team together often, and we agree on management styles, productivity, and creating policy. We fight the drama together, and we keep each other supported. I like this team.

Due to past experiences, I’ve taken my time getting to know them, having heard various accounts of their personalities and supposed tactics from my predecessor. I chose to form my own opinions under the belief that one person’s experiences don’t dictate the experiences of another. This decision certainly opened opportunities for us to bond and form new understandings based on our interactions.

Over lunch this week, the team began to share about family and grief, blogging and forms of therapy and detox. Another colleague mentioned journaling using the 750 Words app, so I shared that I’ve been blogging for 13 years now. That what started off as a purely organic mind dump each day, to lighten the burden on my shoulders, became my refuge for taking down the weight in exchange for a couple hundred words.

I shared my grief gingerly, unsure how it would be received by my colleagues, but they’ve been incredibly supportive and kind; they have been open and generous. The story has so many levels, intricately woven together to recount what happened when my sister died, how my parents were affected, and what I kept to myself.

After sharing, I was proud of myself,  mostly because I didn’t cry as I recounted what happened in the accident and during trial. I didn’t cry as I explained the effect of such a loss on my family. My colleagues were the epitome of support. Asking questions where they felt comfortable, offering short-term resolutions that could prove helpful.

I’m just grateful that we could connect, that they were respectful and kind, and honestly, that they have a greater understanding of how I operate and why I do what I do for my students. This was accomplished without a breakdown, or even a tear, in a solemn conversation that felt safe and delicately handled.

I can’t complain. Missing her is always heavy, but being able to tell others about her lovely personality and all her goals brings me a great deal of comfort.

Good talk.

Inner Circles

So I’ve been facing some health challenges lately – ones completely out of my control. It’s been really scary, really eye-opening, and a looming reminder of mortality. Nothing is immediately life-threatening (that I’m aware of, anyway), but I have this sense of anxiety that I am fighting each day.

What if I’m stuck with these challenges for the rest of my life?

I’ve always been really headstrong, independent, and a big supporter for others going through their hard times. I’m finding that, of course, I could really use a friend. Unfortunately, the friends that I’ve been wanting to confide in have basically fallen off the map, and so I just end up internalizing all of the things I’m thinking and feeling. The “what ifs” and the fears, some tears and many sleepless nights. I tend to reserve these particular subjects for only the closest of friends, but now I’m questioning our true level of friendship.

If someone is always there for you when times are trying, is there any commitment to reciprocate? I don’t believe friendship is obligation, but I do believe it is mutual. Shouldn’t we support each other, or has this friendship always been about you?

I’m reminded of friendships attempted in Los Angeles and how shallow they were. I had great difficulty forging true, lasting friendships, though I lived there for 12 years. It felt like everyone was trying to “make it,” and you were only a good friend as long as you could benefit someone else’s trajectory to stardom or notoriety. I made a small handful of friends, but I met so many people over the course of those years, and it really took a toll on me that so many friendships fell flat or ended in someone trying to take advantage.

Maybe I’m just too nice, too gullible, or too naive. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t see those things. I am generous, I am kind, and I do genuinely care. But I’m no doormat, I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, and I’m definitely not afraid to walk away if I feel someone is taking me for granted. Perhaps the lesson is simply to take a look around when things are generally good to see who is still there.

You always know who needs you, but who sticks around once things stabilize? For you? Some people are in your life for only a season, and from where I’m sitting, winter is definitely over.

Write. Good, Bad or Ugly.

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Even if you can’t write on the level you’d hoped today, you still can write. Get something on the page, edit it later if you need, but get ink on the page.

Just press play!