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. 

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.

Anniversary

I can’t believe that today is actually a blog anniversary for me here. My posts grew so infrequent for a time that this site still feels so new to me. So unlike my Xanga days, which I miss.

I miss the followers that frequented my page, ones that I could really get to know. Ones that understood or even just empathized with the loss and grief I was experiencing. I appreciated those days.

I recognize that things have to change; change is necessary for growth. I’m not resistant to change, but I do want some sort of normalcy. I’ve got to get that for myself though, rather than wait for it to come to me. Writing can’t be an every day for me if I don’t allow it; I have to make the time and the effort, even when I feel mentally exhausted.

I assume many go through moments where they question motivation, where they give in to the pressures of the every day, sacrificing the things that they actually enjoy. If my days were full of writing and cooking, I’d be a hell of a lot happier. And I guess it comes down to making excuses. I have so much work to do. I went out this weekend. I need more sleep. If I need to write, I need to make the time. Let’s see that commitment come to fruition.

Stay tuned. Four years here. Here’s to many more. Cheers.

Days of Xanga

I first started blogging 11 years ago on Xanga.  I needed an outlet to handle my grief from my sister passing away, and the best way for me to deal with my feelings is to write about it.

One friend in particular has been with me the entire way — she was my first follower, understood what I was going through, and we’ve never lost contact.  Over brunch yesterday, we reminisced to our Xanga days, when we blogged daily and had a consistent following.  How much easier it was then, how blogging made so much sense.  Since then, we’ve both created new blogs, on multiple interfaces, but we’ve continued to follow each other, though our blogging is far less consistent.

The followers that we had weren’t in huge droves, but they were consistent.  They commented, they kept up with our daily lives, and we kept up with theirs.  We had true connections, rather than a bunch of strangers reading random lines and losing interest because there weren’t regular updates.

I want to get back to the Xanga days.  One thing that I can say is that daily blogging, even about random events or feelings, is that I had a sense of clarity.  I slept better.  Even if I didn’t go shouting from the rooftops all of my feelings and frustrations, they were on the page.  I had expressed myself, talked through it.  Maybe someone commented, maybe they didn’t.  Maybe someone could relate.  At the end of the day, it didn’t matter, because I’d dealt with whatever was going on and moved forward.  I slept better because I wasn’t going over the details repeatedly in my head.

I work hard at my job, but I’ve been neglecting my first love: writing.  I put so much time and effort into my work that I am too tired to write.  I use the excuse that I was brought up that way; trained and groomed to work hard and put my best foot forward.  But I think about what I would love to have time to do every day for the rest of my life, and it’s not work – it’s write.  If I want to do what I love to do, I guess I need to make more of an effort.  I can’t publish a book that’s never finished.

Time to renew the motivation, the commitment.  In doing so, my hope is that I’ll restore the connection with my readers (though not huge numbers) that I valued so much.  Time to return to writing.

Building a Sisterhood

The end of June is always a tough month for me and for my family. June 26th this year marked the 11th anniversary of my younger sister’s passing.

Some years are harder than others, and this year has been especially rough because she would have turned 30 years old this fall. I think my family has been hit especially hard this year. I can hear it in my mother’s voice.

I miss her. It’s like the air I breathe is thinner without her. My quality of life is different. My longing for her and the relationship we built grows stronger each year. My wondering what she would be or how she would be now rack my thoughts all the time.

A dear friend of mine pointed out to me last week that I make great efforts to build a strong network of sisters around me, not necessarily just for my own benefit, but to support and encourage each other. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it’s true.

When I feel my lowest, I look to these sisters I’ve found over the years. A few particularly special ones have helped me keep it together when I couldn’t do it on my own; when I didn’t feel I had enough to take care of myself after taking care of my family. They’re who saw me grieve when I couldn’t allow my parents to see; they’re who checked on me and sat with me as I dealt with family complexities.

When I was the one who had to be strong for the family, to be their rock, these sisters made sure they were mine. And, in turn, I make sure that I do everything in my power to take care of them. I don’t look to them to replace my sister that is no longer with me, but I look to them for outlets to provide support, love and encouragement that I can no longer use toward her. It’s still in me, and it has to go somewhere. She would approve.

I think of my accomplishments, and I think of the opportunities I’ve had to be there for people the way that I’ve wanted to be there for my own sister. I hope that she would be proud. I hope that she would smile and laugh, and when I meet her next in heaven, I hope she does a little dance before she throws her arms around me. I can’t wait.

I will continue my efforts and being who I am for her, in her memory. I am nothing if not dedicated to my sisters: my rocks, my inspiration, my advisors and confidants. I had almost 19 years with my own, and I have my entire adulthood to enjoy these new chances at sisterhood. That means everything to me.

A Warrior’s Wall

I don’t honestly believe that time heals all wounds.  In some instances, like love, I do think that time can mend things and eventually open you back up to the possibility of a new love.  However, in other areas (like loss), some wounds just aren’t meant to heal.  Some people are irreplaceable, and they leave a void when you lose them.

Even with such loss, you may never find adequate closure.  The wound may stay fresh, but you have to find a way to continue moving forward.  I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t want to… but you should.  The tough part about loss is that we humans like to believe in something called hope, and sometimes hope leads us straight onto a path of denial.  When you lose someone, you don’t want to believe it’s true.  You don’t want to believe that the last time really was the last time.  You hope it’s wrong.  Even if you know for sure that it’s right.  They’re gone.  You still hope, against the odds, that somehow some miracle will bring them back.

But nothing will.

One of the scariest things I’ve learned about loss is that I have to depend on my memory to keep my lost loved ones present.  My mom said to me, about a year after my sister passed, that she’s been writing down all of her memories of my sister.  She’s afraid she’ll forget something, and she believes forgetting dishonors my sister’s memory.  My mom hasn’t completely moved on, and I don’t think she ever will.  And I’m not even saying that she should.  But I worry about her.  I worry that she’s so focused on my sister’s life that she’ll completely lose the opportunity to live her own.

Losing memories of my sister worries me too.  I don’t think I’m all that great at grieving, honestly.  I always have to be prepared to be the strong one; ready to pick up the pieces when anything goes wrong.  I can’t let down the wall and be vulnerable if I have to be my family’s warrior.  When the wall is up, you learn to smile a lot.  You have to.  A million things could be going wrong, but you have to keep it together.  Show a brave face to people, so much so that they don’t know the difference between true happiness or the wall.  They don’t recognize the wall because the brave smile becomes the default.  Smiling is my grief mechanism.

Maybe it isn’t the best thing, because I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t dealt with everything I feel, but at least I acknowledge that this is what I do.  There are very few people that I let see the other side of the wall, perhaps because I worry that someone doesn’t really want to know everything that I’ve been through.  I also have learned that, in the past, I trusted too easily.  I don’t want to continuously repeat the same cycles.

At the end of the day, you’ll find me smiling.  Every once in a while you may see some other emotion flash through my eyes, but I pick it back up and keep pushing.  My baby sis would have it no other way, and it brings me great joy to keep working toward accomplishments that I know would have made her proud.

The wall is up high, but I know when to bring it down.