Then and Now

I try to dig into social issues with grace and grit. After the latest scandal to distract America, Kanye has become the most quoted person in a while. Making sure to keep my pulse on the reasons we are currently being distracted (Thanks Childish Gambino) I continued to think through the multiple responses to Kanye. In my expertise in over analyzing everything, the only thing I came up with, is that perhaps Kanye hasn’t considered the psychology of slavery and oppression on all of the players involved. Like any great game, everyone has a role, whether they know it or not.

Imagine being in a strange land. Sounds fun, right? 2018: I can’t wait to travel the world with my closest friends…or maybe even strangers, so that I can fully immerse myself in the culture. During slavery: We’ve been stolen from our homes, raped, killed, practically starved and living next to bodily wastes and dead people on the way here. When we got here, we were sold away from our family to people we don’t know, to do work in a strange land we’ve never experienced. We don’t know what we did to deserve this, but whenever someone gets out of line, they cut off parts of their body, whip them or even kill them and display their bodies for us to see. Sometimes for days.

Starting a family in 2018: I mean, I don’t know if I want to marry and have kids or just live my life. Do I want to be tied down like that? I rock mommy status better than anyone I know. I even have a blog about it to go with my vlog on Youtube. During slavery: After being raped, I bore my third child in 4 years from the master. This one is lighter, but she’s a girl. Will she be sold and raped as well, or will she work tirelessly in the fields? Which is the better life? If only I could raise her instead of the kids of the ones who own us. What I’d give to be able to nurse my own child, care for my own child, live with my own child…protect them. What is a mother without her child?

Dating in 2018: Man, I don’t know if I like him “like that” or if he’s just a friend. Race doesn’t matter, I just hope I don’t get raped or killed. Girl, I’ma shoot you a text with his info just to be sure. I’ll also post on social media so you know what he looks like and judge how much fun I’m having. During slavery: I was captured with my husband, but someone else bought him. I was told he died a few years back. Right around the time he found out I gave birth to the master’s second child. I hope he knows it was rape. Maybe he’s better off dead.

Religion in 2018: I was raised Christian/Catholic/Witness/Muslim/Seventh Day/ but now I’m finding my own way. The more I learn, the more my views change. I’m exploring literature and customs of different religions. Man, I wonder how my African ancestors served before colonialism although my family tells me only the way I’ve been raised is the right way. Something in my soul disagrees. During slavery: We can’t praise in the ways we did before, yet they are telling us that according to their religion, we are supposed to be their slaves. They teach us their religion, but they won’t teach us how to read. We can’t hold a service without them. They tell us, we aren’t allowed to be saved either. We aren’t human enough for salvation. This is the only religion my children will grow up knowing.

Colorism in 2018: Girl, you out here sunbathing, knowing good and well the guy you are trying to talk to only likes light skin girls. My melanin is popping, don’t come to me with the foolishness. I bet she thinks she is cute because she is light. What are you mixed with? You look so exotic. I’m black. During slavery: If you’re dark, you’ll be working in the filed, but at least you are less likely to get raped. Less likely, but still highly likely. You’re more likely to get killed, though. I’m mulatto, and it’s the worse of both worlds. I’m hated by the slaves outside and the whites inside. How could my own father sell me? He knew what would happen to me. If only I could pass for white and escape. Where would I go?

Protesting in 2018: They out here being fake woke and complaining about everything like America owes them something. Serves them right they got shot. They should have done this, that and then third and maybe they wouldn’t. But they weren’t doing anything wrong. They just wanted their choices like every other people. They were exercising their constitutional rights. It was never written for them; nor was the police made to protect them. Do your research and you would know that. The second amendment must be defended at all costs, especially in the hands of the police. Dead if you do and dead if you don’t unless you reach a certain celebrity status. Then they tell you not to protest because those are no longer your realities. During slavery: If any slave escapes, bring them back or kill them. Where would we go? We don’t know the area. We don’t know anyone. We’ve seen the bodies of the ones who have escaped. I hear some have made it out, though. Do I attempt to live and die trying, or do I just live dying daily?

Same outcome on some despite the change in times. There was no choice. There is just 400 years of fighting. Each sacrifice is hopefully one step closer to equality. Although this may not be every person of color’s reality, then and now, don’t misunderstand the psychology of the institution.

Advertisements

I Love Her Forever

Don’t find solace in my body, because it will let you down.

It’s fickle. It changes like the wind, and I love it enough… I love her enough to accept all of her waffling, yo-yoing, hue and texture variations. She doesn’t promise me one size forever. I’m not sure if I’d love her as much if she did. Nah, I still would. I love things about her that aren’t even her yet and anymore. I love how she curve(s)(d) around him, her and them; like her skin could heal the soul. I love the way she opened up her arms knowing she’d have to let go. Although she asked you not to, you did it anyway. You found solace in her, but she’s different today.

I’ve spoken often of body image, my struggles and watching those around me. I’ve even discussed the different phases of my body changing withe autoimmune diseases and cancer treatment. What I’ve never discussed was the hesitation in the freedom of labeling my body as both art and sexual. I think of the human body as a piece of art first and foremost. I’ve learned I’m a fan of faces with pieces that look like they don’t fit. An oversized nose that disrupts symmetry, uneven eyes, an old scar that adds character…things of that nature. I’m obsessed with chaos on the human body that causes it to be uncomfortable to look at. This brought me to my bucket list. I have a journal inching toward 500 goals I want to do before I die. Post cancer, I, like many other survivors asked why I lived and others died. In an effort to justify it, I’m striving to be as fearless and authentic as possible. One of those things was creating a beautiful photo shoot.

I’ve shied away from calling myself sexy with any seriousness, because of the implications it held. Would others agree? If they did, did that mean women would be uncomfortable with me around their husbands and vice versa with my own husband? If they didn’t consider me sexy, would they laugh at me behind my back? Throughout most of my life, I’ve relied on being considered cute. Cute is non-threatening and easy to pull off. Cute goes with dimples, no matter how the rest of you looks. But now, after all of my trials, I’m marrying my art to sexuality. I’m going to be as comfortable in that pairing as I am in everything else; unapologetically. I was asked, what if the pictures got out and affected my career choice? If all that I have accomplished and overcome can be ousted by a part of my therapy I take so much pride in, then why am I trying to be a part of that position? Why do I want to represent that environment? I’ve worked for companies that didn’t align with who I was in my youth, but now, I am my own in every way. Here is why I love this series of photos:

  • My port is displayed without reservation. This – to me – is still the most vulnerable part of me.
  • My scar is as breathtaking in this photo as I see it everyday. It adds to both the art and sexiness of my body.
  • My fingers… gosh… I have six broken fingers cupping the topic of controversy. The same nails which had been chemo stained and discolored are now perfectly contrasting with the melanin around them.
  • The bald head I once wore with confidence is spilling over with my natural curls.
  • My smile is cute, sexy and beautiful all in the same frame. I never knew I was capable of that; let alone capturing it here.
  • The simplicity of this photo allows everything to be absorbed in an authentic way I can’t get over. Thank you Thomas Fox Photography!

I did partner photos, but those will not be shared. This session was 100% about me living boldly, and challenging my own perception of myself. The best moments are always those where I step outside of my comfort zone in order to step into the spaces I’ve been too reserved to claim. I’m owning these pictures. I’m controlling the narrative around them, and I’m not going to allow a single day to go by where I don’t enjoy them. I want to remember her in this moment of beauty as she continues to create more. For even the woman I was when I took these photos last week is slightly different than the woman I am today.

 

We Bought a House

As the year 2017 wrapped up, my spouse and I took the biggest leap we could ever take… we purchased our first home. She is gorgeous and majestic. She is older than both of us, and most of her is newly renovated. They didn’t, however, renovate the tub, showers and toilets. In comparison to how beautiful the rest of her is, we will allow these sins against humanity to be our own projects.

I’m in this weird place where I’m so proud that we have been able to reach this milestone while I was only 30. Just a year prior, we had just gotten through my chemo and radiation. The snap back and glow up… all of that has been magical and beyond belief. On the other hand, there is this feeling that I have to be quiet about it, because to some, it can seem like I’m being braggy or whatever. I know, if people can’t rejoice with me, then screw them; right? But I never want to come off as boastful. I’m just really proud of us for not loosing focus when things got intense. I promised my husband, back in 2013, that we would have a house in 3 years. Of course, cancer put things off a year, so it was amazing to be able to pull through Dec. 1st 2017. To be able to set couple goals like that, and crush them together; especially in the face of unpredictable obstacles, is beautiful to me.

We took on the house hunting process as we do everything else; intense with absolutely no chill. We saw 8 homes in one day. At the end of the day, we had our top 3 places set. I thought I was going to fall in love with the home that had a pool (I’m convinced I’m part fish) but it was way too small. It seemed to be a custom build for a single parent household. Jeff got starstruck on nearly every home we saw. I had to be the voice of reason. The one he didn’t want to see (because the house and EVERYTHING in it was pink) was the one he actually fell in love with. Since our realtor wasn’t the one technically selling the home, the other realtor was impatient, and sold the home from under us. We literally, put in the offer that night. The house was huge and new, but it had a lot of work that needed to go into it before it would be right for us.

Now, the beauty we ended up going with stole Jeff’s heart from the moment we walked in. Well, they all did, so that’s not saying much. This one, stood out to me because of how nontraditional it was. As soon as you walk in, there is a carpeted room on your left which leads to a wood linoleum room and the master bedroom. If you make a right, there is a tiled room, (with a laundry room on the side connecting to the garage) which leads to the Florida room and the other guest bedrooms and bathroom. The kitchen is in the center of the house. Literally. The main rooms I just mentioned are all surrounding this well thought out, open kitchen. I say it is well thought-out, because until you cook in it, you don’t realize how miniature everything is. The first time I cooked in it, I reached up to retrieve some dishes from an upper cabinet (due to my height, I detest upper cabinets as they are a wast of space) and I could actually reach. Whoever renovated this 1980’s gem knew what they were doing. Even the lanai is magical to me. The garage easily fits two vehicles with  shelving as well. It was calling our name. We got it cheaper than expected, and closed sooner as well.

The carpeted room to the left has become our library. With the help of my uncle, the shelving is breathtaking. The tiled room to the right is the library cafe. I’m having fun decorating it, but am seriously considering adding more cabinets, so that it feels as if the  kitchen extends to that room as well. The Florida room is the living room, and the linoleum area is the formal dining. This house was one of those dwellings where you don’t realize how big it is until all of your things are in it, and it still looks empty. The movers placed all of the boxes in two rooms, and the rest of the house was empty. It still echoes. We are minimalists, for the most part. Everything in our home has purpose; even the decorations.

In the three months we’ve been in the new home, we’ve done a lot. By that, I mean spent a lot of money to ensure we have everything we need to keep it up and feeling like our space. Home Depot has become a weekend hang-out to the point of us having a favorite cashier. We actually know the names of two of our neighbors. Like, yo, we are adults now. I can’t wait to have the summer off, so I can be at the house full-time and get to become part of the community and live at the beach which is 15 minutes up the road. Youtube is teaching us that we can truly do anything with Christ and after enough videos watched and Pinterest pins pinned. It is every bit of a sanctuary, and we’ve had the honor of hosting a ton of friends and family in it so far. This weekend is no different. It’s amazing how even the smallest of changes and personality mean so much. Jeff woke up for the first few weeks, smiling, saying how much he loves the house. Everytime I come home from the apartment, I feel my body relax when it sees the house. No regrets on our purchase at all.

Soulful Rejuvenation

The things we wait the longest to hear are always the things we need to know the most. I waited thirteen years to hear the truth to something I’d gotten all wrong. It was the single thing that had kept me driven and isolated all in the same breath. With it, I am stronger. I am healed. I am no longer fragmented pieces carefully put together by silly putty and stifled tears that have mended me like concrete. Over the last 13 years, I have gotten pieces of the truth, but never the entire thing. It is beautiful to realize when we are adults. The words and emotions that once terrified us, now free us in ways our adolescent minds couldn’t imagine. The vulnerabilities we spent so much time and effort running away from are the very things that give us rest and peace of mind.

I never knew I was merely surviving under the weight of hurt. I didn’t know that part of my identity ( a large part) was the labor of love I’d done on myself in order to function with dignity. If my 31 year old me could tell my 18 year old me that it would take years to find solace, that young woman would imagine every day would be her private hell until then. I’m glad there was no way for that conversation to take place. I wouldn’t have the heart to tell her that it was only because you had to live and endure so much more pain, that you were able to overcome this one. We survived merely because we had to learn to compartmentalize pain into digestible pieces and moments, so that it wouldn’t overtake us. This soul is a naturally sad soul. It is attracted to sad songs, dark stories and depressed energies. I don’t know how it manages to stay so happy with such seemingly tragic surroundings. Despite its sadness, this soul and brain combination is the strongest I’ve ever seen. No wonder this body is having problems maintaining it. It is a lot to handle; I’m sure of it. Instead of taking the necessary time to retreat into solitude when pain strikes, no, this soul and brain hits the front lines. It wants to repair as many of the ones around her before repairing itself in stolen moments of quiet. Somehow, I get the honor and opportunity of being able to watch from afar while being the center of it all.

That is why this 13 year wait is so worthwhile. I was moved beyond tears. Literally, I didn’t cry like they do in movies. A loved one finds out the person they thought they would spend forever with leaves them because they didn’t want to hold them back. 13 years later, they finally get the nerve to tell them that, and all of the other emotions that have plagued them during that time. They always cry in movies. Not me. There was this feeling of peace lifting me in places I hadn’t noticed the droop in. I became beautiful in ways I didn’t notice had faded over time. This is not hyperbolic language. It may sound like it, but I promise, it isn’t. This is cleansing language. This is soulful rejuvenation on paper in formats and truths unimaginable. My soul is freed in so many ways. My heart is young again. I have the love of someone who has never been damaged open to the possibilities of life again. To be 31 with a heart of a 15 year old, and the experiences of a 50 year old… Oh, what a time to be me.

Reality… Why?

I hate when reality limits me. I know many will give me 50 quotes of how I should have no limits, but truly, there are some limits in life. For instance, I am someone who will try fiercely to do everything I want to do, and everything I need to do, mixed with things other people want or need me to do at my discretion. I hate when I have to cut out something I want to do, or put off something I need to do out of a greater necessity. I don’t complain about life or reality often, but my hate for this predicament just hit me. I had to drop a professional development class I absolutely loved, and have been waiting to take for a solid year, because of reality. What right does it have? All of the rights, apparently. When I said I wanted to be a Princess and conquer my life, clearly, reality was not in the kingdom. Ugh. It’s giving me flashbacks of teen angst in the form of 90’s grunge and angry chick music. In fact, much of this post is reminiscent to my diaries. When life turns full circle…

Success is Sexy

I know you are probably looking at the title and thinking, “Well of course success is sexy. How do you think unattractive people get hot people?” I’m actually talking about another kind of success and sexy altogether. I’m always using my surroundings as a grounds for some sort of secret social experiment. It’s probably a good thing I went into English instead of my original science degree, because I could have easily dabbled in unethical testing. With that said, success, for me, is designed as a life you don’t NEED a vacation from. One where you are happy in your everyday. I’m the most excited to wake-up and start my day. I can tell a day is going to be exceptional if I have time to stroll Pinterest and Youtube before meditating and working out, and then eating or drinking a breakfast while reading. I feel the most accomplished when I start that way, because it sets me up to have an extremely productive day with my students. When I’m happy, the entire class feels it. On the weekends, I can either start my day with music and cooking or cleaning house after my internet stroll or get straight into binge television while grading papers. Either way, I honestly do not need a vacation from my life. I may like to visit places and do things I don’t do on the regular, but my everyday is pretty awesome. Why am I telling everyone the easiest path to my routine?

The month of February has been the best month I’ve had in years. I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with four people I’ve known since I was 5. We are all the exact same age ( three of us born on the same day, one 2 days older and the other 4 days younger). I can’t make this stuff up, but it was partially planned. We are at completely different stages in our lives. Three of them are divorced, one never married and I’ve been with my spouse for 12 years. We are all in different professions, making different levels of income with varied levels of education. We have all discussed the aspects of success. One feels like maybe they aren’t perceived as successful, because they didn’t reach the heights of their college friends, yet she is absolutely happy with her life. Another is happy living in the small town we grew up in, surrounded by friends and family, and working in the next town over. She wants a job that lines up more with her degree, but overall, she is still pretty happy. The other two are what they consider “the working poor,” and want to get out of our small hometown. But they have so many laughs between their blended family of 5 children. To them, success is being comfortable enough to have health insurance and still pay their mortgage and feed their kids. We are all striving for someone else’s idea of success for so long, that we often forget to stop and just appreciate where we are versus where we were. One of my friends referred to my spouse and I as intimidating and sophisticated, which we both were like….why? We don’t see ourselves on that level at all. Yes, we joke about having a library because we are nerds, but we aren’t like, “look how sophisticated we are.” Everything we have done (college, jobs we hated on our way to jobs we love) has been to live a life we don’t need a vacation from.

For me, it was imperative to move away from my town in order to enjoy my life. I felt like, I would always live under the weight of my high school self if I would have stayed. I’m one of those people who gained weight, started living up to my full intellect and had to lose contact with people who I felt didn’t understand my journey. I am the sexiest I’ve ever been. I only surround myself with people who understand and share my sexy. My sexy isn’t all physical. Yes, physically, I’m cute and beautiful and all of that jazz. But my sexy tho… I can feel the energy of any room and decide whether or not I want to change it. I can manipulate it easily. I can choose to be the smartest person in the room, or just be a person enjoying the company of everyone in the room. I can empower young minds just by being myself, outside of any preset rules any establishment wishes to impose on me. The minute you quit following everyone’s self-help wagon and learn what you bring to the table, and your own purpose, the entire world opens up. Yes, I see the irony in telling you to stuff self-help dribble which makes what I’m saying an anti-self help, self help dribble. I get the paradox. But, if you want to be at the top of your sexy…Baby… be your version of successful.

Talking with Men

I recently found Justin Baldoni’s Men’s Talk forum, where he is discussing what is man enough, with a group of diverse men. It was only then that it hit me as to why I’ve had such great relationships with the men in my life, and why a recent conversation with a close male friend didn’t quite sit well with me.

I’m very blessed to have a vast network of healthy male relationships. I think I have spoken openly about how my father and I became closer during my treatment last year. For the first time, I was able to have the real conversations I’d been having with my dad, uncle, best friends (male), a brother and some former love interests as well as my current. I’m pretty sure I’ve always taken for granted the fact that I have these friendships with men who are able to be vulnerable and raw with me. For some reason, I guess I thought guys were like this in general; until I realized that most men never have these conversations with each other.

Baldoni asks the men at the table if they have other men they can confide in? Most say no, stating that men don’t have those sort of conversations and relationships. Recently, my father-in-law and I have begun to have these real moments as well. Oddly enough, my husband says the two of them have never really had that sort of relationship. Baldoni goes on to talk about how the idea of being “man enough” or as “masculine” as the next guy hinders men from opening up to each other. It’s like, once another man is able to see behind the curtain, they are no longer viewed as masculine. This idea has given way to an incredibly high rate of male suicides. Derek Hough explains that he has these great conversations with his mom and sisters, but never guys. He wishes he was able to have guy friends to help through life’s problems. Multiple people at the table agreed. I pose the question (in my ignorance) why don’t guys just break the ice with each other?

As a woman, I can start a deep conversation about life and anything else with another woman standing in the line at a hair store. I’ve stopped a bank teller from working after we complimented each other’s natural hair, which turned into a ten minute conversation. One of my best male friends and roommate is someone I met while selling knives and venting about our long distance relationships. Another is someone I met in high school who told me we were going to be best friends. 18 years later, he was right. That brings me to the friend I started off speaking about. We’ve been through heaven, hell and purgatory together over the 20 years of our friendship. We’ve literally had no limits on our vulnerability in the last 8 years or so. When I was going through losing family members and cancer, this person was there. When they had their challenges, I was an ear as well. One must wonder, what has changed? Could it have been the question asked? “Are you in the mindset you define as happiness?” Part of being man enough, according to the conversation with Baldoni, is how as a father, brother and spouse, you have to be happy in the simple fact that you are providing for your family. Your actual happiness is irrelevant.

It’s not hard to put the pieces together. If you are not allowed to express your feelings or thrive in an environment that truly fulfills you, you are either going to create your happiness in private. This is typically not a great idea, but the only way someone can feel as though they can be themselves. The other option is becoming a recluse and completely neglecting your responsibilities altogether. Balance was never a thing before, so why would this be any different. Then, there is the reaction of violence. The detriment of that speaks for itself. The last option is the most selfish… guys, let’s not allow suicide to be an option when you can just open up to us or each other. I would like to add, I don’t think my friend would ever consider the last option. It’s just that this situation brought up a lot of other pieces I’ve been putting together.

It has been an honor getting to form these amazing connections with men of all walks of life. Every year, I’m exposed to new people to build with. Some have been in my life forever, yet we have never been vulnerable until that moment, while others are new. I never go searching for these friendships, but I keep myself open for the opportunity. I hope that Baldoni creates this network – nay, movement – of emotionally balanced men who are able to communicate without fear of their images being tarnished.