I self-isolate a lot. I'd usually rather be by myself than with a group.

For years I blamed it on being an only-child and appreciating my "me" time. And that's still true.

In recent years I learned more about my personality style so I blamed it on being an introvert. While I can and often do have fun with big groups, while I can and often do find myself the center of attention and not freak out, and while I can and often do find myself talking to large groups of people, that's not where I go when I need to re-energize. I re-energize from being alone and being with myself. All that is still true.

However I also find some folks draining. And it's becoming clear to me that I attract the type of people who can be somewhat self-centered. I value having people in my life who are also genuinely interested in what's happening to me so I really notice when I have folks around me who aren't interested and maybe even a bit disgusted.

I spend my days being very empathetic and taking on folks problems. Part of what makes me a good counselor is being able to sense how a person is feeling even when they can't explain it. That is hard work and it is emotionally draining.

And I'm learning that simply saying that doesn't explain anything to anyone. That when you're already talking to someone who is only thinking about themselves, they have no room to consider how you feel. So since it feels like I can't educate the masses, I self-isolate. I avoid being in positions to have to accept yet another invitation, I don't pick up the phone, I wait to return phone calls and text messages and even emails.

I don't feel like I know anyone in my situation. Someone who values their alone time as much but who also has so many people who want their time and energy. I'm certainly not complaining that I have people who want to spend time with me (even if for many it's for personal gain) but that doesn't mean I have to always want to reciprocate.

NYE is coming up and I'm dreading it. I want to be at home by myself, but I already have so many folks who want me with them and the stress of figuring out how to not be stressed is too much...


The Cliff

I think there are two types of people, generally...

Those who can take a lot and those who cannot.

Those in the latter group are the firecrackers. The short-fuses. The clap-with-every-word-spoken-to-make-a-point types. But they're also quick to get over it. They build, they blow, the move on. You may never know what you're going to get, but you can rest assured that it'll go to the other end of the scale in just a few moments.

I'm a member of the first group. I am slow to anger; most folks have never seen me truly angry. I have a large threshold for foolishness and if I like you, I'll tolerate almost anything, for some amount of time. But when I blow, it's game over. I don't really "come back" from it. I'm over it and I'm over you.

It's one of the things that I have a hard time getting people to believe me. Folks have known me for years and years and never experienced my anger. Some of them think I really don't or can't get mad. That is incorrect. And this isn't something you want to learn by experience.

I thought about this as I continue to process some things that have happened. J was the first person to "push too far." I remember warning him, even though I'd never experienced it. Something inside me, though, felt like once it broke it'd be broken.

And true enough, when it went too far, it went too far and it took me years to come back and even be ready to do the work to rekindle our friendship; of course by then it was too late. Whole other story.

So here I sit now, two broken friendships. One that could be mended, but I doubt the other person will be able to do that hard work long term and another that as of right now, I have no desire to see it fixed. Mostly because I don't like what I saw in this person as our friendship deteriorated and I tried to salvage something.

Anyway, I feel myself almost repulsed at the idea of having to deal with the friendship or the individual. I'm over it -- I got pushed too far. And maybe in a couple of years that'll change; hell, maybe in a few months, but it's so revealing to recognize how little I care about something that mattered so much to me just a little while ago.

It also rings the famous Maya Angelou quote - "when people tell you who they are, believe them" - so much louder and more true than before.



"There's a price you pay for living unapologetically in your own world..." -A. Smith

That (and variations of it) is a quote I like to remind myself of, frequently. In remembering that quote, I remember that I haven't worked so hard to be me just to give it up every time it gets a little rough to be "me."

When I was in the 8th grade, I started a new school. A new private school with a bunch of rich white kids. Being at a predominantly white school wasn't new to me, what was new to me was being in a small school that was steeped in rich white people type traditions.

To this day I credit my experience at that school with forming a large part of who I am. It helped me find my voice, helped me see my strengths and I got a great education, to boot.

But that first year kept me off balance. I was making new friends (something I hadn't had to do in a long time) and trying to find my place. At the end of the year, I went around to all the cliques of folks hanging out in the Lower School building, getting them to sign my yearbook. 12 years later I still remember one specific note a girl wrote in that yearbook. "I wish I was as sure of myself as you are of yourself."

Not too long ago I wrote a post about "seeing the great" and that was one of the first times I remember someone not related to me "seeing the great" in me. I was taken aback mostly because reading that note made me realize that I wasn't all that sure of myself, I was just really good at faking it.

At 25, I'm definitely more sure of myself than I was at 13, but what I know now that I didn't know then is "it's ok to be unsure." It's those uncomfortable and icky parts of me that I'm sometimes the happiest with, because I'm growing and learning how to change what I don't like and keep what I do, whether others like it or not.

Today I read this awesome post by Robyn of Skinny Black Girl. Go read it. I'm not summarizing it, because you have to read it.

Back? Hey!!

My favorite quote from this post is
"Because when you dedicate great periods of time to accepting and becoming yourself, you tend to feel a bit queasy when someone demands that you be and answer to something/someone else."
OHMIGOSH, AIN'T THAT IT??!! When I think about why long term committed relationships scare me just a tad, I know that that's it. I'm willing to give up a lot; who I am and what I am aren't among those things. I don't mean to insinuate that to be in a committed relationship I have to stop being me, but having just started to feel like I even have a slight idea of what "being me" looks like, having to consider giving that up just isn't something I'm ready to do.

This is bigger than not wanting to move, or having to share my space and time with someone, this is about me and my dreams and the experiences that are the sum of who it is I am. This is putting in work to get something and then being asked to give that something up. Some stuff I'm more than happy to give up, others, like this... I'm not there yet.

Further than that, though, I realize this is at the epitome of some of the clashes with other people I've been having. I woke up one day and decided I was done not being me so that others could be comfortable -- friend or not. Making that decision, in and of itself, is a whole thing. Now I have to live with it and I have to do so unapologetically.

I'm not sorry for who I am and it's not that I feel like folks want me to be. I just know that I've worked so hard to have myself that for right now, I don't have that to give up.


Beefs, frenemies and BFFs – the ever evolving challenges of friendship

Two years ago, OneChele at Black 'N Bougie asked me to do a guest post. After Iyanla's "Fix My Life" part 2 episode with Evelyn, I thought I should re-post it. It really is some of my better work.

What's the old saying? "People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime." It's really a feel good statement. It helps us recognize that not everyone is supposed to be in our lives forever. It can keep us on the lookout for those people who, if we let them stick around for awhile, might drain us of all the goodness we can muster in a sometimes not so good world. I mean this is a really good saying, full of all kinds of...uhh... well... stuff that makes clichés good. The only problem with it is it doesn't do the best job of explaining how you know which person fits into which category.

I actually believe we had it right as kids. Do you remember when you were younger and another kid would walk up to you and ask to play with the toy you were playing with and ended their request (which, now that I think about it, was more often a demand) with "I'll be your friend..."? I do. I think we had it right back then. Simple. Very simple. You give me that toy, we'll be friends. You don't give me that toy and we won't be friends. As adults we can hear all the nuances in that. The manipulation, the suggested temporary time limit, etc... but as kids, it was straightforward. When the toy was done with, the friendship had run its course -- unless the two of you found something else you both liked -- then the friendship kept going and if you realized that you seemed to always like doing the same things, well, eureka! Lifelong friend. No muss, no fuss.

Sometime during middle and high school, though, we learned that there's nothing simple about friendships. Your BFF today might be your greatest enemy tomorrow. Your enemy from yesterday? Oh, we like her now. Makes me think of a time in high school...

My Senior year in high school my then BFF had some serious beef with another girl in our class, Amanda. The specific details are lost but it had something to do with the fact that rumor had it Amanda was trying to push up on the then-BFF's ex. One random afternoon I was at her house, as usual, lying across her bed. We'd played the "what will we do tonight?" game ad nauseum and I was about to give up and go home. Out of nowhere then-BFF whirls around in her chair and says, "do you have Amanda's number?" I scrunched up my face and slowly nodded yes. "Well, call her and see if she wants to hang out with us tonight."

Flabbergasted is not the word for what I was feeling. I just knew she had some sort of really bad plan in mind that involved humiliation on a level that only a high school girl can create. I asked, "why do you want to hang out with her? I thought you didn't like her." Then-BFF just laughed, like I'd told a really funny joke, and responded, "Oh. That was last year! We've moved on from that." That night was the first night of many that Amanda kicked it with the then-BFF and I, as if we'd all been lifelong buddies. There was never an explanation, never a conversation. Everything just kept trucking like it all made sense.

Of course, what I fail to mention is that Amanda joined our 3-musketeer routine in part because we had an opening. See, the then-BFF had just kicked the other BFF out of the group. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends and you have no idea why.

I remember being very excited about going to college because of all the mature adults I would meet. People who were ready to put aside childish things and be for real about creating and maintaining real and true friendships. Boy was I wrong. College seemed to be the perfect opportunity for everyone to practice all the manipulation skills they learned in high school. And this post-graduate life? Well, look no further than the desk one over from you, or the cubicle behind you. We don't do friendships anymore. Like I said -- we had it right on the playground in elementary school.

Through trial and error, I've come up with a few "rules of thumb" and a handful of questions one might ask themselves as they navigate the treacherous "friendship" waters.

First, keep it simple. Friendships don't have to be overly complicated and it's usually about the time they get complicated that it's a good sign that it might be time to let go.

Second, don't be afraid to cut ties. This is one I struggle with. I'm not a fan of burning bridges -- and that's not what I'm suggesting. Rather, don't be afraid to tell a person (as a friend told me once, about another person) "you may be a good person, you're just not good for my life." If it doesn't feel like a good fit, it probably isn't. You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes that hurt your feet would you? Then why stick around in a friendship that's no longer working for you?

Third, don't be afraid to fight for a friendship. I know, I know -- this seems to fly in the face of what I just said, but all relationships hit rough patches. It's ok to want to fight for a friendship. Good friends, true friends don't come by all that often. If you have one, do your part, hold up your end of the deal and don't be afraid to fight for it.

Ok, ok, you're thinking, we know how to do friendships, but what about knowing what kind of friendship we're in?

Good question grasshopper. I'm glad you asked.

The reason that handy dandy cliché doesn't do much by way of explaining how you know who is who is because it's not cut and dry. You don't mix in a little baking soda and get your answer. But you can ask yourself a few questions...

Do you find yourself talking to this friend but really having nothing to say? Perhaps there was a period of time, typically before some major event, where you guys had all kinds of things to talk about but now, after this event, there's nothing to say at all. Lots of empty (and uncomfortable) dead space? More than likely this was a friend who was in your life for a reason. The tricky thing about "reasonal" (yes, I made that up) friends is sometimes they can grow to something more, if everyone puts in the effort. Be careful not to trick yourself into thinking that a friendship can be more than it is without any real work. All relationships take work.

Is this friendship on an even keel? Do you feel like you're giving more than you take (or, perhaps, taking more than you give)? If the friendship's not on an even keel and hasn't been for a while even though it used to be, it's probably a good sign that this is a seasonal friendship.

A lifetime friend is probably not someone you need a checklist for. They're the ones you struggle to imagine your life without. The ones you call first (or second, if you're lucky and have more than one) when something major happens. They've seen you cry, seen you happy. They're encouraging in times of doubt and honest when you're a bit too gassed up. They're far from perfect and they piss you off sometimes, but even then you appreciate what they bring to your life.

The biggest mistake we sometimes make is ignoring the signs. Wanting a seasonal friendship to be more than it is (without putting real work into it). Allowing people who are in our life for only one reason to stay around for more reasons until they've sucked us dry. We have to take stock of what's going on in our space because if we don't, we relinquish control.

To close, let me fill in some holes from the story I told earlier...

While we never had a conversation about why Amanda was suddenly cool (or why Lauren, the ousted friend, suddenly wasn't) I realized in the weeks before graduation that then-BFF had a master plan that involved a lot of trickery you'd never expect a high schooler to be capable of. Everything had been calculated. (This is a story for another time, but let's just say she managed to not only convince a girl her boyfriend was cheating on her, but get him to admit to it when he didn't actually cheat) When then-BFF realized Lauren was too much of a threat she put her on the outs and when she realized I wouldn't be a good fit for what she needed (someone to accept a lot of lies without asking questions) she called on an unsuspecting person -- Amanda.

Before we made it to our first year of college, then-BFF had stopped talking to me. She never told me why and I never got a chance to ask. In the years that followed I deduced that she had a much better handle on our friendship than I did. I was seasonal. I served my purpose, she let me go. I'd been following along, watching the way she dropped "old" and "trusted" friends like they were nothing, thinking our friendship was bigger and better than that. Truth was, it wasn't and if I'd spent more time paying attention and less time being self-assured, I probably would've seen the hammer before it knocked me out.


Trust Me

I love my kids.

My students.

My 7th graders.

I love them and I've only known them 3 weeks. Half of them don't even know me yet. They've seen me in the hallways, interrupting their classes, talking to their teachers. But I've been so overworked with administrative duties that have nothing to do with what I just earned a Master's degree to do that I've only had an opportunity to get in the classroom and introduce myself to half of the 7th grade.

So only half of them know that it's my job to get them through the rest of their middle school career in as much of one piece as possible. Only half of them know that if they need someone to talk to, I'm it and will be for the rest of their middle school career. Only half of them are aware of the fact that I have so many tools at my disposal that I can't wait to use to help them be the great students they're destined to be.

I talk about them and think of them in very high esteem, but that doesn't make me unaware of the realities of their lives. They're 12 and 13 and they want to be liked by their friends, and the girls want boys to see them and boys want the girls to be interested in them and some of the girls want some of the other girls to be interested in them in some way that's more than friendship but really unfamiliar and some of the boys want to express themselves in ways that others might think is just too feminine. That's just the tip of the iceberg. They got a lot going on that's so much more basic and real than being the great students they have the capabilities of being.

But in my 3, going on 4 weeks as their counselor, I've already had a host of issues to deal with. Already had to call DCS on an abusive parent; been told to expect to call DCS again on another family who does drugs and makes their child sick. That's the part of my job I hate, but that I know is so important.

I'm in the middle of reading a post at CFC called "Memories, survival and safety." The author is detailing a traumatic event that transpired between herself and her grandfather. And I found myself struggling to read it, especially the parts where she talks about being young and wishing she had the guts to tell anyone what had happened to her, but feeling like it had happened to her because she was a bad little girl.

I could see any one of my 7th graders experiencing something like that and being afraid to tell. It would kill me if in 2 years, once my 7th graders are 9th graders at the local high school, I discovered one of them had been hurt at any point while they were mine and didn't know they could come tell me. But you know, it'd kill me to know any of them were being hurt anyway.

Today, one of the girls who is in the half of the 7th grade that knows me and knows I'm their counselor stopped by to talk. She's experiencing some growing pains; she feels loved less by her mother in comparison to her sisters. She longs for the stability and love her grandmother provided. She's not in danger, really, just needs to know somebody out there cares.

I asked her if she wanted to talk about things she might do to open up lines of communication with her mother and she said, "No. I just wanted to talk to you about it. That makes me feel better. I trust you."

I joke about the crazy things these kids do. I even pretend sometimes that I'm not as attached to them as I am, but when a student tells you something like that, you can't help but be grateful to them and to whoever or whatever offered you the chance to sit in that chair and be the one they trust.


Providing Perspective

Sometimes, it's hard to be happy for others. Especially when you're going through a rough patch and it seems like there's somebody in your life who always gets everything. They always get the job, they always get the guy/girl, they always have friends, nobody hates them. It's like they have the perfect life.

Truth often is that's not true for anyone. Everyone struggles, it can just sometimes be harder to see another's struggle when they seem to be succeeding in every way you fail.

I was reminded of this recently when something I told a friend in confidence came back out in a public forum. I typically don't make it a habit of telling people things I care not to be repeated and, in fact, this isn't one of those things. What I told her, I told others but not everyone. I wanted to provide some perspective for the seemingly "out of the sky" gift I was receiving. I've worked very hard for what I have, but I'm never one to ignore when life seems to just be good to me all on it's own. In the Christian church we call that a testimony -- how the Lord's been good to you, especially and specifically when you don't deserve it. In my faith everyone has a testimony and many have several. What I told this friend in confidence was something of a testimony.

The reason it was in confidence was because it's the sort of thing that without perspective can take on a life of its own. It's a situation that could become way bigger than it is and make other facets of my life seem a lot different than they are. It's why I don't simply tell you now what it was, aside from the details not adding to my point.

In any case, I posted something on one of my many favorite social media outlets and this friend responded to that post by bringing up this "testimony" in an accusatory manner and she misrepresented the details.

When I read her comment I did not get angry because there was nothing to be angry about. I corrected her misstatement but I also took note. Where I've been recently blessed, she's recently had a very serious issue. It was more than obvious to me her reading of my post as being entitled to even MORE of what I've already achieved came from her frustrations at her own recent issues. I couldn't be mad at that because I've done the same thing.

I was also reminded to be cautious of who I expect to be happy for me as well as being cautious not to let my own issues stop me from supporting and being happy for those around me. Her reply to my correction was almost... ALMOST... apologetic. As if she knew she came from a bad place the first time. As far as I'm concerned, it's all a part of living and learning.


In My Own Time

My new television obsession is Army Wives. A show about 4 women - 3 wives of soldiers and one a soldier - and their families. It's been a huge hit on the Lifetime network for years now, and I refused to watch it until recently I decided to give the first episode a shot (since Netflix recommended it and all 5 seasons were available). I was in love with the show from the moment I hit play.

In tonight's episode, Nicole, a captain in Intelligence and her fiance Charlie (short for Charlotte) have trouble deciding the best way to tell Nicole's mom, who will be visiting to see Nicole be awarded a Bronze Star, that they are engaged. It's been made clear from previous episodes that Nicole's mom is aware that she is gay but is unwilling to accept it and in this episode, Charlie shares that Nicole's mom calls her "Nicole's roommate."

If you've watched enough television drama you can probably guess what happened. Nicole promised to tell her mom, and when it appeared that she wouldn't, Charlie blurted it out leaving Nicole and her mom very upset.

Charlie's character is "colorful" to use her own words and so aside from the real human stuff involved her, it reasoned that she would pull something like that. I thought Nicole was a bit short-sighted to not recognize that this might happen and take steps to prevent it.

That being said, Charlie didn't give Nicole any time to tell her mom. In fact, her mom had just arrived when Charlie got antsy and shared the big news. I thought that was a bit rude.

I do things in my own time. Call it hardheaded or stubborn or whatever, but I don't do anything (well, most anything) until I'm good and ready.

Take, for example, carrying a purse. Let it be said I don't do girly stuff; I never have. And even as my friends began carrying a purse at young ages, I didn't see the point. Even at 16 when it was expected that I would carry a purse I didn't. All I had was a wallet (a man's trifold velcro wallet) with my license and whatever other random cards I could find to stick in it. What'd I need a purse for? I stuck the wallet in my back pocket and went on about my day.

My mother ranted for months about that. The best compromise I could come up with was not carrying the wallet which, she told me, made me look like a boy. I simply stuck my ID and money in my pocket. I just didn't see the point in carrying a purse for one item.

That is, until I did see a point and one day while out shopping with my mother I spotted a blue purse that struck my fancy, I bought it (well, my mother bought it since she was so happy I wanted one) and I've been carrying a purse (for the most part) ever since.

This thing with me carries on to the big things as well and it can be detrimental -- like not ending relationships when I know I should because I'm just not ready. I live with the consequences of my choices, however.

Ultimately, all this means that when I tell you I'm going to handle something, you need to just let me handle it. The quickest way to piss me off, is to force my hand on something that should've been left up to me to handle. It's just not fair. While I totally felt where Charlie was coming from -- not wanting her relationship with Nicole to continue to be ignored by someone important in Nicole's life -- Nicole also promised to handle it and she had a right to be left to do that with her own mother. Nicole strikes me as someone who does things in her own time and her time table just wasn't what Charlie was looking for.

I try to be clear with people who my decision my effect what my timeline is, if I have one, but often all I can do is promise that it will be done and sometimes that's gotta be enough.


Job Searching and Why I Won't Talk About It

I started blogging a long time ago -- back before it was called that -- back when we were just online journaling -- back when xanga and livejournal were legitimate websites that legitimate online users used. I started doing this because I, like most folks, find it therapeutic to write down the things that are going on. In the very very very beginning I literally used it like a journal, writing down the things that were happening to me, as they happened with full details and names.

All of that was fine and dandy until I got into a relationship and started chronicling the woes of that. It wasn't all woes, but I guess that's all I talked about and my boyfriend just wasn't with it. So many of our fights were about the things I wrote online. I didn't get the big deal and he didn't get the big deal but I did ultimately give in and begin censoring myself; first in the matters of our relationship but eventually in all matters.

When I first started this blog, it was to get away from xanga where I had so many people reading my blog who knew me personally. I didn't get a lot of negative feedback about what I was writing, but I did continue to censor myself heavily -- only writing what I thought would be received well, especially if it involved other people. I created a blogspot (now blogger) account never intending for anyone I knew personally to see it. If you go back and read my early posts, many are very detailed, using real names of people I actually know talking about things that actually happened.

I took a break from blogging and when I came back to it and I started getting around on these internet streets and people started actually reading this blog, I realized that there was no way for me to know who was and who wasn't reading. I could assume that because no one I knew personally ever said anything to me about it that they weren't reading but I knew better than to trust that for long. There was also the point that from time to time I write things here that I think are good and want my friends to read, but worry about sending links because what's to stop them from reading the whole site and find posts about them?

So I fell back to censoring myself which is why I started online journaling in the first place. I needed a place to be honest about myself and the things going on around me in a way I couldn't be "in real life" but "real life" followed me here.

I have not completely stopped talking about my life or giving personal stories about real things that happened, but much like in my real life, I give as few details as possible and try to speak as generally as possible when I can't speak as personally (that means only about me) as possible.

All of this is relevant to my job search. Everyone wants updates and I've been reluctant to talk about it. At first I tried to be very open, telling people about my job prospects and potential interviews, but as the disappointments came -- and I knew they would -- I found that other people's stress was effecting me. It's caused me to censor myself and clam up. I've also become something of a hermit as a result. I blame it on wanting to save money, which I do, but dinner dates and outings with friends always end up with "so how's your summer going?" which is usually to imply (if it's not outright asked immediately following) "how's the job hunt?"

I know people mean well and in that general way I'm appreciative. But more and more it feels like people want to problem-solve a problem I don't think I have just yet. Job searches take time and they are disappointing for awhile for most people. It's like looking for something you lost: it's always in the last place you look.

I've been blunt: "when I know something, you'll know something..." I've been coy: "I've got a few leads..." I've explained, I've answered questions, I've done everything but nothing seems to calm people down and so I've given up. They don't get it and I don't get it. Perhaps it's my usual calm and seemingly unaffected demeanor that riles folks up, but that's just me. I trust that when you do things the proper way, they work out and until I have a reason not to trust that, I'm going to keep on.

I have the sort of personality that takes on other people's emotions. I'm very empathetic. It makes me a great counselor and friend but when it goes unchecked can be very unhealthy for me. It's like walking around with all the books of all your classes on your back and then taking on the load of a friend who has the same class load as yours. It's like double the work for half the payout and it is not at all comfortable or fun. The only way I know to keep myself from taking on everyone else's backpacks is to just stay away for a little while. Censor myself, if you will.

I do have one friend who's in my same boat and seems to get my reluctance to talk so she lets me tell her what I want to and she doesn't ask a lot of questions so I tell her everything on my mind and then I'm good. But everyone else will just have to wait until I have good news and I have a feeling that will be soon.


The Generation of Fake Reality...

The internet’s been abuzz these last couple of days with the story of Karen Klein, a 68 year old bus monitor whose experience with taunting was videotaped and posted to facebook by one of her taunters — a middle schooler.

You can watch the video and read up on it here.

When I first took note of this incident and took to twitter with my thoughts, someone asked me “why didn’t they put a more intimidating monitor on the bus?” I surmised that at middle school age, kids still, generally, revere adults. So simply placing an adult on a bus typically solves any behavior problems because kids fear being reprimanded. However it appears that in this case the kids had come to learn that she wasn’t to be feared and so they attacked her.

But that still leaves the question of why. Surely not just because they could, right?

In a separate article, one of the taunters’ fathers is quoted as saying he was surprised to find out his son had treated another human this way and I got to thinking…

Kids in middle school, depending upon the grades that exist, can run in age anywhere from 10 – 14 years old. That means the youngest kids in the building were born in 2002 and the oldest kids were born in 1998. They have quite an interesting frame of reference for popularity.

Go with me on this…

Read the rest here


Seeing The Great

Five days ago, Erica Kennedy died. In that time I've seen a whole lot of tweets and blog posts about what a great author and friend she was. Though I was only vaguely aware of her as the author of "Feminista" and "Bling," it seems I follow several individuals on twitter who had a much (MUCH) stronger knowledge of and connection to her. And as I read their blog posts and tweets I found it both stirring and remarkable that they all seemed to say almost the exact same things about her. That she was a genius, and supportive.

The one thing, however, I saw repeated that really has stuck with me is that they all mentioned how she seemed to have the ability to see greatness in individuals who could not see it in themselves. Several individuals mentioned that when invited to join a group of women put together by Erica, they had no idea why only to come to learn that she did it with purpose -- she saw something in each of them that she thought might help the others. She saw the great.

If you've ever had someone see something in you that you can't see in yourself, only to later begin to see it for yourself, you can only describe the experience as magical and touching. As you think back over all the moments and events that got you to that place, you realize that had it not been for that one person who could see the great, you might never have gotten there.

I've had MANY moments just like that and I continue to. As I was cleaning out some of my drawers, I found old tshirts that I really need to get rid of (thinking of a tshirt quilt) but haven't because they all mean something to me. A few of those shirts refer to things I did in high school and they made me think of one of the first times somebody saw the great in me (after my mama who saw it the day I was born, so...). What's interesting is that while I count this as once, it was actually two different people.

Most predominantly white and private institutions of learning, whether K-12 or higher ed will have an organization that functions as both a support group for its minority students as well as a unifying voice. My white, private high school was no different. I avoided joining this group in my freshman year, feeling out of place and not quite connected to them. The first friends I made at this school were white, and I didn't do any of the stereotypical black things that connected the black students so I had managed to make it through both 8th and 9th grade only really connecting to the handful of black kids in my class, and only kinda.

However towards the end of the school year one of my white friends whose sister had been active in this group wanted to go but wanted some "support" and I was the obvious supportive choice (aside from being black, or rather because of it, I was the most likely to agree to even go, though I had turned down previous requests from her). Being at a college prep school, it had been beaten into me that my resume for college needed stuff on it and so I figured there was no harm in going to one meeting and then slapping that on my resume.

We happen to pick the last meeting of the year, where they were electing officers, to randomly attend. In hindsight, I don't doubt that all of the upperclassman present at that meeting knew who I was, or at least knew of me. My class had the most black students - 10 - so it wasn't hard to spot the one black girl who didn't kick it with them. I stuffed myself in a corner (while my friend sat herself up front) and tried to remain inconspicuous. Elections began and it seemed that everyone had already decided who would be elected or at the least, nominated, to many of the positions except for treasurer. No one volunteered themselves, as had been the case with other positions. Finally one girl who had been previously nominated raised her hand to accept the nomination. It looked like she would be the only one and thus the default winner when at the last minute another girl raised her hand and said, "I'd like to nominate Ashley." All eyes were on me and I was confused. In my mind I had spoken to this junior maybe once or twice. I knew who she was but was baffled that she knew who I was and went so far as to nominate me for a position. The president-elect (she was the only one nominated) who was the current secretary asked if I was ok with the nomination and I accepted it.

After the meeting, this junior approached me and said she hoped I hadn't been embarrassed and that she thought I should be on the executive board the next year. Not only did she see the great, but she was someone I had no clue was even paying me attention.

The day of the elections, the president-elect mentioned to me that if I didn't win she had an idea she wanted to run by me but she first needed to speak to the organization's faculty advisor. Of course I didn't win the election and I wasn't surprised -- I actually only voted for myself because it felt silly not to. About a week later, the president-elect emailed me and asked if I wouldn't mind stopping by their faculty advisor's office to talk with her. At our impromptu meeting she mentioned to me that after having served as secretary for a year she knew that it was a lot of work and she thought there might be enough work that having an assistant secretary made sense. She said she specifically wanted me for the position. I was baffled. Twice in one week someone implied that they thought I might be good at something I had never considered: Leadership.

I point to that experience as one of the reasons I went on to hold other leadership positions. The year after I was asst. secretary I became President of the organization (I was elected VP and bumped to President, a motif that played out again, in another org, the following year). I had two people who saw the great in me and acted on it. Not only did they influence my pursuit of leadership positions but they influenced my efforts to see the great in others. That event changed the trajectory of my life, I'm sure of it. If I can do that for others, similar to the way Erica Kennedy did it for many, I'll feel like I really am achieving the great so many have seen in me.


Everybody Won't Like What You Do and Sometimes They'll Even Tell You

This one might not make you feel good. The post, I mean. And if as you read it, you find yourself not particularly liking it, read to the end and leave me a comment saying so, ok?

Working with the lil chirruns, I see lots of things. Some of them make me happy that I work with kids, some make me really uncomfortable, lots of it makes me want to take parents by the ear and lead them around and some of it concerns me.

One of the things that concerns me is how poorly kids these days seem to handle criticism. There's a lot of reasons why our grading systems in our educational systems don't actually work, but for the purpose of actually staying on topic, I won't go into all of them. Let's just agree on the following: we grade our kids based far more on how much we like them than on how well they know material.

In and of themselves, grades are supposed to be critiques on students. Mostly on how much material they know of what they've been taught. In other words, when a student gets a 76 in science, we should be able to fairly assume that this student knows 76% of all the material taught.

Unfortunately, that's not actually how this stuff works out. Instead, a 76 seems to more accurately express that the teacher only likes the student 76% of the time. Or maybe the child showed up 76% of the time. Or perhaps somebody in the class had to make a C so it was this student. My point is, grades just aren't the useful critiques they used to be and increasingly its because we don't teach our kids how to handle criticism.

We're not teaching our kids how to handle criticism because WE can't handle it. I see grown men and women spazz out because somebody told them they didn't like them. Out here in the internetland we have catchy phrases like "the unfollow button exists for a reason" and "if you don't like what I write on my blog, then you can go on somewhere..."

And those are factual statements. It really is true that if you follow me on twitter and don't like what I'm saying you can just unfollow me. I've done it plenty of times myself and found it such a freeing thing. But say I chose, instead, to push back on some of the things I saw tweeted. Am I really wrong for that? I mean if I disagree with what someone put out on a public forum -- and I do mean just disagree with what was said, not with the person's existence as a whole, a topic for a whole other post -- am I really wrong because I choose to express that?

We post up blogs, well bloggers do, I'm not sure I consider myself a blogger, to be read and commented on and isn't "critique" inherent in commenting?

We all want to be liked. There is nothing in the world wrong with it. But I posit that maybe we should also seek to be critiqued sometimes. We can all always be better and nobody ever died because someone said "hey, I think what you just said was a bunch of stupid" or "the way you write stuff just ain't awesome..." The criticism might be off base, it might even be unwarranted but nobody has ever died. In fact, more often than not, criticism can lead us to be better than we are.

Maybe the real problem is we don't like to be blindsided by criticism, which I can understand. But just like a person can hit that unfollow button or just not comment/read what you write (or whatever else) we can ignore criticism we didn't ask for or that we disagree with. I certainly don't want to imply that all criticism can be easily ignored -- my mother critiques me all the time and it makes me wanna punch bunnies, but I think that's because it's my mother and I seek, to a certain degree, her approval. But when criticism from a stranger makes you that uncomfortable or upset... maybe you gotta take a second and critique yourself.

Just the other day a friend of mine and I were having a chat and she laid out a scenario for me that she implied she wanted my feedback (a euphemism for critique, it's ok) on. I gave it and then she said, "hm. I'll take that under consideration..." I thought that was a great response, because at the end of it all, all you can do is take it under consideration. All you can do is think about it, compare it with what you already know and make a decision from there.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that we'll be able to teach the youngins how to handle the criticism they will ultimately face in this world a lot better if we ourselves know how to take it. If we first understand that all criticism isn't bad, even if it's unwarranted; if we first understand that some criticism, even that given to us in a spirit of "less than awesome" can be awesome; if we ourselves can understand that even if a person does critique our work as a way to critique our person, it's all in how we choose to absorb it.

We all have thoughts and opinions and we want to put them out there. We should all also be ready to hear that what we put out there isn't well received and then "take it under consideration."


Timing is Everything...

Through high school and into college I had a close friend that knew a lot of my secrets and I knew hers. When we graduated from high school we both thought we'd go off and meet new people and make new friends and lose touch. We even had one last hoorah before I left. Instead we grew closer in our first two years at college. I think the process of having to get to know new people made us appreciate having someone "back home" who already knew us pretty well.

One of the things this friend watched unfold was my relationship with J. From the outset she never liked him and he never liked her. As things progressed between he and I during my first year in college, I found myself telling her less and less about us. I grew tired of her obviously disliking our relationship and her constantly telling me that I "could do better."

The summer after freshman year of college was a really bad summer for J and I and this friend was there for all of it. She convinced me to have the uncomfortable talk with him about where our relationship was going. Unfortunately that conversation, though necessary, threw J and I into utter turmoil for most of the summer. I never blamed her, but he certainly did. I did find that though I was going through a lot emotionally with him, she was much more fun to talk to when we weren't talking about that and so I all but quit speaking about him to her.

By the end of the first semester of my sophomore year, J and I had reconciled and had decided to get back together. I was elated but knew I wasn't ready to tell my friend. I wanted her to be happy for me, but I didn't trust that her happiness for me wouldn't come with reservations, so I elected not to tell her. Ironically, a few weeks prior she called me to vent because her cousin, with whom she was exceptionally close -- they were much more like sisters than cousins -- had finally admitted that she had started dating her ex-boyfriend again. My friend didn't particularly care for this guy either and so she was obviously upset, but she told me that what really upset her was that her cousin had been dating him for months and everyone knew but her. So when I decided I couldn't tell my friend about J and I, I decided I couldn't tell anyone.

Eventually, after a night of partying and drinking with some friends, I did tell her. I remember that I called her from the bathroom of a club I was in and it all spilled out of my drunken mouth. I emphasized, even in my drunkenness, that I hadn't told anyone -- which was factual. She was rather understanding (possibly because I was clearly drunk) and told me that while she wasn't terribly excited about the fact that I was a month into a relationship with J and hadn't mentioned it, she could rest a little easier knowing that she wasn't the only one I had kept in the dark.

I learned that night that there's an art to secret keeping and it has a lot to do with how everyone finds out. You see, the thing about a secret that most people really hate is the not knowing part. It's amazing the information people feel entitled to have (especially with the boom of social media) Just like the time the then-BFF complained to me that her ex boyfriend was dating a new girl and I told her I already knew. Big mistake. She was more upset with me for knowing and not telling than at him for telling me first. Thanks to those two incidents, and seeing others make the same mistake my M.O. re: secrets is if it's not a secret I can tell most of my close friends, I don't tell any of them and if it's a secret about a close friend that they didn't tell me, my lips are sealed permanently. Loose lips do indeed sink ships, in more ways than one.


The Moment I Knew I Was Dying

I'm not sure what made me think of this incident, but I like to share it with people to demonstrate that even I have been known to write checks with my mouth that my ass can't cash (and therefore know what I'm talking about when I encourage people not to).

I was about 15 or 16 years old. Right at an age where I was smelling myself (to use a nice country old people saying). I was closer to legal independence and was experiencing this odd thing most high schoolers go through where they have to balance all of the responsibility they're given by school and family with remembering that at the end of the day, they're still underage and relative know nothings. Of course the whole point of being a teenager is not knowing that you don't know anything.

Almost 10 years later I remember not what the argument was about, but as had become the norm, my mother and I were engaged in a heated battle. I'm sure it was some nonsense where I wanted my way because I'm an all knowing teenager and my mother doesn't want me to have it because I'm a smart ass teenager.

At some point I got in her face. I clearly remember thinking "she's probably gonna swing on me, but I'm about as tall as she is and I got a little weight on her, I'll be aight..." She did that "calm before the storm" warning where she eerily tells me that "I need to back up..." and I keep on going, because I'm big and bad and she warns me again and then... she snaps.

The first swing on me misses and I get a little upperhand on her. I'm in control and smelling myself when suddenly, I'm flat on my back with my mother's hands around my throat and she is SQUEEZING.

I very clearly recall doing 3 things: 1) grabbing her wrists movie style and trying to pull them off, 2) kicking with my feet hoping to kick her or get leverage to get from under her and 3) not breathing.

I was looking in her eyes and that wasn't my mother. I thought "this woman has no idea she's literally choking the life out of me, but surely she's going to stop" and as things progressed (the seconds that felt like hours) I began panicking because it seemed like she wasn't going to stop until I stopped breathing and then it happened... my foot went through the wall.

Remember number 2? Well, all that kicking on the wall only served to break the wall, not save my life and in that moment ladies and gentleman, I prepared to go see Jesus. I'm not playing. The lady wasn't stopping and I wasn't breathing.

I guess hearing her wall get a hole put in it (or hearing the sound of money leaving her bank account to fix it) snapped my mama out of it because she stopped squeezing the life out of me and got up. We didn't talk about this incident for years and when we did, we didn't -- I told the story to some family and she laughed along with them as I made light of the fact that one time, my mama almost killed me.

In case you still don't get that my mama is a G, when the handyman came to fix the hole and asked her what happened she said, "Ashley was acting a fool and kicked a hole in..."

What was I gonna do? Right. Not shit.


An Only Child With Siblings

When people ask me if I have siblings, I always hesitate. I typically will say, "I'm my mother's only child."

From my earliest memory, I've always wanted a sibling. An older sibling. Such a thing to wish as how would I ever get one? People would often ask the younger me if I wanted my mom to have another child so I could have a little brother or sister. That thought was terrifying to me. Me? Be responsible for someone else? Be some sort of role model/mentor/caretaker person to a little human? Absolutely not.

I have always had older friends, always run with an older crowd. I always liked having someone older to help me figure things out and I've also always been mature for my age. I never related well with folks significantly younger than me. I play "little sister" VERY WELL.

When I was 14, however, I got my wish. As we did every year, my mom and I went to AL to visit family for Thanksgiving. Somehow, that year, I ended up spending a lot of time with one of my older cousins and her daughter (who is about 2 or 3 years younger than me). This cousin had a sister named Lisa, and so when she kept mentioning that later in the day we would be going to Lisa's house, I didn't think anything of it. Her sister had moved, having recently gotten married, and I was excited to see her new home.

Later that night we pulled up outside of a nice house and as we got out of the car, my cousin hesitated. She turned around to face me in the back seat and said, "Ashley. I never thought about how this might make you feel. You're ok with us being here, right?" I was confused. Why in the world wouldn't I be ok with it, I thought. She read my mind and jumped out of the car, pulling the front driver's seat forward so she could see me. Her eyes got big and she said "you don't know where we are, do you?" Then I was DEFINITELY confused. Hadn't she told me we were going to Lisa's house? Reading my mind again she filled in the blanks - "Ashley, this is your sister's house..."

There are levels of confusion. I know this because at this point I was on the most extreme level. What sister? How did I have a sister? I'd been with my mom 14 years and seen no other child show up with her.

My cousin led me into the house and we walked towards the back and downstairs into a finished basement/den. There sat a woman about my cousin's age, who looked just like me. Next to her was a woman with a lighter complexion and smaller frame but who resembled the woman who looked like she was me 15 years in the future. Turns out they were both my sisters and that they knew all about me. They knew things like what kind of grades I made, what grade I was in. Lisa -- my sister -- had just given birth to her daughter and she already had a son (who had the same name as my cousin Lisa's oldest son... she also almost chose the same name for her daughter as my cousin's daughter... too much).

I sat with them for over two hours dumbfounded. How had I had what I wanted for all this time and no one told me? I wish I could say we went on to have really tight relationships but we didn't. After the end of that year, I lost touch with one and I haven't spoken to the other in 4 years.

I've mentioned on several occasions that my life is nothing if not a series of motifs.

This past Thanksgiving, as I sat down for dinner with my family, one of my cousins' (by marriage) sisters and niece walked into the banquet hall to join us for dinner. Another one of my cousins later told me she heard that the niece was also my sister. My mother later confirmed it...

Clearly my father has ensured the human race will never die out...


More of Me

I spent the first 4 months of the year immersed in myself and what I was trying to finish. I neglected friendships and responsibilities. I avoided phone calls, didn't respond to text messages and skimmed emails. I half-ass supported folks in need unless supporting their need put me any closer to my end goal. That included myself

I won't be apologizing for any of that because it was a necessary thing. Sometimes you have to shut it all out and hone in on the goal and work your ass off for a little while and get what it is you want.

This last month, however, I've been assessing the damage. Who do I owe? How can I make it up? Most folks aren't holding it against me because they understand, because they get it. Most folks are just happy that I'm back... or coming back, at least.

I also spent this last month assessing what I've gained. You can't spend 2 years of intensive study on how humans develop and not get all in your own mess of a life (and, if you've done any living at all, it is a mess. It might be a beautiful mess, but a mess all the same, and that's not bad). From day one of my program, our professors warned us that if we bothered to do the work in the program we would find ourselves different from when we started. We would find ourselves growing. Our professors even suggested that we warn our loved ones because it might be difficult for them.

I didn't believe any of that -- I thought, sure, maybe some of these folks around me who have never been through anything in life might find some growth process in here and maybe I'll enhance an iota or two but overall, I didn't have any growing to do. Not right now. These were my thoughts. I was ridiculously arrogant and oblivious and wrong. I like to think that maybe that helped me grow more than I would've because I wasn't expecting anything. I was just trucking along.

I grew. Understand that. Who I was in August of 2010 is not who I am in May of 2012. And when I began to understand that, I started telling everyone because I was excited about it. I wanted everyone to know that I had grown and because I had grown I could help others grow (especially my little kiddos -- the precious pups who make me crazy inside). Except I kept saying that I had "changed." And I thought I had, but as I've had some time to myself to think about things and actually begin effecting change in my life (like ending relationships -- that is CERTAINLY something I wouldn't have been doing in August of 2010) I realized I'm not changed, in the sense that I was one person 2 years ago that I am no longer. I may be doing things I wouldn't have done before but that's not to say I didn't want to do them. I feel ok doing them now. Does that make me a changed individual? No. I think it makes me authentic. I'm different in that I'm the same with more of me coming, spilling, pouring out.

And this whole thing hasn't been easy and doesn't seem to be getting easier but I'm ok with that. I'm just fine with that because if it's hard, if it's easy, I need to be more of who I am. That's what's right.


365 Days to Change

A year ago I wrote these two posts: Owning Myself Pt 1 and Owning Myself Pt 2. Shortly after posting both of these, a friend of mine and I had a couple of conversations about the post. The general gist was that she wanted me to know she wanted to be the type of friend who I could lean on if I needed support and that I should seek out friendships that offered the sort of emotional support I discuss not having in those two posts.

After our conversation I had a separate one with another friend where I expressed that I while I felt like she intended to be genuine, I didn't trust what she was saying. From a general stand point, people often offer themselves up to be that rock for you but when push comes to shove, they don't know how to handle it. From a more specific standpoint, this friend has always been good for knowing the right things to say and then not following through. I've always been an actions person, so this has always made me wary of the feel good things she says.

365 days later I'm done with our friendship. I had a major event happen in my life that I told her was upcoming but she didn't acknowledge it because she neither read my email or responded to my phone call. It shouldn't have mattered, she knew the day was coming at some point and she never bothered to inquire.

That in and of itself is just a story of a person making some bad decisions. We've all done that and negatively effected people we say we love and care about. But I've got multiple stories just like that one and I'm determining that what I need to do is accept that I can be the best friend I know how to be all I want but if it's not reciprocated it only hurts me in the long run.

It wasn't that I didn't know these things 365 days ago, but today I'm ready to accept them because it means I'm on a path to better friendships that work hard to be supportive because they know it will be easily and readily reciprocated.


Working Through It

I didn't have a great day today. Certainly wasn't the worst day I've ever had. Not even close, but it wasn't a great day.

I had a conversation -- technically two -- that I've been rolling around in my head to have for a couple of days. In the world where I planned how this would go down the conversation was going to happen at least a week from now. However the real world had alternative plans and they happened today. And by happening today they didn't go as planned, at all.

I wasn't taken seriously, I believe the two individuals think I'm a ridiculous joke (which is actually not that big of a deal to me except for how it effects the way they interpret what I said) and I had not one iota of satisfaction afterwards.

So I talked to a couple of friends about it. That's how I process: out loud and with another living person (the latter when possible, I've been known to go it alone) and because this is ultimately an issue I've been hashing out and planning around and working through for almost 3 years now, they didn't have much to say and I didn't want them to. It's time to "leave this at the alter" as I told one friend.

But just "letting it go" hasn't been easy. I can't even figure out what it is I want to happen. I thought what I wanted was to be heard, understood and then left alone but I'm beginning to think that what I wanted was to be loved. To be told that I despite what has occurred, I actually do matter -- to these specific people.

What I wish were true is that I would see this for what it is (which I do) and then stop focusing my attention on it and instead put that attention on something that does work out well in my life (which I'm not doing). For the absolute LIFE of me I cannot figure out what the hangup is.

I do have a hypothesis. Walking away means letting it all go. Everything I thought might be true won't be if I walk away. Staying has meant a lot of anxiety and anger and walking away would, eventually anyway, bring a lot of relief so the only answer is that somehow, somewhere, I've determined that walking away without the things I wanted = failure and one thing I absolutely don't like to deal with is failure. Certain failure. The failure that occurs when your most important interpersonal relationships just don't work out. I hate that failure. I hate letting people down and I hate being fooled into being let down.

So while I'm so ready to go, there's something that just won't let me. I need some scissors. Or a knife. Or better yet, a dadgum backbone. Ironic since almost everyone in my life would tell you that I have no qualms laying things out as they are.

I came here to write this out hoping for clarity but all it's doing is giving me pause and making me frustrated. Hell man.

5.03.2012 just might find, you get what you need...

I've always liked that Rolling Stone's song. Always appreciated the diction in the famous line. My man Mick tell us that we CAN'T always get what we want. Not that we don't or may not, but we can't. It's just not possible to always get what we want, but sometimes, he tells us, SOMETIMES, folks... we just MIGHT find we get what we need... *in my southern preacher voice*

These last two days showed me that Mick, whether he knew it or not, was smack dead on the point. You can't always get what you want but sometimes you do get what you need, aka, Jesus will always come through in the clutch (and sometimes when you have no idea you need Him to).

Tuesday evening my program had its annual end of the year banquet. What the banquet is for is still, after many years of occurrence, in development, but generally the idea is to honor the graduating students and acknowledge their time in the program. This is also the time that the Roger F. Aubrey North Star Award, given to honor a student for excellence in leadership, academics and service, is announced. In our program this is a big deal; in truth it is the only deal. Students are nominated by their peers and then chosen by the core faculty in the program.

I was aware I had been nominated for the award because I had to write an essay. A total lie would be to say I did not care if I won. I had a vague idea of who had been nominated and just that vague idea let me know I had stiff competition. Another total lie would be to say no one knows who I am in this program. Everyone knows who I am and it was for that reason that it just felt... wrong... to expect to win.

This is something I battle with. How much is too much when it comes to horn tooting? Did I deserve the award? Sure I did. But so did everyone who was nominated and why would I be special? Why not highlight the accomplishments and hard work of some students who maybe didn't get as much shine as I did over the last two years. Basically, I fell back into that "who am I to be great" mode of thinking that is actually pretty damn protective and a favored go-to of mine when I don't want to be let down.

The truth is that I have some vague awareness that I'm a special person. I've surely been told that I am enough. At some point in my future I'll be able to hypothesize about the idea that people who are meant for greatness go through a specific developmental set of stages on their way to greatness. Right now, the stage that I'm most aware of is the "wanting to see self as others do." It's this place where you know you might actually be everything everyone says you are, but you just can't see it. In their song "Like I Am," Rascal Flatts sing a couple of lyrics I love, "but will I ever see all the things you see in me" and "when you say that I'm one of a kind, baby I don't see it, but you believe it..." That's where I am. People keep telling me so it must be true and now I'm ready to see it for myself. Sure, sometimes I repeat what I'm told, but it is often the same as when a young child emulates something their father does - they do it because someone they trust did it, not because they understand what it means.

Anyway, there I sat last night listening to the introduction of the person who would be named the 2012 Roger F. Aubrey North Star Award recipient. I listened as one of my professors talked about how Roger Aubrey, the man the award is named for, was the type of person who made everyone feel like they were special. How everyone commented that when he talked to them he made them feel like they were the only person that mattered. And before I could really comprehend what he said more than to think "I hope I make people feel that way," my professor said my name and I really had that moment where everything was happening in slow motion.

At my peers' request I gave a brief speech and I was sincere. As sincere as I know how to be. I thanked them repeatedly, I expressed my sincere surprise at winning (even named the individual I thought would actually win) and told them that anything I had accomplished in my 2 years was absolutely because I had been blessed enough to complete this period of my life with an amazing group of people.

After the program was over, I got a hug from almost everyone present, including all of my professors and everyone congratulated me, several folks told me they were happy I received the award and felt it was right for me and one of my favorite people even said she wished I would win. It's nice to know you're noticed, it's nice to know you're loved and it's great to know people care and care enough to say so.

Afterwards I text all of my friends to tell them I had won and I was taken aback at the genuine happiness I got back from all of them. Everyone was happy for me and I heard from them what I heard all night from my peers. You're great, you deserved it and I'm happy for you. My last post was a lot about how much I've been needing that from my peers, my friends, the folks who matter to me. I've wanted it for a while -- and I wasn't getting it. But I got it last night and I needed it last night even though I don't think I realized that until I had it.

And then this morning one of my best (and oldest) friends called me to say she was an hour away and wanted to have lunch with me. Best surprise all year. Funny - I was thinking not too long ago how much I'd like to be surprised once in my life. I'm thinking I needed that, too.



Had a good weekend with friends. Two friends stayed with me on separate nights and each of those nights I was up late with them reminiscing on old times and talking about our present lives. It always makes me feel good to be able to verbalize things with a trusted confidant.

One thing I vocalized with one of the friends that I've not ever talked about, except maybe for a brief rant on Twitter, was about how I feel about my upcoming graduation. I've downplayed the accomplishment of getting a Master's degree. Some of that has been because I've come to realize that though it shouldn't be, my education can be intimidating to some. Some of the reasoning has been also because I don't think I've really understood what a big deal it is for me to (practically) have this, Not everyone graduates from college and even fewer go on to get post-graduate degrees so me being here is no laughing or unimportant matter.

In my mind, this M.Ed is happening because in order to do what I want to do I need it and, to be honest, was there ever a question that I could get it done? Of course not. So why would we get excited about the inevitable?

The general sentiment about my upcoming graduation can be summed up by a quote from my mother: "folks are tired of you graduating..."

My mother is proud of me, she tells me that all the time. There are others in my family who are proud as well and have told me, but I can't shake that statement. This thought that because I've graduated before, because I've proven to be the type of person to do well in school and accomplish things of this nature that it's not an important enough happening for people to just care about is starting to hurt.

So as I processed this with my friend, I began to realize that whether I recognized it or not, I've worked my ass off for this degree. Real blood, real sweat and definitely real tears. One of my professors warned us that we would do a lot of growth and changing and I did not believe him. I did not think I had a lot of growing to do that wasn't professionally. I was self-assured that as a self-aware black woman, I had done all the growing I was going to do for this period of my life. I was epicly wrong.

I also don't think I really became aware of how wrong I was to think that until lately. Not just my time in this program, but my time not in the working world and back in school has been so eye-opening. I have grown. I am more selfish and more worried about my own well-being, specifically mentally, than I was before. I am more apt to tell someone no. I do think about the long term mental/emotional effects of the things I take on and the things I agree to do. I am more cognizant of who has unfiltered access to me and who I'm willing to go that extra mile for. I'm not perfect and I know it and I'm not worried that my imperfections make me an unworthy person. I still have people in my life that I wish I could get rid of but I trust myself more to do a better job of not letting those types back in.

Basically, I was pretty damn awesome 2 years ago, but this process has made me, incredibly, even more awesome than that and I get it and I respect it and I want to protect it.

2 years ago a friend of mine told me I had a gift that was God-given and that I needed to be careful with it, take care of it, not misuse it. I have the ability to do that now; I can and do believe I was given a set of skills that few are given and that whether I can exactly explain them or how I use them I must be careful with them. Being careful with them has meant being careful with myself.

So now that I'm about to celebrate these last 2 years and all this work I've done and all of the growth I've undergone and the way I think I like myself, but more than that, believe in myself more today than I did 2 years ago it hurts to know that there are those who I thought had been behind me these last 48 months that really haven't. Folks who don't get it, who don't see the change and/or don't care about the change. I wish more of my friends and family were congratulating me, that's true. I'd love for them to be here for the ceremony but honestly all I want is a congratulations... text me, email me, smoke signal me... just acknowledge that I worked my ass off, that I went through a rough time for almost a full two years and I made it out the other side.

And you know, even though I'm hurting because of how I've been ignored so far, I see this as a potential blessing in disguise. Whatever cuts need to be made need to happen now because it's time for me to step into whatever it is that's gonna make me great and somebody everyone remembers.


Epic Shade Is Made of Mirrors and Flashlights

One of my favorite people @TWestfield once had a facebook status that said something like: here's a mirror and a flashlight so some of y'all can go find yourself... It was far more eloquently and poignantly stated than that, but that was the gist. I fell in love with the statement immediately, even going so far as to work it into the answer to the integrative question I was asked during my 2-day comprehensive exam period (which ended today). I resonated with it because I feel like that's so much of what I do in working in schools with kids. I'm a mirror for them and I'm handing out flashlights.

K. Pause that for a second.

A couple of nights ago Oprah aired her interview of Bobbi Kristina Brown and Pat Houston. When a friend of mine and I talked about it, I liked what she said: Oprah asked good questions that Pat answered openly and honestly. There were 2 points in the conversation where my Twitter timeline lit up. The first was when Pat referenced Whitney Houston's apparent search for love in the wrong places. Pat made mention of younger guys and many folks took that as a stab at RayJ; Whitney's often rumored boyfriend.

The second was Pat's description of Whitney's last night out where she had an apparent confrontation with a woman Pat could not name (but was apparently Stacy Francis, a former X-Factor contestant). Pat was very clear that she had nothing ill to say about the woman, who she also clearly stated she did not know and could not name; however many folks in my timeline took that as very well-delivered and well-placed shade.

Shade, for those who may be unfamiliar, is basically a thinly-veiled dis. Veiled enough that you might, if you move to fast, miss it, but thinly enough that you'll probably catch it.

Pat Houston was very poised, very well-spoken, and calm throughout the interview. The tone of her voice never changed, no matter the topic and because of that several folks I saw on twitter priased her for her amazing ability to throw shade.

Not too long ago I was having a conversation with several friends and in it, one mentioned that one of my secret weapons in the "war of words" was my ability to make fun of someone without them knowing it. That wasn't the first time I'd had someone tell me that, but I took a minute to consider what they were saying. It is true -- I can hurt your feelings in a way that may be hard to respond to. I can be quick with my words and when my dry wit and sarcasm meet up, what results can be very rude, a little funny and you really might miss it if you're not up to the challenge. It's not necessarily a trait I'm proud of, but I can admit that I have it.

It occurred to me, as I read some of the responses to Pat Houston's interview, that there is a bit of an art to well-delivered shade. What was actually so epic about Pat was how she remained calm through the interview. That was mostly because she was stating facts -- at least as she knew them. If she was throwing Ray-J shade, and who knows for sure, she was stating the facts as she saw them. As I mentioned on twitter, the best shade, the most epic shade, utilizes relevant facts. Why does that work? Because all an individual is doing is holding up a mirror for you to see yourself.

So back to me being a mirror. See the thing about mirrors is that they don't lie. They can only tell you what you tell them. You may not be ready to hear (or see) it, you may not be ready to accept it as fact but the mirror doesn't change what it tells you based on what you want to know. It is just a reflection; it is just you; it is just what you spit out. And so is true of what some my call "epic shade." All you need to be able to do is accurately reflect whatever mess a person is spitting out in the first place and shine a little light on it so they can see it clearly (because while a mirror still tells the truth in the dark, it's far easier to ignore).

The minute you tread into irrelevant facts about a person, maybe the way they look for example, your shade is no longer useful and it's not of the epic or mirror variety. You've stepped over into your own personal opinions and I can argue you down about your opinions all day; I can't argue with the truth.

So the fair question is: am I shading my kids when I work with them? Some might think that and when I've relayed stories of working with them sometimes people say "wow, I'm afraid for those kids..." (that's a whole other topic, but if you think that working in a school necessitates being sweet like candy all the time, you need a reality check in the worst way). But all I'm aiming to do, in a developmentally appropriate way, is show a child what it is they are showing the rest of us and ask them: "is this who you want to be?"

I've actually found kids deal with that a lot better than adults...


Tyler Perry's Good Deeds Did Some Good

I went to see Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (name of the movie; I'm aware you already know the filmmaker; henceforth "Good Deeds"). I was surprised that I liked it, but I shouldn't have been. I tend to really enjoy Mr. Perry's non-Madea movies. However, I did have some qualms with it but I have qualms with most movies because I'm a critical watcher. Let's dive in, shall we?

First my issues: Suspension of disbelief is always a problem in Perry's movies. I already knew that Perry's main character, Wesley Deeds, makes the assertion that he is 5th generation ivy league educated which bothered me during the promo period of the movie and of course continued to annoy me when it was said in the movie. I like that he created a well-to-do black family for us with it's own interesting privilege issues, but I wish he'd been realistic about how that family might have come to be. Also, as a person who works in schools I took issue with a few of the scenes around Lindsay (the single mother played by Thandie Newton) and her child and custody. I know several people didn't like how things tied together nicely at the end and so quickly -- more suspension of disbelief, but you have to do that sometimes for movies.

I also noted a few plot holes like when in one scene Natalie's (Wesley's fiancee, played by Gabrielle Union) friend Mark says he's never met Wesley only for the audience to later see Wesley call Mark by name and jokingly say that he'd better have a cab ride home -- not an exchange you'd expect between two people who've never met. Those happen in movies; they always annoy me but that's just me.

Right from the jump I was happy that Tyler brought us out of Atlanta and took us to San Francisco. I don't believe "The Family That Preys" was set in Atlanta either but we also were never made aware of what city it was so that doesn't count.

I've been saying for awhile now that Perry's movies would behoove themselves to make use of subtlety. Everything doesn't have to be spelled out and finally he gave me what I was looking for. We first meet the couple as they're getting ready for work. Instead of having Natalie, tell us flat out that he was predictable, we hear Natalie say the things that she knows Wesley will say because he always does and through that we learn very easily that he's a man of pattern. Not only that but in that simple exchange we can see HOW predictable he is; right down to what he'll say!

Of course Natalie goes on to eventually spell it out for a fellow character and then later for Wesley himself, but the initial subtlety was much appreciated and noted.

Perry likes to use his movies as soapboxes, especially when Madea is in them, on how to raise your kids and I thought he was going to do that this time around -- he kinda did -- but he surprised me when the single mom pushed back with some key points of her own about how difficult it is to raise a child, especially alone. As much as the point was made that kids need good parents, so was the point that good parents need support and it's very much easy to outside or armchair quarterback.

Other high points: this movie was ripe for opportunities to drag out a story line (and at 1 hour and 57 minutes, I expected it to do that in parts) but for the most part, it didn't. Perry made fairly good use of screen time, pretty much always progressing the plot. The ending is no surprise but the delivery worked enough to have even a jaded movie watcher like myself not sure what to expect, right away.

Overall, like I said, I really liked the movie. Perry surprised me with how well he wrote it. I frequently find myself in his movies wishing the dialogue was like 2 points better so it could be tolerated; this time he brought it up 5 points. I think he got great actors for all the parts. Brian White overacted once or twice, but that happens too. Wesley needed an antagonist, the brother (played by White) as sabatoger sub-plot worked but it never really fleshed out; Walter was an ass and then suddenly, we assume, he wasn't. Not much more to that except watching him just be an ass for the duration of the movie.

I'll give Tyler Perry's Good Deeds 3.5 stars out of 5.

Oh: "Time After Time" HAS to be the most covered song in American Pop history. Seriously. I also appreciated that he put "Right Here Waiting (For You)" in the movie too.


Emotions Don't Die

Anytime I hear about someone losing someone else close to them I always take pause. Lately I've come to recognize how much loss I've experienced over the years. More than most folks my age. I think often of what it means to grieve and to experience and feel and understand loss.

I'm watching a documentary called The Interrupters. It's about a group of people in Chicago who literally interrupt gang violence. I recommend checking it out if you can. There's a crucial scene of a teen's funeral where the camera focuses on the mother and you see the extreme sadness she's feeling as tears roll down her face, but she's not crying. I don't think I ever really experienced grief or loss or sadness the way I did when my uncle died. Watching the scene of this mother -- she looked tired just as she looked sad -- made me think of sitting on that church pew and feeling the warm tears roll down my face. I was so tired of crying and being sad, but I couldn't stop the tears.

Makes me think that emotions are almost entities in and of themselves; separate from us but still very much apart. If you've ever been so sad for so long, I think you know what I mean. The way you can think there are no more tears left to cry and yet here they come, completely unaided by anything you're doing. You feel whether you acknowledge those feelings or not. You may ignore the sadness (or the anger, or even the happiness or surprise) but that does not mean you're not feeling those feelings. You can ignore the emotions until they don't show and even until you don't know, but they're still there.

Holding feelings in don't stop them from happening. Stops you from dealing with it. Stops others from seeing it, but if it's happening anyway why not let them happen and get them out?

I know. Easier said than done. I have no idea how to do it myself.


The Irony in the Judgement of Lying

I found out a friend lied to me. We're not BFFs or anything, but I know a lot about her and I do consider her a friend. She previously told me several things that today turned out to be untrue and I get the feeling she didn't realize that she'd outed herself on the lie. In a previous conversation, she told me she'd had a miscarriage only to tell me today it was actually an abortion and that when she told me she miscarried she was actually still pregnant.

There's a lot of stigma around abortions so on the one hand I have a really hard time being upset about her lie but at the same time, why did she think she needed to lie to me? Especially since when she told me about the miscarriage, it was information she'd volunteered to tell me. She had a lot of stuff weighing on her and she needed to get it out, but it seems getting the truth out wasn't what we were going for.

I really don't like being lied to. I don't like a lot of things, but being lied to is up there on the list. There are a lot of reasons this rubs me the wrong way, many of which I'm sure you can relate to, but I think my list of reasons gets different when we start talking about what your lying says about me.

Some people are just liars. I'm not talking about those people and when I assess that an individual I'm associated with is one of those people, I do my best to disassociate and quickly because -- say it with me now -- I don't like being lied to.

The rest of us, though, tend to lie when we feel like we've got no other choice. When we think the truth will rain down a larger consequence than a lie. Sometimes our assessment of the consequences is skewed by momentary or fleeting wishes (like lying to get something). But a lot of the time when we lie, especially about something major, it's to avoid dealing with something else.

In my best estimation, most people lie to their friends to avoid judgement. Whether it's lying to your significant other about whether or not you smoked a cigarette today or lying to your best friend about where you met your new boo, typically we lie to avoid being or feeling judged. Since I believe this, I go out of my way to make people around me feel not judged. Those efforts have had some interesting consequences, like the fact that some my close friends feel a little too comfortable dropping almost anything in my lap and not expecting me to be shocked, but I deal with that if it means that people will be honest with me.

In this same vein, I don't ask a whole lot of questions. I've found that a lot of times folks lie because you just kept asking questions and didn't get the hint that they didn't want to talk about it. I never want to put someone in a position to lie and asking questions a person doesn't want to answer is a great way to fail at that. I let folks tell me what it is they want me to know and I trust that in time they'll open up to me and let me in on what makes them tick. I'm ironically patient in this way.

I'm setting all this up for you to emphasize how easy it is to be yourself around me. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to and you don't have to pretend to be something you're not (unless what you are is in someway harmful to children because that pisses me off) and you don't have to waste breath telling me what you think I want to hear because whatever you want me to hear is fine with me.

So when my friend told me she experienced one really horrible thing (miscarriage) because she was afraid of what I would say to finding out she actually experienced a different horrible thing (I've never personally had an abortion, but knowing people who have, that's not some walk in the park afterwards) I was confused and a little bit hurt. She had been hinting for months that there was a larger story to some of the of the things I was seeing in her behavior and today she finally let it go.

Afterwards she kept remarking at how shocked she was that I didn't think she was a disgusting person and how I seemed to be ok with it; she also kept talking about how good it felt to get everything off her chest. I wanted to mention that had she been honest with me months ago she could've felt some relief a long time ago, but I knew this wasn't the place. It is a truly complicated situation that is actually much larger than the abortion issue. Honestly she's made some decisions that I don't think I would if in that position and that I'm not sure I understand why she made them but none of that is for me to judge because she seems to be in a lot of pain with everything.

What's so terrible about honesty? Especially when you're talking to someone that has demonstrated that she isn't going to make you tell her more than you want to? I think it speaks to how large the fear of judgement is. How we all want desperately to be believed in and to have support. To the importance of connectedness, even -- because when you get right down to it, so what if I judge you? If I disapprove of you -- and disagreeing with things you have done, for the record, is not disapproval of you as a person -- then we lose our connection and human connectedness is so very important, even when we don't recognize it, even when we don't think it is, even when we don't think we need it.

To me, if we're friends and you lie to me it's because you didn't trust me to handle the truth. You thought that instead of being a listening ear, I would immediately judge you and that somehow you would lose the connection we have. You judged me before I had a chance to do anything; ironic, I think, since the lying was in an attempt to avoid allowing me to do what you've already done to me.

And yeah this is deep, maybe deeper than some folks wanna go but sometimes you gotta get to the bottom of something to figure out how to fix it.



In the last few years, I had taken to frequently referring to Whitney Houston as Nippy. For one, her attitude in recent years -- which we know was in direct correlation to her substance abuse -- seemed to beget the name "Nippy" and for two, isn't that a cool nickname? In any case, I like to use nicknames for artists that I feel especially affiliated with, for whatever reason. Tasia Mae, B-Rocka... and Nippy, to name a few. So when Nippy started doing drugs and asking us for receipts (which is truly an epic statement. Truly.) it followed that I would give a side-eye and shake my head and wonder "why Nippy? Why?" She didn't know me, but my soul knew her music and that's deep.

My earliest memories of music in my life include Michael Jackson, Helen Baylor, Michael Bolton and Whitney Houston. By the age of 6, I knew the entire Whitney album front to back and back again. Even now as I, like so many others, listen to every Whitney song we can find, I'm amazed that I still know the lyrics to song I haven't heard in over a decade. As I watched VH1Soul play every Whitney music video ever I couldn't help but get chills and really be cognizant of how amazing she was vocally. Whitney hit her notes every time. She didn't slide into the note, she didn't look for the note, she didn't change the note, homegirl HIT THE NOTE. She was a pioneer for so many little black girls who wanted to see themselves on magazine covers. She successfully made the transition from R&B/Pop starlet to movie star. She showed us what it was to re-make a song -- re-do it so good that people forget there was someone who did it first. Whitney was the consummate entertainer, really. Thorough, amazing, Whitney.

Because she was so great at what she did, it was really easy for us to forget it sometimes. But I think there was a collective breaking of hearts when we heard about her failed attempt at a tour. Concert-goer after concert-goer complained that her voice wasn't right, that she wasn't ready to perform. And when I finally did hear her, I cringed. Her voice of gold seemed like it was gone forever. But we have auto tune and vocal coaches and studios. That wasn't the end of the world, and surely Whitney would be around long enough to really return to greatness so that one day we could be like our parents when they talk about Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight and Diana Ross in their heydey.

I was shocked when Michael died, but only a little. I mean we all knew something wasn't right with MJ, whether we thought it was drugs, or mental illness, or whatever we thought. We were sad to lose such a pioneer, such a musical genius, but could we say we were completely caught off-guard? Whitney, though? Damn. Whitney Houston is dead.

I feel for her daughter. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my mom even today, but let alone at 18. If you look at pictures of Bobbi Kristina and her mother in recent years you can see the adoration and admiration and love in her eyes. It's precious, but makes Whitney's death just that much more sad.

I hope that we all really reckon with the great loss R&B and Pop just got kicked in the face with. No Whitney Houston? I mean honestly, can you even fathom what the next decade of music will sound like with no Whitney Houston? Just last Thursday she was coaching Brandy and Monica -- two vocal powerhouses in their own right -- no more Whitney Houston coaching the next generation of music legends. No more Whitney Houston making movies with the next generation of big screen stars. No more epic Whitney Houston interviews. Damn.

So like so many other people who are saddened, shocked and grieving, I'm playing all my Whitney Houston music until I can really come to terms with the loss of greatness. I think that can be my contribution towards making sure that we don't forget that Whitney Houston was here, and she did great things for so many people's lives, even if it was just to show us that sometimes talent is all you need, is to keep playing her music.

One of my favs...


Misery Loves Company

It's not that I didn't think the old adage was true as much as I don't think I understood how true it was until the summer of 2008. My first job after college was in Washington D.C. My mom had a friend who had a sister who was willing to let me stay at her house for a little while so that I would have a chance to get my life together in a brand new city.

I won't bore you with the details of every crazy thing that happened to me, beginning the very first day I arrived at her house, but suffice it to say she never should have agreed to let me live with her.

I moved in in June and by July knew that I had to leave and I had to leave soon. About that time, my office approached me about moving back to my home state for 2 months to do some work there. I jumped at the chance to go back to something familiar for awhile because the crazy lady (my landlady) had really just been chipping away at my mental stability. She constantly threatened to put me out, she belittled the way I was raised (asserting that because I was an only child, I had had everything handed to me) and she did other maniacal things like locking me out of the house and not allowing me to have a key to the deadbolt lock so she always had control over when I could get in and out of the house. I found myself finding any reason, including accompanying a friend to watch her do laundry, to not go back to the house or get back at a time I knew she'd be headed to bed.

I couldn't wait to tell her that I would be moving out at the end of August. She and I discussed whether or not she would allow me to leave my belongings at her house (why I thought that would be a good idea, I don't know) and my life got just a bit more brighter.

Plans changed and my office wanted me to wait until the end of September to leave. I was unhappy but it was good to have more time to search for a place to live. The search for another place to live was an ENTIRELY different story, but I was finding the hunt to be a bit demoralizing. Eventually I decided to take a co-worker up on her offer to sublet her apartment for a month. The same night I made that decision, I informed my landlady that I would be out at the end of the month since I had already paid her August's rent. This was on a Wednesday.

At this point, it's worthwhile to say that the entire week she had been acting weird, even for her. When I would get home, the deadbolt on the door would always be locked which she never did if she was there and, oddly too, she was always there when I got home. One day when I came in the house I asked if she wanted me to set the alarm and, oddly, she said no. She was a very paranoid individual and so I was surprised that she was ok with me not setting the alarm.

Anyway, on that same Wednesday night I also told her that I would be leaving the following weekend for a much-needed trip to the beach. Thursday went by and Friday morning as I descended the stairs with my bag for the weekend in my hand, she stopped me and told me that she wanted me and my things out of the house by 8pm because at that point she would have the locks changed and the change the code to the garage door (which was the way I accessed the house).

I was shocked, of course, but it was just so amazingly crazy that she would do that, that I said "ok" and handed her my key to the house as she asked. I remember calling my mother and laughing to keep from crying as I told her the story. She was the only one who knew all the details of what had happened to me. I kept it all from most of my friends, not wanting them to worry and not really wanting to talk about (thereby face) what was happening. I think she, like me, was a little relieved that it was all over. No matter what happened after, nothing could have - at that time - top what I had just gone through. Or so I thought...

About 2 hrs after I arrived at work my landlady sent me an email saying she had packed up all of my things and they were sitting in the garage. The bottom fell out for me when I read that email. I had held it together pretty well considering she attempted to essentially ruin my mini-vacay weekend, but the thought of her touching my things and throwing them (I was sure she threw - she was crazy) into God knows what and then putting them in the garage. What else could she possibly have done to let me know what she thought about me?

I had great people in the city that summer and so I was ok in terms of somewhere to live and ironically as almost a direct result of her actions, I landed into a wonderful living situation. However I continued to process my experience with her even months after I had moved out of that home and that whole week's craziness continued to play out for me. She had it planned out the entire week to screw me in the end. The reason she kept locking me out and didn't want me to set the alarm was because she had changed the alarm code. When I told her on Wednesday that I was moving out she knew even then that on Friday she planned to tell me to get out. Why did she wait? And why did she tell me I had until 8 only to immediately go pack up my stuff right after I left? She was truly a miserable person and she took each and every bit of her misery out on me for almost 3 months

I've thought about this story a lot since it happened and I know that it's not that big of a deal to most people. Not this little piece. I mean, yeah, it's kinda unfortunate but in the end I was ok, no one died and all was generally well. But honestly, there was so much more in play when this happened to me. I really think back on this time of my life -- the first 3 months of being a fresh-faced college graduate ready to tackle the world and really grow up -- and I seriously wonder how I managed to make it through.

Resiliency is such a key to surviving this world. I have to remind myself that I have it.