Too Little Too Late

Today started like any other Tuesday.

My alarm woke me up at 5am. I made a cup of coffee. I sat down on the couch and leafed through the latest edition of Essence magazine, slowly sipping. I finished the magazine, stood up, and rushed into my husband’s arms. Eyes filled with tears, I uttered the phrase that’s been permeating my thoughts for quite some time.

“…I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

My husband chuckled, held me tighter, and replied, “Join the club.”

Ever since COVID hit, I’ve realized more and more that life is too short to waste on things that don’t fulfill you. The “great resignation” of the past year proves I’m not the only one–we are all waking up to the fact that we can control our own lives. We don’t have to work at a place we hate for pennies; we can make our way through life in our own way, on our own terms.

These realizations are freeing and crippling (at least for me). I’m so overwhelmed, y’all. A billion questions fly through my head at any given moment: What am I passionate about? Where do I start? What do I do? How can I make a life–a comfortable, sustainable life–that brings me true joy? What is true joy anyway? Have I ever even felt it before???

There are so many things I like to do: orate, read, cook, motivate people, laugh. But I struggle to see where I stand apart in those areas, how I can bring something new and different to the world. There was an article about Tabitha Brown in the Essence I read today and good Lord–what an inspiration! That’s the kind of person I want to be: funny, kind, uplifting, a breath of fresh air. Tab’s got that lane on lock right now–she’s even got the vegan scene covered! (Veganism–particularly for Black people–is also something I find very important.)

In my head, I’m giving “too little, too late.” I feel like I missed an opportunity I didn’t even know was there. I was so focused on work and school and other people I neglected to nurture myself. I was too busy just trying to keep my head above water, going to work and coming home and paying bills like a fucking robot.

But hey, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I can’t look backward–I’ve got to look forward. I’d never tell anyone else they’d missed their opportunity to get what they want out of life, so I won’t say that to myself.

I won’t let fear stop me from pursuing my goals either.

A lot of people know me as an outgoing, confident person. But the truth is I’m scared as shit. I’m absolutely terrified of making a mistake, causing problems, not being perfect. For the longest time I thought perfectionism drove me forward and made me successful, but now I’m realizing it hindered me in many ways too. My therapist tells me, “There is no such thing as perfect, so do what you want.

Easier said than done, right?

Especially for me, a Black woman from a tiny town who can’t seem to take her blinders off. A 30-something who can’t get out of her own head long enough to figure out what she really wants out of life. I feel like a piece of furniture from Ikea with no instructions–all the pieces are there, but I can’t figure out how to put them together. I see all these examples of excellence everywhere–Tabitha Brown, Issa Rae, and many others–and wonder how the fuck they did it.

My guess? They just tried. And if it didn’t work out, they tried again. And if that didn’t work, they tried something else!

So for 2022, I’m just gonna try shit and see what happens. Stop being scared and start doing me. Time to work on all those things I’ve wanted to do but didn’t have the time/energy/money/motivation to pursue. I’m going to focus less on “perfect” and more on authentic. Any amount of effort can’t be too little, and it definitely isn’t too late to start–I’ve got the next 30+ years of life to put myself and my dreams first.

I wish you and yours all the best in the new year–drop a comment and let me know what you’re planning to work on in 2022. One of my goals is to make this blog more interactive, so I promise to reply to comments (which I admit I haven’t been good about in the past). Maybe we can help each other become the best versions of ourselves. 🙂

The Outside

Never in my life have I felt more out of place than I did an hour ago.

Currently, I’m celebrating an early Christmas with my in-laws at a ski resort in Utah. They own a timeshare here and invited me to join them on their annual trip to the slopes. I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm; I’d only been to Utah once for a high school speech trip and even them I never ventured into the mountains.

I haven’t seen anyone else who looks like me here either.

The scenery is breathtaking. The mountains take up the entire skyline, coated in a think blanked of pearly snow, dotted with toothpick trees. Sunny, cloudless, with air so crisp you could bite into it. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

Technically, that isn’t true. I did see three other Black people…working on the property. But I haven’t seen any other Black guests just enjoying their time here.

Definitely not surprising, but absolutely disappointing.

I knew this would happen. I honestly wasn’t even expecting to see the Black employees (and was was pleasantly surprised when I did). But that doesn’t make it any less isolating.

My in-laws are wonderful people, welcoming and supportive. But all their efforts don’t lessen my fears that someone will decide I don’t fit in. I’m terrified people are laughing at me, wondering why the hell this Black girl is here. Asking themselves, “Who brought her? Who does she belong to?”

Have you ever felt like this? Utterly defective, entirely out of place? It is so hard to explain unless you’ve been there. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone. It makes me want to stay in the room, hiding from people who might judge me.

But I won’t hide.

Instead I’ll do my makeup, just enough to make my eyes pop and my skin glow. I’ll style my hair so it looks perfect, but still natural. I’ll put on my cutest casual outfit, something that highlights my figure and makes me stand out in the sea of bulky coats and snow pants. I’ll pretend I belong here until I feel like I actually do.

I may feel like an outsider, but I sure as hell won’t show it.

Who knows? I may even start to believe it.

She Will Be Loved

When I was a child, I learned not to make mistakes.

Now, perfectionism is a pretty complex concept. By no means am I saying i fully grasped it; my four-year-old brain didn’t quite understand what it was learning. All I knew was, “If I do things just right, grown-ups will be happy.”

Unfortunately, that’s a lesson I can’t quite shake.

I always thought perfectionism was a good thing, a motivator to make me bring my best self and do my best work. But perfectionism has a cost. If I make a mistake–if I don’t get it right on the first try every time–the criticism starts, and it doesn’t let up.

My therapist and I talked about inner-child work recently. (Apparently shit that happened to you as a kid can fuck you up as an adult–surprise, surprise.) Yesterday she asked me to find a picture of me as a child and imagine the picture was real, that I was talking to my four-year-old self. How would I respond to her if she told me she felt like she wasn’t good enough?

Would I reinforce her doubts, break her heart further?

Or would I wipe her tears, pull her into my arms, and tell her she’s spectacular–just as she is?

I’ve gone with the former for most of my life, mistakenly believing shame and criticism were effective motivators. Effective in the short term? Absolutely. But the long term damage isn’t worth it.

And four-year-old me deserves the support she didn’t feel she had.

I Am Not My Hair

Today I’m starting my loc journey. After almost 10 years of being natural, I’m trying something new. And I’m terrified.

Nowadays it isn’t uncommon to see Black women with various natural and protective styles. Fros, locs, twist, braids—we rock them all. For my wedding, I wore crochet braids and never felt more beautiful!

But still, I worry.

I worry my coworkers will treat me like an animal in a petting zoo when they see it. I dread the questions I’ll have to answer from my in-laws. My stomach turns when I think about showing my grandmother (who was very vocal about her dislike of my cousin’s locs).

But I can’t worry about them. I need to focus on me.

That’s part of the reason I wanted to loc my hair in the first place. Growing up, I was a “creamy crack” girl through and through. My hair was constantly in a some kind of ponytail—straight back, low with a side part, maybe some bangs if I was feeling fancy—because I didn’t know what else to do with it. I’ve been in a battle with my hair since I went natural.

For so long, I tried to force my hair into shapes I found “acceptable” and cursed how “difficult” it was to maintain my kinky coils. I called my hair texture “4Z” (‘cause 4C just didn’t seem descriptive enough) and lamented on how the lord didn’t give me the patience to deal with all this hair. I bought every natural hair product out there, thinking some magical elixir would give me the Traces Ellis Ross curls I craved.

Spoiler alert—it didn’t work.

No combination of products, techniques, or gadgets gave me the “right” natural hair. Because there is no such thing as “right” natural hair. It’s called natural for Pete’s sake—that should have clued me in right there!

But society has a lot of expectations for Black women. If we’re going to have natural hair, it needs to be the “professional” kind. Not too kinky, or coily, or wild. My natural hair is all those things, so I never felt like I could let my hair just be.

That changes today.

Today, I’m making a choice for myself. Today, I’m embracing the “4Z” and allowing my hair to transform into what it wants to be (not what I want it to be). Today, I’m taking the first step in what will *hopefully* be a long, beautiful journey.

For me.

No Air

Living as a Black woman in America means rarely breathing freely.

My struggle to breathe has nothing to do with COVID-19. This lack of air is a result of a different illness, one that has lingered in the air since the beginning of America. This illness ruined families, ruined health, ruined lives. This illness has changed forms through the years, but is just as prevalent and deadly today as it it was when it started.

My breath catches when I see a police officer, even if I’m doing nothing wrong.

Air leaves my lungs in a sick rush at the sight of a confederate flag.

At each microaggression, dog whistle, and ignorant comment I heave a hefty sigh of exasperation.

Racism is a disease infecting every area of this country. Sadly, too many among us don’t recognize how sick this country is. We need to open the windows and release the stale, sour air of this country’s racist past and present if we ever want to eliminate the disease in the future.

Acknowledge the original sin of slavery and its negative impact on Black Americans, then and now.

Apologize through words and actions. Try to right the egregious wrongs. Nothing can ever truly pay what is owed to those who worked this land for nothing, those who were seen and treated as nothing.

But we can try.

As I wait to see the results of this presidential election, I hold my breath. With each passing day I pray we are closing in on the final days of this disease. I hope I live long enough to see racism draw its final breath so we can all breathe freely.

Black Parade

I’ve been trying to think of just the right words to summarize my experience at the Commitment March in Washington. D.C.

(That’s why it’s been so long since my last post.)

And I do apologize, for all my delay has been for nothing. I still haven’t found the precise wording for what I saw…what I felt.

“Inspired” is truly an understatement for the fire that was lit within me.

Waiting in line next to a white woman and her tween daughter, listening to stories from a man who marched with Dr. King the first time, I felt the spark.

“Look at this,” I thought.

“We all know this is a historic moment, when we draw the line in the sand.”

Listening to speaker after another, each from different walks of life, stoked the flame.

A young lady who survived one of the most tragic events in recent history.

An older man who reminded us that the gay rights movement began with a brick and a Black woman.

Finally, and most tragically, the family members and friends of so many of our martyrs.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna Taylor.

Jacob Blake.

I was on fire. Flames roared across the crowd.

We all burned.

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

We marched and chanted to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, a fireball.

I haven’t felt the same sense. I feel…alive.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, reborn.

Bad Guy

Whenever I make a choice for myself, I always feel like the bad guy.

Don’t want to go to an event and say so? Bad guy.

Don’t want to be touched and move away? Bad guy.

Don’t want to do something for someone else and mention it? Reallyyyyy bad guy.

Black women in America have been seen as community property for so long that people take offense when we say no. For hundreds of years, we were expected to do everything for everyone. Unfortunately things haven’t changed much. Black women are expected to solve the world’s problems, all while little is being done to solve the problems Black women face.

I’ve known my whole life that “No,” is a complete sentence. (I got a perfect score on the English section of the ACT. #humblebrag) However, I’ve only recently started living it. Some people may be surprised or even offended by the change.

Do I care?

…No. 😉

Disappear

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I made our weekly sojourn to the grocery store. (Even Pre-COVID, we shopped weekly to save time, energy, and money.) We slowly wound our way through the store we simultaneously loved and hated—large selection and great prices, narrow aisles and never enough cashiers.

A woman’s cart stood between us and the almond milk, one of the last items on our list. Eager to get this trip over with, my boyfriend moved her cart a few inches so I could push ours past. The movement must have caught her eye, and she turned to look at me.

“You’re so beautiful!” she exclaimed.

I thanked her, secretly wondering how she could think such a thing given the cloth mask covering half my face. Without missing a beat, she continued.

“Where are you from?”

That was the first of many microaggressions to come.

I quickly replied, “Kentucky,” and pushed my cart closer to the dairy case in an effort to end the conversation. But she inched closer, maskless (!) and babbling.

“Your hair is lovely. What do you do to your hair to get it like that?”

The answer? Literally nothing. (The few sprays of water I applied before the trip didn’t count—I didn’t even put any product in it!) I shrugged and responded, “It just grows this way,” struggling mightily to keep myself from rolling my eyes. I was brought up to respect my elders, and even though the gray-haired woman in front of me was trying my patience, my mama raised me to be polite.

I tried to leave but the woman continued, following one awful comment with a string of several more.

“African women are so elegant, very regal and classy. You know, I could tell you weren’t from around here. You don’t act like the Black people in Wisconsin. I work with them and they have such an attitude. They wear their hair in the braids and it just comes out. I’m from India and I help them, boil the coconut oil and castor oil to make something to help it grow back. Your hair is beautiful and healthy, and you wear it just as it is! They should be more like you.”

Racism, wrapped in compliments. From another woman of color, at that! I wanted to disappear.

As she turned and walked away, she noticed the large ginger root in our cart.

“Healthy too! You are so good. May God bless you.”

My boyfriend, having ventured to get the almond milk himself, returned to find me standing next to our cart. Seething, I recounted the interaction. We headed toward the checkout line, watching carefully to avoid seeing her again.

Usually, I leave that grocery store anxious and frustrated because of the crowded aisles and lengthy checkout lines. Today, anxiety and frustration were replaced with anger and sadness.

You cannot uplift one Black woman and simultaneously put others down.

You cannot talk badly about Black people in Wisconsin while ignoring the fact that it is one of the worst states in America for Black people.

You cannot celebrate Black hair in its natural state while trashing the protective styles many of us (including myself) wear regularly.

You can, though, be racist and a person of color at the same damn time.