Back in the Day (Puff)

Sometimes, the universe sends me exactly what I need when I least expect it.

This year, I decided I wanted to take more control over my life. I wanted to better understand what I did each day and maximize my time–COVID showed me life is short, and I want to make the most of each day I live. So, in true Virgo fashion…

I bought a fancy planner. 🙂

This planner is built like a brick house, but so sleek and chic I don’t mind how much it weighs. It’s got a spot for everything: my daily schedule, a to-do list, even a spot to write down what’s for dinner every night! In addition to all that, there is a little quotation at the top of each page. I admit I didn’t really pay much attention to this section–too focused filling in all the other stuff–but Monday’s entry gave me pause:

Close up of a planner page with the quotation "I fling my past behind me like a robe...I have outgrown it." by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“I fling my past behind me like a robe…I have outgrown it.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Oof. What a punch in the gut.

I consistently berate myself over things I did/said in the past. My inner saboteur loves to mollywop me with reminders of cringeworthy statements and inappropriate behavior, particularly when I’m anxious or depressed. Doesn’t matter if it happened in 2nd grade–that nasty inner voice has a sharp tongue and a long memory.

On Monday, I was stressed and anxious. I’d had a rough couple of weeks at work and my nerves were one adverse event away from snapping. These factors created a prime situation for negative self-talk and I almost gave into it. But this quote made me stop and ask myself, “How does beating myself up over last week help me this week?”

Short story: It…doesn’t.

So I shook it off and went to work. I disregarded any silly comment or errant mistake from the last week. I moved forward.

And so should you.

Beating yourself up over things that happened “back in the day” doesn’t help current you. Shame and criticism are not effective motivators, especially over something that happened a long time ago. Learn from your mistakes, grow from them, but don’t let them control you.

You never know if you’ll get a tomorrow, so treat yourself with care and compassion today.

(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow

“…and just relax, relax, relax…”

I know I can’t be the only one who remembers that groove from Tony! Toni! Toné!. Yes, that song came out when I was, like, 7. No, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about (there are some pretty adult themes in those lyrics). But hey–I’m a sucker for a good R&B tune! (And if you’ve never heard this song, please give it a listen–it’s awesome.)

You’ve probably figured out I use songs as the titles for my blog posts. Sometimes the songs get stuck in my head for days–they won’t leave until I get my thoughts out. Most times, the songs remind me of a particular feeling…a moment…a memory. Today’s song actually came from a conversation with my therapist.

In a session earlier this week, I shared how overwhelmed I felt–just plain stressed and anxious–with all the changes in my work schedule and obligations in my personal life. After I was done explaining everything, she asked me a question that knocked me right on my ass:

Can you be relaxed on the busiest day of your life?

Now I had to think about this for a minute, because basically my entire life I’ve assumed busy = stressed. I enjoy having things to do; I love staying busy. But I don’t like being stressed the fuck out. (My guess is most people don’t.) My therapist challenged me to relax and not get tense even when I’ve got a lot going on.

So yesterday, even with the stress of work and home, I tried to relax. Instead of worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong, I tried to focus on the present–what was happening in that moment. And the day went surprisingly well! Usually at the end of a work day, I’m dragging myself back to my car–all the stress of the day just weighs on me, so much that it feels like a physical weight.

Yesterday, I left work feeling light as air.

So many of us struggle with anxiety and stress; we weigh ourselves down with worrying and feel we’ll never be able to accomplish everything. If you feel this way, you are absolutely not alone–I’m right there with you. But I’d encourage you to ask yourself that question, “Can I be relaxed on the busiest day of my life?” Allow yourself to see things in perspective–you don’t have to be stressed or anxious just because you are busy. Handle your shit–don’t let your shit handle you.

And just relax…relax…relax.

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. 🙂

No More (Baby Imma Do Right)

“I’m gettina lil’ tired of your broken promises, promises…”

Y’all remember that song??? 3LW had middle school me hype! I was really out there singing (definitely off-key) to my (completely imaginary) boyfriend to get his (entirely hypothetical) shit together. 😂😂😂

Now, those three little women didn’t know what the hell they were singing about either. (Or maybe they were more sophisticated young adults than I was—who knows?) Either way, I appreciate the message behind the song in a way I couldn’t back then.

Sometimes, we stay in situations we know aren’t good for us. Whether it’s a job or a relationship or something else entirely, we stay because we feel comfortable. We stay because it’s what we know. We stay because we can’t imagine another way.

So we put up with the lies. The abuse. The broken promises, promises. We push aside our intuition and let the situation control us, instead of the other way around. Eventually, we find ourselves two options: stay or go.

Not an easy decision, but a necessary one.

Today, I stand at this crossroads. I can stay comfortable (and unhappy) where I am. I could journey to a new (scary and unknown) place.

I don’t know what to choose.

Without sharing too much, I’ve been in this situation for a long time time (over a decade actually). Many aspects of the situation are excellent, but a few key areas conflict with my personal values. I can choose to overlook those few things and just focus on the good, but that makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t want to lie to anyone, especially myself.

So here I am, between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know what I’m going to choose, but I do now this—I need to make a choice. Because as those three little women sang all those years ago…

“You do, or you don’t. You will, or you won’t.”

Music of My Heart: Pt. 2

Another day, another influential album.  🙂

Second on the list is…

breakaway

Album:  Breakaway
Artist:  Kelly Clarkson
Released:  2004

Anybody else reallyyyyyyyy into American Idol back in the day?  I know I was a huge fan of the ORIGINAL series (I’ve got opinions on the recent revival of the show–that’s for another post) that brought us the legend known as Kelly Clarkson.

I must admit, I wasn’t even rooting for Kelly to win the inaugural season of AI.  I was a teenage girl back then, which meant I was squarely on #TeamJustinGuarini.  (What can I say?  He was cute, and I had raging teen girl hormones controlling my thoughts.)  But Kelly definitely deserved to win.  Homegurl can SANG.  I enjoyed her debut album (Thankful) that came out as a result of her winning the show.

But her sophomore album Breakaway…that album was special.  It was the soundtrack for my high school years, even though it didn’t come out until I was a senior.

For a long time, I didn’t know that the feelings of desolation I had were actually signs of depression.  Breakaway helped me get through the pain I experienced (especially breaking up with my first boyfriend).  One song in particular called “Hear Me” was my heartsong.  I felt like I was in a crowd, screaming for help, and no one noticed.

Hear me
I’m cryin’ out
I’m ready now
Turn my world upside down
Find me
I’m lost inside the crowd
It’s getting loud
I need you to see
I’m screaming for you to please
Hear me

(If you haven’t checked our Part 1 of this series, please do!)

Music of My Heart: Pt. 1

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories.

And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it. 

-Stevie Wonder

Mr. Stevie had it right, y’all.  So much music colors my life.  A song comes on and within the first few notes, I’m transported.  Memories, bright and sharply focused, take me back in time.  Depending on the song, I could laugh out loud or burst into tears.  I welcome all the memories–happy and sad–that the music brings to me.

Starting today, I’ll post the artwork for an album.  Some are old; others are more recent.  Some brought me joy; others got me through the toughest times in my life.  All make up the soundtrack of my life, the music of my heart.

First up…

lemonade.jpg

Album:  Lemonade
Artist:  Beyoncé
Released:  2016

 

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Lemonade.  After a cruise celebrating my mother’s birthday I sat in the Detroit Metro airport, waiting for the flight to take me home.  I’d heard the buzz about the album–the controversy over “Formation” at the Super Bowl halftime show, the shock that she made a whole entire film to go with it (#whodoesthat #yourfavecouldnever #shesthegreatest)–so I had to hear what the Queen was talkin’ ’bout. I purchased the album on iTunes and listened to it over…

…and over…

…and over.

At some points, I openly wept.  In the terminal, on the plane–I couldn’t hold back the tears.  You see, I had a tough time recovering from abuse from my ex-fiance.  I felt betrayed.  I felt angry.  I felt afraid.  I was just coming to the realization that, even though I felt powerless, I was the one who controlled my life.  Lemonade spoke to all that betrayal, anger, and fear.  It let me know I would make it through and be a stronger woman in the end.

In “Sandcastles”, Beyoncé sings:

Dishes smashed on my counter

From our last encounter

Pictures snatched out the frame

Bitch I scratched out your name

And your face

What is it about you

That I can’t erase

When every promise don’t work out that way

Her voice breaks at, “What is it about you that I can’t erase?” and it was like she read my heart and turned my deepest feelings into song.  I wanted to forget my ex so bad–because he hurt me so bad–but he still haunted me.

Lemonade was my strength.  Even today, every time a song from the album comes on, I stop and listen.

 

(Special thanks to Eli W. for inspiring this series!)

What if…

Trying to stay unfrozen has been a feat until this week.  Seriously, it literally snowed 3-4″ last week!  #notcool But now spring has finally come to Wisconsin…and I’ve finally come back to blogging!

Not gonna lie to y’all–my life is pretty boring so I feel like I don’t have anything to post about regularly lol.  Like, do people really care that I started buying groceries at the local Aldi?  Are folks really trying to read about the new bike I bought?  Answer:  probably not (at least that’s what I assume).  So my posts have been infrequent.

Butttttt I’d like to change that!  Maybe y’all aren’t interested in what I’m doing (which is honestly not a lot) but what I’m thinking (which is all sorts of things).  Honestly, y’all might not be interested in what I’m doing OR thinking lol.  But today I’m gonna share a bit of what’s been going on in my brain.

Lately, I’ve been playing this mental game called “What if…”  Basically, I’ve been thinking about all the ways my life could have gone wrong.  Not in a morbid, “woe is me” sort of way, but just considering all the events and circumstances (great and small) that led me to this awesome life I have today.

My mom is the most wonderful person on the planet.  If she hadn’t raised me, I’m almost certain my life would have gone poorly.  Like, I hope I’d be a good contributing member of society if I didn’t have her as a mom, buttttttt I’m skeptical.  That lady raised me RIGHT.  She taught me to be caring and diligent and showed me how to work hard even when it feels like everything and everyone is against you.  She encouraged me and motivated me and, most importantly, disciplined me when I needed it and called me on my bullshit.  Without her, who knows who I would be?

My daddy died when I was only 13.  His death could have been a trigger for my life to take a bad direction.  In ways, it did create issues–I didn’t have a role model for how a man should treat me and ended up in some terrible relationships as a result–but it could have been much worse.  On occasion I’ll watch the show Intervention and the stories that touch my heart the most are of women who lost their fathers or whose fathers were emotionally distant.  Women who, quite possibly, could have been me.

On the flip side, what if he hadn’t passed?  Would he have gotten better, fought his addiction, and been the father I needed?  Or would he have continued to drink?  Would I have ended up estranged from him?  Would I have drunk right along with him (alcoholism does run in families, after all)?  There’s no way to know.  And honestly, this version of the “What if…” game hurts the most.

My best friend in the world moved to our town when we were in the fourth grade.  She was a bookish Black girl just like me, and I needed her at nine years old in a predominately white school in a predominately white (and very southern) town.  If she hadn’t come, I don’t know who I would have relied on to support me when my daddy died.  I don’t know who I would have called when my ex-fiance was abusing me.  Who knows what friends I would have made and what paths they would have taken me down?  (One of my childhood friends ended up with a drug problem.  I could have been right there with her.)

Even outside of the key players in my life, all the small events and decisions and interactions in my life add up too.  I dated someone in college who I though was going to marry me, but ended up breaking my heart instead.  If we had married, I wouldn’t have met the man I truly love and who lets me be myself.  After college, I applied for a job at the Social Security Administration and was devastated when they didn’t hire me.  But if I had taken that job, I might never have gotten the opportunity to do something I truly love.

Just to be clear, I don’t play “What if…” to throw myself a pity party.  Playing this game makes me sad sometimes, but ultimately I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I’ve been through stuff that could have broken me, but I survived.  I’ve learned to appreciate the things and people who make my life special.

I urge you to consider the circumstances of your life and how you are a stronger person because of (or in spite of) them.  If you’ve got a story of triumph you’d like to share, leave it in the comments!

What_if_I_ask_for_help

Image courtesy of Maryeoriginals

 

Dog-sitting, Taking Classes, and Wrapping Up #100HappyDays

Day 96: Dog-sitting makes me happy. My boyfriend planned an out of town trip, so he asked me to watch his dog while he was away. Luckily his dog and I have lots in common (specifically, a love of snacks and napping). I don’t think I’m ready for a dog of my own yet, but being a temporary dog mom has been fun. Check out a few photos of some of our adventures!

Enjoying a long walk!

Watching a rabbit. See it? (Look in the upper right corner of the picture!)

 

Day 97: Company picnics make me happy. My company goes all out when it comes to our annual picnic. Earlier this week I volunteered to help with pre-picnic stuff (more on that here) and the end result was spectacular! Here are some pics of (just one side!) of our celebration:

Fun activities for the kiddos! (Adult activities were on the other side of the building.)

Food tents!

Day 98: Catching up with friends makes me happy. My friend Judith was in town this weekend, so we met up for brunch at one of my favorite restaurants. We met through a work opportunity and became fast friends! Even though she no longer lives in Madison, we make a point to keep in touch. It was awesome catching up with her in person!

Day 99:  Free lunch makes me happy.  Today was staff meeting day and the wrap (sweet chili tofu) was so good!  It tasted even better because it was free.  🙂

Day 100:  Taking classes makes me happy.  This week, I get to take a class instead of teach a class!  I absolutely love learning and am thrilled to be the one being taught this time around.

Also…today is my last entry for #100HappyDays.  This was a fantastic exercise in gratitude!  Taking a step back and finding something to celebrate in every day–no matter how small–helped me to put my life in perspective and realize I’ve been blessed with an amazing life.  Honestly, some days it was hard for me to come up with something more than “Waking up this morning makes me happy.”  Not every day will be filled with joy–that much is certain.  But I found that the happy moments outweigh the unhappy ones overall, and that’s pretty good to me.

Life and Blackness #100HappyDays

Day 24: Being alive makes me happy.

Yesterday was a tough day for me.  I was feeling very overwhelmed by some legal issues I’m going through with my ex-fiance.  But even with all the stress and struggle, I was happy to have woken up and drawn breath.  As the great philosopher Pitbull once surmised, “Every day above ground is a great day.

Day 25:  Black medical professionals make me happy.  

This week is the second week of my company’s customer conference, and I’ve been helping out by participating in a simulation lab.  Last week I was a “radio show host”, and this week I am a “sick patient” and medical professionals come in and conduct an “office visit” with me (so we can analyze how people use our software).  Today, I had a Black nurse practitioner participate and I was so happy to see her!  She was so kind and really worked to take care of me and make me feel better, even though it was just a simulation.  I have never in my entire life had a Black doctor–much less a Black woman doctor.  I would love to receive care from a medical professional who understands my unique issues as a Black woman.  We need more Black medical professionals!

#100HappyDays

Hello again, friends!

Lately, I’ve been struggling with appreciation.  There are a lot of stressful things going on in my life right now (personal, professional, even legal) that can make seeing the beautiful things in life very hard to do.  Therefore, for the next 100 days, I will post something that makes me happy and tag it with #100HappyDays to make myself reflect on the positive aspects of my life.  These posts will include people, places, things, whatever–anything that makes me happy is eligible for the 100HappyDays hashtag.  🙂

Day 1:  This blog makes me happy!  Even though I don’t update every day (or even every month) I enjoy having this space to voice my opinions.  There are some things I want to share with the entire world; this blog gives me the opportunity to get those thoughts and ideas out to a wide audience.  There are some times when I’m sad, lonely, scared, angry, or just need to vent–this blog is the safe space I need to get those feelings out.

(PS:  I got this idea from my friend/coworker Nicole.  Check out her awesome blog here!)