A butterfly free from the spiderwebs

I’m about to board a plane today that is not Chicago-bound. I will not be handling any one else’s affairs on this trip. No work. No decisions beyond normal adulting and common sense practices. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and spending time with their beautiful family. I’m excited to visit a city that I’ve never experienced. I’m curious and expectant.

Dare I say I feel somewhat vulnerable. There’s no itinerary chock full of have tos. I’ve had too many have tos this past year. I’m getting out of dodge for my own sake and quite possibly my own sanity. The word fun seems like an abstract concept lately. I would like to become reacquainted with fun.

As I write, I overhear a gate agent welcome passengers to board a flight (ironically) to Chicago. I will not be answering her call today. I’m going in a different direction now.

It feels good to begin a new chapter. Although these aren’t the verses I would have chosen to write. Life is about the acceptance of things we do not always understand. Our lack of understanding doesn’t negate the existence of the truth. We are all on a journey. We can only pray for safe travels coupled with grace along the way.

I’m headed in a new direction today. One full of new destinations and reasons to keep traveling. I am an explorer who is moving onward. I’m out of my comfort zone and you know what?

It sure feels good.

Look Mom, I did it!

Hi Mom,

I miss you so much. I would ask you how you are doing but I know that because you’re with God, you are excellent!

Well, today is the day. Today marks my 25th work anniversary. Isn’t this crazy? Do you remember when you came into my bedroom to “remind me” about attending the information job session at O’Hare? Remember when I told you that I “forgot” about it, as my reason for not going? And remember when me you turned on your heels, grabbed the Chicago Tribune ad, and read aloud there was another session…in Buffalo Grove.

“Where is Buffalo Grove?”, I asked. To which you gave me a map (an actual map), along with your Cellular One cell phone and told me to figure it out.

What?

I tried to come up with all kinds of excuses. Like, I was waiting on the Chicago Sun-Times to call me back about that editorial job that was basically promised to me a week earlier. Quick sidebar: I’m still waiting on that callback.

I didn’t see the big picture but clearly you did. You understood what I wanted, while knowing what I needed. You always wanted me to be a self-sufficient woman. One who has her own money, resources and agency. You always cautioned me to depend on myself “because Man may fail you.”

I have been on an exhilarating ride filled with opportunity, tough times, promotions, relocations. I have met people who have changed my life beautifully. Some of my wildest dreams have been fulfilled. All because I was obedient. And because I had you for a Mom to guide me. You knew that one day would be today. You knew that one day you would have to go home, and I would have to find my way in the world. You wanted to be sure that I was prepared. Not for the void that is now as much a part of me as my own skin; you wanted to show me how to live. To live well. To explore the infinite possibilities available to me. To live my life fully. To be unabashedly brilliant. Just like you.

Thank you Mom for giving me all that you had so selflessly and lovingly. I will honor your legacy every day of my life.

A Word of Thanks

Forgive me if the tone of this piece is a little…well, melancholy. But you know what? Melancholy is how many of you may be feeling right now as the holiday season has descended upon us.

During an ongoing pandemic no less.

After a contentious and still (I think), contested presidential election.

There’s more people struggling among us and we have no idea to what extent. Maybe we are the ones who are on the temporary struggle bus.

And despite the ad agencies and retailers giving us directives to be “cheerful”, or even grateful this time of year, some of us can’t muster up the strength. There are families who can’t be together to enjoy 15-minutes of a civil conversation over decent turkey and over-cooked dressing, before someone manages to say something provocative. Or just out right crazy. Which usually is so offensive to someone else, that they storm out of the house mid-chew.

You know I’m right. We can keep it our little secret…but we both know that you’ve either witnessed a similar scene, or maybe you were (ahem) more “ involved” in the story.

As dysfunctional as others can be (or we can behave at times), you can’t help but miss the opportunity to connect with someone during the holidays.

There was a time that Thanksgiving was a holiday that I refused to celebrate. It was my grandmother’s favorite holiday. And she made her transition two days before my birthday and days before her favorite holiday. How could I celebrate when she was no longer with us? And then my uncle, whose birthday is two days after mine, also made his transition. The family used to celebrate our birthdays together during Thanksgiving. And now neither of them were with us. Would you feel festive all things considered?

And then one day I said to myself, “Self. Life is for the living. You must LIVE. You are still here and your life is worth celebrating. Including your grandmother’s favorite holiday and your uncle’s birthday. You are allowed to move on with all of that love that you carry inside for them. You must give some of that love to YOURSELF. Love your life.”

With this new perspective, I began my own holiday tradition beginning with Thanksgiving. Some years I spent Thanksgiving in some of the most non-traditional ways (e.g., swearing off the very semblance of anything associated with a Thanksgiving dinner menu.) Going to the movies; other times I was blessed to be invited to spend the day with friends and making new ones. Other years, I hosted Thanksgiving my way at my apartment in Brooklyn. Once I changed my thoughts, I could change the narrative. And I did it on my own terms. I have never looked back.

So for those of you for which the following applies, I salute and honor you today. You’re taking care of you which is paramount. So if you decide to eat pizza or fried rice on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, good for you. Cereal? Why not! Kale, tofu and ginger beer…sounds like a party. You’re spending the holiday alone this year…yeah well, it’s probably safer that way right now (just saying.)

Put on Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way”, or Lizzo’s “Soulmate”, and have your own party.

I guess the masses and advertisers are right after all. There is always something, or dare I say someone to celebrate.

Even when or if that someone is you.

Cheers.

Love: Just Is

What is love really? Do you know?

For me love is…

Not saying everything that immediately comes to mind.

Why?

Because if the same were said to us by the one we love, we would be seriously devastated.  The emotional damage could likely be irreparable. 

Love is knowing that you are right about a point or situation. Love is knowing that the other person may be aware of this yet is on a different page, and thus has valid points to be considered also. People who enjoy successful relationships work extremely hard to be on the same page when it comes to things that matter: core values, family, ethics, etc. 

Being in a relationship with some (one) who is always right means that everyone else is always wrong. This is not a home, it is a prison. 

Love is accepting the one whom we have chosen. All of it. Because we chose them. And they chose us. We picked each other. Accept your part in the decision to be partnered with this human being. If not, perhaps a revised decision based on the new information is in order.

Yes, there are disagreements. And yes, we gain more information or clarity as the relationship evolves and we evolve in it. I agree that it’s impossible to know about all of the traits and idiosyncrasies that another person has after a few dates. This is why dating is really a discovery phase. In the midst of dining at fancy restaurants, new-couple-weekends/meet and greets, and other juicy parts of new love, the key objective is to assess early on-the other person’s suitability for being our life partner.

Men more often than women, will reveal themselves relatively early in the relationship. At least this has been my experience.  For me, love is knowing that I can’t change who my mate inherently is. Influence, yes. Empower, absolutely. But change someone into a completely different human being? 

Guess what? 

Organized religion has been trying to do the same for centuries.  

How has that worked out? 

Love. Just. Is.

To Defend and Protect

Am I defensive?

The very thought of behaving defensively makes me clutch my invisible pearls in mild embarrassment.

Am I really walking around with a pinned mental note that states: “Tendency to need to be heard and over explain.” Or, “Needs to justify her decisions, statements, or actions so that others can understand her better.”

When random people share their experiences about matters that are unrelated to me, or their experiences differ from mine, do I sometimes feel compelled to offer & defend my alternate point of view? Do I feel uneasy over not agreeing with them, or for not sharing their beliefs?

At times, yes.

I confess that I have acted defensively at times. Sometimes I’ve even tried to fix situations that aren’t my responsibility to address.

As I get super introspective, I can see that there have been times that I’ve conflated what I do with who I am. This is often evidenced when someone makes a critical statement about my work, or a project that I’m involved with. There have been situations in which I “heard” something completely different than what was actually said. For example, someone comments about a presentation I worked on. They may have offered suggestions on how the presentation could have been “better”, or suggest items to add in the future. Admittedly in some of those instances, the constructive feedback was muted, and the examples of my inadequacy were amplified. In this scenario, what I “heard” was the person detailing all the ways that I could be better (as a person), versus how the thing (the presentation) could have been better. The criticism was about me.

Light-bulb moment: There is a core difference between what we do and who we are. So when someone adds their two cents, it’s important for me to understand it’s just that. Sometimes we have to be okay with everybody not being okay with every detail, or in agreement with our decisions.

In my opinion, this mindset is rooted in a setting called survival-mode also known as people pleasing. As children, we needed to please the adults in our experience. Just watch the interactions of any child between the ages of 4-8 years old. Observe how these brilliant little humans are innately masterful in defending themselves.

“Stephanie took my scissors!”

Without missing a beat comes…

“No I didn’t! I don’t have Matthew’s scissors! He’s telling a STORY!”

Children learn right away that they must protect themselves from reprisals and punishment…early. Sadly, many of us never grow out of the habit. Some actually perfect it by going out of their way to ensure that everyone around them, especially those who matter and occasionally those who don’t, are pleased. And when they are not, some of us become defensive to avoid being disliked. Sometimes we are hypersensitive about preventing being in the line of fire of false accusations.

The point isn’t to let others get away with lies or let unacceptable behavior go unchecked. That’s not defense, it’s called common sense.

What I’m referring to is taking on other people’s stuff; excessively personalizing insignificant situations, opinions, and even feedback. People really are entitled to their opinions. And when they decide to share these views, we can choose-I can choose what to do with them. Implement, respond, or simply ignore.

Sometimes…actually most of the time, there is nothing to defend or protect.

Share My World

Hey my virtual friends! It has been a minute, eh?

I took a brief hiatus away from my keyboard (to post via this blog), to think about where we go from here.  Should I continue blogging; is it time for an upgrade? What would the upgrade look like…when, how, etc.  I have been taking the necessary time to consider all options, some of which I think many of you will be pleased with, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, let me share something really epic that happened to me recently.  Before I do, I have a question for you…

When was the last time you were called on to be an “expert” about something?

I was asked by a friend a little over a month ago to participate in a panel discussion about beauty…specifically make-up! What?! I remember when she called to ask me, holding my phone in one hand…getting up from my chair and began pacing the hallway of my house.  I felt winded as my quadricep muscles began to heat up, as if my legs were going numb.  “Who me? What?! OMG”, I said clutching invisible pearls. I can be a little dramatic over regular things but this was not regular at all.  Before I had time to talk myself out of it, or “think about it” further, I said, “yes.”  

It was done.  

I gave my word which meant that I was now committed to follow through.  During the weeks leading up to “showtime”, I had to have a heart-to-heart with myself.  The first priority was learning how to be comfortably-uncomfortable outside of my comfort zone.  

I’m a beauty expert to my friends.  I’m known for my makeup or if nothing else, for wearing red lipstick with the same level of commitment to wearing shoes outdoors. I was the expert when I stood in front of customers applying make-up on their faces, or giving consultations on everything from lipstick colors; the proper way to apply blush, to whether to wear foundation, etc.  I was an expert in those settings, but was I “really” an expert in real life?  And then I thought, “who is the authority on who or what an expert is?”  

If you use social media as a barometer, everyone with an Internet connection is essentially an expert in something…albeit self-proclaimed in many instances.  Some will even go as far as charging professional-level fees or requests for donations for…well, the basics, or common sense information.  I digress…who am I to halt anyone’s hustle?  

Back to my participation in the beauty panel discussion.  We were now down to “d-day”…e.g., under a week before I was supposed to film my piece of the discussion.  I should clarify that the beauty panel discussion was recorded via Zoom, and this pre-recorded video was scheduled to play during the beauty segment of the conference.  The fact that I was able to film my piece at home made me feel slightly less anxious.  I talked to my friend (the one who graciously extended me the invitation to participate), to get the logistics, as well as narrow down the focus of my piece.  Beauty or make-up is such a broad subject, and given my experience with making presentations, I knew that having a targeted message was essential.  Once we decided on the appropriate topic of focus, I began to strategize how I would present or package my information.  I decided that I would prepare a quick video. 

The decision to create a video opened the floodgates of self-doubt namely in the area of me becoming fixated on what I didn’t have…from a technical standpoint.  I thought about all of the IG and YouTube beauty influencers, make-up artists, and others who live in front of a camera.  This is not me.  I use my camera to take selfies, scenic photos, and screenshots of epic memes, or quotes. I take pictures of moments and people I want to remember. I’m an expert in using my phone to create blog posts, et cetera.  I have not used my phone the way Steven Spielberg uses his movie camera to create films like Jurassic Park.  I don’t have tons of editing software; I have an 11-year-old Macbook Pro; an iPhone 10 with limited space for large files, and make-up that I work hard to pay for, versus products sent to me gratis for promotion. 

And after all of that mental gymnastics, I finally told myself to snap out of it.  And I did. 

I’m a former make-up artist and beauty expert.  I am not an expert on creating online content beyond what I already do well…contributing thought-provoking copy via my blog, and creating online content that I am proud of.  With that being said, I hit record on my phone’s video option and I let my instincts direct me from there.  The result was a short yet instructive video of me executing a quick make-up tip, which effectively illustrated my point.  And you know what? That was the point. Yes, I could have written about how to appear camera-ready for video conferencing in minutes, or I could demonstrate it.  I opted to show my audience as well as tell them.  

On the day of filming my video segment, I felt confident and strong. I enjoyed the experience more than I thought that I would.  Why? Because I was talking about something that I love.  I was afforded the opportunity to share some of the knowledge that I have learned along the way, which makes me feel helpful and good for doing something positive for others.  Which brings me to the overall point of this post…how often do we get the opportunity to share useful information, or get the chance to talk about what we know?  Or to tell people about what we have learned? Beyond interviewing for a job, when do you have a chance to showcase your strengths? How often do you sell yourself? 

Confidence comes from being proud of ourselves. It’s okay to be proud of legitimate accomplishments.  

This opportunity was rewarding for me because it reaffirmed what my heart already knows.  I am very clear about who I am, and what I am passionate about.  I am so much clearer about my “why” than I’m willing to admit.  I am not an expert in the area of beauty or makeup because I am better than anyone else.  I am an expert because of my passion and experience, which gives me all the credibility I need to stand alongside the best of them. Confidently knowing that I have something equally as meaningful, valuable, unique, and worthy of sharing.  

There is someone who could benefit from your knowledge also.  There are people who would learn something they deem valuable from you.  

You are an expert in something worth sharing. I believe you owe it to yourself and the world, to find out what that is. 

And then share it. Share your world.

“Hope Springs Eternal”

So how’s everybody doing?

For me, it’s been emotionally tough lately. If you know me, I’m a pretty resilient cookie. So this proves that even the strongest among us grow weary sometimes. Even you; even me.

This past week has been especially mentally exhausting, not to mention unspeakably heartbreaking, with the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman. I also learned that a consultant and influencer who I greatly admired, succumbed to her battle with PTSD.

People are walking around with struggles that are often undetectable. We must do a better job of putting things into proper perspective, namely as it relates to the consumption of media stories, or the Internet in general. It’s not that the Internet is “bad.” “Bad” people have become masterful at dominating social platforms to spew their negativity, divisiveness, as well as their selfish, evil agendas. We must be smarter than them. And dare I say, we mustn’t allow ourselves to become them.

History is merely repeating itself. The saying that goes there is nothing new under the sun especially rings true today. People have been fighting wars since the beginning of time. The war starts within ourselves, before it becomes a contagious disease which infects others. History has already proven what happens when groups of people feel the strain of having their backs against the wall. History has also proven what happens when marginalized and oppressed people decide “no more.”

Humanity began the slow erosion into our lower selves when we felt the need to place labels, value, and even price tags on human lives. There is no need to label me if you believe me to be just like you. Or, you, just like me. Labels work best for advertisers or for marketing purposes. However, they do little to effectually improve the overall quality and meaning of a human life.

We live in a society where everyone wants to be seen at the same time. We would rather splinter off issues and jockey for position, versus working in solidarity on behalf of common issues. Collective work or Umoja doesn’t seem “enough”. Ideas and agendas have a better chance of success when there is unity. There is only one reason why unification is detrimental. Each of us is smart enough to surmise why, or to understand who or what benefits when we live like adversaries versus neighbors.

If we look within our own circles, most of us will realize that our families and friendship circles are rich with the fullness of diversity. Whether it be diversity in terms of race, religion, social class, ideas, and experiences. This is the point of living-to share the beautiful tapestry of our cultures, languages, traditions, food, and music with others.

When you meet someone for the first time, you assess whether there is a level of comfort, commonality/camaraderie, which could possibly lead to compatibility. Will we be able to hold a decent two-way conversation; are you sane and rational? Relationships (platonic, romantic, etc.), start at the most basic levels. Who you are matters more than what you are.

I encourage each you (of us), especially during these turbulent times, to be brave enough to engage others having a different point of view than your own. So long as there is mutual respect, two opposing views can be shared not for the purpose of a debate, but rather in the name of understanding and constructive dialogue. I will add a disclaimer to this recommendation by stating that we should only engage individuals capable of having a safe, mature, intelligent, and mutually respectful exchange of ideas. There is nothing to gain from vitriolic trolls, having minimal intelligence; ill-prepared, and only armed with inflammatory rhetoric that adds zero value to a healthy interaction. None of us should take on the responsibility of attempting to persuade or influence persons over the age of 18. As Earl Nightingale once said, “a man has right to be as wrong as he wants to be. It is not my place to correct him.”

These are challenging times, dear readers. Each of us are here at this very moment because we have the chutzpah to handle it. Please do not let strangers influence who or what matters in your life. Never give away your right to the manifestation of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Be well, and be careful out there.

“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Valor Optimism Truth Ethics

What is the point of a political convention in today’s society? What people need is an intelligent and thoughtful conversation.

People bring their full selves and their experiences into the polling stations. A few days on a center stage isn’t going to change much. Not in the hearts and minds of those looking for change outside of themselves.

When we peel back all of the rhetoric, we will find that what the collective “we” want is more similar than not.

The lines get blurred and the pots get stirred when we start personalizing “who” we want these things for.

I see people protesting out of necessity. Others see evidence of a decaying society. It would behoove us all to acknowledge that the criminal mindset will do what it always does-identify opportunities to exploit and co-opt unrelated acts of civil disobedience. Whether it be a protest, funeral processions, or working class people trying to commute to work.

But it’s more convenient to focus on the criminals. Though rarely constructively. We can never seem to catch the bastards who snatched an elderly woman’s purse, or those who terrorize their communities without consequences. Yet, we always seem to catch our “predator” in time for the 11 o’clock news.

Both sides are looking for poster children to illustrate its so-called values, narratives, and subsequent right to power.

America is split into two parties.

And no one is dancing.

To Chicago, with Love

I’m disgusted about what is happening in Chicago and it is not for all of the reasons that you may think. I am appalled by what took place on August 10th in my hometown. I’m not as embarrassed as I am disappointed and sad.   I feel sick that there was (another) homicide, as well as the so-called retaliatory vandalism that followed. Which solved absolutely nothing and yet created more problems of untold proportions. I don’t understand how this beautiful city has seemingly lost control to the extent that local law enforcement and city officials have been unable to maintain law and order.  It’s mind-boggling as I attempt to wrap my head around how some people have lost all respect for the law, property; businesses that help the city thrive, and themselves.  I often wonder about any ulterior motives for the relatively recent interests in criminal activities occurring in this city. 

The following are my views as someone who grew up in Chicago.  I am not a historian, nor do I speak on behalf of anyone other than myself. I believe what I witnessed from hundreds of miles away is the effects of countless systemic root causes that will take time to heal and collectively dismantle.  I’ll talk about some of these root causations from my perspective in this piece.

Throughout the history of Chicago, there are communities that were permitted to function in environments where violence, vandalism, burglary and other forms of illegal activity were accepted and even supported.  Chicago is a city that has been divided literally by geography based on race, social class, and economics.  A case in point, take a look at the history of the Dan Ryan Expressway .  You can also review the history of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), that managed many high-rise public housing projects (e.g., Cabrini-Green, Stateway Gardens to name a few), that were once breeding grounds (albeit mostly contained within those communities), for the level of terror and crime that has spilled out onto unsuspecting neighborhoods, that were otherwise deemed untethered and safe. 

I think education plays a major role in the cause and effect issue, namely the quality of public school education in the City of Chicago.  Between budget constraints; an overall lack of support for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers, we have serious disparities in the critical area of education.  Some of these issues are legacy problems in terms of funding, however, the larger issue has to do with parental involvement as well as student engagement.  I attended CPS from kindergarten through 12th grade.  I have many family and friends who are educators, some of whom currently teach in Chicago, or have experience working in Chicago Public Schools.  Any one of them can tell you a number of countless horror stories of confrontations with parents who become belligerent, over “criticism” (e.g., feedback) about their child’s behavior in class.  

For the record…aggressive behavior towards teachers is not exclusive or isolated to Chicago, or CPS by any means.  I also know teachers who teach in other cities and states.  I am confident that there are plenty of other teachers and educators who would cosign this observed behavior whether it be in public or private school settings.  The overarching problem with parents who engage in this detrimental misconduct is that they are teaching a child a very dangerous lesson.  The child learns from the adult that authority figures can be undermined, or even threatened with violence, if one disagrees with a statement, or action.  If a child is allowed to be disrespectful to teachers, neighbors, or other human beings without consequence, they become adults who have little if any regard for laws or humanity.  

Invariably, the child suffers long-term when they fail to receive a quality education that leads to matriculation, in addition to acquiring competitive marketable skills for the current job market.  Education continues to be the barometer that determines the quality of employment options an individual has access to.  School also provides a foundational structure necessary for most traditional jobs.  Without these basic skills, a child is left vulnerable to seek alternative means to earn income and purpose.  Some would argue that an individual has the right to choose whether to receive a traditional education or not.  Others can argue that these initial choices end up having long-term impacts on the greater society, overall economy, community, etc.  

It literally begins in the home. There are many children who are raising (parenting) themselves due to a variety of factors.  When a child is left to their own devices, having minimal choices or experience with deciphering between right and wrong, we later blame this same child for making “poor choices.”  

In many ways, the collective “we” have failed our youth.  

I watched countless young people shamelessly looting and celebrating immoral actions that day. There is something exceptionally wrong here. And we better fix it or risk a dangerous future in which nobody wins.

Most of us are too busy to nurture, listen, mentor, or support them.  We only seem to notice when they do something wrong.  Which is often a tactic or cry for help.  Many families have a generational pattern of failure to properly communicate with the youth; leaving many of them to question whether they matter and are loved unconditionally. Some will need a lifetime to recover from this level of alienation of affection. 

Ever since televisions became so affordable that every household could own one, which over the years quickly crescendoed to Smart TVs in every room of the house, generations of children have been raised by an electronic or virtual babysitter.  Oh yes, I’m going there.  This is not a Millennial, Gen X, Y, or Z (yes, Z for ‘Zennial’) problem.  Perhaps it is the generation that is often the most verbose in its criticism of these generations that is/are the culprit.  

I can speak for my generation (X); when we are chided for our music, lifestyle choices, etc., my rhetorical question (read: response), is: Which generation raised us and how? How many of us were latch-key kids growing up? Every generation grows up doing as its caretakers do, and not as they say.  A tree is only as strong as its roots; the branches are only as healthy as the tree from which they spring forward from.  

If we’re tired of watching our youth’s flagrant disregard for humanity, we need to start right now by teaching our babies and littles ones to become better by modeling behaviors we expect them to emulate. Children need pride and morals quite frankly.  They need accountability and tough love.  Children need to be raised.  They need to be parented in such a way that they are prepared for an independent life, versus one where there is always someone there to fight their battles, pay for their expenses, or even their repeated mistakes.  

You want to know how I learned to stop taking my college education for granted?  When my parents refused to pay for substandard grades and low effort.  I had to learn and accept the consequences of my actions.  I eventually learned to appreciate the gift of a college education. 

But first I had to be given the freedom and latitude to become an independent woman who thinks for herself, and finds herself capable of handling her own business. A woman who would learn self-confidence through doing things that instilled self-pride.  Children, even young adult children, must learn that we love them enough to trust them. To trust that they know the right thing to do and will do it. 

Because we lovingly showed them the way.