Counting Your…Losses

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Photo courtesy of Emily Shur.com

“I just want to see you win,” became a more familiar phrase I was hearing from friends and strangers alike upon my move back to Philadelphia. I liked the sound if it. Especially from friends who know me, my story, my struggle, and won’t let me get cozy in the temporary or put setbacks on the pedestal of permanence. Knowing there are people cheering you on, watching and waiting for your success makes a difference. Especially when you’ve drowned out your voice of belief and confidence.

But we don’t always win. Not me, not you, not Beyonce, not Steph, not LeBron, and not Hillary. Sometimes we lose. And the same folks who want to see us win, we pray and hope they still see us in our losses. We hope they see us on our off days (or months, heck someone reading this is like “Year. I had an off year.”). We hope their gaze doesn’t shift when we are stumbling beneath  situations that are crumbling. We hope the same light of hope stays lit when we are heartbroken, discouraged, knocked on out backs by what we didn’t see coming or saw coming and could not move fast enough to miss a head on collision. We too have to see us in our losses. We have to wipe the tears and gaze deeply,compassionately, hopefully, lovingly, courageously.

We’ve got to count our losses. I know. I didn’t even butter that up for you. I just served it all raw and fleshy, no sparkle, glitz, glam, no dusting of powder sugar or rainbow sparkles. I’m pretty sure our losses aren’t served up all pretty either. So let’s agree for this time anyway to just be okay with the unpretty, the lackluster, the losses.  Our losses shape us and  impact us just as much as our wins. #Facts

Losses have a way of showing where we are tender and need some tenderness, where we have held on to the point of detriment and hurt, where we underestimated perhaps others but often if we are honest ourselves- and not necessarily our ability, but our capacity and or our need. Our losses tend to wash over the things that resonate with us, rock our cores, take our breath away, and bring us to our knees like only loss can.

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Photo courtesy of A. Leta

I sit cozy on a sunny bitter cold Philadelphia Saturday morning, responding to a friend who’s question was “What are your plans today?” with “Getting my life together.” It’s my overall term for figuring out and doing the necessary, assessing what I need to accomplish a myriad of desired outcomes, from going to a certain store to get the leave in conditioner I love so I can show some tlc to my curls, to stopping by the bank to get quarters to do laundry this afternoon, to meal planning so I can return to a routine of Sabbath on Sunday day, to taking inventory of my closet and seeing how my style has progressed so I can make smarter purchases. The list also includes:

  • Figuring out the Logistics for packing up my life in Buffalo- a loss.
  • Putting in a few hours for a job that I am grateful to have but more days than not has me asking myself “How did I get here?”- a loss
  • Scheduling my calendar to accommodate counseling to process the onslaught of trauma hurled on me in the last year, and while counseling was what I knew I needed (especially since I like to keep my friends friends) and I am getting what I need, it is a weekly reminder of assaults on my identity, especially my race, that is unpacked- a loss.

The only way I get to win in rebuilding is tending to the losses. I only get to seriously look at where I want to settle down next by closing up shop in Buffalo. I only get to answer “What am I doing here?” with because it’s where I want to be, by doing what I need to get where I want to go even if it’s at a slower pace than I’d prefer. I only get to heal from trauma by dealing with the fact that it’s residue still has me marked and that if I am not careful will drip on future decisions and relationships. I can’t win without counting and tending to my losses.

Hillary wrote a whole book looking at her loss of the 2016 election. You better believe Steph and LeBron are looking at film after each loss, perhaps with a keener eye at films where they loss to each other. As for Beyonce,  that loss experienced by a spouse’s infidelity gave us a lot of Lemonade.

I know it’s a brand shiny new year, month, week, day, shucks let’s be honest, moment. I know we are all about the new, including new opportunities to win. I want you to win. I want me to win. I want us to win. I really do. I also know that winning cost, and those costs usually come in the forms of loss. Loss that can profoundly and positively change us and strategically place us in a position to win if we let it. If we acknowledge it. If we confront it. If we grieve it. If we go back for it (every loss is not a death). So count your coins, your sheep, your blessings, and your losses.

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Photo courtesy of Free People.com

#smallvictory

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com 

“I made it to Starbucks. #smallvictory”

That was the text I sent her. It took a lot to walk the half of block, in the blessed sunshine, amid the unusual warmth of a western New York city in February. Sliding into sweats, exchanging glasses for contacts, putting on my favorite little pair of faux diamond post back earrings, took more effort than it should have. But I wasn’t going to get lost in how it should have went. It went. And here I was  sitting  at the dark stained reclaimed wooden community table sipping a Blood Orange Pellegrino and munching on kettle cooked BBQ potato chips (Don’t judge me. It wasn’t a soy green teal latte kind of moment),  was a small victory.

The day was one that would be a series of small victories, following after the days before it. I had barely managed to survive the week at work. And by barely I mean Friday started with me crying on my way to work and ending the day with a workshop I led with plenty of crying students.  I was tossed one curve ball after another and they missed my bat, yet managed to hit either my head or my heart every single time. By Friday’s end, grateful was an understatement. By Saturday morning, I didn’t yet have the language let alone a word for the haze I found myself in.

I sent myself to the gym and barely managed 40 minute on the stationary bike. It was hard for some reason. I pedaled  until I couldn’t and gave myself permission to stop. I went to the grocery store and decided that my funk would be lifted by frying some fish, fixing some grits, baking some cornbread. Between that and a house filled with music, it was working. It was fleeting. By afternoon I was under covers and grateful to be there, yet equally appreciative to have errands to run with my friend and housemate later that evening.   I was better ‘til morning.

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Photo courtesy of @Effortlyss via Instagram 

Sunday morning came and I wouldn’t let myself think about how I felt. I wouldn’t let myself give into my feelings and miss church. I was up, dressed, protein shake consumed, and at church just in time for the small talk to close and worship to begin. I sent Jesus a thank you for getting me there and slid into the back pew, only managing a quick smile to the woman a little further down the row, and Lindsay, the pastor’s wife.  The sermon progressed, driving home the point of being honest with God. He used David and the Psalms as an example. He reminded us of how in all of his range of emotions David remained brutally honest with God. He didn’t hide his sorrow, his jubilance, his anger. As the service closed we were encouraged to go and do likewise.

So, I did. I sobbed.  I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until my insides hurt. All of my 32 year oldness was more like 3 or 2 year oldness, at least that what it seemed like. You know the toddler who is so distressed and cries and cries until their face is red, hot, and they are coughing. That was me. Back hunched, eyes closed, heaving hot and hard, crying.  I am sad I mumbled. I am so so sad.  Lord I am sad.  This too  I would count as a #smallvictory.

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Photo courtesy of Afroklectic.Tumblr

I started to strive to give you a pretty ending to this post, but I don’t got one and honestly, I don’t think that’s necessary right now. Maybe because I’m not at the end. I’m smack in the messy middle. Middle of  the day. Middle of Starbucks. Middle of decisions.  Maybe because small victories happen in the middle. In the messy parts of life before we get to the end. They happen when we manage to get out the house and walk half a block to Starbucks in the sunshine and amid the unusual warmth. They happen when give it a go and let God know that the prayer won’t be a series of your awsomes but sobs and I’m sads, trusting that in all his awesomeness He can decipher it all- all the pain, the angst, the disappointment, the loneliness, the frustration, the deep deep hurt that aches, aches until the next day which is why sliding into sweats takes longer than it should.

My hope for you in reading this (I know right, me, hoping, and hoping not just for myself, but for you. I think I’m gonna count that as another #smallvictory) is that you too just take in the small victories, and may they build momentum as you muster your grit, manage to keep sight of grace, and muddle through the messy middle, inward, upward, forward.

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Photo courtesy of Black Guys Love Black Girls.Tumblr

No Spanx Needed

Photo courtesy of myselfie xxoo

Photo courtesy of myselfie xxoo

As we debriefed our weeks on the phone I smiled as I highlighted several moments during my week when I knew what I needed and went after it. I didn’t talk myself out of needing it. I didn’t draft a plan B, C, or D, when plan A was what I needed. I didn’t wait for the most convenient second, minute, or hour of his, hers, or their day. I didn’t prepare a defense, come up with as many analogies and politically correct phrases as possible. I didn’t exhaust myself mentally and emotionally to make people get it or to make myself not need it. It. was. GLORIOUS. It was like fitting into that dress/skirt/pants that made you feel amazing which is why you purchased it, then life happened and you didn’t look so awesome in it, but then you were determined to fit in it again and now you do kind of glory.

Knowing and getting what I needed was familiar for me. That’s how I lived my life much of my post undergrad years. Then that was how I would encourage and equip clients to live much of my post graduate school life. Then I started thinking I needed what other folks said I needed especially because of either how old I was (a house) , or how great I was at my job (higher salary or better job title, or both), or how attractive I was (still single? why? what happened to so and so? come here with me so you can meet so and so.) and things kind of blew up. And kept blowing up. The dress/skirt/pants wouldn’t make it past the middle of my inherited them straight from my momma honey brown thighs.

Yet, last week when I knew I needed to get off campus and park it at my breathing space- Starbucks, I did. When I knew that being there for only an hour wasn’t going to give me the reprieve I needed after a morning of being inundated with the pain and hurt that comes with being Black in the United States of America I stayed longer. When I knew I was going to have to keep asking about attending a training in Philadelphia this week, I kept asking. I didn’t keep making the case for my need to attend. I did that already and once was enough. I kept asking because I knew their was a confidence that if I kept encountering “I still haven’t heard back from so and so, they’re just so busy you know” I would just give up. I didn’t give up and I will be at that training this week. When I knew one of the best ways to ignite passion among a group of student was to get them to a women’s leadership conference  in Manhattan, not only did I ask for and receive a super steep discount  from the organizer,  I petitioned for us to go from the school and…we are going to the SheLeads Conference on October 6th, 2016.

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Photo courtesy of Le Happy.com

There were a couple of other things, like the days I knew I needed not to go to the gym because I was so worn down. Yet I knew I also needed to go there at least three times this week as I work on my fitness goals. Or when I knew I needed not to respond to a text message right away  because I needed time to respond thoughtfully.  Or when I knew I needed to actually talk to a friend from back home. Not text, but talk. So, I picked up the phone and called. You get it.

Perhaps what made me smile even more as I recalled the ways in which I knew what I needed and went after it was I did so without apology, guilt, or shame. I did so without second guessing or minimizing. I did so without alterations.

I keep telling people that my move has been good for me. In  the past almost two months I have this respect for, belief in, compassion for, and curiosity about, myself that had been on buried under the ruble of my life that had blown up. Now, I’d say I am somewhere between the best version of myself I once knew myself to be and the best version of myself I imagine and believe myself capable of being. The dress/skirt/pants made it past the middle of my thighs- no spanx, petroleum jelly, or cocoa butter needed.

Photo courtesy of Style Blazer.com

Photo courtesy of Style Blazer.com

 

Decent Exposure

 

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NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 20: Beyonce and Jay-Z attend the New Jersey Nets vs New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

“How’s the love life,” she asked? Ordinarily I’d laugh, sneak in a witty retort, and laugh some more. Instead my response was “It’s not too bad actually. Not that I’m seeing anyone, ”  I shared. “OKay,” she responded, with slight confusion in her voice.

I went on to share with her that I’ve enjoyed getting to know a couple that models a healthy love for one another. I’ve spent time with them enough to learn about their stories as individuals, journey together before marriage,  and life post the I do’s at the altar. She moved to Seattle a few years ago for his schooling and they were now in Buffalo for hers. I’ve been there when there was a sudden  leak in the ceiling in the apartment the night before a camping vacation and they worked together to move things, put stuff in the wash, call maintenance, and just do what needed to be done to address the issue and still pack for their trip. No blaming, sighing, throwing things, just working together to figure it out.  I listened as she talked about how her spending used to impact their relationship and she knew she needed to change. Or how she was aware her desire turn struggle to perfect at work, school, and a spouse was resulting in not being the best in all of those areas- knowing she needed to prioritize her marriage.  I listened to him talk about rethinking his career and watched her listen openly and willingly and reaffirming his strengths.  I listen to him talk about his feelings using feeling words. Whether it was frustration, confusion, sadness, surprise, or joy. Her response wasn’t one that shut down the communication of feelings or shoved him into the corner of  just sharing thoughts or doing. There was no wrapping crime scene caution tape around feelings.

When you are privy to more bitter, resentful, “I tolerate you” marriages than not, this, witnessing this, regularly being around this couple, was working wonders on my love life. It was working wonders on my believing that despite the majority of unhealthy unions I’ve witnessed, there are some healthy ones out there. Emphasis on healthy. Not perfect, just healthy. Just real people, living with, learning from, loving one another. Just real people committed to being real with one another, being gracious and authentic.

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Photo courtesy of Elle Magazine.com

If we think that what we have been exposed to has no impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we fool only ourselves and sabotage our goals and dreams. It took years, but I’d finally gotten to a point where I wasn’t terrified that if I were to marry it would inevitably be a replica of the unions I’ve seen up close and very personal. I knew I didn’t want what those folks had.  I thought knowing what I didn’t want was enough. I realize it was only start. There also had to be knowing what I did want and exposure to non Hollywood versions of healthy. Some of what I wanted I knew I wanted regardless of exposure. I’d seen enough selfishness to want generosity. I’d sat in enough awkward silence and heard enough sarcasm to know I wanted laughter. But then there have been things that I was exposed to that I then wanted, like authenticity, compassion, and the power of self awareness.

So when I told her that my most recent move was good for me, and really good for my love life, I meant it. It’s been good seeing this couple modeling what I believe lays the groundwork for a healthy marriage. It’s also been helpful to hear their reminders of the choice it is to commit to the health of who they are individually and their union. It’s been helpful to know despite my intake, and if I change my intake, my exposure, I can have a different outcome. I can have a different outcome because what I am exposed to impacts my belief of a different outcome. It disrupts prior thought patterns and influences knew ones. As we think, as we believe, we act (or we don’t act).

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Photo courtesy of US Weekly.com

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, or read the about page, you know I’m a firm believer in choice as choices hold so much power, more power than I think we often realize. Just the act of choosing to challenge our thoughts and beliefs, how they’ve been influenced, and how we can make new choices for new thought patterns/beliefs, and what we need to influence and sustain that makes a huge difference.

“I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you are getting to be around some healthy people and healthy relationships. You deserve that,” she said.

You too deserve that. You deserve people who say and consistently demonstrate respect, love, honesty, integrity, and compassion. You deserve people who have boundaries and respect yours.  Just so you know, you deserve to be healthy and deserve healthy people in your life. Not perfect, just healthy.

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

 

Finally Friday

Raise your coffee mugs, travel mugs, the baby’s sippy cups, tumblers, and wine glasses cause it’s Friday!!!! It’s been a crazy week where I’ve had quite a few unexpected plot twists in my narrative for how the week was going to go. Nonetheless, I made it, you made it, we made it! Not to mention, made it with some joyful moments that I’m sharing below. xxoo
Getting Lit
As in new lighting kind of lit. I am ant any type of ceiling or overhead light and pro lamps. So when I strolled into Target this week for a few grocery type things…and then you know over to housewares my eyes widened and my heart smiled. Not only were there lamps upon lamps on sale, like real sale, none of tat 30% off foolishness, and they were in my favorite home metallic hues…I was overjoyed. I walked out of there with two new lamps. One to cozy up my office and one to cozy up my bedroom. Both with gold bases, but one has a gold and wooden base to it, very retro, and one has a geometric pattern to it, very modern. Both very satisfying!
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Cute lamp right? xxoo

Chatty Cathy
I used to be really good at calling people back promptly. Recently, not so much. Granted recently its been much more dependent on the caller. Maybe a little dependent on my day and thus my mood. This week however, I was determined it would not be dependent upon my mood. So despite being tired from an eventful day, I picked up the phone and called some of my west coast people. People who may or may not have called um like three weeks ago ish. Don’t judge me. A few days later, I did it again. Post long day of meetings, a presentation, a post gym work out and I still got that call in.  A rescheduled phone date from last week with one of my homegirls in Philly. Feet up on the couch, white cheddar popcorn in bowl, life over the past few weeks shared, laughter in abundance.
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Photo courtesy of Teen Vogue UK

Workin it Out
This week I decided it was time for regular workouts at the gym to make a comeback. So they have. That sounds really simple, but it’s true. I decided no excuses. I have the time and it’s a matter of choosing to use the time this way. Plus the gym for me is free. As I’ve been doing all my soul work these past few weeks, paying particular attention to developing new habits and shedding habits that don’t serve me,  there’s one core element to habits- doing them. A habit only becomes a habit by doing it the first time an the then the second, third, fourth, and so on. With a commitment to being healthy and knowing exercise for me has been a great way to manage stress, there was nothing more for me to do regarding exercising than to just Nike it.
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Photo courtesy of New York Magazine 

Soul Work
When I say the universe has been against me this week- it has. I know it sounds a smidge melodramatic, but I promise you last week and this week, you would have thought I put an additional wrinkle in time, held a blow torch to the polar caps to speed up the melting process, launched  larger holes into the ozone layer. Seriously. It was week two of struggling to catch a break and put some elbow grease in joy finding on my journey to freedom. With that being said, I still manged my self care night Wednesday night. I pulled up a podcast from an author and speaker I’ve come to really enjoy lately- Chrystal Evans Hurst. The podcast was “Signs that You Don’t Want to Grow.” The podcast only reinforced what many of us know, but sometimes need to hear several times over- change only happens when we do it. Not think about it. Not consider. Not ponder, do an excel sheet, pie chart, or create a color coded list. We do it or we don’t. Growth is a form of change. We can’t want to grow if we aren’t willing to change. 
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Photo courtesy of Glamour Spain

Clarity in the Crazy

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Photo courtesy of Shop Style.com

I had been back for a day and I was not feeling it. I was feeling irritable and tired despite having slept soundly (minus a dream about visiting Hong Kong and shopping my heart out and meeting some random but really cute guy) for the past almost 9 hours. I was tempted to go back to sleep, telling myself maybe I needed more rest, but I wanted to get to the coffee shop before the crowd got there and snag my favorite two seater table by the window and get some work done.

 

As I  stared in the mirror and brushed my teeth I told myself tar I could just stay home. I still had a lot of packing to do and I don’t need a coffee shop to get my work done. I had my comfy green couch in the living room, my sturdy little desk in my office, or my feather top mattress bed. I had a host of my own teas, plenty of eggs, peppers, onion, and chicken sausage to whip up a get breakfast. “Get out the house Ahyana.” I said as I gargled.

I got dressed, put my hair up, and took a look at my little daily inspiration calendar on my nightstand, courtesy of my dad last Christmas. I’d been away for a bout two weeks and swiftly flipped the pages from July 10th to today’s date. The inspiration was about insecurity and emotional hiding. I know tat doesn’t sound inspirational. The inspiration came from the reminder that I don’t need to be insecure or hide because God loves me and wants all of me. See- inspiration! So why did I start to cry? Because my response to the Why are you emotionally hiding?  It was simple and yet caught me off guard. I felt ashamed.

I felt ashamed for not sticking things out at my job, for not making it work, for not staying despite how unhealthy it was and how real my experiences were with racism and sexism. As I said this aloud to myself, the dozen or so boxes stacked from hardwood floor to off white ceiling, empty hangers, and random collection of accessories atop my white three bureau,  there was a moment of clarity. As I said aloud that I was ashamed for not staying, I was flooded with the moments that initially nudged then shook then slammed me into resigning. “Ahyana that’s crazy.” It was crazy.  I don’t use the word crazy lightly. To me it makes no type of rational sense to be ashamed of leaving a place (or relationship) that is unsafe and causes harm. I half smiled as I unplugged my phone, moved a few boxes to reach my large read canvas tote bag to fill with all of the things I’d need to be productive at the coffee shop.

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

As I walked the four blocks to get my jasmine green tea and my favorite window seat I thought more about why I even thought I should have stayed in a situation that wasn’t healthy or safe. I knew before I reached the stop sign at the corner of my street that it was something that had been normalized for me. Not only had I observed several family members stay in unhealthy relationships (including domestic violence relationships), but friends, and colleagues do the same.  I’d listened to how it could be worse (and not daring to dream it could also be better), that if they wait it out it would change (nope boo boo, change creates change), that so and so was just “in one of their moods,”  and the list of rationalizations for coping through circumstances that were unhealthy but seemed to provide some type of “I am strong” award could go on because even as I type this ,the list of people I know striving for that award  and staying in places and with people that I’ve watched negatively impact their welfare, goes on an on.

I’m not anti strength. I’m anti unhealthy. I’m anti a definition of strength that I’ve experienced and witnessed come at the expense of physical, emotional, financial, relational, mental health.  I’m anti strength that when the sacrifices are counted they include me, myself, and I. I’m anti strength that deems staying more valuable than the courage it takes to walk away, speak up, stand up, say enough or see yourself and unravel your identity from a codependent entanglement to the approval or welfare of others as a number one priority. That isn’t strength. That’s crazy.

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Photo courtesy of Le Happy.com

By the time I actually sat in my blue and tan wicker seat by the bay window with the   sunlight stroking my cheek, sipped my tea and thoroughly  enjoyed my pastry, I breathed deeply, slowly, satisfied in clarity that I had nothing to be ashamed of, that I didn’t need to defend my decision to leave or hide it from folks for that matter. I managed to identify what I needed to thrive in a space and managed to make an exit after their demonstrating an inability to provide that (a safe, racist and sexist free environment, and one where if racism, sexism, or any form of discrimination did occur was addressed and not ignored). I chose what I needed and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. For those of you who say that perhaps the people who chose to stay in unhealthy circumstances reserve that right, I agree, they do. I realize I don’t always know the dynamics of the circumstance, only what I see or what a person chooses to share. I also know that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s not a raccoon. So if it looks unhealthy, sounds unhealthy,  I’m not going to call it healthy ( but will respect whatever the person chooses to call it). At the end of the day the Simply LIVEd Life is a chosen life, and I just hope people choose healthy, to lean into the hard stuff, muddle through the tears, stay alert and  for and seek that moment of clarity (it will come) in the midst of the crazy, and let that clarity help guide you out of the crazy.

The Simply Unedited Life

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Photo courtesy of Urbanna Tumblr.com

My laughter was bordering on obnoxious, people were starting to look at us, but I didn’t care. We didn’t care. The young man was an incoming first year student and stopped by my table in the student union building. “I’m very glad to see this,”  he said. I smiled and nodded at the wide eyed stocky ebony young man in front of me, trying to place his accent, wondering if he was Haitian as his last name suggested he may be. “I was worried,” he continued. My smile turned to my inner counselor tell me more face, and was followed up with an “Oh no, tell me more about what made you worried?” He lowered his voice, leaned over the table, and said “I don’t know how to say this, but well it’s here, and there’s me, and people…” I smiled and nodded. “You know what I’m trying to say !” he exclaimed.  I did, as he scanned the room and stopped whispering. We both laughed and laughed, paused, and laughed again.  We shook hands and he went on his way. His unedited honesty in that moment was refreshing.  My own unedited honesty in that moment was refreshing. 

 

The day went on, there were more students, families, and colleagues who stopped by, but that moment with him was the highlight for me. That moment of truth, the breached wall of vulnerability to ask on his part to be and seek truth and my breached wall to respond in kind was better than the friendly banter with coworkers, the flirtatious dads and hovering moms, the over stimulated sign up for everything students, and certainly better than the hours spent providing edited responses to everyone and anyone else who stopped by my little nook in the student union building.

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Photo courtesy of Drop Dead Gorgeous Daily.com

As a person who has this thing about looking at people and situations holistically, whose on a quest to be and be engaged as a whole person, I revel in unedited opportunities. I revel in the unfiltered, unfinished, all the cards on the table (even the jokers), all the broken pieces in  heaping pile in the center of the room or center of our lives.  I should really say, I’ve recently come to revel in the unfiltered, unfinished, all the cards on the table (even the jokers), all the broken pieces in  heaping pile in the center of the room or center of our lives. For years I as very lets leave the past, not right now, and the future out of this. It’s not connected to right now, that decision doesn’t really have much to do with today, keep it moving, next please. The only exception would be my work as a counselor with others. I’d absolutely give them permission to explore how their past and thoughts about the future connected to their present. I just wasn’t so awesome at doing that for myself. I digress.

Here’s what I’m learning from my own life, from reading Rising Strong by Brene Brown, the Bible, having read Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg, slowing down enough to gather or talk and not text a few close friends and family members, the edited version gives us an illusion that leaves us in denial about its fragility  and forgets to remind us it is easily shattered by the beauty, strength, magnitude, and awe of the whole. The edited version offers what we think want, while the whole offers us what we undoubtedly need and our soul longs for. 

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Photo courtesy of Kush and Wizdom

I spent a full hour this weekend curating and editing a little over 3500 pictures on my iPhone. I had to choose 85 to print for free, which to upload to my computer to save and which ones to delete. It took an hour. Yet, as I scrolled through, there were pictures from my amazing birthday celebration last year, MAC makeovers in Manhattan with one of my favorite work friends, thanksgiving which would be the last time I spoke to my grandmother before her death, Christmas, travel, visits from my sister and nephew,  food from new recipes I tried, my youngest brother’s graduation- a collection of my life that had spanned almost a year and so easily reflected the unedited version of my life, the version of my life that speaks to the, love, joy, grace, and grit that has been woven into the fabric of who I am and refusing to let the challenges, changes, heartaches and heartbreaks unravel me. It provided clarity, room for thanksgiving, restoration, and gave way to hopefulness.

May your week bless you with opportunities to live unedited. And not unedited in a permission granted to hurt or harm others with thoughtless words or actions kind of way. Unedited in a way that allows all of you to show up bringing  your truth, reality, experiences, hopes, quandaries, hesitations, and creativity.  May their be no filter on the joy or the sorrow, the doubt or the belief, the process or the progress. May you have the blessing, even if brief and unplanned, of engaging with someone else who wants the whole truth (and you), and nothing but the whole truth (and you). May you have moments this week to see the big picture, the whole picture, the ways in which everything has worked and is working to create your simply LIVEd life. 

 

 

 

 

Cutting Losses

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Photo courtesy of Vogue Australia November 2015

     I wanted to cut my losses. Yet as I walked the sometimes brick sometimes concrete sidewalks, and new my pace and stride were at the mercy of my weariness, I thought perhaps it might be worth considering how my losses had cut me. I ‘ve been avoiding grieving for 2 years now. Not just one loss- multiple losses that life hemorrhaged my way.
There was the trip to San Francisco a few Januaries ago. A city that had always been safe and offered both refuge and renewal for me. I had invited him on that trip and he marred my safe space with his selfishness and emotional manipulation. Traits I knew existed but for years skirted the brunt of. She had not noticed and had not intervened. I bled silent tears on the flight home and into our home. It was the first “our” home since I graduated undergrad. It would stop being our home as he wouldn’t come home and stopped paying his share of the mortgage.

That same evening we returned from San Francisco I opened my work email to prep myself for the returning to the office the following day and noticed her name in the subject line. Her name was in multiple subject lines and I scrolled as quickly as I could to find the first time those eight letters entered my inbox. She was dead. She was my client, my client who anticipated her new heart, her new life. I called her mother who expressed the difference and joy I had made and brought to her daughter’s life.  She shared that the new heart started and stopped. They revived her. It stopped again and they weren’t able to revive her. That was never an option for us.  We were hopefuls, dreamers, defiant rebels envisioning vacations that weren’t dictated by the closest children’s hospitals in case something was wrong with her heart. As much solid food her body could muster. Perfect attendance during her student teaching because there would be no more need for health related absences, unless of course she had a cold or something. Dying wasn’t an option yet it was a reality.  Her service happened while I was away.  I was left with  a grieving campus and being the sole clinician to support and manage my own grief, a unique confidential grief because, well I was a counselor, there’s that whole client confidentiality thing. My supervisor knew and I told myself that was that.

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

The weeks that followed were surreal. Home felt awkward. Work felt necessary.  I was lingering in bed a little longer and as I did I’d check social media on my phone. At the top of my Facebook feed was a rest in peace wish for a woman who was a more than a family friend but a woman I counted as a mentor, especially in some of the toughest times of my young adult life. I called my mother who shared she had not called me when she first found out because she didn’t want to upset me so early in the morning.  I sobbed. Then I looked at the clock, got dressed and went to work. I sat in the back of the bus and stated out of the window. He same song played over and over again on my ipod. When I got to campus I wasn’t ready to be greeted by the warm faces of my office suite so I walked to our athletics director’s office and as soon as he said good morning I cried and cried and cried until I could pull myself together to get on the bus and go back home.

I searched for a new job. I was in no condition to emotionally invest, care for, or support people. I took a job across the country, one that would pay the mortgage since he had stopped and still allow me to work with people but not to the same emotional capacity- at least I thought so anyway.  In my first week folks from various departments apologized for the “shit show” I  had assumed the lead role for. I smiled awkwardly and politely ignorant of what they meant.  Two weeks in I was well aware of the shit and the show. By October a student died from suicide. A student I had asked for resources to help and my request was seen as not necessary, that there were other students for to focus on- scholarship students. By November a colleague took a leave of absence, my team of fellow directors were splintered, and my supervisor was relieved from supervising as the president stepped in and then later an outside consultant to provide leadership. That same month a student was raped off campus at a party and when she told was physically assaulted. At least that’s what we were told. I saw her bruises- she was physically assaulted. I also believe she was sexually assaulted. I have colleagues who weren’t so sure. That might have something to do with the fact that one colleague bent over backwards to support her and still managed to be the recipient of  menacing text messages and threats from the young woman, as the sheriff made my colleague aware early in the spring semester. By spring break half of my team resigned and I needed a break because for the first time depression for me was very real and my ability to manage it was not.

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Photo courtesy of UO Boutique.com

     I had lost students and colleagues. I was losing my money (the house in Philadelphia was bleeding me with the hits it took from the winter) and myself.  I’ll never forget finally getting in to see my primary care physician Dr. Gore (interesting name for a doctor right? ) While I was already freaked out that I’d be prescribed some type of psychotropic drug, she told me she was prescribing two of them! She sat on that little stool, scrubs on, strawberry blonde hair in a sloppy top knot  all matter of fact business as usual as she wrote the script, told me about the pharmacy downstairs, the side effects, and when she’d want to see me next. I was in shock. I wasn’t in denial. I knew that the likelihood of my needing meds was high although I really wanted her to just excuse me from work for a month and let me just sleep and travel it off. I just wasn’t trying to take one prescription let alone two.  I got home and plopped on my then sage green couch, not completely sure of how I got home (I knew I took the bus, but I don’t remember the ride, I was in a haze), called my aunt back east who’s a counselor, and slept.

I went back east- closed on the sale of my house on which I didn’t even break even, colored my hair (going hues of blonde was such a great choice), and started working on getting my life together which I knew meant there was no way I could continue to work out west. By the third week of being east I took a short trip to DC and started to finally feel like myself again. Going outside wasn’t so painful, eating felt less like a duty or a reward for making it through the day, and joy in the things that had always brought me joy like the museums and shopping were returning.

I returned west to pack up and move back east. Where, I knew not. I had resigned from my job without another in place, trusting God things would work out. As I wrapped up my pacific northwest stint it was amid a friend from high school dying and my grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. By the end of the academic year half of my team resigned and I later found out that my supervisor also resigned.

clshopstyle

Photo courtesy of Shop Style.com

I moved back east and started a new job in August. By September the new leadership had made it abundantly clear which departments on campus she thought highly of and which she didn’t. My department was bolded, highlighted, italicized, and underlined on the didn’t list.  By November my campus was on lock down for an active shooter threat which resulted in the student dying by suicide. By March top level vice presidents and directors were resigning and retiring left and right, unprepared for and undesiring of the unethical tyrant style culture that crept into campus. Amid the resignations and challenged leadership I was fending off what had become the usual racism and sexism, I found myself sitting in my office  uttering “I wish I wasn’t Black.” I didn’t really wish that. I wished for the power that was not given to me or anyone on campus who looked like me. By late May my supervisor in his own commitment to being an ethical higher education professional- resigned.

At his departure and given a new initiative launched by the school suddenly my department of one was suddenly valuable, necessary, integral, important- at least in theory. In practice the same disrespect and discrimination I had experienced, shared with my supervisor and HR continued but I now needed to manage all of that and manage this initiative. I noticed what was feeling like a loss of self again. I’d been there and was not trying to go back, hence the walk on the sometimes brick sometimes concrete sidewalks, as well as the thought of cutting my losses, and and realizing I needed to pause and look at how my losses had cut me.

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Photo courtesy of Vogue Australia November 2015

     In the past two years I’ve lost my homes. I’ve lost my sense of safety. I’ve lost quite a few people in my support networks. I’ve lost my brother (no he didn’t die, but he’s chosen to relate to me as if I died and I’m not sure my family understands the level of hurt that’s been incurred). When our grandmother died last December he didn’t speak or acknowledge me at her funeral. I lost my grandmother. I’ve lost friends who could only manage to be friends  if I lived in the same city  as them. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve lost students. I‘ve lost clients.  I’ve lost hope. I think it’s been making a slow comeback but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I lost hope for a good bit. And vision. Vision of how I wanted to effect change on the campuses where I worked were just stolen and stolen in part  by the energy I had to use to combat discrimination while trying to bring my vision to fruition. I lost a really great church home on the west coast.  I wish I could say I lost weight, but nope. In fact I write this at the heaviest I’ve been since undergrad. I’ve lost sleep.  I’ve lost a lot of my drive. Not all of it, but I’ve been working really hard lately to get it back.

I’ve lost. And I need to grieve. Like grieve and grieve and grieve.  I didn’t know that until the other day, until I hit an emotional and mental wall and was crying in a local coffee shop. I was trying to work, to give and I knew I had nothing else to give other than give myself time, room, and space to grieve.

On Jill Scott’s album Woman, there is an Interlude that I’ve been playing on repeat for days now. The interlude is Pause and my favorite line is “I’m calling to schedule a nervous, no make that a necessary breakdown.”  I’ve  heard it dozens of times. However for the past week that song, and that line in particular spoke to me and made me listen as if Jill herself had come to my eclectic little piece of the Eastern Shore. When I got home that afternoon from the coffee shop those words resonated with me even more so. I needed to schedule a necessary time to  breakdown- to grieve. To count the ways my losses cut me. To assess the wounds and not put band aids over that which needs stitches, limp on that which needs to be reset and put in a cast, to sift, entangle, engage, remember, hold, see, feel and feel and feel and feel and feel some more. I needed to be the stereotype the media has of me- emotional. Not just the one my culture has of me- strong, able to make it work, able to figure it out.

I remember talking to a friend about some of these losses and he responded that it could be worse. His brother recently died. For months I told myself what he told me “It could be worse.” The reality is while things could be worse, they could be better. There’s no measurement for pain, how it wounds us, and the time or processes we need to grieve and heal. Everyone and every wound is unique. To negate the reality of our pain, our losses, our cuts, our need to grieve doesn’t benefit anyone- not us, not the people we believe love us or are trying to love us.

     So, I’m gone go ahead and grieve. I’m going to count the cuts caused by my losses so I can heal. I’m not 100% sure how that’s going to look but I’m giving myself permission to be alright with that too. I’ll keep you posted on what it looks like but my gut says it will look like some travel, some resigning, some relocating, some cooking (and eating), maybe some dancing, definitely some writing, some praying, and well we shall see.

The Simply LIVED life has always been about encouraging women (and those who love them) to get what they need. So, if you need to count the ways your losses have cut you, dress the wounds or enlist help dressing the wounds, please go on and do so. Go on and grieve, cause while it could be worse, it could be better and grieving may be the start to better. xxoo

Photo courtesy of Seriously Natural Tumblr.com

Photo courtesy of Seriously Natural Tumblr.com

 

In Need

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

I was trying to withhold my bias as I recounted the morning keynote speakers at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.  But like the good friend that she is, she knew I had a favorite. “Leymah Gbowee was amazing.”  She took a sip of her coffee and added more cream. “Let’s put it this way, she was the only speaker to receive a standing ovation.”  We walked from the coffee station and followed the crimson carpet down the long beige hallway, up the escalators, and grabbed seats in a workshop about perception- being cognizant of how others perceive us and wisely choosing when to spend energy to create the perception we want others to have of us. There’s a difference.  “If I didn’t hear anyone else today, having heard Leymah would suffice.” I took my seat, bit my apple, and turned to focus on the four women on the stage in front of us.

There were 9,000 women in attendance of the one day Pennsylvania Conference for Women, six keynote speakers, and approximately 30 different concurrent sessions.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in its entirety, but truth be told, I came for one woman- Leymah Gbowee.  I came to hear her words of inspiration. Not only did she deliver words of inspiration, she did so with conviction, humility, and authenticity. I came for what I knew I needed.

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Photo courtesy of Mail Online.com

Three days before seeing Leymah  I woke to a text message saying nit to come to the campus where I work as there was a threat of violence.  The days following that 5:30am text were ones filled with uncertainty, slowly released information, working with colleagues to evacuate campus, the scent  of fear and anxiety wafting in the air, and a sensitive inbox only accepting emails about the threat to safety to my campus community.  The students who were supposed to travel with my colleagues and I to the conference weren’t able to do so because we sent them home. The day before the conference I confirmed with my colleagues their remaining interest in attendance given the circumstances. My interest never wavered. My commitment to going never wavered.  I knew that I needed to be surrounded by women on a mission, committed to thriving, loving their women selves. I knew I needed to hear the words of Leymah Gbowee. I knew I needed to hear Gloria Steinem and John Jacob. I knew I needed to be in a real city, see one of my good girlfriends, and grab a glass of wine and empanadas at Mixto.

Life has a way of throwing all that it’s got at us and sometimes what actually hits us is anything but awesome.  Sometimes we wake up to text messages that tell you the place where you spend 40 hours a week isn’t safe. Sometimes we wake up to phone calls about someone who we loved dying. Sometimes we wake up to our partner leaving us for reasons we are still pondering, to pains so intense that seek medical attention in an effort to ease them and we find out we’ve miscarried.  The mornings are followed by hours and days of anything but bliss, joy, and happiness. Yet, I find that when we make what we need in these trying times a priority we find our strength renewed, even if it is slight, the flame in our eye is present even if it still flickers. When we negate what we need, we negate our reality, and we negate us. If we want to change the reality, even the most painful ones, we’ve got to acknowledge it, ourselves, and what we need to manage it.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

In the wake of uncertainty I knew I needed to be in an environment that was certain, certain to keep me grounded in who I am and focused on who I desire to become. I knew I needed to be surrounded by passion, creativity, and courage. I said no gracias to ignoring what I knew would give me the life to manage the current reality of my life.

As I was writing this I was made aware that the young man who posed a safety threat to my campus community died from a self inflicted gunshot wound.  I stopped writing for the night, allowed myself to be okay with not checking “blog post” off on my to do list for the day. I checked in with friends and colleagues, called it a night, and the next morning knew I needed some quiet and Starbucks. Starbucks  is one of my go to spaces in times of transition and uncertainty. It’s where I find my calm, gather my thoughts, acknowledge what I need, and how to access it.

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Thanksgiving is Thursday here in the US. For some it will be a glorious glutinous day of feasting, family, and friends. For others I know it is a day with the weight of painful memories and interactions with folks with whom the relationship is strained for one reason or another. In either case my hope is that you hold fast to what you need this week.  My hope is that in the 168 hours you get between this Monday and next, some of those hours are spent in spaces that give you life so you can LIVE your life well.

No For the Sake of Yes

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

I couldn’t tell if it was the medication talking or if it was me talking but regardless of who/what it was, I liked what I was hearing and liked even more how I was feeling. Most of what I was hearing were things like “No, but thanks for asking.” Or “I think I will be okay, but thanks for thinking of me.” Or “I actually really don’t enjoy that, so I’m going to pass.” , “No I don’t like it here.”, “No thanks.”, and “I’d rather not.”  In some form or fashion I was saying “No” left and right.  Furthermore, it was not followed up by an explanation to appease or gather validation and support for my decision from the one making the offer.  That- that not needing to explain my decision felt absolutely glorious. It felt like one of the perks of being an adult, not needing to explain yourself, was an actual perk!

I don’t know about you, but it can be so very easy, particularly in times of transition, to say yes like it’s your 9-5. It usually results in our desire to belong, fit in, be perceived a particular way, etc. It’s usually very other focused. Yet as someone rounding out her second year of transition, I can tell you a habitual yes can do far more damage than the carefully selected, clearly communicated, non explained occasional no.  

Furthermore, when you get really good and clear at saying and sticking to the big No’s you will be surprised how easy it is to say the little no’s. For example, when I have told myself, “No I am not willing to be in an environment where gossip and negativity is the norm”, it’s easy to turn down certain social gatherings because one or two yeses taught me the environment was one I was committed to saying “No” to. Or a big one for me is my time. I have grown to value it so much more and so when I say “My time is invaluable. I will not use it to do things that don’t align with my life philosophy.” it’s really easy to say no to things that will eat up my time as opposed to being an investment of my time. For example, my lunch breaks are used for any and everything from conducting interviews for The Simply LIVEd Life, working on new print designs, researching, calling and speaking with people in my life who add to my sense of joy, reading, or even napping. If my day is long, it behooves me to get a nap in to be more productive later.  Valuing my time allows me to say no to anything that undervalues it.

Photo courtesy of Ethan James

Photo courtesy of Ethan James

This past weekend I said yes to going to the city for the day. This meant I said no to late night small town shenanigans.  I’d already had a late night Friday and here was no way if I was going to maximize my time in the city on Sunday I could do so by another late Saturday night, especially one that would have its fair share of drinking away the depressing reality of a small town where racism, sexism, and privilege are real and you don’t belong.  I was not willing to trade the energy I would need to engage in the space where I knew I belong for an environment with with folks who were rather confident they didn’t belong for one reason or another yet they weren’t quite sure how to get to places where they did.

Which leads me to the last big “No.” I have recently said “No” to things that don’t bring me joy. Part of me worries just a smidge that you will read that and think I am such a stereotypical  American- individualistic and self centered. For as much as I want you or anything else to think good things about me more times than not, I’d really prefer you think real things about me. The real thing about me is that I’ve simply come to accept that I want a joyful life which means I am going to have to cultivate that and hold on to that by all means necessary. It means continued commitment to the few simple things that cause my heart to smile.  It means saying no to the things that don’t bring me joy.  Right now I’ve got some things in my life that don’t bring me joy. I’m working on letting go of those things to make room for the things that do bring me joy.

The Simply LIVED Life has always been about the power to choose, particularly to choose to live well. Part of choosing life is choosing when to say “No,” knowing that it reaffirms our yes to the choice to live incredibly victoriously and emphatically.

Photo courtesy of  Rebecca Minkoff.com

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff.com