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Poverty: We’re All in the Same Gang

Watching the deep divides in our country turn from large and unsightly cracks into straight-up craters you can fit airports and football stadiums in, I want to share a simple observation about poverty, in particular, that, of all things, is inspired by a song about violence in America’s hoods.

“We’re All in the Same Gang” (1990) was an all-star Hip-Hop West Coast “We Are the World” that echoes the same problems and issues with police, intraracial violence, poverty, crime that their East Coast musical counterparts sang passionately about in the track “Self Destruction” just the previous year in 1989.

While “Self Destruction” had the uber woke factor with groups like Public Enemy bringing social and historical context, the West Coast rappers like NWA, did what they did, telling it like it is, from their geographical perspective. All descendants of the Great Migration, whether East or West, they were dealing with simply different flavors of the same kind of urban problems facing people of color.

If Donald Trump were the president in the late 80s and early 90s, I’m guessing he’d declare South Central Los Angeles as a war zone with crime and murder running rampant, the way he’s been describing Chicago this week, threatening federal action, if this “carnage” doesn’t improve. Like modern-day Chicago, shit was real in L.A. So real, that as a native New Yorker, and only 8 years old at the time, I vowed never to go there, for fear that I, or someone I loved would be killed on the spot for wearing the wrong color.

Fear is a powerful thing. Misinformation combined with fear is even more powerful. To say today’s times are challenging is a total understatement.

Which brings me to the original reason for this post. I can discuss the merits of “We’re All in the Same Gang” and “Self Destruction” all day, but my real point is while Easy-E, et. all rapped about how the rampant, senseless violence primarily among the rival Bloods and Crips had to cease, when we address poverty and who is deserving of charity and deserving of blame for their circumstances, as Kendrick Lamar so eloquently pointed out we’re “set trippin all around.”

And these “sets” are defined by race, whether a poor person is rural or urban, and if things like proximity to long gone industries in desolate towns in predominately white neighborhoods make people more trustworthy and more deserving of our sympathy than a person living on an Indian reservation or Black and Latino people living in public housing in a projects that rise up to the sky in urban metropolises, we all missed the damn point. Poverty sucks for everyone. Not one group is better than another, we’re all in the same gang. And prior to his untimely death, Dr. Martin Luther King was just getting started on uniting people around poverty, because it was something everyone, regardless of race could feel. Conspiracy theorists have long surmised that if Dr. King could successfully get people to rally together on issues of poverty, and not being fixated on something as ridiculous as skin color, that’s when he would have truly been dangerous.

But capitalism, for better or worse, is our greatest strength- it keeps the lights on while we enjoy our other freedoms- but is our greatest moral weakness.

I hate, hate, hate, the way in which on the national stage the media reports on poverty. Reporters, as well-meaning as we try to be report from this established lens of bias, and may even be encouraged to report on poverty in this way by our editors. And it needs to stop. At one of my publications, I was the “hood” reporter. By the editors’ logic, being young and black were perfect qualifications– it seemed that the citizens would respond better to me, or I’d blend in. Folks wouldn’t be as hostile to me. And off I went, being used for a certain purpose, but also seeing my color as currency to tell these stories with more heart, with more compassion, asking the questions that my white colleagues may not, inserting observations of things they’d neglect as irrelevant.

And while it’s very important to outline the nuance of poverty through those lenses of race and gender and locale, we lack the ability to amplify the similarities all of these people share– regardless of race, or if they live in a trailer park in a small town the South, a Midwestern town still holding on to hope for outdated jobs in outdated industries that left decades ago, or a low-income housing project in a major metropolitan city.

As a society, we arbitrarily determine who is the “deserving” poor, and who “fell on hard times” and just needs a hand up and who is just “lazy” and exploiting the government, looking for handouts, uncivilized and should be left to figure it out, like the rest of us.

We base these things on:

our varying levels of privilege,

our own experiences where our pride and or feelings got hurt due to some injustice or act of blatant unfairness

and whether or not we were able to face and overcome challenges with little, or no support.

During this exercise, we manage to simultaneously pat ourselves on the back for whatever degree of success and stability we’ve achieved, while kicking people who are obviously down for reasons that are none of our business. But we liberally dole out the judgement and then argue amongst ourselves online or over wine and apps about why people are poor, whose fault it is and what an inconvenience it is to us all, meanwhile poor folks are probably looking at this tired ass, masturbatory debate saying, “You know we’re right here, right?”

The acceptance of the invisibility of the poor and the lengths we go to to keep it that way to protect ourselves from feeling shame is the reason why, I think poverty articles in the mainstream don’t really go there.

We can help our fellow man, but it requires some sacrifice and discomfort.

As little kids, we are all taught to share. We should have grown up to be better citizens, but life.

Most little kids see need and say here’s what I have. Let’s fix it. Let’s be happy, we don’t want this person to be sad or scared. How many times have you been in the company of a child, and their innocence and concern led you to give money to someone in need because the child noticed that person, and forced you to see them. The Invisibility shield is single-handedly destroyed by children’s unbridled compassion without pity. A child’s sense of fairness is absolute and they are the experts. They have no problem with identifying what’s unfair, and letting you know about it and demanding explanation about why the problem is being solved in the manner in which it is being solved, or not being solved at all. They are indignant. Good for them. Because they are the most honest humans of us all until taught not to be for self preservation. They don’t see zip code or color, they see need, pain and that something is not right and needs to be corrected immediately. To them, the answer is simple. Help.

Coverage of poor communities tend to go two ways and per the usual, the fault lines begin with race. I’ve read stories about outraged white suburban housewives who land or languish in poverty under various circumstances that can further derail all women in poverty (bad choices, domestic violence, drugs, abuse). These women get sensitive feature articles about being shamed at grocery stores when they pay with their public assistance and are judged for the “luxury items tax payers feel they shouldn’t be paying for” in their carts.

There is sympathy for the stories about poor white people struggling with heroin and meth addictions is overwhelming and so far reaching, it makes its way into successful legislation and social programs in cities and states where the majority of citizens are white. These programs often include experimental initiatives that provide clean homes in safe neighborhoods, particularly for white women with families,  and get this, these programs get full support from both Republicans and Democrats in those areas. And then the comments that accompany those stories are filled with a lot of support and sympathy. Occasionally, you will find the equal opportunity ass hat who at least blames everyone for their own misfortune, who doesn’t want his or her tax dollars going to lazy bums.

But the narrative and response to Black, Latino, Native American and Trans women in poverty is a predictably different story altogether. They are seen as generational, inevitable, problems and they are blamed for creating their circumstances, which leads to the logic that their birthing children into poverty continuing to perpetuate the awful circumstances in urban areas. These women are expected and told to appreciate the little they have and dare not demand or expect more if they see the quality of the “same” types of social services are better, in other places. These women aren’t to be rescued like their counterparts in Western and Pacific Northwest communities that benefit from really great programs and opportunities.

If you’re from the South Side of Chicago, or East Baltimore or Southeast DC, you deserve what you get. And if you get a penny more, it is a hand out that contributes to vices, addictions and undeserved luxuries.

And while it’s not surprising, because the consistent uplift and protection of white women of any economic status is embedded in our history, and has been the root cause of false imprisonment and death, we should know better now. We need to truly value all lives. We should correct it. This is why writers are making astute comparisons about how safe the recent Women’s March on Washington was. It wasn’t just because the protesters were “thanking” the officers, who are already very well-trained on how to handle several thousands of protesters anyway. The tone of how large crowds are policed is set by who is in the crowd. There’s a different feeling in the air and a tension when certain concerts or events attract certain types of people and the police respond in kind (riot gear, vs. not using riot gear) whether we want to admit that or not. This is another reason why the argument is being made that after the women’s march, white, female support and attendance is crucial to preventing harsh brutality imposed on protesters by the hands of police at the demonstrations at the pipeline and Black Lives Matter marches because police don’t see them as a threat.

Beyond the example of white women, there is a sympathy extended to dilapidated former factory communities, that is not so readily extended to pockets of poverty in other places.

While comments regarding Flint simply told residents to “just move” if the water is bad, or “just leave” before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my response is you’re right,  don’t you think they would have left if they could have? Poverty is a weight. It keeps you stagnant. It cuts off your air supply and your feet. You need help to move and breathe, you can’t will yourself into a better life if you’re just making minimum wage. The middle class is barely middle class. What it takes to own a home today is drastically different than it was 30 years ago.

And while Flint residents demand something basic like water and New Orleans residents just wanted help to leave and help to rebuild, they were rebuked for wanting handouts. Meanwhile poor residents of dead factory communities have the ear of a brand new president to bring their obsolete jobs and factories back? Hold up. How is one situation asking for a handout, and the other asserting one’s right to economic recovery, and the government’s responsibility to facilitate it? The same type of poverty that keep people in Flint and in the Wards of New Orleans, is THE SAME poverty choking the life from people in Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. And that inaccurate representation of who is deserving of help has to be changed.

We all need safe, clean places to live. Poor parents want their children to be safe, to be able to feed them and send them to school where they can get a quality education. They all want to be able to visit the doctor and get adequate healthcare before small problems turn to life-threatening issues due to neglect and inability to pay for services, medication and ongoing, consistent treatments.

We need to rethink of poverty among our citizens in a holistic way and tie together the similarities of their struggle in our stories about poverty. Black or white, rural or urban, America’s low-income communities have the SAME PROBLEMS PERIOD.

The Trouble With Normalization

There is a word that continues to bubble up to the surface. We hear it everyday on the news and radio and in conversations and we see it in blogs: Normalization.

Usually, right in front of or behind this nebulous word is a reference to as of this Friday, President Donald Trump.

I feel numb, but this election reminded me that America is doing exactly what America does. How our politics play out locally and on the national level, is a direct reflection of who we are at the time. I don’t agree with Trump supporters, but we were arrogant in thinking this segment of America did not exist or that they weren’t among our family and friends. And I guess that’s what made this whole situation even more painful and stressful. There were and still are a lot of assumptions about who the Trump voter was, and the world got it wrong. There is a diversity of reasons why they made the decision they made, way more complicated than just things like racism, sexism, homophobia. Aspirations to be rich and successful are American as apple pie. The sales pitch that Donald Trump was self made was appealing.

Even within our own lives, in our local communities, we’ve looked at businesspeople as the most successful, and in control of their own destinies. They are powerful, they are visible and we secretly wish we were them. They get to say and do what they want, because who will fire them? They are aligned with people who have power and make things happen. They have the best of everything. We want what they have and their success by any means necessary is real. It’s tangible. It’s sitting in the bank making more money with interest. Clearly, these people are smarter than us, they’ve figured it out. That was one of the reasons, I heard. And if Warren Buffett or Bill Gates ran, it may be a reason why I’d think of voting for them too.

Hillary didn’t help. Hillary Clinton was fruit of a poisonous tree and while folks are already stupidly propping up Cory Booker to literally be the “Next Obama” which he’s not, Hillary suffered from the same problem.

She’s not Barack Obama. Hillary had baggage. Hillary played just as well as the boys, if not better, but America doesn’t like those types of women. We bristle against them. We resist. The qualities, shortcomings and vices we expect in male leaders, we reject and condemn in female leaders. She was qualified, but there was a trust issue. Which makes Trump’s election even more difficult to swallow, but isn’t surprising. Rich, white and male is the formula for a president. Go back to basics if you’re ever stumped.

Let’s not get it twisted. And let’s not get high on our own supply. It wasn’t until the modern presidents in my lifetime, where you see that maybe folks grew up poor or working class, but they still wound up lawyers or successful business people before careers in politics. The majority of our longstanding leaders in this country over the history of this country do not come from humble beginnings. They are groomed for this. They are tied to business, they are tied to old money and power. It is the American way, we are used to this. It’s embedded in the American psyche as the fail safe.

I don’t make light of the situation we’re in. It’s serious. I get what people are saying when they use the word “normalization.” And no, we shouldn’t normalize hate, we shouldn’t normalize people treating women with disrespect, or bullying people of different religions or taunt them because of the color of their skin. But we’ve long normalized a culture where prior to his run for president, Donald Trump was a guest character, playing himself on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” we’ve normalized worrying about what the fuck every Kardiashian is doing every hour of the day. We’ve normalized being just like Donald Trump stunting online in comments sections and feeling good about ourselves when several people endorse us and agree with us and taking pleasure in destroying the credibility of anyone who dare challenge us.

Since the election, I haven’t said much, because I didn’t know what to say. I wondered what my words would have meant. I was caught up in being hurt that white kids I grew up with, who I thought liked me, grew up to say things online that made me want to throw things. Well, it’s not about them. All of the things that led them to see the world the way they see them weren’t going to be resolved by them just having positive interactions with me as a child or a teenager. It’s up to so many other things of their choosing to raise their consciousness, just as it is mine. To be offended and so deeply hurt was a very real thing for me, but it’s something I can’t control and it’s something I can’t police or force them to face, especially on Facebook.

The powerful moments have been among the bookclub I’m in, where the majority of participants are older, white liberal women, reading works of black authors. They ask tough questions, and I answer honestly. There are tears sometimes, and frustration however, there is no attack. There are moments where they say, “I just didn’t know.” And they realize just how separate their worlds have been from mine and it hurts everyone. It’s emotionally taxing.

We can be fickle, with the exception of 9/11, we can forget often in the name of moving forward. We don’t study and we bank on sliding in at the eleventh hour being graded on the curve and achieving success. Big success. We take things for granted. We take shorts. When we only turn out in large numbers to vote for president and expect the changes to come from he or she alone, we’ve taken the short cut. When we don’t know who our local legislators are, making the rules or changing the rules under our noses, we’ve taken the short cut with the expectation to win big.

America is by nature reactive. If England didn’t start feeling themselves, taking liberties and taking taxes while folks were out here trying to make it happen, if early Americans were simply comfortable and good with the status quo, we’d still be hailing the queen. It takes drastic shit for Americans to make drastic change.

This time drastic has arrived via Twitter and the ballot box and painted the town in orange.
Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I love the things we get right. I love how far we’ve come, but I hate that as a nation, we are the embodiment of the old black mother’s warning “a hard head makes a soft behind.”

As a nation, we are only 241 years old and in that time, we’ve managed to become a world power. We lead and the world listens, but in the grand scheme of the timeline of humanity, as a nation in terms of age and experience, we are also teenagers. Optimistic, determined, contrary, difficult, fickle and moody. One day we’re hip hop, one day we’re goth. That’s the only way I can logically look at the bigger picture and see how we’ve made the change from President Barack Obama, who represents pragmatic intellectuals, carefully choosing words and actions, to the complete opposite in Donald Trump. Self-centered, rich and reported to give speeches at less than a sixth grade level.
But here we are. And here comes that word. Normalization. Over and over, we hear people saying, we shouldn’t normalize Donald Trump or his ilk. But we already have. His election alone normalized him. Our rejection of facts has been normalized. Ugliness was pervasive throughout the entire election from the individual party primaries onward. Ugliness was normalized.

Even prior to the election, when Sandy Hook and all of the other acts of mass violence before and after it wasn’t enough to cause immediate, sweeping gun reform, we normalized apathy. We normalized having semi automatic weapons for hunting taking the second amendment literally, when at that time those types of weapons didn’t exist.

We normalized disrespect across parties when Representative Joe Wilson stood up during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union and yelled, “You lie.” And when republican leadership said day one they will do everything they can to block President Obama’s policies. And they kept their word, even when it was legislation they liked. We normalized police brutality when we kept watching black and brown men, women and children die at the hands of police when we actually argued with each other on Facebook that demanding reform for how police respond to daily, everyday interactions, was in fact anti-police.

All of the behavior we’re seeing that we are so outraged by, we’ve already implicitly accepted it. But like the kids who don’t study, but still expect an A, we are incredulous by all that we are witnessing.
I’m glad that people are marching, but what will we do when the marches are over? I’m glad that people are having conversations, but what will we do when the conversations are done?
America is still a place where the impossible happens everyday and where people united and unrelenting will find a way to win. Good finds a way. That is the true balance. However, as America continues to age and grow out of whatever phase we’re currently in, my prayer is we grow into our potential and keep growing. I hope we will mature to the point where our biggest goal will be simply the maintenance of democracy that is decent, fair and just– not having to keep rebuilding after we tear it apart and fight over who made the mess. It was us. It has always been us.

Top 20 Thoughts I Had The First Time My Student Loan Payment Came Out of My Account

So, I was blessed the first time around in undergrad with scholarships. But when I made the decision to go to graduate school, I said hey, I can do this. I can take out these loans. I work. I’m a good American. It will be well worth it to add a few fancy letters behind my name.

It’s soooo easy to take a loan.

However, paying them back, oh, that’s when you feel the pain.

Disposable income? What’s that? So long. Farewell.

I wanted to share with y’all my immediate thoughts when I noticed that my first major student loan payment came out of my account. Lord, it hurt. I started rocking back and forth like Miss Sophia from The Color Purple. All of the jokes and memes came to mind, and all of a sudden, they felt so real. So personal.

1. I’ve been robbed, let me call the bank.
2. Frantically looking for old emails warning me this was going to happen.
3. Profanity. Lots of profanity.
4. Panic. I will never do anything fun again until 2026.
5. Can I reduce the payment? I’m going to the site to FAQs to reduce the payment.
6. So, about that Uber thing… That’s not a bad side hustle right?
7. Short of getting married and having a two-income house, I’m never going to own a home anytime soon.
8. Profanity against my educational institution.
9. What can I cancel or stop buying?
10. The clothes I currently own will need to look good for the next 10 years.
11. Googling all of the meals I can make with beans.
12. Welp, I only have about 2.5 years left on my car payment, which seems like a blink in time, in comparison. I’ll get a few dollars back, then!
13. So, do I want to get back into school to finish, or just defer payments?
14. Current me needs a time machine to talk to old me who signed the loan papers. We didn’t exactly end up where we thought we would by now.
15. I REGRET NOTHING. I stand by my choice. I choose my choice, I choose my choice. (screaming in Charlotte York,)
16. Slow and steady wins the race.
17. Stay employed. Forever.
18. My boyfriend isn’t cheap because he occasionally vetoes splurges. He is used to paying student loans and is a responsible individual. I must absorb his ways.
19. Rethinking my stance on co-habitation. See 18.
20. Three things in life are certain, death, taxes and student loans.

When Grown Men and Little Girls Have Tea

I don’t know about you, but there are a couple of things that really bring joy to my heart and put an automatic smile on my face.

One of them, hands down, is seeing grown men take the time to play with their daughters, nieces, and/or granddaughters to have tea.

The little girls are absolutely ecstatic, and happy to serve water or air from their play set, usually surrounded by stuffed animals. The tea set fits their little hands perfectly, while their grown-up male companion, looking awkward, yet equally adorable, struggles with tiny cups and saucers, bringing said tiny cups to their lips and engaging in polite, tea conversation with baby girl.

I also think tea parties do something for men’s souls too. It reminds them of innocence and it provides them with memories that they probably go back to over the years, well after that little girl has grown into a woman. It’s a moment to be silly, it’s a moment where other men totally give other men a pass, because they know that warm feeling they’ve had simply drinking tap water or no water at all.

Just as when a baby passes you a pretend, plastic telephone, you have to answer, when a little girl invites you for tea, you must RSVP.

A conversation with a co-worker reminded me of the times my father and even my grandfather joined me for a cup of imaginary tea and how that image of two very strong, black men, who just couldn’t say no to me in my braids and big smile.

That memory is probably the very reason why, I just ADORE it when men take the time out to have tea and I melt when I see photos or video of these special parties.

I also think it speaks to something even deeper and the importance of little girls having an early image of a man spending quality time with her, paying attention to her and the mutual and very real doting that’s allowed to take place naturally. It takes root in your soul. I truly hope that all little girls, and every man who has influence in a little girl’s life can sit down for tea, because as simple as it is, it is truly a precious moment for all parties.

To this day, I love making tea for my loved ones. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, tea-making is probably one of my love languages, truth be told. I don’t have tea with people I don’t like. It’s a moment to love on someone. You don’t understand the joy and satisfaction I have putting in just the right amount of sugar, based on the individual, or breaking out my best loose-leafs for my guests and then having a long conversation.

So cheers to the big, strong, tough men who take a little time out for tea with their sweet little girls.

One Of the Most Adult Things One Can Purchase

Probably the most boring yet necessary adultest-ass things one can purchase, has to, hands down, be a mattress.

That’s right folks a mattress.

When you need a new one, and you are in your 30s and beyond, your body is the first to tell you.

At first, it seems like a little ache here or there. And you think that you just need to go to the gym more. Stretch in the morning.

Then you get new pillows, or special memory foam cushions to put on the bed.

Then the aches and pains come more fast and furious. You can’t sleep and you find you have the best sleep ever on your couch and going back to that bed becomes unthinkable.

So you suck it up. Off to the mattress store you go.
Well off to the mattress store I went.

Fortunately, I had the boyfriend in tow, and it seems that going with a significant other, salesmen tend to assume you’re married, and say things like, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Fortunately, for me I have a boyfriend happy to play along and agree.

As, most web site searches tell you, the life of a mattress is 10 years. And so, my cheap mattress, purchased when I was heading to my very own first apartment alone, is probably heading into its 12 year. It served its purpose. It served me well. It makes sense that it is old, and I have the temporary daily lower back pain to prove it.

I joked that the timing was right for several reasons.

1. It is old as hell.

2. Well, back and shoulder and neck pain.

3. I work really hard, and a good night’s sleep is non-negotiable. Yall, that’s another post. This job is challenging and requires me to be on from the moment I get there until I leave.

4. My new serious relationship.
As for number 4, there’s nothing like being in a new, serious relationship. One where you’ve had a disagreement or two, made up and continue to learn how to deal with each other, support each other and feel like the other person just may stick around. You think about the future, and you are ready for the past to truly be that. Tossing the mattress is totally symbolic of where I am right now and where I’m trying to go.

I joked with a girlfriend that this fresh start relationship-wise, would be a great cleanse of whatever ghosts of ding-a-ling past lingering in the coils.

See, coils, where they do that at? Now, they do memory foam or a hybrid with a few coils and still the memory foam. I’ve moved on to a Tempurpedic memory foam. Growth! Progress! And real talk, this new relationship was totally worthy of not having any remnants of the past and that feels good.

These days, the mattress stores use computer technology to match you to a mattress. You lay down and watch a video and it measures all kinds of things about you and your partner on the other side. And it spits out the top mattresses in the store for you.

So, there were four. Hand-picked by technology that should agree with my body the most, and provide a good night’s sleep for my partner too. I had a good laugh during our diagnostic session, because as the computer measured us, I couldn’t help but notice the deep valley my butt made on the screen. Clearly, my booty is a factor in the alignment of my spine, hence probably contributing to my lower back issues when I wake up. Heavy is the butt that wears the crown, right?

Mattress shopping almost feels like shopping for a car or appliances, or other furniture. You deserve ice cream and a nap afterwards. You have in your mind what you think you want, and you certainly have in your mind what you want to spend and then what you’d spend at the very most. But once you get there, everything you thought about anything really gets thrown out the window. We were certain a firm ass bed was going to solve my lower back issues. The computer said, I still need a soft bed. And after I told the salesman to let us try their firmest bed as a “control,” I realized the computer was doing the Lord’s work. I defer to technology.

In pure salesperson fashion, our guy gives us increasingly better choices. The last choice, was the top of the line. It felt ridiculously comfortable and if either my boyfriend or I moved, we couldn’t feel the other person shifting. Oh man. That was the Cadillac. But, in this case it was more like the Saturn sales model, where the sticker price was just that, no negotiation. No sales, son. And your girl was not even trying to drop $3,000 on a mattress, no matter how lovely it was. So, I went with my second choice. The second choice was probably the third of the ones we tried anyway, just before we got to the dream mattress. It was the best of the ones prior, and the price was expensive, but acceptable in my opinion for the quality.

It is ironic, though, trying out mattresses. We go to sleep every night, and sometimes we share beds with people. It’s intimate, but it’s something we all do. Even when my boyfriend and I tried the mattresses, by the time we got to the third and fourth bed, we kept it all the way real and spooned to make sure it was right.

Here I was, adulting big-time, spooning in public and decided to double-down on the grown folk talk, even broaching future life scenarios with the boyfriend.

“So, um. Since folks buy mattresses every 10 years. Say our living situation changes within the next 2-3 years. We’d be merging furniture and such. Clearly mine would be new, and that could be ours and your current mattress which isn’t very old, could be for guests. Should I buy the dream mattress now, as, say an investment?”

Him smiling at me. “If I were in your situation, and I’m totally not telling you what to do… but I would be thinking the same thing. So we’re on the same page. But, I think this less expensive bed still feels nice, you’ll be happy with it and that’s the one you should get. Because 10 years from now, we’d easily be able to buy that more expensive mattress, together.”

I wasn’t sure if I was floating on a cloud or still laying on the $3,000 mattress, but I made my decision and I’m the proud owner of a new mattress and box spring. And I walked out hand-in-hand with a man who was happy to spend an afternoon testing mattresses, and basically telling me, he’s in it way past the warranty. Yep, out with the old. Good riddance.

The First Day at a New Job is Like the First Day of School

Hey yall.
I’ve been on hiatus because I’d been dealing with being unemployed. The good news is I’ve accepted a great position with an amazing organization and I start tomorrow.

I’m grateful and thankful that things worked out for me and that my time being unemployed only lasted roughly a month. My bank account is more thankful that I am, that this situation did not continue into a second month. Even though it was stressful, it gave me a chance to get some rest, slow down and pursue certain interests I had.

It forced me to get creative about how I was going to market myself and meet new people and not take any experiences for granted.

Grocery shopping during the day is pretty awesome too.

Interestingly enough, I was able to do some freelance work for a friend who owns her own business and earn a little extra cash. I also got to see how supportive friends and family were, and who stepped up to offer a timely word of support or offer up a connection. I also got to see how other people may offer advice that may not really suit your situation and how you have to just let some stuff go.

So here we are.
The first day of work is tomorrow, and like when I was a kid, I will hardly be able to sleep tonight. I’ll map out my outfit and think about my commute route very carefully, looking online to make sure I arrive on time.

The first week of work is interesting. It’s a fresh start. You get to introduce yourself to new people. On every job, there’s someone I consider the work angel. There’s one person who stands out, who is genuine and kind and wants to look out. I’m always interested in who that person is, because in a lot of cases you don’t meet them right away.

I want to do a great job and I believe I will. What a journey. There were a lot of ups and downs this month, but I’m really glad I made it through. I’m blessed and fortunate as a new chapter of my life opens.

Rules for Revisiting and Revising Your Resume

Having to revise your resume and writing cover letters for jobs is stressful. Especially if your savings are running low and the phone’s just not ringing. It’s easy to start getting down on yourself and letting negative thoughts take over.

But you know you can’t quit. You got bills. However, you probably need to take a break and allow yourself to do something fun, so you’ll have a clearer head to get back out there. So quit applying from jobs from a place of fear, anxiety and disbelief.

Trust me, you have to feel good about yourself and your abilities in order to convince someone to pay you to do stuff.

Whether you’ve had a steady job for 12 years and looking for a change, or you’ve been out of work for a few weeks or a few months, taking the time to revisit your work history can feel like it’s painful as spring cleaning, or as anxiety-inducing as being asked to jot down how many sexual partners you’ve had on a health form.

Sometimes, you just don’t want to go back. But in all of those scenarios, in order to move forward, you have to face it.

Working on your resume and cover letters is time-consuming. It just is. It’s a necessary evil. But instead of being filled with fear and anxiety, be comforted that in the age of technology, you can get a lot of help and find free resources to help you polish things up a bit.

Rule number one: Just because you snagged a job with your old resume doesn’t mean sticking with what you’ve got will continue to work.

I like to use my job-winning resume format as a foundation, but I continue to tweak.

Rule number two: Work on your resume while you have a job and can readily think of accomplishments and achievements and your duties while you are actually doing them.

Rule number three: Tailor, tailor, tailor. I write different cover letters for every position. Why? Practice makes perfect and I challenge myself to say what I have to say with fewer words. I think I hit a new record when I got my cover letter down to about 380 words. This means you are getting closer to matching your written elevator pitch and effectively getting to the point, which is an attractive attribute for any kind of candidate. This also saves the recruiter and hiring managers some time, which they appreciate. This is not to say that I don’t have a base letter that reminds me of my accomplishments or uses good phrases that describe my experience level and background, but I try to change it up. Besides, you don’t want the mistake of copying and pasting an entire letter with the wrong position title, or worse yet, wrong company. This is why no matter how tired you are, you have to review your work, and always run it through spell check. I also like the other features like word count, and the passive voice percentage checker. Web writers, you want to have 0% passive sentences.

Rule number four: Government jobs are a different beast. As with all applications, READ THE DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. Usajobs.gov actually has tips and videos that go along with their job descriptions and applications to help you bone up on what they expect and how your resume should be presented. If they took the time to do this, take the time to watch. It actually means qualified folks probably got tossed because they didn’t follow the rules, so this time, the government is trying to do us a solid here. Doing this may separate you from the folks who blindly upload resumes that get tossed immediately and may give you a few more points to compete with the veterans who get special preference.

Rule number five: Actually follow the directions as given. This applies to all applications, but the government in particular is rather fond of eliminating people for not doing things exactly as they asked. Just ask anyone who’s applied for a grant. Folks who approve grants are always trying to catch folks slipping. It’s not because they are mean, it’s just that there are strict rules when it comes to handing out government funds. They can get in a lot of trouble if they skip steps or let sloppy paperwork slide. It’s a picky, picky process. Details do matter. “Slay, trick or get eliminated.”

Rule number six: Imagine your resume is a contestant on “The Voice.” No one knows what you look like. Your resume has to sing and capture the attention of the hiring manager in less than a minute. Like the judges, they know what to listen for. Is this person confident? Can they even sing? Are they breathing right? Are they on key? Do they have a unique voice they haven’t heard before? Can they take songs people have heard millions of times and make it stand out? Same rules apply to your resume.

Are you on key? Does the tone of your resume and cover letter fit the description? Do you meet all of the requirements? Do you have examples?

Do you have a unique voice? What do you bring to the table that your other competitors don’t?

Can you take songs people have heard millions of times and make it stand out? There are millions of lawyers and accountants and teachers and nurses, but if you are in any of those fields there’s still only one you. You specialize in something, you may have come from another field that makes you have a different perspective on how you’re doing what you do now. You may have volunteered in another country, or had to use your skills in other ways. Play that up.

Rule number seven: Did you really read the job description? Use similar terminology the job description uses in your resume and cover letter so the machines can pick up the terms and match them. Say exactly how you meet each requirement and give an example.

Rule number nine: Don’t waste your time on long shots. Don’t apply to positions that are way out of your league and don’t apply to junior positions if you have a lot of experience. You have to strike the right balance.  Conserve your energy so you can concentrate on researching the company, rereading the job description so you can write an amazing cover letter and resume for jobs you have a real shot at getting.

Rule number nine: Don’t lie. This should be obvious, but do not lie or over embellish. There have been instances where people lied about credentials and were exposed several years later having to step down or being fired in shame. It’s never worth it. People also tend to lie about salary in hopes of getting a bump. It’s not worth it either. Report the truth, and ask for what you’re worth when it’s time to discuss the offer. If you can back it up, you’ll be surprised when companies step up.

Rule number 10: Say thank you.This goes back to kindergarten, but thank folks for their time and consideration. Don’t forget to include your contact information so someone can get back to you!

Bonus Rule: Have someone else look at your resume and give feedback. If you know someone who is an HR professional, that’s even better! Do you know writers or copy editors? Let them have a look too. They can provide some insight on things you should put more emphasis on, and things you can leave out.

Good luck!

 

Lunch Time Walks: Good for the Heart and Soul

It’s no secret that taking a walk is good for you. Being situated in the heart of D.C. makes it even more enticing to take the long way back from grabbing a bite to eat. It also makes you feel better about the french fries you ordered.

Anyway, as of late, as my contract winds down over the next two weeks, I’ve been taking walks at lunchtime to help clear my head. I like people watching and making up stories in my head about where they are going, the kinds of jobs they have, if they are in love or if they feel a little lost like me, wondering what’s next.

I like to look at the kinds of outfits women are wearing, and I smile if I see a woman rocking huge naturally coily hair, with confidence. I notice tourists and families trying to navigate their way through the Nation’s Capital, visibly patriotic and in awe that they are steps away from the President’s house. I totally get it.

Folks walk down the street with a sense of purpose, but unlike New York, it doesn’t have the same wild, aggressive energy, where you hardly even have to walk; the crowd will just push you along the packed sidewalks.

Sometimes, I recognize a pace or even the look in the eyes of the professional bureaucrats I see on the streets, and it looks like they are looking for a few moments of peace and escape too.

And so, we walk. And so, you may see people heading back out for coffee or an iced tea around 2 or 3, just to take a break from it all. That has to be the reason why I can literally walk out of one Starbucks and see another in my line of vision only one foot out the door another block up.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break to escape. To think about things that make you smile, or consider what your next move is. I’ve been appreciating these moments to take a walk and take in a city that’s been good to me for quite some time now.

Oddly enough, while I take my walks, I hear Carrie Bradshaw’s monologues in my head as she speaks of New York. I switch out her voice with mine, and I wax on about the District, the buildings and the people I see. I walk taller and let the breeze flow through my dress. I allow myself to imagine and slow up the pace. I’ll be back to work soon enough.

Why Anyone Wanting a Serious Relationship Needs to REALLY Listen to Kindred the Family Soul

I had the pleasure of watching “Kindred The Family Soul” do their thing at the Summer Spirit Music Festival this weekend in Maryland. And while they weren’t the headliners like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott who closed the two day festival respectively, Aja Graydon and Fantin Dantzler’s performance really stuck with me long after they took their bows and floated off the stage together.

I was introduced to Kindred in college (early 2000s) and they came out around the same time Jill Scott and India Aire did. These artists were a breath of fresh air as I was growing and learning how to be more mature. Listening to these kinds of artists was a gateway to shaping my evolving taste in music. There was something old school about them, yet fresh and relatable to me. You couldn’t ass shake all the time, and you couldn’t scream out loud aggressive raps either. At that time, me and my friends were falling in and out of love and even wondering if the relationships we were building were among the ones that would lead to marriage. It was college after all.

I was immediately drawn to Kindred’s first album, which I think hands down is their best and untouchable, “Surrender to Love.” The classics on that joint still stand the test of time, as evidenced by the reaction from the crowd when they sang a good amount of those songs in their set some 16 years later.

After to Surrender to Love, I kept my eye out for some other songs, only really connecting with a single or two here and there over the last few years. They announced they are releasing their 6th studio album, and I’m just so stuck on their first. I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy with my steadfast devotion to only Surrender to Love and neglecting their other albums, because as artists they need to and have to grow.

I was standing still and my relationships weren’t really evolving to the level of the things they were talking about.

Which is why I’m revisiting Kindred now as a 30-something who has had a few relationships under her belt, including a broken engagement and six long years of being single and now entering something new and serious and very mature.

My ears are starting to perk up to some of the other songs on their other albums and I’m hearing them with completely new ears, because I’m eager to make this thing work, and I’m finding out that deciding to really open yourself up and join with someone else and not be long distance can reveal somethings about yourself in the process. How guarded you really are, and how it takes a lot of trust to undo those protective actions you’ve been crafting so carefully over the years to protect your feelings.

One of the things I appreciate about Aja and Fantin is the very obvious love, respect and genuine affection they have for one another. They are married with six children and that bond as artists, business partners, husband and wife and parents is strong and battle-tested, but their love is genuine and you can still feel them flirting with each other during songs, and even looking on with pride when the other person hits their solo part of the show.

Through their music they lay out the good, bad, ugly and mundane but always bring it back to not wanting to do the ups and downs of life with anyone else but each other.

There have been several times as a black woman, exasperated I’ve asked my friends over drinks and brunches and dinners and international vacations, “Where is black love? What happened to it?”

Aja and Fantin were holding up the banner last night and every night they perform. And their light attracts other couples who are holding on and holding on to each other, and I saw them last night in the audience dancing, singing along, or leading each other through the crowds and keeping each other cool in the heat.

Their lyrics are loving and honest. From day one in their classic hit “Far Away” they lamented working 9-5s and wanting to hold on to that loving feeling, but having to sneak in sexy time while their baby naps.

In other songs, they discuss doing the work to stay together and grow together and that deciding to stay with someone for decades and for the rest of your life is magical, but like a great magic trick– there’s a whole lot going on that the audience will never see, to create the illusion. They ask each other to hang in and to not give up, they remind each other that it’s worth it.

And boy do we need more music like that.
There is a validity that Aja and Fantin bring to their performances that only comes from having a front row seat to each other’s lives. I’m glad they share vulnerability in their songs and remind people of their own vulnerabilities and that loving another person is indeed a risk, but one worth taking each day. One that is necessary if we are to ever truly enjoy the sweetness of life.

It’s often impolite to ask probing questions of the couples we know in real life. Most couples won’t pull back the curtain on their relationship, because it’s not always what we are seeing when folks post those “couples’ challenge” social media posts. And while most couples would be afraid to be so transparent, at least we have Aja and Fantin giving us the real and sharing their journey with us so we can all grow. They are the type of couple who seem like they’d be at the BBQ giving the younger couples the truth about love, and reminding them that it’s worth fighting for and to above all choose wisely.

The gems in Kindred’s body of work aren’t hidden. They lay it all bare. But like love, it’s all about an individual’s willingness and readiness to accept all that comes with it.

And that BBQ advice session was exactly the vibe I felt with my larger “family” of music lovers all day yesterday. Aja and Fantin held court, while I hung on to every note, listening carefully to every word.

Yup, I’m going to take a closer listen to the subsequent albums after “Surrender to Love.” Because you can’t stay in one place. You have to grow, you have to be open, you have to listen and you have to learn.

And growth certainly looks good on Aja and Fantin, and that’s worth emulating.

 

Afternoon Tea Is a Sweet Indulgence

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of tea.

I blame my mother. She’s always good for making the perfect cup and she’s passed down that preference to me.

I pride myself on the fact that I can make a great cup of tea for my guests, and I love watching their faces when they take that first sip.

I also love how having a cup of tea with someone opens the door to wonderful conversations in a relaxed environment. Time and time again, I’ve put on a pot of tea, or introduced someone to some of my fancier loose leaf teas and hours later, we’re still sitting there talking and having cup after cup.

To me, having a cup of tea is just like lighting a candle, burning incense ,or playing music. It sets a tone for relaxation and comfort. It’s something you can enjoy alone while you collect your thoughts, or do something creative, or get to work. It’s something you can share with others. My teas are not just an indulgence, it’s an act of self-care and it’s an opportunity I use to love on the people in my life.

Well, when a former co-worker of mine wanted to hang in downtown Annapolis this weekend to catch up, among the very nice places she recommended for us to have brunch, she also offered up Reynold’s Tavern, a very lovely tea house.

Since I had never had formal tea at a tea house and my collection of loose leaf teas is growing faster than I can drink it, I jumped at the chance.

I have to say, we really enjoyed ourselves and had a great conversation about the writing process and the emotional journey it takes to write, secure an editor and go into the publishing process. I haven’t gotten as far as her, (she is a brilliant historical fiction novelist) but I do know what it’s like to start a novel or a book and be parts obsessed with it and also feel completely insecure about the whole thing.

There was an extensive tea menu, we both had teas that were based on Jane Austen characters, and they were sooooo good.

There’s something extra special about drinking from a tea-cup and resting it gently on a saucer or taking the infuser out of the pot and just letting the tea rest.

In between all of these actions, there’s discussion and there’s nibbling from the three-tiered serving set.

The tea was delicious, so much so, we each purchased some to take home. I was in love with my crab and shrimp Quiche and light salad and really enjoyed the small desserts.

As I get older, I appreciate these kind of old school ways of gathering and socializing. This goes right up there with meeting with my book club and sharing ideas and feelings with other brainy people who are passionate about books, and what’s going on in the world.

In a time where it seems the ratchet is revered, it’s nice to dip away to another place in time and visit a place like Reynold’s Tavern in the heart of a historic city, and be ladies and gentlemen of leisure.

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