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Archive for the category “contemplative”

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.

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.

Pain and Possibility: Finding Our Way Through Difficult Times

I’ve been really weary with all of the things that have been going on in the world.

The violence and unrest and waking up to the next awful thing unfolding on the news and on social media is wearing me out. I can’t help but to be hurt, I can’t help but to care.

I can’t help but to be angry and helpless all at the same time. I’m mad because as a former journalist, I’m seeing a lot of irresponsible things happening with words, images and sounds.

I’m questioning everything, I’m mad about situations that are well within our control as a society and the things we’ve allowed to be out of control.

There are discussions of accountability and change, and I listened to a very interesting message given passionately by the pastor at church yesterday, how starting change with us as an individual is extremely difficult, so when we expect governments, institutions and entire systems to just do it overnight we’re reaching.

He didn’t say change wouldn’t happen, he just said that it does take time. I took something from that. We curse the pace of change and we get frustrated with those who don’t get it and don’t help us move fast enough, especially if we have the means to.

The second thing that kind of hit me was, usually we don’t have a problem with other people changing something we’ve pointed out is a flaw. And we may even recognize areas where we need to change. We may have a list of things some are easy, but there’s usually ONE thing that’s required of us, that may be a large sacrifice, inconvenience or act of faith and we say “I’ll do anything, but I won’t or can’t do that.”

The pastor continued to say how pain is often involved with change and usually serves as the catalyst for change to happen. The discomfort of our pain drives us to do what it takes to seek relief.

I’m awful at swallowing large pills. But it seems the times that I’ve been very sick, or in a lot of pain, I’ve managed to get them down if they were directly involved with even the slightest improvement.

But this is a human issue. It’s something we all have to look at and deal with.

I have a cousin who is in town. And I’ve been analyzing a lot of things about him, his choices, the hopes he has. And upon further discovery unpeeling other layers about his world living in a southern town with not a lot of options and how our lives are so different, based on decisions our mothers made respectively.

Where you live, where you go to school, who is your advocate and how powerful your advocates are dictate where you’ll go. It is unfair, because countless people who were brilliant and wonderful and could give something to the world may have lived and died in poverty in some far off place we’ve never heard of, or right around the corner in a community that is overlooked and looked down upon.

There’s fate, there’s belief in hard work and timing. There’s figuring out it’s all in who you know, which has contributed to most of my most amazing opportunities and experiences hands down. It was up to me to prepare myself for the experiences, but I had to somehow get connected. I had to express my need, and that if given the chance I could take it and run with it.

I had to establish a track record with people where they’d want to vouch for me.

Sometimes I feel small and insignificant. I think a lot of us feel that way these days.

I’ve been in deep conversations with the people I love talking about what we’re supposed to do about all of this trouble in the world.

I’ve tried to comfort and fire myself up by reminding myself that we all have a lane.

We all have gifts and talents and we can’t confine ourselves to fit into the one thing that a whole bunch of people deem is the one or two or even three possible ways to solve a problem.

You have to go with what fits, you have to go with something that you’ll want to be consistent with.

So if you are a writer, I say, write. Write about your pain. Then write about possibilities. This blog helps me.

If you are a doctor or medical professional, don’t dismiss your work as a service to the community because you do it everyday and get paid for it. You have a talent and a skill to heal people, that’s your lane.

If you love to cook, cook for people who need it. A good meal from the heart means a lot to people.

If you are a good listener, listen to people who are hurting. Sometimes people just need to vent and feel like they have been heard.

Do you play sports? Round up some folks and play a game.

Like kids, help your friends who have kids and babysit.

Give money to an organization that does things that you support and believe in.

Sit down with someone and share knowledge if they are up for it.

We limit ourselves, and we judge others based on what we think they are doing or not doing. We judge people about how aware we think they should be. We judge and judge and judge but we never have all of the information.

I continue to be really weary and anxious. I’m trying to keep grasp of a faith I often question, trying to map out the difference between what I truly believe from what I’ve been told to believe and reconciling what’s in between and if that is my truest belief and if that’s what God really wants me to find and connect to at the end of the day.

It doesn’t help that I’m on the hunt for a new job, with a very specific deadline.

I seriously wish I could take a week or two to simply rest and get my life together (preferably someplace tropical). But I don’t have that luxury. I have so many thoughts in my head and heart. I want to be better. But I have so many questions. And I wonder if what I have will be enough. And as one person, maybe I’m not supposed to be enough. I’m stardust in a vast unlimited sky. But if we all at least try, with real intention and from a place of honesty and humility, we’ll fill in the gaps together and where one falls short, it won’t matter.

I know I’m not the only one.

Family Financial First Aid: When You Know Better, Do Better and Pass it on!

Nothing can make you feel more empowered and in control as understanding your finances, making solid decisions and watching your money grow.

Nothing can make you feel as out of control, inferior and in panic and chaos as NOT understanding your finances, making poor decisions and feeling like you’ll never get out of the hole.

I’m not wealthy, I’m not rich. I really don’t have a whole lot in my retirement, but I’m proud of the time I made up in my 20s in the last couple of years.

I realized that upping the contributions to my 401k at my last job was a smart thing to do. I’ve changed two jobs in about two years, and when I left each job, I rolled my 401k investments into an IRA.

When things got funky with my financial aid this past semester (don’t even get me started my blood pressure has finally returned to a normal state), even though it was part of my “last resort,” borrowing money from my IRA was an option that saw me through a tough time.

I grew up in a middle class family, but my parents– neither of them college grads, but who did better than their parents, did not have a financial education. They winged it.

While my dad is a very intelligent person, he fears credit cards and hates debt of any kind.

My mother, also a very intelligent person, had addictions to store credit cards, as evidenced by our bi-weekly trips to the local department store to pay her bill, and the harassing calls after she lost her job.

So once I got a job and was given an application in high school, I got a credit card and quickly built my credit line to the point where as a college junior I had a $5,000 limit. Being young, dumb and at Howard, where the most fashion-forward folks go to get educated, I surprisingly didn’t squander my good credit on clothes. It was actually footing the bill for spring break to book planes and hotels for me and my friends and paying for my boyfriend’s car repairs (because how else will he get to work?).

In my early 20s, the joy of getting a full-time job after college and seeing larger checks in a low cost-of-living state had me living beyond my means and depending on overdraft protection, acting like it really was my money.  I assumed the overdraft fees as just the cost of doing business and kept it moving without a care .

It took a very, very long time and a five-year financial education program to help me improve my credit and pay down my debt. It was a proud moment to be eligible for a good credit card again, and in comparison to the last time I purchased a car, to go from having an 18% interest rate for a used car about 5 years old to an 8% interest rate the next time I purchased a same year model, brand new.

That’s where the feeling of being in control and accomplishment kicks in. But that feeling had to come from making some big mistakes, and then doing what it took to correct them.

I didn’t necessarily fear credit, but I needed to learn that it was a tool. Unfortunately, my father’s mindset that all debt is bad didn’t help, and neither did my mother’s habit of paying a card off, so you can just get more stuff, in a constant never-ending cycle didn’t shape the best habits in me either.

I am, however thankful for having friends who discuss stocks and watch stock tickers on the news and discuss them with their parents casually as if they were discussing sports scores. And I’m slightly jealous of the edge those financially-conscious parental gave my friends, that I just didn’t have.

Like my parents, who surpassed their parent’s earning potential, here I was with a college degree, but financially, I was winging it too. Having to figure it out on my own.

One of my best friends has been buying and selling stocks for years and her parents taught her to do so. At 33, I finally asked her for help today, mentioning how I admired that in her household discussing finances is as normal and healthy as saying good morning. And she’s excited to do it and already looking up some educational classes around the next time I visit home.

It never hurts to ask for help. We are often shrouded in silence when it comes to matters of money, because we don’t want others to know how much we have, or don’t have. I was particularly interested in investing more aggressively, because I want to replenish the funds I had to take from my IRA, and while I put aside money from my paycheck to pay it back, as a single, childless person, who isn’t in her 20s anymore, my window is closing to be as aggressive as I could have been if I started thinking about money more seriously in my 20s.

While some of my friends still live at home with their parents because it is so expensive, I realized I was pouring my money into high rents in the DC area for the last decade (and paying off my college-incurred debts for half a decade), and they were learning how to be aggressive with their investments, taking advantage of the financial power staying at home with the ‘rents can provide, so they can eventually leave the nest and afford to maintain.

Having a household that talks about money openly is healthy. We have to remove stigmas around modest living or what the reality of your financial situation is. It takes hard work and discipline, but building good financial habits is something that’s crucial to your future and that of your family.

I appreciate everything my family has done for me, so I’m not knocking them at all, but I can’t help but wonder what other kinds of goals and dreams my parents could have accomplished if they had the tools.

From time-to-time, my father asks me about how much I make. I now artfully avoid it after the one year I told him, and his eyes widened and said, “You’re almost catching me.” Yes, I do think my dad is trying to be in my business, but I also think it’s a matter of him feeling like some financial progress is being made and his baby girl is secure and successful and that hopefully, by some chance I’m making better decisions than he did. Sometimes he says it outright, relieved that I’m an adult to be able to really understand his point.

While my parents have never asked me for money, I do care about their lives as they enter their golden years. A part of me wonders that because I am still single and without a family of my own, and geographically closer than my sister, who does have a family, will I have to really step up for them and how will I be prepared to do so in a way that is respectful and commensurate with how wonderfully they provided for me, knowing some of their financial sacrifices and missteps will contribute to how comfortable their retirement years will be?

I don’t know the answer to all of those questions. And as a family, we’ll have to work together to figure them out.

What I do know is unlike my parents, I have way more access to information than they ever did.

The Internet is a great equalizer. Just this morning, I’ve read several Forbes articles on how to get started with the stock market and I’m energized and excited. There’s so much to learn and I’m mature enough to get help and figure out how to make my financial future and that of my family’s a whole lot brighter.

 

 

 

Space-Makers and Space-Takers, Which One Are You?

Throughout life, I’ve had experiences with other people who would frustrate me and I’d be upset that other people wouldn’t or couldn’t react to situations the same way I did or the way I thought they should. And then I realized, there are two types of people: Space-Makers and Space-Takers.

When Space-Makers find other Space-Makers and become friends, it’s usually a harmonious situation, because Space-Makers anticipate the needs of others, they are considerate, and they like to keep things peaceful around them. Space-Makers naturally help others, but it doesn’t mean they are automatically pushovers.

And that’s a serious problem when Space-Makers become friends with Space-Takers. Conflict will be lurking in every casual lunch, road trip, and seemingly innocent encounter. It’s even worse if both the Space-Maker and Space-Taker are non-confrontational and passive aggressive.

The fascinating thing about Space-Takers is that, they usually don’t notice they are Space-Takers and they over emphasize or remind you of the few times they’ve made space for others.

Space-Takers inherently make themselves comfortable first, and then ask if others need anything once their needs have been taken care of. They don’t need anyone to tell them to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others, they got that. Self-care is a given.

Space-Takers have the philosophy that they’ll act first and ask for forgiveness later. Space-takers find ways to get what they want, and manage to convince others to do most of the heavy lifting for them. Space-Takers have no problem expressing their displeasure with services rendered, and they demand satisfaction for poor service or any inconvenience. Space-Takers will send back food, ask for discounts, ask to see a supervisor, and may say jerky things like “I pay your salary.” Space-Takers have no problem asking to borrow something from a Space-Maker, with no intention of giving it back, even if the Space-Maker needs the item, but was willing to share it temporarily. I was in a situation where a Space Taker asked to borrow a phone charger. They had the charger for an entire day, and the battery ran low again. The Space-Maker asked for it back, but the Space-Taker said, their battery had run low again, and they needed it. At that moment, I had to remind the Space-Taker that the Space-Maker had already done them a solid the previous day, and probably doesn’t have any more cell phone juice themselves, because they shared their charger. It was a cringe-worthy moment, that made everyone uncomfortable, including the Space-Maker who clearly would prefer to get their stuff back. But the Space-Taker was unbothered and didn’t even recognize how running up the battery, expecting the Space-Maker to let them use it again, was inconsiderate.

And that’s when Space-Makers get upset. I know I have.

From personal experience, I’ve learned that if I do something for a Space-taker, it’s a conscious decision that I made and that regardless if they are grateful or not, if I’m doing something to avoid drama that I anticipate by doing the action for the Space-Taker, the cost benefit of avoiding the drama was more important to me, than that person acknowledging me for it or knowing they may or may not do the same for me if the tables were reversed.

It’s often difficult to have a conversation/intervention with a Space-Taker, because they are oblivious to their ways, but only to a certain extent. Deep down, I think they know how far they can push Space-Makers and they push their luck with them until Space-Makers fight back or call them out.

I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of an argument between two Space-Takers because neither party will relent, Space-Takers naturally take up the space, Space-Makers naturally make and account for.

Let’s take a movie theater or airplane arm rest for example. Space-Makers who are in an aisle or window, will probably leave the interior arm rests alone, so the poor person in the middle has an arm rest. Space-Takers will still take the middle arm rest.

Space-Makers are the people at church who move down when more people come to sit on the pew. Space-Takers glare, stay seated firmly, with the expectation that others will simply climb over them and take their seats.

The reverse also happens, if people have gotten comfortable in a situation, and a Space-Taker needs to get up, move, go to the bathroom or take care of their own need, they will not wait for an intermission, or a time when others have gotten up. If their movement may inconvenience others, they don’t care, they have to take care of their specific need when it comes to their mind, and others must make space to accommodate.

Space-Makers are observant of their surroundings and they plan accordingly. Space-Makers are the kinds of people, who if seated on a crowded train or bus, will get up just before their stop. Space-Takers will wait until they reach their stop, then expect the crowds to part so they can exit.

Space-Makers read the body language of people around them and notice if people are tired, or upset and do whatever is easiest for the group to accomplish its general goal. Space-Takers may notice the frustration of others around them, but will choose to do the thing they want to do first and will have no trouble asking or expecting others to do what they want to do, even if they don’t want to do it.

Space-Takers may manipulate a situation, to ensure the greater group has no other choice but to go along with their option. After their needs have been satisfied first, they are able to go along with the needs of others. But the reverse doesn’t work out well for Space-Takers. If a Space-Taker puts the needs of others before themselves, you will hear about it, and they may use that one situation several times, to explain that they are not a Space-Taker and have a giving nature.

So, who are you? Are you a Space-Maker or Space-Taker? How would you feel if a friend told you that you are a Space-Taker? Would it make you think about how considerate you are to others?

I do think tendencies for both types of people are taught and nurtured by the people around them in their lives. Some people are raised to be considerate of others, while other people may be catered to. Some people may share with their family and wait their turn, while others in large families may have to fight and get their share of food, toys, the front seat of the car, and parental attention “first.” So it’s not a matter of being an only child or growing up with several brothers and sisters.

Space-Takers are the squeaky wheel. Space-Makers look for the oil.

As a Space-Maker, I’m often jealous of the Space-Takers ability to get what they want and the lack of concern about what others may have had to do or the effort expended to make that thing happen for them. So the anger is more about their rate of success and amount of yeses they actually get, then their aggressiveness, boldness and potential lack of consideration.

Space-Makers overextend themselves and quietly keep things going smoothly. Their small rewards don’t often reveal themselves immediately, meanwhile instant gratification is the carrot that Space-Takers reach for every time, even if it means taking up the space, the Space-Makers have strategically accounted for and made.

So, instead of Space-Makers resenting Space-Takers, sometimes you have to balance things out and employ Space-Taking methods. And Space-Takers can learn a thing or two from Space-Makers, and consciously attempt to make more space, for the people in their lives.

One of the Toughest Questions

The toughest question people have asked me, that will shut me up or make me stumble is when they look me square in the eye and ask me, “What do you want?”

To me, it seems like such a huge, massive question. I mean, maybe I’m not used to people asking me that, and now folks are asking me this all the time.

I’m being asked this when it comes to my career, what I want to do after grad school and in my love life and I often find myself completely thrown off guard and tongue-tied.

The craziest part about that is, I used to know. I was a person who knew early on what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.

When I was a little girl, I had no problem telling people I wanted to be the “first black woman president of the United States.”

I found out that when I’d be old enough to go to college, in order to be president, I’d of course have to study political science. So boom, I had a major set up by the third grade.

Things changed. In 8th grade I was working on the school newspaper and fell in love. I was going to be a journalist. And that’s what I had set out to do, and I went to college for it, I had my internships with magazines and newspapers and boom, I was working as a journalist. I’ve covered a lot of very cool things and met amazing people. And when people would ask me about my future, it was get to the big newspapers and eventually become a beloved columnist, writing until the day I died.

Well, the industry changed.
And that change, changed what I wanted and changed what was going to make me happy. Mainstream journalism wasn’t making me happy, not living in DC anymore wasn’t making me happy.

So I got another job, and I moved back. I knew I loved health and medical reporting so great, I got a gig doing that, I also loved learning about websites and incorporating technology to tell stories in creative ways, so I worked my way up, until I got bored. I told folks what I wanted, a new title and to lead the junior editors and I needed more money. And those things happened, but once I taught the junior editors all I could, I wondered what else was there for me to learn. So I went into government consulting.

What I wanted changed again. What once made me happy, got old.

So I decided to go to grad school to work on my Masters in Public Health.

I love how the random pieces of my life really do set the tone for the things I eventually realize I want, but there are these moments where I truly don’t know. Where I need to explore.

I’m supposed to meet with someone a friend recommended I speak with, but I’m really afraid of that person asking me the inevitable and not having what I think is a “good” answer.

This same friend asked me if I’d ever be interested in launching my own business. I had told her that I love being creative and if I did, I’d need a business manager who would gladly take care of the details that I hate when it comes to running a business.

I admire business owners, I love their guts and their confidence and their ability to win people over, and in turn, give other people opportunities. It’s so cool to me, but sometimes, I wonder if I have enough in me to pull it off. I get very impatient. Sometimes, I have to just quit temporarily because I get overwhelmed. I’m a worry wort. I appreciate stability. I have a serious fear problem.

And these same fears carry over into my love life. Right now, there’s nothing going on. Nothing. No signs of life. And if a really great man looked me in the eyes and asked me what do I want, well, I might do a better job of listing what it is that I need and want than career wise.

I’ve been so used to knowing, then mapping out a plan to get there. That’s another reason why grad school has been so fulfilling. I knew I wanted my MPH, but two years would be enough time to figure out how to Frankenstein together my perfect career that still allowed me to bring my experience and skills as a reporter, writer and editor, while also giving a nod to this growing techy side as a content consultant. I’m certain that I want to work in health communications, but the questions my friends raise about me stepping out on my own has me wondering.

I have a combination of unique skills. How do I build a business out of that? I know great people over the years who I’d love to work with and who I’d love to give opportunities to and just let them do their thing, but how would I make that happen? But I wouldn’t want to drag people into something and let them down.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m lying to myself and deep down I do know what I want.
I’m just terrified of it.

With Each New Trip, Comes A New Epiphany

There’s plenty to blog about today as I’ve just returned from Toronto to attend my first ever Caribana. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed hanging with my travel mates, some of whom I’ve never traveled with before. It was a success!
But with every trip, when I come home, I have a renewed sense of purpose and wanting to live out my life in a bigger, better way.
In 2013, the result of this post-vacation feeling pushed me into looking into grad schools, then applying, then taking the GRE and then getting accepted and starting in 2014.
In 2014, after 7 years of working in the same place and going on at least 4 different interviews over that time period and none of them panning out, a job I didn’t think I got had offers waiting for me upon my arrival from the Cayman Islands.
So it’s 2015, I’m half way through my studies in Grad school, I’m working very hard at that new job I took on in 2014, and after Toronto, I’m looking around wondering, “What’s next?”
The thought started to enter my head that maybe after nearly a decade in the Washington, D.C. area, moving someplace else to start fresh might be a good idea. Last year, that idea only seemed to be reserved for after I graduated school, but thanks to online education, it’s really not the deal breaker I made it out to be.
For 9.5 years, I thought to myself I have not had a stable healthy relationship with any male who actually lived in the D.C. area. Two of the relationships I had while living here, were long distance.
I was starting to wonder, if it was me? If it was D.C.? And if together, we weren’t a good match for my love life.
Let’s face it. It’s a competitive city.
We compete for jobs, we compete for great places to live, and women, whether we want to admit it or not, we’re out here competing for the same men.
We know it and they know it and for this reason, the game has lost its fun factor.
Most women in any city will say there are no men there.
What Caribana revealed to me most was there are men everywhere. There are men of all kinds who are interesting, kind, funny and considerate and hard-working. There are men who are selfish, egotistical ass hats who have subpar penis.
So I wondered to myself, where were these men in DC?
Are guys only fun when they go to an event in other parts of the country or the world? Are they more open? Am I more open?
Could I waltz into a club and channel my Caribana vacation self and charm someone silly? Is that my problem?
The DC, everyday version of myself hates the clubs and has no desire to dress up, heel up, make up and play the game. Sure, I’ve been slumming it at local TGI Friday’s and I guess I shouldn’t complain about what I get.
I refuse to go back to online dating because it’s exhausting and annoying.
So, I can admit, half of the problem really is me. I can’t blame D.C. and I can’t blame how wack men are these days, especially when I’ve turned down really nice guys, who I’ve complained I have no chemistry with.
In terms of me taking care of myself and doing things to make myself happy and making choices for me and only me, I’ve been doing a fantastic job.
But my love life has taken a position on the back burner. I told myself that this selfish phase I’m having really doesn’t allow for me to give anything to anyone else, but there’s a small part of me that calls bullshit.
And that voice is getting on my very last nerve and keeps me up at night. That voice makes me wish for the intimacy I’ve shared with exes that is nothing but a memory, that voice makes me wonder about what random flirtations really mean or what they don’t mean.
That voice makes me wonder if I guy I met on vacation who lives in this area will give me a call and want to actually meet up.
I don’t deny any of my feelings. I think they are natural. But something is pulling at me for change and it’s not surprising. I started out my adult life on an adventure tip. Out the gate, I moved to places my friends and family would have never gone or tried to leave a long time ago. I tested my mettle, and there’s a big part of me that feels like I lost that adventure in the name of security. But even when I was running around, moving from place-to-place and job-to-job, I wondered what the secure life would be like.
I told a friend, I’m never satisfied. When I’m hot, I want to be cool, when I’m cold, I want to be warm. When I’m in a situation, I want the opposite of what I’m in at the moment.
I have a problem with patience, I have a problem with process. I can change my mind on a whim, however, I believe I’m a steady person and a reliable friend.
While I do have fantasies about what my next meaningful relationship will be like and how happy I’ll be and how grateful I’ll be for it, I also fantasize about random romps with strangers if I had the courage and the ability to just walk away and never look back. Is it conflicting to want to be fully present in both of those situations, even though they are polar opposites?
Probably, but that’s how I feel.
I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do. But when I don’t feel like making a decision, it would be ok to go with what’s decided for me sometimes.
I like to be alone with my thoughts and work things out in my mind until my thoughts wear me out so much, that I want to be held by someone. Then, you may enter my space.
I shared my recent thoughts of moving with a few friends and they had varied responses, most of which were for me to do what I felt like I needed to do.
One joked that it would be my luck that once I moved, I’d meet someone from this area. That same friend, who is in a relationship then gave me the, “chin up, he’ll find you” phrase. Ugh.
For single people, when people in relationships tell you that, the only feeling comparable is when employed people tell unemployed people exhausted and demoralized by consistent rejection that the next interview will be “the one.”
In both cases, you know people mean well, but you don’t want to hear it.
They’ll tell you how great you are and can’t understand why you don’t have a man or a job because you’re qualified in fact you’re over qualified, and that’s the problem!
While this so-called pep-talk (and I’m guilty of giving these) is going on, you either really think about your shortcomings preventing you from having the job or the boyfriend, or you get mad at the system because given the right chance you know you’d be great.
I’ve learned a long time ago that a lot of things are based on timing. There’s an ebb and flow of life. There are things you have to look and listen for in your heart and in your gut to lead you to the next point. I get impatient with what seems like the slow-moving points because I have no idea what’s ahead, be it good or bad. Sometimes you just feel like you’re stuck in one place. One thing is for certain, even when you’re stuck you either find the strength and motivation to unstick yourself, but if you sit around long enough, something will come along and move you and when that happens, it’s involuntary. It may be due to necessity, or fear or a little of both and I can’t stand operating in fear.
I believe in God. There are all kinds of scriptures about being still or standing still. So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s a big part of my lesson or journey trying to identify the peace in stillness over the loud ass sounds of my thoughts, fears, insecurities and anxieties.

Church Families Mourn With Mother Emmanuel AME

I’m hurt and tired today.
With every new story or update in regard to the church shooting in Charleston, SC I just grow more weary and hurt.
I grew up in church. Church was a second home. You’re there so much, it’s bound to happen. You build an extended family there, you go there to be vulnerable. After all, you’re confessing your sins, trying to get free. You cry there, you may dance there or show emotion in a lot of ways that even surprise yourself. There’s a heart connection that happens if and when you let it.
The folks you serve with, they’ll watch your kids, and you trust them to discipline your kids if and when they act up. You may travel with them on mission trips, or even personal vacations because you’ve grown that tight. There’s lunches and dinners and brunches. They shower you with love when you experience positive moments, as well as when you are at your lowest points. When you lose a loved one, they step up to serve the repast meals and make sure you’re eating when it seems like you can’t think to.
You go to church to lay a burden down, and also be a support system to other people who have similar goals of being better people, despite our imperfections, and trying to please God.
It turns my stomach to even think that any person could walk into a church and just start killing people. Millions of people go to church on Wednesday night for prayer meetings and bible studies, kind of like a midweek boost to get over Monday and Tuesday if Sunday’s spiritual high already wore off, and to take them through until Sunday again.
I am praying for the families and the survivors. As quite a few people in my Facebook timeline said, this act of terrorism and violence hit very close to home, regardless of region or church denomination. I don’t know anyone from that church personally, but I think most people who have been blessed to have a church family, the kind of pain that community is going through has to be unfathomable. I pray that the survivors remain strong in their faith and stay close and even get closer to God. Because this kind of situation could easily make a person wonder why? Especially if you’re trying to do the right thing and follow God. Why, didn’t you protect them, God in your own house? Why did you allow this awful person to walk through the doors? It has to hurt so badly.

I Want to Scoop Ice Cream in the Caribbean Too!

I have been really intrigued by a woman who has been on the news and all over social media for quitting a 90k salary job in New York City, and leaving it all behind to work in an ice cream shop in the Caribbean.
If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you will wonder why you are killing yourself in the rat race of everyday life and be tempted to do the same. But you start talking yourself out of it.
You say, that kind of life isn’t for me.
I’ll be far away from family and friends, and airline tickets don’t come cheap.
I’ll miss the mall and all of my favorite places to eat and shop.
People in the Caribbean move too slow, it would eventually drive me crazy.
What would I do? Almost everyone is in the hospitality industry!
I visited the Cayman Islands last year with my cousin and best friend. My best friend is a nurse, and our tour guide happily took detours to show hospitals and new health centers to recruit and lure my friend to work there, because they are always looking for medical professionals.
I half-jokingly asked if she wouldn’t mind driving by the local newspaper, didn’t they need another writer or editor???
My best friend was actually considering it. Who wouldn’t?
I’m jealous of that woman, but not for the obvious reasons. I’m jealous because she had the guts to do what most of us joke and say we’ll do, but never do because of fear.
That woman went out and got exactly what she wanted and she’s happier. She took a risk. She did something outside of what most people would consider the norm. Through a very limited lens, people believe being 31 with a $95,000 salary is having it all. As she explains, in her article, in NYC, that’s a base salary to live a comfortable existence. And I’ve even said, I would never move to NYC for a job for less than $90k. It’s a complete waste and I’d be totally stressed just trying to simply live.

It’s another message to me that success isn’t measured in money, and happiness surely isn’t either. And while we are always concentrating on negotiating for more money, we neglect to negotiate for our happiness. We put hard lines on how much we expect to earn according to our skills and talents, but we don’t tell potential employers, or lovers or ourselves, what our non-negotiables are for our peace of mind and our joy. We don’t ever really take the time to sit around thinking about what truly makes us happy and how to incorporate that into our lives without feeling guilty about it. Why do we equate happiness with friviolity or even selfishness? Happiness is the first thing to go last on the list for some reason, meanwhile the things that make us happy can make us mentally and physically healthier and it should be a much higher priority.
Most of us are working ourselves to death in thankless jobs, for companies who will replace us if we choose to leave or up and die. They just do. A friend of mine told me about a colleague who just dropped dead while working out. This man was in his 40s, and the company wasted no time in finding his replacement shortly after his memorial service. So, companies have goals and priorities and bottom lines, and so should we. Even Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital has to start looking for a new neurosurgeon, post McDreamy… booo.
Stretching ourselves to make it to each weekend or even better, a 3-day holiday weekend is a sad existence.
I think about how hard my parents worked, and how my dad is in his 60s and isn’t even thinking about retiring. He likes working, but he doesn’t feel financially secure enough to stop because well he helped put me and my sister through college, as well as paid for medical bills for my mom.
While I can appreciate the work ethic that was handed down to me, I am not a fan of generational work yourself in the groundness that got passed to me too.
This is why I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in recent years to take what I call “Real Vacations.”
We’re drowned out by the sounds of our bills and things we believe we have to do first, before we can experience… well life. And I’m sick of it.
Maybe I can’t run off to the Caribbean… well I could, it’s just really scary. But, it’s time to take control of the pleasure in my life in smaller ways.
Allow yourself the time to do things you like to do, and take in the beauty of where you live.
I’ve been making more frequent spa trips. I like visiting local parks and botanical gardens, I’d like to check out some of Maryland and Virginia’s wineries. I want to visit some of the beaches in Delaware and North Carolina. I’ve been looking at bed and breakfasts online.
I’m not saying go out and make huge life changes on a whim. This woman did her research, she asked people questions about what kind of transition this would be and then she was realistic about how her life was going to change. Then she went for it.

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