What Are Negging & Gaslighting? Abuse, That’s What.

Earlier this week, I shared an article about Training Your Partner/How to Start a Relationship off Right and I fittingly, had the opportunity to put Step 5 into practice this week, too (see my final word below).

I had been on a few dates with someone and there were red flags that I noticed but chose to ignore in the name of being mature and responsible and giving this person the benefit of the doubt. Once I followed my own advice, Steps 1-4, it was most definitely time for Step 5. Why? Because he was exhibiting abusive behavior. It was subtle, sneaky. I didn’t really see it happening. He was a fun and pleasant person, and I genuinely enjoyed his company. But in the midst of our good time, he would insult me and challenge me so regularly, I started to feel inadequate. And then I realized why: I was allowing myself to endure abuse.

Finally, there are names for these patterns. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s time to learn, look and listen. Equip yourself and be aware: This. Is. Abuse.


NEGGING

Negging is that tricky subtle negative garbage that is intended to knock down your confidence just enough so that you’ll be more <air quotes> approachable. The Neg-slinger hopes to pique your interest for being seemingly so disinterested with you that they treat you as if you’re nothing special. AKA passive aggressive insults. AKA bullying.

In this article, where negging is introduced as a pick-up method complete with tips and tricks for using the best neg at the best time to get the girl you want, the author also warns against using the negging <air quotes>“technique” inappropriately, where is comes out as an actual insult. Well guess what, it is an actual insult. Negging is bullying. Negs are passive aggressive self-esteem-crushing blows no matter how you want to define and refine it. Negging is bullying. Bullying is abuse. Do not put up with it.

Some that I heard recently:

“Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

“Omigod, I can’t believe you’re not wearing tights. That dress is so short. Aren’t you cold?”

“Three kids, huh? What’d the third one do walk outta there?”

“Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

Please imagine my face in response. There were no words. <Negger, please.>

img_2124


GASLIGHTING

Have you ever been made to feel like you don’t remember things correctly, or your judgement is off, or that you’re just plain going crazy? Yes, that’s a thing. That’s an abuse thing. It’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting is when your abuser makes you question your own sanity.

“Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term owes its origin to the 1938 play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term has been used in clinical and research literature.” (Wikipedia)

“Wow, you totally made that up.”

Unfortunately, gaslighting and negging can go hand in hand. Because in the context where you might actually stand up for yourself against a neg, a gaslighter might say:

“Wow, you totally made that up.”
“You’re just too sensitive.”
“I’ll talk to you when you’re not PMSing.”

No, a-hole you need to stop being a jerk. It’s not me. It’s you. I’m not internalizing things incorrectly; you are saying hurtful things and you need to stop.

Gaslighting is a high-stakes mind-game for control of your emotional and psychological dependence. Be aware. Your experience, perception, and opinions are all valid, especially when you feel hurt.
Emotional abuse is brutal. It peels back your skin and digs its nails into your most vulnerable places. It’s an infection that seeps into your soul, telling you there’s something wrong with you; you’re not good enough; you’re a disappointment; no one wants you. Emotional abuse speaks life into whatever your self-defeating thoughts are. It crumbles you from the inside out, ultimately making you fully dependent upon the abuser as you fight for their approval. But it will never come. You will bend over to satisfy them, but they are insatiable. You’ll fear the same rejection by a stranger so you want to stay where its comfortable. At least you have someone right?

Wrong.

Be strong, be confident. Even if you have to do it alone. You deserve to be happy, comfortable and fully accepted by yourself as well as in your relationships. If someone isn’t making you feel seen, loved and valued, then you deserve better.

So, here’s what I sent to my once-gentleman caller after I had certainly endured quite enough of both his negging and gaslighting:

I just listened to your message. Let me be clear that I am not now and was not Friday riled up, angry, or upset; nor have I overreacted. I am very calm and matter-of-fact. I know what kind of man I want to share my time with and energy on and you have simply shown that you are not that man. Plain and simple.
We are not married. I am not obligated to keep company with someone who has imposed negative critique on both my physical figure and my home in addition to continually taking a teacher/preacher tone with me as if I need to learn lessons in patience, wisdom, confidence and my family relationships. I have the right not to entertain a relationship where I do not feel fully accepted and cared-for as-is. I do not need to be coached/changed/fixed/improved/educated and if I do I will take the initiative myself, not because you told me to.
I appreciate your effort after the fact, but I cannot trust words, only the actions you have shown me and what you have shown me is that you want to be with someone tidier, more physically fit, and willing to be lectured. I am not that person. I am quite comfortable in my skin and in my apartment and I am mature enough to handle my own relationships and decisions without you imposing unsolicited advice.
In your next relationship I do hope you do not imply her body or home need improvement. Most women will not respond well to that or as mildly as I have. Also, thank you but no thank you for dinner. If you’ve already got one foot in DC, I really don’t see the point even if you managed to stop casually insulting me on a regular basis. I’m certain there is someone that is a better fit for you as I am sure there is for me as well. Good luck.

AND SCENE. Do not settle. Be strong. Advocate for yourself. It is much better to be alone and healthy and happy, than in a relationship that is defeating and miserable.

~OR

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How to Train Your Man: Tips for Creating Your Ideal Significant Other

In short, there’s really only one necessary step in training your significant other.

Step One: NOPE

The End.

As a woman, single and sorta-looking, I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “I’m still training my husband [wife] [boyfriend] [girlfriend].”

CRINGE. SHUDDER. HISS.

Because the following are things that can and should be trained: pets, skills, muscles, hair, plants. An adult human is not one of those things. Now don’t get me wrong, if you have the trainer/trainee relationship and that works for you, then more power to you and that role-playing synergy. Thank God you two found each other.

But the mentality that someone should pick the closest prototype to their perfect partner with expectations to shape and groom them into that perfect partner is an idea I hope can be quickly eradicated from our social-majority thought. Not only is it unfair to the “trainer” because they are obviously settling and compromising their standards, but it is abusive for the “trainee” to live under constant scrutiny and judgement from the person that should love them the most, unconditionally. The “trainee” has the right to be themselves, relax and be comfortable in the intimacy of home.

Therefore, I offer this alternative title:

Learning Love Together:  Five Tips to Starting a New Relationship off Right

  1. Get Real. No One is Perfect.

There’s a thing I like to call the Prince Charming Syndrome. It involves being exposed to stories and movies that illustrate some perfect romance, budding with a delicious tension, finally blooming into a flawless, uncomplicated union, and they lived happily ever after.

Lies.

Coming from a single-parent home, I didn’t have a daily relationship to set the bar for me. Really, my only examples of marriage or any long-term relationship included my married-and-divorced-three-times mother; my godparents, who remained married but lived separately for several years and argued – both earnestly and jokingly – incessantly; and…The Huxtables. So, if it isn’t obvious, my perception of life partnerships was a bit skewed.  With Hollywood as my standard, I suffered from that Prince Charming Syndrome. And swiftly abandoned every relationship that required any effort or working through issues. By the time I had developed a relationship work ethic, my marriage of almost ten years was beyond my own repair. All affection was a distant memory and my vision of the future was 180 degrees away from his. So I valiantly galloped off into an opposing sunset.

The more I put myself out there, post-divorce, embarking on a spree of great and not-so-great dates, I realized, everyone is different and no one is flawless – no one is a particular upgrade or downgrade from my once-spouse.

Everyone comes from issues, passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, and everyone internalizes, suffers from, responds to, and exhibits those characteristics differently. Some people are aware of those traits, others are not. Some issues lay dormant for years, awakening with a specific trigger, while others rear their ugly heads early and often and speak louder than words. And depending on how those negative qualities land in the significant others’ world (don’t forget the significant other comes along with their own cocktail of problems), the possibilities for volatile mixtures are endless.

So then what?

Be introspective. Take the time and energy to know yourself.

And be thoughtful. Take the time and energy to know your significant other.


  1. Learning Each Other Takes Time and Communication.

Team projects in the workplace involve a handful of key factors that make or break the outcome: intentional leadership, setting expectations, proactive communication. This directly translates into relationships.

The success of every relationship hinges upon this openness. I know, this is a typical date-killer, the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. But really, I don’t want my time wasted and I don’t want to waste someone else’s time either. It’s OK to set boundaries, timelines, communication norms and preferences, and be clear about what you hope this developing relationship looks like. Letting your new partner know ahead of time, “I don’t text every day,” or “I’m more of a caller than a texter,” or “I’m not ready to fall in love, but I want to get to know you better,” are all very reasonable things to say on a first date – better yet, before the first date. If your relationship is lacking these basics, as time moves on, resentment will infect your partnership and slowly eat away every fiber of your connection.

Proactive communication and setting expectations are not things that happen naturally or automatically, either. Someone has to take the lead. Ideally, both partners would happily co-pilot their Ship of Love as it pulls out of Infatuation Harbor. However, this might not be both partners’ forte. If the responsibility falls more on one side than the other, make sure this too is communicated and accepted. If not, it could easily be another foothold for resentment; where one partner feels they are doing all the work to maintain the health of the relationship and the other is absent at the helm.

Set the tone early so that unrealistic expectations are not assumed, feelings are not hurt, and your new relationship doesn’t implode in the first month.


  1. Honoring Each Other Takes Selflessness.

In order to truly honor your partner, you have to bend sometimes. Yes, compromise. When I was a kid and my godmother would resolve spats between my brother and me, she would say, “You guys have to compromise.” It felt like slander. An expletive. Profanity. I want what I want when I want it even if it’s not my toy. Gimme! But she was right. Compromise is the only way to resolve partnership issues. However, unlike childhood squabbles, the compromise cannot take place out of guilt or because Auntie said so.  In a relationship, it must be done with love, compassion and selflessness. If not, enter that sepsis of bitterness once again. Honoring your significant other means selflessly compromising, and doing it with joy, not obligation.


 

  1. There is Give-and-Take

OK, let’s face it: adulating is hard. There are things are just a big fat huge annoying pain to do. Like sorting dirty laundry. Washing it. Drying it. Folding it. And putting it away. Ironing. Dishes. Putting away dishes. Sweeping. Mopping. Vacuuming. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. Even worse, they all have to be done over and over and over again. The absolute worst thing is when you’re in a relationship and you’re still doing everything despite this partner that can’t seem to help. Or this partner that not only doesn’t help but makes things worse, i.e. putting dirty dishes near the sink rather than in the sink or dumping dirty laundry on the floor rather than in the hamper. These little annoying things can set your soul ablaze with rage, or give you one more opportunity to remember that no one is perfect, you can proactively communicate, set realistic expectations, and lovingly compromise.

Let’s take the latter. Perhaps you hate doing laundry but don’t mind the dishes? Trade. Instead of expecting your partner to perform perfectly the thing they avoid the most, set your expectation to, “This is my job,” and release them from the responsibility. Allow them to take over something that you equally abhor. Better yet, if your hate is mutual and one of the things that draws you together, alternate days and make it a game. Reward yourselves with a romantic game or some QT alone when all the chores are done.


  1. It’s OK to Say, “This Isn’t Right.”

A lot of us are raised to avoid rejection conversations (why many people go ghost when something in the relationship has turned them off; it’s just easier – inconsiderate, but easier) or to do it as politely and delicately as possible (which is just annoying if you’re the one getting dumped). But guess what? It’s OK – no, more than OK – it’s healthy to speak up and say, “This isn’t working for me.”

It’s OK to voice a situation where your partner has made you feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to work through that breakdown or if the situation is unforgivable and you’re just done. The point here is that you have the power and the right to stand up for what you want to get out of your relationship. And if it’s not working, it. Is. O. K. You don’t get Brownie points for putting up with a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. Stand up for yourself. An unhealthy relationship is not better than being alone.

I recently decided to make a list of must-haves and a list of deal breakers. If we make the same lists for homes, vehicles, other big parts of our life that require both a significant investment and a considerable commitment, then why not do it for the person we expect to share our beds, meals, hearts, and life with for eternity? To be clear, this is not a check list with boxes and dating is not a job interview. But it is valid to outline characteristics you hope your partner will possess, as well as a list of things for which you absolutely will not settle. Don’t make exceptions that ultimately force you to smile through your misery or slowly waste away until nothing of your soul remains. Don’t sell yourself short. You owe it to yourself to be fully loved and fully happy; and your partner deserves it too. If you make too many exceptions and excuses, you’re condemning both of you to an unfair compromise that will crumble your life force and extinguish your zest.

At the top of my list: ability to show unconditional love. Unconditional because I want to be able to relax with my partner, be vulnerable and open with zero fear of judgement or abandonment.

And I don’t want to be improved. I’m not a puppy. I’m not a professor. I do not want to train or be trained. I just want to walk alongside someone and be cherished. Don’t we all?

~OR

Before Memorial Day

It’s a holiday. While I’m on-call, many of my fellow Americans are doing the yooj: gushing over the all-too-rare magic of a long weekend without the sacrifice of one priceless Vacation Day or a sacred PTO cash-in. Yes, one of those Mondays that has something to do with the military and too many of us have no idea whether it is Memorial, Labor or Veterans Day. The only thing that triggers brain activity: Day. Off. Fer’ Murica.

It’s the unofficial start of summer with a widespread epidemic of day drinking, lounging, sun poisoning and wishing for still just one more day like this.

Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone.

One more day. It’s Memorial Day. What we’re supposed to think of is those that are serving, those that returned from serving, those that died serving, and those that disappeared serving. This video (again, wrong Monday Military holiday, but same thing…), really got me in the feels:

 

There’s something beautiful and aching about the desperate, automatic, instinctual throwing of limbs around the body of someone you love and miss…like you have to touch them with as much of your bodily surface area as possible and you’ll never let them go again.

My boys hug me like this. It almost brings me to tears each time. I want to freeze the moment and hold them forever. And I know one day they’ll be too cool for me. One day, they’ll start doubting and pulling back and refraining. One day, they’ll tone it down like the rest of us.

We’re muted. We’re diluted. Until we experience the threat of loss. Until that stabbing wake-up call;  that one instant it takes for us to start seeing each other again.

I wish these stunningly passionate wordless expressions of deep affection were more common. I wish we’d be like eager uninhibited children, or the military-relative that has been on-edge for two years or more. I wish we would greet family before leaving for work on the Tuesday after a nice long holiday weekend  and instantly do the same when that awful vacation-hangover workday is over.

Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone. They don’t even have to be in uniform. Hold them now. Embrace them before they’re deployed. Before the diagnosis. Before the accident. Before the 911 call. Before the coma. Before the hospice. Before the abandoned Facebook profile. Before the memorial. Before the void. Before the hole in your spirit. Before they are a memory. Go cling to someone you love while you have them.

Happy Memorial Day.

~OR

Avoid the Side-Eye: Dos and Don’ts When Working with Black Women

A cartoon I saw yesterday left me with a knot in my throat. It showed First Lady Michelle Obama looking masculine and irritable, when compared to her potential replacement of the Republican-Party-Hopeful persuasion. There are so many things wrong with this image of her that I had to look away. It infuriates me that a strong, educated, strikingly beautiful American woman can be drawn so viciously. I refuse to link to it here and glorify the artist for his disgraceful work.

But then I considered my own identity issues as a Black Woman. I thought about how we’re shamed for not being good enough, pretty enough, educated enough…but then we’re shamed anyway, even when we blow those expectations out of the water. The truth is that we can never be good enough because someone will always find a reason to complain, nag, and diminish our value (enter the first stop on my Road to Relovery: validate yourself first) – even if you’re a double Ivy League graduate and the First Lady of the United States. I thought about how the physical attributes that kept me away from the cool kids table 20 years ago are the same things the cool kids are spending millions to have synthesized today.

beauty goals by octavia reese
Standard of Beauty 1996-2016

I wasn’t allowed to be Black growing up. As I was taught to strive for greatness, the image of greatness was not Black greatness. The image of greatness I saw did not look anything like me. The image of beauty I was shown was 90s heroin-chic; long, cadaverous, pale, curve-less. And the image of success I was shown was…well, any lawyer or doctor (or both) with a giant house, beautiful kids, 90s heroin-chic wife, fancy car, multiple vacation homes…yep, the upper-middle white man of the 90s was my hero.

But before I go too deep on the double standards I’ve watched evolve over the last decades that absolutely turn my stomach (again, the shame and rejection of the Black woman’s figure by mainstream media, “Omigod Becky look at her butt,” to the booming booty boosting industry giving non-Blacks our shape; the cannabis industry turning from Black street crime and thousands of imprisoned business-savvy young brown people to a legal, medical multibillion dollar industry profiting non-Blacks, etc.), I want to offer the following tips to assist in a successful interaction with the Black goddess of today:

  1. Do know my name. Do everything within your power to call us by our own unique name – not to be confused with that other Black woman you met once, talked to, worked with or grew up with. In school, I was The Token for many years and everyone knew me by name. Enter new Black family stage right; suddenly everyone started calling me Nora. Not my name. I realized I was just filed under “The Black Girl” in their minds and when there were two of us, ERROR 404: Black Girl Name Not Found.
  2. Don’t conditionally compliment me. That means, don’t be surprised that I speak a certain way or have a large vocabulary. Don’t say “wow, you speak well …for a Black girl.” And while you’re at it, drop the mom clause too, i.e. “wow, you look great…for a mom…”
  3. Don’t ask if our hair is real or ours. Assume it is, close your mouth and move on.
  4. Don’t compare us. I am not Michelle or Whoopi or Kerry or Serena or Beyoncé or Iman or anyone else that you’ve seen on TV. Unless it is a comparison to compliment, just accept that many of us don’t fit into your boxed definition of Black Woman. Best once again, to just close your mouth and move on.
  5. Do join us. Women are strong, powerful, divine vehicles of life and yes, we can do all of that thing that you’re doing pregnant and in heels. Men, please stop asking us what we can do for you and let us do our thing or maybe even, dare I write it, offer to help us. And to my ladies, women of all colors, cultures and creeds need to stick together. Stop the girl-girl hate, cat fighting and competition. How about we take each other out on friend dates.
  6. Don’t tell stories. We don’t care about that one Black person you know. It’s ok if you don’t know any other Black people. Actually, no it’s not ok, but if it’s your reality, then so be it. You don’t score “OK With Blacks” badges by telling us about someone you met or asking if we saw the last Tyler Perry movie or episode of Scandal or Empire. Just relax and act normal.
  7. Do let us be ourselves. We’re not all comics or athletes. Again, relax. And maybe just keep the lips sealed one more time.

    be yourself
    Do let us be ourselves
  8. Don’t say “I’m not racist.” You are. We all are. It just depends on what you do and say with your initial prejudices.
  9. Do be aware of your prejudices. Name them. And if you’re a forward thinking human-loving being, then you’ll know better which thoughts and reactions to push aside and how to move on without being awkward.
  10. Don’t admit to not understanding #blacklivesmatter. Just don’t. Close your mouth. Google it.
  11. Do understand police tensions. It’s not right that young Black kids dislike or fear the police, but it does make sense. It is sad but true and don’t forget that our Black history with law enforcement is drastically different from your non-Black story.
  12. If you’re going to assume anything, do assume we’re just as American as you are. I’ve been asked so many times where I’m from. Here. I’m from here. Just like you. We sing the same national anthem, cheer for the same teams, and drive on the same side of the road. If you haven’t noticed, America is actually quite colorful. And it is an astoundingly beautiful thing.

~OR

Hope

It happened. The binge watching. The time-stunning world-gulping addictive blackhole itch that only Netflix or OnDemand can scratch.   First, it was Shannara, a fantastic escape to post-apocalyptic Elvin-run Earth that I first visited in the 90s with my brother. Druids. Allanon. This Allanon is hot. 1997 me didn’t envision him like this. 2016 me approves.

Next it was X-Files, like the good and faithful nerd that I am. It’s been nice pretending to be a tween again.

Then Mr. Robot. I tried. I really tried. I haven’t given up. But there’s something about the curiously attractive cartoonish features of the main character that entrance me in his face; not to mention his monotone, rhythmic – humming to near-numbing – monologues combined with the smog-filtered cinematography that lull me right to sleep. I haven’t noticed my eyes have closed and I’ve rested away several hours of my life until the silence of the electronics’ auto-sleep jolts me awake.

Ever since having children, I hate the silence. Because it’s when there’s nothing on that I hear everything the most. Creaks. Motors. Fans. People laughing a block away. Someone’s engine. Dogs barking. Of course, my own thoughts are loudest of all.

And I just miss my kids. When they’re awake, I miss the nonstop cycle of giggle-scream-whine-cry-guffaw-mom!-cry-scream-I’m hungry! And of course tripping over them as they stay underfoot. Stay. Six eyes on me as I mount my porcelain throne. I draw the line when they ask to see what happened. Just leave. They abide by sitting outside the door and commenting on the smells, asking when I’m done, sliding notes and finger tips under the door.

But when they’re sleeping or with their dad, I miss that complete disregard of privacy and breech of personal space. I miss it like…like a mother misses her children.

Ironically, since I put in my two weeks and was instead granted an immediate exit, thus walking into an unexpectedly needed yet desperately underfunded 2.5-week sabbatical, I’ve had the most frustrating experiences with my decrepit and ever-expiring netbook paired with a deafening case of writer’s block.

So, childless, workless, and afraid of the silence, back to the téle I go. There’s this one thing I keep hearing people talk about. Orange is the New Black. I usually don’t follow TV fads or jump on the hype. I likes what I likes and I’ll watches when I want to watches. But I’ll watch it because I’m curious, not because everyone else says I have to watch it. So, three years later, now I’m curious.

And I’m hooked.

What stood out to me the most, and what has finally cured my temporary case of writer’s block, was in Season One when the skinny mousy yoga lady says that one part that finally starts to ground the main gal.

“You have to remember that. It’s all temporary.”

I had one of those weird reactions like looking behind me to make eye contact with my neighbor because obviously there had to be a witness to this woman on Netflix that just said the thing that I always say – to myself, so that I don’t ever give up; to my friends, so that they don’t ever give up. But oh yeah, I’m alone. So I smiled to myself. I get me. High five.

Maybe that’s why I love the show so much now. Because it speaks to me where I’m at. No not “prision;” but my not-ideal situation.

I never made a conscious decision to be in the circumstances where I am now. Yet I don’t feel that I’m being punished any more than I feel imprisoned. That’s life. And I know that I have to keep going. The bad days are not forever. While it seems like they will never end, they are just as long as the good days I don’t ever want to end.

The other side of knowing that a not-so-ideal situation is temporary is having the hope that the next season is better. Or in the least, it will be a new change. A new adventure. Perhaps a new definition of hard-challenging-difficult-maddening, but the adapting will be distracting enough to feel at least temporarily better than the old bad.

Hope.

hope
/hōp/
noun
  1.  
    a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
    “he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information”
  2. archaic
    a feeling of trust.
verb
  1.  
    want something to happen or be the case.
    “he’s hoping for an offer of compensation”
    synonyms: expect, anticipate, look for, be hopeful of, pin one’s hopes on, want;

My hope is holding onto the possibility that things will change. Improve. Shift. Having faith that this sucky spot right now is not what God has intended for me. Why would I have such a huge calling on my heart to do certain things if they were only fake dreams, toying with my childlike wonder and optimism?

I don’t believe in a God that teases. I don’t believe in a Universe that beckons me towards a distant rainbow and then chuckles as I fall into a bottomless canyon on the way to paradise.

No. Hope is why I go skipping and singing through the zoo with my children as if nothing else matters in the world except that moment. Because it’s true. That glorious musical-like family performance at the zoo is just as temporary as my unintentional sabbatical that has already disappeared and died.

It is as temporary as my girlish figure. It is as temporary as my pregnancies. As adapting to raise one child. Then two. The intense heartache of losing a third. Then welcoming a fourth. As temporary as our first family vacation. Our last family vacation. It is as temporary as an infant’s first steps. Gone as soon as they happened. He’ll never take another first step. The first day of kindergarten. First lost baby tooth.

Life moments are fleeting. Life itself is fleeting.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

~Hebrews 6:18

Hope is and always has been one of my three recurring life themes. The other two are Life & Death.

Weird…

So while I laid my sabbatical to rest last night, this morning I awoke to a renaissance. A new life beginning today, where I quite literally hold a family’s hands as they say goodbye to one loved life; and within hours, watch several families crumble to their knees in gratitude for a temporary extension of their own loved ones lives.

Today I feel whole. My greatest gifts have finally been paired with a great need. Life from Death. And in the temporary phases that are life, I Hope that the painful times seem short and the precious moments linger…


~OR

#febgoalsonfleek 

My goal of committing to a word a day in January was a success! But I don’t want to stop. It was a fantastic experience of intentional daily reflection. Still, a word a day was a bit aggressive. I’m going to do a word a week. 

Sprinkled with some online dating facepalms. 

Because honestly. I need to be the change I want to see in this digital love circus. 

TOPIC COMING SOON – false intimacy. 

Yeah. Sit on that for a minute. 

~OR

Rising

Today, I feel like I’m rising. Preparing for flight. Ascending.

~OR

   

Rising (per the Google)

ris·ing

ˈrīziNG/

adjective

adjective: rising

 

1.    going up, increasing, or sloping upward.

“the rising temperature”

advancing to maturity or high standing.

“the rising generation of American writers”

approaching (a higher level, grade, age, etc.).

“a rising senior at North Carolina State”

Astrology

(of a sign) ascendant.

2.   Heraldry

(of a bird) depicted with the wings open but not fully displayed, as if preparing for flight.

 

noun

noun: rising; plural noun: risings

 

  1. an armed protest against authority; a revolt.

 


 

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/still-i-rise


 

2016 Rising

Oh hai.

Hey. Yeah. I’m here. I’m here!

Last year threw me off. I mean honestly, the whole daggone year… threw. Me. Off.

To say the least, in my most powerful metaphoric voice, I felt like I was tasked with navigating an unfamiliar forest in the dark with no resources, with no explanation as to why or what the heck is even waiting at the end of the jungle.

Think: Survivor, in perpetual nightfall, with no objective.

It. Sucked. I mean, honestly, there were a lot of great moments. New friendships. Rekindled friendships. Many invaluable learning experiences with relationships – romantic and otherwise. I found my tribes and I love them. Personal steps towards true vulnerability, honesty, and healing…

So ok fine, it didn’t completely suck. It was just…difficult…a very uncomfortable year. It was a GROWTH year. A wilderness year.

While I tend to make resolutions as needed and //get my mind right// when it needs it, not necessarily in a symbolic way; this year, for the sake of ceremony and committing to something amazing, I’m making a legit NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION. But it’s not that easy…

For the most part, I just need to dedicate myself to…myself.

I have no doubt 2016 is its own forest, but this time, I’m bringing a compass, food, water, a pocket knife, and you best believe, a flashlight. But 2016 is not shrouded in darkness. I can feel it. The sun will rise on my blackened forest this year. I will rise this year.

Part of my dedication is being proactive, rather than reactive. And to help ground myself, I’m committing to carving out time for what is the most important – of course my children always have priority – but outside of my prearranged and consistent time with them, I just work – home – dance – church – repeat. That sounds like enough, but without process time; reflection time; me time (especially for a brain as vocal and reeling as mine), my “routine” is worthless – exhausting obligations with no meaning – unless I take the time to pause, reflect and address my internal to-do list.

For me, 2016 is about meaning, not motions.

2016 I take my reigns back. And burn them.

2016 I redefine myself…again… hey, this transition is trial-and-error. Hell, LIFE is trial-and-error.

2016 I learn to take zero exceptions, advocate for myself, know my value, stand firm in my worth, and truly be in charge of myself.

2016 I will meditate on a word a day and continue on my road to relovery.

Stay tuned


~OR

Forgiving Fathers Day

Father’s Day isn’t easy for me.

There are many reasons starting with a father-absent childhood and the depressing jealousy watching daddies and daughters live out a fantasy I’d never have – all the way to the recurring life-theme of pushing away deep relationships to save myself the embarrassment, shame, and agony of potential abandonment.

And now that I’m divorced, we can add another reason for me to want to get the day over with. I don’t want to think about not celebrating this day with the father of my children because we just don’t have that kind of relationship. I honestly just want to go back to work. Or go off the grid. Maybe next year I’ll find a cabin in Alberta for the weekend. Alone.

However, the following story reminds me to be less sad on Father’s Day and be more accepting of the love that DOES surround me everyday – if I choose to see it. Every piece of it is true and straight from the supernatural energies the swirl around us.

Now I try to celebrate Father’s Day by remembering that magic is real and forgiveness can communicate, even beyond the grave.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads – the great ones and the not-so-great ones. And to the kids that struggle with this like I do, well…you’re here, in part, thanks to your dad’s super swimmers. Hating/detesting/resenting him only means you’re letting a part of yourself rot right along with your esteem of him. Might as well accept it, make peace with it, and then make the most of it.

This story, “February” is a short piece I wrote about eight years ago. Hope you enjoy it.


FEBRUARY

Thrilled to be living abroad for the semester, I planned to go to the south of France for winter break with my best friends Anne and Ryan. Mom called the weekend before our departure and said she spoke with Dad. He didn’t sound well, she had said. She asked if I wanted to come home and see him instead of going on vacation. I said no. Well, call your father, she said. I said no.

* * *

My father, James Reese, was very active in the community.  In the seventies, he and my mother had a radio show together.  I’m told he was called ‘the velvet voice of Detroit,’ for his smooth baritone vocals and charming radio personality. They also owned and operated an adult life and career counseling center called M.O.R.E: Mobilizing Our Reserve Energy.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. But things changed by the time the eighties rolled around. The success vanished. They said he changed. My parents divorced when I was two years old, and I have no memory of them ever living in the same house. For as long as I could remember, he lived in Ohio.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. When I missed him the most, I would listen over and over again to his recording of a black empowerment poem, I Am The Oppressed. I wrote him letters too, many of which were never sent.

Daddy, when are you coming to visit, most said. Don’t forget, it’s my birthday soon, I would write. Daddy, it’s almost Christmas. Are you coming home? When will I see you again? I have a dance recital, Daddy. Are you coming to it? Daddy, I just finished another Suzuki book. When will you hear me play the cello?

Many of the replies listed a thousand excuses, but always closed with I’m working on something now; we’ll have a lot of money soon. Pray for Daddy.

He was my world as a small child. I was full of hope and my eyes twinkled when I heard his voice. He did visit sometimes; every few years or some other irregular pattern. The years came and went, many letters exchanged, all the same. Many promises of frequent visits. Promises to send money. Promises that things would change. All of them empty.

In high school, I gave up on having the illusion of that dream daddy-daughter relationship. I gave up on the letters. I gave up on the phone calls. I lost the recordings of his voice. Hey dad, I would say on the occasional brief telephone conversation, so… can I have some money? Hey pop, wanna get me a car for my sixteenth? Hi dad. Yeah, well… uh, I gotta go. It was strained, tense. Forced at best. I gave up. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t care. Apathy was my weapon of choice against the pain. By my last year of high school, it was fifteen years of private cello lessons, practicing, orchestras, camps, recitals, international tours, sixteen years of ballet jazz and gymnastics, countless sports games, college level Calculus, all of this he had never seen. Finally my high school graduation, I didn’t ask him to come. He did manage to come up for that, the first time he ever heard me play the cello.

The summer before my junior year of college, Mom and I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Ohio. Dad moved close to them thanks to brother’s coaxing. It was the first time I had seen him in about two years. He looked old. He was already an old man, something like fifty when I was born. But now he looked really old. He tried to give me stuff. Just stuff. Old piano books, his keyboard, a print of a painting and other random things I didn’t really want. But I accepted them. By my junior year of college, I had plans to study abroad. I went to Rennes, France for my spring semester.

* * *

Two days later, Mom called in the morning after my first Monday morning class at l’Universite d’Haute Bretagne. She said something was wrong but she didn’t know what. She would call again. We had a break between classes that morning, and it was a beautiful day. Anne and I were getting so excited for our excursion south, we decided to ditch the next class and take a walk through the park. The bright sun, the sound of falling water in the fountains, the slight rustle of leaves blowing in the fresh spring breeze all tried to hide me from the pang of fear lurking in my heart and tears burning in the backs of my eyes. I knew Mom would call soon. And she did.

I heard the gasp and the 24-hour second of hollow silence that comes before that first big drop in a roller coaster, followed by the struggle for breath to let out a blood-curdling scream. It was the swoop without the thrill and laughter. The ground fell and my stomach dropped with it. I crumbled onto the gravel park floor. I was sure it wouldn’t catch me.

I pretended for so long that I wouldn’t care until he cared. That I wouldn’t love until he loved. But I did. I cared. I loved. And I wanted my Dad. I wrote another letter that night; another letter I would never send:

Dad, I waited for you. I waited for you to come to me and be ready to be my father. I wanted you to make it work and to walk me down the aisle. I wanted you to love me and be proud of me. I wanted you to go everywhere and say “Look at my beautiful family. Look at my beautiful daughter. I love her and I am proud of her.” But you didn’t.

Ryan met up with Anne and me for a few silent mournful kirs. They stayed with me all night. Neither forced the words that would never come out the right way. We sat there in silence, save my un-suppressible fits of sobbing that would strike at any random moment, until we fell asleep. I didn’t go to the south of France. I left the next morning for Detroit.

* * *

After the terrible week at home consisting of finding out that Dad died alone in his small apartment that had already reeked of death, that he had a few distant relatives that had to be retrieved to fill a total of ten seats in a small memorial chapel, and that he was cremated because he was found one or two days postmortem, I went back to France eager to get on with my life.

When May came around, I realized I had over packed– I went home with a small carry-on for Dad’s memorial service, and came back with my cello and a large suitcase. I began to mail boxes of my belongings from France to my anticipated self in Detroit. I had been home for at least a week or two before the boxes started to show up one at a time. They all made the journey except one. I figured it was a sign from God that I had way to many clothes for one person and I should accept the loss as encouragement to downsize my closet. I think God had a hand in it all, but the message was not about my closet.

The box showed up a few weeks later, but it did not arrive as it was sent. While the other boxes knocked on my front door looking like old men who had seen one too many hard days in their long lives, the last box was brand new, large with crisp un-bashed-in corners, and wrapped with plastic twine like a gift. On the box was a note from the postman: We apologize but your parcel was damaged en route beyond repair. We hope this contains your items, but are not responsible for any lost or damaged articles. I tore open the box like it was Christmas.

I was reunited with sweaters, shoes and shirts I thought I would never see again. We hugged and laughed about old times. All of my belongings were accounted for, but there was more: a box of Toffiffee candies, some amateur photography, some intricately patterned tattoo-like doodles, a copy of Dante’s Inferno, a few Grateful Dead records, a handwritten copy of DESIDERATA.

Desiderata. Desiderata. It was everything I was looking for at that time in my life; the time when everyone looks for direction aside from blind faith in what our parents taught us about life, love, and religion. I was searching for meaning aside from religious doctrine flooded with room for human error in interpretation. I remembered Shusaku Endo in Deep River writing, “There are varying degrees of truth in all religions. All religions spring forth from the same God. But every religion is imperfect. That is because they all have been transmitted to us by imperfect human beings.”

How much of Truth is lost in translation? I wondered why Creator left it up to us dumb humans to try to translate Life into our own simple comprehension. If it is one God speaking to all of us around the world, then why do so many religions contradict each other? I look to the Bible for inspiration, direction, and guidelines, but what about my other friends who turn to other doctrines, up to and including Dr. Seuss?  How could we engage in deep philosophical discussions if one side is faithless in the other’s foundations of thought? How would we coexist under the umbrella of pure inborn human laws that are not implied by an organized faith? I had asked God for a summary. I asked him for a philosophy of life so simple and unattached to any religion that every sane human can effortlessly agree that this is what Life is about. This time, my wish was His command. Tangibly delivered into my hands.

I took Desiderata with me everywhere, pinning it on the wall above my bed while I worked at camp that summer, then to the wall above my bed in my apartment to close out my senior year of college. In 2005, I focused my college exit paper, my Philosophy of Life, on my relationship with my father, the fact that I had never really grieved him, and how I had come to find closure with his death. I concluded the paper with my narrative of how Desiderata came to me in 2004.

I wrote: Desiderata was my little present from God. It was beautifully scripted on cloud-print paper, emphasizing its supernatural state. I was so excited. I had been thinking of how I could summarize my beliefs, my passions, and my mystic view of life. This was it …I read the poem and I said out loud smiling towards the sky, ‘Thank you’. I read Desiderata so many times it was partially committed to memory. It had become such a part of me that one familiar word in an unrelated conversation triggered a flood of phrases from the poem that I would recite over and over in my head. I made copies of it and passed it on to my classmates during my Philosophy of Life presentation. I loved Desiderata.

Having its impression on my heart, I had realized the painful truth: I never really did trade optimism for apathy. I used apathy as a cover to avoid getting hurt, just in case Dad never had a stroke of courage to develop a bond with me. I was devastated with his death; not mourning the loss of a great life full of memories, but having the potential of Daddy-daughter redemption stripped away from my soul. Ultimately, I came to peace with Dad within myself. I forgave him for not being the 100% Daddy that I wanted, and I forgave myself for not rushing home to see him one last time. I thanked God for sending Desiderata to help me retrieve my childlike optimism about life and love.

It was 2005 and I was graduating from college. After commencement, my family gathered in a hotel room to have a bit of a celebration complete with champagne and gifts. I opened a card from my godmother Aunt Marcy.

I heard the gasp and the 24-hour second of hollow silence that comes before that first big drop in the roller coaster, followed by the struggle for breath to let out a blood-curdling scream. It was the swoop with all of the thrill and laughter. The ground fell and my stomach flew up into my throat. Inside the envelope was a wallet-sized excerpt from Desiderata. I glanced blankly back and forth between the wallet card and Aunt Marcy’s face.

“I looked all over for it,” she said, “It was the last one.”

“Did I tell you the story about this?” I sputtered out.

“No…”

I began to recant from the part about having too many clothes. After I closed with the part about passing out copies to my fellow students, Mom looked at Aunt Marcy and said, “Should I tell her or should you?”

Aunt Marcy smiled and said, “You should”.

“Remember how I told you about M.O.R.E.,” Mom began. “Your father and I used to teach a class on this poem. It was his favorite poem. He used to read it to you when you were a baby.”

A few years afterwards, my mom found copies of Desiderata, branded with the M.O.R.E. logo, just like my dad had designed. I keep one framed in my bedroom.

Desiderata - Max Ehrmann

to read all of Desiderata, click here


Happy Father’s Day, dad.

~OR

don’t regret not doing things…

I saw this on LinkedIn today and had to share. Most of the things I regret — and I hate that feeling of “I shoulda just gone for it…” — are not the bad decisions I’ve made, but the chances I didn’t take out of fear or worrying about what others think of me. That just turns into resentment and bitterness, especially when you surround yourself with people that are confident, outgoing, fulfilled, and happy.

Be bold. Be brave. Do it. You deserve it.

Ten Choices You Will Always Regret Making

Hindsight is a funny thing. Look forward and the path seems uncertain, the future unpredictable. Look back and all the dots seem to connect… except the dots that mark the choices you didn’t make, and the risks you didn’t take.

Here are choices you will someday regret having made:

1. Choosing not to be brave.

Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid — in fact, the opposite is true. Courage without thought or meaning is simply recklessness. Brave people aren’t fearless;they’ve simply found something that matters more to them than fear.

Say you’re scared to start a business. Find a reason that means more: creating a better future for your family, wanting to make a real difference, or hoping for a more rewarding and fulfilling life.

Once you find a greater meaning, you also find courage. See fear not as something to shrink from but as something to overcome — because that’s all it is.

2. Choosing the pain of regret over the pain of discipline.

The worst words you can say are, “If I had only…”

Think of all the things you’ve wanted to do but never have. What did you do instead? If you’re like me, you can’t recall. All you know is that time is gone and whatever you did instead wasn’t even worth remembering.

Think about one thing you dreamed of doing five or 10 years ago but didn’t work to do… and think about how good you’d be today at that one thing if you had. Think about all the time you wasted and can never get back.

Then, starting today, push yourself to do what you hope to do… so five or 10 years from now you won’t look back with regret. Sure it will be hard. Sure it will be painful.

But it will be a lot less painful than how it will someday feel when you look back on what could have been… but isn’t.

3. Choosing not to say, “I will.”

A boss once gave me what I thought was an impossible task. I said, “OK. I’ll try.”

He told me trying didn’t matter–as long as I didn’t quit, I’d finish it. Trying didn’t enter into it. Persistence was all that mattered.

Often we say, “I’ll try,” because that gives us an out. Our egos aren’t on the line. Our identities aren’t on the line. After all, we’re just “trying.”

Once you say, “I will,” your perspective changes. What previously seemed insurmountable is no longer a matter of luck or chance but of time and effort and persistence.

When what you want to do really matters, don’t say, “I’ll try.” Say, “I will,” and then do everything possible to keep that promise to yourself.

4. Choosing not to take plenty of shots.

You may never create the perfect business plan, may never find the perfect partners or the perfect market or the perfect location, but you can find the perfect time to start — because that time is now.

Talent, experience, and connections are important, but put your all into enough new things, and some will work.

Plus, after you take enough shots, over time you’ll grow more skilled, more experienced, and more connected. And that will mean an even greater percentage of your efforts will succeed. Take enough shots, and learn from each experience, and in time you’ll have all the skills, knowledge, and connections you need.

Ultimately, success is a numbers game; it’s all about taking a shot, over and over and over again. The more shots you take, the more times you will succeed. So get the power of numbers on your side and take as many shots as you can.

There is no guarantee of success, but when you don’t take any shots at all, you’re guaranteed to always fail.

5. Choosing not to move.

Familiarity creates comfort. But comfort is often the enemy of improvement.

If you have a great opportunity and the only thing holding you back is the thought of moving, move. If you want to be closer to family or friends and the only thing holding you back is the thought of moving, move. If you want to be closer to people who think and feel and act like you, move. (When I asked singer/songwriter Lee Brice for the one piece of advice he would give any aspiring country artist, he said, “Move to Nashville.”)

When the fear of moving is the only thing holding you back, move.

Don’t worry. You’ll soon find cool new places to hang out. You’ll soon develop new routines. You’ll soon make new friends. And you’ll gain a great new perspective on your life.

Besides, Thomas Wolfe was wrong. If it doesn’t work out, you can go home again.

6. Choosing not to let go.

Bitterness, resentment, and jealousy are like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. You are the only one who loses.

Life is too short to resent all the people who may have hurt you. Let hard feelings go.

Then spend the energy you save cherishing the people you love and who love you.

7. Choosing not to say you’re sorry.

We all make mistakes, so we all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, to be there when we’re needed…

Swallow your fear — or pride — and say you’re sorry. Then you’ll help the other person let go of their resentment or bitterness.

And then you both get to make the freshest of fresh starts, sooner instead of later — or instead of never.

8. Choosing not to throw out your backup plans.

Backup plans can help you sleep easier at night. But backup plans can also create an easy out when times get tough.

You will work a lot harder and a longer if your primary plan has to work because there is no other option. Total commitment — without a safety net — will spur you to work harder than you ever imagined possible.

Then, if somehow the worst does happen (although the “worst” is never as bad as you think), trust that you will find a way to rebound.

As long as you keep working hard and keep learning from your mistakes, you always will.

9. Choosing to be too proud.

Don’t be too proud to admit you made a mistake. Don’t be too proud to have big dreams, or to poke fun at yourself, or to ask other people for help.

Don’t be afraid to take a chance and fall on your face… and then to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go again.

Instead, take pride in the fact that no matter what might happen, you will always get up and go again.

That way, you never truly lose — and your dreams can never, ever die.

10. Choosing not to care.

Rejection hurts. Sadness hurts. Failure hurts; sometimes a lot. So what do you do?

You avoid getting hurt by deciding you no longer care. But then you never get to experience the joy of connection, the joy of happiness, and the joy of success.

Choose to still be in the game. Choose to care.

Choose to live.

Now it’s your turn. What things do you hope to never to regret?

~ OR