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#Couchto9K: How to Go Viral and Stay Active

30 Jan

couchto9k

So, I was trying to figure out a way to talk about how I went from simply writing about life and its injustices to actually doing something about it.

#Couchto9K isn’t just a cute reference to my fast track from writer to protester to advocate to politician (#Morris2018?).

It’s also to show how that kind of anger can lead to something cool: getting 9,500 likes and 1,500 shares on Facebook for a blog post.

Like most people who are self-esteem challenged, the idea of getting a few likes on a witty post is like a breath of fresh air.

“Yay, what I say matters! My life is now validated for the next 24 hours.”

I had been meaning to discuss my experience at Planned Parenthood as soon as it happened five years ago. I thought it was a perfect time to do it now and throw my support towards an organization that’s getting a lot of flack right now.

I submitted the pitch to a paid publication first. (Always do this!) When it was rejected, I posted it here on my blog, made a few changes and posted it on Huffington Post, and now here we are.

Here’s the reality: :There’s no book deal. No celebrity endorsements. I didn’t get any sort of financial gain from writing this.

But not long after that, I went to a Democratic fundraiser, joined a “Nasty Woman” group and endured 24+ hours on a bus to March in Washington.

Then I went to two meetings in the same day looking at local legislation and throwing my support to a state representative whose ideals I love.

Nothing else in life mattered but being part of the resistance.

So what worked? How did the post get noticed by HP’s blogging team and end up being featured on Facebook?

Probably my eye-popping headline and a relatable story for a currently divisive issue to back it up. (No clickbait here!)

I continued to do some more writing and thinking and posting on Facebook (much to the chagrin of my conservative friends). I’ve looked at running for office and have joined a couple of programs dedicated to it.

And I nearly lost my mind.

The inconvenient truth is that doing all of this requires a lot of mental and physical energy. Today, I watched videos on how to be kind and how to disagree (Thanks, Kid President!) and realized I had failed in these instructions.

I’ve angered people, had family members put a ban on political talk and I’ve stopped taking caring of myself on a consistent basis.

I recently posted something “normal” on Facebook about my day. It was short, positive and has only received 2 likes LOL.

So I’m taking a step back and looking at self-care (including renewing my search for writing clients), my family and stop being so angry. (But still stay active.)

What are you doing to fight, resist and stay sane?

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Holidays: When You’re Forced to be Grateful

12 Dec

There are a lot of things going on in my life that suck. Yes, it’s become sort of a joke that 2016 has felt like the worst year ever, because we’ve lost a lot of iconic people. We had a terrible presidential election season that seemed almost comical but was painfully real.

But on a personal level, this year was one of the worst ever. I gave up freelancing to hunt for a job, only to have that job snatched away from me so quickly I never made it Facebook official. Physically, I’ve never looked or felt this bad. I’ve resorted to picking my skin which has scarred it.

I’ve gained a lot of weight and I’ve let my hair become so out of control it requires going to a pro to fix it. There are other mental, emotional, spiritual and physical issues related to my anxiety and depression that I can only discuss with a therapist or a doctor.

Now I’m back to where I was a few years ago. Feeling rejected for the umpteenth time. Feeling like I’ve sabotaged jobs, relationships and myself so frequently, the consequences are irrevocable. Feeling the most unpretty. The personality I had when I first moved to Alabama – one of optimism, loyalty and determination – has left me.  I have changed so much and mostly in ways that are sour and unbecoming.

What happens when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom? I feel like I’m in that stage where I’ve just fallen and still tending to my wounds and cleaning myself off. I’m not ready for re-entry. When you’re in this place, you have to focus on the present. On what you have left when you feel like the parts that make up who you are have disintegrated.

There is still a bit of light left. I still laugh at the smallest things. I still recognize how amazing and privileged I am to be in the place where I am now.

To have people in my life who will not simply walk through fire to rescue me. They will lift me up and carry me through the fire so that I can help myself.

I know not everyone has that, and I’ve thought of them every day to get me out of bed in the morning.

Being at what feels like the bottom of a hole forces you to think simply.  The normal trappings of temporary happiness that spring from having a job, a lot of acquaintances who love you only when you’re happy have been burned away.

You focus on the simplest of blessings – food, shelter, health, faith, family. You look around and wonder why God saw fit to wake you up today. You search for what was so important that He chose to give you another day of life.

For instance, today I’m going out with friends. I didn’t plan it, and I don’t want to go. I don’t want to spend time with other people right now, even ones I know love and respect me. I want to remain in the shadows. But I know that’s one simple reason why I’m around today. For something so simple. Something that I could try to back out of but can’t since I wasn’t the one to plan it

That has been really easy lately.  Backing out of obligations to either stay home with my husband or just stay at home. Everyone expects me to bounce back. Yes, I have a mental illness, but it’s never been an issue. I stop. I grieve. I move on. However, this time and this year is different.

Resuming my normal won’t happen for a while. I’ve disengaged with a lot of my contacts while freelancing, and several I won’t be able to mend. I’m not in the right mental condition to go on job interviews. So it appears that, like a few years ago, December is dedicated to hibernation. Thankfully, I made plans with my family before everything went south, so I can’t back out on them.

There are traces of that super-determination left in me. I’m in the last steps of applying to a graduate program. I don’t have a lot of faith that I will get in. Not so much because I am in a self-defeatist mood, but because I didn’t prepare properly. I put together a lot of documentation in a very short amount of time, which is awesome considering my attitude at the moment but may have made for a less than ideal application package.

I’ve been so down that I haven’t wanted to write. I feel like all of the creativity has been sucked out of me. So for now I’m choosing to write about being down. Not my most eloquent of posts, and certainly not one where I manage to turn it around and make it relatable and positive. But that’s where I am today.

Why a Great Job Is the Best Kind of Relationship

7 Sep

I don’t care what anyone says, there are times where you should just take a break from writing, even if writing is your job.

These past few months have been one of those times. After following the strict but sage advice of one of my writing mentors, Linda Formichelli, I read her book “Commit.” Unfortunately, “committing” to something also involves “un-committing” to everything else.

After an important conversation with my husband, I determined not long after my last post that I’d start looking for a job. A “real” one. That is one where the paychecks are steady and you actually are within a working environment around other people.

I sent a blanket email to a lot of then very important people in my life that I had committed to saying, essentially, “I’m sorry, but I quit.”

It’s the self sabotaging email that perfectionists with anxiety send out more often than they should.

I was really surprised at the responses (or lack thereof). Most of the people who I had recently committed to responded almost immediately and said, “I’m here. I can help.” Some of these people were barely my acquaintances, because I had just joined their organizations a short time ago.

Others I considered my closest friends ignored the email or later gave terse responses after some prodding. I was disappointed and was finally able to express that much later, but it reminded me that the only people in my life who are consistently there for me didn’t get involved much in my business  – that’s my tried-and-true friends and family.

Despite coming to this devastating realization, I moved on. A few weeks after Loving Day, I started a new job and, like any great relationship, I find myself not having to prove much of anything. It took one interview (well, three with different people in one day) and about a month to show that I know what I’m doing.

Again, I was surprised. These people barely knew me, and every job always takes a warming period. Because I’m an introvert and overachiever, I have to soften my motto of “I don’t come to work to make friends” or Scandal’s overarching theme that black women have to work twice as hard to get half the benefits. Because I only have one officemate and most of my co-workers are in other buildings, when I’m near their offices, I stop myself to say hello, to catch up. Most of them are usually very busy, but I like to preface my stops with that acknowledgement.

I want my stops with them to be like a gentle reminder that there’s more to work than just being stuck staring at a computer screen. Plus, it’s forced me to pull out of this social funk you tend to enter when you work from home.

So, like most new relationships, there has to be some effort on my part. You don’t expect to become besties after a few interactions. But I mean when I say, “Great relationships mean not having to try as hard,” something I learned from a former friend many years ago.

The right job (or relationship):

  1. Minimizes mistakes. Yes, the ideal job is supposed to be one where you grow and learn to lessen the amount of mistakes you make. But as someone with anxiety and bad run-ins with bosses and co-workers, I was afraid of even making the smallest mistake. My boss is quick to say, “It’s no big deal,” and she means it. She’s not going to bring it back up again or threaten to take away my job. If a boss (or friend/romantic partner) tells you, “It’s okay,” you’ve got a real winner.
  2. Celebrates the small wins. Every time I sent an email where I wanted to hold back on congratulating myself, I get replies that are encouraging, even when the final results of my project aren’t quite what I wanted. This is the marker of a great job or a great relationship – where folks make it a point to congratulate the smallest achievements.
  3. Ignores the things that don’t affect success. I’ve had jobs where I was told what I wore was inappropriate (the “yoga pants incident”). Or that my personality was too open. (Vague speak for “We are frightened by your drive/attitude/behavior because you’re too young/too angry black woman/not black enough.”) It was really demeaning experiences. I have roaring laughs, joke a lot and tend to get overly excited or enthusiastic about things. My bosses and co-workers aren’t (openly any way LOL) irritated or see these traits as flaws. In fact, my enthusiasm was a bonus during the interview process and still works today. (Although my boss will tell you it was my writing, not my winning personality, that landed me the job LOL) My husband has seen me with good hair days maybe 3 months out of the almost five years we’ve been together LOL. The rest of time it’s damaged, kinky, stinky or just boring. But he doesn’t care. Quirky or even annoying personality traits are simply hurdles to overcome in a solid relationship. They aren’t used as excuses to end things or make things difficult.
  4. Gives you reasons to stick around during the rough times. Despite the fact I’ve garnered something of a dream job, part of that “dream” includes all of the crap I have to endure – mainly the inordinate amount of walking during hot weather. Also, it really, really sucks to get sick when you don’t have a lot of sick leave and your boss is out of town at the same time. (Oh, dear Lord.)Life is fraught with problems. The older I get, the more I realize “Everybody’s got something.” It helps me to empathize more and complain less. My “somethings” may seem like the end of the world to me, but I have plenty of friends  whose “somethings” are worse.(This brings me to an aside: if you’re like me and you suffer from a mental illness like anxiety or depression, never, ever, ever downplay your “something.” That’s what contributes to the stigma that having an unseen illness isn’t “as bad” as someone who experiences physical illnesses or disabilities. I’ve been trying for years to get over that…to not see what I’m experiencing as something to just get over.

    What you’re experiencing is real. It’s valid. And when it affects your life, it’s okay to talk about it.)

Every relationship is a challenge, but it should never be a constant uphill battle. Sadly this was something I was beginning to experience working from home and within certain relationships.

Even the people we dislike the most have a “something” to overcome. We have the ability to use it to make our dream jobs or relationships come true.

But don’t work *too* hard at it.

 

I’m a Southern Black Woman & I Hate “Formation”

7 Feb
beyonce

I am seriously considering this as cosplay for DragonCon. Seriously.

Yesterday morning, I was taking a shower thinking about Beyonce.

Don’t get any crazy ideas. I was daydreaming about some inconceivable moment where she and I were in New York at the same time. I did something nice for her without realizing it – tackling a purse snatcher or some such nonsense. (Because, you know, everyone in her posse was…in the bathroom…? Looking the other way?)

Somehow her schedule was open for the next two hours (yeah, right!). She wanted to pay me a reward for getting her purse back.

But I didn’t want her cash. I just wanted to talk to her. We had a conversation about my background and writing/VA business without me hyperventilating. (Not possible.) I wanted her to talk a few minutes with one of my blogging buddies, Javacia Bowser, who has always been a superfan. I weighed my options on how to tell her.

Should I just hand the phone to Beyonce and start chatting? No, she may be at work and could pass out. Should I call her husband first? No.

I decided on just telling her myself, asking her to take a few deep breaths because “a friend” wanted to talk with her.

The daydream (and my shower) ended somewhere around the part where Javacia was trying not to scream. It made me smile.

Then later on in the day, I heard about her new song and video “Formation,” and decided to check it out.

Someone used the word “subversive” to describe the video, and it certainly is. She’s perched atop a drowning New Orleans police car. There are images of a young black boy raising his arms up in front of a line of police officers.

And there’s plenty of what to expect from Queen Bey – epic choreography and even more epic costumes. I mean, wow.

But the lyrics?

Well, that’s a different story.

There have already been several blog posts floating around about the hidden “meaning” behind the lyrics. That she’s finally “returning to her roots,” and “embracing her blackness.”

Let’s forget the fact that she’s not really singing…she’s rapping, and the beat isn’t dance-worthy (although she looked amazing dancing to it).

Let’s talk about her “blackness.” The lyrics in particular:

I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils

Of course, she’s referencing her daughter Blue Ivy (whose adorableness makes an appearance in the video) and her husband, rapper Jay-Z.

Then there are these lyrics:

I twirl on them haters
Albino alligators
El Camino with the seat low
Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off
I go hard, I go hard

or

When he f— me good I take his a– to Red Lobster, cause I slay

Wait, what?

First of all, who hates Beyonce? I’m joking of course, but it’s difficult as a fan of hers to imagine anyone being a “hater.” Her reference to the “Illuminati mess” in the lyrics was clever. Some crazies always like to associate celebs with the Illuminati and it always angered me.

But now…now after all of her hit records and essential world domination, now she’s “embracing her blackness?” I’ve noticed her progression to this kind of music over the years, and I was starting to feel alienated as a fan. This kind of clinched it for me.

If so, then I haven’t been black for years. Then again, many people think that way about me.


 

I shouldn’t have to say any of this, but now that this video has popped up, and with some of the comments, I’ve seen it’s time to finally get real about this.

“Yeah, I bet she’s a virgin. I bet she’s never sucked a dick in her life.”

This was just one of the many lovely phrases uttered loudly by my bully as I passed by on my way to journalism class in 10th grade. She made it her business to make my life miserable and ensure my place outside of the popular black folks in school. (Ironically, she’s now a Christian business coach, but hey, people can change, right?) At the time, I had dedicated in church to stay a virgin until marriage, so it stung.

In middle school, she berated me for having white friends, even though the school district was mostly white, and most of my black friends were at church.

A couple of years before the virgin comment, she and I went to a guidance counselor in some feeble attempt to make amends.

Clearly that didn’t work.

Now some of the commentary about “Formation,” is simply reminding me of this. How being bullied made me afraid of my own people. Sometimes I’m still afraid. Of judgment. Of side eye or whispers. My adulthood is still hampered by my “whiteness” to this day.

I didn’t have any close black friends outside of church until I graduated from college. Most of the black folks who weren’t bullying me either talked about me behind my back or felt sorry for me.

When I was dateless for the prom, someone suggested I ask one of the least popular black guys in high school. I guess that’s what I was worth?

Sometimes I still get scared. I’ll say something with my “New York white woman” accent to a black friend and feel my heart skip. (Yes, I’ve heard that before. I found that pretty funny as a kid.)

Everything I’ve read so far about “Formation” is about how the only people criticizing her work are either haters, not Southern or not a person of color.

Well, I really like Beyonce and I’m a Southern black woman. Will I be ostracized again?

Is it “white” of me to say I miss her Sasha Fierce days and her time with Destiny’s Child?

What if it’s simply because I’m not a fan of modern hip-hop? I despise Auto-Tune and like lyrics that don’t require an existential translation from an intellectual?

Oh, wait. That makes me “less black” too.

Beyonce is one of the greatest performers to ever grace the stage. I will always love her style, her grace and her sense of humor.

I’d totally tackle a purse snatcher for her. For real.

But the fact that we categorize ourselves to act a certain way, like a certain type of music, talk a certain way, and *that* is what it means to be black is simply pushing this kind of stereotype to other races.

Beyonce’s inner thug is finally out, so now she’s black and no longer under “white gaze?”

I’ve loved Beyonce’s blackness years ago. Why is it because she’s wearing her hair in braids, flipping off the camera and using foul language in her music has this become her emergence as a true black woman.

Why must I embrace this as an anthem for all Southern black women? I can’t. And I won’t.

My black experience was different. When the rest of the women in my family went shopping, I stayed in Radio Shack and played on the computers.

Sometimes my Mom would let me stay at the library for an entire day. It was heaven.

My best birthday moment involves getting Super Mario Bros. 3.

This doesn’t make me less black or somehow negates the instances of prejudice and racism I experienced.

I haven’t forgotten about my roots – about the struggles my parents went through living under a Jim Crow south.

There’s another conversation entirely about the “double-paned” glass ceiling black women face in their careers.

Let’s forget about all of the side-eye and inappropriate behavior from everyone for marrying a white man in Alabama.

My black card is barely existent, I suppose.

And that makes me hurt. Almost as much as the first time I was bullied in 7th grade.

But, hey, I love collards and cornbread, so that’s a plus, right?

What do ya’ll think of Beyonce’s new track? Do you think the rest of her new album will be similar? Have you ever been ostracized for not being “black enough?” Talk to me in the comments. 

 

On the South Carolina Flooding: As My City Recovers, My Heart Mends

6 Oct

south carolina flooding

The worst part is the Google searching for the names of those who died.

Whenever I don’t know what to do, when my anxiety, depression and obsessive worry get to me, my answer is to write. Usually alternating between that, deep breathing and prayer. But even me, one of the wordiest people I know, couldn’t find the words to say about the flooding in the Southeast, particularly my home city of Columbia, SC, where I spent more than 30 years.

Now that I’ve started typing, I’ve found the brain space for it.

So each time I hear about another fatality, I cringe and check the list. Just to be sure. Columbia’s always been a “little big town,” so there’s a good possibility that I or someone I know has been affected.

I posted on Facebook how eerie it is to watch your city on national television and recognizing places you’ve eaten, streets you’ve driven on countless times, neighborhoods you’re familiar with – all being washed away. Social media has been a godsend, as I’ve been able to check on the Facebook pages of friends and businesses to see how they fared.

As of this posting, my parents and most of my friends are still having to boil water, if they have water at all. Others have evacuated and are anticipating returning to flood-ravaged homes and no flood insurance, which could be a blog all on its own. A bright glimmer is seeing people organize in local Facebook groups on how to volunteer and send donations.

Then the damage photos from other areas I love are popping up: Myrtle Beach, Charleston, parts of the Upstate and North Carolina. All of them reeling from this disaster of epic proportions.

I want to reach out and hug every single person. I want to drive my car up there right now and do something…anything.

But for now, with the unbelievable structural damage and unknowns about the structural integrity of roads and bridges, I’m stuck. I have to wait. All I can do is watch, spread news and info when I can, check on my parents periodically and make feeble attempts to comfort others on Facebook.

I’ve never been one of those people who say, “I didn’t think it could happen here.” We’ve faced devastating weather in the midlands of South Carolina thanks to being on the coast and getting pummeled by hurricanes and other tropical weather.

But this is different. The damage is so widespread, so consuming. Seeing the brownish-white water filling up in front of one of my favorite restaurants…I suppose I should be thankful this wasn’t a tornado outbreak. There could simply be empty lots there instead of flooded businesses.

So, for now, I will focus on assistance and gratitude. My family and close friends are safe and dry and didn’t sustain much damage, even when surrounded by water-swollen roads. As of right now, they are stuck at home and have to boil water, but I’m happy with those inconveniences.

I will continue to pray and keep watch over those who have been hit. I’ve already seen acquaintances and high school classmates who have sent video and pictures of their damaged homes and neighborhoods, the roads crumbled as though it had taken a direct hit from Thor’s hammer.

When the roadways are safe, I’ll return to my beloved city and do whatever I can to help repair and rebuild. But for now, my heart is under reconstruction.

If you’d like to volunteer or donate, shoot me an email at williesha@myfreelancelife.com

I can put you in direct contact with an organization or individual in need of your items or skills.

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