I Can’t Breathe

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe. I can’t imagine. I can’t stop crying. 

I am usually pretty quiet about political issues. I have my own deep-seated beliefs about things, but I have never been one to think that my beliefs are the best or only beliefs people should hold. 

However, today, I find myself in a position where staying quiet is no longer an option. I may not have the right words… I’ve been at a complete loss for words since all of this happened. But I owe it to my friends and family in the black community to at least make an attempt. 

I have been sick to my stomach for days now, brought to tears by the inhumanity and injustice of other humans. And when I think of the sheer number of incidents that have happened recently, the number of people I have failed to stand for, I cannot tell you how ashamed I feel. 

The Charleston Nine. Treyvon Martin. Emmit Till. Philando Castille. Ahmaud Arbery. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Stephon Clark. Jordan Edwards. Michael Brown. Oscar Grant. Alton Sterling. Jordan Davis. Aiyana Jones. Sean Bell. Walter Scott. Breonna Taylor. Botham Jean. Charles Kinsey. Arnaldo Rios Soto. Corey Jones. John Crawford. Terrence Crutcher. Keith Scott. Randy Evans. Yvonne Smallwood. Christian Cooper. George Floyd. 

Read those names again. They aren’t just names. They are real people. People with lives and families and friends and neighbors. They are just as human as you. And their lives were forever altered or snuffed out because perception drives reality, and modern America’s perception seems to be that the greater the melanin the higher the threat. 

But I don’t have to worry. 

See, my kids are “white enough” that I won’t have to discuss how to walk down a street or what to do if they get pulled over to avoid being killed. 

I don’t know the fear that my black friends encounter during a routine traffic stop. 

I don’t have to question if decisions were made about me simply because of the color of my skin.

I don’t know what it feels like to be followed around in a grocery store for no reason other than the way I look.

I never had to be coached as a child on how to behave around police so my life is not at risk.

I will never have to pick an outfit or do my hair with the thought of “what will make me look the most Caucasian for the occasion, aka the least threatening?”

I will never have to send my son out the door, reminding him to keep his head down and draw as little attention to himself as possible.  

I’ve never been perceived as a threat because I wore the wrong thing or styled my hair in natural curls. 

I have certainly never felt that, perhaps, my life matters less than others simply because of my race.

I have never experienced those things, and likely never will because I’m not black.

In fact, I’m so white I’m translucent, with nothing but entitlement and acceptance reflecting off me into the eyes of the even more privileged white men who surround me.

I am incredibly privileged, and I will never know what those things feel like, but I understand that others encounter it every single day, and I can make a choice to rally behind that community to prevent future generations from encountering the same things.

I used to believe the lie that I didn’t need to speak up. But that was my white privilege speaking.

Staying silent is not “being unified” and doing nothing is no longer an option. We have to come together and accept and admit that privilege and entitlement are true or  we will never do what it takes to be part of a real, lasting change. 

Choosing to turn a blind eye, belittling the facts to fit your own agenda, pretending that racism doesn’t exist… that is exactly how it is allowed to continue.

All change starts on an individual level. Before societal change can happen, we need to recognize and take responsibility for the changes that should happen within ourselves. We need to ACT. It’s easy to post things saying #blacklivesmatter, but do you actually live like that is true?

Do you choose to see the microaggressions in everyday life? Do you choose to call out bigotry when it happens? When someone in your circle is aggrieved, do you stand up for them? Do you risk anything? 

We cannot continue to allow this. When we see someone do wrong to another human because of their race, we have to DO SOMETHING. Maybe you need to let go of a friend. Maybe you need to stand up to your boss. Maybe you need to look inside yourself and find where you are wrong. 

Stop believing the lie that racism is dead. Stop saying you are sorry. Stop justifying evil!

We say we want accountability. We speak softly about justice. We know that what is happening is inherently wrong. But we cannot whisper anymore. We cannot stay silent and expect things to get better. It is time for us to violently and diligently tear down the constructs of our society that continually bring us to this place of despair and injustice.

Change happens by coming together, speaking up, and caring about the other members of our society even when what is happening does not feel like it is directly affecting us. There can be no change if we are unwilling to use our voices. Change only comes when people stand up, when we demand it, when we choose to make a stand. 

We have to fight against injustice, inequality, and unfair treatment of the black community.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

You must choose between right and wrong. 

Because “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.” – Jacob Frey, Minneapolis Mayor. 

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Social Distancing

I am a hugger. That hasn’t always been true for me. For a long time, I was afraid that touching someone would let them in, let them see me. So I shook hands and avoided any semblance of physical affection.

Then I started healing.

I started growing as a person and realized the reason I was so guarded in my physical interactions was because it was my primary love language. I didn’t really believe in the love languages, but knew that opening up physically was in direct correlation to opening up mentally and emotionally for me. I believed that if you couldn’t touch me, you couldn’t love me… And better yet, I would be unable to love you. Life was easier that way. But I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to live.

It was awkward at first. Hugging people instead of shaking hands. Touching hands when we spoke. Asking my significant other if I could touch them in moments I needed reassurance. But with time, it became easier.

Now, I hug everyone! As I began to open myself up to love, I began to give what was so desperately lacking in my life. I became “that girl”. The one who greets people effusively and always reached out for the hug, even when it is awkward.

I grew up and started hugging my friends, holding their hands, touching their arm when they need reassurance, even, on occasion, giving the overly excited (or drunken) kiss. I am an avid proponent for physical intimacy, even in the most platonic of relationships. Touch became part of my identity. A very fulfilling part of my identity.

28 days ago, I locked myself in my house, quarantined from the outside world. COVID-19 — coronavirus — a plague for our times, was here and as an immunocompromised person with an asthmatic daughter, the best thing we could do was avoid human interaction.

Easy, right? I’ve done life on my own for a long time. I did just fine without physical touch for years at a time. I have my kids and between them and some adult interaction on social media, that should be enough… Or so I thought.

I know that other people have talked about it, far more eloquently and with more knowledge, but when a girl lives alone, it’s hard not to get touch hungry. I do. Certainly, cuddling my cat can help, and snuggling with my kids is even better, but it really isn’t the same thing as receiving a hug from a close friend or my partner. Those brief intimacies keep me human and reassure me that everything will work out because physical affection is the easiest way for me to feel like someone cares.

I desperately want to hug everyone. But I know the truth – that the best way to show love right now is NOT to touch people, not to visit. The best way to love our people is to stay at home.

And I’m not gonna lie, it’s become a little overwhelming for me.

My partner is considered essential. We don’t live together and I’m immunocompromised. He has to stay 6′ away.

My daughter has allergy-induced asthma that typically flares this time of year. I am terrified that will impact how she responds if/when she gets the virus.

My friends can’t come over to fill in the gaps, because the best thing for all of us is for them to stay away.

My kids are struggling with change. Hell, I’m struggling with it.

My daughter is extremely extroverted and is breaking down every day over her inability to spend time with other people.

My son had goals for this quarter at school and he isn’t sure the new homeschool style of learning will be the best for hitting those goals (this mama don’t do math).

This is hard. Scientific data even backs that up. Touch-deprived children fail to thrive emotionally, intellectually and physically. Touch-deprived adults suffer from depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and more. But all of this, the loneliness, the isolation, the craving for other people’s company, the nights spent alone, it’s all in an effort to protect each other.

I have to constantly remind myself of that fact. Deep discussions, dates, virtual museum tours, the brief “how’s it going?” message… they are all meaningful and they are the things that will keep us going. Continuing to reach out to each other is the best way to ensure we all make it to the other side of this.

In this time of uncertainty, the most important thing we can do is remind each other of our love, and show up in new and different ways. Right now, not touching each other is the safe and smart thing to do. It’s a way to show we care about each other and to take care of ourselves.

But when this is all over, I want to hug all of my friends and loved ones. I want to let them know I love them in the most emphatic way I can. I want to ensure that we don’t lose the intimacy that’s so important.

It’s isolation and internet for now, but get ready: when this epidemic is over and we’re all safe and healthy again, I’ll be greeting my friends with hugs, and I will hug them with all the life in me. Make sure you do the same.

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What I know…

It’s challenging. Being right in the middle of life and faced with an incredible number of decisions.

Career?

Business?

Relationship?

Kids?

Travel?

Stability?

Or basically any goal or desire that you ruminate upon.

You’re in the middle of this maze and none of it seems to make sense. It feels like you are traveling on a dozen different journeys and you’re unsure about all of them. This feeling… the dead-end, pit of uncertainty, it’s a hell you didn’t realize could be a thing.

“What should I do?”

“What career should I choose?”

“Should I start a company?”

“Should I date this person?”

“Should I travel or build more security?”

“I don’t know what I want.”

Period.

Decisions, decisions.

They look like an endless sea, stretched out in every direction.

You feel overwhelmed, directionless, restless and anxious. It seems everyone wants answers, yourself more than anyone. There are so many things to do, so many possibilities.

But here you stay, motionless, treading water and gaining very little ground. Why is this so hard?

It seems like these should be simple choices, but you find yourself ruminating on every decision, trying to think of every possible outcome… You spend weeks, or months, or maybe even years thinking about the right choice. And then you still don’t make a decision. After all, you wouldn’t want to make the wrong one.

You know that failure is okay, but you still can’t seem to take the leap. You determine that it must be because you don’t actually know what you want.

But the truth is, it’s because you want so much. You want a lot of things and you are capable of having them all.

The truth is, you don’t like choosing.

Anything you choose will take away from one of the other paths you could have taken. And you could actually like that other path much better, right? You want the BEST.

I get it. Believe me. We only have one life, and time is short. It’s important to optimize what we have… But if there is anything I’ve learned in my brief stint here on earth, it the fact that you are still going to be restless and anxious and searching in 5, 10, or 15 years if you continue to hold on to that logic. You can’t just wait on life forever.

You have to do. If you don’t start, you won’t ever figure it out.

Your life isn’t a fancy formula that you need 10 years to write. Especially since, no matter what the calculations, you’re never guaranteed that the next finite amount of time will be ANY better.

Life is an experience. Lived by EXPERIENCING. It’s certainly not optimised by thinking 24/7 while on autopilot for the next ____ years. You figure out what you want by doing, by trying different things, by problem solving, by eliminating and adding as it serves… it’s not about a formula.

And the best part? When you look back at life, you get to see that path, with all those decisions, and you realize the adventure was possible because of your choices. Each decision led to a lesson, fulfilling you, building you, bettering you. Yeah, there will be mistakes, sadness, uncomfortable times. But you’ll be growing and going to the places you’ve only thought about up to now.

It’s hard to start. Changing routines, chasing more, breaking free from your own (and other’s) expectations. But dont wait until you are in a hospital bed like I was. Don’t wait until you think it’s the end and all you have are regrets.

All that uncertainty can be traced back to the thought “I don’t know…”

But if you focus on what you don’t know, you can’t make any progress.

So here’s my suggestion: Start with what you know. What is certain in your mind? Focus on that.

I am absolutely not telling you to avoid learning or doing new things, just to be clear. I am also not telling you to live risk-free (obviously by my own lifestyle).

What I am saying is that you know you better than you think. You know your goals and aspirations. You know what you’re interested in (or not).

What I know about me:

I want to travel to as many different countries as possible.

I want to work remotely for myself.

I want to always feed my creativity.

I want to raise my children to be responsible world citizens.

I want a partner who adds to the life I’ve built.

You will obviously have your own ideas and dreams. Maybe you know you don’t see a future with your partner. Maybe you know that you value stability over everything. Maybe you don’t want children, or maybe you do.

Figure out what you actually know about yourself. It could be anything. And it will most likely be very broad.

Seems simple, right?

It is. AND it gets rid of those self-imposed barriers to your decisions. Questions like, “I don’t know which country to go to” or “I don’t know what I want to do for a career” become a certain thing because you’ve opened yourself up. No, you didn’t answer the question per se… But you’ve changed the context and freed yourself to make a decision that is more true to you.

I know that I want to travel as many places as possible.

That’s it.

It makes everything else negotiable. I could go to Vegas, Bali, or Mexico and I am following the direction that I outlined for my life.

Life is about trying, not analyzing. Being in action feels better, I promise. The key is to ensure that your actions are aligned with the things that you know for certain.

It works for everything.

Starting a company is scary, but I know I want to work remotely and I want to work for myself. Regardless, if I fail at this particular endeavor, it will teach me something about my strengths and weaknesses and put me on the right path. I will begin to realize if this is the right fit. But if I don’t start? I’ll never know.

You get to write your story.

So figure out what you know for certain, focus on that, and you WILL figure out what you want. I promise you, it’s going to be an amazing story, full of great adventures and twists and turns…

In fact, you can make your life into a story that might be read by some as a fantasy.

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October

Autumnal_tree_roots_2560x1600Don’t fall for my flowers,

Please fall for my roots.

For when Autumn comes,

I will still need you.

The leaves will change,

they’ll turn and fall.

I do want to trust

That you’ll stay for it all.

As seasons change

Some harder than others,

Cold spells could be soothed

By the heat of a lover.

So if you decide to tell me you love me,

Please love who I am, not just what you see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Girl Who Smiles”

Three times yesterday. Three different conversations. Three separate people.

“How can you always be in such a good mood? Even with your car accident and now the job thing, it seems like you just have no worries.”

“I’m not sure I believe you. I can’t tell when you are feeling down at all. It seems like you are always happy.”

“How are you always so positive? It seems like nothing ever goes wrong in your life.”

These are people who KNOW me. Not my closest of friends, but definitely people that I have spent time with, hours upon hours over a period of years.

I had a conversation with some girlfriends a few months ago and we were describing how we would reference the others if they weren’t there. They labeled me “The Girl Who Smiles.”

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The truth is, I am not always positive. I am not always happy. Sometimes life is painful. Sometimes it’s really hard to get out of bed in the morning. Still. Even after all the shit I’ve been through.

I thought that my encounter with death last year would mean that I always appreciated everything. I thought I would easily see the good in every single day and every moment. I thought there would be no more hard times because I would be so grateful to be alive.

Tomorrow marks one year since that first hospital stay. One year since they told me they weren’t sure if I would make it out of there. One year since my mortality confronted me in a very scary, very challenging way. Thirty-six days in and out of the hospital, organs struggling to function, doctors confused as to why. Twenty-some days believing that I was on my death bed.

I had spent all of 2018 preparing my will and writing letters to my kids for all the big events in their lives. Their thirteenth, sixteenth, twenty-first birthdays. Their first car. High school graduation. College graduation. Their wedding day. Their first child. I had prepared them for life without me. I was ready to go.

And then it all changed.

My incredible doctor came into the picture and decided that nothing I had been told was accurate and I needed to go a different route. She went rounds with the “specialists”, insisting that the medications I was taking were killing me faster than my condition.

When I left that hospital, I just knew that I would never perceive life the same way. After all, I had just beaten death. There was no way that I COULD have an ungrateful or out-of-sorts day after that, right?

But life.

Life can be challenging and ugly and hard.

There are little annoying things that happen on repeat.

My kids have days where they don’t stop fighting. I often spill coffee on my shirt or trip in front of other people. I wake up late or get back later from the gym, rush around, attempting to get everything together and out the door on time. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. Other people say hurtful things. I make mistakes.

There are plenty of days where I feel overwhelmed.

I recently wrecked my car, and if you’ve ever experienced that, insurance and attorneys and physical therapy and repairs can add a lot to an already full plate.

I am in the process of a career change. I don’t know if timing is right or if my future holds something better, but I knew it was time to move on. Again, overwhelming.

This summer I experienced a betrayal that hit me harder than anything I had ever experienced (be careful placing people on pedestals). I spent three days in bed, crying almost the entire time.

Then, when I finally picked myself up, I realized that certain people I thought were my close friends were only out for themselves and I didn’t really matter in their world at all. That was a painful lesson that brought more tears than I care to admit.

Life is not all paint and food and dancing (I would say sunshine and rainbows, but I like paint, food and dancing better).

I am no different than you. I do struggle and my life is not easy all the time. But I spent years using a smile to hide pain and sometimes old habits die hard. I don’t want you to have some watered down, unemotional, happy-all-the-time picture of me. Because that isn’t real. And there is nothing in the world that I value more than authenticity.

But even when life sucks… and life can REALLY suck sometimes… we aren’t stuck there. Two things help me remember that.

1. Everything is cyclical.

I have a tattoo of a tree on my back and it’s very meaningful because it is a reminder that no matter how hard the winter, spring still comes. It’s always darkest before the dawn (or something like that).

When I get down, THAT is the most important thing that I remind myself. Nothing lasts forever. Good or bad. It’s all temporary and this moment is all we actually have.

And… Yes, I do try to remember where I came from. I am no longer destitute, no longer abused, no longer dying.

2. I am grateful. I choose to be grateful.

Even when it’s hard. I make a list every single day to remind myself. Sometimes that list looks like “waking up” and “my kids”, but some days I master it and I realize that the feeling in my fingertips is a gift.

But friend, if you are going through things right now, don’t hide. Don’t be ashamed of where you are. And please know that it will get better. You just have to make it to the other side.

If you are struggling, I am here. Always.

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Persistence

There are days when the road is smooth and everything seems to be going exactly as it should. There are days that the kids do their chores without nagging and dinner comes together easily and work is full of interesting, but good surprises (like plants from a coworker). Creativity comes easily and inspiration is in the air.

Then there are days that things fall apart. People say or write things that carry a tremendous weight. The kids cant seem to get along. Sleep was nonexistent and coffee barely touches the exhaustion. Your heart rate won’t slow down and it’s making you a bit dizzy. The person that is typically your confidante on such bad days is not around and it’s difficult to know where to turn.

Every word written or every stroke of the brush feels like a challenge and it’s obvious this is not your best work.

But you choose to carry on. You choose to entertain the habit, simply for the sake of habit.

Those hard days? Those are the fires that forge you into the person you want to be.  That is where character is formed and where it becomes skill building instead of raw emotion.

No matter who you are, you will face some basic challenges.

Fear will try to tell you that you can’t do it, that your work isn’t good enough or it’s already been done. Anxiety will whisper that you should do something different or scream that no one will like it. Competition might intimidate you. Laziness will tempt you. Other people will try to distract you. Time will always try to evade you. Money might present a challenge. 

And then, of course, there is the never-ending uncertainty. You don’t know what might happen. There is no guarantee of success. And even if you do succeed, who knows how long it might take.

Days become weeks and weeks turn to months, but you continue to do work and you find that your craft has become second nature. If you take time off, it is strange now. Your art/writing/goal has become a part of you.

The key to success in anything is not to get it all done at once, but rather to continue to show up. Show up when it’s easy. Show up when it’s hard. Show up when your heart is breaking. Show up when things don’t go your way. Show up when things are absolutely blissful. Just show up.

Water can carve stone with only a drop at a time. All it has to do is keep dripping.

Any goal you have in life is exactly the same. You just have to do a little every single day and eventually the results will appear. You have to show up again after you’ve let it go. You have to keep going, no matter what.

I read somewhere that 90% of success is just getting started, developing a habit, and persevering in spite of obstacles. I think that is the absolute truth.

Strategy and resources can only take you so far. You only cross the finish line when you decide to do something and you keep on doing it… without regard for what the world has to say, how you feel, or what your results are.

Keep going, friend. I can’t wait to see you do great things!

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-September 12-

My friend, who was a first responder to the towers posted this today. So incredibly powerful.

My Heart is My Compass

Steel beams like shoelaces.
Twisted, taught, writhing.
Struggling, pleading to be unfolded and hammered straight.
Begging to have time turned back.

Souls hurled at terminal velocity
Their descent fueled by pain, anguish, love, fear, hope…
All of these at once being felt, but none, at once, able to be distinguished.
The downward force pressing emotions, thoughts, screams and prayers into
A ball…flesh, bone, suits, ties, shoes.
Leaping forth, eyes closed, led blindly by gravity unto their inevitable concrete canvas.
Creating a hellish masterpiece so gruesome, so unreal, it races past my heart and mind, black as night, devoid of substance, but carrying the weight of 2,606 life stories and anchors itself forever directly into the forefront of my soul, taking the place of the innocence that resided there.

A sea of humanity.
Confusion, hope, loss, animal instinct.
The strange beauty of the ash and dust settling, like snowflakes of death.

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