About existabovethenoise

I am a nomad with a lust for life, good food, honest friends and love of all sorts. So, here's where it all comes together... all the good of the things I adore and enjoy & the rants about the isht that simply should be done away with. As I navigate the world, I'll share here. DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are the writer's own. And not those of THE USG or THE MAN!

Everything is wet

When new parents ask for advice – which they seldom ever do – I offer that they should expect and accept that for the first few months, everything is wet. They look at me like, wtf is she talking about? And then they have a kid and get it in their heads to breastfeed and woah… then the WhatsApp messages commence! There are just so many liquids. Viscous. Oily. Watery. Dripping. Soaking. Clear. Milky. Yellowish. Red is the bad kind. I mean, and there’s the process of identifying the source, is it #1 or #2? Are you wet or did something (or someone) make you wet? How long will it take to dry? Do you have to put it in the washer OR will fresh air do the trick? Seriously. I never got so acquainted with the sensation of feeling wet as in those post-partum months, but it is a good lesson for parenthood.

I am no expert, but neither was Ali Wong or Jessica Grouse until the sh!t got real. And things got real for me when I had to call a lactation consultant a day after my son was born, because frankly, my boobs weren’t getting wet enough! And then I learned about nipple guards and skin-to-skin and La Leche League. All of which made it their primary focus to get my body to give this stranger, who had been kicking me from the inside, all the liquids he needed to live. And once they worked their magic, everything was wet. I was leaking. Bottles spilled. I cried when I spilled bottles of pumped milk (liquid gold!) all over the kitchen floor. He peed more. I was wet. He was wet. And we really didn’t take enough baths and showers to warrant how wet we were. But, somehow being wet was a sign that we were doing something right – maybe a lot of somethings. Parenting is really effing counterintuitive like that. The rules of adulting that you’ve been learning since you were a teenager go out the window when you become an adult newly responsible for a child.

For example, screaming is bad right? No. Actually, it means your kid is breathing. And if they’re screaming, it’s better than their silence, which could be an indication that they aren’t breathing or just deeply engrossed in coloring themselves red with a fresh new stick of “Lady Danger.” So, screaming is good. Screaming is very good.

Likewise, crying is also very good. You will cry. The baby will cry. There will be tears. And tears are good. You’re hydrated and signaling to the world that you need help – you probably need sleep, the baby maybe just needs a diaper change. And crying is your bodies’ way of ensuring that you both get that help, in spite of yourselves. Someone will hear you – a grandparent, a friend, someone who has a propensity to pick up a crying parent (I mean baby) and pitch in. Either way, liquids are our lizard brain’s way of saying things are working, maybe not smoothly, but they are working.

There’s no science behind any of this. But two years of field experience has shown that if things are dry, sh!t is going downhill. There’s too much powdered formula and no one has added the water to make the bottles. Dry hands have dirt, peanut butter, and unknown “outside” residue on them. Wet hands, my friend, are freshly washed. Frequently wet diapers are not nearly as scary as ones that have been dry for too long. And if you haven’t cried yet, new parent, trust me… you will…

So get used to all this backward thinking, because being a parent is like a really wet game of opposites. Go with the flow.

2019 where have you been all my life?

I look back on this year, and it’s hard to take stock of everything that’s happened. I moved my family from Angola to South Africa, worked with an amazing local team there, was mentored by peers and superiors worth their weight in gold, had a healthy natural birth, graduated with a doctorate degree, published a slew of articles, elevated my business, and fell in love with my family. On the other side of the coin, I have struggled with a toxic workplace and being on the receiving end of discrimination, individual and institutional. My body and my mind are still adjusting to being a mom of 2 very young kids. My spirit is learning what it really means to overcome and re-define priorities. To say this year has been a rollercoaster would be a gross oversimplification, but I’ve been tasked with figuring out why – on earth – it has been this hard. And I’ve come up with a few thoughts…

Being a working mother is hard. No matter how progressive your partner, being a working mother is exceptionally hard. I had no maternity leave, so I cobbled together vacation and sick leave for about 8 weeks to deal with birth, a breast abscess, and now chronic tailbone pain. I never recovered from birth. I have never been able to fully connect with my child, without the threat of work – its admin, financial and substantive demands – looming just hours or footsteps away. I underestimated how much my superiors would push me to overwork and be over-responsive, to “make up” for the time I wasn’t in their office OR to insinuate that I need to re-prove my ability to lead. It’s been punishingly unfair, but so many people – working moms included – feel the need to pass on the hazing they received. Mistreating and being mistreated this way is normalized and worn like a badge of honor. I work in a historically male-dominated field that waxes poetic about being female and family-friendly, but they really imagine families headed by men. I found that out after I had kids…

All change (even good change) is stressful. While ever my constant companion, change is starting to get on my nerves.With new dependents, routine makes life manageable. Change comes in and craps on the plans. All the plans. Every plan. It is hard to have so many variables in your life. Even when things change for “the better,” there are a gang of unknowns that can drive you mad. When we moved to South Africa, for example, we lived in an extended stay hotel. Lovely, you might say. It was a huge adjustment to have to live out of suitcases for months, when we had a perfectly set up home in Angola. The adjusting to having Uber and room service, functional internet and potable tap water – well that wasn’t so bad. But having to change childcare providers 4 times in 4 months, less so. On balance, constant change was no easy thing.

I expect a lot from myself. Much has been written about Black women’s strength and our work ethic, our tendency to outpace our peers in educational attainment but to be perpetually underpaid and underpromoted. While I can certainly think of a few who genuinely don’t deserve to move up, generally I think the tropes are true. I, for one, expect a lot of myself. Nothing I do is mediocre if my name is on it. No amount of bait & switches can change that. I’m not exactly a perfectionist, but I have high standards. And that – I’m realizing – is both something that I need to adjust (given my new priorities) and that others don’t share. I will always be my worst critic, my biggest competition, my own coach. I’m learning to have more empathy for myself, rather than pressuring myself to persevere through adversity.  Working hard, despite obstacles, is not the only option. Some adversity is just abuse, and you don’t go through it – you go around it or rise above it.

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2020 will, no doubt, be equally as full of adventure and new challenges, but 2019 takes the cake for its frenetic pace, its defining moments, and life-changing lessons. It has been professionally hard, but personally rewarding. I am learning that when you know what really matters, you also know what doesn’t matter at all. And in 2020, I hope to be less reticent to commit restorative energy to everything and everyone that truly matter. I feel strongly that this year was a break out year, the one where I put my stake in the ground and was required to become the woman I want to be for the rest of my life. Next year, I can’t wait to introduce her to you all.

 

 

Money < Culture

I have been struggling with consumer intersectionality lately. Maybe struggling is a bit dramatic, but I have endeavored to de-compartmentalize and live a more cohesive, singular life. This means that these days, being a mom and a professional needs to feel less like 2 sides of the same coin and more like the whole value of the currency itself. A union I’ve been pondering seriously these days, post-Nipsey Hussle, is how to bring together my values on money and culture into a succinct spending pattern. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a finance geek, who is also well-read on things culture and feminism. As of late, I’ve tried to merge those passions in the way I choose to allocate my buying power. I’ve read a bit on the BDS movement in Angela Y. Davis’ recent book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” and for years I’ve been head over heels for Courtney Carver’s 333 minimalism and I’m a believer in knowing the entrepreneur who supplies whatever sliver of consumerism makes it out of your wallet and into your home. But what does that really look like in lived experience?

 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. I spend a great deal of time googling not just prices, but companies, before actually making a purchase. And, while I’m still a slave to amazon.com, they’ve seen a lot less of my business lately than in years past. Every holiday season there’s a new “shopping list” out of Black, women, trans, transcendent vendors out there, but considering I rarely spend money on traditional gifts I usually have long forgotten about these lists by the time I’m ready to buy. And, to be frank, every company has some problem. I was excited to buy Girl Scout cookies only to have them arrive and realize that the bulk of my stock was made with artificial colors and flavors. I recently bought a (great quality) bag from R. Riveter, and felt awesome about what it does to economically empower women, then I thought a layer deeper on all that supporting the military could mean. Then, there’s buying Black. I am a proponent of buying from small and minority businesses, but I have found that many are not as eco-friendly as I would prefer. For example, I love True Detergent (I know, I’m on a military roll here). They have removed the caustic chemicals from the liquid (YAY!), but what to do about all these plastic bottles (have you heard about the plastic whale)? And after all, I did buy a Sodastream to minimize plastic bottle consumption involved in my carbonated water habit, but that goes full circle back to the BDS movement’s recent calls for a boycott. I could go on…

Maybe my concern with intersectionality is just my most recent awakening to recognizing the challenges that a global economy brings. Products, like people, are a collection of many experiences. Nothing is as singular as it appears in an online store. Even your “African” clothing vendor gets their Indonesian-styled fabrics from Vlisco in the Netherlands, which has been living that neo-colonial life since been since. I say this to say, we are global creatures made local by choice and imagination. The products we create and the ones we consume reflect that reality. How can we live in the modern world and survive with our morals (perhaps competing ones) in tact? Here’s my strategy:

1- Save money. Buy less: I figure, if I buy less, I’ll have the time and the money to make smarter (though fewer) purchases. I’m trying to de-clutter my whole life – not just by Marie Kondo-style trashing the joyless items taking up valuable mental space, but by choosing to accumulate less with each passing day. After all, if I have to check the ownership structure, the eco-impact, and the “about us” page for every purchase, it’s highly likely that I’ll just give up before I even get to the till (British speak for the check out counter).

2- Make sure it’s healthy: Always search the Environmental Working Group to ensure that what I expose myself and my family to actually merits use. There are so many financial and health ramifications to each dollar we spend, the least we could do is know that before we buy. And, I always feel like I win double brownie points if I can go healthy AND zerowaste. It ain’t easy, but once I figure out what works well, it’s easy to replicate (or buy again).

3- Buy in bulk, if it makes sense: Expiration date and binge shopping not withstanding, I have gotten very good at buying in bulk to reduce waste. The easiest tends to be cleaning and household goods, so I’ve become a lover (and repeat customer) at bulkapothecary.com . From lavender to olive oil, and castile soap by the gallons, I haven’t been disappointed.

4- Check those niche holiday lists all year-long: Even for the smallest of purchases, I go back to lists from madamenoire.com & blackenterprise.com (among others) to see which new vendors are out there and which ones have been de-bunked. Below see a list of what I’ve been tracking lately, you know, in case you’ve got some holiday, birthday, household needs built into your budget:

5- Expect to get it wrong: If the VW emissions scandal has taught us nothing, it should be that well-meaning consumers also get duped. We can control very little outside of our own intentions, so even with the best of research and positive vibes, our money may land in the hands of tricksters telling us what we want to hear.

 

$h!t my son likes…

It is legend in Black families that Sunday mornings are cleaning days. There is an entire soundtrack to these days. There’s Blues and R&B, smooth jazz and more blues. As I recall, there was a lot of WBLS and Dave Koz in my house. Obviously, as we grew up, we listened to more hip hop and rap, which just killed the vibe because my parents didn’t start agreeing to listen to that until the likes of contemporary hip pop artist like Drake and DJ Khaled emerged. Now that I have a family of my own, I’m trying to establish traditions that make my third culture kids feel grounded in something, even if we pack up the ritual and transport it around the world every few years. So, Sunday music mornings it is…

Screen_Shot_2018_08_30_at_12.22.36_PM.pngMy kid is a ‘Little Baby Bum‘ addict, which means we live our lives in musical interludes of Baa Baa Black Sheep and Johnny Johnny’s lies. So, we know he likes music, but what does he like aside from London lullabies? I am on a quest to find out…

Last week, we tried a Bob Marley medley and he lasted about 2 songs before tuning out. Today, I tried to go a bit edgier and it was a bigger success. This was the playlist of what he managed to like…

Emile Sande – Hurts

Lenny Kravitz – American woman

Lenny Kravitz – Fly Away

OutKast – Hey Ya!

Stevie Wonder – All I Do

… before demanding that I read “Not Norman” by Kelly Bennett, which – oddly enough – is available on screen here:

So, with each passing weekend, I’m learning more and more that my kid is becoming a technology and animal aficionado, who needs to hear soul and trap music at frequent intervals.

 

Silence is a Choice

Social media is consuming – entertaining, absorbing, hypnotic, addicting. I have had my fair share of it lately. I often wake up to check Facebook and fall asleep on Instagram. Very little of the content is uplifting and it forces us, particularly disadvantaged and tortured communities, to relive our pain lest we forget. Though forgetting, itself, is a form of self-care, I understand the impulse to rehash, review, share, like, and proliferate opinions, injustices, happenings, and heartbreaks. But, I would be dishonest with you if I didn’t admit that I am feeling compelled to offer myself a detox. I should be able to take a break from it all, just as easily as I took a break from writing here and as easily as I did a silent meditation retreat in 2017. But, I’ve found it harder than expected to truly unplug.

See, social media allows me to stay connected with so many friends and family that I would – frankly – never talk to without social media as an aggregator. Some call it a skill, this contact building and maintenance that I do. I have learned that, with a toddler in tow and a demanding expat life to attend to, perhaps staying in touch is more time and emotionally consuming than it is worth. Further, there is so much waste in between connections – the ads, the videos, the stuff I didn’t come for. And even with my online presence at its peak, it is only months later that I realize that some of my online “friends” have passed away or have given birth… what to make of this kind of pseudo-cyber friendship?

In addition, I must admit that in spite of my job as a professional newswatcher, I really struggle to absorb news shared outside of my own social media networks. I used to scour the BBC News (because, really, I can tolerate it much better than CNN – can’t you?) and I’d devour an Economist, even if was months out of date. Now, I’m tired beyond line 5 on a screen and I’m satisfied with not having learned the facts. Some of this is about trust. I trust my circle to tell me what I need to know – not just interesting and screwed up facts about the world. I mean, the relevant stuff, like when am I going to get paid next and where to donate to help Jazmine Barnes’ family bury her. But everything between the important stuff is leaving behind emotional residue. And I need a serious rinse.

I’m not sure what moderation looks like anymore, but I do know what an overdose feels like.  Is it possible to produce content and not consume it? Can I post here and on FB and on Insta AND not read anything from anyone else? Or do I have to choose one and let the others go? Does WhatsApp count? What is responsible use? Is withdrawing “fair” to my “friends”? What exactly does a social media detox look like for a media manager? I have no idea, but over this year I will find out. While I try to disengage from consumption, I’ll hope you’ll bear with me as I shake off the cobwebs of writing for an unknown public. In the process of finding balance, I hope this experience will bring us all a little closer.

Happy 2019!

 

 

Am I welcome in Wakanda?

I was a late comer to Wakanda. When I did arrive, my Pan-African senses were pleased with the drips of South African house music and the incorporation of every beautiful textile the continent possesses. I was relieved that there was no tinge of jealous “authenticity” politics afoot. And off-screen, Black people everywhere rejoiced in 2 hours and 15 minutes free of racist micro-aggressions. What a sacred space at a troubled time.

Yet, I exited the theater wondering if I would be welcomed in Wakanda. African-American women were conveniently absent even from this supposedly inclusive and utopian Black space.  As an African-American woman, as a mother to an African-American son, as a wife to an African man, as a traveler to non-fictional African countries, as a scholar of Africa and its Diaspora, this movie hurt me to my core. Why is the African-American woman (STILL) subaltern in a contemporary display of utopian Blackness? (whaddup Spivak!)

And, further still, what exactly was being said about African-Americans? (Not that part at the end where we are basically rescued from the ghettos by our enlightened African brothers and sisters – that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I can live with it.) What I mean is, why are we always portrayed as Erik Killmonger? Self-centered, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty, violent, self-destructive, vengeful… shall I go on?

Now, I am no stranger to seeing Michael B. Jordan play characters of questionable character, but Erik Killmonger was too much. He was well-trained, but quick tempered. He used the tools in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to build his own coffin. Painted as a righteous mutineer gone power crazy, Killmonger is simultaneously the colonized and the colonizer’s worst enemy. He was the walking stereotype of the angry African-American man – maybe justified in the beginning, but notoriously drunk with power and toxic wherever he goes.

This movie, for me, reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans to present mythical African glory. This zero sum game is just another example of a colonized mind and the continuation of White hegemony, even in supposedly sacred and autonomously crafted Black spaces. Like braid extensions at the natural hair expo, I feel that this film still misses the mark. It gives credence to superficial narratives and it omits crucial voices.

Did anyone ever think that taking Erik from California to Wakanda was not an option, because – oh, I don’t know – he had a mother!? And from the Black excellence he exuded in the military, my best guess is that she was African-American as F. Taking her son wasn’t an option for more important reasons than Wakandan shame. That same love and pride that Angela Bassett (depicting an African mother) showered on T’challa, that’s African-American women all day. And somehow, that cultivator, that influencer, that decision-maker, that elder, was absent. Better yet, omitted. Why, for, come?

Like so many narratives about the conversation between Africans and African-Americans, Black Panther regurgitates tropes and past transgressions dominate the dialogue. We should be talking about partnership among troubled equals. This exchange could have been different on screen and should be different in real life. That passionate longing for belonging in African-Americans is somehow always framed as futile. Like asking for reparations, we are paternalistically discouraged from looking back and preemptively halted for fear that we will get (rightfully) unbridled or bloodthirsty – like Killmonger. Yet, like movements for actual reparations (Georgetown slavery Archive), African-Americans are owed the opportunity to make peace with their pasts. And, rest assured, we know how to do it without destroying our futures.

To watch this movie and not see a commentary on how African-Americans are our own worst enemy is to be deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who don’t see it my way, haven’t been to Africa and haven’t known this conversation as intimately as I have. This movie is nowhere near accurate.  When I first went to Ghana in 2006, I remember discussions with Kofi Awoonor about the Transatlantic slave trade. There were side eyes at the White girls in the group, whose White guilt was so thick you could cut it with a knife. There were layers of Blackness confronted when a light skinned Black woman was called mulungo (White, foreigner) and wasn’t embraced on her expected “return to the motherland.” It brought up her own uncomfortable memories of being ostracized for being bi-racial. Needless to say, everybody was working through their own positionality. Above all else, what gripped me from the many conversations between Blacks and Africans during that trip is a comment from one of the junior academicians at the University of Ghana. He said, “We lost you – our most powerful resource. Do you know what it is to lose your strongest, your most-able bodied, your youth? Look how we suffer because we sent you away.”

This is the real conversation. It acknowledges agency and objectification. It recognizes history as a continuum and not a series of ruptures. It talks about socio-economic consequences for labor migration. It speaks to cultural interconnectivity, not in terms of fictional theory, but in realities of development. This conversation is about restorative justice… not revenge.

This movie sucks the air out of the room because it falls so far afoul of this useful conversation. I hope moviegoers remember that we do not have to do our (neo-) colonizers’ bidding by having Hollywood ticket sales rebuild our burned bridges. No matter how many beads and handshakes we have on screen, the story is built on old tropes that don’t serve us in real life. Black Panther excludes the lynchpin connecting Africa to America – the African-American women, mothers, and aunties – the guardians of our cultural continuities. If Wakandan value doesn’t come in the form of inclusion of all Blackness, let’s hope it has cleared the way for conversations like these that call out the exclusions.  As a mother, an African-American woman, and a member of the Pan-African diaspora, I have to believe that this movie is not us. It is not us any more than X-men is us, no more than Batman is us. We do not live in Wakanda any more than we reside in Gotham City. Killmonger is not my son and I am not absent.

 

 

 

Abundance

“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” – Paulo Coelho

And so it is that I have discovered something new about myself – yet again. I’ve grown accustomed to living based on a sense of shortage, so much so that I have manufactured conditions to keep myself trapped within those limitations. I give myself deadlines that are incredibly unrealistic and stress inducing. I use automatic savings as a way to hide money from myself because I spend less when I feel broke. I am in constant pursuit of minimalism, so that I can target spending to ethical vendors (fair trade ain’t cheap) and I can stop accumulating things that clutter my limited space. In and of themselves, these are wonderful practices in restraint. But, I have never truly learned to be disciplined. Instead, I tame my environment, so that I don’t have to be.

Let me give some examples of how I have this all wrong. I am afraid that if I have $20 in cash, that money will burn a hole in my pocket and I’ll use it to buy something dumb. When I have lots of time to complete a paper, I will procrastinate until the last minute and then “bang it out.” This all has worked well in the past, but today it’s no longer serving me.

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Photo: me.me

I think I’ve pinpointed where this limiting impulse comes from. This is going to sound weird, but I have always felt that I would die young. (I don’t know why and don’t try to make this into a “thing” – it’s not.) This feeling has been with me forever and it has always driven me to accomplish everything I want at the earliest possible opportunity. There’s been no waiting for later, no pause button, and certainly no ease in my sense of urgency. It makes sense that if you think you’ll die at 25, you’d ensure that every hour of every day is packed to the brim with experiences and accomplishments. Ok, so, the thing is that I’m in my thirties and life is a marathon, not a sprint. Going at breakneck speed for so long has got me winded.

The scarcity model has stopped working for me principally because my environment keeps changing.  There’s no use in trying to use my Washington, DC cash-free logic in southern Africa where the internet is shaky (you never really know if the ATM or credit card reader is going to work). I have to learn to keep cash on hand and use it wisely.  Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have to be completely booked for me to feel productive. When I had a car, that felt like the right approach, but now that I’m taking Lyft to appointments, I realize the cost of being overbooked.

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Photo: Mashable

One benefit of moving is that I get to explore new places. But, one thing it has brought me is self-exploration. I don’t get to justify my actions on being coerced by daily circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change and I’m left with those same unsustainable bad habits, but no good excuse. In this case, I have to learn to function with discipline in times of abundance, rather than manufacturing opportunities to cry wolf on scarcity.  It’s just not sustainable.

This year, I am intent to break the habit of telling myself that I don’t have enough – time, energy, love, money, knowledge – and I must overcompensate for the deficit. I want to be disciplined enough to build in time to be thoughtful about my actions and decisions and to celebrate the process along the way.

Sure, I could write a paper in one night, but WHY?! It’s just a bad idea. It’s always been a bad idea and an even worse experience. I have time to do it well, to not torture myself in the process, and to be proud of what I produced when its ready, rather than bullying myself with falsified pressure to do it the least enjoyable way in the shortest possible time period.

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When I have $20 I have to think about how awesome it feels to have cash, to be able to buy something if I wanted. Better yet, I can be disciplined enough to see beyond the immediate consumerism conundrum and appreciate that I can use that money to buy something if I truly needed it and, thankfully, that’s a priceless privilege that comes with abundance.

Paulo Coelho’s quote reminds me that looking at this from the opposite lens can produce the same results. If I reframe my thoughts, I think I can control my approach rather than continuing to control the environment in which I operate.

Discipline is a craft I’m cultivating in a whole new way.