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 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 it and use it wisely.  Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have 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.

 

 

…i think i remember

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Kidspot.com.au – http://bit.ly/2o4qFP0

I was a candy striper for all of 5 hours. And… i think i remember becoming a feminist, a naturalist, and a home birther that very day.

My mother got it into her head that it would be great for me to volunteer at a local hospital. She got many such ideas. I was in a girls’ summer science & tech camp. I spent many a weekend in a bowling league. She’s got quite the imagination. In any case, this candy striper business was all her idea. I didn’t even know what the term meant (I wore my regular clothes) or what they’d have me doing, but if you’ve ever met my mother you’ll know that I didn’t have a choice.

It’s the morning. This hospital is on the Portuguese and Puerto Rican side of town. I’m assigned to the maternity ward. There were just a few names on the white board. Next to them were times and the names of prescription drugs. For example, 4:15am Petocin. Let’s just say, it was 9:00am.

 

I sat at the desk with a quiet nurse for a while and I accompanied her on her next set of rounds. I only saw one patient. She was pregnant. I now know she was in labor. She was disoriented, in obvious pain and clearly drugged. She was alone in her room, save the nurse and me. She woke up to moan. The nurse did something for less than 30 seconds. And then we left her room. We left her alone. It was then that I remember thinking 1) this is my last day doing this candy striper crap. And then i think I remember thinking 2) I’m never delivering my baby in a hospital. Last, I recall knowing 3) no woman in her right mind would want this for herself.

I’m not sure if this was before or after the candy striper incident, but i think I remember watching my very first reality tv show, Brandy’s “Special Delivery.” I watched then with the save avid intensity as I currently watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop every city in America, so on and so forth. This is to say, I was addicted. I distinctly remember watching Brandy cry as she toured hospital maternity wards, saying how she too didn’t want to have her baby in a hospital. (Though, she ultimately did. And we later found out that she totally lied to all of us about being married! So, I blame her for the beginning of fake reality television…alas…) I remember being disappointed that even the most famous, wealthy, positive, female, Black icon of my generation (Don’t you dare contest me: see Moesha, Thea and ‘the Boy is Mine‘ music video as proof) didn’t find a way out of a hospital birth that she didn’t want. This was just the rich & famous version of the woman I left writhing in drugged up pain in a lonely labor room in New Jersey.

I think I remember shortly thereafter deciding that I would be unapologetic about NOT delivering my baby in a hospital. And I think that might have been my first declaration of feminism. It was the beginning of setting boundaries on my health and well-being that would mean that, in the future, my adult self simply couldn’t be trapped by modern medicine, conventional wisdom or popular belief to enter into a situation where I too would cry as I toured hospitals and imagined myself as that lonely woman trapped in pain purgatory.

I did tour a hospital. And I tried to do it Brandy’s way, but I refused to see the likes of Pitocin and I kept feeling that I’d be pressured to accept in the moment. Ultimately, my inner compass guided me swiftly away from the hospitals and doctors, who I feared would do to me just as I had done many years before – leave a scared, helpless woman to fend for herself against nature and her own body, with not so much as half a care to holding her hand, reassuring her, or letting her know that she was not, in fact, alone.

 

People now ask me how it is that I managed to have a home birth. And for a while I really didn’t know where the conviction came from. But looking back now, I think it’s because… i think i remember knowing from a very young age that women deserved better care and that children deserved to enter the world in a better way. So, really, I didn’t have a choice.

 

Things I used to LOVE.

My husband always jokes that Americans use the word ‘love’ too loosely. And he’s right. We use the word ‘love’ when we really mean ‘like’ a whole lot and we use ‘like’ a whole lot when we really mean ‘um, ‘uh’ or ‘so.’ And we use those three sounds instead of just taking a break to breathe and think about what we really want to say. So, this got me to thinking (in a very round about way) about the times I used ‘love’ in the past, only to find out with time that it was just a misnomer. The list got me chuckling in my UGG slippers, which I categorically love. Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

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Alanis Morissette’s music – Isn’t ironic? I was a middle schooler once. This means I had poor taste in lots of things, not just music, but especially music. I LOVED “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic.” I distinctly recall waiting for them to play on The Box on those late nights that I was allowed to stay up during school vacations. I was definitely an 80s baby with 90s earlobes, so yea… I loved her sound!

Corn Pops – Apparently, they’ve been in the news lately for much more than their subtly sweet crunchy goodness, but for a very long time this was my jam. Between these and Crispix, Kellog’s had the monopoly on my breakfast cereal selection for years. Now, I know better than to think that those hints of morning sweetness are harmless. Back in the day, though, I loved these kitchen staples.

Drawing – While most kids in elementary school were winning sports trophies, I was winning poster and essay contests. Obviously, the love of writing has persisted, but most people are unaware of my artistic streak.  Through the 6th grade, I regularly won local competitions for my art work. When I went to high school, I took advanced fine arts courses and sent a portfolio with my college admissions applications, hoping to continue my work in a new venue. It was in high school that I learned the most about form, but it was also there that I met the end of my interest in drawing. I’ve since picked photography as my poison, but my mom’s basement tells the tales of my passion to draw.

Bikram Yoga – This used to be my sh*t! Back in 2010-11, I was regularly found sweating from the back of every joint, tendon and skin fold I possessed. And I absolutely loved it. Most people thought it was an irrational fad. Popular in theory, but unreasonably hot in reality, Bikram Yoga was 90 minutes of fat burning ‘me’ time that really got my body in shape, my mind in focus and my immune system in recovery.  Though it’s been over five years since I’ve done it, it’s still my exercise of choice – in my mind. (This was sexual harassment pre-scandal. I don’t condone what Bikram himself, btw)

Craig David –  I lived in Spain when he was popular and this guy right here was a teeny bopper heart-throb throughout Western Europe. I liked his music, but I loveeeddd him. Before there was Idris Elba, he was the first Black Brit to steal my heart. The same way I loved Soul for Real before him and Andre 3000 after him, I saw our future together.  So strong was my affection that I went out on 2 dates with a young Spaniard who favored Craig David, despite the fact that this young man wouldn’t even admit to being Black (uhhh….). Oh, the things we do for love!

In my defense, when I said I loved these people and things, I wasn’t lying. I meant it at the time. Genuine commitment and undying affection was what I pledged in my youth, but somehow with time ‘um’…’uh’… these passions faded. Now that I’ve had some breathing room, I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to revisit these touchstones and rediscover myself in these ‘likes’ of yesteryear.

 

A look back at 2017 (in books)!

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crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.

 

18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .

 

13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.

 

368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.

 

25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!

 

Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

revelations

I have officially been pregnant 7 months now and this experience has taught me a lot. I learned that while pregnancy is not an illness, it is certainly a condition. It has required monthly and now bi-weekly doctor’s visits. I have been on antibiotics three times and am now on them daily. I have gained 30 lbs over the course of this 7 months. My employer does not offer maternity leave, so I will have to use sick leave and even then I will only be able to do so up to 6 weeks for a natural birth or 8 weeks for a C-section. Any more time I’d like to spend with my new homie after that will be what you all know as vacation time. Fathom that I will not have sick leave left to take him/her to the required infant doctor appointments for many months after birth. And through all of this I have learned that women in the U.S. have little to no control over their reproductive rights and birthing.

This is not about the politics of the day, which has our president offering private companies the option to deny women the option to time their family planning. And this isn’t even about the politicians who ask their mistresses to have abortions, while pretending that pro-life is even a real thing (…because, it is not a real thing! To say you are pro-life, but not pro-social services to help that life throughout its life is bullsh*t. So, yea, it’s not a real thing). This is about the daily micro-aggressions of being a person who is exhausted, heavy, with limited mobility who has tried to navigate self-care and the healthcare system in our nation’s capital.

As everyone who will listen knows by now, since I arrived in DC in June I have seen three different medical practices. They all (somewhat) sucked. I say this because the idea that a patient should see 7-15 doctors in a practice, just so that the random who is on call the day you deliver has the benefit of having seen your face before, is also bullsh*t. This system is geared to the benefit of the doctors, not to you as a parent or a patient. There’s also no continuity of care in that process. How many times have I had to say, “the last time I was here…”? And, frankly, it’s insulting to think that one of the most important moments in a person’s life will be a crap shoot of audience members, treatments, and services.

Oh and the audience is large. No one is comprehensive in their care, by the way. You are expected to have a doula, have taken childbirth classes, done some form of birth breathing or massage class, and attended prenatal yoga or pilates – at the least. God, forbid your doctor/midwife actually discuss labor with you. The discussion isn’t their job, I guess, just the labor itself (which really isn’t about you at all). And there is the expectation that you will be ok with medical students, nurses, and doctors you’ve just met that day seeing you at your most vulnerable. This feels like a sporting event where you are unsure if you will be the referee, an audience member or a contender. It’s simply not up to you. And not even about you.

I have given up on riding the metro at this point, because no one gives up their seats for pregnant ladies. My fingers are too swollen to wear my wedding ring and even one of my doctors gave me the condescending look when asking (despite this having been on my chart) if I was having anyone with me throughout this process. It’s not polite for a pregnant lady to say, “Yes, yabish, the man who fathered this child and married me!” But, I’ve come to accept these looks and judgments of an expectant Black mother. The city is gentrified and I have only come to see brown people at Latinx & Black events. Finding ways to navigate self-care, without a co-pay and ignorant assumptions has been quite a feat in this town. I was the only Black woman in my pilates class, except the instructor, and the Indian girl who was my soul sistah (I don’t think she knew it though) dropped after the 3rd class (obviously she didn’t know if she left me behind). No one else spoke to me throughout the course and perhaps it was for the best.

Maybe because I’m physically less able or maybe because I’m just too tired to play coy, I’ve learned to observe and not react to the assumptions made about me, the family I am creating, and my choices as a woman. I can truly attest to the fact that there is a business to birthing and it hasn’t even pretended to care about my agency as a person. Whether it’s waiting a week to get medical results for an obvious infection, because the web portal wasn’t working (My insurance pays you $400 per visit, you mean to tell me you can’t pick up the phone to call me? #reallysandy?) Politeness does not at all indicate advocacy. And everybody is worried about an impending lawsuit that has absolutely nothing to do with you. And this isn’t just the docs, this includes the otherwise very nice childbirth instructor who said none of her doulas were allowed to do a home birth because of the insurance liability she wasn’t prepared to shoulder as a business owner. Well, thanks, that wasn’t what I was asking, but I guess your business liability is my concern now too… good to know.

All in all, I lament this moment publicly, because I have found myself feeling isolated in this space. I’ve become accustomed to seeing women and partners in waiting rooms, abuzz with other waiting couples, so excited or scared about giving life that they really do not see how they are being treated more like chattel than people. It seems that people have become resigned to this level of care and have accepted that this is what they deserve. I venture some of this is because in this area, women are having children later in life. Believing their pregnancies some miracle of modern medicine, rather than their own bodies, they assume that they should rely on, defer to, and accept any medical treatment that gets their kids birthed in tact –  regardless of what this means for their own maternal health. But I guess the same could be said for any woman made to feel as disempowered as this entire process intends. We are made to believe that the doc is our biggest asset – not our own bodies and certainly not our mental & emotional well being. Until very recently, I felt alone in the realization that this doesn’t work for me. But, I can’t possibly be the only one.

People seem so excited to have children that the “how” of the matter doesn’t seem to matter much at all. If your employer screws you, it’s ok. If your doctor can’t pronounce your name, that’s normal. If the nurses haven’t read your charts, it’s understandable. And, this is, after all, my observation coming from the privileged position of having a job and excellent health insurance. I can only imagine what it would be like to be even more financially and physically vulnerable. Multiple DC area hospitals closed their maternity wards in the last year and one can only wonder if that was a good thing, considering reported conditions.

I call this piece revelations, because these are experiences I could never have understood before this moment. Being made to feel like an anomaly, demanding crunchy granola, for asking to be seen – truly been seen – as a human giving life has been stressful and draining. I can’t say that I’ve allowed it to be degrading or that I’ve permitted it to be dehumanizing. If that ever happens, trust me, it will be against my will and I will be telling a very different kind of story here. Yet, I have fought with all my might to not have the sour business of birth diminish my own relationship to pregnancy and my body. It has been a journey. I’m sure that I am not alone in this trial and after 7 months, I know this is bigger than me. I am not asking too much.  I am not being rebellious. I am simply stepping into parenthood in the present, rather than in the “after the baby is born” future.

If anyone else out there feels similarly, I simply want you to know that you are not alone, I see you, and you are not asking too much.

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (77)

Welcome to the 77th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This morning we’ll start slowly with the jazzy musings of Ohio, USA native Nancy Wilson. The Grammy winner had her own variety series in the ’60s and has been known for classy little ditties that are grounded in the less romantic parts of real life…  but her silky voice makes it all go down so swell. Alas, I love this song because it just feels like a 1960s version of “Man Down” & badass women, calling the shots and taking no shit get me fired up for a week of greatness ahead…

Shots fired!

On Trust and Anxiety

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but between my fb newsfeed, CNN coverage of Trump’s tweets, and the general mayhem of the day (I’ll trade you pee soaked reporters in Charlottesville and raise you N. Korean missiles possibly reaching Guam) – being in America is giving me a never ending anxiety attack. I caution not to say PTSD, because I don’t want to be clinically inaccurate or to exaggerate the low-grade, persistence of the bullsh*t onslaught I’m experiencing at the moment. But, seriously, what the absolute fck is going on and why is mass hysteria the norm?

I am an expat who came home because I wanted to see things for myself. I also came home because I was getting too deeply invested in the problems of a place that I wasn’t really attached to. I wanted to be in solidarity, in mind and body, with the struggles closest to my heart and closest to my identity. Empathy and philanthropy can only take you so far, eventually you have to identify. And I knew that what hurt my heart most were police brutality against the Black community, the infringement on the civil rights of people who look and live like me, and the repeated silencing of their efforts at redress.

I recall sitting in Jo’burg with a Zimbabwean acquaintance a few months back as he taught me about how much Black people all over the world see African-Americans as an ideal example for civic engagement. He proceeded to tell me with admiration in his eyes that eventually us African-Americans would kick ass in America against those racists. (We) African-Americans were making noise with Black Lives Matter. (We) had done it with the civil rights movement and inspired liberation movements throughout Africa. (We) African-Americans were disrupting the ideal American dream narrative everyday. Those cracks & fissures would lead to social rupture, legal breakdown, and political break throughs. He was as hopeful as a negro spiritual sung over an organ in a Baptist church on MLK, Jr. day.

I dashed those hopes. I proceeded to tell him he was wrong. We had reached a dead end. We had run out of convincing ideas. And better yet, whatever ideas we presented were batted down in word and deed. Everything we tried was proving ineffective. We could march. We could televise our revolution. We could name & shame (police killings of unarmed Black people). We could find a White ally to speak for us. I mean, we could do everything that once worked and this time it could very well not work. And I said, that’s what we’re experiencing here, because this shit ain’t working.

I could ask why. But I won’t. I’ll just hypothesize that it’s simply that we are only being heard by people who already care. The others, the Bull Connors of the world, have made a choice to ignore our presence and to undermine our existence.  Oh and they are crawling out from their thinly veiled hovels to let us know which side of the political spectrum, racial divide, and socio-economic gap they stand on.

So, this low grade anxiety I’m suffering from is simply the persistent reality that I am  experiencing a “trust no-one” frost on everything I touch. I can’t trust the police to keep me safe. Or trust that my husband will come home from a run in the neighborhood. Can’t trust that a young woman going to pray in a local mosque will come home safely. I can’t trust that compelling images of now unhooded racists will de-stabilize the American public. And, what’s worse is that I frankly don’t trust that anything will change.

The only thing I can trust, at this moment, is that I am not crazy.

This crude state of affairs is very real.