Relationship Insomnia

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? The answer to that question obviously changes as we go through this thing called life and deal with the various upsets, trials and tribulations it brings.  As we mature and grow, things become easier or harder for us to do.  But, if I had to answer the question right now, my answer would have to be: break someone’s heart.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve always been the type to put my best foot forward – give it the real boy scout try – so that if I get to a point where I feel like I’ve given it everything I’ve got but it still isn’t working out, I’m able to break ties and move on with clear eyes.

But there’s something different this time. I think that perhaps this time is the first time I’ve truly loved the person back.  That it’s the first time I could see that he was giving it the good ‘ol boy scout try just as much as I was – more even. The first time I’ve had to remind myself that I’ve given it everything I have because I keep coming up with reasons to stay.  And the first time I’ve had to convince myself that it’s time…

My sister hates watching movies with me because I always figure out the ending half way through, ruining it for her. And something similar happens for me in relationships – I can see very early on if it’s something that’s worth the time or not. And if I’m being truly honest with myself, I knew before this relationship began that it wasn’t going to work.  So why did I even indulge? Why did I even put the both of us in a situation I thought was likely to fail? Because I was hoping that I was wrong.

There was a glimmer of a chance that things would turn out differently than what the tealeaves had suggested, and I wanted so badly to believe it. Here was someone who was fun and interesting and dragged me out of the house at a time when I needed it most. Here was someone who valued family and relationships in the same way I do. And here was someone who truly believed I could do anything I put my mind to, and loved me with everything he had. So I thought, “maybe.” Maybe I just need to give our seed the opportunity; place it in the ground and see if it would grow.

But the elements just never seemed to work in our favor for some reason. It felt like the sun would come out for a few minutes, only for a set of clouds to breeze in and camp out. The rains came just frequently enough to keep the dirt from getting hard – no more and no less than the minimum water needed to keep us alive. And it seemed like the bees loved all the flowers except ours. Still, two years later, I faithfully go to the window every morning to check on our flowerpot – hoping to find new growth but, instead, seeing a little less life than the day before.

So when I woke up this morning in tears, something inside me knew that no matter how hard we try, the result (for me) would be the same. I then asked myself what any person in my position would wonder: do I sacrifice something that is fine for the potential that there may (or may not) be something that is great? What if I end up never finding what I think is out there; wishing I had left well enough alone? Is “good enough” worth it?

The answer:  “Anything less than mad, passionate, extraordinary love is a waste of time. There are too many mediocre things in life. Love should not be one of them.” (Dream for an Insomniac)

Seeing that quote reminded me why this nagging feeling was never going to go away.  I’ve seen marriages where the couple is still passionately in love 30 years later and I’ve seen marriages where the flame has dwindled but they’ve stayed together anyway.

In full disclosure, generally the couples I grew up around and were most influential in my life were the latter.  And while I know that each of those couples love each other, they have set the example for what I don’t want my future marriage to be like. Each created a comfortable, safe life for themselves, and it works for them. But that’s not what I want for myself. I want to automatically smile when I see my husband walk in a room. I want to go on dates until we’re old and gray. I want him to still hold the small of my back when we’re 50. I want passion! And while I know that no relationship is perfect and you’ll have to fight for it every single day, I have to follow my gut when it tells me that this one just isn’t it. I’m content, but I’m not truly happy.

And, more than that, it’s unfair to string someone along in a relationship I no longer believe in. Because while he may be convinced that this is what he wants or needs, that cannot overpower my own feelings. It’s definitely going to be difficult and knowing him he won’t go down without a fight, but I pray that one day he sees that while I have to do this to be true to myself, I also have to do it to be true to him. And that I refuse to selfishly keep him from the woman out there – whoever she may be – that he truly deserves.

This is one of those hard conversations that I think is so important for us twenty- and thirty-somethings to have. I’ve said it before; social media has a way of making you think everyone’s life is great but yours. Yet, that’s rarely the truth.

Because we often only post and share the greatest moments of our lives, we convey to the world a false euphoria, a mirage of the Promised Land. But the point of Her Lenox Stoop is to face the tough questions head on. To challenge societal norms and start a dialogue about the real issues we go through every day. I lay my vulnerabilities on the table not only to get them off my own chest, but so that others just might feel comfortable enough to do the same.

My truths set me free, especially the hard ones. And they say the biggest regrets in life are often the risks we didn’t take.  So today I face my hardest decision, with both sadness in my heart as well as a hopefulness for the future.

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Faith… especially when it scares me.

On this day in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., one quote that kept jumping out to me as I scrolled through my Instagram timeline was: “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the entire staircase”. Please understand, though, it’s not that these particular words were the most posted quote of the day, it’s just that it’s the one that stood out to me.  And as I laid my head down to finally go to sleep, I couldn’t get it out of my head…

The concept felt as though it had been an overarching theme in my life for the past few months.  Most recently, I had a very honest conversation with my cousin about what I’m starting to believe is my life’s dream and why I have taken zero steps towards accomplishing it.  Trained as a transactional lawyer, my most marketable skill-set is to contemplate every possible scenario – good or bad – from a potential decision, and to plan an appropriate safety net for if the unthinkable happens. I help my clients protect their interests before entering into any venture by preparing them for the worst, and as helpful as that is for them, it has become a serious hurdle in my own ambition. For every great idea I come up with, and every possibility my heartbeat skips for, there are twice as many red flags that go up. In the legal world it’s referred to as “the parade of terribles,” as we think of one worst case scenario after another. So in my personal life, by the time I’m done brainstorming, I’ve actually talked myself out of pursuing whatever it is that I was contemplating.

For a while I thought that it was a “millennial” thing. I’ve been heard in numerous conversations trying to lump all twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings into my own sphere of indecisiveness. My boyfriend is working on an artistic piece centered around black millennials in relationships, and I can be heard in my interview saying that we are a generation of too many options. There, I concluded that since there’s no rule book for us anymore, so many of us find ourselves trapped at crossroads between what was the norm of prior generations and what is the unchartered course of this generation. However, when I re-listened to my interview tonight a light-bulb went off as I heard my voice explaining the theory. It isn’t all millennials, it’s me.

I don’t know at what point in my life I became so scared to make a decision. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the embodiment of that children’s book Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. I remember that Grace wanted to play Peter Pan in her school’s play, but one of the other students told her she couldn’t because she was black and a girl – I don’t remember all of the details but the takeaway from that book that always stuck with me was Grace’s nana saying “you can do anything you set your mind to.” And for as far back as my memory serves, I have done just that. In grade school I wanted to play basketball but there was only a boys’ team, so I was one of the founders of my school’s first middle school basketball team for girls. When it came time to pick a college, certain people in my life – very important ones – told me that passing on a scholarship to a nationally ranked, predominantly white university in order to go to a historically black college (regardless of its preeminence in that sphere) would be a mistake; but, I trusted that the way I felt when I walked on Spelman’s campus was indicative of a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t ever get otherwise, and I was right. And when I decided to apply to Columbia Law School knowing that the likelihood of getting in was slim, not one bone in my body hesitated.

So why, as my 30th birthday inches closer and closer, has the overarching theme in my life as of late been to avoid any form of risk-taking? If nothing else, the last 20 years should be proof enough that “I can do anything I set my mind to.” Yet somehow every time a hard decision comes up about my career, my relationships, my dreams and desires, I let the parade of terribles reign over my mind to such an extent that I literally become paralyzed – afraid to move forward or backwards, just stuck wherever I am. Thinking about that made me recall the sermon I had listened to earlier this morning.

Yes, I was bedside-Baptist today and watched a sermon that my pastor in New York gave last week instead of going to a church here in Atlanta. So I re-watched it and, you guessed it, I got my answer.  Pastor Mike asked us: “can you let go of the life you planned for the life that’s waiting for you?” He said that when you “lean in to new beginnings it’s not about whether you can chart the course or craft the script, it’s whether you can lean into a space where the only thing you’re sure of is that this space is inhabited by God.” He went on to say:

“I know there’s a part of you who cannot handle that because you need to know, you have to understand. You wish that God had a way of telling you the story before it began… But here’s the good thing, what God gives you to get you started has nothing to do with the journey or the destination, it has to do with you trusting in God’s presence…to begin your new journey!” [See the full sermon here]

And I can’t deny it, Pastor is right. I’m paralyzed because the ideas in my head and the dreams that fill my heart, are not the life I planned for myself. It’s easy to take risks when you have the world at your fingertips, but when you start to get settled into a comfortable lifestyle and start feeling the benefits of years of hard work and sweat, it’s hard to think about sacrificing it all for a plan that may not work. I did everything I said I would do, got to where I wanted to get to, and now I’m supposed to just give it all up? What if it doesn’t work? What if I lose everything I’ve worked for and can’t get it back? For some, the question might be what if I lose him? What if I end up alone? But what I realized today is the part I was forgetting to remember is that I know who I am. That no matter what comes my way, I have a strong will, a strong support system, and a strong faith in God and in myself.

They say we are born fearless and only develop apprehension over time as we experience the world. As we mature from children to adults, life’s lessons help develop our consciousness but can also cripple us if we let them. So I choose today to not only trust in God and the desires that God placed within me, but to remember to trust in myself. To trust that I can do all things I set my mind to… especially if they scare me.

How much trust do you have in God?

This past Sunday, I was proud of myself for getting up and out bright and early to try a new church. As many of you know I moved to Atlanta a few months ago, but what you probably don’t know is that I have yet to find a space that is as fulfilling as my home church, First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, NYC. So, with a new recommendation in-hand, I was excited to try out this potential church – even if it was a 45 minute drive. As I told my friend the night before (in my best southern accent): “I’ll travel for a good Word, now.” However, to make a long story short, I did not have the name of the church completely right, and I ended up being what seemed like the only American-born African-American in the room. Part of the service was even in another language! I was very uncomfortable and wanted to run out immediately after I realized the situation. But it was too late – the way the rows were set up, I’d have to make the entire row of 30 or so people get up to let me out. So I took a deep breath, and thought to myself: you’re here now, might as well give it a chance. And I kid you not, the very next song that the choir sang was one of my favorites (I’m Chasing After You) so I was up out of my seat dancing and praising just like I would back at FCBC.

Then, when the guest preacher came up, one of the first things out of his mouth was “I believe each and every one of you is here for a reason.” And when I tell you that hit my soul like a baseball bat, chile! I was no longer focused on finding the exit, and instead was focused on hearing the Word – and I was not disappointed. I failed to write down the scripture, but the message was basically if you’ve given it to God, then let God have it. There’s no point in stressing about it, dwelling in it, or talking it to death. God said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that Word was on [pause for dramatic effect] time! I had been stressing like crazy the past few days because I knew that the coming Friday would be the day that I found out whether or not I passed the Georgia bar exam. Normally I don’t stress about things like that because I try to go into them well prepared, but that was not the case this time. While studying for the test, I had been working full time while also trying to explore and enjoy life in a new city, balance the demands of being in a long-distance relationship and fit in opportunities for much-desired time with my nieces and nephews. So when I sat for the test and the very first question stumped me, I knew it would be a long road to the finish line. I kept my head up and finished as best I could, but “as best I could” was different than “my best” – so I’ve been quietly panicking inside ever since. I prayed before and after the test, but was beating myself up because to some extent the blame was on me for not making studying the priority it needed to be – and if I didn’t pass I knew I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone but myself. Still, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more. Because I was still stressing about it.

Then the last nail was placed in the coffin…The preacher said that what confused him the most was that we are so willing to put our trust in other people yet not willing to have any trust in God. He said “think about it, every time you step foot on an airplane you are literally and physically putting your life in the hands of another person – and it’s normally a person you don’t know and haven’t even seen.” With that, I was on my feet. Anyone who knows me knows that whenever I take a flight, I’m sleep before the flight attendants even give the safety instructions and I don’t wake up until I feel the wheels hit the ground. So how is it that I am so willing to load onto a man-made machine, walk past a closed-door cockpit without questioning who is behind the controls, settle into my seat and fall asleep (i.e., the ultimate sign of trust and relaxation) without questioning for a second that I will get safely to my destination, yet stress about what God has in store for my life? The same God who promised never to harm me but to see me prosper.

My head was spinning! I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to find the peace that God desired of me. Then, like clockwork, the preacher reminded us that God is always with us. He told us that often times when we feel like God has abandoned us, God isn’t the one who pulled away – it was us. And that made perfect sense given my personal situation. Ever since I moved to Atlanta, I haven’t been going to church, I haven’t been going to bible study, I haven’t been praying and communicating with God like I used to. I am the one who pulled away. And then I wonder why I don’t feel his protection? I haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain! To find the peace I was looking for (and that God wants for me), I needed a way to rebuild my relationship with God. I needed to commune with God again. I needed to ask God to guide my feet and learn to trust again in where the Spirit leads me. I needed to board God’s flight.

During the church announcements it was mentioned that the church was planning to fast during the coming week and to meet periodically for communal prayer. So I decided I would also fast that week, and try to figure out a way to replace food with spiritual nourishment. I hoped to rejuvenate my relationship with God, find the peace my spirit desired and perhaps learn a little bit about the path God wants me to be on. So on my 45-minute drive back into the city, I called my health-conscious, vegan sister and we figured out a game plan for my 5-day fast. I was nervous but excited at the same time!

She wasn’t quite convinced that I could do it, though. She knows that I have no self-control when it comes to food – I want what I want when I want it. She said, “plus you literally get hangry. Imagine if you can’t eat for 5 days. You have coworkers and a new puppy to think about! They are going to meet a side of you they may not want to meet.” And she wasn’t wrong. This was absolutely going to be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I reminded her that fasting is about sacrifice. If I want God to move in my life, I have to be willing to sacrifice something to get there. So she wished me luck and I pulled into Target for supplies… excited to board my flight with God.

I’m Good on Engagement Rings…

I want to revisit a topic covered in one of my original HLS posts, “Glitter vs Gold.” A little over a year ago, I met my now-boyfriend and wrote Glitter as an outlet to think through the issue that was confronting me at the time: standards set by me (with some help from our friend, society) that were grounded in wants rather than needs. Fast forward to present day, the same issue continues to transform and plague us as we move through the different stages of our relationship.

And, as a side note, I think it’s so very important to talk about the struggles in life as well as the good things because social media has a way of creating perceptions of false euphoria… Our natural tendency is to post and share only the good things that happen in our lives, and as a result people don’t always see or understand the not-so-good things that we go through. To the world, our lives our perfect! A woman who posts cute pictures of her newborn might never signal to her followers that she is actually struggling for the first time with not living in the same city as her larger family; similarly, a man who posts amazing group brotherhood photos at his best friend’s wedding may not tell you that he’s sleeping on that same friend’s couch while he tries to figure out his job situation; and a couple that shares pictures of their new house may show no signs of the stress they are under to continue to make ends meet. So I never want people to read Glitter or see bae and I holding hands on IG and think, “they have it figured out,” because we definitely don’t. But what I want you to know is, that’s Ok!! We don’t need to have it all figured out, we just have to be willing to be honest and put in the work… Anyway, I’ll step off my soap box and get back to the regularly scheduled program.

I realized today that I don’t want an engagement ring. Not that I don’t want to get engaged, just that I don’t want the diamond. As many of you may know, the coveted “diamond engagement ring” is a concept that was actually created from a marketing campaign run by the DeBeers diamond company in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The strategic plan included not only traditional advertisements (where they coined the slogan “a diamond is forever”), but also a meticulously planned campaign to show diamond rings in romance films, highlight diamond purchases by celebrities in local newspapers, and even send lecturers to speak to high school students across the country! The entire effort was designed to make women believe that no courtship was adequate unless a diamond was involved and to indoctrinate men with the belief that romance requires a diamond ring, the bigger the better. And guess what? They succeeded. Before this campaign, diamonds were seen more as gems for aristocrats and the uber-wealthy, but this effort brought the diamond market to the living rooms of main street America — where 80 years later the impression remains.

And while this was a genius move for their bottom line, the effect has been not so great on the pockets of the everyday person. There’s even a rule of thumb that suggests a man should spend an entire month’s salary on a diamond ring – Oh, OK.

Understanding that personal debt is one of the top causes of stress for us millennials, I think that we are the perfect generation to start challenging this supposed “life requirement”. Why bend over backwards to reach outside our means for a material object that can be lost or stolen, will make rich people richer at our expense, and that may not even increase in value over time?? Personally, I would much rather my potential fiancé take that $3,000-$5,000 (which is just the average cost!) and surprise me with plane tickets to an awesome adventure that will give us memories for a lifetime. I’d even take a deposit slip for our “saving for a house fund”! Anything that is thoughtful, from a heartfelt place, and designed to enhance our connection with each other or our position in life would suffice in my opinion. In fact, unless he’s wealthy and sees it as “that little ‘ol thang”, proposing to me with an extravagant ring would actually have the opposite effect and make me question his judgment. Especially since what we often fail to realize is that once you get married, his debts are essentially yours and vice versa – so there’s no better way to start a marriage than by making better financial choices for ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, until this point I have never questioned my own expectation of getting a diamond ring one day – and in full disclosure, it’s only coming up now because I understand the financial limitations of my significant other. But after thinking long and hard about it, I came to the conclusion that the point of the engagement ring is to symbolize commitment. It represents an unconditional love that yields the desire to spend an entire lifetime with another person. And if that’s really and truly what the purpose is, then there is no right or wrong way to make that commitment to someone.  Simply put, as much as I would love to have a nice shiny rock on my finger, forcing someone (either explicitly or implicitly) to reach beyond their means to prove to me their willingness to make that commitment just does not sit well with me. So I have made the decision – for myself and where I am in life – to not require an engagement ring. In my opinion, that is unnecessary glitz that I would happily sacrifice for the right person…

Keep in mind, though, that this post is not intended to shade those women out there who do have or want an engagement ring (whether extravagant or not). As always, I just simply encourage you to think critically about why you want whatever it is and what you think you’re getting out of it. And I can only hope that if it’s simply the glitter, that you aren’t sacrificing the gold.

Wake Up Call

Last week I received one of those calls no one ever wants to get. At 6:19 am on a Monday, I woke up to “your brother is in the hospital.”  You could replace “brother” with child, parent, grandparent, best friend, or any loved one and your heart will drop just as fast.  It’s never a good feeling to think that someone you care for is in pain – and an even worse feeling to know that their life could be in danger.  In this case it was diabetes, or what I am now calling the silent killer.

My brother had been experiencing certain symptoms for a few weeks – namely, constant thirst and urination, but also a lack of desire for his favorite food: snacks. And because it runs through our family, he immediately thought he might be developing diabetes. When I spoke to him the Saturday before he promised me he would be making a doctor’s appointment first thing on Monday.  So to find out that he never made it to the doctor on his own, a different kind of alarm bell was going off for me that morning.

In the early hours of Monday morning he had experienced dizziness and started losing his vision. So he went to the emergency room around 5 am and when they measured his blood glucose level it was 861. The normal range for a non-diabetic person’s blood glucose is between 70 and 130, and since his was so high his body was bordering on a complete lack of insulin and he was instead developing ketones in his blood, so they diagnosed him with diabetic ketoacidosis.  With blood sugar levels that high, they said he could have slipped into a coma or worse.  So they gave him IV’s of saline, potassium and insulin, and moved him to the ICU on a 24-hour watch until his levels normalized. Needless to say it was a rough 24 hours.

The American Diabetes Association asserts that, compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by Diabetes, and estimates that 13.2% of African Americans are diagnosed with diabetes as compared to 7.6% of whites. Hispanic Americans are up there too, with 12.8%. The ADA also reports that diabetes kills more Americans every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined. So to find out that my brother could have died when really the only symptoms he had were thirst and frequent urination not only brings tears to my eyes but also sends panic through my entire body.

You’d think a disease so serious would have more serious symptoms, but it doesn’t – so many people go about their daily lives never even knowing that they have it or are developing it. Normal “blood work” during annual physical examinations doesn’t usually measure blood glucose and unless you have a relative or other loved one who has experienced it, you may never think to ask to have your blood tested.  Even as someone who has a history of diabetes within my immediate family, I never thought about either.  To me it always felt like something I may have to deal with when I’m 50, 60 or 70 years old – but my brother will be turning only 43 next week.  So this has rocked my world almost as much as it has rocked his.

So what does this mean for me and other black and brown twenty-somethings out there? If there’s one thing I know about us, we like convenience. Unfortunately, that can mean fast food restaurants and other quick meal solutions that could just end up pushing us even further down the path to diabetes.  And being someone whose weekly menu consists of bagels, burgers, cakes and cookies, nobody knows better than me how difficult it is going to be to shake those habits.  But the other thing I know about myself and us as Millennials, is that we know how to be informed. Small changes as simple as reading labels and cooking at home rather than eating out can make a huge difference on your health (and on your wallet). Knowing that it isn’t just sugar in the traditional sense that can cause a problem, but rather carbohydrates overall as being potentially harmful when consumed in excess, also helps us to make more informed choices out of the food options available to us.

For me, this was definitely a wake up call to change my eating and lifestyle choices while I still have the chance. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but at least I will no longer be able to feign ignorance – from here on out the choices I make will be conscious, and I hope yours will, too.

This Little Light of Mine…

Last weekend my cousin came to visit and one of the things I love most about our times together is that we talk about very real things. She’s one of those people who is simply insightful – and blunt about it! Of course she’s respectful and thoughtful about HOW she delivers the message, but you will walk away knowing exactly what she thinks about the situation, and I love her for that. But I digress…

So after we did the whole life-updates thing, we talked about families and friends, bounced around ideas about our big business venture, and then somehow got on the subject of churches. Both of us shared a pastor when we lived in NYC but now that we’ve both moved to other cities we feel like there’s a void that still needs to be filled. I won’t speak for her, but for me my church in New York was a part of me. It literally turned me into not only the God-fearing Christian I am today but also the autonomous, free-thinking, daring to dream woman who challenges preconceived notions, asks questions and seeks to always be a visionary.

And, if I’m being honest, I don’t think that any other pastor on the planet would be able to connect with me on the level that my current pastor does. That’s the appeal of his church, I think, and why people from around the world flock to First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) and tune in each week to hear him speak. Ashley (that’s my cousin) thinks that Pastor Mike (that’s our pastor) is so effective because he is a teacher first. He has a way of breaking down the text to make it relatable and, more than that, to make you question everything! To make YOU come to your own conclusion; to make you take ownership of not only your relationship with God but also of your life and your decisions. So I don’t care what anybody says, in my mind the likelihood of me finding another pastor to do that for me is pretty slim.

The cherry on top of this whole situation is that I’m back in the south — the “Bible Belt”, as it’s called. Down here there’s no buying liquor before a certain time on Sunday, homosexuality is still very much a taboo topic and you better be wearing Sunday’s best when you walk through those church doors. So I told Ashley that rather than look for a church home here, I was planning to simply stream FCBC’s services online every Sunday and leave it at that. And she agreed!  But then Ashley started to recall something that Pastor Mike had said at a bible study one night. When asked by another member as to what his advice would be for finding a church home when moving to another city, he told her something along the lines of “not to worry too much about it because if you believe in the God that moves in FCBC, then you have to believe that the same God exists in other places”… I told you he was good.

But more than that, God is working! It was in that moment that, through Pastor Mike’s words, God actually put something on my heart: maybe now it’s on each of us to spread Jesus’s teachings the way Pastor Mike did it for us! I’m not saying to open or pastor a church or go door-to-door spreading the good news (not even close to what I’m saying), rather maybe it’s on me to take these new ways of thinking about God and religion that FCBC instilled in me and share them with others. For me (and those who feel similar to the way I do) to go into those other churches, become members and challenge the things that we don’t agree with. If we see discrimination towards people with non-traditional beliefs or ways of life, it’s on us to speak up and it’s on us to show what it looks like to still love them despite their difference. If a preacher explains a message in a way that we don’t agree with, maybe the correct reaction is to go up to him or her afterwards and talk it through rather than leave the church altogether.  It’s only after we start to walk in love, ask the difficult questions and challenge the lessons we are taught that we will start to break the subtle (and the not so subtle) biases and metaphoric chains that have been indoctrinated in religion – Christianity in particular – and which have served as polarizing forces over the years.

Maybe then we will start to see the freedom in others that has already been let loose in us… “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5:15, KJV)

Did I do it for the ‘Gram?

A few months ago, a poet made me wonder if I would “still want to travel to that country if [I] could not take [my] camera with [me]” (see “Simple Words; Hard Truths”). And I feel so relieved because currently I am sitting on a patio in the neighborhood of Imerovigli on the island of Santorini, Greece (which is serving as my Lenox Stoop for the time-being) and the last thing on my mind is where my camera is. Instead, I’m enjoying the warmth of the sun in my face and the freedom to write whatever comes to mind.

For about 10 days now, a group of girlfriends and I have been island-hopping throughout Greece and it has been an amazing experience of fellowship, exploration, fun and relaxation. We have laughed, I have cried, and we’ve met so many people, tried new foods and seen the sights, that it has truly been one of the best experiences of my life.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you might be thinking: “But you are taking a lot of pictures and posting them to social media; is that not the point Waheed was making?” And, honestly, at the time I wrote “Simple Words; Hard Truths” that’s what I thought, too. But I’ve realized that simply posting pictures does not mean that you are appropriating a culture – it means that you are instantly sharing your experiences with others in a way that was not possible 10-15 years ago. The number of likes you get is simply evidence that other people appreciate and support what you’re doing, seeing and experiencing, and that they are happy that you shared it with them.  You may even be sparking something in them to go visit these places (or any place at all) when they might not otherwise have thought to do so.

Add to that the point that Greece in particular is currently dealing with an economic crisis and they are largely dependent on the revenue from tourism to help them climb out of debt. So the fact that I’m spending my Euros to have a great time here when I could have gone anywhere is not taken for granted by the locals.  They are so appreciative of the business and they hope I’ll spread the word and tell everyone I know to come visit their country.

Still, the point Waheed was making is not lost on me, and I can truthfully say that learning more about the people and local cultures in Greece has been a sincere desire of mine and everyone else on this trip with me. Everything from understanding how the volcanic acid in the soil causes the wine to have a unique taste to trying local foods like Fava and hearing how to say Greek words properly, are all things that we were intentional about learning (and if you’re wondering, “gyro” is actually pronounced “hero”, but not like a New Yorker talking about Superman; rather the “h” is breathy and has more of a Spanish “qui” sound like “key-ro” – which probably still sounds really confusing so you should just go ahead and make plans to visit Greece yourself and hear it first hand!).

And not only did I learn a lot while on this trip, but I think we also left an impact as well. Four Black girls from the States are hard to miss around here, and we’ve been chatting with locals and tourists alike, having fun and bringing up the energy around us on a regular basis. We also spoke our mind when we didn’t agree with how we were being treated.  So I have to believe that those who encountered us have also been affected by our visit, and I hope that we’ve left an overall positive impact on them as well.

Another reason why I love to travel is because of the distance it puts between me and my everyday life. When I’m in a different environment, a different country and a different time zone I’m forced to truly check-out of all the things that were stressing me out or clouding my thoughts back home. It lets me hit the reset button and I become open to new inspiration and ideas without even realizing. So many of us get caught up in work and family life that we make excuses for why we can’t or shouldn’t take time off.  But we all get a certain amount of vacation days every year for a reason! Why are you saving yours??

My parents (my dad in particular) didn’t really put much emphasis on taking time off when we were growing up, and to this day still don’t “vacation” at all. I can recall hearing about them taking a cruise to the Caribbean when I was really young, and they took us to Disney World when I was about 8 or 9 years old, but otherwise I cannot think of a time when my parents took a trip for the sole purpose of being on vacation. They do travel often for family reunions and visiting their parents and grandchildren, but those are normally weekend trips and some are even just overnight! So when I tell my dad that I’m going to Barbados or South Africa or Greece for no reason at all other than to get away for a week or two, I get a reaction that, at least initially, feels like judgment. Those types of reactions from family, friends, and even a boss or co-worker can be just enough to deter us from doing the thing we actually need the most: rejuvenating ourselves.

But after talking about it with my sister and the other girls on this trip, I realized that it may actually be misunderstanding rather than judgment. My father is the type to never take time off from work, but he also truly loves what he does and would probably do it for free if he could.  And for him, relaxation is reading the newspaper, gardening or spending a weekend at his parents’ house watching the game with his dad. So in his mind he may not understand why I need to go to a completely different country for a week or two in order to truly relax.  But I do think that he is proud to have raised children who have those opportunities; children who are capable of discerning what makes them happiest and are strong enough to pursue those things despite what others may say or think. And I even believe that after seeing us explore the world, he is now more open to the idea as well…

So to answer the question, yes I would still go if I couldn’t take my camera with me – but I think that having my camera brings another level of impact that is sometimes lost in translation: lighting subtle fires of curiosity in others.

And for that reason, you’ll continue to see my trip all up on Instagram…

 

Can I?

Having a sibling close in age is a blessing – it’s like growing up with an automatic best friend. And when you have a twin it’s even more so the case!  From birth you literally do everything together and are subject to an almost identical adolescence that builds a deep understanding and unshakable bond with another person from an early age. And in a life where what we all desire the most is companionship, having that relationship from the very start lessens the magnitude of that yearning.

Trust me, I know. Twenty Eight years ago my sister was born thirty seven minutes after I was (which is long for twins but obviously close in the grand scheme of things), and we have been inseparable most of our lives.  We’ve always had separate identities, though, and are polar opposites in almost every respect of our personalities: she is the fun, creative type while I have always been the boring bookworm; she eats healthy (or at least tries to) while often the only vegetables in my diet are the lettuce and tomato on my cheeseburger.  However, despite our differences we’ve managed to maintain largely the same circle of friends and have similar interests – so growing up, everyone knew that when you saw one, the other wasn’t too far behind.

We never experienced any real sense of separation until college.  She stayed local and went to the university in our hometown while I traveled almost 1,000 miles to attend college in Atlanta. The one question we were constantly asked as high school graduation approached was “how do you feel about separating?” One of our classmates even wrote an article in the local newspaper about us! The fact that anyone (let alone everyone we encountered) would be curious about that decision and its potential impact on our relationship is a testament to how close we were. But honestly, I was never concerned. Although it was the early 2000s, there was such a thing as cellphones, and Skype made its appearance soon after we graduated so I knew I could still talk to her whenever I wanted. Living separately didn’t seem like a big deal at all – it actually made me excited!

I wanted to see who we’d become once no one knew us as “the twins”; how we’d do when we were forced to make friends and build real bonds with other people. Essentially, I was excited to see how we’d fare on our own out in the world – and if I do say so myself, I think we did pretty damn good. She maintained friendships from high school and grew really close to her freshman-year roommates, got a boyfriend and juggled a part-time job with school work and externships, while I also developed friendships with a group of girls right away and soon added sorority sisters to the mix, I built bonds with several professors and graduated with the highest GPA in my major.

Fast forwarding a bit, we were reunited in New York City a year after we graduated from college. But I don’t mean that to sound like we didn’t see each other for 5 years… We visited each other often during that time, though we were very much living and thriving in different cities.  Yet when she joined me in NYC it was like we had never parted. We obviously were older and more mature, but becoming roommates again was like sliding my feet into my favorite fuzzy slippers. It was home.

My other half was back, and we did everything together! I dragged her out drinking and partying with my law school friends and linesisters, and she made sure we visited funky new restaurants and gourmet meatball stands, went to farmers markets and tried spinning classes. But don’t get me wrong, like any other roommates we have our issues.  She hates how I let my dishes stack up in the sink for days and then go on cleaning sprees of the entire apartment (including moving her stuff from where she left it), and I can’t deal with how many different hair products she has brought into our tiny apartments over the years and how she never (ever) closes the medicine-cabinet or cupboard doors, but somehow the living arrangement has largely worked for us.

However, we’ve now been living together for over 5 years and unfortunately all I’ve been able to think about lately is having my own space. I guess it’s only “unfortunately” depending on how you look at it. We’re almost 30 years old and I’ve only lived alone for a total of 15 months of my entire life – and I don’t think my sister ever has.  Some would argue that THAT is what’s unfortunate. That you need time alone to grow as an individual, to push your own limits and relish in your own space.

Having a roommate, even though you may love her to the moon and back, causes you to have to compromise always.  You have to be mindful of leaving your stuff in common places, sharing the TV, and not accidentally eating her special spaghetti sauce (oops). You have to consider her feelings when you invite people over – after all, maybe she wanted to sit on the couch in her pajamas and twist her hair!  But at the same time, you are entitled to invite whoever you want because it’s your space, too.  So maybe she finds herself twisting her hair in her room…  Though they seem minor, these types of things can wear on you over time. And I feel like we all come to a point where we are just ready to have our own space – and we shouldn’t feel bad about it.  Yet for some reason, I can’t shake this feeling of guilt.

At this age I feel like there will be a sense of finality to separating; this time would probably be the last – are we ready for that? Does she feel the same way, or will she take it as rejection or abandonment? Is it the right time for us to branch out and away from each other? Are we missing out on personal growth by continuing to rely so heavily on one another?

I guess part of growing up is being honest about what you want and need in order to be your best self. And maybe part of being the “older” sister is sometimes bearing the responsibility of making the first move, pushing your siblings outside of their comfort zones – reassuring them that they can do it by first having the confidence that you, yourself, can.

But, can I?

Give and Take

Bundled on the couch under a cover,

As the sounds of a classic black film hover.

 

“I’m a giver,” he explains.

Comforting her with his good-guy ways.

And all she could think is, “I’m the taker.

This will never work; he’ll get fed up sooner or later.”

 

But haven’t I earned it, though?

The right to think of me and me alone?

 

For once, this late-twenty-something is doing things her way.

The rule book is gone, and she’s calling the plays.

She wants what she wants when she wants it,

With neither apology nor a care for consequences.

 

So what does that mean for mystery man?

All she can do is be honest and hope he’ll understand.

 

Understand that he found her half way down a path of discovery,

And she owes it to herself to finish the journey.

Right now the priority is finding her voice, her passion.

Sitting on Her Lenox Stoop is her idea of perfection.

 

She has to enjoy this period of being in the selfish club,

Especially since the blink of an eye is what they’ve all warned her of.

 

So she smiles, and takes…

And hopes that he’s guarded himself against any possible heartache.

 

 

The World is Her Oyster

About two weeks ago I was on a pretty epic and much needed vacay. First stop was Miami. Some girlfriends and I spent 5 gloriously drunken days in one of my favorite U.S. cities.  Point of the trip?  Just because.  Our days were filled with pool parties, brunches and South Beach lounging while our nights had a life of their own, consisting of bottle service at the iconic LIV on Sundays where we found ourselves in the midst of a spontaneous Lil’ Wayne concert, watching the sun come up while eating steak and eggs, an interesting-to-say-the-least night at King of Diamonds and a surprisingly lit bar hopping experience in the Art-Deco district.  Even when we spent one morning on a boat riding around Star Island recovering from hangovers, somehow mimosas and Beyoncé twerk sessions were still involved.  I felt like I was 21 again, partying all night and relaxing all day – not a care in the world.

The next stop was Atlanta for a bachelorette weekend… And rumor has it that the first night ended with me letting an armed police officer at Waffle House know that I was an officer of the court, so you already know that there was an extremely high level of intoxication involved and an equally high sense of feeling carefree (maybe even too much of both).  And even though I was completely exhausted when I returned to New York, I also felt thoroughly rejuvenated.  I was inspired to pick up some hobbies that I had let fall to the wayside, and I decided to bite the bullet and splurge on a trip out to LA to celebrate a friend’s “flirty thirty” weekend that is scheduled to take place in a few weeks.  I had had such a great time during my travels that I wanted it all to just keep on going.

But then that first week back to work was a complete 180-degree turn. It was back to the life of conference calls and meetings, reports and deadlines. I was up bright and early to mix and mingle with clients at a breakfast panel one morning and stayed late to finish reviewing a draft joint venture agreement.  The only remnants left of my glorious days of freedom were my hairstyle and skin tone: Senegalese twists flowing down my back and milk chocolate skin freshly sun-kissed with the tan lines to prove it.

Luckily, my firm is great in that I didn’t have to deal with weird looks or sly innuendos about the new look, and even the few co-workers who follow me on social media praised me for having what they could tell was an amazing time off.  I obviously didn’t give all of the juicy details to my bosses but had no shame in letting them know that I was largely drunk the entire time I was away, and most of them just laughed and told me they were glad I had fun.  So albeit a different environment and not as carefree, I was still me; not hiding or trying to conform to what I thought people expected of me – and it was OK.

I found an old post from about 3 years ago, where I described myself as a chameleon, writing:

“I’m blessed to be able to blend well in many settings. But, I am so busy changing red, and blue, and purple that sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what my true color is…”

And as I thought about writing this, that post just kept popping into my mind. Was I the real me when I was inappropriately intoxicated at Waffle House?  Or am I the real me when I’m going back and forth with opposing counsel about the sunset provision of an environmental indemnity agreement?  Is the real Marissa the person who spends her weekends binge watching trashy TV, or the person who volunteers at the local community center on Saturdays to host economic empowerment workshops?  Is she meant to be a lawyer, or is she the hat maker? I thought she was a writer? No, she’s a photographer, right?

Despite my chameleon complex, I am learning that I am all of those things wrapped up in one. The serious, intelligent lawyer can also be the idiotic drunken girl sometimes, or the creative writer. I can be the lazy girl who sits in her pajamas all day or I can museum-hop around New York City for fun.  This Marissa does not like to be boxed into certain stereotypes or categories; I am everything you expect me to be and everything you don’t.  So whenever someone thinks they have me pegged, I just laugh and sharpen my oyster knife…