Dear Diary: What Sabbatical?

“I Pray Your Direction is Clear.”**

I got my first job the summer I turned 13. My high school, set against the backdrop of the poorest relative zip code in the US at the time, had a mandatory summer prep to “get us ready” for the rigors of secondary education. We had the option to tack on a mini-job that paid by the hour. As I entered the program at the edge of child labor laws I instead received a stipend at the end of the summer. I chose to be an assistant in a hydroponics laboratory; there I learned the pleasures that come from making something with your hands, with tending to a growing thing. I also learned that if a dollar was placed in my hands for any reason, a portion was to go to the household.

I have been in the workforce over 25 years.

As a woman of color (a term I use specific to the challenge I am describing because while I am visibly Black, pre-judgment of me on job applications is more informed by whatever biases are held against my visibly Hispanic name) I have often done double-duty; the job I was hired for, and the job of managing the biases of my coworkers while navigating the racist system that capitalism in America is built upon. Whether it was undermining as I rose from pet to threat, not being credited or outright stolen from, harassment met with unsupportive management, workplace mule-ing, or walking the “friendly, or unprofessional?” line at afterwork events, work for me has always carried an additional mental load.

And that is before I discuss what work means to my personal life.

There is a certain pressure for the single, childless woman to “make something” of her life-as one cannot decline the life of wife and mother without “reason”, of course. To walk this earth unpartnered can only be seen as a tradeoff, and society demands to know the reason daily. I must be dedicated to my career, then. Education advancement. Aggressive self-improvement. A reason, a purpose, some different way to serve-lest I am on this earth for no reason at all. At least the “selfishness” of ambition is understood, even if derided; seen as a reason to shake one’s head and predict a future of regret.

But to simply exist? Oh, no. One does not simply find contentment in choiceful solitude; a simple life of a day’s work and a night to one’s self (as much as is feasible as I am single, not orphaned, and have familial obligations). If I told you I answer “then why are you here” (posed by, a stranger) at minimum once a week you would think me a liar.

It is no wonder then, that since hitting the big 4-0 the only thing on my mind has been a sabbatical.

It is here that I must pause. This is not a tale of rest. I unfortunately have not had the sort of quarantine that allows for me to work from Appalachia, learn a new skill or immerse myself in the arts, re-dedicate to my yoga practice or become the fittest version of myself. I obsessively scroll and scan the news. I flinch at text notifications. I worry for my family of essential workers. I’ve written an in-memoriam and offered condolences more times than I care to count. My sleep is fitful. My 401k is shot. My job is not secure. I nurse a panic attack after essential errands. I live in an area over-policed for the very things the governor has ordered us to do, like covering our faces and boarding buses from the back door.

Yet even with all these factors looming overhead, it is interesting what has emerged.

My life is lived mostly day-to day now, with the theme being “what can I do to maintain some measure of calm in a  situation mostly not of my control”. There is no future (in the forward-planning sense), no worrying about the trajectory of my life or whether I’ve given enough to this world, or wondering if my simple life is the product of contentment or defeat. I put in my company contribution largely unsupervised, and pack up my workstation at the end of the day. I listen to my body more, and let it tell me what it wants to feel good that moment.

This purgatory nightmare of quarantine is not a sabbatical. But it is a pause from the factors that caused me to want one.  My workplace interaction is exponentially decreased (even with the zooms), everyone is too busy worrying about keeping their  job to undermine or micromanage mine, I do not answer for my existence or navigate daily microaggressions. If there is anything this time alone has given me it is the realization that I needed a break from the politics of the workplace, not work itself.

With that said, I don’t have a neat ending for this one. I do not have the calm in my life needed to pull the obvious further lessons from this, such as how this would inform my movements going forward. I cannot tell you if this will mean a career change, or a re-thinking of my educational goals, a re-mapping of my trajectory or a concrete decision to simply milk the entry-level life and live as full an existence outside of it as can be afforded. I don’t even know if I’ll have a job come third quarter, an epiphany is a lot to ask. I want to be alive in October. I want my loved ones that are still around to be there with me. That is all I can manage for now. While there is no upside to *gestures wildly* all this I am grateful for small moments of reflection, and the ability to hear what my body and spirit tell me in this time.

We will discuss love later, btw.

** This post was born of a writing prompt by Raegan Mathis’ “Book of Tiny Prayers”. Click here to purchase a copy of your own!

Dear Diary: No News is Good News.

Today I give thanks, because I am bored.

I write this from the foldable metal chair on the worn floor of my empty terrace, yet another unfinished house project the Internet tells me I should be tackling with my “free time”. While I take those sort of suggestions with a grain of salt I find it wildly amusing how averse people are to simply sitting with themselves, even with the background of a pandemic. You take you with you wherever you go, and you can only run for so long.

Though I am hardly better, what with my endless scrolling; switching devices while the other charges. At least the source of this endless connectivity is borne of a morbid fear of missing out; I reason if I am already plugged in and anxious bad news cannot catch me off my guard, shock me out of false calm.

This is my first seven-day stretch in the house after convincing the powers that be that carefulness and luck will only take me so far as the only person left not using their own car to do essential errands. What started as a social distancing double-dutch of rotated employees soon graduated to full shutdown, and I one of the last to regularly pop in to kick the tires. The last day I was in the office was the day after the events of my last post, the news I’d learned in the first text of the day. I picked up McDs on the way home. After two weeks of exclusively home-prepared meals it tasted far better than I ever remember. I broke down in the Zoom meeting, post after-outdoors sanitizing routine.

The week before, the last time I was in the office, the first text of the day was a health scare at home. We are all essential workers in our own way, some much more important than others. I broke rank and took the cab home to my mother’s instead, dropping care packages at the door and blowing kisses from across the hall. Social distancing feels painfully real when the people you can’t touch are right in front of you. I broke down after the Zoom meeting, post after-outdoors sanitizing routine.

The week before, the last time I was in the office, a quarter of the staff was still with me. I was far more concerned about contamination than I was for my continued employment.  I’d only recovered a few weeks ago from a flu-like bout and didn’t trust the distancing methods in place now. The notices had just started to come in. CoVid confirmed, CoVid confirmed. My mother asked if I could stage a walk-out. Boomer job advice is some of my favorite. I broke down in the shower, while ruminating on whether I should implement a post-outdoors sanitizing routine.

Today is a week after the last time I was in the office. There were no angry calls to attend to, no fires to put out. Today, there is nothing to report.

The sun is setting over the Hudson. Everyone alive is still with us and healthy. Everyone who has moved on from this life is at peace. I learned today my neighborhood participates in the 7pm round of applause for medical professionals on the front lines. Maybe I’ll join them tomorrow. Today was slow. Today is good.

And yet, my breath still catches in anticipation when I reach to check the notifications in my phone.

Mosaic: Writing to Live and The Book of Tiny Prayers

These days, the making of a modern essayist follows a similar path:

Person, unconventionally whip-smart with opinions, grows up in an environment where their silence is more valued. Whether due to disenfranchisement or simple demographics, person is always told they talk too much. Person finds their way to The Internet where people take notice of said whip-smart opinions, now allowed to flourish un-edited. Person gets asked, “why don’t you contribute said whip-smart opinion to this more organized medium?” From there the mediums get bigger and more organized until a book emerges. Many who worked to silence said essayist in their youth emerge to congratulate, as they “always” knew they’d make something of that big mouth. We revile in lessons of life and observations of pop culture as told through the lens of the whip-smart observer, until the next one emerges to tell a new tale.

If this sounds like shade, it is not. Often people need to be taught how to think, need these interpreters to make this big world-with its constant noise and never-ending stream of useless information-small enough to understand their place in it. To cut through the din of propaganda and lay some sense plainly at their feet. I enjoy them, I learn from them, and I need their collective anchor to keep me in the real world.

But there are others.

Others for whom the path was not straight and it was The Words that were their North Star, lighting their path out of the dark. For whom life has brought low and dragged through and derailed and derailed. Who’ve seen every best-laid plan brought to dust. Who have found themselves on the floor time and time again trying to find a new, more effective glue to piece their tender hearts back together. Who have PhD’s in new beginnings, never knowing if the next break will break them. What they do know is if they have nothing else; if the world is ash and they can’t see through the smoke, they can pick up their pen, or brush, or camera, and art till the dust settles and their path clears.

Where the Modern Essayist exists to make sense of the outside world these individuals write to make sense of their inner world, and share their lessons in self-discovery in hopes it will help you discover more of yourself. You would never hear them talk of stumbling into writing but more discover the words were with them all along, cutting a path or lighting the way. And when you cannot see the forest for the trees, their words help you find your own light in the distance. I keep them with me as well; for when I find myself too deep in my head to make a way, they provide a light when all other lights have gone out.

Which brings me to Raegan Mathis, and The Book of Tiny Prayers. Whether you pray to God, a god or meditate to find the answer in the Universe or yourself, Reagan’s timely book of prayers, prompts and musings breathe life into the words you may be finding coming up short at the moment. I’ve walked with Mathis all the way from her blog “To Rae, With Love” to “Prayers” and she has always found a way to speak to my present life, whether she’s known it or not. Rae has taken her readers with her as she bled, broke and ultimately rose, and her first book calls us to pray together as we move forward in this unprecedented and challenging time.

As is my way for any book of writing prompts, I make my way through by opening the book to a random page and letting the prompt inspire my pen. Today’s was a prayer for peace and well-being, with the message that “Fear Has No Place Here”. It prompted me to hold on to the joys of the moment; my smiling family in group chats, the knowledge that today, my friends are safe . Moments, after all, are all we have right now.

Mathis’ “The Book of Tiny Prayers” is currently discounted on her website. Click HERE to purchase for yourself or a friend.

Dear Diary…

Where were you when the earth stood still?

It’s a question I know will be asked years from now. When the memory of this time fades into sanitized text and statistical graphs, when the comparisons of whose country did it best drown out the individual stories of air-kissing your parents goodbye not knowing it was truly goodbye. When America’s need to appear the “best country on earth” disappears the stories of the most vulnerable, the tossed aside, the abandoned.

Where was I?

My first diary was named Kitty, after reading the Diary of Anne Frank. I likely had no business reading it as young as I did but it was the first time I’d seen someone simply write till the world made sense. Chaos I understood, escaping into your head even more. Writing made space, gave room for new thoughts. Without it my childhood was a cloudy mass of memories interspersed with clear moments of fight-or-flight. Writing made room. And so I wrote. I wrote till the world made sense. I wrote to remember. I wrote to mark my place.

Where was I?

I often joke that I get one boyfriend per chapter in my life. Each knows me as one person and if they ever got together to compare notes the only thing they’d agree on is someone must have my name misspelled. Nowhere was that more evident than with my last, who begged me to take a break. “The entire time I’ve known you, it feels like you’ve been struggling,” he said, exasperated at my plans to begin another degree program without a pause. “It’s always, ‘I’ve just gotta make it till next week’ with you. Don’t you want to remember what life was like when you weren’t doing ALL the things?”

I barely remember. Before my life was a whirlwind of hurry-up-and-wait, progress to setback, opportunity to rejection I was here. Writing, cooking, brunching, beaching and writing some more. My words were the last to go. I wrote of Winter and closed the book, accepting that my words would be waiting for me on the other side.

For a time, they were not.

Without the anchor of words the clouds returned and each day blurred into the other; history replaced with a blinking cursor as my thoughts, now scrambled with no filing system, ran out of room. I could not tell you what I did three months or three days ago. Next week was yesterday as the world made less sense. I pushed forward like I always do, as what does my story matter if it is the same tale each day? I am building towards the future for the first time in my life, the “living’ part can wait. I have a financial planner and the next “big budget goal”! I have a degree to finish and a new career to embark on. Creating new chapters takes sacrifice. The living can wait. I have a future to build.

These days the word “future” almost seems a cruel joke. There is no projection, there is only what I can do today to find pockets of sanity in a sea of uncertainty. There are moments of joy in this solitary house, in chats with friends and video calls with family and virtual parties on social media. But mostly there’s just me. There is me, in this quarantine, and my words.

Where was I?

When they ask where I was when the earth stood still, I do not want my story lost to the fog of anxiety. And so, I write. I write till my world makes sense. I write to feel. I write to not lose any more years of my life. I write for me. I write to give breath to the words my mouth cannot say. I write for the words that have never left my side. I write to mark my place.

Where was I when the earth stood still?

I was here.

I am back.

 

 

You Broke Up with Us Because She’s White.

Christopher Rivas would never date me.

Before I read “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White“, I did a quick Google image search to brace myself for what I was about to read. Being a visibly Black Latina who does not read as “exotic”, I know what to look for. One glance at his latte complexion, topped with a mop of loose curls and “but you’re not BLACK, Black” features and I knew I could recite the post before I read it. After all, there’s a special sort of angst reserved for those who fall just a hair short of passing, a fist-length from accessing that privilege.

Rivas, in a series of half-finished thoughts and incomplete tangents, stumbles through the all-too familiar Caribbean Latinx struggle of finding a place in a country that only has one bucket in the “Hispanic” category and refuses to understand Latinx isn’t a race. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t trying to work all that out while figuring where his apparent love for white women fit in.

And this is where you lose me Chico.

Somewhere between the single Black Woman he brought home in high school and the white girlfriend he pines over a year later (perhaps because he hasn’t found a woman he regards as highly in the sea of colored faces he has dated since?), Rivas reflects on the “better the race” conditioning he has received from his family. From the father who primped to attract a whiter woman to the aunt furious at the thought of him slumming it with The Blacks, Christopher recites a history chock-full of anti-Blackness, colorism and eugenics-lite…only to conclude his “woke” friends are the problem.

In his quest to find identity he did what Caribbean Latinxs often do, and turned to the map drawn for us by the history of Blackness in America. James Baldwin. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Activism and the “Black Body”. And like many, he found himself lost between two cultures as he never learned how to apply his latinidad to his Blackness.

This isn’t uncommon. Figuring out where you fit in American activism when you are of Latinx decent is a speed bump we have all overcome. It is even referenced heavily in the much-mourned Netflix series, “One Day at A Time” (RIP). As a woman finding my place has a bit more urgency as the government simultaneously creates legislation to restrict my movements as a woman both Black and Latinx, aware of my privilege as able-bodied, cisgender and heterosexual.  But as a man, who is Not Quite Black™ and not the right kind of Latinx, his urgency lands at…whom he can date without losing his “woke” badge.

He is a man who still needs outside validation to confirm his values because he isn’t sure he believes them yet. What is even a “hashtag woke thing”? What is he trying to prove, and to whom? Why do the stares of “Black and Brown people” affect him exactly as much as the blatant racism and microaggressions he suffered at the hands of the families of the white women he dated? Is it perhaps because he knows he will never have the privilege among white people that he has as a self-identified Brown man amongst Blacks like me?

The answers he seeks may well be buried in a tangent he never fully explored in his post.

“’You trying to be white now?’

“What does that mean — trying to be white? We’ve all heard it (maybe not all of us). I’ve said it. If we think about it, it’s really just a comment on power: ‘Chico, you trying to have power now?’

“Yes, yes I am.’”

Monday Musings

  • After that article about the “mommy blogger” whose kid doesn’t want to be on the internet anymore, and the implosion of famous branded couples one has to ask- is “branding” based on external circumstances* or the assumed continued presence of another autonomous human viable? When do we cross the line from “sharing relatable human experiences” to “this circumstance is my identity, pay me”?
  • I’m sorta tired of us applying the idea of “karma” solely to women we don’t like, who have done things we don’t like, when their man leaves. People fuck up, people break up, and “karma” hits those who mind their own the least.
  • Speaking of breakups and minding your own. All the secret messages you’re posting are not getting read. All the re-posts of memes titled with a “THIS” aren’t being noticed. S/He is gone, they will either figure out what they lost or not. Your task, baby, is the business of moving on. Start yesterday and put the google search down.
  • Solange makes art for herself and invites you to join in, or not. Watching people who need their consumption to identify them try to squeeze a meaning out of her latest project is amusing, but mostly annoying. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. We don’t need a 20-tweet rant on privilege and conventional thinness.
  • This might be the first time in two decades that Diddy is SANGLE single. Like without a “home base” single. Let that man grieve, he’s gonna be at it for a good minute.

*I am aware my blog was born of a breakup.

Yes, You Can

I often find when reading advice columns, what the writer most often seeks is permission.

Is it ok. Is it ok to feel bothered by this behavior after months of gaslighting to the contrary. Is it ok to leave. Is it ok to stay. I like this, does it mean I am broken. Am I weird for being this way, am I the only one.

This is a non-educated guess but judging from the epiphanies I see on social media this is common in therapy as well. Folks contorting themselves into different people, forcing themselves into triggering situations because not being bothered by them is surely something “normal” people do.

Is it ok to not be normal. Is it ok to just…not do this thing normal people do.

It is not lost on me that it is a strange post to be tied to a picture of a crispy-fried sunny-side up egg, but it happened to be my first one in years.

Why?

I detest anything but a completely set white, but I love a runny yolk. And I just discovered it is an Instagram foodie hack to simply…cook the whites first, then gently re-add the yolk.

Is this the most non-normal method of frying an egg I have ever heard of? Absolutely. Did I do just that and gobble it up anyway? Of course. Because I can.