Unedited Narratives

poise passion

When Your Writing Has Poise But Not Enough Passion

My words don’t sang – they just sing… or so I’ve been told.

According to my partner in Un-edited crime, Andrea, my writing should read less Beyoncé and more Fantasia. (That’s one hell of a metaphor, right?) I should be flattered at the suggestion that someone believes I share stylistic similarities with (almighty) Queen Bey, but before anyone gets the idea that I’m feelin’ myself waaay too much, lemme explain – what she means is my writing mirrors the cool, calm and palpably controlled composure of your expected Beyoncé performance, but lacks the wild, shoe-flinging, damn near reckless abandon that takes place during a typical Fantasia show.  Even though my heart may be caught in a fan, à la Bey’s bountiful Brazilian weave, my words always manage to hold it together so as to not truly expose the emotions brewing beneath the surface.

bey

Bottom line is fancy designer prose, subject-verb agreement and generous use of metaphors may provoke a reader to nod in agreement or have a tempered two-step of a reaction, but they won’t make anyone jump up, shout or come anywhere close to sweating out their fresh perm.  Writing is cathartic, but I don’t think there’s an author out there who doesn’t want to create work that makes a reader feel emotion.

So, why would a writer (or any other creative individual) hold back when expressing themselves?

Fear:

This one’s self-explanatory and could range from being afraid to reveal personal truths, fear of being judged, fear of facing one’s true emotions, fear of not being able to fully execute an idea, fear of Beyoncé giving you a public side-eye for daring to compare yourself to her in a somewhat unflattering manner, and the list goes on…

Concern about offending others:

For example, I have a heartfelt rant in me about the recent rash of women who are hellbent on oversharing about their periods, but I’ve held back because I don’t want to offend anyone who might think I’m being oppressive or anti-feminist when I comment on the ludicrousness of free-bleeding for a cause or posting period blood on Instagram, not to mention how utterly disgusting it is to cook with your own vaginal yeast. (There, I said it.)

Oversharing:

The impact of oversharing feels like a hangover that can strike at any given moment and ain’t no Alka-Seltzer-time machine combo that can ease the symptoms. It passes when it’s good and damn ready. Honestly, a lot of my personal essay pitches are collecting dust in a mental file because of a prior experience with sharing too many personal details in print (I’m still cringing, ugh). I considered this heavily when I wrote about my complicated relationship with my father because obviously I’m not the only one impacted by those words, but I wrote it out of emotional necessity. Fantasia’s father sued her for writing about him, so if my father happens to stumble upon what I’ve written and doesn’t like it, I guess I’ll prepare myself to hear the words, “You’ve been served.”

Not thinking your voice, thoughts or opinions matter:

I say this to myself as much as I say it to anyone else – your voice exists, therefore it matters, even if you’re the only one who believes that.

People can be mean and intentionally harsh towards those who willingly expose themselves with the world.  That said, a part of me doesn’t blame Beyoncé one fucking bit for keeping her shoes on her feet. But constant self-censorship only keeps me stagnant and it also makes me feel a bit fraudulent being one-half of a site that promotes the loose and free usage of words, unfiltered thoughts and raw feelings. 

I am certainly committed to being more transparent and true to my emotions when writing, but unlike Fantasia, I can’t promise I’ll let you see my feet.

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struggle

When the Struggle Becomes an Addiction

Growing up, several disappointments caused me to construct a wall around myself to dull the impact of any future letdowns. For a long time, that wall was my Employee of the Year, never calling in sick or sleeping on the job. I programmed myself to believe that happy times were earned by bad experiences and if something good was to happen, then impending disaster waited around the corner for me, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. But what I thought was a stealthy source of protection actually dismantled my ability to embrace blessings and happy moments in my life. This may sound insane, but I’ve come to realize that I’m addicted to struggling. Yep, the support group, 12-step program type of addiction.

After I finally had my first paid piece published (a goal that had been set years prior), I barely acknowledged the fact that I’d finally accomplished my goal because I was worrying about hypothetical backlash from my family and inconsequential opinions of complete strangers. I couldn’t resist manufacturing a struggle-filled worry session instead of simply enjoying my moment.

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Me, too afraid to celebrate good news

Before I quit my 9-5 to pursue writing full-time, I envisioned my last day on the job as a par-tayyyy filled with celebratory Tuaca shots that would leave me doing carpet angels in the middle of my living room floor. Instead, my struggle mentality lured me into stressing over whether I’d be able to make a living writing and wondering to myself how long my husband would  support me before this idealistic “chasing my dream” notion got old.

Ever since I can recall, I dreamed of traveling to Hawaii. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit two islands during my honeymoon. One day, between winding around curves on Maui’s beautiful Road to Hana, and snapping pictures of waterfalls and seaside cliffs, I became overwhelmed with a feeling of not belonging, like I didn’t deserve to be there.

My husband looked confused and told me, “Our money spends just like everyone else here. You wanted to see Hawaii, didn’t you? Just take it in and enjoy it,” he said, reminding me that this was something I’d been blabbing his ears off about since we met.

I look back on the beautiful photos from my visit and regret not embracing what should have been a moment of pure joy! Sure, some pretty effed up stuff happened in the past. But today my increased level of self-understanding tells me that not every moment has to involve a struggle.

Meanwhile, I’m working on de-programming my debilitating train of thought by celebrating victories, big and small.  The end goal is to learn to fully relax and let the sunshine from happy moments flood my insides. Doing just that has been–you guessed it–yet another struggle, but I refuse to settle. Truth is, I’ve been about that struggling life for far too long and I’m finally ready to sober up.

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puzzles-1515717

#30Layers30Days–Not Every Puzzle Is Meant to Be Solved

The next puzzle piece has yet to be created

This is why we wallow in a chronic state of violence, oppression and hatred

There hasn’t been an antidote, a vaccine or legislation

that has rendered us kind, empathetic and gracious

The piece is still missing

And we’re paralyzed and broken

Making me a token hasn’t placated me: IT’S NOT WORKING

“The next puzzle piece” indicates that the last piece was found

But the puzzle is a puzzle because it’s meant to confound

Confusion and defeat are comfortable and addictive

They blind and constrict us, two of the reasons we have yet to locate the pieces that are missing

But it’s American for the wrongdoers, the voluntary blinded and constricted to be absolved

Because not every puzzle is meant to be solved

The next puzzle piece has yet to be created

We’re all waiting on a solution when we each have the power to make it

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This post is Day 11 of a 30-Day Writing Challenge, #30Layers30Days

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SAD

Battling the Blues: 7 Ways to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people approach the fall and winter excitedly anticipating the start of cuffing season or finally being able to pair their sexiest knee-high boots with trendy Olivia Pope-inspired coats. Unfortunately, I’m not at all consumed by the notion of cozy, romantic jaunts or flaunting fashionable ensembles that shield my body from the plunging temperatures. Instead, I’m preoccupied with summoning an extra dose of self-compassion to safeguard myself against the toll that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has invariably taken on my mind, body and soul every year for the past five years. 

To put it bluntly, SAD is a relentless, punctual bastard who shows up annually on my doorstep, trifling and empty-handed as ever.


Before I became better acquainted with its effects, I mistakenly attributed my annual slump to the inconveniences that seasonal changes bring (because driving in sleet and snow is a b*tch), and I thought that maybe I was traumatized by the unfortunate experience of nursing my first broken heart in the dead of winter (because that is the loneliest of loneliness). Until I was officially diagnosed with depression, those were just two of the reasons I used to try and justify why I felt like the absolute worst version of myself once the seasons started to change.

In reality, SAD is a potentially life-threatening form of depression that is directly linked to changes in the season. According to Psychology Today, SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, most of whom are women. While it commonly strikes during the fall and winter, reverse SAD can also take its toll during the summer months. Clearly, it’s not a joke, but neither is the way I handle it. So before seasonal sadness swoops in for its annual roundup, here are seven methods I use to cope with the effects of SAD:

Be proactive. I’ve never been much of a planner but dealing with SAD has forced me to seriously step up my game. Imagine if you threw an annual party and you already knew a particular individual showed up to each gathering like clockwork to act a damn fool. This isn’t Basketball Wives, so you wouldn’t stand around and watch the drama unfold, and thanking SAD for its services and dismissing it isn’t a viable option. Instead, I like to treat SAD like that person who only gained entry to the party because they name-dropped depression at the door. 


When it arrives, I already have a plan of attack: a list of methods that did/did not help me cope in years past, the names of people who’ve agreed in advance to support me when the going gets tough, as well as some cash set aside to finance extra date nights or a quick getaway with the hubby because getting out of the house is essential to my personal self-care routine, especially when I’m depressed.

Pinpoint your triggers and avoid them at all costs. Triggers include literally anything that could potentially offset your SADness. They could range from attending family gatherings where relatives you don’t like will be present, to getting all caught up in mushy holiday commercials that make you feel extra lonesome, not to mention broke. I’m not particularly fond of either activity, so I turn down the invites (anybody who doesn’t like it can stay mad) and I hit up Netflix so I can choose what the hell I watch on TV (eff yo’ sappy Black Friday propaganda).

Be vocal about your feelings. Like the total hater that it is, SAD thrives on isolation. The urge to physically and mentally burrow into a hole with your emotions can be overwhelming, but it’s super important to remain open with a trusted friend or relative, even if you feel like a burden. Depression layers a thick haze over my self-awareness and ability to think clearly, so I tend to use others to gauge my behavior. If I slightly detect that old familiar unsettled feeling, I have no problem asking my husband if there’s any disturbing patterns that he’s observed from me. Sometimes I think I’m OK when it’s clear to him that I’m not.

Watch your diet and ease up on the booze. I know, I know. The season to be jolly beckons, plus Beyoncé warned us to “never drop that alcohol.” But when it comes to SAD, consider coming up with a personalized, liquor-free remix to “7/11.”

Also, keep in mind that you feel what you eat. Overindulging in rich, sugary, fatty meals turn me into a sluggish, anxious mess, which only exacerbates the impact of SAD.  

Get active. To someone dealing with SAD, the word exercise sounds downright offensive. But the endorphins released during a workout are the real deal. They boost your mood and your ability to focus, which will help you think clearly and balanced, unlike the muddled, irrational thoughts depression wants you to accept as the truth. I recently enrolled in a Bikram yoga class that has done wonders for my anxiety in a short period of time, so it’s officially on my list of anti-SAD activities.

Write or vlog it out. Don’t be alarmed—these personal musings are not for the ‘Gram. They’re strictly to help you come face-to-face with your reality. So many people use the mirror solely to check their physical reflection, but they never bother to look past the surface. As horrifying as it sounds, I saved a video of myself from when I was really down and watched it back as soon as I recorded it. It was extremely sobering and almost felt like observing a stranger for whom I had an immense amount of compassion. And who am I kidding—it also made me cringe like hell. But in the end, it motivated me to do whatever I needed to do to stay afloat, because I never want to see myself in that condition again.

Seek therapy. We’re only a couple weeks into the fall, but I already have my therapist on deck because this time of year is when I need that extra bit of support the most. In December 2013, my seasonal mood swings became markedly more pronounced and a heated argument culminated in suicidal thoughts, which ultimately led to my roughest bout with depression to date. I’ve grown stronger since then, but relapses are always in the back of my mind. However, knowing that I have at least one go-to person who provides ego and judgment-free assistance helps me to keep SAD in check. If the thought of speaking to a stranger face-to-face makes you uneasy, consider reaching out to The National Prevention Suicide Lifeline, or Imalive.org, an online network of certified crisis intervention volunteers. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, don’t hesitate to research and secure resources that help you manage. Because #Iamstigmafree, I realize that my struggle is way too real to go unaddressed because a misguided, uninformed segment of the population believes people with mental illnesses should suffer in silence.

The bottom line is I refuse to allow SAD to come barging into my party simply because my depression insists on handing out invites without my approval. I’m expecting it to arrive any day now. Meanwhile I’m busy hiding my good china, warning my other guests, and preparing myself for its impending foolishness. I may not be able to completely rid my life of the annual SAD visits, but I can make sure that it wipes its feet upon entry, and understands that while I might waver, I won’t back down from the fight of my life.

This post was published on xoNecole.

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writing

5 Fallacies of Full-Time Freelance Writing

writing

Last night, I went to sleep with tense shoulders and a clenched jaw, thanks to my masochistic habit of reading work emails on my days off. However, on this most wonderful day of hindsight-induced clarity that the Lord hath made, I vow to never — ever, ever, ever (!) — do that again. In a recent article published in The New Yorker, the author explored why Americans work so much, but just like I can’t explain my obsession with continuously checking my email, he too, came up rather empty-handed when attempting to answer his question.

Part of the blame goes to the fact that I chose to write full-time and nearly two years after taking the plunge into making my own schedule and working independently (to an extent), I still struggle to maintain a healthy life-work balance. After feeling that old, familiar stress-related neck strain forcing my ears to damn near touch my neck, I thought to myself, What part of the game is this? Truth be told, I didn’t anticipate half the experiences I’ve had with freelance writing for a living, including some of the troubles that have recently landed in my inbox.

And you wanna know something else?  I don’t feel like writing a damn thing. In fact, it’s the last thing I want to be doing at the moment. But then, I hear my voice of years past echo from beyond my old cubicle and make its way through menial tasks and co-workers I hate(d). It rounds the bend by where my old desk was located and gently taps me on the shoulder to say, But this what you asked for. You’re living your dream. And I am instantly grateful for the courage, growth, opportunities and knowledge it has brought me. But honestly, sometimes this entire arrangement feels more like a nightmare.

Two years in and I’m far removed enough from the beginning to realize that I had the game all twisted. In the emo words of Drake, “Nothing was the same” once I found out the real deal. So, in the spirit of my prior naiveté and overall shitty attitude du jour, I’m here to set the record straight for anyone who’s all googly-eyed over the prospect of living out their dream of writing full-time.

I’mma let y’all finish daydreaming, but here are five fallacies you might currently have about freelance writing full-time that are nothing more than lies from the pit of hell:

Mellifluous words of profound inspiration will constantly spew forth from my pen.

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I tried to come up with an elegant way of saying this, but all I got is HELL NAH.

I am overflowing with gratefulness that I’m living my dream.

dreams oitnb season 3 brown jumpsuit

OK, so there’s a caveat. It depends on what you’re paid to create and I’ve learned that a) sometimes I’m expected to cover topics that don’t interest me and b) I don’t absolutely love everything I create. It’s difficult to remember gratefulness when you’re struggling through a godawful assignment.  For this reason, I plan to be more selective about what I write, but depending on the circumstances, beginning freelancers may not always feel like they have that luxury.

It’s so much easier to write a book now that you’re writing full-time.

rihanna high ponytail brown coat

I mean, the ideas are just nonstop, right? You’re already writing other shit, so just ride that creative wave into a book, right?! Um, that’s cute and all, but my mind has repeatedly rejected that notion. I haven’t abandoned the idea altogether, but I’m finding less reasons to put up a fight.

People will praise me constantly for breaking into a competitive field – and I will expect and need them to care about my writing.

coming to america guy clapping

Bottom line is they really haven’t, they ain’t and I don’t.

Since you’re doing what you love, it’ll never feel like work.

tamar

SIGH. Maybe when I’m Oprah, I’ll agree with this sentiment, but until then? Lies.

And that, my dear would-be full-time writers, is ALL truth, no backspace.

 

Images: CreateHerStock; ReactionGifs; Giphy 

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1

The Art of An Apology Is A Prerequisite For Adulthood

Everyone does a little dirt. It’s the American way, and learning the art of an apology, albeit phony, forced and insincere, is about as American as apple pie.

Admittedly, I have dirt on my hands. I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself dirty, but on a scale of Meryl Streep slave shirts to Donald Trumpmy shortcomings barely register on the Dirty Meter.   I have just enough dirt on my hands to know that somewhere out there is, or should be, a support group for the people I’ve wronged. It’s the dumped boyfriends, the acquaintances whose could-be friendship I never watered, the husband I didn’t show enough affection to, the guy I led on, the ones I took for granted and the ones who deserved an apology or reached for an olive branch that never came. It is they who deserve a seat at the support group session that will never convene. But in honor of being honest–#truthnobackspaceI am the one who’s in need of their counsel and support.

I’m not skilled at apologizing. In fact, of all the deadly sins, pride will certainly be the one that keeps me from entering the pearly gates. Blame it on growing up with more than enough first cousins and extended family to make me believe that I had no more room for friends.  Or blame it on my nothing lasts forever, so why try attitude that has kept me in the “no new friends” zone.  Whatever the cause of my unsharpened skills, I’ve only dished out a few apologies and saved the others for when I’d inevitably offend a close friend or relative deserving of a Grade A apology. Thankfully, I don’t score high enough on the Dirty Meter and have little use for practicing my apology skills because I don’t routinely offend, not counting drivers, bike riders who don’t ride their bikes on the sidewalk, biking trail or park, and my uncooperative eyebrows that are never on fleek. 

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Though I consider myself an overall good person and a very loving and supportive friend, I’ve also been accused of being guarded and shut off. At one point I coveted the idea that I was some mysterious girl, a real life Rubik’s Cube—a quintillion moves and only one solution.  Now I realize that being guarded and shut off isn’t a novelty, it’s the equivalent of the nearly unsolvable cube: difficult, frustrating, and after a few moves, abandoned.  It may be the Rubik’s Cube effect that has led me take inventory of my friendships and could-be-but-never-given-a-chance friendships and conclude that while I love my friends, I have robbed myself and others from forming beautiful long lasting bonds at best, and at worst an opportunity for growth.

via GIPHY

I’m not sure if it’s my feelings of self-induced abandonment, my age and growing sense of maturity and self-acceptance, or the love I’ve always had for others but often missed the mark on how to express, that has directed me to a place of responsibility and remorse. Now, more than ever, I want to hone my apology skills. I figure these steps are a good start.

Be honest. If the sole purpose of apologizing is more about repairing a stained reputation than it is about owning responsibility and feeling remorseful, stop and return to sender.

Forgive self. Apologies, in a perfect world, end in hugs and kisses, an invitation for drinks that may or may not come to fruition, and forgiveness from the person on the receiving end of a sincere apology. Ironically enough, to get to the point of asking for forgiveness, it’s necessary that one forgive oneself. It may very well be the only forgiveness one will receive.

Acknowledge wrongdoing and accept responsibility. Woman up! Accept responsibility for negative behaviors and actions. When accepting responsibility the words “I apologize for” must be present and in that order. If not, stop. Return to sender. For the record, “I apologize that you feel that way” is some bullish from way back and even if it were on sale at the dollar store, no one is buying it.

Provide an explanation.  I know.  “I don’t have to explain myself!” comes with the “growing up a black girl” handbook. However, we’re women now. A sincere apology comes with an openhearted explanation for past behavior. The truth is the vaccine to many chronic-and-acute illnesses, dead, dying and on life support friendships being one. A truthful explanation has the power to heal and increase immunity against future foolishness.

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little black girl sits on dad's shoulders

Always His Daughter, Never a Daddy’s Girl

Perhaps it was willful ignorance, or the deep-seated residue from surviving a traumatic childhood, but the concept of being a daddy’s girl was completely unbelievable to me up until my early 20s. Sure, I’d heard the phrase uttered on sugary sweet commercials and encountered it in a book or two, but the idea that a girl could actually be viewed as something treasured, respected and valuable in the eyes of her father was about as realistic to me as a winged horse. No matter how you tried to package it, I just couldn’t fathom a man who actually took pride in his baby girl to the extent that my father avoided acknowledging me.

Naturally, upon hearing someone proclaim to be a “daddy’s girl,” my first instinct was to dismiss it as bullshit because my father’s neglect had subconsciously caused me to characterize all men that way. Eventually, though, I met with the painful truth: Other girls had fathers who cared about them, and my dad only cared about himself.

Given the overwhelming number of single mothers running households, a father’s absence obviously isn’t a novelty. In fact, the lack of concern my father displays towards my two sisters and I would be much easier to swallow if it could be explained away by his absence. But since he was actually in the home with us, I have no idea as to why he chose not to invest in improving the odds that we’d all grow into strong, self-assured women.

My guess is because he didn’t think that was possible. What is clear is that seeds were planted in his childhood that produced the profile of a father who would eventually become his little girls’ nightmare in the flesh: a chauvinistic, narcissistic adult male. Basically, we were damned from the womb. Being female automatically relegated us to the bottom of his priority list and away from his undivided attention, which was strictly reserved for self-serving purposes, including his desire to father a son – by any means necessary.

But here’s the rawest part of it all – instead of simply replacing that absentee father-induced emptiness with pain and masking it in a thick layer of resentment, distance and divorce, I’ve remained the ever-faithful daughter, hanging in there and providing him with a listening ear, emotional availability and an openness that he never once afforded me growing up.

Until this day, we play what I like to call Hide ‘N Seek: Parental Edition where I attempt to locate and capture my father’s acceptance, which holds the key to my validity.

I chase him around trees and through fields on my last breath hoping to find him crouched in a corner smiling, exhausted from the pursuit yet relieved to finally give me what I came looking for.

Years and many therapy sessions later, I finally understood why I’m dedicated to the chase, and let me tell you, as a grown, married woman, the truth ain’t pretty. Despite receiving love (and later, support) from my mother, I still crave my father’s acceptance. I’ve convinced myself that I need it to validate my worth. It’s the reason why I’m addicted to struggle and have to fight to embrace my happy moments, even when they come as a result of good, old-fashioned, hard fucking work.

No matter how many times I’ve heard it from my mother, my husband and anyone else who supports me, I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that you can’t fully rely on ANYONE to help you accept who you are. Ultimately, that ability comes from within. No matter how broken, scarred, or raw your insides are, they comprise THE ONLY tools you have to work with to piece together and nurture your self-love.

Fortunately, the tides are turning. I recently had a breakthrough when my husband comforted me after my father’s latest self-absorbed episode by saying the words, “You mean something. You are valuable.”

So, how I still expect a man who is and continues to be so violently patriarchal to encourage me to love and accept myself is pure desperation from a woman who still needs her daddy, but has yet to come to grips with the fact that she never had him and likely, never will.

But still, a part of me wants to be a doted on daddy’s girl, and I feel guilty as hell about it.

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yoga featured

Baby Bend Ova: 5 Things My First Bikram Yoga Class Taught Me

After months of passing a yoga studio near my old 9-5, last week I decided to take the plunge and dip into a Bikram yoga class to de-stress. After life kicked my ass one day and took my name for a follow-up whooping the next, I figured there was no time like the present to see what was up with all the talk about the health benefits of yoga. Even if I hated it, stretching and bending in a hot room full of strangers would surely leave me with less regrets than inhaling a #1 Chick-fil-A combo and buying clothes that would land in my closet’s buyers’ remorse section.

Honestly, before I went to yoga class, I didn’t actually believe it would make me feel better than my go-to “remedies.” However, I was surprised to find that yoga yielded some unexpected results. I left the class feeling slightly dizzy but I gained a lot more clarity about myself and my environment.

I’m loud as f*ck.

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As a self-professed small talk connoisseur, I’m accustomed to folks chatting it up before and after Zumba, fitness boot camps and the gym, but that didn’t happen in yoga. One by one, people entered the steamy studio, arranged their mats and took their places on the floor to stretch, sit quietly or lie down. I’m used to alleviating my fears and nervousness about trying something new by talking to my neighbor, but I was forced to center myself on my own. Yoga taught me that there’s a quiet yet effective power in working through discomfort, anxiety or nervousness in complete silence.

I’m addicted to noise. A typical workout session for me includes just as many grunts and moans of exhaustion and pain as it does reps. So, for me it was highly unusual that the entire class proceeded without said grunts and moans, even when the instructor guided us through the 26 Bikram Yoga Postures. How I suppressed a wail when attempting to hold the Awkward Pose is beyond me, but here’s what I learned: relying too heavily on noise provides an easy distraction from what’s happening inside.  I started to feel like I’m cheating myself out of some self-awareness by always feeling like I have to play music, use the TV as background noise or make a phone call when I’m alone.

Yoga taught me to give myself more chances to succeed.

 

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Sometimes I tell myself no before even allowing myself to get too excited over a goal. So when the class moved into the Fixed Firm Pose, I sat fixed and firm in a resounding Hell No Pose with the defiant glare to match.  In reality, neither I nor my back believed that feat was possible because, instead of giving myself permission to try to succeed, I’d already decided it wasn’t going to happen.

Concentration is EVERYTHING. Sitting, bending, stooping and squatting in a room where the temp is set at a steady 104 degrees isn’t something I ever imagined myself doing. But focusing on myself in the mirror distracted me from the heat, and it didn’t take long for this to seep over into life outside the yoga studio.

Consider this tweet after two yoga sessions as Exhibit A:

There’s only competition if you create it. So, I didn’t need an expert to tell me that it’s totally normal to feel competitive in yoga class because I feel the effects of comparison ALL THEE TIME with writing. This was my precise train of thought in yoga when ol’ girl on the next mat over began to resemble a human pretzel. But after realizing I’d gotten too carried away with the competitive, comparison bug, I chose to drop the mic on my counteractive need to compare myself to others and just continue doing it.

janelle monae yoga

Namaste.

Images: Giphy (2); Soulatlantic/Tumblr

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‘Orange is the New Black’ Has Plenty Real Life Material to Use in Season 4 & I Hope They Don’t Muck It Up

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A second chance is one of the most coveted opportunities, especially considering that the next opportunity—if there is a next–could be the third and final strike.

Hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black (OITNB) delivered in its first season and over delivered when given a second chance with Season 2.  The third season of OITNB was yet another success, raking in accolades, sexy headlines and reviews that dubbed the show as “must see TV,” “captivating,” and “some of the finest television to date.”  The show has been heralded as one of the most, if not the most diverse television cast.  No squandered second chance, no third strike. 

Since its inception, OITNB has been some of the best binge-worthy television shows since The Wire (I double-dare anyone to argue that fact–“Omar comin’!“).  Viewers have laughed, cried, laughed some more and maybe, just maybe, have been reminded that the show is a loosely based narrative from the brilliant mind of creator Jenji Kohan and the misadventures of Piper Kerman.  That reminder serves as a “pinch-me-is-this-real” moment to nudge viewers into the real world where the growing rate of imprisoned women isn’t at all funny or sexy.

So while OITNB doesn’t need a second chance to improve its ratings, as the excellent writing, magnificent acting and throes of loyal fans have pretty much ensured that the show doesn’t need a boost over the proverbial fence, Season 4 will hopefully serve as a second chance for the show to delve deeper in exposing some of the growing challenges women face in America’s broken prison system. 

Okay, so OITNB is just a dramedy whose goal is to entertain, not necessary enlighten, though I think it does a pretty decent job at doing both.  And it’s not lost on me that Season 3 highlighted the prison-industrial complex and some of the consequences of privatization, like the hiring of correctional officers whose only “professional” experience is that of slanging donuts, or the Litchfield prisoners competing for the lucrative opportunity to earn $1 per day to stitch the crotch of lace-trimmed underwear. 

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These fictional scenes didn’t just manifest from Kohan’s mind to the screen; these scenarios mirror real life events.  Many companies and consumers benefit from the sweatshop-esque work of prisoners who likely will not receive a job offer from the very companies they slave for while incarcerated, rehabilitation and second chance be damned.  Just ask the 4,000 male inmates who fight California wildfires for $2 a day, their compensation for saving lives and California dollars.  The chances of them being hired as a firefighter once they’ve “paid their debt to society” is about as good as my voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election—hell nah, neva, nope, c’mon now…in case you were wondering where I or the state of California stands on the matter. 

Difficult issues of race, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status and even age are addressed in OITNB.  Many viewers were introduced to the concept of compassionate release when one of the members of Litchfield’s “Golden Girls” began showing signs of advanced dementia and was released from prison and taken to the bus station.  That particular episode had viewers Googling the validity of compassionate release and questioning the legality of the concept.  Now that, my friends, is some good TV!  It entertains, it educates, it advocates and it inspires its viewers to educate themselves. 

Departing from the Season 1 theme of Piper’s white privilege and moving on to highlighting the struggles, however vague and in some cases grossly embellished (it’s TV, what are you gonna do?), that women prisoners face has seemingly been a growing theme for writers of OITNB.  In order to maintain its popularity, modest credibility and relevance, OITNB needs to continue to mirror the problems emblematic of a truly effed up American prison system.  Art imitates life.  That said, in the much anticipated 2016 premiere of Season 4, I look forward to OITNB highlighting some of the cruelties female prisoners have and continue to face. Here’s a start (you’re welcome):

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Being Un-edited Is Scary As Hell, But Here Goes…

In an art course I took in college, my professor began the day by informally quizzing the class about the previous week’s discussion.  A student I’d recently met chatted with me before the unofficial test began.  When the professor posed a question to the class that I’d confidently answered to my new acquaintance a few seconds prior, she casually turned to me and nudged me in a soft voice, saying, “And that’s where you come in.”  Um…well. Not really.

I knew the answer, but that didn’t mean I was prepared to say it out loud, allowing the entire class a chance to turn and gawk at me. What if my response was wrong? What if I stumbled over my words? What if my voice quivered? What if, what if, what if? Amidst all these variables, I knew one thing was certain—I was not answering that question. Sitting in silence worked just fine for me thankyouverymuch, and the up close and personal spotlight that would temporarily shine on me (and my response) was absolutely not welcomed. A couple of awkward moments passed until someone who was confident and vocal gave a correct answer and averted my classmate’s confused, glaring eye away from me.

As much as it sucks to admit, treating my voice as an active entity instead of a paralyzed bystander still basically describes the way I operate to this day. In my writing and many of my social interactions, I’m still that unassertive college kid who has something meaningful to say but refuses to verbalize it out of insecurity, fear, and an endless list of other irrational reasons. The worst realization is that I’m a hypocrite who exhibits more compassion for others than I do for myself, specifically when I advise close friends and relatives to let their opinions venture freely while I routinely censor my own.

Enter Un-edited. This platform represents a scary new phase in which I speak freely, unfiltered and uninhibited, avoiding the temptation to drown my words with questions and insecurities that only serve to distract me from my purpose.

So, here’s my first Un-edited statement: I am a voice in this world and dammit, I deserve to be heard. OK, I’m busted. That line was inspired by way too many binge-watching sessions of A Different World on Netflix, plus a couple of glasses of 20 Grand’s vodka and rosé drink (more on that later).

Still, it’s a fitting visionary summation of what my Un-edited partner Andrea and I hope to achieve with the words we publish in this space. I, along with the stifled voices of women everywhere, deserve to be heard and my wish is that through Un-edited, the blockages that stand defiantly between my feelings and my pen dissolve and make way for a black woman who no longer quivers at the idea of sharing her innermost thoughts with the world.

 

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