Be Grateful, You Are Enough

When I watched the events unfold in Charlottesville on Saturday, first, I rolled my eyes. I felt no element of surprise because, well, I’m Black and a woman, so I’m well acquainted with discrimination (I left a job because of it!). But, for some reason, a tiny sliver of me wanted to understand what the hell drives people to that level of hatred, in which they feel that their progress is threatened by the progress of others. I normally attribute it to “sin,” which is really anything that drives us to feel more important than new really are, but I’d never really taken the time to really think about it in almost 32 years, so I figured I’d take the moment to reflect.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a park for a family fun day with my in-laws. My BIL had set up cornhole in case the family wanted play, and he left the beanbags next to the wooden hole box things. A few little white boys whose family was also picnicking came by, picked up the beanbags, and started playing. They were no older than 5, so I figured their mother would tell them to put the beanbags down because they didn’t belong to them. Instead she laughed and said, “Did you ask to play with that?” The kids didn’t answer her, and she didn’t bother to ask again. My BIL smiled politely and told her it was fine for them to continue playing.

But it wasn’t fine. The beanbags weren’t theirs and they didn’t ask to play with them. There was no acknowledgement that they were infringing on someone else’s property and that they were not supposed to do that. Instead, they were allowed to do it by both their mother and my BIL, who understandably didn’t want to be a jerk to some little kids over something as trivial as beanbags. On the surface, it wasn’t a big deal, but it annoyed me so badly that I had to walk away and get myself another beer.

That moment showed me how clear the path is from playing with beanbags without asking as a 5-year-old, to marching in the streets to declare your unhappiness with your race’s seeming digression later in life.

It starts with entitlement. And when that entitlement comes into question, it automatically leads to feelings of inadequacy. When you’re used to getting your way and you suddenly can’t, of course you’d wonder what’s wrong with you. As we saw this weekend (and over the course of U.S. history), when entitlement and inadequacy collide, the result is a massive cloud of shit.

I know what it’s like to feel like I’m not enough. I constantly battle thoughts that I’m not a good enough writer and that’s why I haven’t published more; I wasn’t good enough at investment analysis and that’s why my bosses shat on my performance; I’m not a good enough family member and that’s why my loved ones don’t bother trying to understand me. I can understand how badly it feels when one feels like they’re not enough.

But I’ve never felt low enough to need to take to the streets to inform the world of how badly I feel about myself. That is a low that I pray I never reach (and, thanks to racial double standards, I would not be successfully able to do).

I assumed everyone gets told at some point that they have to find those feelings of adequacy within themselves, that they can’t look to external validation, including the words and actions of others, to make them feel like they are enough. And then I realized that no, not everyone gets told this. They get laughingly asked, “Did you ask if you could play with that?” with zero consequences.

If the world is going to change, we have to start with our kids. Tell them that they are enough no matter what happens, and that someone else’s success does not equal their failure. Tell them that they don’t deserve a damn thing but that which they work for. Tell them to be grateful for every breath they take.

In his NY Times column, David Brooks called for “modesty” as a way to tamp down white people’s anxiety. But modesty isn’t the right word; gratitude is. There is no room for inadequacy when gratitude is firmly in residence. Instead of expecting to receive what others have, be thankful for what you have, even if it’s nominally less than that of others.

Frankly, I feel that this is an impossible ask. The irony that America celebrates an autumn holiday called “Thanksgiving” is not lost on me. It highlights that our sense of gratitude has always been warped, that from our founding we thanked God for providing us food while subjugating the people who grew it.

I pray that a glimmer of hope will remain lit, that those of us who want peace won’t give up altogether. I’ll do what I can, by telling my kids to be grateful and by reaching out to my neighbor, giving no room for hate.

Relax, Relate, Release!

Relaxation.

Relaxing.

Relax.

These words do not come easily for me to say and are even more difficult for me to do. But I’ve actually managed to achieve them in the past two weeks, and I am proud of myself!

I never really gave myself time to recover from my traumatic work experience in New York. I took all of two days off just to clean up my apartment before I dove into writing my memoir (in which I re-lived my traumatic childhood). After a year, I was wiped out. Even my therapist said that I should take some time to relax.

The idea of relaxing has made me nervous since I was a little kid. When my mom told me to take time to relax, I inevitably wound up being bored, mostly because I associated relaxing with sleeping, which my mother did excessively because of depression. In my adult life, I sought to make my reality the exact opposite of what I grew up seeing, and part of that meant being really busy. In my early 20s, I worked two jobs, which amounted to regular 13-hour days. Despite said two jobs, I never had enough money to go on vacation. (I’d also not grown up taking family vacations since we couldn’t afford to, so it was par for the course.) My husband and I take a vacation together at least once a year, so that’s helped me learn to unwind, but only for that time. I didn’t feel that I deserved a break. Until I went through one trauma after another.

Now, with no employer-based full-time job and a self-mandated break from serious writing, I have allowed myself to sleep in, to read (follow me on Goodreads to see what), to treat myself to lunch at the museum café, to write fiction and drink a beer by the pool in the middle of the afternoon.

My mind feels smooth and clear, not lumpy and restless. My body doesn’t feel as tense. I feel better able to focus and more capable of figuring out what I want out of life. In a nutshell, I feel more confident.

I don’t believe in regrets, but if I did, I would regret not taking the time to recharge earlier in my career. Maybe that would have helped me make less fraught decisions. Now, I can use the energy that I’ve restored to charge into my next challenge, whatever that may be.

He Said, She Said, I Said: Point of View

Last week, I attempted an exercise I have not tried in years: I wrote a short story in the third person point of view.

Woopideedoo, you might be thinking while rolling your eyes and threatening to your browser. But hear me out.

When I started writing, when I was 12, all I could write was in the first person POV. Meaning, all of my stories were told from the perspective of the main character, who used “I” to refer to themselves. I read a lot of YA novels back then, and in the late 90s, almost all of the YA books (or at least the ones I read) were in the first person. I got the constant “I” experience: seeing the world the way someone else sees it.

As I started reading more adult literature in high school and college, I gravitated more toward those “I” stories, which were primarily stories about twentysomething women who lived in New York and worked in fashion and/or publishing (also known as “chicklit”). But when I read more literary fiction – the kind that’s considered good “art” as far as literature goes – I saw that it was primarily in the third person, probably because it’s mostly written by men who may or may not lack introspective insight. (Just sayin’.)

To me, the third person is the view that God takes of our lives. You see everything going on from the perspective of someone outside of the main characters. The narrator might home in on one particular character so you follow them around closely without being in the other characters’ heads, but the narrator still isn’t that person. There’s no “I,” only “he,” “she,” “they.”

During this time that I’m taking between writers’ conferences and moving, I decided to take up fiction again because I love fiction waaaaay more than memoir and essays. There’s just something about pretending to be someone else, going somewhere else in my mind. In the class I’m taking, we get two workshopping sessions for our writing. So I had to hurry up and write some fiction because I haven’t in forever. I decided to challenge myself: what if I wrote something that was semi-autobiographical, but told it in the third person, as that sort of God-like narrator who can see everything and everyone?

Reader, it turned out disastrous. The characters aren’t visibly clear to me, their dialogue feels forced, and the plot feels even more forced. (I have my workshop tonight, and I’m bracing myself for all of the comments I’m going to get.) In a word, I’m not happy with the way it turned out, and I could only keep asking myself, why I can’t seem to write outside of “I”?

I’m an observant person. I always have been. My eyes are big on purpose, I say: the better to see the whole bleeding world. When I tell my husband about something I saw on the Metro, I tell him what I saw, the way I saw it. Stepping outside of myself when telling a story is extremely difficult because I don’t know another way of seeing the world. I’ve never seen anything from God’s perspective, only my own, out of my very small, very judgmental lens.

The real reason why I wanted to try writing in the third person is because I write memoir and essays now: everything I write is about me, not “I.” When I write from the perspective of “I,” I don’t want readers to get confused. “I” isn’t always me; in fiction, it never is. See? Confusing already.

So, I decided that, since I’m having fun with this fiction class, I’m going back to write stories in first person. I’m setting aside this pseudo-fear of people getting my story and my stories confused. And this isn’t to say that I’m not going to challenge myself in the future; I totally will. I just want to have a good time, making things up, and the only way to do that is to tell “I” tell us what went down. Stay tuned for new fiction writing!