Everything Happens for a Reason

I hate the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” I question its veracity, and even if it is true, it’s still annoying.

I didn’t blog last Tuesday because I was crazy busy, trying to get through some work for a writing class I’m in, submit some other work, and resume revising my memoir. It was also the same day that Rustin asked if I wanted to tag along on his business trip to NYC the next day. He’d been working sleeplessly for days, so I figured it’d be nice for us to at least sleep in the same bed while he (and I) was still busy with work in NYC. So, I went.

I was hugely productive on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and even got to see a few friends. (I’m leery of asking my NYC friends to hang out on short notice, so I didn’t see a lot of folks. When I lived in NY, I made plans weeks in advance, so I assume short notice invitations cause people just as much anxiety as they caused me. So if I didn’t see you, please don’t be offended—I love and miss you, I promise!) I’d planned to spend Friday evening reading Priestdaddy on the train back to DC, then to do a whole mess of domestic and community things on Saturday.

But the Nor’easter made other plans.

Amtrak cancelled trains between Boston and DC late Friday. Rustin’s assistant called him and said she’d arranged for a car to pick us up and drive us back to DC—hallelujah for big law perks!

So, at around 5:30pm, we hit the road. There was the usual traffic getting out of the city and into NJ, but we’d expected that. Everything ran smoothly through the rest of NJ and through Delaware. We entered Maryland, and things started to get hairy.

The GPS said that 95 was backed up for miles and suggested an alternate route, starting at the next exit. Well, it took an hour to get the 2 miles to the next exit. At that point, we realized that 95 was closed.

Rustin, being from Maryland, said that we should try I-40, which is about 10 miles away from 95, but could help us go around the traffic. We followed the GPS onto the back country roads in the dark of night. I peered out at the shadows of houses, and I couldn’t help but think of a Twitter post I’d read earlier with a picture of a century-old dollhouse captioned, “Based on my professional opinion, there are approximately 12 to 37 ghosts in this house.”

We passed a house with a sinister blue light shining into the front yard. Next to it, a car parked, and a man in a hoodie got out and started to walk down the street.

We continued following the GPS’ voice, dodging branches that had snapped off trees and fallen into the road. More creepy houses. More ghosts. And then the blue light again.

The stupid GPS had taken us in a circle around this creepy backwoods!

Rustin navigated us back to the main road. On our way, we passed the guy in the hoodie again. He was one of the workers picking up branches—a creepy guy making our journey safe.

When we finally arrived at the mouth of I-40, the road was a parking lot. We squeezed through traffic and made our way to a gas station down the street, where we learned that the bridge there had been closed. There were no roads to the rest of Maryland, much less to DC.

So, we turned around.

We went back to NYC, arriving at 2:30am, nine hours after our departure, just to have landed at a hotel up the street from the train station.

Rustin and I spent Saturday working, and Sunday morning brunching, before finally getting the train back to DC Sunday afternoon.

I have never been so happy to sleep in my own bed.

So, if everything happens for a reason, I don’t know what we missed, but we were meant to miss it. I didn’t finish reading Priestdaddy on the train, so I had to buy a copy. Maybe that’s what all of this was about: buying a book that became overdue to the library.

Everything happens for a reason.


I Remember Nothing

I’ve gotten my manuscript back from my readers, and they gave me really helpful comments! But one really struck me: a suggestion that I open the story with a key moment that my dad and I shared.

I sat on this for a week, thinking that something would float to my mind.

I sat on it for another week.

And then another.

Long enough for my husband to ask me just the other day, “You’re still writing a book, aren’t you?”

I have been paralyzed by this simple but vital suggestion.

My dad and I lived together for only a few years with respect to my whole life (and his), and most of his time was spent focusing on other things, like his other children or his church. Growing up, I didn’t really think about this; it was just the way things were, so there wasn’t anything to question. Until I got this great question.

I can think of only a couple of really key moments that my father and I had together when I was younger. He taught me how to put on my clothes (“The tag goes in the back”) and how to tie my shoes. He also taught me how to cross the street, and how to steer a car from the passenger’s seat (why that was a necessary skill, I hope to never find out).

He had a few sayings that I found annoying or infuriating depending on how serious I was being at the time.

“What’s up?” Someone would say.

“Chicken butt,” Dad would reply. “Five cent a cup; want some?”

He also taught me a weird rhyme/song that involved a monkey chewing tobacco on a streetcar line, then dying and going to heaven in a row boat.

Other than that, like Dory the blue-tang fish, I don’t really remember a lot in terms of one-on-one interactions with my dad.

I asked my therapist what I could do to try to mine some more things, and he suggested hypnotism. I’m not really sure I’ll undergo that; the idea of releasing control of my mind really freaks me out. Coming up with some great things for my book might not be worth that stress.

It’s been incredibly frustrating—not remembering these really key details that I think could possibly make or break my book—but there doesn’t seem to be much else I can do.

So, for now, I’ll just have to toil with what I have and see how that impacts the story.

How do you remember things that are buried really deeply?

The First Time I Felt Like a Woman

At an Ellevate Network event a couple of years ago, I asked Jean Chatsky, the TODAY Show correspondent and well-known personal finance guru, how to find a good financial advisor. She said, “Get a recommendation from a friend. Never get one from a cold-call.” This was distressing to the young woman standing next to me, as she was a new financial advisor with a big firm and all she did was cold-call.

So, I vowed to stick with Jean’s advice. I asked friends for recommendations, and unfortunately, they didn’t have any. Through Ellevate, I met a great retirement planner who’s been super helpful. But with the move back to DC, we weren’t sure if we should get someone to do in-person meetings with and who would lay out a full shebang financial plan.

A planner had been reaching out to my spouse for years, and because my spouse is extraordinarily nice, he always answered. So, I went against my vow and agreed to meet with the planner.

He was fine. Young, but smart and driven. He spoke to my spouse and me equally, but afterward, I felt awful.

I had this adverse reaction in the pit of my stomach that was purely visceral. I couldn’t articulate what or why I was feeling what I was feeling, just that I didn’t feel right.

We’ve been in our condo for almost 6 months, and we still have several DIY projects outstanding, a fact that has begun to grate on me.

One of them was to install a marble ledge in the shower (I hate plastic shower caddies). We’d bought the pizza-shaped wedge of marble months ago and just hadn’t gotten around to researching how to put it in, so I opened YouTube and determined to take matters into my own hands.

I ordered everything I needed off Amazon—by far, the strangest combination of goods I’ve ever ordered: construction adhesive, caulk, duck tape, a utility knife. I was kinda concerned they would think I was a terrorist, but I figured I could just show them the “How to Install a Shower Shelf” YouTube video and be fine.

We couldn’t use the shower for two days, and it looked insane.

But I did it.

I installed a marble shower shelf, and it is still up, and it looks amazing.

I talked to my therapist about what I felt in my gut after meeting with the planner, hoping he could help me articulate what the devil it was. And, like my therapist almost always does, he did.

“I felt like I didn’t matter,” bubbled up out of me. “I felt like a woman.”

It was like I’d slapped myself across the face.

For years, I’d read that married women felt minimized during certain financial processes, but I’d never felt that way until about a year ago.

When we started house hunting, we had to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Since I wasn’t working full-time, I suggested that we just include my husband’s income and credit, because including mine would make things complicated. But, as a result, only his name was put on the deed. I had to wait months and send a lot of emails to have my name added to the home that I very much owned.

The meeting with the planner reinforced that feeling. There didn’t seem to be any regard for my potential, the fact that I have an MBA and plan to return to MBA-level work. And that hurt. I’m not saying that he should have built a plan around my hypothetical, but I wanted some respect for where I’ve been and where I’m going. I’ve spent 7 years trying to gain acceptance into this industry, and I felt that I couldn’t get it from someone I was looking to hire, much less trying to get a job.

I’m not saying that the planner or the mortgage guy or the title people are bad people at all. They were just doing what was easiest for them, so I can’t really blame them for doing what I myself would do, too.

But I, for the first time in my life, felt like a woman. And I hated every part of it.

Although our outstanding projects were bugging me, it was more important to my subconscious that I feel capable again.

Putting up the shower ledge made me feel like I mattered. There was a problem, I acquired the necessary tools, and I solved it. It was as if to say, “See, world? See what I can do when you get out of my way and let me be me? Awesomeness happens.”

I hope the world soon learns to listen to me, remove it’s expectations of me, and watch me make awesomeness happen.


I’ve started working out again after several months’ hiatus due to plantar fasciitis, also known as the worst thing ever.

Exercising was a godsend to me while I was going through work trauma in New York. My trainer, Ralph, became my therapist after my actual therapist moved back to Long Island, just as I was deciding whether to leave my job or not.

Ralph wasn’t put off by my appearance of weakness. Even though I’ve been twiggy my whole life, he gave me heavy weights and told me that I could get through the set. I once did lat pull-downs with 70 pounds, a feat my husband couldn’t do at the time. I sumo-squatted with a 75 pound kettlebell that Ralph had to pull out for me because I couldn’t carry it. I lunged with 55 pounds of kettlebells between my two hands.

I felt invincible. Okay, not quite invincible, but I felt that I could withstand a lot of opposition because, ultimately, that’s what weights are: resistance. Pulling my weight (no pun intended) in the face of resistance made me feel mentally and emotionally stronger while the crap was hitting the fan at work. As my daily life got more and more filled with opposition, I could stand strong.

I got plantar fasciitis last May while playing wiffle ball with my nieces and nephews in-law. My husband’s family is very sports-focused, so, luckily, being a gym rat is an asset on that end. But when my foot struck the trashcan lid/home plate in my old, worn-down sneakers, I knew something had gone amiss.

Walking became properly painful a couple of weeks later. While I was in Philly for VONA and couldn’t leave my room in my old sneakers, I finally tossed them in the dorm refuse bin. I wore flip-flops with soft bottoms because that was the only thing that felt somewhat good.

But they turned out to be horrible for my feet. I didn’t realize this until I went to the doctor about two months after the initial injury. I learned that, sometimes, you’re wrong when you think pain is just going to go away on its own. It’s probably actually getting worse.

So, not really able to walk, I couldn’t work out. I couldn’t squat or lunge properly. I couldn’t even spend five minutes leisurely gliding along a treadmill. So I sat. And sat. And felt useless.

I finally joined a gym again at the beginning of the month, and my membership came with some personal training sessions. My new trainer, Mike, is a lot like Ralph in the way he explains things, but he’s less shy and will sing and dance to every Michael Jackson song that comes on over the gym speakers.

I’ve had only a couple of sessions with him and already I feel my posture reverting to where it was: my shoulders slipping back and down, away from my ears; my chest up; my pelvis tucked. The last thing is an especially weird thing to note, I know, but that’s the thing — all of our body parts are connected, so when one thing is off, the rest feels off. I also get relief from the headaches I’ve been getting recently, which may or may not be related to this.

Now that I’m getting my pieces back where they should be, I’m starting to feel strong again. Maybe my invincibility will return. As I look for a full-time job and finish my memoir, I’ll need it.

How Freddie Prinze, Jr. Made Me a Teenager

Just now, before opening Microsoft Word to write this post, I encountered Freddie Prinze, Jr.’s Twitter feed. He was congratulating Jordan Peele on the latter’s Oscar nomination for “Get Out.” My *instantaneous* reaction? “Freddie Prinze, Jr. is still alive???”

I recently stumbled across a website called Past Ten, where writers talk about something significant that happened, or where they were in life in general, on today’s date ten years ago. I thought, I could easily do a Past Ten, particularly this summer, since summer 2008 was a vaguely interesting point in my life (more on that here, and maybe later).

But then I realized that my Past Ten is only interesting because that’s when my adult life started, specifically in July 2007, when I moved into my apartment on M Street in DC. I started working my first full-time job, as a media relations associate for the journal Science, making very little money, but feeling on top of the world and a little high on responsibility.

I still have some of the clothes I bought 10 years ago. I realized that is because I bought them myself. I think it’s the modus operandi of kids to outgrow their clothing or to just let it go because they didn’t buy it themselves. But once I started a grownup reality, my money was, sartorially, well accounted for.

Thinking about the past ten years easily leads me to think about the past 20.

Twenty years ago, this time, I was in 7th grade, itching to be an eighth grader because they walked around with an air of authority I hadn’t had since fifth grade, even if they were just going to lose it by going to high school.

But when eighth grade came, I didn’t feel that air of authority. I was the new kid at a new school. That new school was a private Christian academy that was K-12, so only high school seniors dominated, really. So, as if being 12-almost-13 wasn’t awkward enough, I didn’t feel any type of special.

Most of the kids in my class were rich enough to go to the school without a scholarship (unlike me). Not unrelated to that, most of them were white. So, in my eyes, they lived lives like those on sitcoms: Sun-In blonde hair, manicures, brand new Ford Mustangs when they got their licenses, trips to the movies with their friends on Friday nights.

I made friends with some down-to-earth girls in my class, but I didn’t think about going to the mall or movies with them because I was neither rich nor white. So when “She’s All That,” starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., came out at the end of January 1999, I didn’t think about it, I did what I always did with movies I wanted to see: I asked my mother to take me.

We went on a Friday night. Pulling up to the movie theater on a Friday night thrilled me – I felt like a normal teenager, like one from a sitcom. Until I saw everyone hanging out in front of the theater. And then everyone who filled up the auditorium.

I was the only one who had come with my mom.

When Preston describes Taylor to Zack as, “Basically…you, with tits,” I wanted to die.

I wanted to melt in my chair into a puddle on the floor like Alex Mack, and to roll down the stadium seating stairs, outside, and put myself up for adoption, and have another family, and pretend I never went with my mother to see a teen movie.

After it, Mommy and I walked out of the theater, and I saw my friend Nicole, from my old school. A much older boy was hugging her from behind, which accentuated her DD-cup boobs. I wasn’t sure I should say anything, but I did.

“Hey, Nicole!”

“Hey, Vonetta.”

She wasn’t as excited to see me as I was to see her. I stood there for a second, wondering if we were going to say anything else to each other. When Nicole turned her head and the boy began kissing her neck, my stomach wretched in the silence. I turned around and walked toward my mom, who was waiting for me a few paces away.

Mommy and I didn’t talk about the movie or Nicole. We just passed the car ride in silence, listening to the Christian radio station. We both knew something had changed between us, and in me.

When “Never Been Kissed” came out in during spring break that April, Mommy dropped me off at the movies, where I met two of my friends from school. It was the 10:30am matinee, but I was finally a real teenager.

My Goals for 2018

First, I’d like to say Happy Birthday to my mom! It was yesterday, but still might as well shower her with attention on my blog.

Now, getting down to business, I wanted this post to share with you my writing goals for 2018. I nibbled on it for weeks. I should finally confess.

I have no clue what my writing goals are for 2018 because my biggest goal for the year is going back to work full-time. GASP!

This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to write. Of the many things I’ve learned about myself over the past year and a half, one was that I must keep writing as a priority in my life. Even when things get nuts, I have to write.  I *HAVE* to write.

But some other things I’ve learned about myself are that I really miss working with people, solving problems, and having the routine of going to work and coming home.

Writing is a solitary game. Yes, I believe it is worth doing because it helps instill empathy, and reading makes you smarter. I have a routine with writing that involves going to a coworking space, banging out what I want for however many hours, then going home. But it’s just not the same.

Although I’ve worked ludicrously hard on my memoir, I worked ludicrously harder for my MBA. I want to put all that time, energy, effort, and tears into a fulfilling business career. Of course, I’m still working on my fears that there is no such thing, but I can’t eradicate that fear until I face it, and I’m not facing it by writing full-time.

Again, this is not to say that I don’t want to write. I do. I also just want to follow all of my dreams, and some of those dreams include excelling in business and as an investor.

On the writing front, I would like to continue publishing essays; I published five in 2017, so I want to do the same in 2018. I also want to publish fiction this year – at least two short stories. I’m a little freaked out by the prospect of that, but freaked out in a good way because I think fiction is going to become a bigger part of my writing life soon (more on that later).

All in all, I’m expecting 2018 to be an incredibly productive and great year. Here we go!

I’ve Lost My Mojo: Or, Introversion

I grew up a shy kid, but I shook it off when I was 16 or 17. I worked at one of the largest movie theaters in the country [at the time] and that required a lot of talking to strangers, be it to take their popcorn order, or to show them where their theater was, or to address a sold-out auditorium of about 300 people to ask them to silence their cellphones and make room for other people, in the most entertaining way possible.

From then, I went to college, where I had to get out there and introduce myself if I wanted to make friends or study partners. I studied abroad, where I was one of few Americans and needed to feel a sense of belonging, so I had to reach out to other Yankees in the fatherland. Fast forward to business school, where networking is practically a part of the curriculum. Then to working in private equity, a very people-driven business that requires meeting new people every day or talking to people you hardly know as your job.

So, when I quit my job and started writing my book a year and a half ago, it was a very tough transition.

After the first day or so, I went home and cried, not used to the solitude and feeling crippled with loneliness. I started calling people after work, just so I could talk. (There were days when, if I didn’t order lunch, I could go an entire workday without speaking to a soul.) I haven’t been much of a phone talker with the advent of email (I am a Millennial who prefers email over text, thanks), but I needed the real-time human interaction. I craved going out to lunch with people. I craved going to networking events, even though I now had a nontraditional career.

But, then, something shifted.

As I dug more into my first draft, I became overwhelmed with the desire to finish it, so I worked longer and longer hours writing and thinking. I all but stopped going to networking events because it felt weird to tell professional women that I was taking time out to pursue a creative project that focused on me. With that, I felt that I was ruining my professional credibility, but also inviting a whole host of questions about my book that I wasn’t ready to answer yet.

I found myself okay with spending hours and hours alone, some days not talking to anyone at all, especially if my husband worked late and left early, which was common of his workdays in NYC.

As a result, I became an introvert.

And I have struggled since.

This past weekend was the most social I’ve been all year: lunch with a friend, dinner with another friend, volunteering at church, our real estate agent’s holiday brunch, my friend’s game night.

And I was wiped the f*ck out after church.

I napped, and that helped restore my energy for the last two events, but I needed my spouse to encourage me to go to both of them because I was so drained. It felt like pouring too much of myself out into other people even just having a meal. (And my friends aren’t needy, so it wasn’t like these were emotionally taxing conversations at all.)

I went to another event last night, a talk at the Kennedy Center, and after, there was a small reception on the stage of the Eisenhower Theater, which was really cool. But I’d used all my social ammo over the weekend, so I struggled to start or maintain conversation with anyone, and found an excuse to leave as soon as I was done with my wine and crudités.

I think feeling weird like this in social situations is fine for the time that I’m spending writing as my day job. If I decide to get another type of day job and writing becomes my part-time thing, this could become a problem.

But I guess I’ll just have to be patient with myself the way I was when I started this whole thing. I’ll go through the next steps and come out the other end of it a different person, just like everything else in life.

Who’s the Traumatized-est of Them All?

I have loved writing fiction since I was 12 years old. Memoir is relatively new for me, not something I’d thought about until someone I met at a networking event suggested I write one after my friend Jessica passed away (ironically, that someone was also named Jessica).

I was traumatized by my friend’s death because she was extremely important to me, but also because also because her death happened so close to my wedding, only three days after. I was plagued with grief and also questions of what my marriage now meant. So, I decided to write about it, not for others, but for myself, to process my grief and wash away guilt about ever even getting married. (So funny how the mind works. I really thought, “I shouldn’t have gotten married. If I hadn’t gotten married, they wouldn’t have died.” Which may or may not be true.)

I joined a Meetup group full of other people who were also writing memoirs. Getting to hear about their traumas helped heal me of my own. I knew I wasn’t the only one who’d felt grief. I wasn’t the only one who had to persevere through really tough times. Oddly enough, listening to their stories made me grateful that something worse hadn’t happened in my life—I’d never been physically or sexually abused, thank God.

I never completed my first memoir, mainly because I found it too difficult to finish. I’d written just enough to remember some of the best times I had with my friend, and that was soothing. I visited her grave during a trip to Orlando and felt a small sense of closure, so writing more felt like opening up a wound that God was finally starting to seal.

Writing the memoir about my father was much easier. I’d, more or less, gotten over the way he treated me and my mother when I was growing up. I’d healed from those feelings of worthlessness (though, to this day, I can’t seem to shake off the feelings of distrust I acquired). I was able to write a narrative that I could fully immerse myself in because I’d grown distant from the actual events, if that makes any sense. Put another way, it didn’t hurt anymore, so I could write it easily. I hope my book helps other fatherless people to heal from their feelings of worthlessness and maybe even from the distrust that still grips me.

I write all of this to say that, while writing has been so instrumental in helping heal me, I sometimes wonder if I’m too well from my father’s transgressions to write a damn good story.

These days, creative nonfiction seems to focus a lot on trauma. The stories that are best heralded are the ones that involve really horrible things: rape, incest, physical assault, emotional assault from being told by family members one is going to hell for being gay. I sometimes wonder if CNF is really just a contest between who has been through the worst in life. That’s a contest I am very okay with not winning.

That being said, these stories of horrible traumas do encourage me to go to the places I’m afraid to go, like back into the happy memories of Jessica and the depths of grief. Clearly, if others are able to write about their traumas and are still standing, the same would likely happen for me. But I don’t want to go there if it’s only to win the Trauma-Rama, only if it will continue to help me and others seal our wounds more permanently.

Who do writers of color write for?

I’m currently in a couple of online writing classes as part of my near-constant efforts to become a better writer.

For one of the classes, I submitted a few chapters of my memoir, parts where I talk about the churches my family went to and how life started to change when my half-siblings started coming to live with us. I very carefully went through these chapters to make sure that there was a good balance of child-voice narration and adult reflection, a comment I’ve gotten before. I also tried to make sure that my theme—seeking belonging and stability in a home that was constantly changing—was coming in clearly.

The class gave me positive feedback, mostly. But I couldn’t help noticing that someone made comments about things that I hadn’t written: my mother’s skin tone is dark (false), my father was unemployed (false), that my family was sticking together during dysfunctional times (false), that my brother was kicked out of the house (false).

I wondered if the person had actually read my piece at all, since nothing of the such is said anywhere in the chapters. It is clear that they didn’t do all that close of a read, and maybe allowed the stereotype of the “typical” Black family to fill in the blanks.

I’m aware that this happens in MFA programs and writing workshops the world over. That’s why organizations such as VONA and Cave Canem exist. That’s why Junot Diaz wrote this piece that tore (and still kinda tears) the writing world apart, exposing this stuff that happens way too often.

It is not fair at all to writers of color who work so hard to create damn good art when our art is cast aside or, worse, assumed to be someone else’s experience.

I’ve had to think about the idea of “writing for the audience,” in the sense of asking myself, “Who is my audience?” Is my audience people who know what a Wave Nuveau is? Is it people who know that playing drums at church is not a paying job, but a volunteer position? Is it people who don’t assume there was a question of paternity because I was born with my mother’s last name?


I so desperately have wanted to be inclusive with my writing, but I realize that word “inclusive” is inflammatory, and it doesn’t actually apply to me.

So, my audience is those who know what a Wave Nuveau is and those who will pick up their iPhones and Google it, for the love of God. Being bothered to learn something from me is the ultimate sign of respect.

What I’m Thankful For

Thanksgiving is on Thursday, so there’s no better time to contemplate the things we’re grateful for. Here’s my list. (Be sure to take some time out to thank your family and friends for supporting you and wishing you well this week!)

I’m thankful for Jesus, without whom I would be much more lost and anxious than I am.

I’m thankful for my mom, without whom I would have no life.

I’m thankful for Georgetown, without which I would have no spouse. Jk. I’m thankful for Georgetown because it proved to me that the world is larger than I ever thought it could be, then showed me that it was smaller than I thought it was.

I’m thankful for my spouse, who is loving and supportive, even when I’m not.

I’m thankful for my home, which has given me plenty of headaches in the past 3 months, but has made me feel comfortable.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to do the thing I always dreamed of doing, which is writing whatever I want as my job.

I’m thankful for nonfiction essays, which challenge me to think outside of myself and consider the world and people around me.

I’m thankful for Blaise Kearsley and Michele Filgate, who changed my life by encouraging me to submit my first essay and by teaching me to make them better, respectively.

I’m thankful for my family, who is letting me tell some of our business in a book.

I’m thankful for my friends, who entertain me and remind me of who I am when I doubt my abilities.

I’m thankful for Washington, DC, the city where I have felt the strongest sense of belonging since I first stepped on its ground at age 16.

I’m thankful for my terrible work experience in New York, without which I would not have the low tolerance for gaslighting and workplace bullying that I have now.

I’m thankful for my dad, without whom I would have no life and no stories of resilience and perseverance to tell.

Happy Thanksgiving!