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Basking in the golden silence

13 Oct
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Photo via Joel Jefferies on Flickr

When I’m asked, I always like to say that my family is my sister and my mom. Though I have an extended group of aunts, uncles and cousins, when I consider the mental image of family, it’s those two. Because of this, I am wholly unaccustomed to boisterous weekend gatherings of generations of assorted relatives, reliving the “remember when…” stories and having hours lapse before everyone starts to peel away slowly to do it again the following week. While not a solitary creature, I revel in a quiet household where not much needs to be said because it is understood that our shared time is entertainment and company enough.

Over the years in romantic relationships, I’ve learned that the same approach I take to family togetherness works best for paramours as well. I remember in my youth, being in each other’s pockets seemed like the place to be, and God forbid something happen to one of us while the other wasn’t there to simultaneous experience it. Honestly, I’m shocked I wasn’t more exhausted from sustaining these types of dealings.

With age comes wisdom, as well as your own business, which requires you to mind. As I move within my current relationship, I try to keep in mind that while there is an “us,” more importantly there is a “me” and “he.” I have to allow both of us space to decompress, unwind, unpack and reflect without the nagging feeling of “growing apart” and he does the same.

What I see as somewhat of conventional (romantic and non-romantic) relationship wisdom, many others don’t seem to get, if the anecdotal examples from various advice columns imply. Some of my favorites are Dear Prudence on Slate, Carolyn Hax on Washington Post and A Belle in Brooklyn Ask.fm page. Lack of basic communication practice (ask for what you want, be open to compromise, don’t accept less than you’re worth) seems to be at the root of nearly all exchanges for which people are seeking guidance, be it a relationship between mother-daughter, boss-employee, boyfriend-girlfriend or just two people who are exploring the dating scene. Reading the submissions is one of my guiltiest pleasures; people always find a way to reach new level of “Huh?” with each question.

Mind you, in no way am I saying that my communication style is ideal – I can be short of patience, I want people to get to the point quickly and I hate arguing with those closest to me. What I always try to keep in mind is to listen more than I speak, consider all the perspectives, even the ones that aren’t being presented, and that taking 10 seconds before speaking in anger or irritation can save a whole lot of feelings. The more I operate within these kinds of guidelines, the better my relationships work. And the more of that sweet, sweet silence I get to have in my happy household.

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The End Is Near

7 Sep

It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a…well, you know the rest if you’re a hip-hop fan. I’ve had fifty-eleven post ideas run through my head. Really, how couldn’t I be inspired by the cultural appropriation of Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMA Awards, the news about Netflix for Emmy Awards, usually the accolade reserved for television-based entertainment, my recent cable upgrade that gives me access to new movie channels (winning!) and various other topics of interest. So I do apologize to my (few) readers and to myself for the slackery.

Today, the topic is the end. The end of a life-defining journey. The end…of graduate school. This is my last semester, and it has me feeling some kind of way. I’ve formed such good relationships with my classmates, and in the course of our two years of knowing each other we have seen folks get married, have kids and supported each other through tragic events. Already we’ve had some graduations, and though we keep in touch in our Facebook group, it’s not the same as giving knowing looks at each other across FA 414 as we wait for the clock to tick down to 8:49:59 and we can calmly start gathering our books, notes and run toward the door. Okay, it’s not that bad but after nearly three hours, you’re ready to stop listening to words.

I will admit, a part of me is not ready for the idea of not having the kinds of discussions that are the staple of graduate school. It’s the entire reason I have devoted at least one night a week to talking theory, subjectivity and objectivity, 20-page research reports and current trends. When I began college, I thought I was going to be a math major…but then I really looked at the work expected of me and took a left turn. I knew I didn’t want to do English, mostly because I had no desire to read the “classics” and parse them for years to come. Though I came out of school right before the economic crash, I was wise enough to know that an English degree wasn’t going to put a lot of food on the table, whether it was feast or famine season in the economy. My initial reaction to the Intro to Communication class was “Oh, wow, so this is how the sausage is made?” My studies and career in communication has made me more selective of my media and more analytical of what I read and believe in the newspaper.

My final class is a bit of a hodgepodge but it combines all of the topics I love: language, culture and communication. In one class, we talked about accent tag videos (seriously, I can’t stop watching them), neologisms and the power it takes to create a new word, language versus speech, individual versus social functions of language and all the topics that make me go back and read and reread sentences. Although we’re focusing on the language of the States, I’d love to study the patois of the Caribbean Islands, especially considering there is such a diversity of language based on the various countries that colonized the region and the influence of indigenous mother tongue.

This week we get into language and gender, and my reading is from Judith Butler, whose name I remember from undergraduate studies. I’ll let that reading, and the other 80-odd pages be my inspiration for writing. Then, before I know it, it’ll be over.

My battle with travel preparedness

15 Aug

I crouched down on the sidewalk, rifling through my suitcase at a rabid pace, considering dumping all my worldly goods in my search. I looked up at the receding bumper driven by my host, then toward the elevator that I should be on, taking me down to the subway and eventually to the airport. I say should because I cannot find my passport and my breathing is coming at a rapid pace as I try to remember where last I had it. I’m the last of the study abroad students that stayed at the flat to leave back to the States, and I have no one to call if I can’t find my documents. By the grace of God, my host mother, as they like to consider themselves, happened to look at the rear view mirror and see my distress. Two days, a flight change and an early morning visit to the mailing company to open a suitcase that was supposed to be shipped back home to rescue my inadvertently packed passport and I was on my way.

You can ask anyone close to me, I can be absentminded to a fault when it comes to travel. In my early 20s, I was the “show up half an hour before departure” kind of traveler, overpacking my suitcase and yet forgetting toothpaste and a scarf to wrap my hair. After the travel abroad incident, along with a forgotten laptop that almost made my sister push me onto the Tube tracks, I knew I had to wizen up or risk some miserable trips. Working in the travel industry put me in contact with people who could pack a carry on in their sleep and make sure the baby had their favorite blanket, toy and food. Since I am not traveling with kids, I had no excuse not to learn quickly from their examples.

It began with figuring out how to pack one bag for several days. This decision was hastened by the increasing cost of checking luggage (seriously though, $25 per bag, highway robbery). The way that airlines are charging nickel and dime fees, soon I’m sure we will be paying for carry on bags too. The CEO of Ryanair thinks so too.

Soon after mastering single bag packing, I conquered the “all liquids in a quart size bag,” “getting to the gate with an hour to spare so you can actually breathe or have a drink,” and finally “ALWAYS take a piece of fruit and mixed nuts with you” because sis, these airlines are not here to provide you with sustenance. In preparing for an upcoming trip too see my sister, I reached a new level of preparedness: outfit planning. Like, proper “On Wednesdays we wear pink” kind of planning. Day outfit, night outfit for each day plus an extra just to be safe. And I managed to get it in my carry on size suitcase. Needless to say, I’m quite proud of myself, much like how those Candy Crush players get when someone gives them new levels.

Oh, and on this trip, my passport is safely in my bag…the one next to me.

Missing My (Blogging) Anniversary

5 Aug

On Saturday, it hit me like a sack of bricks….I’ve been blogging for two years and completely missed my anniversary. In my youth, those kinds of milestones – one month, six months, a year – mattered much more because I held my relationships so close. Aging, work and other obligations and general forgetfulness (must pick up that ginkgo biloba) has made it so only birthdays and holidays stand out for me, and I even put my boyfriend’s birthday a month later for the first year of our relationship.

When I first started this blogging thing, I had just begun graduate school. I was all wide eyed and excited about furthering my education. Today, as a “veteran” of research and cranking out papers on a regular basis, I feel like that weathered lone gun who speaks only cryptic sentences around the ever-present toothpick between my teeth as I recline in the back corner of class. I’m only six hours from finishing, so close I can smell the knowledge emanating from the graduation robe and see the free nights and weekends like I was thinking of switching phone carriers.

I would also say that I’ve gotten much more personal over the years. In the last six months alone, I’ve talked about my career diversion, taking on a career coach and my faith. The center of my life has shifted from work to personal fulfillment as I came to realize that earning a paycheck didn’t mean much if you had to grit your teeth to get through the day. I like and need all my back teeth folks. Still working on finding my intersection of “total job satisfaction” and “adequate pay for work” but worrying about the journey won’t get me there any faster.

Anyway, I just had to write through my astonishment that my online journaling has been going on this long, and my excitement in seeing my thoughts, inspiration and maturation in the form of my written thoughts. Thank you for being part of this thing, when you’ve left comments, subscribed or even just perused a few posts. You rock my socks, and I appreciate you. Namaste.

Photography Post – Baby Z In the Park

4 Aug

The story of how I got my camera is part funny, part shady. An ex of mine from back to high school brought it with him when he came to see me. After seeing how interested I was in learning how it worked, he told me to hold on to it after he went back to school (in another state mind you). Things went sour, as they do when you’re young, dumb and not exactly sensitive to the needs of others (this was on both sides), and I offered to send the camera back. I’m still not sure if he was being gentlemanly or simply wanted to be rid of me, but he never did send me a FedEx number to use on the return slip. Six or seven year later, the math is fuzzy, I have myself a nice Canon EOS 40D camera, along with a spectacular lens, courtesy of my uber-supportive mother.

I’ve taken a course in the basics of aperture, shutter speed, manual versus automatic mode and ISO, and I can take a decent enough picture when necessary. There are still many topics left to cover, and I need to brush up on what I think I know (thanks Lifehacker!). They say the best way to learn photography is just to go take pictures, and I’ve definitely slacked on that, what with the getting fired and working on on the whole crisis of confidence thing.

Today though, I got a chance to take photos of Baby Z for her upcoming first birthday. Since I keep my private life exactly that, private, I won’t reveal whose stunning child she is. However, if you know me and my circle personally, you’ll know exactly whose child she is because she is a spittin’ image. Thanks to the parents for letting me post this. And I will do my best to post more of my photography, just another step in improving myself.

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Recognizing Overextension Before It Burns You

1 Jul

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Last week I was on it. Sunday had me at the track, sprinting until the only ones left going were me, my BF/trainer and his cousin. During the week, I managed to get in a day of yoga and two days of total body training. Coming up on the weekend, my legs were a bit tight but I was rocking and rolling, no stopping me now! Even though I knew sprint training was coming back around, I decided that a bike ride – only ten miles I told myself – wouldn’t be too bad on a pretty Saturday afternoon. Mind you, pretty is relative; it was near 100 degrees this past Saturday. After I made the loop, admiring the lake and views along the way, I managed to drag myself back home and shower, all the while questioning my own sanity for taking those hills on my novice legs.

Before I knew it, Sunday was there, staring me in the face. Cool breezes stirred across the red clay of the track. I shielded my face with a hand, took a deep breath and prepared to burst into my first sprint – 200 meters. Pace yourself, said the trainer. Just as I go to “turn over” (another track term I’ve come to know) I feel a cramp in my quads. It’s nearly impossible for me to pump my legs, they feel like lead. The remedy given to me was to try some 40 meter sprints, to stretch out the muscle.

First sprint, fine.

Second sprint, an ever so slight but definitely unable to be ignored twinge hobbles me.

And I’m pissed.

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The Power of Asking for Help

24 Jun

One of the most powerful messages I got last week was from KERA’s Think program. The exchange begins around minute 39 of this podcast, when guest Ben Hewitt said:

I hear a lot from people, what can I do to strengthen community in my area. One of the things that I think is really profoundly effective is to ask somebody for help. And the reason it’s so effective, I want you to think about the last time you offered help to somebody and what they probably said, which I’m guessing was ‘Oh no, I’m all set, thank you very much.’ I also want you to think about the last time somebody came to you and asked you for help, and how it made you feel. Which I’m guessing was pretty good.

Hewitt continued, saying that on an innately human level, we have a need to be needed. As I listened, all I could do was nod to myself because I’ve seen the effect that asking for help and offering help can have on a relationship. When I realized that it was time for me to make a change, I knew I would have to tap my network. The thought of asking for assistance set my teeth on edge; it felt like I was essentially going forth naked and begging in the world, without a cloak for shielding my need.

I took it slow, sending  a message to a longtime friend and sometime collaborator. As I hit send, I said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t recoil from the screen and feel insulted by my request (which was, in hindsight, truly very simple). Almost immediately, my message received a reply of support and agreement to assist where possible. Now, I’m not a huge crier, but the sense of relief was so strong that I let out a few watery drops.

Since that moment, I’ve made other requests from business associates and college friends alike, and I’ve never run into anyone who isn’t flattered and ready to offer help where they can. Instead of feeling putting upon, which is the reaction I expected initially, people were eager to assist, whether through an email introduction, recommendation and reference or just feedback to make sure I wasn’t going into left field with my ideas. As these favors have grown, I’ve made an effort to balance my requests with offers of assistance. Ben Hewitt is right, it is a pretty good feeling to help.

Oh, and since I talked book recommendations in my last post, Ben Hewitt is the author of Saved: How I quit worrying about money and became the richest guy in the world. It is most definitely on the must-read list!

Comment time: do you find yourself asking for help? If not, what holds you back? How does helping others make you feel?