Puppy Love

He ran and hid under the bed like a monster walked into the room. A memory of my father crept into the doorway where I stood looking down at the hardwood floors. My voice, heavy with anger. My heart, filled with love and disappointment all at once.There were fragments of cotton and plastic scattered around the legs of my bed. A pool of what I hoped was water sat still near the wooden chair where I place a few books for nighttime reading. The day had been long.

Thirteen hours had gone by since coffee kissed my lips and I wondered, why on earth should I have to come home to his mess. I could smell shit breathing in a dark corner somewhere. An old pair of socks, attacked by immaturity, were left helpless and out of place. The laundry basket I re-organized  long before sunrise had tugged around the room. How did the little rebel find a pair of underwear exposed at the bottom of the bin just enough for him to chew on? I could not have imagined that a ball of white, brown and grey fur could make me so damn angry when just weeks before he was content with being perfectly still, his two pound body curled up at the intersection of my neck and shoulder, his breath still sweet and innocent.

Having another heart beating in my home had been a thought, for four years prior and now I finally had him. I had been searching for the time and the capacity until I realized it would never come. There was my career, my friends, travel. I had no time to care for anything other than myself until I saw those eyes, brown buttons, brown little liars that whispered, I will cause no harm. Who was I to think that he'd just sit there, still and quiet until I returned home?

Who was I to think that he owed me something because I swiped my debit card and rescued him from wires, shreds of old paper and siblings that ate their own feces while he slid into the back corner of a tight space and looked at everything and everyone with suspicion until I held him close and said his name, a name I chose long before I chose him?

There I was, tired, too tired and then suddenly reignited by anger, so palpable, though I chose not to show it. I chose not to say anything or blame him for being a puppy.

I chose to take off my tie. I chose to roll my sleeves up. I chose to step over the pool of whatever and to get on my knees. I chose to lift the bed skirt up and there I found those brown buttons, brown liars that whispered, I know I made a mess again. Love me anyway. 

And I do... My God... I do.

Staying Cool Under Pressure

The work that I do as a school leader is often very exciting and demanding. Being responsible for  children, adults and high stakes results, requires me to tap into a wide range of skills I've accumulated over the years from setting a clear vision to motivating others when they're lacking confidence. Though I seldom have to explain why I do the work I do, many people are often curious about how I manage some aspects of my role that can be challenging.The question I'm most often asked is, "how do you stay so calm?" Years ago when I found myself in difficult situations, I would hear a little voice whispering "don't ever let them see you sweat."I don't hear that voice much these days, but my sense is that the mentality is baked in. The underlying mindset I hold onto is that appearing stressed seldom makes things easier. It's my responsibility as a good teammate and leader to remove barriers and sources of stress for others so they can focus on what matters most. Having played enough sports, I know that when a coach looks overwhelmed or worried, it impacts the way the team feels about the game.

Though the mindsets I hold are fundamental to the way I operate in difficult times, there are some actual technical/skill-based moves I repeatedly pull that help me stay "75 and Sunny" even in the midst of an unexpected hurricane.

1) Keep things in perspective: Whenever I find myself in the middle of stressful situation, I try my best to be mindful of the fact that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and 365 days in a year. The situation I'm handling begins to look small with respect to time and energy when I keep in mind that it's only one event at one point in my entire career.

2) Rallying my team: I have seldom dealt with a difficult situation alone. Even when I have final decision rights on the best course of action, I am never hesitant when it comes to pulling in thought-partners and key players who can help me remain focused on resources and options at my disposal. I know that my work is demanding and I can't do it without my team behind me. I also recognize that I'm not always the best person to handle critical steps in resolving complicated situations so I leverage the strengths of my team to get things done.

3) Finding the appropriate release: Experiencing stress and appearing to be stressed are not synonymous. I'm not a robot! I don't hide my emotions ad infinitum, but I find the appropriate time to release in a way that does not add fuel to the fire I am trying to extinguish. When I recently handled one of my most challenging crisis in the last year, I stayed focused on being logical and rational in the moment while mobilizing my team to take the best course of action to contain an isolated event that could have mushroomed into a nightmare. But trust me, immediately after the smoke settled, I went into a private room, ate several chocolate chip cookies and prayed. Once I was calm, I took a few minutes to chat with a teammate and mentor about the experience and how I was feeling.

4) Striving to achieve the best possible outcome: Being a leader requires you to strive for excellence in everything you do. You may drop the ball occasionally, but you always push yourself to learn and grow and to serve as a model for others. This can be dangerous though if you lose perspective and ignore reality while becoming obsessed with a vision to the point that your perfectionism hinders your ability to get things done. When you're trying to manage stress during a difficult situation, you can't be concerned about how far off the reality is with respect to what you would imagine in your ideal world. I don't have any survey results, but I'm willing to bet that no one who has ever been responsible for passengers on a sinking cruise line has worried about how much their guests would miss out on the wonderful five course dinner available in the dining hall. Your primary concern needs to be doing the best you can with the best you have in the moment even when that means good trumps great for the day.

As the old saying goes, "Keep Calm, and Carry On!"

 

Sitting In Silence & Listening

"When I remember to sit in absolute silence, I hear great things." -Dymir 

My first experience with meditation came in my senior year of high school. My principal, Mr. Palatucci, selected several students to be members of a leadership development program he ran and I was honored to be one of his pupils.

In the spirit of cultivating leadership, we studied a variety of executive skills such as planning and effective communication, but the most powerful lessons came in moments when we were forced to turn inward and think more critically about who we were in the world and what power we possessed both individually and collectively.

I remember being asked to close my eyes one day during class when Mr. P was discussing the power of meditation and reflection. My peers and I sat in a dimply lit classroom and under the direction of his carefully orchestrated words, we were transported into a world of calm energy; a state in which I felt at total peace.

It was as if I had discovered some hidden energy within myself that had always been there but from which I had always been distracted.Meditation is now a part of my daily rituals and it has served me well in some of the most challenging moments in my life.

What I love most about my practice now as an adult, is that I have grown into a sense of comfort with listening in silence. I sit in a comfortable wooden chair in my living room before the sun rises and I listen, with an open heart, to what the universe has to offer. Words and stories come to me  and I am made  aware of my role, my responsibility to share them with others, for they are not my own.

The moment when you realize that there is great power in silence is the moment when you realize how much time and effort you've wasted on distractions on your journey toward understanding who you are and what purpose you serve. It is the moment when you embrace the tremendous power that exists within you and you decide to become who you were always meant to be: a powerful source of energy, divinely created for a unique purpose.

Happy Listening,

Dymir

I Knew You When...

There are points of pain to which you must become accustomed if you desire to live with an open mind and an open heart. Despite these points, if you have the required faith in love, you will never forget the value of dreaming regardless of what nightmares may come and they will come, in many forms, like unrequited love, affection given without being earned, and sacrifices made for those who know not of sacrifice. Over the years I have left the door of my heart open or at least cracked and every so often, some damaged and discouraged creature of beauty has crept in searching for nourishment, searching for an opportunity to speak its truth without the fear of judgment.

At first I cared, perhaps too much, lavishing weakened muscles barely gripping bones, with affection and encouragement hoping that once restored and renewed, an unfamiliar guest would become a familiar fixture, transcending time, growing beside me as love propelled us forward outweighing fear enough for the trajectories of our desires to intersect like rivers flowing into one united waterfall until all distinctions became undetectable…

But I have learned that even the most broken creatures begin to dream of flying and running into the wild when they forget what it feels like to crawl and remember how to walk.

Too many nights had passed before I grew to see the patterns of my love like undiscovered constellations. Alone, partially by choice, in the most silent silence, I could feel time stop and suddenly I felt an unknown body beside me, a body of secrets forgotten; grievances untold; trespasses too readily forgiven. There I was face to face with the truth of my addiction to fixing other people. I had been wrapping myself in other people’s problems so that I would not have to see my own and when there was nothing there to distract me, I crashed into my own truth, unable to take another breath without opening my eyes to see my own pathology.

Now as I stand firm on a mountain of love for myself only second to the love and adoration, I have for my creator I can see the pain of my previous tribe, a nation of souls fixated on saving everyone but themselves. Those souls, fearful of seeing their beauty, their brilliance, churn around in a cycle of misfortune with glimpses of hope, until they fall to the bottom of an imaginary world where they can convince others to love them, where the broken bodies they find will grow to appreciate their nourishment, where they will be rewarded for accepting less than they deserve.

They will become bent to the point of almost breaking just before they too will realize that the narratives they have created enslave them to the point that being in the presence of anyone but themselves is more desirable than true emotional and spiritual freedom.

To those souls who are still fixed on loving others back to life, while they remain broken and are ultimately left to stand alone, my heart does pray for a much needed awakening… I too know what it is like to sing “I knew you when you needed me” again and again. Today I sing, I knew you when I was afraid to know myself.

Begin Your Climb Today

Perched on an oversized hotel bed at a work conference, I was faced with a decision: use the remaining twenty dollars in my account to purchase food for the next two days until pay day, or buy a ticket to a writer’s networking event.

I’m at the beginning of my journey to be a writer. Figuratively standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up with no clue as to how to get to the top, but I know I must climb. And climbing is work. And climbing is sacrifice. So there I sat.

Tears filled my eyes as I understood the decision I had to make: short term sacrifice with the promise of long term benefits. Knowing that God will provide but unsure of how or when. Nothing really matters when you are hungry. I thought about being hungry tomorrow and the next day. And the tears fell.

I mean, after all what if this writing event didn’t work out? I would have spent two days hungry and a whole evening networking for nothing. Before I went too deep down the rabbit hole of the depression I played a song that’s near to my heart. The song simply says “It’s turning around for me. Sooner or later, it’ll turn in my favor. God is turning it around for me. It won’t always be like this.”

I wiped my face.

Instead of thinking of all the reasons why things weren’t going to work out, I held onto the promise that it would. The scripture says the end of a matter is better than the beginning. There I was at my beginning, defeated before I took even one step towards the mountain.

My face was dry now. I started to think what life would be like if I really gave it my all. If I invested the energy into what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. Where would I be a year from now if I kept pushing instead of letting every set back, delay and denial leave me cowering at the bottom of the mountain?

I felt the spirit urge me to trust Him. To give Him my little bit of nothing and watch Him turn it into something more than I could imagine.

I told myself, “In the grand scheme of life, one late night, one missed meal, one rejection won’t matter a year from now.” I took my last little twenty dollars and paid for the networking event ticket.

Confident that I’d made the right choice I played the song on repeat and went to bed.

I woke to two e-mails.

Email 1: Your check has been deposited.

Email 2: Tickets for networking event are now closed.

Two days early? My check came two days early and I still don’t know why or and I don’t care. Imagine if I had decided that not missing a meal was more important than missing this opportunity.

The networking event rolled around and I made a connection. That connection is now an additional source of income for me. God took that 20 dollars and gave me recognition and a paycheck I could never have gotten without attending that event.

And there I was cowering at the bottom of the mountain afraid of the climb. Afraid to make a short term sacrifice for the long term promise.

Now, here I sit at the good part. Here I sit at the peak of this first mountain (there are always other mountains) and I look around. I almost gave all of this up because I was unable to trust that right now isn’t forever. I almost gave it all up because I was so focused on what I could see that I missed what I believed.

How might life be different if we could know the end? There are few guarantees on this journey upwards but the peak is always better than the base. You may not know what waits for you up there but it’s better than where you are.

Be unafraid to climb. Be unafraid to leave it all behind, to sacrifice now, and gain so much more.

The end of the matter is always better than the beginning.

Written by Dee Rene

Contributor and Thought-Partner 

Loving Ourselves Completely...

Last week, while meeting with several college students who are all interested in becoming educators, I found myself laughing a bit when one guest asked me how I dealt with "bad" students during my time in the classroom. Three years ago, I probably would have responded by talking about behavior management systems and understanding the personal interests and triggers of students, but today I'm often amused by the attempts we make to categorize children as good or bad based on their actions and our personal or institutional standards. In education, religion, politics and daily life, we are taught to take in information about the beliefs and actions of others and depending on our personal values we paint pictures of those we assess as good or bad people. Interestingly enough, as I continue to grow and evaluate the deep internal workings of my own mind and heart, I've discovered that the person we often judge most harshly is the one we see in the mirror.

I have been guilty of allowing external standards to influence the way I see myself. I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am when I am operating at my highest level of self, but there are clear inconsistencies between my actions and my ideals at times. I hate being late but I'm no stranger to being tardy or showing up to an event just in time. I'm often perceived as calm and even-tempered, but there are times when I become angry and have to find my way back to peace.

In those moments when my actions haven't been aligned with my personal standards, I've come to realize just how incredibly multifaceted I am. I've come to understand that there are many little parts and contradictory pieces that make me who I am. When I'm making tough decisions, I can hear conflicting thoughts and I know that all of the voices that speak belong to me and I've learned to appreciate them all.

It is true, that as we become wiser, we learn to listen more carefully to those voices that align best with who we aspire to be, but it doesn't mean we are immune to jealousy, insecurity, greed, anger, sadness, depression, fear and all of the other emotions that come with a full human experience.

I've learned not to punish myself when I identify the "bad" within me, but simply to hear it or touch it where it is, recognizing its presence before deciding to return to a path toward healing, inner peace and success. Even when I make a decision I ultimately consider to be a poor one, I now understand that failing does not make me a failure.

Five weeks from now I will be 26 years old and I know that I have made many mistakes and I'll likely make more, but I also know that each and every year I learn to love me more and that means loving all of me, just as I am.

We are not meant to live in fear or pain because of our imperfections. In many ways, we are designed to be imperfect beings. The task isn't to suppress the "bad" as we ultimately see it and hide it under the carpet pretending it doesn't exist, the task is to see the "bad" and the "good" as both authentic components of the human experience and to love ourselves completely regardless.

What Ridiculing Others For Sport Says About You

“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, then you have a very serious problem.” When award-winning author, Toni Morrison offered this hard-hitting analysis of white-supremacy in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, she gave the world a lesson on all forms of degradation. This critique especially applies to the popular forms of insulting gossip we see in mainstream culture today. Though our use of negative language directed toward others can be benign in some instances, it feels as if verbally wounding others for pure amusement has become quite a sport in varying forms of social media.

Celebrities are the easiest targets for “ordinary folks” looking to get their rocks off on slamming others. Hair, makeup, clothing, romantic relationships, even family are all up for grabs in the vicious game of nasty commentary thrown at people in the public eye.

Sure, we all have something to say about other people and sometimes it’s not nice. Who hasn’t watched a season of Basketball Wives, Love and Hip Hop, or Real Housewives of Atlanta and felt compelled to let it be known that some folks need to be put in the time-out corner permanently? That’s rather “normal.” It’s when it becomes a pattern of behavior or when your views reach a level of extremeness that goes beyond objectivity involving a degree of viciousness that you should take a step back and think about what’s causing you to be so worried about how other people are living.

Like everything else, these attacks as patterns of behavior stem from a few ugly places many of us wouldn’t dare talk about. Do you know what it may mean when you find yourself dogging others for the fun of it?

1. There’s Something They Have And You Want It

You may hate on the rich and famous, but I’m willing to bet that if they handed their fortune and fame over to you, you wouldn’t mind holding onto it for a while. They may have many things you believe you want or need to feel fulfilled and if you haven’t dealt with the jealous, mean-spirited child inside of you who had the potential to be a terror on the playground, beware! That child is now an adult who still has some growing up to do.

2. You Haven’t Found Or Fully Embraced Your Own Purpose

Like me, you may believe that everyone has a purpose and I’m sure you would be hard-pressed to find one person who believes their purpose in life is to tear others apart. So why do you spend so much time doing it? Well, what better way to spend your time when you haven’t found or embraced your own purpose than to put down others who are living theirs?

3. You May Be Lacking In Authority

Have you ever worked with someone who may be lacking power or authority in some area of their life so they embrace every chance they get to stand on someone else’s neck? Unfortunately, they don’t just exist in one area of work and life. They’re everywhere! What a joy it must be to spend your energy feeling as though you have some say in somebody else’s life because you’re lacking a say in your own. It might be scary but just imagine what could happen if you embraced what parts of your life you actually do have complete control over. Maybe then you’d stop wasting your authority trying to slam other people.

4. You’re Disillusioned By The Power And Convenience Of Social Media

It takes very little effort to make a public statement these days. With a simple tweet, Facebook update or blog post, we throw our opinion into the air for the world to see. Since it has become increasingly easy to speak publicly, people feel entitled to being heard. Here’s the truth, the vast majority of people don’t care about the vast majority of your opinions and no one is required to listen to you. Sure people in the public eye put themselves out there in a way that makes them vulnerable to criticism. But who died and gave you the authority to slam them? News flash: a seven year old with a cell phone has an opinion, but that doesn’t make the opinion worth hearing. Step down from your tweet horse on high.

For more news and great articles check out CentricTV's popular blog Culture List.

Letting the Small be Small

When I attended church two Sundays ago I was disappointed to find that the executive pastor was out of town. While I have not been impressed by every sermon I've heard him deliver, I have at times appreciated his style and cannot say that I have ever left his church without receiving a meaningful lesson. In his absence, a student from the Princeton Theological Seminary read a sermon from an iPad that was less than moving. Though tired, I remained true to my belief that listeners have just as much responsibility as speakers and as a member of the audience I needed to have faith that if I listened carefully to what the minister was saying and what she was not saying, I would hear something powerful. Fortunately, I was right.

Toward the end of her address, the guest pastor that day made one statement that put everything into perspective for me. In her calm and even tone she simply asserted that although "we are always busy we are seldom productive."

I'm a writer. If you leave me in a room with nothing more than paper and pen or a laptop, I will be at home. Writing however is one small part of my life when in reality, as I believe it's directly aligned to my purpose, it should be the biggest part of my life. The truth is, like many people artistic or not, I am very busy. I’m busy with emails, meetings, and phone calls. I’m busy designing projects and executing tasks I'm given regardless of how important I think they are because I am afraid that my fragile reputation might be tarnished if I turn out to be a terrible employee.

For nearly 25 years, my identity has been wrapped up in creating a story of success built on what can be said about my education, my intelligence, my network, my work, talents and career goals. What I'm seeing more and more is that all of these things are forms of external validation that are often misaligned with my internal purpose and self-perception. In many ways, I've been spending countless hours of my life investing in work and conversations I have been made to believe matter when actually their significance is miniscule.

Sometime last week, this reality hit me and I had to ask myself what would happen if I suddenly neglected to accomplish every item on my excessively long list of tasks and the gut reaction response was sad: probably nothing.

Does this mean I'm going to suddenly give up on the life I've established, quit my job and go out west to a secluded cabin where I can live under an alias and publish books? It’s tempting, but unlikely. What I am going to do though is make the big bigger and let the small things be small for the sake of my own emotional and spiritual health.

I'm going to zoom out more often to see the larger picture and pause before I go above and beyond to assess the potential impact of where I place my energy. I deserve, as we all do, to be my fullest and most joyful self and if I don't let the small things be small they'll continue to overshadow all of the glory that's within me.

Letting Go of Failing Love and Friendships

Over the past few months, I've taken a step back to really think about how I prioritize my time and attention. Outside of work, I spend a significant amount of time forming and sustaining friendships, writing and reading. I love my friends. They're a hilarious group of people with similar interests and philosophies of life. What separates some of them though is the lack of attention and time they reciprocate. In some of these relationships, I've been the one reaching out and checking in. I've found that there are a few people I've been concerned about who quite frankly are not concerned with me. To some extent they've been walking out of my life, and I've been playing catch up attempting to keep them around. I once told a friend who was experiencing similar issues with her friends, that realizing who they ultimately revealed themselves to be was not aligned to who she thought she befriended. When she considered cutting them off and expressing some of her frustrations with them, I told her that sometimes in life we don't have to put any effort into reevaluating our relationships and distancing ourselves from those who are not worthy of our friendship.

Sometimes all we have to do is stand and let them continue walking. We can write our next chapters and let their actions and decisions leave them on previous pages. We can let the seasons change and let nature take its course, blowing weak leaves and branches from our strong limbs and roots. We don't have to do anything but stand.

In a powerful video clip I saw a few months ago, Bishop T.D. Jakes preached "when people can walk away from you, let them walk." If you value your time, attention, love and friendship, why waste it on the undeserving? Why spend time trying to hold onto things and people who don't want to be held? The only thing you end up doing is holding your destiny, your light, hostage for the sake of breathing air and life into something that's already dead.

When we let go of friendships that aren't true friendships and love that is not reciprocated, all we are losing is the weight of broken promises and unfulfilled expectations that can, if we continue to hold onto them, cause us to ignore the abundant love and friendship we can find in those who are and can become roots in our tree and permanent characters in our stories. When people can walk away from you, let them walk!

An Unknown View of History

When my work affords me the opportunity to travel, I am always grateful. Growing up not having seen much of the United States, I am always delighted to find myself in new states, new cities surrounded by unfamiliar streets, faces and food. This gratitude was present when I flew down to Norfolk, Virginia two Sundays ago for work. Meeting with young, ambitious adults who are interested in addressing the grave educational inequities that continue to plague communities throughout our nation, I heard stories about family struggles, growing up in poverty and what it’s like to enter college and discover your K-12 education has not successfully prepared you.

I departed for Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon and headed to Charlotte, NC—the connecting city in my journey back to New York—and after my flight was delayed by almost an hour I began to pray that I’d arrive back to New York in time for the second presidential debate. Having connected in Charlotte in route to Norfolk and then back to New York, my flight home was the fourth plane I had been on in just over 48 hours.

I’ve never had a fear of flying, but I must admit that when the aircraft is shaky at times, the possibilities of danger sometimes arise in my creative mind. Like other passengers, I always remain calm of course, reading my Kindle until I’m told to turn it off or sipping on a ginger ale wondering if it’s really delicious or if it simply reminds me of being comforted when I was ill as a child.

The flight back to New York was relatively smooth. It was a pretty short flight time and having won the aisle seat—where I am always most comfortable—the only thing left to do to make the day a true success was to snatch a cab and get back to Brooklyn in time to unwind before President Obama and Mr. Romney took the stage. As the seatbelt sign returned, trash was collected and electronics were summonsed to rest.

The sun was just beginning to set and the beauty of the city from way up above was simply magnificent. If painters search for moments to capture a reality that must never be forgotten, surely the scene from the aircraft was the foundation of a profound masterpiece waiting to be discovered. The water, the reflection of the sun from large glimmering windows of tall buildings, bridges connecting the histories of unfamiliar divisions… I was in awe.

Then my feelings of elation were interrupted by the raspy voice of the pilot. The moment he began to warn us about turbulence, I could feel the cabin beginning to rattle. I had felt turbulence before of course, but this was a bit more violent. Passengers beside me leaned forward a bit as the front of the plane tipped and then our bodies were pulled backward as the aircraft began a sudden climb.

For a split second I honestly thought: what if this is it? What if something goes wrong? What if that Facebook update about my breakfast at Cracker Barrel are the last words I leave for the world? Then I began to think about what it must feel like to be on an aircraft and to not suspect, but to know for sure that in a few moments the plane would crash.

The thought terrified me and at the same time humbled me. Living in New York, you still feel a palpable fear and a sense of loss from the September 11 attacks. Perhaps for generations those feelings will remain and certainly they are accompanied by a sense of courage, bravery, and patriotism.

Like all Americans alive during that horrific tragedy for our nation, we’ll always remember where we were that moment history was made. What we will never know, and what I felt on the plane landing in New York on Tuesday evening was the view of a history untold, because the men and women who lost their lives sitting on an aircraft are not here to tell us what they saw and heard. What the felt.

When my flight finally landed I could feel in myself and in the expressions of relief from those around, an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we had made it safely. What I couldn't escape, despite this relief, was a haunting sense of sorrow for the last words and the views of history unknown...

Balanced Thinking, A Much Needed Commodity

In the space of education reform (my primary area of professional experience) there are new solutions to the needs of our nation's children every year which are both endorsed and attacked with great passion. These policies and practices are very political and often times personal for the thousands of men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving children in our country's most disadvantaged communities. Debates are infused with strong language and often extreme positions are espoused in efforts create a sense of excitement and sometimes fear. I suppose in many ways, education reform is not drastically different from other complicated political issues with respect to the sorts of behaviors it drives leaders to demonstrate.

In watching the Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC), it is clear to me that economic and social issues are at the forefront of many of our nation's leaders. What doesn't always seem present though in the debates we hear in the political arena is a strong appreciation for balanced thinking.

While reading an article last week titled 15 Ways 20-Somethings Ruin Their Twenties  I was delighted to discover the author’s push for us to consider that being a "pessimistic, opinionated hater" likely means that we need to have a better pulse on reality. "Every movie out isn’t terrible, every song isn’t garbage.” Speaking to the kind of pessimistic character who is intent on taking extreme positions, the article suggests that “…this personality type is in for a reality check when eventually nobody wants anything to do with ‘em." Well it turns out that this kind of behavior isn’t exclusive to 20-somethings. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at American politics.

Meditating on the presence of the “pessimistic, opinionated hater” made me think of conversations I have had about my beliefs and opinions at ages twenty-two, twenty-three and now twenty-five. In reflecting on the shifts in my own views and the way I speak about what I observe, I found that I've learned to accept a higher level of ambiguity that is inherent in life while also finding a way to stand firm in my values and opinions without completely ignoring the reality that there's always a small chance I may be completely wrong. I’ve learned to see not just black and white but every color surrounding every issue I encounter.

Today I can fully admire the ability to look at an issue from multiple perspectives and to cite both affirming and dissenting evidence in forming an opinion. This does make sense, right? I mean what good is it for us to talk about our beliefs in a way that does not demonstrate our ability to fully assess a situation? Don’t we risk sounding authoritative and intellectually arrogant to the point that we neglect opportunities to see the forest for the trees? If balanced thinking makes sense (and I know it does) then why is there such a lack of it in the space of public affairs?

Now I will say my ability to think in multiple dimensions has been stretched to its limits over the past month in listening to the Republican Party discuss their views on abortion as well as a number of other key issues. These are views that often neglect the practice of balanced thinking and while I can sit through an interview with just about any conservative who fundamentally believes in dismissing a woman's right to bodily integrity in pursuit of defending the rights of an unborn child or fetus (may I remind you often not discriminating on the basis of how that living being comes about) I do reserve my right to call such beliefs close-minded and replete with unbalanced thought. Still, my strong beliefs won't stop me from listening to others and really thinking critically about what they're saying and attempting to understand not just their positions but how they in fact arrived to those positions in an effort to more fully shape and understand my own.

Balanced thinking involves a willingness to listen carefully, instead of running away from or attacking views that don't immediately fit into our own brains. It's a commodity that is needed in political, professional and personal realms of life. We must strive to avoid the easier path toward forming concrete opinions rooted in what social scientists refer to as cognitive distortion—seeing things in black and white.

Unless we are willing to balance our thinking, chances are we'll seldom see the whole picture and quite frankly life and all of the many important issues we must resolve in the interest of our nation are far too colorful for that.

For more information on common barriers to balanced thinking and cognitive distortions visit 10 Negative Thinking Patters to Avoid

Becoming A Better Writer

As a member of the audience, I found myself laughing at the sheer wit displayed in a conversation with Black queer writers three weeks ago. The discussion was being moderated at the Schomburg Center here in New York and consisted of several NYC based literary artists. True to popular form, the members of the panel, which included Terrance Dean and James Earl Hardy, represented a sarcastic and humorous tone that is commonly seen in popular Black gay culture. While filled with countless moments of laughter, the wisdom of the panel left the audience of burgeoning writers with sobering tokens of wisdom. Between playful pokes at each other, comedic reflections on their journey to professional writing and commentary on industry obstacles, the panelists did not shy away from telling the truth about the craft of writing.

Reluctant to sugar-coat his own views, writer and director Stanley Bennett Clay simply exclaimed "there are just so many books out there these days that are just shit!" While cosigning other hard hitting comments by his fellow panelists, Clay encouraged members of the audience to seek out editors saying that editing your work and going through the process of perfecting your writing are necessary.

I left the venue that evening with many thoughts and one critical question: where does my own writing fall on the scale of quality which begins with awfully shitty and ends with something like beautifully brilliant? I had to really ask myself how serious I was about being a good, if not great writer. I felt great discomfort with the possibility that I may fall into a class of bloggers that some professional, well-trained writers might describe as arrogant. Calling yourself a writer these days seems so damn easy. With all of the resources we have at our fingertips, any one of us, regardless of education, style, voice, or topic can write whatever is on our minds and publish it somewhere. If we're lucky, someone will read it and even declare that they "like" our work; but does that really mean we're good writers?

If someone were to ask me what I think of myself as a writer, I'd say that I do a pretty good job at articulating my thoughts and ideas, but I still have a lot of work to do in perfecting my craft. I get an encouraging note here and there from followers, mentors, family, colleagues and academics who tell me they appreciate my work and want to see more. Though appreciate, I don’t write because I’m searching for such praise. Whenever I decide to write I'm really writing for me. The vast majority of my written work has never been published in any space, but I've learned to share pieces occasionally because what good are ideas and thoughts if they only live in my little head? The truth is that I haven’t consistently sought the guidance of others as a writer. Outside of my academic experiences in high school, college and graduate school, few people have read my writing and returned the work to me with guiding questions and feedback.

My guess is that we’ve all read some article, blog post or short story online that really should have been deleted the moment the last punctuation mark was added in the final line of the work. The moment we realized how terrible the writing was, we closed a window on our screen, or put a book back on the shelf and continued on with our lives.

What if we paused for a moment to actually write the author a quick note with some advice about how to improve their work? Wouldn’t the modern world of writing shift just a bit? Wouldn’t writers who are prone to spilling diarrhea onto a page and hitting “publish” without a second look feel a little more humble? Couldn’t we, as readers, hold authors accountable for the quality of their work? Granted, I just may very well fall within the cohort of writers who should reconsider writing anything aside from their own name (though I personally don’t believe I’m that damn bad). I wouldn’t know it if that were indeed the reality because aside from the occasional messages I receive praising the work I produce, no one tells me how I might create better work and I don’t take the time to seek out such constructive criticism.

In my own reflections over the past few weeks, I have learned of some things I can do to improve the quality of my work. First and foremost, I need to read more. Steven King slapped the shit out of me with this undeniable reality in his incredibly honest and authentic book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. I consider myself well-read, but as I’m in the process of writing my first novel, I had to ask myself if I’ve read enough great fictional work. I love music! I listen to music almost twenty-four hours a day and I can speak endlessly about the artists and entertainers in the musical world who’ve influenced my tastes and my ideas about what makes a song great. Why can’t I do the same for literature?  If I want to refine my voice and get a better understanding of great writing, I need to read more work from great writers. Seems commonsensical doesn’t it? Believe it or not, it’s apparently common for writers in our modern fast-paced world to neglect this practice. Perhaps that’s one of the key causes of the wide array of terrible writing available on the market these days.

In addition to reading more, I need to write more. Several years ago, before I discovered that I looked like I was dying (5’10 and only 130 pounds) I was a long distance runner. I ran a few miles every day and trained in the gym. I was careful about what I ate and I’d watch track and field every chance I could get to study the form and strategies of world-class runners. Unlike some of my peers, I didn’t excite spectators when I stepped onto the track, but I improved drastically each year with intentional practice. The first time I ran a 5k I thought I’d die. My chest was tight, my legs were on fire and if sweat could be used as money, I could have hired Bill Gates to be my personal chauffer. I’m not kidding. It was tough, but practice paid off. It’s time I approach writing with the same mentality. If I want to be a better writer, I need to set aside time each day or at least several times a week to just write!

Since it seems this post has turned from being a written reflection to a quasi-advice piece, let me say one other thing I need to do in hopes that at least some of you can benefit from this as well. I need to be more selfish with my time in an effort to give my mind space to breathe. When we are passionate about things, we make them priorities in our lives. Sometimes we let work, family, and friends get in the way but what I’ve learned in my 25th year of life is that the world and its nearly 7 billion inhabitants have few limits on what they may demand of you.

In a world in which we are easily accessible, it can be difficult to find a balance between taking care of your energy and maintaining relationships with others. None of us wants to give the proverbial “fuck you” to the members of our expansive networks by blowing off obligations and ignoring calls, texts and wall posts, but if I don’t get more serious about giving my mind some time to cool off, I know I might be cutting myself off from opportunities to pause and receive the many ideas the universe has to offer. I’ve come to appreciate King’s belief (which he writes about in On Writing) that we don’t have to find ideas but rather “recognize them when they show up.” I need to be ready when they come and I find I’m most ready when I’m not allowing my mind to run at 100 mph being concerned with all of the distractions the world has to offer. It doesn’t mean I have to stop living, but it does mean I need to be more conscious of my life as I’m living it.

I’m committed to being a better writer. I don’t think I’m awful, but I know I have a lot of work to do if I don’t want to spend my days producing work that can only be described as shitty.

Love & Relationships Guest Writer, SueZette Robotham on being "More Than Just Enough"

…more than just enough…

-sueZetteyasminrobotham

“Is this the way to live for me to be yours?  Is it wrong to want more?”-Feist

I’ve never actually been one of those people that has proclaimed that “I deserve” anything. I don’t really recall anything being simply handed to me. I work hard…I play hard…and so anything that I have…I have earned. There are things that I need. There are things that I want. There are things that I desire. There are things that I even crave, but I’ve never felt that there was anything that I deserved.

Well that was until this past weekend as I sat on the floor of my sister-friend’s bedroom listening to Frank Ocean.  I don’t know why I felt the need to listen to Thinkin’ Bout You on rinse and repeat, but there I sat glued. I’m not new to that song and yet each time I started it over, it felt like I was being reintroduced to it. Perhaps it is because I have felt the emotions in every single note, key, chord, melody, and verse of that song. Frank was telling some of my story, a lot of my story actually.

Although I have had very few and limited engagements at “Vulnerability Café”, I’ve done it. You can believe whatever you want about the Zodiac signs; this Scorpio woman subscribes to it and being open is not my thing. I’m the life of the party…I love people, but when it comes to love and relationships…I tend to keep my heart quietly removed from public scrutiny.

While I’ve watched my friends fall madly in and out of love-allowing themselves to find the one and the next and the next, I tend to dilly dally in surface relationships -waiting for the person worthy of the exchange of energy called love. Just to be clear, I have experienced the act of being in love. And while the end felt tragic...I have accepted the fact that...in order to truly appreciate what love is—sweet sacrifice—I had to be willing to take the stage at and give it my all.

Falling out of love sucked…Hard!

And I decided that there would be no more performances until…

As I sat there listening to Frank Ocean, mulling over why it was I was paralyzed by the song, something dawned on me. There would be no more performances until he who was willing to give me more than just enough joined me on stage.

For the first time I was ready to verbalize the following, “I deserve someone that is willing to love and give me just as much I want to love and give.”

I didn’t simply need, want, desire, or crave holistic love…I deserved it.

I deserved and still deserve the opportunity to be vulnerable without fear with someone who is willing to give me more than “just enough.”

I’ve had such beautiful instances or moments with people. And while I’m more than aware that every person in your life serves a purpose and is meant to spend a reason, season, or lifetime in your zone; I’ve only had snapshots. Your girl is ready for the entire picture.

I’m ready for my love story. I don’t want to be anywhere thinking about someone and what they may or may not have meant or what it felt like. I deserve to know what that love story feels like.

I don’t need, want, or desire the occasional outing, or random text messages, or guest appearance on “Moi’s Back.” I deserve the opportunity to be fully engaged in growing something meaningful, sustainable, rich, and rewarding. I deserve the opportunity to be loved and to love simultaneously damn it!

I am more than just enough. I am enough. More than enough!

*drops mic and exits stage left*

About the author: 

sueZette is Northern-born, Southern-reared, and island infused. sueZette is on a journey through infinite possibilites...enjoying each experience along the way. You can also check her out on Centric TV's Culturelist Blog where she serves as the resident love & relationship writer. sueZette will be relaunching her personal blog soon. Stay tuned!