Let Us Pretend

When did you stop creating? Was it a series of small events or did it happen with one experience that was so remarkably painful that it stopped you immediately?

Was it a teacher who told you had too much rhythm? Did a coach or mentor tell you to do it their way? Was it an overprotective parent who wanted to shield you from the embarrassment of certain failure at some point even if it was on the path toward your well-deserved success? Find the moment. The sad truth, is that it doesn't take much effort.

Whether it was yesterday or twenty years ago, the voice that broke the sound of our most joyful moment to simply say "no" or "don't do that" can be heard forever. Find the moment...

Now, reactivate your imagination and pretend it never happened. 

What would you do? Who would you be? Where would you live? Who would you love?

Jump! 

Thursday 6.05.14... How To Learn From Everyone

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ― Pema Chödrön

Each day we are given is another opportunity to get it right, a chance to learn something about the ways of this world and who we are in it. We don't learn by closing our minds and our heart but by pushing ourselves to always be open to the infinite possibilities of life, however they may come.

If we seek to deepen our understanding, we must be willing to learn something from every source, no matter how small and simple the lesson may seem. It is not enough to sit at the feet of those we admire and trust. We have to be open to engaging with the stranger, the taxi driver, the small child who is likely more creative than we are because their perception has not yet been tainted and yes, even the ones who annoy us.

I have discovered that when I am annoyed by someone or something, it is not an opportunity for me to run, but a moment for me to pause and simply ask, "what are you here to show me about myself?"

Wednesday, 6/4/14...Deepen Your Relationships By Being Honest

“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.”-Sam Harris

We're all guilty of it. No matter who you are, even when it has been simple and innocent, you have lied. We lie for many reasons, some of which are scientific. Researchers recently discovered that we are less likely to demonstrate integrity as the day progresses because our self-control diminishes over time. Whatever the reason (guilt, shame, or fear), when we lie we miss an opportunity to deepen our relationships with ourselves and others.

For myself, I know that there have been times when I have lied because I was afraid of how my truth might impact someone else. Though I now understand that in many ways, I lied because I was afraid of how others might see me. At this stage in my life, I am striving to be myself in every relationship and that requires me to lean into the discomfort of my truth as opposed to running away from it.

If we want more authentic relationships, we have to be willing to tell the truth not "even when", but especially when it is difficult.

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.

Avoiding Negativity... Protecting Your Energy and Well-Being

As human beings we have a natural need for attaching ourselves to other people and that need to connect can lead to beautiful bonds. I know that the people I’ve allowed into my life seek to lift me up and to grow along with me. In my time, I’ve learned that healthy relationships are innately reciprocal and that does not mean that there is some disingenuous barter system at play, but rather a natural inclination to elevate one another. Recognizing the core of what healthy relationships should be gives us the insight needed to point out when a negative influence has infiltrated.

We all have stories of so called friends violating our trust, family members who are comfortable taking from us without consideration, and love interests who acted selfishly. Perhaps what is most disturbing are the stories of times we’ve reveled in our own self-defeating attitudes. These negative experiences are an unfortunate part of the path to self-discovery. However, there is a difference between understanding the negativity you’ve experienced and inviting that negativity into your life repeatedly. I have been guilty of keeping the company of people who were not looking after my best interests. There are those who seem to have an unending reserve of unsolicited criticism to offer with regard to every aspect of your life and they see themselves as kind enough to share it.

Emotional vampires, Debbie Downers, toxic friends, external negative influences go by many names and removing them is essential to your emotional and spiritual survival. People who have not opened themselves up to the possibilities of life are limited and they have a limited perspective, but they are still human and desire the same kinds of bonds.

The difficulty arises when a person bound by limitation attempts to bond with a free-spirit which can begin a cycle of parasitic negativity. To illustrate why this kind of relationship doesn’t work, imagine you can fly and have always known this to be true, but your new friend only believes in walking. This person berates you anytime you mention flying until either you no longer believe you can fly or you invite this person out of your life.

Negative emotions operate like a virus; they cannot coexist with a stable and whole spirit and must infect it to thrive otherwise the host (the person or influencer) must confront the limitations they have placed on themselves.

Of course there is the third option of the negative person coming to their senses and seeing the light, but that is not a burden recommended for anyone to take on. It’s important to recognize caring about people does not mean taking on their emotional baggage. You’ve got your own and it’s heavy.

Negativity isn’t something that is strictly external either; it can often be self-inflicted and self-sustaining. It would be fantastic if there were a cure for self-deprecation, but the best advice I ever received in terms of my own confidence issues was “fake it until it’s true.” Keeping this advice in context is crucial. I was not confident in my intelligence or my looks and that doubt carried over into how I treated myself and other people. I took my studies less seriously and allowed myself to be used by anyone who would have me, just because they would pay me a compliment and I was still no happier.

I silenced the internal critic in my head with a rebuttal for every negative thing he had to say about me, and eventually he went from a booming voice of self-pity to a whisper of uncertainty and eventually faded into the figment of my imagination that he’d always been.

Negativity takes many forms, it’s a dynamic creature that like a virus will fight tooth and nail to survive and take root within you. The hosts of negativity are never the same for anyone, but recognizing it and your own value will keep your emotional immunity up, like vitamin C for your aura.

Written By Taj Shareef,

Contributor and Thought-Partner

Mastering Your Craft...

In a world that is so obsessed with social and economic status, it often feels difficult to be comfortable with what you have and where you are. At every turn there are messages telling us to have more and be more. For many of us, these messages are the basis for diseases that form within our minds and hearts, informing the ways in which we view ourselves and our significance in the world. Each and every person has a unique purpose and while a few of us may be led to fame and fortune as a result of pursuing our special assignments in life, most of us will take our final breaths and leave behind a life and legacy that are only celebrated and remembered by a few people who knew us well and loved us for who we were and hopefully despite who we were not.

So if fame and fortune aren't what we're all driving toward we may pause to ask ourselves what is it that ties us all together in our journey toward fulfilling our purpose and finding some level of significance. I am learning and believing that what we should be striving toward is mastering our craft, whatever it may be.

Living a life of joy and fulfillment involves doing your very best and that doesn't necessarily mean doing your best in a particular space, or doing your best with a particular task, but rather striving to do your very best wherever you are.

I spent some time last week listening to speeches and sermons by the great Dr. Martin Luther King and found myself scratching my head when King shared a story of a man who shined his shoes. In his story, Dr. King spoke in detail about this man, another Black man, who was masterful in shoes shining.

Dr. King, talked about the man's focus and the level of thought he seemed to be putting into his work and as I listened I could feel something within me wrestling with an emerging paradox.

What struck me was a tension I felt somewhere in my mind where an image of one of our nation's greatest advocates for equality was passionately praising the work of a service provider in a role that would garner little or no respect whatsoever in our tremendously hierarchical society shaped and informed by social, cultural, educational and economic elitist sentiments.

In my mind, there was something odd about King's excitement over this man's shoe shining skills, a man who likely faced great obstacles in the segregated south and had very limited opportunities to take advantage of the privileges afforded to his white brethren at the time because of the overt systemic racism that ruled this nation.

As I continued listening though, I began to understand the point of Dr. King's message. His reflection wasn't an assessment of the man's worth but rather an observation of this man's focus, intent, drive, passion and brilliance all utilized in his efforts to be his absolute best. The man's title and role may not have had value to those who took advantage of his service, but he was not concerned about status.

His only goal was to determine, for himself, the value and quality of his position by doing what he was called to do as best as he could possibly do it and the truth of his mastery, made me think about the significance we all possess despite what structures we operate in that are determined and sustained by external forces.

Dr. King struck something in me that pulled back the lenses through which I view the world and adjusted my vision in a way that allowed me to think about the potential we all have to simply do our best with whatever the assignment is that we have been given.

Our craft, no matter how big or small, does not determine who we are but it is through mastering our craft that we reveal to ourselves and the world who we are and what we're made of.

No matter what it is that you are positioned to do, don't just do it, but do it as best as you can!

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.

My First Time Taking An HIV Test At Home

Unlike the average man in America, I see my primary physician at least every six months. I’ve never had a fear of the doctor’s office and as my family—like many American families—has become familiar with illness, I want to ensure that I’m doing what I can to live a long and healthy life. My doctor specializes in preventive care and we have a great relationship that allows him to ask very direct questions knowing that I am comfortable sharing equally direct responses. He does his job well, but I don’t expect him to be solely responsible for every aspect of my health. In fact, I have recently expanded my participation in several areas of personal care including HIV testing.

At the top of my list of tasks on a recent Monday morning was my routine HIV test with an unusual twist. Instead of getting tested in a cold examination room, I got my results in the comfort of my home using OraQuick, the FDA approved over the counter test. I made a quick trip to my local RiteAid and $43.00, a gum line swab and twenty minutes later I got my results before even making breakfast.

Surely, many will raise concerns about the accessibility of such a test and the process by which the test is performed. While legitimate questions will continue to be raised about the product, I must say that I was pleased with my experience.

As I always do—regardless of what I know to be the case—I was nervous, but there was something about being in my own home and having ownership over the process that made me feel more at ease than usual. Waiting for my results, I sat patiently reading about the science of the virus and resources for care should I need them.

That morning I thought about the millions of lives that have been impacted throughout the international community because people didn’t know or didn’t have the resources necessary to know their status. I thought of how this test can empower millions of Americans to participate in making HIV testing a normal part of our daily lives.

OraQuick and similar tests that may hit the market in the near future will not replace testing services but rather expand them, putting personal care closer to our fingertips.

For many of us, health and medicine are strictly private matters that live in very rigid spheres of our lives.  Even those of us who participate in regular testing find some comfort and security in keeping medicine separate from daily life. However, we should all feel empowered to be our own best health advocates. Do you know your status?

Please note that OraQuick, like most HIV tests, only tests for antibodies formed by the immune system. For more information visit http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/

For more articles like this check out MUSED MAG ONLINE

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.

Turning Inward, The Next Chapter of Activism

As a result of my work and personal networks, I frequently meet teachers, scholars, lawyers, and non-profit leaders who consider themselves activists in some fashion. Focusing on topics from educational inequity to LGBTQ rights, they are keenly aware of issues of race, class, gender and socioeconomic status that influence the lives of the people for whom they claim to be advocates. Like any good activist, these folks are consistently focused on and, some might say, uniquely sensitive to social, cultural and political statements and policies that carry any level of bias based on a variety of identities and are fervently outspoken when they are standing guard as watchdogs and find the slightest infraction in action or rhetoric.

Regardless of how loud you might think they are, we need activists today, just as we needed them fifty years ago. They hold our nation and our world accountable for ensuring that we are progressing in a way that is truly meaningful for all people and they force us to avoid resting on our laurels because things are simply better than they once were.

Anyone who reads my work or engages in a one hour conversation with me about politics might call me an activist. Though I'm not opposed to assigning that word to my role in some capacity, I feel that the term has been terribly abused and misused and needs redefining.

What I have concluded based on my own personal reflections, is that those of us who have been called or dare to call ourselves activists must prepare to move into the next and perhaps most spiritually radical phase of activism: turning inward.

Yes I am an advocate concerned about the state of Black boys in the American education system and the humanity of Black men in the criminal justice system. I'm also a critically thinking brother of three Black women concerned with the systemic forms of racism and sexism that influence their life opportunities. All of these things are indeed parts of who I am as a writer and thinker, but while I hold views about the external factors that impact conditions for these specific populations, I also hold internal racial and patriarchal views that I need to wrestle with in my own journey.

As someone who is deeply concerned about the biases and hetero-normative policies that shape the experiences of queer Americans, I also struggle to reconcile my own ideas about masculinity and gender roles, just as I see the results of classicism in my own community while still holding what others can reasonably consider classist perspectives.

I can tell you from personal experience, that turning my focus from the external analysis of what bell hooks describes as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy” and seeing all of the mess I’ve been conditioned to hold within me has been painful. It can be heartbreaking if your identity is partially or fully wrapped up in the views you hold of yourself as anti-something only to discover that you are to some extent, no matter how small, also breathing life into the very thing you seek to eliminate.

It can be haunting when you realize that not only do you hold contradictory views and experiences but that you also have no clear understanding of how to reconcile them and what it might mean for your work if the enemy on which you have held a laser-like focus is indeed a part of your very being. Still we must interrogate our own identities in an effort to save both ourselves and others from the social ills we believe to be detrimental to our people.

Who and what are you when you strip away your activist robes? Who and what are you when you step off the stage? When the day is done and you take off every pin and button with some sarcastic, witty political statement written in a color designed to catch the eyes and provoke the minds of others, what can you say for and about yourself? Where is it that you stand when no one is watching or listening?

When the cameras are not near, when your phone is dead and you are walking through what most would consider to be a “dangerous” neighborhood and you hear a little voice in your head begin to speak, what does it have to say?

Activists must continue to be outspoken, but in this time, in the this place, where we find ourselves battling for equality an ever changing world, leaders and thinkers, of all walks, must move from just being outspoken to also being "inspoken," that is we must learn to speak to and from the raw and imperfect person within us who is not concerned with what others on the outside might think about our own terrifying truths.

We have to be courageous enough to see ourselves with the same critical eye we have cultivated to see the world. This is the next phase of activism. It’s the intimate and deeply disrupting act of looking inward and asking ourselves what diseases we carry in our own bodies for which we are also working tirelessly to create a cure. When we fight we, must fight to save ourselves.

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.

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...

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!