Social Media Machine

Social Media Machine

As some of you may know, I only joined Facebook last September to engage in the private Facebook group for the School of Greatness Academy 8.0 class.  I also had no Instagram or Twitter at the time. I only had a long abandoned LinkedIn page.

I prided myself on not being part of a social media machine. I was satisfied to read, write, watch TV, go outside to experience the world without documenting it and catch up with friends and family via phone calls, text messages and emails.

I heard dramatic stories of social media drama and addiction. It seemed as if people were moving through the world with their heads cast downwards or upwards in a flattering angle.

I was never one for constantly wanting to be included in pictures. I took my fair share in the days before smartphones but it felt different–somehow more natural. Years ago, I was at a dinner with some friends and it seemed like we could barely enjoy the meal without constant picture taking. I respected everyone’s right to live and document their lives as they pleased so I was never overtly vocal about my discomfort. It was evident that I didn’t love it but I never wanted to ruin anyone’s fun. As I was driving home while they continued their impromptu photo shoot after dinner, I felt a sense of disconnect. Why was I so different?  Why did I even care?

The feelings passed as did the years. When I came to a crossroads last fall trying to decide if I was going to continue my graduate school education or get serious about my dedication to writing, I joined School of Greatness to learn more about goal-setting and pulled myself into a new world. It was apparent that I had been doing a little hiding, weirdly harboring a fear of judgment. I found, like with a lot of other things, you can strike a healthy balance. I slipped into the habit of  catching up with family and friends via scrolling, liking and commenting. It brought both a new sense of connection and disconnection. I experienced great joy seeing how members of both sides of my family and old friends had grown but it gave me a false sense of belief that I’ve really caught up. Unless I’ve had a conversation or seen you in the flesh, you may still seem two-dimensional to me. I have to take responsibility for my part in moving from the two into the three.

Although the realization of false connection rings true sometimes, I welcomed the wealth of opportunity and education that came with sharing my work, travel and the awe-inspiring events I’ve been able to attend. Before I started sharing myself and my work online, one of my greatest concerns was privacy. It still is because I have drawn a line about how much I want to share with the public, particularly with my marriage. I am a firm believer that some aspects of my life should be just for me (and my husband).

I have always been sensitive to the types of people I allow in my life. If someone is known for things like flirting with other people’s partners, lying, speaking to others in a patronizing manner or constantly talking about others for silly things like the kind of clothes they wear, I shut down immediately. Call it instinct, survival of the fittest, The Holy Spirit, intuition. It has served me well. I know they are people (just like me) who are carrying pain and insecurity within them and this is how they choose to relate to the world to avoid the healing work they have to do (Yes, I have watched more than my fair share of Iyanla: Fix My Life). I wish them well but from afar. I do not need to possibly sacrifice my mental health, my relationship and time to keep someone in my life for “their good moments.” I have learned that lesson.

On a positive note, opening myself up to all of those mediums of social media confirmed we are not alone more than ever for me. I see the struggle, the beauty, the triumph, the failures, the uplifting, the laughter, the teaching, the open gushing wounds of the hearts of millions of people. There is hiding and deception but the option not to do so is clear. There are connections and movements.  Even though I have wasted some time in the last year or so, there have been so many gains.. Maybe it’s because I knew the world before it, knew the world with it while I chose not to jump in or maybe it’s because I brought the wisdom of a grown woman to it.

There are no regrets. I have moved past fear to build this site and apply for a fellowship, share my work on these platforms and cheerlead for others on this journey along with me–the writers, the bloggers, the vegans, the wellness seekers, the psoriasis and PCOS warriors, small business owners, my fellow Greats who stepped out on faith to go after scary goals and other Black women who are often misrepresented as a monolith.

I will continue to embrace the mess of the world and carve out my own corner in it with all that is available to me. I will close with a haiku I wrote and posted a few months ago:

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What Support Looks Like

What Support Looks Like

Last night, I was going through some files and found a book synopsis I wrote earlier this year. It was 8 pages long and a joy to read. I had such a clear vision of where I wanted my book to go. It provided a short burst of inspiration to keep going and finish this first draft. Next week, I have the entire time off to put in serious hours towards completing it.  Even though there will be hours when I want to throw my laptop across the room or crawl under the covers to avoid it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is being the writer, more importantly the woman, I thought I’d be. The woman who doesn’t waste time talking about it, she does it (she writes about it, too).

I just got back from writing group where I am always reminded of the support I have to become the woman I want to be. I would encourage anyone to look around and take an account of all of the support that is already present in your life. I would bet there is more than you realize, even if it’s just one person praying for you daily living 5 states away or a reader who sends positive vibes your way directly after reading one of your posts.

Or it could be more obvious like the love of your life baking you a vegan apple pie while you were away at your writing group.

Vote!

Vote!

It’s cloudy and raining and cold. I ate a big, beautiful bowl of three-bean vegan chili and corn bread for lunch and all I feel like doing is alternating between napping, reading and watching old episodes of The Office. And I don’t feel bad doing it right now.

Because I voted.

I left work and went straight to vote. There is always more that can be done to uplift and change our communities: write letters, protest, preach, pray, volunteer, march, form organizations, create art, mentor and donate money but the least we can do is exercise our right to vote.

I am aware that there are those who believe it doesn’t change anything, especially for the most oppressed of this society and to a certain extent, there is truth in that statement.

But if my vote can help to change even one thing…inch an issue forward in the right direction, especially for those with the shallowest of pockets and the least access to quality education and healthy food and air, then I will do it.

I may not change the world but the next time I complain or huff and sigh at the news, I will know I did more than sit on my comfy couch today. I exercised a right that others before me were beaten, humiliated, harassed, threatened and died for me to have.

Grateful

Grateful

I woke up today.

I have a husband I wake up next to everyday who is my partner and the love of my life. When a couple of people told me not to get married, tried to get me to doubt if I could feel alive and married at the same time, I ignored it and know now they were dead wrong. Not that marriage is always easy but we work hard to grow together. We invest in each other’s interests, hobbies and dreams.

I am grateful for my family. We don’t always see eye to eye but we love each other. We hug, kiss and say I love you. My parents raised me to have a world view, to read, to have an appreciation for classic movies, museums, to value travel, education and to have pride in my racial and cultural identities (Black, Haitian-American) without being plagued with insecurities because of my brown skin. My mother gifted me with the introduction to my Christian faith. We laugh and tease, check in on one another and speak our minds, in anger, joy, frustration or love. There is no perfection but it is genuine. They never made me feel like I couldn’t make it out in the world on my own and when I think of all the grown men and women I have known in the past that were terrified or not motivated to forge a future outside of their parents’ home, I say a thousand silent thank yous.

I love my friends, past and present. I am grateful for the people who were in my life. They provided me with life lessons. They taught me what it is to outgrow people and that no matter how much time and effort you may invest in them, they may never do the same for you (and that it doesn’t matter anymore). I also learned you teach people how to treat you through these friendships and my past romantic relationships. They also gave me refuge, laughter, hugs, silly adventures, conversations I never wanted to end and a sense of brother and sisterhood I needed in some of my most uncertain moments. I don’t take those moments for granted and they hold a special place in my memory.  I experienced a growth with the past that has allowed me to treasure the people I hold dear to me now.

I am also grateful for the ability to pen and type words. It is my source of creativity and this past year has taught me it is a well I can draw from that has always been here, even when I chose not to acknowledge it or cultivate it.

I am grateful for self-awareness. It helps me to see who I really am and how I can grow to be better as a wife, friend, sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, Auntie, group member and a servant to God and others. There is room for improvement in all of these roles and I am glad not to be living this life blissfully unaware that there is work to be done.

There is much more but I will close with I am grateful for this challenge. It’s Day 5 and it’s forcing me to write even when I didn’t feel like it today, even when I am saddened and fatigued the news of the loss of life yet again.

What are you feeling grateful for today?

 

Full Circle

Full Circle

I had a full circle moment this morning.

I sat in my car after Afro-Caribbean dance class and recorded a quick video about how I felt. I was tired, flushed and revealing a bit too much nostril but that was alright. More than alright. It was real. I was grateful to be engaged in an activity that was just for me. It has nothing to do with furthering my career, no one was making me do it and I hadn’t enlisted any of my friends to come with me.

It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome company because I would. Sometimes, I think we all need to give ourselves permission to try new things without any expectations or opinions from others.

Go it alone.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. This is a need I’ve had for some time. I wrote a piece about it a few months ago. If you would like to read more about it, here is the link: Epiphany

When I had this epiphany a few months ago, I started crying. That’s how much I missed taking dance classes, moving this brown mass of a body rhythmically around a room, in a line, smiling, sweaty, even shy and nervous with others. Collapsing in the car this morning, I recognized I had made it happen. I made the choice to put away my silly fears about being too big, fretting about the psoriasis scars up and down my arms and moved from stillness into action.

Like I said, I had come full circle.

And I’m not going back.

Keep the Story Moving Forward.

Keep the Story Moving Forward.

Even though I write a lot of non-fiction and lately, have been inundated with a lot of personal development books, my first love is fiction. Yesterday, after thanking God for waking me and my husband up, I grabbed the latest book I am reading:  “The Perfect Find” by Tia Williams. She is one of the authors I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago at the James River Writers Conference 2017. I am not ashamed to admit I spent my morning wrapped up in my blankets, getting caught up in the tension and excitement of the story.

The words “keep the story moving forward” have been ringing in my head for a while now and it got louder as I read yesterday.  One of my writing teachers, author Sadeqa Johnson offered similar advice to me during the Pens Up, Fears Down course I took earlier this year. I heard it again at the James River Writers Conference during the Library of Virginia Nonfiction Awards Finalists panel from Annette Gordon-Reed.

Writing has taken a more central role in my life this year so those words do ring true. However, why the volume turn-up right now? As I am writing, I am having an onslaught of realization. Those words have been my theme “song” this year.  I  have challenged myself to do more writing, traveling, confronting of my health, posting, applying, conference-attending and class-taking than any other year of my life. The song is just beginning to build, no deep-throated belting yet but make no mistake, it is audible. With my acceptance of the #bloglikecrazy challenge next month, the commitment to complete my first draft of my novel, starting the process of establishing my business and falling in love with dance again, the vision and the song have clarity.

I have been moving my story forward.

Your turn: What have you been doing to move your story forward?

That Good Sweat

That Good Sweat

Since I wrote about it and I promised I would do it and I talked about it out loud where other people outside of myself could hear it, I went. I don’t mean to sound reluctant. It was just fear..fear of not being in good enough shape, not catching on fast enough, not being able to keep up.

So like I said, I went. I attended my first Afro-Caribbean dance class just as I declared I would in my last post. And it was exhilarating! I probably looked like a scared toddler creeping up to the door but there was no reason to fear. The instructor was kind, immediately asked if it was my first time and welcomed me with open arms.

For an hour, we danced and I felt that good sweat! If you have ever been so engaged in an activity, you don’t even realize you are drenched until it’s time to take a break, then you know of what I speak. I missed letting my body speak the words that have been muted for so long. I loved seeing my joyful, vibrant, moving reflection in the studio mirrors.  I didn’t even think about my psoriasis scars on my arms, not even once.

There was comfort being in a group of people of all sizes, shapes, colors, ages and skill level smiling and popping their bodies and bare feet to the beat. We danced in lines, mimicking our instructor’s movements and enjoyed the eclectic variety of music played. I was on a high doing African-inspired movements to the classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J.

I guess there is no need to ask if I am coming back.

There will be no languishing in the dark, underneath the covers this Saturday.

Just dancing in the light.

 

James River Writers Conference 2017

James River Writers Conference 2017

I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.

 

There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three  each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.

The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.

The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.

The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.

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Library of Virginia’s Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed moderated by David Streever.

The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.

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Thrilled I got to hear the phenomenal story of Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures!

The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.

There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.

One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.

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Sexy Narratives panel moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Marguerite Bennett and Tia Williams.

My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.

The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.

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The Agent Dating Game!

I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.

All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.

Shift

Shift

I am sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.

A week ago, I had no idea I would be sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.

A shift had to occur inside of me. Hubby and I had originally planned to go to California but decided to push the trip back until the beginning of the year and stay a couple of days longer than the three days we had originally allotted for our trip.

Then we were going back and forth a lot last Thursday on where to go instead. For a hot minute, we were sure we were going to take a train up to Boston, a place neither of us have ever been. As a couple, we have put aside most of the gift-giving in favor of traveling to destinations that either one of us or neither of us have traveled to. A gift to both of us.

After doing some thinking (and pricing), we discovered we wanted to take the advice of some dear friends and go to Denver. Neither of us are particularly outdoorsy except that we do like to take long walks so we had some doubts as to how much we would enjoy it.

My doubts have been erased. I should have known it would happen, too. I have long shifted my attitude to embrace the customs, quirks and idiosyncrasies of the new places we go to. I often leave a trip wishing I had more time to explore and silently (and sometimes not so silently) promising myself to come back.

As soon as I walked off the plane, I could not breathe. I had been warned to stay hydrated but I thought that I could at least walk outside before I would be robbed of my breath. Hubby had to buy water for me and I sat down for several minutes before I could move on to baggage claim. Side note: I left the book I was reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas on the bench while I was catching my breath. I am upset but I will definitely buy it again.

The first afternoon we explored a neighborhood called The Highlands with tasty vegan cuisine at a restaurant called Vital Root. We walked past a park honoring Cesar Chavez and settled in at Book Bar, a quaint and charming bookstore and bar/restaurant combined.

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I could have spent the whole day here. It was so inviting!

I felt much better by the time we got back to the hotel and geared up for dinner in the city. We were excited to find so many food options for us! We went to Watercourse restaurant and I was blown away by the menu items: mushroom risotto, nachos, mac and cheese with broccoli, key lime pie and so much more.

The next day, snow started to fall. It was gorgeous and fortunately stopped mid-day. We had Tibetan take-out and rested. Later that evening, we went to another vegan spot in the city named City O’ City with beautiful artwork lining the walls and a Sam Shepard quote written above the bar. The food again was delicious and the main highlight was the fried ravioli with pesto and marinara.

 

We ended our night at Meadowlark Bar, a basement bar with Jazz Nights on Mondays. I had to have another moment where I shook the doubts away. When we first entered, we were clearly the only Black faces in the venue. We took seats at the bar and waited for the performances to start. And as with every place we’ve been to since our arrival, we were welcomed warmly. Neither of us are drinkers so we nursed our waters and chatted with the bartender and eventually a painter that showed up later. The crowd that filled the bar were people of stripes of all kind-races and ages. After getting lost in conversation with the painter, we swayed to the music and I was reminded again how much I love the energy of live music.

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Kisses from my love at Meadlowlark Bar on Jazz Night

Today we decided to be our version of an outdoorsy couple. First, it was off to Red Rock. I do not do well driving up high but I shifted my mindset quickly. How else was I going to experience this majestic beauty if I keep myself paralyzed with fear?

The beauty of the landscape is indescribable. I have never seen anything like it. Any amphitheater I have ever been to pales in comparison. The red rock steps, the fall leaves and the freshness of the air overwhelmed me. While we toured the visitor center, I teared up. I couldn’t believe we were here. There are moments when we all know we are blessed beyond measure. There was this current of gratitude coursing through me the entire time I was there. I felt like God was showing off…look at what He made…look at what He has allowed us to build. I cannot imagine what it must be like to attend a concert with such a backdrop.

After Red Rock, we headed to Boulder to visit Pearl Street specifically. It was an outdoor mall that stretched several blocks peppered with tourists, UNC students and locals alike.

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Pearl Street Mall in Boulder

The town seems idyllic and health-conscious. It was definitely geared towards pedestrians and cyclists. After taking lunch at a Japanese restaurant, we finally headed back to the hotel.

The feeling is here again. If only we had a few more days, we could have seen the Black Western museum only open on Fridays and Saturdays, taken in more of the city and found a hot spring to soak in for a couple of hours. It’s those silent promises again, begging to be taken more seriously this time.

I know it’s because I want to see, feel, taste, experience as much as I can. I am painfully aware that we only get to do this once.

The shift that has taken place is turning down the volume on my fears and doubts and I am propelling myself forward.

Besides, what good has ever come from standing still and looking backwards?

 

Kindness

Kindness

I still feel like I am coming down from an amazing and busy weekend. I had the pleasure of watching my sister and her pole sisters perform in their student showcase. Those women put on a spectacular show and I shed more than a couple of tears watching my sister confidently execute the routine she choreographed along with two other group performances. I had many videos of my sister in varying stages of preparation for her solo over the months so seeing it come together before my eyes was a thing of beauty. As we watched playback of the video I shot, both of us laughed because we could hear my running verbal reaction with every move she made. It was pride spilling from my lips.

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Me and my sister before her mind-blowing performance

The next day while she was with her personal trainer, I made good use of her visitor’s pass at her gym. It had been a couple of months since I had been on a machine so my body and my mind had to warm up to the idea of doing the repetitive motions again but I found I loved the groove that settled in after a few minutes of pushing the incline up on the treadmill. I am not sure why there is such discomfort for me around going back to the gym regularly but I do know I have to get over it. These goals can be met without it but that’s not what I want. I want to make use of all of the tools I have available to me whether I have deemed them as one of my “favorites” or not.

The next day, my mother, sister, adorable niece and I went on a little shopping trip to add a couple of pieces to my wardrobe. I had been meaning to update this site with new pictures so I thought it would be a good time to take them. Here are a couple and my About, Work with Me and Home pages have been updated with all new pictures:

After these were done, hubby and I were off back to Richmond when we had a small accident trying to avoid a much bigger one. It meant one more night at my sister’s until we could go to the garage the next morning but I was so happy to be able to spend more time with my family. While I was there, I managed to finish the essay I was working on last week and selected a couple of sites to submit new work to by Thursday.

When I got to work today, I got the sweetest note (with a green pen!)from a co-worker:

20171003_153133-1-1 It was in my mailbox and I pulled it out at the exact moment when I needed it. I was all smiles when I opened this blessing and I am not ashamed to admit I teared up driving home from work this afternoon thinking about my new treasure.

As we all know, the last few weeks in this country and all over the Caribbean have been harrowing to say the least.

It is the kindness that will remain. It is the kindness that will restore.

Have you been inspired lately? I would love to read your thoughts!