some lessons learned

truth

Well, it’s been a minute since I was here.

I was really busy with work and now I’m back in an ebb state. Such is the name of the game of being my own business.

There are a few things that have come to mind in the past couple of days that I’ll just list out, because it’s hard to tie them all together (maybe I need more coffee–working on that!)

Poverty is isolating and terrorizing. And so much of this blog is just me reacting to poverty. And, I won’t be ashamed of that any longer. Meanwhile, white men can make oodles of money off of the poverty narrative. This thread is full of how poverty can really fuck with your head and your overall well-being. I couldn’t read too much of it because I related too much. But at the same time, I’m comforted that I’m not alone in these feelings. 

Companies really don’t care about you. I know that and that’s one of the reasons why I dug Fight Club so much (toxic masculinity aside). It really got to that Gen X core of life being more than things and possessions.

This week, there were massive layoffs at digital publishers BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, as well as at publishing conglomerate Gannett and whatever the fuck Verizon Media Group is (formerly Oath, including Yahoo and AOL).

About 1,000 media folks lost their jobs with more to come since BuzzFeed couldn’t get their shit together and stave off the rumors of layoffs. So now, there are people who are having some shitty weekends while waiting for news. BuzzFeed is probably preparing for a merger with another group call Group Nine, which specializes in…wait for it…video. 

I just had something similar happen to me last night, as if the Universe wanted me to embody this fact. I was expecting the cut, but couldn’t really put my finger on why. Thursday night, I could barely sleep because I felt I had already lost it.

Prophetic intuition can sometimes come as a form of fear.

The only other time I’ve felt like that about a job was almost 20 years ago. I was freaking out about getting laid off at a crooked personal injury law firm. My colleagues thought I was being paranoid, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I learned later that the powers that be couldn’t find me on Friday to do let me go. So I was let go on Monday.

Sidenote: I really have to start honoring my intuition and not doubting myself.

So today, I feel…free and happy. I am repeatedly repelling any shame or resentment. I don’t have to do work I hate like that anymore!

I’m constantly shutting down the typical internal conversation of what went wrong, of what could have been done better, of why this is happening now, of the shitty email that was sent. All those thoughts are unhelpful when acceptance of this new reality makes it so much easier to move on.

I did the work because I needed the money–that’s all. In one Facebook group I’m in, a colleague had posted that they had also gotten this work but decided it was too much and wondered how to get it. And they were right, it was too much. But, it kept me afloat for three months, and I’m really grateful for that.

But this month was incredibly hard for some reason. Part of it was allergies (the pollen count is high right now down in Central Florida). Part of it was doing other work. But maybe my heart had finally checked out of the work I was doing. But I felt like such a snob.

I kept having this conversation with myself about how I needed to be grateful and honor this work. I know I can be elitist because of my background of being a doctor’s daughter, of going to an elite university, of having a master’s degree.

America can make you feel so entitled to things you should have, and I don’t mean basic needs (America does the opposite of that with the basics). I should be further along in my life. Why am I doing this terrible survival work?

But I needed to pay some bills and without a car, this was what was in front of me. So I did it.

Yet the nagging feeling, that I was just felt like some replaceable cog in a wheel, lining someone else’s pockets, only grew and made me feel terrible. I never felt any real connection to this group. It doesn’t seem like they can hold quality people, but they don’t really provide that much support. I only was spoken to when I was wrong.

And I wonder if all these veteran journalists, editors, producers, videographers, etc. now feel the same way, like a replaceable cog in a wheel. They were doing a lot more important work than creating content for who I imagine are bored retirees. But with all those layoffs, 1,000 people could form their own newsroom right now, and a really good one.

So, to sum it all up:

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Capitalism is a dehumanizing affair, and it doesn’t belong in journalism–or in most places. And if corporations are people, then they lack a lot of empathy (as do most people, sadly).

Despite life being full of suffering, we must find joy in life. So the season finale of The Good Place, the only American sitcom that I can stand, was on Thursday night. And the ending made me cry because of all of the shitty things that happened last year in particular. If you haven’t watched it and you’re a fan of the show, go watch it and then come back.

Eleanor asks Janet, the all-knowing android, what the meaning of life is, if it’s just full of pain. Janet responds that if she told her, then life would just be some stupid machine. Life would lose its mystery. Since life doesn’t really make much sense, when we find someone or something that does make sense, it’s miraculous. And it’s those glimmers of happiness that we should strive for as we embrace the suck of being human.

I remember saying this to a friend in an email a couple of months ago because I had heard this same message in a podcast about leaving evangelical Christianity. Life is suffering, so when there are moments when we’re not suffering, we should savor them.

Those insights made me cherish the people I had in my life. It made me feel lucky and fortunate, not abandoned and alone.

It’s funny, when I left social media for the holidays and Marie Kondo’s Netflix show came on, I came back to so much xenophobic snark about the concept of what sparks joy for someone.

Clearly, Americans don’t even understand this concept, and a few people have said as much–specifically that we’ve been trained to believe that things bring us joy. So when our houses are full of shit we don’t even use, Kondo’s gentle suggestions about how to store and sort through what you need and don’t need felt like indictments.

So joy…is not happiness or exuberance or giddiness. It’s deeper than that. For me, it has to do with connecting to your life purpose and your essence, the things that make you really you. Deep satisfaction with who you are and the life you have.

And yeah, sometimes it’s hard to find that when your basic needs aren’t being met and you’re treated like some object that has lost its use. But after last night, I felt a new sense of determination to find real joy, even in the midst of loss. I can’t wait for the perfect client, place, friends, relationships or time.

And the time is now. It is always now.

So what’s deeply resonating for me and who I am is working with people who honor my time, talents, and efforts. I want to be with people who are thoughtful and kind. I want to live in a place where my life matters and where I can be useful. 

None of that is happening right now, and honestly, I know that’s a lot to ask for from humanity. But I must commit that I will die trying to find it. There’s no other option besides just giving up completely and dying. My life has to align to these values or I will wither inside.

And, that’s a process. I sometimes think at the end of writing something, whatever lessons I’ve learned from the process of writing will somehow just be permanently imprinted. 

But then life happens, loss happens. Something doesn’t go my way. I screw something up. Taking it so personally is suffering. And I don’t need to suffer any more than I already do.

Anyway, this blog is, in essence, me trying to remember what life for me really is about. And it takes a lot of keystrokes and conversations to remember and to keep remembering that I am not even the poverty I live in nor the people I don’t have in my life.

I am so much more, and I find it hard to find the right words to say what that exactly is besides the word “me.”

Not knowing isn’t a bug—it’s a feature. So now that I don’t have this soul-crushing client anymore, I feel more space opening up. All the people, places, and things that left, that didn’t work out, that I messed up–now there’s space to explore what I do want. 

Until maybe this morning, I really was exhausted by the question, “So now what?” I don’t know, and that’s not a problem. It’s how life is.

I know there are a lot of obstacles in my way towards being what I deem to be a financially stable, well-loved person, and they’re ones I don’t really think about.

But then I think about how so many people have stable lives because of their race or gender or good looks or wealth–very arbitrary, meaningless things. Despite the meaningless, immoral riches of billionaires who decide the fate of people they don’t even care about, despite all the noxious -isms that are on my back and blocking my path, I still have to try to figure this life stuff out for me.

It’s tough because it’s been a very lonely road and the further along I walk, the less people walk with me. That’s also by design, it seems, and something I’ll get into in another post. 

But I don’t necessarily know where I’m headed. For example, right now, it’s a brisk 57 degrees outside, and where I was thinking I’d be living now has wind chills in the negative 50s.

I was telling my writing accountability partner this week that I hate fumbling around to figure things out (she hates it, too). That’s what I’ve been doing since I left grad school. Going on five years of fumbling.

Doors open and close without warning. People appear and disappear. We grow older and hopefully wiser. And that’s (part of) life.

And I know that wherever I’m trying to get to, as soon as I “arrive”, another journey of fumbling will begin. My hope is that it won’t be as hard as living with an inconsistent income and that better people stick around for that journey.

So in between here and there, it’s just more reminders to myself to hang in there, to see the good, to find the silver linings when I can, and to be kind to myself when it’s too painful to smile or see anything redemptive of a FUBAR situation.

I can finally see how my resilience is a blessing. I can see how I’m rebounding more quickly from failures and setbacks. I’m already starting to forget what happened last night and soon, I’ll even start seeking failure and rejection out as learning experiences and ways to move forward. That takes some inner strength and wholeness that I haven’t really had before, but it’s being developed.

My hope for you is that you journey well and have the best traveling companions, that you don’t grow weary when you journey alone or come upon obstacles, and that you become stronger and more whole with each step you take.

Godspeed.


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45 days past

times som

So over six weeks ago, I took a long break from social media. I was really busy with work and needed to focus on it. But also, I wanted to avoid all the holiday hubbub that had absolutely nothing to do with me, even with a Christmas birthday.

Bah humbug, basically. It does make me wonder if Scrooge was a Capricorn.

Ultimately, this has been something I’ve been wrestling with for years–what is social media’s use to me, besides making me feel like I’m not enough and too much?

I’ve reckoned with the looming fact that as much as I have been online for my entire adult life, I don’t really understand social media anymore. And maybe I never did.

It makes me feel competitive and jealous over appeared differences, and that makes me feel ill–mainly the humblebrag that isn’t humble, just bragging. I imagine if I was in a face-to-face conversation with someone, telling me about great their life is…well, no one wants to hang with that person, and very rarely do people talk like that. But on social media, it’s totally OK!

Recently, I was reading posts like this on Instagram and Facebook and it made me punchy. It’s not that I begrudge anyone of their successes, nor their celebration of them–even if for me, 2018’s only true success was that I SURVIVED. It’s just…I don’t know how this discourse became so braggadocious.

And maybe posts like that inspires or heartens others. And sure, I’m definitely in a place in my life that could use some inspiration and uplift. But somehow, when it’s said on social media, it doesn’t feel inclusive. It feels very impersonal, and like we’re competing for some unattainable prize of most awesome.

If you have even one modicum of dissatisfaction in your life, social media will exploit it. 


Anyway, it’s nothing new, right? We’ve all felt less than after reading someone’s post about how fucking amazing their lives are. And then the winter holidays make those albeit natural but very weighty feelings even more heavy. I felt both like Scrooge and Tiny Tim at the same time, even before Thanksgiving.

So, I mercifully logged off, because no one needs to feel even more alone during the holidays while watching people celebrate with friends and family (as they edit out all the tough conversations and heartache and grief), and you are a party of one–which there should be no shame in. 

So while I was away, I finally decided not to be ashamed of my life, which goes beyond the holidays. It’s not easy to not compare your life to someone else’s when you’re online, even when you know that so much of this fake or at least not the whole story. So logging off solved that. It may be something I do every year, no matter how awesome or awful my life is, because it really fucks with your head and your sense of worth, even if everything is OK.

What if life could be better? Why aren’t you having people around that love you? Why aren’t you financially successful? Why are you hashtag blessed? 

Well, the messy and complicated answer to these almost ridiculous questions is–well, there are a lot of reasons–many of them you can’t control, and some of them you will never be able to ascertain or perceive. 

I believe, I hope, I filled all those heart-holes that social media is always trying to widen and fill with resentment. It’s probably going to be a process because part of me is like, whoa, how did I get here? I used to not give a flying fuck about this stuff. And in that way, social media isn’t necessary the root of that problem. That’s just my life sucking. 

But here’s the difference for me–I remember back in the 90s turning to social media when my life was sucking. I found a lot of amazing people to be friends with. There was no competition or bragging or curating or branding or selling. It was just people talking about each other’s lives.

So back then, social media was a savior and a beacon during a long bout of clinical depression. But now, social media has become completely the opposite. And I’m not even talking about harassment. That’s a whole separate topic, which thankfully, for now, I have rarely experienced. 

Whatever deeper connections I was looking for online, like I found in my youth, I don’t really believe they are there like that…anymore, like ripened fruit dropping from trees. Now, I tend to just luck upon them, and even then they don’t last very long.


So one of the biggest things I’ve had to come to peace with is the age that I live in now. It’s not the 90s or the 20th century anymore. We are well within this millennium and century and decade, and for me, it’s too impersonal and transactional for me.

Also, there’s a generational shift. I’m not millennial enough to get this social landscape anymore (although it’s arguable that some Gen Xers created this mess we’re). And although there are probably plenty of Gen Xers killing this game…well, that’s the thing. This has never been some game for me. If social media is just a popularity contest, then I will always lose. I’m fine with that since I understand that is a game. In 1997, it was just me talking to people about stuff. Now it’s commerce and buying fake followers and YouTube views. 

This has been the longest time I haven’t been on social media, and I finally feel like I fell out of step with the emotional tone of this…place. For example, I was lurking a couple of days ago, seeing people I know and love rage-tweet about something that just didn’t seem to be worth the energy. If I had been on there all the time, I may have been more into this, but it just seemed almost like a privilege to sit around and bitch. I could be wrong about the topic, which I will not mention, but it was something that wouldn’t really directly affect me. 

And maybe that’s something I should digger deeper in, too. Maybe I get caught up in rage storms just because I’m there, like I’m a piece of driftwood. It’s not like what matters to me is rage tweeted by others, either.

That speaks to the cult of personality that I have never been into or never will be. My personality doesn’t really invoke a following, but that’s how you make it in the world today–which, whatever, I’m opting out.

So I suck at this, hardcore. And yet, I didn’t used to. The landscape has changed. And I’m tired of being frustrated about it because that’s what social media now is designed to do. It’s like one long commercial provoking you to hate yourself and other people. It feels dirty and gross.

I mean, clearly–it’s not the only way social media works. At least one of you reading this right now found me through social media. So I’m not completely terrible at it. But in a numbers game? After 10 years, there should be more to show for it. Allegedly. And I don’t even need to invoke quantity vs. quality here. Twitter, for example, is a very transient place. Lots of people I knew who were on more regularly have gone.

Still, being myself, being “authentic” doesn’t work in the way I’ve “marketed” myself as a brand. What “value” am I adding? Who the fuck knows?

All those truisms work for some people, but not everyone. Yet everyone gets on this mindless treadmill to get to this unreachable place of popularity because that’s what all those stupid likes and retweets force us to do to be allegedly relevant.

To that end, if you haven’t watched the holiday special Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas on Netflix, you should (here’s a review from io9). 


My “game” has always been to connect and I saw the internet as a way to connect to people I otherwise wouldn’t AND as a way to keep in touch with people I rarely saw. But, at least on a metric level, I just can’t do this here. I can barely stand that it’s OK to tweet to someone and not reply–and this person can be your friend. I still find that to be rude because there’s no way that would fly offline (although it’s happened to me offline, too). Yet somehow, if we’re online, it’s OK to (pretend to) be distracted.

It makes me just ask: so…why are you actually here? 

It’s not to say that I still don’t have some good people in my life from the internet. And the internet IS IRL. More and more, our lives are being reliant to being online. I couldn’t work without the internet. But it’s more that my offline life isn’t being augmented by my online life–like it used to be.

So maybe if I made connecting offline more of a priority in all ways, I can find what I used to find back in the happy, shiny 90s. Even connecting with myself more these past six weeks has been great, dare I say a necessity. I loved this story from over the holidays where this woman logged off for a week and tried to read 30 books in this time. She read 12, but good for her.

And, while I was away, I’d be remiss to not mention all the ridiculous news re: Facebook and how it handed our data on a silver platter to companies. Social media is a gotdamn shitshow.

Oh, one last rant about online life and then I’ll update you on my offline activities–people suck at email. For example, I’ve been trying to write a few stories and talk to my sources. I know it’s still kind of the holidays but seriously?! Maybe I should have taken off some more time.

I really don’t feel like I was made for these times. Maybe I was born too late, but that would make me an insufferable Baby Boomer. Ugh.


Anyway, so I’m back online now. And I feel like I’ve changed a lot, which I will write about later. It could be coincidental to having lived a life where I wasn’t curating my thoughts online, but I doubt it.

Here’s the running list of things I had to say while I was away:

  1. The Pet Shop Boys are perfection. I believe I started listening to them in earnest because I was listening to a lot of Robbie Williams, whom I also love and adore. He did a cover of their cover of “We’re the Pet Shop Boys” so I was intrigued. I listened to their whole discography and pretty much liked everything. It was great to listen to while I worked, but then I would get distracted. I really want this book by Neil Tennant One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem which is on my Christmas Birthday Wishlist if you want to get it for me. *wink wink*
  2. Australians have given us a lot of slang. The word “selfie” is an Aussie word. I learned that from this side work I did which took up a lot of the time while I was away from social media.
  3. Motown really is amazing. Another thing I learned from my sidework. I watched In the Shadow of Motown later and learned about the greatest bassist who ever lived, James Jamerson. I wrote about that for my patrons on Patreon if you want to read it. 
  4. I’m from Alabama and had no idea that Muscle Shoals was a thing at all. I watched the music doc Muscle Shoals and had no idea that Helen Keller, Sam Phillips, and W.C. Handy were from there. I also had no idea about the music studios and producers that helped to create iconic albums from the 60s and 70s. I honestly thought it was in southern Alabama, too, not northern Alabama. I once had a friend who lived in Florence, which is a part of that area. So basically, I had no idea where she lived.
  5. I listened to the top 2018 songs on Spotify and it all sounds the same. I decided on New Year’s Eve to listen to Spotify’s playlist and it was just variations of The Hamsterdance Song. I really wasn’t missing out on much except maybe the Black Panther soundtrack. My ears bled otherwise.
  6. OMG, the Chicago Bears are doing well! WTF? I really missed Twitter when the Bears were playing. They freaking beat the Green Bay Packers. And then I watched them play the Minnesota Vikings and win. I cannot believe we’re headed to the playoffs!
  7. The is macabre, but the Catherine wheel should have been one of those times God flood the earth again. I was listening to a Crowded House album, one of the deluxe versions with outtakes and demos, and they had some lovely song about the Catherine wheel, which I never knew what it was. I knew it was some 90s band that I never listened. It was a medieval torture and killing device which I still don’t even understand because it was so ghastly. I’m not even going to write about it, but man–Europeans have some fucking issues, and that is putting it mildly. That would have been an epic tweetstorm, but alas, I was offline. 

Anyway, that’s just a few of the things I almost wish I was online to talk about.


I tend to want to come to complete answers and solutions quickly, but my relationship with social media is more of an ongoing conversation. The conversation has changed over the past decade. So while I was offline, I mourned that this virtual place has become a place of longing and not lasting connection. It’s an early adopter issue, for sure.

So basically, I don’t know how to be a healthy, connected human on here like I’m used to. I can only do that by being on here less. I put way too much of my heart and emotions into something that has given my diminishing returns. That insanity ended last year. 

I just can’t take this place as seriously anymore, even though there are clearly serious ramifications from being online.

So when it comes to disseminating my own thoughts and feelings about anything online, I realized I was mainly speaking in a cold, dark room with very little light. Or, like a few years ago in grad school through a Facebook and blogging mishap, I was speaking to people who were insecure (just like I was). So at the very least, I’ll speak to people who want to listen.

If social media had helped me with my immediate needs, with poverty and loneliness, I’d be a lot more grateful. But really, a big lesson from this sabbatical was that I had to learn to deal with this stuff myself–at least this time, that’s what was required. And I’m really proud that I dug myself out of this hole. I feel less anxious, abandoned, and ashamed. I feel more like myself, more expansive, more like a real person with real emotional needs.

Social media isn’t really about my relationship to the rest of the world or American society, though–it just pretends to be that conduit. Yet it can be a very powerful distortion that unfortunately starts to affect society and the people in it. The past few weeks, I had to remind myself I had more control of how I feel and how I communicate with others–if at all.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. And it’s not even a game I have to play at all.

So my hope is that my life will look a lot more like it was in the early aughts than it does now–more balanced, more with people I love and who love me, and less concerned about people I may never meet offline.

This may be real life, being online, but it doesn’t have to be my whole life any longer.


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Thanks for your support! Happy Holidays! 💘

The End

RWS_Tarot_21_World SOM

Today, my tarot card of the day was The World. For you tarot readers and aficionados, you know how fitting it is to have the last card in the Major Arcana at the end of the year. I believe it’s a great sign for me. If you’re not into tarot, it is a card that marks endings and completion.

There are a few ways of viewing this, so I’ll just make this post a reading of sorts.

A Welcomed End

The first thing I thought when I saw this card was that the troubles and challenges that I’ve faced this year are complete. This year was very chaotic for me, but I feel like I squeezed as much knowledge and wisdom and healing and growth as I could. 

As we look at the world, with all the upheaval, strife, the disasters both human-made and natural, there’s still a lot of hard and terrible things that we’re dealing with both individually and collectively.

New challenges are always arising, but I’ve found that being forever a student about life is one way to make sure that you can remain flexible. You can learn how to drop old coping mechanisms that you used in your youth and find better ways to cope and deal.

There are a lot of things I’m still seeking out in the world. But within myself, I am whole and complete–and so are you. That’s what The World card reminds us.

And although we’re all whole and complete by ourselves, we do need each other to unearth all the treasures that we have. We need others to support us on this journey of becoming (or rediscovering) who we are.

An Unwelcome End

It’s strange, too–I’m a little sad that this year is ending the way it is because I feel like I’m in the middle an ellipsis, or like I’m the bouncing ellipsis you see when someone is writing a Twitter DM or text back to you. My “moment of triumph” is still being written–and that’s a good thing. The World card also says to me that it’s not even necessary to put an exclamation point when only a period is necessary.

It’s done. Period. 

But back to The End…this year sucked a lot, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Even though there are challenges we’ll carry into the New Year, it doesn’t mean that you have to continue to carry the emotional baggage that came with those struggles.

Granted, healing from trauma usually begins when the painful events ends.

For example, it took me many years to emotionally heal from having to take eight years to get through college and how that long circuitous journey of stops and start was one I couldn’t really control. That period of waiting and attending and betrayal and exile and return took up most of my 20s.

The bleeding may have ended when I graduated at age 26, but the pain was still there and I still have a scar. Now I could really deal with the trauma because I had stopped fighting. The war was over and won, but I was still wounded on the inside. 

I had to work through (and sometimes still work through) the shame and disappointment of not being able to graduate with my classmates. Besides the career detours and blocks (which apparently is why I’m a writer and not a doctor (and I don’t regret the path I am now now, by the way)), I lost practically all of those relationships, and part of me will still grieve not having close friends from college anymore.

The expectations of having college being life-changing were met in ways I didn’t really welcome.

Sometimes, things end prematurely–a marriage, a beloved job, a loved one dying. So sometimes, The World card isn’t a welcome sight.

Another Ending, Another Beginning

But things end and start again all the time. If I hadn’t gone through the premature ending of leaving college after my junior year, I would have never met the lovely soul that I was my first boyfriend.

When I was looking at the card, I thought it was an ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail. But whatever that is, there’s the representation of a circle, a cycle of life, beginning and ending and beginning again.

Life is always in flux and is cyclical (Sing it, Elton).

Things may be over and complete, but then there’s always a new journey to embark on–one of healing and personal restoration.

So if you’ve have experienced trauma and harm this year, I hope that these events have ended and the healing journey begins, even now. 

Goodbye to another shitastic year

I believe this is a custom to clean a house either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It’s not one I grew up with. So symbolically, I cleaned the common areas of the house today.

I mainly focused on the refrigerator and freezer. I cleaned the dusty top, the oil-splattered side, and the filthy interior.

I took out all my food and all the shelves and drawers and cleaned. I am going to be right sore tomorrow–so help me (please), naproxen!

Proud and petty sidenote: I left the shut-in’s door section unclean because that lazy ass fucker doesn’t do anything except take the trash to the roadside when it’s his month. 😏😒 Also, there’s this cream cheese that has been on his shelf that’s been expired for months. 🤢

Anyway, I wanted to be rid of that racist shithole’s energy, Sir Coughs-A-Lot (the renter before the racist lunatic) energy, and even the Russian kid’s energy. Be gone, be gone, be gone!

I also wanted to literally wash away this year. I don’t really have enough cleaning agents for that, but it felt good to take out my frustration, sorrow, disappointment, and shame on a fridge and a house and have it turn into something orderly, clean, and beautiful. The house now has the light scent of lavender–which I hope will usher in even more peace and calm to this place.

The Peace Within and Without

But lavender aside–it’s a peace and calm that started from within–a very hard fought peace in a time of conflict. I mean, sure there was some meditation involved, but a lot of it was making sure that insane in the membrane shitbag hit the bricks and left this house.

The cool thing to me is that preserving the peace within usually will spill without, into other areas of your life, into other people’s lives. It’s difficult and almost impossible to do in our times, but it’s difficult and almost impossible to not pursue inner peace–however you can healthily achieve it… 

 

So. I don’t know what you need 2019 to be for you or what 2018 has been like for you. 

Maybe you don’t feel whole and complete. Maybe you feel like this whole year has been The Tower. Maybe you’ve had a string of years that look like The Tower or Five of Cups. I know what it’s like. I know what it feels like to be proverbially falling out of a burning building, or to have some cups of precious things spilled–and to mourn all of it.

Whatever you’re hoping the New Year brings, even if it’s just relief that it’s not 2018 anymore, I hope that you can find and usher in peace within–the kind of peace that brings personal and collective clarity in an ever-changing and increasingly hostile world.

And, I hope that we will be that kind of peace for each other.

HNY.🥂


If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. I blog about things that I don’t post here.

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal. Also if you’re feeling generous this holiday season, here’s my Amazon Wishlist.

Thanks for your support! Happy Holidays! 💘

Bandersnatch – The CYOA Way

The only spoiler in here is more of a big picture or process spoiler. But even still, it’s probably best that you mess with the film until you’re exhausted, and then read this afterward.

OK. This is one of these experiments where if I was on Twitter, I’d just write a whole thread about what I just did for the past three hours. But I’m not due back, by my own doing, for the next eight days. So let’s see if we can do that “don’t write a thread, write a blog post!” thing.

Choose Your Own Adventure

First of all, I love Choose Your Own Adventure book series (also the less popular version Which Way…and there was some YA romance version, too) and, most likely, I love it more than you do. I have many of these books in storage right now that I haven’t even read.

I wrote some sort of essay in grad school that could have been something similar a few years ago, but I can’t fully recall. I just remember my instructor asking me if she could use this method or was I going to? I said I was going to, but I don’t remember what I wrote. That was in 2012.

Before then, I grew up going to Walmart as often as I could, buying these books (for $1.95 to $2.95) with my allowance. I loved them into adolescence. My favorite title was You Are a Genius. I would read with fingers kept in key parts where there was a seemingly fateful decision where one could mercilessly die. If I died, then I could go back to the last choice and choose differently. Ah, if only life were so easy!

For a YA book, it was pretty macabre–but not in a completely gruesome way. It’s more of a very final, existential way. I would dread reading words like this:

You are never heard from again. 

🥺

I’m not really obsessed with much as a dilettante, but my passion for CYOA books is as obsessed as I could be. Although, I wasn’t obsessed enough to be interested in the authors. It’s just my version of Pokemon-gotta-catch-em-all. I’m a collector if you will. I probably have at least 40 of these books, and that seems like a low number.

It’s more than a book–it’s a philosophy

As a teenager, I adopted the CYOA mindset as a way to deal with the theological conundrum that my friends in my church’s youth group would love to debate on occasion: do we truly have free will or is everything predestined (by God or life or whatever)?

In my mind, CYOA meant that we did have the freedom to choose, but the choices had fixed fates, fates you couldn’t necessarily choose your way out of. Even the choices weren’t up to you. And the choices that you think matter–they really don’t. But then there are inconsequential choices that can completely change your fate.

Enter Bandersnatch, Netflix’s latest film from the Black Mirror series. It dropped today. I actually renewed Netflix for Black Mirror, as I usually do for this series. And being the CYOA freak that I am, I was especially excited to see this on…my own black mirror.

Sidenote:

This would be a great short tweet thread here, but ever since I was researching 2001: A Space Odyssey and thinking about the black monolith, I’ve been viewing my TV as one–which it literally is and also, in a sense, is the same as it was intended in the film–some tool that ended up accelerating human evolution (TV has been revolutionary indeed).

So lately, my TV has creeped me out. It just looms over me in my bedroom. Although I love the images that Chromecast displays–art, space, landscape–when I move, I don’t think I’ll keep a TV in my bedroom anymore–or at least one was big as mine. It’s just imposing and leering and a little too…dark and ominous.

I bring this up because 1) I’ve been dying to share that but 2) it coincides with what Black Mirror is, according to the TV series creator Charlie Brooker.

The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.

I cannot believe I just learned this today.

Anyway, cue “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai…

jamiroquai

It’s Black Mirror, or the “Coming Attractions” of our present dystopia!

Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own-adventure type film–interactive film as Netflix calls it. I had a Smart TV (a rather ancient one from 2012, but it still works…), but I had to watch it on my computer because it requires a mouse for you to choose.

Another technical note: On my Smart TV, I saw that the film was only two minutes long. I clicked to watch it, thinking that this is different from the trailer, or maybe I misunderstood the two minutes length, especially since this was an interactive film. So after clicking, I received a proper British apology about having the wrong technology to watch the movie. And by the way–you can’t cast from your Android phone either. 

Anyway…you have about 10 seconds to choose each choice. But if you’re really not into choices, then you’ll have choices made for you. I found that out while multitasking on my phone. So if you just want to watch it as a film, you could just let the time expire and let “fate” choose for you.

(I think I’m only going to watch this one more time, as a film, without choosing anything. It will be hard to be passive, but after spending so many hours going back and forth, between reality, dream, and delusion, it will probably feel like a deserved break.) 

If you do find a “you are never heard from again” ending (and believe me, it’s Black Mirror–so it’s no spoiler to say that there’s death in this film), interestingly the film does the bookmarking/finger held in place for you–to a certain extent. After a not-so-favorable ending, you’ll be brought back to key choices. “Try again” is a phrase you will hear often and, if you’re crazy or patient enough, you will do often.

I don’t want to give too much away. But, if you know Black Mirror, you know how everything is allegorical. Brooker does not shy from hammering home his points, almost in a hamfisted way. And, well–it’s a British show and I’m a stupid Yank who is a sucker for these limey accents. So the moral hamfisting–I guess I will just allow it.

But really, I allow it because the points being made are good ones and it’s part of the whole Black Mirror…schtick? Schtick may be the wrong word. Ethos is probably a better one.

The interactive quality involves more than the choices you’re making, but how the film is interacting with you. It’s not like going to see Captain EO at Epcot, or other films that bring in smells and sensations (think IMAX). It’s more psychological–and again, I don’t really want to spoil it much at all. Please watch it if you can.

I actually came to write about this tonight because there was one choice I made that I’m sure I made, and the movie chose the other choice. That only happened once. But I was pissed.

Maybe I didn’t click hard enough or correctly? It’s possible.

But even the questioning of myself falls into the realm of this movie. It really is a mindfuck, but not in the typical Black Mirror way. 

Is it art or is it a game? Can a game be art?

But unlike previous Black Mirror episodes, it is a game–and that’s what makes this a bit different. I’ll get into why in a little bit.

Lately, on mobile games (and I can only speak for those–I’m not a gamer with a gamer consoles), there are games that take on this fiction-as-gaming methodology.

There are a plethora of games in this genre, like Episodes (I personally find this platform to be trash because of poorly written stories, but it’s highly popular), Moments which, surprise–it has its moments, and my personal favorite, Choices.

In the past few years, these “interactive novels” have become increasingly popular. I’m pretty sure shoot-em-up games are more popular–but even those have become very entrenched in story. I was blown away when Halo first came out and how story-oriented Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was. I’m not a console gamer, so I can only imagine how story-oriented the shoot-em-up games have become.

So let me say in my most writerly voice: we live and thrive from our stories.

So these mobile games can be played for free, but it’s a freemium model. So, if you actually want to have fun or get a richer experience, it can all get a bit pricey because unlike Bandersnatch, if you want some more appealing or sexier choices, you’ll need to pay for them with diamonds.

You can earn a few gems by watching ads or logging in or reading a chapter…or, if you’re impatient and really dig the story, you can buy them. Dammit, it’s a good profitability model, but one that can easily bleed you dry. You’ll be stuck with a choice you know you want to make, but then it cost ten gazillion diamonds. Curses!

The quality of writing on some of these platforms leaves a lot to be desired–typos, plot holes, overused tropes, stupid characters, etc. These games are mostly aimed at a population which identifies as female (as far as I’ve seen) and most likely skews younger.

But after watching Bandersnatch, it makes me wonder if they will be more films made like this or if there will be even more games created as interactive novels for wider audiences–and hopefully of the same caliber of Brooker’s writing.

From my personal experience, when you’re involved in a story, it’s easier to become more emotionally involved and attached (thus the freemium model being so lucrative and effective). I believe it can make for a more deeply entertaining experience–hey, it’s why I’m talking about some book I bought over 20 years ago.

So why did I bring up gaming for Bandersnatch? Besides the fact that the genre of interactive novels has risen in popularity, it’s how I felt when I watch the film.

When you go through your first passes of Bandersnatch, you start to wonder if you can go back to a previous choice and get a similar result without some other unforeseen outcomes. Unlike a book, you can’t really go backwards at will, so I wrote down what I chose as a way to somewhat keep my finger on a page of the story. But you start to see if you can game the game, in essence.

But the game can’t be “played” like that.

What choices can we freely choose?

And that brings me back to this: the choices we “freely” make and having unavoidable fixed fates–that’s really enough of a spoiler, honestly. A CYOA-type book or game can bring a sense of madness. And it’s easily a metaphor for life.

Even if you could go back and change things–and you don’t have to talk about time-space continuums or changing other things in history or the butterfly effect. It’s not even that sensitive or precise.

Even if you could go back to change certain choices, it doesn’t matter. Some choices are made for you, whether you like it or not. That also means that some outcomes are unavoidable. It’s a bit of a wearying truth that comes from not only Bandersnatch, but from reading CYOA books and playing CYOA type games. We’re not as “free” as we think we are.

And it sounds like I’ve fallen on the side of predestination. But really, it’s a blend that has so many variables, including other people’s “free will” choices. But it’s not some big deity is the heavens making all the choices. That’s a type of dangerous fatalism and nihilism for people who think they have no agency or autonomy.

It’s all of us, together, making choices which affect all of us–including people we’ll never meet.

If you watch this film, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below! What did you most like or hate about it? What left you with more questions? What ideas or lessons did you come away with after watching? How long did you watch it for? Did you go back to certain choices repeatedly? What was your favorite ending? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!


If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. I blog about things that I don’t post here.

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal. Also if you’re feeling generous this holiday season, here’s my Amazon Wishlist.

Thanks for your support! Happy Holidays! 💘

Immigration is easy. Acculturation is hard.

america som

(I’d add enslaved people here, too.)

Yesterday, I was watching this op-ed video from The New York Times, about the African migrant crisis taking place in northern Africa and the Mediterranean. It was galling and eye-opening, to see people, my people, on a small little inflatable raft leaving the coast of Libya for Italy. This video is about 15 minutes long–and you should watch it, even though content warning–you will see people (needlessly) drown, antagonized, and beaten.

World immigration patterns can be easily lead back to how Europe and America have had their little grubby hands in people’s governments, installed dictators, and caused political and social upheaval–and that’s just the post-colonial part of history. 

What’s happening on America’s southern border is mostly America’s fault. Our involvement in Central American affairs has caused a vicious boomerang effect of displacement. The same can be said for what’s gone on in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. The same can be said for what’s gone on in Haiti.

And that’s why I’m here in America now, because my parents were escaping some unlivable conditions as medical professionals. They were part of a brain drain in the 1970s that Ghana has yet to recover from. In that video, there was a Ghanaian miner talking about his experience of being on that raft–it was harrowing to listen his story and the story of other sub-Saharan Africans.

Seeing this video reminded me of the cost of immigration–not only for those who immigrate, but for their children as well.


I’ve been of the mind since I came down here to Florida for grad school and wrote about my own family’s experiences of living in the States that basically, it wasn’t worth leaving Ghana to live here. It was out of the frying pan of one post-colonial shit show into another much longer post-colonial shit show–although it was more of a slow grind which took years to manifest.

A lot of what my family went through, I still sometimes think it may not have been as bad in Ghana. We lost the familial and cultural ties that would have at least protected me and my brother from a man slowly losing his grip on reality. We would have had my mom’s mom, our aunts and uncles, our cousins, and all the other extended relatives that we don’t really have now. My mom has said that being in America made my father’s mental health issues more profound.

But then I think about all the people willing to risk their lives to leave countries like Ghana and Guatemala. They aren’t stupid to try to leave so they can actually have some semblance of a life. My parents weren’t stupid or foolhardy to leave Ghana to try to make it here. It just was that the options, as they were then as they are now, were pretty bleak–and even bleaker now.

My parents immigrated quite easily because they were medical professionals and my dad served in the Air Force. But you’ll never have someone’s green card waiting for them at the airport like my mom’s was waiting for her. That brief era of openness is over.


This morning, after waking up from a dream about my former youth group pastor and his now ex-wife, along with my former pastor and his wife (by the way, it was a nice dream), I realized that my lack of thriving here or dreams realized right now is tied to so many things outside of my control.

Yes, there’s the racism and the sexism–things I wasn’t really brought up to think that they affect me personally, but clearly they do.

But it’s also not being American enough and at the same time, knowing that this fish-of-water experience is very American. That’s a big thrust of the memoir I wrote in grad school. 

So why the dream about my old church? I thought how much I was left out of social situations as a teen because of my parents–mainly my mother–being so controlling about my whereabouts. And to be a teenager in America is very much about freedom and hanging out with your friends.

When I was in my 30s, I went back home one Christmas and I was hanging out with another friend who told me about how she and other friends of ours were always hanging out at this lake that I had only been to once. It’s mainly because I lived on the other side of town and didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18. But it was apparently a big part of their social experience that I didn’t get to be a part of–AND I had only hear about it almost two decades later.

Yes, there’s the pain of having missed out on some social gatherings. There’s also the social education I feel like I missed. There was a lot of American naturalization and socialization that I just did not get as a Black American woman. And that knowledge gap has been costly.

I’m pretty sure I have the mind and heart of a Ghanaian, but if I went to Ghana, I’d be seen as American.

And that’s not just a Ghanaian phenomenon, by the way. 

Last month, I was interviewing this British man who I couldn’t quite place his accent because it almost sounded Australian. But he had been here for about 14 years. He said that when he goes back to the UK, people say he sounds too American.

It’s like what my second thesis advisor said–when you leave the land, the land will forget you.


So America is my land. But unless I have a family of my own here, I will probably never have deep roots here. And I believe that’s why I lament when people leave my life, because I’ve had to construct my own sense of cultural identity and place without the land that has already forgotten me–a land that really never knew me–with every word I would say in Ghana being some shibboleth of betrayal.

I don’t have any lasting traditions of my own, or familial memories of what we do–except one (highly appropriate for this time of year) where my mother would drive me and my brother around neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights.

Other people have been better at this creating roots and traditions in a new land, but I’m terrible at it, mainly because so much of it was centered around church and Christian culture (and thus, white American culture) . So leaving that has made me even more rootless.

It just seems that whomever I meet now, it will never be like having a true family of origin, like my grandmother, like my extended family (which is quite large just on my mom’s side).

To them, like to the friends who were in my church’s youth group, I’m auxiliary. I’m not a part of their base. I’m not foundational. And I never will be.


I’ve had a real nasty, persistent naivete about people, especially white people. And it means that I act a little too recklessly (and that’s partly due to not really having a foundation or homebase). But grad school was a rude and needed awakening to the perniciousness of whiteness.

It was like I had lived with a dormant fungal infection that bloomed when I moved to a different part of the country. It was an education my dad was trying to give me, through little talks we had about his growing up and his life in America. But because it was so wrapped up in bitterness (which now, I can almost not blame him for), I couldn’t really understand it until it basically made my grad school experience a waking nightmare.

A lot of that, again, was tied up in the church, so by leaving that behind, white supremacy was on full display, and the inherent unfairness and hypocrisy that is its bedrock. I got hit in the head with it many times.

Honestly, it’s partly why I’m in this dump of a house with this semi-retiree shut-in. But when I look at the big picture of where my life is situated–the deep shame I’ve felt for my lack of success is completely unfounded (although sadly, it’s hard to let go of).

Instead, I should be proud of myself.

My story is one of resilience despite ridiculously shitty odds, unfathomable obstacles, and just good ole American fuckery.

It’s not about what I didn’t get or didn’t do. It’s about the alchemy I used to get where I am today despite all of the shit that was in my way.

If I can go back in time to change things, there’s not much I could do to navigate my lifeboat in another direction. Maybe I would have had a little less suffering, but not much. Essentially, I would have to have had different parents and have been born at a different time and under different circumstances. But then, I wouldn’t be me. 

So, at the not-so-tender age of 41, I give up.

I don’t care if I don’t fit in here in the U.S.–or anywhere, really. Humanity is quite tribal, and yet my own parents come from two different ethnic groups with two separate languages, two different naming (of children) systems.

I’ve always been out of place…

As I’ve grown older, I’ve strived to fit in with myself–with all the sensitivities, the anxieties, the rages, the passions, the penchants, the peculiarities…in my own private country, population of one.

So now, I’m most always concerned if I am betraying myself. I want to stick up for myself more because at least I can rely on my own loyalties.


So what can I do, in such a fractured world that doesn’t really want me to succeed, with the clipped and edited lineage that I have? As I have always done–the best that I can. If I am not doing my best, that’s really the only way that I have failed.

Although I’ve definitely tried too hard, there’s some relief to know that right down to my cells, I’m divided. This is not supposed to be easy just because I had smart parents, that I am smart myself, that I care about people, that I really try not to be an asshole.

I have essentially thrived in a hostile landscape.

Even though I’ve “given up”,  I haven’t given up on living.

I want to not only be happy, but I want to remain sane and safe. I want to continue to take good care of myself in the best way that I can.

Maybe it’s impossible to find roots anywhere, to have my own lasting community with anyone. But I still have to try because I’m a human being. This is what we do.

I’ve had a lot of barriers and constraints, and yet I’ve thought I was a lot more free than I was. And that’s important because I’ve been so hard on myself because I know what I am capable of–but I’ve never really been a full place of freedom and expansion to be that person.

And, I may not ever experience that seemingly mythical place of true, open space to flourish. And, that’s rough to hear. It’s tough for me to fully accept. I’m a relentless fighter, and I know that’s what’s kept me alive.

But there’s some grace in this acceptance. It means I can stop putting pressure on myself to be this superhuman. 

Now, it’s time to figure out, within this cramped space, who I’m supposed to be, who I already am.

My little childlike heart doesn’t like to hear it but…life is unfair and hard and cruel. But, because it is also brief, you’ve got to try to make a life for yourself with whatever you have, with the shitty hand you were dealt…as you sit with people who know the game better than you and with the cheaters.

I’ve been really mad at myself for not knowing how to play the game, but I’ve done all I can to learn. My parents, even in their narcissism, did the best they could to teach me, but the way Ghanaian society is, it’s never just up to the parents to do that, to offer guidance, love, and support. So they were doing their part without the orchestra of the rest of the family to support us. And truly, nuclear families are really just a recent American construction, but they’ve always been failed states. Family has never just been about parents and their children.

And, I’m pretty sure if my parents knew how complicated America was, especially for Black people, they’d be better at conveying that knowledge and wisdom to me. But they were trying to figure it out for themselves and used church as a crutch to get through. It kinda worked, kinda didn’t. I can definitely hold them accountable for being narcissists, but nothing else. America is a hostile place to live if you’re not a rich white cis straight male. 

So the people trying to escape Central America and Africa are just like the people who escaped Nazi Germany and famine-stricken Ireland (which I would blame the UK for)–just all trying to live a better life in hopefully a better place. I’m still not sure if America is that better place for me, but I really am done with blaming myself for being “too much” and “not enough” in a such a capricious place.

I mean look at who is POTUS right now, along with his whole corrupt family. I’m definitely not the problem.


I remember hearing when I was 18 or so about how being 40, you learn about how much you don’t know. And I can attest to this truism. I know so little.

But the more I learn about myself and the world I live in, the more freedom I have to be myself, even when there’s poverty constantly nipping at my heels or as I try to withstand existential loneliness’ daily campaign to try to take me out.

There’s some strange comfort to know that it’s not supposed to work out the way I had it in my head, that these “failures” were baked into the cultural fabric of American society.

It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be horrifying. It’s supposed to be dehumanizing and demoralizing. 

You’re not crazy–the system is.

But when you’re an immigrant to America, that’s the exact opposite of what you’re told. And capitalism will just tell you to work harder (for who and to what ends?). 

And it’s OK to say that life right now is a hellscape. It’s not fatalism–it’s reality. And by embracing what is, then you can have the knowledge to change it.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are things I still want to achieve. But I can’t accomplish this to the tune of the “American Dream”.

That I’m still here and alive is something I need to be more and more grateful for instead of resenting. I was never meant to survive this–from my very birth, which was fraught with complications. 

And this is where saying that life is about the journey, not the destination really makes sense. I may never get to that place of “home” or “community” or “family”, but I still have to journey to these places. Maybe they won’t look like how I thought, but I have to believe they exist, and that they exist for me.

It’s why people make arduous journeys leave their war-torn, coup-riddled countries to come to an unfair place like this one or one like Italy. These foreign places are just a little less unfair enough, and they have a just little bit more room for people to just be.


If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. I blog about things that I don’t post here.

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal. Also if you’re feeling generous this holiday season, here’s my Amazon Wishlist.

Thanks for your support! Happy Holidays! 💘