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Black Lives Matter.

The Only Advice You Need For This Decade

When I first started writing this post, we had not descended into the chaos of Covid-19. Things were as normal as they could be in an imperfect world. Now that we are months into a new world, and remixed understanding of what it means to live, I think it’s time for me to share what I entered 2020 thinking so that I can remember how to exist with a sense of purpose. I hope it does the same for you. So, here are the thoughts of January 2020 LaKase:

I’m old. There’s just no way around that fact, but I’m OK with it. Sure, my knees pop when I sneeze, I have memory lapses, I hate when people pull up in front of my house, and… You get the point. Wanna know why I’m not mad about being too old to make it past 10 PM? Here’s why: getting older means that I have a serious knack for survival and adaptation, which (if I may be so bold) makes me feel like a bit of a superhero.

To put it mildly, last year was difficult. There were plenty of downs to compliment the ups, and I received more “no thank yous” than I thought I could handle. I pushed my creativity to a breaking point. It all weighed on my spirit so heavily that I went to sleep on December 31st of the last decade dwelling on the mistakes of my youth (thank you beer!) until it hit me that I was already trying to waste the future on the past.

If you’re an anxious over-thinker you might understand this tendency I’ve described. If not, let me do my best to share what it’s like. You think and think until your thoughts become so vivid that you feel yourself in that memory, physically reliving it. Only, you can’t change anything. Things remain imperfect, and you remain rooted in present day. You begin to feel overwhelmed by the permanency of that fact, that nothing can be perfect. Paradise eludes us all. Yet, I’ve come to learn that paradise is attainable if you shift your perception ever so slightly to the left of what feels right.

It’s no secret that I love the works of Toni Morrison. One of her books that has haunted me since reading it years ago is Paradise. Mild spoilers for the book to follow!

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The book tells the tale of an all-Black town in the Midwest called Ruby, that has been hell-bent on perfection and order since the citizens were liberated from the bonds of enslavement. They carved out their own plot of paradise through hammering out any deviation from the patriarchal systems they believed kept them safe. Only the noblest of Black folks could stay, women had no say in the forward motion of their lives, and outsiders were regarded with disdain. The climax of the book comes when the men of Ruby attack a group of women living in an abandoned convent, because they believe them to be a dangerous blight on the perfection of their town.

That’s a lot right? You can expect no less from the late Mrs. Morrison, and that is why I will forever miss her. This little book contains commentary on race, colorism, misogyny, abuse, and the exchanges of power between men and women. However, what I’ve been coming back to lately is the way she challenges our perception of paradise, how we cling to notions of perfection even as we are dragged to our doom.

The people of the town of Ruby were so focused on protecting their ideals and themselves that they run off any chance at real happiness. They discard their own peace and obliterate a group of women who could have healed them all (leave it to Toni Morrison to inject some magical realism into a seemingly straightforward work). Love and life are dealt deathly blows all out of fear. The quest for power, nay order, serves to snatch away an semblance of either.

The Lesson

Don’t focus so much on the bad that you lose the good. When I read Paradise for the first time as a young woman, I was struggling to find my place in the world. As time has inched forward, I believe I have found that place, but now – as I revisit it – I’m working to reevaluate how I will maintain my sense of safety and belonging. I’ve realized that all my new year anxiety was tied to this fear of the unknown. A fear that I would lose what I’d worked so hard to build, as I had already struggled so much in the previous year. I, like most people, crave the idea of paradise: no pain, no struggle, no ending of joy. But what is there to keep us growing in the elimination of hardship?

Instead, I’m working to remind myself that love can be paradise, freedom can be a haven, and there is so much more to finding our perfect places than our location and archaic rules. So, good luck in 2020 and beyond. May you craft your own slice of paradise each day. Better yet? May you be brave enough to not destroy your happiness for fear of losing it.

With love,

LaKase

How to Live Victoriously, According to Shameless Maya

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

Jennifer Lee

I still remember the first video I ever watched by Maya, seven years ago, and how it made me feel. She was going to cut her lustrous curls to start over and learn to love herself without the mane, which was something I had just done for myself not long before. However, unlike Maya, I was feeling, well, terrible. It wasn’t just that I looked like a slightly more feminine version of my younger brother, nor that headbands just kept slipping off; rather, it was the fact that I felt like I had no idea what to do with my life. In many ways I transferred my emotional anxiety about forward movement and maturity onto my hair. I was feeling stuck, scared, and destructive. In my mind at the time, if I could change my hair then I would feel better about everything else. When I watched Maya go through the cutting process, even though I was already done with my own, I felt re-invigorated. I wanted to re-visit myself with kinder eyes and wade through the muck of my fears to arrive at a new appreciation for how beautiful the future can be if we allow ourselves to meet it shamelessly. I would cut my hair several more times (not a fast learner), but now I’m in a place where I don’t have to use my hair to force an emotional change.

Once again it feels like Maya has put out the content I needed before I even knew I needed it. Like Maya, I am on the cusp of a life change. And like Maya, I will have to work harder than ever before to see it through. While I’ve already planned with my husband how to make the changes, figured out where I hope to be – five year plans are underrated!- and gotten all the nuts and bolts arranged, I still find myself feeling unsure about the decision to go forth after my dreams. Thankfully, I’ve got an internet friend (in my head) who is skilled at giving permission. Below is Maya’s video on how to live victoriously. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me!

How to Take Care of Yourself After Finishing a Book or Any Major Project

When I started writing – like, seriously committing myself to getting the blasted thing done – I was armed with all the knowledge required to get from point A to point B. I spent hours researching the best times of day to work, how to craft a good hook for chapters, when to start each new draft, and how many words are deemed acceptable for each genre. In fact, I feel quite confident that I could write my own “how to” manifesto for first timers based on all of the tips and tricks I’ve acquired over the last year of my life. It was a wonderful experience, however time-intensive, and I’ve learned a great deal about not only the art of writing, but myself. I am in the debt of helpful authors who go out of their way to explain how lost souls like yours truly can arrive at the end of their manuscript with the hair on their heads intact.

However, the one thing no one thought to share with me was just how beaten up my body and mind would feel after completing the job. Most of the information I received went something like this:

“Write every day without rest, don’t over-think the first draft, and be sure to let someone you trust read through and give you notes before you dream of giving it to an editor. Oh, and once it’s done you’re going to feel wonderful! But don’t wait too long to start the next one.”

That’s a lot of information, right? But what’s missing is the piece that has got me bent out of shape, quite literally. You see, no one told me that after finishing my novel I would feel like someone took a baseball bat to my hips, or that I would feel as though a part of me was painfully exposed to the world. Those wonderfully helpful authors conveniently forget to inform me that I would be exhausted like never before – and I ran cross country! I suspect they knew I would back out of the endeavor if I knew what awaited me at the end. How many of us would do the thing if we knew said thing would make us cry? Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you what you need to know to bounce back from the writing, or any kind of major project, without going mad.

Stretch. Seriously!

We might have spent years at desks in school, but nothing can prepare you for sitting still for hours on end typing away with your eyes trained on a computer screen. Sure, I used to devote an unhealthy amount of time to chatting on AOL with my internet friends back in the day, but my post-20’s body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. My greatest physical complaints after finishing my book was how badly my back ached and the strain I felt in my wrists and fingers. I even had aches in my hip flexors and calves! It makes sense: your body is bent in one way for a long period of time that is unnatural for it. Your joints long for stretching and your muscles need a break. If I could do anything differently, it would be taking a rest every hour to two hours to stretch. I wouldn’t have needed to invest in massages and pain relief like I do now. Save yourself some money in the long run and go smell some flowers!

Isolation, like fear, is the mind killer.

Thanks to Henry David Thoreau, I thought it was mandatory for a writer, or serious artists (TM), to be cut-off from the world with only coffee and the agony of creation to keep one company. If I were to let people into my writing space surely I would be too distracted to complete my precious book. Well… that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, going to a writing workshop in Sacramento smack-dab  in the middle of finishing my final draft was exactly what I needed to keep me going and finish long before I would have on my own. Sometimes people suck, but sometimes people are what we need. By speaking with other writers I learned to put my process in perspective. A bonus: I learned how to take new chances with my writing.

You’re gonna need some TLC at the end.

I used to roll my eyes when people referred to their art as their children. I mean, there’s nothing like a living, breathing, crying, human coming out of you, right? Boy was I shocked when I was hit with a bout of depression that was unlike any previous episode I have hitherto experienced. Now, childbirth and writing are wildly different, but it made me rethink what people mean when they get defensive and protective of their creations. I went from joyous to fearful, then to resigned and grief-stricken. I felt like I had created a new piece of me only to put it into the hands of strangers with the power to destroy what I shared. I had several panic attacks as I inched closer to the final pages, even contemplating deleting the whole thing from my computer. It would be better, the shadow in my mind said, if no one ever got their hands on it. Thankfully, I didn’t listen.

You’re going to be all over the place once you’re done, so take care of your mind and body. Get in to see a therapist or counselor if you can afford it, speak with a beloved confidante, or write in your journal all those thoughts you dare not speak, because doing something of this magnitude is bound to have you discombobulated. You don’t have to fake joy when you might be feeling terror; this is a major step and major steps are difficult on the mind! Whatever you’re feeling, know that it will come in waves and eventually pass.

Embrace laziness!

Trust me, friend, you have earned a few extra hours of sleep and a blank mind. Our culture has a tendency to promote working ourselves to death like it’s an admirable quality, but your trusty aunt LaKase is here to put that misconception to rest. You have the right to put your mind to sleep. I’ve found that when I am immobile and without a pressing project the creativity naturally begins to spark. If you don’t give yourself space to just be a human without a plan you’re going to find yourself riddled with something worse than ulcers. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from the School of Life (my fave channel ever!) and see what you think.

That’s all from me this Monday, kids! Next week I will be back with more information about how to approach the creative process and media that is getting me excited about being a writer. Have a great week and don’t forget to take care of yourself!

3 Comic Book Stories That Inspired Me To Stop Being A Dick :)

Forgive the language, Mom!

It’s time for me to break some bad news to ya, kid. Whether you like it or not, you have been someone’s worst nightmare. You might not even know it, but I can guarantee you there is someone in the world who wishes they’d never met you. While I’d like to pretend this doesn’t matter, I want to confront it head on for what it is: a terrible aspect of being a human that we have the power to change. Sure, we have bad days – sometimes bad years! – but what if we were capable of learning how to cut the impulse off at the base before it can sprout branches? What if we could learn to stop being (for lack of a better word) such raging assholes?

While it might be tempting to claim we’re perfect angels, it’s healthy to admit that sometimes even good people can be total jerks. One of the most difficult steps in the quest to better ourselves is coming to terms with our selfishness, rage, cruelty, and ignorance, dissecting where those actions are coming from, then putting in the work to become better versions of ourselves.

When I first started going to therapy I saw myself as the one true victim, and in many ways I was. However, the changes started happening when I forgave myself for the things that I couldn’t control AND took responsibility for the hardships I created, whether for myself, or others. Acknowledging my own mistakes didn’t negate the suffering I survived; on the contrary, I learned to recognize how complex life can be and was finally able to release a lot of the internalized rage I was carrying.

An even bigger piece of my journey in releasing my crappy attitude was – you guessed it – comics! I picked up some of my favorites and dove back into them with a new perspective on the world and myself, and was blown away by how my interpretation of their messages had changed. When you’ve got nothing to do but heal and read, you’d be amazed at what you can absorb. As I read, I started to understand the greatest message of all was being transmitted loud and clear: be kind. Be patient. And best of all, be the kind of hero you have the power to be.

Without further ado, here they are!

Origin: Wolverine

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Wolverine has always been one of my favorite characters. He’s small, surly, and witty with a touch of heart to balance it all out. Logan, as he is known when he’s with his X family, always rushed into battle to defend the innocent and punish the evil for their misdeeds in a way that few could, so I thought of him as untouchable. When this comic arc premiered, I was elated to be able to get a glimpse at how he got his start, however I wasn’t prepared for how sad it would make me. After reading it as a teen I put it away until it was time for me to discover my own healing factor. Upon re-reading, I learned that even the strongest of us can survive and inflict pain, but that the real test is doing the right thing even when we want to lash out. The storyline reveals how just a few acts of cruelty can change the lives of many people over and over again ad infinitum. It made me question how my actions could affect people even beyond my reach.

X-Men Unlimited: Mystique

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Now, Mystique is known as a foe to the X-Men in the comics (not so much in those terrible films), so getting to see her background wasn’t something I was interested in at first. However, when my Dad encouraged me to read the arc as an adult I saw how complex the character was. Mystique, to me, represents the grey area we all exist in. She’s both victim and villain, nurturing mother and cold. Her story gave me a new appreciation of the other side of the story of life, where we all fail and bounce back.

Batman: Knightfall

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Batman is easily my favorite character. He’s complex, a bag of contradictions, and obsessive in a way that makes my obsessions and addictions seem quaint. What more can a girl like me ask of a superhero? I never really gravitated toward the Supermans and the Captain Americas of the comic world, because they represented a very specific type of perfection that I had no hope of ever achieving in the realm of reality. But a masked vigilante with trauma and attachment issues? That, I can work with. However, the real hero of this arc isn’t The Bat, it’s a Black woman who loves and rehabilitates him – Dr. Shondra Kinsloving. She’s not as big and powerful as Batman, and deals with a great deal of suffering, but manages to maintain an air of confident kindness. I don’t want to spoil the arc, but I will say that when I finished it I was left questioning who I would be when I got to the other side of my pain: someone I could respect, or a person no one would want to be around.

 

Comic books are our modern hero’s fables, the way we make sense of the world around us. No matter how far I get in my journey I keep getting the cosmic reminder that I have a couple lifetimes of learning to do. Luckily, I’ve got these blueprints to help me out along the way. What are you reading to make sense of the world at large?

Working From Home? I Got You, Boo.

I’ve been doing this whole writing thing for a minute, so I can safely say that working on your own time is a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s liberating and I have a different sense of fulfillment, but it is objectively difficult to keep myself in line! It’s easy to slack off when you only have to answer to yourself; no one is there to check over your shoulder, or shoot judgment your way for scrolling through Twitter for an hour.

Honestly? The whole thing can be a recipe for disaster.

However, after all this time, I’m finally getting the hang of it. So, today I want to share how I keep from freaking out while I work from home and maybe – just maybe – you won’t freak out either. Let’s get to it!

 

Get dressed

It’s oh-so-tempting to stay in those jammies, but trust me here: it’s a trap.

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First you stay in your pajamas, then you stay in bed, then you want five more minutes of sleep, THEN you start watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 until you’ve passed out in a puddle of slobber. The easiest way to avoid said trap is getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and putting on clothes. It sets the mind in motion to get ish done.

Eat something and get some water

Next up is my favorite part. FOOD. You’re just coming out of a temporary coma and that body needs fuel. So, you can have the coffee- and I’ll support a doughnut – but you have to make sure to drink some water as well. Staying properly hydrated can curve headaches, body pains, and that feeling of lethargy that hits us all after a few minutes of performing personhood.

Turn off your phone 

I think this one is the most difficult, but it’s also the best way to make sure you stay on track. I totally get it if you have safety reasons to keep your phone on, but perhaps consider notifying folks that for a few hours per day you won’t be available? I like to put my phone on airplane mode for 2 hours at a time, then check it to make sure I haven’t worked through the apocalypse. It might not sound like much, but those 2 hour increments give me a goal to work toward in a positive way, instead of feeling like punishment. But, I also make sure that I do no more than 20-30 minutes with the phone before powering back down.

beck bennett snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

 

Be sure to stretch

This is a new one for me, but it’s already making a difference in how I’m able to work. I kept going to bed with aches that I couldn’t explain in joints I didn’t know existed, so my husband suggested trying different yoga stretches to alleviate the tension. After a few days of stepping away from my desk to do light stretching and steady breathing every few hours (usually after checking my phone), I noticed an immediate difference. I also dread the work day less now that my body is feeling better.

Doing anything is difficult when you’re in physical pain, so be good to those joints.

 

Make a playlist that you can (realistically) work to

I’d like to believe my empowering club bangers and dancehall beats can power me through the day, but I’ve discovered the music I love to cut loose to was actually just derailing me. I can’t work in total silence, but having a party at my desk was becoming so distracting that I was barely typing anything, because I was too busy dancing.

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You don’t have to listen to chamber music, or moody wailing, but I suggest creating a distinction between party time and business time. Music is a great way to relax  – just make sure you’re not so relaxed that your work is a secondary thought.

Start and stop at the same time every day

Last but not least: time, baby, time. If you’re going all loosey-goosey with your time then chances are you’re going to put off starting to the last second. You know what that does? Keeps you at your desk too late, or you end up giving up, because you think the day is shot. Now, you don’t have to start at dawn, but I recommend thinking about your productivity schedule. What I mean by that is this: do you work best at 9 a.m? Are you more likely to hit your peak in the afternoon? Whatever works best for you, stick to it! Once you’ve decided your window of work time, don’t move it so that it becomes a routine.

 

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And that’s it! These are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up along the way, however I think they’re totally the most useful. What about you? Do you work from home, and if so, how do you stay afloat?

Until next time, take care!

 

 

 

Self-Care 101: Sunshine

GIRL. (or guy)

Did you know seasonal depression is real, and definitely not something I made up to get out of going to a boring Christmas function? I could never quite put my finger on why it was so hard for me to leave bed from October to March (give or take a few weeks), yet it was easy as pie once the warmer weather rolled around. For a while I thought it was just due to my association of summer with freedom, but now I know it’s a legit thing.

James Curran GIF
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As we slide into colder weather, our bodies are directly affected by the seasonal change,  i.e. minimal exposure to the sun, our serotonin levels drop. This is important, because serotonin regulates our anxiety and overall mood, and decreased serotonin has been tied to depression. With less sunlight exposure comes decreased Vitamin D, increased likelihood of specific types of cancer, and skin conditions such as acne. Of course, you shouldn’t go outside sans sun protection like hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses, but being in the light more often than not is better for our bodies than staying in.  If you are physically, or mentally, unable to leave the house consider taking Vitamin D supplements and increasing your time with the windows and blinds open. I know better than most that sometimes just leaving the house is far too much to ask. Still, I get closer to being well by cracking open the window.

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So, slather on some sunscreen, run around in your neighborhood, and soak up that good stuff! If you aren’t able to yet, then sit by the window and listen to the world as it wakes back up. Just remember that feeling better after a long winter takes time and create enough space in your mind to be filled up with some joy. Tough? Yep. Good? Definitely.

Self-Care 101: Sleep

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

Homer, The Odyssey 

I spend most mornings burrowing under my blankets, desperate for a few more hours of shut eye no matter how much rest I got the previous night. My days aren’t particularly strenuous in a physical sense; in fact, most of my time is spent talking to myself as I play out dialogue and pacing from room to room until I arrive at the “perfect” solution to a narrative issue. Still, I collapse into bed at around 9:00 PM ready to be transported to my own version of slumberland. It usually involves flowers and candy.

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Though I’m not spending my days engaged in super intense activities, I’m still exerting a lot of mental effort. It all builds until I’m too tired to stand, let alone make it through an episode of “Killing Eve”. We all have to push ourselves during the day, regardless of the tools of our trade. From writers to welders, we’re all better off after a good night of rest. However, in the United States, we worship at the alter of tired. Sleepless nights are a status symbol, an indicator that we are taking our lives too seriously to ever give into the Sandman. Last week, Steve Harvey went off on a tirade about the superiority of the wealthy, equating it to their not needing to sleep.

Hopefully, this all sounds batshit insane to you.

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We are ticking time bombs without sleep. Studies have shown that going without the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep can result in high blood pressure, weakened immunity, mood changes and increased likelihood of accidents. Throw in mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder, and you’re going to have a bad time – to put it mildly. Think of it like this: your body isn’t invincible. Unless you’ve got some super soldier serum laying around, you’re gonna have to sleep like the rest of us normies. I find that I’m not just more creative after sleep, I’m also able to finish tasks faster and with fewer mistakes. Sleep makes the difference between hours of trying to focus on work and a few minutes of targeted focus. Sounds legit, amiright?

So take care of your body, get some rest, drink water, and – for the love of God – moisturize! (More on that to come.)

 

 

Self-Care 101: Friendship Or Bust

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another ‘ What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.

– C.S. Lewis

I’ve long forgotten the name of my first friend, but I will always remember a few details: he had a black bowl cut and loved watching Ernest Scared Stupid. We were kindergartners, my mother knew his mother, and I needed a place to go after school, so I walked the block to his house (different times) to wait to be picked up. The carpet was reminiscent of a bear with a bad dye-job, a fluffy, interwoven mess in the den where we would lay and laugh. We ate puff cheetos and enjoyed a natural camaraderie that I’ve only experienced a handful of times since. I moved away not long after, but I can still remember the safety and comfort I felt all those years ago in that kid’s home watching Ernest movies.

Friendship can change your life in ways that other relationships likely never will, because our friends either stamp out insecurities, or create new ones, while giving us a sense of value that is damn near impossible to discover within ourselves. I can get overwhelmed in crowds, and detest small talk, but I love making true friends. Discovering in others the parts of myself I thought were too outrageous to be replicated is as liberating as it is a deep relief. To echo the words of C.S. Lewis above, those moments help to eradicate the misconception that I am all alone in this world. My friends – the people I trust with my vulnerability – are gold.

One of these golden nuggets, Jesse, recently sent me this video featuring the ultimate #FriendshipGoals couple – Oprah and Gayle. In this video they answer questions about friendship, expound on their own relationship, and offer solutions to problems which might arise in the course of a lifetime between two people who care for each other. Enjoy!