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!

June Mood: Sunny Disposition

As a child, I used to look at summer as a break from my daily responsibilities. It was when I could be free to come and go as I pleased, eat ice cream handed out by people who probably shouldn’t have been allowed to operate ice cream trucks, and escape reality into movies and books. I have been, and always will be, a warm weather child looking for the safest place to nap under a tree. I’m still channeling that kid who ran around in a swimming suit most days, but now the freedom I’m chasing is a bit more intentional and focused on a goal. That might sound counter-intuitive, as freedom is supposed to be all about eschewing plans, but as I really start to marinate in my 30’s I have discovered the joys of acting with intention in all things.

For some of us, freedom is frightening. For me, it’s a recipe for disaster. Without a goal, a journey, a prize, I start to flounder, and inevitably become upset with myself. For a long time I was aimless, and as a result, truly joyless. I didn’t see a point to most things and my primary concern was instant gratification wherever I could get it. I’m only now realizing how trauma, and the fear it instilled in me at a young age, has hindered me from being able to do things with not only intention, but confidence.

Every day is an opportunity to grow, if we’re lucky. So, I’m looking at summer as a continuation of the work and growth, not a break from it all. And you know what? It’s been a joy.

Now, on to the only two things for this month’s moody post. First, a beautiful piece of art that is a reminder I need to see every day. This piece is by Tyler Feder of the Roaring Softly shop on Etsy.

Anxious Girls are Brave Print Hand-Illustrated by roaringsoftly

Last, but never least, is a great video by The School of Life on “How to Overcome Trauma”. I post their videos so much (I know), because I love the clarity of their advice. It’s been a helpful tool for me as I continue to move with intention through my days and goals. This particular video arrived literally right on time for me and I hope you feel the same after watching. You can read their blog post with the video’s transcript, and other related content, {here}. Enjoy!

 

What The F*%! Is Feminism And Why Do We Need It?

I hope you enjoy this final post for Women’s History Month 2019! It has been a pleasure for me.

Few labels elicit the reaction that springs out of people when you call yourself a feminist. It will go one of two ways: they will scrunch their faces up in disgust, or they will look at you like the second coming. I would like to argue that both reactions are totally outrageous, because feminism should be natural to us all. The first reaction is borne of not truly understanding what feminism is and how it helps us, while the second reaction is a result of being isolated in your feminism. If we dive into educating ourselves, both will be eradicated.

So, let’s dive in!

Image result for feminism
Washington Post

 

What is feminism?

Let’s be frank with this one: feminism is not about hating men! This is the first and most formidable wall I come up against when I encounter people who don’t want to identify as feminists. If anyone tells you they are a feminist, and that they hate men, then they are engaging in misandry. Feminism is about equality. It’s the belief, in simplest terms, that women should be afforded the same opportunities as men. We should not be overlooked or discriminated against based on sex, nor should we be considered second-class citizens. It’s not about hate, or ruling the world, or the subjugation of anyone who doesn’t identify as female. Easy enough, right?

But, feminism doesn’t just affect women, it also changes the landscape for men. When women have freedom to choose their own paths, to be the masters of their journey, it flows into the lives men have the right to lead as well. Everyone wins as we break down restrictive gender roles.

Why do we all need it?

Feminism is self-care for us all. Through this shift we are not only healing the cultural landscape, but also redefining what lives we have access to. Where women once had to ask permission of their fathers and brothers to marry, drive, own property, work, go to school, and so forth, many of us now have those rights without male intervention.  Our world is more powerful when we help one another to become free.

Feminism tells us that we’re all worthy of healing. Being believed. Having access. Shaking the table. Each and every single one of us – regardless of gender- has a right to joy. So, the next time someone tells you they are a feminist, remember this and consider joining them in the struggle.

Fymsa GIF
Giphy

Some further reading if you would like more information on feminism:

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie {here}

A Brief History of Feminism, by Patu and Antje Schrupp {here} 

History of Feminism {here}

“The Waves of Feminism, and Why People Keep Fighting Over Them, Explained” by Constance Grady {here}

The Magic of Authenticity

Do you have a hero? If so, what is it about them that has earned your admiration?

Like most kids, my heroes were big and flashy. They wore capes, they could sing, they could act, and they had the love of millions of fans. I never questioned why I seemed to only look at celebrities and superheroes as the best of us, because their fame spoke for itself. If you’re popular, then you must be perfect. But is that true?

As I began to take better care of myself, a key piece of the journey was coming to terms with my identity, with who I wanted  to be. I had a long list of heroes I wanted to emulate, however as celebrities with carefully crafted images, superheroes, and film characters, they represented a type of unattainable perfection that made me feel stuck. So, I began to look at things another way: rather than trying to become a copy of someone with status, power, and control, I decided to explore who I am already, in order to discover my authentic self.

By definition, “authentic” means “of undisputed origin;genuine”.

Distilled down for a regular person like myself, I believe authenticity means existing as you are without regard for the molds others want you to fit in. For example: I’m a survivor. I’m a Black woman, a Kansan, a right-handed singer with allergies. These are all facts, but in between those societal molds are the details and experiences that make me LaKase. I might not be exactly like Brandy (one of my earliest heroes), nor do I have the power she wields, but my authentic self is important and good in its own right.

Nowadays, my admiration is rooted in more abstract concepts: kindness, bravery, and authenticity. There are many ways to define each, whether it be through a cultural lens, a personal preference, or how I might be feeling in the moment.  But what remains constant is the work we have to put in to live our lives well. I broadcast who I am to others in the way I dress, how I speak, and in what I value in this world.

When I think about the people I admire now, it rarely has anything to do with the number of friends they have, how much money they make, or how beautiful they are but what they put into the world. The folks who continue to inspire me, and unwittingly push me to better myself, have been decidedly, radically themselves. Being yourself can be difficult, even dangerous depending on where you live or what you look like, but living your truth gives others permission to be who they are as well. That’s the magic of it all.

The videos below feature two women who make me so happy and encouraged about walking my path on my own terms. I hope you enjoy their words as much as I do.

 

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Unknown

Let’s Avoid A Holiday Implosion, Shall We?

It’s that time of year again: Snow! (depending on your location) Time off! (depending on your vocation) Love and Cheer! (depending on… you get the point).

I’ve been singing the praises of this month loud enough for you to get the hint – I really and truly love December. When I was growing up, my parents infused our winter with magic and information. I didn’t just learn the Christian stuff, but also got to hear about the traditions of other religions. Their stories, mixed in with my own imagination, transformed how I see the changing of the season. It became more than a time for presents – which I love – instead morphing into a time when anything at all is possible if your spirit is willing.

On the flip side, this is also a time when joy fails. With the influx of family cards, lovey-dovey Hallmark movies (that always seem to be set in the same advent calendar- type towns) , and people portraying perfect lives, comes the onset of despair. Not to mention, the grey and unforgiving frosting of the Northern hemisphere can nix any hope for the healing quality of daylight.

Seasonal depression, dear reader, is real and alive.

I come from a place of extreme privilege. I was raised by two loving, while admittedly flawed, parents, who worked themselves to the bone for my brother and I. Our home was warm, our bellies were full, and we woke every Christmas to find toys, no matter how bad *I* had been that year. That is incredibly rare. A home life like that would set anyone with more than five brain cells onto a path of success. Even as a survivor of sexual abuse, I knew happier days than a lot of people. To say that is not to negate the gravity of my pain, but an acknowledgement of my reality.

Still, even with all the stuff and things that make childhood a fond memory instead of a nightmare, I have experienced less than stellar holidays. Those unfortunate times took place mainly in adulthood, and I shudder to think of them. But, that’s what fosters growth, right? After looking back on the times when my Yule celebrations were rough, I’ve come up with some tips to help you navigate the stress without a spontaneous combustion.

Let’s hop to it!

saturday night live christmas GIF

Be with those you love, if possible. If impossible, why is being alone so bad?

Most of the points on this list operate under the assumption you will be going home to be with your family, however I want to acknowledge that oftentimes that isn’t a possibility. Whether it be estrangement, death, or how expensive it is to fly or drive, you might not be with your family over the break, and that is ok. I know that isolation is one of the greatest tools of depression, because in the solitude of your room you can weave all kinds of tales of your inadequacies. Yet, I’m starting to wonder whether being alone in itself is the problem. There are lots of things we can do for ourselves in the quiet of an empty home. What if you were to treat yourself to beautiful things like compliments, a good meal, some you time? Besides, how often do we really get to be paid to stay home and take care of ourselves? This might be an opportunity in disguise. If you can, I say run wild with the possibilities.

 

snow drifts and chimbley nymphs GIF by Yule Log 2.015

 

Not every battle is worth fighting.

Yes, I know the drill. We’re supposed to go home for the holidays, set aside our differences, and sing songs at the end of the night with everyone coming to an understanding of the meaning family.  *eye roll*

That’s a movie. In fact, it’s a movie I wrote in one of my journals when I was 13. We’re not all going to get along just because our religious text told us to. Politics (that dirty word) is the fastest, most sure-fire way to watch things go left at Nana’s house. If you want to enjoy your time you are going to have to learn when to fight, and when to bow out. In addition to that, you’re going to have to look out for when your relatives are just looking for a sparring match, rather than an honest and respectful discussion. No, you shouldn’t let your auntie say wild things about the world, or sit idly by when your great-uncle on your father’s side tells a rape joke, but the little digs from people who don’t care about you might not be worth your time every single time. Ya dig?

Speak up when you can, and in the meantime just radicalize your cousins and siblings.

happy living single GIF by Bounce_TV

 

Take care of your body.

This one is simple: eat smart, drink water, don’t blow your stomach to smithereens on pie. You deserve to indulge, but know your limits. As a recovering bulimic, I have to give myself permission not only to eat what I want, but to step away before I spiral. So, mind your body and how it affects your brain chemistry. Take care at the parties, at your family home, or in your own home!

 

hanukkah GIF

 

Remember your successes

When I go to holiday functions, I always start to sweat when I think of the dreaded “So, what do you do?” question. Which is usually followed by the devastating “Is that really a job?” As a writer, I get this ALL. THE. TIME. These questions are accompanied by a smirk, silence, and me slinking away to think of good comebacks in the bathroom.  I’m often reminded of this Tumblr post:

It’s true on a lot of levels, even among family.  Some people don’t know how to respect others based on – oh, I don’t know – being able to happily survive this cruel, heartless wasteland we call Earth . Your mere existence might not be enough for them, but it’s sure as hell good enough for me and the people who aren’t d-bags. Try to remember that while they’re looking down on you, you’re making a life for yourself the way YOU choose to. That’s powerful. Not many people are brave enough to be who they want to be, rather than what will get them shallow accolades. The world needs you just as much as anyone else, regardless of your job. Take stock of your triumphs – whether they be emotional or monetary – and keep it moving.

In closing: BREATHE

Whether it be Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, or just another day off, you can survive this. When I’m on the verge of a panic attack (which I’ll be writing about soon) my husband gets me to settle into my breathing and by the end I’m much better. You’d be amazed what our bodies can do when we let it run on autopilot. I’d like to encourage you to give it a test drive this season by just breathing in, then, funnily enough, out again. The rest will flow from there. So, be well this holiday season. Be strong when you can and forgiving when you can’t, and never doubt your right to the warmth of the sun.

the proud family GIF

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

What a year, am I right? After a quick poll of my friends and family I’m quite certain that 2018 lasted a decade rather than the regular twelve months. We’ve had intrigue, disappointments and all kinds of losses across the globe – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a stretch of time like this with so much destruction. While I’m working on being thankful for every day, this one almost did me in. In all honesty, I’ve had more anxiety attacks in this year alone than all of the years of my life combined. They’ve not only come on often, but they’ve come on strong. With today being the kind of day that can spark the sort of gut-churning anxiousness I’ve dealt with, I thought it would be a good idea to talk openly about how I’m getting through it.

First off, it’s confession time : I’m deathly afraid of bees and wasps. I’m talking freeze in place, frantic breathing, praying to the ancestors and anyone who might be listening to keep me safe from the pain. There hasn’t been a time when I’ve come face to face with something that stings without making a fool of myself. I got my first sting this year – go figure! – and it was just as awful as I’d always feared. My hand swelled and I was forced to walk around the Ren Fest (don’t hate) with an ice pack and beer to numb my throbbing ego. But, do you want to know the wildest part of all? I didn’t die. Thankfully, I’m not allergic to bees or wasps, so the likelihood of that is slim, however I always thought the pain could kill me. Now, I’ve got a little scar that only I can see and a good set of pictures of my swollen hand which I will spare you from looking at. You might be wondering why I brought up the bees, right? Well, surviving that experience prepared my closest confidante to help me better than I could have helped myself.

The last time I was debilitated by a panic attack I was overcome with worry. What would I do for work? I could I continue on this path without a clear finish line? What would tomorrow hold? All these questions swirled and swirled until I collapsed. I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t fill my lungs; it was as if my body was shutting down on me. My partner, the steadiest ship on raging tides I’ve ever known, bid me focus on my breathing and remember – of all things – the bees. We closed our eyes together, and he began to speak about a bee hive. He spoke about the fear that overcomes me when I see bees, but to remember how the fear is rooted in what I believe could happen. By remaining calm, breathing in, and focusing on my breathing in all those times I was able to walk away without being stung. After a few moments of this seemingly counterproductive meditation I was able to rest for hours.

Panic attacks begin when your mind swirls and curls up on itself, usually brought on by your fears and anxieties. Fears, like mine of bees, are not invalid. They’re rooted in the fact that bad things do often happen. I believe in acknowledging what turns our blood cold so that we might learn how to overcome it. However, I never thought focusing on what I’m afraid of could lead to peace.  Panic attacks, like my fear, are warning signs. Signs that you’ve got to slow down, or talk, or change course. Just as you stop and let the danger pass in a the company of a bee, it’s good to listen to your body and stop in the midst of mental chaos.

If you’re feeling anxious about the new year, then I suggest a reassessment of how you view the future. For many of us, this is an ending. In our minds, time pauses, there’s a red tape we run through, then we become brand new people. But, that’s not how it works, my friend. You don’t have to change your life in a day, nor could you if you tried. You don’t have to eliminate your sorrows and claim 2019 as the year that you were eternally happy. The key to happiness is accepting you wont always be happy.

Joy is transient, but so is pain.

The new year, and every day, can be an opportunity to recommit to your healing. It doesn’t have to be an ending, or a beginning you’re setting yourself up to fail at, but a chance for you to redefine what your needs are. I think it’s worth it.

 

 

For my last post of 2018 I want to end with a thank you: if you’ve only stopped by for this post, if you’ve subscribed, commented, liked, or just nodded at me in the distance – thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope to see you tomorrow.

Using Crystals And Other Objects In Healing

If you had asked me 10 years ago what I thought about crystals, or totems , and how they affect healing, I would have awkwardly adjusted my OldNavy purse, and looked at you like you were insane. I wasn’t the kind of person who put any stock into the potential for things to bring peace, unless they were made of bread, or cast in gold. These days I’m a little more open-minded, but I still take extreme pleasure in indulging in pastries.

There’s no way around how important the world of metaphysical healing has become. I can scarce go into a coffee shop or bookstore without seeing a shiny stone winking back at me, and I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing.

Leannimator GIF
Giphy

Something that has done wonders for my healing journey is being to use an object for channeling emotion. I’m not convinced that holding a bit of amethyst will eradicate my suffering, however I do believe that by using a crystal or any totem to focus on when you’re in the midst of a crisis can help. Lately, I’ve been using a pair of crystals my husband gifted to me to relax during a panic attack. To do this, I simply hold the stones, think of what is bothering me, and imagine a ray of light is growing out of my palm and into my heart. I breathe, and breathe, and breathe until I have calmed down.

Sure, I might sound insane to some, but what I’m doing isn’t that crazy if you think about it practically. By creating a focal point in a tangible object I am rooting myself back down from that grey anxiety cloud. Like a child holds a blanket or stuffed animal during a storm, I’m also finding comfort in something as real as the pain.

This video from Insider investigates whether healing crystals work, or if it is all just a crock. I really appreciated how they explored the potential science behind the sparkle.

I think finding peace in the smallest of things is a worthy endeavor, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to the outside world. If you can find something that makes you happy and – most importantly – helps you to function, then what’s the harm in that? I don’t think you have to use a crystal, sage, or any other defined source in your journey. What’s important is discovering a way to help yourself relax, whatever that way may be.

What tools are you using to heal?

Friday Media Prep: Forward, Ho!

Every Friday we will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out. Please share your suggestions below!

The month of November is already coming to a close a little sooner than I would like, but there is so much to look forward to in December. New books, new experiences and new discoveries lay just around the corner. To finish out the month I’ve got a few suggestions that I think will be particularly interesting and help foster the kind of forward momentum we all need before the end of the year. Happy Friday!

Books

Negroland by Margo Jefferson

Jesse Kadjo gifted this memoir by Margo Jefferson to me earlier in the week when I went to help her move, and I cannot wait to dive into it! Margo’s work details how her life as a member of the Black elite separated her from many African Americans and how discrimination and privilege play out in the Black community. It’s a work of art worth paying attention to, to say the least.

 

Articles

  • Them.
A darkened figure with her earrings, lipstick and ring highlighted.
Image via Them. by Tallulah Fontaine

Crimes against members of the Trans community are higher than any other group, particularly when you are a Trans person of color. The article I’m sharing, entitled “The Gap Between Glamour and Death For Trans Women of Color”, is a personal essay detailing the war between being out and proud in your beauty as a Trans person and staying alive.

You can read it [here]

  • BookFox

I’ve been reading BookFox, the superb blog of writer and editor John Fox, as I continue to develop my understanding of the writing world. In the post “The Power of Quitting: Why Every Writer Should Learn To Quit”, he gives advice that I desperately needed to to hear – that sometimes it’s not only ok, but best, for you to walk away from projects. There are times I feel so bad that I haven’t accomplished a goal, but then I remember how important it is to know when you’ve given it all you’ve got. I think it’s an important philosophy to apply to all aspects of life.

You can read it [here]

Music

Last, but not least, is this soothing and positively enchanting song by Johann Johannsson “Flight From The City”. I’ve been obsessed with it for days and I hope it brings you the kind of calming warmth it provided me.

The Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned In 32 Years

Care to spare a moment for a lady on her birthday?

its my birthday GIF

When I was a kid – I’m talking Barbie dolls and no crust on sandwiches young – I couldn’t wait to grow up. Despite the ease of youth (something we never appreciate until it’s gone) I thought getting older would afford me the kind of freedom I craved growing up in a small town in Kansas. I could do the things I wanted to do ( stay up late), I could go anywhere I wanted to go (Narnia), and above all else I would be far removed from the trauma of abuse. In my youthful naivete, getting older wouldn’t just be another state of being me, I would be completely and marvelously transformed into a new person. There was nothing I wanted more than to be the distant, powerful me of the future.

Fast-forward to today, and in some ways I’m still chasing that elusive LaKase with all the answers and none of the world’s weight. What’s changed is how I look at the woman I am in the present and the way I appreciate the skin I occupy. There are days that I wish I could be someone – anyone – else. Preferably someone with a little more money and wings. Yet, more often than in the past, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that there never has been, and never will be, anyone like me on this Earth. Every freckle, every step, every dream, and every trauma I’ve survived is unique to me. There’s nothing anyone can do to rob me of my right to take pride in my journey – and what a journey it has been. I might not literally be a superhero running around slaying dragons, but I’ve come to see myself as someone who is just as formidable as an caped-crusader.

Today, I want to share just a few lessons that have made my journey to 32 more fruitful than that little kid I was could have imagined. I hope each piece of knowledge helps you as go off into the wilds of the world, and steadies your resolve to be who you’re meant to be. Enjoy!

  1. You’re not for everyone. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t beloved by those I desperately wanted to impress and often went home dejected. Eventually, I learned to be thankful for the ones who made me feel at home in their presence and in my own skin
  2. It’s never too late to change your life. Change is terrifying , I readily admit it. There are few things in this world more frightening than starting over later in life, especially in a culture that rewards youth at every turn. Throw in the responsibilities of adulthood, and it becomes nigh impossible to hit the reset button.  I’ll be writing about this more, but trust me when I say that you’re never too old, too far behind, or too weak to change the path you’re on. It takes time – and funds – but you deserve it if it’s what you want.
  3. Stop punishing yourself for past mistakes. This point goes hand -in – hand with point 2. For the longest time I believed that all the things I did wrong in the past –  the times I was a bully, the times I lied, the moments I came up short of human decency – meant that I had no right to claim a good future for myself. Now, I think about it like this: I apologize where I can, I look into why I did the things I did and vow to do everything I can to avoid falling into the ugliness of those mistakes again. We’re all people wearing different brands of weighted shoes, trying to figure out how to untie the laces, so go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be who you were if it hurts you or others.
  4. You will encounter people who like to harm and destroy. It’s not your fault if they fix their sights on you. There’s a part of our victim-blaming culture that likes to, obviously, shift blame away from assholes. Rather than looking at a snake for what it is, we often find ways to blame ourselves for being slithered upon. You don’t have to do that. It’s not your fault when cruelty is visited upon you. I’ve finally accepted the reality that sometimes people just like to inflict pain. Now, I no longer feel obligated to make excuses for them and blame myself.
  5. You, my dear, are perfectly made.  Trauma operates insidiously. It creeps into your nooks and crannies, altering the fundamental structures of your psyche. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I hated looking in the mirror, why I felt sick in my skin. After years of work, the answer is quite clear: being abused messed with my ability to see myself beyond the pain. Looking in the mirror was a reminder of the hurt, and of the fact that my body was “damaged”. I’m so thankful to be in a place of relative peace with myself. I was, am, and always will be, just right.

And so are you.