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?

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

Inspired By: Shirley Chisholm

Yesterday,  a huge number of Americans took to the polls for the Midterm Elections. The lines were long and in many cases the machines were down, or not working correctly. Add to the scenario the emotional weight of the event, and you’ve certainly created the perfect storm for an anxiety attack. And yet, we still showed up. We defied voter suppression and all kinds of insane obstacles to be heard. In a few cases, the outcomes weren’t great, but in many we saw change take hold.

As I kept track of the results throughout the evening my mind kept going back to a name: Shirley Chisholm. I learned about this remarkable woman at a fairly young age, but the gravity of her story didn’t hit me until I was an adult. Shirley Chisholm was a barrier smasher, a truth-speaker, a force of righteous forward movement that should inspire us all to stand up to insurmountable odds. In short? Shirley was a badass.

Shirley Chisholm

Born in 1924 to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, Shirley quickly grew into a bright and talented young woman. She competed on her college debate team and graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1946. In 1951 she earned her master’s degree  in early childhood education from Columbia University. Shirley then became active in the NAACP, the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Party. She joined the State Legislature in 1964, then became the first Black woman in Congress in 1968. She was a fierce politician who fought for gender and racial equality, opposed and sought to end the Vietnam War, and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.  Shirley became the first Black woman and second woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.

In 1972 Shirley Chisholm did what no one thought possible for a Black woman: she decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president. Using the motto “Unbossed and Unbought”, Shirley was determined to be a voice for the ever-marginalized. She didn’t get the nomination, due to rampant racism and misogyny, but Shirley remained a fighter until her retirement from Congress in 1983.

I’m forever inspired by Shirley, because she refused to be pushed aside. She didn’t win the big battle in the end, but she used her voice and her will to triumph in as many skirmishes as possible. As I wrestle with the concepts of success and defeat, I find solace in the story of Shirley. She soldiered on when it might have been wise to sit back. She demanded her due in a world that would rather see her starved out. I remember her in the little skirmishes of my own path, when the end floats undefined on the horizon, and I remember that it is all worth the fight.

A Word with Caroline Luther

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

You can learn so much about someone if you pay attention to the way they fly. Undeniable truths flash bright when we think we blend into the crowds, if you look up from your tablet long enough to spy them. Revelations are present in which seats we favor, who we clumsily ask to sit by and how we hold onto comfort miles away from the peace of the ground. Millions of us bustle through the tailwinds of each other, but how often do we stop to discover the familiarity of strangers? I’m guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit, after years of wrapping myself into a cocoon of downloaded movies I don’t want to watch and music I’ve listened to far too often in the face of unpredictable conversation.

My habit of shutting down during flights was put on pause during a recent flight home. I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline on that trip back to Kansas from New Orleans, after she hit it off with my mother in line waiting to board. I knew I liked her before we had a chance to introduce ourselves, thanks to those flashing truths. She and I spent the entire time laughing and sharing just enough of ourselves for me to realize she is one of those people everyone should get to know. Thankfully, she agreed to take part in this feature. Her interview is below, which I think you’ll truly love. Next time you fly, when you want to retreat, think twice. You might just miss out on a remarkable human.

 

What is your profession?

After some twists and turns through a graduate program in history (thought I wanted to be a professor) and several jobs in communications (grant-writing, writing-writing, graphic design, etc.), I’m going into my sixth year teaching high school history. And I love it.

 

As a child, what future did you see for yourself?

In early elementary school, I thought I’d be a teacher (both my parents were). I’m pretty sure I thought I’d stick close to my New Jersey home and most likely have kids. I’ve since moved to North Carolina and my husband and I have decided not to have children. I finally started teaching 13 years after graduating from college. Those are the right choices.

 

If you could change your life now, what would you do instead? Why?

Ooh, good question. Maybe I’d be a therapist (an LCSW rather than a Ph.D., though) or own a boutique selling women’s clothing. I need to care for people and nudge them to take care of and feel good about themselves. I’m usually right, so that helps me own my bossiness. Plus I like pretty things and have really enjoyed my stints in retail.

 

(Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably say that I want to be a backup singer!)

 

Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?

When I realized that my 53 year-old mother was going to die from colon cancer sooner rather than (years) later and couldn’t bring it up with anyone in my family. It was a bleak, lonely time. I just wanted to no longer exist.

 

What/Who pulled you through it?

Prozac. It took a while, though. And I credit my boyfriend at the time for making me make an appointment with the campus psychiatry department to get the prescription. He helped me get my life back and I’m forever in his debt.

 

How did the event/time shape the way you live now?

I’m very aware of my mental health. I try to be honest about what scares me and tell the right people about it. I also make sure to go to the doctors I need to see and keep track of the things that are most likely to kill me prematurely.

 

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

Loving on my cat. Getting enough sleep. Solitary exercise: running by myself at whatever pace works that day, yoga (mostly with an app but more and more just whatever feels right) and sporadic work with free weights. Sitting in an armchair in my living room listening to records. Giving my brain interesting things to do. Making sure to get the nagging things crossed off my to-do list and set my future self up for success.

What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?

I read this in an article somewhere a long time ago. Former secretary of education Margaret Spellings talked about needing to put on one’s big-girl panties and get shit done. She might have even had a sign on her desk to that effect. I need that sign.

 

When do you feel the most free?

On summer breaks when my husband (who teaches English in an adjoining classroom) and I have 10 weeks of not going into work every day. We still work, but it’s nice to do that on our own schedules and have small adventures, whether it’s traveling, floating in a lake, going to Durham Bulls games, drinking local beers at local breweries or taking our books somewhere. Having a time-limited time when our time is our own is heavenly.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

Making people laugh. Being a good teacher. Being good, period.

Mama Tammye Hicks is Personal Growth Goals

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

** Spoilers for Queer Eye Season 2 Episode 1

Do you want to feel encouraged to go out and live your life as you see fit, but also kind of need to cry your eyes out? Good! The brand new iteration of Queer Eye just launched season two on Netflix, and so far they guys are delivering on inspiration and emotion. They kicked the new season off with their first woman client, Tammy Hicks, an individual guaranteed to warm your heart.

On the surface this episode should have been a disaster: Tammye is a Christian, Southern, traditional woman who struggled with her own son coming out as gay. The town she lives in might be named Gay, Georgia (for real!), but that didn’t mean the gang would be welcomed with open arms. Yet, they’re greeted by the kind of person we should all strive to be. Tammye encourages them all to call her “Mama”, to treat her home like a safe place, and shares her world with the group in a loving and surprising way. She was still in the process of reconciling with her son Myles, and spoke openly with the Fab Five about how to build him up and support him as a gay man.

Watching Tammye – a loving mother and active member of the community – welcome the Fab 5 into her life without the ugly judgement they described encountering in their private lives was a revelation, but what truly shakes the episode is her willingness to admit that she was wrong to judge her son for who he is. She details the moment she came to her son and asked for his forgiveness for not loving him unconditionally, which very few people would have the courage to do. In the end, Tammye speaks to each member of the Fab Five and thanks them for being who they are and doing what they do in a moment of pure earnestness that nearly put me in the grave.

It is so easy to get caught up in what we’ve been taught, who we surround ourselves with, and antiquated ways of thinking, because those familiar methods afford comfort in a scary world. Yet, the bravest of us can truly begin to grow when we step outside the echo chamber. Tammye is a great reminder that love, honesty, and courage can change the world, no matter how small the shift appears.

Below you can watch an extra episode of the series released to YouTube that features the crew traveling to Australia to help a rancher at the behest of his (kinda fine) son. If you’ve got Netflix we highly recommend you check out Tammye and the rest of the series! Don’t forget to invest in an economy pack of tissues.