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

I Got A Book Deal – Now What?

You read that right, kid! In today’s post I’ll be explaining the process and what comes next for me. I hope you’ll stick around!

I used to imagine myself living all sorts of lives: a doctor, an adventurer, a journalist, maybe an astronaut? Little by little, those dreams transformed into this nebulous thing, a sort of hovering cloud of possibilities that enlivened me as they frightened. There was too much, you see. Too much to do, too much time, too little time to become the right version of future me.

artist GIF by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya
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Eventually, I realized all I really wanted – needed – was to dream. There would never be a life for me that would be fulfilling if I had to be the same person every single day. Sure, the outfits might change, but I would still be doing the same things, learning the same lessons, and wondering the same thing: what if?

If you haven’t rolled your eyes yet, here comes the kicker! I realized a few years ago that I needed to create. I needed to learn from other people and put those lessons into practice so that I would be brave enough to go after the seemingly impossible. I worked with my friend Jesse Kadjo to write for her food blog, I branched out into freelancing, and settled into writing full-time with the end goal being providing for myself as an artist. To put it mildly, it was agonizing!

 

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What no one tells you about creative endeavors is that once you start putting your imagination into practical practice (i.e. to survive) it becomes a job rather than an escape. You start to overthink it and second-guess your worth. Thankfully, I had help along the way in the form of interviewees on this blog, and outside of it, who reminded me that to truly create you have to forfeit some control. So, I accepted what I could not change – artistic limitations, access to influence, style limitations – and focused on what I could expand. I read more than I had since college and listened to hear. I went to conferences, I made friends who write, and I did my best to stay true to myself. When I heard no after no, I realized I would have to get tough if I wanted to see it through.

Here’s the good thing about rejection, though: it forces you to re-evaluate your intentions. I had to consider who I was writing for, why I was writing, what I wanted, and where I wanted to be. With those answers in mind, I was connected with Chelsea Lockhart, the founder of Written In Melanin Publishing. Chelsea began her company in 2019 to work primarily with Black authors to spread stories featuring diverse characters. We connected on Twitter, and instantly bonded (thank you social media!!). With my answers in mind, we spoke at length about working together. The decision to join was an easy one once I realized Chelsea wanted me as ME. That has been the best lesson thus far: those you’re meant to work with won’t want to change what makes you special. They’ll honor it. Even better, Chelsea asked me to come aboard as a co-host of her Melanin Chat show on YouTube where we talk to authors and artists about their endeavors.

The journey has been long and winding, but it isn’t over yet. I’ve secured a piece of the future and that feels wonderful. But, that nebulous cloud is still hovering, urging me to take another step in an uncharted direction. For what it’s worth, I’m no longer afraid to walk blindly. I hope you’ll stick around to see what comes next as this space continues on as a place for me to share not only my journey, but the inspirational stories of others.

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Wherever you are, whatever you do, may you do it with joy!

Chasing Passions: Won’t You Join Me?

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with something? Not a guy or a girl, but that thing you couldn’t get enough of? That thing which stuck to your bones, bypassing your head and heart to fuse with the very foundations of your being? It was inescapable once. Maybe you discovered it by chance, a discarded thing no one saw any use in, but you saw it for what it was – magic. Perhaps you were born with that thing and discovered it after a little pushing by fate. Few loves come close to that first brush with what will become your passion, for it is that which sets your soul on fire. Eventually, that thing fermented in your chest to become something all-together unstoppable: your calling. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mixture of Indiana Jones, Batman, and Storm from the X-Men. I was going to travel the world, while making time for some swashbuckling and all of the other things I loved, and no one was going to change my mind about it. Like most children – regardless of location, religion, or color – I wanted to realize my dreams. Little did I know then, dreams are not always easy to live out. 

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I’ve been missing for a while (I won’t be offended if you didn’t notice), taking time to plot out how to get what I want from the foreseeable future. I had the distinct feeling a few months back that I was finally ready to redefine my track, so I took time digging a little deeper into what makes me LaKase. I’d come this far, but what’s next? I wanted to figure out what I am meant to be doing beyond working and carving out time to blog. You can imagine my delight when I found the answer right where I left it – in my childhood. The child I was back then might have been an annoying ball of energy, but she also had a lot of confidence in her own worth. She was definitely onto something when she laid awake imagining herself as a hero and adventurer. That’s when I had a mini-epiphany: would it be so outrageous to tap into that sense of wonderment and passion? I don’t think so anymore.

I have been, and always will be, a storyteller. That’s what I was doing when I acted out the adventures of my heroes, and what I was practicing when I put on puppet shows for my parents. I started writing stories in elementary school, and never stopped. To this day I find fragments of my tales stuck into old folders and notebooks. However, oftentimes the thing we love, the thing that lights up the world, can feel out of reach. People might tell us it’s foolish, or we don’t have the resources to pursue our dreams. For a long time after those first stories and puppet shows, I thought writing was something I would do after everything else, and that it was my responsibility to be reasonable. Surely, there would be time for my dreams after college, after kids, after creating a practical career. Thankfully, life threw me off kilter as it often does, and pushed me back into my old explorer’s chair in front of a laptop.

I think passion is more than a flight of fancy, or a daydream we use to distract ourselves from the rain. At heart, it’s who we are, what we want from life, and how we want to be remembered. Sure, we can’t all be doctors and firemen, but what if we look at the heart of the passion? Under the doctor is a desire to help and heal. Under the adventurer is the desire to explore the world beyond our experiences. When I sat back and took stock of my childhood dreams, writing was the natural progression of the passions I proclaimed to my parents and teachers. So, dear reader, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve made space for the re-emergence of my personal purpose in order to reclaim my brand of joy. It’s been hard, but also illuminating.

Here’s how I’m doing it: I stopped thinking about other people’s opinions and started looking for a way to make it happen. The first step is looking at what your dream is, then coming up with a realistic pathway. It’s not glamorous, but it’ll keep you on track. There’s no way around the fact that I’m starting off with a serious edge – I have time, I have space, and I have enough education to do it. On top of that, I’ve made some connections online with excellent mentors. If I had to weigh all of those things against each other, the mentors stand out as the most important step, because you simply can’t change your life without a blueprint. Whatever you decide to do, start there. I did it via Twitter and reaching out to bloggers, however it might be different for you depending on your path. Next, I had to devote time to writing in any way I could. I’m now a contributor to Setting Minda publication dedicated to sharing innovations in fashion, tech, food, and living. Writing for the site has been enough of a confidence boost for me to take writing my novel seriously, which I began this year. My goal is to finish the book,then find an agent/publisher before year’s end. I’ll still be writing here every Monday as well moving forward, because it serves my mental health in unmatched ways.

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It is absolutely imperative to treat this like a job once when you decide to make use of your passions and redefine your path. Take time to do research and understand what it will take so that you aren’t forced to abandon ship. I weighed the emotional cost of this endeavor against the toll of working for other people in unfulfilling roles, but I also sat down with my partner to practically map out how to do this without causing us to descend into chaos. You won’t regret putting in the work to build a solid foundation for yourself and loved ones.

This is a very truncated explanation of how I’m going about chasing my passion, but I’ll go more in-depth as the journey unfolds itself. The point I hope you’ll take away from this post is not to give up on that special thing you discovered, because it has been following you for a reason. You may not land in the career you planned on, but if you trust in the basis of your passion – whatever it may be – you’ll land where you’re supposed to.

 

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What dreams are you chasing today?

 

 

 

Self-care 101: Journaling

I may be just a little biased about this, but I think writing is one of the coolest ways to take care of yourself. It only costs as much as a pen and paper, you can do it anywhere (within reason), and no one can do it like you doThere’s truly no downside.

In my opinion, If you don’t have access to therapeutic services keeping a journal is one of the best ways to get your emotions out in a healthy way. It goes beyond the bubble baths and face masks to help you get to the root of your emotions in order to grow, which is imperative on this journey.

The benefits of journaling

There are so many benefits that go along with keeping a journal. From improved confidence to beefing up your memory, the practice of wrestling with your thoughts is worth the time it takes to get it done. By putting your emotions down on paper – both good and bad – you’re freeing up your mind to start healing. Instead of keeping everything bottled up, only to explode at inopportune times, you’re carving out a space to be unfiltered and honest. We’re more likely to open up when we aren’t going to be judged, so what better place than a book no one gets to see unless you trust them to read it?

How to get started

Journals don’t have to be what they were in the past. Sure, they can be pretty, leather-bound books you save up for, or they can be your thoughts scribbled in a $2 notebook. You can do it digitally on your phone or computer if you please, as long as you carve out time to sit and let your mind flow. Your journal is your safe zone. It’s your place and your time to work out the knots messing up your day, or to gush about how fantastic your dinner was. It’s your reward to yourself for doing the damn thing.

I do think it’s important to acknowledge that writing isn’t easy for everyone, no matter how much you’ve been forced to do it in school. For many of us writing was a task,or sometimes a punishment for bad behavior, so it’s understandable if you can’t relax enough to let the emotions flow. Here’s a tip: if you approach your journal with the mindset that no one will see it – like no one, not even your cat – the process can become exponentially easier. Don’t worry about grammar, how your script looks, or if it even makes any sense at all ; this is purely for the release of your emotions. You can do it however you want to do it. It doesn’t matter if you want to use bullet points, write in short hand, or draw – it’s all the right way! As long as you are giving yourself freedom to be unfiltered you are going to flourish.

With that said, why not give journaling a go this year?

Feeling Low? Let’s Make A Gratitude Journal!

A big part of my healing journey has been dedicated to the slow and steady re-calibration of my brain. If this sounds crazy, well, that’s because it is! It goes against everything your body wants you to do, with all those learned behaviors and ticks being questioned. However, I’m not trying to learn how to write with my left hand versus my right. I’m more committed to undoing the jigsaw puzzle of trauma.

As humans, it’s natural for us to look at the bad things we’ve experienced and replay them over and over in order to learn how to survive the next bad thing. That instinct is compounded when you introduce a traumatic event. I’ve lived most of my life replaying the same nightmares when I’m doing something as innocuous as making toast. Referred to as Automatic Thoughts, I really don’t have much control over how they flood my life, but I’m working on developing ways to counteract the impact with a little bit of good.

Enter the gratitude journal!

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Now, I’m not talking about the kind of journal where you wax poetic about a celeb crush  – this particular journal is a place for you to fill up with all the things that make you feel thankful for your life. I’m talking every good moment, every good bite of a sandwich, every compliment, every time you push forward when you want to give up. It’s been my experience that the more time I dedicate to making time for my gratitude journal, the stronger I am once I’m hit with an automatic thought.

So, if you’re struggling ,or just want some more good vibes in your life, I highly recommend giving this practice a shot. Your time is never wasted when it’s dedicated to taking care of yourself.

Have you ever tried a gratitude journal? If you have or will be, let me know in the comments!

If you would like to learn more about automatic thoughts, I suggest checking out this resource by clicking here.