Badass (A Poem)

Does anyone know when the rules changed?

When once women

smiled upon, praises heaped

for her whispers, powder-soft feminine grace

delicate charms

rewarded for fragility

her tears like treasures raining from lowered lashes

Stay pretty, they told us.

We were cherished once

honored

Bought, never borrowed

safe beneath his wing.

Until

the world thought it best to change the picture

sudden shift

grafitti-marred brick wall displays

the new Femme Fatale

strong, savage beauty

clad in black leather

full lips like blood, eyes like flames.

Though born soft, she is tossed in the arena

to fight alone

Badass

Rogue

Swallow the dark elixir they feed us

inject fantasy into our skin like tattoos

Be HER, they tell us.

Buffy, Katniss, Khaleesi

Forge the spirit of Athena

the hardness of the Amazons.

Fight with the strength of a man

dance the lead like a man

be ever more like a man

but stay…

pretty.

female warrior

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The Best Part of Wakin’ Up (aka: Coffee Time!)

In the beginning, there was coffee. And the coffee was black and bitter. Then someone said, “Let there be cream!” And there was cream. And later, someone else discovered that sugar made coffee sweet and delicious. And thus, America’s favorite beverage came to be.

perfect cup of coffee

I discovered coffee when I was a ten year-old kid. Of course, back then, it meant a milked-down, over-sugared mug of Folgers or Maxwell House alongside my bowl of Wheaties each morning. Still, it was coffee! The best part of wakin’ up. Good to the last drop.

“You’ll stunt your growth,” my family members warned. I ignored them, sipping my hot drink, engrossed in a novel. They were mistaken, of course. Fast forward to the present, and I still engage in my daily cup of java, which didn’t hinder me from reaching a comfortable height of five-foot-six. The only difference between then and now, is that I’m less likely to drink good ol’ Maxwell House or Folgers, and more likely to sample a variety of roasts grown in different regions of the world. I’m also far more like to drink decaf. (I know — blasphemy!)

Keurig Green Mountain Inc. Product Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings Figures

It’s interesting how the way we drink coffee has changed over the last several decades. By the time I was in middle school, flavored creamers hit the stores. Coffee wasn’t coffee unless it was Amaretto or Irish Cream-flavored. Throughout high school, I went back to black. And then, during university, some friends invited me to a local coffee shop that changed my life: Java City. Suddenly, coffee was not merely coffee. Coffee was Espresso! Cappuccino! Mochas and Lattes! Fancy, exotic coffee drinks blended with foamy steamed milk, drizzled in chocolate or caramel.

Then Starbucks came along and chased the other coffee shops out of town with their ever-growing selection of mouthwatering caffeinated beverages. Despite the fact that a cup of Starbucks coffee costs the same as an entire family meal, hordes of people began to flock to the popular coffee shop for its hip, ultramodern decor; milkshake-like Frappuccinos, and most importantly, free wi-fi. Some might say that Starbucks is the reason behind the large uptick in U.S. coffee consumption that began around the turn of the century.

fancy starbucks coffee drinks

Some of the more recent trends in coffee-drinking are a little more puzzling to me. Cold brew? Seriously, peeps — now we’re paying $3 for a cup of cold coffee? Come over my house, and I’ll sell you a cup of the coffee I left sitting on the counter all day. I’m sure it’s nice and cold by now.

Cold Brew Coffee Trend

Luckily for the 62% of Americans who drink a daily cup of coffee (hot or cold brew), there’s great news. Coffee is good for us. No, really! This article by Medical News Today and this comprehensive study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine are chock-full of information about the benefits of drinking coffee, both caffeinated and decaffeinated (yes, decaf). That daily bean juice habit is connected with reduced risk of death from cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and then some. Other studies have proven additional health benefits from regular coffee-drinking, including reduced risk of certain types of cancers and improved liver health. (Not a single study proved that coffee results in stunted growth, by the way).

Folgers coffee old-fashioned

No matter how you brew it, one thing is clear: coffee is a worthwhile habit for most of us. So get those percolators popping! Get your Mr. Coffees dripping, your Keurigs Keuringging, and your cold brewers chilling your favorite gourmet, roasted, ground-up beans. After all these years, coffee is still the best part of wakin’ up, and even though our brewing methods and favorite flavors have changed, it’s still good to the last drop.

 

Barefoot is Better (aka: Online Pairing)

Two days ago, I decided it was time to go shopping for a package of socks. It’s not that I really felt that I needed to wear socks. I’m quite content to pad around the house in my bare feet. There’s a lot of freedom in going barefoot, in fact. My feet are always cool and comfortable, and my toes have all the space they need to wiggle around. I can dig my toes into the sand, or let the grass tickle the soles of my feet, just like when I was a little girl. I can even get creative with my own feet, painting my toenails any fun color I want, without an oppressive pair of socks coming along to cover them up.

It is liberating, being sock-less.

barefoot is better

But every so often, I glance around at the feet of other people. And I realize something — many, many people wear socks. And the ones who are not wearing socks are often out shopping for socks, or lamenting over their lack of socks. Some people even seem to wear a different pair of socks every day.

Sole-Mates Socks

Going barefoot all the time, it seems, is rather unusual in the world of grownups. Everyone else acts like the purpose of life is to find a sole-mate. (See what I did there?)

I have also noticed that there are certain things that one doesn’t do without wearing socks. At least, not as well. For example, I do not ever go out to restaurants in my bare feet. Nor to concerts, or live sporting events, or out-of-town fun trips, or wine-tasting, or a number of other things that sound like they would be really, really fun to do one day. But not barefoot. That would just be…awkward.

And so, I signed up to go shopping at a popular (and expensive) virtual store that specializes in socks for the sock-less. Just as advertised, after I answered a series of questions ranging from silly to deeply personal, the site’s algorithms selected a variety of socks for me to consider, some of which were selected as being highly “compatible” with my feet.

At first, it was amusing to sift through the socks. They came in every imaginable size, and lots of patterns. There were some with serious, no-nonsense pinstripes, some with goofy, rainbow-colored polka-dots, and even a couple of plain ones filled with so many holes, I wonder how on earth they made it past quality assurance to wind up on my dashboard.

lots of different socks

I even got a couple of messages from some of the socks, and responded politely (because apparently, exchanging polite chit-chat is something socks can do on online stores). Some of the messages made me smile, and a couple, well, made my bare feet want to run away. I wondered, though, what was supposed to happen next. Was I supposed to utter some magic words in order to check the socks out of the store? Is there some point when I’m supposed to wear them around once or twice, maybe to a restaurant,  or a sporting event, or a concert? Or is it up to the sock to make that happen?

And would it be frowned-upon to write “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing,” on my profile? I feel clueless, like a child who has just wandered into a casino, and is overwhelmed by the loud, clanging, buzzing machines, and choking on the smoke of cigarettes.

It also occurred to me that a large number of the socks were silent. No polite conversations. No peeks at my barefoot profile. Part of me understands that this is normal. That it’s all part of the sock-and-foot matching world. And that its only been two days. But another part of me feels indignant, certain that it has something to do with the toasty-brown shade of the skin on my feet. Because, I’m guessing, not a single one of my chosen matched socks has ever been worn by a toasty-brown foot before. Peachy-tan feet, probably, or rosy beige, or creamy ivory. But perhaps they see toasty brown feet and get nervous, their little sock minds filling with all kinds of ignorant ideas about what I must be like, due to my brownness.

I am halfway tempted to create an identical profile to my own, but put up pictures of a woman who looks similar to me, but with lighter skin, just to test that theory. But I won’t. Because if that really is the issue, then whatevs. Any er…sock who is unable to look past the color of my skin in order to see the kind, intelligent, thoughtful, witty, talented woman I am does not deserve to grace even one of my feet.

Sim Tiare

White Sim Tiare

And anyway, it’s okay if nothing comes of my browsing around the online sock store. In fact, it would be a bit of a relief. Then I will not have to reveal myself as a fraud — one who is so perfectly comfortable going sock-less, and so horribly out of her element with socks on her feet. They will be expecting me to love wearing socks and shoes, like so many other people do. Then I will have to wear them, because I am committed to do so, and will have to go back to tiptoeing around my home in discomfort, my poor toes squeezed and pinched, my feet blistered from friction…

It is oh-so-easy for me to talk myself out of visiting the sock store. Maybe it means I am still not ready, even after years of being sock-free. Maybe it means that I will never be ready; that I am a rare individual who simply was not meant to wear socks. I guess I will go and take a nice long, barefoot walk in the grass and think it all through. Because that is what I do best.

The Clothes Make the Man (aka: Dress the Part)

Women's clothes what to wearThe clothes make the man. Or rather, the person.

It’s true. Not just because Polonius said so to his son, Laertes, in a rather ironic speech about being true to oneself and not being a phony. And not just because the idea has transformed into a cliché, handed down throughout the years. But in fact, science indicates that the clothes we wear, and our symbolic associations with them, can indeed affect our psychological processes. (Adam & Galinsky, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).

In other words, dressing smarter may make you smarter. Dressing sloppily may make you – well, sloppy.

This totally makes sense. When I go to work each day, I take great care to wear outfits that are neat, well put-together, and professional. And also cute. Because dressing this way sets my attitude for the day – I have it all together. I am a well-organized, focused, and confident professional, ready to excel in the workplace. And also cute. However, when I’m home during the weekends, I pull on comfortable sweats, or jeans and an old t-shirt. My I-don’t-care uniform for lazy hours of reading, video gaming, or Netflix marathons.

In addition to the way our clothing can affect how we think and feel, the way we dress can also influence the perceptions of the people around us. Wrinkled shirts, ripped nylons, scuffed or worn-out shoes may give off an impression of laziness, apathy, or untidiness. By contrast, a well-fitting suit, a trendy yet conservative dress, and voilà! The people around us may perceive us as successful, full of confidence, even more trustworthy.

superman movie dress the part

Are these perceptions as important as my own self-perception? Maybe, maybe not. I am inclined to think that the two are dependent on one another. Perhaps, if I were to pull on a superhero suit, it would make me feel and act like a superhero – not only because I appear to myself like a superhero, but because I am aware that the people around me will also see me as such. If a sexy red dress makes me feel sexy, then perhaps it is because I know that other people will also see me as sexy. And if a well-fitting, conservative (and cute) business suit makes me feel successful and confident (and cute), then perhaps it is due to the perception of success and confidence that my suit gives to others. The clothes do indeed make the man (or woman) – both to his or herself, as well as to the people in his or her life.

This is not to suggest that our clothing choices must always take into account the reactions of other people. No matter how snappy a dresser you may be, there will always be someone who sizes up your appearance and makes an unfavorable judgment about your character. Too provocative. Too conservative. Too frumpy. Too matchy-matchy. Too juvenile. Oh, the faux-pas! We can’t please everyone.

Now plenty of people are perfectly content to live their lives in one standard go-to outfit, be it jeans and t-shirts, khakis and polos, or something more Walmartian, as my daughter likes to put it. And that’s totally their prerogative. But for those of us who enjoy the process of “dressing the part,” it is important to strike a comfortable balance between making a good external impression and feeling positive about our own sense of self-expression through the clothes we wear.  Although the clothes make the man, we must also remember, above all, “to thine ownself be true.”

Barbie fashionistas

 

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary (aka: No Ordinary Woman)

male female sexism A coworker and I were having a discussion about childhood antics, during which I jokingly remarked, “I’m a girl. When I was growing up, girls didn’t do things like that.”

My acquaintance responded, “Yes, well you’re no ordinary girl.”

I blinked. “Um, yeah, actually, I am an ordinary girl.”

“You know what I mean,” he said, laughing. “Because you’re into computers and stuff.”

I brushed it off at the time, which is my typical reaction to remarks which are, either intentionally or unintentionally, offensive. But later, I recalled his words, mulling them over to consider them from his perspective.

You’re no ordinary girl.

What does it mean for a man to say that to a woman? Am I to pull on my feminist hat and decide that the words carried some sexist or misogynist meaning, which must be challenged? Is it an implication that a female who is interested in, say, computers and technology, or mathematics, or sports, is somehow less of a girl, or less of a woman? In which case, one must wonder, what makes a woman an ordinary woman?

Traditional Gender Stereotypes are Ignorant

I considered my own journey over the years from girlhood to womanhood. Childhood days of playing with Barbie dolls, and climbing trees in dirty sneakers and bandaged knees. The awkward years of learning to manage trendy outfits and hairstyles, the painful sting and awe of crushes on high school boys, the thrill of cheering with friends during football games. Being a fairy-tale bride in a gorgeous princess bride gown. Sewing curtains to hang in the windows of our home, cooking homemade meals for my husband as he came home from work. The pain and wonder of giving birth to three children, then nursing them at my breast. Years of life filled with planning family outings, leading scouts, baking cookies. Playing soccer, hiking, making photo scrapbooks of my family. Teaching young children during my first career outside the home. Computer games, good books, struggling to keep house as the children grew and grew.Ordinary Woman 1960

But no…I suppose there is nothing typical about any of that.

In the end, I gained understanding. My acquaintance had developed a narrow opinion of me based on the tiny speck which is his knowledge about my life. He saw that I enjoyed computers and sports, and decided that such things excluded me from the world of so-called ordinary women. No matter. I have no need to prove my ordinariness to anyone, for I am well-rooted in one wonderful truth about who I am: I am extraordinary.

I am good, and kind, and honest and talented. I am a creative person with a zest for life and a positive outlook. I am great at a few things, and terrible at a few things (like housekeeping). I can admit and laugh at my mistakes and weaknesses, and I work hard to be excellent in all that I do. When I look in the mirror, I like what I see looking back at me. If an ordinary woman is one who must doubt herself, or live within the limits of a labeled box, chaining her self-worth to the man at her side, then no, I refuse to be ordinary. Instead, I will continue to live, and find happiness, and learn, and grow into the most extraordinary woman I can possibly be.

make the decision to be extraordinary

Marginal (aka: Cultural Nuances and Frustration )

I recently threw a birthday party for one of my kids. It was great fun – a house filled with the noisy, gleeful laughter of little boys, floating balloons made to look like owls, and a punch bowl of frothing, bubbling green “potion” to drink. And candy. Lots and lots of candy.

“Why didn’t you invite me?” one of my older sisters asked in a hurt tone.

I was stunned. “Invite you? But it was a children’s birthday party!”

Apparently, this is a thing in some families; a cultural expectation which eluded me, as cultural expectations often do. And so, I hurt the feelings of my sister by not inviting her to a birthday party full of candy and noisy kids whom she doesn’t even know. Just as I hurt the feelings of my mother by having my child send a lovely, written thank-you card instead of calling her on the telephone.

Black family culture churchYou see, that is what culture is. Many people think that it is about the big things – the language, the foods, and the music shared by a cultural group. But really, culture is a patchwork quilt of hundreds of tiny nuances that can translate into huge misunderstandings.

Sometimes, I am frustrated when people from other ethnic groups expect me to fit into some narrow mold which, in their minds, defines Black American culture. I am equally frustrated when people within my own family hold the same expectation. “But this is how black people think. This is what black people do,” they say.

individualism-vs-collectivismI just grit my teeth. I have never subscribed to the idea that, just because one’s ancestors originated from a particularly geographical location, one is obliged to identify with the subculture of that ethnic group. Of course, voicing such thoughts aloud among those of my family’s ethnic group has the tendency to spark wildfires.

It is not an easy thing when you only identify marginally with your family’s subculture. No matter how hard you try to be kind and accepting of their ideas, lifestyles, and worldview, the differences always separate you. My relatives see me as an outsider. A snob. “Whitewashed.”

I only see me as being who I am.

I wonder sometimes how my own culture diverged so much from my culture of origin.  Perhaps it was due to my constant diet of books from a very young age – the never-ending exposure to new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Through literature, I learned the history behind many of the customs and practices of various American ethnic subculture groups, including that of my family. And in learning the history, I also learned to evaluate the need to continue such a custom.

And maybe that is the problem. I have never been able to simply sit back and accept. There is always that urge to analyze, evaluate, and throw out that which seems unnecessary or unfruitful. Perhaps for most people who fit comfortably within the cultural norms of their family’s demographic group, that urge doesn’t exist. Or the volume is turned down low. In a way, I envy that. I imagine that with simple acceptance comes a certain sense of peace and safety among the herd. And a lot fewer misunderstandings.

But still, there are a few things which perhaps transcend cultural construct, such as consideration, tolerance, and family   . Regardless of how silly and pointless the expectations may appear to me, the fact is that I inadvertently hurt my family members’ feelings. And really, it would not take much to avoid such a thing in the future. Offer an invitation. Make a phone call instead of putting the sentiment in writing. I guess it is no different than in a business environment, where one cultural group creates stronger goodwill by respecting the other group’s foreign cultural practices. Bow instead of shaking hands. Avoid or make direct eye contact. Use formal or informal language.  cross-cultural-communication

Cultural nuances can be a tricky, tricky thing. Especially within a family, where emotions can be heightened and judgments can be sharp and punishing. But when it comes to maintaining relationships, one must practice tolerance and strive for common ground in order to construct those large bridges made up of “little things.”

practice tolerance quote

BOOM! (aka: The ‘Murican Way)

sparkler-july-4If there’s one thing we Americans like to do, it’s give the finger to the rest of the world. This tradition can be traced back to our nation’s early history, when we grew fed up with being forced to pay high taxes without being represented in the British Parliament. So those early patriots set the standard for the rest of us by dumping a boatload of tea into the Boston Harbor. Suck it, King George!

Our patriot forefathers were also fed up with having to bow down to monarchy and aristocracy. “F*$% this,” they said. “All men are created equal.” And so they signed the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on 4 July, 1776. A rebellious, in-your-face, tea-dumping, gun-toting, anti-traditionalist republic was born.

From that time forward, the 4th of July has been observed as our national Independence Day. Ironically, we celebrate this great day with…well, traditions, like cookouts and baseball games and parades filled with cub scouts and martial arts school demos and tiaraed Miss-Small-Town winners waving from convertible cars like princesses (only not princesses, because that would imply a monarchy).

There is one beloved 4th of July tradition which perhaps best sums up our American patriotic spirit – fireworks. Because what better way to celebrate our nation’s history than by blowing stuff up? The bigger, the louder, the better. Boom! Let freedom ring! Boom! With Liberty and Justice for All! Boom! ‘Murica!

Murica-This-is-How-we-do-itYes, we Americans love our fireworks. And despite the fact that 2 out of every 5 fires on the 4th of July are caused by fireworks, or that in the year 2013, hospital emergency rooms treated 11,400 people for firework-related injuries, we persist in exploding paper things filled with black powder and metal salts every year. Why? Perhaps it is in honor of the original fearless patriots, who looked into the face of tyranny and laughed. In this country, if you’re not encouraging your kids to point blazing 1200°F sparklers at each other’s faces, then you’re not raising them the American way.

I suppose that means that my family was especially patriotic, since when I grew up, we celebrated the 4th with real fireworks, like roman candles, bottle rockets, and M80s. In fact, I have very fond memories of blowing up Barbie dolls and He-Man figures with packs of firecrackers we bought off the kids of Mexican immigrant families down the hill. Okay, yes, it was totally illegal, even back then. But hey – you could say that our family was expressing our patriotic spirit by thumbing our noses at the oppressive anti-firecracker laws. Suck it, Cal. Health & Safety Code! This is ‘Murica!

Happy Independence Day, however you plan to celebrate!

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.