Despite it all, I'm thankful

Fearing for our country after Ferguson, but so far, not at home.

This is where I live and work, and for that I am thankful.

This is where I live and work, and for that I am thankful.

Every now and then I or someone close enough to me to know they won’t get slapped will make a joke about how people around me forget that I’m black. I’ll save the long explanations behind that sentence for the book, but as I’ve been ruminating, over-analyzing, not-sleeping, and filled with an anxiety over race relations in our country that intensified into writer’s block, a memory occurred to me of when my friends had a stark reminder that I am, indeed, black. If the white friends in the room that day had any inkling at all that my blackness might be some form of envious tan, this moment in time shook the thought right out of them as they realized that it is true that my skin color—not my education, income, profession or number of nonprofit boards I’ve served—puts me in the place of a second or third-class citizen in the eyes of some people. One might think it odd that in Columbia, SC people were surprised to see blatant racism in action. I’m not sure if that has to do with the nature of area of town in which I live or the way I’ve curated my friendships over the years.

The father of one of my best friends had died. Our families have become so interconnected through the years that our younger kids actually believe they’re related. As the family was reeling from the loss, I was asked to lead the charge in planning the visitation the day before the funeral and the reception the following day. Many people pitched in with time, resources and care. This was a very well-loved, popular man who had touched many lives—we knew that there could be upwards of 700 people passing through his house to pay their respects. The best way to handle the after-work visitation crowd was to hire a local bartending service. When the woman from the service arrived to set up I’d run back home to change out of my furniture-moving clothes and into a dress. When I arrived back at the house 15 minutes before the visitation was to begin it was already completely packed. It took me a while to make my way to where the bar had been set up, but once I’d made my way through I introduced myself to the bartender as the main contact who had spoken with the owner of the company.

The evening went on in a manner that would have put a smile on our friend’s father’s face. The police even showed up at one point due to all of the cars in the street, and we had a good laugh thinking of the silly giggle that would’ve shaken his shoulders if he’d known the cops had shown up and busted his visitation.

The crowd eventually thinned, but there were many who really wanted to spend time engaging in some of the best storytelling moments of our friend’s life. Thirty minutes before the bartender was slated to leave one of the volunteers came to tell me that she appeared to be packing up early. As she passed through the kitchen with a bag of garbage I stopped the woman to ask what was going on. She stuttered a bit and then said something about her contract—at which point I asserted that I’d spoken to the owner of the service who’d assured me of her times and duties. She tossed her frizzy blond hair over her shoulder and continued to insist that it was time for her to leave. When I offered to call the owner’s mobile phone to make sure I hadn’t heard him wrong she huffed at me and put her hand in front of my face, fingers spread. “I’m not going to argue with you here in front of all these people,” she said. “I’ll go serve a little longer, but I’m not supposed to.”

My friends who were in the room blinked incredulously. I shook my head and poured myself a glass of rosé from the ‘secret friend stash,’ then heaved a heavy sigh. I was tired. I wasn’t in the mood to process what had just happened.

An older friend who lives across the street from me (and wasn’t in the room when she’d thrown her painted, red talons in my face) asked what was going on with the bartender and if he might ask her to stay an extra hour or so. With another sigh, I wished him good luck with that endeavor, at which point someone explained what had transpired. The next thing I knew, my intimidatingly tall, white-haired, pale-skinned neighbor--a retired attorney and former journalist who’d seen some of the worst of 20th century Southern history--was standing over the short, crimson-lipped, pasty pallored woman, looking as if he was giving an obstinate child a lecture that would be followed by a memorable butt-whipping. A minute later she was standing in front of me saying, “Ma’am, what can I prepare for you to drink? Just let me know what you’d like and I’ll bring it back here to you.”

I had a drink, but politely asked for a glass of wine as everyone in the room barely stifled their giggles and my neighbor watched her like a prison warden. 

To this day I have no idea what he said to that bartender, but when she returned the following day to serve the reception she practically curtsied every time we crossed paths. When I asked my neighbor about it he shook his head and pursed his lips. “She thought you were the help,” he said with disgust. While most of us had picked up on the racial undertone of her attitude, none of us thought I’d been characterized as the family maid by this woman. 

I think the events in Ferguson say quite a bit about quite a few things in this country. I also believe that part of the problem we saw there is linked to a disturbing national voting trend. As individual Americans feel more entitled to aligning themselves with and helping those who think like them, we’re moving deeper into a populist cycle that has roots in the late 19th century, when a group American farmers, weary of the lonely, isolating work of the agrarian trade, came together for events that would provide some social interaction. This occurred around the same time the U.S. Was jumping on board with the world’s notion of rail transport, which the group saw as a threat to their finances and way of life. Thus, the American attitude of the working and middle class vs. the elite was born. Of course what eventually turned into the Populist movement—following a political doctrine that follows the interests, ideals and fears of the general population as they contrast with those who are considered “elite”—helped enforce checks and balances on unchecked economic opportunists during the Gilded Age, when American industry was booming, yet the income gap remained wide. Is this starting to sound familiar yet? There are some pretty glaring parallels to today’s political climate. But while the Populist Party’s ideals were eventually absorbed by the Democratic Party as the 19th century neared its close (unlike in Europe, where the movement started moving toward authoritarian fascism), today’s movement of the general population preys on the most incendiary fears possible. Black people are using tax dollars to buy food stamps and watch television all day while white workers have to work 40 hours a week and pay those taxes to put food on the table. Black men are more likely to go to prison, so all black men should be feared. Immigrants want to use the money we pay in taxes for a free ride to do nothing while refusing to learn to speak English. Gay people are out to destroy the very moral foundation of the family unit. 

Really. Really? What, exactly, does this have to do with political theorem and practice? 

Nothing. That’s the problem. The further we go down this road, the more people seek to elect officials who are “just like me.” No fancy degrees from fancy colleges, no egghead ideas from spending too much time with a nose in a book. Hands mustn’t be soft, they must be calloused, with dirt under the fingernails because these people know how to do *real* work. Or they’ve raised a family in the “traditional” manner that is an invention of the 20th century while they or their spouse has gone out done that sweaty, greasy, *real* work and she spent her days cutting coupons and counting pennies.

An Newsweek cover from within recent years

An Newsweek cover from within recent years

Guess what? These are the realities for the majority of Americans, no matter their race. And those realities are difficult. And those realities often do result in a work ethic that’s unparalleled when compared to other groups in other parts of the country or the world—but that’s also because it’s a different kind of work, a different kind of struggle, a completely different kind of reality than what others experience. None of those realities negate the others. For some reason, however, we tend to believe that our reality is the only reality around here.  As this new form of fear-mongering populism continues to gain traction, not only do people place their realities above those of people who aren’t part of their peer groups, they feel as though they have to make the possibility of such realities disappear altogether. Now that a black president has been elected—not once, but twice—it’s harder to dismiss the realities of a group of people whom many lump together as being all the same. Disparaging our highest elected official is no longer enough. People are voting to elect candidates whom they view as the complete opposite of President Obama. People who’ve worked the blue-collar jobs. People who haven’t been a part of the obviously flawed political machine. Unfortunately this also means that we’re finding more and more elected officials on state and federal levels who have little or no basic knowledge of political history. They don’t know the protocols that keep different political groups, interest groups, U.S. regions and even different countries able to amicably have conversations that at least let each other know the page from which they're starting. The extreme result of this lack of cultural and institutional knowledge is Ferguson, Missouri. 

image via owning-my-truth on Instagram

image via owning-my-truth on Instagram

I wonder if, as he called for the National Guard a week ahead of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson, Gov. Jay Nixon noticed any sort of parallel to Gov. Orval Faubus’s call for the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the desegregation of the state’s schools in 1957.  There hadn’t been any violence reported that would give cause to jump all the way up to Level Freak Out And Barricade In. Given the events of the summer, a heightened awareness among state troopers would probably have been warranted, and perhaps a daily or weekly memo of some sort that kept all law enforcement—including the National Guard—abreast of the actual developments in the situation. But the closer Ferguson’s officials came to the day of the announcement, the more they increased the possibility of a clash by outwardly showing their fear of the black population. We live in an age of political extremes, everyone. When in history have sweeping extremes resulted in much good? It was proven this week that such extremes remove our ability to remember the lessons of our past.

Arkansas National Guard troops block The Arkansas Nine from entering Little Rock Central High School in 1957, on the orders of Gov. Orval Faubus. image via dallasvoice.com

Arkansas National Guard troops block The Arkansas Nine from entering Little Rock Central High School in 1957, on the orders of Gov. Orval Faubus. image via dallasvoice.com

Before you say that I’m only honing in on one area, let me give you another example—one that hasn’t led to the death of any unarmed teenagers, but it's still disturbing.

Last week my husband, who’d recently returned from the British-American Project Conference in Las Vegas, sent an email to me that contained a public statement from a BAP fellow with whom he’d become friendly. Nevada State Sen. Aaron Ford had played host for the conference, which switches back and forth between the U.K. and the U.S. each year. A week after the event the digital news threads were aflame after a series of inflammatory, bigoted news columns were exposed that had been written by Nevada State Senator (and hopeful leader of the State Assembly) Ira Hansen (R) during his time at The Sparks Tribune. Frankly, I’m shocked that more oxygen tanks weren’t tossed into the fire with statements such as these:*

Today, when Army men look at women in the ranks with 'longing in their eyes' it very well may constitute ’sexual harassment.’ The truth is, women do not belong in the Army or Navy or Marine Corps, except in certain limited fields."

"The lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to."

"King's private life was trashy at best. … King Jr. is as low as it gets, a hypocrite, a liar, a phony, and a fraud."

"The shrewd and calculating [black] 'leaders' are willing to sacrifice the children of their own race to gratify their lust for power and position. The relationship of Negroes and Democrats is truly a master-slave relationship, with the benevolent master knowing what’s best for his simple minded darkies.”

"Considering only about 2 percent of adult males are homosexuals, the numbers show why homosexuals have been historically regarded as such a threat. Male homosexuals are grossly disproportionate in child molestation cases, and the youth orientation of male homosexuality drives this trend."

Nevada State Senator Ira Hansen (R); image via HuffingtonPost.com

Nevada State Senator Ira Hansen (R); image via HuffingtonPost.com

These are not the statements of a person who has experienced the lively cultural richness that is the United States—or the world. Or, apparently, his own community. These are statements that expose the dark heart of this new breed of populism. These are shock-jock statements (and yes, Sen. Hansen once had a radio show, as well). They whip the fears of working Americans into a frenzy of racism, homophobia and xenophobia. These are the kind of phrases that are written and spoken as cheap, mindless entertainment for an American culture that finds the process of becoming informed too bothersome to deal with.

Nevada Senate Democratic Leader Aaron D. Ford released a statement highlighting the special melange of cultural heritage which actually exists in the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus, stating: “We are committed to representing the communities to which we belong. Moreover, we will represent all Nevadans to foster an inclusive, accepting environment for everyone.”

Apparently these types of placid, accepting statements are just boring as hell to most people.

Sen. Ford also said in his statement, “I am saddened that I once again find myself in a position where I have to explain to my children why and how someone who was elected to office in our home state would make such antiquated and bigoted comments.” This statement, above all the others from Nixon, Ford or Hansen is the real kicker.

 I have to explain to my children. 

Once upon a time, parents told their children that they wanted them to work hard, provide for their family, and do what they can to make the world better. The night of the grand jury announcement I was fearful—down to my core—that such a sentiment was going to fade away from the parental missives of this country. I was in such disbelief that 12 people who weren’t there to determine Wilson’s guilt or innocence did not find reason for the officer to have that guilt or innocence determined in a court of law. After an unarmed child had been shot. An unarmed black teenager who had a large figure and, because of his youth, had probably not yet figured out how to move his limbs through a graceful-looking gait. Thanks to the constant fear-mongering of a movement that is gaining entirely too much airtime, Mike Brown would have been looked upon as a potential menace even if he’d been sitting on a park bench eating a pack of Skittles.

How am I supposed to explain these things to my young boys? How am I supposed to explain to them that there are still days where I walk into a clothing store or boutique and I feel the need to keep whatever items I’ve picked up for purchase in full view until I place them on the counter at the register? I live in a big, nice house in a fancy, lovely neighborhood. I drive a nice, comfortable car and my husband and I recently purchased a third car for date nights and road trips for two. But unless I know the people working in the store, the thought always occurs to me that I need to keep my items in view, because my skin color will always give some people cause for suspicion. 

Yesterday I carefully stepped out of my home, expecting for there to be fear and tension everywhere as I ran my Thanksgiving errands. Instead I found the opposite. People were friendly with each other. A woman stood in a parking space at Whole Foods when she saw me coming from the other side in order to make sure that I could get it instead of continuing to circle. People whom I didn’t know were asking about the guy on Facebook who’d made a snarky comment in response to my profile update that was a plea for my fears for our country and my children to be proven wrong. What the hell was up with that? they asked. I just said that I didn’t know, and that I didn’t know the guy. 

I’ve been luckier than many in that I have yet to see any heartless, incendiary posts (with the exception of the guy who randomly visited my profile) in any of my social media channels. I’m extremely thankful for that. Sweet people whom I haven’t seen in years have been leaving notes of love and praise and support for my family no matter what road our country chooses to follow from here on out. This morning I woke up to find more notes and I cried happy tears. I know we’re going to be okay in our bubble in our part of Columbia. As I watch the continued protests happening throughout the country on my television, I just hope that the people who don’t seek camera attention are loving each other the way I’m seeing people love each other where I live right now. 

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be surrounded by friends and community who practice empathy. People of different races and backgrounds who don’t want to see each other shaking with fear over their children's future. I’m thankful that I live in a place where so many still actively tell their children to go out and do what they can to make the world a better place.

*since I actually started writing this piece a week ago and have given it 3 or 4 lives, Sen. Hansen had been removed from his leadership post 2 days before this was finally published.

Bringing myself in

Warming up to write while processing the Ferguson decision

I'd really hoped to have finished rewriting/reinventing the essay I'd planned to post by now, but between my usual morning distractedness and the amount of chatter going around about last night's events, I haven't quite gotten there. I guess I'm warming myself up in public, today.

A black teenager, born in 1996, who did not have a gun, was shot and killed by a white adult whose job is to protect citizens and uphold the law. Boiled down to the most simple statement of fact, this is what we know. We also know that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson will not go to trial to determine his level of culpability in the shooting of Mike Brown. The rest of the facts are slowly coming to the surface and passed through a sieve that is worn from too many opinions and generalizations and not enough thought.

As a writer I suffer great disappointment and simultaneous elation at the fact that in 2014 one must be a cable news talking head or a highly published author in order to be a recognizable figure of original thought. The examples we have do their jobs well... Ta-hanisi Coates, Malcolm Gladwell and Melissa Harris-Perry are bastions of deeply considered opinions, but they aren't part of the popular culture rhetoric. Kanye West tried, bless his heart--he just doesn't have the right balance of IQ and crazy to pull it off. Ani DiFranco was the artist-activist I held onto as a college student, but now she's living quietly on a farm somewhere. Banksy's rogue productions are certainly a wide-reaching form of art activism, but (s)he is the closest I can come up with to an American pop-culture superstar who uses their stage to inform while they entertain. 

inform while they entertain

There's the rub. When did Americans abandon knowledge for anything that glitters? In an essay on the topic, Jean Bethke Elshtain, who was a political philosopher and ethicist, wrote:

The American temperament invites wariness toward intellectuals. Because they are generally better at living in their heads than at keeping their feet on the ground, intellectuals are more vulnerable than others to the seductions of power that come with possessing a worldview whose logic promises to explain everything, and perhaps, in some glorious future, control and manage everything. The 20th century is littered with the disastrous consequences of such seductions, many of them spearheaded and defined by intellectuals who found themselves superseded, or even destroyed, by ruthless men of action once they were no longer needed as apologists, provocateurs, and publicists.
— Jean Bethke Elshtain, "Why Public Intellectuals?: In an age of ceaseless technological change, the need for historical and ethical perspective on public questions is greater than ever"

Has this wariness turned to indifference, or will the events of last night finally push our celebrity glitterati to engage and discuss? Someone has to get our young people talking, because the skim-the-top, YOLO attitudes prevailing today threaten to follow what seems to be a path of regression. 

As I sadly watched the anguished reactions of my friends and colleagues across social media, Nina Simone's rendition of Oscar Brown's "Brown Baby" went on a recurring loop in my head. While we wait for the country to have a real conversation about justice and to whom it applies, let's look to the artist-activists who got our parents (and grandparents, I suppose) talking several years ago.

We've Waited Too Long

The ONE Campaign's new video leaves celebrities SPEECHLESS.

I've mentioned that I've been working with the ONE Campaign since October--an experience that continues to be a combination of inspiration, amazement, hope and devastation.

Today marks the launch of a new campaign for the organization- one that sends a loud message while giving you a moment to think. People have been desensitized to the headlines regarding Ebola and have wasted time making careless jokes or speeding into hysterics when someone who's never travelled outside the United States picks his nose on an airplane. It's time to take Ebola seriously for the people who actually have reason to worry about contracting the disease. Those are the people with the least tools to fight it. Those are the people who have to make a choice between staying clear of the disease or comforting their shaking, sobbing, vomiting 18-month-old babies. That is how serious this is. If the idea of joining the likes of Bono, Akon, Danai Gurira, Thandie Newton, Ben Affleck, Will Farrell, Morgan Freeman, Ellie Goulding, and Connie Britton is what will drive you to use your voice to make a difference to West Africa's devastating public health crisis, that great. Do it. Watch the video below and sign the petition. 

video via one.org

Are you ready to do something? Here you go: http://one.org/ebolaYou can also use your voice on social media to spread the impact of this message by clicking here to tweet it out. 

Let's make some change.

Last night I became extremely angry...

...but I'm not in the mood to talk about how America is failing Ferguson--and itself--right now

Last night I had a fit of anger that may or may not have had something to do with my rising discomfort as I watch American race relations crumble and I begin to question the way my peers of all races look at and use me. I wrote an angry, angry, letter to America. My poor MacBook Air was probably shaking with fear as I approached it this morning, worried that its keys were about to absorb another loud assault from my fingers.

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to post the letter, but in the meantime I've found someone else's blog post that begins to describe my level of discomfort. Bear with me while I have these moments this week. I was raised by people who could be the grandparents of most of my friends. In general I've had a much different perspective on moving through my own country while considered a minority--a word that always triggers an accusation of "less than" in my mind.

Author Morgan Parker. Image via www.Morgan-Parker.com

Author Morgan Parker. Image via www.Morgan-Parker.com

I'm going to sit on the post at least until I ruminate on the artistic findings at this year's WestEdge Design Fair, but for now check out this op-ed from Morgan Parker for VIDA. Here's a snippet:

I get along with white people really well. Growing up, they brought peppermint bark down the cul-de-sac to my parents’ house every Christmas. They smiled at me, lone brown spot in the classroom, as we read Dr. King’s speech every February. In my graduate writing program, white classmates complimented my afro with liberal fingers, applauded my poems for their sass and bravado, asked me to explain references in Harryette Mullen’s work while we were out for drinks. They’re my white friends, and I’m their black friend. White people love me. It’s kind of my thing.

I have never given a performance to an all-black audience.

For weeks she asks from the chair across from mine, can you describe that loneliness? My therapist is a young, thin white woman who isn’t following the protests in Ferguson. What does that loneliness feel like? I kind of sink into the chair as a performance and flip my wrist. It feels regular and a little glamorously sad. She says can you think of the first time you felt that. I say generations ago. She says we have to stop. I notice my mask slipping. I put it back on before walking out to 5th avenue, weeping quietly in front of The Gap.

Having grown up in the ‘90’s heyday of “I don’t see color” and hearing the budding subconscious white supremacy in statements like “You don’t act black,” the playground was where I first learned about acceptance, and its price. Where I learned to make myself small, nod graciously in thanks for approval. The playground is where I learned who makes the rules. Where I learned that my identity is not up to me.
— Morgan Parker, "Reports From the Field: White People Love Me: Dispatches From The Token", on vidaweb.org

Personally, I haven't and don't buy into the last sentence quoted up there, but I've known plenty of people who have. One of the advantages to having been raised with a bit of haughtiness is that I have always loved trying on bits and pieces of new identities, then keeping what seems to bring out the best in me and discarding what doesn't. A slideshow of the many metamorphoses of my hair from age 14 to 35 might provide a great visual example. You won't see such a slideshow as 14 - 19 were a little rough--though it was from those years that I gained a love for showing up at a formal event once in a while with crimson-colored extensions in my hair. I've always been aware that there are people out there who see my skin color and decide to assume they know me, but those people never mattered to me. Maybe that's why I have such a small--but very tight--circle of actual friends. I've curated my friendships over many years.

Anyhow, this is an essay you'll want to finish reading. Check out the remainder here.

Source: http://www.vidaweb.org/reports-from-the-fi...

ONE incredible summit and a very bad day

How ONE Campaign's 2014 AYA Summit helped me lose my mind and then get a grip

I’ve had a little bit of trouble coming back to the sturdy, figurative desk of my writing routine since returning from the ONE Campaign AYA Summit in Washington, which was the final leg of that wild month of travel that was October. Actually, I’ve had a lot of trouble coming back to that. I think it has to do with a bit of shock felt after the mechanism of a major life change has been switched on, and you realize that you’ve been on a path heading toward that change for some time without even realizing it. I came away from the summit with with my world rocked, and with a bit of melancholy over the realization that I was going to have to close a chapter of my life to which I owe almost my entire adult self.

Let me start off by explaining what it was I attended and why. 

The ONE Campaign, along with Google, played host to a select group of bloggers and online media personalities, bringing us together for an intense crash course on issues facing girls and women in the developing world. Aya, meaning “fern”, is an African Adinkra symbol. It represents endurance, resourcefulness and growth—the characteristics required of a woman when she has to care for her loved ones and her community, whether or not she has the resources that make it easy for mothers like you and me to focus some of our worries on things that we don’t always need.

Image via One.org. Credit: Karen Walrond, taken while on a trip to Ethiopia with ONE.

Image via One.org. Credit: Karen Walrond, taken while on a trip to Ethiopia with ONE.

During the summit we heard heart-wrenching stories from women who saw and survived the atrocities we’ve read in headlines as we sip coffee in our living rooms many Sunday mornings. We met "Saa", one of the girls who was kidnapped from her school in Nigeria by Boko Haram and had managed to escape within the first 24 hours.

"Saa" was one of the girls who was kidnapped from a school in Nigeria by Boko Haram. As of today only a handful have returned home by escaping the extremist group.

"Saa" was one of the girls who was kidnapped from a school in Nigeria by Boko Haram. As of today only a handful have returned home by escaping the extremist group.

 We heard from Clemantine Wamariya, who as a 6-year-old had to walk on a six year journey with her teenage sister during the Rwandan genocides. We listened to experts like Paul Zeitz from the Department of State describe the difference between the hype and the actual risks of the current Ebola epidemic. We learned about applying successful, for-profit mentalities to non-profit organizations from people like Jane Mosbacher Morris, founder of To The Market; Sydney Price, SVP of Corporate Responsibility for Kate Spade New York and Barrett Ward, founder of FashionABLE. These corporations and some NGOs like Heifer International create economic opportunities for women, who in some areas of the world are choosing or being forced into sex trafficking. The women in developing countries who work in the sex trade aren’t necessarily people who lead salacious, seedy, bad-to-the-core lives, Ward pointed out early on. In many cases this is the kind of work that has some job stability and will feed families. 

Sydney Price, Kate Spade New York; Jane Mosbacher Morris, To The Market; and Barrett Ward, fashionABLE

Sydney Price, Kate Spade New York; Jane Mosbacher Morris, To The Market; and Barrett Ward, fashionABLE

Rye Barcott , Carolina for Kibera; and Emily McKhann, The Motherhood

Rye Barcott , Carolina for Kibera; and Emily McKhann, The Motherhood

We learned an extraordinary amount about trafficking from the discussion with Patricia Amira (The Patricia Show), Cindy McCain and Kristen Howerton (Rage Against The Minivan), including the fact that it’s pretty unlikely that any of us have not been witness to the trafficking of women and children—we just didn’t know what we were seeing.

Patricia Amira, Cindy McCain and Kristen Howerton

Patricia Amira, Cindy McCain and Kristen Howerton

Then we were surprised with and torn to bits by a reading from a play written by Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead”, read to us by the extremely talented playwright herself. The play takes a very close look at women’s roles and their exploitation during the Liberian civil war.

Danai Gurira reading from her forthcoming play about women and the Liberian Civil War

Danai Gurira reading from her forthcoming play about women and the Liberian Civil War

This is only a fraction of what the summit attendees experienced. I’ve had to pause and take a deep breath several times while doing the run-through above! It was intense. So much so that during happy hour on the first evening, ONE Campaign co-founder Jamie Drummond asked me and another attendee, “When women get together for summits like this, is it always this intense? I’m emotionally spent!” Did I mention that this was said on the FIRST day?! It was an intensity I had never felt. It left me breathless, wanting to flee the room, wanting to stay there with the speakers, panelists, and amazing bloggers—many of whom I’ve admired from afar for as long as I’ve known that blogs exist—and I also wanted to do something.

Those of you who’ve been following Camille Maurice for a year or longer may have noticed the way I’ve been wavering about how I approach lifestyle blogging. A lot of my wavering has had to do with the combination of not having resolved our childcare situation for our 3-year-old over the past three months and, despite my flawed efforts to unload some responsibilities, the plate that may have been too full always seemed to remain so. As one might expect, this ultimately led to one very bad day shortly after the AYA Summit, on Halloween.

By “bad day” I mean one of those that I know is universal for all moms on some level. That moment when you’re sitting in the middle of a dizzyingly messy house, you’ve barely gotten any professional or domestic work done in two days and company is set to arrive in a couple of hours. The kids are being overly-rascally, your inbox is drowning in digital overflow, you’re behind on a deadline or two and all you can do is sit down and heave, “I can’t do ALL of this!!” However, I was exhausted and my mind was reeling on reserve energy as it continued to process all that I had just seen and heard in Washington. All that I’d learned seemed to be attaching itself to the vague feelings I’d been having about the blog, and my exhaustion was getting in the way of a clear vision. So finally, when I sat down on my stairs in frustration, heaving a heavy, leaden sigh I whispered, “I can’t do all of this.”  Then came, “I QUIT! I CAN’T WRITE ANYMORE!”

Since August I’d been trying to fit my usual a 25 - 30 hour work week into about 6. All the while I was still holding it in the back of my head that I was going to increase to about 35 hours. Insane? Yes. I’m stubborn. I stopped going to events, meetings, school functions… and for what? What story was I telling from a platform I’d built in 2008, when my life was almost unrecognizably different? Not only has my personal story changed, the subjects that fit the Camille Maurice brand aren't meeting my desire to examine the walls that separate human lives and why the interconnectedness we all share persists despite those walls.

Camille Maurice’s tagline is Conversation, Musings and Beautiful Things. The concept was built around the idea of an exchange of storytelling that inspires living a full and beautiful life. When the blog kicked off, the country was in full-on recession mode, as was my own household. The blog was a tool for me to get back into writing, but it was also an escape from the uncertainty of the time and the depressing headlines coming in from everywhere. 

As I’ve been growing some form of journalistic chops I’ve become infused with a need for storytelling that tells you something. The AYA Summit was all about this type of storytelling...on steroids. For example, Clemantine Wamariya was born in Rwanda. As a little girl she was a lot like any 6-year-old being raised by a loving, well-rounded family, not wanting for anything.  Then Clemantine’s parents sent her with her sister to the country to stay with her grandparents in order to escape what she called “The Noise.” Here’s an excerpt of Clemantine telling her story (please forgive the instability of my arm holding my iPhone):

There’s a lot more to the story. Clemantine experienced unimaginably horrifying moments as just a tiny little girl. What’s remarkable to the privileged American mind is that Clemantine possesses an understanding that there are others who had it even worse. She relayed a conversation she had as an adult with another Rwandan woman who was a teenager during the genocide. As they compared stories, the woman said to her, “But Clemantine, you were lucky when you were walking. You didn’t have your period. Imagine walking through the desert and you can’t stop, and you have your period, and there’s nothing to do about it. You don’t have any pads or anything to stop it or clean yourself.”

Hearing or reading such things is uncomfortable, but they’re stories that need to be told, and hearing them gets right to the truths of where storytelling fits into our universal experiences. My girlfriends and I haven’t experienced anything close to what Clemantine and the woman above went through. But we’re women. We know the patterns of our bodies from week to week and month to month. It brings us into a biological circle of understanding, so we can imagine—on some level—what is was like for the teenage girl walking through the desert at “that time of the month.” That isn’t something you’re going to get from watching short bits about war on the evening news.

There’s a reason that storytelling is the oldest craft on the planet. Stories infuse our motions with our history, correct the wrongs of our past through our future actions and help us create our own stories to pass along in the same manner. This is a realization that finally came into full view the day after Halloween. I’d been a sullen, nervous wreck throughout our annual neighborhood festivities. My husband was treating me with kid gloves, and in his attempt to make me feel better he accidentally got every neighbor who stopped by hilariously drunk (if he ever offers you my favorite cocktail, which we named The Chappy, SIP IT VERY SLOWLY). The next morning, while the poor folks in the houses around us were still passed out, I realized that I was scribbling in my notebook before I could stop myself. After a few minutes Aaron looked at me and said, “See. You can’t not be a writer. It’s part of who you are.” I scowled and put the notebook away. And then it started to snow. On November 1. In Columbia, SC. He saw it on the weather map and practically squealed even though the snow line stopped several miles from our house. If that wasn’t God, the universe, and whatever else slapping me upside the head, well… that’s what it was, so let’s just leave it there. I knew I wasn’t quitting my vocation. But I was going to quit something.

Before my family’s stint in London I mentioned that I couldn’t quite bring myself to break away from Camille. Honestly, I felt guilty. Camille has taken me for quite a ride, and I’m thankful for that. 

It’s time. I’m writing a book that’ll have my name on it, not Camille’s. I’m writing for newspapers with my name in the byline, not Camille’s. As I’ve continued to learn about effective storytelling my breadth has expanded beyond this space and it’s time to let myself grow up to whatever levels may lie ahead. Not to mention that there’s a whole group of people out in cyberspace who think Camille Maurice is a real person and that I’m her employee! I’ve always tried to be clear about who I am and what my intentions are, but naming a blog after an imaginary person confused a lot of people, despite the  “about the blog” page* that had one section with my bio and another explaining the origins of the name. 

You get what I’m saying, so let me tell you how I’m planning on laying Camille to rest. Blog posts will continue here until January 2, 2015. On Monday, January 5 the blog section of ShaniGilchrist.com will go live. Content from The New South and anything else I feel is pertinent will be transferred over there, and CamilleMaurice.com will be left up for at least 6 months to remind people of where I’ve moved. 

But don’t think I’m ditching lifestyle-themed blog posts for good. Of course I’ll still share a Beautiful Thing or vignette if it really speaks to me. I even plan to run a series about interior designers who help their communities by giving back in a meaningful way. So don’t worry, this isn’t a complete personality change!

I hope you’ll follow me on this new path of digital storytelling. It would be my honor if you continue to learn with me, tell me when you think I’m wrong, cheer wildly (ha!) when you think I’m right and, more importantly, converse with me and with others about what we’re all learning as we move through the world. 

Thank you all so much for the love and encouragement you’ve given Camille Maurice over the years. It’s been beautiful, humbling and astonishing. 

xoxo,

Shani Gilchrist

PS- In the mean time, keep checking back here for a couple of other vignettes that’ll be going up in relation to the AYA Summit. In the meantime, if any of the stories I've related so far have struck a chord, sign up to become a member of ONE Girls + Women. They aren't asking for your money they're asking for something more significant when gathered in numbers. They're asking for your voice.


*That page was replaced last week in anticipation of today. Take a peek at my new, improved About Page.

BlogTour California: Learning About Self-Care

One of our sponsors, Mr. Steam, teaches me a thing or two

I have no idea where to start as I sit here in one of my favorite coffee shops, staring at the screen. Do you know that feeling? When you have approximately 80 kabillion things to write about or work on—so much that you’re a little overly-amped about it the night before—and then you sit down and… nothing. Blank slate. Ack!

Many schools of thought would say, just write! Which is why I’m sharing my inner-monologue with you right this moment instead of beating myself over it per usual. There’s been a lot going on. Of course I would blank out on the first day that a sense of calm would settle into my bones. A sense of calm. That seems rather odd to write out. I haven’t had that in weeks. 

Not a bad way to wake up...

Not a bad way to wake up...

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No, that’s a lie. I felt that way in California on the third morning of BlogTour California.** We’d spent the night at this adorable string of coastline hotels in Cambria, near Sonoma County. They're pretty unassuming from the outside as you drive past, but they’re hiding pure, get-away-from-it-all bliss inside. My room was appointed with a fireplace and two extremely comfortable chairs for reading next to the window while listening to the waves crash against the rocks across the two-lane road. Mobile phones don’t work inside the hotel (don’t worry, there’s WiFi), and while the rooms have televisions, it’s hard to remember that they’re sitting there. I swear that three days of quiet reading and writing at this hidden gem would cure anyone of whatever is making his or her head scream. We all have those moments. I’ve been having a them off and on since the summer. I have this looming spectre of a book hovering over me while I have virtually no child care after noon on most days and a husband who, until recently, was out of the country every week for work. The house has been a trash heap, a little person is trying to drop naps, that same little person is afraid of the toilet, and the bigger little person is wanting to be involved in more and more after school activities. Moms and dads everywhere face this from time to time and we tend to forget that we have to take care of ourselves, as well. One of my big lessons for 2014 has been that if I don’t do the self-care thing I'll sometimes become grumpy and jumpy and I get an awful lot of headaches. It’s something that we preach to our friends when we see them having a rough time, but how often do you give the Self Care Preaching to yourself? My time spent on the BlogTour—particularly the day that flitted back to my brain a couple of paragraphs ago—ended up being my self-preach.

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The lovely Bacara Resort and its fabulous architecture and views.

The lovely Bacara Resort and its fabulous architecture and views.

Our wine dinner table.

Our wine dinner table.

The night before that dawn on the coast, our group had attended a wine dinner at Caliza Winery. We had so much fun, it was the perfect opposite for the scene that would envelop me the next morning. We were all glowing thanks to having spent that morning at Bacara Resort refreshing ourselves with yoga, Mr. Steam, and lunch. We learned about Mr. Steam's latest venture into the world of bath and body products. You may know that the company is part of many fine residential homes in the form of personal steam shower systems. This was my first lesson in steam. I’ve been to a few steam rooms at various spas, but didn’t really know what it was all about. I knew that steam opened up pores in the skin and can help with sinus pressure, and always felt a little more relaxed when I’d walk back out of the white-tiled room, but I really had just gone in because it was there. Because it was at a spa and therefore seemed like something you do when you visit a spa. Martha Orellana, the company's VP of Sales & Marketing, taught us that steam therapy can actually be a significant way to initiate a system of self-care. Martha has her own Mr. Steam therapy system in her home and spends a few minutes a day reaping the benefits to her immune system, skin, emotional well-being and state of mind (you can tell—she’s balanced and beautiful in the most fun, outgoing ways). In order to enhance the home steam bath experience and make it more like a personal hammam, Mr. Steam has come out with a line of beauty products called TALA Bath & Body, which include a Bath & Body Rhassoul Lava Clay mixture, Bath & Body Beldi Black Soap, a Hammam glove and Bath & Body Argan Oil. After practicing yoga on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean we headed for the resort’s spa (okay, so there were TWO days of calm bones), where we smeared the sticky, dark mixture over our skin, relaxed on chaise lounges as we felt the mask start to pull our faces nice and taut as they dried, and then relaxed even further as we settled onto the tile of the steam room. We sat and chatted until the mask re-softened, then washed it off, scrubbed our skin with the soap when we each took showers, and finished off with the argan oil on our skin (and hair for me, because I’m always looking for something to keep its consistency from turning into straw). 

Okay, so here’s where I tell a little secret… when I get stressed out I break out. Not like a typical acne breakout. I get these nasty, humongous pits that bury themselves deep under my skin. It’s gross. I had one of those suckers on my chin that day, and the mask drew enough yuck out of my pores to take it down considerably. *Knock on wood* I haven’t had one of those stinkers return since I’ve been using the mask a couple of times a week. Since we haven’t begun to even plan our home re-do we don’t have a steam shower in our narrow circa 1991 master bath (but you’ll hear from us when the time comes, Mr. Steam!), so I call on the Old School to steam my face with the mask—water and essential oils (usually lavender and eucalyptus) in a pot on the stove, which I stand over with a towel over my head as the heat releases steam. A steam shower would be a bit easier, don’t you think? 

Anyhow, I don’t just owe Mr. Steam thanks for the fabulous morning of skin care and yoga. I owe Mr. Steam thanks for snapping me out of my own B.S. and making me take a moment to right myself. Self-care isn’t selfish. When was the last time you checked in with your inner monologue to see if it was asking for a little help?

**see what I did there? Circled back! That should be a song if it isn't already.

**I’ve mentioned before that we’d like to get to a less destructive phase of life first—you know, where our furniture doesn’t get peed on by little people who think the toilet is an evil monster