Guest Writers Week: The Drastic ‘N’ Word

By: Erica Harris

I walked into the office of my new work location scared as hell. I bought the New Kid On The Block mentality to my job and instead of wondering what time my lunch break would be since I skipped out on breakfast and my stomach was telling me how angry she was through her growls, I was so consumed in the thoughts of how well I would click with my new counterparts. How good my first day would be was based on how easy it would be to just blend in and interact with the co-workers I’d have to see throughout the week. At 26 years old, as a mother, as the oh-so-faithful tweeter of “No Phucks Shall Be Handed Out or Given To Folks Who Don’t Pay My Bills,” I was actually worried about this. I read through the forced smiles and heard how fraudulent the “good morning’s” were and knew that I’d be in for a treat on this October Monday morning.

The Social Butterfly. That’s who I am. And I can’t help it. I’m one of those people who’s friends with you, your momma, your auntie and maybe that girl from down the hall that you can’t stand. By nature, I am an extremely sociable person, but the older I get, the more I find the need to erase the word ‘extremely’ completely. Slowly, I’ve been hitting Backspace on the e, the l, the b and so on and so forth and at the rate I’m going, by age 30, the sociable part of that term just may be forced into exile as well. See, over the course of ten years, I’ve gone from being the girl who tried so hard to blend with the populars, losing myself – and a ton of money that went toward things I really didn’t want or need – to developing into a woman who came to the realization that some people will only be down with you, chill with you, f*** with you, for as long as you shuck and jive for them on their own terms and on their accord (Insert great Twitter quote here: “Folks ‘give’ not of their hearts, but because they want to feel good about THEMSELVES and demand people aid in that feeling”).

And I ain’t even with all that…

Ever work someplace and you have that one person, who holds the same position as you, has no seniority over you, but wants to be the boss of you? Yeah, that happened. It went from giving me a mini-orientation, briefing me on the ins and outs of the place to acting as a full-time supervisor. I was advised to do something, outside of her realm and mine, and without hesitation, replied, no. I couldn’t help it, but I had to burst the bubble floating above her head and snap her back into reality. Before I knew it, I heard more whispering than I did conversations being held at regular volume level. People started to hold their heads down when I passed yet gave me the constant side eye when they thought I wasn’t looking. It went from “do you need anything” and “how’s it going?” to:

“She thinks she better then.”
“The new girl has a stank ass attitude.”
“Who put this bitch on a pedestal?”

And I kept on working, trying to keep my most prized and dangerous possession – my tongue – from saying what was on my mind, out loud. I wanted to tell them, “Miss, it’s ‘than’, not then and it’s not stank, it’s ‘stink’ and last I checked, you put me on the pedestal I didn’t even know I was on. Oop.

It’s a regular occurrence, I should be used to by now; I start losing friends and the circumference of my circle begins to dwindle in size when I’m impelled to say ‘no’. If I don’t verbally tell you no, my actions sure do – and I’m assuming this is known as “the curve”. People start acting a certain way the moment they hear that drastic N word, gathering their feelings in a bunch. They self-consciously begin to act more off of emotion than logic. I don’t do well with folks who go basing behavior solely off of feelings and I guess it’s because I’m big on consistency in everything. I would much rather be alone than deal with your off and on. I saw it best on Twitter the other day, “The system of segregation I apply to my life is based on behavior, not race” (@cthagod). You can keep it.

My sanity space is sacred to me. I’m all for positive vibes in my atmosphere and anything that goes against that is not welcomed in my realm. Distancing and removing myself from people who are proudly down with Team Negativity doesn’t hurt me, in the least. It hurts the ones who are adamant on spreading that energy into the Universe, because see, Lauryn Hill said it best,
“Karma, karma, karma, comes back to you hard.”
I couldn’t believe that hours before, I was actually worried about blending in – again – with these foolish, frivolous adults. Everything changed because of a simple no. No’s are powerful. No’s are needed. For my co-worker, that no was her wake-up call. Ma’am. You are not a friggin’ supervisor. For me, that no was my eye-opener. I heard a voice tell me, “Did you really need to fit in? No, you didn’t.” The no’s we hear are necessary for our personal development, yet people take the no’s as a breakdown towards our spirit. How can we work on turning our no’s into yes’s? What priceless lessons can we grasp from a no?

At 16, I thought I figured that fitting-in thing out after the death glares and looks of denial I got sitting at the table that wasn’t meant for me and after getting rejected by the boy that I liked who didn’t share the same feelings. At 26, I clearly forgot that my day – my life – shouldn’t be based off of how the next person views or feels about me. I’m there to do a job that doesn’t say anywhere in fine print, stroking a co-worker’s ego is mandatory to succeed. I’m alive and well to fulfill a purpose that was destined for me that no one has to approve of. If you’re down with me, cool. And guess what? If you’re not, that’s cool too… I got to keep living for me.

Erica Harris is a NYC native, proud mother of two boys and is fake married to her partner of 9 years. She is a former student of SUNY Plattsburgh, majoring in English and is currently fulfilling her dream of publishing a novel on domestic violence. Her work has been featured on For Harriet, she can be found on her personal blog and on Twitter at @KaeNdKamsMom.

Lessons From My Sister: Say No Without Apologies


Me and my sisters. Youngest to oldest, left to right.
Me and my sisters. Youngest to oldest, left to right.

My oldest sister is the shit. We nicknamed her street lawyer back in the day because she is hardly without an opinion and is typically blunt in her delivery of said opinions. But, she is also one of the wisest people I know. I call her when I need advice and encouragement about the important things. You know, writing and men. Those are really the only important things. She will do her best to cut out my crying nieces in the background of the phone receiver and dish out the best that her brain cells have to offer.

Last week, I spent a total of eighteen hours in New York where she lives. She picked my other sister and I up from an obscure street corner also known as Megabus’ official drop-off location. It was late and we were only spending the night at her place before heading into the city to clap and yell “Woo!” 100 times over at a daytime talk show taping. She bought us McDonald’s and took us back to her apartment where the three of us sat at the kitchen table until 1 a.m. talking about everything from boys to Basketball Wives. It was the kind of moment we rarely get as a sisterhood. We are three adult women nursing three completely different adult lives in three different locations. We maintain our relationships through phone conversations and Facebook comments, but face-to-face time with all three of us is infrequent and coveted.

As we chatted, she eventually hit her oldest-and-wisest-sister stride. We started discussing relationships and how young is too young to get married. We all had an opinion on this, but I’ll spare you the details. As she relayed her experiences, she said, “When you get older, you learn how to say no. And, you don’t give excuses. You don’t say sorry. You just say no.”

“Just say no” is the kind of phrase that has gotten watered down from too many D.A.R.E programs and after-school specials. But, when you strip away the anti-drug campaigns, those words still carry meaning. I’ve gotten better at saying no, but have not reached the point I’d like to be at. I am not good at doing shit that I simply do not want to do, so I’ve found myself saying “no” more, but usually not without an excuse. I can’t decline an RSVP to an Evite without feeling compelled to at least type “Sorry, doing something else that weekend!” in the comment box.

Or, is that just common courtesy? If you decline an invitation, are you required to give a reason other than “Bitch, because I don’t feel like it?” And, isn’t saying “no” even more frowned upon in today’s world where you are supposed to be open and coming from a place of yes? Where do you draw the line between being open to new experiences but not doing the things you simply have zero desire to do?

Perhaps to my oldest sister’s point, you grow into being able to say “no” comfortably and confidently. I am beginning to use the word more in my personal life, but am not even close in my professional life (however, that’s a different story not meant for this blog.) “No” is not a word many of us are conditioned to spit out beyond the era of our terrible twos, at least not without excessive apology or explanation. Maybe we should get ourselves more accustomed to saying it if we want people to take us, our time and our priorities more seriously. Or, maybe we should just start saying it so we can avoid doing the shit that we simply do not want to do.