The Dilemma Of Hope

kelly post

A Guest Writers’ Week post by Kelly Macias

I turned twenty on my knees. Well, not quite literally, but close enough.

I turned twenty in 1998. And I spent New Year’s Eve 1997 at my grandmother’s house with my cousin. At 11:45pm, my grandmother (a lifelong Catholic) announced to us that she had a tradition to pray from 11:59pm until 12:01am. The prayer signified the ending of the year that passed and asked for health and prosperity in the new year to come. As the first-born grandchild I had a special bond with my grandmother and was always terribly afraid of disappointing her. So I agreed to indulge her tradition. And at 11:59, I found myself on my knees praying, even though I’d probably only ever prayed a handful of times before.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Pajama-covered knees on the tiled floor of my grandparents’ basement, gripping my palms tightly and squeezing my eyes shut. I was excited that in just a few months I was going to no longer be a teenager. I was even more thrilled that in just a few weeks I would be leaving my hometown to spend the semester of my junior year in college studying in Spain–a very big deal for a girl born and raised in Baltimore by a single mother. There was a lot to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I was supremely hopeful. And so I prayed with fierce determination that all of my dreams would come true. I prayed that what I felt was a very ordinary life would be magically transformed and made extraordinary. I prayed that I would find happiness, fun, adulthood and maybe even romance in Europe.

And that’s how I would characterize the decade of my twenties–spending a large part of those years in an attempt to hold on to a desperate, outwardly seeking, optimistic and innocent kind of hope.

For the record, I did find some happiness and fun in Europe. Weekend trips to Paris, Lisbon, London and spring break in Dublin were dreams come true for a young woman who had barely been on a plane before. And while I had my share of hook-ups with (mostly European) men, I didn’t really find romance, but I did find excitement. But looking back, as I recall that time, what I reflect most on is that I most certainly found adulthood.

Having been in predominately white schools for the majority of my school career, I knew what it was like to be something other than white. In fact, most of my friends were white women, though I did have a sprinkle full of friends of color from various parts of my life. My friendships at that time were a microcosm of how I understood the world. If I were nice to someone, they’d be nice to me; and anyone and everyone had the potential to get along–regardless of differences. While I was very aware of race and racism, my understanding of it was limited to individual acts of meanness instead of a complex system of structures resulting in the marginalization and oppression of people of color.

Though my time in Europe was not the first time I’d experienced racism, it was the first time it manifested itself in a way that caused me physical harm. I was touched by well-meaning strangers wanting to feel my hair and skin, I was grabbed on the street by men who assumed I was a prostitute, and I was even kicked by a skinhead one day as I was taking the metro to dinner with a friend.

It was a lot to take.

There I was, living the adventure of a lifetime, having some amazing fairy tale moments in beautiful European cities, coupled with very real, dangerous experiences that reminded me that I always walk the Earth as a woman in a Black body. It was difficult to grasp the idea that no matter how much I loved and accepted everyone, not everyone loved and accepted me. It was made worse by well-meaning white female friends who, as much as they might have tried, did not have a clue about what I was experiencing.

Those experiences, however, did not dampen my hope and optimism. In fact, I consider my study abroad as one of the most transformative events in my life and remain grateful for what it taught me about the world and myself. I spent much of my twenties trying to get back to Spain and Europe. I continued to hold out a delirious, almost childlike hopefulness that I would find happiness, fun and adventure and that the world would accept and love me for who I am and not for what I look like.

As I near the end of my thirties, I realize that the outwardly seeking, optimistic hope I once possessed has been replaced with a more bluesy kind of hope. It’s the kind of hope that I often see in other Black women and saw in the older Black women in my family; the kind of hope that a woman gets after embracing all of her lived experience. It is a hope that is optimistic but measured, grounded in reality and infinitely more practical. It is a hope that is resilient in times of tragedy and one that also finds great joy and jubilation in moments of triumph. Although I now have many years of travel under my belt, I still have fantasies of traveling the world and finding new adventures. Those dreams are now coupled with the knowledge that there will always be perceptions of me as a Black woman anywhere I go that I can’t control; misunderstanding, hatred and indifference directed toward me that I can’t explain.

And yet… hope urges me to push on. To continue to forge a life that is fearless and intentional and brazen. And, no matter the challenges, that’s just what I’m doing.

After all, hope is hope. No matter what form it takes.

kelly maciasKelly Macías is a writer, trainer and consultant whose work explores the intersections of race and identity, communication and conflict. She is the founder of the blog, Conflict Undone (www.conflictundone.com), where she writes about the experiences of undoing life’s many conflicts in order to live a more authentic, transformative life. When Kelly is not working or writing, she is interested in supporting Black women’s storytelling and testimonies as a way of healing. She can often be found working out her own life’s conflicts on her yoga mat. 

 

 

Purposeful Wanderlust: Lo Millie of “Can’t Stay Put”

Lo Millie Iceland
Lo Millie during her trip to Iceland

 

For many people, Monday morning is met with dread and angst. But not for Lauren Miller. In fact, on this particular Monday morning, Lauren, affectionately known as “Lo Millie”, is getting ready to embark upon an excursion that will immerse her in South African culture. But, this is not your typical trip. Instead, this is the latest journey in Lo’s collection of purpose-driven pilgrimages that she documents on her site Can’t Stay Put (CSP).

Lo’s previous nine to five existence as an event and marketing manager simply wasn’t enough. Like many millennials, she knew she craved more meaning and purpose in her life. So, on January 15, 2013, after putting in a 3-month notice at work, Lo left her job in search of something more.

“I told God ‘If you reveal to me what my purpose is, I promise I will run 100 miles per hour toward it'”, Lo recalled.

Lo, a Howard graduate with a degree in biology, found that purpose during a trip to Maui–an excursion she describes as her “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. Having started flying at the ripe age of five, she realized that she had not simply been bitten by the travel bug. Instead, she knew that the purpose she promised to run 100 miles per hour toward was to inspire others through her travel experiences. That’s how Can’t Stay Put was born.

Lo during her trip to Mumbai, India
Lo during her trip to Mumbai, India

Even though Lo had traveled to 15 countries before conceiving CSP, she knew she had to do an official CSP trip to launch and anchor the brand. So, she developed a proposal to crowd fund her very first CSP trip to Southeast Asia in May 2013. When she received a $2500 dollar donation from a contributor outside of her family, Lo’s purpose was affirmed.

“I always knew that I was going to do something different, I just didn’t know what it was going to be,” Lo said. “Once I raised the money to go to Southeast Asia, it showed me I could do anything.”

The first two years of CSP were focused on building the brand. Lo needed to get to as many places as possible. So she gave up a lot of her living expenses, crashed on friends’ couches and used every bit of capital she could get her hands on from side gigs to advance her brand. But her tenacious efforts were not always met with support and positivity.

“A lot of people say they want to change their lives and don’t want to put forth the effort,” Lo stated. “You underestimate dreamkillers. You have to be very protective of your mental space when you’re trying to do something that’s strictly your vision.”

Lo en route to Thailand
Lo en route to Thailand

Now, Lo sees CSP as something that has transitioned from a platform to a full content creation company. Her travel experiences–which have included journeys to Southeast Asia, India and Iceland–are not about just posing for Instagram pictures. Instead the modern-day griot aims to inspire, educate and influence others.

“All of my trips have underlying themes,” Lo explained. “Traveling should be a show off kind of thing. I don’t intend to stunt on people; I want to teach and ignite people throughout the world through my experiences.”

During Lo’s latest journey, she will investigate the longstanding racial tensions in South Africa. In the wake of continued and extreme racial unrest in the U.S., she will seek to uncover the real issues, documenting the essence of her discoveries through photography.

When asked what advice she would give to young adults looking to fulfill their own wanderlust, Lo said it’s important to understand the difference between travel and vacation.

“If we see it as a vacation, we see it as a luxury. And if we see it as a luxury, we think we can’t afford it. But travel can transcend you to another place,” she said.

While Lo’s story is filled with wisdom and insight, she says it’s her father who has been her biggest inspiration and given her the best advice.

“My father has been an entrepreneur ever since I’ve been alive,” Lo said. “He always told me two things: there are two working days after Friday and two working days before Monday; don’t be a weekend person. And don’t get too comfortable signing the backs of checks. You want to sign the front.”

Keep up with Lo during her South Africa trip by visiting www.cantstayput.com and following her on Instagram @cantstayput_. 

The Thing About New York

New York City for post

There are three universal truths any time you arrive home from a trip to New York: you will be broke, you will be exhausted and you will be incredibly happy.

At least that’s the case for me.

A few weeks ago when a good friend told me she would have her 25th birthday celebration in New York City, it seemed like the perfect chance to have another one of my whirlwind NYC trips–the kind filled with visiting family and friends, hosting some sort of event, spending a shit ton of money and sleeping very, very little.

I always feel my nerves settling in before I visit New York, worried whether or not my body and brain can keep up with the frenetic pace of the city. A few times this past weekend I found myself asking friends, many of whom are recent transplants into the Big Apple, “Do you ever feel overstimulated here?” Most of them said no, they’ve gotten used to it or it just accompanies the DNA of living in a place filled with endless opportunity.

I like cities, but the city that has most defined my adulthood is Washington, D.C.–a place that gives a lot more fucks about everything than NYC, for better or worse. D.C. is like the preppy, overdressed cousin to its hip and irreverent family member of NYC. On one hand, I love D.C. I find it to be a very livable city, a place where I have learned to traverse the Metro without much confusion and drive the streets without panicking, despite my GPS serving as a necessary crutch. I know what I like in D.C., know U Street is my favorite place to go out, know which Busboys and Poets I most prefer performing at and know that you’ll never find decent parking in Adams Morgan. D.C. represents comfort for me, but NYC represents adventure. D.C. is skinny jeans and high heels; NYC is tutu skirts and boots (something I proudly wore this past weekend). D.C. is home, but NYC always has to be within reach. It represents excitement. An adrenaline rush. Opportunities I never get in D.C. and people I would never meet.

BABB 4
Big Apple Bloggers Brunch 12/6/14

My most recent trip to NYC consisted of 36 hours–dinner with a friend; a sleepover at my big sister’s place; my final event of the year with the Big Apple Bloggers Brunch; a reunion with a college friend; pizza, wine and a reunion with another college friend, and dinner and karaoke for my friend’s birthday before leaving the karaoke spot at 4:30 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. bus back home. I knew it was an aggressive schedule and I assumed by the time I made it to my pizza and wine reunion at a friend’s place on Saturday evening, I’d be ready for a nap before continuing my trip. Instead, I lied down for all of five minutes and decided I would much rather catch up with my friend than waste time sleeping.

If you know me, you know I never consider sleeping a waste of time. But, that’s the thing about New York–when you are there, you know your only option is to soak it up. Hop from borough to borough and neighborhood to neighborhood in search of what’s next. When my bus pulled out of the Lincoln Tunnel on Friday evening and I noticed it was pouring rain, my heart sank and I figured half of my plans would be canceled or modified because of the shitastic weather. I checked my email insanely on Saturday morning, monitoring it for any last-minute cancellations to the Big Apple Bloggers Brunch that I assumed were inevitable because of the weather. But, when I stood in the entrance of Essex restaurant, surrounded by hipsters and lower Manhattan’s young elite, I noticed women trickling in. Soon enough, the women for the brunch had taken over the entrance.

Big Apple Bloggers Brunch 12/6/14
Big Apple Bloggers Brunch 12/6/14

Like I said, I’ve asked friends if they ever feel overstimulated by the city. But, now, I see how it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the city in a different way–overwhelmed by the support and authenticity of the people there. From a friend having dinner with me after a long work week to my sister meeting me in Chelsea to help me navigate the maze of the subway, from all of these beautiful women showing up for my last Twenties Unscripted event of 2014 to a friend just letting me regroup and crash at his place for a few hours–I know that NYC has my back in ways I will always need. I may not be brave and gusty enough to make a move there, but I know how important it is for me to get to the city. Get my blood rushing. See my people. Reconnect and rebuild. Spend way too much money. And, of course, never sleep.

Xoxo,
Tyece

A Parisian Dose of Peace

Guest Post by Nneka Okona

I almost didnt make it here,”I thought to myself as I stood in a trance, frozen in the moment, in disbelief and glee and amazement that I was standing within meters of The Louvre. It was a beautifully magical day in Paris, an azure blue sky with sparse, fluffy clouds listlessly floating. The sun sparkled through the trees, illuminated the buildings and refracted off the glass pyramid.

Just 24 hours before, I had completed my last day at the high school where I had been teaching English since February. I had embraced my colleagues and managed to submerge from a tearful goodbye with grace, choosing to let the emotion fall from my eyes after I’d exited through the front door of the school for the last time and rounded the corner on the street.

I held my last payment in my sweaty hands, the perspiration causing the check to feel like a sprinkling of dew on blades of grass, lingering from the wee morning hours. I was half morose, half panicked because in a frenzy, a week before, I had opened a new bank account. I’d misunderstood the process for getting my monthly salary transferred into my account and realized, just hours before, there’d be a delay in the receipt of funds, which meant no monies for Paris. All I had left to my name was a 20 Euro bill.

But I’d made inauthentic peace with not going to Paris. I was exhausted, after a busy month of travel, packing up my flat, readying myself to say goodbye to the city of Madrid which had become home for the last nine months and returning to life in the United States…

The sweaty check. The sweaty check I clasped in my hands exonerated all my worries. The secretary at my school emphasized with my concern and wrote me a check on the spot. After the bus ride back into Madrid from Torrejón de Ardoz and then a ride on the Metro back to my barrio of Quevedo, I walked the check into the bank who issued it and had my salary in my hands. And just like that, Paris was calling.

Later that evening after landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I hopped on the Metro and proceeded to the hostel I had reserved earlier in the week. I was nervous about my second hostel experience because my first one had been a night full of me cringing—as I slept in dingy, thin bed sheets and felt unclean from the two second shower in the community bathroom.

36 hours. I only had 36 hours in Paris, but as I walked the streets, smiled at the beautiful men who threw flirty utterances in French and lingering stares to me, I felt relieved. Back in my zone. The week prior I’d had a weekend in Spanish paradise in Mallorca, but as a repeat solo traveler, it was hard for me to resolve the distress I felt juggling the desperate need for alone time with interacting and staying in the same space with two other friends—whose idea of travel and navigating the time we had differed from mine.

Bright and early the next morning, I set out to see as many things as I could, and in addition to the Louvre, saw The Notre Dame, ate an orgasmic meal of short ribs and mashed potatoes on an outdoor cafe lining the street, bought “Half of a Yellow Sun,”in English, in a Parisian bookstore and saw the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and of course, The Eiffel Tower, in all her crowning glory, more stunning in person.

After collapsing onto my bunk bed at the end of the day, I sent a Gchat message to a friend declaring it a “Top 10 life day.”Moments later I was sprawled on the floor outside the room in the hostel I was sharing with 10 other girls from all over the U.S. (and Sydney, Australia) gushing to them on the phone about how amazing the day had felt. During that conversation, I conveniently left out a sudden realization I’d unexpectedly had while being lost in my thoughts while tourist-ing.

My thoughts on love. My eternal truth on what love meant to me and would mean to me. My concept of love and how it feels and what it should mean and the manner in which it manifests. I had such clarity on it, peace, which I’d never had before.

We often think of love, its affections and all its iterations, in absolutes. Sweeping and absolute as waves moving in fastidiously on the shore, taking with it what was there before and leaving nothing to remain. It’s overpowering, sometimes overbearing, suffocating, even. It takes you over completely. Leaves you powerless, thoughtless, rendering you useless except just to love. All love, Everything love. Love is left for you to ponder. And only love is what consumes. You meditate on love. How to keep that love. How to make it better. More lasting.

But yet, here I am, years after first falling heels over head, stupidly enamored with my love and countless loves to follow him. So many loves. Loves which I thought were it but were only a facade. They weren’t real. They shattered into thousands of minuscule, unrecognizable shards, never to be recovered or reimagined into something whole.

I don’t think love is really about the absolutes anymore. I don’t think it’s so big that it makes you crazy. Spins you completely out of control. I don’t think that love is really something which can be reduced to a sort of psychosis, a feeling that leaves you questioning and wondering and unsettled.

I think love is sure. It’s tranquil. it’s calm and peaceful. It’s soothing. It’s strong but not overpowering. It’s big but not suffocating. It’s balanced.

And well, it was in Paris, the city of love and lovers, as I sat cross-legged on a bunk bed, shoving a flaky, buttery croissant, raspberry macaroons filled with a raspberry chocolate ganache and a strawberry tart in my mouth, that I equated love with a sort of peace.

Love is peace.

Nneka M. Okona is a writer and former expat who recently relocated from Madrid, Spain to Washington, DC. Visit her blog, www.afrosypaella.com, her website, about.me/nnekaokona or follow her tweets, @NisforNneka.