Happiness

“Are you happy,” she queried. I thought about it for a second. She continued, “You know I always ask you that.” I didn’t. I did not recognize the repetition until she mentioned it.

Are you happy?

Am I happy?

It’s such a simple question that only needs a simple response but requires thought and demands honesty of self. In that moment I replied, “I mean, yea. I’m glad I left. I have been enjoying time with family. I haven’t been able to do that as much in the last 12 years.” She smiled. I paused in thought. She responded knowingly, “But that has made you complacent.” I confirmed with a solid, “Yea.”

Am I happy?

I don’t recall anyone ever asking me that. Well, I mean, she did; but other than her, I can’t think of anyone. Honestly, that doesn’t mean someone never had, just that I don’t remember. That’s still sad. As many deep conversations as I had and have with so many people, I don’t recall happiness really being a topic of focus.

Am I happy?

I heard and read varying thoughts on happiness. Most of them sound like, and I’m paraphrasing, “Happiness is what you make it. Whether or not you are happy is your responsibility. Happiness is a choice.” Ultimately, I got the sense that happiness is intrinsic. I’m not arguing that at all; however, I do not believe happiness is exclusively intrinsic.

I believe that people, places, circumstances play a role in one’s level of happiness. I do not believe someone in an abusive relationship can truly be happy until they get out of it. Working in stressful, negative environments can impact someone’s level of happiness. I do believe it is an individual’s responsibility to assess what is inhibiting their happiness and do something about it. But I feel like, fear, that happiness hasn’t really been a topic of conversation because it doesn’t matter…because it’s intrinsic…you need to figure out for yourself why you aren’t happy. And the other question that comes to mind is if we feel people really care or not if we are unhappy.  How many times are things brushed off with some semblance of, “life goes on.”

Who, then, really wants to admit they are unhappy? What is the manifestation of unhappiness?  Was your answer depression? (I’m curious. Write in the comments what you think the manifestation of unhappiness is.) Truthfully, depression could be the answer but that’s not always the case.

Am I happy?

Why haven’t I ever really asked myself that question? Let me take that back. I have asked myself that question but not with such transparency.

Here’s what I know:

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Thumbs Up

  • I get to spend more time with my family. I love these people. I would put my family against anyone else’s for the Family of a Lifetime Award.  Spending time with them has been so frigging refreshing.
  • I am in a more peaceful place. A place where I can stop and think about me.
  • I’m doing things I said I wanted to do – blogging, painting, learning to sew.
  • I am resting.
  • I am taking care of me.

 

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Thumbs Down

  • Establishing a social life in a new place is a bit of a challenge.
  • I’m ready to get back to work. (This correlates with the aforementioned bullet).
  • I do not want to live in this city.
  • Bullet 3 means I am again pulled away from my family.  This goes back to what she said about being complacent.
  • The job search – figuring out what I want and aligning that with postings.

Am I happy?

I don’t think happiness is a fully saturated thing.  You can be happy with many things in your life and still be unhappy with a few. I think you bask in the good while working on those that don’t quite make the list. I think happiness, like many things, is relative.  Sometimes you have to experience challenges to appreciate what is or was.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

I think happiness is intrinsic (though not exclusively). I think it’s built. I think it’s an assessment of your surroundings and adjusting.

“Are you happy?”  I’m glad she asked. It made me think about happiness, my happiness, over the last few days. Hopefully, you’ll think about it too.

Toothbrush: A Response to a Prompt

tooth-brushHave you ever stopped and thought about the power of a toothbrush? Think about it. A toothbrush is part of a set of tools designed to provide you with the confidence of a fresh mouth.  Confidence in the hygiene of your mouth – correlated to the appearance and smell, leads to greater confidence when meeting someone knew, smiling big or knowing that plaque isn’t going to make its way to your arteries and cause a heart attack…at least not from a lack of oral hygiene.

And smiles?! Smiles are probably the most disarming thing out there…next to laughter.  Smiles are contagious, they release hormones, blah blah blah, good stuff, bunnies and unicorns.  I think you get my point. A toothbrush is powerful.

The other thing I think about when thinking of a toothbrush is vulnerability. Let’s say you’re meeting someone for the first time, personal or professional, you probably want to be sure your breath is fresh and there is no parsley in your teeth.  Maybe you aren’t meeting someone for the first time but you just had an amazing cheese steak sandwich that was loaded with onions for lunch and you have a team meeting right after.  Granted, you probably thought this through already but sometimes the cravings grab us by the collar and we don’t give two pennies of thought to what our breath may smell like.  In those moments, aren’t we looking for a toothbrush? Gum? Mint?

I mean, who cares if anyone else can smell it, sometimes it’s bugging you. That’s enough to be just a smidgen uncomfortable.

On the other hand, arguably the most freeing moments are when you are around people you’re comfortable with. Mom. Sibling. Partner. Bestie. Those folks can deal with morning breath, lunch breath, jalapeno breath. These companions will also, however, tell you when you are in dire need of a toothbrush – either for their sake or yours.

I have to admit, I love a good honest friend. To have someone that will call me on my stuff – stuff I sometimes don’t know I have, is powerful.  It causes me to pause, re-evaluate and move forward. Sometimes it causes me to freeze or change course. My best friends are those that challenge me to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability, as simple as it is, is not an easy thing. No sir. It’s not the response I may receive that i get anxious about. It’s the being honest with myself part.

I’m going to go on a limb, and you’ll probably disagree, but honesty has layers. Facts are real. The truth is relative. Honesty has layers.

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Let me explain.

Fact: I was engaged. The truth about what happened will be different depending on who is telling the story. How I honestly felt about it changed at different points as I processed my emotions with different lenses.

I am angry. Why am I angry? I am moreso disappointed. Why am I disappointed? I thought we would work out. …I wanted us to work out. …I wanted us to work out because of my own timeline for my life. …Now that I look back on it, we probably pushed the dating idea due to pressures from ourselves and those around us. …The level of love and commitment and maturity wasn’t there for us to have a flourishing marriage.

That level of honesty with myself took years.  It also took a lot of conversations with friends who knew and didn’t know the situation. The stories my homies tell now surprise me. I didn’t know that I was so openly raw. But I needed to be. And I needed friends that would let me be. And I needed friends that would encourage me to be. And one of those friends and I keep coming back to a conversation about how we can be or why we aren’t just vulnerable.

Why does vulnerability have conditions? Haven’t we all seen the power of healing that comes from sharing one’s story? Connecting with people in a raw and honest way? But we, I, keep making “buts” about why I shouldn’t just be vulnerable.

You can probably guess by now that I love connecting with people. I’m all about making friends but best believe there are levels to friendship. And, you guessed it, there are levels to vulnerability with these individuals. And the question my friend keeps asking is, “What do you have to lose?” …I may have onion breath…

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Toothbrush

“It was Communion Sunday…”

I believe I shared in another post I have met a lot of new family members lately.  One gentleman I met, Michael, an artist who is living between California and Mississippi, is a talker.  He can talk for minutes on end, keep you on the phone so long that you wonder if his body functions like a normal human needing sustenance or release.  Interestingly enough, he is fully aware of his exhaustive story-telling.

I enjoy story-tellers, I am one myself. It’s great to be quiet sometimes and listen to people talk, reminisce about “this one time…”  When Michael realized he was wandering off, he would bring himself back to the topic at hand. Once, he stopped to talk about how his mother held conversation.  He said, “She would try to tell me about when she spoke to my brother and say, ‘I spoke to your brother about two weeks ago…well, it was on a Sunday…it was Communion Sunday,’ you see how this is not relevant to the story,” he said.  He laughed as he thought about how long the conversations could be with her as she thought out loud – each thought having their own mini monologues. But isn’t that the fun of conversation?

I have a friend who has a degree in Biology like I do and our dialogues jump off the tracks soooo many times! Mostly, they divert to some nerdy application of our education to the topic.  Last time we spoke, we had a list of things to look up once we ended the conversation: how rice is grown, pussy willows, “those plants that look like hotdogs on a stick,” pineapple plants and cranberries. I can’t recall what we were discussing in the first place but I know there were a couple of diversions that got us there.

I feel we get too busy to have a great dialogue with someone.  There seems to be something more important on social media, some movie we don’t want interrupted, some project we have to do, some album that just dropped, some thing that is more important than making (or strengthening) a relationship with another human being.  Let’s be honest, real relationships are rarely built through social media. Then again, how are we defining “real?”  Some don’t have real relationships with the people right in front of them. Maybe that’s why we find something else to focus on – something that makes us feel connected, a part.

I am both guilty of and frustrated by this.  I mean, some things take so much focus that stopping to answer the phone isn’t worth it.  Equally, we all need time to ourselves for self care and can do whatever the heck we want with that time. I’m merely pointing out I am aware of how many people put in their headphones while sitting in a full room. Families forgoing conversation at restaurants because they are all on their phones.  My most memorable moments are when I put the phone up and engage those around me. I’m almost annoyed I need to keep my phone on me in case of emergencies. I sometimes wish we could go back to payphones and quarters.

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Let me take a moment to divert from the main topic, as I would if we were sitting and talking in person, to tell a funny story about payphones and quarters. I, like many youth, had my days of threatening to runaway when I was a kid. One day I was so angry that I went into my mom’s purse, took a quarter and rode my bike to the library without telling her beforehand.  I felt rebellious and brazen, chest-puffed out. I might have been as bold in actuality as I was in my head with the exception of leaving her a note to tell her what I did and where I went. LOL! On top of that, the library?!

Anywho, sometimes it is a little annoying to stop and converse with someone because they aren’t talking about anything you’re interested in, or you feel you could be doing something better with your time, but I don’t think there is anything better to do with your time than to make someone else’s life better.  Pausing to listen to someone can make a big difference in their day. With as little dialogue as we are having these days, there are sure to be some pretty lonely people out there. Just stop and listen, and maybe even share.  You may walk away with something inspiring, enlightening or give them something to walk away with. I, personally, feel a conversation isn’t fruitful unless either of us walked away with something – a memory, a laugh, a challenge of thought, etc.

Well, on that note, it’s been nice talking to ya. I’m going to get back to watching Footloose and continue some art projects. Until next time folks. 🙂

Food and Travels

I would argue the recipe for a good trip is good company, good lodging, great entertainment, but most importantly, good food. Think about it, you ask someone how was their trip and they will inevitably talk about the food – be it at someone’s house or a restaurant.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of eating food made with love and recipes passed down for generations. Alcenia’s restaurant in downtown Memphis was more than I could have imagined and then some.

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It starts here. A door that looks like it leads to a boutique but the awning marks it as Alcenia’s – the place where we set out for soul food breakfast.  Upon entry, it looks like forever Mardi Gras. Vibrant green, orange, purple and yellow decorations cover the walls and tables. We’re the first to walk in and a lady who looks like she could be your aunt who woke hours before you, and has been doing some cleaning around the house, walks out to greet us with a kiss on the forehead.  She hands us the menus to peruse while she grabs our drinks. Mom and I order apple juice while my grandmother attempts the Ghetto-Aid.

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When she returns, she explains how the brunch works and we get to placing our orders. Mom and Grandma order pork chops. Grandma and I get waffles. Mom and I request hash brown. Grandma gets fried green tomatoes and I round out my meal with eggs and chicken – white meat to be exact. Alcenia offers to bring a sample of her tomato gravy to taste.

As she is setting up her place, preparing for more people to enter, she shares 90% of her visitors come from out of town. As you can see on her menu, she’s been on several tv shows, featured in many articles and magazines, including Oprah’s magazine.  Surprisingly enough, though she’s been there 20 years, she doesn’t get a lot of traction from the people of Memphis.

Strung across an archway was a birthday banner that reads, “Happy 95th Birthday!”  My grandmother asks about it and Alcenia shares the banner was for her mother’s 95th but she is now 96 and Alcenia 2, referring to herself, is 20 years old.

As we wait for our food, more people walk in and are greeted in the same familial, loving way that we were.  Alcenia jokes with my grandmother about adding the Ghetto-Aid to her water exclaiming, “That ain’t my Ghetto-Aid, that’s colored water!”  When that food came out…H O N E Y C H I L E !  The plates are full. I know I won’t be able to finish what is in front of me.  Just as Alcenia proclaimed, everything was cooked fresh upon ordering, and it all looks, smells and tastes like aunty whipped out grandma’s cast iron and slayed once she saw her nieces walk in expecting their empty bellies to be satisfied.

The meat is juicy, the potatoes clearly chopped and fried. The pancakes and waffles look like they have something special to them and the eggs are cooked to perfection.  She brings the samples of tomato gravy and I try it.  As selective (picky) of an eater as I am, I’m definitely nervous but realize it’s quite alright.  I load my grits with sugar dig in. SOOOOO GOOOOOOD!  The food is just as flavorful as the personality of Alcenia’s – the restaurant and the woman.  I know I won’t need to eat anymore until the party.

Satisfied, I sit back and think, “I need to tell people about this place.”  With that being said, should you happen to be in Memphis and looking for a good place to eat, I recommend stopping by Alcenia’s. Great food – and even greater people, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

Pull Over!

I have recently made time to spend with family.  Sometimes we get so busy in everything we need to do that we don’t remember to enjoy life.  At this particular point in my life, I have pulled over to enjoy the moments, people and scenery around me – none of this will last forever.  This adventure we took on the road.

3 Generations, 4 states. A family friend turned 50 years old this past weekend prompting my grandmother, mother and I to hop in a car and travel across 4 states to celebrate with her.  The car temperature was perfect, the snacks were plentiful and each person had headphones in case they happen to listen to something opposite to the radio – which we all used.

You learn a lot about a person spending 12 hours in a car – never being apart throughout the weekend with the exception of a shower.  Some things I gathered:

  •  My grandmother is getting older.  That sounds like an obvious thing but she is busy – always on the go, getting into everyone’s business and very independent. Seeing her be absent-minded was a little jarring.
  • My mother prefers headphones and an audiobook to having conversation with those in the room.
  • My grandmother remembers the song “The Freaks Come Out At Night”…yeah no
  • I can completely tune out a host of conversations while sitting at a table of five.  I must be great at looking like I’m still present because they thought I was still in the discussion.                                                             sure
  • My mom looked into joining a bowling league twice when I was younger.
  • My grandmother probably will always see my mom and I as children – especially as she felt it necessary to referee a minor spat in the mall.
  • My grandmother speeds.
  • My mom will dance in public except at a party and she is a horrible wingman. lol  She got up from the table, took all of her belongings and when I realized she wasn’t returning, I grabbed my things to walk out only to see her standing in the lobby.  She said she was going to text me later…whet.jpg
  • I wouldn’t want to road trip with anyone else.  We had a blast and have a generational tradition of mothers and daughters being roadies. My grandmother would drag my mother around all day as my mom did with me and now we do it together.

Here are some pics from our trip across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.  I do not have any pics of my grandmother as she prefers to keep her picture off of the internet (social media sites). LOL Sorry for the graininess of some of these.

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At the party looking like royalty
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Mom and I before heading to the party
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Headed to bday lady’s home
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 Passing through the storm headed home

She Told Me I Was Going To Starve

In the last month I have met many family members from all over the country. One feisty 70 plus year-old woman asked me for a favor upon receiving my call.  She said, “Tell me a time when I can call you back. I’m canning figs…”  This hoot of a woman lives in Mississippi so you can imagine the southern twang; not strong but present nonetheless.  She continued, “do you know know what that is?!”  With a tiny bit of anxiety that comes when older people ask if I know of some survival skill, I replied, “I’ve heard of canning, yes…”  She chuckled and I braced myself for the fuss that was to come, “Boy I hope this modern thing lasts ’cause if it doesn’t, you young people are going to starve.” I exhaled.  Her response wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be.

Mattie made me think of, again, all of the things I don’t know how to do. I wanted to reply in frustration that my own grandmother doesn’t can – that she doesn’t go to fields to pick berries or anything of the sort.  Hell, I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t know if we have fields nearby to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. My grandmother, plus or minus 2 years in age to Mattie, did not pass those things along as her mother did to her.  Truth be told, I do feel a little unprepared for the zombie apocalypse.  I mean, both sides of my family come from frugal, pie crust pan saving, biscuits and water for dinner times and I can make as much as an afghan blanket.  To be fair, I was taught how to cook and can coupon with the best of them – who doesn’t love a good sale and discount?!  I buy what I want and keep up with modern technology but Mattie is right(ish).

Most recently, I have scheduled (yes, scheduled) weekly meetings with my grandmother to teach me to sew.  She was the one to teach me to make an afghan blanket. Not only do I want to learn to make my own clothes (if I wanted to to) and spend some QT with my grandmother, she is the last one who can teach me.  My mother to this day says she’ll go to the source (speaking of my grandmother in response to learning to sew) but my grandmother won’t be here forever and when she dies, I don’t want those basic skills to be gone with her.  I want to be able to buy fabric and make something I see in my head but can’t find in the stores. I want to be able to whip and fluffy blanket together in about a week. I want to be able to make a super moist pound cake and cabbage that tastes like home – though mine isn’t far behind hers.

Mattie is right.  Our modern way of living has robbed (maybe too strong of a word or not) us of our roots.  It has, in some ways, taken away our independence – crippled us a little bit. I can make a list of other examples but I’ll save that for another blog.  I just find in this moment, I want to absorb everything I can from the ones before us because they have demonstrated resiliency and strength.  I’ve personally learned that some times the lessons we learn from the generations before us come with needle and thread, milk and butter, crochet hook and yarn.

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          The skirt my grandmother taught me to sew on my first sewing lesson

Berea Beloved

Farewell Berea Beloved! Many friendships were formed pretty darn fast and truer than air. I have stood shoulder to shoulder (and have had many stand next to me) in kinship beneath white and blue, which also transcended state lines.  Some of us hung around the area while some returned to old stomping grounds and others made their marks in new places.

You have taught me humility; how to fall and get back up.  You taught me community; how to be open to others helping me. You taught me the richness and beauty of diversity and inclusivity.  Compassion, love, patience, honesty, vulnerability, independence and companionship are just a few more.  You taught me to be human.

Thank you, Berea, for 12 surprisingly transformative years – personally and professionally.  It is now time for me to use what I have gleaned and move on.  Keep ringing those chimes, Berea Beloved.