Sunday, July 22, 2012

I Would Have Been Burned at the Stake

I'm pretty sure that if I lived during any other time in history I would have been burned at the stake. Of course that's not something I'm proud of, but I realize that I've never been the one to sit demurely in a corner and let a man make decisions for me. I remember when my husband Lynn and I got married I struggled with the teachings from the pulpit suggesting that I had to submit. It was just something I could not do because I had an image of having to sit passively in the corner as he made all of the decisions for me. Boy did I have it wrong! I tried that for maybe five minutes and Lynn saw that I was about to bite my tongue off because I just had to say something. Finally with Lynn's help I realized that being submissive wasn't about giving my power away but it was about understanding that as the husband he covered this family and allowing him to do so.
As a young black girl raised by a single mom I was instructed to always use the intelligence God gave me and to never put myself in a position where I was dependent on anyone else. I shudder at the thought of what could have happened to me if I had not learned at any early age to speak up for myself (and others) and to question those things that just did not sit right with me. Although Lynn and I are raising our children together, I've paid special attention to the messages we've sent our daughters. I've told both Tai and Lyndsay to always speak their minds and to feel comfortable going against the grain. I've told them that their bodies belong to no one else and if they wish to tattoo and pierce every inch of it that is their right, but thankfully they have not chosen to do so. I've also told them that a marriage is supposed to be a partnership. Just because they are female doesn't mean that they have to wait around for someone to take care of them. They may or may not choose to work outside of the home when and if they marry but what I'm referring to is about so much more than an occupation. It's about living their lives and fulfilling their dreams and not waiting for the approval or permission of a man.
One of my favorite quotes is "well behaved women seldom make history." Throughout history it's been the bad-asses that have spoken up for equal rights. It is these women who gave the finger to the establishment who we remember.

"Ain't I woman?" asked Sojourner Truth.
"So what I'm poor and black.Watch me build a dream on a city dump, educate others and advise some of the most powerful men in our country," said Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
"I cant fly where?" inquired Amelia Earhart.
"I'm going to tell my story because I don't like the way you're trying to tell it," said Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Terri McMillan.
"Heck no I'm not giving you my seat," proclaimed Rosa Parks.

When I'm gone, I want my girls (and my son) to remember me as fearless. I want them to know that I used every moment of my life trying to make a difference. Thankfully they won't have to watch me burning on a pyre to realize that I was like my mother, and her mother, and her mother before her. Women who weren't afraid to ignite a fire.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Take Me, Baby, Or Leave Me

The Broadway musical Rent is probably one of my favorites. Besides the musical score being absolutely one of the best, the themes in the play speak to acceptance of others and self and the acknowledgement that unconditional love can and does exist. There is one scene in the play where one of the characters is feeling jealous and unappreciated by her female lover. She confronts her and the accused says, "Take me, baby, or leave me." Her point is that all of the accusations thrown at her were true and she asked only that she be accepted as is or be left alone. Well, that is exactly how I feel lately.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend named Harry who is an actor in New York. We talked about the different personas I often feel I have: mom, wife, educator, writer. I explained to him that at the core of it all, I am, and have always been, Michelle Donice. Most of you know that Michelle Donice is my birth name, it is the name given to me by my mother when she first held me in her arms. Although there are several last names that I can be associated with-my father's which is Frazier, my maternal grandfather's  which is Dixon, and my husband's which is Thompson- I have always identified with my first two names.

There are some people who only want Michelle Dixon to show up, or Michelle Thompson, but I am all of these and I can only be who I am.

Yes, it is true. Michelle Donice is  opinionated, serious-minded, extremely competitive and goal oriented. She is an introvert who has learned to display extroverted characteristics and she is a nerd. She has a serious temper and once a person shows that he or she is untrustworthy, she has no problems cutting them loose- for good. Michelle Donice rarely makes U-turns in life  and once she's made up her mind it takes an act of God to change it. She is loyal to a fault and expects the same from her closest friends and family. Her expectations are high but she always gives her best. Michelle Donice is  far from perfect, but she is constantly trying to learn and grow.

I am Michelle Donice and I have my strengths, and I sure as hell have a lot of weaknesses. Yesterday when Harry and I talked, he  reminded me that as an artist I must always stay true to myself even when it makes others uncomfortable. He acknowledged that there may be times when I feel that I need to speak the truth when others would prefer my silence. He even told me to go "Lorraine Hansberry on people every now and then!" I am not wired to play the politics on my job and I will always call a spade a spade. My brutal honesty can get me in trouble, but the bottom line is this is who I am.

Harry and I spoke for several hours, and as usual, when I hung up from him I was encouraged to continue to tell the truth about what I see in life. The stories I want to tell are not churchy or academic and may make people uncomfortable because they are gritty. I may be an educator, but I am a writer first.

Like everyone I want to be affirmed. I want people to like me, love me, and cheer for me as I move forward in life, but maybe that's unrealistic. The only thing that I really ask is that if you choose to love me, then love all of me. If you want me in your life, then you get the rose and the thorns. Like Maureen in Rent, the only thing I ask is that if you want Michelle, then you need to take me, baby, or leave me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plan B

What happens when things don't go as planned? When everything you hoped for fails to materialize and you're left wondering what happened. How do you pick up the pieces of a broken life when you've done what you were supposed to do yet things still turn out badly? It's easy to get angry. To throw your fists up to the heavens and scream at God "How did you let this happen?" And it's even easier to get angry at the world because you didn't get what you hoped for and although you played by the rules, someone else did not and you got screwed over. So you put a protective barrier around your heart thinking that it will keep you from ever being dissapointed again.

But that never works. You hurt, but the rest of the world goes on and it seems that the world won't slow down long enough to acknowledge your pain. Why can't anyone else seem to see that you've been cheated and given a bum deal?

It doesn't work because no one ever promised that life would be easy or fair. Where did we ever get the idea that things would work out just because we wanted them to? Life is full of dissapointments and separations and the sooner we realize that, it's easier to pick up the pieces and begin working Plan B.

When I was a child, I would always tell people that I wanted to be a writer. Of course adults were concerned about my ability to take care of myself as a starving artist so they suggested I have a Plan B. Something to fall back on if things didn't work out the way I planned.

Plan B was the contingency plan. The What If Plan? The Plan that would keep me sane when my dreams were crushed and my heart broken. Like most of us, I never thought I would have to revert to Plan B. It was just there in case.

As an adult, I've found myself consulting Plan B more often than I ever planned to and from this I've learned that Plan B doesn't mean I've lost faith or given up on my dreams. Instead it's shown me that I'm a survivor. That I have faith to rebuild and though I may have been knocked down quite a few times, I've never been knocked out. Plan B has been the place I've gone to garner strength. Although I've had to sit there alone sometimes and lick my wounds, God has refreshed me time after time to go back and try again.

Plan B has been what I've turned to in order to refocus the direction of my life. To take stock of those things in my life in order to forge ahead, and to cut loose the dead weight of things that are holding me back. Plan B has allowed me to recalibrate and make sense of the detours and roadblocks that were in my way. It has also become a place for me to forgive those people who hurt me intentionally and unintentionally and to forgive myself for the bad choices I've made that hurt others and ultimatly hurt me. It's allowed me to forgive myself for not acnowleding how incredible I am and playing down my awesomeness in order to make others more comfortable. It didn't serve me, or others, and it was a slap in the face to my Creator.

If you're like me and you find yourself resorting to Plan B more often than you expected, rejoice! Take time to celebrate that you're still full in the fight and you're willing to take one more swing at it. Keep in mind that throughout history people have done their greatest works when things seemed the bleakest because it is during these times when we have clarity and begin to acquire skills we never would have during happier days and we become aware of resources we previously ignored.

At first Plan B may seem like a setback, but it is merely a setup for a comeback.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fork in the Road

I've always enjoyed teaching Robert Frost's poem "The Road Less Traveled" because I enjoy hearing students' thoughts on which path they feel they should take in life: the one that is obvious and that has been trod by so many others before them or the one which requires them to blaze a new trail. Although I've asked this question to many over the nearly twenty years I've been teaching, I never thought to ask myself. It was only recently when I was presented with an opportunity that I couldn't ignore that I realized that I could not stand at the fork in the road and merely gaze in opposite directions. 

My initial choice was not to choose. I thought if I could put off making a decision for as long as possible then the obvious choice would make itself known, but that was not realistic. Life demanded an answer and I couldn't drag the decision process out any longer. I prayed and meditated and asked my friends and mentors (professional and personal) their opinions and of course they were all over the place about what was best for me. I even joked that I needed a burning bush and that way I would know for sure what I was to do next. But still I had no clarity. One day Choice A was more attractive and the next day I preferred Choice B.

It was only after I had a meeting with a new friend who told me that if I looked deeply into my heart I would know what to do because the decision was already there. He explained that all of the clutter in life was keeping me from hearing my heart's true calling. Yea, yea, yea! All of that sounded good and really spiritual, I told him, but the problem was that I would have to leave the safety and security of what I knew to be true in order to go to a place of uncertainty and that's a huge problem for me. I further explained that I love security. I thrive on routine and I hate surprises! And you now what he said to me? He told me that He is waiting for me on the water. That I must leave the shore beyond my comfort zone in order to see the miracles because there is nothing miraculous about standing on the shore and watching someone divine walking on water. The miracle is when I can walk on water with Him, too!

I hate when people tell me stuff I should have known myself!

So I made the decision and although it is not the safe and easy option, I do believe it is the best decision for me. I feel that I'm being called to do something that is much bigger than I am and if I could just get out of the way, I might see that all I need is waiting out on the water with outstretched arms.