Waltzing Through Life

Ms. Emma was a woman big on parables and never stingy with wisdom. I was 17 when she sat on the edge of her sofa, leaned over and sternly told me, “Never go against your first thought. That’s God’s angel leading you. Everything else is from the devil.”

Those words felt overdramatic and a bit scary then, and through the years although I’ve heard variations of that message  – trust your gut or always follow your first instinct – it was Ms. Emma’s words that have always resonated with me the most. 

Whenever I’ve detoured from my chosen path onto a more familiar one, her words have haunted me just as Jesus’s words did Peter after the third denial. Each time that I’ve pledged allegiance to fear and forfeited chance, those words were right there rearing its head in admonishment as if saying, “You still won’t listen.” And, whenever I’ve wept bitterly – because my most gut-wrenching cries were always the result of a direct violation of that angel’s direction – every syllable pierced through my skull.

Life has often felt like a clumsy two-step between my aspirations and my fears, between comfort and risk, between hyperactive acceptance and foolish abandon. Extremes with little balance. I know that I’m not the the only one because I cross paths with way too many still tripping over their feet, only to end the dance by walking off the floor mid-song. Lajit Poet, a hip-hop artist out of North Carolina, summed the dilemma up brilliantly in Rhythm from his debut album Heart’s Delight:

You say that life’s a bitch. I say that life’s a rhythm.

She’s only clashing with you, cause you ain’t stepping with her.

By now, life has presented you with enough triumphs to encourage you, challenges to humble you, and everything in between in no particular order. Undoubtedly, it feels impossible to stay in tune with a lead that’s disjointed and unpredictable. However, the key to perfecting life’s waltz lies not in scurrying from the floor or hugging the wall, but by learning how to glide graciously, switch partners seamlessly, and how to stay composed through it all. Simply put, the power lies in knowing how to partner with life, how to trust yourself without reliance on another’s approval.

Our loudest and most destructive clashes come when we forsake inspired ideas, the ones that appear unexpectedly and with such clarity that our stomach flutters, our eyes widen, and we just know it’s something.  Or, when we defy every instinct to proceed because no one buys our pitch or because the last move wasn’t a great one. Or when, as my friend Tynika puts it, “we allow perfect to become the enemy of good,” constantly waiting for a solid plan or product to be exact before execution.

Frankly, the perfect environment, a majority vote or anyone’s permission is never necessary.   What’s required is just a tad bit of audacity and a miniscule amount of faith. Audacity to believe in an idea, and faith to mold it into life.  Audacity to bet on ourselves, and the faith to take just one step.  Yes, the audacity to get on the dance floor, and the faith to trust the rhythm even when we stumble. 

We will trip over our feet a little. It’s a normal part of the dance and nothing to cower from. The truth is that stellar choreography is often the direct result of practice and commitment – audacity and faith in constant motion.

In Rhythm, Lajit Poet reminds us that losing our balance is natural as we step out of our comfort zones. Yet. he quickly reassures us of what we tend to forget in those very moments, namely, that we are built for such times and that we will indeed thrive.

Until the next time, stay safe and keep dancing❣️

Very truly yours,

Mo~

P.S.:  For all you hip hop fans, go cop Lajit Poet’s Heart’s Delight, now streaming everywhere!  You won’t regret it!
 

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A Throwback: Truths About Activism

(First published in 2017, this post is just as timely today. )

This is our reality: Daily we are bombarded by loops of violence, threads of national chaos, and far too many hyperlinks to political debauchery. Millions are addicted to drugs, social media, and outright lies. Death sentences like poverty, racism, and inequality continue to plague people of color and the poor, while worthwhile solutions evade even the best experts.

Yet, through all of the mire, strength is emerging. Many have been forced out of denial and recognize that disconnection is leading to our destruction.  As such, countless of Team Me or Army of One advocates, or those suffering from unrequited love from political affiliations, have found themselves throwing in the white flag and opting for something greater.

A call to action has been sounded, in great part, for self and collective preservation. Serve or do or resist have become tunes that ring through our ears like the catchy hook of our favorite song. It all makes sense though, for the longing to live is natural despite the fact that death is inevitable.

This basic desire to do better – to have a part in cleaning up the rubbish and to rebuild some civil sanity – has led to an increase in activism. While many are snug in their roles and are earnestly and boldly doing their work, others are being planted and are just beginning to sprout. Then there are those who are trying to determine where they fit in and what they have to offer. Kudos to all!

But here are some truths about activism.

Activism is brutal and not for the faint-hearted. It’s a huge act of faith and war – a journey that requires steadfast commitment. You’re moved, so you strategically plan and act. However, one really never knows what the outcome will be, or which side the journey will leave you on. One minute, you’re negotiating and compromising, and at the next you may be adamantly refusing to do either. Hard decisions are made, people’s feelings get injured, numbers fall, and opposition occurs just as quickly as the hope that brought everyone together. Yet, just when you’re seconds away from throwing in the towel, everything comes together. It’s usually a win. Not an easy one, but one well worth it.

Yes, I speak from experience.

Activism is not something you bully someone into. It’s degrading to dictate what another should be doing or giving. No one is entitled to impose upon someone else’s skills, talents or resources even if those things will serve some greater good. And, nobody has earned the right to doom another for doing what may be perceived as nothing. Malcolm X summed it up perfectly: “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because one doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today. “

On the contrary, activism is an act of love with the goal being to serve with dignity, respect and courage. Lead by example. Encourage through perseverance. Exercise patience. Then, mentor.

Most important, activism is not a monolithic act.  It’s layered and nuanced. Some will be the face and voice. Others will dutifully soldier when called upon. Yet, many will sit on their sofas with coffee (or something a tad stronger), firm shoulders, a first aid kit, and wisdom, waiting patiently for you to limp through their unlocked doors, standing ready to stitch you up and infuse you with strength for whatever comes next.

All are important. All are necessary. All matter.

If you’re moved to action, do so strategically and avoid being coerced into a role or a cause that your heart doesn’t bleed for. Determine your space and commit to being faithful from there. Never be ashamed or afraid to say NO. If  you long to sit at a table you can’t get an invitation to, then build your own table to plant your feet under. But no matter what, when you get in there be ready to fight hard. Because here are the ultimate truths about activism: It’s bred from your soul. It’s brutal. But, it’s always worth it.

Nice writing to you again! I’ll be in touch soon.  

Truly yours,

Mo~

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Wishes

(A Stream of Consciousness)

I wish that I didn’t panic when the the camera stares at me. For once, I would like to not worry about if my skin is too shiny or have to remember which angle will conceal some perceived flaw. Wish that my smile boasted the same enthusiasm that my laughter does when the moment’s not being snapped. Then I’d have an album of photogenic memories to choose from and could join those Facebook challenges.

I wish that I didn’t worry about if the rice will come out sticky, and if so, should I discard it or just let it be.  Because Lord knows just how badly one pot of mucky rice can ruin an entire meal – just how unflattering it looks on the plate. It’s a silly concern with very little truth to it, I know.  But, anyway.  I probably should just go ahead and buy that rice cooker and call it a win.  

I wish that I wasn’t overly concerned with driving through the state of New Jersey after dark. Worried that one wrong turn will lead me onto a winding exit that will then connect me onto a highway heading in the opposite direction of where I need to go. Then I’ll be forced to pull over on the side of a darkened road – probably stretches of miles away from the nearest anything – to catch my breath and start over. I mean, it’s not as if my high beams, or phone, aren’t functional. Wish that I could wander as boldly through my homeland and marvel at the newness when lost just as I do when traveling on foreign ground.

I wish that I didn’t put so much emphasis on whether my handwriting is as beautiful as the soft leather journals that I buy to store these reflections. Wish that the remnants of ripped out pages that once contained scratched through or misspelled words didn’t constantly remind me that my need for perfection made me miss the mark. Now I’m left with one too many empty journals and forgotten revelations.

I wish that these scraps of nothing didn’t often consume so many of my thoughts. And that whenever they invade my consciousness, I could swiftly dump them in the “Let That Shit Go” pile and set it ablaze. Wish that I could declare that revealing this to you has been cathartic and that I’m now healed. But, alas, not yet. Not tonight anyway.

I’m working on it though. Truly, I’m working on it.  

Truly yours,

Mo~

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A Half Century In

It’s been almost three years since I’ve last written to you.  The intention was never to go this long without sharing, but life and FaceBook has a way of interfering with the best of intents. 

However, here I am just a few days after my 50th birthday. For five decades now, I’ve roamed this planet. Admittedly, I’ve put plenty of miles in, worn down many soles, and have broken off a heel or two. But even if I could go back to twenty-one with the lead that I now have, I wouldn’t. Honestly, there’s not a slew of things that I would do differently because making another set of decisions would just lead to a different path of detours, dead-ends, close calls and everything in between before reaching now. What I’ve learned is that the journey is inevitable; it begins at the point any decision is acted upon. It’s how one navigates the process that determines how far one goes.

For the most part, I’ve played it safe and flirted with risk. My career has spanned over two decades and has catapulted me into some great opportunities, but it’s far from my first choice. And, I’ve left my hometown three times now, just to come back.  Yet, I still can’t promise that I’m here to stay. Life’s just too fluid to make such a vow. 

My passport is stamped with many fond memories. I’ve gotten lost (literally) in Italy, scorched in Belize, argued with a native in the Dominican Republic (he tried to charge me sixty US dollars for a bath towel that wasn’t even plush), and ate Pie and Mash drizzled (such a tourist move) with eel gravy in London. I’ve had fun, but I’ve been disappointed and felt the sting of shame too.  I’ve suffered through the agony of a stillbirth at one point and made a decision many conservative Christians wouldn’t approve of at another.  There was a friendship or two that expired, a few jobs that didn’t pan out, and I still haven’t written that book. Yet, today I proudly stand.  

Unequivocally, I am loved. I’m blessed with a mother whom I adore, a son who was kind enough to forgive me for not getting the parenting thing totally right, and a family with only a few members that I think about trading in every so often. (Beware though, there will be a holy war if you actually try to take them away from me.) I have strong friendships that span over cultures and decades, and a tribal family that rivals blood. And, in a few short days, I’ll be gifted a daughter through love who is intelligent and lovely and kind. That’s buttercream icing for me.

There’s nothing for me to complain about but much more for me to do.  My expectation for this life is another strong seventy years (yup, 120 minimum), so technically, I’m not even middle-aged yet.  But I’m wiser and happier. My tools are sharper, and my aim is more targeted.  That’s the foundation from which I build upon now. 

If you ask me what fifty years of wandering has taught me, it’s simply this:  Nothing works unless I do; mercy is the ultimate demonstration of love; and, life is nothing to fear.   

Happy 50th to me!  Cheers! 

Truly yours, 

Mo~

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Truths About Activism

This is our reality: Daily we are bombarded by loops of violence, threads of national chaos, and far too many hyperlinks to political debauchery. Millions are addicted to drugs, social media, and outright lies. Death sentences like poverty, racism, and inequality continue to plague people of color and the poor, while worthwhile solutions evade even the best experts.

Yet, through all of the mire, strength is emerging. Many have been forced out of denial and recognize that disconnection is leading to our destruction.  As such, countless of Team Me or Army of One advocates, or those suffering from unrequited love from political affiliations, have found themselves throwing in the white flag and opting for something greater.

A call to action has been sounded, in great part, for self and collective preservation. Serve or do or resist are refrains that ring through our ears like the catchy hook of our favorite song. It all makes sense though, for the longing to live is natural despite the fact that death is inevitable.

This basic desire to do better, to have a part in cleaning up the rubbish and to rebuild some civil sanity has led to an increase in activism. Many are snug in their roles and are earnestly and boldly doing their work. Others are being planted and are growing in their particular positions. Then, there are those who are trying to determine where they fit in and what they have to offer. Kudos to all!

But here are some truths about activism.

Activism is brutal and not for the faint-hearted. It’s a huge act of faith and war – a journey that requires steadfast commitment. You’re moved, so you strategically plan and act. However, one really never knows what the outcome will be, or which side the journey will leave you on. One minute, you’re negotiating and compromising, and at the next you may be adamantly refusing to do either. Hard decisions are made, people’s feelings get injured, numbers fall, and opposition occurs just as quickly as the hope that brought everyone together. Yet, just when you’re seconds away from throwing in the towel, everything comes together. It’s usually a win. Not an easy one, but one well worth it.

Yes, I speak from experience.

Activism is not something you bully someone into. It’s degrading to dictate what another should be doing or giving. No one is entitled to impose upon someone else’s skills, talents or resources even if those things will serve some greater good. And, nobody has earned the right to doom another for doing what may be perceived as nothing. Malcolm X summed it up perfectly: “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because one doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today. “

On the contrary, activism is an act of love with the goal being to serve with dignity, respect and courage. Lead by example. Encourage through perseverance. Exercise patience. Then, mentor.

Most important, activism is not a monolithic act.  It’s layered and nuanced. Some will be the face and voice. Others will dutifully soldier when called upon. Yet, many will sit on their sofas with coffee (or something a tad stronger), firm shoulders, a first aid kit, and wisdom, waiting patiently for you to limp through their unlocked doors, standing ready to stitch you up and infuse you with strength for whatever comes next.

All are important. All are necessary. All matter.

If you’re moved to action, do so strategically and avoid being coerced into a role or a cause that your heart doesn’t bleed for. Determine your space and commit to being faithful from there. Never be ashamed or afraid to say NO. If  you long to sit at a table you can’t get an invitation to, then build your own damn table to put your feet under. But no matter what, when you get in there be ready to fight hard. Because here are the ultimate truths about activism: It’s bred from your soul. It’s brutal. But, it’s always worth it.

Nice writing to you again! I’ll be in touch soon.

Truly yours,

Mo~

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Hello, It’s Been A While…

It’s been a while since I’ve last written, and much has transpired both as a nation and personally. I could rehash the atrocities plaguing the United States and even some of those of other countries. But you’re well aware of those things, and you’re probably more interested in viable solutions – solutions, to me, that are as varied and multilayered as each and every human. Collective and creative solutions, that frankly, I don’t have to offer you.

In my personal life, I’ve had some hard conversations and have made some uncomfortable decisions. At the pinnacle of a career that spans over two decades and in a firm that offered me “home”, I gracefully walked away. To a city that has served me well, taught me that fine line and small space between love and war, a city that offered my grandparents and immigrant father hope and opportunity, a city that educated me from elementary through grad school, a city that allowed me to sit at tables and help positively impact communities – I’m saying farewell. Thank you, Philadelphia; I appreciate your care. But, it’s time for me to go now.

Talk about uncomfortable. I’m 47, have earned my accolades, paid my dues, and could nestle in this life. And, I wait until now to bow out? Yes, because the truth is I’ve created a hell of a life that I merely settled for and into, and while I am eternally grateful, I want to do more.

     *   *   *

For years, I’ve had the honor of instructing adults in a training program. These are adults who after decades have stepped back into the classroom. Adults that – through their fears, doubts, insecurities and other lies they may have bought into – return Saturday after Saturday for 11 weeks and stay for as long as six hours. Honorable, committed, courageous adults.  I truly admire them.

During one class, we discussed the difficulty of change and the ease of settling. It occurred to me that just as the fear of the unknown often keeps us complacent, so too have the zigzags of our journeys. It’s impossible to forget the triumphs and defeats, the love and tears, the one win followed by two losses, and the repetition of it all in no particular order. Just when we’ve gotten to the point that we have it all managed and all under some sort of perceived control, we realize that while the space is safe, it’s far from great. Then, if we muster up the heart to reimagine the possibilities, we look back, remember, and think, who wants to endure that shit all over again?

     *     *     *  

For those who find themselves at a crossroad frozen and agonizing on whether to nestle in or to bow out, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only your answer, your choice, your life to live out. I chose what was right for me. In the middle of my life, I now know what to expect: a journey that will be unpredictable yet exhilarating filled with hopes and disappointments. That’s fine though. I’ve been there before, and I’m willing to live it out again.

I’ll be writing you more often. Until the next time, live each day to your fullest! Feel free to leave a comment!

Truly yours,

Mo~

P.S.:  You can reach me on Facebook @ Monique Danielle; Twitter@MoDanielle_8; Instagram@Mo_Danielle8, and via email @ modanielle8@gmail.com.

 

Simply Speaking

Some say that I oversimplify things, that I break down profound truths using a few sentences, shrug casually and sum it up with, “That’s all I got.” Some believe that I often neglect the variables that create an adverse situation and that my reasoning at times belittle one’s past experiences.   That is far from my truth and extremely distant from the truth.

I have been impacted by unfortunate circumstances both within and beyond my control. Love has shattered me, grief has overwhelmed me, and loss has robbed me. In my pursuit of happiness, fear has gnawed at every inspired thought, every possibility, and at one time procrastination was as addictive for me as Pepsi.

If you have lived long enough, you too have suffered. No matter how safely you have played, how firmly you have adhered to the rules, or how strategic your plan was, some things just fell apart. Great decisions for one stage turned out to be disastrous at another. Or maybe the decision was never quite a good one, but you gambled anyway. Regardless, life has at some point exhausted you.

I get that, and I do not diminish any of it. However, through the ebbs and flows of my life, I have survived with two clear advantages – a sound mind and a relatively healthy body. So have many of you. Those two strengths carry a definite constant: the ability to make a new choice at any given moment. Therein is my truth: The power to choose is within my control, at least for now.

You, too, can choose differently.

There I am oversimplifying again. As if making a new choice doesn’t come with its own set of new consequences. As if it doesn’t carry with it a brief, sometimes lingering, nauseating discomfort. As if a new choice won’t garner guilt or grief or shame – or all three. As if choosing differently is just that easy to do.

Certainly, it can be a daunting, even heart wrenching, process. But it is the only option I can offer. I am merely a reflective observer viewing from a lens narrowed by my experiences and broadened by the experiences of others.  My perceptions of another’s journey are blurry at best. What is clear, though, is that more often than not we can decide whether to continue on that trampled, unfulfilled path we have followed or choose an alternate route. Ultimately, the decision is yours. Only you can decide the timing. Only you know if you can accept the consequences. Only you can determine if you are willing to put the work in. I can only remind you that you do possess the power, and do not need permission, to make new choices – even if it is in the middle of the game.

That’s all I got. 

Truly yours,

Mo~

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