Too Thrifty Chicks

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Hello, World. Are You (Still) There?

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Selfie Nation, Stand UP!

I’m not going to lie, I’m afraid to write this post.

I’m afraid that I might be posting at a time when I am super enthusiastic about a lot of things — my job, my newly adopted city, life changes, re-connecting with old friends.

But I am also afraid that I will start and then stop. Afraid that I will lose steam, lose momentum. Give false hope. Let people (myself) down in some way.

I am afraid that I might be writing to escape. I don’t think I am, but I’m not prepared to say that I am not. Even less prepared to say that things will be like they were before. Today, I make no promises.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

I might be back. I might not. Reese might be back. She might not.

Whew.

Now that I have sufficiently lowered your expectations and shared my current truth, did you miss me/we/us? I/we (maybe) (actually) missed you.

Returning to regular blogging is something we talk about, often, but haven’t quite acted on together.

Reese is deep in dissertation land. (Body roll for seeing the light at the end of the dissertation tunnel.)

I will leave it to her to tell you what she wants to tell you about her life, now. When she gets ready, in her own time, if ever at all.

Me? Last month, I wrote two whole blog posts that I haven’t posted yet. Why? Because I was feeling a bit shy. Truth be told I felt/feel rusty.

My "this weather sucks" face.

My “this weather sucks” face.

My voice doesn’t sound the same in my head when I’m writing. It’s my voice, but different. My voice, but wiser? More cautious? It’s complicated, I guess.

But the thoughts, the ideas — they keep arriving in my head when I least expect them. Uninvited. OK, occasionally invited.

The things I want to blog about keep flooding my brain. Case-in-point: It is 1:30 in the morning and I have an assignment at city hall in about eight and a half hours.

I. can’t. sleep. because. I. want. to. BLOG! Wanting to blog feels great. Wanting to blog feels terrible. (I’m sleepy, and I SHOULD) go to bed.

Instead, I write. And I wrote this post for you, and you and definitely you. But also for me. And for Reese.

Definitely for me.

I’m not back.

But I am (we are) still here.

– Ricks


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Can This Be Life?

As some of you may know, in my regular life I’m a news reporter. I rarely  share information about my work, but today I feel compelled to do so.

Though most days are pretty routine — press conferences, city and community meetings, etc. — some days I cover stories that just won’t leave me alone.

On Friday, I sat in Connecticut Superior Court and watched a 20-year-old man named Branden be sentenced to 20 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, a lesser charge than murder, for killing another young man, Tyrell, about three years ago. He’ll likely do about 12 years, and then three years of probation.

Covering court cases can be exciting for a reporter. We’re nosey and covering courts provides all kinds of juicy bits of information and a fascinating window into the minds and lives of people.  A day in court also gives you a front row seat to the American justice system, which is valuable in a time where a lot of people are talking about it, but have never actually experienced it. It also allows you the rush of re-telling a story that people are going to want to read/hear. (I mean, most of y’all probably listened to the “Serial” podcast, so I’m sure you get it.)

But covering Branden’s sentencing was agony for me. And while my boss was hyped because telling the story of Branden’s sentencing qualifies as a “good” news day for us, it was hell on this reporter.

A Tale of Two Brown Boys

Branden was 18-years-old when he committed the crime he pleaded guilty to Friday; he’s now 20. Tyrell was the same age Branden is now, when he was shot and killed. If he’s “lucky” Branden will be 32 when he completes his sentence. If not, he will be 40. My first revelation? This is one hell of a school-to-prison pipeline.

With Branden’s family sitting on one side, and Tyrell’s family on the other, the tension was barely contained. At one point the marshals became visibly agitated when raised voices could be heard outside the courtroom doors. Various family members on both sides stormed out the courtroom throughout the sentencing.

I’ve not been in a courtroom a lot in my 13 years as a reporter, but I have covered a few cases. This one made me profoundly sad about the future because it reminded me of how often lives in America are wasted in this way. A young man lost his life. The young man convicted of killing him is losing his life. And in a way all the people connected to them lose their lives just a little bit too. Why do such things happen?

A Fly on The Wall

I was struck by how many women were in court Friday in support of a man, not just for the case that I’d come to cover, but also for the handful of other cases that the judge presided over. Given that court was supposed to start at 10 a.m. and it was now almost 11 a.m. I wondered about their lives and what they might have been missing.

The court system seems to have no respect for their time. It was my job as a reporter, and that of the people who work for the court system, to be at court on Friday. We could have been there all day, and it wouldn’t much matter. But I suspect that these women had other places to be — other places they’d rather be. I don’t know so much if justice is blind, but when it comes to court, she is surely slow.

I also wondered how they were connected to these men. Why was it worth it to them to be present for their sentencing? Most of the women looked to be grandmothers, mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters. They also were all black women. How did they get here?

More practically, what job did they take off from to be at court? If they have children, who was keeping them? If they brought a child with them to court, how where they going to keep the child entertained and quiet? And for what? Just a short glimpse of a loved one. And surely that one is loved, and dear, at least to the person who came all that way, and spent all that time, to bear witness to this next phase of this process.

I watched with what felt like morbid curiosity, as the judge told the attorney of one handcuffed 18-year-old manchild that he would not honor a request that would keep him in juvenile detention. Instead he would be transferred to the adult detention center because he was soon turning 19. A woman who appeared to be his mother started to sniffle. The 18-year-old made a point to make eye contact with the teary-eyed woman and a younger woman who was with her before the marshal shut the door of the room he had been escorted to, presumably to be returned to lock-up.

Then it occurred to me that if you believe the man that you love is innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted, you will be there with bond money. You will help him get a lawyer and a suit for court. You will sit through his trial, and of course, be there for his sentencing.

Maybe you know why he committed the crime and it’s more complicated than, “He’s a bad man and he does bad things.” Maybe you’re a parent, and no matter how wayward the child, you are always hoping your kid will pull it together. I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

But to me it was almost like these women were being punished for being connected to these men. Guilty by association. I realized that to have a loved one in the court system, whether you’ve ever committed a crime or not, is to be doomed to serve time with them, especially if you have any hopes of staying active in their lives. And while some people might mock these women for their commitment to these men, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for them.

Breaking The Cycle?

As the prosecutor described the crime that Branden committed — the crime, not the charge — I vaguely heard a girl sitting behind me say under her breath of the prosecutor, “You lying.” I later heard a young man from Tyrell’s family’s side of the room whisper loud enough for Branden’s family to hear, “Ol’ scary nigga.” I watched as both sides sent side-ways glances at one another, and thought to myself that Branden’s sentencing won’t be the end of this. And if it’s not, it won’t be because somebody didn’t try to end it. It won’t be because nobody tried to be a voice of reason.

Tyrell’s father, Eddie, was the only older black man at court today who wasn’t wearing a badge. He has been vocal since his son was shot and killed. But on Friday he volunteered to be quiet. Not because he didn’t have anything to say, but because he felt the same tension that everyone was feeling in the courtroom. It was the type of tension that might have been relieved with a lot of cuss words and a brawl back in the day, but today would likely have ended in a hail of bullets given half a chance. Eddie’s choice to be silent is the kind you make when you realize the value of growing old, and live long enough to be wise.

Eddie is a man who knows what it’s like to miss being a part of his children’s lives because he’s been to jail. He said that though Branden faces a lot of prison time, there’s still hope for him and he wants to be a part of that hope. He offered his contact information with hopes that at some point Branden will consent to keep in touch and meet from time-to-time.

Eddie is a man who knows he isn’t a perfect father, and knows that in Tyrell, he hadn’t raised a perfect son. But nobody is perfect. Eddie’s eyes kept searching for those of his 12-year-old son, Xavier, while we talked. Xavier had tears in his eyes at the sentencing, and afterwards stood alone looking out over the city, refusing to be consoled. Eddie told me after court that he kept quiet because he didn’t want to further upset Branden’s family or his own. But he also wasn’t surprised by their reaction.

While I was impressed with Eddie’s olive branch to Branden, and his consideration toward Branden’s family, it was his daughter, Omuni, who impacted me most. At 35, she’s my age and the oldest of a fairly good sized sibling network. She spoke eloquently about how an environment that harbors violence — the very environment that Tyrell, Branden and her younger brothers lived in — only begets more violence. Quite frankly she nearly brought me to tears.

It was she who forced her brothers and sister, to focus on her, and not Branden’s family as they were escorted out of the courtroom. It was she who talked to the ones that had angry tears in their eyes, and it was she who took young Xavier to her bosom and hugged him, even as he refused to let the tears fall.

And what of Branden? He chose not to say anything on his own behalf at his sentencing. But I certainly don’t judge him for that. Maybe he just didn’t have anything to say. I can only imagine the riot of thoughts ricochetting through his head. Even if he can serve the 12 years without incident, it’s still more than a decade of his life, locked away from his family, his friends, his young son.

Maybe he is preparing for the hard road ahead that the judge laid out before him. He’s going to prison with no work experience and no high school diploma. If he can in fact find a way to turn his prison bid into something positive, he’ll still find life just as hard as it was when he left thanks to his felony record. It also made me wonder about plea deals and whether a person who does not have a basic education can comprehend what they are doing when they agree to one.

Because I’m a reporter, I felt a sort of ineptitude in getting all sides of the story. I had hoped to speak to Branden’s family to see what sense they made of all of this, but because of the tension, they were ushered out of the courthouse before I could talk to them.

I don’t know what I expected to feel after witnessing all this. But I left with a profound sense of hurt for both families. They are inextricably bound together by this tragedy, and I wonder can they set aside their hurt and their anger at the circumstances, at the system and at each other for this not to turn into New Haven’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. (Ironically, Branden’s defense attorney referenced the simmering feud between the two families as “Montague-Capulet,” though I wonder how many of either family has read much Shakespeare.)

But I think my last question is my most profound and disturbing: If the families can’t see past it all, who among them will be the next Tyrell and Branden?


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A Celebration of Life: Minnie Mae Turns 80!

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My 8th grade history teacher once assigned the task of interviewing a family member and writing up a history of that person’s life and I chose my maternal grandmother, Minnie Mae Jones Jeffers, better known as “Sis”. I was living with her and my late grandfather because my mom and dad were still active duty Army and one was in Korea and the other was in Kuwait.

My grandmother told me what it was like being the baby girl of a large family; what it was like to grow up farming tobacco; and what it was like to get married real young, start a family in the country and move that family to the big city of Philadelphia. It was the first awareness that I had of my grandmother as more than just my grandmother. I am pretty sure it also was the first time that I was aware that I had the power to tell other people’s stories. My grandmother still talks about that assignment and for many years, until I borrowed it back, she kept the pages I wrote among her keepsakes.

Fast forward some 20 years, to Johannesburg, South Africa, January 2014…

I believe that Reese and I are great friends because we recognize that the Universe has connected us in very specials ways. As she wrote in a previous post, last year we were in South Africa celebrating her birthday on Jan. 2, when her beloved grandmother, Helen Marie, passed away on Jan. 3. Oddly enough, my G-ma celebrated her 79th birthday,  a day later.  If we knew then, what we know now, those three events — life, death, life — should have been a harbinger for things to come, or at least a lens for viewing life. Ultimately, those events have been a reminder that things can be great, rough and then great again.

One year later…

When I was telling Reese, whom my G-ma affectionately calls “Sunshine”, my plans to head to Philadelphia to celebrate her 80th birthday, I could tell by her texts that she was dealing with something. She finally told me that in fact, she was thinking on losing her own grandmother last year. I immediately felt like an insensitive heel. Here I was preparing to celebrate my grandmother’s life and had forgot that Reese is still mourning her grandmother’s death. How do we talk about this?

What I remember saying to Reese is that I thought it was interesting that because of the special connection we share, her grandmother’s death is bookended by celebrations of  life: her own and my grandmother’s. Life can be funny like that.

My G-ma is my last living grandparent and I don’t know how many more years we have together. If she has her way it will be at least 20 more because she told me her goal is to “make 100!”

That’s not a bad goal for a black woman born in the Jim Crow South, who managed to raise eight kids (who have given her an army of grandchildren and great-grandchildren); buy two houses, in two different states and still own them; survived two strokes; and the death of her husband of more than 50 years, almost 12 years ago.

She may not be able to walk a mile, but she can still shake a tailfeather. So at her 80th birthday party, I asked my grandmother three questions and her responses are in italics:

  • What is her secret to reaching 80? “I always try to be nice….and I guess, I just kept on praying, kept on praying.”
  • What’s the best piece of advice she ever received? “Always listen to the old people when they tell you how to do something and always do your best to do it. Oh, and good food! (she said chuckling) GOOD FOOD!”
  • What is the best piece of advice she ever gave? “Try to be nice and love people like you would want them to love you.”

My grandmother has done her best by those things, especially the food part, all my life, but they haven’t protected her from tragedy. Since my grandpop died, she lost her youngest daughter to cancer, buried two grand sons and a brother who has been her nearest and most dependable neighbor and friend for more than 20 years.

She has watched one of her older sisters deal with Alzheimer’s, only to discover that her oldest daughter now grapples with the ravages of the disease. What Langston Hughes wrote in his poem  “Mother to Son,” is what Reese’s grandmother, Helen-Marie, and my grandmother, Minnie Mae, knew and know:  “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” but it is worth the small kindnesses you show to others, it’s worth the prayers and it’s worth the love.

Happy Birthday Granny Sis and well done Ms. Helen Marie. Well done!

– Ricks


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Lessons Between Life and Death

My maternal grandmother died on this day a year ago. This day, which happens to be the day after my birthday. I

October 2014

October 2014

woke up at 4am this morning thinking about where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I was in South Africa. My sister sent me a message on January 3rd: “Has anyone told you that mama died?” My heart sunk. I had just celebrated my birthday in this beautiful country. My grandma died?

I journaled more than I slept that night, trying to process my feelings about it all: about her death, about her life, about being halfway around the world, about my siblings seemingly offering care to each other that I was not part of. The next day, my South African friends took us to meet their families. One of the people we met was a grandmother, who was

Ricks and me with Tumi's Grandmother

Ricks and me with Tumi’s Grandmother

beautiful and kind. We met her in her kitchen where she sits most of the day. It reminded me of my own grandmother.

This post isn’t about death. Today, I am somber, but I can’t say that I am sad. My grandmother lived a full life. The fullness of her life is the reason why I, too, can live a full life. Her sacrifices and commitments are the reason why I can be where I am now: in the middle of a solo vacation.  They are the reason why I am close to being a freshly minted “PhD.” They are the reason I am who I am.

This post is really about living. I was born January 2nd. My grandmother died January 3rd. For the rest of my days, my birthday will be followed by death. As morbid as that sounds, I woke up this morning thinking about how challenging but encouraging that is. For the rest of my life, when I wake up on January 3rd, I will remember that I am indeed living; that I am (hopefully) thriving. For the rest of my days, life and death will be just a

Christmas 2007

Christmas 2007

day away. That doesn’t scare me. It inspires me to keep on living and doing. No matter how much we want to prepare for death, we’re never fully prepared. Yet, each day we’re living, we can continue with the will to make it worth it.

Helen Marie, look at you. Still teaching me things. I’m forever grateful.

Rest on, mama. We’re still making the most of living down here. ❤ ❤ ❤

-Shanté


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When Less is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 1

I must admit I came to minimalism through tragedy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my mother was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Part of dealing with her diagnosis has been dealing with her stuff: her house, her physical personal belongings, her finances.

I discovered that my mom, retired Army veteran, lover of all media, homeowner and divorcee had an overwhelming amount of stuff! Honestly, if she wasn’t so neat and tidy, I would call her a borderline hoarder.

And I, her only child, had to dive in, when she couldn’t.

The experience of going through her house — our house — and trying to decide what to do with it all broke me down. I cried. Sobbed in fact. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, but also by the memories.

At some point in the process I realized my mama wasn’t ever going to live in her house again. She had no need of all of the things she had accumulated over her now 58 years of life. Me, her only daughter? I haven’t lived in the same city longer than four years. Ever. I’m a nomad, at home every where and no where. Where would I put all this stuff if I kept if for nostalgia’s sake? I don’t have a house and the way this journalism thing is set up, I might never have one.

I’m still dealing with what to do with my mama’s stuff. It’s come a long way since that very first time I went through it, but the process continues. Dealing with her stuff forced me to have a come to Jesus meeting with myself about my own stuff. I had questions.

  • Why did I continue to drag things from my imagined life of living in a permanent space into my actual life of living in temporary spaces?
  • Did I place more value on “owning” a thing, rather than on its function in my life?
  • What would happen to my self-worth, self-esteem if I gave a lot of it away?

These are questions that I am still trying to answer.

In the beginning

When I got my first full-time gig at The Tuscaloosa News, I was stoked. And I wanted a grown up apartment to go with my new job. I did no math. Rent in Tuscaloosa and Alabama can be cheap. I would not discover until two years later how cheap it could be. All I knew was that I could get a whole townhouse for less than $500 a month. But a whole house needs furniture, right? And decorations, and, and, and…..

Yeah. That was a thing. Until I realized how much money I did — or rather, didn’t — make. I had to move to a less expensive apartment across town and try to get my mid-20 something head around the dismal state of my finances. I moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Sarasota, Fla. in 2005, for a job that paid more, but I couldn’t afford to take my stuff, which I’ moved to Georgia. The re-location money wouldn’t cover getting all that stuff to Florida and I was broke. I also didn’t have a place to put it. This was Florida, pre-housing bubble bursting. Apartments were being converted to condos and rents were outrageous compared to Tuscaloosa.

Instead, I shared space with great roommates until I moved to Anniston, Ala. for graduate school a year later. I was moving toward minimalism mostly by circumstance, and a little by choice. I lived for three years without most of my stuff. I told my mama to keep what she wanted for her daycare and sell/giveaway the rest. I was on the road to Montgomery, Ala. vowing to never, ever accumulate that much stuff again.

A broken vow

While I never accumulated a house full of furniture again — Reese can attest to this — I still managed to amass a closet full of clothes, kitchen supplies and books. Oh, and there were the huge pieces of art that I had been dragging around since my summer internship in Zambia, circa 2001! And did I mention the heavy, vintage typewriter? Yeah. That was a thing. My house was mostly a statement in minimalism, but it also didn’t feel like home. It felt empty. Disconnected. I knew I wanted less stuff, but I didn’t have the language to talk about it when everything about growing up seemed to be about getting more stuff.

Two steps forward, two steps back

I got to test these questions again when I moved to the DMV. I left Montgomery, Ala. with only what I could fit into a two-door, 1997 Saturn SC2. Clothes, kitchen supplies, books. I was jammed in that car like toes in too small shoes. And still I ended up leaving a lot of things behind at a good friend’s house.

Though I had successfully managed to give away a ton of stuff, I still couldn’t bear to part with anything more. I mean, for goodness sake, I got my book collection down to four small banker’s boxes. Who does that? I vowed to purchase a Kindle and to never physically turn a page again.

And then I met Reese. This girl loves books. When she became my roommate, she came with books. Her books reminded me how much I enjoyed reading. How much I enjoyed turning a physical page and devouring a book in a 24-hour period. Her books reminded me how good it feels to walk into a book store, especially in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is home to Sankofa Video, Books and Cafe, The Children of the Sun, Busboys and Poets and Kramerbooks & Afterword Cafe. Not to mention thrift stores where you can find out of print books dirt cheap. (True story: I purged my suitcase while in Memphis because I bought books at a thrift store. Reese still had to bring some of them when she last came to visit.)

Ahh, glorious books. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Operation Do Better, we would have spent every dime we made on books. The public library near our house, saved our pocket books to be sure.

But then it was time to move. And we both realized that in creating a home together, we had managed to amass a lot of stuff. That troubled the minimalist spirit that had developed in my heart from all my previous moves. Orchestrating a move is not my most favorite thing in the world, even though I have moved a lot in my 35 years. (Hello, Army brat.). I felt it whenever we visited friends, who had these spry, carefully edited apartments. Nothing more, nothing less. We had created an amazing space, but it was starting to feel like too much. Moving helped us both realize just how much it was.

Throw it out

When a friend posted a great article that encouraged us to throw everything away, ish got real. We jumped on a challenge to intentionally get rid of three or four things every day for 30 days. Because I was in transition, I had to modify the challenge. But I’m happy to say that by the time I unpacked my last box at my new space in New Haven, I managed to purge about 200 items over the last month.

While my stuff is still a little bit more than is necessary, it’s not much more, and that feels right. I learned while living with Reese what it means to create a space with intention, and I believe I have achieved minimalism without sacrificing comfort in my new place. I have some thoughts about how to ensure that I continue to travel light and ready for new adventure that I will share in another post.

So, I’ll leave you with these additional question to ponder: If you had an opportunity to pick up your life and move it to another country, state, city would your stuff hold you back? Would you chuck it all for the experience of a lifetime?

My courageous line sister recently did it. Check out her story and blog chronicling her adventures teaching abroad.

Do you consume, therefore you are? Share your thoughts on minimalism in the comments below.

-Ricks


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Through Reese’s Eyes: The Other Side of Hardship

Ricks: Good morning. I scheduled a post.

Reese: I saw it. I’m teary-eyed in my car, girl. I’m so proud to call you friend and soulmate. Supporting you during the hard time was one of the most challenging things ever but also one of the most rewarding.

Ricks: So happy to have you. I want you to write transparently about your struggle helping me.

Reese: ::crickets::

When Ricks asked me to write this post, I thought, the best way to tell the story is through how I captured my feelings at the times I felt them. My journal, perhaps the place I am most candid, honest, and raw, holds those moments, some of which I will share with you, starting from the day I knew she would either quit or leave her job before she even told me.

25 May 2013: My roommate’s very close to losing her job, not because she doesn’t have the necessary skills, but because the passion isn’t there. Nor is there a desire to just lay down and give into the demands of people who believe she is expendable. Universe, you have shown and taught her much this year: the tools and steps to get out debt, the power of assertiveness, the value of righteous rage, the promises that lie in “be still and know that i am god.” I believe with all my heart that none of this is accidental. I feel in my spirit that things might get rougher before they get better but all things work together for good. The whole universe is conspiring on her behalf…thank you for the honor, privilege, and responsibility of being a friend, prayer partner, helping hand, and listener. My prayer is that if there is anything I can do during this time, that it be revealed to me. If I should pray more, fast, talk less, listen better, I’m down. I am part of the universe. I’m part of all the universe that is conspiring for all the desires of her heart to come to pass, and I’m excited about that…In the meantime, may there always be a praise and in the times where things feel too heavy for a praise to spring forth from her bosom, please accept mine on her behalf.

….and as with many things, a honeymoon phase followed. Ricks was pumped. I was excited and ready to do whatever it took to make it work. Then, after a particularly bad experience with freelancing, it all started to tumble.

27 February 2014: Today I came home to Ricks still sleeping. I try not to be bothered by it, but I am. I don’t get to sleep in. I don’t get to linger in bed as long as I want. I know that is not compassionate. I guess I feel like her sleeping in is inconsiderate, especially since a while ago she said she’d get up when I get up. That doesn’t happen. But if the tables were turned, would I do anything differently? I’m not sure. More days than not, I think she is wasting time. All talk and little action. This is the same person whose work ethic I valued a year ago. Funny how quickly our perceptions change. It’s all situational. None of us are a simple reflection of our current positions. Me getting up earlier, going to work doesn’t make me a better person than she is. And I certainly don’t know how this process feels on the inside of her. Today I pray that survival mode transitions into thriving mode-for her and for me. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a giver. I don’t know how much more I can take though, to be honest. But I believe the universe is teaching and changing us through this process. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we both cry because we have no idea what to do and we’re afaid this process is tearing us apart. Sometimes I carry resentment and regret. But there have been opportunities to get us out the fire, and nothing has come through. That must mean you’re not done teaching us in this phase. I pray that i am a receptive student and that I show compassion to my classmate.

…and there was prayer.

2 March 2014: People think a soulmate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soulmate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. -Elizabeth Gilbert

Thank you for my current soulmate. This has been a rough period of tearing down walls and smacking each other awake. It has been hard and it hurts. I feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel. Today, I feel like this current phase of our collective life will end soon. Praise god. Today I face the hard truth that even if someone cannot continue the journey with me, the journey must still continue. I must still press on. My physical, emotional and spiritual well being are my own responsibility not anyone else’s. Ricks reminds me of that every day. I have to do the work with or without her. For almost two years god has blessed me with her guidance, love and friendship. I have focused so much on the future and what I could potentially lose, but today I give thanks for what I have: a soulmate who shows me my reflection-the good, bad and ugly. The ugly isn’t so easy to take but it’s all part of me. Thank you for her life. These last eight months have been hard on her. I pray joy returns. For laughter to abound. I pray for something so big and undeniably orchestrated by the universe to happen. Something so big it restores her faith. And when it happens, I pray my own heart is filled with joy and gratitude.
…and more prayer.
2 July 2014: It is really difficult to watch someone you love struggle. Markeshia didn’t get the job and naturally she’s disappointed. She cried last night as we went for a long, aimless drive. I had to reign myself in from trying to be the savior. I didn’t say–hey just move to memphis with me, although I wanted to. I did say she can come stay as long as she wants. Part of me feels like this process is hers to navigate. She has to do this on her own, but with cheerleaders and support. After she interviewed for the job, I could tell she wasn’t excited. and I wasn’t sure if the job fit her skills or credentials. But last night, none of that mattered. I was angry with god and frustrated that s/he did not provide. But a small voice reminded me that s/he is always providing, even now. so I wanted to be angry because someone I love, my favorite person, is hurting and sad. But there is benefit to struggle. This road isn’t easy but it’s worth it. The fact that after she found out she said, “I hope the person who got it has a really good year,” speaks to her integrity, growth, and character. This year of struggle has been worth it. Now, god bless her with a job to match her faithfulness in her self-growth pursuits. Amen.

…and thanksgiving.

27 August 2014: I am alone in this new place for the first time since I arrived in Memphis. I’m grateful, sad, hopeful, content. Ricks is at the airport soon to board the plane. I want to write a blog post, but not sure I have the right words. I’ll miss her fiercely. This time we can’t whine and say, “I’m so ready to come home” when we’ve been too long apart. But I am grateful for this time we both need. I have nothing else to write today except thank you universe for trusting us with friendship. Bless her. Keep her. Amen.

I am unwavering in my belief that the support I gave–financially, spiritually, and emotionally–was the right thing to do. But it was hard. It required significant alterations in my lifestyle, even though I wasn’t the one who quit my job (taking on a third roommate, for example).Sometimes it was hurtful.  I’m sure most of you cannot even fathom Ricks and me arguing or not speaking to each other or not being comfortable with the silence between us. If someone had asked me a year prior, I wouldn’t have imagined it either. Yet those things, and many others that I’m sure we will bury between the two of us, happened. Watching my favorite person experience depression happened. Feeling completely frustrated by what I perceived to be a lack of effort towards building the dream she wanted so badly happened. Shouldering resentment and feelings of being taken advantage of happened.

Yet, somehow, the faith I had (have) in her, her dreams, and abilities remained steadfast, albeit bruised. I always thought I was really good at keeping enough distance from people’s problems so as not to make them my own. And I was. Until they were on my doorstep, in the kitchen, on the couch everyday.  I knew her potential and every day I saw it threatened. So I kept throwing rope down into the pit where she was…until I ran out of rope. I saw in myself something I knew wasn’t helpful in the long run: I was sometimes helping too much. Sometimes, I overextended myself to try to bring some type of normalcy and joy that I sorely missed. But with that, I also felt like she owed me something for accommodating her hardships (hard to type…something I am not particularly proud of).

I found myself at a crossroad: do I jump down and see what I can do in the trenches with her or do I trust that she will figure out a way to bridge the gap between the rope and where she is? Quite honestly, a lot of this was resolved simply because, I too, reached an “enough” point, and I had little left to offer. Whatever happened in her life, it would have to happen on her own accord or with the help of others. Being her sole confidant during that period was heavy. And one day, I had to put it down.

If we’re lucky, we are given opportunities to support people; to grow in our understandings of partnership and unconditional love. But with that luck sometimes comes hard moments, harsh realities, and shifting perspectives of who we (or the ones we love) are. I didn’t always understand her experiences, so I lashed out. I yelled when i didn’t think I was being heard. I, at times, accused my friend, my family, of seeing me as nothing more than a way to keep a roof over her head.  I am convinced that our relationships sometimes call for sacrifice but never for losing ourselves. Perhaps I’ll do a separate post on this later, but one of the things that helped me tremendously was art therapy. During the roughest period, it is one of the few self-care practices I maintained. And I’m glad I did. Since art therapy is built on multiple modes of expression, I sometimes drew, collaged, or painted my way through my feelings. I’m thoroughly convinced that therapy plus making some time to do other things on my own are what kept me afloat.

Sometimes I managed the balance between caring for myself and for my partner-in-crime well. Other times not so much. It’s a delicate balance. I am SO thankful we’re on the other side. We are much better humans on this side of struggle. I am much more rooted in my convictions of what it means to be “ride-or-die” while still caring for myself. And if (should I say when?) we hit another rough period in our lives, we have a written record that proves we know how to make it through.


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Breaking the Silence: Another Too Thrifty Update

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

It is 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve been thinking about what to say and this post just wouldn’t leave me alone so here goes nothing.

::deep breath::

This post  has been a long time coming because, frankly, I haven’t known where to start.

I’ll begin with honesty.

As you all know, Reese’s journey has taken her to Memphis where we are expecting her to do great and wonderful things like finish her dissertation, do more research and shape young and old minds. What you need to know about that is Team Too Thrifty is still on this journey together, even if we’re thousands of miles apart.

But many of you have rightly asked, “What about Ricks?”

For a long time, I didn’t know how to answer that question. I didn’t know what to say.

Life was happening, and happening in a painful way.

Ever the wise one Reese said, “I don’t believe the Universe would provide for two and not for three.” I’ll explain what she meant a little later in the post.

Bear with me for a second, please. We will get back to fashion and fun one of these days. I just need to get this one out.

The Real

This last year — the last few years really — have been incredibly hard for me. I mean grueling, faith-shaking hard.

  • There have been a lot of changes in the last three or four years
    I uprooted my life in Alabama for a job in the big city. A job where I started off great and then burned out
  • My best friend of nearly 20 years died of an asthma attack. Her death rocked my world to say the least and it is still sometimes to tender to touch with my thoughts
  • To top all that off, my mother — my rock, my biggest fan, my biggest challenger — was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type

Yeah. If this where a blues song, and I had a dog, somewhere in here it probably would have died.

Don’t get me wrong. There were good moments. Great, life-shaping moments.

  • Making great new friends and getting to know the DMV, which I learned to love and thought I would call home
  • Reconnecting with old friends
  • Having family reach out to help with mama. So I could work, knowing she was somewhere safe
  • Meeting Reese and birthing this blog

I would even count the day I decided to quit my job as one of those very, very positive moments.

But then my grand plan for an independent career, wasn’t so grand. Freelance is hard work. Period. And being the employer, the HR department, the complaint department, the finance department and the employee, was not what I had in mind. Hell, I don’t know what I had in mind, but that sure wasn’t it.

And I began to slide.

If it hadn’t been for Reese….

Well, I don’t like to think about what might have happened if it had not been for Reese. She was my anchor, and I will always be grateful for her love and support. For her prayers.

So.

Grateful.

Last year, I probably would have benefited from some good mental health services. I was depressed and I didn’t know how to get out. Life was throwing a lot at me, and I didn’t want to do anything but let it pummel me. I didn’t want to fight back. I was tired of fighting. I was tired of trying to make it all work.

I didn’t want to die. I simply wanted to walk away — to disappear. I wanted to abandon my life as I knew it, and all the people associated with it, because it felt so damn hard.

And the one thing that had given me — us — such buoyancy was this blog. But I couldn’t bring myself to write about any of it. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t think you all would understand.

So I kept silent. Many times on the verge of breaking down.

When spring comes….

As winter started to give way to spring, my depression started to break. My outlook shifted. I didn’t want to disappear. I wanted to be intensely present for everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life had been trying to get me to wake up. But I hadn’t been paying attention. It was time to stop sleep-walking and be engaged. Here.

Freelancing was still tough. I decided that it was time to go back to full-time employment. I applied for a lot of jobs. Instead of the sting of rejection — though there was some of that — it was the silence that was so stunning.

If you didn’t know, cold-submitting a resume is a pretty unpleasant experience — one that I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid for much of my journalism career. It is an employer’s market and people don’t even bother to send you a, “Thanks, but no thanks” e-mail. Trying to get into the mind of a potential employer is a feat of mental gymnastics. I like to think I got really good at revising my resume at the end.

(Yes, there is an end. Stay with me.)

I applied for a fellowship that I really wanted. I was even among the final candidates. But I didn’t get it.

I was crushed. I thought I might slide again, headlong back into depression. Reese thought I might slide too. I didn’t.

I cried. But I didn’t slide.

I put my focus on helping Reese move to Memphis and trying not to panic. I saw another job that I really wanted. A job that so many thought I might have in the bag after my interview. But the position was ultimately eliminated because of restructuring. Strike two.

And then a funny thing happened. The editor at the fellowship I had applied for passed my name along to a reporter who was in the process of leaving a news organization in New Haven, Connecticut.  I talked to the editor in New Haven by phone. He invited me up for an interview. And the rest is history.

Not really. I don’t mean to minimize. It really is amazing how so many things came together from that phone interview to the moment that I am writing this post. But that is another post for another day.

But Reese was right about the Universe. The Universe didn’t leave me out of whatever pact that we, the women of 5509, had collectively signed in our prayers and our journals.

Reese, of course, landed in Memphis, but our roommate Tasha, who you will get to meet soon, landed a job in Winston Salem, N.C.

And me? I’m so glad you asked.

Today, is my first day as a reporter for the New Haven Independent, an all digital, hyper-local, five-days-a-week news site. There are so many life lessons in my experience, some that have not even been revealed yet. As I unpack it, I will share. But today I just want to be present with this moment.  Today, I am excited and present with that excitement.

– Ricks