authenticity

Dating with Chronic Illness(es) Pt. II: “Let’s Talk About Spoons, Baby”

It has been so wonderful talking with you all about dating with chronic illnesses. I send my deepest appreciation for the ways you have exhibited community, solidarity, and reflection!

In my last post, I promised a follow up and I was able to chat with Jene again and a few other good friends about this topic. Please read this information responsibly, knowing that this post does not speak for an entire community. Let’s get into it!

“Being well can get expensive” – Jene A. Colvin (JAC)

There can be significant costs associated with the treatment of chronic illnesses. Visiting Dr.’s and specialists costs money. Getting tests done requires money. Insurance deductibles… money. Medicine… money. Vitamins and supplements… money. Appointments for therapy… money. ER visits… money.

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Photo Credit: Chronic Illness Cat

You’re probably sensing a theme.

“Budgeting for your illness when you share finances or just respecting your partner’s health budget is important when dating with a chronic illness. We might not be able to go out on the town… because I just got my doctor bill” (JAC)

So, it’s important to ask good questions about what a date might entail. Discussing the financial and physical commitments to the time clears up expectations.

Re-imagining Dates and Netflix & Chill

One of the most swoon-worthy moments I’ve experienced is when a partner looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Is today a Netflix & chill kind of day?” Originally, we’d planned to go sightseeing downtown. My body had other plans.

I tried to ignore it for the better part of the morning. I wanted to follow through with these plans. I knew they were genuinely interested in the sights we planned to see.

There are days that I can lovingly encourage my body to come along with me. I give it tea and medicine. I give it warm baths and light stretching. I give it orthotics, a meditation practice, and bland foods for digestive upset, as needed. Yet, there are some days where none of this will work. I needed a way to spend time with my partner, while being attentive to my body’s limits. So, Netflix & chill it was.

My good friend Athena (1) talked to me about her experience with this, and I paraphrase it here with her permission:

I’ve had dates set and then would suddenly have to change them (due to illness). I got the feeling that I seemed like a flake, because I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing my illness. Many people would lose interest because it would take me so long to get back to “normal”. It can even make friendships hard, because I have to make plans with a contingency. “If I get a nap before… maybe I can go out” or “Let me rest a day before and we’ll see”. Or I just become an entire recluse – sick and shut in list.com. Scheduling almost makes me itch because I’m so organized. I like things to work. I get really frustrated with myself because people expect me to be the one who has to change

Dating (or even maintaining friendships) with chronic illness(es) means being flexible. In my own experience, most of my physical energy goes to my professional life and supporting myself in that area. After that, I’m looking at my wellness goals. Somewhere in between (not before or after), I’m thinking of ways to consistently show up for those relationships and partnerships that are important to me.

In my life, I’ve seen that it can be done. But sometimes, well planned dates require a change of plans. Sometimes, my body needs my throw blanket, hot tea, Netflix, and legit… chill. It’s important to remember that honoring the limitations of others is a hallmark of romance. #bodyroll #ifmybackisuptoit 😉

Paperwork, Pills, & Emergency Processes

I don’t particularly love talking about this part (sigh) but it is important to ensure that there are emergency and contingency plans. In the case of an emergency, you’ll want to know if your partner equipped with information about medical needs, allergies to medicine, signs of an illness flare-up, emergency contact information (if it’s not them) etc. to come through in the clutch. Let me be clear, whatever you disclose or expound on with your partner is. YOUR. business. I know how sensitive these things can be. I simply want to call into the e-space that a plan for paperwork, pills, and emergency processes is helpful and oftentimes, essential. Because “shit gets real when everyone else is asleep and ya’ll are at the ER” (JAC).

Doing Your Research, Suspending Assumptions, & Curating Language

Yesterday, Jene talked about using a light / color system to communicate about chronic illness. I resonate deeply with some of language around the Spoon Theory, originally created by Christine Miserando (read it here) (2). It’s not perfect, so I pair this with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In my life, it’s important for baes and potential baes to have this kind language – to know that through my daily activity, I’m negotiating energy through the lens of whatever physical limitations I have aka “spoons”.
Yes… last week, I was twirling with you to vintage Prince cuts.
Yes… the other day, I waited with you in line to get to that new brunch spot.
But it helps if you know that I’m negotiating with my body to do these things. I’m enjoying myself but I might also be looking for a seated area. I’ve bought along an assistive walking device. I have my orthotics on inside of my get-em-gurl shoes. I’m stopping to stretch and to rest. I’ve saved my “spoons” – I’ve cut out another activity so that I could be present in this activity. I parked close to the venue, because I may not be able to walk back without significant pain. Or I could have to cut out an activity (or multiple activities) to recoup from being present in this activity. Again, I’m negotiating “spoons”.

So when I say, “I have about 4 spoons left”, I need bae to have done the research & have a reference point for that. ‘Cause bae can’t be out here saying, “But, if you did [fill in the blank] yesterday, why can’t you do it today?!” (Answer: I had a different amount of spoons).

Ending Notes & Points of Dialogue:
1) Athena is the pseudonym I chose for my friend. She said “Make it a spicy one so I can chuckle”. I told her I didn’t know if I could do spicy, but I figured the name of a goddess might suffice.

2) For those who are unfamiliar with this language, please do take the time to read Christine Miserando’s Spoon Theory. It does not reflect an intersectional approach to chronic illness (imagine I said that twice, for emphasis). So, read through it, take what works, and leave the rest.

For a more intersectional approach, I suggest following Spoon Theory up with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. There are a great deal of resources (limiting it to two here for word count) and if you find any that you want to share with me, as well, leave them in the comments below.

What language do you use to talk about chronic illness with bae or potential bae? Do you use a light / color system? Spoons? Something else? Feel free to let me know in the comments and / or through the contact form! I’ve enjoyed hearing from you all.

Perhaps, we can also talk about baes & holidays (because – whew!), sex & sexuality, and more. If you want to get in touch with me about these things, contact me here!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Dating with Chronic Illness(es): Healing Conversations with Sister-Friends

The constant, chronic pain hummed at a 3 in the electric wiring of my body. Through each city block, my body spoke to me, “Okay, slow down”. First, an uncomfortable warmth in my feet, hips, and lower back. Then, a distinguishable ache. Finally, sharp pain. We got to the bakery just in time for me to sit and re-group.

Our double date was wonderful in every respect – good food, great friends, in a city that we love. Yet, when we sat down with our pastries and coffee, our conversation pivoted quite a bit from those things.

“Yo, I’m not sure many people understand what it’s like to date with a chronic illness that isn’t visible”

This conversation was called into the space by my sister-friend, Jené  Colvin (whose awesomeness really does surpass words). It was the conversation that engaged us until the bakery closed for the night. It was a time to vent, to acknowledge this reality, and on some soul-level, to continue healing. Our partners sat in (mostly) quiet reflection, open body language, and a few knowing nods along the way.

This was the start of a brainstorming process for the things we’ve learned about dating with chronic illness(es) along the way. We want to share those things with you.

It’s important for you to know that we present our knowledge and lived experience to you with both anticipation and trepidation. For me, it is the continuation of a project I started (got scared of, and then stopped) a year ago. Typically, we both tend to be extremely reserved about the life cycle of our romantic relationships. Yet, through our conversation, we’ve realized that this is the moment to open up about this.

As a note, for the sake of “not all our business needs to be out on these Internet streets”, I will not directly name the chronic illnesses involved – unless it serves a key point. Jené’s comments will be marked with JAC, and my comments will be indicated by JTP. It is my great hope that this information is helpful for you as you reflect, adjust, engage, (and – lowkey / highkey – dismantle ableism).

Disclosing Chronic Illnesses

JTP: I’ve had some very interesting first date scenarios when it comes to disclosing an illness. Let me say from the gate, I still haven’t found a rigid, catch-all rubric for disclosing a chronic illness in a romantic setting. For example, the first time I met up with V in person, I knew that I would have to disclose some potentially uncomfortable things. I honestly didn’t know how that would sound:

“Yes, I’d love to go out to eat with you! But because of a chronic illness that impacts my digestive system, we just might end up going home a little earlier than anticipated if my body decides it just isn’t having it”.

“A walk around the park sounds lovely! Also, I’ve got chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet and this impacts my overall gait. So, if I stop in the middle of a ‘moment’ to stretch, then that’s why…”

“I promise I’m so excited to be with you right now! Yes… that’s exactly why I’m breaking out all over. My body has an interesting way of processing adrenaline…”

Sometimes, my body decides to be incredibly kind and sweet. Other times? Well…

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Photo credit: Chronic Illness Cat, Facebook page

With V, I ended up disclosing very early on in the process because of the circumstances. In other situations, I waited a bit longer. There have been times I’ve disclosed and ‘potential bae’s’ have looked at me in shock, surprise, and even… fear. (Needless to say, they didn’t last very long). There have also been times I’ve disclosed, expecting fear, and have been met with deep understanding.

It takes a lot to disclose because of the stigmas we have around health. In a society that hinges itself on capitalism and production, saying, “I have chronic illness(es)” can be seen as a detriment. Oftentimes, people go immediately to, “Have you tried (insert random healthy thing here)” – going to the remedy. Understand that chronic illness means… chronic. That’s not to say that there is no possibility of wellness or even complete healing. It just means that most chronic illnesses happen and will happen across a long period of time, or even a lifetime. (And yes, I do have to say this because too many people ask, “Are you better yet”?)

I don’t have a ‘thesis of disclosing’, and I’m not sure that a neatly-written script is possible in every case. What I’m here to share is that since we are all temporarily able-bodied (read up on Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and get clear on that), disclosure is a very real part of life. So, it should be met with honor, care, concern, and confidentiality (when we share something with you… we’ve shared something with you).

Going Out!

JTP: In my experience, going on on dates has been great, as long as we think creatively and carefully about everyone’s access / accommodation needs. (Which, honestly, is just good general practice. You should be doing this even in friend outings. I try not to use a lot of ‘shoulds’ in my writing, but really… it’s 2016… like… think about people’s accessibility needs).

It’s important for both of us to be mindful: is there seating around a particular venue? How long is the walk to the venue? Should I bring an assistive walking device? If someone approaches me about my handicap placard because I don’t “look sick” (yes… it happens… a lot), who will deflect the individual that day so that our date isn’t spoiled? Whose got the medicine? What does the menu look like (for dietary needs)? In the event of an illness flare up, what is our emergency plan?

Perhaps this doesn’t sound sexy. But knowing that someone cares about your safe and enjoyable access is body-roll-worthy-do-you-hear-me?!!! It’s important to extend this framework to anyone that you’re planning to go out with (in any capacity). Practicing equitable relationships and bae-ships includes being mindful of accessibility and accommodations.

Communication Ain’t a Game

JAC: You might have to come up with your own language for what is going on so that communication is easy on bad days. It’s been really helpful for my partner and I to use an alert system for anxiety. For example, “We’re having a red / orange / yellow day” (as opposed to a ‘green day’).

It’s important to share that and to share what helps / what hinders in communication. As an example, being told “It’s okay” can be the worst thing to hear at times. It’s nice to know that your partner isn’t mad at you, doesn’t blame you, still loves you, and understands the situation. But “It’s ok” really may not be the best way to communicate that. Sometimes, “It’s okay” is like nails on the chalkboard.

It might be okay for you that we can’t have sex because fibroids are making me feel like my body isn’t mine this week – which peaks my anxiety – which makes sex too hard to engage in. You might not be mad at me for that. Yet, I might be furious and frustrated that I can’t be intimate in that way, at that time. I’m not okay. So, I don’t want you to tell me it’s okay.

In regards to overall communication, you should be able to talk to your partner about chronic illness. But you won’t always be able to talk to your partner about your illness
you just won’t. Sometimes, they won’t get it. Sometimes, it’ll frustrate you. So, you’ve got to have some other folks to lean on. You also don’t have to expend extra energy making someone else feel okay about not being able to fully understand.

JTP: Right, and that’s why I appreciate the community I’ve found with other people who suffer from chronic illnesses. I’ve found a lot of this community online, in the humor of Chronic Illness Cat. There are some things that my partner doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

I’ve found that asking, “Can I help” and then, “How can I help” gets us to solutions fairly quickly. There are times that my body is just going to do whatever it wants to do. So, “Can I help” is just a good starting point. From there, we can decide what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s as easy as, “Please put your hand on my back so that I can have a bit more support”, or “Please pass me the Motrin from my bag”. It sounds over-simplified when written but in times where my body is being very… demonstrative… it’s an efficient practice.

Maintaining Balance and Respecting Boundaries

JAC: It’s important to figure out what still makes you feel like partners. There will be times where they are caring for you because you just can’t. It’s already hard feeling like a grown ass person when your illnesses tell you, “You can’t”. But your relationship shouldn’t make you feel like their child, the burden, or diminish your dignity.

There has to be mutuality in the relationship.

JTP: Right, and these can be practical things. Often, standing for long periods of time can take a toll on my body. This means that household chores such as doing the dishes can be a bit taxing. Mutuality means that I’m being honest about those things and contributing in the areas that I can, when I can. Mutuality also means that the limitations of my body are being respected and that I’m respecting the limitations of my partner’s body.

JAC: Healthy boundaries also include getting acquainted with the ways we apologize for our illnesses without saying the word, Sorry. Sometimes, we can apologize without using words (by overextending ourselves). When we don’t take care of ourselves, shit can get out of hand very quickly! Arguments and fights are often at the end of that barrel and often, you don’t even know how you got there. So, try to gauge the things that you do with / in / through your body as a way of trying to ‘apologize’ for an illness.

On Intimacy #Bodyroll

JAC: Sex requires SO much communication and your needs will CHANGE. This is true of sexual interaction in any relationship, but it’s also real when you have to juggle your desires with what your body is actually capable of.

JTP: That definitely requires some concentrated unpacking. So, perhaps a Pt. II blog post would be best. I think it’s good to rest here and pick it up again later. At this point, I’ll also open this up for my other spoonies, friends, and family who live with chronic illnesses. If you’re interested in unpacking what dating, intimacy, life, etc. with chronic illness is like, please do contact me here! I would be honored to hear your stories!

Click here to read pt. II.

 

 

 

 

Business Couture & Professional Aesthetics

Colleague: I don’t know… they’d probably tell me that wearing this printed shirt isn’t business casual.
Me: It’s not. It’s Business Couture™.

Yesterday, at the Center for Inclusivity, we had an engaging discussion about Vocation & Identity. We discussed how the word ‘vocation’ were different from ‘job’. We shared how we decided which work was worth our time and effort and how our identities intersected with your work.

These days, I call myself an interdisciplinary bridge-builder. I’m deeply interested in the work of writing, the creative and performing arts, higher education, emerging adulthood, and faith & spirituality. I’m interested in finding connections toward holistic visions of success and social justice. 

Yet, my understanding of vocation / work does not just include what I do. It also includes my professional aesthetic. My choices in ‘professional’ dress reflect more about where I’ve been and who I am than what I’m doing.

On Following Her Footsteps, Amina Doherty explains:

 

“We exist in a world where Black women’s bodies are contested spaces, where our fashion and style choices are heavily policed, where we are told what to wear, how to wear it, for whom to wear it, how much we should cover (or uncover), how much we should spend – how to ‘be’ everything but ourselves. We exist in a world that privileges thin, white, heterosexual bodies”

Michael Riley, Stylist and Higher Education Professional says, “As persons of color, we are often read as inherently unprofessional“.

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Michael Riley & I, posin’ in our Business Couture.

Thus, the way I practice, reframe, and re-mix “professional dress” or “business casual” into Business Couture allows me to push the confines. Stated simply, Business Couture is anything that allows me to come to ‘werk / work’ and slay. It is a theory that I’m living into each day. Here’s what that looks like for me, these days:

You’ll notice my favorite crop top from the last style post! As a card-carrying member of #TeamCurves, I’ve often been discouraged from crop tops. However, in my visions of Business Couture, this piece is a staple for me to get the lines that I want.

I have significantly less hair than my previous post! This has really amped up the role that accessories play in communicating my professional identity (and saved me a lot of prep time in the morning). In the first picture (far left), I’m wearing my “A Lil Bougie” pin from Tees in the Trap. (Yes, I absolutely do wear that to work). It’s a lighthearted and subtle code-switch, and my students always launch into discussion when they see it. However, it is also a reminder to think about class privilege, explain the references and / or jargon that I engage when I’m doing my work, and to check in with those who keep me accountable to the work.

The wooden earrings (center pic) were obtained at the Odunde Festival in Philadelphia, which “celebrates the coming of another year for African Americans and Africanized people around the world”. They can be a bold choice for the office but… #unbothered.

Business Cotoure 1

Glitter, sequins, and bedazzled shenanigans are absolutely a part of my professional aesthetic. In an older piece, titled “For Colored Gurls Who Consider Blogging & Glitter When Chronic Illness Gets Too Real…”, I explained that allowing my body to be bejeweled allows me to experience pleasure & “luxury” in my body, given the chronic amounts of sickness that are also in my body.

Business Couture means making space for things that aren’t quite casual, aren’t quite formal, aren’t quite… anything… and making it all work. This is something that I’ve had to do with my own lived experience: curate comprehensive works, aesthetics, initiatives, plans, from a variety of places, contexts, and needs. Pictured above is my Lauren Conrad bedazzled shirt and skirt (total cost around $25, as I got the pieces on clearance), and my Clarks knee boots (good for living with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet while looking fly).

Palazzo pants and V-neck shirts are a part of my aesthetic. Again, as a curvy woman, I’ve been told to stay away from things that “attract attention” (**eye roll). This was discouraged both in secular systems and in “sacred” spaces. Yet, my ethic and aesthetic of Business Couture acknowledges two things:

1) It is the responsibility of others to practice self control and to refrain from sexualizing the frame that I inhabit.

2) This particular body that I inhabit is temporary (I know it sounds a bit mystical, but I’m going somewhere). Things can change at any moment: if I fall ill, my skin color can dull. If I cut my hair, it has the capacity to grow back at this point. There are a variety of factors that determine the amount of space my body takes up at any given point in time. My body is temporary. Understanding this has allowed me to a lot spend less time agonizing over what others believe I should be covering and hiding, given my current weight / shape / frame, etc.

Let me be clear, the way that I experience gender discrimination, given my aesthetic, is not the same as someone who is trans*.  I would be remiss to exclude the understanding that my cis-gender privilege is real, and that this must be worked through in a variety of ways (that could be an entirely new post).

My hope, then, is that this conversations on who gets to be read as ‘professional’ is built upon, remixed, and re-interpreted for a variety of contexts and lived experiences. The concept of Business Couture is something that I’m still working through, wrestling with, and exploring. It is a concept that, I believe, must be lived into and is likely flexible enough to take however it is lived into.

Gramma & Me: A Re-Telling of Religion & ‘Right Minds’

“(God) woke me up this morning, (I was) clothed in my right mind” – based on Mark 5:15

I. My Grandmother (Gramma) is the most sophisticated and complicated woman I’ve known. She was known for her quick wit, generous heart, impeccable sense of style, and solid taste in music. She’d thrown out most of her ‘secular’ records after what she referred to as ‘getting saved’. But it was still my favorite thing to sing a few bars, watch her face light up, and hear her say, “Whatchu’ know about Sarah Vaughn?!”

Recently, my Gramma transitioned from this life. The calendar tells me there are only 29 days left until the anniversary of her passing. I’ve struggled to find my words for 1 year.

As Gramma grew older and she took on leadership positions in our family church, I think that folk glazed over her complexities to see only the service, just the love for God, only the way she rocked their babies to sleep in the nursery, only her encouragement, just the times she’d play piano and organize a service for those in the nursing home.

These things have a deep impact and should be remembered. However, my Gramma was a full person. Although I could only see fractals, I know that those fractals are “infinitely complex patterns, self-similar across different scales”(1). I knew her as a woman who grew up in the Jim Crow South and found ways to survive and thrive. I knew her through the stories that my mother and I shared.  I realized that through her relationship with my siblings. I realized that when I went back to Pennsylvania to help clean her home. Re-telling a life is complicated.  To present her as one dimensional seemed dehumanizing.

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Source: Family photo albums, College graduation at PSU

II. We sat in an office and sipped filtered water as the sun went down. A researcher and I were discussing equity for LGBTQI* persons within a Christian context along with some of our personal experiences. However, the conversation wound around a few sub-topics as we began to share. “I’ve noticed a trend of deep anxiety in these stories about religion…”

Anxiety about hell. Anxiety about punishment. Anxiety about being unloved / unwanted. Anxiety about being attacked by spirits. Anxiety about just… not getting things “right”.

I think about that conversation often. Because I know, from watching my Gramma… from knowing my ‘ownself’… of the delicate dance: the balance between religion (at least, the type my Gramma and I knew, the kind I detached from in some respects, the kind she leaned into) as both a coping mechanism and a source of stress.

My Gramma sung hymns when she was stressed and overwhelmed. This got her through an incredibly difficult relationship. She recited Scriptures from moment to moment. I’d catch her mumbling prayers on our many trips to West Virginia together. She carried anointing oil in her bag – for commemorating new beginnings, for healing sick grandchildren, for warding off spiritual darkness. For managing anxieties about the things that could and could not be seen.

III. My Gramma and I had a lot of things in common. She would often take me with her on her shopping trips. This was where my love of sequins, furs, and fabulous-ness was perfected. I would accompany her as an assistant; helping to choose Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday’s best. I’d go with her to the nailery (as we say in Philadelphia). I watched her long nails shaped into almonds and painted mauve. I hated the smell of the chemicals in the shop… but I loved the glamour.

Gramma and I both shared somewhat complicated relationships with the Divine. Where she leaned in, I critiqued. What I critiqued, she often would not understand. But we both knew it was complicated. It was the complication of temporal and divine relationships marked by love and disappointment.

Gramma and I placed a high importance on ‘safety’. These days, I open my mouth and it’s uncanny how quickly I find one of her key phrases: “That’s risky!” She played movies about being safe from temporal dangers: strangers, getting lost, falling down, being poisoned, etc. She watched shows about being safe from “spiritual dangers”: hexes, (certain) secular music, the Seven Deadly Sins, and more. I didn’t know there was so much to be afraid of. Though her face didn’t show it… I often wondered, “Is Gramma scared, too?”

IV. We were between declarations of ‘clothed in my right mind’ and profound internal anxieties. We were between the salves of whispered prayers and travails of ‘warfare prayers’. It was her house that told me that. It was cleaning her house that reminded me of my own need to let fear subside.

V. My Gramma had a deep interior world, of which I will never fully know. Yet, there are times when I see its connections through our ancestry. There are times when I see it through the presence and brilliant testimonies of her neighbors, students she taught, children she’d soothed (now-grown), women she’d mentored.

What I wish is that she could see this for herself.  Cleaning her house was discovering her psyche. Journals holding pages full of desires to get closer to the Divine – feeling that she had fallen short. I learned that in my adult years, she had given up understanding me (especially my spirituality). So, she decided to love me instead.

I realized how much we were alike – in complexity, beauty, and humanity.

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Cuts & Coconut Oil: New Phases in Hair History

Last year, I was featured on CurlyNikki.com with voluminous hair, pulled into many different styles. In the feature, I talked about my natural hair journey as someone who has always been ‘natural’ (meaning: the curl patterns of my hair were not altered through chemical treatments).

My hair history is far from simple: an unfortunate snipping of my two-strand twists, damages from constant flat ironing, how stress impacted my hair follicles, and… more… *sigh.

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This picture pretty much sums up my hair trials, tribulations, dangers, toils, and snares…

However, I learned to take care of my self and my hair over time by using a minimalist approach. So, while this is not a beauty blog… I really, really enjoy talking about hair both formally and informally.

I’ve recently gone through yet another milestone in my complicated hair history. I decided to cut my hair very, very short.

Online Cut

I’m deciding to write about it today since I’ve a) been writing about some relatively heavy subjects lately, and b) been getting lots of questions about the process. Here goes!

  • How long had I been growing my hair and what prompted the decision to cut it
    I’ve always gravitated toward billows of hair because my MuvaIcons include Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. So, it never really crossed my mind in any serious capacity before now. In 2009-ish, I found myself at the very unfortunate nexus of hair loss (stress + hard water in the Pennsylvanian mountains) & braids-gone-wrong. My stylist gave me that look that said, “You’re about to be in your feelings…”, explained the damage, and had to cut my hair to a shoulder length bob.

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    B.C. (Before Coconut Oil) Memories

    I’d been growing it back out since then, getting trims here and there. My hair care process was relatively simple: make sure it’s moisturized and do whatever is easiest. So, it grew back out without too much drama.

    Flash forward to the year of our Lord, 2016…

    I loved my big hair. At the same time, I wasn’t really doing anything with it on a frequent basis. I made sure it was clean, detangled, and moisturized. I would wear it out for about 3 days out of the week and then, up it went into a high ponytail or into a head-wrap. The thought of cutting it crossed my mind quite a few times. The decision was cemented after one particularly aggravating detangling session that lasted approx 25 minutes. My partner and I gathered the scissors and clippers and the rest… is now in a very pitiful looking bag of hair that I really ought to take out of my bathroom. (Overshare orrrrr….?)

  • How long will I keep this? Am I growing it back out?
    I have no idea. It depends on how I’m feeling down the line.
  • Pros? Cons?
    I’m smiling when I wake up to take off my bonnet! I’m stressed when I wake up in the middle of the night because the hair-to-pillow ratio is really off and I’m not used to it yet. I’m excited to see what my hair is doing at its root level. My scalp can feel things: wind, the sun, the chill in the air. I’m not a fan of hats but my scalp and neck are crying out against me in this Chicago wind. I’m saving product and the muscles in my arms are thanking me. I will probably have to get shape ups very frequently because my hair is already growing back in spaces. Finally, I’m getting reacquainted with my face, earrings, and have big plans that involve shoulder pads… *mischievous grin 

I’m still learning in this process. So, all of my naturalistas with short hair, please tell me about your hair journey in the comments below!

Eating Alone

I’ve recently discovered the work of writer, Vanessa Martir a few days ago, and deeply appreciate her thoughts on what she calls ‘story block’. (It’s WELL worth the read, especially if you’re a writer). Reading her work has prompted me to think about what gets my stories ‘stuck’. In my case, that has everything to do with being called to deeper vulnerability in my writing.

I started off in Creative Writing, and deeply excavating self was inescapable. However, in this “think-piece-and-click” era, it’s become a subtle expectation that writing worth reading always pieces together a logical “argument”. Let me be clear, it takes DEPTH of thought and SKILL to write in this particular format. I know this intimately. Yet at this point in my journey, I know that was me story-blocked is not a lack of things to write or to think about. So, I’m slightly pivoting for a bit. I hope you’ll be able to trek with me! Today, I was inspired by author Nike Marshall, and will share from the prompt: Eating Alone.


I. Someone close to me should have told me that I was losing too much weight, too fast. Perhaps they did. Perhaps I couldn’t hear them. I was exercising for at least two hours a day, but hadn’t coupled it with the intentionality of eating regularly. It was 2011 – 2012: the year that I faced a long season of unemployment, a crisis of faith, and love lost due to emotional abuse.

JP Skinny

II. The most vivid thing I can remember about my initial drive to Chicago were all the corn fields we drove through to get there.

My graduate program required that we finish an internship at two separate sites. So, in the summer of 2012, I packed my bags, ended my lease, drove to IL, and moved into a dorm room to work at a religious college.

I was constantly surrounded by religious iconography: a cross in each room, nuns and friars walking around the campus ground. There was one particular picture that haunted me. It was a portrait of The Last Supper. The figures ate their meals with solemnity. Judas looked as if he was on the verge of a panic attack. His face haunted me because I was on the verge of one too.

III. The college gave me a stipend to have meals on campus. Those meals were restricted by the summer schedule. If you missed 9 am breakfast then you’d either have to wait or buy a cold sandwich from the downstairs food bar. The sandwiches made me sick. Or perhaps it was just profound grief.

Each day, I’d get off at 3 p.m., take a long nap (catching up on all the naps I missed during my course schedule periods), and wake up again around 5 p.m. One day, during my nap-routine, I woke up ravenous.

It was a type of hunger that I had not felt in a very long time.

I needed thriving food, which is very different from “It’s-six-o’clock-and-you-should-eat-something” food. So, I got in my car and drove a while…

IV. I have a tendency to move to places without knowing a soul there. I knew (and loved) my coworkers at that time, but there wasn’t anyone I’d felt particularly close enough to to share a meal with. Especially not a meal this important.  In order to get what I needed, I knew I’d need to venture out alone.

I chose a place that was only 7 minutes away from me, because I knew that if I drove too much, I’d think too much, and likely talk myself back into the all-too-familiar dining hall line. I was seated by a man who (perhaps unknowingly) looked around for ‘the rest of my party’. I half-whispered, “It’s just me”.

“Would you like to sit at the bar?”
“No. I want to have an entire table”

It was the first time, in a long time, that I’d allow myself to take up that much space.

I ordered a wood fired flatbread pizza and watched them knead the dough at my seat. I ordered a glass of sangria (red), a pot of loose Jasmine tea, a lemon gelato, and a mini cheesecake. And something in my soul shifted.

V. There are a couple of places, moments, persons, and things that have saved my life. Learning how to eat alone in Chicago is included in that. Since that day, I’ve explored countless restaurants, both alone and with company. I’ve gained weight. Lost it. Gained it. Took my ‘demons’ out for nice meals. Until they and I could get ourselves together. Then, I recovered my appetite.

Image Credits:
Featured Image – Createherstock.com
Additional Images from personal collection

 

 

#Lemonade: Was Bey in My Art Therapy Sessions? (Also Titled: Beyonce Did That, Also Titled: “Who The F*^% Do You Think I Ih…”)

“Let’s try not to discount anger as a valid emotion…”
“Expressing anger is okay. How can we do that with color and imagery?”
“Let’s try to answer: How did the emotion of anger assist you in the moments that you needed it to? Did it protect you from something? Did it make you aware of something?”
“Let’s talk about why you choose the image of the woman’s clenched fist for your collage?” – My art therapist.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?!” – Beyonce, Don’t Hurt Yourself

Ya’ll. Ya’ll.

I think sitting with art is important. Reflecting on art is important. Unpacking the nuances of art is so important… and Queen Bey has given us A LOT to unpack in her latest work, Lemonade. I will refer to Evelyn from the Internet to break that down for you briefly:

The strong imagery and the odes / poetry / healing songs for Black women that she presented in Lemonade are still dealing with me at a heart-level at the moment. I would love to write an intellectually-based thinkpiece on how meaningful this work is in the entertainment industry (you can read Dr. Birgitta Johnson’s reflections on that here). I would love to break down all of the images that she’s used to signify to and conjure for Black women (you can learn about that by following #LemonadeSyllabus on Twitter). Yet the response that’s come up for me has been a very personal and emotional opening.

It would take countless hours to express my feelings about the entire project. This project was about the interpersonal and sociocultural relationships that Black women hold. This project was about healing and wholeness for Black women. This project was about finding ways to rebuild. However, what spoke to me the most was Bey’s expressions of anger and grief. The songs and imagery for ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ are still dealing with and working on me.

Here’s why seeing that was so powerful for me:
I was raised churchy church. (I’ve written that sentence at least 4 times on this platform :). I was raised within a setting that taught that we were to be “slow to anger”, that “fools give full vent to their anger”, and that “anger resteth in the bosom of a fool”. It was a bit more socially acceptable to see men giving voice to their anger, both inside of that context and given the patriarchy that America so adores. However, it was not as socially acceptable for young girls and women to express emotions of anger, rage, wrath. These were seen as destructive and out of place.

So, I learned to stuff my anger. I learned to swallow it whole and throw up smiles and forgiveness without accountability. I did this most often in my romantic relationships. #TellYoBusinessThursdays

“When you play me…. you play yo’self” -Beyonce

It’s taken years of learning ways to nuance Scripture as well as art therapy to learn how anger can be an absolutely important emotion. This emotion tells you, “Something is wrong!” It tells us when someone has been mistreated, duped, left behind, or taken advantage of. It moves us to action on their behalf or on our own behalf. It reminds us that when one of us is mistreated… it doesn’t often bode well for any of us.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?! You ain’t married to no average b!tch, boi…” – Beyonce

I joked with a friend that I wanted to get that quote re-interpreted as a tattoo so that I could walk around and people would immediately remember who they were talking to.

Petty flowchart
Image Credit: @PettyFlowcharts, Instagram aka my petty side project

It’s no secret that women of color are often ‘presumed incompetent’ (Gutiérrez et al, 2012). We have to prove what we are saying is valid in our professional lives and our personal lives. Our brilliant work is often quoted without citation or attribution. Our labors of love are often taken for granted. We are often expected to bend into painful shapes due to toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression [see: for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, The Color Purple, Salt Eaters, the entirety of #LemonadeSyllabus, and the oral histories and lived experiences of Black womyn].

While it may seem that ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ orbited around the storyline of romantic betrayal, Beyonce was crystal clear in incorporating quotes from Malcolm X. She is also speaking to a palpable, documented, and lived sociocultural reality on a broader scale.
Before Bey showed us images of healing, she showed us images of anger and wrath. I appreciate her for that.

Blogger, writer, and scholar Ebony Janice has always said, ‘Beyonce knows‘.

I’ll add that Bey knows that mis-recognition and mistreatment by American society and by those who claim to love us brings about grief and anger. Through Lemonade, she shows us that anger is an absolutely valid emotion to feel and to express after being mistreated. She also shows us that finding space to express anger is a step that cannot be skipped on our journey to wholeness. We cannot simply rush toward reconciliation without dealing with what ‘is’. Before you can see the possibilities of lemonade, it’s okay to find healing spaces to lament over them sour @$$ lemons.

Image Credit: Youtube.com, Beyonce “Lemonade” Preview Review

*Please be sure to download the #LemonadeSyllabus! It is a resource, curated by Candice Benbow, that holds 200 resources (including books, articles, music, film, etc.) to further unpack the themes of Beyonce’s Lemonade. I’m so honored to have been asked to contribute to this work and encourage you to download and share!

Download here: www.candicebenbow.com/lemonadesyllabus

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Non-Traditional New Year’s Manifesto

I appreciate that for many, New Year’s Eve / Day signals a reset in some ways: new goals, fresh starts, upcoming excitement. However, it is my least favorite holiday. The hands of New Year’s Eve clock often feel heavy with promises we don’t keep, breakthroughs that may or may not come, and changes we could have made the year before. In past years, I got around this heaviness by surrounding myself with positive distractions: people at church who might be able to help me believe that THIS year was MY year, friends whose optimism might rub off on me, confetti, glitter… the works.

But this New Year’s Eve, my original plans included baking a cake and enjoying close relationships. On a deeper level, I knew that in order to progress successfully into 2016, I had to get quiet and look back… which is counter-intuitive to SO many notions we have about what a NEW year represents. On the second day of the new year, I had the chance to do just that.

Those who know me well, know that I’ve kept a journal from ages  9 to 22. In the years that followed, my journaling practice has been on and off, so I bought a new book and purposed to get back on track. However, since I was back in my hometown, I pulled my high school and college years down from the shelves and re-read. (No journals from grad school or after because… #life).

I smiled (laughed occasionally). I cringed (a lot). I analyzed. I empathized. But most importantly, I meditated on loving the “me” in those pages.  That was radical and life-changing for me.

I allowed the “Me” of today to grieve the heartbreaks of the “Me” of then. I got honest with the “Me” of then… there were so many things I was not willing to admit to myself. I cheered myself on when I proactively made good choices and even when I stumbled upon good choices after-the-fact.

The “Me” of today was able to discern that, in many ways, I spent a great deal of my past in fear.

Fear of messing up.
Fear of doing things ‘wrong’.
Fear of not being heard.
Fear of being unloved.
Fear of being unworthy.

So, my past coping responses were geared toward achievement. Go. Do. Prove. Learn the terms. Play by the rules.

I discerned what I needed to do in 2016 by looking back, and purposefully accepting myself & my evolution. I needed / need to embrace my own terms.

While I don’t have the details of how this will play out, I have identified a few key areas that I’d like to work on. These include:

  1. Refining, embracing, and articulating my own voice through my art & professional endeavors. I am a blend of analysis, story sharing, advocacy… and sheer, friggin, shenanigans. It’s okay to reflect all of that. Those are my terms.
  2. Communicating my terms in regards to wealth & profit from my creativity. Rihanna put it this way, “Pay me what you owe me. Don’t act like you forgot”. My terms.
  3. Making room to add or subtract relationships, projects, and professional goals. Shame and fear can keep you playing solely by other people’s terms. I’ve learned that is just not an efficient or peaceful way to live.
  4. Committing to explore what my terms are for engaging God and people, for creating art… for living.

I’ve lived rubric-style for long enough. It’s time to begin using the resources I have to create my authentic curricula.

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Blog-A-Versary: Lessons Learned from My 6th Blog!

JadeTPerry.com is on the cusp of its one year anniversary! #Turnup

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I’m really in awe regarding a) the support that I’ve received and the people who have encouraged me along the way, and b) the fact that I blogged consistently for a year (don’t judge me).

I’ve always kept a journal. Writing helps me to work out my thoughts, current events, and other parts of the world that I inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I let my interests drive me to contribute to other people’s platforms, which was and is an amazing experience. Yet after about 4 years of doing this, I realized I had invested nothing substantial into my OWN platform. People had nowhere to GO after reading my work on other sites.

Before JadeTPerry.com, there were 5 other blogs or microblogs. This is the one that stuck. The 6th time was the ‘charm’. In this past year, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for blogging tips or lessons I’ve learned. So, I find this to be an appropriate time as I celebrate this year’s blog-a-versary.

1) Finding a mission / an intention for writing can serve as fuel.
Let me tell you a bit about the site’s name. It’s my government name. The reason for this is not because I think I’m fabulous…

although clearly…
xdxwg3.

😉 The reason that this site is named after me is because I initially intended it to be a portfolio, of sorts. I wanted to carve out a space for people to get information about me that would represent an authentic version of myself & my work. I envisioned that I’d talk about career topics in mainly higher ed. Then, I wanted to write about careers, in general. But as I stuck to 1-2 topics, it began to feel a lot like getting out of bed on a cold, wintry Chicago morning.

So, I took a class… thinking I just needed to work harder to be more consistent. By the end of the process, I realized, that the intention I had for this space did not align with what I wanted at the core. So, I began questioning what my mission was, on a broader scale. After 2 weeks of asking friends, writers, and professionals about the themes they saw in my life AND comparing it with my own self-assessment, I came up with a mission that fit:

“to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion”.

It’s broad enough to encompass the various topics I like to write about. It weaves these topics together. It allows space for guest contributions from people who might see themselves / their work reflected in this mission as well. What helped JadeTPerry.com to ‘stick’ this year was having a core mission and intention.

2) “Not your Thinkpiece Hand-Maiden” aka Your Platform, Your Content.

Let me tell you how much I love a good thinkpiece. A good friend of mine sent a personal inbox message to me on the day that Damon Young from VerySmartBrothas.com wrote “Sh*t Bougie Black People Love: 23. Thinkpieces”, (pause… it’s satire… don’t get in your feelings). They said it reminded me of them AND cited the quote that MOST reminded me of them, which was:

“The thinkpiece — when a writer spends several hundred words articulating a smart-sounding angle on either a topic everyone is talking about or a topic no one has ever talked about — only ranks behind “the bottomless mimosa” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” when listing inventions most crucial to Bougie Black life, as it gives them four different ways to show everyone how smart they are. They can write one, comment on one, reference one in a regular conversation (“Did you read Coates’ piece on croissants this morning?“), and even just post one on their Facebook page under the status “Exactly!”

Guilty. Because JadeTPerry (the name and the platform) has think pieces on Kendrick Lamar, on why purity certificates are WHACK, on mass media’s re-imagining of Toya Graham, and the list goes on. HOWEVER, there came a point where my inboxes were being flooded with, “Have you seen ____? You need to do a think-piece on _____. Don’t forget to do a piece on ______. Have you heard _____?” It became a game of catch-up and it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. Think pieces work best when… oh, I don’t know… you’ve given considerable thought to something.

I was talking with an E-friend about it in the middle of the year and she wasted no time in responding with, “Tell them to write those words themselves. You aren’t anyone’s think-piece handmaiden”! (I cackled). In other words, if it’s YOUR platform, then YOU dictate what’s important enough / relevant enough to go there. Sometimes, it’s a narrative. Sometimes, it’s a thinkpiece. Sometimes, it’s a list. Sometimes, it’s feature. Your platform? Your content.

3) What I wanted to write about… and why I no longer care about that.

At a very naive point in my life, I believed there was a formula for everything… and that if you knew the formula, you could avoid shenanigans like heartache, unemployment, rejection, lost hope, crises of faith, not-being-cuffed-up-during-cuffing-season (kidding), and more. Then life said…

I’m a helper, by nature and by profession. So, my writing (in the 5 blogs prior to JadeTPerry.com) was very formulaic in nature. Because if I’m honest, I like getting things ‘right’. But life… and writing… isn’t all about getting things right. Sometimes, there is a road map that is only LOOSELY marked. You get on the road and realize it may not have been the best choice. What starts off as an existential crisis becomes an opportunity to re-route. What ends up as a substantial blog-body of work… starts off as ‘wingin’ it’. So, while I still care about helping, I no longer care about neatly packaged premises in 500 words or less. And that doesn’t sell as well… but I feel like that’s a lot more ethical.

4) Share!
In the first months of this year, I had no idea how to ‘blog’. I knew how to write. I knew that I had things to say. However, I assumed that I’d put it into the WordPress ether and somehow, someway, people would find me.

pzv5j7l

I was initially very fearful of sharing my work, especially since there was no one target demographic. So, I started with the people that knew me personally. Then, after I’d gotten a bit braver, I shared it with colleagues I trusted. I used tags to categorize information, so that the WordPress system could easily recommend it to others. Then, I shared it on Twitter and after that, I shared it in Facebook groups I was a part of. Sometimes, it was well received. Other times… shudder. But I began to make a plan to PREPARE for critique, to understand it, to use it to become better.

Now, when I contributed to other platforms, I shared the site’s url as well. I select posts to become public so that friends can share with friends. The nervousness doesn’t / hasn’t gone away. I’ve just decided that I cared more about my own development in this platform… and for me, that requires sharing what’s written.

I’m grateful to everyone who has clicked, read, shared, followed, retweeted, and reached out to me via comments / inbox. I look forward to the offline and online dialogues we have about ideas and concepts. I appreciate the support, the initial push to blog, and I look forward to spending another year with you all!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

“Sensitive About My Shhhh…”: Communication & Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite quotes from Erykah Badu is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

I was a bright, loud, but sensitive child. At the time, I thought that sensitivity was a detriment. As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions and learned that fierceness and sensitivity aren’t always dichotomous. But I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.

You should know (especially if you’re a new reader) that I’m no stranger to critique. I started in Theater (*flashbacks to training that included 30 seconds to convey a convincing character and 2 minutes of critique if your character choices were whack or nonexistent). Then, I got a B.A. in Integrative Arts (no one knew what that meant – it involved Writing, Communications, Theater, Theater Makeup, Sociolinguistics, some other random things, conversations with the Dean about how should explore without pressuring myself to do it all, a balance of support and concern from my folks, and a lot of asinine questions about what the degree equipped me to do. To which I answered, “Integrate some art”).

The side-eyes grew ever-increasing when I graduated in the midst of a recession with my newly minted degree, created a fledgling independent project that involved painting art onto shirts & apparel…

Betty Boop Shirt

… did Background Vocals, volunteered in campus ministry (diversity initiatives), worked for a data entry company (because …credit card interest), and started writing for a magazine start-up. I knew my path included getting an M. Ed to work in the field of College Student Affairs (not many people outside of the field knew what that meant either! And when I had to shift from creative writing to academic writing… the word ‘critique’ won’t even begin to tell it all. That first paper feedback sent me to bed at 6 pm).

I became passionate about identity conscious initiatives in Higher Ed, started 5 blogs, got scared or complacent, shut them down, started a 6th one, and began to contribute to more public platforms. I was finally putting my words into the world with some measure of consistency. Along the way to balancing life as an aspiring scholar – practitioner – creative soul, I fell into the wormholes of comments sections. Every artist that’s ‘sensitive about their shhh’ needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in a digital age.

So, this post is for those who put art, scholarship, practice, and work out into the world. This post is for anyone who is navigating communication in a digital age. In many senses, this post is for me… and if you are helped along the way, we should grab coffee and encourage each other more often!

A Working Draft for Sensitive Souls Navigating Communication in a Digital Age

    1. Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.
      I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received it that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish’. It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.
    2. Understand that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.
      In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
      “Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting. But you will know which is which by its ‘fruit’.You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors).If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing”.I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.
    3. Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.
      Since 2015, I’ve been sharing more of my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are a great deal more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written, affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me the…giphy
      They care enough about me to not have me ‘in these streets’ looking a fool. And for that, I’m grateful.
    4. Get feedback from people who know you personally!
      They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…
    5. Check your intentions for creating.
      Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from transformative dialogue and a possible learning experience”. Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.
    6. Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on”).
      Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it you probably shouldn’t have read in the first place (ask me how I feel about most comment sections). There is great temptation to hide when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Post inspired by Ms. Badu