Sipping coffee above the clouds 

Do you know what is utterly amazing? Peering out the tiny window of a massive commercial jet, whilst drinking coke zero above the shimmering lakes of western Canada. 

Then all the sudden you are flying over a frozen tundra. Are those ice peeks or snow-covered mountains? You cannot tell. Is this Alaska or Eastern Russia? Who can say. 

All you know is that for 23 years you lived on this planet and only now are beholding some of its breathtaking wonderlands. 

And when your naked eyes behold the beauty of untold lands, nothing is more important than savoring this single moment.

Flying is an amazing sensation. I spent fourteen hours on a plane to South Korea. As the plane tilted and I had a chance to see beyond its giant wing emerging from the base beneath me, I looked out at the end of the world where stratus clouds played tag above the cumulonimbus. 

In fourteen hours I would fly from one side of this enormous planet to the next. Flying, soaring above 30,000 feet of air and space and water. 

For Fourteen hours we chased the sun as it raced across the sky, illuminating the miles upon miles of earth and sea below. For fourteen hours the plane rattled and rumbled  through the stratasphere, rocking back and forth, lulling its passages to sleep. 

The never-setting sun glowed against my passenger window. My body grew hot, pressed against the heated wall of plane and air. The woman beside me slept with her hands folded over her lap, blocking my way of escape. My legs began to ache, my ankles to swell, my feet to cry out, “take us somewhere, anywhere but here.” I rubbed them impatiently until the flight attendants came rolling down the isle with goods to share.

Im sipping coffee above the clouds. Its 4:00 in the morning at home but I don’t care. The sun is awake. It endured the journey without going to sleep, so should I.

Tell your internal editor to shut-up

The best part about writing a story is writing the second draft.

I’m working on an inspirational romance novel, and lately I’ve been stopped by my own internal editor. She sits on my shoulder saying things like, “You don’t even know how to spell that? How does that even make sense? You said she had blonde hair in the last chapter, now you’re saying ginger?”

Disheartening to say the least.

Sometimes the words fly out. But, usually I’m begrudgingly banging on my computer keys to get the story moving, all the while telling that internal voice to ‘shut-up already.’

It’s absolutely brain-frying.

But there is nothing I love more than looking over the pages I typed yesterday, and beginning the second draft.

In school I tutored at a writing center. As I helped my students write their essays, they would often say things like, “This is probably so easy for you.”

But I thought about it for a while and realized, no, writing doesn’t come easy for me. I think that anyone can be a good writer, if they spend enough time with their writing.

Good writing doesn’t spill out of the mouths of poets and novelists. It develops over time. I hardly doubt Shakespeare penned the lines of Romeo and Juliet on the first draft. I imagine he read them aloud over and over, changing an adjective here and a noun there.

So a word of encouragement to my fellow aspiring novelists. Get your story out before you begin editing. Don’t stop simply because you feel like it’s bad writing. You always have time to go back and polish.

Anxiety at 23

Today is my birthday and the clouds have decided to weep. Don’t worry, it happens every year.

I woke to the crash of thunder, and thought ‘of course it’s raining on my birthday again.’   My wipers cleaned the windshield on my morning commute, and I splashed through the flooded roads, thinking about the outcome of my life.

In the last year, I lived as the average 22-year-old girl: Graduated college, worked at a coffee shop, finally landed a salary job, bought a car, and moved out of my parents house. Shortly after, the anxiety set in.

***

Angst. Panic. Fear. Depression. Unease. Distrust. Doubt. Worry.

This is not a post on how I overcame anxiety, but what I’ve learned through the process. I write this because I know there are many in this similar situation.

I’ve never had an issue with anxiety before. Rather, it was depression that played the antagonist in college. Anxiety is a new character in my life, an unkind friend who enters unannounced. I don’t know what triggers it, but unfortunately it visits weekly.

When I started thinking about my upcoming birthday I realized how quickly this year is slipping by.  I wondered if this will be a year I recall as full of anxiety.

I hope not.

My anxiety is showing me that this life is not perfect. The idea became a reality when I studied the book of John this year. In chapter 16, Jesus says,  “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I didn’t realize that a lot of people, people my age especially, suffer from anxiety, until I told people I was experiencing it.  I began searching the scriptures for solutions to these unpredictable panic attacks.

Then I came across the passage about Jesus’ resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he said to his friends after his resurrection. When I read this, I wondered why his peace was not with me.

A friend explained that anxiety is a physiological experience. Chemicals surge through your brain causing panic to rise in your body. Perhaps the peace he gives is a spiritual peace. A peace so subtle it takes a step of faith to see.

Even though I’m turning 23 and entering a new stage of life–that may involve daily anxiety attacks and lonely, depressing nights–I won’t let it overcome me. Resting in the knowledge that in this world there will be trouble, there is no need to freak out so much when things go wrong.

Things will go wrong.

So how do we face tomorrow?

Perhaps by resting in the comfort that he has overcome the world. He knows our greatest needs and how to fulfill them.

***

It always rains on my birthday. The clouds weep and I’m reminded of a letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Hope is looking toward the future with a smile on your face. Today I’m 23 and I have anxiety. But peace and hope are stimulated by a fire that comes from above, and not even the torrential rains can put it out.

An Unfinished Story

In college I took a fiction writing class. It was a time in my life where I learned how to take a blow from another writer.  The structure of the class was one where we read our stories aloud. Fellow classmates would then critique our work.

Sometimes our professor had us swap stories with a random person in the class and we’d critique their story, then bring it in to class and read it aloud the following week.

One afternoon I walked into class, sat down, and riffled through my folder for the story I’d critiqued the night before. My hands searched unsuccessfully as to my immediate alarm I realized the story was still back at my dorm. With two minutes ’till the start of class, I slipped out of the room and dashed down the hall.

My dorm was five minutes away, but I ran the whole thing nonetheless. Students passing by, side-grinned at me, but I ignored them because they’d probably been in a similar situation at one point or another.

The dorm was empty. Most everyone was in class by now. I ran down the hall and almost collided with a girl coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.

“Forget something?” she hollered after me.

“Of all the days!” I yelled back.

There it was, sitting on my desk, marked with purple ink. I snatched it up and hurried back to class. The door was closed when I returned.  This was a sure sign I was extremely late. It also meant someone’s story was being read. The cold door handle clicked opened as I held my breath and entered.

The words that filled the room as I searched for a seat took me by surprise, for it was my story that was chosen first, my story that the student up front was reading. My story that I’d crafted so carefully, penned so precisely, typed so timidly. Of all the stories.

She read on, and to my surprise the class was captivated, even the professor listened intently, eyes down, fingers folded in his lap. The girl reading my story was nearly to the last page, when she stopped right in the middle of some well-written dialogue.

“And that’s it,” she said. “It kind of just ends there.”

I looked up, in bewilderment, wondering why she’d failed to read the last page. But no one else seemed to notice. The professor asked for some critique and critique was given.

“I don’t really know what to make of it,” said the reader, “Seeing that it ends in dialogue.”

“Yes, but what did you think of the story?” the professor prodded.

I was beginning to feel nauseous, realizing that in a few minutes I’d have to admit that this half-finished story was mine.  The only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I’d failed to print the last page, when I had turned it in the week before. Maybe the printer ran out of paper. Maybe I’d only grabbed the four pages and left the fifth one alone on the printer.

Oh, did my stomach churn.

Thankfully the professor liked my story and gave it some very constructive criticism. The class asked who the author was and I raised my hand, reluctantly.

“Where did you get the idea?” the professor asked, and all eyes turned to me. My forehead was damp with sweat, my palms were itchy, and my feet were still hot from the jog.

“A headline,” came my voice. The inspiration came from a news headline I’d seen while surfing the web. The headline read, “Family found after living in hole for eight years.” The class laughed at my explanation, and my moment of humiliation was over

###

What is worse than presenting a half-written story, a half completed assignment, a partially finished task?

I sometimes struggle with living a partially finished life. A life that is still moving, still going, still sitting out in the world with an end in sight but an unseen future. I like to think of my life as a story. But it’s scary not knowing where this protagonist is going to end up. I sit at the edge of my seat in the middle of a life where bad things keep happening. I’m a storyteller. I know every story needs conflict, but keeping an objective outlook is hardest when you’re the main character.

Q & A challenge from a fellow writer

How many of Jane Austen’s novels have you read, and do you have a favorite?

Interestingly enough, the novel I’m writing now is hinted with themes of Jane Austen. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, most of Sense and Sensibility and some of EmmaMy favorite by far is Persuasion.

Who are your fictional crushes/ships?

Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird. But he’s an old man, so maybe a friend crush. Movie and TV characters are easy to crush on but the one’s in storybooks have deeper characters.

Best contemporary recommendations?

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book is by a Nigerian author who creates characters of color. Her storytelling is brilliant, like nothing I’ve read before.

Nonfiction favorites?

Eat, Pray, Love. Though she doesn’t have a great worldview, the author has a wonderful voice in her writing. The Soloist is also a good read if you’re looking for something thought provoking. But for something more substantial and less entertaining, then Augustine’s Confessions.

What are your favorite historical periods/settings? Which are your favorites to write about?

I prefer modern day. I like to intertwine current issues into my stories. But previously I liked the Romantic Era. Settings are fun to play around with, but I find it easiest to write about where I’ve been: France, England, Upstate New York, and of course Indiana.

How do you write—pen and paper, computer, etc?

Always on a computer. The words flow better there. But when I have an idea and need to get it out quickly, I use a small journal to put the words down. Sometimes, for a blog post, I’ll come back to the notebook and copy it down.

What’s your favorite period drama miniseries? Favorite TV show?

I was captivated by Suits, until Netflix took it off. Otherwise I loved watching Downton Abbey, before it got too depressing. Jane the Virgin is hilarious and well written. But don’t judge me when I say my favorite TV show is the Great British Bake Off. 

Do you have any hobbies?

Baking as mentioned above is a huge hobby for me. Mostly because it’s a great stress reliever, especially now that I’m working and out of school. Exercise is also my go-to when I have some down time.

You mentioned travel, so…how many places have you visited, and what was your favorite? Any special place you have still to visit?

Places? Too many to mention/not enough to satisfy my travel fever. Four countries, soon to be five. #Southkoreabound. My favorite has to be York, England. A city I lived in for five months during a study abroad. Still need to visit my sister in Taiwan, and probably my brother in China. I also really want to see Edinburgh, Scotland. And my family’s country, Rwanda.

What are your favorite coffee shops?

Starbucks, but I’m partial because I use to work there. Costa in the UK is nice as well. But if I wanna be hipster I guess I’ll mention some local ones: Thirsty Scholar, Quills, Quirky Feather, and Pia Urban Cafe.

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I’m Done Exploring My Racial Identity

I began writing this blog last summer, with intentions to explore my racial identity. But recently I’ve put my ethnic background on hold and shied away from narrating my black hi(story).

The post that brought this blog to a halt was one I wrote about the dilemma of being too white and not enough black. But I couldn’t post it, because my experience seemed to be stretching the truth, and it attacked both sides of my race in a counterproductive way.

I considered writing about the difficulties of dating as a biracial woman. But my experience was limited. How could I give insight on interracial romance, when I’m not married and only had a serious boyfriend for a few months?

Some days I sat down to write, and was frustrated by the black community in America. I was discouraged that our percentages are so low in the means of success, but so high in the way of failure. I wanted to write about abstinence, which seems non-existent even among black Christians. But the feedback I received on an article I published a year ago proved the topic of sex to be a much more difficult issue to tackle.

So, I’ve published nothing in the last few months, simply because I didn’t know what to write.

Have I stopped writing about race because I’m ashamed of my racial background? Would it be easier if I was one race or the other?

Not ashamed, just misunderstood.

Not discontent, just disgruntled.

Maybe this is why I welcome the fact that people mistake me for another race. Maybe I enjoy being taken for a Mexican or an Indian. Maybe it’s easier not to inherit the assumptions that come with being mixed race.

***

A year ago I graduated college and finished a class called Conversations On Race. I left the class feeling more of a need to embrace my biracial identity than before. It sparked my efforts to write about race in America from day to day. But somewhere between then and now, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t know what I want to accomplish by writing about race.

So where is this blog going? Have I given up on exploring my racial identity?

I think I’ve decided to concern myself with other things.

I’m a career women now, driven to attend grad school in the fall. I’m writing a novel, which actually depicts the life of a biracial, female journalist. Perhaps this is where all my energy to write has gone.

I may start posting excerpt from my novel to get some general feedback. It’s a new and exciting project, but oh so difficult. Writing a 600 word blog post is fun. Writing a 60,000 word story with conflict, resolution, and fictional dialogue is much harder. But, nonetheless, I think it’s time to take a new direction.

My West Side Story

indianapolis-city-skyline
On East Washington street in Indianapolis, among the homeless shelters, drug stores, and sagging rooftops, there sits a little cafe. It’s not what you would expect to find in this neighborhood and that’s what drew my interest to work there for four months as a barista.

My experience was a mixture of dull hours accented by heart-pumping moments.

There were long afternoons where the only people who came in merely asked for a glass of water or the bathroom. Then there were times like the day a fight broke out right outside, and my manager ran to lock our doors before the fight was brought into the cafe. Police appeared, traffic swerved as the fight between two teen-age girls fell right into the busy street.

Heart-pumping; heart-breaking.

My heart broke when a little old man come in to buy a cup of coffee with nine dirty quarters. He wore a leather police jacket and never smiled. With his grey mustache pressed against the rim of his cup, he quietly drank his coffee in the back corner of our shop and stared blankly out the window. I saw him every day, and though I never learned his name did learn how he liked his coffee: a little cream and a lot of sugar.

My heart broke to see a shirtless man, in the heat of summer, walk in looking for something to drink. A baby clothed in just a diaper was pressed to his chest, maybe a month old. The child’s tiny arms ended in tightened fists, his legs far too skinny, his stomach flat and malnourished.

After a while I grew accustomed to this life. Driving through sad-looking streets, passing people I once thought were so scary, but now realized were just lost, confused, or seeking something to satisfy their addictions.

Though I worked on the East side, I had the luxury these people did not: to drive home at day’s end, to a safer, cleaner and more developed area of town.

But eventually I began to see pockets of light in this poverty stricken neighborhood. The church behind my cafe met regularly for bible study at our tables. Wheeler Mission’s staff often came in and shared about the work they were doing, while I fixed their coffee.

Day after day I mopped the floors of my cafe and prayed for the people who passed by the windows.

Morning after morning I clocked in and pulled shots of espresso for our regulars. I began to wonder if this was my calling, to be a barista in a poor area of my city and serve people one by one.

Then one day I was offered a job with the state government. Two weeks later I was clocking out for the last time and moving my career down to West Washington Street on the other side of town.

My new job was a completely different world. I was meeting with state Representatives, Senators, lobbyists, and journalists. I was sitting in a cubicle designing newsletters and writing press releases, responding to media requests, and surfing news outlets hunting for information.

 And I was ordering coffee,

standing on the other side of the counter,

knowing how early these baristas woke,

how they brewed the coffee,

and prepped the night before.

I was pulling a few extra dollars out of my wallet for the tip jar, because I too was once the barista counting up tips at the end of the day.

Life on the West side is so different than on the East and they are mere minutes from each other.

How is it so easy to forget the ghetto parts of a city simply because you never see them?

I’ve grown accustomed to this high society part of Indy, in the middle of towering hotels surrounded by expensive restaurants. I fear I’ve become puffed up and have forgotten the little old man with the mustache or the malnourished baby.

But maybe being a part of state government will allow me to make a bigger difference now that I’ve heard peoples’ stories while making them coffee.  Maybe since I began at the personal level, it will in turn help me at the thirty thousand foot level concerning government communications and legislative affairs, to help underdeveloped areas like the East side of Indy…

Maybe.

 

On Being Black in the Corporate World

new-yearsI flatten my hair before I go to work. While the straightener is heating up I look at myself in the mirror, knowing I didn’t want to become like this: A woman who gains confidence from the approval of others. But I have, and that’s why I woke up an hour earlier to flick on the bathroom light and fill the hall with the smell of burning hair.

I feel most confident when I wear a dress and smooth down my hair. Why? Because that is how professional women are often portrayed.

I remember reading a chapter from the novel Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The protagonist, a young Nigerian woman seeking a career in the American corporate world, goes for a job interview with her Afro hair. The interviewers read her resume and ask questions but she doesn’t get hired. Afterwards her friend tells her that she needs to straighten her hair so she will look more professional for the next interview. And when she does, she gets the job. Although this book is fictional, it is not far from reality.

Is my untamed curly hair the most professional appearance in the office?

Something tells me no.

I don’t think in my agency, where the staff are the nicest people I know, would I be looked down on if and when I wear my natural hair, which I do sometimes. It’s just that I don’t feel put together when all my curls are pointing different directions and the frizz just might bear its teeth if I step outside.

Now that I’m out of school and part of society’s working class, I’m very conscious of my skin color and my hair. In my senior year of college I began to see how much of a minority blacks are, and how most people in power are not black.

In my cubicle at work there is a poster of all the state representatives. Eight out of the 100 are black. Four of them are women. I’m not sure what to think of this new-found knowledge. I’m just now becoming aware of how few of us are out there.

After pondering all this, I turn off the straighter and see a girl in the mirror. She isn’t black anymore, she could pass for a Latino, an Indian,  or a black person who is almost white.  Do I like this girl, who hides her natural hair  and lightens her face with make-up?

When you’re both black and white it’s tempting to choose one side and hide the other in your closet ’till the day is over.

New Year’s Eve in a Congolese Church

 

I spent New Year’s eve in a Congolese church, singing about God’s faithfulness and dancing to the beat of the African drum, alongside a people with whom I share a history.

My father is Rwandan, born in the neighboring country Burundi, but he grew up in Congo, a country once known as Zaire. While he lived in Africa, Congo Kinshasa was home to my father and though he was not Congolese, he spoke Lingala, Swahili, and French.

Image result for map of congo and rwanda

 

Lingala is what I heard the night of New Year’s eve from a host of African Christians praising God in their own tongue and in their own form of worship, through dance and song. I danced too, awkwardly I suppose, but freely and without hesitation. I listened to the French songs and sang to the best of my limited French ability. They also sang songs in Swahili jumping and waving their hands, so I mimicked the phrases and thought about this language my Grandparents spoke, two African individuals of my own bloodline whom I never really got to know.

The service was wonderfully long and continued through the night until the  New Year came. “You are from Ethiopia?” the Pastor asked, putting me on the spot in front of the whole congregation. “No” I replied naturally. “Well, they say the most beautiful women come from Ethiopia. You must have some African heritage in you.” I didn’t know whether I should be offended or flattered, nor did I know quite how to respond.

People ask me if I am Ethiopian all the time, especially if they are from India, East Africa, or sometimes the Middle East. “I am from America, but my father is from Africa,” I explained later when the women approached me and asked again. They said no more, but accepted me as a sister, a cousin, a daughter. And I felt as if I was part of some special club using the origin of my Father as a token of membership.

For some reason, though I’m not sure why, I am drawn to African people, mostly from Sub-Saharan  Africa. Maybe because I seek an identity, or maybe because I am biracial and constantly searching for a people group to call my own. But most of the time I think it’s because they always accept my big curly hair. 🙂

Happy New Year.  Bonne Année.