Love Letter to 2020

2020. It hasn’t been anything short of tumultuous, maddening, daunting, and on 10 whole thousand! And as much as the thought has crossed my mind that we can throw the entire year away after this first half of welcomed and unwelcome pandemonium, I refuse to accept that this is it. I know better than that. And you do too! The first thing we can alter when nothing seems to be on our side is our mindset. To assist with making that shift, I offer this digital space to illuminate a litany of love that has shown up in the cracks of uncertainty, ugliness, and upset. Won’t you stay with me for a minute? You’re already here. 🙂

Dear 2020,

You’ve given us:

Breath. We, those of us reading this, still have it. It’s a symbol of humanness that has been taken from too many of our Black and Brown loved ones and communities. We should feel it, be present with it, and use it to hasten action for those who should still be here.

Children. They keep making us stronger, wiser, and content with the idea that sometimes in the hurriedness of life, less is more. As they grow, hopefully we do too — in openness, empathy, and unity.

Family. It comes in many forms, but the point is that we’ve likely found refuge in the steadiness. For some of us, it’s angelic steadiness because we’ve lost loved ones. Still…we see, feel, and remember the consistency from what’s familial.

Friends. Some have gone to great lengths to make us smile with Zoom parties, snail mail, and daily calls. We should thank them. Keep showing up for them.

Laughter. From conversation or our preferred format for broadcast media. We’ve spent a few moments stepping away from it all and reinvigorating our courage.

Goals. Ones we’ve achieved and others we’ve set. Whether big or small, we’ve made progress and had something to celebrate. In my circle, I’ve seen businesses launched, donations raised, houses bought and sold, job transitions, spiritual wellness, courses started, stories written, boundaries enforced, and much more. Why throw in the towel now?

Partnership. In activism, romance, and business. Because we’re still awakening to the truth that we’re better together. What a marvelous ideal. Perhaps too slowly, but we’re getting in sync.

Hope. Through miraculous recovery, accountability for the toxicity, and even the fragrant florals we’re paying more attention to when we walk. We’re learning to carry it around like we do our phones.

Creativity. As a writer, mine has come as words in cards, emails, letters, blogs, and manuscripts. Others leave space for theirs in watercolor, photographs, thread, speech, cuisine, or events. Regardless of the expression, imagination has not failed us.

Peace. For some, it never seemed to be within reach. Now, we find that the interruption of storms by way of justice, pausing, closure, and need for rapid adaptation has washed away the inauthentic parts of life that weren’t helping us to grow more in love with who we are, what we represent, and how we show up in the world.

So, 2020. You’re not cancelled, and we haven’t lost. We’re here for the promise producing power.

With gratitude and reverence,

Bella Reese & fellow caretakers of presence

I Never Said We Weren’t Human

It has been almost three weeks since my original post detailing how some of us introverts are fairing in these weird and scary times. You may be wondering if we’re still singing the same tune given that people have lost track of what day it is and now find that checking the mail is a welcomed relief. Well, I’m here to tell you that many of us are likely still doing okay, but we’ve had to double down on showing ourselves kindness. Humans aren’t particularly good at that. We have to make an intentional effort to halt the negative self talk, relax our personal criticisms and judgment, and stay aligned with the present.

I know many are craving the opportunity to resume face-to-face interaction and to move around town, which is all for good reason. I can’t wait to go to a restaurant again whether it’s a local spot without the frills or a place with menu items I’ve never heard of before. It’s simple…I like food. And I like dining. I don’t need cloth napkins, but I do need a break from my kitchen! When world order is restored, I’ll be at somebody’s restaurant! Before I descend into my sustenance rabbit hole, here’s what I’ve had to do to level my love of solitude with these eerie circumstances and reconcile the fact that I am indeed still human:

I’ve started to temper my angst to create with coloring. I have a propensity to devise new ideas and ride the waves of my imagination. Some of these ideas I’ve executed in real time. You’re now viewing a site of what started as an idea. But, I’ve found that more reflective time has initiated undue pressure about a need to produce. Instead of allowing that anxiety to go too far, I circled back to an old pastime where the only thing I decide is the color pattern I’ll use to bring someone else’s sketch to life. Color. Sharpen. Repeat.

I read a few pages of my book in the middle of the day. Sometimes it can be difficult to stay motivated and focused as the work day progresses. I find that when I put it all down and channel energy toward something that takes me out of a monotonous mental space, I can hop back into what I’m working on with a new attitude. This is likely the way I’m coping with increased work video conferences. Sheesh. That’s a whole thing.

I try especially hard to curb negative thoughts. Several years ago I took a class at my church that was modeled after Joyce Meyer’s book, Battlefield of the Mind. That class and that book changed my life! I remember our instructor saying, “no thought should go unchecked.” I never forgot it, because I recognized how much I criticized and judged myself harshly with my thoughts. If you were to look up “overanalyze” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of me cheesing. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve played out in my head with the worst endings almost as if good wasn’t possible. Nowadays that’s easier to do because there’s more time for inner dialogue. The minute I find myself going there, I try to shift my brain to gratefulness. That can be in a prayer, a mantra, or even a message to someone saying what I appreciate about them. Moral of the story…even if we don’t share the same religious or spiritual beliefs, how and what we think matters.

I accept when it’s a hard day and do what I want. That part of doing what I want has meant that I’ve curled up on my couch all day watching HGTV, slept, made an extra cup of coffee, or drank a glass of wine. Let’s be clear….not being able to go anywhere is hard no matter if you’re an extrovert, introvert, ambivert, or simply put…human! There have been times when I don’t have much to give besides gratitude for a safe home, my health, and resources. And in case no one told you, that is okay. Why guilt ourselves and each other into believing that every day is butterflies and rainbows? Nope! It’s challenging. It’s disheartening. It’s annoying. It’s unjust. And I still want to go to a restaurant with my friends and leave home without feeling like I need to rush back although I recognize both are privileges. I wrestle with my reality in comparison to others who are risking their lives every day and can’t stay home because of their work, lack of housing, and so much more.

I spend time talking to people I love. Some have been quick phone calls and others have been 2+ hour FaceTime chats. I’ve seen everything from Badu hair wraps at 10 a.m. to the making of vegan mushroom pasta while chatting with family and friends. Nothing tops my godson using my cousin’s body as his personal jungle gym while also trying to show me his loose tooth. Because kids…will be kids! I can’t say that I’m participating in regular virtual happy hours, however I’m still making space to be present in people’s lives.

And because water is life, I’m drinking more of it…with lemon. And occasionally with mint. Not because I’m trying to be fancy…mainly because I need a citrus catalyst to keep my skin glow and curb my snacking antics. Plus, it tastes better! #hydrate

When I consider it all, I’m hopeful…alive…blessed. Together, we will persevere no matter our personality traits or how we generate and restore energy. Keep being you. Keep being human. And keep being safe.

Hope: to expect with confidence

 

 

 

Find Yourself An Introvert: We Are Okay

I never thought I’d be living in a time when being an introvert would be valuable. Most people move about every day without noticing how loud the world really is. Because let’s be honest…society was built for extroverts. We construct events, gatherings, workplaces, curricula, sports, and basically everything to help our fellow extroverted friends thrive. Meanwhile the community that fancies quiet, solitude, tranquility, and whatever corner we can find to reflect must figure out how to keep our sanity in tact when we’d rather not talk, brunch, network, or video conference. But, during a time when we’re all being called to “social distance” for the greater good, I feel like my introversion prevails! Despite the horrible circumstances, the introverts are winning out here right now, because most of our friends have no idea how they’re going to make it through consecutive days of little to no in-person human interaction. Because I’ve been practicing how to engage only as necessary for a good chunk of my life, I thought I’d share how I maximize and enjoy my alone time on a daily basis. A few tips from your forced extrovert but seriously introverted friend on getting through:

Be thankful. You’d be amazed how much you have that you haven’t taken the time to acknowledge or appreciate. Whether you pause to think about it or write it down, there’s peace that comes with the act. It’ll stick with you when you’re able to stroll the streets again among your fellow extroverts and must refrain from addressing irrational behavior. Get some peace on reserve now! I have a grateful jar that I add to throughout the year. I read them all before the start of the new year.

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I’m the one with all the Post-its!

Be still. Sometimes I’ll sit on my couch and close my eyes. I love to be one with silence. I’m also known to ride in my car in silence…with eyes wide open of course. Stillness awakens you to your surroundings. It’s also an opportunity to commune with your spirituality. I often use these moments to talk and pray to God. That fosters wholeness and alignment within my soul. Plus, when you stop you can also hear nature. All of this helps me to appreciate the experience of existence.

Cut off social media for a day or two. The noisiest place we visit every day is the Internet! Picking up our phones, tablets, and laptops is such a habit that 20 minutes goes by and we’ve consumed a heap of information, memes, GIFs, and philosophical declarations from our high school and college classmates that we probably haven’t had an actual conversation with in a decade. The Internet is not all bad, but in our current times, it’s probably not ideal to constantly remain connected. It’s. too. much. Give your mind, eyes, and worries a break. And in the sage words of Congresswoman Auntie Maxine, “reclaim your time!”

In a similar vein, stop watching the news repeatedly. While I value freedom of the press and knowing what’s going on around me, the amount of good news you hear in a news cycle is almost nonexistent. Imagine someone coming to your house every day just to tell you that nothing is right and nothing is ever going to be right. That’s the narrative you’re consuming every time you tune in. It’s heavy. It’s depressing. And it’ll make you eat far too much cake, cookies, and chocolate. I do love a sweet, but health is wealth. The point is that you become what you consume. If you don’t want to feel negative and uninspired, then limit the news watching and listening, especially before bed. Since when do we request nightmares? I read The Skimm every morning. You can too. You don’t need hoursssss of all the bad. A daily digest will do.

Watch a show, movie, TED Talk, or YouTube video. I can watch HGTV for hours and never get tired of seeing lackluster homes transformed into something that I can only afford to recreate on my Pinterest boards. It’s an obsession and therapy for me all at the same time. “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Intern,” and “Hitch,” are on regular TV every other week and a few of my favorite movies that never get old. There’s also no shortage of TED Talks to pique your interest or expand your perspectives. Similar to how you can watch one video on YouTube (like James Corden’s Carpool Karoke) and then have a never-ending list of related videos, TED is with the algorithms too. Luvvie’s talk is so good and one that I was fortunate to see live! It still blows my mind that God made a way for me to be in that theatre! God also knows I love her life message and spirit, so He later created the opportunity for me to meet her in-person at a local event! Ahhh..inspiration. But anywho…discover your digital delight and get lost in it for a while. Know that you probably won’t have expert detective skills because you’ve seen every episode of “Law & Order.” You will know the show’s instrumental though. Dun dun.

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Me with the NYT Best-Selling Author and Side-Eye Sorceress

Write. A letter. A card. A poem. A list. Your book that doesn’t yet exist. A note in your journal. A blog post. Write something to get what’s in your head and on your heart outlined on paper. An iPad or tablet also gets the job done if you’re too technologically cultured for the basic writing tools. But, if you’re in the office supply fanatic club with me, consider this an opportunity to use your overwhelming colorful pen collection. Fun fact: I once spent 4 hours in one of the biggest stationery stores in the world! My happy place on Earth! You can see some of it here.

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Me standing next to a giant pen

Organize something. It can be a folder, a drawer (you know…the one where you stash all the mail you never opened), your work bag, or if you’re feeling really ambitious go for a closet. While this isn’t necessarily a task that all introverts enjoy, it can spur motivation in small doses. Even if you’re a neat freak, you can find a project. I’ve already rearranged my bathroom cabinet and cosmetic containers. Next up is the t-shirt drawer! Why do we still always have so many?

Curate a playlist of your favorite artists and songs. Too lazy to do that, listen to someone else’s. Music has a way of centering you. It speaks to all of us in different ways and also awakens the creative side of the brain. You’re one song away from creating something we all need and producing generational wealth. While I do believe in miracles, the odds of you winning the lottery are minuscule. Exchanging playlists sounds more feasible. Let me know what’s on yours! My forever first lady has one with more than a few jams. And my president until the end of time does too.

Read a book. Need suggestions? Join the The Little Things Book Club community. We pick a new one every other month. If you don’t like books, read a few articles. There’s always something to learn, and you’ll shock yourself the next time you can answer the Jeopardy clue. If you like magazines and you’re a Prime member, you have access to those too. Knowledge and stories are everywhere.

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March/April 2020 Book Pick

And finally, take a nap. When we were kids we never wanted to take them. As adults, there’s rarely an opportunity. That just changed. If you can find 20 minutes to curl under a blanket, catch your zzz.

I’ll admit these are unpredictable and difficult times for everyone. We must continue  to support, love, and extend kind gestures to each other. To all of my well-intentioned extroverts, please know that this won’t last always and us introverts are available by video appointment to shorten the social distance. Be well. Help someone who doesn’t have your privilege. Take care of loved ones, neighbors, and friends. And be in tune with thyself and our seen and unseen blessings.

 

 

Reigning Results

I take the last bite of my chocolate croissant (oui!), and thoughts of 34 dance across my waves only to remind me that I didn’t uphold my tradition of birthday penning. I’m more than halfway through this trip around the sun (whoa!), and I must say that the days have been full and fleeting. The reigning disposition is that through the wonders and woes, I got me!

Our most treasured gift is the ability to be in tune with the idea that we can define who we need to be for ourselves. Sometimes that means giving yourself permission to forego tradition. And other times it means celebrating the freedom in forging new paths and choosing you. So, here I am doing what I want, need, and love to do for the evolving layers of me!

 

 

 

Physically Fit…Exercise Not Included.

It never fails. I’m headed into the office, and I have this moment of energetic glee as I begin thinking of what I’ll accomplish for the day. It’s typically a combination of work and personal projects, because I like a good balance. Most recently, I’ve found myself on the bus when this happens while taking in the lyrics of my R&B, gospel, or ratchet tunes (because we all know it can vary). I get incredibly excited about the goodness that will come from the productive use of brainpower on the horizon. I’m trying to discern whether this sudden elation is the result of the perfectly ground coffee beans in my purple travel mug or if I really love doing work. I may or may not be easily convinced that it’s the coffee since it does make me happy. But, for the purposes of you reading this, we’ll go with the work!

As I was pondering about this odd yet joyful experience, it occurred to me that by the time I get to my office, that impromptu spark of enthusiasm to do work has a tendency to fade. Somewhere between the bus depot and the always lit Chinatown, that cheerful feeling about the day’s forthcoming success is commandeered by some unknown force that doesn’t want me to be great. As the analytical overthinker that I am, I took my morning mental acrobatics a step further to try to figure out why.

My office isn’t a place that I dislike. The people that I work with to support our mission and constituents are the reason I get out of bed and embark on the sometimes adventurous commute. I consider myself blessed to be a part of the fabric of a mission-oriented organization. I do what I do in medicine and public health because I believe in the power of potential and the necessary exposure to the possibilities for young people everywhere. But, then it hit me…the incredibly basic aha moment about my struggle to maintain merry momentum. It’s about as basic as Rice Crispies with no sugar. It’s summed up in two words…physical environment!

I’ve always been aware of my preferred working style and motivational requirements, but I’ve become more cognizant about the effects of the space around me and what I need to maintain my coffee-infused happiness without the extra cups. Here’s what I’ve recognized and how I’ve made small changes to reclaim and extend my workday thrill:

  • No matter how many bells and whistles are put in an office building, it’s still a building. This means most things look identical and 95% of the walls around you are white.
    • So, what did I do? I became a plant mom! Seeing green things around me makes me feel alive. I also feel like a superb human because I’m able to keep temperamental species thriving in a stoic environment. I have several plants, but there’s a particular one on my desk that sleeps at night and looks like it’s waving at me every morning since the leaves expand. It’s the wildest sight, but it always amazes me! Have a look!Happy morning!
  • One of the best office perks is human interaction. Some might disagree with that, and I totally understand as I’m 97% introvert and love quiet. But, the other 3% must be devoted to the relationship management that’s necessary for my recurring paycheck. Yes, money matters! Occasionally, we all want someone to talk to, and being around colleagues is a good remedy. However, somewhere along the way someone decided that an open office environment was a grand idea, and it has now taken over industries and partially ruined lives (or maybe just mine…shrug).
    • So, what did I do? I invested in noise cancelling headphones. Here’s a trick…you don’t even have to turn them on to block out chatting, coughing, chewing, and anything else that keeps you from focusing. Bose, take all my money or else I might not make it! Of course there’s also alternative work schedules, telecommuting, mobile workstations, etc. to assist with this environmental challenge, but dare I say that sometimes I do want to be around other humans. I just do better when I have the option to control my desire for interacting.
  • I’m generally an organized person, which is evident in my desk organization. Clutter makes you crazy and thwarts effective decision-making. There’s nothing more distracting than an abundance of papers, doodads, spills, and useless folders from prior meetings and engagements.
    • So, what did I do to further my need for order? I acquired a label maker and disinfecting wipes. My colleagues think I’m ridiculous. What they won’t tell you is that my neat habits are slowly rubbing off and they’ve stopped collecting items they don’t need, hoarding papers as if they’ll ever look back at them, and going the entire season without at least trying to attack the germs that frequently lurk in offices and even more in an open office environment. No clean shame here!
  • I’ve always had a “one box” office rule. It means that I arrive at a new workplace with one box, and I depart with one box when it’s time to move on. The contents of this box are meaningful photos, postcard art, decorative office supplies, and a few awards. I know we’re moving toward mobile friendly environments, but I produce better work products when I have the smiling faces of my god kids and grandparents looking back at me throughout the day.
    • So, what did I do? I displayed mementos in prominent places on my desk. These often represent the many facets of our lives. Being surrounded by the people, places, and things that remind you of good times keep you motivated. Most importantly, it’s a constant reminder to save your leave for quarterly vacations. I love a good two for one!

I have noticed a little more pep in my step since being intentional about improving the physical space I inhabit for the bulk of my day. I can’t promise that this is a one size fit all solution to your office woes. But, if you can do anything to adjust the space where you devote your time, energy, and presence each day, you might find that your sparkle expands into a blissful burst of impact in your work, life, and community that doesn’t ride to the next bus or train stop without you. You make space for your happy when you’re performing in a space that fits your happy!

 

We’re All Jacked Up!

I believe that much of the dysfunction that pervades our lives is a result of lies that have been perpetuated by society for untold amounts of time.  As an overly introspective person, I tend to keep most of my thoughts and perspectives to myself.  And besides, everything doesn’t deserve a place on the Internet. *shrug* However, several observations over the last few months have ignited a small fire in my soul thus moving me to speak on something I deem as pure shenanigans!  I’m almost mad at myself for accepting this as truth.

How many times have you heard someone say that you shouldn’t look to someone else to validate you? It’s a commonly shared piece of advice in personal and professional discussions.  I do agree with at least three tenets of that argument – 1) your happiness is your choice 2) sometimes you must encourage yourself and 3) you must recognize your worth before expecting someone else to.  But, there are also some gaps in this perspective that I think have been lost in translation and hampered our ability to build and contribute to effective, meaningful relationships.  Here’s why –

In some (not all) cases, we typically desire validation from the people we care about.  Does that mean that we’re obligated to agree on everything or that it’s okay to base decisions on what others think?  No.  But, in a relationship that’s built on authenticity, we can show up authentically and should have the expectation (yes, we should!) that we’re being heard.  BREAKING NEWS: people don’t always seek validation because they’re lacking self-worth.  They’re likely pursuing the intimacy that comes with understanding and presence.  Translation: I’m human, and I want to be accepted. That’s a post for another day though.

Secondly, we might need to reevaluate someone’s place in our life if we don’t have any evidence to show that this person is supportive.  What kind of ideals are we propagating for future generations if we’re teaching them that it’s okay to not desire subtle or even sometimes bold affirmation by other humans?  I think this can come in different forms, but it’s important that we leave ourselves room to tell people through words and actions that we value their existence, that they did a good job, that their small steps toward a big goal are monumental, and that it’s okay to express our feelings and sit with them for a while with the people we trust.  By doing this, we are communicating that we are available and we value the opportunity for this exchange.  Translation: I am present for you, and it’s okay to be vulnerable.

The point is that we all need each other.  And I believe it is our responsibility to validate each other if we want to be the best versions of ourselves.  I’m tired of us pretending like we don’t have emotions and rationalizing that we’re less than great if we seek to be understood or want to be recognized.  I get that there are levels to this, and I’m only hitting the surface.  Hell, I can even admit that I don’t appropriately validate others the majority of the time.  I see posting this as a step in the right direction to undo how I’ve chosen to interact in my own relationships.

We’re killing ourselves by ignoring our emotions and legitimate desire to be connected.  Instead of operating in a place of aversion and silence by choosing not to expect validation by others, I propose that we all demand it.  Perhaps then we wouldn’t continue living as though it’s every woman or man for her/himself out here in this lukewarm world.  We may come in and go out of this life alone, but we don’t make it through without someone else acknowledging that they see us.

Birthday rEVOLution

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I’m a little over two weeks into what many presume is my “Jesus Year.”  While I had never heard of this reference during any of my previous decades on Mother Earth until recently, I did some perusing of online sources to understand the significance.  In short, I learned that this is the year when I’m supposed to get serious about life and perhaps experience a spiritual awakening.  The connection to Jesus is centered around his age at the time of his crucifixion and ultimately resurrection at what’s believed to have been 33 years old.  Now, I could’ve found myself crawling down a hole of additional searches and historical fact checking, but instead I’ve elected to ascribe this reference to our propensity as humans to look for associations and links to everything in order to find meaning.  It’s just what we do, and I don’t see it as good or bad.  I guess it also further proves that I am much farther removed from the Internet than I thought.  *shrug*  But, as I think about how another year of life has shaped up for me, I can honestly say that I’m proud.  I’ve done much more before 33 than my family probably could’ve imagined.  And I’ve definitely had to ascend a few mountains along the way that increased my capacity to breathe, endure, and hold on in what often seemed like an interminable cycle.  None of that happens without a progression in maturity, faith, and a comeback!

In today’s age, life can feel so rushed and/or it never seems like you’re doing enough in any aspect.  It probably doesn’t help that it has become incredibly easy to hop on the comparison train when our technological capabilities have propelled us into a new era of communication.  I will not claim to have figured it all out and done anything perfectly.  But, for every opened door and nudge to leap, I know that I’ve done A LOT that has given my life new meaning and certainly required that I step into the challenges of adulthood long before adding the 33rd candle to the cupcakes.

Even though this birthday is now in my rear view, I celebrate every time I had to redefine my attitude, perspective, and plans to become more in tune with myself and acknowledge my need for God.  I know that in this year and in those to come, there will be more transitions.  My hope is that I will continue to grow through this life with love for myself and the uniqueness of my being for the good of the world we all share.  So, here’s to me continuing my revolution!