Sunday, March 29, 2015

Night Ride

Now fully transformed with the exception of the application of her Midnight Fushia lip stain. Jamaica was ready. She was ready to feel beautiful again, sing, dance and burn off the stress of her life of compromise. She was the successful hard hitting sales executive James Cooke by day. On the weekend, she was Jamie to her mother who sometimes couldn't remember her when she visited the Alzheimer's facility; and also by her obsessively Christian sister who made no secret of how she didn't approve of her lifestyle. Tonight, though, she was Jamaica.

Jamaica glanced with pride at her reflection in her pocket mirror as the train pulled into the station. As she was preparing to board, she caught a brief glimpse of a woman - a beautiful woman, in her mirror before returning it to her bag.

The woman was middle-aged, but with a timeless, classic beauty Jamaica aspired to. Her maroon scarf matched her nails as well as the delicate straps that accented her ankles. The woman held her head high somehow looking beyond her surroundings, passed her husband, and over the stares from those who wanted to be her, or be with her.

Estrella entered the train at the Metro Center stop behind Jamaica and her husband, Antonio. Antonio seemed not to care who went first, but he knew if he led, Estrella would follow. She did all the while smiling a faint smile, but her eyes and soul were somewhere inaccessible. 

Antonio and Estrella were a striking pair. Everyone on the platform absorbed their presence. He was impeccably dressed, and wore an expression of casual composure. She was the beauty queen that could accessorize any person or environment she was around. While Estrella was absent, Antonio's presence was deliberate. He relished the attention, but gave the appearance it didn't matter. Upon greater investigation, there was a desperation to him - a constant search for approval.

Jamaica purposefully took a seat in view of Estrella. Estrella sat next to the window so she could experience the city moving by in flashes of light while Antonio placed himself perfectly beside her.

Just as the doors had begun to close, a thin but muscular, disheveled young man ran into the car and fell into the first available seat. He was out of breath with sweat visibly dripping from his face. The odor of perspiration touched Jamaica's senses first, then Estrella took notice with a brief downturn on her lips departing from her usual slight smile. Antonio moved his posture subtly away as if to distance himself from any affiliation to the odor.

Inner Worlds

Jamaica wanted to move her seat farther from the sweat drenched passenger only one row behind and to her right, but she was so consumed by Estrella's presence, she couldn't. Instead she took in everything - the shape of her nails, subtle highlights in her hair, her mannerisms that emanated a cool sexiness. Jamaica was taking copious mental notes while imagining herself with her expanded repertoire of style and cool.

Estrella had an awareness of Jamaica's interest. She gave it a passing acknowledgement. At that same moment, noted Jamaica's sequin-lined skirt, sparkling blue-flecked eyelashes and thick wrap around ankle straps on her Sex and the City knock-offs with bands of shiny silver beads atop a platform base. 

Estrella felt a tinge of repulsion at the bright ensemble draped over a distinctly masculine frame. Instead of focusing on Jamaica's shiny package, swallowed her thoughts into a well of buried words and meaning as she drifted to the usual places away from anything painful, anything emotional, anything real.

Outer View

After the new passengers boarded, Antonio conducted his survey of how many eyes were on the couple - more importantly, on him. The beautiful power couple were hard to miss, but it was 9 p.m. and the riders consisted of second-shifters, workaholics heading home, and partiers heading out- each with their own agenda that ignored Antonio's need to be seen.

He repositioned himself leaning into the image of the doting husband. He intentionally placed his hand over Estrella's. She acknowledged the touch with a gentle smile, looking at him, yet through him with a ghostly gaze of someone half alive. He then patted her hand and moved his hands back to his lap clasping them together with importance. The young man looked-up for a moment to catch Antonio's movement. He looked more from a state of hypervigilance than any real interest in the actions of the people around him

Just gotta be cool. Be cool. Be cool, he thought unable to slow the furious beating in his chest. He focused for a moment on his breathing – heavy, yet shallow and fast with fear. He had run straight from the tip of the southeastern projects into heart of the city where visitors and natives all mixed and gathered to catch trains that dispersed them to every destination.

Vicenté's thoughts flashed back to the phone call he had with Kemal that afternoon. “I can’t go back there, those muthafucks gonna kill me. They kill you, too, if they see you with me,” he pleaded. 

“Help me out, man. I ain’t got no one else. Jus’ loan me enough to get me outta here. Meetcha at Minnesota at 7. Cool?” asked Kemal. 

“Cool,” Vincenté agreed. He wanted to say no, but he owed him.  He owed Kemal his life.


Jamaica refocused her attention on her appearance. She pulled out her pocket mirror to finish her look. She moved her head from side to side eyeing the placement of her wig, and applied her new shade of lip stain. She then reached down to hike her skirt up just enough to show off her lanky runners’ legs. She straightened herself to an upright position in preparation for the stop, and began humming a tune when the conductor announced, “Next stop, Dupont Circle.”

The train jerked to a stop causing her to stumble backward. She regained her stance. The doors opened, and she strutted off the train enjoying the feel of her freedom. Antonio and, especially, Estrella felt a sense of liberation at her departure, but the relief was brief. Estrella quickly returned her gaze to the window.

She was drawn to the sight of the lights coming up and passing as if the train were holding still and the world outside were moving. She enjoyed the feeling of time stopping even if only an illusion. 

Antonio leaned over to Estrella to announce they would be getting off at the Tenleytown station. She nodded and glanced over at the metro map posted near the door. That’s four more stops. She took a breath and melted back into the lights speeding by while she remained suspended in time. She knew that for just a while longer, she didn’t have to pretend.

Next Stop

"Next stop, Tenleytown," "Estrella, ready? Everyone's looking forward to seeing you. Hold still. Your collar's cock-eyed," Antonio said. He reached over to correct the collar which had turned inward. She let him. She had learned it was easier that way. 

Antonio stood up and held the handrail. In a gentlemanly gesture, he reached out his hand to help his beautiful wife to her feet, and stood behind her with his hand on her waist while they held the handrail. She took one last gaze out the window as the passing lights slowed to a stop. "This is Tenleytown. Doors opening on your right." Estrella followed her husband off the train. He held her hand as they walked off to the formal Gala event at American University.


Passengers entering and exiting the train were of little interest to Vicenté. His mind was racing as fast as his heart was beating. He kept replaying the last images and sounds of his visit to the neighborhood where he grew up. He wished he never went back.

Vicenté's thoughts drifted back to events of four hours earlier when his train was pulling into Minnesota Station. He could see Kemal facing in the direction of the train while two of his former Bloods were backing him into a corner across from the metro stop. 

Vincenté took one step off the train while focused on Kemal's expression. He noticed the wide openness of his eyes and upward movement of his chin as he spied Vincenté on the platform. The nod was a signal for him to stay away and keep going. He knew that signal from before. Kemal had used it in the past.

This time was different. In the past, Kemal maintained a cool look of confidence. This look was one of resignation. Vincenté was used to following Kemal's lead. He instinctively stepped back onto the train as the door's were shutting. While the train was pulling out of the station, he pounded his fists on the closed doors repeating, "No! No!" As he lost site of Kamal, he heard a loud POP. He knew that sound. 

"Last stop on the red line," he heard the conductor say. Vincenté stayed seated waiting for the train to start moving again - back to the city.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ordinary Bravery: Day 5 - Snow Day

Lesson Human

You would think they were conducting brain surgery where I used to work with the importance they attached to each minuscule detail. I mostly took issue with the humanity being stifled to death out of each employee. It was an environment devoid of expression or creativity. Ideas needed to be run up and down the flagpole by people who could no more discern the importance of a creative impulse from a rule. Spontaneous outliers such as myself needed to be controlled. Why not leave some room for joy and self-expression? It was a learning environment after all, I would think to myself.

The Background

Thank God for the charter school who hired me! They have high standards. However, they are reasonable and “normal” – at least within the range I am accustomed to. They bend over backwards to create an optimal learning and teaching environment that balances individual needs with school policies. There is room for people to just be themselves.

In my last position at Brand X University, on snow days, my boss made sure I understood a snow day was NOT a day off. She gave me copious work to complete that looked to me like useless busy work; AND throughout the day, she sent emails requiring responses. Although I wasn’t physically in proximity, Andora Toad made sure her kill joy attitude had tight control over me. God forbid I should take any time to enjoy myself on a snow day!

Watching the Weather

My current colleagues and I were watching a  recent weather system carefully. I didn’t admit I was routing for a major snow. Oh, but I so needed a snow day. My colleagues outwardly voiced their hope for a snow-filled day off. I finally joined in the choir as we celebrated the school closing announcement we got simultaneously on our cell phones. Happily, we said goodbye stating we would see each other sometime next week. 

It was true! The system came through and knocked out three work days. Yay! I was not only grateful for the time off, but to be able to just be a human being who could openly voice my hope for a snow day without it being twisted into a lack of dedication to my work.

Thank You

My dear charter school, I so appreciate you. I thank you for having realistic expectations and for reminding me of balance. You value structure, but you are flexible. You have helped me regain my perspective that small decisions need not be a matter of life or death, and snow days can be celebrated. Thank you for valuing my input, my professionalism and, most of all, my humanity.

Today’s Bravery

I have tried making decisions from fear. It didn’t work. I have also been terribly unhappy operating in situations that rule with fear (Andora Toad and Brand X!!). I’m going to try something different that will require a paradigm shift. I once promised myself that I would live this life to the fullest. For me that means living life with more passion and less fear. I'm willing to try!

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Imperfectly Perfect People Types

The Aspiration

We are trapped by an unrealistic image of what it means to be ourselves. In this reality, where we have rules not to have bad breath, disheveled hair, drive a car with dents and faded paint…or worse, show raw emotion. Within these rules, we find it increasingly difficult to find ourselves, know ourselves and be ourselves.

Who are we beyond these advertisement versions of ourselves? We are deep feeling, deeply creative, life experiencing, imperfectly amazing beings capable of achieving great things and showing boundless compassion.  However, no matter how much deodorant we wear, politically correct our words are, or how nice our wardrobe is, we all will have to suffer the fate at some time or another of having to be our human selves.

Yes, we will have bad breath. We will forget to apply our deodorant a morning or two. We will likely cry at least a time or two or three... We will experience painful loss, and we will also experience moments when we feel unglued and lost no matter how hard we try to be that perfect person with the fabulous smile, and sporting our matching shoes, bags, jackets, and sweater sets. We can never nor should we ever try to model ourselves after an unattainable image. Unrealistic images are the root causes of a multitude of problems we face including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, which we are experiencing in alarming numbers.

Deconstructing the Image

I don’t have a problem with buying products we want and enjoy. However, we run into problems when we are expecting the image associated with the product we are purchasing. It can leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied. This is where we run into trouble because we begin to pull further away from who we really are while trying to fill that void with who we are not. These images are false constructs of being human. They keep us off balance, feeling insecure and separate us from our amazing selves.

What IS true is that we all have special gifts. Not all of us are brilliant businessmen and women capable of taking enormous risks to make our fortune. We are all not strikingly attractive actors living in luxurious mansions. We may not be constructed to be adept at numbers or words. We are, however, a diverse collection of qualities that come together in different proportions that make us uniquely, well.... us!

Who are we without trendy clothes and the latest phone? Below, I have put together five categories that people generally fall into. We are comprised of different proportions of each quality with certain descriptors standing out more strongly as dominant. See which ones ring true for you and share your results.

Imperfectly Perfect Type Descriptors

The Packager

The packager has the gift of putting order to chaos. They take disorganized situations and put them into nice, neatly organized, tidy packages that make sense. The world needs packagers. Without them, we would lack structure and useful rules that guide us through our daily tasks.

The downfall is that packagers are so intent on putting their environment into packages, they include people in those packages as well. Not every person fits neatly into the packager’s image of the tidy person they want them to be. They additionally tend to not appreciate the value of anyone who operates under a different paradigm especially someone who is comfortable operating within grey areas as their character doesn’t require tidy little boxes in order to function. Also, not all situations need to be pre-packaged. Packagers can over-organize to the point of interfering with natural flow and spontaneity.

The Relator

Relators focus on creating and maintaining relationships. They are excellent at developing meaningful rapport. They positively influence and maintain group dynamics and utilize their interpersonal strengths to accomplish life’s tasks. You will often see relators as counselors, educators, HR professionals, interviewers and trainers – but you can find them anywhere you can find people.

Relators are good at seeing others as individuals and noticing their strengths. They build rapport easily and earn people’s trust due to their insight into human nature. They are good at creating group dynamics and can spot what needs to be adjusted to make any group flow more smoothly by utilizing individual strengths and talents to enhance the whole. Quality of relationships is what matters most to the relator.

Relators often believe because they value relationships above all else, so does the rest of the world. They get hurt and disappointed more easily than other types because they have increased sensitivity to subtle interactions, and awareness when they are out of sync. They can additionally feel frustrated when people aren’t getting along or cooperating despite their best efforts to create a positive environment. Last, since the relator is more focused on the individual, they have to stretch to conceptualize the concept of team over the individual if required.

The Originator

Originators are the creators. They think and make amazing things. They are outstanding idea people. They conceptualize well and create works of art, engineering masterpieces, page-turning stories and musical novelties.

Originators are often spatially oriented and have a good eye or ear for connecting one piece to the next. They will shock us, amaze us and keep us advancing structurally, and creatively. Originators are innovative and are the impetus for change. Originators create overtly in ways that enliven and engage others. They also motivate and inspire our feelings and our senses.

Because originators are excellent idea people, they often have difficulty following their ideas through to fruition. They may also prefer to remain in the world of ideas and have difficulty manifesting them into reality. Unless an originator has a bit of packager in them, they are challenged by rules, structures and details that put limits on their ability to create.

The Orchestrator

An orchestrator ranges from a parent, a teacher to a corporate CEO. Strong orchestrators are able see how all the parts of the whole fit and work best together.

Orchestrators have insight into conducting a symphony of characteristics that manifest into a working whole. We need these insightful and gifted leaders to pull together disparate pieces and characteristics into a manageable team.

Orchestrators can lose sight of the individual needs in order to create a unified whole. Individual needs may fall by the wayside while the orchestrator is assembling a working team. The have a difficult time comprehending a team as comprised of individuals and individual parts. Orchestrators may also get frustrated when individual parts aren’t functioning the way they envisioned.

The Processor

Processors are the people working in the wings to manage the details. Their role is to make everything operate smoothly from start to finish. Because they work to maintain the nitty gritty details in every domestic or work situation, they aren’t generally interested in the limelight.

Processors are the people we turn to get the daily tasks done so life moves forward with the minimal number of monkey wrenches as possible. Processors express their love and dedication by managing the mundane tasks. They are responsible, reliable and conscientious.

Processors are challenged by grander expressions of their love and dedication. People may mistakenly think they are cold and unfeeling. Since they operate from the sidelines, they can get overlooked. Processors can feel they are taken for granted as a result. Processors tend to be very patient. However, they may one day get angry feeling their efforts aren’t appreciated.

Recognizing Yourself

As you read through each descriptor, you may have found one or two that resonated most strongly with who see yourself as. You probably found an ex in there, and better understood why they are now your ex. Did you find family members, bosses, colleagues? Share this with them not to antagonize them or say. “See. This is why we don’t get along”… Use it to enlighten them. Who knows. You may be able to strategize ways of maximizing one another’s strengths.

Ideally, we as family, work and societal structures should have a balance of each of these qualities to operate optimally. Of course, we naturally believe our type is the best. However, I would like you to keep the perspective that awareness not only of your type but that of others will deepen your understanding into other points of view as well as how to best remedy the pitfalls and maximize the pluses of interacting with types unlike your own.

Uniquely You

I hope this has helped you take steps closer knowing and celebrating your uniqueness and that of others. You are Imperfectly Perfectly You.