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Monday, October 12, 2020

Flying low

Jon Tyson
It has been about a year since I last posted. So much has happened that I don't know where to begin. So I will just dive right on in. This is the first time in my life that I have actually been afraid to be out in public as a Black woman. I mean, I have seen my share of racism before now like the time when I ran over the Cooper River bridge and a car of white men drove past and called me the N-word. I was shocked, but not rocked to my core like now. I just thought was an isolated incident. 

I don't think that anymore. Nothing is isolated. It is blatant and consistent. I took a break from social media and the news. Too many triggers. Too many unarmed Black men dying at the hands of white police officers. Too many white women calling the police on Black people for just living their lives.  This is reminding too many of us of Emmett Till. I cannot unsee the murder of George Floyd and those 8:46 seconds. And then there is Breonna Taylor. And then there are many, oh so many more. I don't sleep so well these days. Ahmad Aubrey was murdered about 45 minutes from where I live.

And yes I know about civil rights. I was on the planning committee of the first relay from Selma to Montgomery Alabama where we ran the same route walked in March 1965 for voting rights. I know that people died so that I could vote and do plenty of other things. I know my history. I just never thought that I would be fighting to gain the footholds that those before me had already gained. Or was it simply an illusion? 

I don't blame the current administration for racism. It has been systemically around for many years. And as crazy as it sounds now, I thought we had moved past it. Yes, my privilege is showing. I am a Black woman. I am an educated Black woman. I am an employed Black woman. I am a Black woman military veteran. I am a Black woman who owns a house. And yet if the police are called I am just a Black woman with all the stereotypes and microaggressions that the law allows. And the law allows for plenty. People are allowed to be afraid of me because I am Black. My skin is viewed as a weapon even when I am sleeping. And that is why when a police car is behind me I call someone, just in case while knowing that isn't really going to keep me safe. The best I can do is pray for a video. 

It is exhausting gearing up for battle every single day and then expected to be professional. It is exhausting trying to make myself appear less than so that people won't feel uncomfortable around me. It is exhausting to hold my tongue when I hear that all lives matter. When I know the person saying it doesn't give a damn about the Black ones. And yet, I must not raise my voice, cut my eyes, or show any emotion in my face. It is exhausting. 

Every single day that I wake up I feel that I am not doing enough. I stand in front of my classes and try to make sense out of things that don't make sense for not only my Black male students but for the entire class. I have to teach as if my heart is not breaking. I have to teach as if I am immune from all that is happening around me. Black people are being murdered and we fail to hold anyone accountable. Protests are good, but they are not enough. We need to vote. Vote for the greater good. Vote for humanity. 

Well, I did not do what I was supposed to do. I got angry. I spoke out on a podcast. My episode is called Screw ur Kumbaya. That's right I said it. Then I collaborated on the Banners of Courage t-shirt line.  I created a module to address social justice for the yoga community. And I am still angry. I am angry when my so-called white friends remain silent. Or when they privately message me that they are here for me. I need you to be here for me in public spaces. I need you to advocate for me every single day with fire and breath. 

I need you to know that it isn't easy being Black right now. Not that it ever has been, but lately it has been much worse. Black people are being murdered for being Black. We are not okay. I am not okay.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Flying with paradigm shifts

I have not written for a long time. I meant to write sooner, but every time I started to something came up and derailed me. There has been a lot of turmoil in my life and some of it I did not handle very well. I disassociated from a group whose mission I really believed in. It was part of my dream. And then I realized that the philosophical differences were too vast and I just did not want to try to bridge them. I had been feeling uncomfortable about this situation for many months and it kept getting worse for me. 

I will admit that I did not reach out to communicate my unease. At some point, I just stopped caring. And I unceremoniously vanished. I broke up with them via text which is exactly what happened to me in a personal situation and I swore I would never do that to anyone. I guess I lied. Or maybe I just figured out that the amount of effort you put into ending something exemplifies the amount of value you have in the relationship. I was not the bigger person and it felt just fine. I do not feel guilty and maybe I should. Not for what I felt, but for how I reacted. No matter, it is done and as I said I feel great. Now I can move on to other things without that baggage. I wish them well. I really do. 

Then I ran a horrible half marathon. Yes, I know that some runs are just not as awesome as others, but this one really sucked. My right knee hurt so bad that I walked the last three miles. I did not even try to run across the finish line. And I cried. There was another woman with me in a similar situation. At least she had friends waiting for her at the end. There was no one waiting for me. My running career crashed and burned and I got in my car and cried all the way home and into the night. 

Yes, there are worse things. Yes, there are people who would trade places with me. Well, guess what? They can't and at the end of the day I still have my sh** and those better and worse people still have theirs. 

Then by some collaboration of the universe, I met someone. It is new and I am not defining it as a thing yet. But for the first time in a long time, I am inspired. I am learning so much about myself through his eyes. Very cool for me since this rarely happens. He is not in complete awe of me. He may not be in awe of me at all and that is just fine. Because falling off of someone's imaginary pedestal hurts like hell, especially when you did not put yourself up there and have no earthly idea just how high it is. Just let me be me without artificial inflation, thank you very much. And that is all that I will say about that. It isn't a thing until it is if it ever is. And surprisingly I am okay with that. I am in this with my brain fully functioning and hope for more good things to come. I do not need someone on a white horse to save me. I saved myself a long time ago, but it is great to have someone make that makes me laugh. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Flying outside of my comfort zone, again

Leio McLaren
Last year I completed my 200 hour yoga teacher certification. During the process I said that I wanted to bring yoga to those who did not have access to it. I thought I would be teaching in a homeless shelter. I kept saying over and over and over about how that is what I was going to do. Then I wrote a research paper on the whiteness of yoga and the wheels started turning. I kept saying that I needed to teach yoga in a public space. Women of color kept asking me where I was teaching. The owner of a local studio asked me to teach at her place. I said I would. and yet, I have not. I have plenty of reasons or excuses disguised as reasons. One of them being afraid.

And then I agreed to teach yoga to elementary school kids again. The program now has 80 children. That is right 80. And surprise surprise , this year an adult component was added. So I now teach adults. Yikes! Everything that I was running away from just hit me smack in the face. I have to teach adults. Teaching adults is much scarier than teaching kids. The kids will do any pose and giggle in between. Most are not afraid of flipping their dogs or moving into wheel (with the proper warm-ups, of course). Adults understand how things feel within their bodies. They have expectations of feeling great after a class. I know. I am one of them. I am an adult.
So, now none of my excuses disguised as reasons matter at this point. I have taught two adult classes. I did not die. I did freak out a bit when I moved a class too quickly through the sequence and had to add poses. I also slowed the end of the class down. I did not even sweat. Well, not so that anyone could see it. I felt it.

Now I am in week two. I am still a bit anxious, but I know what I am doing (for the most part). I am able to read a room and make modifications. The freak outs are fewer. I did it. I moved beyond the things real and/or imaginary that were holding me back from teaching. From making yoga accessible to people who might not ever try it or walk into a yoga studio for a variety of reasons. In my small corner of this world yoga is not so white. It is fun, funky, liberating, and beautiful. And for that I am proud. I am completely out of my comfort zone. and I will do it twice a week for seven weeks and who knows what happens after that. 

I also accomplished what I set out to do. I am teaching. Not in a studio, but out in the community where impact is still being made. Teaching in a homeless shelter is still on my radar. Just right now I am being called to be somewhere else.
 The best piece of advice someone has ever given me was 'do it scared.' And no matter if you're scared, just go ahead and do it anyway because you might as well do it scared, so it will get done and you will feel so much better if you step out of your comfort zone.
~Sherri Shepherd

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Flying with acupunture

Lately my right knee has been hurting. Interestingly not when I ran 8 miles, but when I ran 4. It hurts a lot more when I walk than when I run. I did not want to go back to my doctor for another shot, plus it had only been one month since the last one. I tried heating and icing. I tried more yoga. I tried less yoga. I tried more swimming. I tried less swimming. I even tried less running. Aleve seemed to help, but I do not want to pop Aleve every day for the rest of my life. so I Googled things to do to manage arthritis pain and acupuncture popped up.
I had heard that acupuncture is good for many things, but I had never tried it. The more I Googled the more convinced I became that I should try it. There were many testimonials from people and even my Facebook friends chimed in about the benefits. And we all know that if it is on Facebook, it must be true! On a practical level  I figured it is minimally invasive and the worst thing that would happen is that it would not work. It isn't knee surgery (which I am trying to avoid).
I had butterflies in my stomach a couple hours before my appointment. I had read everything I could find on acupuncture and yet the fear of the unknown loomed large. The nurse was very friendly and quickly handled all of the paperwork. She told me what to expect.
The procedure did not hurt. I did flinch when one needle was placed. The hardest part was relaxing for 25 minutes while the needles were inserted. My mind kept running and I did not do a very good job of turning my head off. those 25 minutes seemed a lot longer.
When the needles were removed my knee was not as stiff as before the treatment. I was warned that my pain could intensify and that was normal and the treatment might not work the first time. All can I say is that today is the first day I woke up without the need to pop some Aleve. I will go back a couple times next week and hopefully that will be all until it flares up again. It is too early to tell if this is a long term solution, but I am grateful for the break from the pain.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Flying with Mars

I used the Skyview Free app 
Lately, I have been obsessed with the night sky. I will admit that this is a phase that comes and goes. Once for Christmas, I asked for a telescope. And I rarely used it. Eventually, it made its way out of some random storage space to Goodwill. At least I think that is where it went. I just hope that some child (preferably a girl child) is enjoying it. Of course, now I sort of wish I had it. Sort of because it was a bit heavy and awkward to lug outside. And I never read the directions on how to use it properly. 

Fast forward to now. Now I routinely go outside and look at the night's sky. I am fascinated by the many stars and planets that appear. Some more regularly than others. My latest delight has been seeing Mars. Mars the red planet and the fourth planet from the sun. I actually saw it with my naked eye and it was red. It is called the "Red Planet" because iron minerals in the Martian dirt oxidize, or rust, causing the surface to look red. I thought that seeing Jupiter would be my highlight, but for some reason it was Mars

When I spotted it (with the assistance of some lovely free apps on my phone) I jumped up and down while screaming "I see Mars!" in my driveway. My neighbors may think that I am crazy since they rarely see me outside or at home. I could not contain my excitement. I saw Mars. It has been there in the sky my entire life and I am finally seeing it with my own eyes. 

Of course, there are other things out there as well, but currently, I am fixated on Mars. I cannot explain why. To my knowledge, I never had a favorite planet in whatever grade I learned about the solar system. Was that fifth grade? Or maybe third? And red is not my favorite color. It is orange so maybe close enough? Or maybe because I keep hearing about Mars retrograde and I was not even sure what that really meant until I just read the link. Huh, and wow, I guess. And there is the candy company.  You know, the world’s leading manufacturer of chocolate, chewing gum, mints, and fruity confections. 

Whether you share my fascination with the night sky or not, take time to glance up at it every now and then. Allow yourself to wonder at what lies beyond our grasp. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Flying with a local Black History icon

Yesterday was the inaugural Savannah Campus' Black History Month lecture. I invited The Honorable Tammy Stokes who happens to be a local Black History icon. Among many other things, she is the first African American woman judge in Chatham County and she is the chief justice.  I take pride in that I pulled the friend card and got her to attend.  I will say this again, I have amazing friends.

It was wonderful and relevant to have a local icon speak. Black History as will all histories is evolving. Every day someone is doing something monumental. Maybe not on a national level, but certainly on a local level and local level contributions are important. Elizabeth Jennings comes to mind. She refused to get off the trolley in New York in 1854. I did not learn this is school.

History even black history happens all of the time. As I mentioned above Judge Stokes was the first woman judge in Chatham County. Local history at its finest. At its finest even when there were some very dark times for her. Being an icon is not always a smooth row to hoe. Being able to talk with a local legend is always a bonus. It was nice to see what grace and dignity under fire look like in real life. To be able to ask the questions that help us to understand and often not understand why things are or aren't. Helping us craft our own recipe for success while dutifully avoiding the pitfalls that are placed in our paths.

Judge Stokes' talk did not focus on herself. She concentrated on Henrietta Lacks and her amazing continued contribution to society mostly done without her or her family's approval or knowledge.  She died in 1951 and to this day her cells are used international research.

Judge Stokes articulated that she had not heard of Henrietta until recently and that there should be an awareness that there are more Black History icons outside of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and the other well-known people that we see on posters year after year. The ones we learn about in school year after year as if the list is finite and that there as so few of them. That is so not the case. Cynthia Marshall in a perfect example. She is the first black woman to be CEO of an NBA team. I had no idea.

After her talk, she came to my class and answered student questions. She briefly discussed the notion of justice being fair, not equal. She detailed her experiences as a judge and as a woman of color. It was very enlightening. I think it was the first time my students were in the presence of a judge without being in a courtroom. She gave out tidbits of sage advice and they were fascinated as was I.

Like Judge Stokes, I discovered that there is so much of Black History that I did not know. This year I have learned more about Black History than ever before. I even created a hashtag on Facebook #morelearning so that later I can go back and compile my learnings. I waffled between emotions: excited, baffled, and angry.  Excited to learn new things about the ways blacks have contributed to our society even in times of great physical hardships. Baffled that I was not taught these things in school and that I as a highly educated woman did not read about these things in life. And finally angry that so many atrocities happened at depths that I will never understand and that restitution and/or adjustments have not completely been made. And when I hear that we have come a long way, I think perhaps, but not far enough. Am I supposed to take pride in the advancement of change that is far from being fair and just?

I have no answer to that question. I will just continue to learn as much as I can. I will make a more concerted effort to seek out and celebrate the local icons. Like Judge Stokes, they are part of the tapestry that is proudly Black History and ever evolving. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Flying a half marathon with no training

I ran a half marathon last weekend. I did not train for it and I did not plan to run it. My friend Wendy from Charleston got invited to pace the race a week before and I decided that I would run it as well. Yes, there was a 5K race that I could have done, but where is the fun in that? Especially when there is a half marathon to run? 

I figured the worst thing that would happen is that I would not finish. The next worst thing would be to walk the entire thing. Anything more than that would be a success. Actually walking would be a success as well. I had run 23 half marathons up to this point. So maybe, just maybe muscle memory would kick in? Yeah, that sounds crazy, but what else could I say? I had paid my money. I had told people. It was a done deal no matter how ugly. I had forgotten that I had not run a half in over two years. 

I started off great. And then I just got tired. The longest run I had up to that point was 6 miles and that was the week before. The rule is to increase weekly mileage by 10%. Going from 6 miles to 13.1 is a lot more than 10%. I wanted the miles on my legs. And I got them. 

I was actually training for an April 6th half. So I figured this would supercharge my training if I did not kill myself in the process. It didn't kill me, but my knee (the one with arthritis) is not happy with me. I sort of forgot about that. 

This wasn't the whackiest thing I have ever done. I ran a marathon without training. Well, I ran up to 15 miles. But I had been running consistently up to that point. This time there were no consistent miles. Just a hairbrained idea and the thought of supporting my friend. 

It ended well. I finished. Much slower than I had run in many years. But that wasn't the point. I was coming back. I was present and accounted for. My race, my pace. I wasn't last. I would have gladly been fine with being last because being last is still a finish. 

I just ran. I ran for myself. I did not try to pass anyone. I did not try to smoke anyone. I listened to my body and to the best of my ability attempted to enjoy the journey. 

I forgot that I wear the Just Run mantra band. The box has these words on it:

Remember that the race is against your mind. Your body will achieve what your mind believes. Run fast, run slow, run a little, run a lot. Have the courage to start, keep going, just run.

And run I did and I have the medal to prove it.