Awareness of Self: The Death of My Ego

mind-sticky-notesMost of the time my brain feels like it’s a room covered in thousands of post-it notes filled with my thoughts. I’ve started to increase my awareness of the words written on those sticky notes and how they negatively impact my daily thoughts.

Okay, that sounded very philosophical. Let me break it down for you….

How It Started:

So there was this guy (yeah matters of the heart can always enlighten you) who I dated briefly. Having a keen sense of the type of guy that fits my personality and vision of life, I realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t my type. Nevertheless, I carried on ignoring the voice in my head that told me he wasn’t the one. The voice in my head told me that he checked all of my boxes and I was simply being my typical selective self. Despite the rational side of me trying to convince myself that he was a perfectly suitable guy, I just couldn’t feel the chemistry. Needless to say, my interactions with said guy unraveled and I was left feeling somewhat saddened, while my friends looked at me in complete confusion knowing what I failed to acknowledge until that point—I never liked the guy in the first place. but, how was I unable to see in myself what my friends were easily able to recognize? If you ask some of my friends, I just need to start smoking weed and be more chill.  Since that isn’t happening I searched for a more lasting solution, which I’ll expound on in a second. But first, let me explain further how my mind works.

The rational and academic side of my brain recognizes how blessed I am and how “accomplished” I appear to be by most standards. Yet, oftentimes I silently struggle with knowing what I think I need to feel happy, worthwhile and fulfilled. Sometimes, I think it’s having a successful career that feeds my passion, and other times I think it’s acquiring more wealth. Then there are moments when the need manifests itself in believing that my happiness and fulfillment will be achieved once I am married with children—until I speak to my friends who are married with kids. Although logically, I know that these desires will likely not cause me to reach the apex of happiness, it doesn’t stop the needs from creeping into my mind and lodging itself onto a permanent sticky note. This misperception was what precluded me from accepting that this guy was simply neither what I needed nor wanted.

So I decided to dig a little deeper. What was causing my unsettling feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty? I took the time to go into my head and consciously observe my daily thoughts. I focused on the sentences that replay in my mind while feeding my consciousness about who I am, what I want and how I approach the world. These were the subliminal reflections that penetrated my mind but were oftentimes not verbalized. I quickly realized that these thoughts were distinct from who I outwardly believed myself to be.

I perceive myself as a confident, self-assured woman; a person who not only knows what she wants out of life, but is well on her way to accomplishing it. I am smart, talented and sociable…I am blessed. So what is the problem? Why were my subconscious thoughts not always reflecting the Superwoman I felt I projected to the world? How could I rewire my mind to align itself with my outward beliefs?

The Realization:

I was determined to find the root of the problem. And after some reflection, I landed on three distinct letters that summed it up: E-G-O.

Our ego doesn’t only cause us to have an inflated sense of self. It can also cause us to create positive and negative mental distortions. Our emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, anxiety impatience and frustrations stem from our egos (I’m not that brilliant, this fact came from an Eckhart Tolle book I read).  I started to notice that my Ego (it’s capitalize because it has a life of its own) manifested itself in almost all of my thoughts. For example, sometimes I think exclusively about my shortcomings and overlook my positive qualities; this is a negative distortion caused by my Ego. Other times I disregard positive facts when they don’t align with my negative thought. For instance, when someone pays me a compliment—while I thank the person, I think to myself that he is only saying it to spit game. Or when I blame myself for something going wrong and ruminate on what I could have done better, while never fully recognizing that the real shortcoming was in the other person–like the guy I mentioned above.

So I finally recognize what needed to be done. It was time to rewrite some of those sticky notes in my head! But first I had to learn to separate my Ego from my true self.

Goodbye Ego:

I’m not going to profess that I have overcome the challenge of clearing the negative sticky notes from my mind, but at the very least, I am learning the importance of standing in my truth. I am becoming more cognizant of my feelings because most of them stem from my Ego, which is the driving force behind most of my perceptions.  It’s still a work in progress, and I haven’t conquered it, but I know that I am in complete control of my thoughts. Therefore, I am now able to decipher when my Ego is playing a role in how I am feeling at any given moment. 

So the feeling of sadness for said guy lasted very briefly when I thought about why I was sad.  It wasn’t because I actually liked him; my sadness was really driven by a deeper fear of being alone.  When I acknowledged that truth, I was able to rewire that distorted sticky note in my head and momentarily kill the Ego.  I am not alone. I have an amazing support system of special people in my life.  Therefore, the notion of loneliness was merely a negative distortion and not my reality. 

My Ego also tried to emerge one day while teaching a law school class. During the beginning of my lecture, the 30 blank faces staring at me caused my mind to start racing.  It was as if I was speaking to them in Arabic or some other foreign language they didn’t understand.  My (Ego’s) immediate thought was, this is my fault, I made this lecture too complicated for them.  I quickly retracted the distorted thought, took a deep breath and asked, “why am I seeing blank faces?”  A student quickly responded that the syllabus had stated that I was covering a different topic that day.  Crisis averted and Ego eliminated—my lecture wasn’t the problem! 

Lesson:

What I’ve learned from killing my Ego is your thoughts are way more powerful than what we verbalize.  They are like post-it notes permanently stuck to your mind.  When we allow our ego to manipulate and distort our thoughts, we give life to things unnecessarily.  Saying farewell to my Ego has been difficult–it was such an integral part of who I was.  It initially left me wondering how to fill its void.  But as I’ve cleared some of the distorted post-it notes from my mind, I’ve  acquired a sense of peace and comfort in learning who I really am and I’ve learned to stop taking myself and life so seriously. 

 

 

 

A Letter to My 21-Year-Old Self

Dear 21-Year-Old Self:

I remember you like it was yesterday.  You were fresh out of college and ready to take on the world.  I must say, looking back, you have done a good great job!  I know at times it didn’t seem easy as you were growing into becoming your own, but knowing what I know now, there is so much I wish I could have said to you.  Before I start, let me just say that I’m still learning and the one thing I know for sure is that I’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg in what I have uncovered about life.  I have lots more to learn and will continue to share it along the way.  For now, here goes…


Life

Never live life as if you’re watching it from the sidelines—it will pass you by.  Don’t lose your passion and continue to chase your dreams—they will sustain you in times of uncertainty.  Trust what has helped to get you this far.  Remain vicariously happy and don’t worry about feeling like you must have it all together because you still won’t have life figured out in your thirties.  Yes, it’s possible for you to gain weight so continue to exercise and eat better.  Stop manipulating the texture of your hair–embrace every coily strand of it.  Make sure your graduate degree is worth it because those loans will be with you for a very loooong time.  Continue to feed your desire to see the world and all the beauty that it possess.  You’re a little uncertain right now, but your confidence will grow.  There will be additional moments of uncertainty but never let it rattle your confidence—you. are. smart. So far, you have lived your life like a textbook doing all the right things to become “successful” by your parents’ standards.  Let your hair down and become more of a risk-taker.   The moment you care less about what others think and stop worrying about missteps, the happier you’ll be.  Step out of your comfort zone.  What’s the worse that can happen?  It’s never too late to start over.  Every day you wake up gives you an opportunity to create a better you.  The more you practice being patient, uncomfortable and alone, the happier you will feel.  Stop thinking too much, the answers will come when you least expect it.  Your instinct will improve with age so never forget to trust your gut.  Surround yourself with people who enable you to laugh more; your demeanor will always be serious, but sometimes laughter will be the best way for you to get through.  Make peace with your past and when you feel lost, return to your center–meditate and pray.  Life is a beautiful challenge.

Family/Friends

Cherish your family, especially your parents—one day, you will look up and realize they are aging.  Remember that the aren’t going to be around forever.  You’ll start to sound more and more like your mother as you get older.  Don’t let it scare you because you will also have a greater appreciation for her wisdom.  At some point, you’ll stop saying that you do things to make your parents happy and will start to say you do it to make yourself happy.  It will be difficult at times for your parents and siblings to not view you as the baby–be patient with them and accept that in their hearts, you will always be the baby.  Never stop telling your loved ones that you love them.  Sometimes the lines between networking and creating genuine friendships become blurred.  As you grow and change you may lose a few friends—don’t be confused or disappointed. You will eventually learn that there’s a big difference between friends and people you merely know.   Don’t pay attention to the friends who mock you for not liking hard liquor, they will soon appreciate that your palate was built for wine.  It’s okay to not care about what everyone thinks of you—accept that you won’t be liked by everyone, but will be very loved by some.  Your family will always be your friends and some of your friends will feel like family.

Love

I don’t have this love and marriage thing all figured out yet, but what I’ve learned thus far is: love is durable but trust is fragile.  Learn to trust others and live your life in a manner that others are always willing to trust you.  Most importantly, always love and trust yourself, especially when facing adversity—you will only attract the love you think you deserve.  Don’t expect to be married by 30–you simply aren’t ready.  Use these years to experience all that life has to offer and don’t hesitate in kissing a few frogs.  I know you wish you dated more and spent less of your years with the same guy, but I’m here to tell you there’s not much to look forward to dating in your thirties.  Bu at the very least, you’ll have a few more stories to laugh about.  When you meet “the one” your relationship will feel easy and almost effortless—relationship drama is for the birds.  Your heart is more resilient than you think, don’t be so afraid to give it to someone who seems willing to appreciate and respect it.  Don’t worry, he will love what you think are flaws in yourself.  When it happens—and it will happen—try to ignore the voices around you that ask you how you’re going to balance a successful legal career and a marriage. It will simply scare you into feeling like you have to choose.  Love is not what’s complicated, people are.

 

What advice do you have for your 21-year-old self?

 

Who Do You Meet In the Club?

Last week my girlfriends dragged me to a popular club in the area so that we could catch up over drinks.  I hate going to this particular establishment because I think it’s the most high-end thirst trap venue in D.C.  Despite trying to get out of having to go, I showed up and immediately regretted simply not standing my friends up.  As we sipped our drinks and rocked to the DJ’s 90s set, I decided to make the best of it and ended up having a great time catching up with them.   But as I people watched, I made an unscientific observation of the following crowd of characters in the room:

The Undistinguished Gentleman: He walks through the door wearing his semi-tailored suit. He presupposes that every woman likes a man in a suit.  But he wasn’t expecting that so many guys would have the same approach as he did–most of the men are wearing suits.  The color of his pocket square is the only distinguishable feature he possess from the other suit-wearing men in the crowd.   He now wishes he wore his bow tie instead.  Disappointed at this realization, but undeterred, he remembers that his sock game is always on point.  So he finds and leans against the nearest chair causing a slight elevation in the foot of his pants, enabling him to show off his well-coordinated socks.  He hopes his look says that he is a classy man with a decent job and style.  As he leans against the chair surveying the crowd, his power suit gives him confidence to find a lady to strike up conversation and buy a drink.  He gets lucky with the first woman he approaches; she engages him in conversation and he is hoping to get her entire life story.  He doesn’t hesitate to give his usual elevator speech of his background.  She doesn’t hesitate to give him her number.  Tonight will be a great night for him.

The Groupies: Unlike men, women oftentimes don’t go to a club/bar by themselves (I do it and I think women should do it more often).  They tend to arrive in a group of 4 or more.  Each of them is hoping to draw some attention to herself but with such a large group, a guy doesn’t feel like he has an in. Walking into the group would be like offering himself up to a firing squad while hoping no one will shoot him down.  The women talk and dance amongst themselves never creating an aperture sufficient enough for a man to approach any of them.  They dance and laugh seemingly having a great time, but each of them is secretly hoping that one of the men in the club will take notice and ask her to dance or strike up a conversation.  She thinks, if he’s really a gentleman, he’ll offer to buy drinks for her friends as well. And as they prepare to leave for the night, a guy stops one of them on their way out.  Her friends, annoyed that they received no attention tonight hurry her to leave because they have spotted a cab waiting outside.  She leaves with her friends never exchanging numbers with her new friend.

Mr. Rabble Rouser: As soon as he steps through the door of the establishment, you know he has arrived.  His voice is one octave higher than the music that is blaring through the speakers.  He waves and kisses the waitresses as they pass by, he gives a handshake to the bouncers and bartender as he strolls to his usual spot—a table behind the makeshift velvet rope.  The table, which contains a bucket of ice and a carafe of orange juice and cranberry juice, is perched 3 feet higher than where most of the crowd is standing.  He sits down alone at his table, wishing they would convert the establishment into a cigar bar so that he can smoke the Cuban in his jacket pocket.  A few minutes later his 8 friends arrive making their way behind the velvet rope.  Their two waitresses make their way toward their table holding bottles of Moet, Belvedere and D’usse with sparklers around them.  The Rabble Rouser leads his boys as they scream “turn up” in unison.  Using the shackle grab, they begin pulling ladies up from the dance floor to join them at their overly crowded table.  Most of the ladies happily oblige and within minutes, they have a drink in their hand.  They are now all ready to turn up for the night.

Ms. Spotlight Grabber: It’s happy hour and most people are arriving directly from work, yet she is dressed as if her day job is working at a gentleman’s club.  Her sequenced dress reaches about mid-thigh; but with the 5 inch platform heels, the dress fits like she last wore it when she was eight-years-old.  Whenever the DJ plays a song, she goes wild as if it’s her favorite. Until the next song is played and she gets hype all over again. With each song and each drink, she gyrates her back and waist with extreme emphasis and bends over slightly in hopes that one of the men will come over and match her rhythm. It will be a disappointing night for her if her attention-grabbing outfit and Kama Sutra dance movements don’t grab a man’s attention.  The men smile awaiting the right opportunity to approach her while the women stare at her with disdain.  She’s used to smiles and stares—nothing can ruin her night.

The Pusher Man: Like every other weekend, he has his game plan down.  He buys drinks for himself and every beautiful lady that he meets.  Most of the time, he walks away once he hands her the drink.  He doesn’t want to come across as the guy purchasing drinks to get a woman’s attention–even though that is exactly his intent.  He surveys the crowd and finds the ones who look like his type.  He hands drinks to three different women throughout the night and none of them seem to have taken the bait–the second woman refused the drink. When he brings a glass of wine over to the fourth woman, he adds, “I hate to see a beautiful woman standing around with an empty glass.”  He gets a smile.  As he walks back over to where he was standing she’s well on his heels.  She taps his shoulder and says, “thanks for the drink, are you from here?” With a smile that says, ‘time to reel her in’, he responds, while thinking, “fourth time is always the charm.”

Ms. Cold Shoulder: She walks into the room prepared to break every man’s ego.  She constantly gives men eye contact and flashes her beautiful smile to lure them into her web. Men misread her stares as “come hither.”  And before they know it, they are met with her scornful reproach as they attempt to strike up a conversation with her.  None of them are ever good enough to be worth her time. But the reality is, to avoid future disappointments, she convinces herself that none of her suitors are nice enough to date.  Idris Elba could walk through the door and he wouldn’t make her cut.  She has dealt with a few fade away types so she tries to ensure her attitude is a turnoff.  As one man walks over, she prepares her screw face which causes him to divert his path and walk past her.  As the next man strikes up a conversation with her, she implements the belly button rule (when a person speaks to you, notice where their belly button is facing.  If it isn’t facing you, he/she’s not interested).  She has no doubt in her mind that the men who didn’t pay her any attention must be gay.  She leaves the club always disappointed that she never meets anyone that she likes.  Nevertheless, she’ll be back next week to try again.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “be your [best] self, everyone else is already taken.”  I am sure these crowd of characters that I oftentimes notice in the club are beautiful people who have a lot to offer.  However, when they walk into the matrix, that is the club, all bets are off and they lose the essence of who they truly are.  Wait!  Who am I kidding?  Sadly, these people are probably just as self-centered, insecure and rude in their daily lives.  Let’s just say, next time I go out with my girlfriends, I’ll be choosing the location.

Dating in your Thirties: Valentine’s Day Edition

It’s Valentine’s Day—a day that most men wish would permanently go away and also a day in which women tap their feet waiting to side eye their significant others when they’ve sent no flowers or chocolate, or made no dinner reservations. As illustrated below, Valentine’s Day can be equally frustrating for those of us dating in our thirties: 

What Do You Get Your Friend With Benefits?

I pick her up after her bartending job.  She smiles as she hops into my car and starts to make small talk.  I return a half-hearted smile and hope she doesn’t talk me to death—it’s late and I’ve had a long day at work.  We get to my place and I grab something to eat while she showers. I shower after catching up on the news and we both head to bed.  She leaves before morning.  This is our routine about two to three times a week.  We rarely speak other than when she comes over for what she calls “love making”.  She recently mentioned wanting me to hang out with her friends.  We all know what type of relationship this is—friends with benefits and nothing else (for me at least).  Now today is Valentine’s Day and I’m wondering whether I should get her something.  She is not my girlfriend nor will she ever be.  But she’s probably expecting something since we’re sleeping together, right? If I take her out will I be sending her the wrong message?  I don’t want her to feel bad, but I don’t want to mislead her either.  I don’t want to end this friends with benefits thing we have going and I’m worried that if I don’t acknowledge her on Valentine’s Day, then this might be it.

I Took You Out For Valentine’s Day–Now What?

coffee shopWe met in a coffee shop. Our encounter was brief but sweet.  We talked about the book I was reading and he recommended a book for me to purchase.  After a few phone calls he asked to meet me for a drink.  I was hesitant at first but decided to go anyway.  We shared a few laughs but I knew immediately that we could never be more than friends (I’m picky intuitive).  After a few flattering remarks about my beauty and enjoying our conversation, he asks when we can meet again?  I begin to stall, hoping he can’t see the anguish on my face.  “How about next Friday,” he proposes before I can think of a response.  I check my calendar to stall for some more time, and realize that Friday is Valentine’s Day.  “That’s Valentine’s Day,” I declare while trying to think of a quick response.  “So, it can be our first official date.  Wouldn’t that be romantic?” he replies.  I give him a blank stare until he uncomfortably changes the subject.  Am I wrong for not wanting to go out on Valentine’s Day with a man I don’t like nor want to be romantically involved with?  I don’t need a romantic dinner that badly.

She Trying to Pick Up A Valentine in the Club

The music is glaring and I spot her across the room.  She is making her body move like a contortionist and I can’t help but two step my way over to her so that we can rock to this “Drunk in Love” remix.  We dance to three more songs and I’m lost in her rhythm.  It’s almost like we’re the only ones in this club.  I ask to buy her a drink and with sweat causing her face to glisten slightly, she smiles and walks with me to the bar.  We try to have a conversation over the blaring music in the background.  I want to see her again, if only to move my body to the rhythm of hers one more time.  Before she walks back over to the sea of men on the dance floor, I ask to take her out.  “I would love to!  How about this Friday?”  As the words rolled out of her mouth, it was like the DJ brought the music to a frightening halt.  Did she say Friday? Valentine’s Day?  This chick wants me to take her out on Valentine’s Day.  As the dollar signs start rolling through my head like a slot machine, I tell her I’ll give her a call later in the week to confirm.  With my drink in hand, I walk over to where I was standing hoping to find another beauty who isn’t interested in a Valentine’s Day date.  Should you expect to be taken out for Valentine’s Day on a first date?

I sympathize with the pressures that this one day seems to carry for both men and women.  Valentine’s Day has always been a special day for me because it is my Ace’s birthday.  I am not fussy about presents, so I have never placed a lot of pressure on my significant other to go above and beyond on that day–I’ve always preferred that he demonstrate his love in simple ways throughout the year.  Whether you are bemoaning the day, or posting posting your gifts on Facebook and Instagram, take the time to remind those you care about how much you love them.

New Year’s South African Style

imageWe have been here for almost 5 days and it is evident to me that Ace (mom) has her own agenda–to find me a husband here. She must be out of her mind!  I noticed her smile and stare whenever she noticed an African couple walking together; she smiled and stared even more whenever she saw them with kids. I’ve never heard of a biological grandma clock, but if one exists, them my mom’s is ticking.

After returning from our trip to the township, we returned to the waterfront for dinner and ate at Belthazar.  Mom was very friendly to the waiters and asked all of them the same questions: (1) how old are you? (2) do you have any kids? (3) where is the rest of your family?  I’m not sure of the significance of these three specific questions, but I sat in my seat embarrassingly staring down at my food.  One of the waiters was from Ghana and the other was from Zambia.  A third was South African who was studying law at University of Cape Town. We were the last customers to leave the restaurant and by the end of the night mom and I were taking pictures with her new friends.

The next morning, we relocated to an oceanfront flat and returned to the waterfront to purchase our New Year’s Eve tickets for later that night.  I had been researching and asking what most people do on NYE.  The consensus was that most of Cape Town would celebrate at the waterfront.  For those with money, they could celebrate while having a 5-course dinner at one of the amazing waterfront restaurants.  However, many others would converge on the waterfront and walking around listening to the music blaring and preparing for the fireworks show.  People walked around, some with their families, others with their friends.  Mothers carried their children around on their backs secured by towels used as makeshift baby slings.

imageMom and I had dinner at Tasca.  We dined on a prix fixe dinner of some of the best seafood, wine and champagne I’ve ever had.  At close to midnight, we joined the others outside of the restaurant and watched the fireworks show as we extended a “Happy New Year” to those standing around us.  It took a moment, but I had to remind mom that we were blessed enough to ring in the new year on another continent.  In one of the most amazing places on earth–a place where some of our family and friends would never have the opportunity to visit.  In that moment, in the beginning of the new year, we were thankful.  It was an enjoyable experience to celebrate with so many different people.

After leaving the waterfront, we were determined to stay awake to celebrate the new year with those in the U.S.  Thus, we had seven more hours to go!  We navigated through the bumper to bumper traffic and headed to Long Street.  As we walked up the street, we joined a group of people who were marching behind a band.  The band sounded similar to a New Orleans band.  Spectators on the sidewalk watched as we walked by.  Then I realized—we had jumped into the middle of the parade!  Mom had no desire to find the nearest exit so we followed the band up the parade route as people stared.  We eventually exited and were stopped by a group of men sitting on a stoop.  They shouted, “you must not be from around here!”  Mom stopped and asked, “why do you say that?” imageAnd one of the men responded, “because this parade is usually for Coloureds; we never see Africans here.”  “Oh you’re American!” another man shouted after deciphering our accents.  We stopped and spoke to the men for a few minutes who informed us they were Muslim, but as South Africans, they respect and celebrate everyone’s religions.  After leaving the men, we headed farther down Long Street, where the crowd changed.  No longer were were marching up the parade route, we were now standing in the middle of the street with young South Africans of various ages.  They yelled and screamed as many drunkenly stammered down the streets in search of a taxi.  We walked around until close to 5am and headed back to the flat in time to see the sun rise and to wish our family and friends in the States a Happy New Year!

*******

New Years Day in Cape Town is unofficially known as Beach Day.  On this day, hundreds of thousands of people converge on the beaches around the country.  Mom and I geared up to head to Camps Bay to hang with the natives.  The traffic was bumper to bumper and it was hot.  To get to Camps Bay we must drive along and up a cliff.  As I soaked in the magnificent view of the city and the ocean, mom clenched the handle of the door fearful to look over at the ocean. Sigh.  Mom has a MAJOR phobia of heights (although she has no issue with flying).  We could not descend from the hill fast enough for her.  When we finally arrived at the beach it was crowded with residents (and tourists—most of whom were black).  Some were located on the hill right above the beach.  They were not in bathing suits (beachwear appeared to be optional), but had arrived at the beach to have a picnic with their friends and family.  Sprinkled among the thousands of people were a few whites who were sunbathing on lawn cheers underneath umbrellas.

imageWhen mom and I arrived on the beach, I looked around at how we could obtain lawn chairs.  I noticed that the only beach goers who were utilizing them were all white, but I know mom was not prepared to lay on this sand and burn underneath this hot African sun.  So I found a gentleman who was carrying around an umbrella and bargained with him to obtain two chairs and an umbrella.  As he set up our chairs, he asked mom where she was from (a question we got often and one that mom insisted on answering honestly).  As she told him that we were American, all I could think was that the price of these chairs and umbrella just quadrupled!  After telling me the chairs would cost ZAR 220, I was able to bargain him down to ZAR100 ($10).  Paying the “local” cost for items was becoming a challenge with mom who was unwilling to understand that we looked African.  But, the moment we opened our mouths and people realized we were not “African” they would automatically charge us more for items (she would eventually understand this lesson).  As we laid on the chairs and soaked in the ocean air, I could feel the stares coming from those around us as people walked by.  As Americans in South Africa, we were an anomaly–stuck in two worlds.  If we were Africans, why were we sitting on these lawn chairs pretending to be white?  I’m sure the impression was we must have been Africans with money.  It is a similar struggle that some African-Americans face in the U.S.–not feeling black enough for black people, yet we were not white.  Mom and I took turns going into the water.  I barely got off the sand because the water was ice cold.  Yet, many people (especially kids) enjoyed jumping around in the water.  The vibe was awesome.  You could not help but to feel as happy as they are as they jumped and cheered in the water and celebrated the beginning of the new year.  We stayed at the beach for hours soaking up the great energy.  Mom continued to have mini panic attacks as I drove  up the cliff toward our flat.  When we arrived, she was exhausted so we decided to forgo dinner.

South Africa Adventures–The Dichotomy

On our second day, I made a reservation for mom and I to tour the wine areas of San Francisco–Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Raymond, our driver, had taken me on a similar tour four years ago. RaymondHe is a very nice Coloured (the name given to South Africans of mixed descent) man who lives in a nearby township. I left it up to Raymond to determine which estates we would visit. As we drove into the winelands, mom had the opportunity to ask Raymond cultural and historical questions from the perspective of a local. Raymond was very patient and provided us with a rich history of the area. He started from the beginning of South Africa’s colonization and provided us with detailed information up to his perspective on the reported corruption of South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma.

We arrived at the Fairview Estate for our first wine pairing. We sampled eight wines with an assortment of cheeses that are made at the estate.  Since our sommelier failed to provide us with a spit bowl, Ace (mom) believed it was obligatory to drink the entire glass (did I mention she isn’t a drinker?). By the time we left, Ace was complaining that her “eyes were turning”–a Jamaican terminology for when one is becoming tipsy. We stopped at a few more wine estates before heading to lunch at Le Petite Ferme. Before eating, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the mountains from the estate’s vineyard. I have kept mom happy with our 5-star dining, but my clothing is already beginning to fit tighter. imageAfter lunch, we visited a few more estates then headed back to the flat. It was a fun-filled day, but on the drive back to the flat I could feel the wine kicking in and I was beyond tipsy (but I wasn’t drunk).
imageOnce we returned, we could do nothing else but take a nap. After sleeping for a few hours, we decided to explore an open-air market that was located within walking distance. During the festive season, there appears to be a party occurring in the streets every night. The market was crowded with vendors, and people walking around contemplating what they would purchase. The majority of the vendors and customers appeared to be Muslim.  They sold everything from toys to food.  We stopped at a stand with a man selling figs. Mom decided to take a taste of the figs–one and a half days in Cape Town and she already wasn’t afraid to try food from street vendors. I happily passed on tasting it. She decided to purchase a handful then realized she forgot to bring her wallet. How convenient. Of course I gave her a side-eye as I pulled out ZAR10 to purchase her figs. IMG_3523

As we explored the marketplace we noticed that most of the vendors and people walking around were Muslim. At this point, we were getting comfortable with feeling somewhat out of place in South Africa. One vendor sold Beats by Dre headphones for ZAR150 (the equivalent of $15).  For Christmas, I purchased similar headphones for my sister for $150! Chances are the vendor’s headphones weren’t real, but I contemplated buying hem for my sister and returning the ones I previously purchased .

IMG_3557On our walk back to the flat, we snapped a picture in front of the former slave lodge which was turned into a museum (despite it being next door, we didn’t get an opportunity to explore the museum).

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The previous day, mom and I had a wonderful adventure driving through the majestic vineyards of the Cape while sipping some of the best wines in the word.  But, it would be a spurious claim to believe that all of Cape Town consists of fine dining, great wines and open air markets.  So, on the following day we took a tour of two of the most famous townships in Cape Town–Llanga and Khayelitsha Townships.  As mom got dressed in the morning, she prepared to wear one of her cute sundresses and her expensive jewelry. I immediately advised her that today, we (really her, because none of my clothing looks as expensive as hers) should wear something a bit more unassuming.

 After heading to Long Street to have breakfast at Rcaffe, we boarded the tour bus headed to the townships (similar to the term “projects” in the US).  imageTandis, our tour guide, brought us to District Six Museum on our first top.  There, he explained the history of District 6 and other townships where non-whites were relocated.  Mom was enthralled in the story and walked around the museum soaking in as much information as possible.  After the museum, we headed to Llanga Township (the oldest township in Cape Town with over 50,000 residents) where Luyolo took over as our tour guide.  As we walked through the area, the children ran up to us and grabbed our hands.  They were all so adorable, yet as we walked along, we could see the poverty-ridden homes.  We walked into one of the hostiles to see how many people lived.  Mom, stopped in her tracks, paralyzed and shocked that people lived this way.  The common area was filled with flies and was as clean as it could be.  There were up to 4 families living in one room.  The hostile had one kitchen area and no living room.  In one of the rooms was a lady who I met almost 5 years before.  We took a picture similar to the one we took previously.  Since this was not my first time through the township, I was not as shocked as mom, who was afraid of touching anything.  Mom grew up in poverty in Jamaica, but she said this did not match anything that she had experienced first hand.  It was a sobering experience relative to our wine tasting the previous day.  At this point, mom peppered Luyolo with many questions about the standard of living.

One of the ironies of our visit was as we walked by some of the shacks the entire home was smaller than the size of my mother’s bedroom with holes in the zinc roofs.  However, many of them had flat screen televisions that were bigger than televisions owned by mom or me.  We entered a makeshift bar where Luyolo explained that many of the men in the neighborhood would stop by to have homemade beer.  Since none of the women on the tour were willing to take a sip, I stepped up to have a try.  It was served in a pail that everyone had to drink from in the spirit of Ubuntu–human kindness.  The beer was warm and had a bitter aftertaste–not something I would take more than a sip of).

imageAfter Llanga, we drove through Khayelitsha Township–the largest township in the western Cape.  There are over one million people living in the township.  In Khayelitsha, we stopped by Vicky’s Bed and Breakfast.  When I visited years prior, I met met Vicky and learned about her Zagat rated B&B in the township which raised money for the local school.  But during this visit, Tandis informed me that the tour would be conducted by Vicky’s eldest daughter because Vicky was killed by her husband two years ago (her husband is currently in prison).  As we left Vicky’s, we saw children “swimming” in water along the road that contained tons of garbage.  It was very sad to watch, yet we left them behind and returned to our affluent area of Cape Town and continued our vacation.  Nevertheless, the memory of the townships were forever etched into our minds.

New Year New Things

It’s that time again–almost a week before the new year!  It’s always a time for me to reflect on the current year and set goals for the next one.  Overall, I would say 2013 was a great year.  I didn’t lose any loved ones and everyone remains in great health.  I laughed more times than I cried.  There was heartbreak, which was replaced with the love from family and friends.  I added a few new friends, and allowed a few others to fall to the wayside.  I received a job promotion (more money to give to Uncle Sam—chi ching!) and traveled to awesome new places around the world.  Most years I ring in the new year in midnight mass with the exception of last year and this year.  Since I will be out of the country , I’m posting my New Year’s Resolution list early.

I’m not crafty enough to create a vision board; but if I were, it would have a picture to symbolize this list of fourteen 2014 resolutions (in no particular order):

1.  Purchase a home

I hoped to purchase a home before the end of 2013 but I was unsuccessful.  I’ve made buying a house at the top of my list for the new year.  I’ve always used the excuse that I may return to NY one day as one of the reasons why I’ve procrastinated on buying a home in DC.  I’ve also explained it away as one less asset I have to protect when I get married.  But, I’ve accepted that I will likely live the rest of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line (though I will always be a New Yorker) and my husband and I can always sign a prenup.  So, in 2014 I will become a homeowner!

2.  Listen more say less

I think this one makes the list every year.  Some years I’m better at doing this than other in other years.  Sometimes there is so much more you capture through silence than through words.  In 2014, I’m going to lower my word count.

3.  Spend more time with my family

black-family-extended-360x200I always wish for more hours in a day, but that desire contradicts my need for more sleep.  Nevertheless, I need to find more time to spend with my family.  I spent the weekend with my father who is always a source of entertainment and knowledge.  His patience with me and ability to always know the right things to say is unmatched.  But the time spent with him was also a reminder that he is aging and our time spent together must be cherished.  I’m taking a trip with my number one ace (my mother) over the new year so I am off to a good start with this resolution.

4.  Love fearlessly/Embrace my vulnerability 

A friend sent me this quote that she thought reminded her of me: “Open your heart. Fall in love. Fall in love and do it right; in the most fearless, head over heals, I-can’t-believe-this-is-possible way. Love, with all of your might. And when your heart is so open you don’t know what to do with it all? Let it break.  Let it break. Let it break, and mend, and heal. Let it heal. Then do it all over again. Don’t be afraid. We are capable of the most profound love when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.” After reading it, I rolled my eyes and flippantly requested that she refrain from sending me such future bullsh*t.  For the few people who really know me, they understand that I possess the ability to empathize (though my word choices may not be the most fluid), but being vulnerable and sharing my feelings is a rarity that only a few witness.  Nevertheless,  I have decided to use this quote to challenge myself in 2014.  We’ll see how this one goes….

5. Take the leap to becoming an adjunct professor

Teaching is one of my many passions.  When I made the decision to change jobs, I spoke with my mentor about a 5-year plan.  He insisted that my plan include teaching a law school class in my practice area.  At the time, I thought he was being crazy and overly ambitious, but he has always believed in me, at times more than I have believed in myself.  I was recently asked to fill in for a professor and teach a few of her law school classes next semester.  I hesitated in taking on the challenge, but recalled my mentor’s vision–one step closer to becoming Professor LIST. 

6.  Put God first

Like #3, this makes the list most years.  It is in my nature to always want to be in control of a situation (I like to say I’m practicing my leadership skills).  At times, I have to take a step back and remind myself that someone higher than me is controlling my life’s journey and therefore I should never forget to put God first.

7.  Trust my gut and never second guess myself

I’m a little book smart; but more importantly, I have a gut that is spot on.  It never steers me wrong or gives me bad advice.  Even when I can’t pinpoint what it’s telling me, I know I should always follow it.  I plan on doing this more.

8.  Charge my friends for legal services

I’m all about utilizing my skills for others, but I usually reserve that for the indigent by taking on pro bono litigation cases.  In 2013, I’ve received quite a few calls/emails from friends seeking legal services–for FREE 99!  Some of them make more money than I do (my ex ‘s business pulls in over a million dollars annually, but he has no shame calling about some legal problem).  As of 2014, my legal advice will be prefaced by a description of my fees.  (Since I know my ex will read this–you’ve been forewarned!).

9.  Make a power career move

I’m always striving for a new challenge.  In 2014, I plan to make a career move to ensure that I stay on my toes and am honing my legal skills.  I haven’t decided whether that move will be an internal change at my current job, or an external change/addition (see #5) but it will take me one step closer to success.

10.  Redefine success

This new years resolution is somewhat counterintuitive to what I just stated in #9.  But in 2014, I’m redefining  contentment for myself.  I distinctly recall an e-mail exchange with a friend a few months ago where I stated what I would do “when I become successful.”  Her response was something to the effect of “it’s sad that you don’t recognize that you’re already successful.”  I will always be an overachiever, but I am going to ensure that I don’t lose sight and appreciate what it means to to me to be successful (if I accomplish even half of the resolutions on this list by the end of 2014 I will have been successful).

11.  Pray more 

Recently, I was talking to a friend in the middle of the day and at noon he said I should stop and pray.  Huh?Even though we both attend the same church, I thought he was joking.  Then he told me that he had started to pray every day at a specific time.  We’re both Catholic, but we have different ways of praying (he says a few Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s and the Act of Contrition, while I have a more personal prayer with God).  The next day, while we spoke, he reminded me that it was prayer time.  It felt very fulfilling to stop and take a moment during the middle of my hectic day to say a prayer–a practice I hope to continue in 2014.

                                                         

12.  Put less weight in how I am perceived 

I’ve lived on this earth for over 30 years and I am pretty comfortable in my skin.  Typically, I try (and fail effortlessly) to find a way to be amenable to others; sometimes it is at the expense of my own happiness.  In 2014 as a daily reminder to myself,  my cell phone ringer will be set to Lil Wayne’s “Don’t Give a F*ck*” .

13. Tighten the inner circle

I have joked with a close friend of mine that our friendship has reached the end of its rope and shall terminate at the stroke of midnight on January 1st 2014, to which she jokingly agreed.  Although our statements were made in jest, each year as I’ve matured I realize that I have grown apart from friendships that haven’t been able to withstand the test of time.  Oftentimes I get the statement, “damn you know everyone in DC”.  This could not be farthest from the truth.  While knowing a large network of people, I have embraced the joy that comes with knowing a lot of people but having a tight inner circle.  In strengthening the bond with those fifteen people, I will loosen the bond with others. I have never lost a friendship that I did not miss losing, but I have never let go of a friendship that I regretted losing.

14.  Exercise more

This one also makes my list every year.  But the older I become, the more important exercise must become a part of my routine.  I’ve already been selected from the lottery to run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in April (yes, I am a glutton for punishment).  Therefore, the high intensity workout regimen will begin promptly at the beginning of the new year–or when I return from vacation.

Although some people don’t believe in creating resolutions, it serves as a useful roadmap and outline of the things I hope to accomplish with the start of a new year.  What are your resolutions?

Wishing You All a Prosperous and Happy New Year!

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