Slow Burn

Relationships are like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re gonna get. According to Hallmark, they’re like cheesy late-blooming romances with a stranger from a small town that you never knew you needed. The stories are wholesome where most plotlines are cheesy and follow the same formula of a person falling in love after coming from a big city to a small town for business or family matters. It’s almost a fairy tale ending with the inevitable miscommunication and the hurt making up with the misunderstood, but they make falling in love look quick and easy. Relationships on social media, however, are a mish-mosh of everything from couples who only post their happiness to others who post everything from the conception of the relationship to its death. It’s so easy to get lost in the muck of it because even when the happiness you see is authentic, chances are you’re still sitting there trying to figure out why you’re still single or how to bring the spark back to your once vibrant relationship. There is also the chance that you’re like me in a new relationship trying not to self-sabotage due to unrealistic relationships you saw on TV.

A lot of us are subconsciously programmed to look for our relationships to start with the emotions of happiness and warmth we feel while watching a heartwarming film, TV show, or youtube couple. This warmth is something to desire, but it shouldn’t be everything we seek. In the Black culture, I’ve observed an emphasis on emotional intensity in association with the idea of falling in love. There’s a push in the media to look for immediate magnetism when connecting with a potential partner. Also, there’s almost an urgency to hurry up and find a love that is all-consuming in what I believe to be the worst of ways. Songs like Let it Burn by Jazmine Sullivan and Heat by Chris Brown ft. Gunna speaks of the heat one feels while falling for someone. Whether it is in love or lust is yet to be determined. Alternatively, songs like Burn by Usher describe the pain one feels at the end of a relationship. The common thread of intense emotion seems to be the desired symptom of falling for someone. It is what I call a red flame relationship where everyone can see the heat, the chemistry, and obvious attraction. With these relationships, as easy as it is to see the flame is how easy it is to extinguish it. This misconception that relationships need to start with an intensity of emotion and longing to be with another individual overshadows the truth that most sustainable relationships are built slowly on a foundation of fondness and a desire to get to know someone deeply. It is what I call a blue flame relationship or the slow burn. These relationships are not devoid of emotion, but they have balanced the logistics (the mind) of building a sustainable partnership with the emotion (the heart) required to nurture a relationship. All in all, they’ve counted the cost. If only I had had some of this wisdom in my early twenties.

My early twenties and even my late teens were full of what most would call “chance meetings” which led to short spurts of infatuation. I now call those chance meetings purposeful. They were introductions to key players in my journey to emotional maturity. Every lie I was told and every false hope I held onto in belief thinking “oh, he’ll change” were building blocks because I chose to change my perspective. When he didn’t want to choose me, I chose myself, and when my emotional needs weren’t being met, I voiced them. These choices led to the end of those relationships and I thank God they did! I chose to look at each individual as a teacher and I was determined to learn each lesson so I could move on because my cut off game is quick! But it was through those quick spurt relationships that I cleared my throat chakra, developed my voice and boundaries while keeping my heart open to love. I learned that open and honest communication about core principles and values like faith, child-rearing, and politics are the table our conversations about emotions and shared interests rest on. Being armed with all this knowledge and experience I find myself in a healthy relationship that I know I couldn’t have sustained had I not had those experiences and made adjustments to my mindset along the way.

As I mentioned before, there was a period where I almost self-sabotaged because things weren’t progressing how I had seen them on TV or as quickly as I had seen them manifest in other people’s lives. I will be the first to say I had unrealistic expectations. I was looking for the fiery magnetism and instead found a sweet calm and stability. Let me be the first to say that as an ever-adventurous woman, stability is far from boring. I find myself with someone stable who loves their family, makes me laugh from my core, compliments my personality, and shares my values as well as interests. I have such a fondness, appreciation, and love for this man that I can only attribute to knowing what it means to have had a bad one. These nuances are things that aren’t so readily discussed in everyday conversation about relationships. They are the things we hope to figure out and grow from along the way. Community is important to me, so I hope to inspire conversations among other young women who are as lost as I was and are slowly but surely finding their way. I am in no way an expert on all things love, I’m merely an observer and reporter on the subject and I pray my observations find you well.

Black Hair and Femininity Part 2 (Youth Speaks Out Series)

Navigating my way through the natural hair community has been a struggle for multiple reasons. Firstly, many of the prominent figures for women with type 4 hair, who don’t actually have that hair type but rather looser curl patterns. I find this to be extremely detrimental to young people such as myself, who have kinkier hair and are questioning why they are not producing the same hairstyles as the women who are advertised to us. 

Secondly, although one could argue that the upkeep of natural hair isn’t as expensive as braids, weaves, or wigs, natural hair requires a lot of trial and error in terms of products that work for your specific hair type. Hunting for good products does in fact require quite the bit of money; money that I do not have. I’ve noticed during my exploration that hair products that are geared toward black women are often times more expensive than the products intended for women of other races. 

I’ve found that just the initial process of buying hair products can be quite tiresome. Oftentimes mainstream stores either don’t carry the entire line of products from natural hair brands, or they don’t carry any products from brands at all; not to mention that the products that I do need are locked behind glass cases with locks that only an employee can open. If only there was an employee in sight. 

An alternative to this could be to shop at my local beauty supply. Their prices for those same natural hair products are relatively cheaper than a store like Target or Sally Beauty, however I as a Black woman don’t always feel welcome in a space that I supposed to be catered to people like me. I almost always feel as if I am being watched or judged. I’ve noticed the way shop owners keep their eyes on my every move as a walk through their establishment, zeroed in on the products in my hand. No, I don’t need help finding anything today. 

Photo by Anna Shvets at Pexels

Another issue that I have run into is that a lot of these so called Black owned hair care companies that cater to people with my hair type, are not owned by Black people at all. In a lot of these cases, the concept of the brand was created by Black people, but they end up selling their business to predominantly White domains. My issue with this is that I often try to support Black owned businesses and many of these natural hair companies lead their consumers to believe that their brands are owned by Black people. 

I’ve also noticed how a lot of the packaging, particularly the pictures of different women on the packaging for each product has changed. By this I mean that at one time darker skinned women with large type 4 hair and vibrant curl definition used to be the images that these brands were using to sell their products. However now, a lot of what I see tends to be racially ambiguous women with looser curl patterns. While there is nothing wrong with opening up marketing campaigns to women of different curl hair textures and skin tones, it seems that a lot of the darker skin and kinky hair representation has fizzled out. This lack of representation has been hard for not only myself but other natural hair goers of darker complexions and tighter curls because we often feel as though these brands are not making products with us in mind anymore. 

While my hair is not long, it’s not incredibly short either. There are times where I feel that the natural hair community on social media tends to uplift and applaud women who have naturally long hair and many of us with shorter hair are looked passed. I myself have felt at times a little insignificant because my hair doesn’t look like what’s often advertised to me. My hair isn’t long enough to braid, my afro is small, my hair grows at different speeds in different places, my edges are hard to shape. Sometimes I genuinely have no idea how to style my hair because the front of my hair is wavy but short and I don’t know how to showcase that. 

For these reasons I’ve been tempted to do the big chop and cut my hair; a fresh start. Good hair is healthy hair and I believe that at this time, if I cut my hair I will be able to grow all of it out at the same time. Not to mention cutting my hair will make my wash day routine a lot shorter. 

We as a society place so much emphasis on hair and appearance—from social media, to celebrities, to family beliefs, to the Bible. As silly as it seems, I worry about maintaining my femininity with shorter hair. Just this past summer I got accustomed to seeing myself without makeup and letting my beauty from within show on the outside. As someone who spends way too much time on social media, I’ve noticed that pro Black pages on Instagram who post Black women with short hair, strategically make sure to post women with short hair who have a full beat face of makeup on. 

As I sit here, writing to you today, I am undecided on when is the right time to make the big chop. Perhaps there never is a right moment or right time. I can confidently say that from every woman close to me that I discussed this topic with, they’ve all done the big chop and absolutely loved it. I think that in the past year I have learned that femininity is something that can be expressed in multiple ways. Perhaps it’s not one’s hair, makeup, or clothes, but the way one moves through life. The confidence they exude, the way they carry themselves.

Charging Your Energy with Crystals

You may have noticed that crystals in the form of bracelets, necklaces, tumbled stones, etc. making a rise in popularity. Because crystals have become a trend, it is easy to get confused as to their purpose, and how and why people use them. Here’s a brief breakdown on the benefits of working with crystals, and some of my favorite places to purchase them.

What are Crystals?

A simplistic definition of crystals is that they are elemental stones/gems that have specific energic properties that can enhance, or alleviate, certain ailments and conditions of the wearer/user. Everything and everyone vibrate with energy, and crystals can be used to help bring a persons energic field into balance, or in some cases protect a person from the negative energy of those around them.

The energy that a crystal carries depends on its composition which is why not all crystals can, or should, be used for the same thing. Some of the more common categories that crystals can be grouped into are: cleansing, chakra balancing, healing, protection, and grounding. This list is of course in no way exhaustive but provides just a general overview for those looking to begin their crystal collection.

How to Use Crystals

The first step when thinking about how to use your crystal is to answer the question, why do you want or need it? Are you trying to attract more self-love? Are you working on dream recall? Do you live or work with energy vampires? Do you travel a lot? Are depression and anxiety hindering your ability to function? Are your chakras, or a specific chakra, out of balance? Does your business need help? All of these are common reasons why people purchase crystals, and each question has a different crystal as an answer. Once you determine your why, you are then ready to purchase your first crystal or crystals. Generally, I would recommend going into your local metaphysical store to see which crystals call out to you. However, in the time of COVID, I recommend purchasing them online. However, be mindful of where you purchase them from. You want to make sure that the crystal dealer is reputable so that you can be certain that you are actually getting ethically sourced crystals as opposed to imitations or glass. So, Walmart and Five Below for example may not be where you would want to look for these purposes. Three online crystal stores that I recommend are Queendom Cultivation, Chakra Zulu, and Hella Vybz. Each store provides information regarding the best uses for each crystal, and starter kits for those looking to just cover the basics.

Once you have selected and received your crystals, you should cleanse and charge them. How this is done depends on the type of crystal. For example, some can be cleansed with water while others are water sensitive. If you are unsure, Sage, Palo Santo, and other similar cleansing agents should suffice. After you have cleansed and charged your crystals, you want to set your intention for the crystal. Intention setting is a form of manifestation and allows you and your crystal to be on one accord, which is especially useful for crystals that have more than one metaphysical purpose. You can also use crystals during meditation and mindfulness activities. For more information on mindfulness, please check out my November post “Free Your Mind.”

Recommended Starter Crystals

If you are looking to begin your crystal journey, here are a few crystals that I recommend that have come to be my favorites.

  • Clear Quartz – This is a stone that can help clear out negative energy, protect, and charge other crystals you may have.
  • Black Tourmaline – This is a grounding stone that helps protect against negativity and is also good to carry if you are someone who travels a lot.
  • Amethyst – For those who want help with dreamwork, this is a great stone for that purpose.
  • Rose Quartz – This is a stone that is especially useful in helping to call in self-love and self-affirmation.
  • Sodalite – Sodalite is useful in helping with balancing emotions and is great for those who deal with anxiety.
  • Citrine – For business owners, this stone is a must! It helps to call in wealth and abundance.

This is of course a short list to get you started. Remember, crystals are just a tool and they do not replace deep, introspective grounding and shadow work. They instead just make doing the work a bit easier at times. May your crystal journey be fruitful, and your energy balanced!

Standing in the Gap

This post is an excerpt from Shelter in Place, S2: episode 5. Listen to the full story above.

Everywhere you look, there’s a lot of fear about where we are now and what’s ahead. So for the past month, I’ve been gathering stories from people who are facing fear with courage–often in surprising ways. They represent a wide range of politics, but they share one very important thing: in the face of fear and a nation divided, they’re working hard to create communities that can cross that division.

Jimmy Graham has spent his life thinking about how to keep other people safe. He’s a former Navy Seal and CIA bodyguard, and the founder and CEO of the Able Shepherd program, an elite self-defense program that equips people to handle guns safely in high-stress situations like being in a building with an active shooter. When I spoke with Jimmy, we mostly sidestepped the conversation about if we should be carrying guns, and instead talked about how to make using them safer. 

“75% of people will shoot the wrong person when they’re excited or scared,” Jimmy told me. “It doesn’t matter if they’re FBI, they’re police, if they’re military.”

So he created a training system that used the reality-based scenario training he’d learned from his time with the Seals, where they wore protective equipment and used real guns that had been converted to fire training ammunition.

“I absolutely support law enforcement, but if you’re a bad apple, we need to get rid of you and sing it from the rooftops.”

Jimmy Graham

“The best way to learn how to shoot people is to shoot people,” Jimmy said. “And you do it over and over, and you create neural pathways. A lot of times the person who does the right thing isn’t the bravest or the fastest or the smartest. It’s the one that’s most familiar with it.”

Jimmy says that this is just as true of law enforcement as it is of citizens. He does a lot of work with the police to get outdated training systems up to date. But he’s also troubled by the way bad cops have given a bad rap to the entire system. 

“I absolutely support law enforcement, but if you’re a bad apple, we need to get rid of you and sing it from the rooftops. We don’t protect criminals. You belong in jail. Period. It protects the guys that are out there doing it for the right reasons.”

Jimmy’s work isn’t just about guns. He helped launch the Stand in the Gap Initiative, which seeks to bring communities together by developing what Jimmy calls “a root cellar mentality.” If the power goes out or there’s a blizzard or a hurricane, communities are prepared with food, water, a radio for offline communication, and a pre-established network of neighbors or friends who are ready to be at each other’s homes in a matter of minutes.

I used to think that the root cellar mentality was a little extreme. But then a year ago PG&E shut off our power for four days to prevent wildfires. And then COVID-19 happened and suddenly the shelves in our grocery stores were empty. I was lucky to live in a place where community already existed. When the power went out, our neighbors who had a generator invited us to come over to charge our phones and computers. They fed us dinner. But my neighborhood is unusual; Jimmy is trying to build communities where that kind of connection becomes typical. 

“It’s a good way to live,” Jimmy said. “We just got comfortable. We needed each other before. Now we don’t because of Amazon and Walmart, right? And that’s cool, but we left a good way to live. That, I think, is the answer: take care of one another in communities. That’s the way we were designed to live anyways.”

This was an excerpt from Shelter in Place, season 2, episode 5: Standing in the Gap. Hear the full story here or visit shelterinplacepodcast.info to view the full transcript.

These Changes

They say hindsight is 20/20 and as I look back over the year, I can honestly say that things could have gone far worse for me. I am beyond grateful to say they didn’t. This Thanksgiving had me a bit nostalgic remembering all the experiences I’ve had leading me to this point. Most of them were great and some were less than desirable, but they were all memorable and taught me to live from a place of love, humility, and thankfulness.

Take my Thanksgiving experience in 2017. This particular year, I spent the holiday among friends and community I had built while living in a young adult shelter for four months. I had since moved out and found stable housing with a friend, but we decided to spend our time with those we had grown so close to at the Lark-Inn youth drop-in center on Golden Gate Ave. It seemed like any other day where we walked to the center and waited in line to sign in, but instead of walking into the center as patrons, we were entering as welcomed guests. In a way, we had graduated because we got out and were successful in housing ourselves and remained independent. That day, I was thankful for the company and the food, and the freedom we had to move about the city. Most thanksgivings preceding that, I found myself road tripping with my mom and brother to some relatives’ house for a day full of family, meal prep, taste testing, and love and laughter. At Christmas time, the whole ordeal began again, with the bonus of gift-giving and the possibility of snow. It’s crazy how different experiences can be and easily things can change, but with Covid, the holidays are looking so much different this year.

Instead of large family gatherings and friends-givings, many people are sheltering in place or in quarantine alone. I can’t help but think of those I was sheltered with. Are they safe and warm? Did the presence of Covid change their relationship to their circumstances at home? Or are they having to face this hardship alone? The lucky ones are sharing space with our partners, pets, or technology and it’s days like today that I thank God for technology. It gives me peace of mind knowing that people can meet and remain connected to one another in ways we never thought imaginable just a few decades ago. We can see and hear one another in real-time even though we can’t touch one another or directly feel the warmth of their energy. And even though we are separate, I feel like we’re finally understanding the meaning of oneness and interconnectivity. I believe there is the Spirit of thankfulness and love that surrounds us every day and reminds us that all things are possible when we remain united and show love to another.

This year has been a whirlwind for me. I find myself with a new job in a new town of a new state, which usually leaves me feeling somewhat drained and over the transition, and somehow this move felt different. It felt like the end of a cycle I was so desperate to be free from because for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m homeless or just passing through. I am home. A word which I ascribe to the feeling of security and stability. I don’t use the term home lightly and have only prescribed it to people before this summer, and I am so thankful for the change, which seems to be the main constant in my life. I don’t know the entirety of what the end of this year holds, much less the future, but I believe that facing it with an open heart and an attitude of gratitude- that most people only acquire for the holidays- could carry us a long way.

Pandemic Verse in Senryu

Cold days are here now

How the body craves warm skin

Unsafe to be close

Manzanita path

I walk with humans I love

No smiles are seen

A thousand mornings

Only dog and I in bed

Isolation still 

Autumn apples rot

Many on the cold hard ground

Food for the loud birds

Virus to learn from

It is not just about you

Compassion is life

Harmful to gather

But nature is always there

Be grateful for this

Photo by Georgina Marie, Fall Morning, Lakeport, CA

Facing the Mob

Listen to the full story from Shelter in Place above.

I didn’t think the day could get any worse. 

In the span of 24 hours, we’d said goodbye to the friends and the home we’d never wanted to leave. We’d driven over 500 miles and two state lines before we finally escaped the wildfire smoke. A stranger had yelled in my face about what a terrible mother I was. And the kids had degenerated from griping about their Zoom calls to clobbering each other in the back seat. It felt like we’d hit rock bottom in this Pandemic Odyssey.  

But as we drove through Utah and the skies began to clear, we felt some of the grip of what was behind us loosen. We remembered that there were still people and places to look forward to. 

I’d wanted to go to Zion National Park ever since I was a teenager, when I saw pictures of the red rock formations that looked like a painter’s dream. It was magic hour as we entered the park, and even the kids took a collective gasp when they looked out the window. I pulled out my phone to take a picture.

And that’s when I noticed the explosion of texts that had just come in. While we’d been driving, our first AirBNB guests had shown up and promptly thrown a party in our back yard complete with music so loud that it rattled the walls two houses over, and thick clouds of smoke from cigarettes and weed. No one was wearing masks or social distancing. By the time I got these messages, the party had been going for hours. 

As we drove through the park, I thumbed out responses as fast as I could. And then my three bars of reception turned to two, and then one, and then zero. All of my messages bounced back. I looked out the window and tried to breathe. We were driving through tunnels of red rock and some of the prettiest scenery I’d ever laid eyes on–but there was a lump in my throat and I felt like I might throw up. 

I dropped off my family at the campsite and kept driving. It took me another half hour before I found a place in range. I braced myself for an unpleasant conversation, but when I finally reached the guest, whose name was Aidan, he was nice. He said he didn’t know that smoking wasn’t allowed or that AirBNB’s updated COVID-19 prohibited parties. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

The next day, my phone started bleeping again. One of my neighbors sent a video; another wrote, “I think your guests are using your house to film porn.” 

I spent the next three hours on the phone with AirBNB, who told me they’d ask Aidan to leave immediately. I wouldn’t lose any money; he’d clearly broken house rules and violated AirBNB’s COVID-19 policy. But Aidan and his crew stayed anyway. A week later AirBNB deducted $300 from my account and paid it to Aidan for the last two cancelled nights of his stay–nights where, just to be clear, Aidan was very much still in my home. I called AirBNB again, and the rep admitted that they’d screwed up, but there was nothing they could do to get the money back from Aidan. When I asked her to flag his profile so other hosts didn’t have to go through this experience, she said they couldn’t do that either.

There’s a saying that’s attributed to Confucius: “if you seek revenge, you should dig two graves.” I hate knowing that Aidan is out there $300 richer, but I’m not seeking revenge. What bothers me most is that the system that was supposed to protect me failed me. If I’m feeling that way about a situation that in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that bad–no one was hurt or killed, our house was not destroyed–then I think it’s fair to give space to those in our country who have been failed by our systems repeatedly. But it raises the question of how to fight injustice without letting it poison us. I’m still learning how to hold our systems accountable without digging my own grave.

This was an excerpt from Shelter in Place, season 2, episode 4: Facing the Mob. Hear the full story here or visit shelterinplacepodcast.info to view the full transcript.

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