Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life Lessons from Beauty and the Beast

There are times when you need to escape adult life. I did so recently by slipping off to see Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Best is the story of Belle and a prince of course. Belle is a young woman whose beauty is as much internal as it is external. Though beautiful and charming, Belle is a bit of an oddball in the village. She and her widowed father Maurice live together in a town inhabited by people who are very traditional. The women are viewed as potential or dutiful wives. But Belle is woman of goals and ambitions. Much to the town folk’s dismay; Belle loves to read and dreams of life beyond her small town. 

Belle ignores the requests of the men in town who want her as a wife, especially the boorish soldier Gaston who is determined to win Belle’s affection. When Maurice sets out on his journey, he asks Belle what she wants him to bring her back. Her reply: a rose. Maurice gets lost and stumbles upon a dark castle. He unknowingly plucks a rose from a bush on the property of a hideous beast. The price for Maurice’s theft is lifetime imprisonment in the castle. But Belle finds her father and offers to trade places with him. He returns home. A friendship blossoms between Belle and the Beast who is really a Prince who has been cursed. 

When Gaston learns that he is competing against the Beast for Belle’s affection, he leads a group of angry townspeople to the castle to destroy the Beast. He manages to shoot the Beast before plunging to his death. As Belle cries over the body of the Beast confessing her love to him, the enchantress who turned him into a Beast turns him back into the Prince and well, you know the rest. They lived happily ever after.

And even though it was your typical Disney Princess movie, I liked the modern elements of diversity and an independent Belle. As the movie ended, I thought about the lessons the movie imparted for me. 

1.      Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. The beggar woman offered the Prince a rose in exchange for shelter, but he laughed at her and cast her off. The rose was not good enough for the Prince. It was his ingratitude that caused him to be turned into a Beast. The beggar was an enchantress in disguise who told the Prince that he would remain a beast until he learned to love and was loved in return. How many times do we take people’s kindness for granted because we want more than what they give?

2.      Be yourself; everyone is taken. Belle was comfortable in her skin even in the face of ridicule and adversity. The villagers didn’t understand the strange girl who liked to read, and who rebuffed potential suitors like they were The Plague. But Belle remained true to herself and it worked out for her in the end. Are you trying to be an imitation of someone else’s expectations or are you being your authentic self?

3.      Don’t settle. Belle didn’t know where she was going or what she was going to do, but she knew that her small town couldn’t hold her big dreams. She dreamed of something different—something better. Have you put your dreams on hold or stopped dreaming altogether? Why?

4.      Don’t follow the crowd. In an effort to make himself the hero of the day and deflect from the cad that he really was, Gaston convinces the townspeople that the Beast was evil. That he had Belle under a spell and needed to be destroyed. He led the villagers to the castle to kill the Beast. When have you gone along to get alone even though you knew your gut told you something different?

5.      Be brave. Belle never cowered. Not before the town’s people, or Gaston or her first encounter with the Beast. She did not allow fear to stop her from moving forward. What is fear holding you back from?

Which of these lessons resonates with you? Tell me about it in the comment section.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What’s Meant to Be Will Be

On Tuesday April 18, Chicken Soup for the Soul will release its latest book in the series, Chicken Soup for the Soul: An Inspiration for Teachers. And I am one of the 101 contributors.
 I am a writer with dreams of being featured in publications with worldwide recognition, and now that dream has come to fruition. It began with an idea in my head, and I went for it. Even after rejection and missed deadlines over the years, I was still determined to get my work into a widely recognized publication. 

Years ago, I submitted a piece to Essence magazine, and an editor called me while I was at work. I called back on my lunch, but was unable to speak with her. Shortly, thereafter I received a nice rejection letter in the mail. Something went wrong. I knew that I hadn’t been called only to be rejected. That’s not how this works. For a long time, the incident haunted me. I had come close to being published in a magazine that I read faithfully from cover to cover every month. Periodically I’d think about submitting, but wouldn’t follow through.

I went on to get published in Black-Eyed Peas for the Soul—Tales to Strengthen the African American Spirit and Encourage the Heart—my first anthology! I thought I was on my way. A triathlon teammate sent an email that Chicken Soup for the Soul was doing a book for African Americans with Lisa Nichols as the editor. The woman who sent me the email knew Lisa personally. There was no guarantee that I’d be accepted, but at least I had a contact. What did I do? Missed the deadline! I kept thinking I had more time than I did. I could have kicked myself. Like the Essence incident, this too bothered me for a long time. 

I continued to write and get published in anthologies. From time to time I would check to see what was coming up in the Chicken Soup series. Even the ones that were of interest to me, I wouldn’t sit down and write. I didn’t know why. Was I afraid that my writing wasn’t good enough for Chicken Soup? I didn’t make it into Essence.

Then last summer, I saw that Chicken Soup was accepting admissions for Chicken Soup for the Curvy Soul and Chicken Soup for Teachers. I submitted to both. I received a letter saying that my piece for the Curvy Soul was being looked at for possible acceptance. I was ecstatic! Almost there. Surely, this would not be a repeat of making it to the finish line, but not crossing? It was. I got my nice rejection letter in the mail. Since I hadn’t heard from anyone regarding the Chicken Soup for Teachers piece, I figured I was out of the running. I was down, but now out. I kept checking to see what other titles in the series were on the horizon to try again.

Then I received another letter regarding my teacher piece. It was being considered. I was excited but scared. What if this one was rejected, too? Maybe my writing wasn’t good enough. Then lo and behold I got the letter saying my piece had been accepted. I was in such a hurry to give them permission to publish that I forgot to sign the contract! 

I never saw the email saying that I had not signed until 8 pm, and I don’t have a fax machine at home. I fired off a quick email, jumped in the car and went to the nearest Staples. I faxed the contract and sent an email to the editor. The following morning I called to make sure she received it; She did! And I have been walking in the clouds ever since. It’s such an honor to be featured in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and especially one about teaching. It’s another way to help people—like Chicken Soup helps people. I love being a teacher!

In 1993, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor started Chicken Soup for the Soul following requests for the stories that they shared.” As Jack and Mark traveled, people constantly asked if the stories they related had been published. So, Jack and Mark set out to do just that. 

According to the website, they began with a “simple idea that people could help each other by sharing stories about their lives. They compiled the top 101 stories and pitched them to the major publishing houses in New York. They were rejected. It was a small publisher in Florida who decided to give Jack and Mark a chance, and the rest they say is history.

The first book sold 11 million copies and a second helping of Chicken Soup was born. There are 250+ titles in the series with more than 500 million copies worldwide. The books have been translated into 43 languages and published in over 100 countries. Chicken Soup for the Soul is more than a series of books. It’s a brand. 

Jack and Mark sold Chicken Soup to William Rouhana and Amy Newark (husband and wife) and Robert Jacobs in 2008.  In addition to its best-selling titles, Chicken Soup also carries a line of wholesome foods--for people and their pets. They are currently working on a TV show and a major motion picture. There are aps. I couldn’t have asked for a better national platform to debut my work. In additional to inspirational stories, they donate to a number of worthy causes. Their socially consciousness matches my socially conscious advocacy. 

Just like Chicken Soup for the Soul is “changing the world one story at a time,” I am changing the world one student at a time. It's no accident that we are in this together.  This was definitely meant to be.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Passin' in Reverse – The Rachel Dolezal Story

Shhh! I’ve got a secret. You want to know what it is? I am fascinated by Rachel Dolezal. I've followed her story since she was outed for passing as Black. There are those who think (including her) that what she did wasn't a big deal, and that it shouldn't over shadow the work she did. It shouldn't. My biggest problem with Rachel is her not owning that what she did was wrong. In the interviews I’ve seen, she is as slippery as a bar of wet soap. When asked if she lied while talking with the BBC, she said how can you lie about a lie.  Rachel continues to argue that race is a social construct even though we already know this. So, why lie about a lie? Does that make it less of a lie?

I was gifted her book, In Full Color, and I'm reading now. I want to understand. But it's like watching a train wreck, having gapers' block. It is for me what reality TV or Maury is for others. 

The book does provide insight into who she is, but it doesn't change what she did. Truth be told: I really don't care how she self identifies. I just want her to stop blaming other people for the situation she finds herself in now when she’s the one who lied about the lie and brought us all to this place. 

So captivated by Rachel that she inspired me to pen a poem.  It’s featured in my coming up book--Unzipped—Exposing the Naked Truth which I co authored with Rick Allison--the irony of that! Listen to her interview. Read my poem. And tell me what you think about this white woman passin’ for Black.


Playing the White Card
When I first heard the story
 of a White woman passin’ for Black
I must admit, I was taken aback

I mean siding with the oppressed
 instead of the oppressor
Who in her right mind does that?

So as I learned about this White Chick
Whose hair required a pick

Who darkened her skin
And tried to fit in

She masqueraded in Black face
Trying to steal a place
In the Black race

Thought if she wore a costume
We’d all assume
That she was down
Because she’s light brown

So, yea at first I was like what’s the big deal?
So, what if she ain’t Black for real

If she wants the burden let her have it
Til I rolled it around in my mind a bit
And thought to myself ain’t this some ish

After watching a couple of interviews
I shook my head thinking,
This woman must think we’re some fools

Yes, she was an activist
And an African-American studies teacher too,
But the real struggles of Black womanhood
She doesn’t have a clue

For us, it’s more than a costume
Since birth, these roles we’ve assumed
You see the legacy of our ancestors
Is in our DNA
And this Rachel Dolezal wants to play?

To have felt the master’s whip on her back
And lived a life of hardship and pain
And have to pick herself up again and again

Rachel had a 10-year fantasy—
That’s all
Because when it comes to being a real
Black woman
She dropped the ball

She has no clue
What it’s really like to stand in our shoes
You know what they say:
Once you go Black you never go back
But for Rachel, if life gets too hard
Unlike us, she has an option of playing
 The White Card

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We Wear the Mask

In honor of National Poetry Month, today I want to pay homage to one of my favorite poets. Looking through some papers recently, I happened across Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask and reading it again made me realize why I love it so much. It’s one of my most treasured poems; it resonates with me every time I read it.

Born on June 27, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of freed slaves from Kentucky. Despite his background, Dunbar gained national and international recognition for his poetry. Published in Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1896), We Wear the Mask speaks to the harsh condition African Americans faced.  Though born free, Dunbar drew upon the life of his parents, Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar, in his poetry. What I especially love about this poem is its universal and timeless appeal. 

We ALL hide behind the mask that “grins and lies” sometimes. It’s part of the human condition.  This poem makes me think about how far we go to duck behind the fa├žade of who we really are. And in this age of social media, we can and do create alternate realities. When and where we can be our authentic selves? Can we ever come from behind the mask and live in our Truth?  I wonder.

What mask are you wearing? Tell me about it in the comment section.

We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 
And mouth with myriad subtleties. 

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
       We wear the mask. 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
       We wear the mask!