Monday, July 21, 2014

Five for Five: Happy Birthday everything EnJ!

When I attended the Blogging While Brown conference a few weekends ago, I was interviewed by an employee for Comcast Xfinity that wanted me to share my experience as a blogger. The first question she asked me was how long had I been blogging and I proudly told her a whopping five years. The last question she asked me was how long did I think I could continue to blog, in which, I told her, for as long as I live. She had a puzzled look on her face and to diffuse the expression, I told her something along the lines of a quote that I love from Tyece, "writing is not how I make my living, it's how I make my life."

Everything EnJ started off Mommy-inspired, transitioned into an all-out random conglomerate of What Thee Hell into Let-Me-Just-Give-It-To-Y'all-Like-It-Is. Five years of just mess, redesigning, figuring it out, questioning what works for blogging v. what works for me. It hasn't been easy although some people make it look really simple with their how-to tips on up and leaving your job to focus on your brand. I know that I have a lot left to learn, do, fix, and say when it comes to blogging, but in five years, I've gained so much – knowledge, friends and genuine support. This post is about lessons, goals, my favorite posts ever, my favorite bloggers & their posts and surprises! Ready?

I. Top Five Blogs & Posts

Yetti SAYS by Yetti
Fave Five?

Twenties Unscripted by Tyece Wilkins
Fave Five?

All The Many Layers by GG Renee Hill
Fave Five?
You're Wrong. I'm Right. Here's Why. 

From A Wildflower by Kimberly Luxe & Co.
Fave Five?
The First Part Last 

Dopeness in NY: The Ramblings of S.Ellis, the writer. by Stacy Ellis
Fave Five?
The Rain Has Never Been A Friend

II. Top Five Favorite Posts

A Dedication PostWhat I love about this post? I wrote this entire thing in my head on the day of Dr. Maya Angelou's transcendence. I had nothing to jot the thoughts down on but the moment I got home, the words spilled out like water in a matter of minutes. That's the power of influence someone has on your life.

A Birthday PostWhat I love about this post? I struggled the most with this post, taking 5 days to write but it came out exactly how I wanted it to, summarizing a beautiful 26th year of life.

A Real PostWhat I love about this post? Misogyny and feminism on Twitter triggered the words behind this post. I didn't want to sugarcoat any of my emotions and this is probably one of the most honest pieces I ever wrote.

A Lesson Learned PostWhat I love about this post? Twenty things I learned as a twenty-something on Twenties Unscripted. This gets me excited for my 30 Lessons in Your 30's Post.

A Recap PostWhat I love about this post? I'm all for progression and moving forward but sometimes we need little reminders of what once was, who we were before and past lessons to remind us to be grateful for growth, even if it does seem like a scary thing.

III. Top Five Lessons Learned in Five Years 

You Aren't In This Alone
No one sits down with you as you relive the experiences, holds your hand as your type your stories or pats your back when you hesitate hitting Publish, but for every comment that makes its way onto your blog that contains the words helpedencouraged, pushed me or me too, it gives me comfort and reassurance that in this big ol' world we live in, someone else has run the same race – and won. It's the difficult posts that give way to those emails that make me cry and keep me writing. Someone's words once saved me and in five years, there have been people who have told me that the post with fifty-something views and zero comments, saved theirs.

Black Women Do Look Out For One Another
We get called a lot of things but supportive isn't one you'd find in the top five. In the blogging world however, I've found a community, a sisterhood more so, of women who are for building up one another instead of breaking down. Regardless of where we're at with our respective platforms, I have yet to come across a woman who acts superior on or offline as a writer compared to her counterpart. We're in this together and we're appreciative of any and every kind of support we get.

In A Fraudulent World, It's Still Important To Tell The Truth
I see it so much now – everyone is a life coach, relationship expert, knows the "real deal behind turning your blog into a business"... with no credibility. Sorry, not sorry. When it comes to blogging, there are a plethora of folks who reach a certain number of subscribers and feel as if they know it all and they give themselves these titles and stamps of approval with zero credentials. As a writer and a reader, I know that there are people, myself included, who read your work and hope that what they're reading is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help your reputation if you're caught out there being a fraud. Today, social media is #1 for exposing people and one thing I vowed to myself is to be real by being me. The connections I've made as a blogger have come from the side-eye worthy and oh-no-she-didn't-type posts and as uncomfortable as it can be exposing most of my life to the world, what comes easy is knowing that what I'm sharing is honesty. 

Don't Underestimate Your Reach
Blogging gives you an audience bigger than what some of us can even imagine. My first event on August 9th, What Binds Us Together: Blogs x Bottomless Brunch sold out in tickets in exactly one hour and thirty minutes. Did it surprise the hell out of me? Absolutely. When I started blogging, I wrote, if not everyday, every other day, and my average views per week were at a 10. Yes, ten. When you see other up and coming bloggers make their way onto the scene with immaculate looking sites and you see that they have a ton of comments on just one post alone, you feel discouraged. People make it look so easy and all my hard work into growing a blog weren't producing any fruits of my labor. So what did I do? I copied and pasted someone else's talent and craft in efforts to get my blog where I felt it should've been. And that didn't go well or feel right, but when I put #4 into play, what I wanted came; more comments on posts, more emails in my inbox, more followers on Twitter, more people to connect with. There were people reading all along but never reached out until they could read something relatable. People are reading, which is good, but people want to relate which is even better.

Shut The Fear Up & Be Proud Of Yourself
We don't toot our own horn enough – for fear that we'll be labeled arrogant, that someone else is better or we don't deserve it, but over the years as I wrote down my successes and my struggles (more of the latter than the former) I've actually grown to appreciate and love myself more. I had the guts to do what people were fearful of yet I was revered for it, so I shed the layers, documenting my life for the world to see as I started to see myself. Blogging turned into this journey of self-discovery. Sometimes as I wrote, I'd fall into a trance behind the computer screen. I'd go back days, even weeks later, and read what I wrote and go, Girl, whet? Get it! I'd amaze myself and I think the older we get, the more we should practice patting ourselves on our backs for overcoming our experiences and having the balls to share them.

IV. Five Goals for the Next Five Years

All Events Everything. Who doesn't love a good networking event where you can exchange business cards and blog (horror) stories over drinks? It's time I meet the faces behind the support and have the readers meet one another.

Continue to Push the Envelope. More a-ha moments, more stories to share.

Let's Get This Bread. I'm down with Team Humble Beginnings, writing for sites for free but when your network grows, so does your net worth. 

Write It Till Your Fingers Fall Off. Going over my blog, I notice a ton of gaps where there should have been posts, so from here on out, I plan on writing more. As much as I go off on Twitter, I see a ton of rants that can be potential blog posts. 

Feature Some of My Fellow Bloggers. One of the hardest things as an up and coming blogger, is reaching out and gaining the support of your peers; the introvert in you prevents you from pushing a little harder, the fear of rejection stops you from asking people to simply read your work. I know – that was once me. As the blog roll continues to grow, starting in the fall, I plan on featuring some of my Blogger-Boos to contribute and/or spotlight. 

VFive Surprises

Gift Bag Giveaway! Weren't able to snag a ticket for What Binds Us Together? I'm giving away one gift bag to one lucky lady who couldn't make it. For a chance to win, all you need to do is share with me five of your favorite blogs (& why), life lessons or goals for the next five years in the comment section. The winner will be chosen Friday, July 25, 2014 at 11:59p.m.

I'm Writing A Book! I've started writing my first book late last year. I've decided to take the leap and just do it. I'm struggling on the decision to make it a fictional piece or a memoir but it revolves around the cycle of domestic violence in African-American families and how it affects the people that matter most – children.

Twitter Chats! I hosted my first chat last Monday with Kimberly Luxe of From A Wildflower called #wildlE (pronounced Wildly) and it was absolutely amazing (follow-up posts on Q&As soon)! Because of the great feedback, Kim and I thought that Twitter chats should be a monthly thing, so we're cooking up something great that you should stay tuned for!

I'm Submitting A Super Personal Piece. Any xoJane fans? I love xo's It Happened To Me posts and in my 2013 piece, I mentioned my father. Well, surprise, surprise, I think I found him last year after twenty-six years. The internet... what a scary, scary place.

The Presence Posts. Is it real? Is it fake? The answer is, it's half & half. Now the mystery lies in which parts are fictitious and which actually happened. Maybe I'll write about it, maybe I won't, but what I will say is, sometimes we write about things before they actually happen. Be careful what you wish for. Be careful what you write...

Thank you to all of you who read this evolving blog of mine. Happy Birthday to my baby & cheers to another five years of highs and lows, beautiful moments and blows, the posts that may not be safe for work and maybe even your soul. 

Biggest thanks to Kimani Fisher of V for Vadge/SneakerFreaker for being there since 2009

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This Was Needed...

When I wrote Presence last year, I had just finished crying under a dimly lit lamp in my living room, swaying back and forth in a swivel chair with an empty wine bottle between my legs. I wanted to be hugged, feel loved, and more importantly, understand what the hell was going on in my life. Blood on the Leaves got me through the hours I spent alone in my house and I drunkenly sang out We Could've Been Somebody until I couldn't tell the difference between the taste of my tears and the Merlot. In all of my intoxicated slumber, I'll never forget two of my closest girlfriends coming over to help me through a really rough time for me and my family and my best friend asking me,

Do you regret any of itForgiving? Staying?

She thought I had looked at her like she was stupid. If I were looking at myself from the outside, I would've thought I was about to fall off of the chair any minute from a wine-overdose but what happened was, I had my moment of clarity and I stunned myself. Thank God for wine sometimes; it doesn't cloud my judgement, but rather improves it. 

No. This needed to happen.

I surprised my girlfriends and when the words flew out of my mouth, I fell back into the chair and felt a calm come over me. It's as if someone else inside of me, took over and spoke what I've been yearning to utter for so long but couldn't fathom myself saying. That ever happen to you? 

You get to a place where you're tired of fighting, making excuses, giving yourself and others chance after chance to get it together and get it right. When you're tired, and I mean, really, really tired, you sort of just throw your hands up and give in. But something interesting happened that night; I had one more excuse to use before exhaustion and that voice inside of me negated it. It's as if it told me, you're excuses have gotten you so waist-deep in your situation, that you don't get to have control anymore.

What you're running from, needs to hit you head on right now. What you're ducking and dodging and fighting and praying will be prevented, doesn't matter anymore. This needs to happen. You will deal with this because you need this.

And I broke it down, in bits and pieces to the two women that watched me grow up and what they witnessed was a moment of metamorphosis. It felt like it happened instantly but what I didn't know was, everything traumatic and earth-shattering that occurred, the things that I tried my hardest to avoid, was to get me to that point. Life smacked the shit out of me and took back the wheel I had no business steering from the get-go. Having total control of my life was like a joy ride – it was fun while it lasted. But now I see how much more relaxing, how much more I can see and take in, from the back seat. I let the Universe have its way which was the scariest thing and the most courageous thing I could do.

So here we are, a new year and some months later, and one of the two girlfriends is at my house in the same dilemma I was once in. She weighed all her options and ask for my opinion. While I referred to her an old post, I did tell her that she needed to let it go – not her man or her trust issues, but desire for control. She was in her predicament because it was time for her to be in it. When you do dirt, you get dirt. When you do good, life will still give you dirt to frolic and plant yourself in in order to grow. 

He left you so you could learn to love you. There's no love like self-love.
You lost that job because there's something better lined up. Some place where you'll actually be happy.
You got pregnant because you needed to learn responsibility. I'm checking myself here.
She lost her place so she could learn how to hustle for something bigger. Lose something to gain more.
You saw something you didn't want to because life was tired of you acting blind. Ray Charles to the bullshit? No girl, stay woke.
You overheard words you wish you hadn't because you kept turning a deaf ear to what your grandmama & 'em been telling you. You either heed to the signs or get humbled.

So I told her flat out, what I told her (and myself) in the fall of 2013: Girl, this shit needed to happen. Stop fighting the inevitable.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

There's A First Time For Everything – What Binds Us Together: Blogs x Bottomless Brunch


To celebrate my fifth year as a blogger (where does the time go?!), I'm inviting all women who have made an impact and influenced me along the years. This event not only serves as a thank you on my behalf, but also allows other women who both blog and love brunch to network amongst one another. 

Limited spots available. Can't wait to see you there...


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sacrifices v. Selfishness

My horoscope Monday morning:

Social & business invitations could come your way. Know your priorities when you choose what to accept. Your life can change dramatically from a creative opportunity (via Daily News).

Associates cheer for you. Hold yourself to high standards. Invest in your home & family by pushing your professional envelope (via amNY).

I remember when the feeling of guilt was brought to life. The six weeks of maternity leave came and went and before I knew it, I had to return to life as a sales associate at Gap. Rob was unemployed and I had to put in twice as much work in order to keep the rent paid, the lights, cell phones and cable on, all on retail pay (which is equivalent to $9.75 and then $11/hour). I once wrote about how I missed some major milestones in my children's lives and how depressed it made me. I did what I had to do in order to provide for my family but I felt like less of a mother because my boys were "supposed" to say mama first or they would have a certain happiness that lived in their eyes when they looked at their father in comparison to me. I was doing the right thing, but I felt wrong. Guilt trips will weigh you down and pity parties are the types of functions I never want to be invited to again.

I remember the moment I was called selfish. I grew tired of being the crutch for someone else, yet couldn't support myself. I grew accustomed to spoon-feeding everyone around me with positive sentiments and pats on the back but my own soul grew hungry and I felt malnourished spiritually. The guilt kicked in again and I tried so hard to keep the Reliable Friend medallion but when doing so much for others began to feel like an obligation and a burden, I had to redirect my focus and shift my energy into myself, the person I have to see and deal with everyday. I gave the gold medals back in order to give myself some gold stars. The backlash of loving myself was mistaken for "acting Hollywood and stush" but I mean, I guess. I started sleeping better at night so...

I remember the moment I really fell in love with the idea of blogging and although my work schedule was more fixed and provided consistency, my innate ability to keep myself moving and productive remained. I had more hours at home but my face was glued to a screen, typing away the thoughts in my head. My children got used to it and certain nights, like all this week, Rob will just fork over his computer and allow me to do my thing. He knows that I believe something good will come out of all of this and well, he's grown to be a very supportive person who started believing too.

When I told him two weeks ago I had two blog functions to attend this past weekend, he cleared his schedule to make sure I was able to accomplish what it is I wanted to do. Friday night I went to my first Mommy blogger event hosted by MyMommyVents and the next day, woke up at 5a.m. to volunteer my time at the annual Blogging While Brown conference until 4p.m. Physically I was tired, but spiritually, I was energized and ready to tackle more, as a blogger/writer, as a mother and as a woman. The coordinators and founder of Blogging While Brown, Gina McCauley, allowed the volunteers to peek in for some sessions so when I received word that one of the co-founders of BlogHer was a speaker for the afternoon, I jumped on board and read something that'll always stay with me:

Elisa Camahort's last question reminds me of the importance of work. Most people don't believe in giving their A-game anymore. The hype is in the bullshit and the praise in the mediocre, so people aren't willing to put in extra effort and go just a smidgen harder than the rest. All of the events I attend for hours on end and all of the work I do is not selfish, it's just a sacrifice I have to make. Surrendering the things I want for the sake that something better will come isn't just for me, it's for my family, the ones who let me delve on a computer once or twice (maybe even three times) a week for hours on end without interruption because they know that "Mommy loves what she does."

When you receive that kind of support, it isn't selfish behavior, because see, if I eat, we all eat.

Put in the work and don't allow anyone to make you feel bad about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Rules We Break. The Rules We Create.

I'll tell you what I don't believe in, can I do that?
Alright, I don't believe in the laws, or the system by any means, whatsoever.
I try not to obey them at any time
That's what I believe in; not believing in...

As a child, I felt overwhelmed by the household rules set before me:
  • — Don't ever leave the block for any reason and in the event that you do, your ass better be inside before the street lights come on.
  • — Don't ask to go anywhere if chores (including homework) aren't done. There's no such thing as "waiting 'till later" (which I'm a fan of now as an adult).
  • — Anything less than a B in school is unacceptable (even though a 55 was considered passing on NYS Regents exams dammit).
  • — Tight fitting clothes are prohibited if you have protruding hips and growing breasts (hey, thanks a lot puberty).
As an adult, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the rules of life some of which include:
  • — Getting to work on time or prepare to get fired. Bosses don't care how hungover you are, how much fun your weekend was, what little sleep you got and how early you had to get up.
  • — Paying bills on time or be ready to dish out more money that what's owed. Companies don't like excuses but they do like slapping you with late fees and extra charges (oh, hello student loans).
  • —Shortcuts aren't always the best option. Sometimes you got to put in work  (I really thought the whole, 'skim through a textbook and actually pass an exam' could apply to the grown-up life. Uhh, no).
As a blogger, there are a shitload of rules that one must follow in order to succeed – whatever that means:
  • — Being consistent and posting often (hi children who won't let me finish a blog post that ends up a) getting pushed back until next week or b) never getting finished at all).
  • — Finding your voice.
  • — Posts should be a minimum of 500 words and a maximum, 1,000 (shame on all of you ranters who have too much to say in a world where too much is going on and you must limit yourself).

Compared to a lot of my friends, I've always been afraid to break the rules but the older I get and the more I see how things are set up, I'm down to not following them. I feel… restricted, confined. I know why we have rules and I know the consequences of not obeying them, but I also know what it's like to feel like a failure because everyone else and their momma is doing X, Y, and Z and I'm still on A, B, and C. We've grown so used to doing this a type of way and living like that a certain way due to rules, that we don't know what it's like to just break free of the pots we've grown in to see if maybe, just maybe, there's a different way – to succeed, to live, to love, to be.

I got older and saw, I needed a bigger pot. My roots – the things my family taught me – outgrew the pot I was planted in. I needed to leave home, stay out when the sun went down and the street lights came on. I needed to wander down the block, outside the safety of my neighborhood and see the world for myself. I had to fall on my face and pick myself up without a mommy there to hold my hand and tell me it'll be okay because really, life will do that to you. It'll knock you on your knees and no one will be there to save you, kiss your boo-boo, and give you a band-aid. Those are the things someone should have told me about. These unwritten rules are what really matters.

Someone should've advised me that you'll eventually have to make your own rules to live by, draft up and follow your own playbook because the one the world provides for you, ain't made for everyone. The rebels and the revolutionists? Those are the people I admire and applaud, who get my stamp of approval, who I want to be.

Well-behaved women seldom make history, remember?

(So what keeps you alive?)
Four big bottles of water a day, two packs of Marlboro Reds and
uh, what keeps me alive? Shit, um...
Music, I have to listen to music all day long.
I say that keeps me going.
I'm a pretty dark person. I've thought about ending it a million times
and I have to say that music keeps me here, by far, the main thing...

And me? Well, the three people that happen to live with me and at least two bottles of wine a week. I used to be a pretty dark person, who also thought about ending it plenty of times but it's without a doubt, that writing – and living my life on my terms – has kept me here to even see today.

Your life, your rules. Write yours, live by it, scream fuck the world; there's the recipe to success.

Lyrics by Dash Snow on Kendrick Lamar's intro to The Heart - Part 2 on one of my favorite mixtapes, Overly Dedicated.

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