The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Our book club has always been a great group of girls. Our newest member, Kim, is proving to be a wonderful addition. She came in at the perfect time. We’d just finished a full rotation of each existing member choosing a book. When Kim chose The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead for us to read, I knew in that moment that she’d fit right in.  

I am of the belief that everyone should diversify their reading with stories of other times and other cultures. Kim really brought this to the table.

The Underground Railroad was a hard read for me. Being of an empathic nature, the treatment of slaves described in the book really got to me. I’d read for a while and have to put down the book to cry a bit.

The book is based from different point of views. The main ones are of a slave named Cora, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, and a slave named Caesar. There are others throughout the book that feed the storyline and give better understanding to the inner workings of the characters. Cora was born a slave. Her mother and grandmother were slaves on the Randal plantation. The Randal brothers are a hateful duo. The most despicable brother takes over the plantation with all slaves included at his brother’s death. He makes an example of the slaves, subjecting them to horrifying methods of torture. To make matters worse, if a friend or family member of the tortured slave shows any sort of emotion, they are beaten along with their loved one. All members of our club agreed that this was how a slave owner would discourage relationships among slaves so that they would not band together and/or plot runaway attempts.

We discussed how the slaves in the book almost had a social hierarchy among them. There was social standing as well as survival of the fittest. The weakest links were sent to live in their own house called the Hob.

When Cora witnesses an especially vicious beating of a slave, she decides she’s had enough. Caesar had come to her before and asked her to leave with him. At the time, it seemed ludicrous. However, the more she mulls it over, the more sense it makes. When she was a child, Cora’s mother escaped the plantation and was the only slave so far to successfully to do so.

As Cora and Caesar make their escape, another slave named Lovey tags along. A series of unfortunate events leads to Lovey being taken and an even bigger man hunt gets underway for the escapees.

Cora and Caesar make it to South Carolina using The Underground Railroad. This brings a bit of the fantastical to the book in that the railroad is an actual railroad that moves through tunnels from location to location.  

Under assumed identities, they are allowed to learn and hold jobs. While everything seems to be going great, an unseen storm is brewing on the horizon.

In a turn of events, Cora has to flee and is unsure about the fate of her friend Caesar. Just as she is unsure about the fate of Lovey and her mother.

Ridgeway is a slave catcher. The only slave thus far to ever evade him is Cora’s mother, Mabel. It has been his humiliation and what has kept him up at night. This makes him all the more determined to catch Cora and her running mate. He and his men catch up with Cora and have her in their grips when things shift from their favor. The author does a nice job of switching perspectives and seeing things, however wrong, from Ridgeway’s point of view.

This book is ripe with nail biting scenarios. You find yourself rooting for Cora and hoping that her life has some semblance of happiness. Her story and the supporting stories in the book are some that everyone in our book club agreed will stick with you. It is a raw, honest view of slavery and what those in that time period lived with.

Learning the fates of Mabel, Caesar, and Lovey bring suspence and some closure to the book while others leave your heart in turmoil.

It is a great group of stories that intertwine  to make up a powerful book. History books tell us about the evils of slavery and the horrors endured by those who lived it. Seeing it from the perspective of a slave leaves necessary wounds on your heart and helps tie what African Americans have dealt with in their ongoing quest for equality. The Underground Railroad makes you think, makes you feel, and while not to be undertaken lightly, is an important read. 

Quotes:

Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood.

The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others.

The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.


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Surviving Thanksgiving

Social media is ripe with posts about being thankful and lists of what people are thankful for. That’s what I love about the holidays. People are thankful, talk about their blessings, and are charitable. We need to act like it’s the holidays all the time. Not that anyone asked me for my opinion, but there she is.

I spent the whole week before Thanksgiving preparing to host a Thanksgiving meal at my house for the first time ever. For the first time ever in my 31 years, I cooked a full sized turkey breast and ham. I got no negative reviews on those, at least in ear shot. I’m calling that a win. Just because I don’t get those that often.

I handled the stress fairly well I think. Tony intended to make the dressing and help with the other cooking/setting up. However, he decided to move a refrigerator on his own and so afterward, he could not move himself. He was down during the duration of the holiday, but after having a minor freak out, I persevered. I also made dressing for the first time. Tony has always done it for us. Let me just say that six years experience working in a restaurant came in handy. At the end of the day, I made a ham, turkey, two pans of dressing, a green bean casserole, hand rolled dumplings, rotel dip, homemade french onion dip, butter beans, two pies, peach cobbler, fudge, and rolls. A friend asked me at the end of it all if I would ever attempt it again. I surprised us both when I said yes.

Overall, I enjoyed the cooking. Cooking things from scratch always reminds me of being in the kitchen and learning at the elbows of both my grandmothers and great grandmother. Although I was stressed out and tired, I enjoyed the cooking. I may have sent my mother in law to her room a time or two and banished her from the kitchen, but hey, memories, right?

The Thanksgiving feast at my house was on Black Friday. I wouldn’t dare ever leave my house on that day of all days. I ventured out once on that day with a friend. That day I witnessed Wal-Mart become full jungle mayhem the likes of which I’d only ever seen on the Discovery Channel. People played tug-of-war with marked down pillows and discounted towels. They ran through the aisles screaming prices at one another to alert a comrade of a deal.

My poor little antisocial heart beat erratically in my chest as watched droves of people run rampant through the aisles. Finally, after an hour in check out, we made it to the safety of the car. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and swore an oath that never again would I participate in such.

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I was overstimulated and sleep deprived. Those things can wreak havoc on a body.

All in all, I have to say that I’m a Thanksgiving survivor. I came. I conquered. I wore myself out. I gave reverence to the women I’ve known that have handled that meal of all meals and more. My grandmothers included. 

Resolutions 

My resolutions for 2017.

We’re drawing close to the end of the year, and I’ve been thinking about resolutions and what 2018 holds in store. I’m bracing for the worst and hoping for the best on that front. 

Thanksgiving made me think of what I’ve accomplished this year. I remembered that at the beginning of 2017, I made a list of resolutions that were reasonable and within reach. A teacher once told me that accomplishing a list of small goals can lead to fulfilling big goals. Good advice, I think. 

So, did I accomplish my goal list? 

Well, I started a blog. I did write more. I did write more for myself. I do write almost everyday; even if it’s just scribbling a note of something I like, writing down a plot idea, or a blog thought. I’ve found that several intended blog posts have been stashed in my back pocket. After writing them and reading over them, they felt too personal. I felt like I wasn’t quite ready to share those. However, I hope they will find themselves here eventually. 

I did read more. I joined a book club, and that helped. It’s been a wonderful experience and has helped to diversify my reading. Along with meeting all my book buddies and getting their varying opinions on books, I’ve broadened my social life. 

Make more time for the things I enjoy. That one is tricky. I suppose since my favorite things are reading and writing, I achieved that one as well. 

Be a better me. I feel like the last few years have really helped develope who I am as a person. I’m finding more of where I fit into the world and the impact I want to make on it. With the blog, I’m finding my voice, so to speak. My opinions are more easily shared, and I find I’m more outspoken.

I’ve done many things I’m proud of this year. I do yoga. I’m in a book club. I have a blog. I did a big Thanksgiving meal mostly on my own. I’ve learned a lot. Most importantly, I’ve held it together. 

Here’s to hoping next year brings more firsts, more accomplishments, and more joy.

What accomplishments are you proud of from 2017? What are the goals you most want to meet? I’d like to know.  ☺

Loving A Victim of Abuse

I’m definitely not easy to live with, and I’m the first to say so.

Things happen in life that we have no control over, especially when we are young.

There are many variations on abuse, but the survivors all need love and all need people to be understanding about their situation. Loving someone who is a survivor of abuse can be a challenge. I’m going to give you a few guidelines.


Support them.

They have had their worth, privacy, safety, innocence, and confidence stolen from them. Understand that their mind, heart, and emotions are fragile and will be for a long time.


Don’t push for details.

What happened to me happened sixteen years ago. Still, I haven’t told the whole story. If the victim wants to talk about it, let them talk, but if you aren’t law enforcement, don’t push for details. This can cause more harm than good.


Let them not be “over it.”

Abuse is a lingering thing. I still flinch from my husband sometimes even though he would never hurt me. The body and mind remember things. A touch, a sound, a scent, and everything rushes back.


If they need to vent, let them.

Sometimes a survivor needs to vent and cry it out. Let them. If they need to scream, yell, kick. Let them. They’ll be better for it. They have a right to be angry. They have been violated.


If they need to be alone and need space, understand.

THIS. This is the most important. The best healing for me has been to be alone, to write it out, to be in peace. If a survivor needs this, understand. Leave them be. Sometimes silence and room to breathe are all a person needs. Let them have distance for as long as they need.


For someone who has not lived it, parts of living as a survivor of abuse can be hard to fathom. If you have no idea, say so, and ask what you can do. If the survivor says nothing, believe them, and let it be.

I have so much respect for my husband. Taking me on is no easy endeavor. I’m probably the most insecure person I know. There have been so many lasting memories and triggers that I still find new ones to this day. 

Belief is the biggest thing you can do to love a survivor in your life. In the midst of all the pain they feel, feeling like no one believes them is one of the worst things that can happen. Their circumstances are horrible enough without feeling like their situation doesn’t matter. Loving a survivor means supporting them, loving them, and believing them. 

Words

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Words are easily my favorite thing. They make up all my other favorite things: books, stories, and poetry. They seem to be the fastest way to my heart. Words can make something from nothing. Empires have been built on words.

Laws are created with words.

Love has bloomed from words.

Wars have been started over words.

They are used to motivate, to militarize, to organize, and to separate.

I hear people say all the time, “They’re just words.” I’m living proof that some of the most painful injuries can be caused by words.

Life is described by words.

I’ve read articles and stories of the blind and how they are better able to perceive the world because of being able to read braille.

The deaf are able to learn where they have not been able before. The animated teacher’s mouth movements can make sense when they are transcribed. Words are made into motion as someone translates speech to ASL.

I use words in everything. I use them to explain, to understand, to evoke, to heal.

Words make up the sonnet, the manifesto, the suicide note, and the battlecry.

Emotions and worlds come to life as words pass the lips or spill across the page. They are a confession of love, an apology, a last chance, a request, and sometimes, the last memory people have of us after we’re gone.

Whether in ink, by mouth, on a screen, or locked away and confined to your heart, words are my most favorite thing. 

#MeToo

Please be advised that the following blog post contains sensitive subject matter and may be a trigger for those who live with present and past experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.

 

Social media has been filled lately with the #MeToo stories of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault. The recent attention to the subject has been desperately needed for change. I personally have shared my story(ies) with close friends and family. This has been about as far as it as gone. I’ve seen/heard of too many of my friends and others in my life who have gone through these type situations themselves. This is an issue for both men and women. A person’s gender does not determine whether or not one can help educate, change, and prevent future instances of abuse..

While this has been in the media, I have seen my fair share of people saying things like how someone dresses or their level of intoxication is just asking for an unwanted sexual situation. I can’t explain the feelings that come over me when I read or hear of someone saying it’s deserved or asked for. First, anger, obviously. Who in their right mind would ever believe that someone would wear something with the intent of getting assaulted? This is absolutely insane. Also, I should be able to expect other people to control their primal urges no matter how I’m dressed.

Secondly, I feel a deep sadness that people actually blame the victim. They point fingers at someone who has experienced what is potentially the worst thing that’s ever happened to them.

And third, I feel a fear for every person that I care about and even those I don’t know that they may experience what I myself have.

I’ve had several experiences with harassment and abuse throughout my life. I can remember the boy in middle school who made unwanted advances. I can recall the boyfriend who thought I needed a “push” to be ready for the same things he was, but the cake topper was my step father.

He was ex law enforcement, well thought of, and popular.

I realize now that I should have seen earlier signs. There were snide inappropriate comments and smacks to my backside when it began. While this was uncomfortable, I, in my fourteen year old mind, thought it was as far as it would go. Oh, how wrong I was.

My life changed drastically. Every man I met became a potential predator. I didn’t want anyone to touch me. My view of myself changed. I disgusted myself. I was damaged with no self worth, and I felt like everyone could see it. For the past sixteen years, I haven’t felt comfortable around people. I had to admit to my sweet boyfriend (now husband) what was happening to me after he witnessed it first hand. Had he not caught my step father in the act, I may never have spoken up. Tony cornered me in my room and demanded to know how long I’d been enduring the abuse. His brown eyes were a mix of sorrow and anger. He told me that if I did not speak up, that he would. My relationship with him has been changed. He’s been so tender and understanding about the lingering issues that I’ll probably have for the rest of my life. My heart has been hardened because of what happened to me. If sharing my story will prevent it from happening to just one person, it is worth putting my private experience out there.

Please, if you feel like someone might be making inappropriate advances toward you, no matter how insignificant it may seem, tell someone.

 

Fourteen

Fourteen years have gone by since Tony and I made vows to one another. People seem to forget the importance of those vows these days.

“I, bride, take you groom, to be my spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

So far, we’ve done a pretty good job of upholding them. We’ve had more worse, poorer, and sickness than we’ve had better, richer, or health, but when you have and hold and love and cherish, the rest seems to fall into place.

We clash and argue. We get mad at each other a lot. The wonderful thing about it is that we’re rarely mad at one another for more than a few minutes. Then one of us has something funny to tell the other, and then we have to make up so we can laugh.

Tony and I have known each other all our lives. We drifted through childhood only seeing each other a scarce few times, and then, fate intervened in December 2000. I was standing by brother, A.J., helping him catch candy at the Christmas Parade.

Mama called out to me and asked if I knew the boy and lady standing next to her.

I said, “No.” And turned back to A.J. Tony ended up walking down Main Street with me that night. While I was looking for a friend, he was covertly looking at me. He told me later than when he set eyes on me that night, he knew I was it for him.

I wish it had been that easy for me. For the next eleven months, he called me most days. We’d talk for hours about anything and everything under the sun. He did hard time in the friend zone for months.

During this time, I thought he was dating. I thought surely there was no way that he was single. I didn’t realize he was waiting for me.

One night in November 2001, he finally told me his big secret. We came out of that night a couple. A month later, he said he knew he was going to marry me.

Fourteen years ago, he did just that. We recited our vows, and as we leaned in to kiss, he had a nosebleed. Since then, he’s been my rock. No matter what, he’s in my corner. He accepts my shortcomings. He knows my weird quirks. He loves me anyway.

We have never been a traditional couple. We’ve never really been a modern couple. We have odd ways of working things out and so far, that’s worked for us. I told him before he married me that I did not believe in divorce. He just smiled and said, “Good because we’re not getting one.” So far, he’s been right.

Yoga 

Sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, Eden reminds us to keep our spines straight. Sitting up tall, mindful of my breath, I know everything will soon be right in my world.

We move to standing. Here in mountain pose, we root our feet, push the crowns of our heads further toward the sky, roll back our shoulders with our arms straight at our sides. Soft, relaxing music is playing in the background as we begin our sun salutation. I can hear everyone’s breathing, the music, and gentle reminders from Eden to do things like square your hips or tuck your elbows closer to your body.

The movement is what my body needs; what it’s been craving. As I fold, shift, release, muscles that haven’t been used for some time find motion and stretch. As we progress through poses and postures, my mind clears and becomes free. The only thing on it is the movement and keeping balance. The world goes away. All that matters in those moments are my body, mind, and fellow yogis.

Eden is our teacher, our instructor, and our inspiration. She can do some pretty amazing things with her body. There have been times over the past few months where she’s told me how to do something and shown me how to do it, and I thought that she was crazy. I knew my body would never do that. I’m overweight, have little flexibility, and minimal strength. However, Eden walks us through. With her faith in us and her guiding instruction, I am able to do what she says I can.

After her proving to me that my body is capable of doing what my mind tells it to, I feel a confidence I haven’t felt in a long time. After being sick and everything else I’ve been through in recent years, I feel like I have some semblance of control over my body.

When I attended class for the first time and did a forward fold, my fingertips did not meet my toes. Now, four months later, on a good day, all fingers touch the floor. My progress makes me smile.

Eden walks us through more poses urging us to lift, tilt, or reach. She praises us, corrects our posture. I try to feel how my body reacts as we switch from pose to pose. I’m not as flexible as my fellow yogis, but I am pretty good with balance.

With a smile, Eden walks us through a cool down. She speaks softly as we prepare for savasana. Becoming limp and relaxed to rest, we lie back with closed eyes and feel how our breath moves through our body. The world is tuned out, and we tune in to ourselves. It amazes me how sometimes this feels better than a full night’s sleep. Like all good things, savasana has to come to an end.

I’ve heard people talk about an exercise buzz or runner’s high. I’d never experienced anything like that until the first time I experienced savasana. It’s a lovely feeling.

I’ve practised yoga in the past on my own. There is a completely different experience to be had with a good teacher and a class that encourages each other. I leave class feeling accomplished and more comfortable with my body.  

5 Things I’d Tell Myself 10 Years Ago

Saturday I turned thirty one. Thirty one is an unremarkable age. It’s not an important one like twenty one or eighteen or sixteen. People look forward to those. It’s not awful either. It’s not like thirty. People seem to think their life is over at thirty. Thirty really didn’t shake me.

At twenty one, I’d just lost my twins. Everything shifted. My life has not been the same.

I was at war with myself over my identity. I was pushing myself to be like other people and not who I wanted to be.

Tony and I made a pact that at twenty one, we’d go to the casino together just to say we’d been. We didn’t go. We discussed it later, but still ten years have passed and we still have not been.

If I could go back and talk to my twenty one year old self knowing what I know now, I would enlighten myself on many things.

  1. Read and write. A lot. Stop wasting your time on things that do not matter. I know it’s hard right now, but writing will heal you. This is what you need to do for you. I know you think you are writing, but it’s not nearly enough.You’ve got better stuff in you. You’re neglecting your reading. Diversify your reading.The library is free and within walking distance. No excuses.
  2. Go see a doctor. You and Tony both have things you need to nip in the bud. Also, I know you work at a fish house, but eat healthier. More veggies. Exercise.
  3. You have several toxic people in your life. Weed them out. You know who they are. Pay close attention to how they treat you. Don’t stand for that. You’ll be better for it.
  4. Think for yourself. Some of the opinions you have right now aren’t your own but those of other people and things that have been drilled into you. Read. It’ll help with the opinions. You owe it to yourself to decide for yourself.
  5. Go back to school. You’ll do this later. It’ll be great, but now is the perfect time. While working nights, your days are free. You’ll appreciate the accomplishment.

I could actually write a detailed book for my past self about traveling from then to now, but I suppose all those things helped me get to where I am now. I have nice, tight group of friends. I do regular yoga classes and am a member of a book club. I am still happily in a marriage that many people said would never last. I have a job I enjoy with people who appreciate me. I am at a place where I’m not wondering who I am supposed to be. I’m pretty happy with my world right now. Thirty one is looking good.

September

September is my second favorite month. It is second only to October. We are over halfway done with 2017. I’m not complaining. 2017 is trying too hard to be like 2016, and we all know what a wreck that was. Fall, my favorite time of the year, is just around the corner… somewhere else. For Mississippi, it’s more like fall is no longer than a week, usually in November.

Summer is considered over, but we still have temperatures in the 90s until October.

Kids are going back to school, football is beginning, and we’ll be bombarded with pumpkin spice every-frickin’-thing. Places like Wal-Mart will get a jump on Christmas, and make the garden center a winter wonderland. This drives my husband crazy. He shakes his head and in his most frustrated tone says, “What about fall? It’s just pushed aside for Christmas because that’s what businesses make the most money off of.” He’s a grumpy old man at heart.

September feels like new beginnings to me. Maybe it’s the subtle shift in the air or just a new school year.

I stepped outside of my house this morning to a crisp, cool breeze. It felt like autumn. Although I’m not naive enough to think it will last, I fully intend to enjoy the current cool snap. Fall is the most wonderful time of the year for me. The leaves are falling and plants begin to die, but as for me, I’ve never felt more alive than in the fall of the year.

This time of year always makes me think of my favorite things. Things like books, fresh coffee, cinnamon, fuzzy socks, and crisp autumn apples. I want to be outside. Doing yoga. Walking. Doing anything really. I get excited about all the colors and caramel apples and spiced tea. The world seems right during the fall. If sunset were a season, this would be it. My candles go from coconut for summer to things like apple cider or cinnamon bun.

I can’t wait for the smell of burning leaves that drift over the neighborhoods. I am ready for my best friend’s tradition of carving pumpkins every year. Cool, clear nights with skies full of stars are what I’m most looking forward to. I’m ready for a harvest moon hanging low in the sky.

September is the gateway to the best of the year.