Something Every Relationship Needs


relationship needs: happy couple embracingMost of your experience on earth as a human is defined by your relationships.

By “relationship” I mean any interaction that you have on a regular basis, not just with the person you’re romantically involved with. You have relationships with the people you work with, the people you receive services from or give services to (like doctors or hairstylists), and a myriad of other people you come in contact with every day.

So it’s in everyone’s best interest to learn more about how to have better relationships. It’s a broad topic with many complex facets, but one quality that affects many of those important facets is courage.

In fact, the lack of courage is the reason many people are unfulfilled in their relationships. With courage, relationships can flourish.

Building your courage can improve your relationships in five important ways. The first three ways are based on categories from David D. Burns’s Relationship Satisfaction Scale. The last two are based on personal experience, observations, and readings.

You may have heard every bit of advice under the sun, yet your relationships are still struggling because you lack the courage to implement the advice. So, let’s look more closely at the role that courage plays in relationships.

Communication and Openness

Faking it is not making it. Healthy relationships require authenticity. In this area, courage first allows you to be your true self, which should be the case from the very beginning.

If you’re pretending to be something or someone you’re not when you meet people, the rest of the relationship is founded on a lie.

The doomed liar has been a classic trope in stories for as far back as our collective memory goes: the guy who pretends he’s read thousands of books just so his smart classmate will like them, or the girl who wears high heels and makeup because she thinks it’ll make her popular.

Courage will also allow you to express yourself honestly. You’ll be able to say what’s on your mind, voice your opinions, state your needs and desires, and convey your emotions. That might sound a little scary at first, especially in new relationships, or ones with an imbalance of power, like boss―employee.

However, it’s a fear worth getting over, because lack of communication is one of the biggest problems in relationships, and it causes other problems to snowball.

Imagine going to a restaurant or salon and not telling them exactly what you want …

Conflicts and Arguments

It may seem counterintuitive, but courage is crucial in this area because it takes courage to acknowledge your faults, admit when you’re wrong, and apologize to the other party in the relationship for any wrong actions on your part.

There’s a stigma attached to being wrong or saying or doing the wrong thing. Society has taught us to feel ashamed, to feel less than others who “got it right.” So, the fear of being wrong is common, but you shouldn’t let that erode the quality of your relationships.

It takes courage to humble ourselves because society often labels the humble as weak, and no one wants to be considered weak. But anger, blind stubbornness, and a lack of empathy are not signs of strength. They are signs of someone who hasn’t developed the strength that it takes to be centered in who they are rather than how society views them.

Connection and Affection

Vulnerability. Without it, relationships are shallow and lonely. No one enters a relationship hoping to feel lonely, but when you’re afraid of being vulnerable, you miss out on the greatest gifts of relationships―connection and affection.

In relationships, people sometimes withhold affection to avoid vulnerability because they think it makes them weak. But as Brené Brown has said, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

The paradox is that the fear of showing your weaknesses makes you weak, while the courage to show your weaknesses makes you strong.

Though you don’t necessarily have to show affection to your doctor, lawyer, coworkers, clients, or classmates, connection is something worth striving for with every encounter we make. You’ll connect in varying degrees, of course, but even a knowing smile exchanged with a passing stranger can be meaningful.

If you’ve been feeling a bit lonely lately, do an assessment of how willing you’ve been to make deep connections and show affection.

Novelty and Change

The first reason you need the courage to embrace change is that things can get stale and boring when people aren’t willing to mix it up. You learn more about the other person when you engage them in various activities and in various settings. That cold and distant coworker might suddenly seem warm and friendly when you eat lunch away from the office, or meet for coffee on the weekend.

The second reason fear of change can destroy relationships is that the other person in a relationship is bound to change if you know them long enough. They will either change physically, or they will learn something new that changes their worldview, or they will have an experience that sets them on a new course in life.

You never really know what the change will be, when it’ll happen, where, or why, but we’re all going to change. So if you’re only interested in relationships that will stay exactly the same, you’re setting yourself up for heartache.

The End

In some cases, the most courageous thing to do is terminate the relationship.

Some people simply aren’t fit to be bosses, coworkers, parents, spouses, partners, friends, doctors, hairstylists, or lawyers, at least not yours, and it has nothing to do with you or your actions or your efforts to make the relationship work.

Although I said people will change, I must emphasize that you cannot make them change, and you cannot predict how they will change.

That means you should not stay in an abusive relationship on the hope that the person will stop degrading you, bullying you, intimidating you, stealing from you, hitting you, or manipulating you.

It’s easy to never go back to a restaurant that offers terrible customer service, or a doctor’s office that treats you like just an insignificant number, or a hairstylist that ignores what you say you want. But terminating more intimate relationships is infinitely more frightening. Thus, the well-calculated decision to do so is infinitely more courageous.

If you’re unsatisfied with one or more relationships, evaluate whether you can do something to help the problem. Do you need to communicate better? Should you accept the changes that have occurred in the other person? Is there a need for you to apologize or make some changes? Or should you simply walk away? Only you can decide after a time of courageous self-reflection.

The Courage to Speak


microphone for the courage to speak“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ―Jerry Seinfeld

The Shame in Speaking

We’ve all been in a classroom, workshop, or meeting when the leader asks a question and there’s dead silence from the audience. Perhaps you’ve been that student or employee who had a good response, maybe even the “right” one, yet you were afraid to speak, just like the rest of the trembling hands in the room.

Who can blame you? The shame that could ensue if you gave a “stupid” or “wrong” or “unconventional” answer is tough for anyone to handle, especially with an audience of peers.

I’ve definitely been that person several times in the past 28 years. Sometimes I’d speak, but I’d dilute my true opinions and feelings depending on the audience. SMH.

The Consequences of Speaking

Saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing in the wrong way, can cause us to lose our jobs, lose our friends, lose our family, lose our place in society . . .

We might be made fun of, laughed at, harshly criticized, investigated, imprisoned, or murdered.

There’s no doubt that what we say and how we say it has real, tangible, negative consequences in many cases.

I’m hosting a screening in New Orleans on June 19 of the new documentary Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. Davis became one of America’s most wanted, was imprisoned, and faced the death penalty because she had the courage (audacity) to speak. She’s one example among thousands throughout history and in present day society.

The Power of Speaking

Words are powerful. Language, speech, communication is powerful.

Most of us are taught how to be humble, kind, considerate, modest, respectful, obedient, and safe. But few of us are taught how to be powerful, how to embrace and wield our power to change our world. Instead, we’re taught how to maintain, or at the very least, not disturb the status quo.

Speaking is one of the most profound human fears because speaking itself is so profound and so powerful.

When others try to silence you, or stifle your speech, they’re trying to take away your power, most likely to maintain or increase their own.

The Tipping Point

And since many people struggle to speak (speak honestly) even when they’re directly asked, it’d seem like suicide to speak without the direct prompt of some authority figure. (Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to is a terrible thing to teach children.)

Why would anyone speak up without first being asked to?

Probably because they’re prompted by a situation rather than a direct address.

The stranger in the checkout line pays our grocery bill, and we’re prompted to say, “Thank you!”

We’re watching a movie, and a potential victim is about to get into the car with a serial killer, and we’re prompted to yell at the screen, “Don’t go with her! She’s the stiletto stabber!”

Another good example is the intriguing television show “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones where strangers often speak up when they see someone in a potentially unethical or dangerous situation, such as a man slipping something in his date’s drink.

Whether it’s someone with their zipper down or government sanctioned apartheid, we find the courage to say something when we believe the consequences for not speaking are worse than the consequences for speaking. It’s at that tipping point where we decide to act despite our fears―courage.

The Time I Spoke

Some things aren’t as scary to say as other things, right? The more controversial or personal the message, the more we hesitate to get it out.

There was a message I’d wanted to give for over twenty years. It was both highly controversial and deeply personal. If you’ve ever heard about colorism, then you might understand why.

I wrote two posts about colorism that explained my tipping point―why I hadn’t talked about colorism (the negative consequences for speaking), and why I decided to start (the negative consequences for not speaking).

It was the first time I’d ever really opened up about the issue, and it was in a very public way. I actually winced while writing because I was exposing myself to the blows of shame and criticism. My heart raced when it was time to publish, and it took me a long time to press the button, like standing at the edge of a diving board, looking down into the abyss. I trembled. But what a rush when I finally jumped.

I surfaced with a new found freedom, and realized that I survived, not completely unscathed, but stronger because I faced my fears.

I did lose one friendship over those posts, and people told me to shut up, that I didn’t know what I was talking about. But none of that was as painful as it would have been to remain silent.

It’s hard to replicate that experience (maybe because not much else makes me feel so vulnerable), but I continue to look for opportunities to build my courage. I’m not always successful, but I make the effort.

And You?

Tell us about a time you spoke despite your trembling voice, shaky hands, and sweaty palms.


Think of something you really want to say and weigh the pros and cons of remaining silent against the pros and cons of speaking up. Have you reached your tipping point for the courage to speak?

5 Life Changing Lessons I Learned from a High School Haircut


metal scissors on blue background to depict lessons i learned from a high school haircut“Sarah is brave,” whispered the girl at the back of my high school math class.

I’d never considered myself brave or particularly courageous. In my head, those adjectives were reserved for people who rescued kittens from burning buildings and other fictional personas like Indiana Jones.

But having one of my peers call me brave simply because of my choice of hairstyles?

I let that idea simmer in the deepest parts of my teenage brain. In high school, I chose to stop using chemicals to straighten my hair. I simply let it grow from my head the way it naturally grew from birth.

The way it naturally grew from birth.

And I needed bravery to do that?

To let my hair grow the way it naturally grew from birth?

It baffled me in some ways, but I did understand why my classmate would consider my hairstyle choice to be an act of bravery.

When we don’t fall in line with cultural norms, we run the risk of social punishment, either in the form of bullying, alienation, rejection, or something worse.

My hair in its natural state defied cultural norms, especially for women.

It was short and nappy.

Some women might get away with one or the other, but daring to don a do that was both short and nappy at the same time was sure to get a girl ostracized.

But it’s what I wanted.

And that’s what this post, no, this entire blog is about–living the life you really want.

So, in many ways, this post is bigger than anyone’s afro. It’s about hair, but it could just as easily be about any natural inclination you have, however mundane, that goes against the social grain. We all know that friend who pretends to hate/love something just because “everyone else” hates/loves it. (Yes, I like the Twilight movies, and I don’t care how many “cool” kids claim to hate them.)

We all (you and me and everyone) long to do things that might break some unspoken (or spoken) rule.

“Every man in this family is either a doctor or a lawyer.”

“Real men don’t dance.”

“Good women stick with their husbands no matter what.”

“Pretty girls have long, silky, straight hair.”

“When you submit your will to someone else’s opinion, a part of you dies.” ―Lauryn Hill.

I got my fair share of teasing, insults, and well-intentioned disapproval because of my hair throughout high school and beyond, but I’d decided that my freedom felt way better than the acceptance of others who were too afraid to break free themselves.

And from that high school experience, here are five lessons I’ve learned that I hope will encourage you to change hairstyles, change careers, or do whatever’s on your heart.

1. A little social punishment won’t hurt as much as the pain of knowing that you’re not free to be yourself and live the life you really want.

2. Whatever decision you make, people will get over it. If they don’t, then get over them. “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

3. Some people who haven’t found the courage to do a certain thing will try to put down those who have.

4. Courage develops over a lifetime, but only if you work at it.

5. Being yourself is a lot more fun and a lot less work than trying to be someone else.

What did high school teach you about courage?

Show Me How to Be Courageous: Angela’s Legacy


Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous The struggle would be difficult, but there was already a hint of victory. In the heavy silence of the jail, I discovered that if I concentrated hard enough, I could hear echoes of slogans being chanted on the other side of the walls. ‘Free Angela Davis.’ ‘Free All Political Prisoners.’ -Angela Davis: An Autobiography, 1974

April 5 is the debut of the documentary film Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited that the world can once again be inspired by Angela Davis’s courageous story.

Those who were alive in the 70’s may have forgotten. Those of us who weren’t alive at the time may have have never known.

Indeed, we’ve done a poor job of retelling Angela’s story in our ongoing distribution of American history.

She rarely gets more than a blip in a montage, as if merely showing her face, fro, and fist is enough to convey the gist of her legendary life.

Too many of us, however, aren’t clear about the story beyond these images.

For me, of course, the most resonant theme in her story is courage.

Outside in the open, entangled in my grief and anger was also fear. A plain and simple fear so overwhelming, and so elemental that the only thing I could compare it to was that sense of engulfment I used to feel as a child when I was left alone in the dark. . . . Images of attack kept flashing into my mind, but they were not abstract–they were clear pictures of machine guns breaking out of the darkness, surrounding Helen and me, unleashing fire . . . -AD

Though most of us will never be one of America’s most wanted, Angela’s story can teach us all how to be courageous.

In fact, there’d be no documentary, no story to tell, had Angela not lived courageously in her everyday life, long before the criminal charges or the ensuing manhunt and trial.

One thing I hope Free Angela reveals is that while Angela Davis’s imprisonment and trial is perhaps the more sensational and infamous part of her story, all along, every day of her life, then and now, Angela is a role model for having the courage to think, speak, act, and be revolutionary.

The Courage to Think

I’ve seen the fear in my students . . . the fear of pursuing an education, the fear that it’s not meant for them, not part of their inheritance.

Then there’s the fear of the responsibility that comes with learning.

The fear of what truths may be uncovered if we allow ourselves to follow a thought process through its entire cycle.

As a student and professor of philosophy, Angela Davis embraced the power of thinking . . . of not only learning the thoughts of others, but in having new and original thoughts of one’s own.

She not only had the courage to hold and mold deep thoughts in her mind, she also had the courage to spread them.

The Courage to Speak

We keep silent for fear of exposing our true thoughts.

We keep silent because others have told us we should, told us to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

We’re wordless because we think our words are worthless.

Angela’s example shows us that our words are sometimes the greatest gift we can give to the world, and that we should say what must be said even as others try to silence us.

She shows us that words can save souls, save lives, and stoke revolutionary fires.

The Courage to Act

Nothing in the world made me angrier than inaction, than silence. The refusal or inability to do something, say something when a thing needed doing or saying, was unbearable. The watchers, the head shakers, the back turners made my skin prickle. -AD

Organizing, voting, rallying, marching, visiting, feeding, housing, leading . . .

Some of the greatest words are action verbs.

The beautiful thing about Angela is that she lived among the people, not segregated within her words or intellectual world.

She was a physical presence in the struggle for freedom and justice for all.

She gave her life:

For me revolution was never an interim ‘thing to do’ before settling down; it was no fashionable club with newly minted jargon, or new kind of social life–made thrilling by risk and confrontation, made glamorous by costume. Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime. -AD

The Courage to Be

Angela thought, spoke, and acted while being a black women in a world that says blacks can’t think, that women shouldn’t speak, and that any actions by either group to take control of their lives is an automatic threat to society.

She was proud to be black, and she was empowered in her womanhood even in a society that overtly tried to suppress black pride and women’s empowerment.

That’s revolutionary.

By merely being herself, Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous.

This post is a submission in the Black Bloggers Connect contest.

Get your tickets to the New Orleans Area Screening of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners!



How to Plan Your Life Away Without Even Trying


wasting time on a plan, hourglassYou’ve been told that the only way to succeed is to have a great plan.

But here’s what they don’t tell you:

Plans have a sinister side.

Your scheme, schemes against you.

Oh, they start simple at first.

They seem helpful, maybe even comforting.

That’s when you let your guard down.

Then your cute little plan starts to grow.

It takes on a life of its own, becomes more complex and more intricate.

And it stretches its long neck farther and farther into the future, devouring your precious moments, eating up all the time that you were meant to savor.

That’s right, your plan has been postponed.

Your dream has been deferred.

There’s a thin line between planning and procrastinating.


I’d spent years preparing to make money writing. I checked out stacks of books from the library and read them two or three times. Each book was essentially a step by step guide.

Yet years went by and I still hadn’t accomplished my goal.


The simple reason is that I kept acquiring information and planning, but I never put a plan into action.

I know the source of my inaction was my fears.

That’s true for most people.

Planning is comfortable because it allows you to feel like you’re making progress without actually having to put yourself on the line.

Yes, planning is a necessary step, but …


  1. Our lives often become broken records that get stuck on the same note.
  2. Plans should constantly be revised along the entire journey.

Maybe you try to calculate every step from beginning to end, and refuse to take any further action until your plan is perfect and fail-proof.

Big mistake.

It’s impossible.

You can’t predict the future.

Life is filled with unexpected detours.

You’ll never know if a plan works for you until you try it. The sooner you try it, the sooner you know if it works.

Perfecting a plan today could also be a waste of time because a year from now your goals might be completely different.

So, don’t waste time trying to perfect a blueprint.

How do people plan their lives away without even trying?

You guessed it.

By not trying. By not quickly putting their plan into action.

Get a feasible strategy, and then get to work!

Take courageous action.

Need more encouragement to put your plan into action? Like my Facebook page.

21 Fears that Will Kill Your Dreams if You Let Them!


fears caution tapeYou’ve got dreams.

I know you do.

Dreams wide like the sky.

Heavy like mountains.

Deep like the tap root of ancient oak trees.

But you’ve got fears too.

Some fears like pesky flies buzzing around your computer screen.

Other fears are murderous stalkers plotting to kill all of your dearest dreams.

But you can defeat them!

Yes, you can.


You can confront and eventually conquer even the most menacing fears.

I present to you:

21 of the most dream-threatening fears lurking in your subconscious, waiting for you to decide what you want.


How will this list help?

You can throw the first blow at your fears just by identifying them and naming them.

Let’s name these fears and start to squash them!

1. Fear of Being Alone

The pursuit of your dreams will be lonely at times, especially if you dream big.

Many nights working when everyone else is sleeping.

Loved ones who don’t understand your mission.

The possibility that your ideas will get rejected.

But you have to be willing to go it alone sometimes in order to reach a place where you can connect with even more people.

2. Fear of Change

If you’re not already living your dream, then you’ll have to make some changes to make that happen.

That’s not easy, otherwise everyone would do it.

We often fear change because it means admitting the flaws in what we’re currently doing.

What you’re doing now feels easy and comfortable because you’ve probably been doing it all your life.

But doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results . . . that’s just silly.

3. Fear of Conflict

This may come as a HUGE surprise, but . . .

Not everyone wants you to accomplish your goals, so pursuing your dreams might cause conflict, even with friends and family, people you love.

We see this a lot with students who don’t want to upset their parents, so they go off to college and major in something they have no interest in.

Don’t hold it against anyone. Just trust that people who really love you want you to be successful and happy. 

4. Fear of Connection

No one accomplishes their dreams in total isolation. If you push everyone away who’s trying to help, you sabotage your own efforts.

Let go of the foolish mentality that you can and must do everything by yourself.

Not only will connecting with people help with practical stuff, it fuels you and sustains you through the emotional trials of dream chasing.

5. Fear of Criticism

Also known as the fear of what other people might say.

I haven’t done any scientific research, but I bet this is one of the most common fears.

And it’s legitimate, because no matter what you do, people will criticize you. They’ll call you mean names. They’ll slander you.

No matter what.

So you might as well do exactly what you want to do.

6. Fear of Failure

You’ve failed before, right?

You’re still alive, right?

You can still keep going, right?

Failure is not the end of your dreams. It’s a learning experience that can help you re-calibrate your efforts.

If children gave up on walking because they fall when they try, everyone would be crawling all their lives.

Falling down is part of the process, not the end of it.

7. Fear of not being Good Enough

This is for those who believe they don’t deserve to live their dreams. Some people think because they aren’t already superstars that they’re never meant to be superstars.

The secret is, “superstars” are just as flawed as the rest of us.

The truth is, you are enough, right now, just as you are, to live your best life.

No matter what you did or didn’t do in the past, no matter what your current status is, you’re more than good enough.

You’re a divine creation with a unique purpose.

8. Fear of Greatness

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 
― Marianne Williamson

9. Fear of Incompetence

This is the fear that you will not have the ability to do what you want.

The catch is that you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Too many people never even attempt to go after their dreams because they just assume that they won’t be able to perform.

Don’t forfeit the game before you even start!

10. Fear of being Laughed At

No one really wants to look foolish, but successful people are willing to look foolish.

If the idea that you might make a fool of yourself paralyzes you and keeps you from trying something new, or speaking your mind, or dancing when the music feels good, then you’re basically a slave to fear.

Set yourself free. Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do.

Again, some people will laugh, nervously, secretly wishing they also had the courage to dance on the dance floor of life all by themselves.

Others will be inspired, and get out there and dance with you!

11. Fear of Love

When you’re struggling to love yourself, you might think you’re unworthy of love and admiration from others.

You’re suspicious of anyone who claims to love a flawed human like yourself, so you reject any showing of genuine love.

Work on learning to love yourself unconditionally.

12. Fear of Mistakes

Also known as perfectionism. This is one of the most common fears, and is usually driven by other fears.

For example, you’re afraid to make mistakes because people might laugh at you or it will prove that you’re incompetent.

You know perfection is impossible, yet you keep demanding perfection from yourself.

Stop that.

Just do your best.

Strive for excellence, not perfection.

13. Fear of Pain

Pain is the opposite of comfort. Anything that requires you to leave your comfort zone, your comfy bed or couch, or your cushiony job is potentially painful.

To live your dreams you have to face your fear of pain.

14. Fear of Responsibility

This fear is seen in those who blame everyone and everything but themselves for why they can’t or haven’t achieved their dreams.

It’s a scary look in the mirror to admit that you’re at fault for the condition of your life.

But until you take full responsibility for your life, it’ll never be what you wish it could be.

15. Fear of Being Seen

Do you avoid walking through crowded places or speaking up in a group of people? Perhaps one of your fears is knowing that others can see you, that they might even be watching you.

This fear, like many others, results from low self-esteem. The only reason you don’t want to be seen is that you don’t believe there’s much to see.

If you’re afraid of being seen, you’re probably also afraid of criticism or being laughed at.

Unless your dream is to be a hermit, you have to work on getting comfortable with people looking at you.

16. Fear of Starting Over

If you want to change careers, it might require going back to school, dusting off that resume, brushing up on interview skills, or what have you.

For many people, it’s scary to become a beginner after being a veteran for so long. They’re comforted by the fact that they know exactly what they’re doing, that they’ve acquired seniority, and can see retirement coming.

They don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted all of that time and effort for nothing.

The secret I learned when switching my major, is that you’re never starting over from scratch. There’s no doubt that those experiences you’ve had will always teach you something you can apply in a new situation.

17. Fear of Losing Status

Don’t stay stuck on a job, with a partner, or in a city you’re unhappy with just because you think it makes you look good to have those things.

Don’t be afraid to chase your dream simply because it might mean sacrificing a new car, or sacrificing an expensive social life while you build your new dream life.

Not to say you won’t ever get to see those things again. You just shouldn’t be afraid to put them on hold while you stretch your potential.

18. Fear of Time

I’m guilty of panicking because I’m “running out of time” to accomplish all of my dreams. For some reason I keep placing arbitrary deadlines on my achievements, as if achieving something at 31 will be any less fulfilling than achieving it at 29.

Even when I’m writing, I convince myself that if I don’t have a certain amount of hours to dedicate to it, then I might as well not write anything.

I know! Bogus, right?

Lots of people think they’re too old to go after their dreams now, or they think it’s a lost cause because they can’t possibly make it before it’s “too late.”

In this case I always go back to the fact that not trying guarantees failure. If you act right now, you still have a chance. And don’t self-sabotage by purposely waiting until the last minute.

19. Fear of the Unknown

Pursuing your dream is not a scientific equation that guarantees a precise result if you just follow the formula.

We can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy, so there’s no use in waiting on absolute certainty before you act.

I’m a fan of planning and research, but . . . don’t plan your life away.

Often times you’ll find that it’s the unexpected twists that bring the most joy and actually take you down a path that’s better than you could’ve dreamed.

20. Fear of Vulnerability

I love Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. Unless we can accept our imperfections, ask for help when we need it (and realize that we probably need more help than we’d like to believe), trust people, and be honest with ourselves and others, we’ll be fighting against our own destiny.

21. Fear of Waste

I felt this fear most when debating whether to invest in my own professional development.

What if it’s not worth the money? I’d ask my self.

With proper research, these days it’s easy to verify if something’s legit.

Then there’s the fear of wasting time. You’re really wasting time worrying too much about wasting time!

The sooner you act, the sooner you’ll know what works.

You can’t get around the law of having to invest if you want some sort of return, whether in time or money.

Have you felt any of these fears? How’d you overcome them? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Can Girls Benefit From Absent Fathers?


Here’s more empowerment and encouragement for single moms and their daughters.

Remember my post about alternative narratives? If not, read it here. I’m revisiting the idea of alternative narratives because I know people have firm beliefs about the negative effects of growing up without a father. The media has so effectively distributed a single story about children raised without fathers that people miss the whole, evident truth. This is such a complex issue, and I admit, there aren’t many (if any) studies on what I’m about to say. I’ll address the lack of academic/scholarly/scientific study in another post, but first, let me offer some possible, even if a bit contrived, benefits of growing up without a father. Forgive me for focusing on girls, but as a female, it’s what I’ve thought about the most. If you want to read some of my ideas about boys with absent fathers, go here.

Many people say that girls have issues because they don’t have a father to tell them they’re beautiful.

The problem I see with that belief is that validation is still external and still from a man. It reinforces the idea that a man has to validate your beauty, whether he’s your father or not. One thing girls without fathers have the opportunity to learn, is that no man, not even a father or father figure, should be the determining factor in how you feel about yourself.

Another belief perpetuated especially by conservative thinkers is that girls raised without fathers won’t know how to interact with adult men, and thus won’t make good wives.

I think what these people are really saying is that these girls won’t know how to be submissive to adult men. I split my argument two ways. 1) If this happens, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being strong and assertive can be excellent qualities when done correctly. 2) It might be that the girl can be submissive to an adult male, but only if she really wants to, only if he’s deserving, not just because he’s an adult man. Submissiveness is about humility, and anyone can learn to be humble with a father or not.

Then there’s the story that girls without fathers will end up in abusive relationships, often with older men (meant to replace their missing fathers), and engage in a vicious cycle of self-destructive love affairs.

Well another story we could tell is of the girl who sees her mother as an example: a mother who is single because she refused (and refuses) to be in an abusive relationship, because she expects and demands love and respect, not just romance. I like to tell this story because it is my own. My mother’s example is the reason I was okay being single, therefore not falling into the trap of trying to fill a void with unhealthy relationships with men.

Remember that these are additional/alternative stories. They are by no means the limit. What stories do you have to share about girls growing up with absent fathers? Any of them counter to the usual mainstream narratives we hear? Please share them with us!

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

4 Essential Practices For Single Moms


No matter where dad has gone, or what dad has done, mother, mom, mama, makes the difference. Mama must forge ahead with her children on her back and dreams in her gut. This is encouragement and empowerment for single moms.

The reason the situation looks grim for single mother households is that everyone focuses on the absent parent, the father, who is no longer around to make a difference in the child’s life. If there’s a solution for single mother households, it lies within the parent who’s still involved in the child’s life, the mother. We can’t afford to spend another minute pontificating about the effects that absent fathers have on society because it takes attention away from the most urgent issue of equipping mothers with what they need to carry on.

My own mother’s example inspires most of what I write, but I’m also inspired and educated by stories of mothers around the world. (This is not just an American women’s problem.) I’ve chosen two stories as examples of what can be done to carry on when dad is gone.

Victoria Young

Victoria Young is an 11 year old piano prodigy. She’s one of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists featured on NPR radio where she shares her gift and her story, a story spoken in a humble, innocent, articulate voice. On the radio program, Victoria talks about her love for modern art, and world class museums, and blesses the crowd with a stunning piano performance. But Victoria’s feature on NPR strikes more than just a piano chord. Even while on a world stage playing Johan Sebastian Bach and discussing infamous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Victoria identifies the struggles in her life. She recounts her father selling her piano without her knowing. She remembers her home on the brink of foreclosure. She explains how she managed to continue practicing the piano even though she and her mom had to take refuge in a domestic violence shelter far away from her school. Yet, despite the tough times, this 11 year old girl hasn’t given up on excellence.

So much about Victoria’s story evokes admiration, but one daily ritual shines as a testament of what it takes to thrive. Every afternoon, Victoria and her mother commune over a cup of tea. In Victoria’s own words:

“It’s really exciting. We go and we talk, and we eat at the same time. . . . We have a lot of fun.”

Of course we don’t hear Victoria’s entire story on the radio. We only get fragments. But they are significant fragments because in them is shimmering hope for all mother-daughter duos. The bits of Victoria’s story that we dohave show us at least two essential parenting practices:

Spend quality time with your children, and have conversations with your children.

Victoria’s mom understands the need to consistently offer her time and her ear to her daughter. Notice that their quality time is very simple. They don’t even have to leave their house. They spend nothing more than what they would normally spend  on groceries, which is important for single mothers who often need to save every dollar they can. What makes their time together effective is that it’s consistent, genuine, and it’s about Victoria, the daughter. It’s not about the occasion or the event, like a concert or party. Victoria is the center of her mothers attention, and she can count on that attention every day.

What’s your version of afterschool tea time? Consider the everyday tasks you do with your children. How can you turn those moments into quality moments, if they aren’t already? As single mothers, already short on time, you try to maximize every second, but you may be losing quality time with our kids. When you’re around your kids, minimize the time that you’re on the phone talking to adults who don’t need your attention the way your kids do. Quickly cover housekeeping issues, such as what time practice ends or reminding them to submit an important letter, so that you have time for quality conversation about their interests, their fears, and their opinions. Our days are filled with these kinds of mundane tasks that could be turned into quality moments with children. Determine what works best for your family.

Victoria gives parting advice to young people:

“I would tell them not to give up, and just keep going because there’s still hope, and try as hard as they can because they still have their future ahead of them.”

This advice to young people is just as true for their mothers.

Esperanza Spalding

Perhaps a more recognizable name, Esperanza Spalding is a famous jazz musician launched into the national spotlight when she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2010. Spalding began her performance career at the age of five, released her first CD in 2005, and just released her latest album, Radio Music Society, in March 2012.

I recently read a profile about Ms. Spalding, “A Day in the Life of the Jazz Star,” by Abigail Pesta on the Daily Beast. Pesta emphasizes Spalding’s committed work ethic as the primary reason for the jazz musician’s success. Unlike some, Spalding was not born into a musical dynasty. As stated on her official website, Spalding grew up in Portland Oregon “in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances,” even dealing with a childhood illness that required her to be homeschooled. So what did Spalding’s mother do that might have contributed to a prosperous life today?

According to Pesta, Esperanza Spalding

“credits her mother, a single parent, with her early interest in the arts, recalling childhood evenings together spent reading books like The Little Prince, and later the biography of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She listened to the ‘oldies’—Motown and British rock bands from the ’60s and ’70s—because her mother didn’t think the modern stuff was good for her.”

This example reveals another essential practice:

Provide a deliberate education.

I don’t mean you have to become a certified, public school teacher and stand at a chalkboard while your child buries their head a thick textbook. I do mean this: Decide the values and life lessons you want to instill in your children. Then determine several positive methods for modeling these values and lessons. For example, reading with your children can show them the value of reading, but selecting certain material can make the experience about more than just the act of reading itself. Depending on the content, reading time can also teach children about various themes presented in the text, such as compassion, hard work, generosity, and perseverance. The same is true with music, movies, and television. Even shopping trips can be utilized for modeling financial responsibility.

Just like Esperanza is able to point to her mother’s reasoning, children should not have to guess what values are important to you. Parents may think values and lessons are obvious, but that’s like asking, “Can’t you tell I love you by my actions? Why do I have to say it?” You don’t have to say it every time you speak, but be direct and open about your values and priorities.

The fourth essential practice I glean from Esperanza’s story:

Don’t dwell on what’s missing. Allow your family to enjoy life.

In Esperanza’s own words:

“I’m sure my whole life we were under the poverty line, you know, but I still felt rich. I had a rich upbringing, rich in the sense of a lot of love, a lot of education, nature, music and art, and laughing. . . . It’s not just about the income you make.”

Esperanza Spalding’s mother provided her with rich experiences that countered, even outweighed, the negative side of her reality. I think this is the single mother’s first order of business, as it was with my mother. Don’t allow yourself or your children to languish over the absence of a man, or the absence of financial resources.

Whether or not your child is a musical prodigy, they still deserve the best of you. I hope you’ve found some inspiration in these stories that will keep you hopeful in your parenting journey.

With Love, from Sarah L. Webb

Stop Hating


Awhile back I read a tweet from a woman that said it’s hard not to become just a little jealous or insecure around a beautiful and successful woman. With the ubiquitous images of catty women on television and in movies it’s easy to think this is true of all women, especially black women. Yes, this is a result of capitalism, racism, misogyny, and patriarchy. Because of capitalism, film and TV producers will compromise other people’s dignity to make money. Because of racism, there aren’t enough positive and nuanced portrayals of blacks in mainstream media. Because of misogyny and patriarchy, women get the worst of capitalism and racism. AND it’s all about getting a man, right? Many people seem to think the bulk of female envy stems from the need to find and keep MR. GOOD ENOUGH. (Again, the media exaggerates this phenomena in portrayals of black women.)

Structures are in place that provoke and support hatred among women, structures that we can’t readily change, structures that have become self-sustaining. But I believe we can empower ourselves as women to love or at least appreciate each other.

So how do we remove the jealousy, insecurity, or hatred from our hearts? Reading a blog post won’t get it done, but I suppose it’s a start.

Don’t compare. 

Even if you’re not a hater, per se, simply comparing yourself to other women can make you feel insecure, which makes you miserable and produces bad vibes. Bad vibes often cause conflict. On the road of life, someone’s always farther along or farther behind, so you might as well focus on your own journey. Use what’s in your own hand.

Be inspired. 

This was my personal epiphany. I was about to be jealous of someone, then I thought, Why be jealous? If she can do it, I can do it too! Now when I see women who have something I want or who do something I want to do, their accomplishments validate my dreams. In fact, my dreams seem more and more plausible with each new successful woman I see.

Learn something. 

Instead of smoldering in envy, ask the other woman how she does it? If you listen to her story, you might realize she’s overcome tremendous obstacles. When you see a successful woman, instead of whispering and staring, try networking. You might get the hook up with a new job, a new stylist, or a deal on a new car!

It sounds simple for such a deep and complex issue, but these attitudes have actually worked for me.

I’m curious to know what your experiences have been. How do you handle this issue? I really want to know.

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

Related articles

I (H)ate Soggy Symbolic Cookies. Oreos are Better.


6 AM and I’m craving Oreos. It’s literally been years since I’ve eaten one… or been called one. By the time you get to college, all the black people on campus are probably the ones who were called Oreos, so there’s no one around anymore to dip you in a glass of milk. I always hated dipping cookies in milk anyway. The cookies just seemed to disintegrate in the milk, and all the sweetness washed away.

Oreo: n. a person who looks black on the outside but must be white on the inside because he or she acts white.

I thought about putting quotation marks around the words black and white, but I didn’t because the people who use the term Oreo don’t put quotation marks around those words. They don’t think of black and white as socially constructed labels for physical appearance, social norms, stereotypes social expectations, and the geographic region from which our ancestors come from. They think “black” is really just black and that “white” is really just white.

You might wonder why I don’t mention red, brown, or yellow. I don’t mention them because people who use the term Oreo don’t eat apples, coconuts, or bananas. Actually, they don’t eat any fruit; they only eat junk food. They can’t even imagine what a balanced diet could do for their health.

For me the spectrum was two dimensional. The outside of me was literally like the trademark chocolate of an Oreo. I mean, “too black to be wearing them bright colors” kind of chocolate.  The “inside” of me, my behavior at school, was reminiscent of what they’d observed of some white kids, and white is the trademark color of the cream filling inside of Oreos.

So what kind of behavior is Oreo cream behavior, and what kind isn’t? I’m all to eager to answer that question because it will lead to something resembling the distant cousin of analysis (provided you’re willing to read any further). I’ve made a chart classifying in-school behaviors as either Oreo Cream or Non Oreo Cream. This brief list is based on my personal experience and is not comprehensive, so don’t go off on me if it doesn’t align with every minutia of your personal experience, K.

Oreo Cream Behaviors Non Oreo Cream Behaviors
enjoying school putting all your energy into not enjoying school
making relatively good grades avoiding good grades at all costs
not fighting, whether you were afraid to or not fighting if you weren’t afraid to and talking a lot of noise while conveniently positioning yourself behind someone who might hold you back if you were afraid
being friendly with anyone regardless of race sticking to your own or occasionally harassing the others
not knowing all the popular hip hop songs and dances, though you may know some knowing all the popular hip hop songs and dances
being quiet and doing your work even when the teacher is not in the room being loud and not doing your work even when the teacher is in the room
reading for fun pretending that books are Kryptonite

This is the best my memory will do considering how long it’s been since I’ve been in the school environment. Oh, wait, I’m a teacher. But there’s no telling what kids are thinking, saying, or doing these days… except when the say and do stuff.

What I’m trying to say is that as long as black students believe failure and trouble are their birth rites, the problems facing the black community (and really the whole world) will persist.

Though some taunts hurt like sugar in a cavity, being called an Oreo never hurt my feelings (though eating Oreos often hurt my teeth). What hurts is seeing my kids buy into the notion that school is not for them; that blackness is synonymous with ignorance and violence; that they descend from people who shout and dance but never study and create languages, history, math, science, or architecture. Imagine all the enjoyment they miss believing they’re biologically inhibited and socially prohibited from enjoying all types of music, books, food, cultures, languages, places, and ideas.

Sure. By the time a student sits in my classroom as a seventeen year old freshman in high school, maybe school isn’t for him at the moment. That doesn’t mean it had to be that way. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There’s nothing inherent in him that makes him fail in school. It’s a combination of his circumstances, his thoughts and feelings about his circumstances, and his actions or responses to his circumstances.

Then there are teachers, trying to be vessels for a higher power great enough to affect the delicate lives of youth in a city with some of the highest poverty and crime rates in the U.S., and really, is any cookie smart enough to do that?

With love, from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand? (If it’s an Oreo cookie, I want one.)

Related articles

Visit the new site!

The Courage to Use what’s in Your Hand


Though I got the idea from a video on, the tagline I use for my blog actually originates from the story of Moses. Many bible students and religious types know what I’m referring to. For those with less prior knowledge, I’ll briefly explain.

God appointed Moses to a major leadership position, but Moses was afraid of the challenge. He worried that people would reject him, and he offered the excuse that he was not an eloquent speaker. Among God’s replies to Moses’s fears were:

Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say. Ex 4:11-12

What is that in your hand?…. take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it. Ex 4:2 & 17

When God asked Moses “What is that in your hand” (it was a staff) He told Moses to throw it on the ground, and Moses’s staff became a snake. God then told Moses to grab the snake by the tail, and it became a staff again.

With the staff, God showed Moses (and us) that we all already hold great power in our hands. We just have to recognize it and use it.

So why the tagline for my blog? As I watched Rick Warren’s Ted Talk on my laptop in a tiny room in Oakland, California and he repeated the question “What’s in your hand,” I realized I literally had a pen in my hand. I didn’t have to make a figurative connection to what I do every day. The sign was literal and blunt, hitting me over the head yet again.

And yes, I believe in signs. My first year in architecture school at Mississippi State a classmate told me, “You should just drop out of architecture and become a writer.” I thought she was crazy, but a year or so later (you guessed it) I switched my major from architecture to English.

Of course, like Moses, merely knowing what to do didn’t make the doing easy. There was (is?) fear every step of the way. When starting this blog, I too worried about rejection and  lack of eloquence. I’m learning to trust that if the Spirit moves me to say something, He will help me speak and teach me what to say.

With love, from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

26 and Oxidizing


Today I hit Fe on the periodic table of elements. That’s iron, and I’m rusting as I write. You might ask, Why is she comparing herself to iron on her birthday? Iron, my friends, is known to be “soft, malleable, and strong.” Seems like a contradiction at first glance, but let’s put it under a microscope.

My 2011 New Years resolution was to be courageous. Still is. In my earlier post about Oprah, I talked about “the courage to unapologetically live as my authentic self.” At times, being myself is effortless: when I’m alone, for instance, or with my immediate family. But as I write, I think even that’s not true. I’m talking about more than the courage to shave my head and wear what I want, though that’s definitely part of the bigger picture. The real courage, at least for me, is in connecting with the rest of the world. In order to truly connect, even with family, I need the courage to get hurt without hurting back. Emotionally, that is. Most of us can’t even stand the risk of getting hurt, much less being hurt and not serving that eye-for-an-eye kind of justice. We see this in a remotely comedic form when kids get into arguments:

Vomit face!

I’m not a vomit face! You’re a vomit face!

At least I’m not a pig’s butt!

Who you calling a pig’s butt, sewage breath?

By the standards of society, failure to retaliate when we’ve been wronged means we’re weak. In our society, so called “weak” people are considered “lame,” “uncool,” “unattractive,” “unworthy,” etc. Because so many of us fear labels like these, so few of us possess genuine courage. Considering how much strength it takes to overcome fear of these labels, who’s stronger: those who run from them at all costs, or those who see them for the lies they are? Brene Brown, who’s spent over a decade studying this side of humanity, explains the hazards of being cool in her blog post “cool: the emotional straightjacket.” Most compellingly she says, “The greatest casualty of the endless pursuit of cool is connection. When we don’t let people see and know our true selves, we sacrifice connection. Without connection, we struggle for purpose and meaning.”

Iron rusts because it’s “connecting” with oxygen, a process called oxidation. The magnetism between iron and oxygen is a natural part of their molecular structures, and unlike humans, elements don’t arrest their own nature; they live up to it wholeheartedly. We too are coded with the need for connection. Unfortunately we’ve also acquired a coding of fear. We don’t want to genuinely connect. It’s not pretty and shiny. The process corrodes us and will continue to corrode us until we’re gone. What I’ve learned in 26 years is that I’ll die whether I connect with people or not, but if I make meaningful connections, I won’t have to die alone. Plus it makes the years of living much more enjoyable. So here’s to 26 and oxidizing!

Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand? How do you use it to connect?

Who’s Your Worst Critic?


The gem I take from Joyce Carol Oates today is that writers and artists are their own worst critics.

To put it more bluntly, she says self-criticism is about as good an idea as self-administered brain surgery.

She gives many examples of writers who scorned their most “successful” works and esteemed their least “successful” works. What we like in our own writing, others might dislike. What we hate, others might love.

The major blinder for many writers and artists is perfectionism. A few flaws often obscure for us the many virtues of our work.

A piece of writing might be good enough for publication and sales, and could even change a reader’s life, but it might not be good enough for us.

The down side of perfectionism is that it can be paralyzing. It can hinder you from getting anything done or published or sold. On top of that it can drive you into serious depression because your expectations are never met and you always feel inadequate.

There’s a clear distinction between always wanting to do your best and being a perfectionist.

Work your hardest, but submit the work before those deadlines pass.

Don’t slave over one piece at the expense of all those other great ideas you have, which might work out better.

To blend mostly JCO with a little bit of Auden, art and writing are “far too various to contemplate.” They are “elusive matters that will reside in the [guts] of others to judge.”

Just as you can’t hide away in a cave until you are perfect, you must share your writing when you’ve done everything you know to do.

The Joyce Carol Oates Guide to Writing Your Heart Out


You can be a young writer at any age. It’s about how long you’ve been writing, or how much you’ve been writing.

I guess that’s why Joyce Carol Oates’s chapter, “To a Young Writer,” could help anyone, even non-writers.

The first line and the refrain is of course Write your heart out. But there’s more…

Now I present to you Oates’s advice in a much distilled version.

1. “never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject”

2. “your struggle with your buried self, or selves, yields your art”

3. “don’t be discouraged!”

4. don’t compare yourself to others

5. “writing is not a race”

6. “the satisfaction is in the effort and rarely in the rewards”

7. there might not be any rewards

8. “read widely, and without apology”

9. “read what you want to read, not what someone tells you to”

10. “you may be trying to please someone who won’t be pleased , and who isn’t worth pleasing”

11. if you’re too afraid to “write your heart out,” use a pseudonym

12. use your real name if you want a professional career that involves teaching, lectures, readings, etc.

13. don’t expect to be treated justly or mercifully

14. don’t live life just to write about it

15. “give yourself up in admiration or adoration of another’s art”

16. “don’t be ashamed of being an idealist, of being a romantic and ‘yearning.’”

17. “the first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence has been written”

18. “only have faith”

Go forth and write your heart out.

Writing Race & Privilege


What does creative writing have to do with race or privilege?

Many writers are okay with discussing class because many writers feel they are or were working class, middle class, or poor, which renders them underdogs, makes them part of the people so to speak.

However, Addonizio is the first white American writer I’ve encountered who talks about race, class, and privilege so candidly. This doesn’t include non-fiction writers (read journalists) who make it their business to talk about politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, news, etc. I mean all the novelists, fiction writers, and poets who think their creative work is above the influence of a racialized world.

Here’s what Kim Addonizio writes in chapter 20 of her book:

“Because I am Caucasian-American in a culture that is predominantly white, I have blind spots. Sometimes I know what they are, and I can try to see them in a side mirror. But sometimes, I think, I don’t even notice them. I can usually afford not to notice. This is the privilege of my skin color.

What does all this mean for my writing? It means I already have a whole boatload, so to speak, of cultural identities and assumptions. It means that those attitudes might be revealed in my writing, whether or not I’m aware of them.”

She quotes Tony Hoagland in this chapter as saying:

“To speak in a voice equal to reality in this case will mean the loss of observer-immunity-status, will mean admitting that one is not on the sidelines of our racial realities, but actually in the tangled middle of them, in very personal ways.”

And yes, these quotes are taken from a book on writing.

Addonizio gives ten exercises to “help you approach ‘other Americas’ or to consider race and class as they intersect with your own experiences.” I’ll share my favorite one.

Write about the messages you got about “other people” as a child. Did you hear of people being better off or worse off? Were some people lazier, smarter, more deserving? Did you hear about people starving in third-world countries? Try to remember a specific encounter when these ideas were either confirmed or overturned.

This is the final lesson I’m sharing from Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio, so be sure to get your own copy of the book!

Read Like a Writer: The Importance of Close Reading


Get your magnifying glasses and microscopes! Your scalpels and fine-tooth combs! It’s time to read like a writer!

Call it a close reading.

Not of my blog, thank goodness, unless you feel so inclined.

You actually get to study your favorite piece of writing.

Keyword: study.

Close reading is more than just reading to understand or reading to enjoy.

A close reading is a study to discover and learn the intricate workings of a piece of writing.

This process is especially important for writers because it’s how we learn more about our craft.

And despite what you may be thinking, examining a piece of writing doesn’t take all the joy out of it.

If the piece is any good, a close reading will only deepen our appreciation for the work and help us see the magic, the dexterity, the surprises, the connections, the truths that lie beneath the many layers that great works are known for.

I think great writing begs close reading, because great writing has depth and doesn’t give away all its wonders in an initial or surface reading.

Although I began reading closely in high school, I wasn’t introduced to the term close reading until the middle of my undergraduate career.

I’ve been hooked ever since.

An interesting piece of writing is like an interesting person. I want to know more. I want to “pick the brain” of the piece, if you will. I want to ask: How do you do it? Where does your strength lie? What else do you have in your bag of tricks to offer the world?

As Kim Addonizio points out in Ordinary Genius, you will also nourish your own creativity for producing your own work.

Chapter 30 of the book is a simple guide for getting intimate with your favorite piece of writing.

First, read, read, and reread.

Second, pay attention to everything. In good writing everything matters, so pay attention. If the piece is long, you may want to focus on excerpts at first.

Third, catch the themes, the “reason-for-being of the piece.” You’ll find that all the parts and decisions the writer has made add up to the whole of the theme(s).

Fourth, notice tone and voice, usually conveyed through diction (word choice) or syntax (sentence structure).

Fifth, uncover the structure or skeleton. How does it begin and end? Where does it turn or change? Where does the tension build or slacken? How is repetition used, if at all? Where are the section breaks, line breaks, or stanza breaks?

These are five steps to get you started, but once you do, you’ll go wherever the writing takes you.

This is how to really read like a writer.

How do you learn from what you read? What other ways do you get close to a good piece of writing?

Your Entrance Into Better Writing


As a writing instructor, I obviously have some faith that writing can be taught. I believe there are practical strategies that lead to better writing. As usual, my explanation has an architecture metaphor.

That’s right. The architecture-obsessed writer strikes again. This time I’m not alone. The great poet and author of craft books, Kim Addonizio, also sees a comparison between our beloved writing and the fascinating field of architecture.

In the fifth chapter of her book, Ordinary Genius, Addonizio tells us to, “Imagine a sentence as a hall with a series of doors. Each door is a possible way to use what you’ve already written to generate new material.”

In the chapter, Addonizio describes six different doors, methods of expanding a sentence to generate more material for a poem.

Maybe because I’ve recently written a couple of poems about hallways and doors, this chapter really excites me. Of the oodles of exercises included in the book, this was one of the first ones I tried.

I began with a sentence that I actually adapted from another sentence in Ordinary Genius. With that line, I stood at one end of my poetic hallway and proceeded blindly to the other end, opening every door I could, for a while getting kind of lost, not knowing if I’d ever get to the other end of this hallway turned maze.

That feeling of being lost, of not knowing where each door would lead, actually made the process exhilarating. The constraint of always working within the same sentence was like a tether keeping me connected to the spine of the poem, the main axis. That freed me to go to the remotest of language, ideas, images, and abstractions. I could stay as long as I wanted, rearrange things, blow out walls, gaze out the window with no worry about time.

So, I encourage you to take a sentence that you love and open it up, rearrange it, expand it, repeat words or clauses or phrases, exchange words, mutate it, put in line breaks, and whatever else you can think of. You may not see better writing in an instant, but it will get better.

I also urge you to get your hands on a copy of the book. It could change your writing life.

Clearing out the Cliches


You’ll notice that the world is full of cliches, but your writing shouldn’t be.

So why do these cliches persist and how can we stop them?

Here’s a basic idea.

When given a writing prompt, my students often scribble a sentence or two and drop their pens in exasperation or boredom or victory.

That’s one of my greatest pet peeves as a teacher. I want students to keep writing, to keep digging and exploring, to keep revising their thoughts and their articulation.

Chapter 3 of the latest featured book is titled, “first thought, worst thought.” The book is Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio. It’s a book about the craft of poetry specifically, but many of its truths apply to all writing.

One such truth is that what we initially think of or first put on paper is, “invariably banal, clichéd, or boring.”

Addonizio explains that our minds are filled with “received thoughts,” other people’s words and ideas, clichés, slogans, jingles, commercials, knock-knock jokes, sitcoms, school rules, famous lines from popular movies, automated telephone prompts, banners, theme songs, the ABC’s, and you know the rest.

These are the things we usually think and write first. They’re like reflexes. Our minds have been conditioned to these “universal” cues of communication.

BUT… if we do the work of clearing our minds of the clutter, of not settling for those initial thoughts or scribbles, we can push our way into some pretty creative stuff.

I go back to my students. One reason so much writing is uninteresting and unoriginal is because we fail to keep writing. We under-write. One of my earliest creative writing teachers said we should write several pages more than what we actually planned on keeping. That way we’d be able to find worthy material amid all crap.

Addonizio gives several ideas for pushing past those initial drafts filled with trite thoughts. One that speaks to the idea of overwriting is “sufficient thought.” You should actually think rigorously about what you write to “achieve a poem that really explores and develops your subject.”

If writing is thinking on paper, you should write more. That’s what I’d tell my students.

By cluttering up pages and pages with words and phrases, we actually unclutter our minds of all those clichés. Hopefully… if we’re putting sufficient thought on paper.

To end with the words of the poet and author whose book inspired this post:

“It’s about letting go of the conditioned mind–all of those received thoughts–and tuning in to some level of thinking that’s deeper than our usual concerns.”

3 Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career


You’ve had the dream, now let’s talk about your writing career in a practical way.

I’m a firm believer that you are more likely to achieve your goals and achieve them faster when you have a plan. Some writers say that it was luck, that they just wrote, and the opportunities came to them. I don’t buy it.

Successful people have some type of goal or plan. It may not be a 60 page, detailed breakdown of every minute and every dollar you plan to spend for the next year, but there should be some kind of goal, plan, direction, or mission guiding you.

Dara Girard would say the same. She’s presented a few ideas for how to develop a strategy. I’ve picked three of my faves.

Find a role model.

Study a living writer whose writing and career you admire. Research their career history and the steps of their journey from the beginning to where they currently are. If you can contact them via email, phone, or social media, that’s even better. You can ask specific questions to help you develop your own game plan.

Gather industry news.

Girard suggests small doses information. This is a good idea because, as discussed earlier, a flood of information may have you spinning your wheels without actually getting you anywhere. I think small doses are good because they give you concrete, actionable steps to take in a particular direction.

Work towards your mission statement. Do something every day to make it real.

This requires that you actually write a mission statement. Now you’ll be able to clearly identify a direction for your writing career. This strategy also requires daily action. Even if you identify where you want to go in your mission statement, you must take actions to get there. I suggest writing a general mission statement (a few sentences or a paragraph), and then listing intermediate steps you would have to take to get there, like a map.

It’s Friday, and I’ll be bringing you insight from another book next week. But you don’t have to stop learning from Dara Girard. You can get a copy of her book and savor many more lessons.

What Real Progress Looks Like


Doing a lot but not making progress? Dara Girard begins her book chapters with poignant quotations. One chapter opens with the quote:

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” – Alfred A. Montapert

Apparently writers can suffer from too much inspiration known as a creative flood. Unlike writer’s block, writers have no problems finding ideas or starting new projects when they’re experiencing a creative flood. However, too many ideas can make finishing any of these many projects seem impossible.

Just like fear of starting can paralyze you,

“Having too much to do can paralyze you. Too many story ideas may cause you never to finish one.”

My favorite tip in this chapter is to, “Always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas.” This is helpful because creative floods can quickly turn to dry spells, so think of your notebook as an emergency fund for when times get hard. Also, listing potential ideas tends to motivate me to finish each project because I like checking off items on a list.

Remember that doing a lot of writing is important, but so is finishing what you write. If it’s not finished, you can’t publish it or get paid for it!

Learn more from Dara Girard by getting a copy of the book today.

Writing Doesn’t Get Easier (but it could get better)


Writing is hard.

The Writer Behind the Words has a section titled, “Six Hard Truths.” The first truth is, “It doesn’t get easier.”

This truth is true of the writing process and the writing life. We cannot rely on our previous success to sustain us for the years to come. Each new story, article, poem, book, or blog post must be worthy of reading by its own merit. We have to constantly deliver excellence in our craft.

The life a writer, no matter how successful, will always be filled with stress. There’s always the pressure to sell, to write what’s popular, to be better than your peers. No matter how long we’ve been writing, there will be times when we get stuck, get depressed, get rejected, and question ourselves. There are no guarantees even for celebrity writers.

What Dara Girard helps us do with this book is develop the habits and attitudes required to be successful even in the face of these hard truths. While the circumstances may always be difficult, we can acquire new coping strategies that sustain us through anything.

3 Traits of Successful Writers


One of my favorite books on writing is Dara Girard’s The Writer Behind the Words. I’ve read it cover to cover at least twice. Rather than focusing on craft, Girard focuses on developing the attitudes and lifestyle habits that help writers create the best career possible. This week I’ll be sharing some of my favorite lessons from the book.

Three Traits of Highly Successful Writers

The book actually talks about seven traits, but I’m highlighting three.


One of my favorite topics to discuss in general, courage is especially relevant to writers. When I first began blogging about controversial subjects, I needed courage. When I decided to quit teaching full time, I needed courage. When people ask me what I do, I need the courage to say I’m a writer, regardless of the skepticism they may have.

Every writer’s fears will be different from others. No matter the fear, we must “have the courage to write anyway” and to share our work with the world.

Girard offers many practical tips for how to develop each trait. For courage, my favorite tip is Fail fast. Many writers fear that first rejection or negative review. Once we’ve gotten the first, it’s easier to face the second.


With courage, we can be persistent. We can keep submitting even as the rejection letters pile up, keep posting even as the nasty comments roll in, keep writing honestly even as family and friends question our choices, and remain true to ourselves even when the trend is very different.

You never know when that next query or submission might be the one that gets accepted and propels your career in the direction of dreams.

Of all the tips Girard gives for persistence, my absolute favorite and the one I do several times a day, is to play “warrior” music. I have a YouTube playlist of empowering, upbeat songs by young women.


“Successful writers know their purpose is to serve the world through writing.”

Vision will give you courage and the motivation to be persistent. A writing career is not sustainable without a meaningful purpose.

Girard offers many tips on clarifying your vision. I do all of them regularly, but the one I’ll share today is to imagine your life in five or ten years. Write down a vivid description of what you’re doing, where you are, your daily activities, and your accomplishments. Keep this description where you can see it every day.

I urge you to get your own copy of The Writer Behind the Words so that you can gain powerful insight and encouragement for creating your ideal career.

Delectable Dialect


Thousands of expert fiction writers have given advice on dialogue, but few discuss dialect in particular. Jewell Parker Rhodes dedicates a section to dialect in Free Within Ourselves. She beautifully states:

“All people shift language–shift dialect usage, according to the social context. . . . Dialects have complex grammars and dictions and the variety within each language from is remarkable. Dialect is the study of contrasts: southern black dialect contrasts with hip urban speech; New Englander’s broad vowels contrast with Midwesterners’ twang. Language lives, fluidly changing, adapting to the changing nature and character of American society.”

Because Free Within Ourselves is written specifically for African American fiction writers, Rhodes considers the historical depictions of African American speech. While caricatures and stereotypes make the use of dialect slightly controversial, there’s no doubt that when done well it will breathe life into your characters. A story where all characters speak like each other in every situation is not an honest story. Rhodes encourages us to explore the complexity of speech just as we would explore the complexity of personalities:

“Clearly, [all] writers should use any and all speech variants which best express their characters. The range is enormous in terms of tenor, rhythm, tone, and the pattern of words.

Language is a dynamic, wonderful terrain for writers to explore! Historical time period, region, gender, class, age, and ethnicity all have the power to influence both the style and content of a character’s speech.”

You don’t have to have a PhD in linguistics to harness the power of dialect in your writing. Rhodes advises that:

“When reading, pay attention to differing representations of speech-dialogue. Also, listen to those around you. Use your journal to record snippets of interesting dialogue. In time you’ll learn to trust your own ear in re-creating sounds.”

To help you practice, here’s a modified version (you’ll have to get the book for the full version) of an exercise in dialect:

Spend two days listening for a person whose speech interests you. Record in your journal why you think certain voices appeal to you. Ask the speaker if you can tape record their dialogue. If this is impractical rely on transcription and memory. Then write a monologue using your newly captured voice.

Multipurpose Description


In chapter 8 of Free Within Ourselves, Rhodes explains that, “good description serves multiple ends.” Description conveys atmosphere, characterization, and setting, all of which complement and strengthen plot. If you’re interested in any of these aspects of your story or novel, you should also be interested in description.

More specifically, Rhodes says:

“Plot can never be separate from descriptive language. Sensory details provide the filter to enhance the meaning and nuances of a story. Characters can’t come alive without proper descriptions. Neither can the setting or the tone and attitudes of the world your characters live in be shown or suggested without descriptive language. Avoiding description means wasting a valuable resource. Your story will lack depth, literally its lifeblood without finely tuned description.”

Rhodes’s basic advice on description is that it should engage all five senses, be specific, and be measured by quality not quantity. As valuable as description is, you can overdo it with pages of meaningless details. Select the details that have the greatest impact and reveal the most information with the least amount of words.

In this chapter, a helpful exercise is another literary study. This time, study a story’s use of description for about an hour. Write in your journal all the lessons you can gather from the story. Finally, review a piece of your own writing and spend about twenty minutes revising.

For more on description, get your own copy of Free Within Ourselves. 

The Heartbeat of a Great Plot


Character drives plot because plot is a series of the character’s choices and actions. Our author this week, Jewel Parker Rhodes, says, “Action disconnected from character is bound to fail.” If readers don’t care about the characters, readers won’t care about what happens to the characters. For ideas on character development, read our previous post, Characters are Human Too.

As a former high school teacher, I found Rhodes’s revision of the traditional plot diagram quite eye-opening. Starting in grade school and often through college, students are taught that plot is shaped like an equilateral triangle–a straight, ascending line; a single, climactic point; and a straight, descending line.

Rhodes says a plot diagram should look more like an EKG reading.

“Good story conflict is much more like a strong, intensifying heartbeat–with tension rising and filling, rising and falling until a climactic pitch is reached. After each pulse, the reader is pulled forward by the question ‘Then what happens?’

The plot–what happens, the sequence of events–is always a point/counterpoint, attack/counterattack to the protagonist’s desires and needs.”

One of the exercises in chapter 6 of Free Within Ourselves is to do a plot EKG study of a story that you absolutely love. It should be one that you couldn’t put down. Here are the instructions:

“For every significant obstacle to the character’s needs and desires, draw a line slopping upward; whenever the tension is resolved (even momentarily), draw a line sloping downward. As the risks to the protagonist’s well-being increase, pitch the upward slope more steeply. Continue until the story’s conclusion.”

Reading for Writers 101


It’s a new week! Our featured book is Free Within Ourselves by Jewell Parker Rhodes. In a book loaded with exercises to help young writers develop, Rhodes’s first exercise is READING! She says:

“Just as you can’t breathe without inhaling and exhaling, you can’t develop as a writer without being a devoted reader.”

But Rhodes doesn’t just tell us to read. She helps us think of ways to find time to read and gives us exercises to help us read thoughtfully as writers. Here are some suggestions I’ve pulled from chapter 2.

  • Strive for at least 3 books a month until you make reading a serious habit. Then you can up the number.
  • Read a great variety of books by authors of different nationalities, races, genders, historical periods, life styles, genres, etc.
  • Let reading substitute for other mundane tasks such as watching television, and take a book with you everywhere you go.
  • Write journal responses to the books you read.
  • Highlight, underline, and make notes about passages you find especially well-written.

I’ll let Rhodes explain in her own words how reading is so valuable in developing ourselves as writers:

“When you thoughtfully reread a book and contemplate why you think a passage,  a scene, or a sentence is well done, you are training yourself to read for technique–the ‘how’ of good writing .

With each element you highlight, ask: ‘What did the writer choose to do or not to do?”

Encouraging the habit of more thoughtful reading encourages the habit of more thoughtful and skilled writing!”

This explains my passion for launching this blog. While my posts are about books that explicitly teach craft, writers can learn technique from any book.

Till next time,


Sadness is a Transition Word


Many writers have dealt with sadness or depression. It is one of the most common ailments for anyone, even non-writers, and there are varying degrees and forms of it.

As common as it is, our culture frowns upon sadness. We get the slight impression that we are “bad” or “less than” or doing something “wrong” if we’re sad. But sadness may actually have a purpose. It may be of more value than we think.

In the eighth letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke consoles Mr. Kappus, the young poet, who was apparently suffering from a type of depression. Rilke’s method of consolation is to suggest a different perspective on the state of sadness:

“Please consider whether these great sadnesses have not rather gone right through the center of yourself? Whether much in you has not altered, whether you have not somewhere, at some point of you being, undergone a change while you were sad?”

We’ve all heard the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This includes our moments of sadness, but in our limited knowledge, we can’t always identify those reasons. In Rilke’s eloquent words:

“Where it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches. . .perhaps we would  endure our sadness with greater confidence than out joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us. . . .

Many signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens. . . .

Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you?”

That last question reminds me of the self-numbing that so many of us use to escape from sadness and pain: alcohol, drugs, sex, food, buying. Not only do these futile tactics drive us into deeper trouble, the resistance to sadness and pain also prevents us from learning from it and becoming stronger as a result of it. So pain can be scary, but we must take courage! Here’s why:

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened. . . if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen.”

But sadness is a transition word.

“We stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes.”

Sadness is not an end unto itself. Surely our beings are not created to dwell in depression. When we face pain courageously, we can move through it to the next phase of our spiritual evolution.

Rilke nears the end of his eighth letter with a hint about why our souls experience sadness:

“I see that it is now going on beyond the great to long for greater. For this reason it will not cease to be difficult, but for this reason too it will not cease to grow.”

P. S.

You do not have to deal with your sadness alone. If you find that you are unable to transition out of it on your own, please talk to someone about getting help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the following numbers:

In the U.S. – Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). These toll-free crisis hotlines offer 24-hour suicide prevention and support. Your call is free and confidential.

Outside the U.S. – Visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline in your country.

A Writer’s Necessity for Solitude


To do any sort of creative work, a writer must embrace solitude. As a writer, you must spend hours alone, hours in your own head, hours reflecting on your thoughts and words.

This is what Rilke emphasizes in letter six:

“The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going-into-oneself and for hours meeting no one–this [you] must be able to attain.”

Of course family and friends are importantand there’s no need to be an extreme hermit. In fact, much of a public writer’s life involves interacting with readers, editors, agents, publishers, graphic designers, etc. However, writers must be comfortable with, perhaps even enjoy, the many hours alone in silence with their thoughts. Maybe an occasional visit from a muse won’t hurt though.

Click the link to get your own copy of Letters to a Young Poet.

Should I be a Writer?


Rilke writes letters to an aspiring writer much like yourself. I’m not a Magic 8 Ball, but I do have some insight from his book.

The book is compiled of letters Rilke writes in response to a young poet who asks for an opinion about his writing. Apparently the young poet has asked others for their opinions on his writing, and is generally over concerned about what people think of his poems. Rilke tells the poet:

“You compare [your poems] with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. . . . I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. . . . Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all– ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night:  must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if  this should be affirmative, if you meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”

That’s a big chunk, I know, but isn’t it a tasty bit of truth to chew on?

If you’re wondering whether or not you should be a writer, perhaps the question you should ask instead is, Am I Writing?

Even writers with demanding day jobs find the time to write  something. If writing is in you like tree roots in a ground, to borrow from Rilke’s analogy, than nothing will stop you from writing. This need has actually lead several writers, like me, to leave their day jobs and pursue their passion full-time.

If you aren’t writing anything at all, maybe your answer is Not yet. If the answer were just a flat out NO, you probably wouldn’t have even asked the question. But since you are asking, maybe you should become a writer once writing has taken root in you–when you’re too busy writing to stop and wonder if you should be doing it.

Click the link to get your own copy of the book.

Musical Motivation to “Say What You Need to Say”

Obama Talks Race

On Friday, July 18, 2013, President Barack Obama ended the week with a show stopper, something that would keep all media outlets busy for the entire weekend and beyond. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case, Obama talks race, more directly, more personally, and more candidly than he as at any other time during his presidency. If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, you can watch the video at the end of this post.

The very fact that this topic makes so many people uncomfortable or even angry, makes this a brave move by President Obama. It’s courageous because he knew that millions of people would criticize, spew hate, say that he’s causing racial division, and complain about how there are “too many other, more important things that he should be dealing with,” yet he spoke anyway. I’ve written before about having the courage to speak. What Obama did on Friday is a great example of what I was talking about.

Obama’s speech was important because there are non-blacks who voted for Obama under the assumption that he’s “different” than regular black people. Because they know him, they can’t imagine that they’d ever be afraid of him because of his race, or that they would clutch their purses in fear that he might try to mug them, or that they might prejudge and misjudge him and therefore take his life with a single bullet.

For those non-blacks, Obama’s speech informed them, very eloquently, that he is NOT any different from the average black man in America. In fact, “Trayvon Martin could have been [him] thirty five years ago.” Obama brought about the revelation, for many, that the young men being racially profiled, harassed, denied decent customer service, stopped and frisked, and even murdered because of racial biases could very well be (or have been) the future President of the United States of America, just as he was.

One of the most courageous conversations we can have as a country and as communities and as families is an honest conversation about the lingering effects of building a country on the foundation of white supremacy.

I read a courageous post this week by a fellow blogger. She titled it: “Facing My White Privilege.” This is another side of the “race talk.” It’s not an issue that should be left to blacks to hash out. It’s our national issue. As long as we’re Americans, we have to face race.


Please Let Me Testify: An Open Letter to Rachel Jeantel

First, thank you for having the courage to take the stand, for having the courage to testify on behalf of your slain brother, a responsibility too many of us have been shucking for way too long. Most of us choose to plead the fifth, afraid that we’ll be judged just as you have been, and in our silence, the blasts of gunshots resound ever louder right in our own backyards.

I hope that other young people are not gagged by their fear of malicious tweets, but are encouraged by your example, encouraged to speak up and share their sides of the story, whatever that story might be. I pray that more black girls speak up and tell their stories. There are hosts of people, who try to dismiss, disparage, and downright silence voices like yours, but I tell you, little sister, you have been heard.

Second, not only do I hear you, I also see you, and you are beautiful.

I know that the mere color of a person’s skin and a person’s class too often discredit everything they say and do in the eyes of the prejudiced ones. I know that racism is the reason so many blacks and non-blacks have come to consciously and subconsciously devalue dark skin. I know that’s the reason they feel so comfortable maligning you in your moment of grief.

But I’m feeling you. How could you not be annoyed and frustrated in the face of these men, who in many ways embody the source of an entire community’s anger? How could you not be frustrated and bitter about these men who are claiming that your beloved friend deserved to die, and that the person who murdered him was actually the real victim and deserves to live the rest of his life peacefully and free? When I saw the demeanor and heard the tone of the prosecutor, I knew exactly why you rolled your eyes. I’ve often rolled my eyes at people who are trying to “play me,” trying to be condescending and mocking.

Some of us only have respect for those who reflect the image of who we think we are or wish we could be. Some of us believe that only those who speak like us have a right to speak, and we’re deaf to the songs sung by birds of other feathers. Some of us think that only those who look like us have a right to be seen, that only those who live like us have a right to live.

Rachel, I don’t know you, but I’m all too familiar with the way our culture breeds bullies and the way we’re taught and encouraged to tear each other down and rip each other apart. I’m all too familiar with the way society has to make examples out of a few so that the rest of us will be too terrified to simply be ourselves and say what we need to say. Although we’ve all been the bully before, we don’t have to accept the worst in ourselves. We don’t have to accept the worst in our world.

I hope that justice wins. I pray that you, the young vessel that was left to speak on behalf of someone who can no longer speak on behalf of himself, I hope that you find the hope and the healing that you need to go forward from this period in your life and always be beautiful and brave.