And so I shall speak

I’ve been wanting to break the code on what it takes to sit with the cool kids since I was 35 (didn’t matter so much before). Countless professional development books, articles, newsletters and (free) courses point a budding entrepreneur toward networking, pitching, and generally “getting out there.” Then, tossing the essential social media into the mix, blehhhh. Networking and outreach efforts are resembling talent shows and popularity contests more each day. So as I hope for Ancestors unKnown to be noticed within a sea of noticeable work, I’ve occasionally wished for a louder voice and bolder approach. And maybe some street cred?

Short of changing my personality from introvert to extrovert, and significantly upping my coolness factor, I’ve been looking for input on how to play a better entrepreneur game.

One consistent piece of advice: be a speaker. If you give talks and host workshops, you build and share expertise, gain an audience and credibility, and (appreciated bonus!) earn some money.

Speaking

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Keys that fit

Have you ever had trouble getting a key to turn a lock? Sometimes a key will go into the slot pretty easily, confirming you have the right one. But no matter how aggressive you are with the right turn and jiggle maneuver, the thing won’t budge.  You turn it upside down. You adjust its depth. You try other keys. But you know you have the right key – the one that won’t turn.

Then you take a second to breathe. Frustration subsides. Your grip loosens. And suddenly, as if you were imagining the countless seconds of resistance, the key finds its groove. The lock turns with ease.

keys

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A graduate has arrived

Have you ever driven an incredibly long distance? You sat  in the same position for far too long. You contemplated turning back at one point after you had already gone too far. Your vision started to blur as you fought the road doze. You wondered if the destination was was even worth it – why were you even going, again? You even considered just giving up and moving into that Motel 6 right there, making a new life in a town that may or may not be named after a klan member. But you kept going.

You know that feeling when you finally arrive and take that first step out of the driver seat?

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Your muscles ache. Your ass is numb. And your brain is fuzzy. But you’ve arrived. No matter that it’s 2am and no one is awake to greet you. That first real (and audible) stretch of freedom is all you really needed anyway.

Well, congratulations. You know what it’s like to complete a Master’s degree. (I imagine a PhD would be more like arriving at the destination only to hop on a sailboat to cross the Atlantic?)

So, yes. Finally I am finished with school (for good this time – really, no more!).  A bit later than expected – technically I finished at the end of February 2013, when it was supposed to be more like August or September 2012. But this allowed one (and now two) trips to Suriname. And then things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped – I felt miserable quite a lot.  And I procrastinated just as much in my 30s as I did in my 20s…what can I say? Some things just don’t change.

But it was worth it.  Even if just to get on the cover, inside, and back of the University’s grad school brochure.  Supahstar.

2013 GSSS Brochure

After all of the writing, and reading, and ugh – all the thinking, it was worth it.  I finished what I started.  When the University sent me that email to let me know everything was processed and my diploma was printed, it marked an official end to the chapter that started this little, gigantic journey.

And when my friend sent me photos of my diploma (she picked it up since I’m not in Amsterdam), although I had already moved on to focus on Ancestors unKnown, I finally felt that relief of arrival.  

So I took a damn good and well-deserved stretch. But, ya know, my ass might still be numb.

BlackGirlDiploma - Gefeliciteerd!

BlackGirlDiploma – Gefeliciteerd!

Introducing Ancestors unKnown

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dames en Heren, I’m proud to introduce you to my brand new organization, Ancestors unKnown.

Ancestors unKnown introduces young people in the African Diaspora to new perspectives on their histories. We combine a Black history-based curriculum with genealogy/family history research, working in partnership with local organizations, historians, and genealogists.  Beginning in the U.S. (South Carolina) and Suriname, Ancestors unKnown is an international organization.  So in the years to come, I hope to introduce our work and serve communities on multiple continents and islands.

This is still the pilot stage. I want to make lots of changes and additions to the website. And there is so very much work to be done just to stay on track.  But I figure it’s about time to let folks in on the adventure in less cryptic ways.

ancestors blogging

Now I have a few things to ask of you:

1) Check out my first entry on Ancestors Blogging (which eventually will include posts from student participants and partners). Comments are also great!  Here is a piece (I feel like I cheated on this blog by writing over there – so this copy/paste action is how I rectify that):

…could a family that survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade and generations of slavery in the Americas really have left behind no memories? No stories to tell? No lessons to instill? I believe this to be an assumption worth challenging.  And sure enough, digging into some archives revealed tremendous stories waiting to be told, and remarkable ancestors who deserve to be remembered.  I believe everyone has a right to this empowered feeling of knowing her own history, or at least part of it.

2) Please head over to facebook to like the page: https://www.facebook.com/AncestorsUnknown

3) Please share the work we’re doing with your networks. The more people we can invite to the party, the better. (but wait, just so you know, there’s no real party.)

3.5) Eventually I’ll figure out the Twitter thing.  So I’ll be asking you to follow me there at some point too.

4) After all of that, tell me what you think.  Critical feedback is always appreciated.

Sheesh. Feels like I just walked outside wearing my brand new big-girl-pants. But the big ‘ole automatically-locking door just shut behind me.  And I may or may not have forgotten my key.

Big-girl-pants, don’t fail me now. There’s no turning back!

Things to Celebrate

image

I’m sitting here with some tea and my barely functioning laptop, settling in for another late night of paper writing.  It’s been a long day in class and the library.  And in spite of my best efforts to avoid this, I still have work to do.  Apparently it’s just my way.  It’s deeply rooted.  And I’ve decided today that I will accept it.  I’m a procrastinator.

So in honor of my paper due tomorrow, I will write about something else…things that I’m currently celebrating (in spite of the whole paper thing).

1)  Last class today.  My other classes ended weeks ago.  But this class just held on, with serious work involved on top of it, including a presentation today.  Speaking of which, it was about zwarte piet.  I’ll have to share some updates on that at some point.  So today was the last class of the semester.  And after I write these three papers, I’ll be on summer vacation.  That is something to celebrate (until I remind myself that I need a job).

2) Sunshine.  Today wasn’t really sunny.  And yesterday wasn’t sunny either.  In fact, yesterday was chilly and rainy.  But last week was super sunny.  So sunny, in fact, I got the tiniest bit of a tan, which continues to makes me thankful.  Gardens, parks, beaches, and forests.  A lovely few days of sun.  I hope to see it again someday.

3) New  and known people.  The past few weeks have been filled with new people – great people, including residents, newcomers, and visitors.  And the next month promises to be filled with just as many friends visiting.  This makes me happy.

4) Plane tickets.  I’ll be in NYC for a bit next month.  Meeting my new niece and my friend’s wedding are the types of things that will get me to return to the States.  I’m super excited for the visit.

5) Prince’s birthday. Of course.

My Stuff Has Arrived

Oh, how I’ve missed all of it!  3+ months apart, but we’ve finally been reunited.  And I think this finally makes my move complete.

I wouldn’t recommend having furniture and boxes shipped for a short-term stay in another country.  And technically, I’m only supposed to be here for a year and a half.  So I was prepared (though perhaps a bit sad) to leave everything in storage for that long.  But as you may remember, shortly after I arrived, seeing the short-term potential of my apartment and long-term potential of my life here, I wanted my stuff.  Although I felt the need to justify the move constantly, I think my reasons made sense.  And now that everything is here, I’m sure I made the right decision.

The apartment surprised me with the amount of space it provided.  And with only a twin bed, a table, two chairs, and a desk lamp provided, I saw room for (almost) everything I had in storage.  Not only room – I saw the need for everything I had in storage.  I hadn’t slept on a twin-sized bed since 1998.  I believe in the importance of a couch.  And bare walls bore me.  The place may have been practical, providing the essentials for a functional student life, but it wasn’t comfortable…for a grown-up, which, as you know, is what I am – a grown-up.  So I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable for the past few months, waiting for my stuff to come to the rescue.

And I know it’s just stuff.  But it all means a lot to me.  As a relatively transient person, it’s not easy to feel at home anywhere.  But with the pictures, art, books, even furniture I’ve accumulated over time coming along for the ride, it feels like I’m creating a feeling of home no matter where I am.  A familiarity of a painting and a mirror can feel quite comforting.  So no matter what, I was going to see my stuff again – whether it would be in Amsterdam or upon my return to the States was initially unknown.  Getting rid of everything and ‘starting over’ in either place was never an option.

Living in Amsterdam long-term quickly became an option.  Even if it’s not forever, I feel pretty certain that I’ll want to stay for longer than my academic program will last.  And since my immigration status will allow me to stay for at least a year after finishing school, that’s at least one more year I’ll plan to be here (plenty of time to find a job and/or husband that will allow me to stay for even longer).  So why plan to leave stuff in storage for 2 or 3 years?  I may as well benefit from having it now, sparing myself the expense of purchasing things I already own, and enjoying the comforts of home.

There was the expense of it.  It was really expensive.  The price quote I received at the beginning of the process was a fraction of what I ended up spending.  Every step of the process resulted in more fees.  $250 here, 300 euros there.  I eventually stopped fighting it.  Because once my stuff was on the ship, there was no turning back.  Although I wish I could do some things differently, no sense in dwelling on it.  I’m just glad it’s here.

And my stuff is happy to be here as well.  Okay, so here’s something to know about me: I have a habit of personifying most objects around me.  Kind of in a crazy way.  So when I locked everything in that dark storage locker, I imagined everything looking around in the tight space, assessing who was missing, who was among them, and who had been chosen to go with me (too many pixar movies, perhaps).  Saddened by their rejection and imprisonment, they wondered if they had been left for good – never again to experience the joys of the life with me.  How sad is that?! (the emotion of my stuff – not the fact that I’m thinking about it)

So when the mysterious movers barged into the locker, packed them all into another truck, which led to an incredibly long boat ride, which led to a customs inspection in an unknown language in some far away land called Rotterdam, and then another truck… Happy to be together, I’m sure…but I imagine my stuff was terrified.

Everything arrived at 7:30 on Friday morning.  We all cheered – the couch, the cat, everyone.  Zora had packed away some toys and a couple of bags of catnip.  So she had some big wins in the unpacking process.  I was particularly happy to sit on the couch and sleep on the bed.  And over the past couple of days, rediscovering everything that mattered enough to me to be packed away has been quite nice.  Paintings I can’t wait to hang (as soon as I find the hammer), pots and pans, even some lotions and soaps I knew my future self would be happy to see.

So now it’s just a matter of unpacking everything and organizing in an apartment that has a serious lack of closet space.  I’m determined to do it as quickly as possible.  Everything will have a place soon.  And I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Until then, it’s a mess.

packed kitchen

Black Girl Officially Gone

That’s right. It’s official. I’m gone!

JFK to AMS

I arrived in Amsterdam early Sunday morning, before the sun rose. And after anticipating and talking about this arrival for so long, it felt surreal.

But first let me back up a bit.

Stored Stuff

Following my last day of work, I went into a more aggressive packing plan. Distinguishing between the stuff I would keep/take, keep/store, purge/donate, and purge/trash proved to be an incredible challenge. Every single item was suddenly important to me, even if I hadn’t seen much of these things in over three years. In the end, about 50 percent went to storage, 35 percent went in the trash or was given away, and 15 percent has come with me in three gigantic suitcases. All of these preparations were just barely in time for Friday, which was moving day. And just like every other moving day before it, it was long, painful, and exhausting. And yet again, I vowed never to do it again alone. Only this time I didn’t take the vow too seriously.

With everything packed away in an appropriate place, my cat and I drove to Jersey to stay with my sister for the night. I was so tired I was in a fog. Only a vague sense of excitement still lingered. I mostly just wanted to put my head on a pillow. So although this was my last night with my family and my last night in the country, I barely said goodnight before heading to bed. My cat, Zora, equally traumatized from the day’s events, passed out right alongside me.

And then came Saturday. The big day. Around the time when I was to head to the airport, Zora was nowhere to be found in my sister’s house. My nephews and I searched every room and crevice in a panic. About 15 minutes after I planned to leave, I felt a furry patch deep in the back of a dark closet. This fool had every intention of missing the flight. But I pulled her furry ass out of the closet, tossed her in her bag, and we were on our way.

The airport was smooth. After paying an unacceptable amount of money for extra luggage and Zora’s ticket, next thing I knew we were on the plane, making ourselves comfortable on the three seats we had to ourselves. Well, I had the seats. Zora was under the seat, poor thing (I’ll have to tell her story in a separate post – it’s that deep). I drank, I ate unexpectedly scrumptious veggie food, I watched the Social Network and Going the Distance, I joked with the flight attendant. It was a delightful flight. So delightful that I only got about 30 minutes of sleep.

Airplane Snacks

Arriving in Amsterdam around 7am, I was just about as exhausted as I was the night before – except this time I was working off a couple of those plane bottles of wine (oops). Immigration was easy, with barely a minute before the guy stamped my passport and sent me on my way. I met my mom and her husband in the baggage claim area. Shortly after that, we were on a shuttle, heading into the city of Amsterdam…my new home.

After more than a year of planning, overthinking, self-doubt, and anticipation, the moment has arrived. And unlike many prior anticlimatic moments of realized goals, this one was worth every minute of the past year. Every single minute.

I’ve been in Amsterdam for less than 48 hours. And much of it has been spent sleeping off the pain of the last couple of days. But so far it all seems to fit perfectly. The first day was sunny and relatively warm (somewhere in the 40s), the streets have been clean and quiet, the canals have been a welcome change of scenery, and the people have been incredibly kind.

I remind myself not to think of it as a utopia. Reality is sure to hit me one of these days. But what the hell? I can enjoy the fact that I made the right decision for awhile, right?

With that, I’ll leave you with the first Dutch word I spoke to a real live Dutch person…goedenavond!