Leave It Better Than You Found It

     About two years ago – at the height of all the agony that 2020 wrought across the world – I worked a second job that was deemed essential. We fulfilled and shipped orders to people during a time in which shopping from home helped fight a global outbreak. The company made the news for that reason among others not quite so noble. 

     During those chaotic months of social distance and racial unrest, the CEO made his stance in support of the Black Lives Matter movement very public. Some saw that as corporate posturing, and I might have been naïve to think otherwise. Nevertheless, I felt emboldened to express my own like-minded views through a company newsletter. While also reflecting on Pride Month, I tied in my experience as an ally to my brother. I never got to see this published before I resigned. How much has changed in two years?  

     If y’all are anything like me, maybe once or twice you’ve have had some variation of this thought run through your head when a manager approached your station:

     “What did I do wrong?”

     Perhaps the paranoia is a just remnant of my misspent youth, but to this day I still think I’m about to get scolded even if I didn’t do anything to warrant it. To his credit, my manager handled a teachable moment with ease. I’m guessing he picked up on my guilty conscience – I don’t have a great poker face – when he said, “You’re not in trouble or anything.”

     He went on to talk to me about product falling out of a bin that I touched last:

     “Sometimes it’s just bad luck, but just do your best. Leave it better than you found it.”

     It’s funny how many lessons we’re taught (or have reinforced) in everyday conversations if we listen with open minds. Someone once told me that time is the most valuable currency because we don’t know how much we have, and once we give it away to someone, we can’t get it back. For however much time I have, I want my legacy to be that I left the Earth better than I found it. 

     As the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and Pride Month coincide, I can’t stop thinking about the catchphrase that became popular at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: “We’re all in this together.”

     Have we all been in this together? Really?

     The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd among countless others before and since, the disproportionate impact of the novel coronavirus on people of color, and the lack of funding and resources for inner-city schools nationwide have said no, we are not really in this together. Even a glance at the state of our legal system, our healthcare system, and our education system blinds us with the reality of why “Black Lives Matter” needed to be created in 2013 and why it still needs to be said today. 

     George Floyd crying for his mother with his dying breath made me think of my Black friends who are mothers of young boys. One such friend told me “there are many avenues to support the movement, and they ALL matter.” That was a text message prior to a long phone conversation, so I feel the need to clarify that she capitalized ALL for emphasis. 

     That’s why I’m writing and hoping that people will read. 

     As we celebrate Pride Month, I can’t help but think of my brother, who is also my best friend. He is gay, and he is a walking miracle. I knew he received his HIV diagnosis about two and half decades ago, but when I made that remark in a recent phone conversation, he confirmed that I was exactly right. He told me this October will mark 25 years since his diagnosis. 

     My brother is a miracle because 25 years ago, his diagnosis was a death sentence. On February 24, 1995, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles because of a severe cough. Over the course of the next 30 days, “Eazy” was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, withered away to a shell of a man, and died of AIDS complications at age 30. 

     My brother turns 48 this year. 

     What’s my reason for sharing all this? I have a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the point that if we’re going to leave this Earth better than we found it – better for our children and their children and so on – then we need to live in this together.  There are many ways to contribute financially and politically, through activism, and through creative expression, and to quote my friend, “they ALL matter.”

     But we can start by listening to each other and sharing. The most important things I’ve heard recently have come directly from my close friends and family, but I’m also hearing music differently lately. It’s like I have new ears. To that point, I’ll leave y’all with the opening lyrics from a song by my favorite band, TV on the Radio. The song is called “Snakes and Martyrs.” I’d heard it before, but it means more now. Thanks for reading.

(Lyrics by Kyp Malone and vocals by Tunde Adebimpe)

“Everyone makes waves

At the same time

(Like pebbles on water)

And we call all those interrupting lines

(Sons and daughters)

A community

So, let’s join hands in song

Blessed unity …”

Don’t Settle for Silver

I’ve never been comfortable with self-promotion. 

In 2015 I somehow mustered the strength to power through that discomfort, and I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 to self-publish my first book. 

I finished that book, “My Problem is Adam: A Story of Recovery,” back in 2009. 

In the 6 years in between, I sporadically submitted query letters to literary agents. One such dalliance went as far as the agent requesting to read my entire manuscript. She worked for the agency that represented John Grisham, so it was exciting to even be considered. She ultimately declined, but she complimented my writing and encouraged me to continue my search for the right agent. 

I had some reasonable excuses for not pursuing my writing career more diligently during that period of my life. I was working full time while also earning a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling. I wrote page after page worth of research papers about abnormal psychology and various theoretical orientations, but I didn’t write any stories. 

After graduating from my Master’s program in the latter half of 2013, I took several months to focus on my writing (and rack up some debt) before searching for a “real job” in mental health or higher education. During those Bohemian months, I adapted my first book into a screenplay and wrote my first complete work of fiction – a horror movie I had dreamed up several years prior. 

Both of those completed works have collected digital dust the last 8 years while I have made zero direct attempts at finding representation in the world of film. I did enter a few screenwriting contests, and I had a Black List account for a hot minute. Once again, I received positive feedback that I still appreciate and use as motivation to this day, but I have done nothing with it. 

After a few years spent finding my way as a higher education professional, the birth of my nephew inspired me to write a children’s book in 2019. The global unrest of 2020 stoked those flames once again, leading me to author another book for my nephew. For that one I drew heavily from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” in penning a 30,000-word letter to my sister’s son. 

So, here I am with three complete books (one self-published), two finished screenplays, dozens of other ideas, and the specter of time’s inexorable march forward. Instead of fearing that which chases me, I’m terrified of what’s leaving me behind. 

I love serving students. I really do. I believe in the transformative power that education holds for individuals, families, communities, and the world. Truly.

But in the Olympics of my career aspirations, I am living with my silver medal. 

I am a writer. I am a storyteller. That’s my gold medal. 

From the time I wrote my first story about a pre-teen FBI agent, to my early college years as an award-winning newspaper writer that ended with a stint in rehab and a change in career trajectory, to my late 30s where I find myself firmly entrenched as a higher education professional, I have always been a writer at heart. I will be for as long as my faculties remain intact. It is who I am, and it is what I must do. 

I read once that writers write because they can’t not write. As syntactically problematic as that sentence might be, the sentiment rings true. 

I’ve been hesitant to share this journey with coworkers at my various occupational stops. I haven’t even talked much about it with friends and family. As wrongheaded as I know this is, I’ve been embarrassed to have a dream. I was embarrassed because admitting that my real dream is to be a writer would mean (in my head) that I have failed up to this point. I had no problem writing a book about my mental health issues and drug addiction, but heaven forbid I let anyone in on my dirty little secret about trying to write for a living. 

That stops now. 

I posted a blog entry here on my website last night. 

It was my first entry since 2016, but it’s also the first of many more to come. 

Whatever your gold medal is, don’t let these types of self-defeating negative thoughts keep you stuck in silver. Silver’s fine. Silver can be beautiful. 

But if you know what your gold is, don’t ever, ever, ever give up on it.