Category Archives: reflections

I Am Number 4

While I was home I attended an ugly Christmas sweater party at the home of a college friend. While I chatted it up with other college friends, one of them pulled out a sheet of paper that quickly became the topic of conversation for about 30 minutes. My friend is a high school teacher and she confiscated the paper from one of her students and made a copy for her enjoyment.

The paper was a list of the top 87 things that the student hated. My friend was listed at number 4. We wondered how she could possibly be listed so high. What did she do to this boy? As a point of reference George Zimmerman was listed at number 87. Other notable listings included Ebola, ISIS and Justin Beiber, which she also outranked.

This got me thinking that instead of doing a typical year-end post of things I want to change going into the new year or reflections of things about the past year I’d follow suit and talk about things that I hate. So without further adieu here is my list of things that I hate (in order)

  1. Corrupt, abusive police officers
  2. Racist people
  3. Pretentious people
  4. Seafood
  5. J. Edgar Hoover
  6. Don Lemon
  7. George Zimmerman
  8. Los Angeles Lakers
  9. Fox News
  10. Rush Limbaugh
  11. Kobe Bryant
  12. Classism
  13. Mayonnaise
  14. Nascar
  15. John Boehner
  16. Apple chargers
  17. The number 3
  18. Dallas Cowboys
  19. Ingrown Hairs
  20. Bill O’Reily
  21. Sitting next to obese people on airplanes
  22. High waist jeans
  23. Turbulence
  24. Carlos Rodgers (of Fairmont Heights HS)
  25. PETA
  26. Michael Jordan
  27. Wet socks
  28. Ratchet TV
  29. D’Angelo
  30. Yogurt
  31. New York Yankees
  32. Skinny jeans on men
  33. Spirit airlines
  34. Gambling
  35. Contrarians
  36. Rum
  37. Gin
  38. Mohawks
  39. Reebok
  40. Woodchuck
  41. Go-Go (Judge your mother)
  42. Snapbacks
  43. Darren Wilson
  44. Bill Cosby
  45. Planes flying near Malaysia
  46. New England Patriots
  47. Fritos
  48. Duke
  49. Neck and hand tattoos
  50. When I say I hate something and someone says, “Hate is a strong word”. I now how words work and what they mean. I know I hate you.

Welcome to the Haters Ball. Let me know what you hate.

Happiness is a warm gun.

“Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”
― Robert Frost

I like this quote about happiness.

It also happens to describe my precarious relationship with a feeling that used to come so easy to me. I’ve come to realize that happiness is as fleeting an emotion as anger or anticipation or disgust. As a child and young adult I thought that happiness was something of a right because it came so naturally. I deserved it. There are so many pictures of me as a child caught mid laughter. I still smile in pictures but this is sometimes done by trained reaction not genuine joy. Happiness, now is a like a rollercoaster. There few large climaxes with little ups and downs that sustains me until the next large climax.

I’ve often asked myself, “Do other people have these same fixations on happiness?” Do they fret over it as much as I do or do they just enjoy life and take it as it comes?

In my last post I wrote about how I feel I suffer from depression. While I don’t think depression and happiness (or lack thereof) go hand in hand; I do believe that they are intimately connected. It might be commonplace that a person who seems happy on the surface may in fact be putting on a front for the world around them. It’s so simple to post snippets of your life on social media while collecting Instagram likes, Facebook shares and Twitter retweets while feeling dead on the inside.

As a real adult, not a pretend one, I learned that no one promised me joy and happiness. I have the right to pursue that happiness but it is indeed a privilege that should be enjoyed while it lasts. Now the tough part is actually doing just that instead of typing it.

My heteroclitic dealings with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“In the end, I understand his desire, the self’s desire to silence the self, and thus the world. Ronald looked at his Nothing and saw its long history, saw it in all our families and our communities, all the institutions of the South and the nation driving it. He knew it walked with all of us, and he was tired of walking.”

-Jesmyn Ward

This is an excerpt from Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped, a memoir which I’m currently reading.  The Men We Reaped delves into the stories of Ward’s brother and her friends who died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that nurtured drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Ronald who is referenced in the quote dealt with depression which led to a drug habit that caused him to become estranged from his family and feeling like he let the most important people in his life down. Eventually giving up on life he committed suicide at the age of nineteen. This book resonates with me because I can relate to certain feelings of hopelessness that comes with being a Black person in America.

Depression is a precarious thing. In undergrad I believe I suffered bouts of depression. I wasn’t clinically diagnosed but I know exactly what it was. One Friday night my mannerisms and attitude combined with what I’ll describe as buzz words caused my friends to believe that I might attempt to take my life. I needed to clear my mind so I took a scenic walk around campus and it happened to be eerily empty. My friends found me sitting on a bench in front of the dining hall. After my friends made sure I was fine one of my best friends and my eventual line brother stayed behind to talk to me. We had one of the realest and rawest conversations I have ever had in my life. His sister had recently committed suicide and he finally opened up to me how much her death hurt him and continued to hurt him. He couldn’t imagine going through that much pain again. He called me selfish. I had so much to live for. So many people would love to have my life. That’s the thing about depression. None of that matters.

What did matter is how I felt after that conversation. I don’t know if he or any of my other friends remember that night or that conversation but I think about it all the time. I was embarrassed by my feelings because I have a lot to be thankful for. Many people would love to trade places with me. I don’t want to be selfish so I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about it with my family. I don’t talk about it with my friends. I don’t talk about it with my lover. The simple fact is that I still suffer from depression from time to time. I’m embarrassed by it. It doesn’t make me special. It doesn’t make me needy. It doesn’t make me different. It’s something that many people my age, my color, my gender suffer from yet it’s still taboo within our community.

September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. This is something I didn’t know because it’s something that I didn’t want to know. I don’t like thinking about suicide. When news of Robin Williams’ suicide was plastered everywhere I was consciously silent on the issue. I usually share blogs that I find interesting on twitter or facebook. A favorite blogger of mine recently wrote a piece on suicide. I didn’t share this piece but instead I sent her a private message.

This leads back to my embarrassment. I’d rather not discuss it, especially publicly, because I think that if I don’t talk about it then I don’t have to deal with it.

Black people aren’t supposed to suffer from depression. Africans definitely aren’t supposed to suffer from depression. It’s impossible for Africans who were born and raised in America to even consider it because imagine if you were still back home? I should be grateful. The thought of bringing up the issue of depression with my parents is as far fetched as me discussing my sex life with them; far from likely.

I still deal with what I believe is mild depression.  I’m trying to be less embarrassed by it. I’m trying to be less ashamed by it. It’s something that I cope with.

Black American ambition

“Black American ambition, unchecked by healthy doses of fear, would lead to slow, painful death. This was our American story.” –Kiese Laymon

I’ve always dreamed big. My ambition came from my parents. They believe in prophets, signs and visions. When I was around eight years old this prophet visited our church and told my parents that one of their children would become a doctor. I believed that prophet so I guess I believed in prophets, signs and visions too.

I never thought I couldn’t be anything that I put my mind to. My freshman year in high school I saw a movie entitled The Rock which costarred Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. The movie took place in San Francisco and Alcatraz. Cage played a biochemist that specialized in chemical warfare. I loved that movie as a teenager and I knew then I wanted to be a biochemist. I now hold a PhD in biochemistry although I wouldn’t know the first thing about biological weapons. I knew what I wanted to be and with hard work and dedication I achieved my goals. This is the supposed American dream.

The other day I walked down the street to the corner store to buy some snacks for a basketball game I was watching. Since it was chilly out I put on a hoodie. As I entered the store the clerk asked me to take off the hoodie so he could see my face. I didn’t think it was an odd request until I noticed a white man in the store with a hoodie on. I understand it was a safety concern that I had a hoodie on but what made me different from the white man besides the color of my skin? I’m used to being the target of discriminatory practices. As I was walking back home I wondered how many people would view me as suspicious walking around a dark neighborhood with a hoodie on.

I’m 32 years old. I’m a doctor. I’ve never been trouble with the law. Despite this I’m surprised that I’ve lived as long as I have. I know too many of my peers who’ve fallen victim to gun violence, drugs and/or prison. Whenever I drive somewhere and I see a police car in my rearview my heart rate still increases because I know that there’s always the possibility that I could get pulled over for “matching the description of a suspect” or there’s always the possibility of “justifiable homicide”.

Last week a friend and I were asked to speak to a group of children for a program called “Little Geniuses”. They were two groups of children of color (aged 4-7 and 8-12) that lived in NE Washington, D.C. I was asked to tell the children what I do, how I became interested in science and to tell them there are many other types of doctors they can be besides physicians. I told them all about the joys of science and research but I also wanted to explain to their young minds the reality of being born with skin the color of ours. If I could get away with telling the naked truth and being sure they could grasp all I had to say it would have went something like this:

“Good morning young geniuses. You are amazing boys and girls. You can grow up to be anything you want to be. Doctors or lawyers. Engineers or teachers. Nurses or politicians. You are in fact our future kings and queens. You come from a legacy of great men and women do did and do amazing things in this country and around the world. People that look like us have ruled countries. We’ve invented many of the things that we use on a day-to-day basis that makes life more convenient.  We’ve been to space, we fly planes and we are write books. It is tragic that there are people who don’t feel the same way that I do or appreciate what people like us have done and continue to do.

I’m unhappy you can’t walk down the street with a hoodie on without fearing for your life. I apologize for you not being able to play your music too loud without the possibility of being shot. I’m sorry that you can’t ask someone for help without being shot in the head. Its sad that even if you are killed or injured because of the color of your skin there will be rationalizations and excuses as to why what happened to you happened. It’s disheartening to see the value that is placed on black life. There are going to be people who hate your very existence because of the color of your skin. What they don’t realize is that they have so much in common with you if they would just open their eyes. These are the type of people who can only feel tall if they believe they can stand over someone; and what easier way to distinguish yourself to feel superior than by race?

I’m not going to tell you to be a bigger, better person and love them even though they hate you. I struggle with that myself. Love your neighbor as you love yourself is lost on me when my neighbor considers me less than them. I followed my dreams to get to be the person you see standing in front of you today. It wasn’t easy; in fact it was a lot harder than it needed to be. I don’t want that to discourage you though. I want you to use the fact that there are people who expect you to fail as motivation to succeed. I would be remiss in my duty here today if I failed to warn you about coupling that ambition to succeed in becoming the kings and queens that you are with apprehension of what can happen to you despite of how far you make it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that’s what you have to look forward to being Black in America.”

The Issue with Child and Domestic Abuse…

Last week Adrian Peterson’s son lost his life after being beaten by his mother’s boyfriend. He was two years old. People and supposedly reputable news sources across the Internet speculated on the details of the tragedy.  Some reported that when he went to visit his son in the hospital it was his first time meeting his son (although he only recently found out he was the father thru DNA testing) as if that really mattered. A lot of people debated whether or not the child’s mother was to blame. What was lost with all the blame games (looking squarely at you Don Lemon) that went around was that an innocent child lost his life and what exactly could be done to prevent something like it from happening in the future.

The fact that Adrian Peterson was his father this child meant that this story naturally had more than if his father wasn’t a famous athlete. The story tugged at the heartstrings of the nation but in reality this happens everyday. It happened the day before and it will continue to happen unless something is done to stop it. According to ChildHelp, on average four children die everyday from child abuse. Also, approximately 80% of children that die of child abuse are under the age of four 1. Children are fragile beings who should be protected and sheltered. When an adult beats on a person whose body is not fully developed and is a fraction of the size of said adult things like serious bodily injury, brain damage and even death can occur.

I’ve always maintained that if I were fortunate enough to become a parent I wouldn’t beat them. This has long been my philosophy because I was abused as a child. At the time I really didn’t think I was abused. I just assumed that’s how all parents disciplined their children. Most people who have parents who are immigrants from West Africa or the West Indies know the harsh definition of “spare the rod, spoil the child.”

The other day I was having a discussion with my two of my brothers about what we thought we endured was normal in fact wasn’t normal (This is what inspired me to write something). We ended asking each other if we remembered certain events that happened when we were growing up. It was something of a therapy session, which was out of the norm because a lot of black people don’t like rehashing events and/or feelings that may explain why things are a certain way.

There was one time when my mom was mad at my dad at my dad for a reason my brothers and I were too young to understand. We were running thru the house playing tag or some other game that young boys play. My mother happened to be cooking at the time and after she told us to stop running in the house one time too many she took at frying pan that she was washing and threw it clear across the living at us. The frying pan made direct contact with one of my brother’s foreheads. At the time she was remorseful even though my brother didn’t have anything worse than a welt. Even then I knew what the repercussions could have been if my brother were more seriously injured.

My mother is a good person. She’s not malicious or intrinsically violent.  That day she was frustrated with my father with whom they had their own domestic violence issues and in a moment of unsuppressed frustration she turned her anger towards her children instead of the alternatives. She could have sought therapy. She could have talked things out with her husband. She could have punished us in different ways that didn’t include physical violence. From I can remember till I turned about 10 or 11 my parents preferred method of punishment was beatings. This sometimes involved beating us with objects including shoes, extension cords, fists, etc.

Eventually as we got bigger than our parents (I was bigger than my Dad by the time I was in middle school) they used more unorthodox methods of punishment. Sometimes we had to get on our knees and keep our arms out to our sides for an extended period of time. Another favorite in our household was to start from a standing position and use my left pointing finger to touch the ground while balancing my right foot in the air behind me. This position was also held for an extended period of time.

Although my parents are African and beating children comes second nature as a punishment even they grew out of it. I thank God that it happened before any of us became a statistic.  I have personal experience with being abused. It helped shape my views on it today and it’s led me to believe that beating children is lazy. Children misbehave and it’s a parent’s job to train their children to become fully functioning adults. There are plenty of alternatives to physical punishments. The jokes that “timeouts” are for white parents are detrimental. My brother uses this method with my niece (she’s seven) and it’s very successful. In a perfect word a stern look would be enough to cause a child to behave. In absence of that taking away privileges and maybe the twisting of an ear or slapping of a wrist could also work.

In the wake of the death of Adrian Peterson’s son and with it being domestic violence awareness month I hope more people take the time to think about the effects that violence in the home can have directly on those living it in it. Click here to view some of the effects of domestic violence where children are present in the home.

1. www.childhelp-usa.com/statistics.

My obligatory, honest, introspective birthday post.

At 5:36 AM EST I will officially turn 32 years old. As I sit and reflect on short yet long enough time on this Earth I’ve come to lot of realizations about who I am as a person and how exactly how I came to be the type of person I am. The past year has been a trying, challenging one and despite how hard it’s been it seemed to fly by. Last year I spent my birthday weekend in San Diego attending a wedding of my girlfriend’s childhood friend. Although things weren’t perfect then I still thought that things in my life could get a lot better.

What a difference a year makes. I’ve learned that things can always get worse. Instead of counting my problems I’m still learning to count my blessings.  It’s still a process because regardless of how many blessings you have when a lot of bad things happen at once its extremely difficult to only focus on the good.

The drawbacks I’ve had in my life over the past year have allowed me to rethink my views and ideas as it pertains to certain things.

Humbleness

I thought I knew humility before. I like to think of myself as a modest person but nothing makes you more humble than being a grown man who is forced to move back into your mother’s house. It’s not a situation where I’m a bum who dropped out of school and isn’t trying to better myself. I have a PhD in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology and I’m a great molecular biologist. When your salary (read here) or the amount of jobs available is based on how much Congress allocates to biomedical research you might be shit outta luck. Scientists across the country are being laid off left and right but that doesn’t make me feel any better about my situation.

Fact still remains most of my longest friends are married, own homes and/or have children. Last night I went out with my friends I’ve known since before I could grow a mustache for another birthday outing and all my friends were having conversations and showing each other videos/pictures of their children. Either that or they were talking about things homeowners discuss. I had nothing to contribute to those conversations. I know my time will come but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit jealous of not having things I put off in order to focus on a career and building a life for my future family that I didn’t have.

Religion

I think we need to realize that it also has to go beyond this paradigm of prayer that we have in the traditional church, because there’s a part where prayer almost borders on superstition in today’s culture. It’s the idea that we can petition somehow and magic happens when, really, prayer should be a clarification of one’s internal being in relationship to an external world.

Rev. Grayland Scott Hagler

Today I sat with my father discussing my maturation into manhood and he told me how lucky I am to be turning 32. He also told me he was proud of all that I’ve accomplished in my life. He asked how things were going with my job search and I started to vent to him my frustrations. When I was done he asked me if I believed in God. I thought it was a silly question but I answered anyway. He told me that if I pray to God hard enough He could bring me thru anything. While I surely do believe that I also believe that faith without works is dead. I’ve grown stronger in spirituality and my personal relationship with Christ. I don’t just pray because I’m going thru hard times but I genuinely want to be on a path closer to God. While I’m growing closer to God I find myself growing further away from zealots who tend to dominate organized religion. Perhaps this is the reason I haven’t had a church home in more than two years.

Happiness

A woman, Tiffany, whose bravery to step away from a great profession and make a dynamic career change, I admire recently wrote a post on the difference between joy and happiness and the pursuit of both. While reading that post I realized that I lost my joy a while ago. I have some bright spots in my life that has brought me so much happiness but in the end those are external factors that have made me feel better about myself. My joy, which can only come from within, vanished and I’ve only recently come to realize it. A friend of mine who has known me for quite sometime told me recently that I’ve changed. Not in an overt obvious way but with subtle changes in my personality are glaring if anyone pays attention.

I need to get back to a point where I’m joyous again. Where I can be a beacon of happiness to others. I know it’s not something that’s going to change overnight because it didn’t get that way overnight.

Notwithstanding everything I still know that I’m blessed. I have good health. In the end whoever has health has wealth. I truly believe that. People seem to mistake me for 5-7 years younger than what I actually am. I think that this is a good thing. I’m able to run 30-40 miles weekly while I know there are people half my age that can’t do that. I’m disease free. When multiple people I know my age or younger have passed from cancer its a nothing but a blessing to not have that deal with that battle. I have friend and family who care about me. Despite the fact that I lost my job they have been my support system. Sometimes I have been supported emotionally, sometimes financially and sometimes spiritually.

Father in Heaven, I pray to you that year 32 for your child is a blessed one. You have not brought me this far to leave me now. Forsake my enemies and detractors who will have me fail and be miserable. Create new opportunities that will prove that the trials and tribulations I have been through were just preparing me to receive your abundance tenfold. Cover my friends and family with your anointing that they may also know what a glorious name you have. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Where is this going?

“I don’t understand what the big deal is with a title.”

It seemed like it was the same song being played over and over. The only thing that was different was the woman who was uttering those words to me. It would always start the same. I would meet a woman whom I really liked and enjoyed spending time with. She would enjoy spending time with me as well. Then the inevitable would occur.

“Where do you see this going?”

Those six words used to cause me so much angst and panic. My mind would immediately race to figure out the best way to avoid what I knew she wanted. I knew that she liked me and I knew that she knew that I liked her too but I still did all the things that would make her think I was interested in taking things to the next level. Dates? I like your company so why not? Sleepovers? Sure thing. Great sex? Why the hell wouldn’t I?

Then I was shocked when she wanted something concrete. Who doesn’t like more of a good thing? I should have been elated. Those were quality women. I don’t think I was ready. No, I know for a fact I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship.  So why did I enter into these pseudo-relationships knowing that I had no intention of pursuing things further?

Companionship.

At the end of the day I’m a man who loves the presence of a woman. Even if that presence is temporary and fleeting I still enjoy the time I do get to spend with her. I took it for what it was and if she didn’t like the way it was then that was something that she had to deal with.

“I told you in the beginning that I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend.”

Yes, technically I could say that I never lied but I also knew that eventually these women would want more because I decided to conveniently miss the subtle signs that their emotions were growing stronger and stronger towards me.  When backed into a corner I’d flip the script by acting like she tried to spring something on me that we both hadn’t agreed to in the first place. Not some of my finer moments and I have my reasons (which I may delve into later) but something happened.

Forty-one days.

That’s the exact time from which I met my significant other till the time I asked her to be my girlfriend (technically we knew each other for almost two years through mutual friends but that was the time from which I physically knew her).

What exactly made her different than the others?

I don’t want to come right out and say that she’s better than them. Well actually I am saying that. She’s a better person for me. We clicked. We vibed. She’s not perfect but she’s perfect for me (corny but IDC). It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to give her a title. I didn’t have to be prodded and questioned.

It had a lot to do with me as well.  I knew what I wanted. I wasn’t afraid of how it would make me look. I went with what felt right. I realized that telling a woman “titles makes things complicated” is just a copout. Sometimes complicated is good as long as you’re complicated together. I realized that if you have a good woman and you’re not worried about all the other stuff, you won’t have those feelings of anxiety at the thought of something as simple as a title.

Essentially I grew the fuck up.