Wined and Dined: A Fairy Tale

Last night a man wined and dined me, treating me to the most sumptuous foods and waiting on me hand and foot. This was our first time out but he was at ease in spoiling me, calling me “My Lady”–the way that British people say it (Mehlady). He had his finger on the pulse of everything this epicure enjoys, from mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, crab meat, and spinach to steaming hot paella chock full of fresh seafood such as lobster tails, scallops, and Mahi Mahi. He anticipated my every need and met it while being so careful not to overstep boundaries, after all, this was only our first time out. He even brought dessert, a selection of six decadent treats from Tiramisu to Pecan Pie of which I chose only one for fear that I would explode in delight with anything more. I exploded anyway. We kept things fairly light throughout the meal but by the end he asked me about what I was reading. I responded in the way one responds when they assume that someone won’t know who they are talking about.

“City of God, by this guy Augustine,” I said. His eyes lit up when I said Augustine and I realized that he knew him as well as I did–or at least as well as I was hoping to know Augustine.

“I recently started reading a book on Plato, even though I haven’t read much of that nature since my theology class,” he responded. I lit up at the sound of the words “theology” and “class.”

“Did you attend a theology school?” I asked, beaming in excited anticipation of his answer, hoping we shared a similar path.

“It was while I was at Xavier,” he said.

Now I was really lit.

“Are you Catholic?” I asked.

“I am,” he said. Inside I felt like the 4th of July, all fireworks and Katy Perry singing, “Baby You’re a Firework.”

“I am Catholic too,” the words spilling out of my mouth.

He smiled wide, put his hand over his heart, and extended his other hand in what felt like some secret greeting between people of the faith. I smiled on the outside but inside I was bursting with desire to know this person better, bursting out of desire because I finally found what I was missing, a man who shares my faith tradition and knows a little about Augustine and Plato. All of a sudden the wasteland I had been walking through evaporated and I was in a promised land.

We both smiled at one another and then he excused himself to get something in the back.

He walked away but then turned on his heels swiftly and said, “I’m sorry, I digress, what’s your name?”

As if we hadn’t already greeted one another with hands I extended mine for a chance to meet his again and said, “Nicole.”

“It’s really nice to meet you, hopefully I’ll see you again so that we can talk about Augustine’s City of God. I’m here every day,” he said in earnest as he walked away from the table.

I smiled at my good fortune on this evening. I wasn’t expecting to be wined and dined and treated like a queen. I expected a perfunctory dinner, but this was different, I was unprepared for this difference. I said farewell to this man and took leave of the place where I was wined and dined, walking past table upon table of people enjoying their sumptuous meals and decadent dessert. I squeezed past large groups awaiting seating and finally reached the doors to the exterior of Seasons 52.

As I walked toward my car I exhaled. I’d been waiting for this feeling, waiting to feel something more real than I’ve felt in a while and I finally felt it. I smiled. I got in my car and exhaled again, reaching into my wallet to pull out my receipt so that I could look at his name. He told his name but I hoped that I’d have more than his first name, unfortunately it was not to be. All I had was his first name and, of course, his place of employment, Seasons 52. Far from being in despair at this Cinderella-like fate, I was hopeful. Not because I was planning to make a habit out of going to Seasons 52–because that’s an expensive habit to sustain–but because that chance encounter restored my faith in something like love even if just for a moment.

I sit here now with the only memento from that night, a symbolic glass slipper that belongs to a Prince Charming-prototype. I wonder if he too feels like his only memento of the night is holding a symbolic glass slipper, a receipt with my signature scribbled on it and the last four digits of my credit card number. If I’m lucky he’ll use those two things to track me down and save me from this evil spell called living in this crazy world without a romantic equal. Alas life is not a fairytale, and he probably gives impeccable service to scores of people at Seasons 52, after all, it is his job.

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Promises to Myself on the First Day of My PhD Program aka The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I know that sounds cliché and probably a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Today I begin doctoral studies at Emory University. It’s almost unreal to me that this day is here. I’ve prayed about this, put in the work, had a small community of family, friends, and colleagues helping me through the process and this moment has finally arrived. Yesterday evening as I was with some of my cohort at a picnic, one of the faculty members said, “Enjoy your last night of freedom.” I hated the sound of that but I recognize that in many ways I’m losing the freedom I’ve known for the last few years. I’ve taken a drastic cut in compensation to pursue this degree. I’ve moved out of my nice one-bedroom apartment to share a house with some good friends–which I must say is actually nicer than the apartment I left. I won’t be able to go out as freely, eat as lavishly, and spend as much money on any one thing as I’m accustomed to because of this journey that I’m embarking on. Yet for all of these sacrifices I’m still thinking a lot about promises I want to keep to myself for myself, my family, my friends and this city that I will call home for the next 5-6 years. I don’t want to be one of those people who makes graduation the target at the expense of livelihood, health, friends, and family–because there are apparently people who will sacrifice all of that in pursuit of this degree (see below).

I recently saw this posted on a groups for PhDs and was disturbed by the amount of people--most of the respondents--who thought this was a good thing.

I recently saw this posted on a groups for PhDs and I was shocked to find that most picked graduate over everything else. 

This can’t be life. It can’t be my life. I didn’t decide to doctoral work so that I could lose all sense of self and the world around me. I’m not interested in doing this work  in isolation–although I know the work can be isolating. Yesterday I sat through an orientation where one of the students said, “You will be destroyed, and you will have to rebuild yourself.” I have everyone else’s advice and cautionary tales but now it’s time for me reflect. I decided to create a list of promises to myself as I begin this journey and am sharing it in hopes that family and friends who’ll read this will hold me accountable over the years and that someone else starting a new chapter in life might be encouraged. So here goes:

  1. Put God First: When I first wrote this list I actually had something else first, but when I wrote it again I decided to put God first, even if only for semantic reasons. But really, I don’t just want God to be first on a technicality, I want God to be first on purpose. I believe that I didn’t get here on my own and I don’t think I will get through this without grounding myself in God. My goal is to recover my relationship with God and get God back to the number one spot by getting back to the spiritual disciplines and committing to worship every week.
  2. Do Your Best, Not Anyone Else’s: What great temptation there is to meet everyone else’s expectations or compare yourself to others. To meet the expectations of faculty, of the people who recommended you, of friends who believe you’ll do everything exceedingly well, of family who are rooting for you…But this is not for any of them, not totally. No, my job is to do my best and not anyone else’s. To not drown myself in everyone’s expectations nor to get pulled into the sin of comparison. My goal is to do my best every single time. I will read as much as I can every single time, ask the questions that are important to me, risk sounding stupid if I just don’t understand something, write with courage and present with confidence. And if I ever fail to do any of those things, I won’t beat myself up, I’ll just do my best the next time.
  3. Take Good Care of Yourself: I know myself. In my first graduate program I was notorious for keeping late hours. I drank a lot of caffeine–albeit healthy caffeine (Shot outs to Guayaki Yerba Mate!). I sometimes ate garbage foods. I didn’t make much time for exercise. I had a one-track mind. But this time around I don’t want to do that nor do I think I can afford to do that. My goal is to keep the same exercise routine I had before the program started which means I will exercise 2-3 times a week. I have to do this because I can’t afford to gain any weight–literally, because I don’t wear cheap clothes–but also because–and more importantly–I believe that a healthy, fit body leads to a healthy, fit mind.
  4. Eat Well: If you know me you know that I love to eat. My ex-boyfriend once said that I eat like it will be my last meal. This doesn’t mean I eat like the food is running off the plate but that my meals are sometimes too lavish and opulent. I’m like the Marie Antoinette of food. I have no problem spending a lot on a meal with friends–granted I won’t be able to do that often given my new graduate student status–because I love a great food experience and great company. But, in keeping with my new status, my goal is to still find ways to eat well by simplifying ingredients, buying fresh food, and treating myself dining experiences on occasion–maybe once a month. I want to get to a place where dining out becomes special, an incentive even, rather than just this part of life that I feel I’m obligated to because I can afford it. So eating to live will be my first priority and every now and then I’ll live to eat.
  5. Keep In Touch with Family & Friends: I sometimes drop off the face of the telecommunications earth and the only way I can be found is on social media. When I have a lot on my plate the last thing I want to do is pick up the phone. Maybe I’ll text you, maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll call me and I won’t pick up or call back for days/weeks on in. I first hope that no one takes this personally and charges it to my head not my heart. But I also hope to just be better about keeping in touch with the people I love–and even those I just like, moderately. My goal is to communicate with family and friends regularly. I honestly can’t say what the frequency of this will be because I know it will vary, but If you don’t hear from me for more than two weeks, and we communicate regularly, reach out.
  6. Make Time for Love: When I first found out I got in to this program I joked that I was going to start a new blog entitled, “PhD or Mrs: Which Will Happen First?” Right now I’m almost willing to place my bets on finishing my dissertation first before I get married. The former seems so much easier to me. I’m also just happy being single and recognize that I can get a lot accomplished as such, but I don’t want to be single for much longer. There are so many amazing things happening in my life that I want to share with not just family and friends but also a partner who can sojourn with me and I with them. I want nothing less than someone who knows their purpose and is actively working to manifest it because that is what I’m doing. I want someone who’ll sit in a coffee shop and read with me when I’m reading–their own book of course, cook dinner when I’m on the verge of starving myself, whisk me away when I get too wrapped up in all of this, and generally be a confidant and co-conspirator in living on purpose. I say all of this not to sound completely self-interested in what someone can do for me in a relationship, but to be clear that I need a partner who will support me. I’ve never had a problem being a man’s cheerleader, support system, confidant, chef, Kleenex, but it’s time for Nicole to also receive the same. But none of this will happen if I’m always in the library, my room, or the corner of a coffee shop–well actually I guess he can find me in the library or coffee shop. My goal is to be intentional about making time to date truly interesting people and be open to the package the truly interesting people come in. I wouldn’t mind a neuroscientist or chemist, just putting that out there.
  7. Be Yourself and Grant That Self Grace: Truth is, I may fail to keep all of these promises. I may wake up with just enough time in the morning to shower and get out the door. I may compare myself to my colleagues. I might stop exercising for a stretch out of necessity or straight-up exhaustion. I may go back to eating BBQ rice because that might be all I can afford. I might go into an isolation so deep that only my housemates can pull me out–and that will only be because we live under the same roof. I may remain single for the next six years because, hell, it might really be easier to complete a dissertation rather than navigate these dating streets. A lot can happen, but in the midst of it all I want to remember two things, 1. I want to remember to be myself and be gracious to myself.

Just this past Sunday I had a friend jokingly greet me saying, “Hey doctoral student!” I replied, “Nicole is sufficient.” I’m not interested in being called “Doctor” or “Professor,” especially not before I’ve rightfully earned those titles. I want to be Nicole through all of this, the woman with a good sense of humor, a healthy appetite, a high-sartorial sense, a lover of God, cupcakes, and dresses. A good daughter, loyal friend, distant but lovingly consistent family member, a civically-engaged citizen, and a grounded child of God. I know I will change through the years, but don’t let me change too much.

So if you read this and we are friends, either in real life or just virtually, will you hold me accountable? Periodically ask me how I am doing–please don’t assume that because I look or sound like I have it together that I actually do. Ask me when last I prayed and encourage me to do so–maybe even pray with me if you are feeling inclined. Ask me about the last good meal I had; if I’ve exercised lately; if I’ve met any handsome, brilliant, wonderful men; ask me if I feel like myself. Ask me anything. I know that I am because of many of you who have nurtured me up to this point. I will continue to be because of that as well.

So off I go to begin this beautiful journey…

Unfollow Feelings: The First Lesson in My 34th Year

Recently I celebrated my 34th birthday. 34 is not a major milestone year to most people but for me it is a milestone. It is the year when I will finally wipe the slate clean and move on with my life after a rough 33rd year. Most of my birthday went well and was rather low-key. I received the obligatory birthday Facebook posts, phone calls, and text messages early in the day. Early in the evening I enjoyed a slice of rum cake and well wishes at home with my parents and then I headed out for the evening with a close friend and her family. All was well that evening until the clock inched toward midnight and I realized something was missing.

I didn’t know whether it was the two Kir Royales I had or if it was really me, but every minute the clock inched closer to midnight I started to get sad. Actually I was sad and slightly mad. I was waiting for him to send the obligatory “Happy Birthday” text even though we aren’t really on speaking terms. I received a Merry Christmas text so I assumed I’d receive a birthday text–my birthday is the day after and we have enough mutual friends that the day couldn’t go by him unnoticed. But alas the text never came. As I drove home that evening I became bitter wondering if he was repaying a deed for a deed since I didn’t call him on his birthday earlier in the year. (I didn’t contact him on his birthday because I was bitter and still hurt about our breakup and I didn’t feel like doing anything obligatorily–if that’s not a word it is today.) Nevertheless, I thought about texting him to say that  not hearing from him on my birthday hurts. I went as far as to open the text message thread we shared and started to type my grievances but I stopped.

I spent the rest of the ride home gripping my steering wheel hard with both hands and fighting back tears. I told myself that I didn’t want to shed another tear over him especially not on my birthday. I spent the better half of the year in tears over him. I told myself that I could not, under any circumstance, reach out to him because he cannot know he has any power left over me. I fought myself all the way home warning myself that if I bowed to the temptation of texting him my grievances I’d be taking a step back and undoing a lot of hard work I’d done over the last few months. I also admitted that the attention of the one person I had always hoped would give me his undivided attention may be what I wanted but it wasn’t what I needed. Finally I told myself that I would wake up in the morning and feel much better about myself if I didn’t reach out to him. I had to unfollow my feelings and believe that the consequence of not following them would be better than the consequence of following them. This is hard for someone who toes the line of being a hopeless romantic and a slight romantic fatalist.

I spent roughly four years following my feelings and while in the moment it felt good, it didn’t end good well. I was constantly forcing myself into something and onto someone who wasn’t all the way there for it. “Follow your heart,” I told myself time after time. But my heart and my feelings were so tied up in the relationship that I saw no other way until it was too late. Yet some lessons are better learned late than never.

The moment I decided to unfollow my feelings was the right moment for me. I’ve learned that we do ourselves a great disservice when we are always following the lead of our feelings and our heart because neither is rational and they won’t guarantee you a safe and secure space in someone’s arms. Reality is, at least for me, that sometimes feelings need to be unfollowed in favor of delaying gratification? Whose gratification? Your own of course. Hopefully in unfollowing some of those feelings it will free you up to wait for what you need instead of just getting what you want.

The Clock That’s Ticking…

Like many women my age there’s a clock ticking in me, but unlike those women my clock is ticking for a different reason. This clock has nothing to do with bearing children before my eggs dry up or before I turn 40 and everything to do with bringing some things to bear before my parents leave this place called earth. Many would think this a bit morbid or macabre but this is my truth and it is my reality.

For as long as I could remember I was always that kid who had older parents. While I knew people who, at 15, had parents who were just hitting their 40s, my parents were 40 when I was born in 1980–you do the math. Once I became a young adult and moved further from home, first to college and then to NY, I became increasingly concerned about the lifespan of my parents. It would hit me the hardest when I made my annual trip home for the holidays and the feeling peaked on my birthday. Every year my parents take me out to dinner for my birthday. We get all dressed up and go out to eat and drink the night away. But over the years that night has started to feel somber for me because I wonder if that year will be the last year I celebrate with my parents. I remember one year on my birthday I actually told my mom about my boding fears to which she tearfully looked me in my eyes and told me that her aunt and mother lived to see their 90s so rest assured she and my dad will be around for at least 20 more years. She assuaged my fears for a while until the next year.

This year my family celebrated the 80th birthday of my father to much fanfare. Yet it was also the same weekend that we laid one of the great matriarchs of the family to rest at the age of 90. While I did my best to remain present at my aunt’s celebration of life and my dad’s birthday–I come from a Jamaican family so it’s not odd for a funeral and several parties to take place on the same weekend, I was haunted by the fact that, according to my mom’s calculations, I may only have my dad for another 10 years. All of this scares me because I am the youngest child in a family full of older people. Sure I have cousins who are my age and some aunts and uncles who are younger than my parents, but I am closest to my parents. They are all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love. I have a brother and a sister who are both in their 50s and, in many ways, I feel they will have had a lifetime with my parents that I may not get to have. In 20 years when I am their age, I will not have my parents to call on or go to and that scares me. I am the youngest and I have youngest tendencies. I call my parents fairly regularly, go home for the holidays, and even vacation with my parents on occasion. Last year was the first time I didn’t go home for Christmas because I visited my then boyfriend while he was studying abroad in Germany and that was a hard decision to make. As much as I wanted to spend the holidays with him, I thought frequently about what kind of holiday my parents would have. Without me coming home the house would be quiet, no elaborate meals would be cooked, and no Christmas tree would be put up. I worried a lot about missing Christmas with them. It felt so bad that on Christmas Day, when I did talk to my parents while my boyfriend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Paris, I felt the pang of melancholy for being away from them.

And now here I am at 33, months away from being 34, single with no romantic prospects which also means that children aren’t in the immediate future. But my womb is not what pangs me right now, that biological clock is not ringing in my ears, it is my parents’s clock that is ever ringing for me. Many may consider me obsessed with death, I’m not. I’m more obsessed with my parents being alive to see me accomplish some things that I’m afraid are far off for me. Major life events and milestones such as getting a PhD, owning a home, getting married, having children. Truth be told I’m more interested in my parents seeing the latter three because those are different accomplishments than I’ve made thus far. My parents have seen me graduate from high school, college, and a master’s degree program; they’ve known about my professional success; they’ve heard about my world travels; but they’ve not known me to have the security of a home I owned, the long-term love of a significant other, or the pitter patter of little feet be they a baby’s or a puppy’s. That’s what I want my parents to see while they are still here. And, to be honest, referring back to them being all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love, my fear is being left alone and without that consistency.

Shortly before I wrote this post I watched a video of a Nigerian couple’s wedding reception and though the video’s focal point was of their well choreographed bridal party, somehow I looked straight through them to the table of elders behind them. Looking at the table of elders smile upon the newly married couple, I remembered how much I want my parents to see my day. I want my parents to smile upon me and my husband, to dance and laugh the night away with us, to wish us well with words of wisdom from their nearly 50 years of marriage, to be there for the birth of our first child, etc, etc. These are the things that are really important to me as I look at what’s next in my life. I want my parents to see this as much as I want it for myself because it provides the assurance that their baby is taken care of and loved by one singular person. This is not to discount the number of loving family and friends that I have, but I know there is a type of assurance and relief that a parent experiences when their child gets married–son or daughter.

I remember sharing this truth with a friend who affirmed that there are few greater feelings than giving your parents the gift of marriage because it symbolically communicates that the child they loved and cared for is now being loved and cared for. She would then explain to me how devastating it was when she got a divorce because that symbol of love and care was gone and now her parents have to worry again. I was present at that friend’s home dedication ceremony and I clearly remember the look on her father’s face as she spoke about her new home and the journey it took her to get there. He was glowing with pride and when he embraced her it was with a sense of relief, as if to communicate, “My daughter is finally at home.” I teared up thinking about my own father embracing me with pride in that way.

I’m aware of the type of responses this could garner, ranging from “don’t obsess over when they’ll go, live in the present with them now” to “all of those things will come in due time.” I do live in the present with my parents, I appreciate everyday that they are still here–and I’m thankful that for their age they are in extremely good health, and believe that one day all of those things will come–most of the time. But every now and then I must face my fears and today I decided to write them down in hopes that it will be cathartic and allow me, if only for a moment, to let go of my fears, lay down my burdens, and just live.