Looking in the Mirror

I have a bad habit.

I measure myself against others.

I know it’s bad and it doesn’t matter how many times people say, “don’t measure yourself against others,” I still do it. It doesn’t matter that I say that to other people, I find myself doing it.

Yesterday, I went to a scholarship breakfast sponsored by a local chapter of an African-American female sorority. The theme was “Hats Off to Sisterhood” and a “loose” requirement was to wear a hat. I am not a hat person; I’m very casual and the one hat I do have is a University of Arizona baseball cap. A good friend, who bought my ticket for the event, had extra hats and told me she would bring me one.

Now, as I stated in the last paragraph, I’m very casual, to a fault. I did not wear jeans, but I wore business casual, not dressy. When I arrived at the hotel, I saw beautiful African-American women wearing these hats one would see at the Kentucky Derby! They were dressed in heels and cocktail-type attire. I was floored! I was embarrassed! Although I wore business casual, I felt like I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt compared to them.

My friend kept reassuring me that I looked fine as I tried on hats. Everybody kept saying, “You look beautiful” but I didn’t feel like I did.

I told you it’s a bad habit.

I had all types of mixed emotions flowing through my head as I looked through the crowd of these fabulous dressed women of color adorned with these fabulous hats. It was more than what I was wearing: I began to think about how all of these women knew each other and I knew only the people from my church.

I began to think about how I have lived here all of my life and I don’t know people! How sad is that? Most of these women come from the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast and they have connections!

I don’t want to sound envious, and I hope I am not by writing about this, but I was worried about how I am not in the community – a person who loved the public, a former journalist, what happened?

So, I thought back to a time where it all began: high school. I was intricately involved in high school: high school newspaper, president of the Black Culture Club (they had that type of club back then because black kids needed a space for identity and purpose in high school other than sports). My involvement in that club promoted a Thanksgiving Concert fundraiser at my school where we invited local church choirs to come and sing. That was a blazing success! This landed speaking engagements for me. I was a keynote speaker at a statewide Black Youth Conference. Prior to all of this, the summer of my junior year, I was a contestant in the Miss National Teen Arizona pageant! I look back and wonder how I got over!

In college, I did not do as much as I did in high school; however, I was the photography editor of the U of A’s yearbook. I loved taking photos and I was hired based on my enthusiasm of taking photos. The job led me to get a part-time job as a sports reporter for high school sports at the Arizona Daily Star, which led me to an internship in the editorial department. As the string of jobs continue, I became a reporter at two newspapers in Moreno Valley California and I was given an award for my reporting and published in a Los Angeles publication.

Then, I was done with California and moved back to Arizona, where I started a weekly publication for the African American community called The Tucson Sun Press. It was free, but if people wanted to subscribe, they could get it mailed to them. I was featured on KVOA-TV, an affiliate for NBC about the newspaper, which was very exciting for me! However, the excitement did not last; an angry man called the Sun Press line and left a nasty racial message and asked, “Why aren’t there white newspapers?”

Ugh.

Internal grumblings were happening within the volunteers of the newspaper and some African-American businesses were not supportive; in fact, the community was less than supportive, so I decided to let it go.

And there it is. I was discouraged. Discouragement played a key role and I went into a quiet room, worked as a teacher, and wrote. I did not frequent events, I did not get into the public eye; I was a hermit.

But, as a hermit, I wrote. I wrote poetry and I delved into my feelings and thoughts. I wrote when I was angry and when I was sad. I wrote when I was happy. I wrote poetry and attempted to write novels and short stories. I found the convenience of self-publishing and published my books and recently, I found camaraderie with my work colleagues and sold my books at a local large book festival! I felt my self confidence rise again and I felt determined to concentrate on my craft in writing.

And then Saturday hit. I saw that I did not know the public, my peers, my community. Although people said affirmations to me, I felt out of place. The keynote speaker had us doing something wonderful: she had us say our name at our table and everybody at the table had to repeat our name and say an African mantra which translates to “I see you.” The reason why, as she explained, is because we go around asking people how they are doing, but we never really pause to listen to people. Therefore, we don’t really “see” the person we are talking to. I loved it!

I have to admit this that sometimes, specifically around African-American women, I feel invisible. I don’t wear braids, not a lot of makeup, big shiny jewelry, nor am I in a sorority. I am different. My two older sisters are in the community and are known; people know who they are and will stop and talk to them; but, I am different. They know me as “the youngest sister.”

Another blow to my ego, happened on Saturday when I got home. I am working on my doctoral degree and I had to submit an assignment on Friday, which I did so. I opened my grade and I got an F. The professor’s comments ripped through my self-esteem like blood on the brain! I had thought I did a pretty good job, but according to the professor’s words, everything was wrong! And to make the wound more painful, his comments were, “If you have any questions, contact me.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed out loud and frightening my poor, sleeping doggy. “I have questions! Why am I doing this?!”

I want to quit going to school, but I have a passion to help teachers, and my dissertation is all about helping teachers become leaders in their school! I have the potential, but I lack the courage. I am in battle and my armor is falling off and it is dented. I guess this is how my students feel when they get a poor grade. Yes, it is damaging and you want to quit.

OK. You’re reading this and saying, “Wow. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are worse things that can happen.” And, you’re right.

I am writing this for a reason.

I don’t need the limelight. I don’t need to be seen. I need the “F” on my assignment to work harder at what I want. I mean, who do I want to please and why do I want to please them? What’s the point to be everybody’s friend or have everybody talk to me? Why do I need that? I’m 53 years old and I have made it so far with few friends in my corner and without a lot of limelight! In my younger years, I was in the limelight like the saying says, “Been there, done that.”

I had to examine myself yesterday and find out why do I allow my emotions to take over my senses? I have appropriate clothes to dress, I just didn’t know what the event was all about: now, I do. I had people at my table who didn’t even look at my clothes and we laughed and talked and loved one another: therefore, I had a good time. The professor gave me comments to improve my assignment and said he is excited to work with me during the residency event next week: I am relieved.

The problem is I overreact. I jump to conclusions, and the truth is I judge others. That’s the the problem. People are doing what they need to do and what they are passionate about! I should do the same thing. While I am spending precious moments worrying about what I am or not wearing, or if people know who I am or not, I am wasting time not writing, not doing my assignments correctly, and adding unnecessary gray hairs.

My parents raised me better than that!

I look back at all of this and realize it is really silly. However, I had to confess this because the first step to healing is to admit your mistakes. I am transparent in acknowledging the mistakes I have made, and I have made lots of them!

I feel lighter. I am going back to work on my assignments now.

Author: L.S. Watson

Hi. My name is L.S. Watson, and I'm an English teacher at a charter high school. I enjoy traveling (my favorite places are Rome and Paris), writing poetry, and watching documentaries. I have a lovable yet stubborn Yorkie-Poo named Chuy.

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