Wednesday, December 7, 2016

On Moonlight.

"You can't be what you can't see."

~ Anonymous.

I do not mind seeing you in hair salons or in chic shopping malls. Laughing louder than the rest with exaggerated hand gestures and a language all your own. Occasionally addressing your closest friends by the word used to describe a female dog even though they are neither female or canine. Hips swinging just a little more than usual, eyebrows telling the world that you don't conform to any gender. Or you do but you want to define what that looks like. No. I don't mind that at all.


I do mind that this--even if it is authentically you--gets amplified into this larger-than-life caricature that elbows all of the other facets of those like you to the shadows. That I do mind.

When I was sixteen, I lived in Inglewood, California. I was what rapper L.L. Cool J would have referred to as an "around the way" girl with two pairs of bamboo earrings in my ears, easy subject verb disagreement, and neck rolling to get my point across often times than not. I remember standing behind the counter at my job as a cashier at Foot Locker in the now extinct Hawthorne Mall chewing a gigantic wad of Hubba Bubba, poking the register with my elaborately decorated acrylic nails and greeting each customer with the same three words: "How you doing?"

No. Not "how ARE you doing" or "how're you doing" but exactly what I just said. And this wasn't because I was trying to be something or create some version of me. This was just who I was at that time. And that was fine.

But I was also a lot of other things. And so were my friends. Some were nothing like me, voices with the singsongy twang of the Valley due to their lives on opposite sides of town. Others were far more unabashedly urban than me, the varsity cheerleader Foot Locker cashier, and that was cool, too. My best friend was studious, outgoing and neither of these things. And all of us represented what young, coming-of-age black girls looked like.


So I found myself reflecting on this after going to see a movie the other day. This independent film that had gotten a lot of critical acclaim but that, for the most part, has ridden slightly below the radar of the mainstream. A friend had seen it and loved it and thought I would, too. I had a few hours off on Monday, so we met up to see it together. Even though we saw a daytime matinee, this movie "Moonlight" left my soul mixed with the same melancholy one feels when standing under a gleaming full moon.


And let me be clear: There was so, so much to take in from this movie. But I guess the thing that keeps floating to the surface of my thoughts is how beautifully you were portrayed.

Yes, you.

No one was snapping in a Z formation. Not one individual called another friend "bitch" in jest or pronounced the word "yes" with a soft A followed by a loud cackle. And no, there is nothing wrong with that, you know? I mean, if that is you. But this movie, this sublime piece of work, put the other pieces of the dream that makes up who you are on a gigantic screen for all to see. For me to see.

And seeing stuff makes you less afraid and confused, you know? Yes. That.

The friend I saw the movie with is like you. A same-gender loving black man with thoughts and feelings and a life time of experiences that has shaped him into who he is. And seeing it with him, perhaps, made my breath hitch even more. I realized that I thought I saw him for all these years. But I hadn't fully. And am still working to see him.

This? This movie helped me with that. It showed the complexities of growing up in a world that isn't always filled with love. Navigating a shitty environment while also struggling to find and own who you are. And no. It wasn't a "gay movie." It wasn't. It was an exquisite portrayal of a sliver of life. A piece that has been there all along but that we don't get to see. Even those of us that call ourselves looking hard with eyes wide open.


My Wet 'n' Wild .99 cent lipstick, door-knocker earrings and biker shorts probably did fit some cartoonish idea of the 1980's black girl back then. Spike Lee put us on mainstream screens with all of that, just like (some of us) were in real life and that felt good. But right next to lolly pop licking neighborhood girls were the Ruby Dees and the other grown ass black women splashed upon those movie screens. All the different versions of us. We were also on small screens as Claire Huxtable or collegiates like Lisa Bonet and her friends on "A Different World." Not only did we get to see them, so did the world.

So did the world.

At first, I was sort of speechless when "Moonlight" ended. My soul was stirring but I didn't know how to feel. I walked to the restroom afterward and came out still drying my hands on a paper towel. My friend David M. was standing there chatting with the movie theater manager, Chuckie, who also happened to be a same-gender loving black man. I smiled at them both.

"Well? What did you think of the movie?" Chuckie asked.

I parted my lips to speak and suddenly felt like I'd been punched in my chest. My eyes welled up with tears and I started full on crying. Hard. It was actually rather embarrassing.

"Why are you crying, hon?" Chuckie's tone was gentle. He really wanted to know. All I could do was shrug.

David knows me so just sort of watched and waited. I then saw a tear trickle down his cheek but never asked why it was there. I tried to express myself but knew I wasn't making much sense. I just knew that my heart was feeling overwhelmed with emotion and . . I don't know. . .awareness, maybe? I don't know.

But not because it was a "gay movie" and that I'm so damn renaissance that now--oh yes, NOW--I'm all open-minded and down with the cause. Because that would reduce this to something akin to someone staring on the outside looking through the glass of a piece of art in the Louvre. Looking and staring but not touching or being a part of the painting.

See, David and Chuckie are just two people. Two very different people. And just like the protagonist, Chiron, in the movie "Moonlight" was one person, like them he had a story--his own story--and feelings, too. And not just like them--like me, too.

Sigh. I bet none of this is making sense. But what I am trying to unpack here is that Barry Jenkins, the man who brought this to the screen, unfolded an aspect of life that doesn't get shown like this. Joy, pain, sunshine and rain--the same kind we all feel and try hard as hell to sort out when we are young and confused about any and everything. And beautifully turns a mirror on all of us, you know?

Yes, that.

I think that's what made me cry. It dawned on me that we all want the same things--as children and as adults. To matter and to be cherished. That looks different ways to different people. But it is as necessary as air and water. Regardless of who you are.

Seeing that movie in a bona fide theater was a step in the direction of cherishing the narrative that so many live. More than the wise-cracking hair stylist talking shit with the marcel curling irons in his hand or the kid strutting down the street to jeers at a parade.

Kind of like how on "A Different World" I could identify with spunky Jada Pinkett's braid-wearing, lip-curling, shit-talking character right along with all of those cocoa-complexioned college girls on the same show trying to navigate young adulthood. I was all of them. And sometimes none of them. But it gave me value to see them all. But little did others know that it helped them to value me, too.  Because it helped those other people to not be afraid of me and my essence when coming into my presence. Or feel disappointed or confused when I don't fit the singular idea of what the media portrays me to be.

And see, that's what this movie did so bravely and beautifully. For me, that's what it did.

Does this make sense? I hope so.

And so. Today, I'm still basking in the afterglow of seeing "Moonlight." And today, I am reflecting on just this one teeny-tiny aspect of the many, many things I've been left to think about after seeing it.

Here's what I know for sure: I am better for seeing it. Because seeing it helped me see more of myself. Which ultimately helps me see more of you.


Happy Hump Day. And thanks, David, for trusting me to see it with you.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . .this was me. . .but not all of me. Then or now. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Ides of November, Year 4.

I only have to miss her. No, my heart doesn't compete with feelings of inadequacy or the "if I coulda-woulda-shouldas" that plague many people after a loved one has been snatched like a thief in the night. Me and my sister Deanna? We were good. I only have to miss her.

But missing her is no small thing. Like, everything beautiful and funny and of good report, I want to tell her. Not just the pivotal days and moments. The smallest, most inconsequential things are where I ache for her the most. I want to text her and ask if she saw Michelle Obama's hair with the new weave tracks or binge watch an entire season of Orange is the New Black while talking shit with her. (Crazy Eyes would have been her favorite for sure.) I want to get on my hands and knees and paint posters for youth football games with her and listen to her reaction when we found out that Idris Elba smokes cigarettes. Was Beyonce's last album #teamtoomuch or would Deanna have been in formation? Was the Breaking Bad series sublime or way too dark and creepy instead? I want to know her input on my next idea for a Jack and Jill fundraiser or get her reaction to something I've written to publish. She's the person I want to show my teaching awards to first and the one I want to text a funny selfie after a really, really sweet elder talked my head off in the hospital. It's that stuff. It's the most ordinary things that are the hardest, you know?

But the blessing is that I only have to miss her. I never saw her suffer nor do I have some apology left dangling in a word bubble out of reach forever. There were no stinging misunderstandings or lumps under the covers of our relationship. We were close. So close that many times I just close my eyes and have all of those aforementioned exchanges with her. In my own heart and head, I do. I hear her saying that "Smoking don't got nothing do do with how fine Idris is" or "Michelle Obama is one bad bee-eye-tee-cee-aytch." or "Lemonade is like Eve's Bayou or the Blair Witch Project put to music. Scary, creepy, confusing and probably the result of some mood altering substance."


Yeah. Today marks the 4th year since I lost my big sister. And I will say it, tell it, and share it until the day I die: My sister was like the sun. A force, a light and capable of igniting any space she entered. And especially . . . . I want people to know that she was fucking awesome, man. So fucking awesome. And when you have a fucking awesome ball of fire in your world one day and not the next, it can be hard sometimes.  It can.

But it's okay. Because we were good. Solid as a rock, man.

Yeah. So today sucks. Mostly because it punctuates what happened. Not because I feel lost or conflicted or disconnected from her essence. Because me?  I only have to miss her. And I don't need November 15 to remind me of that. I do that I do every single moment of every single day.


Thanks for listening.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Next to the Next-of-Kin.

There is this whole session we do with the medical students about navigating those sticky moments as doctors. Like, where somebody calls you up and asks you for random antibiotics or to look at the rash on the back of their leg while you're trying to chill during a jazz festival in the park. It involves these role plays on how to shut all that down and,  if I recall correctly, this part where you just sort of sit around and talk about it.

"What will you do when the homie asks for some blood pressure pills refills?"

"What's the right answer to the old man at you car wash asking you to hook him up with some of them Viagras?"


So yeah. We talk to them about all of that stuff. And, for the most part, it's fine.


But here's the thing--the older I get as a doctor, the more I'm realizing how great of a privilege it is to be next to the next-of-kin. That is, the person who helps a friend or their family navigate scary, lumpy times. I got to do that twice this week. And let me tell you--it did as much for me as it did them.

It did.

Now. I will come right on out and make a confession counter to that last statement: It feels good when I have a very personal connection to the patient or the loved one of the patient. Like, the mother of my sorority sister from my pledge line in college? I want to be the one you call. I want to be next to the next-of-kin.


Your next door neighbor's daughter's boyfriend? I do care. I do. But no. I'd prefer not to be the go to on that one. You? Your mom? That is, if we have a relationship? Yes. Which kind of sucks since by nature as doctors we are supposed to be selfless servants of humankind, you know?


Anyways. I told those students, just listen to your spirit and what feels right. You cannot be the doctor in the family for everyone but it's good to be the doctor in the family for more than just the ones related to you by blood. It's up to you to measure out what that is.

Although the antibiotics and the random Viagras are pretty much a no regardless of our blood relationship.


I guess these last few days has me reflecting on how so many aspects of being a doctor can't be taught in a classroom or even on the ward. You have to live it, man. You do.

So tomorrow? I will round on my hospital patients. Then I will round on the couple of people that are on my next to the next-of-kin list. And it is all on my terms and it all feels right. Very right. Nope, I'm not calling doctor shots. Just being there and answering questions. Holding hands and helping making sense out of stuff. And I love it because every time I do that, some piece of me feels like this piece of being a doctor was one of the most important parts of me becoming one at all.

That's all.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Scared but not hiding.

On the day after the election, it seemed like the whole hospital had this cloud over it. People were walking around doing their jobs, yes. But kind of like they were in some sort of a melancholy fog. If you slowed down long enough, you'd hear the hushed whispers trying to make sense of it all.

"I still can't believe it."

"Me neither."

Then, eyes would flit from side to side and next came that split second decision to avoid a discussion of politics in the hospital. I am sensing that there are a lot of liberal people working in a safety net hospital. So even without the conversation, there were the eyes. Those somber glances pleading with one another for some sign that this is all some very bad dream.

Yeah, that.

The elevator was the worst place of all. Deafening silence that kept me feeling on the tippy-tip edge of tears for the whole ride. People of all hues, some not speaking a word of English but all in this quiet place of uncertainty. And no, it wasn't so much a "who you voted for" thing but just this scary unknown that no one really saw coming.

So I went into that day and felt the heavy of it. Pressing on my shoulder blades and sucking up all of the extra air in the hospital. My team was admitting new patients that morning. It was what it was. Amidst the suffocating feelings of grief and disappointment, the show had to go on.

And so. I saw the first couple of patients with the team and it was cool. Straightforward issues with clear, identifiable solutions. So we talked about those things and laid out a plan and answered the questions that our patients had. We did.

But then I saw him.

He was youngish. And by youngish I mean close to my age which is too young to be navigating the end of life. Here because of the stuff related to all of that. There weren't solutions. Identifiable or otherwise.


And he was this complicated cross between really, really mad and really, really sad. Have you ever seen someone in that place? Like that exact place? Well. I have. And I know it when I see it. It comes out as stinging sarcasm with inappropriate laughter and unfiltered profanity. The kind designed to make everyone in the space uncomfortable but, because of the mad-sad interface, not the concern of the person navigating it. And rightfully so.

So what I've learned to do is just wait. Stand and listen and wait. Acknowledge the mad-sad interface for what it is and not get up in my own feelings, you know? Especially since I, too, was somewhere in that mad-sad interface except I didn't have the luxury of acting on it. See, on a day like the day after this last election? That was a day where it was easy to get impulsively emotional and defensive. So I recognized that and  keep my mouth sealed during the mad-sad parts because that's what I signed up for. And my patient? Well, he didn't sign up for anything.

"Tell me what I can do to support you today," I asked.

"You can take this fucked up hand I just got dealt and sprinkle some fairy dust on that shit. Or find me a rainbow with a pot of gold so I can go chill in somebody's VIP section." He laughed.

The team shifted nervously. And me, I just stood there with my eyes trained on his.

"Are you in pain?" I asked. Then I paused for a second and revised that question. "Are you in physical pain that I can help with?"

He seemed to like that question. It's like some kind of glass broke giving me access to the lever of some more authentic piece of him. Eyes squinted, he studied my face for a moment and then replied. "I am in pain. And yeah, Miss Manning. That would be good if you helped me with that."


"How are you doing today?"

"Me?" I pointed at my chest.

"Yeah. You. You look sad and somber like all the folks 'round here. Slow singing and flower bringing and shit. That election really fucked y'all up, huh?" Again, that laugh. Followed by the collective team squirm.

"Well. If I must be honest, I did feel down when I came in today. But something about coming to the hospital and especially meeting you puts some things in perspective, you know?"

"Yeah. Like, 'We don't get to have a lady president but at least I'm not dying a fucked up and painful death like this dude in front of me.'"  He turned on his side and propped himself up on an elbow and chuckled to himself. This part was one of the only pieces of control he had remaining. I allowed it.

"I hate seeing what you are going through. And yes, you're right. This is messed up. Far more messed up than the election part. We are the same age pretty much."

"Is that right?"

Something about how he said that made me feel immediately embarrassed and self important. My face started burning and I hoped it wasn't outwardly apparent. I did my best to steel myself. "Yes, sir."

We kept looking at each other for a few more seconds. Him on that elbow and me with my feigned resolve. I went on. "I am going to work on better controlling your physical pain. I am going to listen to you and be honest with you. Whatever I'm saying outside of your room will be what we talk about inside your room. And though I can't take this away, I am going to do my best with my team to not make it worse."

"I'd like that."

"Me, too."

We wrapped things up and headed out of the room. I sent the team off to conference and prepared to go. Then I realized that I'd left my ink pen next to the sink and stepped back inside. "Forgot something, sir. Sorry to bother you again."

"It's cool, Miss Manning."

"Alright then, sir." I pushed the door handle preparing to leave.

"Hey, Miss Manning?"

I paused. "Sir?"

"I like you, man."

For the first time, I laughed, too. "I like you, too."

"You honest. I like that."

I shrugged in response.

"Tell me this. . . . you feel sorry for me, don't you?"

I sifted through my brain for a meaningful reply but decided that anything that seemed scripted or too P.C. would frustrate him again.

"I feel sorry for both of us. Sorry for you having to go through this and sorry for me that the world doesn't get the full you because of this disease. But yeah. My heart does feel sorry specifically for you. I'd be lying if I said anything other than that."

He sat up in the bed and smiled at me. This time genuine and not remotely sarcastic. "I feel sorry for me, too."

I stepped away from the door and reached back to shake his hand. It was pretty much all I had left short of crying.  "I'll see you a little later, okay?"

"Okay. And thanks for not being scared."

Still shaking his hand, I responded, "Who says I'm not scared as hell?"

He nodded, released my hand and pointed. Then he snapped his finger. "Well, thanks for not hiding."

I pressed my lips together and sighed. Raising one hand, I stepped outside of the door.

Then I went to the nearest bathroom, locked the door and cried and cried.


Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What had happened.

Warning: Random ramble ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

There was this meme that I saw on social media about Secretary Hillary Clinton. It was shortly after she'd clenched the democratic nod and gave her acceptance speech at the DNC. This person had changed her profile picture to the infamous "H" with the arrow and underneath it said these words:

"Girl, I guess I'm with Her."

I have to be honest and say it made me laugh out loud. And while I can't say that meme spoke to exactly how I felt personally, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that some piece of that statement didn't resonate with me just a tiny bit.


And let me be clear: I was never really not on board. Like, I had been following Hillary Clinton for some time and was fully aware of her tremendous track record. Her commitment to the "least of these" didn't just pop up out of the blue. This woman has been a champion for others her entire adult life. All it takes is just a few moments of looking over her history and you have to admit it to yourself right away that, when it comes to her resume, Hillary Clinton is one dope lady.


Dope, in the urban vernacular, is one of the highest compliments one can give. It suggests more than just "cool" or "really good." It suggests that someone is. . .well. . .the ideal. Yeah. That.

So yeah. As far as doing stuff and showing up is concerned, Secretary Clinton is pretty dope. But still. Regardless of that fact, there was something that held some people back from seeing her as universally dope.

Does this even make sense? Let me try to unpack it.

Okay, so check it. When Barack Obama stepped up on the DNC as a senator in 2004, I felt my heart racing. His voice, his swagger, his intelligence, his essence grabbed me by the chest and pulled me in close. And maybe I was late to it all, but honestly, this was the first time I'd really heard of him.

Yep. I admit it.

But after that, I started following him. I read about him, learned about him and joined the legions of folks who hoped this man would run for President. Yup. And damn, was I among the over-the-moon elated who jumped for joy when he said that indeed he would.


Being with him was a no brainer. Not only did I like his policies and plans for our future (and I respect that some reading this did not) the thing I recall the most was liking him. He was cool. His infectious smile made me do the same. He was this biracial man who identified with black culture and navigated it so smoothly that it welcomed others in instead of making them feel like outsiders. And all of it was amazing.

Universally dope, even.

I had an Obama sign on my lawn. I canvassed parts of Atlanta and made some phone calls. I genuinely cried big, fat crocodile tears when I couldn't go with my friends to Washington D.C. for the first Inauguration and cried through the entire swearing in. That was a magical time. We didn't need a sign to tell us that this symbolized hope. We felt it.

And listen--this is not a post designed to polarize. Like, I am aware that some of my friends who read this blog felt true sorrow during this time that stands out as a special piece of my life history. I respect that, too. I do. But really, I'm just trying to understand my emotions about the recent election process and the outcome. Reflecting on the last candidate I supported is a part of that.

I hope that makes sense.

Anyways. So even though I knew for sure that Secretary Clinton was highly qualified, every time she stood up to speak, I felt nondescript. And no. It wasn't like this overwhelming sense of distrust, which does happen sometimes with people I see or encounter. But more just this mourning I felt and longing for the connectivity my heart immediately felt for Barack Obama.

The first time I cast a vote in a presidential election, I was 18 years old. It was an absentee vote for Bill Clinton and I sent that form in with glee. He, too, left me giddy. And at 18, seeing a presidential candidate playing a saxophone on a late night talk show?

Chile please.

I was older when I voted for John Kerry. I honestly liked him, too. It felt good to get behind him. It did. And no. It wasn't Barack Obama good. But good. Big and pregnant, I pushed the button with his name on it. Sure did.

Bernie made me smile a lot. His curmudgeonly passion ignited a lot in me and especially in my husband. And, okay, pound for pound I'd say that as far as the "like" button goes, I found him more likable. Yeah, yeah, I'll admit it. I "felt the Bern." But not in this overwhelming way like I'd felt in 2004 and 2008. So I was sort of left with this in between feeling. Like, "I sure appreciate y'all putting your hat in the circle and riding hard for folks like me and my patients." But that was about it.


So as things reached a fever pitch and Secretary Clinton's campaign rolled forward, I did my duty as a card carrying democrat. I gave money and spoke positively. And though I did feel annoyed by the whole email scandal thing and how distracting it became, I got on board with the pantsuit nation. But as I look back, I think I did it in that way you do something you're supposed to do, you know? Like a middle school kid who washes dishes without being asked.

Awful analogy, I know.

But the thing is, that's why that meme is in my head right now. The "I guess I'm with her" sentiment oozed out of the world of Instagram and Facebook and made its way into hearts and minds. This seething indifference brewed in the very people who metaphorically marched on Washington to get Barack Obama elected not once, but twice. And it was unfortunate.

I was with her. But I realize now that it wasn't in the way that I was with him. Even though I wanted to be.

Does this even remotely make sense?  Sigh. I don't know.

So I guess beyond the stunned feeling, I'm conflicted. I'm not so sure I or even we left it all on the field this time. The lukewarm emotion that some of us felt was probably telling. And the fact that a meme that said "I guess I'm with her" going viral might have been a sign.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Here's what I know for sure. It's not enough to galvanize people to vote against someone. The masses need to feel driven to vote for the party's endorsed candidate. And though qualifications matter, it seems like liking the person matters, too. Not just from the popular vote standpoint but obviously all the way up to the level of the electoral college. I don't know the answer to making all of that happen. I don't.

To those who were truly, deeply with Hillary Clinton from the very start and to the very end, I apologize for letting you down. I eventually got on board but today wish I'd gotten on with all of my heart like I did in 2004. And while I did vote and give to the campaign, I guess I'm just realizing that this isn't enough. It just isn't.

So what happened has happened. It did and it has.

And I get it that someone will find this offensive. Like it's indicative of some self hate I have for myself as a woman or the idea of a woman as Commander in Chief. But I think a lot and in my heart of hearts,  I don't think it was the woman thing. I don't. I guess I'm just thinking that it was this absence of universal dopeness thing that created a gigantic "meh" for the people who needed to be more plugged in.

Yeah. That.

See, when folks like us elect the people we want? It takes moving a few people out of the woodworks. And some part of that is strictly by qualifications. But another part is overcoming the "meh" with a feeling of deep connection.

There was a video I saw the day before the election. It was the first time I saw Hillary Clinton as universally dope. I wish I'd seen it before and felt what I felt when watching that video before Election Day eve. I really, really do. Because today I'm feeling a new kind of burn.

And something tells me I'm not alone.


Happy Thursday.

Couldn't figure out how to embed this really dope video. But here's the link.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We gon' be alright.

"Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright."

- Kendrick Lamar

Shed your tears and then dry them. Talk to your children, then pull them close to you so that they will feel less afraid. Then go out into this day knowing we are still stronger together. Use your anger and power for good. Pick your words with care--especially if you are a leader or have influence. Someone somewhere wants you to act out, be foolish.

No narcissist who thinks its cool to grab me by my private parts or any administration working to make me and others disappear is going to take away my own value or make me shrink. Nor will I allow the people who cosigned it do the same to me. So my head is up so I can see, dammit. And what I see is all of you and what I know is that the underrepresented and disenfranchised people of this country have prevailed through far, far worse.

We gon' be alright.

Happy Day After.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . thanks for a perfect soundtrack today Kendrick Lamar.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Riding the wave.

"And everybody knows almost doesn't count."

- Brandy

I was walking into Grady this morning and ran into this man who appeared to be unstably housed. His clothes were somewhat soiled and his coarse hair was kind of matted. The dank odor from his body greeted me long before he did.

"Hey there, sir," I said as I passed him. Not particularly small talky. Just polite, you know?

"Good morning, miss lady." He pointed at the sticker on my chest and nodded hard. "I see you voted. Good job."

And you know? You'd think that this very light teaser statement wouldn't have been the least bit perplexing. I mean, this whole week has been filled with people and their ultra proud lapel/chest swag followed by their obligatory post vote sticker selfies on social media. I can't even count how many thumbs ups and fist bumps I gave to the residents, students and nurses I saw who'd voted--and could prove it via that coveted sticker.

But this? This was different. It was nine something in the morning and we were outside in front of the hospital. It didn't take a Phi Beta Kappa to realize that this guy hadn't just slipped from out of his house or just pulled up in a late model car and had just fed the meter.


So I wondered. Like, is it even appropriate to say back to him what I say to everyone? I decided to stop overthinking it.

"Did you already vote?"

He pointed at his chest. "Who me?"

I stopped walking and faced him. "Yeah. You."

He curled his mouth and sucked in a deep breath. "Naw, man. I wasn't able to vote."

And yeah. I could tell that his life was mad complicated and that nothing at all was simple for him right about now. I mean, it was clear that things like where exactly will I sleep or what exactly will I eat were being given priority over getting to the polls on this day. But here's the thing--he seemed genuinely bothered when he said that. He did.

"You said you couldn't vote? Why not?" I queried. I asked because I was curious, actually. Like, was it that he was registered but needed a way to the poll? Or was it that he had no idea what site his assigned one? Or something altogether different? I mean, maybe it was something I could help find a solution to fix.

"Oh, so I'm homeless and I don't have no identification. To be honest, I did for real try to get registered one day when they was out here registering folks in front of Grady over the summer. I ain't have no license or no ID card and I don't have no address. So yeah. It was messed up."

"Awww man. Seems like there should have been something they could have done."

"Well they tried, you know what I'm saying? Like, the lady who was there she was going hard with me and trying to help. Pulled out her phone and called a whole slew of folks. She was determined! But we hit the wall when I start trying to figure out how to get some ID. You got to have a birth certificate and I don't have no way to get one."

"Are you a Grady baby?"

"Naww. I wish. This would be easy if I was born at Grady. But I'm not from Atlanta. I'm from the country. And, my peoples, they not alive no more or they in a place where I can't get they help. So I couldn't get no ID and I couldn't get registered. They was gonna let me use a shelter address so it wasn't that. But you got to have some way for them to know you who you say you is."

"Damn." That's what I said. And I was just kind of looking at him with one eye squinted like maybe some super, duper ah hah moment would fly down from the heavens and suddenly create a solution to let this man vote on this day in this election. "I'm real sorry to hear all that."

"Yeah. Me, too. I wanted to be able to have some say in all this stuff. 'Specially the judges and stuff. 'Cause like, the president help determine who gonna be the top judges. And from what I see, the president either somebody who give a damn about people that's losing or they don't give no piece of a damn. I want to pick the person who seem like they'd stop and talk to somebody like me."

"I feel you."

"You voted for her or ol' boy?"

I smiled at his reference to the two candidates this way. "Let's see. I voted for the one that would stop and talk to somebody like you."

He laughed when I said that and gave me a thumbs up. "That's what's up."

"I'm gonna try to find out what a person in your situation could do in the future. You should've been able to vote, man. I hate hearing that."

"Yeah. 'Cause it seem like a lot of people that hate us coming right on out with it and they giving the ones who don't care one way or the other about people like me a wave to ride on with 'em. I be having nightmares of it going the wrong way by just one vote and me feeling like it was mine."

I paused and thought about what he said. "Wow. That's kind of deep."

"But true, though."

I bit my cheek and nodded slowly. My team was waiting and I knew I had to get going. I smiled once more and reached out to shake his hand. "Alright then, sir."

"Alright then, miss lady. And thanks for voting."

I picked up my pace and headed to the door. But before I did, I spun around and called out while walking backwards, "Next time, okay?"

"Yes ma'am!"

Yeah, next time. That is, if there is one.

Happy Election Day.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Bad News Bearers.

The original 1976 Bad News Bears--one of our favorite movies as kids.

"The bad news is that 50 people died in a hotel fire. 
The good news is that we got exclusive coverage."

- Jessica Savitch

We were all sitting outside on the brick wall between classes she walked up. Her eyes were dancing, flitting from side to side. She licked her lips and brushed her hair out of the way from her mouth. "Did you guys hear about Dawn?" Her eyebrows went up when she said that part, waiting for our reply. You could tell from the looks on our faces, we didn't know this news. But there was one thing we did know. She was going to tell us.


"She didn't pass the boards, man. Again." Her face fell into this dramatic frown. And honestly, I was so young back then that I didn't recognize that this was a pattern.

We all reacted. "Damn, that sucks," one person said. "Awww, wow. I hate hearing that," another said. And she kind of nodded and took it in. Stirring the pot with a few more tidbits like the fact that she might not graduate at all and that, to make matters worse, her boyfriend was out around town cheating on her while she was already down.

Mmmm hmmmm.

And now, when I look back, I see it. The very edge of her mouth turned up a bit and her voice quickened in exhilaration. Why? I'll tell you. This classmate was one of those people that liked sharing bad news. Like some piece of it almost made her euphoric.


There was this guy I knew in residency who was similar to this. He loved to casually drop bombs in the cafeteria about how someone screwed something up on call or didn't get a job or overslept and got called by the chief residents. Every second of it made him high. So he hit that pipe repeatedly.


Oh yeah. And then in my recent life, there was this person that kept kept kept texting me updates about this really, really, really awful thing that was happening to a mutual friend. Wanting to discuss it over and over again or clarify the shittiest parts in case I'd missed them or tried to see some silver lining. All of it made me anxious. Not to mention like some bolt of lightening would strike my phone every time I texted back some sort of nondescript response like "Whoa" or "OMG that sucks" or "Dang."


So what I realized is that peoples' woes are favorite pastimes for some folks to follow. The crappier the news the better, too. Whether the person intentionally feels giddy telling it on the mountain or not. I call them the "bad news bearers."

Yeah. That.

I guess I'm thinking of them today because of my last few days at work. Nearly every day, I am charged with pulling up a chair and telling some unfortunate news. Like, I tell people the kind of stuff that will thrust them hard and fast into a new normal that they didn't even know or want to be signed up for.


And see, me? My job is to bust into the room and, in the most empathic way I can, shit on someone's entire existence. You know? I have yet to get used to it. And one thing I can say for sure is that I never enjoy it.

This got me thinking about people who dig hearing of someone's hard time and who love telling someone else about it even more. And let me be clear: It's not like I genuinely believe that people do this on purpose or feel this way intentionally. I guess I just sort of think of it as how they're wired.

Maybe? Maybe not.

I hate being the bearer of bad news. Little bad and big bad, I don't like it. Like, over the weekend I had a patient who was really, really ready to go home. And one of his lab tests was very abnormal and just too abnormal for him to go home and me be able to sleep soundly. I needed to watch him another day.

My team had told him he was leaving. And he thought he was, too. So I go in the room and tell him otherwise. That I'm just too concerned to not watch this value one more day. That I needed him in house to make certain nothing life threatening was brewing. And honestly? This was little bad news. Not big bad news. Like, he had family support and a way to manage. But still. I hated telling him that his body wasn't all the way ready to go and that he had to remain in the hospital.


And then there's the big bad news. Like the person to whom I tried my best to explain the difference between regular chemotherapy and palliative chemotherapy. Me realizing that eventually that puzzled expression would be replaced by something much worse. It sucks to be the person who slams the door on the "what ifs" and hypothetical versions of something. My heart does not feel paradoxically happy or glad that I get to be the one who is doing it.


I feel similarly about real life bad news. I learned of someone who is at the start of a divorce proceeding. It will be a shocking to people to hear it, too. I heard it from that very someone who told me of her situation. "It's not a secret at this point," she said. And her voice was stoic and brave. It was.

Now this? This was some bad news. But my thoughts wandered back to those town cryers who took pleasure in spreading this kind of news followed by feigned concern. Which reminds me--I pretty much left one of my favorite Facebook groups after someone shared all about another person's unfortunate marital issues which garnered all sorts of comments and postulations peppered with those "praying for you" lines that, I guess, serve as the olive branch after a sucker punch.


And listen. I am human so of course I do have some amount of nosiness and mischief in me. I mean, I do like to know what's going on around me to some degree. But. Rehashing and re-rehashing peoples' fucked up situations? It's not fun to me. Especially as I get older. Especially as I get older, man. Because getting older has this way of giving everyone a chance to sit in the bad news hot seat at some point. So, nah. I don't feel delight when I get the scoop about someone being down on their luck. Not even those people that I don't particularly like or who most would say had it coming.

Yeah, I said it. I'm silently rooting for the assholes, too. Ha.

Divorce. Losing a job. Failing a board exam. Infidelity. Getting in trouble with the law. Not being able to get pregnant. These are the sorts of effed up things? I'm happy to let someone else tell the world. They are the things that, short of unpacking in private with my best friend or husband,  I try my best leave to someone else.

Because bad news sucks. And I hate being the bad news bearer.

Metastatic cancer. Life altering health concerns. Medications like steroids that will alter your appearance. And, perhaps, an extremity that needs to be amputated to save your life. These are the kinds of things I have no choice but to tell. And so. I do.

And I hate every second of it.



"If you're gonna bring me something, bring me something I can use.
Don't nobody bring me no bad news."

- Evilene, the wicked witch from "The Wiz"


Happy Day-before-election-day

And who knew that they remade The Bad News Bears movie with one of my favorite humans ever Billy Bob Thornton? OMG. So gonna find that on Netflix and chill with it very soon.

And just because Deanna would call it blasphemy to only put the remake clip, here's a clip from the original movie, which was one of our absolute faves as kids. I think Deanna, Will, JoLai and I saw this now less than seven hundred trillion times.  

And obvi, I have to include this from our other favorite kid movie The Wiz--"Don't nobody bring me no bad news." 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Girlfriend List.

Deanna and I used to sit at my kitchen table laughing about all sorts of super silly and monumentally unimportant things. One day, we somehow got on the subject of women being hospitalized but without access to things most women deem important.

Wait. I take that back.

Not so much life-or-death important. But like, first world important. You know, like, if you were in the hospital and couldn't talk.

Yeah. That.

"I think everybody needs a girlfriend list," she said one day. "Like this list that one of your best girls knows she needs to quickly jump on the minute she hears about your unfortunate news."

Petty, I know. But dead serious.

Mmmm hmmm. 

We settled on five of them that we considered absolutes for girlfriends going to see girlfriends in the hospital.

Like to hear 'em? Here they go:

5. Alcohol and cotton balls

Her: "Girl. If you been up in the club and got a hand stamp? It ain't a good look to have a big ass green star on the back of your wrist when your mama come to see you. I'm just saying."

4. Alternate underwear

Her: "Uggh. I heard folks in the hospital don't have on underwear half the time because they don't really have too many options available."

Me:  "Yeah. They pretty much have two kinds -- 'you just had a baby so let me give you something to hold this pad' kind and 'underwear? BWAAAAAH HA HA HA.'"

Her: "Make sure I have some damn drawers, you hear me?"

3. A good toothbrush, comb/brush, and deodorant

Her: "Have you ever seen those hospital toothbrushes? And those little tiny combs? What do they think somebody with a bunch of hair is gonna do with that?"

Me:  "Deodorant, too. I never really see deodorant in the hospital kit."

Her: "What the? Girrrrrrl. Bring that, too."

2. Nail Polish remover (and those same cotton balls from before) and some Vaseline

Her: "I went to see a friend of mine in the hospital once and the nails on her hands and feet looked so crazy. She'd been picking at it and I could barely pay attention for wanting to get the rest off."

Me:  "And maybe some Vaseline to smooth on your hands and legs so you won't be ashy."

Her: "No! For your lips! That same girl had the crustiest lips I have ever seen. Add that to the list."

1. Tweezers and a good razor

Her: "Dude. Can you imagine being knocked out and waking up with a goatee on your face?"

Me:  "Actually, I see it all the time."

Her:  "Somebody better come pluck those hairs!"

Me:  "I think this one is the most important of all, man."

Her:  "Or shave 'em, you know, if that's your situation and all. Oh! And get those armpits while you're at it."

Me: "You'll really need the deodorant then."

Her:  "Girrrrrrrrl."


These are the sorts of important things we'd discuss when hanging out. And you know? Since I'm working on the hospital service right now, I know that there's definitely some girlfriends slipping on their jobs.


Oh yeah. We did add in contact lens case, solution, and glasses--but couldn't make that an absolute since so many folks got Lasik surgery now.

What else do you think needs to be on the Girlfriend (in the hospital) List?

Happy Sunday

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Without question.

I was taking care of this grown man who was sick. His mama was at the bedside and she was worried about her manchild. Which makes sense because she's his mama.


This patient of mine has his own life, his own house, his own kids, and his own concerns about his health. And when I first rounded on him that first day, I was explaining everything that was happening to his body while his mama sat at on a chair holding her pocket book and nodding deferentially. She asked one or two super generic questions, but only if I paused and asked. There was a lot going on with him and I knew it was a big thing to get their heads around. His mom looked kind of like a deer in headlights.

"You sure you don't have any questions?" I asked them both. Even though I was mostly aiming my thoughts at the mother.

The patient answered, not his mom. "Um, no. I think you've explained it all to me."

"What about you, ma'am?"

She simply smiled, lifted one hand and said she was fine. And all of it was pleasant and good. Albeit a little bit unsettling.


So after that first day, for whatever reason, I always seemed to round on him when no visitors were there. I'd come in and he'd say, "Dang. You just missed my mom!" That would make me feel like his mom had more questions for me. And I would reassure him that he could have the nurses page me when his mother was there if she wanted to talk to me. He said he would and that was that.

No one ever called.

The last hospital day came. I walked into his room early that afternoon and prepared to examine him. He was the last person I was planning to see before heading over to the medical school across town for a small group teaching session.

"What you know good, sir?" I asked. After three or four days in the hospital, we'd moved to more informal greetings.

"Nothing, Miss Manning! I'm just waiting on you to give me the verdict."

"Okay. How are you feeling?"

"As well as I think I'm gon' feel 'fore I leave here. I'm ready to get up out of here."

"Okay. Well it looks like we're in a place where it's safe to discharge you." He pumped his fist when I said that. "Sounds like we're on the same page."

"Good stuff."

I asked if he had any questions and he said he had none. I reached out to shake his hand and my eyes wandered over to the window sill. What appeared to be a pair of multicolored reading glasses were resting there next to a McDonald's coffee cup. There was lipstick on the edge of the cup, too.

"Did I miss your mama again?"

"Man. She just can't win for losin'. She went to go feed the meter and I said, 'Watch Dr. Manning come in soon as you go.'"

"Aww man."

"She all worried 'bout me and stuff."

"I hear you. Being a mama is hard like that." That made him chuckle when I said that.

We made a little more small talk and I headed out. I picked my tote bag up from where the clerk was hiding it for me in the nurses station and scuttled up the hall toward the elevators. I looked at my watch and I was making excellent time for my commute over to main campus.


I stepped onto the lift and took a deep breath as it stopped on what seems to be every single floor. After what felt like a million years, I finally make it out of the hospital. Checking the time once more, I smile since I know I'll make it with time to spare.

But then something happened.

I saw this man paying to meter for his car. And he looked relieved as he was doing it since the city of Atlanta will ticket you in less than one second if your meter dies. For some reason, I just sort of froze for a moment, watching him stick the "PAID" coupon on his dashboard. And, of course, imagining my patient's loved one doing the same.


I squeezed my eyes shut and gave and exaggerated sigh. My head swung to the right and stared up at the hospital. And then I made up my mind.

Five flights of stairs and five minutes later, I was back at my patient's room, panting and out of breath. Just as anticipated, as soon as I came trotting in I saw his mother settling back down into the chair--reading glasses in one hand and coffee cup in the other. And when she saw me huffing and puffing in that doorway, her eyes widened and a big smile erupted over her face.

You know? I'm not sure why but something made me feel intensely like I needed to go back to see her. Which, in a way, is pretty ridiculous, you know? I mean this patient was grown, man. And sure, he'd been handed a pretty heavy diagnosis, but still. This was not child.

But. He was her child. And, it appears, she was a big piece of his support team--a team he was definitely going to need.

And so. I came on in, pulled up another chair and sat down. I leaned on my elbows and tried not to look like I was in a hurry.

"Oh! I thought I'd missed you, Dr. Manning!"

"You know? I was leaving out and decided to come back. Just in case you wanted to talk."

And you know what? She did want to talk. Talk about her son and his prognosis and how she could be of support. Of how she felt scared and how even when they are all grown up, they're still our babies. She wanted to know if I had kids and if they were boys or girls. And really, she just wanted to talk long enough to feel just a little less anxious about what her boy was up against. Not really questions. But there was more to discuss. There was.


So here's what I learned: I learned that sometimes people don't have questions. But that doesn't mean they don't want to talk. In that quick little instant, I shifted a piece of my practice based on a subtle new realization.


 I will still finish my discussions with "What questions do you have for me?"  I sure will. But from now on, I'm going to start following up with one more question--"Is there anything else related to you hospitalization that you'd like to talk to me about?"

Yes. That.

And you know what? I've only been doing this for a couple of weeks now. But it's astounded me how many people bite on that second request. Questions? No. More you want to talk about? Yes.

Ah hah.

And no. The whole "listening to that hunch that you need to go back" lesson wasn't the take away for me. Although it is a very important thing to recognize when it happens and one that I've learned previously the hard way.


By the time we finished, there was only ten minutes remaining before my teaching session was to start. I texted my second year student small group and asked them for a last minute modification in our meeting plans. I apologized profusely and felt appreciative for their understanding. We ended up meeting outdoors on the patio of a local restaurant closer in than campus--which was easier for me coming from Grady. They were gracious and easygoing and that lightened my load.


When we finished, I said I'd stick around in case anyone had questions.

Or things they wanted to talk to me about.

You know what? No one had questions. But two people did have something they wanted to talk about. Important stuff, too.

Imagine that.

I'm so glad that I'm still learning, man. Still listening and learning and growing and trying.


Happy Saturday.

Friday, November 4, 2016

I love loosey.

Today I was walking out of Grady to lunch and this dude was standing out on the sidewalk right in front of me. Every single one of his teeth was fractured and decayed. But still, he was smiling big and wide and looked pretty content. And since I've worked here a while and know that dental insurance in some places is  right up there with sightings of leprechauns and unicorns, I was cool with this happy man.

Sure was.

"Hey there, sir!" I said as I prepared to walk by.

"Hey there, sugar!"

And no. Names like "sugar" and "baby" don't really bother me at Grady. Unless the person is being fresh. And I can tell when they're being fresh. He wasn't.


"You alright today, sir?"

"I'm blessed, baby. I'm blessed!"

He smiled again, unashamed. And that part made me pretty happy considering he seemed to be leading a pretty hard life. "Alright then, sir! Have a good day and be easy!"

I waved my hand and picked up my pace. Feet clicking on the asphalt as I headed up the street to get some food. Nothing about it unusual. I got just about to the corner when I heard his raspy voice calling out to me. "Doc! Doc!"

I swung around and saw him jogging up approaching me. I turned to face him and waited for a few moments on the corner for him to reach me. Nothing about it scared me. But I do always make sure to fully face people and keep my eyes aware of everything.

"Doctor. . .look here--thanks for waiting for me," he panted.

"No problem. What's up, sir?"

"Look here. . . can you let me hold a couple of dollars?"

I furrowed my brow. "Hold a couple of dollars?"

"Yes ma'am. I'd sure appreciate it."

"Why-- so you could get some lunch? Let me just get you something if you're hungry. I'm going to lunch now."

Suddenly a sheepish grin covered his face and his voice fell to a mumble. "Well, naw, it ain't that I'm hungry per se." He chuckled when he said that.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I teased back. "Okay. So what's so urgent that you need two bucks?"

"Okay, well jest give me one then."

My hand was in my white coat pocket and I could feel the few loose dollars in my pocket. I tried to decide whether or not I should just give it to him and head to Subway or keep asking questions. Being the nosey person I am, I asked more questions.


"Okay. So not for food? For what then?"

Just then, a lady who'd been standing near him on the sidewalk yells out, "HE TRYING TO GET A LOOSEY!" Then she doubled over laughing as he waved his hand shooing her away. She kept giving him a hard time. "ALL HE WANT IS MONEY FOR A LOOSEY, DOCTOR! MAAAN! THAT LADY DOCTOR AIN'T GIVING YOU NO MONEY FOR NO LOOSEY!"

And that? That made me laugh out loud.

And made me acutely miss my sister. Here's why:

Deanna used to always say that I was just a little too square. "You cool and all. . . but you a square," she'd say. And that all started one day when I told her that I'd heard someone say that he has a square in the morning and a square after each meal. I had no idea what he was talking about. Once he explained that a "square" was a cigarette, I immediately stuck it on my "stuff to ask Deanna" list. Since she was the queen of all things urban and random.

"Hey Dee? You know what a 'square' is?"

"You mean a cigarette?"

I scowled. "How do you know that?"

"I know all kinds of shit. I'm smart but I'm still hood. It's a glorious combination, I tell you."

"A square? Like why do you know that a cigarette is a square?"

"'Cause I'm not a square!"

We both laughed. Then she added, "You probably don't even know what a 'loosey' is."

"A who?"

Instead of telling me, she just threw her head back and cackled out loud. At me. Hard.  "Such a square, man. I'm revoking your Inglewood card."

Ha. I remember looking it up right then and there on Urban Dictionary.

loosey: (n)
a single cigarette that you buy from a store clerk for a minimal price. (rather than buying a whole pack of cigarettes)
I was broke as shit so i bought a loosey from the clerk.

Good ol' Urban Dictionary. Who knew?

Yeah. So thanks to that moment, today I knew exactly what a loosey was. Surely did. And there was no way I was sponsoring one.


"Dude. Are you trying to get me to buy you a cigarette?"

"My nerves is bad." That was his legit response.

"A loosey costs a whole two dollars? That's crazy!"

"Naw. I needed a lighter, too"


I shook my head and started laughing before heading across the street. "I can't buy you a loosey, friend. But thanks for making me laugh today. For real."

"Hell, you have not 'cause you ask not, right?"

"Right. Good luck with the loosey. And the lighter."

"I'm feeling lucky, baby!" And with that, he showed me every single tarnished tooth in his mouth--without any shame in his game.

I loved it.

Not sure why I shared that. I think it's because if Deanna were here, I would have told her about me getting to use the word "loosey" in a real life situation. As proof that I'm not as square is she thinks.


Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What's your Whitney Houston?

"The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. 
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." 

~ Whitney Houston 

(yeah, yeah and George Benson, too.)

I remember it like it was yesterday. A pianist began tickling the ivory for the introductory bars of a song. A woman tapped the top of the microphone and cleared her throat into it to be certain it was on. It was.

The music grew louder and readier for her accompaniment and, right on cue, she pulled her shoulders back, lifted her head up and began to sing. Up, up, up into the rafters went her voice. Loud, strong, deliberate. And dare I say it? Shrill. Periodically she'd take both hands and grip the microphone stand for emphasis and flutter her eye lids rhythmically. The song she was singing was a popular one, well known to most in the room. And I say that to say that we all had our own idea of how that song sounded on the radio or playing into our canals through iPhone ear jacks.


The reprise came and folks sort of shifted from glancing at each other to singing  along with her. That encouraged her more which, to me, was kind of sweet. Once the final note came she was probably twice as loud as she was at the beginning, squeezing that pole even tighter and her eyes even tighter than that. She freed her right hand and threw it to the heavens and left it there when the song ended.

The crowd began to cheer and clap. Her eyes opened and a big smile spread across her face. "Thank you," she said in a throaty voice straight into that mic before spinning on her heel to walk back across the stage.

People can be so polite sometimes.

We both knew her and she was really likable so we clapped, too. More applause. A few people, mostly her friends, stood up even. And all of it was really sweet and everyone seemed pretty pleased with her performance.

Wait. I take that back. Everyone except Deanna.

"Yikes." After whispering that under her breath to me, Deanna raised her eyebrows and gave her nose a subtle wrinkle.

"Yikes?" I mouthed back. People were still applauding.

"Did that sound good to you?"

I swung my head from side to side and then behind myself. Deanna was a horrible whisperer. "I mean. I don't know. I thought it was pretty decent, didn't you?" And honestly, it didn't sound so good. But we both knew this woman and were friendly-ish with her. Though my sister and I always gave each other permission to speak freely, I'd taken the high road on this C+ ballad rendition.

"Um. She needs to sing her babies to sleep and that's it. That's my girl, too. But singing? Uhh, yeah. That ain't her gift, man. If we were closer, I'd let her know, too. Long before she got up there."

"Damn, that's cold, Dee."

"No, it's not!" she hissed. "Everybody's got some gifts. Singing just ain't her gift, man. That's real talk."

I shook my head and wiped my face. No one was more transparent than my sister.

"Kimberly, be honest. That's a lullaby voice. Not horrible but not nothing I need to hear over a whole room either." And any who knew Deanna can hear her saying this. Eyes twinkling with mischief and arms folded unapologetically. I kept looking around to make sure everyone couldn't hear our conversation. "Somebody need to tell that girl one day--'That ain't cha gift, pookie.' I'm for real."

We both laughed out loud and quickly covered our mouths in case people were listening. It was so true.

And so Deanna.

I revisited that conversation with her a few weeks later at my kitchen table. Her position hadn't changed. "See, me? My gift is creative shit. I'll crochet you a three piece suit, make you a quilt and help your kid blow everybody in his class out on a project like it ain't nothing. 'Cause that's my gift, man. That's my shit." I'm almost 99.9% sure that she was twirling a crochet needle in some yarn as she spoke those words. She was right. This was her thing.

Her shit even.

"I hear you, sis."

"I'm just sayin'. . . . I mean. . . I can do some other things pretty good. And that's cool. But my thing is. . . .why don't people use the gifts that are theirs? Why they insist on forcing something else and leaving the thing they're good at thrown to the side?"

"You're a nut."

"I'm serious. That song ol' girl sang that day was tolerable. Like, yeah, she could carry a tune. But she didn't need to carry it nowhere outside of her house. Unnhh uh. No ma'am." She curled her lips and gave me a side eye.

I tried to keep a straight face but then we both erupted into the big fluffy laughs that we always shared at times like this. Man, how I miss our kitchen table chats. And it's funny because embedded inside of some of our lightest conversations were such meaningful lessons, man. Like this one.


So that? That was something I've always held onto that I learned from my sister. She encouraged people to find their gifts and use them. Especially me and anyone who was close to her. And she never pulled punches it came time to let you know that something "ain't your gift, pookie." 

Ha. "Pookie" was such a Deanna word.

I think I started writing more after Deanna began nudging me. "Writing is your shit," she'd say. And she'd always throw out expletives whether you liked it or not. I was used to it and actually found it rather endearing.

"I do love writing."

"You're a kick ass writer. You write well and you write fast. And what you write fast is the shit. See, that's because it's your gift. That and public speaking. That's your shit, too. Sometimes I'm like, 'How did she even think to say that?'"

I chuckled and recalled the time that she was chairing a retreat for our alumnae sorority chapter. Deanna had this bright idea that Kimberly would deliver the message at the ecumenical service. As in Kimberly, her sister. And for those who don't exactly know what that means, just know that it's like someone asking you to preach a sermon. When you don't preach. No where never.

Um, yeah.

"Say what?" I pushed back. "You sound crazy."

"Why not? It's public speaking and encouraging people. That's your shit. You'll be awesome." And I could tell that she was 100% serious. She sure was.

I gave that message that morning and it went well.  As a matter of fact, it went more than well. Deanna was right. I settled into my gifts and used them. Instead of talking myself out of it, I leaned in. And it was good. It truly was.

A few years before that, I was asked to give the "charge" to a large group of debutantes at this enormous black tie event. There were over 500 people there not even counting the debutantes and I was sitting on the dais in a formal gown waiting for my part. And somewhere in the midst of the program,  I could hear this metaphorical drumroll to my part. It became apparent to me that the "charge" was more like a keynote address. So, naaaaw, I wasn't the appetizer but more like the main doggone course. Which posed a substantial problem seeing as I had no key, no note, nor any address to give.

Holy shit.

Hallelujah they paused the program for dinner to be served. And as soon as they laid that chicken a la something or other in front of me, I leaped up from that stage and ran to the bathroom with a napkin, my cell phone and an ink pen. I kid you not--I hid in a bathroom stall, literally sitting on the back of the commode so no one could see my feet and ball gown. Seeing as I was the big time speaker and all. 

And then called Deanna freaking out.

"What am I gonna dooooo!" I moaned.

"This is your shit. Think about all of your experiences speaking. You got this, Pookie."

I was shaking and tearful. "This is just awful. It's formal and people have spent a lot of time and money to be here. I don't have a speech. I don't have anything. I don't. I thought I was just supposed to say good luck and that's it. This is so embarrassing. I'm so, so scared."

"Don't be, Kimberly. Just think of a quote or a central idea that's meaningful to you. Then build around it. You know how to do that.This is your shit."

And that was that. I slipped out of that ladies room and shortly after, was up at that podium. That keynote address was, quite possibly, one of the most memorable and well-received public speaking moments I've ever had in my adult life.

Yep. Because, as Deanna reminded me, that's my shit.

on the dais at the debutante ball

So the lesson I got from those experiences is that sometimes we have to pause and inventory our gifts. And especially align ourselves with the people who will push us out into the spotlight when we feel afraid to use them.


So I've actually applied this wisdom to many aspects of my life. And see, making a list of your gifts is an audacious task that can make you uncomfortable at first. But see, Deanna? She helped me shake that. And the beautiful thing is that once I really, really began to recognize what things God put in me to be able to do, her nudge gave me the courage to be intentional about it.


Something really cool happens when you do that. You feel more confident. You get better at those things that you already had a knack for doing. And you feel more like you are walking in your purpose. Yeah. That.  Because Deanna thought that being the best version of you was like handing the world a big old gift with a shiny red bow on top.


That brings me to Whitney Houston. Yeah. Her.

Okay. So it turns out that when Whitney first hit the scene, she was a model. Like a really successful print model in magazines like Seventeen and other high volume periodicals. But all along, she used to sing in church or with her mom and her auntie. And any and all who heard young Whitney were mesmerized by her voice. Why? Because her singing voice was undeniably one of her greatest gifts.

Stay with me. I'm going somewhere, okay?

Okay, so check it. Later on, Whitney gets signed and becomes THE Whitney Houston that we all know and love. The one who took Dolly Parton's little snoozer song and made it iconic and the one who refuted the belief that rail thin girls couldn't SANG.

But. Later on, Whitney tried her hand at acting. She was in a few movies and even starred in one with Denzel doggone Washington. And honestly? It was mostly tolerable. Especially because every movie she signed up for had a component of her singing. And the singing? See, that's the thing we needed. Because that was her shit.

Yeah, it was.

So imagine if Whitney showed up at a talent show. A talent show for the whole world that would treat them to her talents. Perhaps she could model. I mean, that is how she broke into the big times. Or maybe she could do a dramatic monologue--I mean, she did do a movie with Angela Bassett and Denzel at some point. So yeah. What if Whitney showed up and did those two things and left the singing on the back burner. What if she put all of her energy into that because it seemed cooler and better than singing. You know. Because she didn't quite realize how important it was that she share her singing gift with the world. Yeah. Imagine that.

It'd be a shame, right?

I think what happens is that we see other people and their gifts and suddenly downplay our own. Or revise our own because perhaps it doesn't seem as shiny and bright as the one of someone else. And even worse--some have no idea what their gifts are because they're too afraid or too self deprecating to take that inventory.

But just think--what if you are showing up every day modeling and acting when your Whitney Houston singing voice is the thing the world craves the most? And needs most from you?

And so. This advice from Deanna that started as something silly ended up changing my life. I mean that. And I'm thankful to have had her crocheting right in front of me on a whole lot of days when I was in the process of trying to figure out my Whitney Houston singing voice, man.

"What if someone doesn't know? Like how does someone know when something is their gift?" I asked her.

"You feel it. You know it. Just pay attention."

And that makes even more sense now in the context of Whitney Houston. From the moment we first heard her sing, we all knew. Which means she did, too.

As a clinician educator, this has been game changing. Instead of trying to mimic what I think a great teaching physician is supposed to be like, I do me. I make 100% sure to bring my Whitney Houston to every learner I encounter while continuing to work and grow in other areas. I sure do. In the hospital setting, that thing is patient communication and pushing others to be great. So I frame much of what I do around just that. I go to the bedside with my learners to talk to patients. I give my all to those I mentor. I run to the most difficult patient encounters like a heat seeking missile. I think hard about my learners and come up with tailor made ways to help them go from good to great. Or great to hella-great. And especially to find their own Whitney Houston singing voice and then provide a space for them to sing every chance they can.

And you know what? Everyone has a better experience because of it. Me. Them. Plus, I'm so much better at being me than someone else, you know?


So yeah. I don't apologize for knowing who I am or for trying as hard as hell to use my gifts while I'm here. Since my sister left me, I do so with even greater urgency.

I'm good with people. I'm an effective communicator. I'm a good great writer. I'm not afraid of public speaking and can usually find my voice. Just like Deanna, I'm innovative as hell and come up with ideas others haven't thought about. And then I come up with some more ideas after that. And more after that. I'm persuasive and a good leader. I'm emotionally intelligent and notice things. I notice people. I notice everything. And I remember shit long after others have forgotten the fine details. These are some of my gifts and I'm not afraid of them. And I go hard at using them every chance I get.

Deanna helped me with that.

So here's the question: What's your Whitney Houston? 

I dare you to be so bold as to take a pen to paper and list your gifts. And I double-dog dare you to walk into your day like a boss with that list on a post it note in your head and in your heart checking off those boxes every chance you get to bless the world with one of them.

Because that's your shit. And when something is your shit, you shortchange the world when you don't share it.

And yeah, yeah people can acquire new skills and talents. They can. But like Deanna said, you feel it when you've stumbled upon one of your gifts. That is, if you pay attention.

Today is November 3, 2016. And I'm proud to say that today I sang like Whitney at the Superbowl. Head back and arms wide open. Sure did.

I just did it my way. And I know for sure that my sissy would be proud.


"And if by chance that special place that you've been dreaming of leads you to a lonely place, find your strength in love."  

Happy Thursday

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . the lyrics to this song make me think a lot about life with my sister.