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Grow’n

Whoa! Preteens are a straight up thing!

It’s not that I was unaware of this, only that this morning’s meltdown from my 11 year old nephew caught me by complete and utter surprise.

Due to the recent opening of schools in Michigan, I’m helping my sister by staying at home with the boys. She is a teacher at the school and needs to be there daily. The kids are on opposite schedules; while one is in class the other is home working on online assignments. So here we are, me and my baby boy – the first grandson of the family – sitting at the table, glaring at each other.

“I HATE THIS AND GROWING THINGS IS STUPID!” He writes at the top of his paper making sure I can see every ‘T’ crossed and ‘I’ dotted. This is his assignment. He’s supposed to be writing about what it means to grow things, plants specifically.

“Alexa, put 15 minutes on a timer please!”

“15 MINUTES!!” His young pain fills the air. This is potentially the longest he’s ever gone without looking at a screen. “I can’t write for 15 minutes!”

All I can do is laugh. I’ve been doing this short burst writing for the past several weeks now and I find that he’s right, writing for 15 minutes is really hard. To get out all you need to say in such a short period of time is nearly impossible.

He sits there, looking around, changing his music, cracking his knuckles, pursing his little lips until they look ready to fall off of his face. There are several eye rolls, a few big sighs and a steady head banging as I add time to the Alexa.

“Alexa, add 5 minutes to the timer.”

“ARRRRGGGHHHHH UGHUGHUGHGUGHGHH….. THIS. IS. SO. STUPID!”

He starts off slowly, despising me and the task I’ve asked him to take. However, after not so long, the words turn from hating me to really thinking about the questions he’s been asked to solve. I can see his brain turning as he settles into his seat and feels the words flow from his mechanical pencil. He thinks as he clicks more lead to the tip.

“Five minutes remain,” Alexa patters in the background.

The air around the once hostile table is cooling. A few pieces of cereal make it from bowl to mouth and his demeanor finds balance. He’s still not happy, but he’s not angry either.

I dare to speak, requesting small bits of information.

“What question are you working on now?”

“The stupid question is stupid. They want to know if I would rather grow a food plant or a decorative plant, which is stupid,” he snaps.

“Why stupid?” I place innocently.

“Because! I would prefer not to do either of those things because they aren’t productive and are therefore stupid.” His syntax is surprisingly apt.

“But what about the cereal you’re eating… Someone had to have grown that. So for them growing plants is productive. What’s something productive for you?”

He thinks.

“Swords!”

“Well, then, how about a sentence that says just that: ‘I would prefer not to grow either type of plant, because I feel putting that time and energy into the things that I enjoy is best for my growth’?”

“Meh.”

Wow, can’t get anywhere with this little ball of feelings. He goes back to his writing, yet I look over and see him rephrase my example onto his paper. I instantly worry. I don’t want him simply copying down what I’ve told him, but then he goes onto the next prompt. He remains on the topic of swords.

I can feel his energy begin to rise as he pours into the page his love and interest in the matter of sword craftsmanship. The pouty lips turn to straight lines as his concentration and focus take a turn for the better. He just starts to roll with the writing when…

*RING, RING, RING*

Alexa breaks us the news that our 15 minutes are up. There is actually a small sign of disappointment from the other side of the table.

“Are we done growing for the moment?”

He finishes his sentence, puts down his pencil, and looks up at me.

“I like writing,” he reports jumping down to find his screen again.

“See,” I add rubbing his back. “Growth doesn’t have to be so bad.”

Little shit.

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A Piece on Personal Philosophy

“Stay the same age until you turn a different age. Nature versus nurture; honor your parents. Learn how to forgive while you’re still young.” – Larzell Washington

Each and every one of us goes through this life with our own individual paths and purposes. We find our clarity and direction by being guided by our principles and values. Personal philosophies help us to see the path in front of us and make certain that the steps on the way are filled with harmony. Things are not always going to be wonderfully happy, but with a strong personal philosophy, you can often find the most joy possible. 

For Groundcover News vendor Larzell Washington, the above quote is what he uses to get through the good and the bad times. Each part of the statement holds its own set of significance to his life. 

‘Stay the same age until you turn a different age.’ For Larzell, this means staying in your lane; finding comfort with your time and current understanding. A huge feat when much of the world seems so focused on either the past or the future. However, for Larzell, he works to remind himself and others that there is beauty in the present moment. There is value in knowing who you are and what you have. For Larzell, it’s about gratitude, the ability to cherish and respect one’s life and life’s decisions, to be happy and love others for all that they are worth. Larzell, in trying times, works hard to focus on the here and now and appreciate the living of life, not just the building of it. 

‘Nature versus nurture. Honor your parents.’ Larzell calls the attention of college students in this piece of his philosophy. When asked his understanding of the difference between the two words, Larzell states that nature is the act of carrying, delivering one into the world; whereas, to nurture is to be there. While there is a special space for nature, and we must give homage to our parents, he calls on all to respect the nurturer, reminding us that this extends further than a mother and or father. Many in our lives work to fill us of the things we need to get by. It takes a village to raise a child, and one might say our continued learning makes us, in a way, always children. We never stop needing our village, and Larzell reminds us to respect and hold gratitude for that. 

‘Learn to forgive while you’re still young.’ Forgiveness is a virtue, but it can be hard. It can be difficult to forgive others of their trespasses, and perhaps even harder to forgive yourself for yours. For Larzell, forgiveness is key. He reminds us that adverse situations are happening all the time and if we don’t learn to forgive it can become a sticking point. Going forward in life depends on being able to move on from the moments that harm us. To integrate difficulties into the spirit of who we are, not as to wear one down, but instead to build one up and make us stronger. We are better for the challenges that we face in this world, each obstacle working to build resilience — a teaching of how to get by. Don’t dwell on the things that can be changed by exercising forgiveness. According to Larzell, the younger you start this practice, the easier it will be when you are faced with the need to offer a big forgiveness. 

It is important for all of us to find our unique personal philosophies. These guiding principles shape everything we do from the way we speak to ourselves and others, to the duties we fill our days with, and most importantly how we see ourselves in this world. Our understanding of who and what we are to our communities, societies, and ultimately the universe will construct how much we achieve. Sometimes we must remind ourselves that a successful life isn’t about constantly moving upward, but instead, moving forward. 

You likely already live by a set of values or a personal code whether you realize it or not. However, if you can’t articulate your personal philosophy, start by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What am I passionate about in this life? 
  • What things bring me joy? (Try thinking outside of the material here. Cars and money are great, but isn’t there also joy found in making someone smile?) 
  • What is my/what do I want my mindset to be?
  • What do I value?

Make a list of these things and see if you can’t find some clarity on what you believe is important in life. Happy philosophizing, and thank you Larzell for sharing this powerful bit of perspective for us all. 

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2021 and the Covid Vaccine

On Monday December 14 2020, trucks packed with a newly approved Covid-19 vaccine rolled into cities and towns to set up shop for distribution. A highly anticipated event as by December over 1.6 million people had perished from the disease, more than 300 thousand of those in the United States alone.

The vaccine was furiously sought by many labs and drug companies. In the end, two took the lead: Moderna and Pfizer. Both vaccines are mRNA derived, which is different and new from what we have seen of vaccines previously. Instead of using small amounts of non-viable virus, mRNA enters into the cells and produces a small part of the germ so the body can recognize it as an intruder and learn to defeat it. Plainly put, mRNA acts as a blueprint for our immune system to fight back.

Both Moderna and Pfizer report seeing 95% efficacy in preventing serious illness and complications, though, one can still become infected with Covid.

However, vaccines are only effective if you can convince people to take them. As the rollout amps up, so does the variance in people’s willingness to be inoculated.

There are two obvious camps here: ‘yes, I will take it’ and ‘no, get that thing away from me’. Within each reaction, there’s a spectrum of reasons why and how people are making their decisions.

According to Groundcover News vendor Jon MacDonagh, it’s all about the science.

“We have to believe in science,” reports MacDonagh. “We must have hope – I feel [the vaccine] is a good idea and it’s going to help.”

This is not an uncommon phrase heard from proponents of the vaccination. Many are choosing to believe officials who advocate for the safety and effectiveness of the Covid vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has striven to drive out conspirators and strengthen the confidence of those waffling with the decision. Misinformation and divisive rhetoric from the Trump Administration has left some worrying that they don’t have enough fact to make the right decision. Still some choose the shot.

“It’s like a car,” reports community member Lisa Gizzi. “I don’t know how any of that works, but I trust the mechanics who do.”

It seems reasonable to have trust in a system that has been growing and evolving over many years, developing some of the most impressive medical advances seen throughout our history. However, history may just be the reason others refuse.

“The vaccine is bullshit,” states GCN vendor, Joe Woods. “Maybe it’d be good if it was done right, but this is a money scheme from the government – you never know what they’re putting in it.”

“I’m not getting that shot!” cries GNC vendor Gary Robertson. “I don’t want to be tracked or nothing. I just don’t worry about it, that’ll only cause more problems.

These statements may seem hyperbolic, however, medicine has a sour history of exploiting communities of color in the name of medical progression.

Many are aware of the Tuskegee study where over the period of 40 years the United States Public Health Service falsely treated 600 impoverished Black men diagnosed with Syphilis. The goal of this violation was to study the effects and progression of the untreated disease.

Perhaps not as commonly discussed is the long standing mistreatment of the Black community. Forced sterilizations, historic inequity of healthcare access and resources, as well as the use of Black bodies for medical experimentation are just the tipping point of exposing the structural medical violence communities of color have faced.

Others take issue not with what’s in the vaccine, but who gets what out of it. Another vendor, Derek Allen, notes his concern about the quick turn around of the product.

“It’s a setup. [The government] made the virus and spread it so they could sell the vaccine. It’s all for the money.”

In a time where capitalism is being called into question, the concept of the vaccine being just another financial swindling isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility.

Others still declare concerns of the long term effects .

GNC vendor Larzell Washington makes it clear that he is not planning to take the vaccine. Washington reports hearing too many mixed messages regarding the potential for problems from the vaccine down the road.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” concludes Washington.

While the long term effects have yet to be realized, they may or may not be worse than the lasting realities of the Corona virus. As we get further away from patient zero, there have been reports of lasting health conditions as the virus viciously attacks the lungs, heart, and brain. Enduring fatigue and joint pain are the most common, but lasting heart defects and permanent brain fog are not unheard of as well.

When it comes to the vaccine, there are several reasons people chose one way or the other. We don’t have all the answers, which can make it difficult to decide. Hope, health, and being heard is all we can ask for as we work to battle this new age pandemic.

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#DoYouSeeUs?

Please come and stand on the front yard of the University of Michigan’s Angell Hall (435 S. State St Ann Arbor).

Dec. 31st, 2020 from 5-6pm

We will be ending our year with a final cry for assistance in providing best health and safety outcomes for the unhoused community. Ann Arbor needs to come together to challenge U-M’s commitment to their mission and values, to our community, and to their own calls for systemic change.

Accept respect or expect dissent.

*Masks and 6ft social distancing are required. Signs welcomed.

** If you are uncomfortable standing with others at this time, or cannot join for other reasons, please use #DoYouSeeUs? to help spread the word. Posting pictures and videos is just as helpful as attending.

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Do You See Us?

As of November 2020, a 24.5 foot statue of a young woman’s face with hands covering her eyes was erected outside of the University of Michigan Museum of Arts (UMMA). A piece by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa’s, ‘Behind the Wall’ collection was gifted to the University of Michigan for display.

“This new work is arriving at a critical time in our country and world, prompting deep reflection on deliberate ignorance and collective inaction,” states UMMA Director, Christina Olsen1.

This message is much needed to address today’s social injustices. However precise, the statue is even more ironic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Michigan was approached multiple times to provide emergency shelter for the unhoused population in Washtenaw County. A collaboration between Public Health, Ann Arbor City, Washtenaw County, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and local citizen groups, sought resources to provide an indoor space where people could safely stay throughout the shelter-in-place orders established on March 23rd, 2020. The groups reached out to the University of Michigan for assistance, but none was provided.

“The request was not successful and alternative options had to be found,” reports Washtenaw County Commissioner, Jason Morgan, reflecting on the situation.

Morgan, and a team have been working since April to coordinate shelter provisions for those living outside throughout the pandemic. During the lockdown, the Red Roof Inn was used which offered direct access to showers, day time shelter, and the ability to isolate or quarantine if need be. The plan worked in the moment, but was overall unsustainable. In October, the hotel closed, leaving many outdoors.

With the number of COVID cases rising throughout the county and the days getting colder, the need to find indoor shelter has come once again.

In September, Ann Arbor City Council member, Elizabeth Nelson put forward a resolution to get the university to the negotiation table. Nelson expressed concern for those who are affected now, as well as those whose housing insecurities are still to come.

December 31st marks the end of the Center of Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions. With employment fluctuation, and many still not receiving unemployment benefits, officials are concerned about the growing number of unhoused individuals in the coming months.

Nelson’s resolution calls for the University of Michigan dormitories or other potential spaces to be opened to non-student community members. This being best practice for improving health and safety outcomes. The resolution passed on September 21st, and a meeting was scheduled to develop this effort. However, the meeting was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

Ann Arbor City Council was not the only group to make this request from the university. The Washtenaw Camp Outreach (WCO) put out a list of their demands for the unhoused community. They too asked the University of Michigan to open the dorms.

“U of M should step up,” says Greg Pratt, WCO member. “It’s like they don’t see us as part of their community.”

Perhaps he’s right, however, even their own students have not gotten the response they’ve asked for. On December 3rd, president of the Central Student Government, Amanda Kaplan, spoke at the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting. Ms. Kaplan gave an impassioned speech also putting forth a resolution advocating for shelter assistance. Kaplan later confirmed that nothing had been done. No one seems to be able to get a hold of U of M.

For an institution to so proudly summon a voice for sight, it seems odd to refuse assisting the community in which they are deeply embedded.

In September, the University of Michigan decided to bypass the concerns and recommendations regarding in-person learning. Students from all over the world stepped onto campus and into Ann Arbor. As a result, the number of Covid-19 cases in Washtenaw County  spiked, causing an end to in-person learning and a return of many students back home. While U of M is assisting the Public Health Department in providing testing and contract tracing, it seems there’s potential for more.

In March, 2020, Suffolk University in Boston, MA initiated a program to utilize empty dorm rooms to house the unsheltered. With little notice, or true understanding of all the details, they jumped into action.

“This was unthinkable, quite honestly, two months ago or three months ago and now it’s right here on our doorstep. There’s no briefing and there’s no procedures in place to deal with this,” reports Boston Mayor Marty Walsh2.

“We stand ready to help in any way,” Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly said in a statement. “Boston is our home, and the University takes very seriously its responsibility to be a good citizen at a time when we are all being called upon to pitch in and help.”2

By the end of April, Sonoma State University in California had also set up a similar scenario. Apx. 150 individuals were placed in temporary housing to fully align with the state and federal mandates.

“We see this as an opportunity under these trying circumstances,” said Barbie Robinson, director of Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services.3

An opportunity indeed, to be a leader and best.

This is not to say the University of Michigan has been fully removed. In April, 2020, senior researcher for U of M’s Poverty Solutions Department, Jennifer Erb-Downward, published an article displaying the struggles and increased risks this population faces. Erb-Downward outlines potential solutions at the local, state, and federal levels, calling for protective plans at each. She lists using dorms and alternative spaces such as recreation and convention centers as temporary shelter.

In an interview, Erb-Downward raised concern that with the ending of the CDC’s moratorium, the number of people unhoused will increase.

“There is a huge number of people at risk,” says Erb-Downward.

One in every five Michigan rental households has fallen behind on their payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.4

Erb-Downward discusses, in her article, the already strained resources of shelters throughout this time. She adds with the potential of more people coming, a new practice needs to be considered.

“It’s possible; complicated, but possible.”

What it requires is innovation, creativity, and inclusion. It takes leadership, empathy, and a commitment to common good. It takes us adhering to our words and making them our work.

Even with aligned missions and values, solidarity statements, and artistic calls to be the change, the University of Michigan continues to sit this game out.

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Who Gets To Vote

From the beginning, voting has been an essential tool of democracy. The ability to choose our representation, the candidates who will fight for the needs and wants of our communities, is an intrinsic part of being civically engaged in the United States as well as other democratically oriented nations.

While this right has been consistently provided to a few here in the US, there are a great many actively denied their participation. Since the nation’s inception, groups such as Black Americans, women, the current or previously incarcerated, and other minorities have had to fight for their place at the polling stations.

Throughout our history, as the right to vote was won by these groups, new and improved ways to stop their voices came into play. We call this voter suppression, and it can take multiple forms including legal restrictions that impede access to intimidation tactics, aggression and violence.

In 2020, a year built on turmoil, it should be no surprise that our society is beginning to shine a light on the inequities built throughout our institutions. With a deeply divided presidential election taking place this year, voter suppression reared its ugly face once more.

In Michigan, there has been a longstanding ban against transporting folks to the polls on Election day. A state law passed in 1895 made it a misdemeanor crime to hire transportation for ambulatory voters unless they are physically unable to walk. Historically, this law was passed to limit or at least lessen a type of voter fraud called ‘vote-hauling’, which looks something like:

“I’ll give you a ride if you vote for my candidate.”

In our modern day and age, many organizations throughout the state use transportation as an opportunity to make sure that their clients, who may have limited access otherwise, are able to vote. Due to a federal court upholding of the state law on October 22nd, 2020, these organizations must stop the transport or be at risk of penalty, which can range from 90 days in jail to a $500 fine.

“It is extremely disappointing to see a federal court actively disenfranchise Americans and we are exploring next steps to determine what would be best for the voters in Michigan,” said Guy Cecil, chairman for Priorities USA.

Disappointing indeed. There was a silver lining to the scenario, though, and may groups were able to secure volunteers. The law does not say anything about free rides, so transportation companies can offer vehicles and drivers as long as it is done on a charitable basis and there is no reimbursement for time or gas.

In Ann Arbor, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County was able to coordinate with Estella Express who provided 100% free transportation for those at the shelter to the polls. Estella is normally hired to take people to and from the airport, but donated her time and vehicle for the day to support the cause.

Loopholes are possible, but should they be necessary?

Getting people out to vote is difficult enough. However, voters experience more disincentive upon arrival. Registering to vote can occur up until the day of the election. It must be completed at the City Clerks Office, and you must have a form of ID and proof of residency. This could be a piece of mail that reflects the address on the identification, something often taken for granted by those who are consistently housed.

For individuals experiencing homelessness, this can be an immediate and insurmountable barrier. Addresses on forms of ID are not always current or local to where the individual is hoping to vote now. Transportation to their polling places could be impossible to secure, and so many choose to change their registration residency. To do so, that piece of mail is imperative, but not always available meaning individuals are turned away, voiceless.

These are barriers within our policies and procedures, but what happens when access is restricted by the people?

For months we have been seeing the divide deepen in the United States. This particular election has been a spark igniting anger and, unfortunately, danger.

Prior to the election, Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, attempted to ban open-carry of guns to the polls. The attempt was thwarted by the Michigan Court of Claims who ruled the law illegal as it did not go through the proper process. After an appeal was made, the decision remained firm. Guns could enter the voting arena.

One might inquire as to the necessity for armed weapons in a democratic proceeding such as choosing our next president. It seems there are two potential reasons: protection or intimidation. If for protection, the question is from whom? If for intimidation, the question changes to are we willing to allow this?

Appeals are currently in place to contend with Michigan’s transportation ban as well as the open-carry policy at the state and federal level. While change will come too late for this election, let us come together to decide what we want to see in the next. Always remember, the people are the power; our voices of today are the reality of tomorrow.

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To Write

This is my first post, my attempt to take a passion and make it into an art, a craft, and maybe even a living. I don’t know where this will go, I only know that it’s the first time I felt power in awhile. The energy of an ‘AHA’ moment can do some incredible things.

So, here I am, sitting under a window, freezing my butt off trying to lower these bills, writing my first blog post. Who am I? Goodness, if you know, please tell me. I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to figure that out, cheers to at least one more.

I guess that’s what this blog is about. An adventure to find the adventure of my life. I’m sharing it because I’ve seen and done some badass things looking to find ‘me’, I’ve learned and experienced more than I sometimes can convince myself is real. Maybe, if I can put those moments into the world, it might work to connect us that much further. Because if I know anything from these age old years, it’s that is just us in this life, all of us together. And that’s a pretty powerful thing. We need that power now more than ever. Let us take it and remember JustUs.

About Me

Hi! I’m Jaz. My full name is Jaqualecyn E. Brennan, but most folks outside of my family can’t pronounce that. So, to all of you, I’m just Jaz.

I could use this section to tell you all the things that I’ve seen, the degrees I’ve achieved, or the countries I’ve traveled to. I could display every experience that builds the timespan of Jaz. However, you wouldn’t learn anything about me other than I’m scattered, I’ve tried a lot of paths, and I have a crap ton of student loan debt.

Instead, what I’d like to share with you is who I really am, the essence and importance of me.

I have a dog. His name is Zephyros; he’s as big and bold as his name expects. It is my goal that he is kind, well-mannered, well-traveled, and mostly happy. We are working on all parts of this, and for a 15-month old pup, he’s doing alright. I’m proud of him and excited for our journey together.

I have a lovely family with two parents, a sister, a brother-in-law, and two wonderful nephews. It is my goal to be good to them. To appreciate them as much as they deserve and provide what I love best about myself to them as well as soak as much of what they love best about themselves into me. I’m growing, they are growing… Turns out, everybody is working on it.

I have a great group of friends to whom I have not always been good. I love them, they are always in my mind and heart. And yet, I don’t tell them as much as I want. I don’t check in as often as I would like. I don’t send cards for birthdays or follow up after big happenings or events. I’m often very distant unless/until we are in-person. This is something I’m working on. I’m getting better, but I don’t always get it right. No excuses, I’m just learning.

It is my goal to build better communities. It is my personal belief that humans have spent too much time believing we supersede nature, and it is my goal to remind us that we do not. I love math and I believe that numbers are the language of the universe. I’m enthralled by things such as symbiosis, sacred geometry, and the social and power structures of different cultures. One of my goals is to discover how humans fit into the pattern of the universe. This sounds big, but it starts in our own backyards. What must we do to allow harmony to return to our land. That’s why I write, that’s why I travel, and that’s why I’m here.

These are the baseline things that make up me. I enjoy creating, exploring, and I always love a good conversation or debate. I’m working my way through these years with enthusiasm. I’m growing each day with intention. I’m building myself up to give back in the ways that feel most me. I go with hope, with expectation of growth, and with curiosity in place of judgement. There is no truth but one, we are all one. Its JustUs so let’s get it together!

Can Do

Throughout my childhood, I had a friend who had ‘that mom’. Her name was Pam and she was a bit eccentric, a little disheveled, and unusually optimistic when it came to us kids. Everything was surmountable, and we could do anything we wanted. Whether or not we believed that, she believed it for us.

In all honesty, it drove me crazy.

“Can do, Jaz! Can do!” Pam would shout from the dugout.

We were all softballers in those times and her voice would sing out whenever we were at bat. Each and every time we were at bat. She was consistent, relentless, and in my opinion back then, terribly annoying.

It was something as we grew into our teens, my friends and I would use as an inside joke.

Leslie is going to take her math test… “Can do, Leslie!”

Joanna is going on a date with someone who turned out to be a pimp… “Can do Joanna! Can do!”

It became so ingrained that I found when I questioned myself and my ability to get something done, the sing-song praise of her voice would pop into the back of my mind. It became my uninvited proponent, a tiny person in my corner wiping the blood from a fresh cut.

“Can do, Jaz! Can do.” Just push on.

For a long time, and even to this day, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. For me this comes as a great, debilitating fear that I am not enough, that I’m not normal, and that I don’t have the skills to do what I want in this world.

For the last eight years I have lived in the same house, despite me knowing for the last two that I needed to move on. It was my college home, the first place of my own, and while I was originally thrilled with it, I had come to dislike almost every room.

This caused me great internal strife, a huge sense of failure. Why was I remaining in something that brought me so little joy? I realized this discontent extended past my house, in fact it was most of my life.

To suppress this, I smoked weed and lots of it. Weed was great! I would get home from a job I didn’t enjoy to a house I no longer liked. I would hit a joint or a bowl and suddenly, I loved everything. The sky, the grass, my lack of motivation – beautiful. Everything in life is beautiful when you don’t feel anything, and that’s what marijuana did for me – numbed me out completely.

I worked so hard to be numb and forget my feeling of failure, that I forgot the reason for failing in the first place.

Why do we fail in life? Perhaps the first and better question might be: what is failure?

To fail, is kind of an oxymoron. We often think of failure as a lack of success. You fail an exam because you got all of those questions wrong. You fail a drug test because your pee is wrong. However, failure isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about not doing anything with the knowledge you gain from being right or wrong.

If we look at the synonyms around failure, we see: nonperformance, nonobservance, negligence. All of these words are leaving things on the table incomplete. They speak more about my coming home and sitting, smoking weed than my recognition that I no longer enjoyed the path I was on. They are about allowing yourself to be, feel, and remain stuck in a world that has few true limits (world, not society – world has few limits, society has many).

So I started thinking about Pam and the softball field. I realized, despite my childhood disdain for her words, she was actually reminding me of this. She wasn’t overly enthusiastic about my potential to knock it out of the park, she wasn’t even sure I would hit the ball at all. Instead, she was reminding me that, no matter how I hit last time, because I had come back to the plate, I ‘can do’.

So, I stopped smoking weed. I bought a van and moved out of my eight year house. I quit my job and gave myself the room to be a writer. I might not hit it out of the park, but at least I’m stepping up to the plate of my own life. Here I go, and you can too.

The Normal House

I am laying here in bed, trying to figure out my next steps. I’m breathing, in and out, in an attempt to calm myself down – the anxiety is high today. Today is Ostara, the day of renewed life, of shifting energy, and the day I get my van.

Today earmarks a spectacular transition I am asking myself to make. It is my time to take my life into my own hands and live it in the way that I wish to. This is a BIG step for me! Over the past decade, I’ve worked hard to live the lives of others, quietly sidestepping all of those things most important to me.

I have been in the same house for 8 years now, the small house on Normal. When I first arrived to the four bedroom, light peach colored building, I was a college student living on my own for the first time. The house felt innocent, lively, and excited to have us as its tenants.

I moved in with my friend from high school, it was the cheapest option we could find that wasn’t living with our parents. My room was on the top floor, an east facing room. It was the smallest room in the house, but it was quaint and got the best morning sun. It had an interesting sloping ceiling which gave it character. I loved my little room. Everything I had fit into it nicely, leaving just enough space to move around and sit on the floor to write. There were times it felt cramped, but a little cleaning (which didn’t take long) fixed that quick enough. It was my hobbit hole, every nook and cranny filled.

The interesting thing about Normal was the people. In addition to my high school homie, in moved Scottie, a young grad student who liked to party. Scottie was a blast to have in the house as her voice lit up the family room, and her presence made us truly that – a family. Over the years I have seen a rotation of folks come and go through the Normal door. Some were great and I deeply miss having them here, others I was more than happy to see go on their way and I saged their rooms furiously when they did.

These roommates taught me a great number of lessons, everything from meal planning to dancing salsa, paying taxes to tuition bills. Each and every one of the folks who filled the four rooms gave me such valuable information about myself and the world around me.

My current roommate has been here for the last four years. He moved in with his high school homie, and has stayed even when his friend moved on. I’ve enjoyed living with him, however, my life changed a bit when they came in.

It was the first time I ever really invested time in smoking marijuana. I remember coming home to either one of them, sitting on the porch, smoking a joint. It was nice, a calming presence, a way to wash away the worries of the day and just chill. Years later, I look back and wish I had never taken that first hit. For, I worry that in doing so, I never taught myself how to handle those stressful times. I let things go undone, because ‘don’t worry, be happy’. I chose numbing over resilience and it has affected where I stand today.

Today, I am buying a van. Not just any van, but a van to live in – a camper of sorts. In all the goals I have struggled in, this one is the most daring and dangerous, but also the most necessary. I am leaving the Normal house in search of me, to find the resilience I have pushed down and to the side.

Van life is going to look significantly different, which is what I want. I want to experience the full power of my ability to be creative, to feel free, and to be resourceful. So much of my energy has been focused on impressing others and now I feel the strength and power in the idea of only needing to impress myself.

And I am impressed. There are not many others out there who would follow their dream like this. I want to be a writer, and I know that if I want to be a good – no, a great writer, than I must live expansively. To live expansively, one must be willing to go above and beyond to live outside of the ordinary. A great writer cannot come home and numb their feelings, they must use them – to write, to digest, to be in pain and sadness and give that to their stories.

I will miss this old house of mine, we’ve been dependent on one another for almost a decade. Its time to gather about me all the lessons I’ve learned from the people and rooms of this place. Time to take them with me into the world, into my next normal house.

My Hair

One month ago, I decided to start my loc journey. It was a difficult decision, mostly because I know, count ’em, ONE person who has dreadlocks… This is all new for me.

My hair and I have had our many battles. Between the flyaways and flat irons, I have been totally exasperated by my curly, kinky waves.

As a biracial woman, hair has always been a sore subject for me. I grew up in the city of Ann Arbor, starting at school they nicknamed “Everwhite.” The school was actually Eberwhite, but I’m sure you catch my drift. I was one of four black children in my grade, and the school enjoyed putting us all in separate classrooms – for optics of diversity. I was constantly different from everyone, and everyone knew it, most of all me. All my friends were white, 90% of the teachers were white, and at the top, my mother was white.

I sometimes wonder how life might have been different if my mother, instead of my father, had been black. I remember as a child, looking up to my mom and wondering ‘why does she look so different from me?’

I always wanted her thin pale body, her ocean blue eyes, and her long blond hair. I envied everything, even the strangest of differences like her clean armpits that took a razor with no problems. I was over here with my thick brown body, my dark brown eyes and my even darker brown armpits which were always irritated due to shaving.

She is my mom and I love her with all my heart, even as it broke when she told me I could no longer use her hairbrush. My hair had to have oils added in, and when I used her brush it caused those silky strands to grease up. These are little things, but I see now how detrimental they were to my psyche then. I constantly thought I was wrong. So wrong, that when my parents saved up enough money to buy the American Girl Doll I had been asking for, I chose one that looked just like her: white, blond hair, and blue eyes.

Please know I’m not on any level blaming my mom, simply setting the scene a bit.

I have an older sister, Kaliani, not her real name, but one I’ve taken to calling her. I watched her go through similar struggles as we grew and even to this day. At a very early age in life, Kaliani found solace in doing hair, which actually led her to a degree in cosmetology. Kaliani is wonderful with hair and makes folks shine with her work. She’s done my hair for years trying to find a style I liked, a length I could keep up with, and some empowerment in my -do. She worked so hard to get me to love my hair and I’ve always wondered if it was just as much for her as it was for me.

Kaliani always straightens her hair. The only times I ever see it’s natural curl is when she hops out of the shower to find her seat on the couch and start her process. I lie, there are a few times I’ve seen her waves appear, but it is short lived and often wrapped in a bun. I’ve never had a full conversation with her on this, but it seems significant and familiar to me in a way that maybe we don’t have to. We just understand each other.

So, long story shorter – locs.

When thinking about my own hair and how I wanted to style it, I thought… after me! I want my hair to mirror the journey of my life. I want it to feel like something I was proud to take the hour and a half to do and sitting blowing it out was not that way. I dreaded washing my hair and the process it would take next to make it manageable. So I started looking around. I began where all searches begin these days, the good ol’ internet. I found short styles for Black women that seemed ok, but still involved a lot of pressing and preparing. I found some styles for wearing my hair natural that felt doable, but my hair had other ideas on that. In the end, I found a channel on Instagram, Locsndreds, in which I fell in love.

There were so many styles, something new for everyday! The thought of trying locs was enticing to me but terrifying. I had always heard such negative things about doing this to your hair, people saying how dirty it was, how you would have to shave your head to get rid of them. I worried about the smell, about how others would see me, and worst of all, if I was enough to have them.

That last point seemed odd to me, if I was… enough? Enough what? Black enough? Brave enough? What is this enough?

I had to take a step back and realize that I am me. The idea of being enough is based off of someone else’s perspective, their reality over my own. That’s all I wanted, was to own myself, own my reality and keep it about me as a sense of confidence, pride. I am me and that has nothing to do with my hair, with my skin, with my mom or any other. I decided in that moment that I would loc my hair. That this journey would mark my transition from who I thought I needed to impress to who I actually need to impress – me. It would be the roots that I grew into the sky, my connection to the path I walk here on the ground. As above, so below.

I can’t wait for these beauties to grow with me, guide and follow me. To see all I see and stand for my being me on this earth. They don’t always look so nice in these beginning stages, but even that feels like a blessing. Things always get messy before they bloom into the butterfly that’s been waiting. Me-tamorphosis if you will.

Kyndness Tech – Recharging Community

“Kindness is the ability to know what the right thing to do is and having the courage to do it!” – RAKtivist. 

You may be searching your brain, trying to think if you know who or what RAKtivist is. To help, a RAKtivist, or Random Acts of Kindness activist, is someone who does onto others because it is right. Someone who chooses to leave an impression of love, connection, and unconditional acceptance of another. 

That’s what shines from a new venture Ariah Schugat, 28, started in the Ann Arbor community, providing phone charging kits for those in need. Schugat began thinking about this project during her own encounter of being unsheltered in Washtenaw County throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, when Governor Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order went into effect, spaces for those experiencing homelessness were much harder to come by, limiting the outlets available.  

“It’s something people don’t often think of,” reports Schugat, reminiscing about the difficulties she experienced. “When places like the library close, or cafes, there’s nowhere to charge your [electronics].” 

Phones are an essential tool for getting out of homelessness. Between calls with agencies, internet searches, personal safety, and other logistical needs, having a dead battery could mean the difference between getting into an apartment and staying on the street. 

With the help of startup funds from an anonymous community donor, Schugat began planning the kits that she now hands out when she’s not working. Each kit contains a multi-pronged charging cord, a battery pack, alcohol wipes, headphones, and at times a phone that can be used for wireless internet. The goal is that someone could use the pack until the battery is dead, return it to a designated location and receive another. Everything is sanitized once returned. It’s then recharged, and put back out for pickup. The locations currently prepped for this process include the MISSION Day Shelter and the SAWC Delonis Center. 

SAWC staff member, Jamila Huff, came to be a part of this project through Schugat’s outreach. Huff is assisting Schugat in building the success of this project by getting out the word and coordinating the exchange of kits at Delonis. 

“[Ariah] called the front desk one day and gave me the rundown. I immediately thought it was a great idea,” reports Huff. “If you miss that phone call, that’s it. It could be impossible to get back through, or you’ll have to leave a voicemail.” 

The connection to housing resources is important, but as the pandemic continues on, more aspects of our society move to the virtual world. Things like online court hearings, healthcare access, and mental health care are gaining popularity, so lack of access to the internet is limiting. As such, Schugat’s addition has already gained good traction. 

“I got one of [Ariah’s] phone kits a few days ago. It has helped when in a pinch,” states community member Adam Harris. Harris provided his phone kit for the above picture and notes that he’s almost ready to turn it in for a new one. “It’s a cool idea.”

Ariah’s project is not only cool, but a shining example of true community connection. 

Schugat’s enterprise, Kyndness Tech, is built off one basic principle: human kindness. 

“Human kindness is a gift we don’t often give anymore, but it’s what got me out of the shelter.”

It was an encounter with a stranger that ultimately changed Schugat’s path. While offering to assist someone with their broken bike chain, Shugat made the connection that ultimately led to her becoming housed. 

After meeting her friend and now project partner, Michelle, Shugat is in a space where she can give back. Schugat and her team do not profit off of this venture, but she notes the benefit for her mental health. 

Social psychologists have studied the effects of performing random acts of kindness. A study done in 2009, showed that those who completed such acts or acts of novelty had a drastically increased sense of life satisfaction, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and an improved sense of self. 

Humans are social and caring creatures, built to evolve through connection. In our modern society, we are often so caught up in the day to day that we individualize and fail to find one another. However, kindness holds its origins in kinship, the building of community. It isn’t just an action, but an interpersonal skill, perhaps one we should be all looking to incorporate more of in our daily lives.

When asked why she wants to help people, Schugat simply states, “‘Y’ not?”

Love

The heady aroma of sex still hung in the air.

A mixture of sweat and fluid that clung to the walls and fabrics of the bed long after he was gone.

“Having some fun?”

He asked teasingly, leaning over to place a kiss on my lips.

My husband, my life.

He let his hand wander up my thigh until he found the wetness and swooned. “Already ready for me I see.”

He can’t know.

He took off his work suit, dropped the tie to the floor and came back to me, laying on top of me with only his briefs between us.

We kissed the way we always kissed: lightly, lovely, lovingly.

He tried to run his fingers through my hair only to find it wild and untamed from the sex that had occured before him.

He looked at me, slightly bewildered. I saw it, the flick of doubt that ran through his eyes.

The wonder, the possibility.

He can’t know.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come home for a while now.”

I stare at him with my dark eyes, playfully, sexually, sensually.

It’s enough to bring him back to me, to my wetness, my naked body under his.

He can’t know.

We make love as we always do: lightly, lovely, lovingly.

It’s wonderful and it makes me cry.

A single strand of tears rolls down the side of my face, disappearing into the soft pillowcase below.

He is too busy living our life to notice.

He can’t know.

He finishes adding the smell of his seed to the heavy scent in the air.

Sex.

He falls into my arms and I into his. We are love, we are in love.

I love you.

Curled and wrapped in one another, I turn and place my head on the pillow.

My cheek falls onto the small, cold, wet patch barely visible on the canvas of the dark fabric.

It’s uncomfortable and I know a small shift can make it all go away,

but I don’t move.

I deserve the discomfort. 
I let the tears absorb back into my face, soaking up all evidence of my dissatisfaction.

He can’t know.

Mr. Linden’s Library

As she slept, the vines crawled from the open book laying in front of her. They spread closer to her fingertips growing from inside the pages with impressive speed. He had warned her about the book, about leaving it open. However, the hour was late and despite the vivid imagery and wild adventures, she found her eyelids getting heavy and the brightness of the room beginning to dim.

The vines began to curl around her wrist and had soon reached her elbow. As they extended towards her shoulders and tickled at her nose, she stirred, dreaming of soft fingers caressing her face. She let out a small, comforted coo and readjusted into her pillow, the fabric calling her back into her dreams.

The vines continued to reach for her, gathering and binding her legs from hip to ankle. They wrapped around her head and neck, loosely at first, but tightening with every second.

She dreamed of scarves on cold days, and grandmother’s Christmas sweaters that were always too tight in the collar. She dreamt of necklaces meant for younger girls, and roughhousing with her older cousin. She felt his hands closing around and crushing her throat. When she realized she could no longer breathe, she opened her eyes in sudden terror. The vines had covered her completely and were dragging her feet first into the book. It had consumed her up to her waist. Words had fallen off the pages, laying on the bedspread as though they belonged there; ‘dangerous’, ‘jungle’, and ‘dark’ were the only ones she could fully make out.

As she went to let out a scream for help, a final vine wrapped around her mouth smothering out the noise. The book swallowed her whole, closing itself in the end. He had warned her, and now it was too late.