All posts by themerriment

Emotional Intelligence, Learning and Developing “People Skills”

When someone tells me, “I’m a People Person,” I want think about four things:

1. This person is a good listener who always seems to know what needs to be said, but more importantly, how to not upset or offend others in their delivery.

2. This person considers proper word-choice when conversing because they care about creating and optimistic solution and they are hopeful they will reach it.

3. This person consciously works at managing their emotions, especially in stressful situations.

4. This person looks at themselves in an honest way, because they believe you can learn more from failure than you can from success. Criticism, to this person, is an opportunity to improve their performance and decision making.

People who have these skills have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence, or EI. They are able to sense the emotional needs of others because they know themselves very well.

So, what exactly is Emotional Intelligence, and what can you do to improve your People Skills?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating through this all takes tact and cleverness – especially if we hope to succeed in life. This is where EI becomes important.

Emotional Intelligence is a person’s ability to consciously understand and recognize their own emotions and how they affect others. It involves a delicate perception of understanding of how others are feeling- a person with emotional intelligence uses this knowledge to manage relationships more effectively.

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:

1. Self-Awareness – People with high EI are usually very self-aware. They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control.
They’re also willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of EI.

2. Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity, and the ability to say no.

3. Motivation – People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated. They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.

4. Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of EI. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships , listening , and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.

5. Social Skills – It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high EI. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.

The ability to manage people and relationships is very important in all careers, so developing and using your Emotional Intelligence can show others your leadership qualities.

How to Build Your People Skills by Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence be learned and developed. As well as working on Daniel Goleman’s skills, you can use some of these strategies:

• Observe how your actions and reactions affect people. Before you act, consider your own impact and how others might judge or deal with your action or reaction.

• Practice Humility. Be quietly confident in your accomplishments and don’t intentionally seek out praise.

• Identify your weaknesses. Be willing to accept that there is an honest way to be a better, happier, more productive, version of yourself.

• Control your emotions. Remember that anger clouds thought, especially in stressful situations. Stay calm when things go wrong.

• Be responsible for your actions. If your word-choice merits a direct apology, do it as an effort to make things right.

Practicing Emotional Intelligence is not only being aware of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you but also about valuing, empathizing, and identify with people on many different levels.

You ever get mad? You Ever Get Mad? You Ever Get MAD!?! Let’s Work On That.

You ever get mad? You Ever Get Mad? You Ever Get MAD!?!

Yes. Yes, I do. Don’t get me wrong. I do consider myself a happy person, but naturally, sometimes I want to karate-chop someone in the throat.

Sometimes I want to be that person who gets cut off in traffic then proceeds to give the finger to the offender. Really maybe my real issue is that sometimes I want to be the person who doesn’t feel bad about giving a person what may indeed be “coming to them.” Yes, instant karma deliver, at your service.
I need to tell you a story about why I don’t get as mad as I used to:
First some context.

I was one of those college students who worked full-time and went to school full-time. Through the years, I had a variety of jobs. In this story, I was the manager of an Italian ice store. My best friend, at the time, also worked at the store and the other employees did not know she was my best friend. This was a strategic approach to managing my employees because I did not want them to call favoritism on account of my best friend working there. Like I was ever going to let my best friend have a crappy schedule, seriously?

Okay now, let’s get personal.

So I’m just going to blurt this out-I was dating my boss. I was young! He was young! This was well before I learned that you shouldn’t, “mix business with pleasure,” or for the blunt, “shit where you eat.” Anyway, I really dug the relationship, at first. So push comes to shove, I’ll save you some semantics, I found out my boss/lover was double-dipping in the workspace. He was in fact dating another employee whom was also a friend of mine.

Here’s how I lose my cool.

I flip out. I want to call up this “friend” who is messing with my man and curse her out. If she was there when I heard this news initially I might have slapped her in the face, I could have let my ugly-out, and I most definitely would have got mad all over her ass. BUT really if you think about it, the best thing happened, she didn’t pick up the phone. My move was to leave a pleasant sounding voicemail encouraging her to call me back only to rip her a new one when she called.
So she called back (and I should be thinking- I got you now tramp).

But when she did call- I was tired. I had a long commute back to my dorm and an even longer day. My roommate and I decided to go to a diner and I was about mid-way through a very appealing sandwich when the phone rang. Thinking I was going to miss my opportunity, I picked up the phone. She politely said, “Hi, it’s (insert name), you called?” I responded, “Yeah, listen, I just wanted to say that I know what you did and I think it was fucked up, so do me a favor, and don’t ever talk to me again.” Then I hung up and turned off my phone.

My roommate gave me a bizarre look.

“That’s how you tell someone off? That was so calm!” It was precisely the opposite of mad and you know what? I felt great. You ever get mad and tell someone off and then you want to pick up the phone again call them back and “YOU KNOW ANOTHER THING! CURSE, YOU.” Then hang up? I get it. But because of this moment, because I knew I didn’t want this type of person in my life, I really did say the three things I needed to say: I am aware of your actions, I did not like your actions, my action is to not partake in this friendship. I felt great because I discovered a classy way to express how I felt and I didn’t have anything else to say about the matter. She can remember exactly what I said and so could I, it was a simple calm statement brought on by exhaustion.

AND TRUST ME, you don’t need to EXHAUST yourself:

Remember I told you my best friend worked with us? Also true. She told me that the next day the girl came into work and claimed I told her off, she even claimed I came to her house and threatened to beat her up. This just goes to show you that you shouldn’t get mad because people are just going to make up whatever it is they want to about a situation. The instant karma might have taken a day or so, but in the end, the person that was genuinely wrong in the situation faces a liar who says hurtful things in the mirror.

I don’t want to be the person that looks at my own reflection and feels like a terrible person; which is why I work on not getting too mad as an effort towards achieving happiness.

Angry Cappuccino (Work on Stress)

Okay Stress! Really if you think about it stress has a bad reputation. Here are some benefits of stress according to ulifeline.org

“According to experts, stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do. In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. In fact, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.

Stress is also a vital warning system, producing the fight-or-flight response. When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This creates a variety of reactions such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, the senses suddenly have a laser-like focus so you can avoid physically stressful situations — such as jumping away from a moving car — and be safe.

In addition, there are various health benefits with a little bit of stress. Researchers believe that some stress can help to fortify the immune system. For instance, stress can improve how your heart works and protect your body from infection. In one study, individuals who experienced moderate levels of stress before surgery were able to recover faster than individuals who had low or high levels.”

BUT regardless of the benefits, there are often times we could hang from the rafters chanting, “I am so stressed-out!” What I suggest to you is something I like to call “My Angry Cappuccino.”

Here’s What I Do:

I go to a coffee shop and order a cappuccino with no sugar and extra foam.

I decide that the bitterness of the beverage and the chaotic foam represents my stress/troubles.

I take my time and swallow every ounce, reminding myself that once I have conquered this beverage I have, in a sense, conquered my problems.

Once I finish, I rip the cup to smithereens and dunk it in the trash receptacle. Suddenly I feel like such a bad-ass. I can conquer you cappuccino, I can conquer anything…bring it!

Ah, you have to try this! For best results incorporate a happy victory dance.

Rearrange your space (Work on seeing Happiness)

In the past my desk has looked like it threw-up a extensive amount of marked-up papers and got attacked by sticky notes. So I HAVE to ask, “What does your environment do to promote happiness? Really, I want you to understand that the first step in this “exercise” is that you need to set up your space to allow happiness. Yes, Happiness is allowed. Today make an effort to change three things that surround you (if you want to go for more…super!) your goal is to smile more today in your surroundings.

One of my random reaches to smile today and be happy:

I got out a couple of markers, stickers, and fancy paper supplies. I made myself a happy note. I wrote the quote “be kind to yourself, you’re awesome-now get back to work!” and selected a hilarious photo to match then I posted it to my corkboard by my desk. Then I decided to rearrange my paperwork. I just kept on reminding myself that I am working on something that usually displeases me then I look at my reminder again. Productive but with the reminder that I am too damn funny and that I work too hard not to have this moment- it makes me happy to have this laugh with myself.

Consciously try today to do something that reminds you to be happy.

Gratitude Entry (Work on the Practice)

I am not saying you need to constantly engage in the practice of practicing gratitude but really, the more the better. Taking a few moments to be grateful (and record it in some way) really does make you feel happy. Here is my entry:

You know what I like about butterflies? They stop the thought process, even if just for a brief moment. They casually and pleasantly interrupt any sentence and present the viewer an overwhelming serge of complete happiness. Conversations sway from particulars to visualizations of beauty- a small reminder of all that is majestic in nature. Many thanks to the universe for the spontaneous gift that is the butterfly.

Now that wasn’t too difficult. Really any topic will work for you. Suggestions!?? Perhaps write a piece on the epic-ness that is the crunchy cheeto or the versatile advantages of incorporating more raisins into cuisine. Be grateful to all things that surround your life, even if they seem insignificant- you have so many reasons to smile, you have so many reasons to be happy.

 

 

You Only Get Three Words? (Work on Defining Yourself)

Throughout high school, even now that I am an adult, there have been labels or situational defined groups that a person most closely identifies themselves as belonging. Sure it’s easy to say that that jock over there is good at sports, but what about the punks or the weirdoes? What about the geeks and the gold-diggers?

I’m sure by this point you wondering where I’m going with this… so I just want to take this moment to express the fact that I have often wondered what people say about me, you know, when I’m not around.

I know there are some things I, as an individual, should not hear about myself. I admit willingly I have had moments and thoughts against my better judgment. I am absolutely certain I do not want to read minds as I am equally as certain that I would find most people would find me strange if they read mine.

So how do I define myself? If I had to write one word on a label and wear it around what word would I choose? What word would others choose for me? Or the question that until recently, I guess I never really gave it some extensive thought is, what are three words you would use to describe yourself?

I’ll give this some thought, nothing wrong with a little self-reflection… am I right?

Okay here are my words- considerate, productive, and sassy. (I’m going to elaborate, you’re welcome)

I am considerate. When I shovel snow, I don’t block other people in. When I get a drink from a coffee spot, if I happen to spill my coffee while I am stirring in my sugar, I clean up after myself. I hold doors open for other people, I say good morning, I understand people sometimes have bad days, and I generally think about how my actions affect others. People might not always treat me with the same consideration as I treat them, I’m still considerate regardless.

Productive. I set goals. I learn from my mistakes and I get shit done. I hate it when people ask me what my greatest weakness is because when I think I’m weak in a certain aspect of my life, I try my best to improve. I can always be a better version of myself. It is my belief that in order to be both considerate and productive you must also be sassy.

The other day someone told me I was “sassy.” What’s funny is I can, at times, absolutely agree with that.

I am sassy. I have Sassy-ness, Miss Sass- a -Frass herself, that’s me. (Too far?) I think that people say this to me because I am so damn honest. I usually say how I feel about a situation because if you always tell the truth then you never have to remember what you said. Sometimes I wonder what drives people to live double lives, to cheat, to steal, and to lie. The other day I told my neighbors I was going inside because I had stuff to do and I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore. I just used a humorous tone when I said it (that’s sass) but what I said was absolutely true.

I didn’t want to hang anymore. I said it. They laughed. It was honest and we are still cool. I should tell you being honest is really not that hard. Being likable while being honest is the tricky part. To me, it’s all about three things- tone, delivery, and word-choice. You can say anything to anyone if you use proper – tone, delivery, and word-choice. Being conscious and considerate to people and their feelings leads to a humorous but productive environment in my book; mix that with remaining professional and I would work well with you.

There will always be a bit of myself that identifies with various words and groups of people. I just try to balance what I am with what others might think of me- in general, I think I am a good person. I don’t want anyone to consider this conceit or advice, I just took a moment to think about myself. Sometimes it’s difficult to reflect on ourselves without thinking about judgment-anyone know what I mean?

Just remember that being happy is realizing that no matter what judgments you encounter, if you really want to find a person that can change your life for the better, you only need to look in the mirror. Exercise happiness by smiling at yourself in the mirror and reminding yourself that (even if only sometimes) you rule.

The Yards Brewery (Work on getting out)

Hey you, yeah you, you need to get out more; but really at the right-kind of place with the right-kind of people. Here’s where I went. I wrote you a nifty review, enjoy.

“About Two Hours From the NYC…Don’t You Want to Get Away?”

Let’s have an honest moment. The city is complicated and you need a road-trip to distress. You might consider visiting The Yards Brewery on 901 N Delaware Ave in Philadelphia, PA 19123.

I know. I know. Gas prices. But I promise it will be worth it. Here’s why:

Your visit will make beer consuming history. They proudly boast that they brew craft beers of authenticity, integrity, and character. Their process is rooted in the British brewing tradition and for the pursuit of happiness. You can’t buy many of their selections in the store, so if you want to experience the awesomeness you’ll have to take the drive.

Your taste-buds and brain will thank you for it. Yes. Not only will you consume wonderful beer like the Chocolate Love Stout and the Extra Special Ale, but you can also get an education on the hilarious tour of their brewery, conveniently located next to the establishment. Did I mention that the tour was free and full of delicious samples?

Their décor is the cat’s pajamas. We’re talking pool tables, shuffle boards and a variety of pub grub. Beer-infused cuisine at a reasonable price paired with tasting room that welcomes both the casual and the refined.

Go ahead. Get Away. You deserve it.

Here is the trick to getting happy by getting out- good people. The older I get the more I realize you don’t need a lot of friends to be happy. Just a select few that you can laugh really hard with but also have a serious conversation with. When you get out you vent through experiences collectively with people who are also looking for happiness. You also think/worry about you problems less because you are entertained by others. Consider getting out as an opportunity to “work well with others.”

The Dragonfly (Work on Spreading Happiness)

I wrote this poem for a dear friend of mine when she was going through a rough time. I think that my happiness sometimes revolves around my ability to try and make others happy. Naturally, I want my loved ones to be happy too. It’s a bit corny but sometimes a random reminder that we are loved is the only solution when you can’t deliver the solutions to another’s lack of happiness.

This is a long lost tale about an exceptional dragonfly, whose job was to give gifts and help others get by.

But these gifts weren’t presents in a box with a bow, they were special, unique, and are needed to grow.

The dragonfly granted these gifts when people were good, they were encouragement for them to behave as they should.

In a faraway town their lived a girl who behaved all day and each time she was patient when gifts were given away.

This little girl’s name was Valentina and she would always hide underneath a gentle drizzle where the puddles collide.

She loved books and color and anything enchanted- but through the years she wondered, “When will my gift be granted?”

One day Valentina saw the Dragonfly that she has always known and in slight bitterness she asked, “When will my gift be shown?”

“I know it’s not right to keep asking and be jealous,” She said. “But I feel left out sometimes and confusion fills my head.”

“I already gave you a gift, but it’s more complex than your friends.” While others lose their gifts, yours never ends.”

“Your gift is to be remarkable and others couldn’t hold it. It’s far too large a gift and you’re the one that fit.”

“Now that you are grown there is something you need to understand. Your gift is to help others as I do and always lend a hand.”

“Sometimes, I think it gets tough to always be remarkable. Because the people around you might seem ill-mannered and dull.”

“People can seem pushy to get what they need because just as you have, they want to succeed.”

“You’ll have days you get tired and say, “Where is the time just for me?” and sometimes a thank you doesn’t follow the time you gave for free.”

“You’ll have days it will be difficult to just relax and have fun. It gets hard being the person who always gets things done.”

“Sometimes you’ll want to take a break and give yourself a rest, but your job as a person is to make the better become the best.”

“Your meant to keep doing what you’re doing- but don’t hesitate to ask, because you might need some help in completing a task.”

“You didn’t realize,” said the dragonfly, “I couldn’t always be around and it was a happy blessing the day that you were found.”

“There are some people in this world who don’t know what to do. That’s why I’m so grateful for someone as remarkable as you.”

After I presented this to my friend we smiled together. It was a beautiful moment and it made me happy. I am not saying go Shakespeare on someone if you don’t think it would suit them. Maybe just work on a random note, token, or sentiment because when you work on spreading happiness it grows for you.

 

The Wicker Hamper (Work on Acceptance)

I wrote this essay for a class, after you read it you will see how I turned an informative analysis on a piece of literature to a creative piece about myself. Here is the reality of what I learned about happiness:

I got a B+ on the paper, a grade I would normally cringe at. I was okay to receive this grade because I did not follow suggested format and at times got off-tangent. I realized that being happy is sometimes about defining your own standards instead of adhering to the specifications of others. A very “play to the beat of your own drum piece.”

Inspired by Langston Hughes

I am a writer. But I have never actually written anything. My definition of a writer may vary from the typical. A writer, according to my own opinion, is: a lyrical artist whom creates a project of great creative substance. Till this point in my life, I have never written a piece that was entirely creative. Writers, to me, cannot simply orchestrate their craft with objective writing. This paper will be written entirely according to the qualities I believe a great writer should adhere to; and I will use it to accomplish my goal of writing a long creative piece of art.

I started writing at an early age. I would make my own paper dolls. Each doll was a unique character and each one had a personality and distinct look. I used to spend hours creating a mess of paper all the while chatting a storm up because of some make-believe scenario. When I got a bit older, I sought inspiration in some great writers. I remember reading something that Stephen King had said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So read I did, Mr. King! I got lost in literature to no end. I had this idea in my mind that I needed to conduct research on what it takes to be a great writer. I wrote in all my books. Whether it be underlining a great line, asking myself a question in the margin, or sometimes even finding a typo that the editor missed. I loved finding the typos the best; feel free to find some of mine.

Some of my favorite authors were men. Sorry ladies, I do have a few of you that I love as well. But for some reason, in my teens I was all about reading male writers. Some of my favorites: Vonnegut, Ginsberg, Sandburg, King, and of course… Mr. Langston Hughes. I loved Langston Hughes. I loved how his poetry made me dance because it was so rhythmic. I loved how he makes me question and think about life and possibilities. I love how he also writes a hell of a short story, and how his autobiography is the most interesting story of all. Did you know that an English teacher recognized Hughes’s ability to write and she introduced him to other poets, and do you know who those poets were? Carl Sandburg and What Whitman! Talk about being introduced to the right kind of authors to inspire a young writer! I was also inspired by a great teacher. His name was Mr. Cuillo, and he was my ninth grade English teacher. His lessons inspired me to think and to believe in my potential. He was and will always be a model teacher. It was Mr. Cuillo who first introduced me to Langston Hughes, The Blues, and the Harlem Renaissance.

I read about when Langston visited Kansas City in his teens where he became aware of an aspect of black culture, the blues. Hughes drew inspiration from the blues as both an individual and an artist. Apparently Hughes visited a theatre on Independence Avenue where, as his biographer Arnold Rampersad reports, “from an orchestra of blind musicians, Hughes first heard the blues. The music seemed to cry, but the words somehow laughed. The effect on him was one of piercing sadness, as if his deepest loneliness had been harmonized” (Rampersad 17).

I remember Mr. Cuillo introduced me to poetry in one of our text books. He said Hughes remembered this refrain of one of the songs he heard:

 

I got de Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got de Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied-

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died…

 

Although Hughes “neither felt religion nor could sing the blues…, the secular music soothed and diverted him from his sense of solitude” (Rampersad 17). I loved that about Hughes. He found solace in music. Music made Hughes not feel so alone. That is what music does for me.

Music to me is essential. For every time period of my life there is a song that can take me back to a place. Whenever I hear Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You,” I am instantly recalling slow dancing with Alex Ortiz, my first crush, at the sixth grade dance. I can literally picture my dress, his greenish-blue shirt, and I can almost smell his cologne. But reading and understanding one of Langston Hughes poems is more than feeling like you are in a place. In order to understand one of Langston Hughes poems you have to understand the style of how Langston Hughes’ poems were meant to be read.

Langston Hughes poems were inspired by Afro-American popular music; including jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie, and be-bop. His poetry on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session. I completely agree that poetry should be read in rhythm.

And now I will analyze the very poem that I have pin pointed as the mark of what makes Langston Hughes one of my favorite writers. The poem that the above mentioned quote speaks of is called Harlem and here it is:

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I thought to begin my path of writing something that is entirely my opinion- I would attempt to analyze this poem myself instead of just finding critical assessments that agree with how I feel about it. Okay so first I want to decide what Langston Hughes means when he is talking about dreams. There are two possibilities: either he is talking about dreams when you fall asleep or dreams that you aspire for. So I thought I would begin to ask myself: what happens to you once you are asleep?

When I fall asleep, I dream of beauty, of circumstance, of possibilities and of something better and bigger than my current state. But what happens, as Langston Hughes proposes in his poem Harlem, to a dream deferred? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore- and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” The images throughout his poem are both sensory and domestic and infused with African American music, and Langston Hughes, if you haven’t heard, was remarkable at this style of writing.

Sometimes I wonder how much about my “dreaming process” has to do with how much attention I receive. For example, I had always felt when I was a little girl that my parents didn’t give me the attention I thought I deserved. Is this perhaps why I constantly dreamed of princes and princesses? And then it occurred to me that Hughes is not speaking about a dream that people have as they lie in bed to rest each night. Hughes is talking about the dream that a person has as they rise each morning- the dream that a person carries with them, in their heart.

No doubt; the dreams in your heart get there because of the type of life you have lived. So who is Langston Hughes? To be fair, I would like to briefly discuss how I am aware history excepts can be a bit boring; this being said, I wanted to know a bit about him. By examining a writer’s history I can attempt to understand what motivates them to create. And besides, sometimes you need a bit of objective writing as background knowledge to a creative piece: so here is a bit of mine.

First off, who is this musical author? – (James) Langston Hughes began writing at an early age and spent his life developing his craft. Langston Hughes was born around midnight, on February 1, 1902, in the city of Joplin, Missouri. “The date of his birth he would take on faith, since Missouri did not require the registration of infants, and his birth was never entered officially there” (Rampersad 5). He was named James Langston Hughes. His first name James, after his father, was soon dropped and he grew up as Langston Hughes.

One of his earliest memories was not in Joplin Missouri but rather in Lawrence Kansas, where he spent the first thirteen years of his life. He lived with his maternal grandmother, “a small woman, brown, slightly bent, with very long hair almost to her waist and only slightly gray in places” (Rampersad 5). Her name was Mary Sampson Patterson and she was almost seventy years old. She read her grandson excerpts from the Bible and from Grimm’s fairy tales.

Hughes’ grand-mother was a prominent member in the African American community in Lawrence. Langston Hughes’s grandfather, was a well-known Kansas politician. Because of the age and poor condition of his grandmother, Hughes never received the attention he needed. Although Hughes’s grand-mother had “nurtured his imagination with tales of heroism,” she did so “without the loving tenderness the boy should have preferred” (Rampersad 4). Hughes grew up confused and conflicted by the notion that he was not allowed to live with either his mother nor father and these feelings of rejection and insecurity resonated throughout his writing. According to Rampersad, “Hughes grew up with a wrenching sense of having been a passed-around child who craved affection but received it only in episodes. This unappeased hunger left him-in spite of his gift of laughter a divided man” (Rampersad 3).

Deep huh? Aren’t you glad you got a little taste of the history? Don’t worry I am going to get back to my analysis of “Harlem” But first…a quick random thought! Please pardon the interruption.

Knowing where I have been and how I got to where I am today, I wonder how my history will affect my desire to pursue my dreams? I wonder sometimes if I will ever fulfill my dream of becoming a famous writer. I wonder how much of “deferring” my dream of becoming a writer is effecting how happy I am in my life. I looked up deferred in the dictionary the other day, which one I am not sure. Sue me if you can figure out which one. The synonyms for deferred are: late, postponed, delayed, tardy, and overdue. “How is delaying my dream affecting my happiness?” you ask.

Well sometimes when I go to Barnes and Noble, as I am walking down every aisle, I dream about what it might be like to see my name on one of the book bindings and I have a moment where no one knows how happy I feel… except me. You might at this point be wondering why I am putting off writing, if I do in fact dream of writing someday. Perhaps my dream of becoming a writer someday was deferred as Langston Hughes suggests because it dried up “like a raisin in the Sun.”

Could this be possible? Did I let my dream of being a writer…dry up like a sun-dried raisin? What a harsh reality! I suppose I did. I mean this is hard to admit, but I really let my dream of being a writer dry up for a while. I always dreamed about being a writer. It was the one thing I could identify with. The one label I was comfortable enough giving myself. I wasn’t popular in school, but that was okay because most writers were not. And they were the only crowd I cared to identify myself with. Seriously, if the planets ever aligned correctly, and I happened to run into Langston Hughes at a bar, I would be friends with him- I just know it. He would buy me a drink, he would be mysterious- and the next time I saw him, he would give me a high-five. Langston Hughes would have been cool…I knew this.

So how did dream of me being a writer “dry up?” Man…what can I say? Life got in the way. I have many excuses. I was too broke and I had to work a double shift at my second job to pay for my house, so how could I find time? This has to be cleaned, mowed, swept, completed, or purchased. I would say, “I wish I had time to write! Or I should have written that down!” I think my dream dried up because I always made excuses for not being able to sit down and actually write something. I mean something!!! It didn’t have to be a piece of great substance! I could be witty or clever. I just hardly ever did it; writing something down all at once. Seriously, if you saw my desk, you would think it got attacked by little pieces of ideas or things that might be clever to write about.

So I can agree, as harsh as it may sound- a dream deferred can in fact, dry up like a raisin in the sun. But does it, as Hughes proposes, “Fester like a sore- and then run?” I can also agree to this. Sometimes the idea of being a writer has seemed like I had a “sore” to deal with and sometimes I didn’t think of being a writer at all. Sometimes in my classroom I would have a moment when I thought this is exactly what I should be doing in my life and if I died never writing something worth reading I would be happy. Then there were other times when writing seemed like a sore because people would tell me, “you should write.” And I am disappointed in myself because I made up excuses for why I have never ended up doing it. I ask myself, “Why would I want to do something that does not involve a weekly paycheck?” or “What the hell am I going to do for money?” I was utterly convinced that if I was going to take myself seriously as a writer I should be doing it full time. But since I had too much to lose, writing became a festering sore, and sometimes it ran away because I did not care to waste any more time dreaming of ridiculous things that will never happen unless I gave it all I had.

Does my dream of becoming a writer ever, “stink like rotten meat?” Would you believe me if I told you it has? Sometimes I become a bit of a snob. For example, when I read something I’d say, “That was okay, but if I wrote it I would have done it this way.” I do realize that who the hell am I to be criticizing a published author especially when I am such a chicken shit that I won’t complete a piece of work? How can I call something anything in the world of writing when I have nothing to present that is worth-while? I feel like one of those people who contribute a political opinion about the president when they themselves have not voted.

To enlighten the topic I will now analyze the line about the possibility of dreams that “crust and sugar over- like a syrupy sweet.” Let me just say, sugar is absolutely delicious in moderation. The way chefs can describe their marvelous creations can literately make my mouth water. And the dreams of me finally being a published author make my mouth water with excitement. I get as excited about writing as my three year old niece gets about cake. I think about writing a lot. I have so many reference books that claim they can teach me to write. I feel like I have done my research; if you could possibly be an expert on a topic without ever experiencing it first-hand. I might suggest that is how I currently see myself.

Feeling like you are great at something that you never have time to do is exhausting. Writing makes me happy. And I keep preventing myself from being happy. Why do I make up excuses? Because I do not have time to write. Therefore, writing can feel like, “it just sags like a heavy load.” If I do put something out there and put so much time into it and people hate it or it never gets published how would that make me feel? The process of writing makes me happy but being a published writer would make me happier, I think. Generally, my feelings about money are as follows. Money as far as I am concerned cannot buy happiness, but it can certainly buy happier. If I didn’t stress about money, I could finally get down to doing things because I want to, not always because I have to. Writing seems like a heavy load sometimes because it requires a lot of unpaid time.

The last line of the poem asks “or does it explode?” and I am having some trouble wondering what Langston Hughes meant by that. How can a dream deferred explode? I know that sometimes I will have a day or two that I just can’t help my urge to write. I need to create! In the past this explosion of writing has always come at a point of sadness. If someone had done something to me that was cruel or hurtful- never did my poetry sound so majestic or flow so easily. Since my intentions are to be both happy with my relative and write, I am going to have to “explode” in my writing without having to be so sad all the time.

 

I will try writing some poetry myself here:

My writing is a dream deferred.

In the past- I have felt as if it has dried up “like a raisin in the sun.”

And sometimes, when I am hard on myself-

It has festered “like a sore-and then run.”

When I am full of myself- writing, “Stinks like rotten meat.”

When I think about writing, the thought crusts and sugars, “over-like a syrupy sweet.”

My ideals about the writing industry seems to just sag “like a heavy load.”

I am only left to think about my dream deferred, I am only left wondering-

Will my dreams about being a writer, “explode?”

 

Okay my poetry needs some work. If it makes you feel better, I do consider myself primarily as a short story writer; it is my favorite genre. Because of this- you are about to read my explosion of writing!! Here is a short story, beginning to end, that I have been dying to write! But most importantly complete! I hope you like my first attempt at what I consider a good short story. Later on in life I might have to change the names, since it is autobiographical, but regardless- It is entitled:

“Steve the Conquer and His So Called Army”

            Steve unzipped his navy blue Eddie Bauer book bag and took out a weathered burgundy spiral notebook; inside was a slip of pink paper that promised a bad time in my house.

“Is that it?” I took the piece of paper from his quivery, clammy hand.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I wonder if she’d realize if you didn’t give it to her at all. She can’t possibly keep track of all the parent-teacher’s conferences that we have. I mean, there are three of us; that’s like so many!”

Steve always said he liked that about me, that even though sometimes what I said never made sense, it was always said with good intentions. Like once he was upset because he wanted to ask Diane McNeal to be his very first girlfriend, but he couldn’t get her attention. I told him to borrow my grass skirt and jump on her lunch table in the cafeteria and do the hula; there was no way she wouldn’t notice him then.

“So are you going to give her the letter Steve-o?”

“Yeah, I guess.” But Steve-o never gave my Mom the letter and what happened next was even worse. She had found the letter…on her own. My Mother was always finding things in places that are called hidden for a reason; even when I got older in my high-school years. I remember when she said to me, “I found these cigarettes in your bag! I know you are smoking, how could you be so stupid!” So as the situation goes-it’s okay for her to be mad at me for smoking- but it’s not as important and definitely not an issue that she “accidentally” stumbled upon the inner zippered pocket of my purse.

Logical? I can see that. But that is always the problem with parents- you can fight it if you want, but in the end-especially if you’re a kid, they always get the best of you. It is so strange that when you’re a kid, like a driving force, forever fighting you try to win, but in the end, you seldom ever do.

It was really bad, though, when she had found things on her own. Because not only was she mad at you for whatever reason but also because she thinks you wouldn’t have told her on your own if she hadn’t found it. And that’s just what you need when you are about to be in trouble, a grown up that is twice as mad.

The teacher meeting was on Tuesday night…one day away. What annoyed me was how school words the letter in general: We invite such and such to attend the annual conference where parents and teachers can unite in discussion of educational enrichment. Please contact the administration if you would like to take part. Sounds to me like there should be some kind of coat check at the door and when you get there you’ll be sitting down to an elegant dinner with real silverware and crystal water goblets. In reality- it was just a situation to add to the handful of things that in my house- almost always guaranteed a beating.

Let me give you the low-down: if you did something in my house, there were no “time outs” in order. If you were bad and you knew it, even if you didn’t know it, and Mom found out, you were going to get it. If you were really bad, you got yours from Dad. Yup, parent teacher conferences were the inevitable; you were going to get it; it was only a matter of time. A matter of time because I think mostly teacher conferences were such a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

If you were a good kid in school- the teacher liked you but the other kids would think you were a brown nosing nerd and beat you. And if you were a bad kid in school- the kids at school thought you were cool, but the teacher didn’t like you and she’d tell on you to your parents. Then your parents would beat you. I think these school meetings are held for teacher amusement really. Either way- you still got beat.

Right after my Parents left for the meeting, Steven began to sweat. His glasses kept fogging up and his rugby sweater was nearly sticking to his sides. He was a lot older than me; six years almost, but we were always together then, mostly me following him. My other brother, Craig, and I weren’t nearly as chummy even though he was closer to my age, but he was always there when I needed him and I knew he could help.

“Craig, wake up!”

“Craig, wake up!”

He sleeps with his mouth open, crusted at the sides. He doesn’t snore or anything-just breathes loudly. He doesn’t look like Steve-o and I; he has darker skin and lanky features. He could sleep anywhere.

“I said wake up!” I pushed his upper torso again and again until I decided to cover his mouth and hold his nose, because I figured, hey, he couldn’t sleep if he couldn’t breathe.

“Ah! What are you trying to do? Kill me! Erica, what do you want!?”

“Steve is in a bind; tonight is his claim to fame.”

“What are you talking about? Get out of my room!”

“Craig! We have to do something… Mom and Dad just left for parent teacher conferences. Remember what happened last time? You couldn’t sit for almost a week!”

Craig let out an exhausting breath, followed by various huffs and puffs.

“Alright…where is Steve anyways?” They shared a room; usually Steve would be right in front of the television playing video games. If you were trying to sleep, he’d even play them on mute. I got up to look around the house, but I didn’t have to go far, Steve’s toes were sticking out from underneath the drapes- only a few feet in front of us.

“What are you doing behind there?” He didn’t answer, “Steve-o, I can see your feet under that drape, you’re not kidding anyone.”

“Um, hey, I was hoping you guys didn’t see me.”

There were only a handful of things you could do to at least try to avoid a beating. Steve understood these things and so did we. The options were all momentarily comforting but they all yielded the same result.

You could hide- they’d eventually find you though and even get progressively angrier while they tried to look for you and kept calling your name but you didn’t answer. You could clean up your entire room- shower, do all your homework, and then pretend to sleep and they would inevitably wake you up. Or you could spill your guts before your parents even left- for an immediate beating which didn’t last as long because they were slightly happy that you decided to tell them, but still upset because you were bad and waited until the last possible minute.

I usually combined the three. I would hide under all my bed covers and pretend to sleep, make sure my room was clean, and tell my parents that the teacher didn’t like me before they left. It’s funny how fast you can clean your room on parent-teacher night because of all the nervous energy and how fast paced you feel right before the ultimate moment arrives when you know that in seconds you are going to get it. For us, that moment was the sound of the garage. When you were upstairs the sound was gentler, a smooth transition of closed to open, “MMMMMMM.”

Whenever we heard that sound, it was time to take our positions, to make your final decisions of how you are going to try to approach the situation, and to pray.

“What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” Steve began to walk back and forth, back and forth in desperation.

“You could run away and go live in the city! Here is three dollars; it’s all I have.” That’s what I had said; I guess Steve-o was right all along about me never making sense.

“You can’t survive anywhere with three dollars, least of all, the city.” Craig was always a clear thinker in times of desperation. “Why don’t you just face the music and take it like a man?” Craig was always saying things like that. He was always that guy who saw a problem and tried to go through it-instead of around it. If you ask me, you might as well hide; you are still going to get it. What the hell is pride anyway when you are fourteen? Your Mom still has to pick you up at the movies.

We decided to go to the drawing board, which was actually just a big yellow notepad that my Grandfather had left behind when he moved to Florida. I got out a bunch of discolored magic markers and we began to write down ideas. After about ten minutes of questioning and bickering since none of the ideas would ever work, we decided to search for places to hide.

Craig came up with the brilliant idea of going underneath the sofa cushions. We had this painfully old brown sofa in our playroom; the cushions rested on about four rusty springs at one point but we had taken them out because it was close enough to the springboard anyway. This way we could build excellent forts. There was just enough space between the cushions and the springboard to hide; whenever we played hide and seek with new friends, someone who knew would always hide there. Steve crawled in the space and we covered him with the cushions. I told him not to worry, because if he hid there for the night- I’d bring him breakfast in the morning.

“What if Mom and Dad sit down?”

What if Mom and Dad sit down? What if they found him? How long was Steve planning on hiding there, forever? But it did seem logical at the time. What if Mom and Dad did sit down? So we did a test run. After Steve was underneath the cushions, Craig and I sat on top of him.

“Are you okay under there?”

“Yeah, hey, I don’t feel anything!”

“How about now?” Craig and I started to jump up and down.

“Anything?”

“Nope nothing!”

We got off the sofa and uncovered Steve. “We could even put extra pillows on top of the sofa so Mom and Dad wouldn’t think to sit on me.” Yeah, and you wonder why this genius is doing so poorly in school.

“Why don’t you just use these pillows like armor or something?” At first I thought the boys were going to tell me that once again I was no help whatsoever. But they were sort of interested in what I was going to say.

“What do you mean like armor?” the both of them looked at me and I felt smart.

“I mean, if you were wearing armor and they hit you…you wouldn’t feel it.” Finally a new concept- getting beat but not feeling it.

We didn’t have much time. So we started with the key areas. The butt and back; surely if we were going to cover something those places would be the most ideal. We didn’t have many means for getting this armor on Steve, about a half a roll of masking tape from Craig’s last book report, an old vertical blind cord from the family room, and about half a down old shoelaces. We knew that armor just wasn’t going to do the trick- What Steve needed was protection.

“What are we going to do? It’s not enough!” Steve began panic mode. “It’s not too late! I can still clean my room, where should I hide?”

“I have an idea!” Craig got lots of them. Hell, they were more logical on average to mine, so maybe he was on to something. “Get in the corner; we are going to get you a mighty army!” It was really a great concept, but who? Surely the two of us were no competition for what was waiting for Steven.

Nevertheless Steve sat in the corner relentlessly waiting for Craig to bring his so-called army. Craig made a dash into the room sliding on his socks beneath him.

“Here it is! Here it is!”

“Craig then dumped an entire box of action figures at our feet, “What are GI Joes and ninja turtles going to do for Steve-o? We are running out of time here!”

“Not just them.”

“Craig, what are you talking about?” Steve began to get impatient again.

“Think about it. Steve- you stay in the corner and we will barricade you in there: once Dad gets to the corner he will be tired from moving so many toys. Once he gets to you his hits won’t be that hard because he is already tired; plus you are wearing the armor so you will barely feel this at all. It can’t fail! I know it!” Holy Crap! He did have a point. We all thought Craig was a hero after that one, and he didn’t seem to mind the praise as we embarked on our mission.

Steve-o sat in the corner, feet first. He looked like a sumo wrestler wearing a hockey mask. Directly in front of him were the transformers, those robots in disguise were sure to fool them. At a quick pace Craig and I began to funnel in all the toys we had. We knew afterwards that the cleanup would take hours but it was a risk we were willing to take. All the great toys were there; even the not so great ones. All the thunder-cats, each block from don’t break the ice, all of my Barbie dolls, and even Teddy Rupskin; he didn’t even work, but he was still there. They were all there-fighting for him.

We even had time to plan for out of the ordinary hiding spots for Craig and Me. you know that as soon as my parents got home, if they saw us, they’d say, “Craig Brooks and Erica Barbara,” I hated when they used our full names, “Go to your rooms!”

We needed to find hiding places that were far away enough from getting it ourselves, but hidden enough as well; plus, what is the point of planning something all night and being so far away that you can’t see what was going to happen. I chose the wicker hamper; though itchy, it had enough holes in it that you could peek out but not enough to clearly see what was in there. I lined it with clean clothes that were posing as dirty ones…for effect. Craig climbed into a pair of Steve’s pants because they were much bigger than his. His feet were inside sneakers disguised as shoes instead of feet; he would be peeking out of a half-way opened zipper.

Steve-o was secure kneeling in the corner, looking out to us as we placed the remaining toys in their “war stance.” Just then the gentle hum of the garage door swept through the room. Craig and I took our positions. Steve swallowed one big gulp, “It is time.”

Instantaneously the door from the garage that made its way into a tiny foyer facing the kitchen – slammed. And there was silence…the scary kind. You could hear everything: my Father throwing his keys on the marble counter tabletop, each tick tock of the Batman wristwatch on Craig’s forearm, and seemingly even the beads of sweat from Steven, dripping in a slow trickle down his spine.

“Steven! Get down here!” My Father’s voice echoed with rage through the hallway. And Steve didn’t dare but to answer. “Don’t make me come up there!” The tone in my Father’s voice was getting angrier by the moment.

“Thud Thump Thud.” Quicker and quicker more intense with each step as my Father began to make his way up the stairs. His footsteps were like keys from a piano; deep notes pressed with passion, just like the music from the film Jaws. “Thud. Thump. Thud-Thump. Thud Thump…Thud! THUMP.” The door knob twisted with a fast pace and swung open hitting the wall, shaking the nearby mirror.

“What the hell is this!?!” My Father began kicking all the toys and trying to step over and between them, tripping on the soldiers, and his own feet. “When I get over there…you’re going to get it!” Tears of fear and pain ran down the sides of Steven’s cheeks, hitting the cushions that were fastened to his limbs and nearly blinding him at the same time. “You’re crying? When I get over there- I’ll give you something to cry about!” I couldn’t stop crying myself; I couldn’t help it. This was one of those times growing up that you would later try to forget. Sometimes it is hard to remember a point in your life when you hate yourself and you wish you had been born into another family and sometimes you wish you had never been born at all.

My Father threw a plastic wiffle-ball bat across the room. It hit and knocked over a glass number one statue that my Dad had given Steven at his little league championship game. The statue hit the floor and shattered into a million pieces. Just then- something remarkable happened. My Father began to get tired. He began to think logically. He began to see that his behavior was irrational. Yes, it is true that he was upset at Steven; but we had found a loophole. Because of the prolonged anger my Father felt- he had actually started to feel sad…for Steven. He let out a deep breath and stormed out of the room. Faintly in the distance you could hear my parents arguing, “This is all your fault!” “No this is all your fault!”

Moments felt like hours and the light underneath my parent’s door accompanied the darkness. I crept out of the wicker hamper because I was usually the guinea pig to check whether the coast was clear; and it was. My parents had fallen asleep, it was nearly eleven thirty. I came back into my Brother’s room and closed the door. Standing in the middle of the shaggy carpet, I said, “The enemy has fallen asleep, we are victorious!” I think I heard that on some He-man, Masters of the Universe television show, but I had always wanted to say it.

Steven climbed over what was the remaining pile of mangled toys and made his way to the closet. “Craig-you can come out now.”

“Are you sure the coast is clear?” This is coming from the same guy, who just a few hours ago had said,

“Why don’t you just take it like a man?”

Craig and I glanced at Steven and, to this day, I will never forget what he told us: “Craig, Erica, the beatings, they will come. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, but for tonight, for this very moment…I am God.”

Steven walked a little taller that night, and we had to tip our hat to him. It was a night we would always remember, the night that we had fought back and won.

The End

I guess Mr. Hughes, or should I call you Langston? A dream deferred to me, can sometimes dry up, fester, stink, taste sweet, and sag. But does it explode? I cannot entirely answer that; perhaps it can explode to a twenty-two page paper that took a surprising, off topic, yet adorable child-hood adventure spin- at best for now. But I hope for you your dreams did explode, into what you considered great writing. And I hope for

me it continues to do the same.

I wanted to produce a creative piece rather than the traditional objective piece of writing. I thought about giving the standard interpretation of Harlem and then proposing my own interpretation but adhering to the standard essay was not my angle nor was targeting a specific audience. I am the audience or rather people whom desire to achieve their dreams. Langston Hughes’ dream was to become a writer, as is mine.

This essay is dedicated to Mr. Langston Hughes- your poems have inspired an  explosion of writing. Thank you, for helping me reach my goal- one complete piece of creative writing.