Tag Archives: reflection

Moving forward

Photograph: A low sunset on December 31, 2013. The sky is light blue with a tinge of orange-red on the horizon. In the lower half of the photo is part of a yard; it is very dark and in shadow.

This was part of the last sunset of 2013.

My Australian friends have been enjoying 2014 for almost a day now, but I still have a few hours to wait, work, and reflect.

This Site

I started mackenzian.com last January as a space for writing, exploring ideas, and connecting with others, and also as an archive for my book reviews, publications, and ongoing research. Nearly 150 posts later, I’m pleased with what the site has grown into and am grateful for all of you who’ve joined me in learning through the year.

In 2014, the site will grow some more. I’m in the process of moving the website to an independent host, and as I move, edit, expand, and upgrade over the next quarter, you might notice a few technical issues. Please bear with me and let me know if you catch broken links or anything else that disrupts your experience; it’ll be running smoothly again soon.

Health and Wellness

Last January some of my former grad school colleagues invited me to join what we called The 20/50 Club. Our über-target: to complete 20 hours of exercise and 50 hours of writing per month. This site and #NaNoWriMo kept me moving on the writing goal, but I wasn’t so sure about the exercise.

PHD Comics cartoon of a graph titled "Amount of exercise I get over the year." Graph lines decline between January and summer break, and decline again through the fall semester and ends at zero.

This chart does not match my success with exercise this year! (c) Jorge Chan 2013

Recovering from 8 years of study but determined to regain some fitness as well, I struggled to find my rhythm. Then, in February, I settled on an experiment: 20 minutes of non-stop cardio every day for 21 days—just to see if I could cycle non-stop at speed for 20 minutes and maintain a positive habit for 3 weeks without exception. I ended the experiment victoriously on my birthday, and when that cycle ended, I rebooted it.

From then on, I allowed for the occasional travel day and rode on Sabbaths if I’d missed a session during the week. By April I varied the cardio routine to keep myself guessing, mixed levels of difficulty, and blended rolling programs with intervals. I increased each session to 25 minutes in September; by October, I was up to 30 minutes; and this month I increased it for the final time to 32 minutes. I won’t extend the cardio session from here on: I’ve rediscovered calisthenics and now complete a bodyweight routine on alternate days. I may reintroduce interval programming in 2014 and I’ve added the app MyFitnessPal to help me monitor my diet.

My end-of-year cardio total (February 26-December 31): 1,227 miles and 31,779 calories. And my blood pressure is back to its pre-US ranges.

I’m happy with these results.

Settling In…

With a STEM grant for a local public school system, five figures in fundraising for a social non-profit, team leadership on a state organizational assessment project, and starting over half a continent away from my old home in Texas, I accomplished a lot this year. I’ve made some new friends, attracted new clients, and weathered local DMVs twice for a driving license. But this year’s greatest stressor was the United States immigration system.

It’s almost impossible for even my most empathetic citizen friends to understand what that last sentence means.

Since arriving for my first graduate degree last decade, I gained work and stay authorization through my institution. I was then a student and university employee, and was granted short-term visas to complete my studies. Once I graduated, I lost that institutional coverage.

My move away from my university town was a move that hundreds of thousands of domestic graduates do each May, August, and December every single year. Since I moved in May 2012, five cohorts of graduates have done the same. These graduates might face challenges resettling somewhere new, or re-acclimating if they’ve gone back home. They might take with them skills, experience, and enthusiasm. They might have years of potential, tons of will, mountains of grit.

All of that I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted. I couldn’t apply for positions I was fitted for. Area institutions had citizenship or status hiring limitations that froze me out. I kept up with changing laws for people in my category, went independent, and developed professional, contributing relationships doing valued work (sometimes for pay, sometimes for free).

Yet I underestimated how much instability and indeterminacy would come from working through my post-grad year without a clear way to new authorization, or how much it would wear on me to watch my 1-year authorization tick-tock away.

When my mother called, she regaled me with descriptions of her latest Jamaican meal: the fresh fruit, Grandpa’s pineapple and oranges, the greens and root vegetables from the yard, my favorite starch ever—roasted breadfruit—and the other morsels that make my mouth water as I type.

She would tease me with her food, and then she would say, “Everyone… everyone sends their love. When are you coming home?”

There was never a satisfactory answer. I’d just started to build my life here, set up a work and reading space, connect with a local church. I’ve been out of Jamaica for 9 years and away from the UK for 16 years—I’ve been a UK expat for longer than I lived there. Until I was able to transform my immigration status, I’d have no travel permit: even if it had been the best of times, and it wasn’t, there was no way I could visit relatives abroad and still hope to return to my life.

There were times when I considered leaving the country. These thoughts usually came late at night, when everyone else was asleep and the frustration crept over me, when I struggled to invoke the reality I wanted rather than the nightmare I feared; those were low times. When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently.

I won’t tell you that that’s when the stress lifted and the exhaustion faded away. Because that wouldn’t be true. There were 5 more months of indeterminacy, and sometimes when I look back, I can’t believe that I didn’t come down with some stress-triggered illness.

It was my friends, mentors, and allies who kept me standing this year. Incredible combined effort from me, my family, our legal advisors, and my current and former colleagues, and we eventually met with success.

I’m a US permanent resident now. I have no restrictions. I’m adjusting to that liberty to imagine that my domestic peers have always had and perhaps never knew the price or value of.

I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.

…And Moving Forward

About three weeks ago I looked ahead at the new year and realized that I didn’t want to wait until tonight to regain my momentum. So I’ve been spending quiet time and most of my post-holidays afternoons with the Star Trek movies (but of course), some sketch paper, and colored fine-tipped Sharpies refining my goals and drawing out my next few steps. I’ll be able to share some of those next quarter.

In 2014, I want to move forward. I will move forward. And I look forward to hearing from you all through the year as we step deliberately into our futures together.

A little year-end/new year perspective via Carl Sagan and student animator Adam Winnick. Happy 2014, all of you! 

Live well, learn well, and love well here, on our Pale Blue Dot.


These holidays are
gaps in the crust of life. The
latent squeezes through.

—KM (@mackenzian)

Lapse In Judgment Question Card

Do you incessantly beat yourself up after a lapse in judgment?

Most of us have done something we cannot believe we did—unexpected and seemingly uncharacteristic. But it was in our character, if only in a very small part of it—a part we have not fully acknowledged, and a part that is mostly out of our sight. When we gracefully accept this aspect of ourselves and understand the conditions that led to its expression, we are in the best position to bring it into a more proactive expression the next time we meet a similar circumstance.

Via the Women in Theology blog: For Shame.

Shame is an internal conflict within the individual’s psyche. Though it can be related to a person’s specific transgressions in complex ways (i.e., one may feel badly about having committed some kind of trespass), it always touches upon questions not only about what the person has done, but who she is. And the person that she takes herself to be is judged unacceptable. The desire for cathartic reparation or atonement does not strongly exist (though it can in “healthy” forms of shame; see below) because one does not believe that one can recover a fundamentally good or at least stable sense of self. —E. Lawrence

This is why what you let people tell you about yourself matters; why what you accept as your core identity matters; why the messaging your peer groups share about “people like you” matters. 

If your social network messaging is toxic, that is the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat.

A toxic social network is slow death.

Teen Self and Adult Self

@mslooola: Question: what would teen you think of adult you? #noshamemovThis morning @mslooola asked: “What would teen you think of adult you?”#noshamemov

So I found Teen Self and we had a chat.

Teen Self: You locked our hair!
Adult Self: Yeah, I like it. Might cut it in a decade or two; what you think?
Teen Self: O_O

Teen Self: You stopped playing basketball. Do you miss it?
Adult Self: I do, but weight training’s not bad; you should try it. Also, get a bike.

Teen Self: You’re a little bit “different,” y’know.
Adult Self: So are you! It’s how your people will find you.

Teen Self: Anything you think I should know?
Adult Self: You’ll learn things that are nice to know by watching people. You’ll learn what you need to know by experience. Everyone around you is doing their best; judge less. You’re not alone in the world even though it sometimes seems like you are. I love you.


At the 2013 Essence Magazine Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon this February, Gabrielle Union received the Fierce and Fearless Award. Her acceptance speech is remarkable. (It starts at about 1:03 of 11:32.)

Gabrielle Union at the 2013 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon | via OWN

Gabrielle Union at the 2013 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon | via OWN

“We live in a town that rewards pretending and I have been pretending to be fierce and fearless for a very long time. I was a victim masquerading as a survivor. I stayed when I should have run. I was quiet when I should have spoken up, and I turned a blind eye to injustice instead of having the courage to stand up for what’s right…

“Being fearless is simply doing the work. It’s doing the work that it takes to recognize you no longer want to function in dysfunction and misery and that you would actually like to be happy and not just say you’re happy.” —Gabrielle Union


This AFI clip of Dustin Huffman discussing his process with the character Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie has made the rounds today. He began with the question, “How would you be different if you’d been born a woman?” and asked his make-up team to help make him “beautiful.”

“I said [to my wife] ‘I have to make this picture.’ And she said ‘Why?’ I said ‘Because I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself onscreen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think that women have to have in order for us to ask them out… There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I’ve have been brainwashed.’ [Tootsie] was never a comedy for me.” —Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman’s comments about wanting to “pass” as a woman and avoid double-takes when walking down the street made me uncomfortable, but I’m glad he had the insights he did. What if we lived in a world where our social categories didn’t make anyone vulnerable to street harassment, and where “beauty” wasn’t so restrictive that it made “interesting” people invisible?

From Beatrice Bruteau’s The Psychic Grid.

Why the tenor of your inner world matters and why you might sometimes be your greatest nemesis:

Viktor Frankl stresses the importance of having a strong value system and a convincing worldview in one’s own interior that is life-supporting, that does not encourage weakness. We must avoid the danger of giving up. If we give in to cultural pressures and admit to weakness and helplessness, we will internalize the destructive self-images being projected upon us. In the case of socially oppressed groups, as Mary Daly points out, we will then carry the oppressor within ourselves…

The conviction of a powerlessness that is “natural,” therefore unalterable and inescapable, leaves us defenseless before the power-wielding forces of social institutions and the darker, more hidden powers of our own consciousness.

Why new habits don’t always stick and why conversions—even positive ones—are often traumatic:

There is a heavy emotional investment in our supposedly pure theoretical constructs—the images in which we perceive the world and the attitudes by which we respond to what we perceive.

Images and attitudes are emotionally based entities, not dispassionate at all, and it is they which form the warp and woof of our epistemological frame of reference. Reality for us is what is consistent with this shared (sympathetic) primitive emotional disposition of our consciousness in the midst of the interacting universe. We cannot possibly abandon it without the most extreme anxiety. Our view of the world and our whole personality and action pattern stand or fall together, being commonly rooted in our fundamentally emotional perception of being.