"These Are the Days I've Been Waiting For." A Short Story

A short story.

“These are the days I’ve been waiting for,” she said to herself, looking at half of her face in the bathroom mirror as the other half leaned against the door frame.

Nevermind that she has no idea what that really means. It was a statement of sentiment more than of fact, because facts have no place in a moment like that. A moment when time doesn’t cease but just ceases to matter. Arbitrary. Like whatever her neighbor is doing upstairs or whoever is passing on the sidewalk outside of her view — it simply isn’t relevant to where she is right then.

It’s the kind of moment she doesn’t even want to let build up inside her chest because what goes up… can’t stay there… so she leaves the room to gather dishes from the dining table and put them in the sink, and to shut off the kitchen lights, and the dining room/living room light and the hall light. And she changes into warm, soft clothes just right for sleep, leaving laundry on the floor half-kicked beneath the bed and plugs her iPhone in and reaches for the last small light on the bedside table — pausing —

She still wants that warm feeling, though… even though she knows from time and time again of past experience, it always trails away and into other days with a much different face looking back at her in the bathroom mirror.

But that’s the thing. When the thick, cold, low day comes — or the angry, bright, heavy day falls — or the bitter, dark, tangled day looms — she’ll need this one — this moment — the memory of the full, warm glow that comes from somewhere she doesn’t even know the name of. That sweeps over from the inside. That winds out widely in every direction. It won’t destroy her hardships altogether… but it’ll take the edge off, remind her there is another side — that she knows, too.

So she smiles, lets it grow inside her, lets it well and stir and simmer and settle within her…

She rubs her eyes, tired. The moment passed.

The light goes out.

And within the hour, she falls asleep.


Why I Might Not Be Self-Employed If I Had My Way

 Photo by  Daniel Spase  on  Unsplash

About a month ago, I had the immense pleasure of being interviewed for The Dream Differed Podcast. Now, let me set the scene for you. This was a breakfast interview — a whole breakfast. Waffles made in front of me, bacon, mimosas — just, mm. Hosts Christian and Cayman must’ve known something about me when they planned this. Total strangers only moments before, they had me warmed up and gabbing for well over an hour with ease. 

But seriously, Christian and Cayman’s questions stirred up some incredibly significant reflections for me — including the topic of todays’ blog post. As December begins, I’m looking back on two years of self-employment. Two years of not always knowing month to month where my income is going to come from or how much it is going to be. Why?

When Christian asked a question that touched on this, I said:  

(13:30) “I think I just came to understand that that was the only way I was going to have the power to make the decisions that felt dignified to me, and appropriate — even within the nonprofit world… I really expected [the nonprofit and doula worlds] to be spaces where people were very thoughtful, very open to conversation, very reflective, and — you know — we’re doing it for the community right? That’s the slogan, that’s on the brochure, that’s on the website, and everything so why wouldn’t people carry that into their actions and the way that they talk to their coworkers and the way that we make decisions, but then the reality of being in the space and being like —  

”Oh, as soon as I say something I’m a ‘non-productive member’ of this community — as soon as I point something out, it’s like, ‘well, 'I don’t understand that experience, what’s your basis?’ What’s my basis? I’m my basis! I’m the basis!... I carry the legitimacy of what I’m saying with me; I’ve carried it my whole life.”

I needed my work AND my life to be valued. And I needed the lessons and sensitivities of my life’s experience to have a tangible impact and role in my work.

I needed this partly for me — to feed my own soul, which surely gets weary in the workplace when I feel undervalued and silenced — but also because I was seeing that it had DIRECT impact on the outcomes of my work, which had to do with the quality and direction of peoples’ individual and communal lives!

I haven’t innately changed. The way I work hasn’t really changed either. When I was working for someone else, I was still just as genuine and hardworking as I am now. I still cared for the people I worked with and near the same way I care for folks now. I still pulled long hours and did things from a place of passion.

But I didn’t have the power or the influence to be sure that my own good intentions weren’t being… overshadowed or undermined or maybe even upended entirely… by systematic flaws.

Now, to this point it sounds like I’m saying the opposite of this blog post’s title, and — yes that’s sort of true. Unless I come to a point where I understand that practically, I need to put my self-employment to the side in order to sustain my life — I’m likely going to stay self-employed. 

But… in an ideal world, if I had my way, I wouldn’t have those concerns I expressed to Christian and Cayman.

In an ideal world, if I had my way, I could be a part of a company or a nonprofit that provided benefits, and vacation time, and vocational development, and genuinely communicated with the folks they served, intentionally and self-critically pursued the goals they claimed to be committed to, really valued and listened and heard staff who voiced concerns about the communal culture, and did hard work to be sure that the communal culture aligned with the mission… and more...

In an ideal world I never would have felt like I had to go my own way to provide the kind of support I would want to be provided if the tables turned.

If in this world, I ever find a place that proposed to hire me full-time and met those qualifications, I’d absolutely entertain the option. 

So, when Christian asked me if the freedom of self-employment equates to happiness to me, here’s what I said,  

(17:53 in the audio) “I don’t know. I think right now, in a way yes because it just feels like the route… when I think about my ideal, I don’t know if self-employment is ideal. I mean, I’d love to have security, you know, and feel like I’m a part of something that’s not just me. I think it’s exhausting, honestly, being self-employed, and you have to have all these hats on that it’s just not possible for someone’s strengths to be in all the areas that you have to manage when you’re running your own business, so you’re going to have weak spots… and doing things in community is always better, but… if the community’s not ready, sometimes you just do it on your own and that is happier.”


This Month in Music: November Vibes

 Photo by  Brenna Huff  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brenna Huff on Unsplash

I listen to music constantly. Work, eat, workout, play — these are some songs that have been traveling with me through November. What songs have been getting you through your month?


Don’t Tell Me How Culturally Competent You Are and Why

 Photo by  Houcine Ncib  on  Unsplash

I’ve been having a really hard time lately. All my life I’ve been in spaces like these ones. Spaces where I’m one of a few Black people or people of color, and I have white people around me (often many of whom I like/admire/appreciate) who are asking me for answers to problems that are quite honestly… not the kinds of problems that have bullet-point answers. So what can I say?

What do I say to someone who says to me, “I’ve heard that I need to reach out to you because I need to hear from Black folks, but I’ve also heard that I shouldn’t burden you with the work of asking you these questions?” 

“Yes.” I feel for the tension here. Both of those perspectives are valid. I want people to listen to Black voices. I also want people to respect that calling on Black voices means those Black people speaking have to enter the uncomfortable and challenging space of figuring out how to communicate their experience to people who may be hearing about these things for the first time and have push-back to the truth.

It is labor. It is mental and emotional labor, not to mention actual time that you are taking away from hours they could worked, or moments they could have had with friends or family, or self-care that they probably already don’t get enough of. And considering the history of Black bodies and labor… probably a good idea to be very mindful of that.

So then someone says, “I will pay you to talk to me/my group. I know it’s labor, and I will pay you for it.”

Okay. Thanks… I appreciate the consideration. But, now I’m wondering… to what end?  

One does not simply become trained in cultural competency (Lord of the Rings reference intentional, hence the meme).

CheyenneVarnerBlogCulturalCompetencyMeme.jpg

If you’re going to pay me or any other Black person to talk to you so that you can now say to someone else, “I’m trained! I’m qualified! I can work great with Black folks now!” then you’ll be wasting your money and I’ll be wasting my time AND worse, putting my stamp on your misunderstanding of what we’re dealing with.

So then someone says, “So you want me to listen to you. But you don’t want me to always call on you. And you don’t want me to pay you?”

Look, if you and I live in the same city, interact in the same online spaces, have any organic ways of connecting at all — here’s what I want.

I want you to know me. I want to know that there’s no agenda to our communications. That you’re not going to make some big announcement post on Instagram or add to your list of services or raise your rates because we had this conversation.

There are groups that do trainings and that’s great. I’m not knocking trainings. I’m just saying unless I have told you specifically that I am a trainer and I offer this training and you've paid me for said training and it is the day of the training and we are in training…

I am not your training field. I am a human being.

And that’s why I want to know you too. I don’t want to feel tense around you. I don’t want to

have a really hard time knowing what to do with my face when I hear you say that you love all the babies in Africa in a conversation about Black women in America, or talk about the little bit of Blackness in your family member, or the civil rights social justice history of your uncle.

If someone brings you up I want to be like, “Oh! You know Janie too? She’s great, I saw her over at Brewer’s the other day. I think she just had a birth at St. Mary’s but I don’t remember, she was on her way to yoga so we just chatted for a minute — I know I’m trying to get like her with that self-care rhythm.”

See how normal that is? I want to be normal with you.

I don’t want you to think I’m being mean when my face contorts when you say things that I know you have good intentions saying. But I want you to know that I have a hard time hearing those things because they feel incredibly distant from what is going on between you and me in the moments that you say them. Don’t try to tell me how cultural competent you are by building some sort of verbal resume for it.

Cultural competency is the life that you live. It is listening, it is acting, it is evaluating the impact of your actions, listening more, acting more, evaluating more, and on and on and on. And yeah it’s going to be hard and not everyone’s going to love your decisions or approve of them.

But what are you doing this for? Are you doing it for praise? Or are you doing it for impact?

And what is impact? Do you have to be at the center of it? Or could you be satisfied pouring in and stepping back?

I have work to do too. Because our world has raised us to see each other in strict and narrow ways I associate whiteness with connections and resources (often accurately, let’s be real). But because of this sometimes I have to remind myself, look this is a person with an experience, just like I am a person with my experience. I don’t want to take you for granted, either.

I get that White folks are not a monolith any more than Black folks are. I can’t and don’t expect every white person to have the same access and availability. But I absolutely do expect any White person who tells me they want to do better to start showing me.

Like I said, this work is both of ours. But realize this…

While it’s likely that you (White Folks) have been grappling with these issues fairly recently in your life — and as distant potential participants in injustice (like you often say, “I didn’t own slaves / I don’t personally do XYZ / I’m not one of these politicians”) — many POC have been aware and grappling with these issues since around age 10 or younger — as the personal and generational recipients of discrimination.

I specifically remember the day I realized… not just that I was Black but that being Black meant something bad could happen to me or someone I loved. I was 8 years old. So I’ve been at this for almost 20 years.

Sometimes I get angry. Tired. Sad. But I’m still in it… and (though there are some folks I do have to establish boundaries with) I’m in it with you, not against you. So let’s do this thing.


This Month in Music: October Vibes

 Photo by  Mike Von  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

I listen to music constantly. Work, eat, workout, play — these are some songs that have been traveling with me through October. What songs have been getting you through your month?