On the come up.

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Good news! I found a job as a lawyer! I really enjoy the work, my boss is supportive and treats me with respect, and I have a 10-15 minute commute. Plus, now that we have a second income I can finally replace my car, buy tickets to fly out for Jaleesa’s fall wedding, and upgrade my wardrobe. The car thing is pretty urgent- I have just one working window, the A/C is out, the engine idles high, it starts up sluggishly…it could probably be repaired, but the repairs would certainly cost more than its current value. So things are pretty good. My one regret is that I didn’t negotiate better for my salary- I was so dumbstruck when I received the offer that I couldn’t think straight! But this is my first real job, I’m making enough for us to have some significant breathing room in our budget, and if I bring in a case I receive a healthy chunk of the fees. My boss has also said several times in the three weeks I’ve been working that he’s impressed with me, so come this time next year I should have ample ammunition to broach the subject of a raise. 

I know part of my unease comes from the fact that I’ve been worried about money virtually since I knew what it was. A part of me is terrified that I’ll never have an opportunity to make more money, so even the loss of a couple hundred dollars a month extra is going to tragically limit me down the line. Never mind that I’m in a profession with unlimited earning potential, or that my husband is a computer engineer working at a universally recognized company who will almost certainly be making  six figures within a decade. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I suffer from “poverty brain“- I’ve never gone hungry or been out on the street, but I knew growing up that we didn’t have a lot of money for extras. I suppose I suffered from a bit of cognitive dissonance. My parents are educated and cultured. They took us to the zoo, the ballet, gave us music lessons and SAT prep classes. I went to college on scholarship, so I had to scrimp and save money for my spring break trips that left me broke for the rest of the month. And after experiencing long term unemployment and having to uproot my life to live my in-laws, I know that the cost of living is not as cheap as you want it to be.

On the flip side, we don’t currently live an extravagant lifestyle, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t want to end up like all the Baby Boomers who fell for the lie that the economy could expand ad infinitum and trapped themselves into bloated mortgages, too-big houses, a new car note every decade, and the other trappings of conspicuous consumption, and therefore can’t retire. I’m working on trying to pare down my wardrobe and buy only affordable, but quality pieces (no more Payless or Forever 21!) that I love and will wear regularly. I’m drawing up a new budget this weekend to make sure we don’t fritter away our second income stream on things that won’t appreciate.  But I know I also need to work on being thankful, present and faithful. This isn’t the first or the last opportunity that God has for me and I need to act like it.

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January Goals Report

STATS:

24 workouts,

+ 2.5lbs

222,293 steps/97.34 miles walked

Average ~40 oz of water per day

This month was a success overall. I definitely committed to moving my body more and it while it isn’t second nature, it doesn’t feel like such an ordeal either. I realized  that I don’t necessarily need 64 oz of water a day to feel hydrated. I don’t sweat a whole lot in general, and very little right now outside of workouts since it’s still winter. On most of the days where I drank that much water, I felt like I was literally sloshing around inside and had to get up in the middle of the night to pee.

As you can see, I actually gained a little bit of weight this month. I was feeling bad but had to adjust my thinking. I’ve been tracking my calories and while I was not a paragon of healthy eating, my intake wasn’t noticeably different than it has been the past couple of months. The actual numbers don’t support that weight gain from eating, so I was forced to conclude that I had actually gained muscle weight. I’ve been doing a lot of strength training this month, especially weighted lunges, squats and leg presses. My measurements haven’t changed yet (it has only been 4 weeks after all), but my pants are fitting a little better and my tush is looking a little higher. This month I plan to incorporate a diet-based goal so I’m sure that will make a difference in my results.

Still, I’m trying to focus on the journey and not the end goal. I’m sleeping better and feeling stronger. I’m proving to myself day by day that I can be a fit, athletic person. I’m working my life around exercise instead of vice versa. Slow and steady wins the race!

Winter is Coming

So I’ve devoured all the books in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I’m caught up on the tv show.  I bought the anthologies Dangerous Women and Rogues just to get my Westeros fix, even though I really don’t like short stories. I feel like I’ve read every character entry on the GOT wiki and seen every plausible theory on the discussion boards. What to do? The next book probably won’t drop before 2016, and there are 4 more months until the show comes back. I figured I can’t be the only one in this predicament, so I’m sharing my list of read that compare favorably to GRRM’s heady mix of high fantasy, political intrigue and family feuds.

 

TV RECOMMENDATIONS

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Although it airs on the History channel, this isn’t a documentary. It’s an engaging, fast-paced take on legendary Norse ruler Ragnar Lothbrok, who was the scourge of France and England in the 800s. There’s plenty of fighting and raiding, but clan politics and family tensions keep things interesting. And since it’s the History channel, there’s plenty of glimpses into Viking culture and religion that add depth to the plot.

REIGN

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Yes, this airs on the CW. Just think of it as  a lighter, fluffier GoT. This is a fictionalized take on the rise and reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. Court intrigue, international politics and illicit romance abound, along with a touch of the supernatural. If you can learn get over the Renaissance Fair wardrobe styling, this is a fun show with enough substance to keep it from being silly.

TYRANT

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Recently greenlighted for a second season with FX, Tyrant tells the story of Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed. Bassam is an expat from the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin who visits home for the first time in 20 years to see his father before he dies. Bassam is faced with a choice: return to America or help guide Abbudin’s new ruler, his impulsive brother Jamal. Family ties run deep, and Bassam, along with his American wife and children, are suddenly thrust into a world where they are foreigners. Bassam must figure out who he is, and who he can trust, before the balance of power shifts out of his favor.

HOUSE OF CARDS

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If you don’t know who Frank Underwood is, you ought to. This fictional Congressman is the living embodiment of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. Cold, calculating, and impeccably bred with Southern charm to spare, he and his wife Claire are on a mission to rule the political world. They work together with a loyalty and efficiency that puts the Lannisters and Starks to shame. Frank and Claire have an answer for every question, a backup plan to the backup plan, and a workaround for every obstacle. But can their luck hold forever? You’ll have to tune into Netflix and see.

 

READING LIST

The Accursed Kings (series)

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A cult hit by French author Maurice Druon, this is a dramatized retelling of the Hundred Years War. It has recently come back into print due to the popularity of GoT, because George R.R. Martin cites these books as his main inspiration for the hit series. I haven’t started reading yet, but I’m looking forward to it!

The Chronicles of Amber (series)

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Amber and the Courts of Chaos are the two true worlds, of which Earth and many others are mere shadows. The royal families of these worlds are the only ones allowed to travel back and forth. The first five novels comprise the adventures of Corwin, a Prince of Amber who wakes up in a New York hospital with no knowledge of how he came to be there. With the help of his sister, he recovers his memory and undertakes a journey to claim the throne. The last five novels in the series follow Corwin’s son Merlin, who has come of age in a very different Amber than came before- and his destiny, like his father’s will change Amber forever.

Fevre Dream

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While this is a significant change of pace from GoT, Martin’s trademarks remain- morally ambiguous characters, the philosophical struggle with self-determination vs. predestination, and mesmerizing prose. This is not your average vampire story. Martin’s tale of a weary steamboat captain who partners with a child of the night is evocative, poetic and engrossing. Joshua York is a vampire with a humanist bent who strives to transcend his “peculiar condition” and achieve something no vampire ever has before. He enlists the help of Abner Marsh, whose life has become increasingly hardscrabble, by dangling his lifelong dream in front of him. As York and Marsh make their way down the river in the world’s fastest steamboat promises are made, secrets are revealed, and loyalties are tested.

What they don’t teach you in law school

Every day when I wake up, I have to remind myself how blessed I am. Approximately 1/3 of the population has a college degree. There are about 1 million active, licensed attorneys and the US had a population of 316.1 million people as of 2013. I am part of an extremely elite profession that encompasses a mere 0.003% of the population. given that I am female and African-American, my status makes me somewhat exceptional.

So when I wake up and start applying for jobs on Craigslist in my bathrobe, thinking of those things reminds me that I’m not a failure.

I also make myself remember why I got into this line of work: to help people. I get a real sense of accomplishment when I can solve a problem for someone. But it’s not as easy all that. There’s rules of procedure, courtroom etiquette (aka trying not to piss off a nitpicky old judge), research, depositions, brief writing, motion pleading, etc, etc, etc. Most of which you only scratch the surface of in law school. Solo practice is hugely intimidating. Doubly so when you’re a minority and know that everything you do is scrutinized even more. Triply so when you’re new in town and don’t know the lay of the land. I went to a CLE today and everyone was saying you need to basically stalk the courthouse and pick up pro bono work (which ostensibly leads to paying case referrals if you do a good job), or just hand out business cards and pick up a random client. Sounds great in theory. But:

1. Malpractice suits are a real and present danger. Westlaw subscriptions are expensive. I have access to Fastcase through the bar association but it only lets me see Texas cases. Thus, I mostly stick to editing and drafting contracts because the law because the law tends to be easier to find and less variable across jurisdictions.

2. Who’s going to help me learn how to present a hearing, or conduct a trial? The procedural manuals tell you a lot, and so does courtroom observation. But it’s not the same as having someone to walk you through it and fill in the gaps. Clearly the judge isn’t going to do it, so…

3. Where I am supposed to meet my clients? I don’t have office space or money to rent it. I suppose we could conference at the courthouse but that raises issues with breaking privilege and confidentiality since it’s a public space. Same thing with a random coffeehouse.

I could go on….Let’s not even get into all the money I have to spend on gas and parking- I live 30 minutes away from the courthouse and there’s no such thing as free parking in Houston. Working for free costs more than just your time, contrary to what people believe.

I went to a seminar today for new lawyers and the privilege disgusted me at times. Then there was a very awkward session where a retired lawyer went on a rant about the lack of respect for authority- in my opinion, a dig at the national unrest stemming from Ferguson but I could be reading too far into it. When he started talking about professional attorney, he basically stared me (and my fluffy twist-out) down. It was pretty apparent because there were only four other attendees, all sitting to the left of me and more directly in his line of sight. It really rubbed me the wrong way. Why is it that natural hair is only professional when it’s braided or bunned and essentially, tamed? My hair grows out instead of down. What of it? And although you think I just rolled out of bed and achieved this afro, in point of fact I spend a few hours each week maintain it and several minutes every morning coaxing it into its current shape. The microaggressions are real out in these streets.

I don’t really have a point to this post. Except to say that there’s a lot they don’t teach you in law school. And life can be much more unfair than you thought. But there’s always hope. I’m going to make it, one way or another.

Get mad when it counts

There are a lot of valid reasons for black people to be angry: Police brutality. Disproportionate unemployment. The school to prison pipeline. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of outrage over trivial issues. Sure, human beings are both frivolous and profound. But there is so much anguish wasted on the  WRONG DAMN THINGS! For example: the current vitriol leveled at rap artist Iggy Azalea.

I like her music. It’s catchy and has that southern twang I’m used to from my favorite rapper T.I. However, I can be objective and acknowledge that Iggy’s no great MC. She’s not in the same class as Lil Kim, Outkast, or Biggie. But neither is Migos, Future or 2 Chainz, and I don’t hear anyone hollering for them to pay homage to the socio-political history of hip-hop.* I’m a history major, so I understand that it feels like white people only ever take from black culture without giving back- because that’s largely true. It happened with jazz and it happened with rock n roll; this is not new. The difference is that nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock would think that white people invented hip-hop. It took 30 years for the world to even receive a white rapper that would be taken seriously, and Eminem was judged by a much higher standard than any black rapper at the time. The man raps in iambic pentameter and it wasn’t until his third album that he really became mainstream and fully accepted into the hip-hop community. Black people may be a minority in this country, but we are the leading exporters of cool. The side effect of that is swagger jacking- imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? We should really be impressed that hip-hop is so powerful that it made a 16 year old white girl leave her country to chase a dream.

I say all this to say that if we’re going to start drawing lines about what real hip-hop is and isn’t, we need to start at home first. Example: Nicki Minaj. The girl can spit. She’s a lyrical beast. But she relies heavily on her sexuality to sell records (like Iggy) and often eschews hard core rap for poppier records that reach a Top 40 demographic (also like Iggy). I like her music, but Nicki is basically the Lady Gaga of rap: a massively talented woman who doesn’t exercise her full potential for fear that it won’t be marketable. I can’t entirely blame her though. The marketplace is flooded with subpar rap music. The fall of CDs, record labels, and traditional artist development means that music is fully democratized, for better and for worse. Soulja Boy got rich and famous off of a song he made in his bedroom, that never would have gotten past a label A&R rep. Future sounds like he’s singing into a water bottle. Juicy J’s flow sounds like ratchet nursery rhymes. I can’t understand what the hell Young Thug or The Migos are saying. 2 Chainz seems to exclusively make songs best heard in a strip club. Yet, the latter three can be heard all over the radio. But nobody is pointing at them and saying it’s a rap apocalypse, or that they don’t know enough about hip-hop history. If rap is “our thing”, then shouldn’t black artists be held to the highest standard? Shouldn’t we be boycotting all the artists who glorify sex, drugs, and female debasement before we start assuming that the lone white, female rap artist is single-handedly destroying the genre?

Personally, I don’t think rap has to be all one thing. Much like there are different subcategories of jazz, the same thing goes for rap. Some of it is political. Some of it is inspirational. Some of it is just good to dance to at the club, or blast in your car. There are lowbrow and highbrow elements to every artistic medium, and that’s okay. You wanna be mad at something? Don’t get mad because white people are saying “on fleek”. Be mad because the black girl who invented it didn’t think to trademark it, and now some white people are making money off it. Don’t be mad at Iggy, be mad that her sworn nemesis Azealia Banks twitter beefed herself right out of a record deal. Don’t be mad that Macklemore won the Grammy instead of Kendrick. Be mad the BET Awards are a joke, the Soul Train Awards haven’t cracked the mainstream, and black America still thinks the height of artistic merit should be determined by the whims of a panel of old white men who probably didn’t listen to the album.

There’s plenty to get mad at. Get mad where it counts.

 

*Speaking of which, when was the last time hip-hop was really relevant for being a political movement? Aside from the handful of rappers like Kendrick, Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco,  Common and The Roots who are known for socially conscious tracks- and a few others like Wale who participated in the Ferguson protests- hip-hop is mostly prized for its cool factor and being a party starter.

 

Goal Stacking

For the past few years I’ve wanted to eat healthier, lose weight, tone up, etc. but I’ve always managed to get set back. This time, I’m doing it differently. My most lasting behavior changes come when I focus on one thing and have structure- this year I accomplished a 17 day exercise streak. For a recovering couch potato, that’s a big deal! I’ve also done a lot of research on fitness and nutrition. I’ve found the following takeaways:

1. Goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based (SMART), or else they’re just wishes.

2. It takes a MINIMUM of 21 days to form a habit. On average it takes 66 days.

3. Weight loss isn’t just about the quantity of calories consumed, but the quality (i.e., 100 calories of cake =/= 100 calories of broccoli).

4. Body type determines how easily you’ll lose weight, where you deposit fat, and what type of workout is most effective. Cardio alone doesn’t work for everyone, but strength training helps almost all female body types shed pounds.

5. Macronutrient ratios are important because everyone metabolizes food differently. For instance, I know that for weight loss I need to get more of my carbs from fruit and vegetables, and less from grains and starches.

6.  It’s okay to be a little bit over or under your calorie limit as long  as it balances it out long term. It’s okay to indulge occasionally, but make it to the gym and eat lighter the next day to cancel out the indulgence. The key is to stay mindful.

7.  The timing of your meals isn’t crucial, but it has an effect. Intermittent fasting is just what it sound like and you can do it a lot of ways: A traditional 24 hour fast 1-2 days per week. Eating all your meals within a 4, 6 or 8 hour window. Skipping one meal a day. In studies it has been shown to improve life expectancy, reduce bad cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and much more. For a detailed regimen, click here. My takeaway:  Close the kitchen after dinner. It’s rare that I’m truly starving late at night, and I’m never actually done squats while brushing my teeth to burn off a snack.

8. Accountability is key. Find someone who will encourage you in your goals without being overly critical when you have a setback.

 

So that’s the background. I’m giving myself two or three measurable goals for each month.  My tools are my new Fitbit Flex tracker and associated food/water log, the Gym PocketGuide app (a strength training reference guide), a gym membership, and a YouTube playlist of workouts I can do at home. This is how it works: I have two overarching goals. I have broken them down into smaller, incremental goals that I will tackle each month. Ultimately, I want exercise and healthful eating to be as automatic as showering or brushing my teeth. That’s why I’m building them. Instead of committing to hourlong workouts six days a week, I’ll commit to 15 minutes, 5 days a week. Then 20. Then 30. I made my goals reasonable enough that I could meet them, but ambitious enough so that when I occasionally fall short (because nobody is perfect), I’ll probably still be doing better than I am currently. My hope is that by adding goals on gradually, the process won’t seem so overwhelming and I’ll be less likely to quit due to a sense of deprivation.

Overall Goal: Move towards optimal health and fitness by eating cleaner and exercising consistently.

First Quarter: Foundation

January

– Workout 5 days a week (at least 15 minutes)

-Drink 64 oz of water a day

February

-Continue January goals

– Limit 4 servings a day of grains/starchy carbs (1 slice bread or 1/2 cup grains equals a serving)

March

– Repeat February goals

 

Second Quarter: Acceleration

April

– Continue January thru March goals

– Limit 4 meals out per week

May

– Continue goals thru April

– Clean Eating Challenge: 2 weeks without bread, and two weeks without sweets or added sugars

June

– Repeat May goals (minus Clean Eating Challenge)

– Booty Challenge: By the end of the month hold a 3 minute squat,  at least 45 squats in one minute, and at least 60 leg lift pulses in one minute (back and side) on each leg.

Third Quarter: Maintenance

July

– Continue goals thru June (minus Booty Challenge)

–  Abs Challenge: By the end of the month be able to hold a 60-90 second plank, 50 crunches in one minute, and 40 sit-ups in one minute.

August

– Repeat January thru July goals (minus Challenges)

– All workouts at least 20 minutes

September

– Repeat August goals

Fourth Quarter: Finish Strong

October, November, December

– 10,000 steps a day

– Limit 4 meals out per week

– Limit 4 servings a day of grains/starches

– 64 oz water a day

– 5 workouts per week (at least 30 minutes)

– Repeat Clean Eating Challenge in October, Abs Challenge in November, Booty Challenge in December