Last time I was struck by this level of inspiration, I felt like I had hit rock bottom of a different sort. This time felt like real rock bottom, and inspiration strikes back. Let me tell you a story that happened in 2012 involving Netflix and another story that happened in 2018 involving Amazon Prime. It remains to be seen if I have learned any lessons from the misadventures that the 2012 story sent me on, but I like to think I gained some real insight. Otherwise, this will either be delusional rantings or introspection that the dots have connected in some profound way. Perhaps you dear reader, will see a bit of your own struggles in this story, and glean some inspiration to do the thing that scares you. And if none of the above, let this be for me, a way of both holding myslef accountable to what is needed to keep going and materializing the things that scare me at times: living up to my potential.
Wuhan, China 2012
After a year of living in China studying Mandarin Chinese on a scholarship, it was time to return to the US. The ups, downs, and experiences had me optimistic about what was possible in my home country. My Chinese friends had always been so exuberant about America and all it symbolized. My expatriate friends and I, on the other hand, knew what America was really like and we were jaded. But something changed during my stay in China, the cynicism about my own country faded away. Perhaps it was being denied teaching jobs in China because I was black. Or being denied groceries for that matter. Once I was in a market with my friend Laura attempting to buy dumplings. I always wanted to practice my Chinese and learn new words in the process. Laura was a level behind me in Mandarin and was often reluctant to speak (although she did really well when she was confident). The middle-aged woman selling dumplings saw us approaching. I spoke to her first and it went a little sometthing like this:
The lady: 你好 Hi.
Me: 我要买一些饺子。I would like to buy some dumplings.
The lady: 你们从那人来的？Where are you from?
Me: 我们从美国来的。我们是美国人，密歇根州！你听过了吗？I’m from America. An American from the state of Michigan, have you heard of it?
The lady: 她听得懂？(She says pointing at Laura) Does she understand Chinese?
Me: 她可以，可是她害羞。Yes but she is shy.
The lady: 你是哪国人? (she asks again, with a smug look on her face)Where are you from?
Me: 我在美国出生长大。I was born and raised in the USA.
The lady: 你不可能，你不是美国人。你是非洲人，她是美国人。You cant be and you’re not American either. You’re African, she (points at Laura again) is an American.
Me: 我也是！奥巴马总统是黑人，美国有许多少数民族。I am also American! President Obama is a black man, America has lots of minorities.
The lady: 你不是，她是美国人，很漂亮，高的，瘦的。非洲人很难看，有大屁股。You are not (now arguing with me) She is American, very pretty, tall and slim (she says pointing for the third time to the bewildered Laura ). African people are ugly and have huge asses!
Me: 饺子多少钱？我现在可以带他们吗？(Angry and humiliated) How much are the dumplings? Can I have them now?
I took the dumplings and walked away, insulted but I wasn’t going to let her have the satisfaction of me getting angry or not buying anything. Laura wanted to fight the older lady, when I translated what had been said. That wouldn’t fix my pride. But in America, I had never been denied service just because I was black. Or been told that I was ugly just because I wasn’t white, or at least not to my face. I don’t live in a dream world where there is no racism but I was a foreigner in a foreign country and it hurt to be treated so rudely. It made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I think that incident made me realize a line from the movie Roots: The Next Generation. “America may be a nigger hating country but it’s my nigger hating country”. I could’t fight injustice on turf that wasn’t my own.
In my last few months in China, I would write out all the things I would do when we got back to the US. I knew I had accomplished great things in the past and that I would continue to when I got home. I would publish my book, I would finish up my Undergraduate degree, I would learn Russian, start a consulting firm, get married on October 13, 2013, and get a job working for in the Foreign Service. I would stand up for what was right by being involved in politics. I had a wonderful Ford Focus and infinite wealth and possibilities waiting for me at home. I was not going to be limited by my skin color, the President of the United States was black. The future was mine for the taking, I could be anything I choose. I would live boldly and do all the adventrous things that scared me.
All the possibility soon turned into depression when I got home with no, money, my car had a big issue that was in serious need of repair. I missed China and the friends I had made. I couldn’t drive and I felt like I had no control over my own destiny, being without a car can be extremely limiting in Michigan. So I turned to binge-watching Netflix. My vice was the show House of Cards. A political drama that followed the career of a rising politician, his ambitious wife, and a determined blogger turned investigative reporter. They made things happen in Washington, D.C. the reporter didn’t back down when she was told “no”, I liked all the characters, although they sometimes murdered each other. I saw a bit of myself in them, but isn’t that why we watch TV? An escape and we connect with the characters because their struggles and joys resonate with us. I felt an empty void when the I finished watching the complete first season.
What would I do without my characters? My life didn’t match up with what I wanted to be doing. But what was stopping me? I liked how Francis Underwood, the protagonist in House of Cards, took action in his political career and built a reputation as someone who was trusted and got things done. Zoe Barnes wrote a compelling blog. She got people to pay attention to her words, research, and opinions. What would I do without them? Perhaps I would become them. I could become a politician! Hell, I was a writer already. I had been writing stories since I was nine and I even had a blog (My first post here, prolific it was not), no one read it but it existed, that’s all that mattered. I lived in Harper Woods and I used to live in Detroit. I would get involved in local politics and Make a difference there.
I was inspired by a Netflix show to take back control of my life. What had I been waiting for? I met Governor Jennifer Granholm when I was 16 and I told her I wanted to be governor of Michigan. She told me she would see me in 25 years. Other than making plans to get a master’s in Political Science what was I doing to work towards that? I’ll tell you what, I was sitting around waiting and hoping. I took action and looked online for jobs with the City of Harper Woods, possibly as a political intern. I could learn from the Mayor and City Manager how to implement policy in a small town. The first thing that sounded exciting was a position with the Planning Commission. I applied. Then I showed up to City Hall to ask more about it.
Then I stormed into the offices of the Michigan Chronicle a black-owned newspaper based in Detroit. I told them that I had a popular blog, some serious writing skills and that I wanted a job with the Michigan Chronicle. They were impressed by my audacity but perplexed by what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what. Who did I think I was? There were no internships and no job openings so they invited me to attend their women’s empowerment event as a guest. There I met a guy named Tom who seemed to be the only man at the Women of Execellence event. There we got to talking about a topic near and dear to me: China.
Turns out he had lived in China, spoke Mandarin Chinese and often worked with an organization called the Detroit China Business Association. the following week Tom introduced me to his friends at the organization and they asked me if I would like to intern at the Detroit China Business Association. It was amazing how all that lined up so perfectly. It was divine intervention all because I took action. Working with the DCBA we hosted Chinse business delegations visiting Detroit. I visited new Mayor Mike Duggan’s office and met with city officials. We took delegations to tour the newly renovated skyscrapers downtown. I loved spending time in these buldings, a girl could get used to this!
In addition to working a retail job in the makeup industry that was fun, glamorous and generating money. I was interviewed by the Mayor of Harper Woods and other officials and got the seat on the planning commission! I was now a politician I could affect change in my community by being involved directly. The political process was always something I had gotten excited about, watching every presidential election with bated breath from Bill Clinton running in the 1992 election, wanting Ross Perot to win because he was tiny (like me) compared to Clinton and Bush. To the excitement of casting my first vote in the 2004 election, George W. Bush versus John Kerry. But local politics was the way to have your voice heard and build a reputation as someone who could get things done and offer a fresh perspective (and at times the only female perspective) through collaboration. I was so excited to stop dreaming of being a civil servant and be one.
It took an escape from reality to help me stop dreaming and chase something real. Perhaps the break from reality was needed to gain perspective and a renewed focus. The lesson I learned was inspiration strikes when we feel like there is nothing. Due to a fear of choosing the wrong path or not being where we envisioned we get lost, stagnant. Inspiration is defined as the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. That inspiration came for me in a moment when I felt like I was at my lowest. But in the second half of this story, we will see that in life we are often challenged similarly by the universe when we stray too far off the path to our dreams. Follow my blog and share for the second half of the story. Involving Amazon Prime and overcoming failure in 2018.