Face Masks and Me

I was a proponent of wearing face masks everywhere during the height of the pandemic. Today, I’m still on the side of donning one in crowded indoor spaces.

Here in Arizona, I have become recognizable because I’m one of the very few people who continues to wear a mask. I was in line at the grocery store and a stranger asked me if I had worked out that morning. He could see the quizzical look in my eyes above the bridge of the mask. He explained that he usually sees me at the gym but missed me this particular morning.

When I go to see plays at the theater, I buy tickets, when possible, for the one day when masks are required. If I go on days when masks are not required, I stand out as odd in wearing a mask. I feel some sense of the recognition of my right to wear a mask when the recording before the play begins: In addition to providing the usual information about exits and such, this recording now also includes a request that patrons respect those of us who choose to wear a mask.

The recent dueling research reports on whether masks are effective in protecting one from a swarm of viruses have given me pause about my decision to defiantly continue to wear a mask. In fact, the reports may be giving me an excuse to stop wearing a mask as often as I currently do.

Although I think that there ought to be a benefit in wearing a mask, I’m tired of wearing one. My equivocation about the mask makes me feel like a person who professes to be religious but only practices it when it’s convenient or out of desperation for an answered prayer. I’m faithful in wearing a mask in places like the gym where people are grunting and exhaling to the extreme. However, I’ve not been consistent in wearing a mask when I have visitors or go to someone else’s place. Until very recently, I wore a mask when enclosed in a car with another person, as well as upon entering restaurants and when the servers were at the table, only removing my mask to eat. I’ve finally given up on wearing a mask in restaurants.

N95 face mask

My masks are supposed to be high-quality but they are not the recommended N95. They are KN95. When I read that one researcher said that if the mask is not N95 and worn correctly, you might as well not wear one at all. I’m questioning whether what I’ve been doing lately is an exercise in futility. Yet, I fear that if I abandon wearing a mask and then become infected, I might think that I “shoulda” kept wearing a mask.  

I wonder what you are doing in regard to mask wearing. Are you wearing a mask religiously, judiciously, or not at all?

Imposter or Underestimated?

I’ve heard women I consider to be inspirational role models talk about having what is known as imposter syndrome, so when I came across the article “Why Everyone Feels Like They’re faking It” in the February 13 & 20 issue of The New Yorker, I was eager to read it. I have also heard women diagnose other women’s perceived lack of confidence as imposter syndrome. Because I’ve heard such comments so often, it seemed like a club to which a lot of women belonged. I never have heard a man say that he was a member of this club.

The concept was originally called “Impostor Phenomenon” by the two women who explored the idea and wrote the first paper on it. These women bristle at the current “Imposter Syndrome” nomenclature because they didn’t see what they were exploring as a pathological disorder.

The idea behind the phenomenon or syndrome is one’s feeling that they are a fraud or phony because it seems others are fooled into thinking the person is better than they assess themselves to be. Having to mask who one thinks she is, or her real self in regard to skills and abilities, is said to elicit feelings of inadequacy or lack of confidence. Therefore, one is an imposter in one’s own assessment.

The underlying original theoretical assumption or concept for one feeling this way was based on the experiences of the authors, themselves, and the women they interviewed. They concluded that the root cause of this phenomenon was the “disjunction between the messages received” from one’s family, in reference to abilities, and the messages one feared receiving from the world if the world could see behind the mask. The messages from the family could be positive or negative. When there was high praise at home, the women would seek external validation all the while doubting the veracity of the validation. If the messages from family were negative, the women would seek the positive validation that they didn’t receive at home.

As I read the article, I kept thinking about how I had never been able to relate to the feeling of masking or being an imposter or fraud as some have described their feelings. It’s not that I don’t experience a crisis of confidence sometimes. I just never felt that I was masking who I am. When I lacked confidence, everybody knew it because I didn’t try to hide it. If anything, I have been self-deprecating rather than pretending to be better than I think I am. I never felt like a fraud. What I did feel was that others underestimated me, and I had the burden of continuing to prove that I was competent and much more than their estimate of me.

As I continued to read the article, my feelings were validated in a reported exchange between two White women where the conclusion was that feeling like an impostor was a “white-lady thing” because their competence was taken for granted, causing unease if one were not as competent as might be assumed.

Apparently, my feelings reflect the feelings of some other women of color. As a Black woman, no amount of masking removes the racial bias, implicit or not, that colors every interaction regardless of the color of the person with whom you are interacting. Instead of feeling as if you were an imposter, it was most likely the case that others believed you, as a woman of color, to be an imposter rather than possess the requisite skills, abilities, and qualifications.

This is not to say that some people of color do not have fears of being unmasked to reveal inadequacies. The author of The New Yorker article mentions that research studies have repeatedly shown that imposter syndrome disproportionately affects people of color.

Some women are taking to task the idea of imposter syndrome. In an article published by the Harvard Business Review,Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey argue that the label implies a crisis of self-confidence among women, failing to recognize real obstacles professional women—especially women of color—face. Tulshyan  and Burey write, “Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.”

Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes authored the original work on what they called impostor phenomenon in 1978. In interviews for The New Yorker article, they agree with many of the critiques, given the fact that the “original sample and parameters were limited.” Their focus was primarily on “family dynamics and gender socialization rather than on systemic racism and other legacies of inequality.”

Being a Black woman may not be the only reason that I’ve not felt like an imposter. My experience may be related to my generation. The author of The New Yorker article on imposter syndrome notes that she asked her mother who is 78 if the concept of imposter syndrome resonated with her and her mother said that it did not. For further explanation, her mother expressed feelings similar to the ones I expressed above, namely that women in her generation (and mine) “were likelier to feel the opposite—that we were being underestimated.”

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

It seems that all the young men at the front desk of the gym are named Brian. When I mentioned this coincidence to one of them, he said, “Yes, there are a lot of Brians around here.”

A lot of them may have the name Brian, but only one of them was our special Brian that meant so much to my fellow gym-goers and me. Like the other Brians, his job was to scan our membership card when we entered the gym. That’s all he had to do and periodically someone might have a problem with their card or have a question about some activity. But mostly, it was just standing behind a tall desk just inside the doors and electronically scanning the card for everyone who entered.

If one scanned the faces of gym-goers, one could see that everyone was different. We were focused intently on our disparate goals of self—our work-out goals, our life agendas, our schedules, our problems. But when Brian smiled at each of us, called us by name, wished us a good workout, we were joined in a community of regulars like the regulars at Sam’s bar in Cheers, the sitcom that aired between 1982 and 1993.

All the Brians could follow our Brian’s script, but they don’t. Our Brian seemed genuinely happy to see us and he called us by name. I looked forward to his smile as he said, “Good to see you, Miss Gwen.” Though I was not conscious of how I looked forward to Brian’s greetings and goodbyes, now that he is not there, I miss him and what he shared.  

Recently, Brian had the opportunity to realize his life’s dream. Though extremely happy for him, many of my fellow gym-goers and I have commiserated with one another about a feeling of loss that he’s not there in his usual place when we arrive. We miss that he expected us to show up the next day. We miss the smile on his face as we entered the door. He created that welcoming ambience that keeps people coming back.

The absence of Brian makes me think about how small gestures of acknowledgement can be significant gifts of validation. Ordinary gestures such as a smile, a wave, translate into, “I see you.” Calling someone by name translates as “You’re special.”

We’re all the same in the ways we miss Brian. Because…

“Sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name
and they’re always glad you came.
You want to go where people know
people are all the same.
You want to go where
everybody knows your name.”

Theme song from Cheers

The Genius of Jordan Peele and NOPE

ominous looking cloud from movie nope

I’ve seen the Jordan Peele film NOPE three times. Each successive time, I discover something that I had not seen before. However, with all the possibilities for symbolism in the film, what stands out for me each time I’ve seen it is Peele’s use of a cloud as a focal point.  

I have become fixated on the idea that the cloud symbolizes our fears. We think we’ll be sheltered from harm if we just don’t look at them straight on. We reason that if we just keep our heads down and pretend that we don’t see the thing that scares us, we might be saved.  

Ultimately, one realizes that if you don’t look the thing that scares you in the eye, not only you, but those you love, will be destroyed.

No voice came from the cloud in NOPE as in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, but some similarities and another difference struck me:

 [The disciples] saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave…a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them….When the voice [from the cloud] finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at the time what they had seen (Luke 9:32b-36, NLT, emphasis added).

While further reflecting on the film and Peele’s genius within this context, I found it particularly interesting that, while Jesus’ disciples “didn’t tell anyone.” By contrast, the characters in the film all seemed to want to get “the Oprah shot” in order to tell the world what they had seen for the profit they may receive.

Of the three main characters in the movie who were terrorized by the cloud, it was the brother, OJ, who was chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice. Emerald, the sister, was gifted with the Oprah shot. The guy from the camera store’s life was saved only by a fluke of luck.

Yet in the end, each one was alone.

The enduring soul of Black music

My background music for cleaning, dressing, cooking, grooving, exercising, and dancing is 70’s Disco/Funk and R&B. This music makes me feel alive! It makes me smile. It keeps me young. When I’m moving to the beat of this music, I feel free in every way.

These thoughts came to me while I was watching Episode 3 of The 1619 Project titled, “The Birth of American Music.” Black people interviewed for this episode used the word “freedom” in describing the effect of Black music on them. Artists talked about how Black music continues to be created and evolved by sampling and building on the styles and sounds of historic Black music.

During the episode on music in America, I learned why Disco music became less popular and nearly faded from the airways. The story, as revealed in this documentary, of the demise of disco music is a sad one that keeps being told in every phase of Black progress.

Nile Rogers saw the backlash against Disco as the fear of an integrated America. Co-founder of Chic and developer of some of the most popular music for White performers after disco was literally blown to pieces, Rogers said that at New York clubs such as Studio 54, when music such as “Everybody Dance” and “Freak Out” was played, literally everybody was on the dance floor, all getting along.

Wesley Morris, film critic and podcast host, noted that “funk and disco were revolutionary, sexy, rebellious, and politically unafraid. [Funk] was a rebellion against broken promises of the Civil Rights Era.”

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park with explosion, crowd on field, and "Disco Sucks" sign

What began as the antics of a White radio DJ—and spread to other radio DJs who didn’t want to play disco because it was not the music that they believed was real or pure—turned into “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, on July 12, 1979. Hordes of White people brought records by Black people and gay people to the field and blew them up between the games of a scheduled double-header. The playing field was so damaged by the explosion and by the ensuing riot on the field of some 40,000–59,000 people that the White Sox were required to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers. This violent act gave birth to the “Disco Sucks” movement.

In the interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Rogers said in reference to the riot at Comiskey Park, “It felt to us like Nazi book-burning. This is America, the home of jazz and rock, and people are now afraid even to say the word ‘disco.’”

Despite the attacks and the campaigns against Black music, according to Morris, the “soul of Black music is the soul of freedom, constantly moving, being transferred, a feeling, a spirit. You have to know it when you feel it. It’s too deep, too fast, too elusive, you can’t catch it.”


How do we gauge what we value? I’m not talking about abstract values such as freedom and independence. I’m talking about when the floods or fires come to destroy our material possessions, what do we take with us? What do we feel is our greatest loss?

During late January every year where I live now, there is a huge car auction. The auction brings back memories of cars I’ve owned over my lifetime. One might think that I would place sentimental value on my first car, the 1955 green two-toned Plymouth, or my second car, the 1956 huge two-toned blue and white Buick. No, they were pragmatic purchases with no sentimental value when I gave them up. There have been numerous cars since those first two.

Some of the cars my spouse and I owned were premium cars. In our more mature years, our purchases became more practical in regard to gas efficiency and monthly payments. While I had owned cars of my own during my single years, the cars bought after I was married were joint decisions between me and my spouse.

Except for one.

Have you ever seen something, and immediately known that it was yours? That it belonged to you, and if you didn’t possess it, you would never be the same?

We were living in a suburb of St. Louis on our way to an inexpensive restaurant because we were both too tired to make dinner after work. On this pleasant Fall evening, we were driving down the main drag of the town laughing about going to eat at what we called “the old-folks” restaurant. It was one of those restaurants that had a line like in a cafeteria and all the old people were there by 4:00 p.m. for dinner.

periwinkle 1978 VW converitble

On this street, there was one car dealership after another. I never paid much attention to them. On this evening, out of the corner of my eye, an electric blue flashed under the bright lights of the showroom. Calling me was a 1978 VW convertible with a periwinkle body and an off-white top. The top was down and in the back seat of the car was a huge teddy bear.

That was it! I said, “That’s my car!” Though we went on to get something to eat, I had no appetite. I was ecstatic about the car. I wanted us to hurry up and finish at the restaurant in order to get back to the dealership before someone else would see it and buy “my car.” My spouse used to tease me by saying that all my friends were crazy. Now he was saying that I, too, was crazy.

The short of it is that we traded in the stunning Grand Prix for “Violet.” This was certainly not a pragmatic decision. Though Violet was my baby, my spouse grew to love her as much as I did. The love for Violet never ebbed.

When I had to completely empty our house in Maryland in order to sell it and move West, I didn’t give material possessions much thought. Perhaps it’s because my grief was too fresh after losing my life-partner, my love, my friend. At that time, I could have walked away from the house and left everything. However, this was not a responsible option so, with the help of friends and our son, I was able to empty the house and garage to get it ready for sale. I kept very few material possessions and had no angst about what I gave up.

The saddest moment I had during this process was when I witnessed the truck pulling Violet up the hill away from the house and me. Standing in the driveway looking at the rear of Violet brought the only tears I shed in giving up a lifetime of possessions. Seeing the rear end of Violet moving away from me brought the feelings that I had not expressed about how the past was gone and a new reality was before me.

Our son suggested shipping Violet to my new home, where he prepared her for the annual car auction and a proper goodbye.

What a thrill it was to see Violet on a stage with lights on her as people bid on owning her. It reminded me of the first time that I saw her under the lights in the showroom of the dealership. This felt right. There was no sadness. Just joy in what she symbolized in our lives.

rear view of 1978 periwinkle convertible VW

I don’t want…

I don’t want to read another article about the Tyre Nichols and Black police officers tragedy.

I don’t want to hear another interview where experts explain why the tragedy occurred.

I don’t want to keep thinking about the tragedy.

I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with blog titles about the tragedy running through my mind:

We’re all victims
Race always matters
The hunters and their prey
All pawns in the game
Eyes everywhere
You can’t hide
There is no escape

Let there be light
Lord have Mercy
Change is gonna come

I don’t want to write about the tragedy.

Of Different Time Constructs and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

multiple clock faces seeming to melt or otherwise fall away

Last week I wrote about a story I heard on NPR regarding the different ways people use or react to time. While most people are not wholly one way or another in their relation to time, people do have habits regarding how they regulate their lives in relation to time.

Research suggests that there are clock-timers and event-timers. Clock-timers adhere to a schedule or clock when deciding to move from one activity to another while event-timers move when they “feel” it’s time. In last week’s blog, I shared that in view of this brief definition, I am a clock-timer.

As such, in listening to the story, I felt as if it was making a point that being on time was not a positive characteristic and that this general habit in the United States and Europe “unnecessarily weeded out people who have different talents.”

Though there was a nod to clock-timers—about our being “highly organized doers who get things done when we say we will” —being on time seemed to be problematized in several instances and contrasted negatively with being habitually late.

For example, a comment was made that those of us who are on time view this characteristic to be “clearly and in every way superior.” While I’ve not thought this, I do like to think that I have some characteristic that might be seen as positive while not necessarily superior, thank you very much.

Having a habit of being where I say I will be at a certain time I do not believe causes me to have, as indicated in the story, “a short-sighted view of history and a narrow view of world cultures.” I was also particularly interested in what was meant by one’s time orientation shaping “the way you think about the world and the way you make decisions.”

The conclusion of a couple of researchers quoted was that if one is a clock-timer “you’re basically surrendering control of your life to an external mechanism.” And event-timers “feel some control over the flow of their days, even if they can’t control everything that happens to them.”

On the contrary, I feel more in control of my life when I use the clock to regulate how I spend precious time. By using the clock, I accomplish what I plan to accomplish during a particular time period. To say that event-timers feel some control of the flow of their days seems counterintuitive: How can you have control over the flow when you have no plan on where you’re going and when you’ll get there?

Event-timers are described as being “more attuned to their emotions.” We clock-timers are said to be “more likely to compartmentalize tasks and distance [ourselves] emotionally from situations.” In my case, I wish I could distance more emotionally, especially when an event-timer is so late that the planned activity must be rescheduled or cancelled—often with no excuse given for being late. After all, more than one person’s feelings are involved with this meeting. And I am most definitely ‘in my feelings’ when I say that it feels like the event-timer’s feelings always seem to matter more.

Having gotten that out, rest assured that I’m smiling as I write these comments because the gist of the report is for all of us to have flexibility in accommodating people in our lives who have a different construct of time than we do. As I reflect on when I’ve been annoyed waiting or disappointed with the performance of an event-timer, it has depended on whether or not the other person and I have a trusting and amiable relationship. If there is distrust or friction between us, the difference in time-orientation causes negative feelings in me that go deeper than annoyance. It finds a place within me that smells like disrespect.

Clock-timer or Event-timer: Which Are You?

After several days of rain—unusual for Arizona—the sun was shining, and I felt great as I listened to All Things Considered on NPR. The reporter, Pien Huang, began the story “In Praise of Being Late” by asking rhetorical questions such as, “Are you like me, chronically late?” “Have you been told by your friends and family that you’re being disrespectful and not valuing their time?”

Having arrived at my destination, I was opening the car door when Huang said, “Maybe it’s partly their problem.” Hearing this, I closed the door and sat in the car to hear the rest of the story.

alarm clock in field of grass with dandelion

Huang quoted a number of researchers who supported the idea that some people are “clock-timers” and some are “event-timers” to a lesser or greater extent. According to this report, clock-timers use external time cues such as a schedule or clock and event-timers move when they “feel” it’s time.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been criticized by friends and colleagues for being on time. I don’t know where the habit of being punctual came from, but I’m grateful for having such a characteristic. Because I have to struggle to be on time, I admit that I am often annoyed when I’m left waiting.

Having engagements and meetings with event-timers before cell phones was a real problem for me because I would usually worry that something bad happened to the person. I’d also vacillate between waiting another 15 minutes or abandoning the meeting. Now that there are cell phones, the event-timers can give notice of when they expect to arrive.

One research conclusion referenced is that your time orientation “shapes the way you think about the world and the way you make decisions.”

In my next blog, I will share some of the differences or contrasts that are purported to be related to whether you prefer to be on time according to the clock/schedule or whether you show up according to how you feel.