If you’ve ever had more than a five minute conversation with me, you’ve heard me quote someone. I listen and retain even when it seems like I’m not paying attention. When something clicks, it stays with me. And I believe in paying homage to the many wise people who have taken the time to share their words with me—even the not so nice ones.

Words are powerful. Use them wisely. You never know who you might affect or alter with them.

A few quotes that changed my life:

“You will get lost following someone else’s road map” – Susan Taylor
I was in New York working a job I loved for next to nothing. My parents were sending me a stipend each month to make sure I didn’t starve in New York. I lived in a shitty apartment (by DC standards not by New York’s) that my mother hated and tried to forbid me to move into when she saw it. (her trying to arrange it so I lost the apartment is a whole nother story.) I was broke, but happy. My parents kept pushing for me to go to law school—as I had originally planned to do all through undergrad. I entertained the idea long enough to take the LSAT, fill out applications, and write the essays. I was discussing what schools I was applying for and they were telling me which ones to add to the list. Then they were telling me what I should specialize in, and that I should move back to DC and where I should intern and who I should eventually work for. They were literally mapping out my life for me. And I was going along with the program mostly because they’d been stressing me out for a year at that point about what a mess I was making of my life and they’d finally let up when I started getting with their program again. I was miserable. Now broke and miserable. I was reading Essence back cover to front cover as I always do when I found this quote in the edit letter. I never applied to law school. My parents were livid (especially when I told them “it’s my life to fuck up as I please.”) I was happy. And they eventually got over it.

“When you know better, you do better” – Oprah
I dated someone I had no business dating for years. I was watching Oprah one day and she said this. I already knew I had to end the situation, but I kept making up reasons not to do it. When I heard this, I couldn’t come up with anymore reasons no matter how hard I tried. I was forced to either call myself stupid for continuing to do what I knew was wrong or I had to break it off. I tried to ignore the thought, but it nagged at me. I finally ended the situation. I was sad but I felt better. Then I went back. Again. And again. And again. And the quote stayed in the forefront of my mind every time. I was driving myself crazy trying to keep myself from doing the ‘better’ thing. Finally I did better for good.

“If money were easy to come by, everybody would have some. Don’t get involved in any money pyramids.” –Dad
This is what he told me the night before I went to left for college. We were sitting in the living room on the loveseat that he’d owned since his bachelor days looking out at the empty street. In typical teenage fashion, I wanted to be anywhere but there. I thought it was the stupidest thing he could advise to a girl going away to school with all those horny boys on campus. I remember thinking just that as he was talking. I’d forgotten he even said it until three years later when someone asked me to go into a money pyramid with her and then I bust out laughing cause I remembered it. (still think there was other advice he should have been giving me that night. But he was trying.)

“Gatewaaaa-y”—random man on the street
I stopped eating beef when I was 16. As soon as I stopped, I picked up this obsession with cows. I love cows. I collect the miniature Cow Parade figures and I have more than thirty of them now. I have a cow pillow that moos when you squeeze it. A cow chess set now too. I also have a cow-print coat. I used to wear it in DC and random people would “moooo!” at me all the time. I added it to my list of reasons I hated DC. Everyone was so conservative that I always stuck out like a clichéd sore thumb. That and they were unimaginative. Ugh! I moved to New York years later and wore the coat to a friend’s party. I rode the subway from downtown Manhattan, walked a couple avenues and no one so much as batted a lash at the coat. I was crossing 21st and Fifth and a man from the other side of the street yelled this at me. (For the uninformed, the Gateway computer box has cowpint all over it.) I laughed and laughed and it made me so happy. One, because it took a good 500 people to say something about the coat. Two, because when someone finally said something, it was original.

“What do you know? You’re the descendent of a gotdamn slave?”—freshman year boyfriend (from Guyana no less.)
We were arguing about something stupid and I was right. He was backed into a corner and this was his comeback. It stands out because I hadn’t read enough about black history at the time to tell him his people just got dropped off the slave ship first. My self-esteem was also so shot that I stayed with him after he said that to me (and he said it countless times after that too.) Whenever I think of how much work I need to put in on me, I think about that moment and how much I’ve learned and grown.

“But what’s changed?” –most recent ex
I was in a relationship that was good, but was not working for 2.5 years. It was perfect in everyway except one. We ignored the issue, then we argued only about that one thing for years and finally we broke up because of it. It was for the best—he knew and I knew. But when I encountered the dating scene again, I was mortified by the abysmal options. I think he was too. I wanted to go back to what was good, but not great. More importantly, it was familiar. So I told him I wanted to come home. And I could tell by his initial reaction that he wanted to let me come back. But he was always the more logical one between us. He asked me this question and I knew the answer: nothing. I’ll always respect him for thinking with his head and not his heart.

“You always have a choice. But do you want to deal with certain consequences?”—Mazi
This man is wise beyond his years. Always has been, even in college. Whenever I was in the midst of a crisis (or what I thought was a crisis) I called him and he always talked me down from my mental ledge. I was flipping out about being trapped in DC and working a job I hated and wanting to get back to New York and how my life was falling apart and I was trapped and he said this to me. He went on to say that if I wanted to, I could hang up the phone right then, walk to the train station, buy a ticket to New York and go that day and never come back again. I had chosen to go work that morning, to sit at my desk, to stay in DC and to call him instead of going to New York. Just realizing that I had choices and was making them day in and day out was empowering. I immediately felt better. (I hadn’t thought about this in years, but I talked to someone yesterday and told her this story and it was an “aha!” moment for her too.)

“A real man ain’t no punk” – Fahiym
It’s a definition by negation, but a valid definition nonetheless. I was meeting with an editor about a music assignment and somehow we started talking about marriage and relationships when he dropped this gem. I have my own multiple ideas about what a man is and what a man isn’t, what he should do and what he shouldn’t. But this really gets to the essence of what a man is, I think. Fah was talking about the way women sometimes try to boss men, treat them like children instead of like men. He thought this was because black women are so used to ‘wearing the pants’ that when they encounter a real man they don’t know how to deal with one. I’ve looked at my encounters with men a lot differently since this conversation.

“You can take her, but you’ll have to do something with her hair first” –Grandma
It was early on in my non-perm years. Iwas probably 19 or 20. I finally had this huge nappy/curly fro that I was so proud of. (Angela Davis would have been too.) I was standing next to my grandmother at her church and one of the ladies who hadn’t seen me since I was a kid complimented her on my development. She said something like I was such a nice young lady and she would love to take me home. Then my grandmother dropped this bomb. I was so hurt and so offended but I said nothing and laughed my embarrassment off. I was really angry at myself for a long time for not standing up for myself right then. In retrospect, I know it would not have made a difference. My grandmother is from another generation—one that equates straight hair with prettiness and ladylikeness and no amount of outrage or indignation from me would have changed her mind. It would have just been an ugly scene. For years, I remembered this as a moment I should have stood up for myself, at least to keep me from feeling extra belittled by letting the insult slide. Now I think of it as a moment where I chose to pick my battles. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

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