This was on my mind ...

What 20 is For

“You’re 20!

If I had 20 back oh, what a mess I’d make.

20 is for you. 20 is for growth. 20 is for the pursuit of a tomorrow that is better than today. 20 is for options. 20 is for passion and knowledge and enjoyment.

It is not for continuous compromise. It is not a time to say this is the guy that I gotta make it with, because this is the guy that I have. And no matter what compromises, no matter what I don’t like, no matter what he does, I have to put up with it, because he’s my man.

20 is for firing dudes when they don’t act right.

20 is for figuring out what you like in certain men. 20 is for finding what kind of men are out there and which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to discard.

It’s not for picking up other people’s clothes, it’s not for sticking it out when you’re not enjoying it anymore. 20 is opportunity to move onward, upward, forward. Get a large life so that even if a dude doesn’t end up in it, you still enjoy it.

20 is for creating all of that potential, not just compromising your way into the corner of a closet somewhere, wondering what the heck happened? You don’t have any children, you’re beautiful. You’re working, working at a gas station. Nothing wrong with it. But at your time off, don’t be looking to spend time with him. Go look to spend time with some books and your brain, to get a new degree. So that you could put the gas station in your rear view mirror as you step forward into some other kind of existence, that won’t include him!”

Ella Escapes Her Ersatz E-Life … Love in the Shadows of Social Media

Virtually Ignored

                                       by Lynn Toler

                     I.

I am engaged in a virtual battle
with women I never see.

Enticed. Seduced.
Snap-chatted.
Induced.

An invisible army declared war on me.

I saw that share.
They’re everywhere
in multi-platform pursuit.

Contact, painless.
Conduct, shameless.
A snap, a click
and now some chick
has shown you all of her.

It was unrequested
but then you kept it.
So tell me, where’s the line?
How can I defend a border
no one can define?

                    II.

From inconsistent to
intermittent …
then to not at all,

You flickered, then faded.
Now you’ve made it
your business to be
anywhere but here.

Like a singer, inhaling between phrases,
I paused in your absence.
Holding my breath whenever you left
exhaling upon your return.

Love … babies.
Tomorrows … maybes.
Just what I wanted to hear.

Love … babies.
Tomorrow … No maybes.
Anything to keep me near.

I handled my business
or so I thought.
You took my love
… and the things I bought.

  A dabble here,
a message there.
It was, you said, just fun.
People out there do that.
But then there was that one.

Caught up in the winds of your wants,
carried off by the parts she flaunts,
this woman who once blew by blew in.
Now I’m on my own again.

Love … babies.
Tomorrow? Maybe.
Me? one of several verses, I’ve found

Love … babies.
Tomorrow … maybe.
You sang that chorus all over town.

                    III.

I would like to just let it go.
You know,
walk off without a thought.
But with so many in common,
I’m electronically haunted.
It’s luxury I haven’t got.

I see you, hear you, know who you talk to
whether I want to or not.

Keeping up with what folks do
I find my self,
by myself,
searching for a piece of you.

Your trail consumes me.
It’s hard to resume me.

I await every installment
without involvement.
Imagination, untethered.
I weather
a storm of disregard.
I never knew the wind of wanting could blow
so bitter and so hard.

With one click I work the hurt.
Stuck in a mire of maybe.
A friend of a friend
on Instagram
says she is having your baby.

There are so many ways you don’t reach for me.

I am

Ignored. Defeated.
Not shared.
Deleted.

So I watch the show, you know
that episodic and sad theme song,
staring you and whoever’s new
entitled “I’ve Moved On”.

                      IV.

Not down
because you’re not around.
Still speaking
because you are not my sound.
Unbowed because
you are not my king.
Still in the game
because of the strength I bring.

The baby in my arms
… a piece of you, that’s true.
But now I’m stronger
so I no longer
find my Peace in you.

There are so many ways I have to sustain me.

My tomorrow is not a sorrow.
I look forward to it.
It’s options and opportunity.
I’ll do far more
than just get through it.

Praying. Earning.
Not mourning.
Learning.

Just being.
It’s freeing.
Possibilities? Teeming.

Beginning today, everyday
will be better than yesterday.
I have passions to pursue
joys to get to.

I am embarking on better times.

What Lies Beneath: Abuse, Harassment and Horror


I know these things seem unrelated but I don’t believe they are. They, too, feel like intractable problems but I don’t believe that either.

•A man climbs into his car with his estranged wife and their children and drives them all into a lake.

•An eight-year-old boy is found hanging in his closet after being bullied.

•A man returns to his former workplace and starts firing at will.

•A teen girl kills her girlfriend and then herself in the school courtyard when she learns their relationship is over.

•A husband beats his wife to death and she becomes one of the approximately 1,800 women in the U.S. who die every year in the quiet, constant killing that stems from domestic violence.

•A man walks into a public place and starts shooting. This act, once thought the sole dominion of the mentally ill and ideological terrorists, having become a part of the public consciousness, is a growing choice of the distraught.

• A powerful authority figure is alone in a room with a young man and gropes him.

These things appear far-flung and unrelated. After all, mass shootings are individual bursts of horror we can’t anticipate. Domestic violence is a private thing that we don’t see until the worst has already happened. Bullying is just how things go, a rite of passage as old as time. Sexual harassment and assault are the hallmark of a perverted few. They certainly have no common cause, no less a common solution.

Or do they?

I believe there is a shared thread that, if pulled, will unravel this tapestry of destructive behavior. These behaviors are, at their core, emotional outbursts or self-involved acts protected by cultural norms. Power, control, lack of empathy, low self-esteem, unhealthy gender norms: they are the Root Causes that underlie all of these things.

You put someone who suffers from a sense of powerlessness in the life a person with low self-esteem, you get controlling and abusive behavior. You tell a man obsessed with control that his wife is leaving and the odds of him killing her go way up. Put a young man or woman alone in a room with a powerful person who lacks empathy and you get unwanted sexual advances. Find someone who’s angry, isolated and feeling feeble, expose him to the idea of killing en mass as a way to regain his power and you get … well, too many examples to list.

We are suffering from individual, yet continual, emotional catastrophes. We’re watching what happens when people become undone by their lack of power or a damaged sense of self. We’re seeing the effects of a society estranged from one another lobbing ever-escalating emotional tirades at each other on-line. All the while domestic violence continues to flourish in homes of those who struggle with issues of power and control.

Though it is almost impossible to spot the subtle red flags of these individual affective acts right before they happen we can address their root causes in a way that makes them less likely to occur.

If we change the way we deal with how we feel – if we re-evaluate and address cultural norms related to power and control – if we actively address our eroding sense of empathy and respect for others we can uproot the causes of emotional upheavals that inspire both abuse and lethal outbursts.

I know, it sounds like a herculean task but we have faced and cleared such hurdles before. It occurs when we, as a society, decide we are going to change what we teach the next generation. There was a time when nobody wore seat belts. Now everybody does because of a conscious, targeted effort to make that happen. The same goes for smoking. We decided, as a whole, to target a generation of young people to change habitual behavior and we succeeded.

We need to do that in an effort to address this emotional tsunami as well.

Enter Bloom365.

BLOOM365’s vision is safe and healthy relationships for all. It seeks to address the root causes of abuse and violence early and with an entire generation. BLOOM365 partners with K-12 schools and community based youth organizations to give young people the knowledge, skills and confidence to prevent abusive behaviors. And, through peer to peer mobilization, we activate young people to create an environment in which empathy, respect, kindness, consent, equality and peace are socially accepted norms.

We enter schools and deliver a seven-dose program over the course of seven consecutive school days in which we walk them through the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships. We encourage them to challenge social norms that allow such behaviors to thrive. Then we leave with a Bloom Crew in place to re-inforce the new ideas we foster.

BLOOM365 works. Its methodology has been studied and determined effective. Bloom365 is not only important because of the groundwork it lays for healthy relationships moving forward; it intervenes in real time for those children who are currently suffering abuse or, equally important, showing signs of becoming an abusive person.

At every – not some – but every school we’ve been in we’ve run into teens in abusive relationships. Sometimes we are approached by victims who didn’t realize that what was happening to them was wrong. “Now I know,” one young lady said, “that my boyfriend should not be going through my closet telling me what I can and cannot wear.” Another said, “My boyfriend won’t let me have any friends and he won’t let me go anywhere without him. He said it was because he loved me so much. Now I see that’s not what it is.”

BLOOM365 doesn’t just help victims it also identifies potential perpetrators. One young man stood up during the program and said, “You know that empathy thing you’re talking about? Well, I don’t have any of that.” He’s a young man with whom we worked to bring him into the fold. Another said he was going to kill myself, the guy that did that thing to him and everybody he told who didn’t believe him. He, too, was encircled and cared for.

BLOOM365 is trying to affect cultural norms. We are trying to make the ongoing, conscious creation of an emotionally able, empathetic society the standard. It should be something we all engage in as a part of basic education.

Is this a quick and easy answer? Will it stem the tide tomorrow? Are the long-term results of our efforts easily quantifiable? The answer to these questions is a resounding no. The absence of an easy fix, however, should not prompt us to simply shrug our shoulders and walk away.

Tomorrow’s casualty count, the next wave of #MeToo hashtags and the extent of our children’s exposure to domestic violence all depend on what we do today. Our success won’t be obvious but you can see the process at work. Who knows what that boy with the list may have done had we not caught him in time? It’s just a story that did not happen. All of our victories will look like that.

It is a daunting but doable task that will only work if we all get on board. We should pursue this as if our lives depend upon it, because, if you think about it, one day, they might.

Losing Nineteen

LOSING NINETEEN
BY JUDGE LYNN C. TOLER

 I lost Nineteen again today.  Abandoning himself to that wasteland we offhandedly call ‘the system’, he just walked away – casually  – like it was no big deal.  Some claim I shouldn’t say I lost him, though, considering what I do.  While I am a Black woman, I am also the person appointed to balance the books, which means that on this particular day, I am the one sending Nineteen to jail.

I am a judge in an inner-ring suburb, a place where middle-class stability stands in the shadow of urban distractions.  Here, Black, male and Nineteen is required to face the same dilemma every day; “Do I work and wait like momma said, or join the party down the street?”  Forced to choose before the calm sets in, Nineteen sometimes picks the wrong one. Next thing you know, he’s standing before me, wondering what all the fuss is about.

It’s important to know that I am a municipal judge.  Handling minor matters, I deal with assault, drug possession and carrying a concealed weapon charges.  Unfortunately, the size of the cases I see occasionally confuses Nineteen.  He views his mistake as a little thing that doesn’t warrant much concern.  I, on the other hand, see it as a small down payment on an incredible cultural cost.  “What’s with making me look for a job?” he asks.  “Why do I have to go back to school in order to stay out of jail?”  I’m fighting to keep the boy from becoming a statistic, and he doesn’t even care. So I plead, not for Nineteen to obey the law, but for him to do right by me.

“You owe every Black woman who cares for you an obligation you won’t be able to repay if you’re working off some ill-gotten debt to a society you don’t owe,” I tell him. Some listen.  Most don’t.  My successes are few; I decide to give up at least once a week.  But I keep pressing because I don’t want to leave stranded the few I do manage to help. Those wins notwithstanding, my frustrations remain.

Just yesterday, one asked me to stop bothering him.  “You’re not my mother,” he said. “Why are you messing with me?  Just let me do my time.” Lots of them, in fact, ask me to leave them alone.  They tell me, “It ain’t no thing.”  But more often than not, the phrase that I hear is the chilling, “I can jail.”

Of course, I know I only see the problems.  Nineteen represents himself well, in large numbers everywhere.  I have seven I claim outright, you know – not currently Nineteen – but Black and male.  One I married; four came with him, and two my husband and I made together. The older ones have already been Nineteen.  They’ve had their troubles, but they’re all okay now.  The ones I made myself, however, are still young; they have a lot to learn.

Living well in a world that does not always see your clearly is a difficult thing to do.  My boys must be able to ignore those who ridicule their efforts to do well in school while remaining strong even among those who find that strength intimidating.  Tough lessons, these, but they must learn them if they are going to do Nineteen the right way.  I don’t want them standing before some judge who may see them as a statistic.  If they mess around and get before the wrong guy, then where will they be?

Jail, of course, is the answer to that question.  The very same place I wound up sending Nineteen today.  Frustrated because I can’t fix the world, and Nineteen won’t let me help him live better in it, I shake my head but must move on.  I have thirty more cases to hear.

“To jail or not to jail?” that is the question.  How hard am I supposed to try without his help? Doesn’t he see how so much of the harm he causes lands right in some sister’s lap? That is why I told Nineteen he owed me. “Consider the sisters in your life,” I say.  “It isn’t always about you.”  Then I remind him that, whether or not he understands it, when you jail, we do too.

My Mo-ments

img_3057-3It took me 40 years to learn how to really enjoy people.  I am predisposed to panic and am often immersed in irrational worry.  When fear drives you like that New is typically a problem. And I mean anything: places, situations, expectations and, for me, people, in particular. They’re the most unpredictable and dangerous kind of New I usually run into. Solitude beckons me every moment of the day.

 

Happily, I have worked my way out of the depths of that kind of dysfunction. Though by no means a devil may care adventurer, I am now at least a lean-in and get through it, active participant in life. I can now step off my fear and enjoy the depth and breadth of most people that I meet.

 

So now to Mo.  Monique is my fashion guru, a woman 25 years my junior who has it so together, I just watch what she does and try to recreate, in some small way, all of the things she does so well.

 

Mo is a woman who lights up a room with her positive attitude, while taking no crap – at all. She’ll tolerate a little nonsense but she has defined limits and she can shut down all manner of ridiculousness with a few cool, uncluttered phrases uttered without attitude or anger at all. 

 

Her fashion sense is inimitable so I don’t try with that at all. I just let her guide me slowly as she tries to rock me out of my old, staid, don’t care about clothes attitude one outfit at a time.

 

Breezy, but incredibly structured, she is a model of efficiency. I could do with two good helpings of both ease and organization, but I haven’t adopted any pieces of those yet because they’re so very far away from who I am. That said, I’m watching her like a hawk, looking for some small thing I can pull off now, then working my way towards the rest over time.

 

Since meeting her I’ve had many “Mo-ments,” times when I just sit back, appreciate who she is and try to adopt a little of what she’s got going on. I like people who sparkle.  I just wanted to let her know.

 

 

 

 

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*Audiobook Version*
My Mother's Rules" is a humorous, easy to follow self-help guide to managing your emotional life.

My Mother's Rules" is a humorous, easy to follow self-help guide to managing your emotional life.

Using lessons learned on the bench along with humorous anecdotes from her own 30 year marriage, Judge Lynn Toler wrote "Making Marriage Work" as a logical and simple guide to bringing back the practicality lost in relationships over the years.

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What 20 is For

Posted by on Nov 19, 2017 in This was on my mind, Uncategorized | No Comments

“You’re 20! If I had 20 back oh, what a mess I’d make. 20 is for you. 20 is for growth. 20 is for the pursuit of a tomorrow that is better than today. 20 is for options. 20 is for passion and knowledge and enjoyment. It is not for continuous compromise. It is not […]

Ella Escapes Her Ersatz E-Life … Love in the Shadows of Social Media

Posted by on Nov 15, 2017 in This was on my mind, Uncategorized | No Comments

Virtually Ignored                                        by Lynn Toler                      I. I am engaged in a virtual battle with women I never see. Enticed. Seduced. Snap-chatted. Induced. An invisible army declared […]

What Lies Beneath: Abuse, Harassment and Horror

Posted by on Nov 3, 2017 in This was on my mind | No Comments

I know these things seem unrelated but I don’t believe they are. They, too, feel like intractable problems but I don’t believe that either. •A man climbs into his car with his estranged wife and their children and drives them all into a lake. •An eight-year-old boy is found hanging in his closet after being […]

Losing Nineteen

Posted by on Jan 7, 2017 in This was on my mind | No Comments

LOSING NINETEEN BY JUDGE LYNN C. TOLER  I lost Nineteen again today.  Abandoning himself to that wasteland we offhandedly call ‘the system’, he just walked away – casually  – like it was no big deal.  Some claim I shouldn’t say I lost him, though, considering what I do.  While I am a Black woman, I […]

My Mo-ments

Posted by on Nov 1, 2016 in This was on my mind | No Comments

It took me 40 years to learn how to really enjoy people.  I am predisposed to panic and am often immersed in irrational worry.  When fear drives you like that New is typically a problem. And I mean anything: places, situations, expectations and, for me, people, in particular. They’re the most unpredictable and dangerous kind […]