Monday, December 8, 2014

Love, Come Quick…

I’m a Prince fan, and one of my favs is Thieves in the Temple -- “Love come quick; love come in a hurry. …thieves in the temple tonight.”

That’s how I feel about the relentless barrage of holiday hype. Christmas ads waaay before Thanksgiving. Stores open Thanksgiving Day and all night long. Too many weeks of ‘how to cook a turkey’ on every cooking show. Spoofs mocking families around the dinner table. 

As I sat looking at yet another ad for the best Black Friday bargains, I began to feel…robbed. Thanksgiving signals the beginning of the year-end holiday season, at least for Americans.  It is a time for gathering, reflecting, celebrating and being, well, thankful for oh so many things. While it takes some jockeying to be inclusive of even the most difficult relatives, and although this year may find you a little less equipped to host a big celebration, whether for financial, health or logistical reasons, it’s still a time to exhale the stresses of the past ten months and inhale the sweetness of the most wonderful time of the year.

I don’t know that I care about the traditional reasons for Thanksgiving…you know Plymouth Rock and all that rot. And my family situation has changed so much over the years that I have had to establish a new tradition almost every year, so it’s not that I’m bound to generations of tradition.  But what I’ll always be committed to is the spirit of the season, which is Love. All the grocery and gift shopping, all the menu planning, all the juggling and jockeying, even all the overspending… is a Love thing. It’s one of the few times a year that we take the limits off and lavish Love on our family and friends without apology.

Talking with others about how many people they have invited, which grandma they’re honoring by using her recipe, how many desserts, how the biggest family is always early and always stays late…sometimes overnight, how they have to steal a nap, the Soul Train line after dinner and before the football games and on and on…these are what Love is made of. These are the things for which I am, we all are, I believe, Thankful for.

I just wish the advertisers and the retailers who assault us with their ‘clever’ ads while robbing their employees of precious family time with holiday store hours would forsake their ‘thieving’ ways, stop sucking the life out of the most precious time of the year and for the few weeks that are the holiday season, be led by the Love that is the very heart of it.  

Love…come quick,


Friday, October 31, 2014


"What is right can never be impossible."
                                           Lord Mansfield in the movie Belle

Monday, October 27, 2014

What's in a Name?

There are only two of us left, my daughter and I. The last of the Stark family. The last of this Stark family. My name-bearer brother went home to be with the Lord almost five years ago. But that’s no reason to let our name pass away with him. This has been my name for lo these many years and even when I’m married to the greatest of men, I plan to keep it. So, I will be Stark-Whathisname. 

You see, I like my last name. They tell me its origin is German and that it means “strong”. What’s not to like? In English it is an adjective that means forbiddingly bare and plain, unambiguous and harsh, complete, without clothes, and rigid. As an adverb it means utterly, to the utmost degree. I like those definitions too, as I have been all of them at one time or the other in my life.  Like today, I’m feeling utterly and to the utmost degree. Yes I am.

Friends have teased me about my name. One in particular calls me Stark Ravin’. She tells the truth. I can rave about one something or the other on a regular basis. But she never adds the final tag -- “Mad" --  so I don’t believe that she thinks I’m altogether cray. That’s a good thing.

Those who have really wanted to get under my skin have called me Stark Naked, pun intended. I’m no  prude, don’t mind being disrobed for a doctor, masseuse or a lover, but otherwise I really don’t like people talking under my clothes, thank you very much. So while I am utterly, complete and unambiguous, the without clothes things doesn't set well with me; especially not in mixed company.

Most people add an “s” to my name, attempting to identify me, along with them, as the property of the Stark’s plantation. While my family probably was owned by ole man Stark -- after all, I am a Black American -- my ancestors dropped the “s” for obvious reasons: Y’all don’t own me no mo’. Hence, I correct anyone who misspells or mispronounces it -- S t a r k, no “s” on the end, thank you very much.

Now this may have cost me some extended family because most Starks are, well Starks, not Stark (naked and utterly ravin’). But some of my could-be-cousins still embrace me as such (shout out to Tim and Marva) because they get it: I can drop the “s” and still be in the bloodline. Come on somebody.

And if this sounds like a rant to you, so be it. After all, we’re talking about my identity here. All that said, I’ve decided to keep my name until God takes me out of the earth. After all, it’s a good name because He, knowing I’d be born for such a time as this, gave it to me via my parents. When He takes me Home, I’ll return it to Him all wrapped up in a pretty pink package with a big silver and gold bow and a beautiful handwritten note that says With Love to You, from Your Daughter, The Strong, Forbiddingly Bare and Plain, Unambiguous and Harsh, Complete, Without Clothes, Rigid, Utterly, To the Utmost Degree, Karen the Stark.

Needed a laugh today, 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Truth You Know

I really do believe that all things work together for my good. I believe that God has gotten me to the point where that is not just The Truth, but MyTruth. And like it says, the truth that you know will make you free. That is to say, it will liberate you from all the things that pose as truth – facts, experiences, advice, tweets – but bind you. All the shoulda, woulda, coulda stuff. That is not to say that we should be in denial about the consequences we may have to work through because of past decisions. But the bondage and limitations that come alongside a mistake, error or misstep, that’s the stuff crazy is made of! That’s the stuff we must absolutely be MadeFree from.

Getting to MadeFree is not the easiest trip. Looking your belief system square in the face and discovering that most of it is somebody else’s stuff; traversing the cycle of grief that ensues after the loss of ‘innocence’; forgiving yourself and Them; resolving that even if you don’t know what to do next, you ain’t doing that anymore; and all those stops in between make for an arduous excursion that feels like it will never end. Worst part is, it’s a trip we have to take more than once in a lifetime. And no matter how familiar it is, each time is every bit as challenging as the first time. Yet it’s the only trip worth taking over and over again.

Because each and every time you get to MadeFree, you discover a more robust, whole and ready You. And who doesn’t want to be There? 

Nothing missing, nothing broken,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Well Said

"Pray. Prepare. Proceed."    

  Judith Jamison, Artistic Director Emerita, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I could never have been a spy or a black ops or counter-terrorism agent. For too many reasons, I know I'm not cut out for that kind of work. But oh how I appreciate the training and commitment and focus it takes to do it.

That said, amongst my touchstone movies is the Bourne series -- Identity, Supremacy, Ultimatum, Legacy. The movies, not the books. I need the visual. Need to see him and rewind and see him and rewind and see him do the doggone thing (with the magazine, book, towel, ink pen, vodka, blind cords....I digress)! Of course, I know that the writers take poetic license with the action, but umph!    I love it.

I'm not sure if I'm more inclined to watch when I'm focused and flowing or when I'm way off course. Doesn't matter. All I know is that when I do, watching Bourne getting to the heart of the matter, exposing and defeating the real enemy, surviving the hits and getting his whole life back, I am affirmed afresh.

Yesterday, the declaration he made in the Bourne Identity leaped off the screen and hit me my hallelujah place:  "I'm on my own side now."  

There. I said it.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Change Your Mind

It really doesn’t matter if you’ve thought that way all your life; whether you trained yourself to think that way or were indoctrinated by your family, friends, educators, church. It’s time to change your mind. Why? 

Because your old mind is not ready for your new life. 

Even if the way you used to do things worked. You had it right then. Got the desired results. Why ain’t it working now? Maybe the way you've always thought kept you on track, kept you sane, as it were. 

But if your thinking is starting to drive you crazy, it’s time to change your mind.

If you were taking a medication that used to work but wasn't as effective as before, wouldn’t you get to the doctor post haste? You have taken it every day as prescribed and have for years, but you just don’t get the results. You’ve tried to reason it away and say that it’s the weather, your eating habits, stress. But you know the stuff ain’t working. You need a new prescription. A change. You don’t really feel like going through the doctor’s checklist and follow up visits and the blood draws and the temporary adjustments until the prescription is just right again. But you did it before, gladly. Anything to be well.

Doesn’t your mind deserve the same…care? 

Granted, no tiny pill will help with a mind change, unless the problem is chemical-clinical. (Is it?) There will be some trial and error. It will take some discipline. It will take some accountability, to yourself (daily journaling?), or perhaps to a trustworthy someone else. And it will take some time. Some changes in behavior will also be in order. Maybe you need to put the word “no” back into your vocabulary. Or the word “yes”. It may mean speaking up instead of being quiet. Or being quiet when you're bursting at the seams. 

It may mean writing your new affirmation-declaration out and reciting it every single day to stop the voices in your head – the old ones – from dragging you down into the pit. 

Whatever it takes, it’s time for a change. 

Old thinking cannot create a new life.

Change your mind.

That goes for me, too,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Handle with Care

Dear Ferguson, Missouri:

Every news report draws from my heart to my lips a new prayer for you. Today all I could utter was “Lord, help.” 

As a mother, I understand the grief that justice will only begin to relieve. As a Black American, I know  racism at a cellular level. As a Boomer I remember how neighborhoods burned after Dr. King's assassination. I occasionally drive through some that have never recovered from that explosion-implosion. As a citizen of the world, I have been bullied and stolen from; I have fought back, run away, called the law. Most of the servant-protectors have treated me with great respect; others responded with an inordinate, palpable contempt even though I was not the perpetrator. I have been very grateful for and to the good ones and have prayed out loud to diffuse the provocation of those who were hell bent on using me to make their day. 

As a writer, I need to say my say, but my say is no revelation: the Ferguson PD's press conference was too many days late and multiplied dollars too short. Because it was, there is no quick-easy route to restoration, redemption. This thing has to play all the way out.  How I wish it was not so.

That said, I think I now know what to pray: that no more lives are lost in Ferguson; that wise, humble, honest, courageous and just leaders rise up and do the next right thing. And the next right thing. And the next right thing for as long as it takes to heal their land. I will pray for Michael Brown’s family, but especially for his mother, that she will be comforted in her mourning. I will pray that none who advocate for her forgets that hers is the greatest loss of all. And I will pray that she is not exploited by anyone else's agenda, but that she will be handled with care. With great, great care.  

Karen Stark

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dearly Loved

I asked if he would do something for me. His lightning-fast response was, “Yes”.  I think my head snapped back at his answer. Startled and chuckling, I murmured something about wishing I had asked for ten grand or a new car. He did not flinch. Just sat there smiling, waiting for my request. His response stayed with me all through the movie I later went to see, and all through dinner, and it was my first thought upon waking from a Sunday afternoon nap.

I racked my brain, but could not remember the last time I had asked someone for a favor and they responded in the affirmative before hearing the specifics. Most folks, including myself, present a caveat -- “if I can”, “depends on what it is” -- and understandably so. 

Why didn’t he?

Yes, he is family; spiritual family. I’d call him a nephew. He is also a colleague; we occasionally work together. We’ve watched each other grow and evolve and are acquainted with one another’s gifts and frailties. We have a good and real relationship, but not the kind that would make me expect such an unqualified response. He is a shrewd businessman and the type of husband who honors his wife in a tangible way. Really, you could cut it with a knife. I consider him a heavyweight and would not have been the least bit offended if he had asked for specifics before considering my request.

Why didn’t he?  

I was baffled by this gesture that made me feel so respected and so cared for and so valued and so beautiful and so necessary and so trusted and so honorable and, well…so loved that an unqualified yes was the answer he chose to give. And did not take back.

My request was by no means an unreasonable one; what I asked for would benefit someone else. But what that person will receive at my behest is not worthy to be compared to the great gift of love that was given to me with a simple, unconditional “Yes”.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Only Time

A poem I once wrote ended with the line, “it’s only time when you’re ready.” 

Let’s work the emphasis.

It’s only time when you’re ready.
          It’s only time when you’re ready. 
                     It’s only time when you’re ready.
                               It’s only time when you’re ready.
                                         It’s only time when you’re ready.

Doesn’t matter how long it took you to arrive at your destination.
Doesn’t matter what you went through to get ready.
Doesn’t matter what time of day or month or which season it is. 
Doesn't matter what age or generation of life you are in. 
Doesn’t matter who says you are when you're not 
or who says you're not when you are.
Doesn’t matter why you went through what you did
or how you got here or wherever you are 
when you discover that you are. 
Doesn’t matter which word you put the emphasis on,
or if you put it on none.

All that matters is 
that you know
that you know
that you know
that you’re Ready. Set. Go.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Take 45

A magazine columnist asked a woman of 90+ years what advice she would give to younger women. Her answer: “When you get home, sit down for the first 45 minutes.” 

That ain’t easy. Not with dusty tables, text reminders to coworkers, stuff to research on the Web, laundry screaming from the hamper, and the eternal “what’s for dinner?” You have the same stuff – only different -- demanding your attention, so you know what I’m saying. We go from task to deadline to got-to to must without even thinking about it. And here’s a woman who has successfully lived for more than ninety years, in good health and of sound mind saying: stop and give yourself 45. 

Her advice reminded me of a tactic my schoolteacher friend uses to transition her urban classroom when it becomes unruly: she holds up her hand, fingers outstretched so that you can count all 1-2-3-4 of them and her thumb and says “Everybody, stop and give me five!” It works. Her students know two things: 1) enough already! and, 2) she is about to tell them something very important, something they do not want to miss. It soooo works! I’ve seen kindergarteners to eighth-graders come to attention at her instruction. Once they’ve collected themselves, they make a smooth transition to the next thing. Sometimes all she has to do is hold up that hand to refocus the entire room. 

Having seen what a full stop can do for a bunch of squirming kids, I decided to take the grand lady's advice. Now, whether it is midday or midnight when I get home, I sit down for the first forty-five minutes.

The first few times I tried it I twisted my hair like a two year old because my hands were looking for something to….do. Sometimes I fell asleep. Sitting up. Sometimes I had to move from one room to another so that I wasn’t looking at the dust on the table. One day it dawned on me that if I took off my work clothes, it might be easier to take 45, so now I don’t start counting down until I have changed into my sweats. Sometimes I flip the pages in a magazine, but I do not read. I just look at the pictures and promise myself to make that recipe or stop by that store one day. 

Mostly, though, I let my mind do the thing it needs to do. Unwind. Daydream. Remember. After a few good minutes of that, my shoulders relax. Sometimes I start to hum a tune. There are even days that the answer to that nagging question begins to take form. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I don’t care. That’s the whole point: while I’m doing my 45, I am in the place where I am not care-full. No, it’s not mindful meditation. It’s just being there.

Oh yes, while I’m taking 45, I never, ever take a phone call or a text, although I will look at the phone in case it’s an emergency. Guess what? It never is.Occasionally my 45 turns into an hour or even two, but I’ve learned that when that happens it’s because I needed more that day. 

Today was a wonderful day. Good weather, good church service, good meal with good friends. You might think all that goodness was enough. Not so. 

Today, I still needed to take 45; to come to a full stop and just be. So, I did.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Power to Choose

“I could be anywhere or be doing anything.” These words are a line in a song that my choir used to sing. I woke up with it this morning. I hadn’t sung it in at least a decade, so for it to come up now demanded investigation. 

The song is an interpretation of the idiom, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” For most of us and in most instances, the operative word here is grace. Now, I may be coming at this from outer space, but as I traversed the song’s verses, it led me in the other direction…away from the mysterious gift of grace to the power of choice

“I could be anywhere or be doing anything.”

I can exercise my free will. 

I can choose; be choose-y. 

To elect is to exercise the power of choice. 

So, to The Elect Ladies -- the choice, chosen women who choose to be choose-y, all I want to say today is…

Go ‘head!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Segway Pics

   Me and Deborah Sue

Matched my helmet to my Chucks...LOL

White shirt...Captain Dave

Monday, June 16, 2014

New Beginnings

“There is a number between the handlebars; remember which one is yours.” This was just one of the tips Captain Dave, our Segway tour guide gave us. Mine was number eight, the number of new beginnings. At that moment I knew that the team building outing would have significance for me on many levels. To begin with, I had never been on a Segway so, check, that was new. Nor had I been on a team building event with this group of colleagues before; check; new. But I was certain that there was much more to come. Like the song says “maybe God is trying to tell you something.” There was no maybe to it. I knew He was. And I was all ears.

There’s a method to using the Segway. It is battery powered and works on a principle of balance. You cannot ride it standing on one foot. But as long as both feet are on board you can crouch down and ride it or turn around and face backwards while it goes forward, like skating backwards. Either of those two maneuvers requires the skill of Captain Dave, but it was easy to see how it could be done if you honored the principle: both feet on board. Bend both knees at the same time to take a bump in the road. Lean slightly to make a right or left turn. Lean back to stop. And if you push Mr. Segway too close to his ten mile an hour limit, he’ll put a stop to your foolishness with his automatic braking system. After a fifteen minute training and practice session, off we went!

Let me interject here that being more artistic than athletic, had I organized the event it would have been a play, a concert or even a museum visit. And if, perchance, I had considered an outdoor activity it would have been a bus, boat or walking tour; a Segway would never have entered my mind.  The exhilaration I felt as we rode was, I’m sure, amplified by my low expectations. This was not my thing, you know? So how could it possibly be this good to me?

I mean, it was OMG good!

It was the perfect day: a bright June morning under the bluest of skies, low seventies, no humidity or wind. The deluxe tour covered the riverfront, lakefront and the majestic museum campus. Could it get any better? Umm humm.

As we rode through the city’s grand scenery with the Captain sharing Chicago history at strategic stops, the OMG in my spirit grew exponentially. It appeared with exclamation points, then in bold type, then italics and in 48, 64, and 72 fonts. It wasn’t just taking in the sites from the vantage point of the Segway that invoked the ever-increasing exclamation. It was the growing realization that I was receiving an answer to my prayer-question about how to finesse this new season of my life: listen to the Captain, keep both feet on the ‘ground’, lean into it and enjoy the ride…’cuz there is joy in the ride.

And when you get to the other side, to the destination – because there is a destination – you’ll bring your newness to the new thing and…


Friday, June 6, 2014

Upon Investigation

Upon investigation, one might find that you have unique-to-unusual strengths and abilities that, although you use them every day, are hidden to the casual observer. Kinda like the hummingbird. The only bird that can fly backwards, upside down, sideways and oh yes, forward.  A tiny little thing that can fly great distances to migrate -- up to 2,500 miles in a non-stop trip -- but cannot walk. A fierce defender of its pea-size eggs and its territory that can route a raptor many times its size. Whose humming sound comes not from its diaphragm, but from wings moving 70 times per second in a figure-eight motion.  Wise enough to choose the right flower to heal what ails them. Iridescent and jewel-like. Fascinating to see in action. Hummingbirds are symbolic of effervescence and joy, perseverance and grace, infinity and new beginnings.  Look to the right of this page. Hummingbird.

Letters to Elect Ladies is written to the real you who even you forget about as you traverse the everydayness of life or the intrusion of a crisis. Not to the wannabe or strive-to-be, but the made-to-be; full of purpose and practice and perseverance. Like the hummingbird. A friend of mine received a diagnosis that he responded to in an uncharacteristic way. His wise and good wife exhorted him to “get up and do what you would normally do today,” releasing him back to the joy of life and the hope-filled future that is his modus operandi. The mission of Letters is like that word of life, those apples of gold in pitchers of silver that the good wife spoke to her husband. 

You, my friend, are a rare phenomenon with powers of flight and an expression of life like none other. Like the hummingbird. The real you may indeed be hidden to the naked eye. And that is probably a good thing, at least to some degree. But just because some can’t see you for who you know you are is no reason not to Be… the Real You.

Karen Stark

*that’s the sound of my wings