Do you have friends inside your head? People you've never actually met but inside your mind's eye they're someone you'd be cool with? No, that's not cray-cray, its called having a healthy and open imagination! (LOL) Well, maybe a weird sense of humor...
Oprah Winfrey recently spoke to Michelle Obama about her latest memoir, "Becoming." I was intrigued by the interview that aired on a session of Oprah's Super Soul Sunday series.
As I listened intently, I imagined what it would be like if I were sitting there with them. Like most writers, I allowed my imagination to flow as I joined in on their discussion. Oprah and I go way back. The woman practically raised me along with a million other women whom she has continued to inspire with her wisdom over the years. To me she has always been like an aunt, inside my head. Michelle Obama, well since we met back in 2012, she has been a mentor and a big sister, inside my head.
So I recently sat down with Auntie Oprah and my big sister Michelle to do a side by side comparison of our memoirs "Becoming" and "Who's That Girl?" As it turns out, Michelle Obama and I have quite a few things in common. Auntie Oprah in her gentle way got down the nitty gritty of both our lives...inside my head. I tried not to cry.
Michelle just released the memoir of the year, who am I to compare my story to hers? Who am I? I am Valerie Winrow, a wife, a mother, a lifestyle blogger, a singer, an actress, a multitude of titles, but who am I really? I address this in my book, hence the title "Who's That Girl?" While I'm asking who the girl is, Michelle is speaks from a broader perspective about who she is becoming.
I listen intently as Michelle tells how she visited eight countries and could not remember the details of any of them. Well, I visited eight city over the past few years and would be hard pressed to list them by name. For both of us, our lives were moving at such a fast past we did not take the time to be fully present and enjoy the show of it all. Isn't it that true in life that we can get so caught up in our day to day living that we don't take time to reflect on our experiences? I think that's what we do as memorialists; we take to reflect. We want you, our readers, to take time
As First Lady, life moved very fast for her. The same was true for me, my life has been a whirlwind. While I was certainly not a wife to the leader of the free world, I was indeed a wife. I was the first lady of my home, living for many years in a loveless marriage trying to raise two strong black men in a world that constantly reminded all of us that we would see hard times more often than wed visit any semblance of easy street. In a sense, Michelle and I were the same in that we both helped to hold our families together surviving on our basic instincts with no blueprint other than the values that were ingrained in us as young women by our parents and others who loved us along the way.
I just love Michelle, she is so relatable. Listening to her talk, on the Audible version of her book, I feel like we should share a cup of coffee more often and chat about our lives. I am hoping to meet her and Oprah some day, until then here's how our conversation went, inside my head.
I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop, waiting for my girls to arrive. Auntie O walks in first. She looks fabulous as usual. Trailing slightly behind her is the beautiful Michelle Obama! I gasp, "yikes, they're here!
As Auntie O settles into her seat, we exchange our pleasantries and she begins. She talks about how Michelle and I have recently released the stories of our lives, leaving ourselves wide open and vulnerable to world. She leans in and asks, "Valerie, Michelle, how did you do this? You both share such an amazing journey." Her attention is directed at Michelle as she goes on to ask about the toast story.
Hmmm. I'm interested in this. Is Michelle about to talk about burnt toast? Because, somewhere in my book I think I talk about how I'd rather eat it herself and take the time to make fresh new slices for my family because I'm always putting the needs of others before my own. But no, Michelle is not talking about that at all.
Michelle takes a sip from her coffee cup, "Well, Oprah the story goes like this..." She talks about finding herself alone for the first time in her brand new home. After having lived in the White House for the past eight years with servants, guards and various staffers always being present; on this day she realized that no one was there but her. She could now open a window when she felt like it, step outside or reach into her pantry to pull out a loaf of bread and make her own cheese toast, which she does on that day.
As she's talking, I'm thinking to myself, how many times have I taken something so simple like making toast, for granted? Then again, it's one of those things where you think, well some people may think, you'd like to be famous and have an entourage of sorts. Michelle lived this way for eight years. If you are anything like me, you enjoy your me time. I love being around people, but honestly there are times when I do not want to be bothered. My heart went out to her as she talked about always having someone around and now having time to herself to be alone and reflect.
She goes on to share that she after making her own cheese toast sandwich, she freely opens the back door to her own backyard and takes in the fresh air with her dogs. There are no secret service men around, no one is running back and forth to make sure that everything is ok. It just her and her two dogs. They hear the common sounds of a neighborhood, other dogs are barking in the distance. Even her own dogs, do not seem to know how to respond. She gives them back a stare of amazement and says, "fellas we are in the real world now." Oprah and I rare back in laughter."
Oprah looks over at me and asks, “Valerie tell us about the first time you were alone, or you felt alone.”
“Well, my story is quite different Auntie O,” I say. “Yes, I did have an alone moment. You’d think it would have happened after the death of my late husband Elgin, or our late son Christopher. But no, it came after I lost my job of twenty-five years. That’s right, the wonderful amazing Valerie was fired from her job. A very prestigious position, in my opinion. You see I could stand strong and face the world after dealing with the death of a spouse and my oldest child because it was my job, my career that was the glue. It held me together. I always had my work to keep me going, until it was all over and then there was only me.”
“For the first time, I felt alone. I literally did not know where my life was going, or what I was doing. But like Michelle, I woke up one morning and because I didn’t have to rush off to work, made myself some toast and went to sit outside in my back yard. For the first time in a what seemed like forever, I breathed. I took in the fresh morning air and let it sink in. I took a deep breath, sat there and reflected on my life. In my previous job I was always busy being busy, as public relations professional I was always in meetings, or working on some project. While Michelle was reflecting on eight years, I was looking back over twenty-five.”
Oprah leans back in her chair and sighs, “Michelle, you know you and Valerie do seem to have some parallels to your stories. You both were raised by blue collar workers; you each grew up having a strong sense of achievement, striving to earn gold stars in grade school and competing for accolades in the classroom.”
Michelle interjects and explains how she too took great strides in trying to stand out and make good grades. “When I was a girl growing up in the southside of Chicago, people were just waiting for girls who looked like me to fail, and not to amount to much.”
“Valerie, you also share a similar experience in your story. You speak about the 70s and the 80s, a time when most black children were struggling to be seen, to be heard, to matter, to be something great. Like Michelle, you both saw your neighborhoods change as the cultural fabric of the places you lived transitioned with affluent folks leaving the areas you grew up.”
Michelle and I look at each other and smile because we are remembering those moments from our past and how they shaped us. In school, we each had teachers we wanted to impress, who pushed us. We both had parents whose strong work ethic taught us to aspire to cross over into places they could never go. We knew from the moment we met that we had a lot in common.
I take another sip from of my mocha latte as Michelle nods for me to respond. “I was a people pleaser. I just enjoyed making other people smile. If anyone ever seemed remotely disappointed in me, it tore at my heart. Like Michelle, I always felt like I had to be so much better than the next person, I had to stand out because I did not want to be labeled as a child who would not amount to anything. I became so enthralled in being the best, a model citizen my teachers would call me, that I eventually became quite competitive. This would lead to me gaining popularity, I thought wow, I can be smart and popular and have even more people like me.”
Michelle talked more about going through similar transitions, like the times she dealt with kids who asked “why are you talking white” because she spoke proper English. We both grew up in households where proper talk and etiquette was expected.
Our conversation goes on and I eventually learn more about myself in talking to them, than I did in writing my own story. I can’t wait to fully read Michelle’s book and I highly encourage you to get your copy as well.
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