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|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
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I recently watched Birdman, the 2015 Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture. Michael Keaton (who plays an actor trying to reinvent himself), and his nemesis played by Ed Norton were stellar. But it was what Emma Stone said (who plays Keaton's rehabbed daughter and theatre assistant), that stayed with me long after the movie ended. Her short, angry tirade at her father, when he discovers that she is still doing drugs, is the underlying theme of this chapter.
She says, "You are only doing this play because you want to be relevant. You want to matter. There are people out there every day who want to matter and fight to matter, but they just don't. It sucks. And guess what? No one gives a s***."
When we don't think we are relevant in the world, that we don't matter and that no one cares, we stop trying. When we stop trying, all sorts of bad comes our way.
* * *
Serita started the first year of life by being taken away from her family and put into the foster care system.
When we sat down to talk about her life, it started simply.
"Where were you born?"
"My birth certificate says Ottawa, Canada." She had no attachment to it.
"I was removed for the sake of my personal safety and, since I was a baby, it's all just a big void. I prefer it that way."
Serita is matter-of-fact and emotionless when it comes to bringing up her painful past, as can often be the case for the neglected. There was nothing good for her there. The biggest impact on her early childhood was that her mother gave her up, leaving Serita to feel unwanted. It wasn't her fault. She didn't ask to be born.
Many of us are brought into this world and placed in situations that we never asked for. It's how we deal with it, in part, that helps shape us into who we are. Will we just go along or will we find a way out? Will we take what's given to us or will we create our own future, our own version of success?
Take someone from the projects. How does he or she get out of the violence, the drugs, the system? Is it education? Not always. Is it an internal drive that can't be snuffed out? Maybe. Whatever it is within you, you must listen to it and not simply accept the cards and expectations that society deals you. You are one of a kind; there is no one like you on the planet and you have gifts to offer yourself and the world.
* * *
Serita reminds me of someone who should have lived in the 20s. She has dark, pixie length hair that frames her face as though she slept in pin curls. Her beaded collars and layered skirts make me want to swing dance, and sometimes she wears vintage pants and faded shirts that remind me of workers who built the Golden Gate Bridge. Serita delights in second hand stores and has a vintage presence that makes me smile.
Her home in the mountains is vintage too, with a delightful series of tiny rooms, thick velvet drapes and secret passages. It feels like a salon where you might host a poetry reading or séance. When you visit, you discover all sorts of collections from her travels. A set of tiny metal figurine chess pieces from the Middle East, a gift of African masks and spears, a giant flowing lithograph of a 20s woman in Paris.
Serita surrounds herself with symbols of authenticity, identity, and freedom. She strived for many years to find where she belonged in the world, but it didn't come easy. How could it when you started out faced with forgotten?
* * *
The foster care system in Canada placed Serita with Dolly, a teacher type who had a full and chaotic daycare center in her home and some grandkids that were part of the day program now and then. Serita was the only child who slept over each night — on the couch.
Dolly was nice, she just had lots of rules, which were needed with so many kids running around. Serita had a roof over her head and a stable environment. That's what Dolly was required to do by Social Services. Tinker the dog is Serita's fondest memory of Dolly's house.
"She was an old black lab that let you hug her, climb on her, and probably even poke her in the eye if you played too aggressively with her."
Serita recalls some snapshots of her during that time, but she doesn't relate to them. Serita is good at compartmentalizing her past.
While the official goal of the foster care system is reunification whenever possible and then alternate permanency in the U.S. system, for Serita: "They just want to get you back with your family — which sucks."
After spending six years at Dolly's, Serita's younger brother was born and she was reunited with her family.
"I was assigned to my home — that's all." But this wasn't any better for her than it was when she was taken away. Her parents still didn't give a crap about her, and she knew it.
Serita was arrested at eight years old. The police officer who cuffed her never did ask why she was trying to steal a sharp weapon. She was simply trying to survive, but no one cared enough to inquire.
As a result, Serita was officially introduced into Canada's dependency and delinquency courts, which would release her on probation. This opened a door to darkness. It would take a paramount shift for her to find her way out.
* * *
"Why don't people care? Are they too involved with their own importance?" I asked Serita.
"Assumptions are made. No one ever asks. I could either capitulate, turn to self-loathing, or simply say, screw them. I chose the latter."
But what of the kids who don't take the bull by the horns? The ones who let life screw them instead of the other way around? Sometimes you have to be like Serita and decide that you are a survivor.
Are you a survivor?
I grew up in a house with seven people and one bathroom. We had little money. I started making bright colored cardboard bracelets and selling them to the local hippy shop for three bucks each when I was nine. I put on plays and carnivals with the kids on my street and charged a quarter for admission. I never owned a pair of jeans until college. I am a survivor.
* * *
As an "at risk" youth, Serita was officially on the juvenile watch list, and while she was sent back home after the incident, from that moment forward, she did all she could to stay away. Serita knew it wasn't ideal at home and that no one was really going to help her, so she would help herself.
"Was your brother safe?"
"A little more than me because my unstable mother wanted a boy — but not really. Screw them."
Serita became really good at couch surfing at friends' homes and, due to the reality of life's basic needs, she started to borrow — clothes, shoes, food, just about anything to fulfill her needs. She did what she had to do.
Serita was happy as long as she wasn't at home.
She was definitely system-affected, so how bad could it get? She only had herself to rely on and took her path into her own hands.
Serita cared deeply for her brother and, although she wasn't home much, she stuck around on the fringes long enough to help raise him. However, as fate would have it, he too became a delinquent.
You may be surprised to learn that there are many famous people who started out as delinquents.
Take Mark Wahlberg. According to records, when his parents split, he got involved with the wrong crowd, got into drugs, dropped out of school, and was charged with attempted murder. Now he's one of Hollywood's top paid actors. He is a survivor.
Or take country singer, Merle Haggard. At nine he was fatherless, which led him to seek out his own guidance, landing him in juvenile detention for stealing a 13mm gun. A year later, he was arrested for petty larceny and put in the high security Preston School of Industry. He had a lot of time to think and while there went through his own shift. Merle earned his high school diploma and started making his way to the top of the country music scene.
Sometimes we regret what we do to survive, and sometimes we just have to do what we do to survive. And it's not always because of being from a broken family like Serita, Mark, Merle, or me. I am privy to plenty of very wealthy kids from prominent families who are drug abusers, suicidal, and self-loathers. Conditions cross all socio-economic borders. It's recognizing our situation and the fact that we need to make a shift; and then figuring out how we do it, that makes or breaks us.
* * *
Serita attended an alternative cross-boundary high school called Glebe in Ottawa that straddles a socioeconomically diverse community. Glebe is for kids with all sorts of situations and who are from all walks of life. The school accepts everyone, which makes it kind of cool.
Some need independent study (like actor Tom Cruise (before her time there) and singer Alanis Morissette), because they have blossoming careers and require flexible schedules. Other kids have families who travel a lot. Some kids are rich and others very poor. Some youths are hooked on drugs, can't handle the rigor of a normal high school, or are delinquents like Serita.
"I got kicked out the first week of high school because I skipped. We didn't have lockers because they didn't want us storing anything. The school was way over crowded; built for 2,500 but taught 5,000. We weren't allowed to congregate in public, so I never got to go to a football game or dance. There was a principal's office, but no one ever got sent there because the line would be too long."
"It must have been challenging."
"We were just a bunch of hooligans. Every day at noon someone would pull the fire alarm. It would take at least two hours to get everyone out of the building and back to class. Most of us left for the rest of the day. We were usually drunk by then anyway, so what was the point? After several weeks of the daily fire alarm, the fire department stopped coming over. Kids did drugs in the bathrooms sometimes too, which led to teachers patrolling the hallways and the police coming by. S*** happens."
* * *
But despite all the presumed chaos, Serita loved Glebe. She loved the diversity and the fun. The teaching was excellent.
"I learned a lot there. A lot academically, and about life."
Glebe is also the high school for kids trying to get permanent residency. Canada is a pretty welcoming country and the school is bustling with people from around the world.
"At the time, there was one group considered the Vietnamese boat people. They were the Asian contingent. They resided mostly on the second floor, middle hallway. None of them spoke English, but they did cook their meals in the hallways. It always smelled good down there. The Haitians ruled the basement and the druggies who did stuff like shrooms and LSD, hung out in the bathrooms. There was a group called GBs and they basically kept watch. My high school was like the United Nations. I met people from all over the world, which was cool, along with a bunch of renegades like me."
* * *
"Did you play any sports — or maybe you weren't there enough to?"
"Yeah. I played water polo and flag football, so I was pretty strong and fast. If anyone messed with me, I could move quickly so that I didn't get hurt. Like the time our team got kicked out of the league for beating up the opposing flag football team before the game. They were making fun of us, so we basically defended our honor and moved fast enough to get the better of them. I didn't get to play that sport after that.
We didn't beat anyone up in water polo though, at least not on the surface. Under water was another story. Sometimes I had to stick up for myself and my team."
While some might conclude that Serita could be misconstrued as an angry kid because of all she had been through; she likes to focus on the fact that her high school was actually fun in a weird, dysfunctional way. She got along and made many friends who became like family. It was home life that she avoided.
According to Biographer Walter Isaacson, there was the "Good Steve (Jobs)," and then, there was the "Bad Steve." Even some of the most successful people in the world seemed to experience apparent bouts of anger or discontent at various points in their lives. When Jobs went to college, he didn't even say goodbye when his adoptive parents dropped him off.
Jobs' reasoning: "I didn't want anyone to know I had parents. I wanted to be like an orphan who had bummed around the country on trains and just arrived out of nowhere, with no roots, no connections, no background." Would you say Steve was an angry kid — or maybe just drifting?
* * *
Serita realized something else during high school, which was the beginning of her journey toward self-awareness. There were actually people who cared.
"I developed a sort of family with the girls on the water polo team. I think it helped me."
Several of Serita's teammates knew of her plight. Rather than embarrass her because she basically had no home, couldn't afford clothes, and had to walk everywhere (regardless of the weather or time), they came up with an idea. Everyone would share clothes. Team Share was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for Serita, even though they made it appear as though it was for everyone. She was grateful.
Serita went on to play water polo for Junior Team Canada, which was a very high level accomplishment and a highlight of her childhood.
"Because of my team and some big successes, I became more tolerant and accepting of others."
Having someone who cares and lets you know that you matter (like Serita's teammates) or having a mentor early in your life or career, can make all the difference in the world.
* * *
Serita was a competitive runner in middle school but broke her back at 14. Rehab became swimming, which is how she became a water polo player in the first place.
"It was more fun than swimming laps."
"Did your brother go to Glebe?"
"He went to a Jesuit high school for delinquents — only boys. It was better for him. I am very proud of my brother. He didn't have it as hard as me, but it was still hard. He graduated and got into the Navy — well sort of. Once they found out that he had a felony record, he was rejected. He became a really good commercial diver instead."
The smile returned to her face. Serita loves her brother deeply.
"Did you ever want to have a super power?"
"My brother and I used to pretend we could be flies on the wall — we were invisible and could sneak into places and see what was going on."
I thought this super power fit Serita perfectly. It's important to be aware of your environment, and Serita's environment during her formative years made her very aware, which also taught her to be well prepared for anything.
* * *
"What were the academics like in your school?"
This might have been the biggest break Serita could have gotten and was the most important shift for her, yet.
"I figured that they had to give someone an 'A' in each class, so why not me? School was pretty easy, so I applied myself."
"So you did well?"
"Well, I skipped class a lot, but I did start getting A's. I figured the odds were in my favor because no one else cared if they got good grades. I also knew that I was going to go to college like everyone does in Canada, so I might as well go for the grades to increase my options."
Serita started to figure things out, but it was usually on her own. She wasn't as concerned about having adults care about her, they hadn't anyway, but approval and acceptance by her peers was important to her.
"Like most youth in foster care, it's not about the adults. You don't trust adults so you don't seek caring."
Then something amazing happened. Serita had a Physics Teacher who believed in her.
"The sad thing is, the guy changed my life, but I can't remember his name."
Serita does recall her Chemistry teacher's name though. She felt embarrassed when, after she hadn't done her homework, he called her out in front of the class and told her that if she went to University, it would be a waste of everyone's time and hard earned money.
"Why is it that I can recall all the bad stuff from my life, but I feel so guilty that I can't remember all the good?"
* * *
During her senior year, Serita walked into her Physics class and no name teacher told her that she needed to take the Waterloo Physics Exam (an international competition) — now. Only a couple of people who did well on the test got scholarship money for university, and he thought she just might.
"I was so pissed off. I had to sit down right then, without any prep work offered, and take a waste-of-my-time exam. I was planning on an athletic scholarship anyway. I didn't have any money."
Serita scored in the top 10% worldwide.
* * *
Why do we sabotage ourselves into believing that we don't deserve anything good in life?
Is it our upbringing, our fear of the unknown, or do we resign ourselves to failure because maybe it's just easier that way? According to a 2012 Forbes article by David DeSalvo on failure, it's what we believe and what we are told that holds us down.
* * *
In the Canadian system you are allowed to pick three schools to have your transcripts sent to for free. Serita applied to Ottawa, Carleton College and Queens University. She got into all of them.
She had won a National Science and Engineering Scholarship that is a Canadian scholarship good at any school so long as the emphasis was science or engineering.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "From Drift To Shift"
Copyright © 2017 Jody B. Miller.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Why Shift?,
Chapter 1 Shift Happens,
Chapter 2 Against All Odds,
Chapter 3 Simplicity,
Part Two: When To Shift,
Chapter 4 Finding Normal,
Chapter 5 Alleviate Suffering,
Part Three: How To Shift,
Chapter 6 Overcoming Obstacles,
Chapter 7 Faith Beyond Reason,
Chapter 8 Synchronicity,
Part Four: After The Shift,
The Balance Of Work And Play,
How To Deal With The Complainers In Your Life,
Advice I Thought I'd Never Give,
Live Your Fairytale,
Meet Someone New Every Day: A 6-Day Experiment,
About The Author,
What People are Saying About This
The stories in From Drift to Shift probe the meanings and motivations that guide us and keep us going
– Dalton Delan, PBS Television
Miller is the Studs Terkel of our time. She gets into the hearts and minds of the everyday person and convinces us, through stories, that happiness in work and in life can be achieved by anyone.
– Kristy S., NBC Television Development Executive
Jody’s stories are a cross between a shot of tequila and a warm cup of cocoa. Whether you are shocked or comforted, the real-life tales in this book will help you find the happiness you are looking for.
– Allison M., Head of Human Resources, Investment Bank