ALEX ELLE, POET, AUTHOR, MOTHER, & SHOP OWNER, ROCKVILLE MD
Meet Alex. She’s a mother, poet, role model, business owner, and self-care advocate. This interview is the ultimate how to as she covers valuable themes like how to be a thriving mother, love the skin you’re in, journal, go bravely into the wilderness, stand up to bullies, and practice self love. So find yourself a relaxing space and read this interview because this unstoppable woman is launching yet another book and oh yes, she’s blooming.
How did you get to where you are now?
I guess the best way to describe the journey so far is through a lot of hurt transformed into healing. That’s really the best way to put it. I decided to start sharing my work long before I wrote my first book, which was Words from a Wanderer. I was going through a strange limbo process of trying to figure out who I was and where I wanted to be. I also had to figure out what the mark I wanted to leave on this world would be for not only others, but specifically for my daughter. So I started the “A Note to Self” exercises where I would write self-affirming notes to myself and share them on social media.
That was kind of the breakthrough for my journey as an author. I’ve always written. I‘ve been writing since I was about twelve and that actually started when I was in therapy. My therapist decided that it would be a good idea if I took my feelings to paper because I wasn’t the best communicator. I kind of had a rough upbringing being an only child in a single parent house; it was really traumatizing for me a lot of the time. With that said, journaling had always played a role in my life in writing. When I was able to transform the journaling into writing that I could share, it was pretty amazing to see the response because it showed me that I wasn’t alone in my struggle.
And then when Words from a Wanderer came out, the response was absolutely insane kind of right off the bat. This showed me that other women need a voice whether it comes from their own experience or through someone else’s. And that’s kind of how it started for me in terms of sharing, self-care, self-affirming celebration, writing, and poetry.
Can you explain your “A Note to Self” exercises?
So “A Note to Self” is literally what it sounds like…it’s a note to yourself. But it’s also a note that’s positive, uplifting, and reaffirming. While it may sound super easy to get done, it’s actually quite a challenge especially if you are in the healing process and working through any traumas, past issues, relationships, what have you. I’ve learned when I’m teaching self-care in my workshops and large groups, the “A Note to Self” is always the hardest part.
It can be painful in the sense of, “Oh my goodness, I actually have to be kind and nice and reaffirming to myself!” The fact that it’s such a shock to our mental and emotional state says a lot about the exercise. It also says a lot about how we feel about our struggles and failures because to love yourself through the failure and to love yourself through the trauma and the hurt are the hard parts. It’s easy to give yourself praise like, “I kicked ass at that!” or “I did great at that!” That’s great. But how about when it hurts? Are you still going to be able to open up and say ‘I love you’ to yourself? Are you still going to be able to look yourself in the eye?
And that’s why I started “A Note to Self”. I started it for me. I didn’t start it for anyone else. I just decided to share on social media. I had a really modest following back then but I was using my Instagram feed to be kind of like my diary a little bit. To see it explode and the hashtag go crazy, it was like, “Wow. This is magical.” It also reminds people that anyone can write. You don’t have to write books. You don’t have to write poems. You don’t have to be a best seller. You don’t have to share with the world if you don’t want to…but you do have the ability to use your words in a way that’s positive and reaffirming. Not only to others but also to yourself. So that’s kind of how that whole thing came about.
So how will you Bloom in the next year?
For my overall growth as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, I want to continue to do work that’s fulfilling and uplifting to other women. I’m hoping that I continue to bloom in a way that is selfless and can serve my community.
That looks like more workshops, more self-care sessions, more groundwork, more connectivity off of the Internet. I was just having a conversation with someone and it’s so funny because when people see me in person they freak out. They’re kind of like, “Oh my God, you exist offline?” or “You exist outside of your book?” or “I can see you? I can hug you?” That’s really beautiful to me and I don’t like feeling like I am untouchable.
So the groundwork off of the Internet is what has really been on my heart lately and why I have been loving doing my self-care sessions and workshops because I am able to get in there with people. I am able to sit down with them and have a conversation. I am able to give out hugs. I am able to be present or engaging in a way that I can’t on my blog, through the pages of my book, or through Instagram or Twitter.
We live in such a digital world. I am trying my best to not have that be the only thing that matters. It’s really strange because some people feel that if only they had X amount of Instagram followers, X amount of Twitter followers, or X amount of engagement…while that is kind of the world we live in, it’s so impersonal. It makes room for a lot of assumptions—a lot of wrong assumptions. It makes room for being disconnected. It’s easy to post something and be gone. It’s easy to write a book, publish it, and be gone. But that’s not the kind of work that I signed up for. I really want to get into my community, build communities, and also build sisterhood. I hope that 2017 is full of hands on groundwork with people who want to experience self-care and meet me in person. And I also want to meet them and exchange that energy of like-mindedness.
I love that! In the spirit of personal growth, can you tell me about an obstacle that you’ve overcome?
My greatest obstacle has been overcoming the statistics of being a Black, at the time unwed, single, eighteen year-old mother. I had my daughter when I was eighteen and I knew that I was already a statistic but I knew that I did not want that to be who I was. While I do not advocate at all for teen pregnancy, that was my life and situation. I made opportunity possible for myself through hard work, perseverance, and not falling victim to my circumstance. I came out on the other side as a good role model for my daughter and a voice for other young women who might have children, or young women who might not—for young women in general. Your life isn’t over. You’re not a deadbeat. You don’t have to be those things. I remember people telling me all the time, “Your life is over” or “You have this baby and your life is over.”
--People said that to you?
Oh yeah and remember that this was 2007. While that wasn’t so long ago, it was different than 2016 and a lot of that [talk] was coming from peers and also my family. And not to fault them for that, but that’s what they thought. But I proved them wrong. And [laughs] I proved them wrong because I worked my ass off to be a better human being, mother, and woman. I knew that I could not live the way that I was living. I knew that I did not want my daughter to not be proud of me, so I made it out of that. And that was an obstacle! It was a huge one because it could have gone completely the other way for me.
How were you ultimately able to thrive in that circumstance? Do you have someone that helped you through it?
Once I was about four or five months pregnant with my daughter, my mom and my stepdad really came around. My daughter, Charleigh, became kind of the glue to our family, which is very interesting how that worked out. My mom and my stepdad helped me a lot when she got here. They let us stay with them until we were ready to move out, until we had enough money saved for our own place.
When I was going to school, they were there to help me with daycare. It really does take a village. Once we quiet our egos and are accepting of the choices that other people have made, even if they impact us in some way, acceptance and respect rooted in love really helped along the way for me. I know that I’m super lucky because a lot of people don’t have these support systems. I didn’t think I was going to have them when my daughter got here but I got that support and it really made a difference. It made all the difference.
You talk a lot about being a mother, which is very foreign to me [laughs] but also very inspiring. From where did you get your feminism and how do you plan to pass it on to your daughter?
I know that motherhood definitely has influenced my feminism because I’m a mother to a daughter which is a huge thing to me. As women we have to be the bomb [laughs] and we have to be smart and mindful and respectful of our fellow women and sisters who we share this planet with. But not only that, I get my feminism from the sisterhood that I have with my friends and with strangers! With fellow women who are mothers, not mothers, business owners or not business owners, just different types of women from different walks of life that we all come from has really strengthened my connectedness with other women.
Sitting in my self-care sessions and seeing thirty to fifty women strangers come in and build a bond in two hours [laughs] and build sisterhood and share stories and uplift each other, that reminds me how wonderful and powerful we can be when we work together. A lot of people say that women can’t get along, that we’re catty, we’re this, we’re that, but I have seen completely the opposite. I have taught women from all walks of life. I lead and share my self-care sessions with a woman who is half-Persian and half-White and she does half of the teaching and…it doesn’t matter! It does not matter where we come from or what we look like because in those moments we are all the same and we can all lean on each other and that really just blows my mind.
Recently, you posted about your daughter getting bullied and your experience teaching her the “I Am” exercise. Can you explain what you were feeling in that moment when your daughter came to you and how you were able to coach her through a self-care practice?
She actually called me on the phone and she was worked up. She’s a firecracker anyways, so I couldn’t tell if she was worked up in a good way or about to burst into tears. It was the second one. She was saying, “Momma, I was being bullied on the bus.” Charleigh is sensitive. And while I believe what she says, I have to make sure that I’m asking the right questions. She’s very nice and very sweet and sometimes when people are not very nice and very sweet to her, it can shatter her world. I have to make sure that as a parent, I am asking the right questions so she can communicate what happened, how it happened, and how it made her feel. So she was telling me, “I was being teased about being Black and I don’t understand.” And she started crying. And this is the second time that this has happened to her.
What grade is she in?
She’s in third grade and it happened once in second grade. She goes to a predominantly White school. There is so much self-hatred rooted in our culture sometimes surrounding our different backgrounds. It’s just tough. And she really got emotional and kept saying, “I don’t know why he was teasing me.” So I reminded her that it’s okay to be sad but you know who you are. She said, “I know.” But I had to be a little tough on her now. I said, “You are beautiful inside and out and the color of your skin is beautiful.” She said, “I know. I know. Momma, I know.” So I said, “Okay. People are going to tease you. That’s how this life works, unfortunately. People used to tease Momma…it’s not nice, it’s not cool, it’s not fun. But it’s gonna to happen and we have to make sure that we know who we are and that we remember who we are.”
We had that talk. Then my husband also talked to her when he got home. The next day she was okay, but opted out of riding the bus which was okay. Then Friday, she was okay and I didn’t want to keep making a big deal out of it because this wasn’t going to be the last time that it would happen. I did want to make sure though that once the dust settled, that her little feelings had started to repair themselves and that she remembered her core values as a young woman and as a young, Black woman…and she’s 9! So of course, she’s still learning and doesn’t understand the language as far as racism and colorism and sexism goes. But it’s my job to make sure that she remembers who she is regardless. Even if she’s the one that is the aggressor one day, I don’t think that will happen because she’s the sweetest little thing ever, but God forbid she’s the aggressor and we have to reel her in and remind her, “You’re kind. You’re nice. You’re helpful.” You know what I mean?
It wasn’t just about that she was being teased for being Black; it was way more than that. This was a lesson of life because this isn’t going to be the only time that something is going to be uncomfortable and hurtful for her. It was a lesson to remind her of who she is, through the good and through the bad and I think that made sense to her. In the video, I wanted to share that piece of her looking in the mirror and sharing her affirmations to herself because not only is that important for other parents to see, other mothers who have daughters and people in general, but there’s this stigma that comes along with Black motherhood that we can be aggressive or unable to nurture.
These are things that aren’t always true to all of us. They are not specific to every Black mother and I really wanted to redefine what Black motherhood looks like in a way that makes sense for my daughter and me. I wasn’t raised in the way that my daughter is being raised by me. I don’t think a lot of us were. I don’t think a lot of kids of color were raised in the way that I am raising Charleigh and I think that we are becoming the change in our culture and in our community to do it a little bit differently. I don’t parent aggressively and violently because I don’t want to. That’s not how I was raised and I’m removing that stigma. I want to remove that stigma that Black parenting is harsh and unloving. That’s a little bit of why I shared that video because a lot of parents, Black or not, would say, “Suck it up. Be a man…” But they’re kids! They’re kids. They can’t always suck it up.
You recently wrote a blog post that spoke to me about ‘wife weight’ and learning to love your body despite all of its changes. how did you get to a place where not only you love yourself but also the body that you’re in?
I’m still working through it! I’m still working through it. I’m used to being a size 4. I’m used to being 120 pounds so to be what my weight is now…it is so stupid! When I say it out loud, I am like this is dumb! This is not healthy! And my humanness is shining through now. [laughs] I have to remind myself that this body has carried a baby. This body will carry more babies. This body will carry me through day to day. I need to be grateful.
There are people who wish that they were in good health. They wish that they could walk on two feet. And that has been checking me lately. I’m still human at the end of the day but what’s really been checking me is telling myself, “If you want to change something then change it! Don’t keep ripping yourself apart every time you look in the mirror. Stop getting on the scale. “ That is such a insult to who I am. I’m not unhealthy. I am as active as I want to be but I need to relax. What has been reeling me in and really helping me to love this body is knowing that there are people who would kill for this body. I have all of my limbs. I can see...with contacts. I can hear. There are so many things that are good about this body that I need to realize and not be stuck on what I don’t like. I need to be grateful for what I have and that has been helping me. It’s a work in progress. My mother-in-law says that you have to “walk through it.” And that’s what I’m doing.
can you summarize three keys to achieving self-care?
Yeah I can try! To start, self-care to me means filling yourself up so you can pour into others. That’s my definition of self-care. The key points to exploring self-care healthily are finding a therapist, making time for alone time, and journaling. People ask me all the time, “How do I journal? How do I begin the process?” You don’t have to write pages to journal. You can write the little affirmations, your wants, your desires, or your needs. You can write, “I don’t feel like journaling today.” You know what I mean? Just keeping in tune with feelings and seeing them on paper, I’m a huge advocate for that.
Tell me about a time where you did something out of the ordinary.
Oh man! So a couple of weeks ago, I got in the car, drove out to rural Maryland somewhere, rented a tiny house, and finished my third book. [Laughs] I was scared to death because I was in the middle of the woods texting my husband scared. But it was crazy! The funny part is that I came home a day early because I was so scared being out there by myself! But I’m glad that I went because it was out of the ordinary.
First off, I’ve been with Ryan for four years now, so my comfort zone is having him every step of the way with me. Even if he was just there on the couch not saying anything, I would have been comfortable and fine. But he wasn’t [there], it was super quiet, I was in the dead of the forest, and there were little animals outside scurrying. I was terrified but I got most of my third book done and I was really proud of myself! I was terrified, proud, and I wasn’t with anybody! I barely had service and the Wi-Fi was janky so I really had to be by myself in the middle of nowhere. It was beautiful.
You’re a mother, published author, self-care advocate, and an entrepreneur! How did you launch your skin care line?
So the skincare line was Charleigh’s idea and it started as just lip balm which is how we got the name Balm & Co. Me being the entrepreneur that I am, I was like lip balms are cute but I’m also passionate about skincare, holistic healing, herbs, and herbalism. I make things for us anyways so why not try this!
When I was in college, I took an entrepreneurship class. My first business ever came from that class, which was a body and hair care line back when I was 19. It did really well initially but I eventually had to close the doors. It was nice to reintroduce Balm & Co. with a fresh pair of eyes. It was also nice to jump and start Balm & Co. with Charleigh to show her how to use her hands and pick ingredients.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who just starting?
I would say do as much research as you can and take some business courses even if you’re not getting your degree, just take some classes to enrich your knowledge. Be as practical as you can. Make things make sense for what you’re doing. Do your research. See what competitors are out there and what the market needs. Start small. We are actually scaling back Balm & Co. to make sure that we are selling the right products since our entire inventory is made by hand. So my advice in sum is to start small, do your research, and don’t be scared to mess up!
Lastly, what would you like to be remembered for?
Oh wow! I would like to be remembered for encouraging people to go for it and to be secure in who they are in their life walk.