Interview: Dr. Z talks with Kirsten Imani Kasai about midlife, passion, and being a rebel {Part 2}

Kirsten Imani Kasai Making the macabre beautiful, one story at a time. Author of The House of Erzulie.

Instagram: @Mehetebelly
Twitter: @KirstenIKasai

Dr. Z sat down with Kirsten Imani Kasai who is a 50+ rebel, beloved teacher, author, and creative. We discussed Kirsten’s journey to midlife, her passions, and being a rebel. Read Part 2 of the interview to get inspired.

Michelle: You mentioned authenticity has helped you to live your best life. You asked yourself the question “what’s the story I’m going to tell” because everyone else has been telling my story and now it’s my turn.

What are some other ways you’ve gotten through the challenges?

Kirsten: I think being a parent. It’s really significant for me because I very much embody maternal energy and I’m a nurturer. I’m cognizant of wanting to give my children a safer journey, to launch them in a way they can actually go into the world and not be dragging a ton of clunky baggage.
But when I get really low, well, I can’t leave. I have children. I don’t want to inhabit this part of myself in front of them. So trying to be a role model and be present for them is really center. My children that holds me steady and everything else rotates around.

Michelle: Grounded? This is probably a reason that our children have continued our legacy. Sophie [Kirsten’s daughter] is the first Black American woman on TV in Japan. That’s huge. You made this happen.

I mean, if she was raised in another way without a strong woman or without a mother who came forward and said, “this is who I am,” it would have fucked it up, right?

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s really interesting. I’ve had this repeating discussion over the years about my parenting style and running into conflict about it with people who’ve come from more authoritarian backgrounds, “oh, you’re too easy. You’re too soft.” And the “why do you let your kids get away with this,” My kids are like, “you’re the most lenient of all my friends,” but my kids are also the ones that really don’t get into trouble. They’re not out rabble-rousing; they’re not like breaking into the liquor cabinet. All the stuff that I was doing.

Michelle: Because you were raised around church and God…

Kirsten: I want them to have a sense of like, I wanted to raise intact people.

“I think so many children get their spirits broken and that’s part of parenting, I’m going to break you. Like you would break a wild horse to make you, obedient, and then you have broken people in the world and that serves no one.”

I think so many children get their spirits broken and that’s part of parenting, I’m going to break you. Like you would break a wild horse to make you, obedient, and then you have broken people in the world and that serves no one. You know, it’s very hurtful. So my goal was to try to raise unbroken people in the best way that I could certainly they didn’t escape unscathed.

But I realized talking about parenting with some of my friends that have kids “Are your kids home a lot?” ” Yeah.” It’s weird. It’s actually a good thing. I just figured it out. It means they, like us. They’re not trying to run away. We’re like, “oh my gosh!”

Michelle: What do you wish you would’ve known starting your business or your profession?
when you were younger, when you first started,

Kirsten: I wish
I would’ve had a clearer sense of what I wanted because it just was all over the place, trying to figure it out. If I’d had a clearer sense of goals or a better sense of like, okay, you don’t feel like you want to finish college right now, but just stay there and do it. I didn’t have anybody corralling me. This is on my own. So, if I could go back, I would have stayed in school and got my degree.

My path has been very slow. I’m doing my PhD now. In my Fifties.

Michelle: Yes. Join the group

Kirsten: because you inspire me to take that leap.

Michelle: I’m so excited.

Kirsten: I wish I understood more about my goals. I wish that I had had more faith in myself,

Michelle: but don’t you think both of those things are about not having a clear identity, about pretending, about fulfilling roles, about not having mentors…

Yeah, because I really didn’t have that at all. I mean, my mom is a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t finish her college. She kowtowed to my dad. I have no, you know, and I was the oldest. I had no idea. I just was so pissed off at the world.

So this is what I need to do. I need to go get my degree and get my master’s and become an R D and then get a job and stay there. And thank God it worked out because UCSD, now I have, you know, benefits and all these other things, and it was a, it was a great job, but…awesome. God blessed that job.

You know what I’m saying? So if you’re alone, you don’t know who you are. You’ve been told that you don’t know who you are…

“You can’t focus on your higher ideals when you’re trying to get your head together and figure out how to survive”. Kirsten Imani Kasai

Kirsten: Yeah. If you don’t have any sort of supporter and you are processing trauma, that takes all your energy, it’s like Maslow’s hierarchy. You can’t focus on your higher ideals when you’re trying to get your head together and figure out how to survive.

Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easy to look back now and say, God, invest in property and finish your schooling. But at the time I wasn’t able, I wasn’t spiritually developed enough I did the best I could at the time.

Michelle: You put food on the table, you know, like me. A roof over my head and my children’s heads. That’s–

Kirsten: Spending two years taking care of my brother and my dying mom. It’s basically off and on. Leaving home and then coming back and Denver dying and just being like goodbye, everyone. Why the hell was I on my own I think about, my kids and my niece, oh, my God, that’s so young, such a young age.

And so I have a lot of compassion for myself and now I just think, okay, now, you know, right. Finish your degree and buy property.


Michelle: Okay, this is just the beginning of the age. Seriously. this is this, like the fork in the road where you’re like, well, this is what life has dealt me. This is how I’m going to continue on blah, blah, blah. Or I’m going to continue to learn and just get my PhD. I’m going to buy property.

I’m going to do what I want to do. This is who I am. And that’s, you know, that’s what this is all about. Yeah. I get so geeked out about it.

What’s next for you in terms of your business or how you want to move your story ahead or how you want to help other people? What do you think is next for you?

Kirsten: Well, on a very practical level, I’m looking for a full-time teaching job. I would really like to have some financial security for once. I am very excited about the work that I’m doing in the PhD. I have a couple of books, projects that I pitched to my agent and hopefully, those again, are picked up.

I think about valuing myself more and what I can offer. You know, maybe I should just bite the bullet and start creating my own classes and offerings, rather than looking to plug into something. Why not create it, you know, and raise my prices.

Michelle: Yes. Hell to the yes, because even just that workshop that you talk about, how do women sell themselves? So how can they promote themselves? How can they market themselves?

If you start your own courses and offerings, then you get to tell the story that only you can and you don’t get institutions telling you what you should be doing and how you should be doing it.

During this Representation Rebellion journey, I’ve gotten lost in all the things I’ve wanted to do like save the world. Now I know what I want, and one of those things is to help others find their voice and story and help support them. That I can do. I mean, what you are saying is also aligned with starting to monetize Representation Rebellion.

I know I influence, you know, a small circle of women and people have influenced me. Right. I just can’t wait to see the ripple, the ripple effect.

Kirsten: I want to see you have bigger audiences because every time I do a project with you, I get something out of it. I learn I’m inspired and motivated. It shifts my thinking.

And I just want to see you at Ted Talk level.

Michelle: You got it. So that’s the next for me, but anyway, we talked a little bit about what you would want people to know, or to get what you would want out of this interview or this project.

Kirsten: What is there to choose from?

Michelle: It’s a charcuterie of choice. I mean, it doesn’t have to be specific, but I just, part of this is, is telling your story, but also how do you want to market yourself? How do you want to put yourself out there? How do you want people to respond?

Kirsten: Well, I’m, I’m very focused on helping people tell meaningful stories.

I work a lot with writers at all stages of their careers. I’ve worked from high schoolers through seniors and I’ve really enjoyed the work that I’ve done with a few private clients to sort of serve as a book coach. I’d love to be a sounding board, help them guide them through their process, and create more structure in their project. So I am looking at opening that up a little bit more. So that’ll be exciting. I haven’t really done that, openly before, again, thinking about, why not just do my own, run my own workshops. and not being afraid to monetize my skills.

Michelle: Yeah. This one, I think is a huge issue that Nicole [RR’s Chief Operating Officer] and I, and you and our work, what are we worth? Why aren’t we charging–

Kirsten: There comes a point where you say, no, I’m not going to work for free. When we were in our metaphysical group together, that was one of the, the lessons.

Was it enough to say no to the universe over and over? It’s going to keep like offering you the same thing, right? It’s like a waiter coming around like did you want fries? No. Thank you. And when you say yes, they’re like, okay, give them some more, right. You were saying, yes, I accepted it. It’s okay. So you have to keep saying no to get the message out.

She doesn’t want to do this anymore. Let’s try something different. that’s hard because fear propels us to say, yes,

Michelle: Like, there’s not enough to go around, so I have to say yes to be seen. I think it might lead to something, something more. But it usually leads to more of the same, either offering things for free or below our value.

“You make yourself small and it feels safe to you, but you’re indicating submission to the rest of the world, which gives people permission to basically attack you.”-Kirsten Imani Kasai

Kirsten: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. So I think boundaries are huge and being able to assess our own worth. I was talking with my therapist the other day and we were talking about poverty mentality. And worth. She said, you know, it’s, it’s really easy to make yourself small. You make yourself small and it feels safe to you, but you’re indicating submission to the rest of the world, which gives people permission to basically attack you.

I was like, oh, it’s just like, when they get big, you have to also get big or bigger. And that seems very scary and masculine to me and gross. But, on the other hand, I’m like, fuck that, I can be big.

Michelle: It’s exactly what we talked about you know, healthy ways of dealing with rage and a healthy way of doing that is to stand up and to be big and to be strong.

I don’t give a flying fuck if someone thinks I’m too masculine. Or who does she think she is? You know, I’ll tell you who I am, even physically making myself bigger. I’m developing workshops around rage and having women tapping into their rage, writing about rage, changing their stories, and working with their rage. Rage is one of the reasons I’m here with Representation Rebellion.

Kirsten: And be vocal about it, too.

I really believe that so much in the world could change if we just called men out on our shit when it happens. All of these crimes perpetrated against us is because of shame and silence. If somebody does something to us, right there is the instinctual response to freeze.

What If we all stand up and be like “what are you doing?” and make a big public scene. I saw this great TikTok of this woman who was walking down the street past this guy walking the opposite way. He said something like “look at that ass!” and smacked it. She whipped around with fury in her eyes, hauled off with a right hook to his head, and he went down! Let’s all be that. Righteous fury for each other and for ourselves.

Michelle: For sure. For sure.

So, this is the last question what is your favorite business or organization or charity that you support during the holidays or otherwise?

Well, I try to always get to the Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Federation.

I like the organizations where you can buy a goat for a family, and I like the way that those appeals are structured so that it’s not just, just send us money, but here’s how you can actually be assigned to helping somebody.

And American Civil Liberation Union…

Michelle: Are there any local shops or women-owned businesses or black-owned businesses?

Kirsten: I try to buy from people I know as well. I came into some money when we sold our house and I’ve been wanting to buy some art from an artist that I knew.

Michelle: Oh, my

Kirsten: God. I called her and I went over and I toured her studio and it was so exciting. And I just loved being able to know that value, you know, say I value what you do.

Right. And now I’ve got this artwork in my house. And so, you know, trying to support people individually is huge. Even if it’s just showing. Yeah. Promoting what they’re working on. Yeah. I’m making money, right? So with your dollars, you can vote with your beliefs.

Michelle: It can be done with this because I want to talk about unless there’s something else we’re done.

Thank you very much.

Kirsten: Thanks for having me.

Kirsten Imani Kasai Making the macabre beautiful, one story at a time. Author of The House of Erzulie.

Instagram: @Mehetebelly
Twitter: @KirstenIKasai

Post Script:

A big shout out to Kirsten for her authenticity and vulnerability, and to Nicole Desiree for being crucial to getting this discussion on paper and out to all the readers.