Wishcasting Wednesday: What Do I Wish To Reflect On?

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today Jamie is asking “What Do You Wish To Reflect On?

At first I pulled away from this Wishcasting prompt. I spend too much time in my head – a pattern that I am trying to change. After a few moments, I realized that “reflecting on” something was in fact about moving thoughts out of my mind as well as reflecting from the external world back into my thoughts and spirit.

The image of light bouncing off reflective surfaces was very strong. I began to think of patterns of thought/action/being where a change of direction would be useful. In this light (no pun intended), I would like to reflect back to myself more of the forgiveness, gentleness, and understanding that I offer to other. I wish to reflect on myself the same gentleness that I shine on others.

I considered how reflections in water can magnify the beauty of a that which is reflected. I wish to reflect onto my spirit greater celebrations of the simple joys, the moments of happiness, the bliss of ordinary miracles.

I considered where I could be more thoughtful and take time to reflect more deeply. I need to listen more closely to my desires, both great and small. I wish to show my spirit great respect by learning to have and to express desires and dreams.

What do you wish to reflect on?

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Wishcasting Wednesday: What do I wish to become?

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today Jamie asks “What do you wish to become?

Once again the timing is impeccable. I have been doing some work that involves getting in touch with your archetypes and superhero selves. I described the mix of traits to friends and ask for suggestions of someone who embodies those traits. A friend suggested Nanny Ogg from Terry Pratchett’s, DiscWorld series. I am reading Equal Rites now.  In thinking about who I wish to become, here are some of pieces of my puzzle:

  • an activist for a more inclusive and sustainable world
  • a midwife/doula for the work of other world changers
  • as fit and healthy as possible
  • a person who infects others with joyfulness
  • a storyteller and weaver of empowerment webs
  • more playful and colorful
  • more spirited and spirit filled

So who do you wish to become?

Wishcasting Wednesday: What do you wish for your home?

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today Jamie asks a question that is very timely for me. She asks “What do you wish for your home?” This feels especially timely given that: (1) I am sifting, sorting, packing things in preparation for an unknown type of move to an unknown location with several continents being possible landing places. The next place I hang my hat, may be a short-term location or not.  I am spending a good deal of time and energy trying to figure out what is important to me and what I want to release rather than move to a future version of my home/pay to store. (2) I received an email from my landlord saying that the realtor who has the contract for the building where I live wanted to show my apartment this morning. Given that the email arrived after 10 pm, I have to be at work at 8 am and the showing is at 11 am it left me feeling rather invaded. Strangers in my space bother me a great deal and I feel an odd obligation to make my place as showable as possible.  I gave up sleep to try and make things less messy. The space is small and with the packing, sorting process it seemed very chaotic.

Here are a few things I wish for my home?

  • Places to organize and store the tools and equipment for the things I enjoy.
  • A designated sacred space for meditation and ritual.
  • A place that I can make my own – after a life of renting, I am sick of white walls.
  • A place that allows me to connect with nature – at a minimum a deck for container gardening and a place to have a bird feeder.
  • A place that I can share with friends and guests.
  • Comfortable and functional spaces for doing the things I enjoy. I am rather tired of my best work space being sitting on my bed.
  • A place that is accessible to friends with mobility issues.
  • A place where I feel settled even if I am only settled for a short time.

My ideal home is a web of locations. It is a home based where I live communally with like-minded folks. Preferably that would be in the Madison area. From that location I would spend part of my time working short-term contracts overseas, a few weeks a year each in Orlando and Oklahoma in a home that has wheels.

Dream a little dream

I have been thinking a great deal about how I want my life to look a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, etc. In my search for possible positions for after my AmeriCorps position ends this summer, I came across this site and suddenly the ideas started to seem a great deal more possible. The ten year plan is that I would be part of a communal or cooperative earth-focused living arrangement such as Meadowsong EcoVillage though ideally this home would be much, much closer to Madison. This community would serve as home base from which I would travel for disaster response work and short-term consultancies for NGO working in the areas of poverty reduction, gender issues, social justice and environmental causes. Between time abroad and on deployment, I would work on similar issues as a consultant, writer, and/or volunteer closer to home.

The question is, “how to I make that happen?” I have the skills necessary for monitoring and evaluation contracts but not the experience requested. I have been watching for a mid-career position abroad that would help me get that experience but so far most positions require 3-5 years of NGO M&E experience on USAID funded projects which I do not have.  I need network ties that could offset this lack — I need to think about how I might cultivate those. I also need to accept that I might need to live in DC, NYC, or Atlanta for a couple of years.

I need to work on a writing practice and quality content that I can get out there.

I need to keep downsizing and decluttering.

I need to be better informed about international humanitarian affairs.

 

Was that an explosion? I wonder if the meeting will be canceled.

Reading FB and twitter posts from people in Kabul has a surreal quality this morning (morning US time that is). Posts on Facebook from those whom I know personally and tweets from others posting on twitter are a mix of references to the chaos of the start of the spring offensive by the Taliban (or acts of Pakistani agitators or even a plot by the Russians depending on whom you believe) and everyday activities that pass for “normal” in Kabul.  Single comments and threads include references to both rockets/gunfire/explosions/bodies and the ways that “normal” life continues (e.g., students finishing exams; work on projects that continue despite distractions and difficulty concentrating, how meetings might be affected).

These posts are evidence of how different life is here and there. I wasn’t able to explain this pattern to folks back here when I was in Kabul anymore than I can explain it looking back at Kabul from here. I keep hoping that I will eventually be able to pull together a bunch of thoughts I have related to this and what freedom of thinking and security mean. My time first in Kabul and now as an AmeriCorps member has caused me to view security and freedom of thought in an entirely new way.

Wishcasting Wednesday: What do I wish to rise above?

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios. Today Jamie asks “What do you wish to rise above?”  

I didn’t have an immediate answer to this question. As I sat thinking about it the image of a pied-billed grebe running across the surface of the water to take off came to mind.  (This is an amazing photo by Jessica Yarnell and you can see more of her work on her blog. Pied-billed grebes are one of my favorite birds. I imagined them trying to take off with weights tied to their feet. It wouldn’t work at all.

2012 has been a year filled with learning and connecting. These first three months have been filled with the whispers of places I could soar. Unfortunately, I am trying to lift off with weights tied around my feet. The two heaviest are fatigue/exhaustion and lack of confidence.

My wish is to rise above these so that I can live the life of which I am dreaming. I don’t need to soar immediately but I need to rise just enough so that I  can more effectively work on cutting the ropes that bind these hinderances to me.

Exploring Possibilities (Part I)

As I mentioned in my last post, it is time for me to get serious about discovering the foundation for the next chapter in my life. I will finish my AmeriCorps year in about 3 months.

I spent sometime today thinking about things I enjoy. Not sure yet how these will relate to work but here is a partial list of skills I have that I enjoy using:

  • learning new things especially things that are useful;
  • synthesizing large amounts of information quickly and distilling the key points;
  • finding and fostering connections whether they are between ideas, people, or bits of information;
  • creating meaningful and rewarding experiences for others;
  • helping others learn, become more empowered, and work toward their goals;
  • problem solving, thinking strategically and/or analytically, and planning;
  • working with groups and/or as part of a team especially in roles that involve helping groups/individuals with differing views find common ground and creating a sense of shared purpose;
  •  working with both the big picture and details;
  • finding meaning in numerical information and being able to convey that information to those who don’t think quantitatively;
  • using technology effectively to achieve goals;
  • presenting information in a variety of formats including public speaking to large groups and guiding discussions;
  • being calm and fostering calmness in high pressure and emergency situations.

 

Not sure what job would allow me to do most of these things but at least it gives me a starting place for evaluating options.

My Journey to Serve

I am not sure exactly when or how my desire to work for the greater good started. I grew up in a small town in the 70s and 80s and the role models for what girl from a poor family could be were pretty limited even if she was a really good student. I do remember that one of my middle school dream jobs was to be a photojournalist so that I could tell the story of those who needed help. In high school I dreamed of getting a public relations degree so that I could work for nonprofits and educational campaigns. Sadly following those dreams were beyond the resources I had available to me at the time.

I finished high school living in my own apartment. I managed to find the means to enroll in a junior college. I remember very clearly my thoughts when I was asked to declare a major. I mentally ticked off the three things that I thought were options: nursing, teaching, and accounting. Nursing was not an option. Though my family has several health care workers, I do not have that interest, personality, or set of strengths for that work. At that point teaching was not an option as I was terrified of speaking to groups. That left accounting though I am not sure why it was on the list of possibilities.

After a year, I transferred to a regional university and continued my journey toward a CPA license. I quickly realized this was not the path for me. I looked at my transcripts, the university catalog, and what I saw as possibilities in small towns in western Oklahoma and tried to find the most efficient path forward. Efficiency was important because I was never sure how long I would be able to attend college. I settled on an office management major with a criminal justice minor thinking that I could find work as a legal assistant.  I was active in the Jaycees, worked either a full-time job or a combination of part-time jobs including one at a battered women’s shelter. Through Jaycees I was battling my fear of public speaking by entering speech competitions and failing miserably. I was dreaming small and focusing most on making ends meet each month.

The day I walked into Mr. David Wright’s Introductory Sociology class everything changed. The curtain fell away and an amazing world opened to me. A world so much bigger than my experience had ever suggested. I eventually overcame a fear of statistics to change my major to a double degree program in sociology and office management. With Mr. Wright as my advisor and mentor, I learned to dream bigger, to believe in myself more, and to embrace my desire to work for the greater good. One aspect of this journey was participating in a group that he co-led that worked with men serving life prison sentences.  Actually having the means to finish my degrees began to look like a possibility and then a probability. As the first person in my family to go to college, graduate school was not part of my plans . . . yet.

With a great deal of encouragement from my professors at SWOSU, I decided to try and earn a master’s degree. The goal was to find work helping to reform the very broken prison system from the inside.  I kept poking at my public speaking fear until one day I won that battle. I started to dream of living in Oklahoma City and working for the Department of Corrections. Having traveled outside the state of Oklahoma any further than one trip to Dallas, it didn’t yet occur to me that I might go further than OKC in life.

More gentle prodding from those who saw more in my than I saw in myself, and I found myself accepted into graduate school in Louisiana. In graduate school my world kept expanding. I discovered a talent for teaching. I saw the possibility of working for the greater good by giving to others what Mr. Wright and my other professors had give to me – a new view of the world and a new belief in myself.  With this plan I headed off on a path to earn not just a master’s degree but a doctorate. I am lucky in that I am good at learning, at quantitative research, and thinking theoretically. That led to mentors and others having big plans for me. I embraced those plans even though they pulled me from my true passion of working for the greater good. The goal became the academic holy grail of a tenure track position and then tenure at a research university.

Fast forward 16 years of  trying to fit my heart’s calling into the nooks and crannies of an all encompassing career in higher education as a faculty member and then administrator. I did far more than my share of university service. I tried to work one national disaster relief operation each summer. I served my local Red Cross chapter. I served as faculty advisor to student groups. I tried to convince myself that I was doing enough but it didn’t feel like I was telling myself the truth. The comfortable life that was unfolding felt like I was selling my true self short.

One afternoon in Mid-May, I saw a position announcement for an administrative job at a university in Afghanistan. I joked to friends about the idea of applying. I didn’t mean it . . . at least not at first. Somehow the idea took root and I applied never dreaming they would take me seriously. The beginning of August found me in Kabul.

I spent a year in Afghanistan. During that time, the inner voice that calls me to service grew too loud to ignore. That voice was inspired by the sight of little boys not more than four drinking out of puddles on the street that were contaminated with animal and human waste, pollution, and all manner of germs and parasites. It grew louder, each time I looked into the faces of the young women in my statistics and human resource management courses. I worried for what the future would hold for them when the international forces leave the region. I watched the light in their faces grow as they learned and spent time with those who believed they could do great things with their lives. I saw the strength, the resolve, the courage, and the goodness in a people that many seek to demonize.

The bubble in which I lived and worked in Kabul became too constricting, though the intentions were good, I worried that we (the collective international we) were doing more harm than good. Higher education continued to feel too constraining.  I could no longer deny my greatest motivation and desire — my soul’s calling to be of service. Not service from a distance and removed from a university campus but a life spent directly dedicating myself to empowering people, to building community, to working for a safer, saner, more just, and more resilient world for the many not the few.  The big question was how to go about making this transition. Applying for jobs from Kabul was not really feasible. While back in the US for a vacation, the universe offered me a way to start the transition in the form of an AmeriCorps year of service.

Spring 2012 finds me nearing the completion of my year of service and exploring the next step on my path. My goal is a position that allows me to use my skills and talents (i.e., strategic, problem solving and analytical thinking; helping those with differing views find common ground weaving web of cooperation; synthesizing large amounts of information quickly; being really good under pressure and creating calmness in the midst of chaos and crisis; teaching; communicating in many forms; turning numbers into actionable information; asking the question that moves the conversation forward and/or gets to the root of the matter; and learning new things quickly) to work for the greater good while still taking care of myself and keeping Sallie Mae happy by making my student loan payments.

I am a product of Head Start, of public schools and universities, social security survivor benefits, the student loan and of the AmeriCorps programs, and a caring village of my childhood and a web of friends and allies in my adulthood. My definition of success may not look like those of the majority. My path may be unusual and it may grow more unusual but I think the tax dollars invested in me have been a pretty good deal for the American public. It is time to start working even harder to be sure that programs that giving others similar opportunities continue to exist.

It has been a long trip from a small town girl in Oklahoma who wanted safety and security more than anything to a woman who is willing to consider long- and short-term adventures in service pretty much anywhere in the world. So my answer to Mary Oliver’s question “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is that I plan to serve, to empower others at every opportunity, to never stop learning, to believe in that safer, more just, and more resilient world and to never stop doing what I can to help create that world.

Here is one of the faces that fuel my desire to serve.

A small rant

Dear Lawmakers (and voters),

In case you haven’t noticed this country (and the world) face some pretty big challenges. Our infrastructure is in need of attention. Our educational system makes less sense all the time and we fall further and further behind other countries in educating our youth. I can tell you first hand that it is not preparing most students for college. It is not offering meaningful opportunities to those who have disabilities.

People are struggling to make ends meet. Today’s young people will be lucky to maintain the same quality of life as their parents had.  Businesses and homes in many parts of the country sit empty and falling into disrepair. It is time for programs that create alternatives that work for individuals and our communities.

The environment is reaching (if it hasn’t already passed) the tipping point. Divisiveness and intolerance are growing in our wonderfully multifaceted society (remember our diversity gives us strength).  We need to move beyond narrow thinking that keeps us in silos where we fear or hate those in other silos and start remembering that we are all part of an amazing web of life that includes more than just humans who we define as being like ourselves.

Please stop trying to legislate what women do with their bodies. Unless you have been to medical school and know all the details of the case, stop trying to decide what constitutes appropriate medical treatment. Stop wasting your money and time and setting up huge drains of time and money for investigators and prosecutors. Stop pretending that laws you pass will be evenly applied. This is especially an attack on poorer women who can’t afford to travel for what they need, who don’t have insurance for the extra costs you are creating, who have private doctors who can use creative language to get the treatment they need for their patients. The money you are wasting could be better used fighting and preventing disease.

If you want to protect food safety, stop focusing on what people grow in their backyard and the farmer down the road who has a cow and some raw milk to sell. Instead focus on the corporations that are pumping things never meant to be part of the food supply into the food chain and our bodies (e.g, pink slime, GMOs). If you won’t stop them at least insist that foods are labeled so those of us that do care can make informed decisions.

While you are at it let’s stop wasting time and money prosecuting and locking people away for the stuff that doesn’t matter (e.g., personal use of marijuana). Incarcerating people for offenses where the only possible victim is the one being prosecuted is expensive and is unlikely to keep future offenses from happening. Let’s decriminalize the things that don’t really hurt society and use at least part of the savings to deal with the underlying conditions that lead to those behaviors that are problematic.

We need a culture that encourages and supports being curious and of service to one another. We need to stop ridiculing and even demonizing intellect. Their are many expressions of  intelligence and we should celebrate and honor those who are intelligent and wise.

We need role models who teach our children to be strong and hopeful and truly ethical. A flag on your lapel tells me nothing about your character so let’s stop pretending that it does.  Attacking the other candidate in campaign ads doesn’t show me you have intelligence or leadership traits; any second grader on a playground can hurl insults.

We need leaders (and voters) who think boldly about the future. Though it would be a start to think about the future at all. We need to remember who we are and who we can be.  We need to demand the best from ourselves and our leaders.  We need to move beyond the soundbite and the easy targets/scapegoats to work on real solutions. So please just stop with the attacks on women and minorities and the poor and those who simply think or look different than you.  Remember that holding office should be about leading, about being of service, about making a difference for those you represent, about being a role model.

If leading is not your thing, then follow fiercely. Make your voice heard and expect the best for our future from our leaders and don’t settle for less. Vote not just with ballots but with your hard earned dollars and with your voice. Why not talk about ideas with as much passion as we talk about the lates reality show. Remember that we all lead from whatever position we hold. You are a role model even though you may not realize it. So be the kind of leader you would want to be your leader.

My dream life

This is a variation of a post I made elsewhere about 9 ‘months ago. At that time the subject line was “If Money Was No Object.” The list seems much more attainable now than it did when I originally wrote it phrased as “I would if . . . even though there is far less money in my life than in the past.

  • I split my time between various locations (Madison and Orlando being the two with a possible location on the West Coast and in Austin)(this one is the biggest stretch financially)
  • I live communally in one or more of those locations
  • I serve to the greater good by working with and for non-profit groups and other social change agents to provide services with special projects (research, writing grant proposals, report preparation especially as it relates to presenting quantitative data, or re-organization/system creation)  and by helping leaders, staff, and volunteers develop tools to achieve more with less effort and fewer sticky points and stumbling blocks
  • I seek opportunities to foster connections among ideas, individuals, causes and rejoice in a role as a bridge and catalyst
  • I stay involved in teaching through adjunct or online teaching or through developing materials for courses
  • I regularly  pursue more training related to life coaching/mediation/group facilitation and work toward a practice in this area
  • I am actively involved in the local foods/sustainable local economies movements
  •  I contribute to magazines and such regarding things I value (gardening, local foods, transition towns, small town/backroads travel treasures)
  • I seek ways to encourage people to see beyond their perceived limits and find a way to do the things they want despite obstacles or limitations (for example, writing reviews of nature related places that are manageable for those who have mobility limitations)
  • I  am part of an ongoing goddess spirituality group/circle that studies and celebrates together on a regular basis
  • I actively work on improving my skills as a photographer and at least occasionally enter shows/contests or sell an image
  • I am active in disaster preparedness and recovery activities
  • I have my HAM license
  • I support causes that celebrate healthy loving relationships and families in all the forms they take
  • I invite and welcome love into my life in all its glorious manifestations
  • I live mindfully and with intent
  • I am politically active
  • I regularly wander in the woods, explore wild places, and spend time camping
  •  I make my health and well-being my number one priority
  • I seek adventures great and small and find ways to share those experiences with others
  • I create even if my creations fall far short of art (this especially in the areas of fiber arts)
  • I write poetry
  • I  take classes and learn new things for the pleasure of doing so
  • I no longer try to fade into the scenery and now embrace my quirkiness/geekhood/uppity middle-aged fat woman self (this one is still a struggle for me)

The list above gives you some idea of the places this blog may be headed though it by no means suggests all the territory that this journey might cover.

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