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.

Wishcasting Wednesday: What do you wish would spring into your life?

Each week Jamie Ridler hosts a magic circle known as Wishcasting Wednesday. This week she asks, “What do you wish would spring into your life?

The answer to this one is easy for me. I wish for spring to bring a blossoming of energy in my life. There are so many things I want to be accomplishing but find that exhaustion is getting in the way.

After I returned from Afghanistan last summer, I worked Hurricane Relief operations in New York and logged more than 300 hours in 24 days. The combination of the culture shock of returning to the US and the disaster relief operations left me exhausted. Nothing I have done seems to have cleared away the fatigue.  Thus I wish for energy. Energy to build my business, to work on writing, to learn new things, to give more to the world, and to celebrate the changing seasons.

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.

Wishcasting Wednesday: What do I wish for my future?

Sometimes the universe thumps you on the head, sometimes it provides wind to fill your sails and speed you toward your desired destination, and sometimes it asks you to answer the hard questions. This morning it is doing a bit of all of these. The bottom line of the message is that I need to stop considering all the possibilities and focus on what my inner wisdom is trying to tell me, how I want to my life, and how I want to shape my future. I was settling down to journal about what I want most when I remembered that it it Wednesday and therefore time to Wischast with the tribe at Jamie Ridler Studios.  Serendipity was at my side and giving me a gentle kick in the butt and a kiss on the forehead. So here goes. For my future I wish for:

  • I wish for more ease of movement, more energy, to return to a state of better health/fitness, and to find more pleasure in my body. I wish for this as an end in itself and as a means to many ends. I want to be able to take to the streets in protest for good causes. I want to be able to give more as I work for the greater good. I want to wander farther from the beaten path to explore new things, photograph beauty and struggle, and connect with nature. My current lack of health and fitness is making me pretty nervous at the moment and I am ignoring so pretty strong signs that something is wrong. My physical self is the limiting factor in how I live my life. Time to change.
  • I wish for resources and support that will help me find my voice and claim my power.  I want to stop holding myself back from offering all that I can to the world. I want to stop listening to the voice that asks me whether I am even worthy of a continued existence. I am tired of feeling like a failure even when I intellectually know that most others don’t see me as such. I wish to see in myself more of what others see in me. I wish to banish the thoughts that I allow toward myself but would never stand by and let a friend express without challenge. Allowing the negative thoughts to control my life is irresponsible and cowardly. I believe that I have an obligation to give all that I can in service and it is time that I start living up to that responsibility.
  • I wish for more time with the people I love and a community of kindred spirits that is part of my physical as well as online world.
  • I wish for a renewed connection with nature and with my spiritual life.
  • I wish for a professional path that involves working for the greater good, intellectual challenges, support and room for continued personal growth, and financial rewards that support a life that supports me in a way that allows me to live my values.
  • I wish for a home that is a haven for me and a welcoming space for others.
  • I wish for more confidence because choosing and comfort in the presence of strangers. To be a hermit because I like my own company is one thing but increasingly my hermit time stems from being uncomfortable and anxious in the world. You can’t work to change the world by hiding from it so time to change.
  • I wish to get back to noticing and celebrating beauty and mirablia. For starters, it is time to start taking photos again.
  • My wish is that the universe and those who I encounter continue to challenge and inspire me to make these wishes a reality.

Wishcasting Wednesday

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios. This week Jamie ask “How do you wish to spend your time?” or put another way and in the words of Mary Oliver what do I wish to do with my “one wild and precious life?”A few days ago I made a post about my dream life, I wish to spend my time in ways that make those dreams manifest.

  • I wish  to be intimately acquainted with nature. I wish to engage in an ongoing treasure hunt for signs of the shifting seasons – to seek the first blossoms of spring as children seek Easter eggs, to marvel at fireflies on summer evenings, and to savor the plesures of each season in its turn. I want to gaze in wonder at the stars and chart the lunar cycles.
  • I wish to continually learn and to teach in ways both formal and informal.
  • I wish to support good causes, independent artists, and small businesses with my minutes as well as my dollars.
  • I wish to interact with others in ways that lead them to make connections and to push beyond their expectations.
  • I wish to sleep deeply and to laugh often.
  • I wish to create, to write, and to wander with my camera.
  • Mostly, I wish to live each moment as fully as possible and in accordance with my deepest values. Then when that moment has passed, I wish to move on to be fully in the new moment.

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.

Claiming my accomplishments

I have been thinking about what I have to offer others and about the accomplishments in my life. I have a hard time giving myself credit for those accomplishments. I am working on changing that. I tend to brush away praise and minimize my contributions. This post is practice in letting myself stand in the light rather than the shadows. These are some of the things I have done in my life.

  • I have lived and worked outside of the US — in a least developed nation and war zone no less. I did this by choice and not because I was sent there by the military or some other organization.
  • I was an orphan before I was old enough to buy a drink. My mother died when I was 6. My father was seriously ill before I was a teenager and entered a nursing home when I was 17. He died 2 years later. I was running a household while in middle school and I finished high school living in my own apartment.
  • I earned a Ph.D. and my dissertation was named as the outstanding dissertation for my college for the calendar year in which I graduated.
  • My research has been presented nationally and internationally.
  • I have published more than a dozen scholarly articles.
  • I have worked on the ground helping survivors of major disasters including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Irene.
  • I have marched for peace when it was unpopular to do so, been arrested to protest religious hatred, and helped domestic violence victims find safety.
  • Alone, I have picked up and moved several hundred miles to a new state where I knew no one — not just once but four times.
  • I overcame a profound fear of public speaking and have spoken comfortably to groups as large as 400.
  • I walked away from a a six-figure income and a successful career in a field that was toxic for me to spend a year as an AmeriCorps service member because I wanted to work for the greater good.
  • Though I seriously considered suicide during two different, very dark phases in my life, I chose life and found the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other despite the pain (once physical and once emotional).
  • I have followed the calling of my heart even when the calling of my heart took me down spiritual and relationship paths that most don’t understand and that many vilify.
  • I have won awards for public speaking, writing, program management, community service, research, and baking.
  • I have spoken truth to power even when it cost me to do so.
  • Though my heart was breaking, I have said goodbye with grace and love.
  • I continue to believe in the good in people, in hope for the future, and in the power of love despite my encounters with the bad, the desolate, and the hateful. I remain enchanted by simple things (e.g., fireflies, chipmunks, the laughter of toddlers, the return of the juncos each fall).

Wishcasting Wednesday: What do you wish to attract?

It is Wishcasting Wednesday at Jamie Ridler Studios and today we are wishing for things we wish to attract.

Many of the things that I wish to attract are becoming more and more a part of my life but it never hurts to have more of them.  So it is my wish that I attract more:

  • Mirabilia and the awareness of and openness to the small miracles, modest astonishment, friendly shocks, events that inspire wonder, inexplicable joys, changes that inspire quiet awe, eccentric enchantments, unplanned jubilation, sudden deliverance from boring evils. (Words borrowed from Pronoia and Rob Brezsny). Within this category I include great hugs and moments of sacred silliness.
  • Opportunities to make a difference — I want to attract the right opportunities to make a difference. The opportunities that best use my talents and help me develop new skills. The opportunities that provide fuel for doing more rather than draining my energy. The opportunities that empower others to be more resilient and independent in the future. The opportunities that help others work for the greater good.
  • Kindred Spirits — I wish to attract  connections with other edgewalkers, ethicureans, scanners/renaissance souls, world citizens, pronoiacs, ivory tower escapees, geeks, teachers, idealists, and other folks who are weaving lives filled with passion, possibilities, and empowerment. It is my wish that this includes geographically close ties as well as those online.
  • Resources and the means to support working for the greater good — In one episode of Babylon 5, Delenn explains that among the Minbari those who wish to serve others with their gifts are cared for and supported in their efforts. Sadly in our society that is not the pattern.  As the flight attendants will tell you, one should put on their own oxygen mask before helping others. Therefore, I wish to attract resources and means to earn income that support my wish to serve by allowing me to meet my needs and desires for fully.

Temple Mirabilia

This morning various conversations and readings mixed in my mind and a sparkling idea was born. I am suddenly daydreaming about what a temple of priestesses dedicated to celebrating and promoting mirabilia might be like and what form the rites celebrated there might take.  I shall be playing with this idea further as a framework for later posts which will stretch my creative muscles and remind me to be even more aware of moments of mirabilia.

Mirabilia is defined on p. 175 of Pronoia as a noun that refers to “modest astonishments, friendly shocks, sweet anomalies” and elaborated here as “events that inspire wonder, marvelous phenomena, small miracles, beguiling ephemera, inexplicable joys, changes that inspire awe, eccentric enchantments, unplanned jubilation, sudden deliverance from boring evils (rom the Latin mirabilia, “marvels.”). Being open to and present for such moments and helping others to notice and celebrate such moments has become one of my core values.

With this definition in mind some of the holy days/activities for Priestesses of Mirabilia would include:

  • the quest to sight the first blossom of spring
  • daffodil days and the festival of asparagus which includes a contest for the most creative recipe using asparagus –watch out for Sister Mae’s asparagus ice cream recipes which are an acquired taste; we love her so we are still working on acquiring that taste)
  • midnight jazz party, picnic, and bubble blowing meditation to celebrate the summer solstice
  • a moonlight dance to celebrate the return of the fireflies
  • the sacred tasting of the first tomatoes from the garden
  • the Annual Apple Picking  and Pumpkin Carving Party and Hoedown
  • Silent Feast of the Ancestors
  • the hot cocoa toast to the return of the dark-eyed juncos
  • an annual Snowy Day Retreat which is celebrated in fuzzy slippers and soft warm robes; the cats especially like this one as they get extra snuggle time
  • The Month of Sacred Silliness in February where colorful costumes, decorated cupcakes, and puns bring light to dark winter nights
  • Howling at full moons is strongly encouraged

There are many more and new ones get added fairly regularly. What festivals would you add to celebrate the small miracles and  inexplicable joys of life?


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