Catalyst for commitment

Major observances, such as birthdays and holidays, often provide the catalyst for commitment, at least in my experience.

Last week, I celebrated with family and friends, near and far, the “achievement” of completing around rotation around the sun. I argue that luck and privilege served as the two driving forces behind that achievement. Still, I won’t squander the opportunity to give gratitude for more time to give and receive love; to build community; to learn; to fail; and to fight for a more just, equitable world [dismantling racism, white folks. Let’s name it.]

A re-branding of this blog seemed in order as I have (for the nth time) reaffirmed that I want to be a writer. And I want to be a good writer. Such ambition requires continual practice, reflection, and refinement. As a budding pianist, I recall drawn out fights with my parents, particularly my mother, when it came to carving out time for the dreaded “p” word. My seven-year-old entitled self truly believed that I could merely show up to each lesson and have improved by the grace of the Almighty without tickling a single ivory over the previous seven days.

I’m a tad ashamed to admit this, but this attitude followed me through much of my younger life. In 4th grade, I joined our elementary school concert band as a clarinetist. Again, I chalked up practicing as something other people did. That’s not to say that I never practiced throughout my  brief musical career. In high school, as I picked up the saxophone and melaphone, I recognized a need for me to spend time building my embouchure, finding the right pitch, and running through the various scales.

But how much better could I have been! (she types with regret)

This older (and much wiser) version of Katie recognizes and embraces commitment and persistence to a degree that younger Katie couldn’t fathom. However, I still find opportunities to derail myself in pursuit of how I want to be spending the limited resource of time.

Who do I want to be? When people look at my life, what would they say? While I’m not *quite* ready to write my obituary (a very uncomfortable exercise I experienced last year), I want to end the mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors that keep me from growing into my desired identities.  What I want to be requires work. I could continue to show up. I could continue to coast. But, why? And how would that reflect my core values? Short answer: it wouldn’t.

Passion. Bliss. Contentment. These outcomes thrive in settings when your actions align with your values, personal mission, and vision. I’ve spent the last few months (ok, let’s be real, the last 20+ years) defining and re-defining each of those based on new information received, relationships gained and lost, and experiences processed. I hope that I maintain a growth and stretch mindset when it comes to self-awareness and self-assessment. In order to be the type of person that I want to be — for you and for the rest of the world — I must continue to check my assumptions, my bias, and my adherence to positions.

As of May 28, 2018, I want to work toward being a person who is known as:

  1. A trusted, honest, and loving wife/friend/family member.
  2. A person committed to antiracist work in all aspects of life.
  3. A writer who avoids wasting your time or her breath.
  4. A student hungry for knowledge.
  5. A future farmer who wants to cultivate a healthier, more sustainable natural world.
  6. A leader who is unabashedly relentless in demanding respect and justice and who can throw her head back and laugh loudly without apologizing.

The mindfulness practice that I started six months ago has created the mental space for me to explore each of these six areas to various degrees. Now, with more mindful prioritizing of my time, I look forward to improving upon each of these hats, one day at a time.

Today is day one.

No more excuses

Whenever I hear the question: “Do you still blog?” I feel my insides cringe in shame. My responses range from a variety of pre-determined excuses, including (but not limited to):

“I generate so much content for my day job that I find it too exhausting to be creative in the evening hours!”

“It’s hard to handle more screen time after a full day of eyes glazing over a LCD display.”

“But look at all of these other things I’m doing over here!”

So much unnecessary justification. In truth, I think about my blog – or moreso writing – often. As averse as I am to invasive technologies, I do wish that I could insert a Matrix-like probe into my brain in order to capture my thoughts and reflections, which could then be stored on an external drive to revisit in the future. I admire people who carry around notebooks or use apps like Evernote to function as a warehouse for their ideas. I could follow suit, but I know myself well enough at 32: I would start the practice with great gusto only to fizzle out to noncompliance in the space of a week – maybe two if I was feeling ambitious.

Why do some behaviors stick so easily while others remain allusive? Is it a matter of will or want? Do I need more external accountability to help at least establish a new norm?

Reading the essays of Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” provides me needed motivation. I love her writing. It’s simple yet complex; raw and approachable. Watching another person externally process complicated emotions or unpack our bizarre social norms while constantly acknowledging their own limitations or hang-ups is so refreshing. The notion of expertise can be laughable, particularly in this time of talking heads vying for our attention on television and retweets on Twitter.

For me, writing is how I try to make sense of me and how I fit into this time and space. The world has felt over-complicated lately. We speak to each other in these floral, jargon-driven sentences that breathe style without substance. We’re dogmatic in our positions despite our claims of open-mindedness. We create our understandings of each other based on key indicators – job titles, voting records, Instagram posts.

Sometimes I feel so naïve. Why do we not naturally operate from a mindset of compassion, abundance, and love? Where does this desire to accumulate come from? How did we construct an oppressive society where few win and many lose? (and why?) And after thousands of years, why do we still operate from this playbook?

Always more questions than answers, right? And the question I most grapple with: what is my role in all of this? How do I become the change I want to see in the world? Right now, I do have a vision of leading a nonprofit organization as an Executive Director. But, white leaders dominate the nonprofit leadership landscape – would my pursuits undermine the work to dismantle inequitable systems within sector? Or is that me passing the position over to someone who isn’t committed to justice or equity?

One day at a time.

free flow Friday

Discourse morphed into diatribes.

Arguments rooted in articles.

Actually read? Argubale.

Easier to spot what’s trending then what’s happening outside the window.

Positions held firm with glue made from politics, power, and privilege.

Spin from machines muddle words and true meanings.

Can’t help but think of Aaron Burr:

What do you stand for?

Posturing is one thing but to truly stand up takes courage.

No longer a qualification for leadership but

Replaced by contempt, cowardice –

the creation of fear in the free world.

What is free about fear?

Why do so many people allow themselves to be shackled?

Look up. Listen. Love.

Alliteration breeds more than literary bliss. It builds actions that lead to real change that we all can take.

Used to be…

A couple of months ago, I sat down with a new professional connection, eager to discuss our goals and visions for the year ahead. It became clear that she had done a little bit of homework on me prior to our meeting, as she said this:

I saw you used to be a blogger.”

Used to be?! Oh right. My inevitable self-destructive demise as a writer had once again struck. No matter how many times I may promise, internally or externally, that this will not happen again, it does.

How is it that I maintain motivation for other outlets in my life, such as working out or failing to say “no” to requests for participating and engagement, but that when it comes to finding a space to reflect, create, and write, I flounder?

Over the holiday weekend, I started to read Stephen King’s On Writing in hopes of finding inspiration and guidance. There is still a small voice inside of me that sees a future in writing. That picture is unclear as to what that would entail (or, let’s be real, whether that is a viable option). But I so enjoy the craft of stringing words into sentences, evoking images of what is and what could be, and pushing the boundaries of reality and the alternative reality that our imaginations feed and expand.

While I’m still in the front third of King’s book, I have latched on to one of his early pieces of advice: create your space. As a writer, you need to have a physical space that allows you to travel off into the distant realms of your mind; to have a sense of focus but also flexibility. This morning, I’m writing from our kitchen table. I know this can’t be my space as I’m distracted by the coffee pot, the birds dive-bombing the feeders out in the backyard.

For me, it needs to be more than selecting a place in the home (or elsewhere) to write. It’s creating that opportunity in my schedule as well. And how does that work? This is where I turn to my partner-in-crime, who has been telling me from day one to learn how to say “no” more. If I’m engaging in activities that aren’t fulfilling me, especially when there are clear pleasures that I am not taking on (I.E. WRITING), then the simple action is to end the ones that I simply do, not love. For me, this is much easier said than done.

Today, I start here. Writing at the kitchen table. Waiting for my oatmeal to finish cooking in the microwave as another hummingbird defies gravity in its quest for the sweet nectar hanging from its precarious hook.

Meeting-speak

Meetings.

Love ’em or hate ’em, we can all agree: there are too many of them. The higher you “climb” within your organization, the more meetings you have. Which simply means you have less time to actually make a meaningful contribution to the greater good. Your focus is to take copious notes and then promptly stress out as additional responsibilities are doled out, new task forces are formed, and everyone replies: “I’m busy. How about meeting at 9:30am on Saturday, March 15, 2018?”

meme2

How to talk in meetings: we have sector-specific acronyms that we like to throw around like hot potatoes. The environmental community is notorious for speaking into three to four letter codes where, as a newcomer, you are left with notes that look something like this:

Talked with BOEM re OCS EIP

Coalition meeting around CPP to include CEIP, NCDEQ, SELC, EDF…

KJDFKDJF KDSJF KSDJF LKSDJF KJ

[Last one might be a slight exaggeration]

As Aaron has been preparing for an upcoming conference presentation, he has been collecting popular words and phrases that often make appearances in meetings as well. Less acronyms, more trite, overused colloquialisms that are in full dialect default mode.

Here are some that we’ve cobbled together (and, I admit that I used several of these during actual conversations while working from home last Friday):

  • Unpack
  • Moving pieces
  • Environmental scan
  • Putting another leg under the table
  • Piggyback
  • Ground-truthing
  • 30,000 foot view
  • Well, the literature says…
  • Crosswalk
  • Synergy
  • Bandwidth
  • Agency
  • Circle back
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • Touch points
  • Take it offline
  • Ducks in a row
  • Move the needle
  • Drill down
  • Hard stop
  • Punt
  • It is what it is
  • Break down the silos
  • At the end of the day
  • On the bleeding edge
  • Peel back the layers of the onion
  • Slippery slope
  • Robust
  • Sea change
  • Let’s take a deep dive
  • Wheelhouse

dilbert_buzzword_bingo.jpg

How many of these have you used? What is missing from this list?

 

A man with no fingerprints

For many years, this character has dwelled inside the dark recesses of my mind. An older gentleman, of no particular race, ethnicity, or origin. He sits upon a bench, wearied hands resting upon a cane, as he overlooks a worn green lake, home to a few mallards drifting in and out of their evolutionary routine.

Essentially, a scene beckoning not much more than a passing glance from a stranger. Only upon closer examination does one come to understand that this figure of normality is far from it. Who is born without fingerprints? When much of human identity remains tied to these unique sketchings on our metacarpals, can a person truly exist in society with smoothy, untainted pads?

The question of identity – clearly a favorite among most in the literary sphere – intrigues me on multiple levels. First, the idea of self-identify (what am I to me?) seems that it can only be answered by asking the question (what am I to them?) where them can refer to one’s family, one’s colleagues, one’s social circle. Second, what parts of our identify are projected by us and in what settings do we shift those elements to cater to (ourselves/others/a higher power/nature)? One can argue that our identities continue to shift and adapt as we age, encounter new settings, but on the flip side, there must be elements of ourselves that remain forever unchanged.

Lacking fingerprints, to me, does not seem to fall on the same level as missing an appendage, an organ, or a sense. Those certainly can speak to one’s identity, if one so chooses to make them part (or is it a choice?).

Not surprisingly, you can be born without fingerprints. It’s a genetic condition called adermatoglyphia (a great article from the Smithsonian covering this topic).

Perhaps it’s not quite as special as I think, not that I type this out. It’s simple another abstention from what is considered the social norm. Dozens of other characteristics could fit this same mold.

Regardless, I think I’ll write this story some day. The ever-pressing yearning to be more on the inside, even if we already know in our hearts that it’s not the place we truly want – or should – be.