November 05, 2004
An Attitude of Gratitude: A Great Morning Kickstart
I wanted to share something that I originally posted in one of my other blogs: "Things That Work: Simple Ways to Healthier Communities". What got me thinking about this again was a phone call I got from Sister Helen Prejean last night. She's been on a grueling, cross-country tour, and doesn't have much quiet time to land or gather herself again each week, and yet there she was, sounding cheery and upbeat on the other end of the line. She had simply called to say thank you for some work I had done on her new blog and website, a project that required no thanks, because it's been a gift in itself to be a part of. Nonetheless, there was Sister Helen reaching out, and I was in a wonderful mood for the rest of the night, with a felicity hangover this morning.
When we talk about things that work in our lives as women getting older, one of the things that I am finding to be the very best medicine is this: gratitude.
Let me share that original blog note to tell you why ...
[from July 28, 2004]
I recently attended a retreat where I was inspired by a question that our wise and wonderful leader posed:
I thought on this for a bit, and listened as people shared some truly astonishing technical feats that created various forms of uplift in the lives of people and the various organizations where they worked and played.
I really wanted to raise my hand. I had something good to share, but it seemed too simple.
I sat and listened a little longer, and was finally inspired to re-evaluate my own criteria for what made something good enough to share. I decided that the fact that it was small and simple wasn't a character flaw, but rather the thing that might make something inherently easy to reproduce.
I finally got brave and raised my hand, and decided to tell people a little bit about how I start each of my days.
The past few years have been rather blue. I've been through a few major surgeries, one that left the lower half of my face paralysed for a number of months, and the other that left me in a great deal of pain. One of my sons had been profoundly ill, cause still unknown, and missed almost half a year of school as a result. In addition, I'd shared a six year journey with my mom as she struggled with cancer, and found myself aching deeply as it came to an end in ways I couldn't possibly have prepared myself for.
I certainly was not in a "grateful" place in my life.
I found the days harder and harder to navigate. I found myself sinking into a well of self-pity, even to the point where I became bitter about what I "expected" from my life. That's when it occurred to me that, the way I'd been living it before this mess was infact the way back out of it.
I had become full of attitude, rather than gratitude, and it took a simple moment of reflection to realize the age old truth of deflecting your attention from oneself onto something or someone else where that attention could be invested in a better way.
So, I turned to the one thing that I knew could help me launch this personal mission of gratitude and hold me accountable: my computer. Each morning when I log on I go to my homepage, which is set at my customized view of "My Yahoo!". Beyond the various newsclippings it has found for the things I am interested in tracking, and the daily recipes and snippets it dispatches, it's first glance is my calendar, and the task list for each day. I've set up a few recurring ticklers to help me organize my thoughts for the day: what am I going to make for supper? have I watered the violets? had I taken a multivitamin? did I update my virus scan program? had I clicked at Care2.com yet today?
These were the things that greeted me each morning, and set the tone for the day.
I decided that something else needed to be added to this list. Here's what I placed at the top:
"Who are you going to thank today?"
It seemed like a simple enough question, but the impact it had on my life was profound.
Each morning I gave myself the task of finding a reason to be grateful. I thought about people that had come in and out of my life the past few days, and others who perhaps I hadn't thought about in a very long time. I thought about teachers who had influenced me, and people who dotted my life's path and shaped the course it would take along the way. I thought about the girl in the coffee shop who had smiled at me and simply said something nice. I thought about the guy in the telephone repair truck who jumped out to open my car door for me so I could get in. I thought about the woman who stood up a city council and talked about why killing the pigeons on the church steps wasn't the right way to go. I thought about my kids, and how their simple, daily examples encouraged me to be curious, and passionate, and hopeful again.
So I started to say thank you, and something amazing happened along the way. People responded and reached back in generous and heartfelt ways. People who'd been feeling unnoticed in their own lives felt appreciated again. People who I hadn't connected with in years came back into my life and enriched it in ways too many to tell. People I'd seen as strangers were becoming friends I'd yet to meet.
The cascade of uplift was profound. This simple thing had not only rescued me from myself, but healed relationships, and cultivated special new ones, and even lead to new projects and opportunities in my life.
So knowing how powerful such a small and simple act can be, I'll ask you this:
Who are YOU going to thank today?
October 28, 2004
Sister Helen Prejean: Real Woman Walking
I want to share an entry from my diary with you, partly because it underscores how ripe with possibility the most ordinary life can be, and also because it introduces you to another Better World Scout who has come to grace my later life in such an extraordinary way ...
[Diary Entry - Sept./04]
There is something about that drawl that utterly draws you in, melts your own words as they tumble out of your mouth in return, turning them into butterscotch as smooth and sweet as any you've ever known.
I listened to Sister Margaret's slow and patient message on the machine. Wanted to replay it, even, so that I could continue listening to those buttery smooth New Orleans-wrapped words tumbling into each other, pour from one into the next like a tide's continuous ebb and flow.
There was an element of irony in it, for my heart leapt up inside my breast when I saw the number, not knowing who's it was, yet knowing instinctively all the same, and yet while leaping, found a quiet, peaceful place inside my breast. Her name had planted itself in my head, and when I heard the voice I knew it had to be someone from Sister Helen Prejean's office calling.
How could this be meant for me? A message from this woman, exalted in film by some of the people I most admire, lifted up in awards, and then quietly fading back into her own life again. I had watched the film "Dead Man Walking" and been profoundly moved by the strength conveyed, and yet not unexpectedly discomfited by the knawing ache it left in my body after coming to terms with what it meant. And now this woman, this stolid nun, was reaching out for help to move from "feeling" to "doing", and that reach was now embracing me.
I got Neil Iscoe's note. Read the words without knowing that there would come a manuscript to read, and then a call. Did not know that I'd be here today, balancing between a stroke, and days later a conference call with this small knot of allies knitting themselves together around this nun. That I would be, once again, called by my life to apply technology in a way that was remarkable, not because of what it was, but because of what it could be: a vessel for uplift, for holding in it's palm the cheek of humanity to caress it with great love.
That I would be asked to step up and be counted in this invisible line of soldiers drawn now through cyberspace, lead by this nun, as we were called to set right a wrong that's been living and breathing to steal the life from another, one by one, as long as time has marched on.
How could this be me? For I am just a woman in a town where people live. And yet I realize hearing these words inside my head now that this must be exactly what she was thinking too.
[end of entry]
Why share this with you now? Because Sister Helen is about to release a new book called The Death of Innocents in order to raise the level of discourse around the death penalty in the U.S., and encourage people to explore the ambivolence in their own hearts about this. Because she's asked me to help quarterback the web-based efforts to cultivate a broader dialogue in a way that's personal, and compassionate, and real. Because, while she speaks in a gentle and loving voice, she's one of the most urgent and genuinely compelling Better World Scouts I've ever met in my life.
In the coming months I'd like to invite you to explore not only this woman's incredible legacy, but the lively ecology she's set out to begin cultivating to allow everyday people to affect change in a way that counts.
There are some exciting times ahead. In addition to helping Sister Helen set up her own blog, webconferences, and online dialogues, there are a number of other exciting projects that beckon. Susan Sarandon, who played Sister Helen in the movied Dead Man Walking, along with Susan's partner, Tim Robbins, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, are about to embark on the next leg of Helen's journey with her. Tim has just written a companion play for the movie, having invited students across the U.S. to help shape it, and will now launch it nationally. He's also inviting students to write their own music for the production, and I'll be assisting with the creation of a web-program to help students do this even in the absence of any formal music training.
If these things call to you in any way, I invite you to get involved! You'll be able to learn more through Sister Helen's new blog and webcasts, and share your thoughts in her workspace on omidyar.net. I'd also like to invite you to get involved in shaping the online "Just Add Music" program I'll be creating to assist with Tim's play as it rolls out across the U.S..
Please join me in welcoming this incredible Better World Scout and sister adventure diva to the collaborative power of wild, wild web!
Thoughts of your own to share on this? I invite you to share them in our Adventurers' Basecamp.
I Feel Like a Woman ...
Or at least they used to, until they landed in Iraq. 11 sister adventure divas are part of a U.S. Marines Truck Co., surrounded by 110 males. They're desperate for any products that remind them of "being women". In their own words -- "Items such as: body spray, lotions, shower gels, shower sponges, etc. We would just like to smell good for ourselves, and stop smelling like our fellow male marines out here!"
Click on the link to get the address to send a care package to these ladies, or the button above to learn more about the other soldiers in need of care packages.
Kudos to the folks behind this program. It's a great example of one of those scaleable small things that can create tremendous cascades of uplift.
Thoughts of your own to share on this? I invite you to share them in our Adventurers' Basecamp.
Call to Arms for a Fallen Sister, and Kudos to the Innovation of Another
There is something terribly important about seeing problems as possibilities inside out. Hope would be a hard thing to find if this wasn't true, because there are so many challenges on any given day, and some of them filled with great sadness. Women like Christina Jordan are such wonderful ambassadors of the truth of this. I received an email from her today that led me on a journey to Kampala, Uganda, and back here to you to ask you to consider joining me in a small tribute to a sister who died in childbirth, leaving behind a daughter who died four months later, two young sons, and a husband named Joseph, disabled by polio. My heart was in my throat when I read this, and perhaps you can't imagine it leading to joy, but it did. You see Joseph cares for his family a great deal, and refuses to beg, but rather sets an example for his children through hard work and determination. He makes handmade greeting cards and sells them to make ends meet. Despite the tragedies that his life has been filled with, including the loss of his wife and daughter this year, he has a tremendous work ethic, and faith, that keep him pushing on.
Interesting thing about problems: they seldom arrive alone. Christina Jordan is an Ashoka Fellow. That's a rare honour bestowed on people who have demonstrated commitment and breakthrough innovation in humanitarian uplift, and I can tell you she is someone that deserves that honour tenfold. Christina created a microfinance program to help people in Uganda give themselves a hand up, rather than asking for a handout. It's the kind of small investment program I talked about in earlier posts. 40-year old Joseph Mayanja is the first artisan to join Christina's "LiA CAN!" (LiA= Life in Africa) program. I mentioned that problems generally arrive in the plural. As Christina sent the email about Joseph this morning, she had just had her laptop stolen, and their office server crash. Despite almost daily power shortages in Uganda, and having lost everything for their Echoes of Africa newsletter on the stolen computer, Christina was commited to supporting Joseph and sent the email pointing to his story right away.
Christina is someone that I'll be turning to for assistance with reaching out to women who might benefit from our own microfinance program here at Adventures with the Estrogen Army. She's been a passionate and compassionate ally for colleagues in Uganda, and someone that I've come to respect immensely over the years. I met her by accident (or serendipity, rather ;^) after reading a story about another Ugandan gentleman named Stanley that she'd helped grow his custom shoe business several years ago.
Today, I invite you to stand up in honour of fallen sister, Manyanja, by buying a few of her husband Joseph's handmade greeting cards so that her children will continue to be provided for as she would have herself:
Unlike charity, this isn't a handout. It's a purchase. It's also an investment, because for every ten dollars you spend on goods through the LiA CAN! program, you receive a "virtual banana". Once you've earned 20 bananas, you can trade the bunch in for your own cooperative share in the LiA Network. Every cooperative share you own will continue to pay you one banana every month for the next 4 years. After that, each share you own will entitle you to part of the LiA network's cash profit. Not only is this an innovative loyalty points system for rewarding purchases, it's an actual investment.
Kudos to Christina for her continued innovation as a "Better World Scout" and sister adventure diva!
Thoughts of your own to share on this? I invite you to share them in our Adventurers' Basecamp.
October 02, 2004
Outfitting for the Adventure
What makes this different from other women's websites?
We're not a network of members. We're a community of "scouts".
Membership often implies the ability to take a comfy, passive seat in some digital chair, observing, receiving and digesting what a central editor has deemed fit for consumption. This couldn't be further from the vision I have for this delightful little revolution in cyberspace. Rather, I imagine the great, collaborative adventures that the namesake implies: an active community of "Better World Scouts" who are engaged in finding and sharing the good life, whatever and wherever it might be. This is neither self-serving nor self-indulgent, but rather a chance to recognize the personal power that each of us holds to make good things happen, both for ourselves, and for others.
This may have been an accidental journey, but it's become one filled with passion and purpose. What started as an inventory of some of the books that had helped ease me into my own newly 40-something skin turned into a quest dotted with wonderful, natural allies along the way, and a sense of possibility and absolute adventure.
Mapping the Adventure
Each journey begins with a question. Here's our's:
The framing of this quest(ion) is essential, for in it lies the way out of the "problem addiction loop" (more on this later). By changing the story from "here are our problems and how we fix them" to "here are the things we're doing and hearing and seeing that are helping us live well", we set the pace for a truly positive discourse.
Harvesting Good Apples
This question is also a pathway to a couple of goals. In harvesting the "good apple stories" about the ways in which women are living well, in our own words, we create a living recipe book for other women who may be starting out on this journey, and others who are already travelling the road and looking for ways of amplifying the adventure. We have a couple of tools to help us capture what we're learning along the way (our "Basecamp" Google group/mailing list), and turning it into knowledge products that can be shared with other women globally. This blog is one place where we'll be cultivating the spirit of the very best adventures we may be on. We'll be using a newsletter to highlight each week's new discoveries. We'll even be publishing a series of books and software titles that capture the best of what we've learned and done along the way.
Cultivating a Community of Better World Scouts
Another goal is to explore the possibilities that exist in turning "Better World Scouts" into a calling that rewards. Most of us have a "day job". In addition to that we are often people who, by virtue of our nature, spend a great deal of time connecting other people and ideas that lead to good new things happening. For some of us the latter becomes almost a second fulltime job, but it's fulltime hours without pay. Is it possible to turn the activity of being a "Better World Scout" into a career? It's just one of the things that we'll be exploring over at Basecamp (our Google Group).
Growing a Microfinance Program for Women
A third goal, and the one I'm most excited about, is to find ways of turning this adVENTURE into a tool that creates opportunities for women who need a hand up (not the same as a handout). 50% of the profits from these adventures will be used to create a Microfinance program for women. Our pilot project will begin in Africa and Cuba, where a group of women are hoping to turn their creativity into small businesses to help their families not only survive, but thrive. You can learn more about microfinance programs over at Basecamp (our Google Group).
Wondering how the books that we link to help? Revenues generated through books purchased on Amazon.com via these links will be used to purchase books and gear for women participating in our microfinance program.
Sustaining the Adventure
We'll be exploring creative ways of cultivating revenue streams to fund both adventures within, and those embraced through the microfinance program. We have a store on Café Press where you can buy inexpensive gear for your own adventure (tshirts, mugs, journals, calendars and totes). When you visit you'll also find a new music CD full of ear candy to inspire your own adventures, and a great little stocking stuffer for sister adventure divas along the way. Our book reviews link to products that generate revenue for our program, as do the pieces of art and other products you might find linked to on the site. The revenue from these purchases will not only offset the costs of the tools we're using, but will also be used to reward our Scouts, and to grow our microfinance program. They're gifts that give twice.
Outfitting for the Journey
Wondering how to join the adventure? Why not visit other explorers over at Basecamp? It's our new Google group, which will allow you to participate in dialogues that others have launched, or to seed adventures of your own. I will also be inviting people to participate as columnists here in the Blog. Columnists may have a single featured article/adventure. Others may be more active scouts.
My intention is not to create an instant community of thousands. Instead, I'll be inviting a small core of creative women with shared goals and values to come together to share an adventure, and to allow those shared goals and values to attract other natural allies along the way.
May good things come --
September 30, 2004
The Review that Launched the Adventure: Gifts from the Sea
"If I was going to fight affluence -- flesh and words and schedules and sorrows -- I would have to cultivate an underground railroad of allies to show me the way out. I gathered them up, these women, these sage and wisened conscripts, and went to war ..."
I, Delilah ...
Barely weeks ahead of my 41st birthday, I cut my hair. This may seem a small thing, but after 40 years of treasuring my coveted blond locks, both weapon and wardrobe of choice, it was a decision of Samson-esque proportions. The thing that once defined me had become a burden, like hanging onto a youth that seemed no pleasure anymore. I was ready to be grown up.
I'd lost my mom to cancer a handful of months before, and now her mother was dying too. It was the waiting -- the awful weight of waiting -- that finally did me in. Just as sure as gravity had invaded my body (breasts, hips, smile), it was invading my soul. I felt heavy and tired, and craved something simple and light.
So I cut it off. Long tresses now buoyant and shorn.
I felt like I'd finally been let in the door of some secret club. The one where women understand the power of age, not the burden of it. The advantage of travelling light. The wisdom of choosing your battles instead of fighting every fight. The blessed sound of "quiet". I craved a soul satiated with simpler things, like cedar porch swings and blueberries on french toast.
And at once I wanted to inhale everything potent from those other women who understood. I went straight for the bible: a ragged-edged copy of 'Drinking the Rain' that I'd consumed again and again. It was this book that introduced me to Alix Kates Schulman, as she nestled into a home on a New England nubble, far away from the world, and where she finally met herself. It was this book that made me crave long, delicious thoughts, time alone, and the salient jaunt into the enemy camp of "growing ripe."
If I was going to fight affluence -- flesh and words and schedules and sorrows -- I would have to cultivate an underground railroad of allies to show me the way out. I gathered them up, these women, these sage and wisened conscripts, and went to war.
Head to the Shore ...
Perhaps it is the absence of clutter that makes the sea's deathless horizon both suitor and friend. It was the pilgramage made by Alix Kates Schulman, and as I've found, countless others who sought refuge before.
Another ally? -- Joan Anderson, who shares her own journey in 'A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman'. She decided, when her husband announced his plan to move out of state, that she would not follow. Moving to the family's Cape Cod retreat, she decided to dig clams to supplement her income as an author. What began as a parting, lead her straight to herself, and eventually back to her husband, more whole. As the nurturer that many women simply are, Anderson began a "Weekend by the Sea" program, inviting other women to escape the weight of routine to reflect.
In Joan's own words:
"A Year by the Sea tempts [my readers] into having an adventure, asks some hard questions, encourages them to make a change-big or small-and reach out to embrace all that is unlived about their lives. We are all meant to be generative-to develop a relationship to ourselves and the world around us. May you enjoy the adventure of being as unfinished as I am."
First, buy the book, then plan your own retreat by emailing your address to Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org for a brochure, or mailing your request to Joan herself at Box 1314, Harwich, MA 02645. You might also want to visit her column at "Sisters for Sisters" ... http://www.sistersforsisters.com ... where you can ask her questions about her experience as you begin to shape your own.
More Gifts from the Sea ...
I know. It's a ways away again. But next Mother's Day, forget the flowers and send a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's 'Gift from the Sea'. Socrates once said: "The unexamined life is not worth living." These words are as relevant in 2004 as they were for Socrates 470-399 BC, and when Anne Morrow Lindbergh penned this beloved and polished gem back in the 50's. Share this with your mom to let her know you understand the precious edge of balancing the role of mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend.
Another Journal worth the read is Cynthia Huntington's 'The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod'. Seething with sand and stars and shining light, Huntington retreats to the place where as a new bride she grew into life, and love, and friendships punctuated with observations both familiar and profound.
A Little Celtic Comfort ...
It's a wonder that such a young soul can have such an old one. Lisa Carey's first and deeply touching novel, 'The Mermaids Singing', makes you doubt it's ficticious roots. An intertwined tale of mother, daughter and grandmother begins on American shores and heads to Ireland and back. An incandescent memoire, like the three before, though fictitious, Mermaids sheds the same bright light of scrutiny on the soul, and leaves you feeling energized and ready to soar.
Another engaging seaside tale spanning ficticious generations of women is Anita Shreve's 'Sea Glass: A Novel'.
For those who ask the question -- "what books would you want to have with you if stranded on a dessert island?" -- tell them these five tranforming tales, and then set out strand yourself straight away ...
Finding Your Way Home ...
Upon returning from your retreat, you may find a time of adjustment growing back into your old surroundings in your new skin. What better way to find meaning in everyday things again than with a little help from Sue Bender's 'Everyday Sacred : A Woman's Journey Home'? The perfect "welcome home" gift to yourself, this remarkable companion will offer comfort and wisdom as you take your lessons from the shore that less is truly more.
Reconnecting at the Cape ...
If, like Joan Anderson, when you're done your retreat you decide to return to the mainland to fetch your significant other so you can head back to the shores together, consider 'Enchanted Summer: A Romantic Guide to Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha's Vineyard' a wonderful place to start.
Ready to kick it up a notch? Tackle a few 'Short Bike Rides on Cape Cod, Nantucket & the Vineyard, 7th', or leave the beaten path with a little 'Backroad Bicycling on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, Second Edition (Backroad Bicycling Series)'.
Perhaps the two of you are ready for a more daring adventure? Well you've headed to the shore, so hit the water and explore! You might want to consider 'Paddling Cape Cod: A Coastal Explorer's Guide', or 'Adventure Kayaking: Trips in Cape Cod: Includes Cape Cod National Seashore'.