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Sunday, May 6th

Okay narcissistic rants aside – I do enjoy writing every day. As the (over written?) introvert, I do better when I can process. Writing allows me to process.

But, what to process? The never-ending balancing act and working towards my deemed purpose.

I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. So, I’ve picked volunteer projects, paid jobs, reading material, and seminars to support that idea. I’ve started endeavors to support that idea. Every choice I make tries to support that idea.

My thinking on what I should be doing with my life has always been ongoing. Growing up Catholic, there is a certain amount of time dedicated to thinking about listening for God’s calling. I never felt like I had one. I only knew to follow my interests. My interests have always been consistent in the environment and education. When I was 18 and a freshman at Michigan State University, a first year at James Madison College eagerly awaiting my studies in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, I thought maybe I would or could be a lobbyist. I’d lobby for the virtues of the environment or education. I thought maybe I’d need a law degree, which always has intrigued me.

Then I got a bunch of loans through two universities, and suddenly spending more money I didn’t have on law school didn’t seem so important. In between those two universities, the school of life focused my studies on environmental thought, food, and community building. Those themes coalesced at Portland State University with the opening of their Sustainable Urban Development minor. My studies then concentrated on geography and urban development. Two themes where I continued to think about food, people, and how to make it all work together.

Is it any wonder then that I work intimately with a food buying club that focuses on local food sustainability and an environmental nonprofit that guides its thoughts in stewardship? One of my parting studies introduced me to the concept of “servant leadership”. It’s this idea where you lead from behind. A great example is how I stopped arguing with my husband about what to have for dinner and just focused on whole foods, home cooked foods, and organic foods (as budgets allowed). Now, he tells me the virtues of the food we eat.

Each refocus can be identified by a shift in thinking and impatience with the day-to-day. Like when I finally graduated. I had spent so much time thinking about my degree, that when I finally got it all I wanted was to put all those studies into action and work towards some semblance of a career. Then, there was the (housing) crash of 2008. Just one month after I graduated. I was loathe to apply for just any job – I had an idea of what I wanted to do. So, I focused on environmental jobs. I applied to be program coordinators and managers. I tried for AmeriCorps jobs. I tried for a plethora of administrative jobs. I had interviews. I had second interviews. I applied for more than 300 jobs in three years (starting in 2007).

I get a job. And, well… it proves to be more or less as dysfunctional as the twenty some jobs I held in my twenties. So, maybe working for others doesn’t work for me. I don’t get their lack of vision. I don’t get their lack of leadership. I don’t get their in ability to properly facilitate meetings. (Meetings that could identify vision and leadership and focus the organization past dysfunction!!)

These weeks of not writing have been thinking about all of that. It’s been spent thinking and doing the day-to-day, just to get by. It’s been pondering how to fix the rut and get into a career. I think I have some ideas. Now, to put them into action.

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S-S-S-Sustainability!

Cover of "Ecotopia"
Cover of Ecotopia

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

That’s what I want to do with my life. In some shape or form, anything I am doing, I want it to mesh with that belief. The belief that we should live in a sustainable society and we owe it to ourselves to get there. The belief is also contingent upon the thought that what we are doing is not sustainable and that there is oodles of room for improvement.

I heard of sustainability first, while reading Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia. In it, he referred to this concept of sustainability as a stable state system. A system in which everything is in equilibrium with everything else. There was a process for nearly everything to make sure that you really had the best information moving forward about making a decision. You harvested the wood if you wanted a wood frame home, for example.

A co-worker, during one of those nice “just go out to lunch with one of your co-worker” things, prodded me after I asked him why he was doing Construction Project Management. He returned the question. I wasn’t expecting that. I started with, “Oh, I don’t know.” But I had to pause. Because, I knew it wasn’t true.

I was at the end of a nearly 5 year break from college. I had gained more life experience, talked more with different people, read more about different ideas, and began formulating my own. Yes, in fact, I did know what I want to do … and I apologized for my cop-out statement and came up with that.

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

Sustainable. But, what does that mean? I had the opportunity to go back to school, and back to school I went. What a fortunate time it was. Sustainability was popping up everywhere! Lucky for me, minors and specialized programs were too. I didn’t want to do another dual major attempt but rather, efficiently wrap all my interests under one degree.

One of the amazing opportunities I had after I decided on my minor in Sustainable Urban Development was to visit Italy for two weeks on an agri-tourismo property that specialized in sustainability. We were a crew of about 15. Some of us were young, some were middle-aged, and some were fresh of the boat young college kids. One of my favorite attendees was a Bosnian gal who spent much of her adult life in the US. I loved hearing her cross-oceanic view of the world.

People, she said to me, in one late night conversation around the farm table with tea and wine. People. People often forget about people. Labor. The people who do the job.

As someone who was raised in a blue-collar family with white-collar dreams, I can relate.

What did my minor say about that? Only that to define this stable state equilibrium, we should measure people, profits, and place on the same playing field. A field in which they all get equal play and are measured so that no one suffers. Equity, Economy, and Environment. The Triple Bottom Line. The Three-Legged Stool. Sustainability.

But, why then, if that’s a decent measure of how to define sustainability, do people still forget people?

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Community

Only Group Shot
Our Sustainable-Tuscan-PSU Community. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was either 2005 or 2006. I was taking my first Urban Studies & Planning course, Film and the City. It was a sort of introductory course to Urban Planning through the eyes of film. The first movie we viewed was a Chinese film called Shower. This film introduced the concept of community and how design works with community and how community changes as design changes. There were many other levels to the film, but it was first, for our class, an introduction to this concept of community.

Los Tres Imanes
Image via Wikipedia

As a film class, one-page write ups and group discussion were par (for the course, ha ha). I was either 27 or 28 at the time of this discussion. My other classmates, or the ones in the discussion group, were in their early twenties. (It’s amazing to me how the difference of 5 years in your twenties means a lot.) We were asked, after having viewed the movie, how we would define community.

I suddenly found myself in a disagreement with my discussion group on what community is. I feel that we have many different communities. We have communities in which we select: church, certain social groups, classes we take, work place communities, and so on. Then, we have broader groups, our neighborhoods, cities, states, nations. When I was arguing for these micro communities, my classmates disagreed with me. They suggested that this idea of community was too narrow and didn’t allow for diversity. For example, I could have chosen to live in an all-white neighborhood and that would have been too singular in what I heard them arguing to actually be defined as community.

I cannot remember their exact words now, four or five years later. But, if that was truly their argument, I still, to this day have to vehemently disagree with their concept of community.

Garden City diagram
Image via Wikipedia

What is community then? I still believe a community is simply the circle of people with whom we surround ourselves. Whether it be our street, our neighborhood, our work place, our school, or our churches. All these places have different people, offer different things, and they serve as a community for us. A community of living, of economy, of knowledge, of spiritual growth – whatever. It’s still a form of community, and we sometimes turn to those in that community for assistance. We could look for neighborly assistance, as in, “Please, could you watch my house while we’re on vacation?” to study buddies to prayer circles. All forms offer some support if we choose to lean on them for that support. All forms can offer fun, learning moments, teaching moments, conflict and resolution.

Still, what is community? I am busy. I have a lot of interests. I cannot afford to spend my time randomly. While I appreciate random encounters for those teachable, fun moments, I have chosen to spend my time with certain people. Family and close friends. From there, I reach out to my church community, my food community, and a local mom’s group. With this local mom’s group, I subscribe to a daily email list, and have thus far attended one event. Many of the moms overlap with my food community.

What does community do? Community is there for you when you need them. Today, I hope I was there for a fellow mom. I’ve seen her name on this list a million times. I have met her exactly once, to the one event attended and organized by this mom’s group.

Today, 8 days before Christmas, she was in a car accident. No one was injured, but who’s to say how the family mini-van will fair. Although I had a front row seat, I actually didn’t see anything. I still can’t believe this happened. That I didn’t see anything. I had no helpful detail of information to share. It all happened so fast. SUV turning, me dazing, crash, call 911, tow truck pulling through, cop following, hanging up since 911 isn’t needed. Recognition. I know her. Parking the car, hazard lights on. Validation. Rolling window down, stating her name. Yes, I know her. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I got out of the car and gave her a hug. I only told her that I was a part of this mom’s group.

I got back in the car, went to a fellow mom’s house, she wasn’t home. She’s usually good at organizing these things, so I called her first. By “these things” I mean care packages. She was a little unsure of what to do, so I later phoned the Queen Bee of the mom’s group. She advised the other mom to call her insurance and began organizing an evening meal, while working.

Community. That’s what community is.

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