Delights and Downsides of Dabbling Dilettantism

You’ve heard of a square peg in a round hole? That’s not me. I’m more like the most boring bit of a Tinker Toy set, the little stick that connects to ANYTHING. Or–going literary–I’m Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, trying to play all the roles: “Let me be the lion too!”

Which is why Wing’s World is sometimes a travel blog, sometimes a food blog; sometimes focused on poetry, other times social justice. Or music. Or sports. Or dogs (when Maya takes over). Or something completely random, like the way everybody starts sentences with “So” now.

You might have noticed.

(for example)

My guess is, I pay in readership for this inconstancy. I can tell by comparing Wing’s World’s comments to those in the blogs I follow. For example, this recent one by Rachel Mankowitz, about life challenges, poetry and dogs: 107 comments!

Or Raven & Chickadee, a dedicated travel blog by two folks on a years-long, slo-mo road trip, which regularly gathers dozens of comments.

Etc. I’m sure y’all know many more blogs on many of my favorite topic where the comment section is hopping.

But you know what? I am OK with my own lack of internet sizzle. Two of my favorite blogs, written by fellow Lopez Islanders, fill me up with ideas and inspiration every time I read them, and sometimes their comment section is as modest as my own. (But just in case you want to be filled with ideas & inspiration yourself and you don’t already follow these, check out:

Fact and Fable for ALL things book-and-story-related

Like this book nook! (image courtesy Reddit.com, via Fact and Fable)

and

the blog of Iris Graville for questions of spirituality and environmentalism.)

Photo of Tahlequah and Phoenix by Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research, via Iris Graville

To summarize:

Downsides: my ego needs to look elsewhere than my blog for any extra inflation.

Delights: I get to write about whatever the heck I please–like this!

So…any requests?

“Are You My Mommy?” This Poem Wants to Know.

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHO WROTE THIS?

Bent at the beginning

in the seed, the corm,

we grow taller toward the light

carrying upward the grace of our leaves

and with it our canker

our wont to be mistaken

self-absorbed

even cruel in the face of kindness,

burr and thorn as much a part of us as any fragrant rose.

(Photo by Tico, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I started the habit of reciting a Morning Poem right after the election of 2016. I found I needed to fill my mind with something beautiful and deep at the start of the day , before exposing it to the news or even email.

I’ve had other poems–longer ones, more intense–but something about the brevity and purity of this one has stuck it with me now for a year. Only problem is, I’ve forgotten the poet! And as I tend to treat my books of poetry like library books, sending them on instead of keeping them, I can’t look it up.

I’ve tried Googling the first line; it yielded mostly suggestions for growing corn.

Not quite what I had in mind. (photo by doc(q)man, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

What I love about this poem is the way it reminds me of those dark/light, yin/yang pairing: imperfection yet striving, pride yet humility. Both, and. Yes. Onward we go.

Thorns are part of the deal. (Photo by Parvin, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not giving this poem up until another suggests taking its place. But I really want to credit the poet! So I’m hoping someone can step forward and help me here.

Still, while we’re on the topic: I’d also love to hear other suggestions for a poem with which to begin the day. Hit me!

Politics as Usual? The Shocking Cameraderie of the Washington State Legislature

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Excatly two weeks and one day after THIS…

(Image by Tyler Merbler, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

…I was scheduled to testify at a hearing on a bill in the legislature of my state, The Other Washington.

THIS place: Olympia, WA. (Image by MathTeacherGuy, courtesy Creative Commons)

Of course, what with COVID, the hearing wasn’t in Olympia, but on Zoom, along with gazillion other meetings. (Just curious: what do we do when Zoom fills up? A good koan for medition.)

The bill in question was HB 1090, which aims to ban all for-profit, privately-run prisons in Washington State by 2025. Having been involved for a couple of years in the campaign to close the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma–packed to an inhuman degree with detained immigrants–I had signed up to give my two cents’ worth on why for-profit prisons are a terrible idea.

The NWDC. (photo by Eldan, courtesy Creative Commons)

When I Zoomed in at 1:30, House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman was announcing the lineup for the 2-hour session. It sounded ambitious. First up: amendments on two different bills: one restricting police car chases, one banning no-knock warrants. Then came public comment on two other bills: one refining the definition of hate crime, the other allowing survivors of sexual assault improved access to the progress of their cases and better overall care. Finally, at the end: “my” bill, 1090.

Oooookay, I thought. Maybe I’ll go make a cup of tea and check back in an hour.

But before I wandered away, something caught my attention. The same something that has probably caught all of America’s attention beginning this past Wednesday, Inauguration Day. That something was…civility.

A minority Republican on the committee–a beefy White guy in a Statue of Liberty necktie–was making an argument about an amendment on the car-chase bill. Talking about the Democratic sponsor of the bill, I heard him say, “…though I love and respect him as a person…” Then the Democratic Chair was allaying the Republican’s fears. And then they thanked each other.

Wait. Wait. No snark, no snarling? I barely recognize this tone…like a Golden Oldie playing softly in the background. Mesmerizing.

So I stayed right where I was. I watched that same burly Republican Representative have another of his amendments voted down–he wanted to allow the police broader scope to continue with no-knock warrants (like the one that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020). Still: no rancor, no posturing. Just–“just!”–courtesy.

I watched prosecutors and brave victims of hate crimes testify in favor of HB 1071, which refines the definition of a hate crime to reflect the reality of what people are facing. I watched legislators from both parties thank the participants with zero grandstanding or finger-pointing.

I watched the Republican and Democratic co-sponsors of the Sexual Assault Rights Bill (HB 1109–described as a model for the nation!) sing each other’s praises for the hard road they’ve traveled together since, apparently, 2015. I watched Rep. Burly Republican tear up as he articulated his concerns about sexual assault victims.

They’re all so respectful! So pleasant! I wanted to run into that Zoom room and hug the entire committee.

By the time they got to the private prisons bill, of course, they were out of time. Only a couple of the dozens of folks signed up to speak got to do so.

Did I mind? Not one bit. That two hours of civil civic discourse was as encouraging as a COVID shot. I felt unexpectedly innoculated against political cynicism.

“Well, sure,” my Mate said when I told him about it, “that’s Washington State for you.” I think he meant, y’know, we’re practically Canadians. But no: our governor’s mansion was also attacked on January 6. We’re every bit as vulnerable to the political virus as any other state.

So…feeling pessimistic about political polarization? Depressed at the divide? Take two of these and call me in the morning–“these” being a couple of the most rivetingly boring hours ever, listening to politicians act like grownups together.

The Next Right Thing

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If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that I created it with little enthusiasm back, oh, nine years ago, when the People Who Know Such Things convinced me that I, as an Author, needed a Platform.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy blogging. Especially since “Wing’s World” has remained fairly untethered to theme. What’s not to love when you can blog one week about kale salad, and the next about how many times you’ve run around Planet Earth? As a writer, I did try to steer clear of two topics: writing about writing—boooooring—and politics: divisive.

Then an unfunny thing happened: the last four years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward topics of justice that need addressing, and increasingly uncomfortable blogging with my usual whimsy. While I appreciate lightheartedness in the writing of others, for myself it feels too much like fiddling while Rome burns.

But who needs more blog posts about everything that’s dire? And so I respond with…silence. My posting has gone from a robust twice-weekly clip to weekly…to biweekly…to whenever the hell I feel like it. And I haven’t felt like it.

(photo by rbaez, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Can I get an “Amen”?

Then on a walk the other day, doing my Mary-Oliver-best to let the wild wind and whitecaps and dripping mosses capture all of me, I thought back to a podcast I’d just heard, which reminded me of a hackneyed but super useful concept I learned back in the 90’s. That concept: the Circle of Control from good ol’ Stephen Covey—remember the 7 Habits guy?

[Copyright Stephen Covey]

EVERYONE should be able to relate to this. Life feeling out of control? Too much, too fast, too hard? Well…what are you in charge of? Eating a healthy breakfast? Reading a book to a child? Do that. Start there.

Now that I think about it, it’s quite similar, in fact, to the Serenity Prayer. Probably smarter people than I have already noted this.

You know: this. (image courtesy Etsy.com)

Anyway, that podcast which started this train of thought? An episode of NPR’s Invisibilia featured an extraordinary woman in Scotland, Joy Milne, who discovered she has the superpower of being able to smell diseases in people. Terminal diseases. Which means she can meet someone and know how close to death they may be—even if they don’t know it themselves. Which means she can, in a way, see the future…without being able to control it. 

Talk about “too much”!

Along her journey of discovery—that is, science discovering this woman and putting her power to use—Joy befriended another woman, suffering from Parkinson’s, whose mantra for living with her disease seems to be actually defeating it. This woman says that, in the face of terminal out-of-controlness, she simply tries to “do the next right thing.”

I like that phrase even better than “Circle of Control.” It’s more humble, more tender, more…real.

Throughout most of 2020 (or COVIDCOVID if you prefer), my “next right things” included working on my book, and working to help save America from Donald Trump. [Pictured: my phonebank tallies. Including the calls for the Georgia runoff (which already feels like a year ago), I made approximately 3,000 calls.]

Since that time, conditions in our country and our world feel more out of control than ever–all the more so from having spun away just in the budding of hope. My back pain is not improving. And my writing project is stalled (yes, I WILL write about that when I am able).

In short, I need some new, modest enterprises to function as Serenity Prayer. So here are three:

–a local online tutoring project for kids in our community

–a phone-calling and letter-writing campaign to shut down private prisons in Washington State

–training our new big, overly-enthusiastic dog

Who, me?

Are these projects blogworthy? We’ll see. Of course they’re wildly divergent in scope and tenor. But they do have one thing in common: for me, in 2021’s crazy start, they all feel like the next right thing.

And what is yours? Please share.

Working On Our Core: the Search for America’s Hidden Abdominals

As a woman who’s included “runner” as part of her identity since 1967 (true story), I’ve only recently joined the ranks of those smarter humans who treat their body as an entire vehicle, paying attention to all the parts–not just the ones that make me run faster.

Oh, 2013, I miss you so much. Those days are NOT coming back. (photo by Barb Mondloch)

I’m talking core. As in, that middle part of me that is apparently my secret weapon against the back pain that’s been messing with my routine. That part the rest of y’all have probably all been working on all this time, rolling your eyes at me for taking my body for granted. (Oh, sorry–that’s the Mate who does that, not you. Probably.)

Trying to remember the name of the muscles I’m engaging here.

Anyway, all this lying-on-the-floor-trying-to-get-in-touch-with-muscles-I’ve-never-heard-of stuff has me thinking about our country. Because, like “runner,” another identity I’ve taken for granted my entire life is “American.” And lately that identity, like the disc in my lower back, has started to fray, sending shocks of pain throughout my spirit.

Is this who we are? A nation of separate realities, separate truths? Is this 2020, or 1860?

You don’t need me to say more. You know what I mean. And you have probably been doing the same kind of wondering: where is that secret, hidden muscle we need to work, the one that binds us, keeps our body politic from falling apart?

Am I heading in the right direction? Reaching for the right solution?

I want to say that muscle is simply compassion–but how simple is compassion? In these days when each tribe thinks the other wants to destroy it? Can I make myself wish the best for, oh, I don’t know, a Michael Flynn, who urges a do-over of our entire election, or a Kelly Loeffler, who refuses even to acknowledge that’s what her leadership wants? Can I wish compassion for Trump or for people who scream his name without masks?

As I write this, I can hear John Lewis’s voice in my head:

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.” (from Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America)

I know, Congressman. I know. But it’s so HARD.

What “exercises” are you trying to strengthen your commitment to a “more perfect Union” in these fraught months? I would love to add them to my new routine.

America’s Road Ahead: Notes From a Real Roadie

The day after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared President- and Vice President-elect, I sat down to express my thoughts in this blog…and quickly realized someone had already expressed them for me. “Raven and Chickadee” is the blog of my friends Laurel and Eric, who left their home in Ashland, OR several years ago for a life on the road as full-time RV-ers. Until COVID, which…well, I’ll let Chickadee (Laurel) tell it. The photos are by Raven (Eric).

Bridging The Divide

Wow. Is it really over? I hope so. I am deeply relieved to step off of this insane election roller coaster.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows us that we did not vote for the incumbent. But this election has made me think long and hard about the state of our country.

Strangers In A Strange Land

Our hometown—Ashland, Oregon—is about as liberal a town as you’ll find anywhere. That’s one of the things that drew both Eric and me to live there many years ago. For decades, we lived in a town of like-minded folks, where the biggest controversy was how to humanely manage the deer mowing down people’s gardens.

We now find ourselves in Eastpoint, Florida—a stronghold of conservatives, where we are liberal outliers in a community rife with Trump flags and signs.

When we took to the road for our fulltime travels seven-and-a-half years ago, one of my fears was that we wouldn’t find people with whom we had anything in common. That has not turned out to be true. Our network of friends has expanded to a rich and satisfying tribe that extends from coast to coast.

In our travels, we’ve also discovered that people, by a vast majority, are decent. Even if we aren’t destined to become close friends, we’ve been touched time and again by the kindness of strangers, no matter what their political or religious beliefs. That includes our neighbors here in Eastpoint, who have been unfailingly kind and generous as we’ve navigated these difficult months of dealing with my parents’ home, my father’s death, and the pandemic.

The piney woods in North Florida

The Long Road Ahead

This election was certainly not the Blue Wave that we anticipated. While we are thrilled to have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our new president and vice-president, it is painfully clear that we have a long road of healing ahead. And it’s up to us, the people, to heal our nation.

I hope we will be kind to one another, that we will approach each other in a spirit of generosity, that we will listen to each other’s concerns, that we will try to understand, and that we won’t fall into the seductive trap of labeling and dismissing anyone who votes or thinks differently. (I am excluding anyone who voted for Trump for racist reasons. That includes anyone flying a Confederate flag or wearing a MAGA hat. The time of white supremacy is long over, so get over it. )

We do not have an easy task ahead. Personally, I’ve had a field day with the absurdities of Trump over the past four years (along with feeling terrified and outraged). But along with the vast majority of our neighbors here in Eastpoint who voted for Trump, Eric and I both have family members and friends who voted for him. These are not racist, unkind, ungenerous people. They had their reasons for voting for Trump, just as we had our reasons for voting for Biden. Somehow, we need to find compromises.

The chasm is wide. But we have to bridge it, for the sake of one another, our country, and our world.

A utility trailer in Appalachicola

The Saving Grace of Tiny Things

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been phone-banking for the election. And as I’ve mentioned before, I still hate phone-banking just as much as when I started back in June.

My tally sheet, keeping track of calls. Closing in on 1,200 now.

But with less than a week till the election, the need to feel like part of the team is stronger than ever, and I don’t have any excuses. I only work part-time. My kids are grown. I’m a people person. And I know that good ol’ poly-sci research shows that Get Out the Vote phonecalls make the most difference right NOW.

Still, I found myself the other day staring longingly out the window as I waited for the “ThruTalk” dialer to connect me with some not-yet-voter in North Carolina. What a beautiful day! What am I doing indoors? And what…what in all the gods’ names is that?

Not pictured: “that.”

The sun was shining through the scruffy fir forest outside our house, and between each tree, strung among the branches like filaments of fire, were strands of…spider silk? Some other magical bug-excretion? The shining lines were all horizontal, as if the trees had decided to briefly represent their invisible communication through the most tender and celestial of metaphors.

I checked my watch: twelve minutes to go on my shift. Maybe eight more calls. Then I’d hurry out there with my camera to capture the magic.

But to my sorrow, when I hurried out thirteen minutes later, the filaments had all disappeared from my sight. Were they still there, dull without sunlight? Were they ever there at all?

Crestfallen, I looked around…and found some cheery wee mushrooms just dying to have their picture taken.

Hi guys!

That little episode reminded me of another photo I’d taken a couple of weeks ago, out for a walk between rainstorms. Some kind of tiny, bracketed stems of a bygone flower were making chandeliers among the lichens at my feet.

I’m sure the poet Mary Oliver would make way more of this than I, but how about this for an attempt: those filaments, those mushrooms, those droplets, those maybe-voters in North Carolina–aren’t they all really the same thing?

VoteVoteVote. Got it got it got it. But THEN…

Warning: if you’ve had a tough time living in Trumpmerica, this image might make you feel like bursting into tears.

Hope & Change, baby.

Yep–that was me twelve years ago, casting my vote for Joe Biden…as VP to Barack Obama’s President.

I’ll give you a moment. Might need to take one myself.

Fast forward to now, 2020. Two weeks or so before the election. My ballot and the Mate’s are already sealed and ready for dropping off. (We Washingtonians have been handling this vote-by-mail thing for over a decade now!)

Notice I didn’t bother taking a picture of the inside this time.

It’s obvious to me that, compared to 2008, I’m not nearly as excited about the candidates I’m helping to elect. This election feels more like grabbing the emergency brake before the country goes hurtling off a cliff. But I think that might actually be a good thing.

Because…what if my political dreams come true? What if everyone I vote for wins? What if the party I prefer takes over the White House and both houses of Congress? We still have so much on our plate. Poverty. Systemic Racism. Private prisons. A toxic political system, which has created a toxic social divide, and vice-versa.

So this post is just to remind myself: yes, I DID write HUNDREDS of letters to voters in battleground states, over the course of the last few months. Yes, I DID encourage many friends to do the same. Yes, I WILL celebrate on election day if the issues and candidates I voted for actually win.

Dear _______, let me tell you why I vote in every election!

But no, I will not do what I did in 2008 and 2012: celebrate and then relax. Because need never sleeps, and the next fight is always around the corner.

Lesson learned, 2016–thanks very much. And 2020? Let’s hope you’re just the first tiny step away from that cliff.

Finding Empathy in Smoky Air…and Children

You know that phrase, “Be careful what you wish for?”

Yeah.

Below is the chorus of a song I wrote several years ago, about the experience of living on a small, peaceful island while the rest of the country struggles:

No man is an island, let that be my prayer

No matter how alluring be the shore.

Keep battering my senses, O you ocean of despair

Till that landlocked pain is pounding too hard to ignore.

I wrote that song in response to the death of Philando Castile, or rather, to the jury’s response in refusing to convict the policeman who shot him in front of his family. But these days, as smoke from the terrible mainland wildfires keeps us indoors day after day, “that landlocked pain” takes on a whole new meaning.

If you’re wondering why I’m not inserting a photo here of our apocalyptic skies, it’s because I don’t want to record them for posterity. Too depressing. So just picture mountains rising behind an ocean view, and then picture that lovely scene disappearing into grey nothingness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the effects of climate change before. I didn’t need convincing. But “believing” isn’t “feeling.” Real empathy, I think, requires some residue of that pain to lodge inside a person, like tiny particles in the lungs.

So I’ve been thinking about empathy–where it comes from, how we can better stimulate it in each other. And that’s when I ran across this article in a new publication on my island, “The Lopezian,” written by 29 year-old Lopezian Terrell Carter, pictured (literally) here:

(image courtesy Terrell Carter)

As you read Carter’s article, I’d like you to notice two things. One: how, indeed, “no man is an island,” and the deepening divide of mainland America is present even in our bucolic community. And Two: the natural-born empathy of young people this reporter evokes as they respond to the attack on the Say Their Names/Black Lives Matter memorial that occurred on August 12.

Meanwhile at the Skatepark…

Local youth react to vandalism across the street

By Terrell Carter

September 5, 2020

Transcript of audio:

[00:00] Intro music

Terrell Carter: This is The Lopezian: Phase Two News. I’m your host, Terrell Carter. In this issue, we turn now to the Sheriff’s Report.

Newscaster: On August 12th, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Log reports that a Lopez Island man was arrested and lodged in jail on several charges after reportedly vandalizing Black Lives Matter signs near the Village using an excavator.

Terrell Carter: Following now are reactions to this incident as recorded across the street at Lopez Skatepark.

Penelope (age 8): I know that one guy tried to lawn mow them down.

Reporter: How do you feel about that?

Penelope (age 8): I don’t know. Just like that wasn’t a right choice.

Clark (age 11): Knocking over signs is just rude.

Davis (age 11): People just, like, wanna show that they support something.

Clark (age 11): Yeah. They make too big of a deal of it. It’s just unfair, it’s mean, and rude.

[1:02] Connor (age 13): Is there any reason that they broke the sign?

Reporter: The first sign was a Trump sign that got defaced and then in response the person who owned the sign trampled over some of the Black Lives Matter signs.

Connor (age 13): Alright, uh, so I think you’d be pretty mad if someone destroyed your sign, and especially because it’s political, everyone has different opinions about it, so, it’s not right to break someone else’s property if you don’t agree with it, uh, but it is definitely wrong to uh, once you got your property destroyed, to go and break someone else’s property. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, uh, they shouldn’t have done it.

Liam (age 10): I don’t think it’s right. Because it’s kind of considered destruction of other people’s property and also if, like, somebody worked hard on it and you vandalized it, that would just be really mean.

[2:00] Reporter: Have you ever experienced uh someone destroying property or witnessed it before?

Liam (age 10): Um, well if you’re counting toys then yes. Sometimes my friends build really cool builds with Legos and other people destroy them. It’s kind of frustrating because like, when you’ve worked hard on something and then it gets destroyed.

Reporter: How about if you disagree with what’s on the sign, what then?

Liam (age 10): I won’t vandalize it. I’ll just think it in my head.

Jesse (age 14): Aren’t all those signs memorials?

Reporter: Yeah

Jesse: Aaagh. I mean, I guess, I’d say like one is like a memorial that is put up in respect of someone who lost their life. Another one is like a sign for a political party. I think that, yeah, vandalism’s bad but…they’re memorials! If there was a sign that was up for like, you know, part of my family, and, like we had a sign up, that would be, I would be devastated if someone out of spite knocked, knocked it over.

[3:16] Eloise: If they’re memorials, that’s for someone who’s dead. We should give them, we should give a lot of signs respect, but we should give them more respect because, like, they’ve lost their life. If we knock them down, that’s extremely rude.

Penny (age 7): It’s unfair that, like, white people and black people are treated different. And I think they should be treated equally. It’s just really unfair. And really sad at the same time, and like, a lot’s going on already and having the people kill other people, black people, is not helping it actually at all. It’s making it, Coronavirus, go worse. Cause then we’re losing people and it’s just unfair, unfair, unfair.

[4:21] Newscaster: Following the incident, the man involved was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree. He pleaded not guilty on September 2nd and stands trial at San Juan District Court at 9:30am on Wednesday, October 14.

Terrell Carter: But the story of the signs doesn’t end there.

Reporter: Over a hundred people came together to help repair the sign. They put it back together. Uh, I’m wondering how, how that makes you feel hearing that?

Jesse: Yeah, that’s, that’s kind of epic. It’s good to see communities working together to…to…

Eloise: …to improve mistakes.

Terrell Carter: A ceremony to transition the signs and to speak the names of those honored will take place at the Community Center lawn tomorrow, Sunday, September 6th, at 12 noon. Everyone is invited to attend in support of Black Lives Matter. [05:25]

Images of POC killed by police created by multiple Lopez artists; memorial created by a small group of Lopezians; image provided by Terrell Carter

No man is an island, indeed. Those kids in this article understand that better than most adults in our country. Now, what can we do to make fresher air for all of us to breathe!

Bank on This: Phone-Banking Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up To Be. It’s Better.

You know those things you swear you’ll never do because you’re bad at them and you think they’re annoying and don’t make any difference and oh, by the way, you hate doing them?

Could I be talking about anything but political phone-banking? And have I been doing it anyway? And am I going to quit with the stupid rhetorical questions? Yes, yes, and yes.

The whole enterprise started with my furlough. I had some extra time on my hands, which I mainly filled with some physical volunteer work: packing school meals to be delivered to children, and groceries to be delivered to families. That felt meaningful.

But then both those programs ended (because hey, everyone knows kids don’t need to eat in the summer, especially when their parents might also be furloughed or unemployed!). [Note: this is NOT a slam on my community, which is doing everything in its power to help everyone.It’s about funding from upstream.]

Anyway, there I am in early June with the world on fire with injustice and COVID, and my deep-seated urges to pitch in have nowhere else to turn but…the phone. Calling voters in states without mail-in ballot programs to try to help voters get mail-in ballots, and gosh, by the way, wanna help elect Mr/Ms/Dr ____ to the ______?

On my first go, in Wisconsin, I swore I was done with this.

Woo-hoo.

Me, phone-banking: This is such a waste of time.

Myself: Nuh-uh, all the political people say it’s been proven that phone calls make more difference than any form of voter contact!

Me: But I even hate getting these kind of calls!

Myself: Well, you won’t from now on, will you? Maybe this is your punishment for not being nicer to the last person who called you.

Me: Not true. I’m always nice. But you may have a point there: this job feels like penance. Can I just go ahead and like, bank it against future sins?

But then the nice campaign people in Wisconsin let me know how badly they needed my help, so next day, there I was again. I don’t know how many calls I made because I hadn’t thought to keep count. But then I took some phone-bank training and discovered the joy of tally marks.

So NOW when I’m calling, I’m really competing with myself. Last week I made 100 calls in 2 hours. How ’bout 110 this week? Do I hear 120?

And along the way, even though there are SO many things I’d rather be doing on a lovely summer afternoon, like

noticing wildflowers…

or

…noticing wildlife…

I’m learning other ways to “enjoy” my political “work.” Like:

Fun with numbers! “Hey, this guy’s number’s almost the same as my Social Security.” “Whoa, a triple 6–wish I had a cool Satanic phone number like that.”

Enjoying the different recordings people leave on their voicemail, like this one man: “Hello, this is Mister Wonderful.” Or this adorable couple: “You’ve reached Grandpa and Grandma Willis.”

[Note: these generally make up for those irritating ones where the person’s clearly trying to fool the caller into thinking they’ve reached a real person instead of a recording. You guys suck.]

Grooving on cool names. I like to do this: “Hi, I’m Gretchen with the ____ Campaign, and I’ve been calling folks all afternoon and you’ve just won the Coolest Name of the Day award.”

Playing the Find my Age game: I’m 58. Nothing so special about 58, right? Except that only about .000008 of the folks I’ve called seem to BE 58, and only half of those are women. So when I get a 58 year-old female on my list (all we get are name, age & gender, and sometimes not even gender), I let them know how excited I am to talk to them! [If they pick up, that is. Which they do only about 10% of the time. So I’ve really only bonded with two other 58 year-old women so far. Sisterhood is beautiful.]

So much darn fun, I can almost forget I’d rather be kayaking.

For those of us who enjoy Life Lessons, there’s the Note Your Prejudices game: see what mental image pops into your head when you see someone’s name, age & gender pop up, then–quick, before they answer the phone!–re-arrange that prejudice into something completely different. Then find out how right or wrong you were when they answer! (If they answer. 😦 ) And briefly ponder the internal biases that caused your initial guess, quick–before you dial the next number.

Then, of course, there’s always good ol’ Gazing Out the Window…trying not to think about hiking into the sunset

Not till you’ve finished your tally marks.

or making pie.

I think I’ve earned pie.

But really? It’s all about the tally marks. And yes, just in case you were wondering: I DID make 120 calls this afternoon, thanks!

Which means I need to shoot for 125 next time. 

Total # of calls (since I started keeping track, so it’s really about 100 more): 650. And when I get to 1,000, I WILL make a pie.

Anyone else engaged in some political work right now which requires a struggle to feel meaningful? How do you keep your positive energy up?