Stepping Up and Forward

I have been away from this blog for a while when life and career took a few turns.

From December 2012 to November 2014 I directed Energize Everett, a community health outreach program in Everett MA. I took a floundering program and did an amazing job of turning it around, brought together constituents from all sectors (government, community and non-profit) to improve access to healthy food and physical  activity. I also wrote large grants that received funding, including a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health grant.

I discovered work in the world that was compelling, that engaged almost all my skills in service of a mission I believed in. I discovered I could successfully direct a multi-faceted IMG_0442program. It was empowering. Energize Everett was a wonderful experience and when it ended (not by my choice) I had some serious thinking to do. Would I continue on this public health career track? I thought about an MPH (master’s in public health) but decided on an MFA, and in 2015, I was accepted into a low residency Visual Arts MFA at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.

I have a passion for justice and equity esp in public health but I never had a traditional career trajectory. I’ve basically followed my heart. My definition of creativity is broad and not confined to the arts. I deeply believe there is a place for the arts just about everywhere and I’ve made visual art, and written fiction and poetry since I was a child. So the MFA in 2015 may have seemed like a 180 turn-around but it wasn’t. However…

After a year in the program I realized my old dream of getting an MFA wasn’t necessary. I’d been practicing art for many years and no longer wanted a degree. But I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried.

After leaving Lesley, I managed a state-wide healthy aging program, Now I’m at another crossroads. Not sure if we all have lots of these pivot points in life or if my life has been especially blessed 🙂 but here I am.

I’m definitely re-booting notadiabetic. I love writing (I also have several eBooks in the idea stage). And I’m shifting some of the focus from a personal POV to some bigger issues informed by my public health work, like equity in diabetes treatment and prevention, and political issues, like the rising cost of insulin. I want to grow a coaching practice focused on lifestyle coaching with folks with diabetes (PWDs), and life and leadership coaching for female managers and older women in transition.

Thank you for reading. Please share if it makes sense. More to come!

 

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(Not Really) Satisfying

I just heard an ad for raspberry cheesecake flavored Yoplait. Like so many food ads it’s always about satisfying (forbidden, midnight etc.) cravings with something sweet, indulgent and “satisfying.” But eating food which is engineered specifically to keep you eating requires even more energy to stop even though the ad says that eating this food will stop the craving.

You can imagine what the sexy attractive woman eating and smiling throughout the commercial is thinking. “We know you want to eat a lot but you can satisfy that craving by eating this low calorie non-food item that tastes incredibly delicious and is only 90 (always under 100) calories.”

from eattobeat.org

from eattobeat.org

The camera lingers over enhanced images of chocolate, raspberry shortcake, vanilla ice cream ad nauseam setting in motion bodily chemical processes so that you not only emotionally want it but also physically want it.

The insanity of this kind of 24/7 advertising everywhere all day constantly is pernicious. Food and eating should never be based on eating more to satisfying desire. Processed non-food ads rarely talk about satisfying hunger which is the real reason to eat.

When you use an engineered non-food to “satisfy” a craving you only increase the craving, which eventually demands more willpower to quell it.

I recently made the decision to stop calling processed, engineered food items “food.” They are not food. They are processed or engineered non-food products.

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Forever Responsible

And finally one last bit of wisdom from the fox to the little prince. A world of truth in 2 short sentences.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed.”

~Antione de Saint Exupery, Le Petit Prince

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[Recipe] Raw Cacao Cherry Brownie

A great example of something sweet that’s tasty and good for your body-

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Graduation Words to My Son

Writing about Mr. Rogers and his commencement speech reminded me of the words I spoke to my oldest son at his high school graduation party, when we were sharing memories of him and wishing him well. I’ve re-read those words at various turning points in my, and my son’s, life.

Nick graduated in 2003–I was about 5 years divorced from his dad by then. In my words to him I quoted the line from Saint Exuprey that Mr. Rogers had framed above his desk.

One thing I learned having you and your brother is that you are both inextricably bound to me and yet you are separate. You came with your own little programs.

A graduation is like any other marker in life–it’s all about opportunity and loss. This world, this family, are not what I imagined they’d be when I envisioned your future when you were a baby in my arms. And in that is another truth–you cannot protect your children from suffering–and sometimes, despite all your wishes, you even cause some of it.

It’s been important for me as a parent to remain humble in the face of the young man you are–not imagine that I’ve made you the fine and sensitive person you are, but realize I’ve simply had a hand in guiding you.

I woke up this morning thinking of a favorite line from The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

heart

heart ©VSpain

If there is anything you can say I’ve given you, I hope it’s a desire to know what is truly in your heart and to act on what your heart tells you. I believe it always tells you what’s right.

I hope I let you know that you don’t have to do great, successful or ambitious things, you only have to try your best to be a good person–a kind, gentle and compassionate man–a mensch–that that is the work of your life, and if you do that you will achieve more good in this world than you can ever imagine.

You have taught me so much–I love you more than you will ever know.

 

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What is Essential

Mr. Rogers was a fan of  Saint Exupery. He had a quote from The LIttle Prince framed, and it hung over his desk. A reference to essentialism of a different sort.

Beside my chair in my office is a framed piece of calligraphy with a sentence from Saint Exupery’s book, The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). It reads: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”) I feel the closer we get to knowing and living the truth of that sentence, the closer we get to wisdom.

What is essential about you that is invisible to the eye? And who are those who have helped you become who you are today?

Anyone who has ever graduated from a university, anyone who has ever been able to sustain good work has had at least one person – and often many – who believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without many different investments from others.

~Mr. Rogers, excerpt from 2001 commencement speech at Marquette University

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Bowing to Our Neighbors

When my sons were small they loved watching Mr. Rogers. I can’t say I loved watching Mr. Rogers, though I was thrilled they did because he was so kind and the show was so calm. But when Mr. Rogers died, I was deeply affected and sad. Since then I have come to love reading things Mr. Rogers said, and always choke up whenever I read the commencement speech he delivered in 2001 at Marquette University. Here are the opening words:

For a long time I wondered why I felt like bowing when people showed their appreciation for the work that I’ve been privileged to do. What I’ve come to understand is that we who bow are probably – whether we know it or not – acknowledging the presence of the eternal: we’re bowing to the eternal in our neighbor. You see, I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does. So, in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.

~Mr. Rogers

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 The upcoming work week is packed so I will excerpt a few more pieces from this wonderful commencement speech in this season of such speeches.

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Violence of Technology

Building on the previous post and how we do violence to ourselves through “well-intentioned” over-commitment, this is a brief consideration of the violent consequences of technological approaches driven solely by expediency and efficiency.

When measuring human success, we use terms borrowed from technology, words and phrases like, outputs, operational objectives and capabilities, hitting benchmarks etc. but treating workers (people!) like cogs in a wheel is so far below the astonishing array of human capabilities. Since the Industrial Revolution, efficiency has become the standard against which we measure success, eschewing creativity, intuition, feelings, nurturing–all those soft, unquantifiable  attributes that mark us as human. Humans do not thrive in soul-numbing, repetitive work unless perhaps money is the only need, but if one works at a minimum wage job (where such jobs are abundant) even that need will not be met.

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workers in a meat processing production line

However, productive efficiencies will churn out billions of hamburgers, tacos, french fries and processed foods–all of which are slowly killing us. (In 2050, 1 in 3 Americans will have Type 2 diabetes if present trends continue.) Human needs ignored in the drive to make hamburgers. Who thinks this makes sense?

This poignant quote by Thomas Merton articulates not only the consequences of a mindless adherence to measuring success solely by technological standards, but also, how the ever insistent cacophony of technology mirrors our agitated minds. More agitation, less reflection, more violence.

“Technology has its own ethic of expediency and efficiency. What can be done efficiently must be done in the most efficient way—even if what is done happens, for example, to be genocide or the devastation of a country by total war. Even the long-term interests of society, or the basic needs of man himself, are not considered when they get in the way of technology. We waste natural resources, as well as those of undeveloped countries, iron, oil, etc., in order to fill our cities and roads with a congestion of traffic that is in fact largely useless, and is a symptom of the meaningless and futile agitation of our own minds.”

~Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

buddha, ©VSpain

buddha, ©VSpain

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Well-Intentioned Violence

My weeks away from here have been consumed writing a grant due May 30th. This grant money replaces federal money recently cut from our program, so there’s a lot of pressure to succeed. Intense periods periods of work test the routines that sustain health and creativity.

I’ve managed to do most of my daily routines: meditate, exercise, stretch/yoga, and art but for less time. Work should be cut back NOT personal care and creativity habits. The latter sustain us, work does not. And I speak from a place of loving my work. I make my own schedule but it is still difficult  to remember the judging, driving voices that spur me to do more, more, ever more are false, and not mine. I don’t believe in that kind of relentless drive to succeed. I believe you can succeed just fine without being driven. And if truth be told, we can often do less work and still do a good-enough job, but cutting back on personal care and creativity routines, always leads to more stress, less wellness, and more chronic issues and illness.

When an artist as accomplished as Picasso urges us to work with restraint, he upends the idea of working to death to succeed. There’s no wisdom in that–no fun, pleasure or joy either.

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monster from a sketchbook, ©VSpain

Over-commitment to work, no matter how “good” the work, is a form of violence that serves no one, least of all the person filled with the ardor to “do good.”

I reflect on this constantly, and still struggle to set limits. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write that grant, it means pulling back on other things while I do–and constantly reflecting on, and letting go of, the things I’ve said yes to.

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton wrote:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

 

 

 

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#3 Execute: A Feeling of Strength in Reserve

To pursue the disciplined pursuit of less, Greg McKeown says successful people use routine and ritual to focus on the essential.

Artists in all disciplines intimately understand the power of routine. In 2006, Twyla Tharp called creativity a habit in her book, The Creative Habit, and explored the power of rituals and routines to develop those habits. The description of her own creative routine was my one major take-away from the book. Every day she leaves her apartment and takes a cab to her  studio where she creates dance choreography. But her habit doesn’t start in the studio, it starts when she enters the cab.

And then there is Piscasso’s discipline (below). His quote both exhorts the creator to say no, and describes the innate power that results from it. Saying no requires restraint, a virtue we ignore at our peril. In a society that constantly expects our all, our everything–every drop of physical, mental and emotional energy for all projects at hand-what would it be like to say no to the unessential, and then to walk in the world with “a feeling of strength in reserve.”

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two figs on a plate ©VSpain

You must always work not just within but below [my italics] your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve. 

~Picasso

 

 

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