I walk around with fear in my heart.
It can’t be helped. I’ve tried. I can’t get away from it.
Of course I’m happy and spend many joyful days, but I’m also anxious. I worry. And I scare easily. Just Monday, walking home from the local Memorial Day parade, two fighter jets flew so low that my heart stopped. The last time I heard that sound was the day after 9/11 when the skies were supposed to be quiet, and all I heard were the jets at midnight and I raced to the window hoping it wouldn’t be my last moment on earth. I worry. It’s what I do. So when these jets flew over head, my heart stopped. And then they flew on, and I laughed with my mom, and hid the tears bursting from my eyes. I was so scared that I cried. Over a couple of low-flying planes on a bright summer day. And don’t even talk to me about the last time I went on a log flume. Like I said, I get scared.
So, yesterday, I worried a lot. With Do-bug at school, a dark sky, and tornado watches in an area I thought would never see such devastating storms, I barely got anything done. The fear was too strong. I worked intermittently, with one browser window glued to the storm tracker, and I’m not sure I was productive in anything.
To ease my tension, I joked about the unexpected along with everyone else.
But I also had run to the grocery story for water and cans of food and checked with Do-Bug’s dad to make sure he had a plan for shelter for the two of them.
Then, an hour later a friend posted this video. My heart didn’t stop. It raced.Â And I raced to the phone. I knew my dad was at a meeting somewhere.Â And sometimes his meetings are in Springfield. Springfield, where a Tornado had just touched down.
I got him on the phone at a restaurant at the exact same moment that my mom logged into facebook to find me:
We were all okay. For now.
Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending for my family. We’re all okay. Our homes are too. They never touched down on the North end of the Pioneer Valley. And in Nashua, well, we barely even saw rain.
But this morning I heard about the mother who sheltered her teenaged daughter in the bathtub. Her daughter is alive although in the hospital. Her mother didn’t survive when their house collapsed. I was driving when I heard this. I cried. It was hard to drive. I cried tears of relief that we are all okay. Tears of grief for this family who is not okay and the many others who are not okay.
And then I realized something incredibly important.
I would die for my child.
I never knew this before. It is a relief to know this. Because I can’t stop her heartache with a hug and a nurse anymore. And I can’t predict that she will remain as healthy as she is now. And I can’t predict that the U.S. will remain a country where I can walk down the street and be 99% sure that I am safe. But if the time comes when I need to protect my child’s life with my own, I will do it without hesitation.
There is comfort in this knowledge.
That love can give life.
four years ago, i wrote this tribute to high school actors.
last night, i sat within a bunched up circle of high school actors as they graciously, articulately, poignantly, and often humorously thanked their contributors, supporters, and mentors for their work on Hamlet.
it filled my heart.
to my last tribute, i add the following:
you, as a collective, are building a better world.
there may be days when you are engrossed in your own heart, miss your cues, forget your lines, want to be anywhere but here.
but, in the end, when you come together as a supportive unit, gifting hugs and congratulating your peers, that is when you demonstrate your prowess and magnitude as young adults who are shaping this community.
i look forward to seeing how you change the world.
It is only with stepping back that I truly make lasting discoveries.
That’s what this INML program has been all about. In part.
The last couple of months have also been about me. me. me.
What do I need as a leader? What do I want as a leader? What do I do as a leader?
The microscopic look at me came just at the right time both personally and professionally. But I lacked the time to pull back and refocus at the same time. So I forgot about it. I forgot about the big picture. When you look at a hair through a microscope, you see every detail but you can’t recognize it as a hair. It’s just a line with details. It’s only when you back up that you realize it’s a hair. In fact, not your hair, but a cat hair.
Last night I graduated from Boston University’s Institute for Non-Profit Management and Leadership. It’s the first time in my life I realized that I’m not the over-achiever I always claim to be. I am, in fact, an habitual under-achiever.
If you know me personally, you probably think I’m insane to make that statement. I’m a single parent, working full-time, pulling a micro-theatre up by its boot-straps, baking my own bread, exercising, putting my child first, cat-owning, not-your-average-girl-next-door kind of woman. But it’s true. Here’s why.
In front of me stood the head of the program, Barry Dym, who just published his fourth book. The next speaker, Robert Lewis Jr., a dynamic and passionate speaker blew me away not because of his articulate thoughts but because he cared. He cared. And he was changing the world because he cared. Four students later: a familiar-faced woman in my own class who I had always wanted to know more about but I learned more about her history from four minutes than I’d bothered to find out during 8 months of learning. she stood surrounded by her fellow ‘practice session’ students; a tall rhythmic man who lost his brother to gang violence last November, breathed his way through and thanked the many mentors he found; a tiny powerhouse of a woman who spoke lightly of her purported infectious laugh and helped us see the world through the eyes–her eyes–of the child of immigrants who was raised in poverty and was now changing the world; a spoken word artist who shook the room with his words and our voices. Four students later, I remembered why I started GAN-e-meed, why I am consistently drawn to teaching and mentorship, why my child always has my priority, why I have spent countless nights wondering why. why. why: because I care and I want to change the world.
Sure, it has helped to learn about accounting, marketing, public policy, fund raising, networking, and all the other essential parts of making a successful non-profit. But somewhere along the line I forgot why I wanted to take this program. It became all about me. me. me. Instead of them. them. them. Them is what’s important.
I am here because I want to make the world a better place.
If I can do what I’ve done with my life and its impact on the world as an under-achiever, what can I accomplish as an over-achiever?
It’s taken me 8 months to get smart enough to ask that question.
Someday, I will answer it.
In the quiet hours when we are alone with ourselves and there is nobody to tell us what fine fellows we are, we come sometimes upon a weak moment in which we wonder, not how much money we are earning, nor how famous we are becoming, but what good we are doing.
-A. A. Milne, Not That It Matters
Not long ago, I realized that my love of blogging had faltered. Not because I no longer like to write and read and–inevitably–exchange ideas, but because my original love stemmed from parenting. With my decision to discontinue my parenting blog, I found myself floundering around in a sometimes-I-post-when-feel-like-it state where there was no continuity and, even worse, very little truth.
No, I haven’t been fibbing in these posts.
But they lack the heartfelt honesty of which I was once proud.
Let me take you back to when I first started blogging then you’ll see what I mean.
In early 2007, I quit my job at New Repertory Theatre and started to work from home as a Creative Consultant. It’s a catch-all phrase for various contract jobs, including blog management. My dad needed someone to figure out all this “new media” stuff and pointed to me. I was a new mom, needed the rent paid, and wasn’t afraid of a little html, so I hopped on board as I scrunched up my face and said, “What’s a blog? And how is a tag cloud user-friendly when I can’t tell what the hell I’m looking at?” He said the term user-friendly was obsolete, tag clouds were good, and go read some blogs. So I did.
I read a lot. All types. I learned to discern the good from the bad. I quickly understood the nuances of skilled commenting to tempt people to click back to your own blog. I spent hours clicking through others blogrolls to find the best ones out there. And when it came time to set up our own company blogs, lost in the backend of php, widget-ready, columns and akismet–Yes, folks, way back in 2007, you had to insert your widgets manually into the code. No drag and drop options yet. My technique involved querying help forums until I found someone else €™s code, stealing just enough to make my tweaks work, pasting them in, and crossing my fingers. It works well when the only thing you can code is your gym locker–I decided the best way to really figure all this out would be to start my own blog. And so was born, Single Mom with Tiny Tot.
It started out simple enough. And then I discovered that I possessed an apparently unusual sense of bravery; I posted the truth about parenting.
I started a list in response to my growing concern about Perfect Parents. The women I knew kept making self-degrading comments about themselves. As if putting their children to bed 15 minutes late one night was an unforgivable act. Or yelling. Or being frustrated as a parent. Or just wanting some down time. Or making simple mistakes. Like making a mistake made you a bad parent. So I started a list of all things I did that any other parent would shamefully keep to themselves. Some of it was simple, like those non-organic snacks or completely giving up on naps. Some of it was disgraceful, like the time I fell asleep nursing in the rocking chair and my daughter rolled off my lap (she was fine and barely woke up).
The comments started rolling in. People were talking. Many women thanked me for my honesty. It gave them hope to read about someone else who also made mistakes as a parent; we’re not perfect, we try our best. Then the negative comments arrived which is when I knew for certain I was doing something right: I was creating dialogue, challenging assumptions. There were fewer, to be sure, so I was able to ignore their personal nature most of the time.
And then one day it all changed. I got a negative comment. I happened to be online at the same time so I approved this new user after a moment of deciding whether to allow his incite (incite being a very kind word in this instance). It was in slight poor taste but not horrific so I thought it would be an okay part of the discussion. But he kept going. He started reading back post after back post and his comments poured in faster than I could read. I was working so I took note but didn’t read them. After 5 or 6 comments came in over the span of, I don’t know, half an hour, I got curious and opened one. I don’t know when I started crying, but I know I turned red and immediately had a lump in my throat. These were not discussion starters, these were crass, rude, and just plain mean. He called me unforgivable names and made unsavory allusions to my likely character traits. I sucked in a long breath and attempted to respond to one of them. I was polite. I indicated that he should know that I frequently write tongue-in-cheek (although I was smart enough not to give him ammunition by using that phrase) and I appreciate valid dialogue but would be deleting rude comments.
This was my first mistake.
I should have just deleted them all and moved on. But I engaged.
He shot me back a few more comments which are not worthy of repeating. At which point I blocked him and deleted all his comments but the damage had been done.
I took down my precious list and, before long, the fire to write had left me. I used the excuse that my child was no longer an infant and I shouldn’t be posting her life stories online any more, not when they were hers and not mine. She also had decided she didn’t like being in pictures and pointedly ran away from my camera so I had fewer cool photos to post. I gave in and gave up.
I gave into fear.
Where previously I had bravely posted the life that I love with compassion, humor, and sometimes even wit, now I realize that it wasn’t bravery that allowed me to post, it was a complete lack of fear. What had I to fear? I was just a young single mama figuring it all out. Now I had fear; fear that someone might actually take what I wrote seriously and think my child had been harmed by my mistakes. Fear that I would have to withstand undeserved name-calling night after night. Fear for my safety. Because by now I was not anonymous. I was never truly anonymous, in fact, but unless you knew what to look for and knew me in person already, you wouldn’t know who I was.
Here’s where we move to the now. (Let me just take a sentence to point out that what I’m doing right now is poor poor blogging, in my opinion, because this is no longer an interesting post but a boring autobiographical diatribe. I blame the need for catharsis.)
I’m still not ready to truly go back to the parenting blog I loved to write so much and I’m okay with that. Truly. My daughter is now four and far from infancy. I’m an experienced enough parent that I forget the silly things she says and have too many photos to sift through and don’t think twice when I knock her on her tush by accident while I’m carting the laundry bin around the bend. I’ve changed and so has she; we’ve out-grown our infancy blog. But I haven’t out-grown blogging.
I’ve been wanting, for several months now, to switch this blog over from vaguely eventful info to posts about something that is currently near and dear to my heart: the intersection of theatre arts and leadership, non-profit leadership, innovative non-profit solutions, theatre in society and my place in it. I haven’t yet taken that step out of, you guessed it: FEAR.
Fear that by putting it out in the blogosphere, you will see right through me. You will see that I am not the inspirational leader I would like to be. I am a fraud. I am scared about how to handle the next season (I founded this little gem in 2009). I am consistently putting my foot in my mouth (one day soon, I’ll tell you about the last message I left for a new contact at the MCC). I am lost in a sea of I-don’t-knows and let’s-just-try-it.
But I also know, in my heart, that these failures my strengths. I am buoyed by the what-could-be-if-we-risk-it creations. I may put my foot in my mouth but I rarely do it in the same way more than twice. My sea of I-don’t-knows is filled with supportive folks who look at me and congratulate me and I wonder what they see. And then I feel egotistical for writing something like that. So I suppose fear of ego should be on the list too.
Here goes nothing.
As of tonight, although you will continue to gain insight into my life as a single co-parenting liberal mama to a precocious daughter who likes to use three syllable words, you will also be privy to my musings, explorations and observations of this new role that I placed myself in, got scared of, and am now embracing fully as one that I want more than anything, a LEADER.