Sea Change


Source: MIT Water Club 

My father taught us very early on to respect the sea. As young girls, my sister and I would go into the water with him on an inflatable raft and learn to “catch” waves, to ride them into the shore. If we started paddling too late, we would miss the wave entirely; too soon, and it would break on top of us and sometimes throw us off the raft. We would go tumbling along on the sand under the water, forced to hold our breath until the wave let us come up for air again (getting “rolled”, as he called it). It was scary, but exhilarating.

Our most important lesson came on calm days, when he taught us not to mistake the smooth surface of the water and absence of waves for a lack of action underneath. Even when they are barely visible on the surface, there are always currents and sometimes a strong undertow. These powerful forces can carry us very far — in a direction that we may or may not want to go. And sometimes they act stealthily, taking us a ways down the shore before we even realize that we are being redirected.

When I first took a break from aid work, I felt burnt out and alone.  I started this blog in part to confront that stereotype, to respond to the many whispered conversations and questions of, “I feel like that too” and “But how did you do it?” and “Aren’t you scared you’ll never be able to go back?” I had seen a close colleague and friend, someone who I had long admired in the field, leave her job in a sudden and heartbreaking way. I supported her as best I could during her last few months at work, when she felt abandoned by the very entity that she had given so much to over the years. She eventually took the difficult and Continue reading

“Don’t be afraid of tearing it all down if you have to….”

I am about to turn 41 and would tell my 30 year old self that you do not have to conform you[r] life to an ideal that you do not believe in. Live your life, don’t let it live you.

Don’t be afraid of tearing it all down if you have to, you have the power to build it all back up again.

— Lisa, 41

Excerpt from: 10 Lessons That Will Help You Excel In Your 30s … or 40s, or 50s, or 60s, or…..


This is in response to a blog prompt from The Daily Post to write about “Sacrifice.”

Prompted by the downward spiral of my country’s political process, I started binge-watching The West Wing again yesterday. I didn’t see it the first time around, when everyone was using Martin Sheen’s characterization of President Josiah Bartlet to escape the Bush presidency. It wasn’t until 2011 when, reeling from a few very personal losses, I took a leave of absence from my job and, instead of flying off to Chad as originally planned, moved into a studio apartment in the Lower East Side.

It was a sublet from a film accountant who had gone to Rhode Island to work on Moonrise Kingdom. Aside from being in enviably close proximity to Wes Anderson and his usual cast of characters, she had LOTS of DVDs–including the entire 7 seasons of The West Wing. As someone who doesn’t watch much TV,  I only made it to season 3 before moving out and Continue reading

Putting down roots

Alina Potts 2014_Brook

Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in New York City ( Photo credit: Alina Potts

After moving around so much, and often living and working amidst great destruction, gardening has become a very important part of my life. There is a certain predictability and reciprocity to it: yes, weather and insects can cause damage but in general, you get back what you put in. And often you get more. To connect with the earth, to feel rooted in one spot, to notice the tiny changes as things grow from one day to the next. For this I am grateful.

Whether it’s a houseplant or a garden or (in my case) a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, perhaps you’ve found the same. Or other pursuits: drawing, pottery, surfing, sewing, building birdhouses. I would love to hear about them. And see pictures!

Tip for those who say they don’t have a green thumb: I’ve found that staying in one place is key. When you leave your cactus for weeks or months at a time then yes, she will probably die. But it’s not your thumb’s fault!

Taking a sabbatical from violence

When I first shared that I would be leaving my job, I was met with a lot of questions and some stunned silences. This felt a little isolating, to say the least. It had been a difficult decision to make, and it was even more difficult to communicate.

About a month after giving notice, I took part in a team retreat with several days devoted to staff care. It was facilitated by an amazing woman who had a long history of working with survivors of domestic violence, mostly within the U.S. At one of the breaks, I approached her to ask for advice about how to approach this next phase of my life. She told me how she’d run a support hotline for women in the 1980s. She carried a beeper and would receive pages in the middle of the night and run outside to the nearest payphone to respond to them.

She continued her work with survivors for many years, to a point where she felt that she needed some separation from it, some time to attend to herself and the vicarious trauma she experienced. So she took a year-long “sabbatical from violence” in which she even Continue reading

‘I Regret Everything’: Toni Morrison Looks Back On Her Personal Life | NPR

At one point – I don’t want to give away too much of the actual story – but at one point, she’s in an accident and breaks her foot, so she’s kind of immobilized. And so she’s thinking [reads aloud]:

Helpless, idle, it became clear to Bride why boredom was so fought against. Without distraction or physical activity, the mind shuffled pointless, scattered recollections around and around.

And that strikes me as, like, what you’re talking about when you’re not writing, when your mind is idle, that it just kind of goes through the shuffle of thoughts – in your case, negative thoughts [laughter] – that you dwell on in a way that you’d prefer not to.

Terry Gross interviewing Toni Morrison and reading from her book God Help the Child

You can listen to the full interview here.


Advice from a Buddhist monk

At the beginning of taking this time off, I thought about… I had this open question of, ‘Do I want to stay in the ‘do-gooder field,’ you know the humanitarian, NGO whatever. Because there’s a lot that’s wrong with it, and there’s a lot that doesn’t address, or doesn’t really get at root issues and root causes of suffering… I don’t want to get into idiot compassion, I don’t want to do it for that reason. When I think about other things that I have always had a strong interest in, when I was younger I thought I’d be an environmentalist. In another life, I must’ve been a dancer because I don’t really do dance at all in this life, but I idolize dancers.

Sokuzan: You already dance with your own life, the thing you do with your life is kind of a Continue reading