How a Brutal Election and a Natural Disaster Helped Me Find My Calling

Looking back on these last few weeks (months?) it’s not hard to imagine that the Mayan apocalypse theories are true. The ugliest election I’ve ever seen filled the airwaves and internet with poison and vitriol. A gargantuan super-storm flooded huge sections of Manhattan and wiped out power for millions along the eastern seaboard. Terrified victims slammed the doors in strangers faces refusing to help those in desperate need of saving. This country, this planet is coming apart at the seams, and it’s not just the liberal in me that believes that. Hate has no place in family values. Neither does violence. Neither does fear. And we are a family, like it or not. We need to learn how to get along. Our survival as a nation and as a species depends on it.

The election is over, but declaring a winner and a loser is far from the end of the struggle. This election only underscored the fact that we are a people divided. That there are critical issues that need addressing yesterday. Yes, the election is over. Now it’s time to clean up the mess.

You may wonder what all this has to do with my calling. It started with this blog post written by congressional candidate Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man). In it was a call to action.

We all have to start dedicating some of our lives to these problems. Not just voting for the right people. Not just leaving comments on blogs. Not just having intense conversations over coffee.

So what then?

Here’s a thought. Decide to dedicate five to ten hours a week to helping figure out what to do. Then use those five to ten hours to bring your personal gifts to the search for societal solutions and the means of implementing them.

If you are an artist or musician or writer, use your talents to bring more and more attention to our problems and the quest for the solution. Be a constant reminder of the peril our society and world faces.

Overall, though, my point here is that all of us have a role to play in our cultural healing. There is no leader who can tell us how to contribute. Each of us has to look around us and use our own minds and souls to see what needs doing and how we are best suited to do it. Each of us must contribute in our own way. 

What is the one thing you know how to do? What is the one thing you can dedicate a slice of your life to? 

Those last questions are ones I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with, but for some reason, reading them in this context gave me a whole new perspective.

What do I know how to do? Write and sew.

What is the one thing I can dedicate a slice of my life to? Combining those two things to raise awareness of the suffering I see in the world, and doing my part to heal it.

That suffering may take different forms — recovery after natural (or man-made) disaster, coping with the fallout of war, living with the legacy of hate in all its forms, the planetary crisis of global warming, poverty and hunger to name a few.

I have found and purchased a new URL. I have outlined the new site and the things I hope to do (both online and beyond). I have committed to writing and sewing every weekday. I’m finally on the road. And from my joy at my first few steps I will ask you my version of the questions Colin asked:

What cause matters most to you?

What can you do about it?

For more inspiration, check out: How to Change the World (Hint: It’s Not Voting)

‘Tis the Season for Year-End Donations

Give us this day...
Photo by Mr. Kris (

As if holiday gift-giving wasn’t challenge enough to navigate when you’re sustainability-conscious and on a budget, December is also the time of year that non-profits bring out their full-court press to drum up tax-deductible donations. Just about every museum I’ve ever been a member of, every medical group I’ve ever visited, every cause I’ve ever donated to has sent me an email in the last two weeks. Some have sent snail-mail as well.

In the past, I’ve been happy to give. In fact, in the past, I’ve made sure to give to at least one charity in each of my three key cause categories: Education, Preservation/Conservation, and Food Security. Some of my favorite non-profits include:

Unfortunately, having just seriously downsized my career, I just can’t do it this year. Not like that, anyway. But if giving is still important, and I believe it is, that begs the question: What does one do instead of gifting cash to all these well deserving organizations? And if you do give, how do you narrow it down to one or two?

Here are my basic guidelines on how to choose:

  • Pick one cause — animal rights, the environment, education, whatever it is that most pulls at you. If your are flush with time and/or money, consider choosing more than one cause or donating to more than one group within the cause you choose.
  • Narrow to one specific aspect of that cause — I love Seed Savers Exchange for their work in preserving biodiversity to help ensure food security. But supporting the local farmer’s market is just as important. Choose what calls to you.
  • Can’t decide? Consider donating to a group with a broad foundation like the Sierra Club or Red Cross.

Once that’s done I begin to look into specific organizations, asking myself:

  • Can I support an organization with a membership instead of a donation? Membership support an organization plus gives the member free or discounted access to a world of inspiration — a win-win.
  • Can I donate time or goods instead of cash? Can I make or serve meals? Donate from my overfilled closets? Sew pillowcases or holiday placemats?
  • Is it local? Do they help and employ people in my immediate community?
  • Where does their money go? Is it 100% to the cause or do they spend a lot in overhead and administration? Sometimes those hidden costs are necessary. Sometimes they’re less so.
  • What are their mailing policies? Sending out direct mail seems to me a waste of resources, time, and money better spent on the cause itself.

That last one may seem a bit silly, but for me, it’s a sore point every time I open a letter. And that’s the whole crux of this, you have to feel good about what the organizations you support do, otherwise you may not feel as good about giving to them, especially when there isn’t much to go around.

So, who made my list this year?

  • Museum of New Mexico Foundation (membership) — Membership and donations provide the support necessary for education and outreach to thousands of New Mexico students, docent and volunteer training, research materials, conservation, acquisitions, exhibitions and special public events.
  • Upaya Zen Center (membership) — Upaya Zen Center is a Zen Buddhist practice, service, and training center which focuses on the integration of practice and social action in the areas of death and dying, prison work, the environment, women’s rights, and peacework.
  • Quilts of Valor (quilt creation and donation) — The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover ALL combat servicemembers and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.
And what about my big three causes? Well, they’re still important, and I will remained very focused on them in the coming year, both in my personal life and in my blog. But this season of giving, the two things that hit the strongest chord in me were art/creativity and peace — for all our sakes, especially for those who are sent out to fight for it.


A Subversive Plot

Roger Doiron, founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International and the man who led the charge for Michelle Obama’s White House kitchen garden, gives an eye-opening and inspiring talk on gardening as a revolutionary act.