Saturday, April 12, 2008

Waking the Tyger, Turning the Starfish

I drew this picture (left), inspired by the Blake line "Tyger, tyger burning bright," when I was thirty-one. It illustrates what used to be my natural state--not bloodthirsty, but very awake. Lately I've been feeling this way again, and that's great, but it's a bit discombobulating after having gotten used to being asleep.

This morning I feel overwhelmed with life, not in a bad way but like Dorothy stepping out of B&W Kansas into full-color Oz. To being with, I spent yesterday afternoon in intense conversation with the wonderful career counselor Laurie Mattila.

I talked about wanting to find ways to push on as a writer, and to find ways to be paid for it (since I have to be paid for something, it may as well be that). I also talked about further exploring the world of web publishing (online journals, etc.). After all, we're living in a time like Gutenberg's, when the world of words blew open.
I talked a little about somehow incorporating my call to priesthood into my work, whatever that might mean, given that I don't believe in God, and that I am nonetheless Catholic, a religion which does not ordain women anyway.
And I said I was entirely unsure of how to proceed with all of this.

Toward the end of our talk, Laurie reflected that it was perfectly clear that I knew what I loved and wanted to do, which was reassuring to hear from a respected stranger. We came up with a plan: basically that I would start. Start here, where I am, and go from there.

Laurie also suggested that I was ready to step up to a leadership role in my life. Other people have suggested this, and it always makes me extremely uncomfortable. I hear "leader" as "bully" or "egomaniac." She pointed out that my heroes--people like Molly Ivins--are leaders without being bullies. Other people follow their work because it speaks to them, not because they are compelled to. I said I'd think about it.

"What Can Little-I Do?"

A few hours later, I went to see one of my heroes, the leader Bishop Desmond Tutu (right, photo by Bink). Or is he a servant? He's in town for PeaceJam, sponsored by Youthrive. Maura had tickets but couldn't go, so I got to take her place with Bink. Because Maura is a Youthrive donor, we got to hear Tutu speak at a reception as well as in the huge auditorium afterward.

As it happened, sitting at our reception table was a woman who told me that she practices a kind of ministry on her blog The Good Raised Up: "A Quaker woman's journey to be faithful in the face of her and others' humanness."
Then in the big auditorium, I sat next to the university's Big Cheese Fundraiser. When I told him about my self-granted sabbatical, he told me that he too had taken a midlife sabbatical and gone from working in the auto industry to the nonprofits. He told me that as a writer, I should look to the Internet.

This often happens to me: I fumble my way into something that feels rather shaky--this can take years--and up pop two or three people to firm it up.
In this case, four people (in one day, no wonder I'm exhausted):
Tutu capped it all, last night.
He is not well, you know, living with cancer, and he didn't speak long, but everything he said was on target.

Tutu said at the reception that we often feel overwhelmed by the amount of evil in the world, and we ask,
"What can little I do?"
He replied with his story about turning over starfish. He tells this often, so you may have heard it before. Here's my version:

Late one night a huge storm washed many sea creatures onto a beach. Thousands and thousands of starfish were left stranded, upside down.
A little girl came along early in the morning, and she started to turn the starfish right-side up so they could skedaddle back to the sea.
A man walking by stopped and said, "Girl, what are you doing? Why are you bothering to turn these starfish over? Can't you see there are too many of them to save? What you're doing won't make any difference."
And the girl said, "Sir, to the ones I turn over, it makes all the difference."

If I read that in Reader's Digest, I'd dismiss it as sentimental. But when it's told by someone who knows up-close the evil we do, someone who's been through hell and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation committee, I buy it.

Tutu added, "There's only one way of eating an elephant: one piece at a time. Your contribution is indispensible. Do the good you can, where you can."

Start here.


Jeanne said...


You made it to my partner's blog (The Good Raised Up), so I found your blog! Thought you'd like to see the pics I got:

I have several blogs, two Quaker, one on writing (that I haven't done much with) and another on films.

fresca said...

Hey, thanks, Jeanne!
Nice meeting you and Liz in such a cool setting.
Your photos are great---all those lenses you were carrying serve you well, eh? I look forward to checking out your blogs too.

ddip said...

Golly, the starfish anecdote reminds me of how our father is always saying that, even with a statistically almost impossible chance of something happening to you, when it does, it's your 100%.
He's right up there with Bishop Tutu in the wisdom quotient!