Bein' Brazen

Many of you know that in my next life chapter (not sure what will turn the page yet), I'd like to be doing more writing. In preparation for this, about a year ago I attended a writer's retreat at the Esalen Institute, perched off the cliffs and an isolated jagged edge of California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1. The long weekend was peppered with workshops, stretches of time to write and then gatherings of orderly, vegan-inspired meals in a lodge of long wooden dining tables. I totally missed the unstated dress code: Birkenstocks and misshapen flannel shirts. But, despite my combed hair I was welcomed. For at each roughhewn table were benches inviting participants to set a tray down and start up conversations with the other writers.

Esalen Coastline

Esalen Coastline

I'll admit that I was really intimidated; the people who came were so talented.  In the workshops they readily raised their hands and shared their work. I listened. Sometimes glancing down at my prose, wondering if it was pretty elementary and feeling a little awestruck about how easily the beautiful words and images flowed from their pens. I felt anonymous and, frankly, pretty far behind.

But it was here too that I met a 60ish-year-old woman that threw a bridge over the chasm between me and the other attendees. I'd admitted to her, "The workshops are so fast-paced.  I don't write that quickly. I think I rewrite too much."  Not to worry, she told me. After 30 years in academia, she shared that it had taken her a few years to shed its professional conventional writing style in order to plunge in and find her own writer voice.

I saw a parallel with my experience of 30 years of business writing. Brevity and persuasion with a hefty dose of obtuse language are markers of corporate speak (“The objective of this competency is to collaborate our strategies so that structure and talent align.”) Yes:  guilty as charged. And, embarrassingly, good at it. This is not an environment where prose has a welcome mat.

Perhaps every creative phrase has been bleached out of my soul?

So now its months later. Those Esalen scribbles rest, unedited since then. Yet, I've been gradually preparing for this step – to find my "voice" and to move towards this next chapter.

What is it that compels us to finally make a move and pull out of the inertia of a well-worn path? Or, if frustration has been mounting, yet the way is not clear, to know what the next step forward could be?

Or to have the audacity -- and some would say foolishness -- to believe that really entrenched, huge problems can be tackled?

It could be the baby boomer Midwest-heartland-kickass voice in my head. Whatever it is. I see examples around me. People that have moved beyond limitations to discover their next progressive step. The landscape is filled with ACTIONS fulfilling visions that are solving the impossible. 

Frankly in our lives we face perfect storms – a terrible confluence of conflict and choice -- where the way is not clear and we feel paralyzed.

Some people rally, some people don’t.

I have been there. Maybe you too? I want to learn from you. And I have stories to tell of finding those next steps of moving forward. Mine and others.

Here’s a cool story. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. In 1945 a group of just 51 nations humbly signed a charter that read in part, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

Joan at New York UN Rally

Joan at New York UN Rally

When I lived in NYC (Midwest girl gone rogue – another tale) I used to peer between bus strap-holders for a glimpse of the UN headquarters’ gleaming curved building while speeding northbound up First Avenue. And once I attended an anti-apartheid rally there where I found myself standing arm’s length from actress Glenn Close. (It’s true -- I stared too much – if you’re reading this, I’m sorry Glenn.)

Today’s 193-nation group is still grappling with global conflicts; yet, there’s also reason for acknowledging success.

In 2000 the UN established a 15-year list of goals called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now, 15 years later, it’s a list that’s largely been completed, including the goal to cut extreme poverty in half! By one very conservative estimate 15 million individual lives have been saved because of the focus on the MDGs.

Recently the UN drew up a new list. Called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they build on the progress of the MDGs and set a new deadline for 2030. The 2030’s top five goals are:

1. No poverty
2. No hunger
3. Good health
4. Quality education
5. Gender equality

This is transformative. A vision so big and audacious it’s staggering. Inspiring! And for a sucker like me -- that truly does believe the world can be a better place – thrilling!
(To read more see: UN news. Or this essay by a senior official Homi Kharas commentary)

Imagine:  Whatever the multiple debates and arguments and PowerPoint data-filled charts that eventually led the UN to create the MDGs, and now this new set of SDGs, it all started with someone brazen enough to even believe it. Then they wrote it down.

We may not be nations but we can have the same starting point. So this is your first call to action: Choose one thing in your life that feels intractable, that you wish you could change. (example: I can't stand my job.) Write down the opposite. (I have work that is fulfilling and financially rewarding.) I don't care if this step feels elementary, this action is about STARTING. Next begin reading this statement frequently to yourself. The first step is always thought. The path forward emerges from there. 

If you'd like to share your statement, I'd love to hear from you.

Writing may be a solitary act. But in this case, I don't want to be alone. So this newsletter is called FernandezEdge – the anti self-help truth because like-minded, ball-busting creative types like to hang out with each other. Plus its lots more fun to do stuff together.

Joan Signature