Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Small Actions Can Change Trajectories Too

This morning is one of those mornings where I'm fighting despair about all I have not done.  I have yet to publish a book with a spine; I can't even comfort myself by telling myself that the poetry manuscript is making the rounds, because it is not.  It was held by a press for a long time, which gave me hope--then it was rejected.  I'm thinking I should rework it completely, but I feel a bit overwhelmed.  And in the meantime, there are other projects.

I feel this way about much of life.  For example, my spouse and I are thinking of selling our house and moving to a house in a better neighborhood.  Instead of breaking down this project into manageable tasks, I'm swamped by the hugeness of the whole project.

It's important to remind myself that big changes in trajectory often happen in ways too small to notice at the time.  It's important to remind myself that even small changes can be important.  Let me count some ways:

--My blog piece is up at the Living Lutheran site.  I took the piece that I wrote about colcannon as metaphor for the creative life and considered the spiritual metaphor too.

Let me take a minute to remember that even though I don't have a poetry book with a spine, I do have other fabulous publishing opportunities, the kind that other writers wish they had.  These blog posts probably reach more readers than a poetry book with a spine would do.

And in the meantime, there is other work too . . .

--Last night, we went to a high school in inner-city Ft. Lauderdale.  We joined roughly 1500 other church people for our annual Nehemiah action.  For the past 6 years, we've identified areas of justice that are lacking in our communities and then we work on changing them.  We've helped secure more low-income housing, more access to dental care, streamlined processes to get unemployment benefits, more police presence in high crime areas (my neighborhood was one of those areas--gulp!).

We've been working on 3rd grade literacy rates.  In South Florida, our children's reading abilities at all levels are shockingly low.  We've identified 3rd grade as an essential time for intervention.  We identified a better reading instructional approach, and we've asked the School Board to adopt it.

The School Board hasn't, but 2 individual elementary schools have, and they report improvement.  So, it's not every 3rd grader improving, but at least 2 schools have increased the chances of those children.  Hopefully more will follow.

Last night we also pushed for legislation to designate more tax dollars given to local businesses be given to local workers by making sure that the businesses that get the money actually employ our residents.  Many "local" businesses aren't, and they ship workers in from elsewhere.  We want our tax dollars to help our residents.  I'm oversimplifying, but you get the idea.  Last night, I had the sense that we got commitments from commissioners.

--Sure, you could point out all the areas of injustice that still exist.  I feel that despair too.  But it is so important not to let the despair about the work to be done keep us from trying to get any work done at all (a good metaphor for much of life).

--Maybe some of my despair comes from cleaning out my work e-mails.  I am not the kind of person who immediately decides what to do with each piece of e-mail. Consequently, once every few weeks, I have to do that work all at once, since my e-mail system threatens to crash. I am amazed at how many e-mails I send and receive in any given day. And yes, much of it is not that important.

But sometimes, the work I do as an administrator is important.  It may not feel as important as the work I did as a teacher.  We could argue about the middle levels of management, which is necessary, which is not.  But by doing a lot of that behind-the-scenes work, I free up the teachers to do the important work.  Imagine if my whole department had to interrupt their teaching to take the several days that it takes to create the class schedule for the upcoming terms, to coordinate with other departments who also use our rooms, to do those tasks.  No teaching would get done during that week or two that it would take to get the schedule done.

--Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, the guy we usually think of only around Christmas time.  Yes, that Joseph, husband of Mary, father of Jesus.  I wrote a piece on my theology blog about him, in praise of people like Joseph who work behind the scenes.

--Yes there are all sorts of ways that small actions can change trajectories.  We see it in the story of Joseph, who did not reject Mary, and thus was there to help save Jesus from Herod by fleeing to Egypt.  We see it in all sorts of families.  We see it in various social justice groups of all sorts.  We see it in quiet workplaces across the nation.

--Today, on the feast day of St. Joseph, let us consider our current trajectories and tweak where needed.


Kathleen said...

Sorry you are feeling in despair. It's in the air...but so is spring, surely, for those of us in Midwestern climes. I am amazed, always, by your steady actions, large and small. Hang in there, amazing woman!

(Same thing just happened to me with a book manuscript. Sigh...)

Kay said...

I can relate to this feeling. In fact, I'm going through something similar now. It's great that you have remained so active in your community!

Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

Dear Kristin,
1. Your book will find a home. It's just a matter of finding the exact right press for your book. Don't give up hope; it's all a matter of velocity and chance.
2. Moving house isn't that bad. I should know - I've done it about fifteen times in 20 years, across ferries, across states, from tiny apartments to rental houses by the ocean to now, my townhouse. Don't let fear and static-ness paralyze you. Moving is a great chance to get rid of stuff, clean stuff you never ever clean otherwise, and see your world in a new way. Do it!

Kristin said...

Thank you all, for your encouragement!

Velocity! That's a word I'll use to focus my thoughts and energy.