time capsule

November 8th, 2017 § 1 comment § permalink

We have the habit of making highly questionable decisions in November. Multiple times we have ended up offshore in the North Atlantic about this time of year…or later. This year, we are staying put in the tropics, fiddling around with the boat and exploring Panama by land and sea. Perhaps our decision-making is improving?

To honor this progress, I offer a short video of me keeping watch last November…

…in contrast with this photo of our current neighbor, Ms. Sloth.

IMG-20171106-WA0000

I will leave it up to you, Dear Reader, to determine if we are headed in the right direction. I honestly can’t tell if this is the right way or what. For now I suppose the thing to do is make like a sloth and hang in there.

pelegringos

November 1st, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Although I frequently describe myself as a pilgrim, I had never participated in an actual pilgrimage until earlier this month. I suppose now it’s official.

The festival of the Christo Negro (also called as El Santo, El Naza or a variety of other local names) is held annually on October 21st in the coastal town of Portobelo, Panama. The event is centered on a pilgrimage, which draws participants from throughout Central America, with many arriving on foot from Panama City or Colon, the country’s main hubs.

By walking these distances through the tropical heat, pilgrims seek atonement. Many crawl the final mile after entering town, with companions who brush the ground before them, pour candle wax onto their bare skin, and offer cries of “No dolor! No hay dolor!” as encouragement to cast off physical suffering for spiritual redemption. Also known as the “pickpockets pilgrimage”, it is rumored that career criminals will participate to wipe the slate clean each year.

Ultimately, pilgrims arrive at the parish of Iglesia de San Felipe, to seek blessings at the feet of the venerated statue of a cross-laden black Christ, carved life-sized from cocobolo, a dark, tropical hardwood.

The coastal town of Portobelo is a slim, humid crescent, braced at each end by Spanish forts built of coral blocks hewn from the reefs that border its well-protected bay. Historically, the town rose to global prominence in the late sixteenth century when it replaced the nearby town of Nombre de Dios as the Caribbean terminus of the Spanish Silver Train. It was here that mule trains would deliver the vast wealth extracted from South America, funneled overland across the Isthmus of Panama and onto colonial treasure fleets for the Spanish crown. The English pirate Francis Drake, having recently sacked and burned Nombre de Dios, succumbed to dysentery just outside of the bay. He was buried at sea within sight of Portobelo, in full armor.

In the modern era, the town is a cultural locus of Costa Arriba, the “upper coast” of Panama. This region is rooted in the Afro-Panamanian “Congo culture”, descended from the cimarrones, who were African slaves that rebelled during the Spanish colonial period and built a distinct culture here. Congo culture is on display throughout the town, in the forms of visual arts, dance, dress and food.

Descending into Portobelo on this day, having walked for hours with an ever-increasing cadre of villagers, it looks like a massive carnival – thundering music, dancing, street food and (lots of) drink. With tens of thousands of visitors overwhelming this normally sleepy town, visitors have camped on the roadside and pop-up kitchens are everywhere. The only hint of the piousness at the core of it all is the slowly moving line of purple snaking through the crowd. Those pilgrims that are here for the main event are clad in purple robes and cords, a reference to the story of Christ being mockingly draped in royal garb on the road to Calvary.

At the doorway of the church, the structure itself trimmed in bright purple, the pilgrims cast off their robes, along with it their spiritual burdens. As I stepped over the threshold, I too, turned my thoughts to the blessings to come.

 

purge

October 29th, 2017 § 2 comments § permalink

In my various glancing blows with success, I have had the most humbling experience of rising to the level of my own incompetence. These moments of exposure to my own shortcomings and blindspots are seared into my memory along with the moments of professional bliss, those days when projects came to fruition, grants were awarded, awards were granted, or teams carried ideas further than I could have ever dreamed on my own.

I keep the dark days there, in my mental trophy case, as triumphs on par with the days I stood in the sun.

How else would I know the precise tone and timber of my own internal voice? How else would I know the sublime relief of amending a misstep? Would I have ever grown confident enough to take on risk without (extreme) fear and panic?

Today we lost a job lead to crew on a Swan. We don’t know and we may never know why, but the overall negotiation was dysfunctional, and we already understand that we partially dodged a bullet. When I do recover from this – go all the way through the disappointment, shame, reflection, and acceptance – the experience will ultimately go up on that shelf. But before I can do this, there is a bit more to wring from it.

Having had a rather non-linear career well into middle age, I largely missed out on the benefits of performance review from senior professionals. One of the best opportunities I ever had was to attend a Rockwood Leadership Institute training and receive a “360 degree peer review”, which was simultaneously one of the most uncomfortable and valuable experiences of my professional life. From a packet of anonymized feedback on Day 3, I learned that I could be tough on my colleagues (which at times was motivating and other times wearying), that I took professional defeats quite personally, and that I was not very confident doing fundraising.

I saw much of this emanating from a central lie that there is something “less” about my work, so that I have to continuously put in more and minimize what I ask for in return. This has something to do with working while female in mostly male-dominated spaces, as well as formative experiences in the more behind-the-scenes realms of advocacy. Both factors made my work invisible in certain ways, and it became my desire to be a mission-driven magic-maker who needed nothing yet could do everything.

The wheels fell off on that type of thinking long ago.

Today, having side stepped this trajectory, I have somehow taken control of the role of money in my life and the value of time. Financial health has gone from being a topic I dare not speak of to an exciting project I get to unwrap, examine, debate, and tinker with. Day to day, I focus on living with maximum freedom and minimum expense. As we have less stuff, we somehow end up with more time. I am very proud of this, because it was terrifying to change course. I had to trust another person (my husband), which was also new and weird.

I once described this chapter to my Dad as “economic stasis”, which I believe describes it well. But at a certain point, we will have to find a way out of it.

When I work now, I pay close attention to where I feel stress, and where I feel purposeful. What type of work “flow” comes readily, what requires more self discipline, and where I may succumb to procrastination and self-sabotage. I try to compare this info with what professional goals I have left for myself and chart a path from here to there.

In the interest of being totally transparent here, which may or may not be a smart move on such a tumultuous day, my current professional goals are:
1. Work on an expedition or research vessel;
2. Publish more papers, personal writing, and ultimately a book of non-fiction about sea level communities;
3. Live and work in a land management capacity doing conservation (ecosystem, wildlife, foodways, remediation, water quality) at a watershed scale;
4. Be intentional and overt in my commitment to intersectional justice while doing any or all of the above.

When I lay it all out like this, I can see how the opportunity lost today was not a direct link to any of these goals. If I continued to look at it sideways, as I was doing, or if I added a few more items to my list, as I am totally open to doing, it would have made more sense.

What weighs more heavily on me today, is that it definitely lined up with the goals of another person (my husband), who is going through a recovery process of his own.