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.

jelly drama

April 26th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

As we came down the coast, Fabio and I stopped in a wide variety of places – abandoned marinas, sleepy fishing towns, booming coastal metropoli. Each place was unique, but all had their fair share of drama.  Because I am naturally nebby, I would join in on local chatter, often extending touristic pleasantries into full-blown gossip. It’s a victimless crime, right?

One of my favorite hot-button coastal topics has been the charismatic Carolina Jelly Ball.  During our time loitering around St. Helena’s Island, the first of the Sea Island we explored, we learned of a local debate over a growing industry centered on this abundant and edible jellyfish that is gaining popularity in Asia.


The Carolina Jelly Ball is actually a cannonball jellyfish (Stomolophus meleagris), “a species of jellyfish in the family Stomolophidae. Its common name derives from its similarity to a cannonball in shape and size. Its dome-shaped bell can reach 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter and the rim is sometimes colored with brown pigment. Underneath of the body is a cluster of oral arms that extend out around the mouth. These arms function as a way of propulsion and aid in catching prey.” (Wikipedia)

Sounds delicious!

The drama arose over the siting and proposed expansion of a processing facility for the jellies on St. Helena, a pretty rural island where process water is necessarily discharged directly to a local creek.  Last week, the heath department in Beaufort County, SC held a public meeting that explored the issue, detailing what is known about the effluent, as well as the “natural toxins” that are secreted by stressed-out jellies. It’s no grand assumption that the jellies are stressed when they are being processed into a food product.

This topic  stuck with me as Fabio and I paid homage to each regional cuisine we encountered north to south, starting out in sea scallop country, then on to blue crab bisque, then flounder central, followed by fried oysters, and now shrimp as far as the eye can see. Today, for example we are going to a crawfish parade.  Could it be that future coastal southerners could be celebrating “Blob and Bluegrass Festivals” or “Blessing of the Jellies” ceremonies?


It might be hard to imagine this level of assimilation, but apparently change is already here.  During the public meeting, another jelly ball processor was highlighted as a “best practice”.  A local shrimper in Darien, Georgia has built a successful export model with the new jellyfish product, and operates within a municipal sewer service area.  The effluent from processing therefore enters the town’s treatment works, and everyone seems to be pretty satisfied with the arrangement.

Of course I am not going to rely just on Internet scavenging for the complete picture.  That’s plain irresponsible!  This calls for a field trip.

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