Tales of a wandering lesbian

Second chances

Yesterday I struck out on a great adventure – finding the forest path from Barga to Fornaci.  Armed with vague directions and an enthusiasm to find my way, I muddled along the wrong road, down the wrong path, and past the wrong goats – all the way to the wrong end of Fornaci.  It wasn’t until I got back and triumphantly posted about the excellent time I’d had that I learned I had been in the wrong place, traipsing through someone else’s woods.  To me it was a great adventure.

So, today, armed with the knowledge that I went the wrong way, and a few corrective instructions (“take the left fork” “it’s just past the big, beautiful villa”), I tried again.

The walk to the fork seemed quicker.  I recognized houses and crossed the road at the right points to avoid the whizzing cars.

Fortunately, there was only one fork before I reached the path.


There were, however several villas along the way.

Villa 1 Villa 2 Villa 3

I’m guessing the one I was looking for stood at the end of a long driveway, behind huge gates.


When I reached the end of the road this time, there was no mistake.  This was the path I was supposed to be on yesterday.  This was a legitimate PATH, complete with handrail and ropes to help me down the insanely steep slope.

Trailhead Path rails Path stairs

And there were dogs, cheering me along.


The path itself was nice.  After the initial steep, leaf-covered stretch, houses started to appear again, and the path became more of a road, eventually  turning into pavement.  It ran the entire length of a mountain ridge, only 10 yards wide in places, giving way to steep drops and dramatic, wooded views on either side.

Narrow path

Past grapevines and olive orchards it wound, eventually dropping off of the ridge right into Fornaci – 5 minutes from the house.  It was a great path.  I will take it again for sure, and probably make the reverse trek up the hill.  But, still, I really enjoyed the other walk.  Yes, the road took twice as long.  No, it wasn’t the way others would have gone.  But I had a blast, wonderfully unaware that my path was the “wrong” one.

When I got back today I thought about the second chances in my life.  The opportunities to evaluate, apply lessons-learned, and start again.  There are times I’ve had to pry second chances out of the world, but more often they’ve been given gently by others, or tentatively handed over by me, to myself.

Some people see second chances as a way to erase the past, happy to forget the first chance, the one that went the “wrong” way.  From now on, I will try to see them as a way to appreciate the beauty of the first chance, even if it’s a path I wouldn’t really want to walk again.

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November 26, 2009   8 Comments

Second chances

Lately, I’ve been taking some time to consider what I’ve learned from the pieces of my life that I’m leaving behind.  Both from the successes and from the failures.  It really is the failures that teach the most.   I try really hard to learn from situations that I could have handled better, and I’m grateful when I’m given challenges that afforded me the opportunity to test what I’ve learned.    This week I had a couple of those challenges – and and I found that I chose different ways  to handle them this time.  Yay for me!

Today, I started scheduling out my last week of work.  I sent out an email to the office letting folks know that, if they had anything they would like me to do before I leave, they should schedule with me asap, as it will really be difficult for me to address requests on-the-fly next week, and I am determined to leave my position with as little clean-up left as possible.  I set boundaries for the new work I could take on and communicated it.  That prompted my boss to question what, exactly, I would be doing with my time next week.

This was the first challenge – the first opportunity to see what I’ve learned.

There was a time, not long before I left my last office job, when my then boss asked for a similar accounting, wondering why I wasn’t making as many phone calls as he wanted, and asking if, at the end of the campaign, I would be able to say that I did everything possible to advance the cause.  Now, given that I had left my job as a lawyer, thereby giving up my health insurance and retirement benefits, and incurred significant consumer debt in order to advance the cause, I didn’t appreciate the question.  I believe I started shaking so violently that Leigh came from across the room to try to settle me down.  Over the phone, I responded with something to the effect of “who the hell do you think you are.  Don’t you EVER question my commitment or loyalty to this issue.”  That only led to a very strict accounting of my time at the end of every day.  That didn’t so much make me happy.

When my boss today asked me what I was doing with my time instead of (incidentally) making phone calls, I flashed back to that moment at my kitchen table five years ago when I wanted to destroy the person questioning me.  Then, I took a step back, took a deep breath, and calmly responded with my schedule for the week.  True, I’m leaving soon, but it was nice to recognize that I can respond to a question that I don’t like without seeing it as a personal attack.  It might sound easy, but it hasn’t always been.

The other thing that came up was a little broader in scope.  The issue of volunteer leadership is a big one for a community organizer.  That’s what I’ve been, in different capacities for the last 5 years – an organizer.  When you’re relying on volunteers for the work that you do, it’s hugely important to have a core of dependable, loyal, committed volunteers.  What I learned is that the who and what they are loyal to really speaks to whether or not I’ve done a good job.

When I worked as a GLBT organizer in Salem, I depended on a crew of about 100 volunteers to do some incredibly difficult things.  I asked people to knock on doors in conservative neighborhoods, come out to whomever was at the door and then talk with them about how they felt about gay people.   And my volunteers did that – for almost a year.  A group of us sat outside the capitol building every morning for a month, talking with legislators as they drove into the parking garage.  I asked people to make thousands of phone calls to people who called them names and told them they didn’t believe in my volunteers’ rights.

And they did it.

I was a good organizer because I believed deeply in the cause – and also because I believed deeply in my volunteers.  I paid attention to why each of them was there, and I made sure they got what they needed in order for them to keep showing up, whether that was a meal, something to believe in, or someone to talk to.  I was loyal to them and I knew they were loyal to me.  That’s a pretty excellent feeling, to know that people are showing up to do really hard work, in part because you are the one asking them to do it.   It’s a great feeling, but it’s not leadership.

When I left that position, I knew I had failed.  My volunteers had done some really amazing work and had come together as a true community.  But it wasn’t sustainable.  Despite expressing my concerns to my bosses, trying to identify potential volunteer leaders, encouraging volunteers to continue the work, and even handing the torch publicly to a successor, I knew many of the volunteers wouldn’t continue, because of their loyalty to me. They had done everything I had asked of them, and yet the momentum we had gained would be lost.  And that was my great failure.

But now, this time, as I’m handing over my files and my contacts, I know that I have succeeded as an organizer.  I know that my volunteers are intact. No matter how much they like me, no matter how much they wish I was staying, or how much they couldn’t stand me, they will return.  Their loyalty is to the cause.  And, because their loyalty lies with a cause and not with a person, the work that I did, and that we did, is sustainable.   It will carry on.

That’s pretty cool.

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September 19, 2009   1 Comment