Finding Kansas (and That’s All She Wrote): Everyday Magic, Day 1049

A KAW Council campout at Lake Kanopolis in 1982 with, from left, Dan Bentley, the late Mark Larson, Kelly Kindscher, Victoria Sherry, me, Suzanne Richman, and in front of us, Joe Greever, and behind us, Ken Lassman, Shannon Greever, Larry, and Dave Ebbert

I was lucky: I found a place that made a satisfying click when I set foot in it, and I knew.

It was April 30, 1982, I was living in Kansas City, MO at the time, and I had never been to Lawrence. In fact, the furthest west I had been was KCK (Kansas City, KS). With my friend Ira, I was heading toward the first Kansas Area Watershed Council gathering, just 15 miles west of Lawrence. Ira and I liked to talk, and at the time, we had some weeks of life details to catch up on, so trying to head out from Kansas City, we missed the exit to I-70. We went around the maze of highways to take another shot at the exit, but talking so fast and much, we missed it a second time…..and a third time. It turns out the fourth time was the charm.

“I want to stop in Lawrence on the way,” Ira told me. There was a great band playing in South Park, the fabled Tofu Teddy. So we did and we danced. It was relatively warm out, sunny, and the world felt light and easy. Then we were hungry, so: enchiladas. Then it was dark, and we decided to spend the night at a friend of a friend’s house, a bungalow in East Lawrence. There were a few extra bedrooms, and whoever owned it was out of town.

Climbing the stairs to the porch of that bungalow on that spring night, lilac, dirt, and wonder in the air, I felt the weight of a voice on my right shoulder. “This is your home for the rest of your life.” A click of recognition went through my body, and I slept soundly that night. The next morning, we would get to KAW, where I met some of the people who became my best beloveds for life, including Ken, who became a good friend, then the love of my life.

Cobra Rock while it was still standing

I also fell hard for Kansas, and I’m still falling. Not just Lawrence, which of course I adore with all its artsy, activist you-can-make-anything-happen-here (but you might not get paid much for it) energy, but often-ignored corners and crannies of the state. Having roamed Kansas widely, as a visiting scholar for Kansas Humanities since 1992, and later, as a Kansas poet laureate — not to mention all the KAW Council campouts in caves and fields, sleeping bags unrolled under Cobra Rock before it collapsed or in Hutchinson living rooms — I’ve seen a lot of this place. But not nearly enough yet.

Put me on a long drive through the Flint Hills or even across the much-maligned Kansas chunk of I-70 going through ranges of hills and high, dry places where you can see 100 miles or more, and I’m a happy camper (sometimes literally). Serve me what surely feels like the official Kansas dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn, and I’m thrilled. Add some fresh apple pie, and what could be wrong with this ailing world?

I’m often enthralled with the communities I’ve dipped into even if they sometimes/often contain people who vote in ways that are incomprehensible to me. I have yet to spend time in any small Kansas town without glimpsing some wild quirks and beyond-any-stereotype humans. “Here’s the master key — just go through every room you want in the hotel and choose whatever you want,” the receptionist at the beautiful, vintage, and haunted (as I soon found out) Midland Railroad Hotel once told me (turned out the whole third floor was once a chicken coop that supplied dinners served on the first floor). I can’t visit Pittsburg without discovering yet another bevy of poets, and I’m sure that town has has many poets per capita as any place in the world. I dig the leftover famous tree stumps in Council Grove and visionaries I’ve met in Garden City. I’ve encountered opera singers on the street, abstract painters who took over old bank buildings for studios, and I even stayed in a grain bin transformed into a bed and breakfast filled with kittens. I’m delighted with the infinity of birds that cross and roost in the flyway as well as all other other wilds ones I’ve seen — bobcats on rare occasion and wild turkeys and massive crows regularly, and once, even a cougar.

I love the expansiveness of this place, the big skies that felt and still feel like the perfect balm for my crowded mind, and after many years, 40 this spring, the exterior has infused the interior. My thoughts and thinking feel less compressed, frenzied, and way less tortured than when I first climbed the steps to that bungalow. I’m home here, and the thing about homecoming is that it’s a continual unfolding and practice, a life-long love affair with being where and who we are. Thank you, Kansas, and hey, Happy Kansas Day!

6 Ways to Determine What’s Your Work (and What’s Not): Everyday Magic, Day 1044

Sometimes my work takes me to beautiful places (like Brave Voice in the Flint Hills last September) and teams me up with marvelous collaborators (like Kathryn Lorenzen, here with me at Brave Voice)

This is a cross-post I wrote for Your Right Livelihood (scroll down for more info.). With so many people I know grappling with the same issue, I thought I’d share it here.

I love my work but I have a tendency, to paraphrase the Oklahoma song, to be a gal who can’t say no. Yet when our mouths get us into trouble, the rest of our bodies can right the wrong, and that’s what happened to me. I would take on way too much work, all of it gleaming with promise when I said yes, but by the time I was driving six hours west to do a low-paying gig or staying up late doing a rushed editing project, the shine was gone, and I was exhausted. I was also sick often, which is over-commitment does to some of us to get us to slow down.

While I wouldn’t say I’ve figured it all out, I’m well on my way as a recovering workaholic. What’s helped me immensely is constantly asking myself, “Is this mine?” For a gig worker like me, this is obviously important, but even if you have a 9-to-5 job, it can help to regularly ask yourself, when faced with optional tasks or extra assignments, if they’re yours to do.

A friend recently told me about a time she was pissed off because a co-worker got a raise for putting in ample extra hours. After she looked at the facts, she realized the raise was minimal, and her time spent with her family, relaxing at home, gardening and getting together with friends was worth far more than the extra money. So a lot of what’s mine comes down to your values and priorities.

Here are six ways I determine whether to say yes to work I wasn’t anticipating as well as work I’ve been doing for a while but am questioning. Please feel free to tweak these questions to what speaks to you, especially if your work isn’t for income but for art and/or service (in which case these questions might be even more essential to ponder). As you ask each question, score yourself from 1 (no way is this true!) to 5 (this is the Nirvana of right work for me):

  1. MINE: The biggest question of all: Is this yours to do? Is doing this part of what your life, your soul, your essence is calling you to do at this moment? Is it dyed-in-the-wool of your job description? Is it vital to your or your team’s goals.
  2. TIME: Is the timing right for doing this in your life, or will you be just recovering from doing too many other things? Do you have enough time to do it the way you want to do it? If you’re being pressured to do something in short order that would compromise the quality of the work and your health, see if you can renegotiate the deadline.
  3. TEAM: If you’re working collaboratively, will you be part of a team aligned with your own values? If you’re just showing up to do something with others, is it organized with integrity and thoughtfulness, and good communication between the organizers or supervisors and you?
  4. HEALTH: Does doing this bring you home to yourself in body and mind or further out to field? Does this compromise your physical, mental or emotional health? Does it come at a time when you’ll be more vulnerable and need to take better care of yourself (such as after organizing a big event)? Also, does this add to your health in a positive way? Or does considering it make your stomach hurt?
  5. LIVELIHOOD: Does this add to your right livelihood — the Buddhist term of making a living without doing harm (and by extension, contributing to your community and living out your life’s gifts)? Even if it doesn’t pay money, does it enhance your livelihood in other ways, or does it distract from how you live out your vocation and avocation?
  6. LOVE: Do you love doing this? Are you working with, visiting with or playing with people you love? Is it in a place you love or would love to get to know?

Now add up your scores, and aim for at least a score of 20 before you say yes. Big caveat: If you get a lower score than 20, but your heart drops because you want to do this so much, then see if you can change some of the elements involved to make it a higher score (get people to help, stay in a nice little Airbnb on the way, travel with a bag of chocolate, dark chocolate so that it’s good for your health).

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Learn more about the work that calls to you and the upcoming Your Right Livelihood class I’m teaching with Kathryn Lorenzen by contacting me for a free Discovery Call. You’re also invited to join Kathryn and me for Life & Livelihood Small Group Coaching, a 90-minute session 7-8:30 p.m. CST on Tues., Jan. 4. It’s only $9.99, and it allows you to ask a question about the work that intrigues or call you, plus learn more about possibilities for growing and discovering your true work. More here.