Friday, April 23, 2010

This Literally Cracks My Shit Up

I saw this a couple of weeks ago and I'm still hovering between marvel, admiration, disbelief and laughter. I'm sure people laughed when Alexander Graham Bell told them to talk into one end of a cone, but still. I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the logistics of crapping in plastic bag.

As one of my coworkers said " At some point the developing world is going to tell us to stop bothering them….learn this, do that, poop in this…"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Love in the Time of the Biological Clock and In the Face of an International Job

My second speaking engagement this week was to the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (LOTT) leadership conference. I was actually really looking forward to this, as I was one of a panel, and we were basically just asked to talk about ourselves (see how that fits into the raging narcissist bit?), how we got into international work, and what advice we would give to women interested in the same fields.

I was lucky enough to be on a panel with two other smart, much more experienced women, so I learned alot just by being there. Echoing my experience earlier in the week, the women asked alot about money (how did you manage to follow your dreams when the bills are knocking at the door?), juggling family and dreams, and what I've come to acknowledge as the Baby Issue.

Ah yes, the Baby Issue. One that every woman must contemplate (some longer than others), or maddeningly, is contemplated for her. My my uncle said the other day that he and our hometown pastor had talked and both agreed: I'd better "hurry up. The clock is ticking." My uncle is one thing - he actually understands these issues - but I find it more than a little creepy that my pastor is thinking - and has an opinion on - my babymaking junk!

Admittedly, this gets even trickier when you throw an international trip (or three) in there. How does one even begin to date, let alone start a family, when you have to leave for Pakistan in a week? My male (and also perpetually single) colleague and I contemplate this often. One, it's very hard to find someone who can locate Pakistan on the map and two, is cool with you running off there (where you might not come back).

The answer: it all comes down to choices. I personally don't see this as just a male/female issue, as both genders have to make -and are beholden to the consequences of - their choices. It will mean my partner and I (or just me, who knows?) making the choice to stay home and enjoy toddler hugs rather than work on a grant that brings fresh water to Iraqi widows. At some point, that flexibility of being able to stay in Sri Lanka for six weeks is gonna have to give (which is why I'm enjoying the crap out of it now). It also means supporting my female colleague who have to leave at 2:30 because their children are sick, even though you had an important meeting with them at 3. (In this case, I hope the flexibility I'm paying in comes back to me...)

One of the panelists mentioned that she had many professional female friends who were workaholics really struggled with dating, marriage and the Baby Issue. "And some of these women," she warned, "Have decided to go it alone, either biologically or through adoption, thus becoming single mothers on top of everything else!"

To which I thought to myself: Since when did becoming a (gasp) "single mother" become a pejorative term? But that's another story for another blogpost.

What I wanted to tell these women is what I mentioned at the end of my previous post: be comfortable with the grey areas. Make friends with not getting everything you want and not pleasing everyone all the time. I don't know what the answers are, only that I know much like the earlier non-baby part of my life, choices will have to be made - and lived with.

The strange - and frustrating - thing about the Baby Issue, is that everyone seems to have an opinion about it, when in actuality, I'm the only one who has to be comfortable with it.

And the part that I really, really struggle with is not the Baby Issue, it's finding the grace to just smile in the face of everyone else's opinion's about my babymaking junk. That just gets harder and harder with time.

Speaking, not Talking

This week I found myself with not one, but TWO, separate speaking engagements. This is strange, because while I enjoy public speaking, it's not necessarily something I get to do on a regular basis. (But my mom gets to do it for a living.)

Through various twists and turns, contacts and networking, two different folks asked me months ago if I would consider speaking on generally the same topic: my job, and being a woman working in the international arena. Being a raging narcissist, in love with her job and used to shooting her mouth off in public, who was I to say no? :)

It just so happened they both fell on the same week. For the first one, on Wednesday, I headed down to the MN arboretum in Chaska for the Minnesota Agricultural Leadership Conference. (PS the Arboretum is AMAZING). I hosted a breakout session on my job, my company and what we're doing to help women around the globe. The audience were farmwifes, FFAer's, Farm Bureau and Farm Credit employees, and a host of other women involved in agriculture.

I alternatively love the agricultural community, and am at odds with it. I grew up on a conventional small-grain farm, of mid-size. We are not organic, although I follow the organic argument closely (as evidenced by my earlier blogs). I love the smell of the soil, field full of amber waves of grain (no lie!) and combines moving slowly across the plains at dusk, in a haze of chaff. I am drawn to people with a no-nonsense, hardworking, dry-humored, self-effacing personality. I find Ole and Lena jokes hilarious.

Although I enjoy - and even love - these things - I don't think I'll ever be apart of this community. First, I am most decidedly not a Republican. I see taxes as a necessary part of our Social Contract (I've seen what happens in countries where no one pays them). I read the New Yorker. I love high heels. Hogs do not make my limbs tingle. (One woman I met told me that she'd love to travel more, but she's marrying a hog farmer. I had to suppress the urge to take her aside and tell her to RUN. RUN FAST.)

It's so strange. I was drawn in at the conference; these women are strong, educated, competent, living their passion, just like me. Aside from the politics, we're pretty much the same. Then why is it that the agricultural community gets such a bad rap for being stupid hicks? When I lived in DC, I would often get the remark that I "didn't look like I was from a farm". (WTF?) My stock answer was that I only broke out my overalls for special occasions.

My brother received a book for Christmas called Hollowing Out the Middle, about the brain drain and subsequent decline of small towns. This is a real problem, as towns get smaller, but still need city clerks, smart mayors, and a tax base to keep themselves alive. So, how do we stop people from leaving? How do we invigorate smalltown communities where memories of Lick m' Sticks at Ben Franklin's and DQ ice cream after swimming lessons still live?

How can I even contemplate this without looking at my own choice in lifestyle? It's very painful to realize you want to fix a problem, but you don't want to put forth the skin to be part of the solution. I could never, never move back to my hometown. I am often in awe of my brother, who did just that, and is now doing his part to find grant funding to keep our community alive. I am in awe of my best friend, who farms with her brother, in the adjacent community. I am in awe, and I find myself lacking. They've got the guts, and I've got...a speaking engagement.

What's even funnier is that my friends in DC look to me as the agriculture "expert". I laugh, ruefully.

So, I'm stuck. I'm stuck working for an agricultural conglomerate in the big city, visiting my dying hometown for Christmas, Easter and the occasional funeral, and speaking to the community as if I know exactly what they're going through. I thought by moving back to Minnesota that I'd finally marry my two passions, but it seems, I'm just as mixed up as before. As I grow older, I am finding that it's not enough to recognize the world is not black and white, but to be comfortable with the very large grey part in the middle.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Humane Society Walk for Animals

Last January, in the bleak midwinter, I was suffering a lack of snuggles. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and needed some cheap, disease-free lovin'.

Enter the Humane Society.

My friend Kaydi helped me pick out Ruby, aka Angus Destroyer of My Couch. She has quickly turned into my loud, complian-y, carpet-shredding, fuzz-leaving, feline mother. In the end, I swapped being in love with one hairy animal for another.

Today, she woke me up at 4am by sneezing in my face.

Despite all these drawbacks, Ruby has wiggled her way into my heart. To honor her contribution to my household, I am walking in the Animal Humane Society Walk for Animals. Our team is named the "Faux Paws". This year, we're walking for my friend Kaydi's dog Hank, who was recently diagnosed with cancer (yes, they can get it!).

Please consider making a donation on my website so that animals like Ruby will continue to find good homes.