In My Tribe

Back in the ’80s, the phrase “In My Tribe” was most closely associated with the band 10,000 Maniacs, fronted by Natalie Merchant. The album of this name contained songs I can sing along with, word for word, today – many of them “issue” songs: child abuse, military conditioning of young men, depression, domestic violence.  I loved this album for many reasons, not the least of which is that its songs mirrored my political leanings as well as the issues I was in graduate school preparing to address. I had joined the 10,000 Maniacs’ tribe, for sure.

Today, I watched a TED talk by Seth Godin, here, in which he posits that tribes are what matter now, groups of people connecting and coming together over shared ideas. He says each of us has the ability to find something worth changing in the world, then assemble a group of people who share that vision. This group will, in turn, assemble another group and pretty soon, we have an agglomeration of groups affiliated with one another via this shared idea. And this new tribe of like-minded souls can change anything. Godin gives a nifty 3-step process on “How to Change Everything”: 1. Challenge the status quo. 2. Build a culture (connect people, develop a language that allows members to recognize each other, etc.) 3. Commit. At the end of his talk, he challenges the audience to take 24-hours (what Godin claims is all the time needed) and create a movement. If you have a few minutes, watch him, its definitely engaging whether you find yourself agreeing with him or not.

This week I am in an introspective space personally, and I find myself especially drawn to this concept of tribe. Particularly, the idea that one person might belong to several such groups, since they are idea or issue based.  I belong, for example, to the tribe of people who are concerned about where our food comes from, how it is processed and engineered, how it nourishes us or harms us. I am a new member of the tribe of bike-riding enthusiasts. More particularly, over the past couple of years, I feel like I have been working with a few committed others to build a tribe in our workspace. While it has taken us much longer than the suggested 24-hour time table proposed by Seth G., I like to think that our tribe is, in fact, changing the world (albeit slowly and one person at a time).

This tribe began as a group of strangers who happened to be hired to work together. I had been here for more than a decade, while the others were new to this environment. You always hope that you will connect with coworkers, and we did. However, something a little different than the usual work-related friendships began to develop. We began to challenge one another to reach for and embody what we value and what gives meaning and purpose to our work. We offered one another support, but we also challenged each other to live our best professional lives. One woman put it succinctly: holding up one hand at waist height, she said, “Most of us and the people around us are living here.” Then putting her other hand up at forehead height, she said, “We want, and need, to remember to live here.” High energy, high intent, high sense of values and purpose. As a result, we’ve created some amazing relationships, opportunities, programs. We have challenged and encouraged not only one another, but also our students and our institution, to strive for that higher plane. Has our work been perfect? No. Are there other tribes accomplishing good things here as well? Absolutely.

Ultimately, what makes this, or any tribe, special is the quality of the people and the vibrancy of their shared vision or cause. On the bike trail, I find a tribe of friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming others moving 10-30 mph. In the sustainable food tribe, I find others who put their food dollars where their mouths are (farmers’ markets, CSAs, organic, local) and who work tirelessly to educate themselves and others about their concerns. But in my tribe of colleagues, I have found people who sustain me, who push me, who comfort and mentor me. And I know they find those things in me, as well. And as we engender passion and compassion in one another, we pass it on to others with whom we come in contact. I have to believe that this is how we, in our small way, are changing our world.

(NOTE: This week, today in fact, my dear friend and valued colleague, Tricia moves on to the next phase in her life and the life of her family. She has been pivotal in creating an environment in which our tribe has flourished. We are all sad to see her go – Tricia may be most sad of all – but that is one of the great things about the idea of a tribe. Our connection is about the ideas and passions we share, not about our physical location.)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Apparently, working out hard over vacation didn’t completely make up for lack of tight dietary control. I did track my food, though, which helped keep the damage to a minimum. I’ve tried several on-line tracking sites, but have found works well for me, though I have friends who swear by others. I just recommend the tracking process, it keeps you focused and honest with yourself!

The Big Lonely

Avoidance and denial, my old friends. Back in the day, we hung together pretty tightly – in fact, we were what you might have called inseparable. I fed them all the emotions I preferred not to feel, and they shielded me from facing the harsher realities of my life. We made quite a team, living together inside the 352 pound flesh shell we built – soft, warm, protective.

Looking back, I know we weren’t exactly happy. But most days we felt like we could face whatever came our way. Or deflect it without much emotional impact. My friends would say, “I’m lonely,” or “I just wish I could meet someone”, and we would respond, “Why dwell on it? You can’t change it, and it only makes you unhappy.”

Man, have times changed. I kicked Avoidance out somewhere around 280 pounds, and Denial, while more tenacious, left shortly thereafter. For the most part, I haven’t missed them. My life has, in virtually every way, been so much lighter (brighter, less weighty, happier) without them. Oh, they visit briefly, from time to time, but its much easier to say goodbye each time. We just don’t have that much in common anymore. Breaking up was hard to do, but I don’t miss them as my BFFs.

Well, except in one way. These days, I’m feeling my feelings. Something that I never really had to do before if I chose not to – Avoidance and Denial (and the protective layer of 138 pounds I don’t carry now) took care of that for me. I’ve alluded to this in previous blog posts, mostly as one item in a list, or as something that I was acknowledging but didn’t want to get into. But here’s the honest truth: I have never felt this lonely.

How strange to say that at this point in my life. After all, I am – truly – happier than I have ever been. I have better, more fulfilling, relationships than I ever expected. My family and friends are with me, daily, enriching every experience and showering me with love and blessings. From the midst of this embarrassment of riches, I feel like an ungrateful or spoiled child to admit that I am still lonely. And yet, there it is.

Many times, I have refrained from talking about this, because I don’t want to appear pathetic, or upset my friends, or worst of all become a broken record on this point. Talking about my loneliness makes those who love me uncomfortable, because they can’t fix it. Instead, they try to cheer me up with stories about those who found a soulmate when they least expected, or by sharing their belief that one is waiting just around the bend for me, or by urging me to turn my eyes and heart to God.

Let me tell you this, so I can get it off my chest once and for all: I will be 50 years old this summer. I have never been part of a couple (not in the sense of two people who live together and make decisions together). Certainly I have given and received love, but never at the level of true intimacy which requires full participation and commitment from both people. And I have wanted this. Even when Avoidance and Denial helped me to hold the longing in check, and hide the depth of my loneliness from others (and, to a certain extent, from myself). So there is a reservoir of emotion which grew wide and deep all those years I had it dammed up. Without my old BFFs, I am swimming in it.  And for crying out loud, don’t bring up God right now, because the anger I’m not directing at myself is being quite forcefully directed at him. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

And there you have it. Once you stop denying that you have feelings, and start feeling your emotions, you feel them all. You don’t get to pick and choose. And the truth is, its really ok, even experiencing “The Big Lonely”, or deep anger. In one song, Lady Antebellum sings, “I guess I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.” I would amend that to “I guess I’d rather feel it all than feel nothing.”  And feeling my own anger or loneliness is a small price to pay for also feeling the joy that I sometimes experience with those I love – or for the contentment that mostly suffuses my days.

Joy and Contentment – way better BFFs than Avoidance and Denial, at any price.

June 16, 2011

Today, I am happy to post the weekly weight in, though I weighed in a day early (on Wednesday) because I knew there wouldn’t be time this morning. This week has been a bit hectic, and I was unable to prepare a Thursday reflection. I’m sure I will get to it soon! Have a wonderful day!

Flashback Friday


The flashback photo for today is of my parents and my older sister, Chris. Tomorrow is Chris’ birthday, and it seemed fitting to offer a few thoughts on the woman who has been there every single day of my life! Despite all the years of arguing to the contrary, I have to admit it is no easy task to be the first-born child – especially if you are lucky enough to have a gaggle of younger siblings. Chris took her role as eldest seriously, caring for us, teaching us, scolding us, and loving us. And she continues to be there for us. When my niece, Zoe was born with some complications, who did my youngest brother Matt turn to for advice? When I just want to hear the voice of someone who will help me feel “normal” (whether I am sick or just tired), Chris is the person I call.

I love this particular photo of Chris, face squeezed between our parents, looking a little unsure about whether this is a good thing. Its a look I’ve seen on her face throughout our lives – she for sure has an idea how this photo could be better, she’s just too young to direct it! And even though we all tease her mercilessly about her need to control situations, we would, in truth, be lost without her planning and problem-solving skills. At the graduation of one of my nephews, a woman from Chris’ church said, “So, you’re Jeni! Wow, I bet it was tough for you growing up with Chris! She must have been a little on the bossy side!”  Wow, someone was finally affirming my childhood pain. But as I looked around me, at the joy and pleasure on the faces of my sister’s friends and family, at the smoothly run reception which allowed everyone to be relaxed and celebrate the occasion, I found myself irritated that this woman had the gall to criticize my sister. I told her, “Shut up and mind your own beeswax!” Not really. But I told her the truth, that I was thankful for every minute of it!


Any minute now, my sister will be arriving to spend the night. Any minute. I’ve been telling myself this for an hour or so now. Still, no Annie.

Why is it that the things we so eagerly anticipate are the things that seem to take the longest to arrive?

This feeling is so common to the human experience, that we have aphorisms and proverbs that speak to it. The idiom in English is: a watched pot never boils. Before telephones were mobile, and came with us everywhere, my mother used to tell me not to just sit there waiting for the phone to ring – that the surest way for the call to come through was to get busy doing something productive. I can remember many times throughout my life when the anticipation seemed endless, almost unbearable. Who could stand to wait for Christmas, or summer vacation, or your birthday?

Funny how often this kind of eager anticipation is followed by an emotional letdown. Graduated from college? Hooray…now what? Christmas is finally here? Yippee…I didn’t get what I wanted. The New Year’s Eve party, trip to Vegas, prom…not really as much fun as the emotional hype leading up to them.

And yet.

Here’s something I’ve noticed recently. The ratio of events I’m eagerly anticipating to events that meet or surpass my expectations is getting better. Compared with my expectations, the following events surpassed anything I anticipated: my reunions with various old friends this past year = more meaningful and loving; The Oprah Tribute Show = better and more emotionally touching; time with my sister Anne = more fun and relaxed than a quick visit should be. And each hard fought pound dropped = more internal satisfaction than I ever expected to feel this far into my weight loss odyssey. (It took Odyssius ten years to make his way home from Troy, so I think odyssey is an appropriate word choice here!)

What I find myself wondering is whether I have learned to manage the anticipation, and keep it to a reasonable level OR if, instead, I have matured into a better understanding of the right life experiences to anticipate? Recently, I asked a friend if he felt let down after a series of big events in his life concluded. His response, “No letdown.  I don’t get letdowns too easy.  I’m very content…” struck me as a little too sanguine at the time. But the more I think about it, the more I come to believe he’s onto something. For me, it is less about being content than it is about living fully in the moment that comes – whatever it holds, no matter the advance hype. The good or great times can be fully enjoyed for what they are. And the other moments, even the difficult ones, can then be taken in stride without losing equilibrium. Being content isn’t about experiencing flat emotions (as my younger self suspected) – it is more about aligning oneself with the big picture of one’s life, instead of the momentary frame.

In her song, “Anticipation”, made famous by its use in the Heinz Ketchup commercials, Carly Simon writes about anticipation getting in the way of living her life right now – she’s late to meet her lover because she’s thinking about what might be. By the end of the song, she arrives at this conclusion: “So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now/And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.” We could all choose worse credos to live by.

Triple Word Tuesday


I had an awesome class this morning with the TRX and weight bands. I was so jazzed, I found myself dancing to the music during the instructions, waiting for everyone else to change stations, and a little bit while I was lifting. I don’t know why this video came to mind – after watching it, I know I look more like Olivia’s “victims” than like Olivia. But I was having WAY MORE FUN than the men in the video!

Summer Food Lovin’

Fresh and delicious!

The other night, I was craving something filling yet made with some of summer’s finest produce – another salad just wouldn’t do! I remembered ripping the recipe for New Potato and Turkey Skillet Supper out of Clean Eating Magazine (above), so off I went to find swiss chard, grape tomatoes and, of course, new potatoes. I was tempted to leave out the lemon juice, but after tasting the delicious results, I’d advise against it!

There is something about cooking in the summer – I know many people prefer not to due to the heat. But summer is when I feel creative, adventurous, and I have a little extra time to ponder the next culinary feat. Fresh produce inspires me to try all kinds of new things! So here’s to summer food love: bring on the kale, baby turnips, and tomatoes just off the vine!

Note: Recipe for New Potato & Turkey Skillet Supper can be found on the recipes tab