My first day at California Rural Legal Assistance in Delano, California

                                 My first day at California Rural Legal Assistance in Delano, California

Somewhere in my mid to late 20s I thought to myself: “Something doesn’t feel right.” And like a good chunk of angsty 20-somethings feel, I thought maybe the reason for that was that I was going through a phase—I just needed a little bit of time to get out of it. (Cue Angela Chase from My So Called Life here—although, uh, 10+ years later).

But the weeks turned into months which turned into a handful of years—where I felt like the trajectory I was on wasn’t satiating me. I thought professionally that I was doing what I was supposed to do: build up my résumé; climb up that public sector ladder where one day I would be the Director (of what exactly? I had zero effing clue) and then that would somehow dictate that I had “accomplished” something with my life. That I had something to show for myself—that I had high economic value—that I was a producer. After all, what was I to society and my peers if I didn’t have some mysterious badge of honor that was indicative of what I could offer? Alas, as I later realized, this is a cultural sickness we have in America: the tendency to measure people up by what they economically produce and their status in our society—rather than recognizing each and every individual’s humanity above all else. And that sickness is an epidemic here in the states—and arguably all over the world.

But the further I got into my career, the more I started to climb that ladder, I felt like I was isolating myself from the very thing that gave me so much joy in the first place—working with people. I was getting caught up in what I “should be doing”—in more ways than one. And I was young, depressed, and pretty damn miserable. I trudged from day to day with the same monotonous schedule, feeling completely uninspired and not looking forward to whatever the next day held in store.

Then, the whole sky came crashing down when I was let go from an organizing job a couple years ago. I cringe as I type that out publicly, but I am putting myself out there because the absolute last thing I want is to make it seem like this whole decision was something that just came to me and was easy to make. Yeah… definitely not the case! I want to do my best to be transparent with you all—cuz we are in this thing for at least 6 months, amirite?

 After being let go from that job, I felt like I was at a big fat zero on the economic value metric system. Then, I was all alone with the core and essence of myself—who was I without my job title or some other description? But as I’ve said before: when life gives you lemons, it’s time to make the tastiest ass lemonade ever.

For the next couple years, I was like a life scientist in a laboratory performing little experiments. I tried my hand at nonprofit consulting, only to discover that it definitely was not my thing. I thought maybe HR may have been a possibility. There were lots of ideas I tried on like I would try on like a shirt, earnestly trying to find one that properly fit. And over time, I discovered the ultimate personal hypothesis: Mama’s gotta take care of mama.

I’ve long advertised that I was going to pitch that phrase for an ongoing bumper sticker campaign, but really—what I mean by that is: this is your life. And no one else is going to make sure you get what you want out of life except for you.

I knew another aspect of my life scientist duties was to really sit with myself and ask myself some tough questions. Was I really happy? Was I stoked about the path that I was on? The answers absolutely did not come overnight, but it was more like a mental crock-pot of ideas marinating for awhile. To get there, I spent a LOT of time by myself (more solitude, less isolation); I put stronger boundaries out there for all my relationships and surrounded myself more with support and joy; and I let myself do what I enjoyed doing (not what I should be doing or what others expect from me).

 And it took a lot of time. Months. Years. But the clouds became a little less thick and I felt a growing sense of reassurance that was coming from me, internally—and not whatever sense of external active or passive validation I may have been getting before. And as this brick and mortar continued to build up, something started to take shape—and that something was me.

My father often tells this story about me when I was a toddler jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool with no floaties on (!) because I wanted to swim already. I think there is something endemic to me that can choose to take the plunge. I’ve always been such a curious person: curious about the world around me, other people, what makes things work.

I have long thought that getting out of one’s community and checking out someone else’s was one of the fundamental keys to empathy and understanding the broader human experience. I have been deeply fortunate to have moved around a bunch already across the states and I have met some truly amazing people who have shared with me their personal triumphs as well as experiences of marginalization. And there’s one thing I notice: we all pretty much want the same damn things out of life.

We all want to be seen for who we truly are, without having to hide behind some type of BS façade of who we think we need to be. We all want to be loved and want to feel safe. We want to feel useful and that we have made an impact during our lives—but we mustn’t confuse this notion with the simple act of a professional accomplishment or putting a down payment on a new mortgage. It’s so much more than that—it’s about creating a legacy that is comprised of who we are as human beings. It’s the imprint we each leave on each other. Everything else is noise—a distraction. It has no relevance or bearing on who you are or who I am.

And this project was born out of a deep desire to see more people who may not otherwise get the platform to be fully seen. The legal aspect is huge as it is the urgent and necessary mechanical way of accomplishing this idea of being seen. But perhaps the deepest undercurrent of this project for me is my desire to want to shed more of a light into some of our communities so that we can all get to know our neighbors a little bit better. To get out of our de facto community silos that we’ve been in for so long. I strongly believe once more of us hear some other stories that are out there, only clarity can be gained. And I’m hopeful that this deeper understanding will allow us to continue to tear down the walls of so many oppressive systems that hold all of us back and rob us of our collective freedom.

 I’ve only left Oakland, California less than 2 weeks ago, and I have already been hosted and helped by some very close community members I have (I love you all). I’ve been living out of my suitcase and car with no other material assets to my name. When I moved out of my apartment and gave away about 95% of the things I owned, I admit I felt a sense of “what if I need that oversized coat!?!?” but here I am a couple weeks later, and I don’t miss a damn thing.

Instead, what I gained was the deep generosity of spirit from my hosts and energizing, soulful conversations and interactions that have filled my heart full of joy more than any oversized coat or whatever could bring. Am I saying that everyone should give away all their stuff and hit the road for 6 months or an indefinite period of time? Absolutely not—I am not naive and realize we all have our miscellaneous obligations and responsibilities. And I acknowledge the privilege I have in being able to choose this path at this time in my life, even though it was not an easy decision. But I think that whatever the equivalent of shedding that unnecessary burden is—that is more of what I am getting at.

Then, we can focus on what truly matters. What matters to me during these next 6 months is providing legal assistance to those who truly need it and being able to share my broader experience in some of these communities with you all. I genuinely believe that the more we learn from others' experiences—this has the potential to help us more rapidly shed our collective, societal burden. And none of us are free as long as any one of us is not free.

And none of us can do it alone—so I thank you for reading and for sitting in the passenger’s seat on this journey. Let’s buckle our seat belts, everyone—it’s going to be a bumpy, but exhilarating ride! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

                       My trusty companion somewhere along the farm fields of the San Joaquin Valley

                       My trusty companion somewhere along the farm fields of the San Joaquin Valley