Category Archives: inspiration

to be of use

 

There are enough opinions and fears and thoughts floating around right now.

For a bit of solace, we wanted to share one of our favorite pieces of inspiration to keep working,
keep pushing,
keep moving forward.

Take a deep breath & read on.

To Be Of Use
Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Credit: Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.

this is what democracy looks like: chicago women’s march

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“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” – Coretta Scott King

Can someone tell me how long is normal to have “This is what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!” stuck in your head? Not complaining, just asking for a quarter million of our Chicago friends.

Saturday, like millions of people all over the world, we marched alongside a diverse, conscientious, passionate, compassionate, and completely beautiful gathering of human beings in Chicago. When we filled Grant Park mid-morning, the crowds kept flowing. When we filled the streets, the march got “canceled.” And after a few hours of empowering speeches, touching performances, chants, cheers, and celebrations in languages from Hebrew to American Sign Language, we ended up taking part in the flow of the cheering, singing crowd through parts of the Chicago Loop that are usually clogged with cars. (It sure felt like a march!)

Our voices and our cheers reverberated between the skyscrapers as people peered down from condos and office buildings and hair salons. It was surreal—one of the most profoundly powerful moments of my life.

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We had so. much. fun painting our positive, hopeful signs the night before:

Make America Love Again // back: Be the Light!
Make America Hope Again // back: There Is No Planet B!
Make America United Again // back: (American flag)
Make America Kind Again // back: (big sparkly heart)
Make America Nasty Again (we couldn’t help it!) // back: Who Run the World?
No Justice, No Peace // back: Love Trumps Hate
Who Run the World? // back: GIRLS!

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We found a kindred spirit with her empathy sign! This woman had also attended Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

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Never before could I ever have imagined that many people could come together so peacefully, positively and inclusively. The theme of the march was “Connect. Protect. Activate.”—which we repeated and yelled and hopefully imprinted on our memories to carry with us to do something about the issues we care about after Saturday!

In fact, that was one of the key takeaways: If this march just resulted in us patting ourselves on the back for taking part, and that was it, it was nothing more than a pep rally. This was a wake-up call, a gigantic moment of empowerment, a call to action—and it’s just the beginning. It’s up to us to take this from a moment into a movement.

Some ideas: 
Run for office!!!
Save your Senator and your Representative’s number. Call frequently.
Volunteer regularly with an organization that supports an issue you care about.
Actively open yourself to and seek opportunities to have conversations with people of different backgrounds and ideologies.
Subvert systems you oppose: grow your own food, make your own clothes, create “sharing economies” of your own, help out at a local school.
Add more in the comments!

Since the March, I did find out that some pro-life groups were turned away from partnering, which is a complex and difficult issue in and of itself (here’s one interesting discussion of the limits of and intersections between a feminist and being pro-life). But I also found it heartening to see a few women’s signs proclaiming those views as well.

As the Women’s March emcee and so many people said, this event was about everyone and so much bigger than one particular passion; no matter if we struggle to understand each other’s issues or experience them ourselves, we must come together to move forward, collaborate, and never, ever give up. Divide and conquer is our government’s prevailing philosophy, it seems, and it certainly need not be our own.

I personally am Catholic and deeply cherish our Catholic social teaching, so no matter the opportunity, I am grateful to be able to have a platform (or crowd) in which I can jump and smile and shout about the earth, the vulnerable in our society, the importance of putting people before our economy—and more.

So, to all the people who marched: Thank you.

To all those who marched before us: Thank you.

To the others talking about the March and, in the future, writing about this in the history books (!!!): Thank you.

And to those with criticisms and questions: Thank you.

Together, all of us will keep this messy experiment in democracy flowing forward, and for better or for worse, we will write history.

How will you contribute to our nation’s history today?

post-election: keep hope alive

only-when-the-last-tree-has-diedand-the-last-river-has-been-poisonedand-the-last-fish-has-been-caughtwill-we-realize-we-cant-eat-money“Hope is a verb
with its shirtsleeves rolled up.”
– David Orr

Half of America, we are feeling what you’re feeling.

And we’re thinking what you’re thinking.

And we’re scared of the future you’re scared of.

 

Today, we don’t want to extend the echo chamber that is social media, so there will be no predictions or justifications here. We also certainly aren’t expert prognosticators about the repercussions of this current president-elect situation, though we have sure talked to a lot of wise women who have taught us all about planning and working and hoping and making dreams reality.

Although we carry heaviness in our hearts (perhaps to post about another day), today we share a few reasons to hope. No matter who we are, we all have reasons to hope. Here are some of our reasons, and we would love to hear yours in the comments!

  1. Change starts with the people, not the president. Hello civil rights, women’s suffrage, Standing Rock protests, GMO labeling, job opportunities for people with disabilities, life-saving drugs becoming increasingly affordable—I could go on and on and on and on. And on. Our voices get heard when we get loud, especially in the right moments to make change—and make history. (Just yelling all the time? Not so much.)
  2. Our president is only one person, surrounded by checks and balances even his or her power can’t eliminate in four years—or ever.
  3. The House of Representatives gets re-elected every two years; lots of local changes happen much more quickly than our president. Did you get passionate about this election for the first time, or do you vote in every single election in your community? Either way—great. Keep that election energy moving and don’t forget to cast your ballot next time and every time. Or better yet: Run for office!
  4. Organizations like the Sierra Club, NAACP, ACLU, National Immigration Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Boys & Girls Clubs, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), Emily’s List, Union of Concerned Scientists, Victory Garden Initiative, and oh so many others exist. And they will continue to exist, with our support. These teams of incredibly hard-working, passionate, intelligent human beings give us local, national and international platforms to be heard, collaborate with like minds, and work toward change with an excellent team.
  5. We get to choose how we treat our families, our coworkers and our planet, continuing to live out love in our daily lives.
  6. Freedom of speech remains a core tenet of our nation.
  7. Younger generations have a more progressive lean, and Millennials have recently surpassed Baby Boomers as the “nation’s largest living generation.” Knowing people on both sides of the aisle in our Millennial age group, this fact alone gives us hope.
  8. We have four years to plan and scheme and ORGANIZE. (Cry break: over.)
  9. Change continues with our efforts! That space that feels like it was carved right out of our spirits and stomped on? Now, we get to fill it right back up with hope and light and love and compassion and all the good things that we can shine throughout the world—one interaction, one choice, one moment at a time.

No matter who is president, the hashtag is right on: #LoveTrumpsHate. Every. Single. Time.

We started on a quote, so let’s end on another, from a book that might just be the inspiration you need to keep moving:

“When we love,
we always strive to become better than we are.
When we strive to become better than we are,
everything around us becomes better too.”
– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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women’s dream conference + the people’s music school’s anniversary

The Women's Dream Conference

The speakers at the Women’s Dream Conference

Two Fridays ago, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the 3rd annual Women’s Dream Conference—an inspiring and eye-opening event by local Chicago celeb Andrea Metcalf. A huge thank you goes out to Shruthi Reddy of Reddy Set Yoga! for inviting me. I already can’t wait for next year.

The day began with Andrea’s keynote. She related her trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro to starting a business, with many setbacks on her way up the mountain—including when she threw up in her goggles, and it immediately froze, rendering them useless. She was forced to blindly continue the trek through the snow for the rest of the journey. Unexpected moments like this can easily be compared to the harrowing, bumpy path toward starting your own business, Andrea says. When they finally reached the peak and were going to take a picture, a man from another group stripped down to his skivvies and leapt into the frame. “So the view from the top of the mountain may not always look how you imagined either,” Andrea dryly remarked.

Undies aside, my favorite message was Andrea’s advice on how to get what you want in life: Be direct. Once, when she wanted a certain position at a TV station, she called up the guy in charge and literally said, “I’m a health and wellness expert, and you should give me a job.” Her point was that if you know what you’re talking about and know what you want, you have to ask for it. By the way: She was hired.

Women’s Dream Panel No. 1: Wellness

The Women's Dream Conference Health and Wellness Panel

The health and wellness panel

The first panel was about health, wellness and balance. The theme that emerged was around the benefits of meditating, something I’ve been really interested in learning lately. But I was surprised to hear that it was something almost all of these women practice. Panelist Kathy Hart (of Eric and Kathy from 101.9 the Mix) was the first to stress the importance of making time for yourself to meditate or relax or do yoga or reset however you need—no excuses.

I like to think of it as the ‘putting your mask on first’ mentality—you can’t be your best self for others if you don’t take care of yourself first. (Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, almost all of our Panachies! But we digress.)

Women’s Dream Panel No. 2: Wealth

Panel No. 2 was about building wealth. Two points especially stuck with me:

  1. Financial advisor Mohini McCormick from Calamos Wealth Management talked about the emotional connection to money—and that it’s important not to make financial decisions when emotions are high. She says when you work with a financial planner or advisor, you put together a plan. Many of her clients will come to her and say, ‘Oh no, the economy is doing this! Shouldn’t we respond this way with my money?’ Her response is usually no, we have a plan to cover these sorts of things—let’s stick to it.
  2. “You can have it all, just not all at once.” Another panelist shared this sentiment, which was very heartening—and makes me even more excited for the future.

Women’s Dream Panel No. 3: Branding

The final panel discussion focused on personal branding. Sue Koch, social media consultant and owner of Soaring Solutions, told us that your brand is made up of 10 percent what you actually do, 30 percent how good you are at what you do, and 60 percent what people think of you—illustrating that it’s just as important for your bottom line to think about your brand as it is to perfect your offer.

Later on in the discussion, Micae Brown, host of The Micae Brown Report, created one of the most powerful moments in the room. She talked about how imperative it is for women to support each other. She acknowledged that there are times when your first instinct is competition, and thoughts like “There isn’t room for the both of us to succeed” permeate the brain—but that’s just not reality. This world is a big place, and there’s a space for each of us in it. If we spend more time helping each other and lifting each other up, we will accomplish a lot more.

The day was full of powerful reminders, and I couldn’t get over how many supportive women we are surrounded by each day whether we know it or not. My favorite part of the conference was the conversations: honest, earnest and full of real emotion. It was fantastic to be in a room full of women who just want to help each other live the best lives they can.

Anniversary Party Time!

Jazz Ensemble, People's Music School

The kids’ jazz ensemble

Later that night, I attended The People’s Music School 40th Anniversary event—and it was spectacular. As a quick reminder, this is the only tuition-free music school in the country, and kids and their families camp outside for days every year before registration to gain a coveted spot. Growing up as a band kid, I understand the value of music education, and I was grateful to be a part of an event that helps kids learn music skills and gain self-confidence in the process. They ended up raising over $230,000 that night!

The young musicians of The People’s Music School kicked off the evening with an impressive jazz ensemble, and that’s when my nostalgia really kicked in—I used to play the flute. Later on, a young girl belted out “Tonight” from West Side Story while President and Artistic Director Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa herself played the piano. Right after that, Jennifer accompanied a young boy on “Wipe Out” on the drums, blowing the audience away.

Besides the music, a theme of the night was captured by a father of three children who attend the school. He said: “What makes this music school special is the experience you have with these great people. The idea of having my children around good people is what we want and what we need so that one day, they can become good people.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the night.

Smashing Pumpkins

40 students performing “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin

The event culminated in one epic performance: honoree Jimmy Chamberlin, the Smashing Pumpkins’ drummer, joined an ensemble of 40 students. They played their own rendition of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins—the event’s namesake song. Jennifer told me the theme was “Tonight, So Bright” (a lyric in the song) because they want to focus on the present.

“We’ve had 40 years of this great history, but we don’t want to be lost in the ‘before,’” she says. “The future isn’t fully formed yet, so it’s almost limitless—just like our kids. They’re not fully formed adults yet, and the work they’re doing now is planting the seed for them to become leaders and socially responsible, contributing members of society, as well as innovators, dreamers, executors.”

Whether we’re talking with women dreamers of today or the children that will create our tomorrows, that is something we can all believe in.

[Conference photos by Kate. Music school event photos courtesy of The People’s Music School.]

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lean in milwaukee: sharing stories and support

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Empowerment Project asked us in their documentary, Sheryl Sandberg asked us in Lean In, and now we’re asking you.

Lean In Milwaukee

Kate R., on the left, started Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Way to Lean In, Kate! In this picture, I am holding the group’s namesake book, and everyone else has a “You Inspire Me” PWP postcard.

But first let’s rewind a little to 3 years, 6 months, and six days ago: January 20, 2013, the day before Kate and I launched our favorite little corner of the Internet—People with Panache!

Back then, Kate and I found reasons and ways to see each other in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the best rest stops in between just about every other week. In our professional lives, we were securely situated in jobs that fit well with our paths so far, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Sound familiar? Continue reading

alysse is going to be a teacher!

“I don’t have a passion!” I remember whining to my mom from the kitchen table.

I was 17 years old, applying for colleges and attempting to pick a path for essentially the rest of my life. (LOL about the passion thing; I may have overcompensated since then.) Knowing how much I love people and enjoy writing, 17-year-old Alysse did a very nice service to 27-year-old Alysse and picked journalism. In journalism school, I met Kate, honed very handy researching and reporting skills, and gained experience with big assignments and tight deadlines—I really couldn’t ask for more. 

We both worked in magazines for several years during and after college, grew professionally, moved into our first adult apartments, and quickly wanted more from our jobs—in different directions. In the years I spent at Reader’s Digest, my first post-college gig, I found the time and freedom to figure out where all my passions—education, environment, social justice, people, animals, and more—intersected.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Lightbulb moment: The food system! Since that epiphany, I’ve hustled non-stop to help build a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system for all—starting in my beloved Milwaukee, at Victory Garden Initiative.

But a simmering energy has been the undercurrent of nearly every job I’ve had, and over time it started to come to my attention with more and more clarity. I thought frequently of something I learned from Lisa at Sister Pie: Figure out the basic action that makes you happy, and build your career around that. All along, the thing I have been seeking is spending my days teaching kids. Challenging kids, sweet kids, struggling kids, goofy kids, all the kids. And what better way to influence the future than care for, educate and empower the pint-size people who are going to create it? There are nearly 80,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools—80,000!!!—so why not pour as much positivity, resources and love as we can into a massive institution that will actually, literally, create our future?

I am extremely excited to share that I will be starting a certificate-to-Master’s teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee this August. I’ll be a teacher in a year in a half, then I can take a few final credits to earn my Master’s. From then on, you may call me Master Alysse. But just Alysse is okay right now. Continue reading

alysse’s trip to africa

When I think of the best trips of my life, moments from each come to my mind in specific snapshots. I do this on purpose; in special moments, I’ll do a little sensory check-in, feeling what my feet are touching, how my skin feels, what I taste, little details of what I see, what sounds are passing by my ears. That’s how I can still vividly recall lazily floating in the ocean, the warm sea holding me as I tasted the last drops of fresh coconut water on my yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I can smell the pine needles under our tent in central Wisconsin on my first camping trip with my boyfriend. I can still see a hummingbird breathing at the speed of a fast-beating heart in its cocoon-like nest in the Amazon.

Especially since it was just two weeks ago, I can also still hear the trumpet of a teenage male elephant as he ran toward my family in a “mock charge.” My parents and I were on a safari—definitely among the very coolest weeks-and-a-half of my life—and “mock peed our pants.”

Check out a few of my favorite snapshots from my family’s trip to southern Zimbabwe and northern Botswana. Which are your favorites? Please share in the comments—I might even enter some of these into a photo contest to win my way back to Botswana! (I thought that trip would be once-in-a-lifetime, but I really, really hope I’m wrong.)

PS: If you’d like any of my photos for your own use—hello desktop backgrounds—please ask first. Include your email, and I’ll do my best to send photos promptly.

Alysse in Africa 01[ellie on the move] Continue reading

money smart week 2016 and chicago’s first feminist film festival recaps

One of my favorite things to talk about is also one of life’s most taboo topics:

Money.

Sometimes, I just want to straight-up ask people: “Hey, how much money do you make, and how did you get to that point? Is it a competitive salary in your field?” or “How do you invest your money?” or “Is 1% too high of a fee to pay for a mutual fund? How do you know that your financial advisor is legit?” I don’t want to do this because I’m nosy—it’s because, currently, everything I know about money is based solely on my own LIMITED experience.

It's the Money, Honey! panel: Terry, Kristen, Joanne and Ginny

It’s the Money, Honey! panel: Terry, Kristen, Joanne and Ginny

Although society dictates that it’s not polite to ask people such questions, money is one of life’s necessary evils. And I feel like I can never learn enough about how to earn it, grow it, save it, invest it, give it or spend it. Someday I hope to buy a condo or go to grad school or save for a future child’s college fund or help my parents in their retirement—but I can’t do any of those things if I don’t HAVE money first. That is why I was so pumped that last week was Money Smart Week 2016 in Chicago—a whole week of events put on by our good friends at the YWCA Chicago and DyMynd for the sole purpose of talking about earning, investing, spending and giving money! Continue reading

fruity nutty affair 2016

Welcome to the Fruity Nutty Affair!

American chestnuts, peaches and a sweet cherry, oh my!

Last Saturday, Feb. 20, was Victory Garden Initiative’s aptly-named Fruity Nutty Affair. This is Alysse’s big evening she pours her heart into every year, and it was my first time being able to go! The Affair is all about raising the money needed to plant five urban orchards in Milwaukee communities. VGI’s goal with the Fruity Nutty Five Contest: To protect the environment, improve public health, and strengthen their community, all through growing fruits and nuts in the city—where food is needed most. In the past, neighborhoods have won and planted apples, pears and paw-paws in their front and back yards. Churches, schools and community centers have also been awarded orchards, connecting their missions with food and where it comes from—the outdoors! One of the coolest ones to me: the grocery store that planted their trees along the sidewalk, welcoming all passersby to pick some fruit on their way in. Continue reading

people with panache turned three!

Panache Parties

Our 2015 People with Panache parties! The top is the whole crew in Milwaukee at the Ruby Tap. Bottom is the Panache women in Chicago at Beauty and Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space.

People with Panache just celebrated our third birthday! So we looked back on our year, and some themes popped out: Courage. Creativity. Commitment. And, of course, compassion.

The women we’ve met through this adventure traversing the Midwest aren’t doing what our culture would consider “realistic.” If there are rules related to what they’re doing, they’re breaking them. They’re setting their own paths, sticking to them and making plans that become reality. Beyoncé’s not the only one, ladies.

Whether your dream is to have a solid job so you can take your two weeks at the turquoise-iest beach a plane can reach, or you will not stop until you start the business that puts your values out into the world, we are with you.
Continue reading