The tree on Peter Street that lost its leaves this week

There’s a tree on my street that has convinced itself that it is autumn in the Philippines. For those of you unfamiliar with Filipino weather, there is really no such thing as autumn in the Philippines. All we know of seasons are wet and dry, hot and hotter.

I ride by this tree every morning, right at the corner of Peter Street. It’s leaves are almost all gone, and the silhouette of it’s slinky bark and branches are exposed. I hadn’t been paying enough attention in the weeks or days before the leaves fell, so I am no witness to the process; but I doubt this tree’s leaves changed color with that fiesty passion, the way they do in landscapes that endure four seasons each year.

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I feel a little bit like this tree, undergoing a season it believes it is accustomed to, in a landscape that finds it’s journey a little strange, a little unexpected. The greenery here is largely unchanging all throughout the year.

Everyone has their good days and their bad days. On some days, I sit in limbo for a bit, bouncing simple questions around my head that would drive a philosopher mad. The questions are simple and self-searching, but also posed emotionless and without consequence.

All these questions try to carve reason out of my blunt edges. Some days I feel I run on autopilot, in a happy but strange way. In this scenario, I am the pilot who finds herself sitting on the nose of the plane I am supposed to be flying, while it is soaring still safely through the atmosphere. (Scientific realities and probabilities must be set aside for this imagery.) The view is magical, and the plane is doing what it must be doing, but something is a little odd, a little outside of the body.

On contrasting days, I am giddy from right below my sternum and through my being. On those days, life is inspiring, I am recharged and all my previous questions melt like chocolate in my mouth. All it takes is a good meeting. A ball released to roll into a plan. A new connection. An old one restored. Some days, all it takes is a tug on the line, on one of the lines I’ve thrown out into the water that from day to day shifts from murky to clear, and back again as it pleases.

These days are the affirmation.

 

Over the twelve months of the year here, green is just green. Green does not often redden or yellow, or fall off the trees. Not all together does green dry up and curl into the crisp crunches below your stomping feet. Green stays within its family of green – no new green of spring, or cold green of winter. Well at least green does not season here, the way it does in the place I last lived. They live and die, yellowing and browning in their own time.

Here, it seems the earth does not prompt man to think and feel collectively the passing of time, the changing of season. Time is not forced upon you by the chill of the air or the warming up of the sun. Cycles of death and life are not thrown at you by the daily voice of  the weather. You must explore the passing of time in your own terms.

Again, I am like that tree on my street, undergoing change, undergoing transition, nudging new life out of my extremities. Some days I don’t understand why my leaves are falling, and why those of other trees do not. All I know, is that for this season, I am planted where I am supposed to be, growing upright, growing outward.

Some days the question is not why. Some days there is no question. Just a wondering – about the burden that God has put on my heart, one I cannot eloquently name or place as of yet. Though I call it burden, it does not feel like one, but rather its presence and its impetus are as ordinary as deciding to eat when you are hungry.

You just eat. You just do it. No need to reason why.

I miss the fall. And the people I have previously walked through the season with. The fire and bright that overwhelms the landscape during this time is arresting. Every day something is different, every day a new color, a new urgency. Unlike the tree on my street, I don’t want to skip the process of autumn, though it is not around me. I want to sink into it, enjoy it.

I will let my colors change, burn and swing away. Then I will keep trucking through the winter, in whatever form it finds me.

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Oh so you’ve got a career now?? Cute.

So you have seriously started the career path,” he said, “*insert smiley with tongue out hereYou’re one of the lucky ones.” This came from a friend I had met in DC last summer while doing a program in development project management. Interestingly enough, I am applying much of what I learned that summer, today. The quick chat I had with this friend was not only affirming, but it pushed me to look at my present position, not just my work position but my general position in the world today, from a different perspective – one that even more deeply appreciates the incredible spheres of influence I find myself in.

I have never thought of my life or my future from a career-based perspective. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped into an opportunity or a passion with a career as the end goal or next step in mind. Heck, I decided to major in art in college just because I wanted to. I honestly walked in with no plans to pursue art as a profession  I just wanted to be at college doing the things I enjoyed. (Thank God for supportive parents!) I had a little experience with drawing, but barely any with painting, and certainly none in sculpture or film photography, but I jumped excitedly into this fresh field that I had secretly always wanted to be a part of since I was a little girl. I loved it. But never really felt I’d be making a career out of all of it. It wasn’t until a few months ago, close to graduation and with work going up in the college gallery, that the desire to someday be a professional artist, exhibited and selling work internationally, really made itself clear to me. But that is a whole different topic, for a different time in my life!

What I know is this – I have simply stuck to pursuing the things I enjoy and the things that fire me up from deep down. And the things I not only enjoy but discover I am good at, these are the things I don’t give up. In my experience, these are also the things that bring the most joy to the people around me. Like my dancing, my drawing and even my writing.

I understand, however, that it is an incredible privilege to be able to do what I love and to pursue these without judgment, bias or threat of economic instability. Not everyone comes from a  background (familial, socio-economic,  or cultural) that allows them to simply study what they want. And even more, to study without pay — for which I am eternally grateful and will forever pay forward.

I remember feeling quite insulted and defensive when people would ask about what I intend to study (back in the years before college), and then quickly formulate a career path for me, or suggest jobs I might be able to get post-graduation so that I won’t starve. After all, all my interests continuously lie in the category of the world’s 10 lowest paying majors/jobs/careers/fields/etc.

I even felt insulted when a professor of mine tried to push me in the direction of minoring in her subject, because I was good at it but also because it would look good on my CV. Lady, those were the only words I needed to drive me away. In my mind I spat at the notion of doing things so that they could appear on my resume or my CV. I was at college to learn, not to build a resume or jump start a career. That is all I’ve ever wanted to do, learn. Friends, you are reading the blog of someone whose first life aspiration was to be a window washer (and later a lawyer, but for very shallow reasons related to title, attire and office space).

When I think of the word career, it feels so tied down to a title, a job description, a specific placement. A suit, even. I think that the way I like to work and live is a bit more fluid than that. I have never simply been saturated in a single line of work, or study. Instead, I find myself to be happiest when I have at my fingertips, a small, but persuasive selection of activities. Perhaps I have thought of my life in from a career based perspective, but one of a mini-spectrum of careers. And I just never thought to use the word career.

People change careers multiple times in their lives and often wear different hats all at once. Even in my studies, I pursued more than a single passion. I was a Studio Art Major and a Dance Minor, fulfilling some important leadership positions in our college dance community. Towards the end of college, I also identified as a poet.

So now that I have graduated and am working my first full-time job, where do you think my education has sent me?

This little artist/poet/dancer, is now waist deep in the development sector in her home country, the Philippines. My main thrust in the direction home, after having lived away for so long, was to manage the non-profit organization I founded some years back (more about that soon!). We serve children and youth at risk.

I now work full time at a social enterprise that provides livelihood training and jobs for those with very limited opportunities. Among our workers are survivors of abuse, human trafficking and prostitution.

I’ve also been doing math, and brushing up on my economics.

(If you know me well, this when you catch yourself laughing. AT me.)

From the outset, it is a little funny to think that an art major and dance minor who loves to write poetry,  is working in the business and development sector straight out of her undergraduate studies. So far, it seems to be working to my advantage, stepping into the development equation with fresh artsy eyes, but with a substantial bulk of development and leadership experience under my belt. I’m not exactly academically equipped for some things at work, but this also means that I have not been brainwashed or overeducated by this economic theory or that development case study. In fact, somebody I met last weekend told me that he was excited to see how I would integrate art and development, and that he could tell from talking to me that I had lots of experience in both those areas (What affirming words for me to hear!! I cannot wait to share what I’ve got up my sleeve when it comes to development and the creative arts.) The best I can do is to approach my work from a very human perspective, after all, the human element is my most valued element in my workplace – it is why I do what I do. I’m after human development.

So I try to walk in each day with an open mind, a generous heart and a teachable spirit. Every day I live out important lessons I have learned both inside and outside of the classroom – from positions of leadership and responsibility – and those today, as I have always anticipated, are the experiences that really count. Each day I am learning more and more.

Thankfully, I have not been thrown into the dungeons of economic lions, all hungry to devour every creative bone and muscle in my body,  despite working in a substantially economic-y, business-y environment.  Rather, I am learning to be a lithe and friendly panther in a neighboring space.

Okay, so I don’t know where this panther metaphor is going, but I just kind of like panthers… and pigs.

On some days, I am honestly just so overwhelmed by the amount of good that can be done in this world. Earlier this week, I spent some time at the office reading about the big and small moves that individuals are doing to end poverty around the world.  Sigur Ros accompanied my thoughts through my earphones, as the workplace was buzzing with busy women making cards (more about the actual nature of our business soon).

I paused my reading to enjoy the feeling. I was thinking about the future of development, a  field from which I simply cannot keep my heart away.  My insides just filled up, in a way much like goosebumps but in your blood, and with more weight, not just airy elation. With more reality. And more grit.

When I think hard about it, right now there is no other job I want more than mine.