So many “hats”
In the one year since The Sun first published the following column, enough new “hats” have come along to require a whole new hat-rack!
So many hats on one little head
“You’re always writing about other people, Joan. We’d like you to write more about you!”
This quote comes from a recent gathering in a Santa Rosa living room where hostess Tess Hagemann had just defined several of the “hats” she had known me to wear at various phases of my life. So, picking up on that theme, I’ll herewith place a few of my toppers on this “literary hat-rack” for your observation.
We could start with poet, as a stranger had come to my elementary school in search of one. I suppose it could be said the $5 I was paid to write several verses in celebration of the 80th birthday of the woman’s brother launched my literary career. However it would be decades before any of my writings generated additional income.
The fact that I still have in my hands the tattered file with the poem clipped inside qualifies me as both packrat and organizer.
Being a packrat has brought challenges and uncounted joys. Without hundreds of letters, notes, bits of memorabilia, even copies of letters I myself had written, I could never have become the author of “Embracing the Yes; A Life Recycled” published in 1999. Feedback has been utterly astounding. A South Carolinian woman wrote, “I don’t know how the author did it, but she wrote my own life story.” A Texan interviewer commented on his radio show, “I like that this book is down-to-earth-sitting-across-the-coffee-table kind of wisdom I can put to practical use.”
After reading, a Sonoma woman immediately ordered copies for each of her six grown daughters! What surprised me was the universality of the message. After a Sunday Mass in Tryon, North Carolina where I’d done a book reading earlier in the week, a gentleman in his seventies approached me to say, “Joan, my wife bought your book and as I read about myself, I feel quite sad and ashamed.” I trust he kept reading past the second chapter, finding, as the late Dr. Jeanne Simons, professor at SRJC, reported, “It was like reading a suspense novel, full of conflicts and good humor. I had a rollicking good time and got inspired in the bargain.”
The organizer in me revealed itself early as I filed my collections of paper dolls in stacked flat boxes neatly labeled with their contents. In raising my own family, I typically limited the toys and games to which my daughter and seven sons had access so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the entire collection. Once I wept bitter tears upon discovering a visiting family’s children had dumped and scrambled on the playroom floor the contents of every neatly labeled box from an adjacent storage area.
The organizer in me leapt with joy when this single mother was hired in the 1970s as a professional records management consultant. I sought opportunities to examine filing systems within a company; to interview staff, exploring problems with the current system; to propose new systems with workable solutions and then to convince powers-that-be to discard every filing cabinet and every folder and purchase new ones from me while saving lots of money and enormous amounts of valuable office space in the bargain. I was hugely successful, even sometimes employing my own children along with other folks in turnkey operations; we began on Friday evening and had the new system entirely in place on Monday morning when I trained the awe-struck staff in their newly efficient and pleasurable process of records management.
The organizer in me served well at age 50 when I resigned this lucrative position to don the hat of returning undergraduate at Marquette University in Milwaukee and then, after graduation, consciously adopted a nomadic lifestyle in search of opportunities to give service to God’s people in need. Transformations of cluttered homes and problem-laden office systems by a professional organizer and member of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) generated revenue to support my consciously chosen frugal lifestyle.
All sorts of hats have rested on this head for varying lengths of time. I’ve been advertising sales representative, sales manager, food demonstrator in supermarkets, free-agent business writer, sought-after public speaker on a variety of topics, companion, house- and/or pet-sitter, business consultant, case manager for elderly with various difficulties, consultant in overcoming panic attacks, organizer of Indiana’s first and ultimately the country’s most comprehensive all-volunteer recycling center in 1971.
I spent a summer in the beautiful Catskill Mountains as chaplain-in-residence for a YMCA camp accommodating weekly 500 boys and girls from both wealth and poverty – some on dialysis or with other health challenges, scholarship kids from drastic inner-city habitats and fantastic staff from all around the world. Preparing participatory chapel services each week was rewarding, but I have the sweetest memories of being there at just the right moment for campers, counselors, even a visiting television and movie star going through a rough time.
As performing artist and Biblical scholar I have presented my one-person dramatization of first century life in Palestine or an authentic first-century Hebrew celebration dinner in several countries and around the U.S.
A few additional topics I’m passionate about for which I’ve served as facilitator or teacher are Compassionate Communication, Mahatma Gandhi and his principles of living, and JustFAITH, an inimitable process of social justice education and involvement.
I’ve become an intrepid international traveler teaching English in mainland China; studying and teaching in Palestine/Israel; administering a solidarity and assistance program in Haiti; speaking, learning and following in the footsteps of Gandhi in India and gaining a great deal in shorter study trips to El Salvador, Italy, Singapore, Egypt, Ireland, Venezuela and Japan.
My recent clinic as Scrabble expert led to weekly Scrabble fun for experts and beginners.
One more new hat last Saturday in that living room in Santa Rosa – center of attention. The comment quoted in my opening paragraph emboldened me to write a column like this in celebration of my 80th. Happy Birthday to me as I make plans for three months teaching orphans in Namibia later this year.
2012 addendum: I’ll celebrate my 81st this week in my current city of residence, Owasso, Oklahoma, fast-growing suburb north of Tulsa.