LOS ANGELES, Calif. - With a simple Facebook announcement, engagement strategist, Tenaya Wallace joined a full field of candidates to seek the seat in Congressional District 34 being vacated by Rep. Xavier Becerra.
“The silver lining to November’s election is that people feel called to action,” said Tenaya Wallace, who grew up, in what was, the 34th Congressional District prior to redistricting. “It’s exciting to see activists, organizers and women running for Congressional District 34.”
With a Master’s in Public Policy from UCLA and a bachelor’s in Political Science from Tulane University, Wallace has spent her career engaging people. For 15 years she designed public education campaigns for the City of Santa Monica, the Irvine and Hewlett Foundations, OneLegacy, Donate Life and Starlight Children’s Foundation. After completing a contract at Raytheon in executive communication, she now consults for companies on employee engagement with a program she created called “Find the Why.” Wallace served nearly four years on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and was outreach chair for the Venice Neighborhood Council formation committee.
“Trump uses propaganda to distort truth and erode civil liberties,” said Wallace. “Right now, we don’t need politicians to fight for us. We need representatives who can effectively mobilize and activate people.”
Wallace vows to raise no more than $5,000 and is asking supporters to donate time and talent instead of money. “People say I have to raise serious money to be a serious candidate," said Wallace, "but constituents I have spoken with want ways to engage and make a difference, not write another check to another candidate.”
If elected, Wallace promises “radical transparency” and will record all meetings with lobbyists, uploading them so constituents can see exactly what she is being asked to support. “I will also bring a film crew with me to Washington,” said Wallace, who oversaw a grant program for documentary producers to create short films about organ donation through Donate Life Hollywood. “If our president-elect has Trump TV and Breitbart, we’ll have Truth Television. In a post-truth era we need to write the next chapter in political organizing.”
Today we celebrated Joe Darga’s “triumphal entrance into heaven.”
I remember the very moment I first heard about Joe Darga. I received a call from Jacquie Colleran, the first transplant recipient I ever met and the grande dame of them all. As president of the recipient organization in Ventura County, Jacquie worked with new transplant recipients before they joined the OneLegacy Ambassador program, which I oversaw.
Jacquie called to warn me. Joe had just received a heart transplant and was anxious to start spreading the word about organ donation. Jacquie cautioned me, as she often did, that as a new recipient Joe’s medications made him feel full of energy but he needed to take it slow.
As always, I thanked Jacquie for her insight and told her I looked forward to speaking with Joe. When Joe and I got on the phone I realized there was no holding him back, or slowing him down.
On our first call Joe chastised me. Why didn’t OneLegacy have a larger and more active Ambassador base in the Santa Barbara area, where he lived? Why were there so few donor awareness activities planned in his community? Why hadn't I focused on Santa Barbara at all? What had I been doing with my time? Obviously I needed him. And after that conversation I realized, I did need him. I needed Joe a lot.
I encouraged Joe to focus his boundless energy on OneLegacy’s high school education program. That would give him the biggest bang for his buck. Helping high school students learn more about organ donation and make an informed choice before they received their drivers license would contribute to a whole new generation of organ donors.
To improve his story-telling skills, Joe signed himself up for Toastmasters. When Joe gave his first speech about his transplant I drove up to hear it. He always remembered that. As we worked together for the following decade Joe always remembered that I had made the time to drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to listen to his speech at 7 a.m. for his sunrise Toastmasters. But even as I drug myself out of bed and got on the road before dawn, I knew Joe was worth the effort. I knew that whatever time I gave to Joe would be repaid hundredfold through his service.
I was right.
As Joe perfected his speech, he also delivered packets of information about OneLegacy's high school education program to every school principal in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta. If principals didn't get back to him when he followed up with a phone call, Joe would find the science teacher and speak directly to that person to book presentations.
So it went. Because Joe never gave up, he soon secured presentations in every high school in the region. I drove up many mornings for 8 a.m. classes to describe the process of organ donation while Joe told his personal story. I loved watching the high school kids, engaged and amazed at how a donated organ can transform a life.
Joe was a force of nature. He booked us on local radio shows. He recruited Ambassadors. He secured a Donate Life table at the annual Lemon and Avocado Festivals. Grateful for his second chance at life, he worked tirelessly to give back.
And Joe certainly did give back. He made a difference in the lives of thousands of people, especially young people. When students in Santa Barbara arrived at the DMV for their license they checked yes, proudly. They became organ donors because of Joe. His message carried far and wide.
On Monday, when I found out Joe died, I cried. Overcome with grief at the loss of his life, I was also happy that he had 14 healthy, vibrant years. He was not only a champion for donation, he was a husband, father and grandfather. When Joe told his story he always included that he wanted this gift of life so he could see his grandkids grow into young adults. He had that chance. Today at Joe’s memorial I met his beautiful grandchildren, grown and thankful to have had "Papa" in their lives.
Joe made a difference to his immediate family, to his community and to me. Joe was my partner in crime when I worked for OneLegacy. I knew I could rely on him, and he knew he could rely on me. I was proud of him, and he was proud of me.
There are people in your life who are so much a part of who you are that they can never be forgotten. For me, and for many, Joe is one of those people. Rest in peace Joe. You have left behind a lasting legacy. We who celebrate you today, hold you in our hearts forever.
The environment has always been my first love.
I credit (or blame) my name. Tenaya was the last chief of the Yosemite Valley tribe of native americans so I had no choice but to care. When you have the same name as a crystal clear glacier-fed lake in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, you feel crazy connected to the earth.
I chose my college based on their environmental studies program (and of course New Orleans). I organized for Environment California and passionately managed a hemp and organic cotton clothing store. I focused on sustainable development during my masters in public policy program then moved to Sacramento determined to make laws supporting sustainability. I had a deep drive to save the earth. It was the thing I cared about most.
Then I sort of...gave up.
I got overwhelmed by the negativity of the movement. I started to think all was lost. Every message told people that we were fu*&ed. That no one was ever doing enough. That polluting corporations were evil, and powerful. That we needed radical and complete transformation of our society and economy for the survival of our species, and that looked impossible.
I moved on to organ donation, which deals with death and yet was eternally more hopeful about the possibility of humanity to do good. Being a part of the Donate Life community made me believe this: if the environmental movement abandoned messages of doom and replaced them with stories of progress, change, transformation and sustainability in action then people would rise to a new way of being.
Here is a possibility for our future: we all have clean air and water and food, the earth's habitats are healthy and we all have enough. I know we are capable of creating that future. I know that humans have the ingenuity and compassion and capacity. I know that if we clearly say what we WANT, rather than yelling fears of climate change, then we will transform.
But we must do it by communicating hope. We must clearly craft the future we want to live into and we must believe, with every fiber of our being, that our beautiful creation is possible. We can have a healthy earth with healthy humans.
So if you are going to celebrate Earth Day in a very small way, I ask that you say a prayer of hope for humanity. Take a moment to feel the sun and wind on your face, to listen to the birds, to admire the trees, to feel in awe of the incredible biodiversity and majesty of this blue marble we have the opportunity to experience. Breathe in the oxygen that gives us life and believe from your head to your toes to your very soul that we CAN. It's all possible. It's all happening. Every day is Earth Day.
My friend Stephanie and I shaved our heads to raise money for St. Baldrick's Foundation and what seems to the world like a charitable endeavor was really a big F-you to our boss.
Together Steph and I raised $5000 for the organization and raised awareness through our friends and family and colleagues about the group and its mission to expand research for childhood cancer treatment. We were considered by everyone to be incredibly benevolent human beings. Courageous. Generous. The fact that we would give up our hair to help kids with cancer made it look like we were very very good people.
But the truth is that I shaved my head for completely un-altruistic reasons. Sure, I am totally down with cancer research for kids. I can't imagine anyone on earth not supportive of that cause. But I did not shave off my beautiful long blonde hair for kids with cancer. I shaved it to avenge my friend.
Steph and I had worked together for several years before the head shaving bonded us for life. I remember the moment we met. She volunteered with the non-profit organization where I worked and was creating an informational event at her college for the cause. Stephanie wanted to borrow the organization's display board for the event and I told her, regrettably, that the only way she could do this was to come pick it up. So she did. Without fuss or concern she drove from the Inland Empire into downtown Los Angeles with her husband and three young children, the smallest in a stroller, to pick up the board and giveaway items for the event she had created.
I was in complete awe of this young woman with little kids. Her cheery, uncomplaining commitment to educating and inspiring people about our cause amazed me.
After that Stephanie became a vital member of the volunteer program and often oversaw events in her community and across Southern California. Eventually, the volunteer coordinator position became available, a paid position. Stephanie got the job and was a perfect fit. She understood the volunteers and what they needed and what they were going through because she herself had come up the ranks.
During that time I had moved into a different role within the organization and was not her direct supervisor, but we maintained a close relationship and she regarded me as a mentor. I felt honored to be in that role and remained incredibly impressed with Stephanie's compassion and drive and perseverance. There were times when I didn't feel as if her immediate supervisor was providing her with the direction and support she needed and deserved. I found myself fiercely loyal to this young woman who had impressed me since day one.
After several years as volunteer coordinator, something happened quite abruptly. Stephanie's boss, who was also mine, eliminated her position and created a new position. In an HR snafu, the job description for the new position when out to the entire organization before Steph met with our boss. She called me and said, either I am getting a raise or I'm getting fired. But since the new job description included requirements that she did not have, we both knew that it was the latter.
I immediately called our boss and proceeded to yell, for an hour. I was furious. Getting rid of Stephanie was incredibly disloyal and shortsighted and wrong. There have been many times in my life when I have been pissed off, but I can remember as if it was yesterday the seething anger I felt that day at this decision to fire Steph. I was angry because I felt she, and I, had been betrayed.
There were probably a lot of reasons why our boss made the decision to change the volunteer coordinator position, potentially very valid reasons, and ultimately it was not my decision to make. At that time in my life and in my career I often thought I knew better than our boss and I built up resentments about his decision-making and perspective. Eliminating Stephanie's position and eliminating Stephanie from our company was, at that point, further evidence that our boss was not making the right decisions. Letting that go of those feelings is another story, one I will write soon.
On Stephanie's last day of work I had the privilege of walking her out of the building and to her car. I cried. Thinking about that moment as I write I'm crying all over again. I was outraged and distraught. But most importantly I wanted to find a way to stick it to my boss for this decision.
Stephanie didn't have trouble finding another job. She is one of the hardest working people I've ever meet and soon had an interview with St. Baldrick's. She would help coordinate head shaving fundraisers for childhood cancer research. It was a perfect fit. Steph asked if I could be her reference and I was thrilled to talk about my very favorite volunteer turned volunteer coordinator.
When the hiring manager from St. Baldrick's called, I gave a glowing review and told the lady that if Stephanie got the job I would be her first head shaving fundraiser. I would shave my head for Steph. The woman gave Stephanie the job, but several months later I still had not shaved my head.
Finally, in February, I called Steph and said I need to do this. I made a promise to shave my head if you got the job and I need to deliver. Stephanie said she had made a decision too, she would shave her head as well. We would do it together. I had one more great idea. We would host the shaving at the corporate office of the organization that I still worked for and that had let her go. We would bring together all of our colleagues and and have a pizza party and shave our heads. I asked for money from every executive and coworker and from her former boss, all in the spirit of F-you.
So while it seems on the outside to be an incredibly altruistic act, shaving my head was really driven by revenge. It was a celebration of friendship over betrayal. A last hurrah for a colleague I felt had been mistreated. Under the guise of charity I gave my boss the middle finger.
What I found in trying to raise money was that a lot of people did not think shaving off my long hair was a good idea. People resisted funding this misguided change in hairstyle. So I set up two accounts, one to save my hair and the other to shave my hair with a promise that whichever received the most amount of money I would do. They accounts ran neck in neck but I wanted to shave it and so made many appeals that people support the shave. Ultimately, shave won, but Steph told me later that she had walked in with a blank check ready to donate her own money so that we could shave our heads together.
Stephanie shaved first. Surrounded by people who admired her and without our former boss and attendance (he had a meeting that kept him away but did give 100 bucks for the shave) she emerged from under her hair as a powerful and beautiful woman. The transformation was incredible and I was ready for my own.
As my hair fell away I felt renewed. I looked strong. Powerful. Without hair we looked different and amazing. Rubbing each other's newly shaved heads we laughed and cried. We were really glad to have raised $5000 for childhood cancer research, we were proud of ourselves for that. But we knew that this event was really for friendship.
Stephanie and I remain tied together in a fierce commitment to each other, as well as in commitment to causes we love.
As it turns out, shaving my head was a brilliant move because just a year and a half later I was diagnosed with cancer and my hair fell out during chemotherapy. When the doctor told me I'd lose my hair I shrugged and smiled and said knowingly that's OK, I look amazing bald.
So, while I don't think saying F-you to your supervisors is the best way to live life, sometimes doing something unexpected and generous and bonding is the very best way to move beyond resentment and anger. Now when I think of how Stephanie left the organization I'm not pissed. I look at the pictures of our head shaving and I know that nothing will break our bond. That we are fierce together. And that something incredible and wonderful comes out of every unexpected upset in life.
My contract with Raytheon ended in December and since then I have been interviewing for what I called “the job of my dreams.” On Friday, the board let me know they chose a different candidate. February 12, 2016 will forever be the day didn’t get my dream job.
I cried when I got the news, because there was a lot of emotion wrapped up in the process and hope wrapped up in the outcome. I wanted the job for several reasons:
There are a couple of good reasons in there, like working with people I love on a cause I adore. But there are mostly not-so-good reasons. I knew that, but I still called it the job of my dreams.
The truth is, my first reaction to the job was, no. When my mentor called to recommended I apply I said…nooooooo…in a falling-down-a-well-backwards-with-flailing-arms kind of way. Like I didn’t want to be falling, but was resigned to the fact that that was what was happening.
I said no because at the very moment my mentor called, I was sitting at the dining room table with my mom planning a new future for myself. A future I had just recently realized as my actual dream job.
For me, realizing my dream is a big deal. I’m not one of those people who has always known what I wanted to do. By contrast, my husband has always known what he wants, and he does exactly what he set out to do. I am jealous of people like my husband. In 6th grade I dressed up as the first woman president of the United States for career day, not because I wanted to be president but because I have lofty expectations for myself and at age 11 president seemed like the highest goal possible. Since I don’t feel I have yet met my own expectations and am horribly jealous of others who know what they want to do, I live with a deep sense of frustration and shame around my own career. Yeah. It’s fun stuff.
I can honestly say that I have both enthusiastically loved and vehemently hated every job I ever had. I am good at whatever I do and at the core all my work revolves around communication. I am a communicator, and I love it. But at the end of every job (and every job had a very definite, and sometimes quite harsh, end) I walk away with a lot of lessons learned and the knowledge that, no, that’s not exactly it.
Last year, while I was doing something that wasn’t exactly it, I had an epiphany about what it is. After listening to The Secret on Audibles a total of four times as I drove to and from El Segundo daily, I figured out two things.
1) I always get exactly what I ask for.
I wanted to go to a private college multiple time zones away from my parents, so did.
I wanted to be paid as an environmental activist out of college, so was.
I wanted out of that job and go to graduate school, so did.
I wanted a sustainability fellowship, so I got it.
I wanted to leave LA, so left.
I wanted to move back to LA, so moved.
I wanted to work in Santa Monica on sustainability stuff, so did.
I wanted to do environmental consulting, so did.
I wanted a job with good health benefits, so got one.
I wanted to create new programs, so did.
I wanted to be a communications manager, so was.
I wanted to leave the non-profit world, so did.
I realized that my career was not random. I asked the Universe for each of the things I wanted and the Universe delivered, always at the right time. My mom has long told me, “you’re lucky” and I know everything works out for me. I just didn’t realize that the universe was delivering exactly what I asked for.
2) I never ask the Universe for what I REALLY want
In large part because I didn’t know what I really wanted. However, I had a new sense of responsibility with the realization that whatever I say I want will manifest.
With this understanding of my tremendous power to create, I thought very carefully about what makes me most fulfilled. I became truly honest about what makes my soul happy. I clarified what type of work would meet my lofty expectations and clear away the frustration and shame. I needed to think big. Be bold. Dig deep.
I want to get paid to speak.
There is was. Sitting right there. An epiphany 41-years in the making. I want to get paid a whole lot of money to speak to very large groups of people. That’s what I want.
I started to tell people what I wanted, because I was ecstatic about the realization. Don’t you have to be famous to get paid to speak, one person asked? You’ve never actually done that, another cautioned. What will you talk about, several inquired. I don’t know, I replied with confidence. I don’t need to know. The Secret says I don’t need to know the details, I just need to know what I want. And I want to get paid to speak.
My mom asked, how do you do that? And I snapped. I don’t know but it’s what I’m going to do, I said defensively. So mom went home and Googled “how to get paid to speak” and printed out quality information and brought it to my house for us to review so I could start making a plan. And that is when my mentor called and recommended I apply for the fancy-titled-safe-and-secure job working with people I loved on a cause I adore.
As soon as he said it I knew I would apply and I knew I would shelve my dream. I would tell myself to forgo the uncertain road of getting paid to speak (especially since I didn’t even know what the hell I was speaking about, what was I, nuts?) in favor of this perfectly paved fancy title.
The Universe must be telling me I want this, I thought to myself. Maybe this is what I want. Yes, yes this seems like exactly what I should want.
Once I said I wanted the fancy-titled job, I turned all my Secret-teachings to get the title. I actively worked to manifest what I now told people, with conviction I almost believed, was the job of my dreams.
And people fell in love with the fancy dream. No one questioned the legitimacy of the job. No one asked how I could possibly think this was my dream. I became enamored by the way people ooohh’ed and ahhhh’ed over the title. I loved how people gushed “it would be perfect for you.” People “just knew I would get it.” I was a shoo-in. Everyone was happy.
I had no doubts about getting a first-round interview and even picked my suit before I officially secured the second round, because I knew that would happen too.
But something interesting occurred in the first round. Something I didn’t expect.
It was a phone interview with one member of the board and on the call I found myself doing something I do. I found myself trying to get the job by being whatever the board member wanted me to be. I carefully gauged what the board member said and responded the way I knew she wanted me to respond. I found myself promising to be someone I didn’t really want to be.
After the interview I had a conversation with my Self.
Self, I said, I am a bit disappointed. I feel the need to remind you that we promised each other we would manifest work that allowed us to be fully self-expressed. We promised no more being “whatever someone else wants us to be.” We promised to be authentic and live up to the leader we know we are. What exactly are you doing right now? Why are you going back on our deal?
I had a valid point and my Self nodded. You’re right, I replied. We did make that promise. We still think being self-expressed is incredibly important. So how about this, how about in the next interview we tell the board who we are and powerfully share what we bring to the table? Let’s inspire them to want us, the real us. We can enroll them in the possibility of us as a powerful, dynamic leader for the organization.
It was a good talk. In the end my Self and I agreed on the plan and felt confident about our ability to inspire. We worked on the question, “why do you want this job” and turned it around to answer “why does the organization want Tenaya.”
So on a sparkling California winter day, wearing my beautiful new suit, purchased by my ever-supportive mother as a Christmas gift, with my hair coifed, wearing earrings I bought with money collected by my loving Toastmasters group as a good-bye present from Raytheon, I walked into the second interview with shoulders back, head high. My Self and I were clear on our goal of engaging the board in our brand of leadership.
When the question came as to why I wanted the job I launched into my inspirational story and enthusiastically laid out my brand. A brand my Facebook friends and former colleagues have helped define. A brand I’ve been curating for the past couple years. A brand I feel good about. A brand of self-expression:
I expressed myself as a self-directed visionary leader, and then the interview was over and I held my breath for four weeks hoping I had enrolled the board in the possibility of me.
During those weeks I had doubts, but I buoyed myself up. In a feverish mode of manifestation I acted as if I already had what I wanted. I wrote a Facebook post announcing I got the job and emailed it to myself. I drew a picture of me at my desk on the first day of work. I planned out what I would wear to certain events and I jotted down new ideas to bring to the board. Anytime I felt a seed of doubt I put on the song “Unstoppable” by Foxy Shazam (my personal anthem) and turned up the volume and danced around and envisioned being CEO.
As the weeks wore on I couldn’t just keep dancing around my living room. By the end of January I had completed the to-do list I made upon leaving Raytheon, because I was manifesting a start-date of February 1. But February 1 came and went I needed to stay busy. I needed to be in action.
One night I decided to transform my eco-blogging website, founded during my last round of unemployment, into Tenaya Speaks. All of a sudden it became very clear what Tenaya would speak about, and to whom. Copy for the site flowed freely. Photos were at my fingertips. Everything aligned.
Tenaya Speaks provides:
Without fuss or muss or great labor of any kind I birthed my dream, made my website and outlined a marketing plan. And I felt good. I felt self-expressed.
So when the phone rang that Friday and the board member told me that I was wonderful in the interview and that it was a really hard decision but that they had chosen a different candidate, I was OK. A little emotional, but ultimately OK.
I realized that I had already put in my request to the Universe: to get paid lots of money to speak to large groups of people. And the Universe was getting busy with that request. The Universe gave me the fancy-titled side-trip to allow time during the holidays with my family and time to complete my to-do list and time to come up with what Tenaya Speaks about.
By not getting the job of my dreams I have the opportunity to create my real dream. And I am going to give up being scared and give up that I need a fancy title and give up that I need to arrive. I am going to have faith, knowing I always get what I want.
So let me know if you want:
Here we go on a new journey to create the real job of my dreams. There is much to do on this adventure, and Tenaya Speaks is officially open for business.
In 2014 I had the chance to find out what I love to do. Unemployment gave me a break from working for other people and gave me the space to work on whatever I wanted.
I had big plans for my unemployment because (1) I felt horribly bad and deeply guilty about not working (2) I wanted to prove to people I was still doing things, even if I was not paid to do them and (3) I needed to be a positive inspiration rather than a lame-ass, unemployed, over-educated 40 year old.
I will start a blog, I promised. I will re-engage with the environmental community as EcoChixSpeaks and transform myself into an eco-blogger. I started on Twitter and created a daily hashtag to organize my communication. I found cool posts. I scheduled them on Hootsuite. I celebrated every new follower and delighted in favorites and re-tweets from environmental groups I admire.
Then I began the blog. I found a template and put time into my bio. I looked for photos. Finally, eventually, I wrote two blogs. Then I got a real job and promptly abandoned the project.
I wrote other things too during that time, more personal stuff, stuff I really liked writing. The eco-blogging felt like a chore. I haven’t been a paid part of the environmental community for over a decade and felt unsure about my current knowledge and opinions. My writing tried too hard. The blog was supposed to inspire hope for humanity with positive stories of sustainability but ended up sounding as righteous as the rest.
The personal stuff, on the other hand, flowed freely. I had to carve out space and do it, but once I sat down the writing was fun. It was creative. I found a voice and loved making the voice come alive.
When I took the real job I promised to keep writing. I bought a composition book, an old-school black and white one from CVS pharmacy, and carried it everywhere. At 2pm I headed outside with my notebook and a cup of coffee to write for half an hour. I ate lunch at my desk but took time in the afternoon to let thoughts pour on paper. I didn’t know what I’d write when I sat down, but I jotted down the first five paragraphs of this essay and the beginnings of many others.
I wrote about playing small and crazy mothers. About self-care and the reasons I love my husband. About Los Angeles and cancer and forgiveness. I even wrote about EcoChix and sketched ideas for events I have in mind.
Looking through the notebook now I realize how much I wrote, even if in bits and pieces. I created the beginnings of ideas that were swimming in my mind and those ideas remain, lurking and marinating and hoping to be written.
I also took notes from seminars and books that inspired me, including a webinar by Dorie Clark called “Stand Out." Dorie told us how to become thought leaders in our fields. In my notebook I copied her phrase, quite big and bold, “Create MORE White Space. You don’t need time, you need space.”
Unemployment gave me space. But at the time, unemployment felt demoralizing. It was difficult, mentally and monetarily. I made unemployment mean that I wasn’t good enough, that no one wanted me, that I had failed. I questioned every decision I had ever made in life because how could they be right if I was left without work?
But now I can see unemployment for what it truly was: a gift. It was space. I worked my whole life, and worked hard. I moved from one job to another being great at what I do but never clear about what I wanted. The space gave me clarity. The space let me think. In the space I found my voice.
The real job was a year-long contract and now that contract is complete and I find myself with space again. I find myself with time to leaf through my notebook and finish my thoughts. To sit and write and do what I love.
In this round of unemployment there is less meaning and more gratitude. I know my next adventure will be a good one, and that it will benefit from the abundance of space I have today.
I worked in the field of organ donation for about a decade and I was SOOOO inspired by the people personally touched by this cause.
These are transplant recipients who would have died if it weren't for a life saving organ from a complete stranger. These are donor family members whose loved ones died in the most sudden and tragic of ways, children even. And in their darkest moment, their deepest grief, they were able to look beyond themselves and give life to others. It gave me hope for humanity.
It was my job to help these folks tell their stories and make them more powerful so that when they went into the community they could inspire others to consider organ donation for themselves.
And it was great work. But the truth is...I was jealous. I wanted to go into the community. I wanted to get people to consider things for themselves. I wanted to inspire. But I am a middle class white girl from Los Angeles who had no challenges to overcome. I have a great education, a great marriage, a great relationship with my parents...not even my children have anything wrong with them. I got nothing.
So I said to the Universe, "Universe, I want a challenge to overcome and in the overcoming I want to inspire others." I did put in a qualification or two. I said it shouldn't have anything to do with my kids because I thought it was wrong to call death or disease upon my son and daughter so I had something to talk about. Also I asked that my husband be an innocent bystander, because he has enough of my crazy to deal with.
Then I waited. And the Universe did what the Universe always does. The Universe delivered. And the Universe delivered big. The Universe gave me cancer.
At first the doctors thought it was pancreatic cancer, which would have killed me in a matter of months, but I did NOT ask to die...I asked to overcome. Further tests revealed that it was lymphoma, which is great because lymphoma is totally treatable. The other cool thing about lymphoma is how it is "staged." The vast majority of my cancer was in my abdomen, which is stage 2, but because 2% was in my bone marrow I technically had stage 4 cancer. And everyone knows it is WAY more inspiring to overcome stage 4 cancer than stage 2.
So I had my challenge and I burst out on Facebook, "I have cancer!!" I told people not to feel sorry for me. I called my eight hour chemo treatments my "Spa Days." I took pictures of my port and called myself bionic. I worked for 4 of my 6 rounds of chemo. I looked amazing bald and took a fierce photo shoot. I even ran the warrior dash, jumped over fire and climbed through mud to raise money for St. Jude. I was pretty much a bad-ass.
And to this day day people tell me, "the way that you overcame cancer with such grace and style and positivity was so...inspiring!" So I did it. I inspired.
But there was a moment on this journey when I realized what true inspiration was.
It was four days after a treatment and I had worked all day and traffic was horrible and I was exhausted. Completely and utterly exhausted. And the kids were starving and I had no food in the house and I was standing in front of an empty refrigerator. And I was about to lose it...when the doorbell rang. And it was this dad of a kid that my kids go to school with, but we weren't really even that good of friends. And he had dinner. He had salmon and steamed broccoli and a home made pie.
And it was in that moment that I realized that you do NOT need to have a transplant or lose a child or ask the Universe for cancer in order to be inspiring. Inspiration happens in small gestures of kindness and generosity. I realized that sometimes all you have to do to be inspiring...is bake a blueberry pie.
And THAT gives me hope for humanity.
Last week my mom came over with a big jar of coins. She wanted my nine-year-old son to sort through them and pull out any pennies minted before 1982. Those are made of real copper. Then my kid could roll up and keep the rest of the change for himself. This was a good task for my son, who likes money a lot. He is our little Alex P. Keaton.
As he was sorting through the pennies Xan noticed that one had the words e pluribus unum on the back. He asked Siri what it means and Siri pulled up Wikipedia. Wikipedia told us that e pluribus unum was the de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress formally adopted “in God we trust.” E pluribus unum means of "out of many, one.”
Tomorrow is a Moth speaking event and the topic is "weak." Prior to this coin-driven history lesson I wasn't sure what I was going to talk about, but then it became clear. The back of a penny told this week’s story, the story of the weak and the downtrodden, the underdogs and disenfranchised, the poor and oppressed. The story of the many who in becoming one create a revolution and transform society toward greater equity for all.
I have always loved this story. This is the story that maybe I love the most. There are specific points in my life when I felt the power and importance of this story.
The first time I was 13 and saw Les Miserables. After the performance I listened to the soundtrack obsessively and although I know Fantine’s lament by heart, it was the anthem of the barricade that moved me to tears every single time. Do you hear the people sing fueled me with the fight for justice. It told me that people who are oppressed must come together and demand, with powerful conviction and at times with loss of life, what is right and what is fair. It told me that when the many become one, the weak are strong.
The second time I felt the power of the many was in high school when I went to my first protest. It was an anti-apartheid rally in downtown LA. My mom, an ex-hippy who attended many a rally of her own, dropped us off and my girlfriends and I took to the street. It was an incredible sensation to be in the midst of all of these every day people, people who had absolutely no power to overturn apartheid or change the rules of a nation half a world away. And yet Nelson Mandela had called to all of us, to our hearts and our sense of justice. We were there together chanting for the world to hear a message of equality. And soon after apartheid was dismantled. It obviously wasn't because my girlfriends and I showed up to chant, but it was because the many came together as one to call for a transformation in the policies of South Africa.
This experience drove through my college years to a profession of political organizing. My first job out of college was with the California Public Interest Research Group where I managed the LA office and organized young people, mostly, to knock on doors and get people to sign petitions and join the group as members so that when we lobbied legislatures the voices of the many would speak as one and promote policies that benefited people and environment, rather than powerful corporate interests.
There was a poster on the wall of our office, that must be standard issue to any activist organization. In the center there is a big fish, this one was orange. And surrounding this big orange fish were little white fish in the shape of an even bigger fish. The little fish were gobbling up the bigger fish in the middle and on the bottom there was one word: Organize. It was a representation of our country’s de facto motto: out of many, one. Proof that a big orange fish is no match for the organized many.
A couple weeks ago I had a chance to hear Mary Robinson speak. I had actually never heard of her but she is a former president of Ireland and worked with the UN and Kofi Annan for many years on human rights issues and is totally impressive. She was part of the recent climate talks in Paris and told us what happened when the gavel came down at the end of the meeting to confirm that 195 countries from around the world had reached an agreement to keep our warming below 2 degrees. “People cried,” she told us. People cried not just because they had a resolution, but because this resolution treated developing nations fairly. Something happened during the Paris talks that had not happened before. Developing nations stood together and they told their stories about how climate change is already impacting their people and the developed nations listened. The powerful heard. When the many stood as one, they received a fairness she hadn’t expected and a deal that gives her hope for our future.
Today my kids had the day off school in honor of the man who best embodies the path towards justice. Martin Luther King Jr. personifies the civil right movement and brought together the many as one in peaceful demonstrations to dismantle policies of injustice. My kids wanted to watch a movie on their day off so I let them watch videos about Martin Luther King Jr. and together we listened as people shared stories of how he inspired America to rise to a challenge that it didn’t think could be handled. With his everlasting faith in humanity and force of conviction Dr. King united the meek in a movement of righteousness and moved this nation closer to the great principles upon which it was founded.
Dr. King's vision was not just for racial equality but also income equality and watching the Democratic debate this weekend I was inspired, yet again, by an old man’s call for political revolution. At this time in American history we face great wealth inequality and the influence of money is leading to policies that benefit the few, not the many. And so it is time once again to stand together.
This story of e pluribus unum will always inspire me, just as the fight for equality and justice will always lie in the hearts of those considered weak.
There is a Mexican proverb that has become a favorite meme among the Bernie Sanders fan club: "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds.”
Our nation may have formally changed our motto, but at the root of this nation e pluribus unum remains. It is the seed. It is the reminder that together we can rise up and transform our society again and again to become more just and more fair and more inclusive. It is the reminder that when the many are one we move ever-closer to that great American ideal: a nation of, by and for the people.
Today the Wallaces headed to Wrightwood for the day to play in the snow. L.A's recent El Nino storm turned the local mountain town into Narnia and Jonathan will soon post pictures of our magical day. For now, Xan is in the bath, Noli is reading, Jonathan is the making turkey chili and I am reflective.
For the car ride to the snow Xan brought along "Family Talk," a set of cards with questions that promote conversation. Each of us answered questions like "what kind of dog would you be" and "who was your favorite teacher" and "what kind of compliment is most meaningful to you." My favorite was "what is something you do that inspires others to be better people?" The kids struggled with that one and I realized my resolution for 2016 is to get them involved with volunteering. Helping others is always inspiring.
But they also struggled with another one: "What one thing would you change about your parents?" As a parent I am pretty clear about my deficiencies. I know what I would change about myself as a mom. But the kids couldn't think of anything. Xan knew in a millisecond that if he was a dog he would be a Pug and Magnolia knew with certainty her favorite teacher is Mr. Velasquez but neither could tell Jonathan and I what they would change about us. I told them, "I know what I would change about me." What, they asked in unison, honestly interested. I would be more patient.
If I could change one thing about my parenting, I would be more patient with them. Because they are only little beings...with such capacity to infuriate. I have said before that if I got a tattoo it would be a small "patience" near my left thumb so I could press it with my right thumb when I am losing it.
Losing patience is common practice amongst parents. When my parents lost it with me I didn't understand that it was because they had asked me to do something, or not do something, about a million times BEFORE they actually raised their voices or lost their shit. I didn't realize I was the instigator, I just thought they were kind of nuts...and scary. So in the car ride to Wrightwood I was shocked that my kids didn't think I was kind of nuts...and scary. I was surprised that they didn't want to change my lack of patience in parenting.
But I also know that they do notice it. After a play-date Xan commented offhandedly that I am nicer when his friends are around. I don't lost patience in front of people. When I first had Xan I read Parenting Magazine and one of the things that stuck was if you are really irritated with your kids, you should take them to a public place. Go to a park or the library or even on a walk. Be around people and you won't yell. You just won't.
So even though I know Xan notices, the fact that patience wasn't top of mind made me realize that we are actually doing a good job with this parenting thing. Maybe you'll think, of course you are...but if you are an honest parent you know that sometimes you really do feel like you might be messing it all up. Even when you are taking them up to the snow to tromp in Narnia and sled down hills and have a snowball fight and build a snowman and top it all off with hot chocolate, you think maybe you might be messing them up.
When we got home, I watched a short video posted on FB about how everything vibrates on a frequency. At the end the guy says, "you can control the vibration you are in." You have a choice in between what happens and your reaction to what happens to decide what vibration to bring to the situation. It resonated with the kids and Nolia chanted "you can control the vibration you are in! You can control the vibration you are in!" as I brushed her hair after bath. Xan got it too, he knows that molecules vibrate. It's scientific. The idea that you can control vibration, and decide to make it positive, intrigued them both.
So if I know what I would change about my parenting (even if the kids haven't figured it out yet) and there is space between an action and reaction and my vibration is in my control, then maybe I know my second resolution for the new year. Control the vibration I am in. In the space before reaction vibrate on the positive so that when Xan and Noli play the Family Talk game with their kids they still won't have an answer to what they would change about me.
It’s New Year’s Day again
And time for you to shine
Time for you to do your stuff
and touch this heart of mine
Time for you to make millions think
About the power to save lives
Time for you to make us proud
Of work to help folks thrive
Years ago when you began
I couldn’t see your beauty
Years ago when you began
I watched you only out of duty
But I didn’t love you, not at all
You bent me and abused me
I didn’t love you, not at all
I resented you completely
I resented every long cold night
Because you took my holidays
You took my cheer and took my time
And left me in dismay
I said one night, I hate this float
I meant it when I said it
I hated you with all my heart
Vehemently, with spirit
Others didn’t understand
They saw just your majesty
They saw only what you gave to us
They saw what I could not see
But now I that I have rested
Rebounded and regained
I see now what you are
What you give, instead of drain
Now I see your glory
Now I see your grace
I see your hope and see your love
In every volunteer's face
I see how you inspire
And build community
Amongst those who proudly wear
The Donate Life blue and green
And I see my own hand in the float
In every rose that’s placed
In every process, every smile
Every friend embraced
And in the ones who have stayed
Who give year after year
I see the power of this float
To honor that which we hold dear
We who brought you into life
Brought Donate Life together
We who brought you into life
Are bonded now forever
And so I do not hate you
I never really did
But I see now all your beauty
And all the love you give
You are a ride of a lifetime
An opportunity to honor
A memorial and tribute
A chance to come together
It’s New Year’s Day again
Time for our float shine
Time for Donate Life
to touch your heart and mine
A Bit About Me
I am Tenaya, a communications strategist and public speaker telling stories that connect, inspire...and laugh.