“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
It was probably 2014, around this time (May 28), when Maya Angelou passed that everyone was talking about the famous poet. I had just begun working on my startup dedicated to violence against women after my long career in technology. At that time, my oldest daughter was working with me. I asked her, “Who is Maya Angelou?”
She was shocked and somewhat appalled that I could ask such an ignorant literary question.
She told me she was one of the most famous contemporary poets and civil rights activists of our time. I shrugged, and went on with what I was doing.
It took me a few years to finally dig into Angelou’s brilliance. When I found the poem, Still I Rise, I recognized myself in it. It reminded me of what one of my male tech partners once said about me that I didn’t understand, so I had to look it up. He told me he admired how I would, “Rise like a Phoenix, over and over again.”
Such a universal truth for women emboldened with the will to survive, to overcome.
And therein lies some of the mystery as to why I’m uninformed as to the great feminist writers. I spent a lifetime competing in a man’s world, surrounded by men, reading men’s words predominantly. I did not have the privilege, nor the luxury, to invest in learning about the oppression and discrimination that dogged me throughout my professional career.
The opening track of David Bowie’s 1972 seminal masterpiece, Ziggy Stardust is an eery dystopian ballad, “Five Years.” In short, the song is about how the earth finds out it only has five more years left to live.
High school came up for me a couple weeks ago when I was writing to a friend. I told her it would take “a barstool, an attendant bartender, and copious amounts of good wine” to begin to explain what went wrong with my high school experience around the time we were rocking out to Mr. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
One thing that’s easy to explain is what we had in common in that email thread. We were conversing about our shared interest in domestic abuse. Today, she consults with one of her favorite clients who happens to be in the Midwest where I was writing to her, and I of course, can’t seem to stop working on this.
Five Years to Change the World?
I always loved Bowie’s song, “Five Years.” Today, I’m going to turn the tables on it and instead of interpreting that song to be five years until the end of the world, I’ll rewrite the story to become five years to… change the world for the better.
When I launched The 2.0 Adoption Council or Change Agents Worldwide, all I had was a vision of what could be. A dream. An idea about the end state. That vision caught on and hundreds, literally hundreds, of people bought into it, and paid good money to be a part of it, and eventually for it. Crazy? Maybe. Riffing on Forrest’s loving Mom, Crazy is as crazy does.
By Far, My Toughest Challenge
It was an insane and dangerous idea to take on domestic abuse and violence against women. I had no credentials, no formal education, no field training, no power relationships, no funding, no nothing– except my lived experience and a desire to make a difference.
Every connection was hard-earned. Every project was a risk.
Nevertheless I persisted.
I’m proud to say, after five years, that hard work has paid off. An award-winning investigative journalist was researching domestic violence for years, and she came across my writing. She discovered the case study that I helped bring to life in a film.* She included the case study in her new book that is flying off the shelves in the Australian market. A U.S. version is in the works. The case study, the High Point model, is saving lives every day. More people are learning about the success of the High Point model than ever before.
In my small way, starting from nothing, I changed the world for the better several times, but this time, and in this way, I think even Mr. Bowie would be singing my praises.
*The film unfortunately never got finished, even though I put six figures into it. It is available, however, as a training film for private audiences.
UPDATE: As it turns out, Jess’ book will be turned into a 3-part documentary series by the fabulous filmmaker Tosca Looby whom I’ve been working with on the High Point story.
Read about it below:
ORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARIES
SBS is also a leader in original documentaries that inform, entertain and capture the national conversation around issues central to its Charter; exploring ideas that no other network could or would pursue. Next year, SBS will explore immigration, aviation, identity, homelessness, addiction and domestic violence with a powerful slate of new and returning Australian commissioned documentaries.
See What You Made Me Do
It’s a shocking statistic that on average, one woman is killed by a man she knows every week*. Announced today, See What You Made Me Do is a ground-breaking new documentary series presented by Jess Hill, the author of the critically acclaimed book by the same name, which will trace how a love story can end in murder and which will seek out solutions in Australia and from across the globe to see how we can tackle this epidemic. Source: SBS
Summer is coming to an end here on the Plains. Farmers are getting jittery about the upcoming harvest. As a wandering observer, I take in every majestic, breathtaking view with awe. I notice when something changes.
Recently these beautiful little yellow wildflowers have started popping up in the fields and on the roadside.
They’re Black-eyed Susans.
I arrived here in June, a few weeks into the beginning of summer, not knowing what to expect. Not sure if I was running away or to something, I came to South Dakota to listen to the sky, the fields, to commune with God and nature. To search my soul and tap my spirit for some direction– a sign. I kept telling my friends, “I’m in a liminal space.”
All summer I’ve been treated to a luxurious bounty of natural, scenic wonder. I’ve tried to capture the quiet, lush expanse of the vast South Dakota landscape with my camera lens. It calls to my inner artist and I long to draw and paint it. I’ve tried to understand the generations of people who make this area of the country their home: their warmth, their sense of community, family, and fellowship. It is exactly like the storybooks we’ve read, films we’ve seen about growing up in the Midwest.
I understand completely why my brother and sister love it here. Everything in South Dakota fills the vacuum, the deep cavity in our hearts we endured as children growing up in the chaos and pain of a dysfunctional family home. The love and tranquility pours in with every sunrise. The shock of bright stars at night against the pitch black sky illuminates the smallness of our place in the infinite universe. Yet, this state holds you close. It tells you reassuringly – you matter. You are special. You are loved.
That’s when it dawned on me about those little flowers. Years ago, I was a black-eyed Susan, and it was not beautiful, in fact it was terrible, ugly, and frightening.
But not anymore.
Today, I’m as free as a beautiful band of yellow wildflowers springing up in crazy bunches along the roadside in the South Dakota sun.
As I pondered the visual metaphor of those Black-eyed Susans on a long drive out to Sioux Falls yesterday, I realized I only read two books cover-to-cover this summer: Rachel Snyder’s, “No Visible Bruises” and Jess Hill’s, “See What You Made Me Do.” They’re both excellent new nonfiction picks addressing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.
In short, it’s become obvious, I can’t stop working on violence against women and all forms of coercive control men impose on women. It has settled under my skin and there is so much more work to do.
I’m thankful for this time I’ve had with the good people of South Dakota, the beauty of this generous state, and I look forward to how I can make a difference for the women who have yet to reinvent themselves into flowers dancing in the sun.