Finding Focus

Finding Focus

Because I wasn’t going to find the answers to the questions that kept me up a night by not doing anything. Or by letting fear win. I needed to find focus.

Questions like how can I help feed the growing global population? How can I persuade climate change deniers that we need to act now? How can I make a difference?

So I got in the car and drove three hundred miles to visit my friend, Becca Self, the Executive Director of FoodChain, a nonprofit indoor aquaponic facility in the middle of downtown Lexington, KY.

On an early Friday morning in October, I got in my car and drove south a few miles, exited onto the Bluegrass Parkway and headed east.

I set the cruise control at 74 miles per hour, tuned into NPR, set the windshield wipers on low and settled into the rolling hills and early morning fog and rain. An occasional burst of blue sky warmed me as I drove and listened to the horrors, I mean, news of the day.

Donald blasting twitter about a woman who’d gained a few extra pounds. Hillary tweeting back mocking his early morning timing and immaturity. Call a spade a spade is what I say. But really, how can one woman’s ten-pound weight gain garner the attention of the entire civilized world? (I’d heard a similar blurb on BBC later that evening). Aren’t there enough pressing problems? Here’s my 72-character tweet-thought, since I was driving. Hey, Donald & Hillary! Focus! We have bigger issues than weight gain.

Although I admit—obesity is a growing problem and food security is a reality.

Instead, though I listened to the next story. Putin. Then Syria. And soon the news sounded depressing. But did I switch the channel? Of course not! I’m a news junkie. And I needed to reinforce why I was doing what I was doing.

Like dealing with the need to do something for our planet, like supporting clean energy, helping people learn about sustainable seafood and that what we do on land does impact our oceans.

But I teeter on a fine line in W KY. I don’t want to upset my community, my friends, and neighbors. These are multi-generational coal miners and farmers looking to earn a wage just like everyone else. I have only lived in KY a few years, but I can relate, both physically and politically. I was born in W PA, a third generation descendant of tobacco farmers and coal miners. Mine is a large Catholic family, full of strife and struggles, but also hope, faith, love, and determination. Both destinations surrounded me like a warm, somewhat scratchy blanket. Pennsyltucky is in my blood.

I cherish both worlds.

So the further east I drove that morning, confidence replace fear, despite the news of the day and my insecurity. I felt purpose but still needed clarity.

Three hours later I stepped into FoodChain.

A greenhouse-like coziness swallowed my being—an earthy dampness that comes from plants and water growing in a closed, coddled environment.

Inspired flooded through my veins. In fact, if I shut my eyes I might have been standing in the middle of a Costa Rican jungle, minus the screeching monkeys, a place that I hold near and dear to my heart.

At that moment, in that small warehouse in Lexington, I knew I was on the right path. And that despite the environment we all currently live in, where many don’t want to look at anything past their iPhones—the Donald vs Hillary, man vs woman, left vs right, change vs sameness—in that warm 3,000 square foot space at FoodChain, I felt right. That one person, *cough, me, can make a difference.

And while I normally share fluffy on the surface, dog-friendly, life is good stories and photos online, there is no denying that now I am no longer interested in sugar-coating my story about how I feel about climate change and what I can do.

Within sixty minutes, after Becca and I walked and talked, I was empowered.

Becca’s vision and passion did that. Yes, Becca Self is an inspirational woman.

But, it’s not enough to have only passion as a woman. Yes, here we go, it really is more than being a woman.

I was taught (maybe like you) to dress “right” read not too slutty (although there were many years I didn’t heed Mom’s advice). I was told not to speak too loudly or too much—insert eye roll. I was supposed to learn to sew and like it. Except in my seventh grade Home EC class, during my first project, I made a pair of pale blue denim pants with a wide red elastic waistband three sizes too large. Not on purpose. I failed miserably. Then begged to be transferred to the Power & Transportation class where I learned to start a lawn mower (not that I needed to know that—we had a postage size backyard and not front yard). I learned to be afraid of the teacher who threatened the boys with a billiard ball when they acted up. Which was all the time! Growing up, I was taught to cook, manage a house, want a family, make sure I volunteer, have a career and oh yeah, don’t forget—take care of your husband—a topic that deserves its own essay.

But now I am at the double nickel stage of my life. More than half of my life is a memory. My right breast sags more than the left requiring a constant adjustment. Infuriating! Melanoma lurks under my freckled skin. Joints ache. My mind wanders and forgets. And yet with the passage of time, I still look past my iPhone, wondering how I can make it right for the children of the future and this big beautiful blue planet we call home.

So what does it take to fulfill a dream if not passion and dedication?

Certainly, persistence and perseverance have helped my life this far. But big dreams require more. More what? People who have vast amounts of information. People who share the same vision. People who will lend a hand, a few words of encouragement, the right funding, and emotional and physical support.

I know I can find all of the above.

Will it take work? You bet your ass it will.

Dreams also require focus, determination, and the ability to step away from that warm, scratchy security blanket. And all of the above. Dreams without focus are like white cotton ball clouds on a warm tropical day with a cold drink and a hot lover at your side.

And so I drove to FoodChain to focus on my dreams.

And you know what? It worked.

There in that unfamiliar space, I listened to Becca describe her dreams, how she’d implement her plans to empower, educate and help feed the growing global population. One community, one school, one child at a time.

So thank you Becca and FoodChain. And thank you, Elizabeth Mosier @TheGloriaSirens. This essay style was inspired by your work.

If you liked this essay, please share it. And if you would like to support my long-term aquaponic project, shoot me an email. Or buy a book!