Sarah & Angelina Grimké, 1837: The power of a compelling story

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The following is a blog series based on my new daily habit: Reading one entry from “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” Not only are there all these bits of women’s history time has neglected, but within them are lessons that are super relevant to living a meaningful and productive life today. I want one of those. Don’t you? There are 200 entries, so consider yourself warned.

The Grimké Sisters DNGAF at a time when NGAF could ruin a woman’s life in no shortage

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Sarah “Badass” Grimké

of ways. I’d already set these women on my shelf of revered feminists after reading “The Invention of Wings,” a fictionalized account of their lives as abolitionists and feminists by Sue Monk Kidd. A new theme about their story emerged for me, however, in their short (non-fictionalized) entry in “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” It turns out that one of the biggest audacities of their audacious lives was lecturing to same-sex audiences on abolitionism.

Yup. These two women did a bunch of dangerous things in their time on the abolitionist front — to the degree that they were banned from returning to their home state of South Carolina — but speaking publicly in front of men and women together is what really got the nation up in arms about them. How did it even happen, if such a thing was so taboo?

They had a really compelling story to tell. That no one else could tell.

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Angelina “Also a Badass” Grimké

The Grimkés had grown up the daughters of slave owners. So while there were white Northerners by the dozen who could lecture crowds on the secondhand horrors of slavery, these women had not only seen (and benefitted from) it themselves, they had abandoned the wealth and privilege slavery had afforded them in favor of risking their lives to work to abolish it. That was a perspective people were willing to make an extraordinary break with societal convention to hear.

Riots ensued. And fires. Including the burning of an orphanage for African American children. That was an admittedly awful, unjust response, and one that caused the Grimkés to back away from public speaking for the rest of their lives. Regardless, their experience makes one thing very clear: A compelling story has such power. How much, one can only find out by telling it.

Dorothea Dix, 1843: Stay focused, do great things

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The following is a blog series based on my new daily habit: Reading one entry from “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” Not only are there all these bits of women’s history time has neglected, but within them are lessons that are super relevant to living a meaningful and productive life today. I want one of those. Don’t you? There are 200 entries, so consider yourself warned.

FullSizeRender 2In a time when women could not vote and were still incredibly limited in their ability affect social change, Dorothea Dix singlehandedly changed living and care conditions for hundreds of people with mental illness in the United States. Kudos, Dorothea.

It was a cause she stumbled upon while visiting a jail and encountering prisoners who were incarcerated for no other reason than their mental health — there was just nowhere else for them to go. So she successfully lobbied local officials to improve their conditions. From there, she went to mental health facilities across the country to review and document their conditions and brought her findings to state legislatures in an effort to build more and better places for mental health patients to live and receive care. Between the time she started her work and when she died, the number of mental hospitals in the U.S. jumped from 13 to 123. That is a woman who got shit done.

How did she do it? I imagine there is no one answer to that question, but here’s one thing struck me about her story: After gaining notoriety for her work as a mental health advocate, Dix was invited to join the front lines of a number of other social causes, such as women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement. She declined. Not because she didn’t believe in and support those causes, but because she believed in remaining entirely focused on her primary mission.

Thirteen mental health hospitals to 123. One woman. That is the power of focus.

So what’s your focus? (Oh God, what’s my focus?) Seems worth figuring out.

 

The most productive hour of my month (errr…year) was getting a massage. Really.

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Yesterday, I redeemed a gift certificate for a massage given to me by my mom for my birthday. Wasn’t that nice? It was nice. To clarify though, my birthday was in January. It is now April. So, in terms of honoring someone’s generosity, I could have been much nicer myself.

But, you know. It’s hard to fit these things in. My co-parenting responsibilities begin at 5pm and more or less cover the weekend. Freelancing, despite the assumptions of many, does not allow for frequent brunching or daytime errands or, sadly, massages. There’s a formula, you see, in the mind of a freelancer that is pretty simple: hours working = money made. Must workworkworkworkworkworkwork, right? Ideas and inspiration and productivity take focus and discipline. And that’s how our mortgage gets paid.

So imagine my surprise, when I finally begrudgingly made a 10am massage appointment on a Wednesday, and something odd happened: I was flooded — flooded, I tell you —  with ideas and inspiration. While melting into bliss on that massage table I came up with the following things: a blog series (my blog has been dormant since February, you may have noticed), a new morning routine to boost my productivity, a story idea to pitch to a new publication, thoughts on how to approach the beginning of a novel (which is unlikely to materialize for years; they were just thoughts; ohmygodlayoffmewillyou), and, naturally, this idea for this blog post. Creatively, I’m almost sad to say, that was the largest plop of productivity my brain has produced in…uh…a long time.

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Sometimes you really do have to give that brain a break.

To be clear, I have not made some sort of scientific breakthrough here. The fact that mental downtime is good for creativity and productivity has been proven again and again. So why do we have such a difficult time allowing ourselves to prove it out during our workdays? Why does it feel like a risk?

Okay, I’ll go ahead and answer that one. It feels like a risk because there’s no way to measure how productive our brains will be when we give them a break. Maybe they’ll come up with one great idea. Maybe they’ll come up with five. Maybe they’ll just enjoy the downtime and give us nothing in return. And that’s the risk. We might spend an hour getting a massage and all we may walk away with is, you know, a massage.

That’s obviously a joke, because massages are awesome, even if they are difficult to prioritize. This is why, instead, I usually write “ideas” as a line item on my to-do list and spend a half-hour browsing the internet before saying, “F#*& it. I should really be doing addressing those edit requests right now.” But given the fact that my massage yesterday resulted in writing this blog, the blog I’m about to write when I’m done with this one and the first pitch I’ve sent out to a new publication in probably a year, it sounds like its time to change my priorities. Now I just need 12-24 more massage gift certificates. Consider that hint dropped, family.