Adding Beauty to the World

Written by our first guest blogger: Andrea Garfinkel-Castro


When my children were little we used to read Miss Rumphius by Barbara Clooney. It is a short story about a little girl named Alice Rumphius who wants to do the things her grandfather has done—to travel the world and, afterwards, to live by the sea. She tells him this and he, in turn, tells her there is a third thing she must do. ““What is that?” asked Alice. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.”

I have quoted Alice and her grandfather many times, and, as you can see, I continue to find inspiration in their words. My hope is that everyone become inspired to do something make the world more beautiful—even if you don’t yet know what that ‘something;’ might be. You see, Alice also didn’t know how she could make the world more beautiful for a long time, even though she carried within her the desire to do so.

Alice, Miss Rumphius, came upon her way to make the world more beautiful quite by accident and through personal adversity. The story takes us through some of Alice’s adventures around the world to exotic places and to the place by the sea where she finally settles in her old age, just as she had hoped. One year, with her hope to make the world a better place still unfulfilled, Alice becomes bed-bound. Looking out from her bedroom window she sees the beautiful blossoms of the lupine she had planted earlier and laments that she is too ill to plant more. The next spring, now able to walk about, she is delighted to come across lupines that had been sown by the wind—and she discovers how she can make the world ‘more beautiful’ and begins to sow lupine seeds wherever she walks.

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The Forty-Hour Week

Last fall, my commitment to “saving the world” shifted from 24/7 to 9-5.  The short story is that I graduated and got a job.  And then there’s the long story.

September in the mid-‘90s.  On Back To School morning, Daddy would snap a picture of my sister and me in the garden, standing proud in new dresses, lunchboxes and bikes propped against the railroad tie steps leading up to the fir trees.  Those photos emanate pure happiness.  Summer was over and that was a good thing.  It meant the end of 100-degree days trapped down-valley on the farm with the flies and gopher snakes, and no more dizzy afternoons of deliveries in the squinty 5:30 p.m. sun, buckled helpless and sticky in the back seat.  Dependency—living according to someone else’s schedule—that was the rub.  School was my turf.  Not Mama’s, not the babysitter’s.  All mine.  Reading lists, 20 classmates in alphabetical order, recess, and the best part, homework.  School was a game to play and win. The school bell rang daily at 3:30 but that did not signal the end of my job as a Busy and Important Person.

Elementary school extra-credit exercises eventually gave way to high school club fieldtrips and then campaign meetings and conferences in college.  Wielding the same fervent, perfectionist habits of a 3rd-grader tackling her vocabulary lists, I turned to face contemporary crises of global proportion, head-on.  A drive to exceed expectations—those of my parents, Mrs. Adams, Professor Carson, Van Jones, and ultimately my own—kept me up late at night.  “Just one more email, then movie/dinner/bed…” Complaints aside, of course this was to my liking.  Who doesn’t want to feel needed, especially when you can respond on your own terms?

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How Best To Change The World?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  – Howard Thurman

How best to change the world? As an activist, this question has consumed me more than any other. The question makes sense: I know I want to give back, so why not give back in the most productive way? What doesn’t make sense is how, until recently, I’ve tried to answer it.

Since graduating from college in 2005, the question of best changing the world has materialized for me as hunting for the right job. Until recently, finding the right job meant finding the field of work in which I could create the greatest change, objectively. From this mindset arose questions like: which is more important for saving the world – green energy or sustainable food? If sustainable food, is it more important to work on increasing supply or demand? If supply, should I settle for working at a large-scale distributor like Whole Foods, in order to reach more people? Or should I stick closer to my values by working at a small-scale coop, knowing my reach will shrink? Continue reading

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Finding Community

In high school, finding community was easy. Our skimpy track team uniforms, a la Juno, left it little room to hide. Between boys and girls, friendships stemmed from wearing equally short shorts. (The girls appreciated our obvious comfort with gender equality.) Between the boys, friendships came from locker room sing-alongs to Eye of the Tiger, and that time we put the football team’s couch on the school roof. But our team bonded most when doing things totally unrelated to track: body building competitions at underage dance clubs (where our skinny body’s stood no chance of winning, except for most laughs); sleepover parties punctuated by gallons of ice cream and Back to the Future movie marathons; mornings-after at the local diner, spent reliving the night. It was those moments, more than anything we did together on the track, which made us a team.

It wasn’t until I left high school and track behind that I realized how lucky I had been. Continue reading

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Healthy Activism

I had been struggling with what it meant to be an activist (or what the term even means) for a while before my health knocked me on my ass. My junior year of college, I spent the fall in a program called Semester in the West (SITW), traveling around the western United States studying politics, ecology, and writing. Along the way, we met with activists of all sorts, seeing on-the-ground organizing and the complications that come into play with community engagement.  The semester left me completely confused, not only about the politics of things like ranching, but what models to use for my activism.  The litigious non-profit employee?  The soft-spoken biologist? The entrepreneurial rancher? We’d met all of them, yet I didn’t know where I fit into the definition of “activism” or how to feel like I was making real change.

However, one thing I realize now is that all those varying models of activists still implied that you are active, even if that—often—meant running yourself to the ground in the process.  Continue reading

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Sustaining Change–An Overview

When Bob, Camila and I started talking in September 2010, I didn’t have a clear idea of what would result from our calls. We’re all connected through the Morris K. Udall Scholarship, an award for college environmental and tribal leaders.  From that, I knew we were all engaged deeply in various organizing fields, and yet we felt like something was missing from that work.

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