I’m not big on those year-end letters. You know the ones: What a year! I am humbled that I was able to make it to the top of Mount McKinley, dodging four avalanches, and in record time! Junior was unable to make the trip as he was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Microphysics in Geneva. (SO PROUD!) And daughter Sally was too busy with her own avalanche — of grad school acceptance letters! Who knew there were SO MANY Ivy League schools with full-ride scholarships to offer!
When I started this blog in January, I posed the question, “Why do we put off making significant changes in our lives until we have the heart attack, the stroke or lose a loved one?” In my initial post, I said my sister’s death in 2004 was the catalyst for tremendous change in my life, and I wished to sustain that level of personal transformation, but without the tragedy.
With that as my backdrop, this year I allowed myself to wander, with intention, exploring everything from meditation in the California desert to a writing workshop on a farm in rural Pennsylvania to eyebrow microblading (well, almost), writing 35 posts along the way. In the process, my dog died, my mom fell and broke her pelvis, I quit my job and began a freelance writing career, and OMG Donald Trump was elected President. Real life happened.
Up front, I invited you to join me on my journey. I said, “Along the way, we’ll stop and explore what piques our curiosity, and we’ll get to know some amazing people, including ourselves.”
Looking back on the year, what stuns and delights me is that those amazing people I met this year – and there were so, so many – were, with little exception, women.
Historically, I have had little value for women. In my hard-charge up the corporate ladder, I’ve bonded more with men. The women I’ve been attracted to were cut of my cloth. Business women who put their careers first. Fine women, well intentioned, but sorely lacking in work/life balance.
The women who shared their wisdom with me this year, who served as my tour guides along my journey, were kind, and patient, and real. Each accomplished in her own way. And real.
In my first creative writing workshop, fellow workshopper Katherine Smith dashed off a quick, “So funny! Loved it.” about my first creative writing piece. Her words thrilled me. I felt like Sally Field at the 1985 Oscars.
When I decided to start a blog and was trying to overengineer an editorial calendar for it, my high school friend Tatiana Frierson came to my rescue offering sage advice: Just write what you feel like writing about that day. Shortly thereafter, WordPress Discover editor Cheri Lucas Rowlands honored my initial blog post with a WordPress Discover Editor’s Pick designation, buoying me on.
In that first writing workshop, I gave everyone a copy of Beth Kephart’s book on writing, Handling the Truth, at the time thinking, if only I could meet and learn from this woman. Nine months later I found myself on a farm in rural Pennsylvania at Beth’s inaugural Juncture Workshop, learning from her and bonding with her and the 10 other women from all over the country who shared my awe of Beth and her talents.
Houston Alexander Technique teacher and professional oboist Andrea Fedele taught me proper posture (better late than never) and introduced me to the work of author and transformation guru Richard Moss, which led me to Lone Pine, California, to a place called The Great Space.
I was inspired by Elizabeth White-Olsen, who founded Houston writing center Writespace. It was at their annual Writefest writing conference that I met Houstonia magazine editor Katharine Shilcutt, who taught a class on writing “The Perfect Pitch.” I decided to give it a shot and ended up publishing stories in Houstonia’s December (Out of Despair, the Gift of Life) and January issues with another in the wings.
For that December Houstonia story I reached out to LifeGift Houston’s Elena Mendoza, the family care specialist who facilitated my sister’s organ and tissue donations, to try to understand how anyone could do such a difficult job, day in and day out. Through volunteering for organ and tissue donation, I met and was inspired by heart recipient Lisa Neely, whose story still gives me chills, the effervescent LifeGift volunteer coordinator Kellye Moran and American Association of Tissue Bank’s Sarah Gray, who this year published her first book, A Life Everlasting: The Extraordinary Story of One Boy’s Gift to Medical Science, about donation after her newborn son’s death. Watch her TED talk.
2016 was the year of my late sister, Julie De Rossi. Her donation story was reprised by NFL Films’ Lindsay Spieler and Julia Harmon, who invited my family to Phoenix to finally meet my sister’s tissue recipient, Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer, chronicled in this video.
When, midyear, I mustered up the courage to quit my job and strike out on my own, to live my dream of being a writer, it was women – all friends and former colleagues, who helped launch my new business, including Helen Vollmer Caudle, Melanie Ford Weir, Rachel White and Rhonda Elmore. My longtime friend (supporter and confidante) Stacey Nash predicted this career change. “Karen v3,” she said.
And in a Writespace blogging workshop a couple of weeks ago, hoping to gain insight into where to take this blog in 2017, I met Randi Faust, for whom a day of volunteering at a voting location in a low-income Houston neighborhood (and the gross injustice she witnessed there) was a life-transforming experience. Shortly after the workshop, Randi emailed me, saying, “Through your blog, what you’re doing is giving permission to women to enjoy their lives and explore their passions without having to wait for the ‘excuse’ of a tragedy.” What profound inspiration.
I am so thankful to and inspired by these women, and I am excited to see where 2017 takes us.