Lesson Twenty-Six: I can make a difference.

One of the most influential classes I took in my last semester of college. It was a basic Intro to Women’s’ Studies class. I’d taken several women’s’ history and women’s’ lit classes, but this was my first class just about women being women. I was empowered in new ways being surrounded with other angry feminists. I saw the span of womanhood in the small sample of our class. Ani DiFranco was in my textbook. I was motivated.

Kimberley suggested giving back years prior as a coping method. I’d joined the RAINN Speakers Bureau and had done some private interviews representing RAINN. I wanted something more tangible. On a whim, I started to look at VDay.

I was a fan of Eve Ensler, as any vagina-owner should be. There was a new play available for the first time about women who were incarcerated. It was called “Any One of Us: Words From Prison”. No one in the southern United States had signed up to show that play. I wanted to see it.

I applied to produce a VDay play.

I met amazing women through this process. Our director, Katie, was a creative pleasure just to witness. We held auditions in my bedroom, attempting to pass off the living room as a waiting area. Our cast emerged in various strong, beautiful women. We booked three nights in the attic of a Mid-City coffee shop.

Without meaning to do so, I’d started a movement that would turn into a non-profit. W.E.L.L. (Women Empowered and Loving Life) was a group that I founded and ran for about three years.

I thought W.E.L.L. would become my career. It was a job that I could actually do, it seemed. I was able to network easily and comfortably. I was able to organize and plan events, meetings, rallies, and so on. I was able to write press releases, grants, and bylaws with my degree and a little research. Recruiting volunteers was nothing compared to selling Jesus door-to-door, and treating my volunteers well was a joy. I was good at this job.

Even better: I was able to do something meaningful. I was able to talk about rape and abuse out loud. My loudness gave way for others to speak softly behind me. I was able to facilitate women embracing their bodies, their sexuality, and their very selves.

Throughout the time W.E.L.L. was running we hosted a Clothesline Project, several t-shirt making workshops at local shelters, made and donated hundreds of slippers to battered women’s’ homes, produced a handful of VDay plays, and opened a chapter at my alma mater. We offered a self-defense workshop for women. We hosted talks where people spoke about being transgender or surviving rape. Our best fundraiser, under the brilliance of our director Sylvie, raised $1,000 for Women With A Vision after their attack.

I was fulfilled at this job. I was doing good work for good reasons. I was happy.

I was also broke. Non-profit was very low-income, which I suppose I should have seen coming. Volunteers are difficult to keep forever. Paperwork gets more complicated as you go from a state to a federal level. Also, it turns out that I am terrible at letting go of control. Another thing that I should’ve seen coming.

My boyfriend was living with me. He was working at Sam’s Club, while I balanced Penta and W.E.L.L. My hobby of activism was getting to be too much for my relationship. My ability to carry more of the money burden during college changed when I started to invest in W.E.L.L. This caused panic and strain in my home. My boyfriend of two years broke up with me an hour before I was working an event at the Allways Lounge. We parted on friendly terms. Within a few weeks, he found an apartment in Metairie that made him much happier than Central City. We stayed close friends for a while.

Being alone more frequently became a problem. Without my boyfriend as the standard for reality, I would slip away easier and faster. My hours lost turned into days. More than once I canceled an entire W.E.L.L. event the morning of the event. Gary might not see me for days at a time, and I wouldn’t know to call him because I didn’t know I’d missed a day.

I couldn’t handle working both jobs. I needed Penta to invest in my backup plan future of tech writing and I wanted W.E.L.L. to be my long-term career goal. I couldn’t afford to keep both and eat, but I wouldn’t let myself change any part of my current operation. I’d get stuck in circles. I’d drift away in my head. I was probably a mess to work with, no matter where I was working.

Even at my worst, I was proud of the work I did with W.E.L.L. I would get home and feel tired for so many good reasons. My abuse seemed less painful, knowing that hearing my story helped others. I was doing what others had done for me in 2004. I wanted to show a path that was another way out of the trauma. I just needed to stop getting lost along the path I’d already taken.

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