anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Archive for the ‘Women’s Wisdom Project’ Category

Cheryl Strayed

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“We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.”

-Cheryl Strayed

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to sit down with Cheryl Strayed and interview her for the Women’s Wisdom Project. Cheryl and I had met a few times over the years while attending Mountainfilm, and I was honored that she graciously offered to spend an hour with me talking about all things related to wisdom.

Of course, I knew that this conversation would need to go a little above and beyond just a papercut portrait, or even a Q&A. So I asked my friend Gale Straub at She Explores if she would be interested in having me record the interview and we could turn it into a podcast. I got another yes, and soon found myself nervously preparing to record an interview with a new recording device that I had never used.

I say this because I think that context is everything. There’s always a back story, and in this case, the back story was that I wanted to doing something that I really didn’t know how to do (audio recording), and doubt and fear immediately kicked in at the back of my mind (“what if you ruin this audio entirely?”).

I dove in anyway.

Cheryl and I had a wonderful conversation. It’s a conversation that I have thought about so many times since. As for the audio? Well, it wasn’t perfect. But Gale (with a lot of work, that I am very grateful for) managed to turn it into a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

It was a reminder that you have to push past fear. That things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll learn along the way. That’s a lot of what Cheryl and I talked about in our conversation. I replayed this part of our interview a few times as I was working on putting this piece together:

“One of my quotes in Tiny, Beautiful Things and in Brave Enough is that you give fear a seat at the table. You say, ‘welcome fear, your presence is an indication to me that I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing.’ Because fear is part of our best work.”

Fear is part of our best work. Remember that.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but I wanted to capture some of my favorite parts of the interview here so that you could read them as well (including a couple of things that didn’t make it into the podcast).

I listened to this interview several times, wondering what bit of wisdom I would pull from Cheryl to use as the quote in her papercut. That’s the thing about quotes; they are always snippets, and this conversation was so rich, there was no way to boil it down to one sentence.

But there was one that stood out: “We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.” Even Cheryl will admit that this bit of wisdom isn’t hers. It’s her mother’s. I chose it, because I think that it embodies the fact that wisdom is all around us, that it’s never just “ours.” Wisdom is passed down, it evolves, we offer it to others, and they pass it along to someone else.

We have so much to share with each other, and most often, the most meaningful wisdom and advice that guides is doesn’t come from a notable public figure, but in fact, from the people closest to us.

Anna: You are a prime person to talk to about wisdom, because I think a lot of people seek wisdom from you. 

Cheryl: It’s always strange for me to hear that I’m some sort of fount of wisdom and that’s always been the funny, an uneasy position that I’ve been in, not just as an advice giver as Dear Sugar, but even my other books Wild and, and my novel Torch. My books have always been read in this way that people take from them advice. So much of what I’ve been interested in as a writer is our emotional lives, our relationships, the ways that we love and lose and suffer and recover and grapple with how to be in the world.

What ends up happening is because I have spent so many years really examining that and thinking about that and writing about that, I ended up seeming like this figure, this wise woman. And I have to say, it makes me laugh because because I’ve got so much to learn. I think maybe part of the thing I feel grateful about when it comes to wisdom, it does come from that place of having a lot to learn and it comes from that place of being somebody who has had to do a lot of living and a lot of experiencing and a lot of loving and losing and making mistakes and making amends and trying to figure out the better way.

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Written by Anna Brones

August 8, 2018 at 10:56

Zaria Forman

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It almost felt silly to document Zaria Forman in black and white. Zaria is an incredible artist who works in pastels to document climate change. Her work is stunning. Glistening glaciers, a palette of blues and grays. She depicts a landscape that is deep and vibrant. A papercut felt both monochrome and small in relationship to the work that Zaria does.

But Zaria is such an inspiration, her energy is catching, and her message is important, and I knew that I definitely wanted to include her as a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project. Fortunately she was willing to do a Q&A as well, the chance to dive a little deeper.

The first time I saw one of Zaria’s pieces in person I just stood and stared at it. It truly felt like I was standing in front of a glacier. And that’s exactly the reaction Zaria is going for. I got a chance to meet Zaria in person earlier this year thanks to our mutual friend Jenny Nichols. Jenny traveled to Greenland last year to make a film about Zaria’s work, as well as leading NASA scientists on Operation IceBridge, called “Colors of Change.” I think that art is a powerful tool to convey messages and push for cultural change, something that certainly comes across in the film.

I am grateful to artists like Zaria who are using their craft to shift the cultural conversation.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Zaria: It means being able to make actions based on the past, present and future. Not without foresight or the knowledge of history. Listening is also a key to wisdom, I love learning from others and being able to share knowledge with people from all over the world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My mother, Rena Bass Forman, was a huge inspiration to me. She dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest from 2001 until her passing in 2011. She always said that she had been a polar bear in a past life, and watching her spend endless hours in the frigid winds, patiently and happily waiting for the moment when the light was right, gave me no doubt that this was true! She taught me the importance of loving what you do, and carrying out projects full force, no matter what obstacles lie in the way, and no matter how much patience it required.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 19, 2018 at 16:22

Clara Barton

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“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all,

I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

-Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Educator and humanitarian Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton is most famously known for founding the American Red Cross.

She was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, and her quote is a reminder of how long we have been fighting to receive equal payment for work. She had started teaching at the age of 18, and even founded a school for workers’ children at the mill where her brother worked. She went on to establish the first free school in 1852, in Bordentown, New Jersey. It was at this school that she learned that a male colleague who had been hired was earning double her salary. She quit.

In 1861 she began carrying supplies to Union soldiers, making it her mission to help those in need. While she had no formal training, her care and attentiveness earned her the title “angel of the battlefield.” It was after the war that she went to Europe, where she learned of the work of the International Red Cross, an organization which called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis. When she returned, she was committed to starting a US-based organization that would be part of the same network, founding the American Red Cross in 1881. For the rest of her life, she continued to be a tireless advocate of those in need.

Her home in Maryland became a National Historic Site in 1975, the first dedicated to the achievements of a woman. You can learn more about Clara over on the National Women’s History Museum website.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 4, 2018 at 07:08

Wangari Maathai

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“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

-Wangari Maathai

Born in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central African to earn a doctorate degree, which she was granted from the University of Nairobi in 1971. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she served on the National Council of Women of Kenya. It was here that she came up with the idea of planting trees, a concept that she grew into a large scale, grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, focused on conserving the environment and improving the lives of women. Planting trees meant planting hope, a form or protest and renewal, fighting oppression with growth.

Environmentalist. Activist. Human rights advocate. Writer. Her work was inspired by her roots, but reached a global audience, and in 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I was recently reading Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds, and learned that the two had met in the early 1980s, and Wangari had become mentor of Terry’s. Terry herself had been inspired to start the Green Belt Movement of Utah.

Terry writes, “When I once asked her what she had learned from planting trees, she said, ‘Patience.'”

That sentiment stuck with me. Patience. It’s the same sentiment that’s in Wangari’s quote above.

The patience to speak up.

The patience to listen.

The patience to rise up.

The patience to continue.

I wonder what wisdom Wangari would give to us today. I think it would still be the same. We must continue to rise up and walk. We must be patient and persistent.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Marion Nestle

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“Food choices are about your future and that of your children.

They are about nothing less than democracy in action.”

-Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle is one of the leading thinkers and activists when it comes to nutrition and food politics. In fact it’s hard to do any reading or research about food politics without coming across her name.

She is the author of several books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and the most recent Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).In October, she will release her latest book: Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We EatShe is Paulette Goddard Professor, of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003 and from which she retired in the end of 2017.

There was a point in my life when I debated on applying to NYU’s Master’s Program in Food Studies (a program she pioneered), just so that I could have the opportunity to have Marion as a teacher. And while I never got around to that, she has kindly answered various interview questions of mine over the course of many years as I have written about food and nutrition myself.

The quote that I decided to use for her portrait is from her book What to EatThe book was originally published in 2006. That feels like an eternity ago when it comes to food politics. After all, it feels like a lot has changed in our conversation about food over the last decade. There are many more options at the grocery store, and the conversation about health has begun to shift to not only our personal self, but that of the environment and the workers who put food on our table.

And yet despite some of the progress that we have made, we still face many of the same problems, and some have gotten worse. Over the last decade, obesity rates have jumped. In 2007-2008, the CDC reported that 33.8% of American adults were obese. For the period of 2015-2016, that number grew to 39.8%. Food insecurity has grown a small amount as well; today 12.3% of American households are food insecure, compared to 10.9% in 2006. Some of us may have easier access to things like farmers markets, and yet, independent farmers are struggling; in the U.S. the suicide rate is double that of veterans. Systemic racism and economic inequities continue to plague the food system.

In researching this piece, I came across an interview with Marion on Civil Eats, taking a look back at her three decades of work and what has changed and what hasn’t. It’s a reminder that even when it comes to our conversation about food, the basics are still the same.

I went into nutrition in 1976. And everybody was saying, I remember quite vividly, “We want you to teach this nutrition class because there’s so much public interest in it.”

Three books had just come out. Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet, which is still in print, was cataclysmic in its impact. I mean, think about what she talked about in 1975: Eat less meat, and it’ll be good for health and the environment. You know, we’re still right there. 

So what’s keeping this from truly moving forward? The combination of a food and agribusiness industry that’s about high profits and high margins that don’t consider things like human and environmental health, and the political policies that are at the base of that system. Real change requires industry, infrastructural and political change.

That feels overwhelming. But what we as citizens do have control of on a daily basis is what we put into our bodies, and I keep coming back to Marion’s quote from What to Eat. Not everyone has the luxury of making choices about food, but for those of us who do, they are a way to take daily action. What we eat matters, to both ourselves and our communities.

Marion continues to be a resource yet she always provides a fresh voice. She updates her Food Politics blog regularly, and as someone who cares strongly about food and the food system, for me, she is a constant source of inspiration and wisdom.

She kindly answered a few Women’s Wisdom Project Q&A questions.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Marion: Wisdom to me means knowing enough about people and history to make thoughtful decisions about daily life.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

A dean in my high school assured me that I would have a much better time as an adult.

We have been eating food for all of human history, and yet today, it seems like these days we need specialists to inform us what we should and shouldn’t eat. Do you think that we have lost our common sense in regards to what we eat? If so, why?

The food industry spends fortunes to convince us that our common sense is wrong.  It’s hard to resist that kind of propaganda.

When it comes to food and food production, as we have modernized, what wisdom do you think that we have lost?

If we are to eat well in the future, we must grow food sustainably, replenish soil, preserve water quality, and do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What do you see as the future of food?

No matter how many of us there are, we will still need to eat.  We must plan for that.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Courage!

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

June 27, 2018 at 07:05

Isabella L. Bird

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“Everything suggests a beyond.”

– Isabella L. Bird

Born in England in 1831, Isabella L. Bird was outspoken from a young age. For health reasons, in 1854 a doctor suggested a sea voyage. This would lead to a life of travel, her adventures taking her to the U.S. (where she spent time in Colorado, riding horseback across the Rockies), Australia, India, Kurdistan, Turkey, Morocco and many more.

Bird wrote about her adventures in several books, likeA Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, and was a respected photographer and naturalist, exploring and documenting the world around her. In 1892, she became the first woman fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Imagine being a female adventurer in her day – a time when women were expected to stay home, to stick to their routines. She upended all of those expectations, fueled by an interest in adventure and a desire to tackle new challenges. In Colorado, she became the first woman to climb Long’s Peak, nowadays one of the state’s most popular “fourteeners.”

It’s so easy to only focus on the minutiae of the world around us; our to do lists, our daily lives, our routines. But Isabella’s quote is a reminder that there is always more; a challenge to open our eyes, to look beyond, to think differently. The world is full of potential for discovery, whether it’s far away or in our own backyard. We simply have to open ourselves to it.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a yearlong project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

April 18, 2018 at 10:45

Annie Londonberry

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“I am a journalist and ‘a new woman’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.” – Annie Londonberry

I learned of Annie Londonberry several years ago in Peter Zheutlin’s book Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonberry’s Extraordinary Ride.

Born in 1870 in Latvia, Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky was the first woman to cycle around the world. Despite never having ridden a bicycle before, in 1894 she set off on an adventurous journey, promising to circle the globe in 15 months (with the help of a few trains and boats too).

She pedaled off with a change of clothes and a revolver, and in exchange for $100, promised to place a placard for the Londonberry Lithia Water Company on her bicycle. Today, sponsorship might be the norm for many grand adventures, but at the time, it certainly challenged the era’s gender norms.

The 1890s were a time when the bicycle was intricately linked to feminism, and as Annie set out she became a symbol of the movement. Annie was a savvy storyteller and promoter, telling tales wherever she went, some true and some not-so-true. Eventually, she completed her journey, calling it “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.”

After her return, she wrote a column for New York World, with the byline “The New Woman.”

What was a “new woman” in the late 1800s might be seen as a modern woman today, and yet, we still struggle with some of the obstacles Annie faced over 100 years ago. Annie left three children behind to take off on her journey; today female athletes and adventurers are often questioned about their mothering skills, and can experience severe gender bias. Women suffer from a pay gap, both in sponsorship and professional sports salaries. In some countries it’s still considered improper for a woman to ride a bicycle.

Annie is reminder that society doesn’t get to dictate who we are or what we do. We can set our own goals and our own definitions of success. We can be who we want to be.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a yearlong project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

 

Written by Anna Brones

April 17, 2018 at 12:11