Originally published on Medium for "It’s Complicated: Lit Up & The Writing Cooperative Contest"
I’ve been in an “on-again, off-again” relationship for twenty years. Like most of my relationships, it’s one-sided. I give more than I get. It keeps me awake at night. I fill up pages and pages in my journal analyzing every interaction, every detail, every chuckle, and every tear. I should have ended it long ago — the first time it made me sick to my stomach, the first time it left me crying into my pillow at night, or the first time I spent days unable to think about anything other than “what the hell happened there?”
What’s worse is that I know better. I learned in my teens that you cannot change the basic dynamics of a relationship. You buy ‘as is’, no refunds, no exchanges, ‘you break it you bought it’, and in my case they usually break me. The problem is that this relationship, the love of my life, isn’t with a man, it’s with a country, or more specifically a group of countries.
I’m infatuated with a region known for centuries of ethnic tension and genocide, where the borders change with the seasons, and where centuries co-mingle. Yet, I long to drive though the countryside in springtime, taking in the smell of green grass after the rain and counting picture-perfect pastures of sunflowers. I know the same scene will, depending on the country, be dotted by run-down or bombed-out buildings, but when I think of the cherries and tomatoes that await me during the summer, my mouth waters. I dream of a living in a place where organized criminals with a bad fashion sense rule business and politics, but at the same time, you can stop by a neighbor’s house unannounced and get a homemade brandy, a cheap cigarette, a tomato salad, and hours of conversation.
My love affair with the Balkans started with Bulgaria in 1997. Me, a wide-eyed Peace Corps volunteer, and my first Balkan love, a post-communist nation struggling with brain drain, a currency crisis, and an inferiority complex because its war-torn neighbors got more attention. I learned to navigate the ailing public transportation system, to cook with ingredients that had no similarity to what I knew, and to fall in love in another language. I tried to cheat on Bulgaria by checking out Macedonia and Albania, which is when I realized I loved the region, not just one country.
I know how they feel. I’m also a Chicago Election Loser. I have a lot of friends who are Chicago Election Losers. If you read this on Wednesday, February 27, and think “Crap, she means me!” I say, “Welcome to the club.” I may be biased, but I think you are in good company.
I became a Chicago Election Loser on February 25, 2015, when I lost my aldermanic race. Due to some absentee ballot counting and a lawsuit, the race wasn’t called until much later, but since I was in 3rd place, I had the pleasure of losing on election night.
I ran against a Machine candidate (the daughter in a Chicago dynasty) and a teacher’s union-supported candidate. I was the nobody, nobody sent. I am a community organizer, with a degree in public affairs, twenty years’ experience in community development around the world, and I know five of the 45+ languages spoken in the ward. And yes, based on that statement, I obviously thought I was the best person for the job. You have to believe you are the best candidate… or you are a bad candidate.
After my loss, there were the “expected” responses, which the 95 new Chicago Election Losers will be hearing over and over in the next couple weeks.
I have a soft spot for Volunteers with Tom Hanks and John Candy because it's one of the rare movies about the Peace Corps and where Tom Hanks doesn’t portray the “good guy.” Instead, Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne III, a wealthy playboy with a gambling problem who accidentally joins the Peace Corps while escaping his bookie. Candy plays Tom Tuttle, a do-gooder volunteer who also lives in the village where Bourne is assigned. At one point, Bourne explains his lackadaisical attitude towards making a difference in one short line, "It's not that I can't help these people. It's just I don't want to."
I spend many evenings a month with different voluntary organizations in my neighborhood. I enjoy meeting my neighbors and learning about what they care about, but I often wonder why it’s the same dozen or so people. Most of my neighbors want positive change in the community and believe it's important to be part of the democratic process, so why don't they show up? Can a nonprofit somehow figure out who is likely to volunteer and who isn't? What makes someone stop being a Bourne and start being a Tuttle?
You hear the word a lot. Coalition of the Willing. Christian Coalition. Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Coalition Against Gun Violence. Two hundred million hits for the word on Google. Why are there so many? What are the benefits? Disadvantages? How do you decide whether to join?
Coalitions are a group of like-minded people aligning themselves long-term to meet common goals. Nonprofits form coalitions to provide services, to educate, or to advocate. Before jumping into a relationship with another organization, you should think through the implications to ensure you are maximizing the benefits to your stakeholders.
I love figuring out how things work. I read instruction manuals for new gadgets - paying special attention to the "troubleshooting" section so I can anticipate potential problems. I drive my chiropractor nuts asking questions about why he is adjusting "this" joint to help "that" pain. And although I suspect she is exaggerating, my mom swears that my first word was “why?”
Includes professional topics, as well as thoughts about Chicago politics. I also keep a blog on Medium that includes these, as well as more personal posts.