Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end.

It is the last day of 2013. I’m reflecting. Aren’t we all?
What’s a word to describe the year?

Mine: {UN}expectations
That’s probably not a word.

But it fits.
I was not expecting to visit Africa twice on reporting assignments and Haiti once.

I wasn’t expecting to lose one of my closest friends, and I wasn’t expecting to spend much of 2013 grieving.
I wasn’t expecting to quit my career-smart job the day before I went to Kenya, and I wasn’t expecting to come home from Kenya and have to move in with a friend for three weeks because skunks had taken over my Cottage.

I wasn’t expecting to move in with my mom.
There was the wall of depression I was not expecting, and my psychologist.

I was not expecting to never want children, and I wasn’t expecting to rediscover on another continent my love of family.
I wasn’t expecting to be a lecturer at a state university, and I wasn’t expecting the phone call: “do you want a full time job with us?”

I wasn’t expecting to come home from Ethiopia and have to find a new place to live. I wasn’t expecting the perfect travel trailer to come available for us.
I wasn’t expecting to be a janitor for four months.

I wasn’t ready for the news, “It’s a brain tumor,” and then six months later, “It’s not growing … radiation is working.”
There were powerful conversations in 2013; two trips to Kentucky, one to Boston/Cape Cod, one to Washington D.C., a couple to Dallas, Houston. There were gifts of chickens (real ones), and moving parties. Tuck was trained in personal protection. Skye raised a litter of puppies. VoiceBox Media celebrated its first birthday; I created a website for my projects. I’m writing my book. I hiked more than 100 miles and lost weight.

The year was chock full of friends, laughter, tears, growth, new beginnings, a few endings, triumph, blow-your-mind crazy blessings, and a sense of wonderment over this ridiculous humbling journey of Life.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Today I am on my way to Ethiopia!!

If you want to keep up with my journey, like VoiceBox Media on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@thvoiceboxmedia).

Can't wait to get back and tell you the stories of the people I encounter there!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Day You Find Out I’m a Janitor

That’s today. Or, whatever day it is you’re reading this.

I’ve been a closeted towel-bowl scrubber and floor-vacuumer for the past while after responding to an ad on Craigslist, and training for 15 minutes. When I met the cleaning company woman for my “interview,” she asked where else I worked. I said, “At the paper,” which, you know, is a big one.

“Do you throw papers there?” she asked next. The twice-college graduate inside me winced, but I smiled and replied, “No. I do other…stuff.”

Wiping down countertops and emptying a lot of trash cans have become part of my routine five days a week. It might be unusual, different, and undesirable for some.

But it’s now part of my crazy journey. It a thread in the fabric of my story that, years from now, I’ll reflect on and chuckle about – not out of shame, but out of humor and maybe a little bit of admiration for the self that I was who hustled to make a student loan payment, or to help pay my way to a foreign country, or to be able to afford a car.  

And maybe I’ll always keep a cleaning job on the side. I thought that the other night at 1:30 while I was sweeping around a toilet. I rather like melting into the rhythmic monotony of emptying trash, dusting, wiping down mirrors, sweeping, vacuuming…

I was cleaning the other night and one of the employees came rushing through the building. She scared me shitless because I’ve NEVER seen anyone and it’s my worst fear to look up and suddenly see someone watching me. I said to her, laughing, “Oh my gosh, you scared me!” She said nothing.

When she was done getting whatever it was she came for in the break-room, she breezed by. I told her (again) that she scared me because she didn’t give me a warning call-out. She said, “Have fun” and kept walking. I told her to have a good night. I got nothing in response.

There was part of me for a moment that rose up in indignation. You should tell her who you are! Tell her you are educated. Do not let yourself be treated that way.

And then I chuckled and kept emptying my trash cans.

Be nice to your janitors. We’re everywhere.

{And if you’re reading this and you know I’m a janitor then maybe today’s the day you find out I’m an international journalist running a media nonprofit, I’m a journalist at the 54th largest newspaper in the US, and I teach at a university. Maybe you think to yourself, “I should have said hello.”}

Sunday, September 29, 2013

the year of the grasshopper

For the second time this year, I received my expedited passport in the mail.

And it's just in time, because for the second time this year, VoiceBox Media is going to Africa.

This trip to Ethiopia with Doma International has been on the horizon since early this year and now here we are: five-and-a-half-weeks from departure.

5.5 weeks until I leave Austin and embark on a journey of many airplane rides, a very long road trip, and a 6-mile hike with mules bearing luggage.

5.5 weeks until I'm embedded with a team of 12 medical professionals from all over the country while they set up medical clinics in rural mountain villages in and around Bora where an estimated 10,000 people live six miles from the nearest doctor.

5.5 weeks until I hear their stories, and the stories of the people they're serving.

5.5 weeks until I, with your help, have the opportunity to hand them a microphone: SPEAK. And bring their message back to you.

This trip, much like VoiceBox Media's last 10 months of existence, could not happen without you, and we still need support to make our storytelling mission in Ethiopia possible. Together we have raised $1,480 to cover the expenses of airfare to Addis Ababa - Ethiopia's capital city, and now we must join forces to raise $1,500 to supply my interpreter, food, lodging, a mule to carry my frugal luggage, and in-country transportation, including 14-16 hours in a van.   

Our journey with VoiceBox Media has been a series of leaps of faith and trusting; more trusting followed by another leap; provision at the precise moments we've needed it preceded by many prayers.

I don't prefer it this way.
I'd like to have everything today, because in truth, the leaps are scary. Trusting is uncomfortable because it means I am not in control and it means there is the possibility of failure.

It also means abandonment; it means leaning in to something greater than myself, and it means opportunities to create transformational partnerships with people like you.

It is a journey of faith, of grace-for-the-moment, of peaceful deliberation, and of holding on to purpose in the face of the unknown, even when I'd rather all the unknowns be known.


In the words of Amber Kaufman, Doma International medical coordinator and project director, "“It’s astounding how many people can be impacted by one reporter going to Ethiopia.”   

To support VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, you can:

1) Send a tax-deductible donation in the form of a check made payable to Doma International, and send to Doma International, P.O. Box 21987, Columbus, OH 43221 with my name (Holly Wise) in the memo line. 

2) Make a donation via Paypal through VoiceBox Media's website, or contact me for a physical address.

3) Purchase a handmade lap-sized quilt (cotton or flannel) for $75. All proceeds benefit VoiceBox Media's trip to Ethiopia, and all quilts are handmade by me.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it's the only thing that ever has." — Margaret Mead

Monday, September 23, 2013

hair and head transformation

To read about my hair to shaved-head transformation, click here.

Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 2, 2013

Sept. 20, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

grateful celebration of turning {30}

In October 2012 I was driving from Kentucky back to Texas and I thought, "I want to return here for my 30th birthday party and I want to celebrate with some of my most favorite people."

Fast forward to September 2013 and that's what happened. 
When I look at the pictures from that weekend and when I think about being surrounded by that much love, I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for acceptance.
...for the friends who drove a lot of miles to get there.
And for the friend who flew across time zones.
I'm grateful for a friend's lake house and their inspiring generosity.
I'm grateful for the photos and the memories we created.
...for morning coffee on the floating dock.
...and for conversations till 2 a.m.
I'm grateful for falling asleep mid-sentence.
I'm grateful for the kids who sang me original birthday songs.
...for their handwritten notes and cards.
I'm grateful for the gifts my friends brought - the kind they knew would mean the most.
I'm grateful for laughing, for crying, for reminiscing and for creating.
I'm grateful for a town that is home, a campus that welcomes me the same as it did 11 years ago, and for streets that are as familiar to me as, well, home.
I'm grateful for the women who cradled me and for my mom who organized that surprise.
I'm grateful for our "love fest" and for the affirming gift-words we gave each other (I WAS SO EXCITED TO DO THIS!!)
I'm grateful for friends who couldn't come, but sent me a party hat.
...and homemade beer.
...and a beautiful letter.
I'm grateful for the football games that played, the football conversations, and the "hook 'em, Horns!" pictures with my 3-year-old friend.
I'm grateful for my mom who did most of the driving, for friends who watched Skye, and for the terrific boarder who cared for Tuck.
I'm grateful for the quilts I gave as gifts and for all the things they symbolized.
I'm grateful for sunsets over the lake, and for a sturdy deck with rocking chairs.
I'm grateful for turning 30.
...to be living this new decade with so much love.
Y'all give me the warm fuzzies.
(and not in a moldy-kind-of-way)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

In the aura of community

“Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.” Iris Murdoch

Inside a little house on Sept. 20 a group of women met.
There was food and cucumber water.
There was a roll-y white chair and a lamp for lighting.
She sat down and shared with us: LOVE WINS.
And she took off her hat.
There was a documentarian and cameras rolling.
A horseshoe-shaped cluster of women enveloped her.
There was music playing: “You Make Beautiful Things.”
And there were voices joining in.
There were stories swirling around, and then the sound of clippers.
There were tears.
And smiles through the tears.
Pieces of hair fell freely to the floor, passing first through the loving fingers of the woman who cut it away.
There was laughter and silence and singing.
There were fist pumps, outstretched arms, cheers.
There were hugs, and head kissing.
There was rain.

This morning I’m rubbing my own near-bald head. I’ve been trying to come up with the words to introduce it to you, my friends.

I wanted to do this three weeks ago, but I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t do it.

My hair was long and I loved it that way. About two months ago, I had it trimmed. “Please take only enough for it to be healthy, but long.” Natalie cut barely four inches.

From the first day we received word of Brooke’s diagnosis, I knew that if she ever lost her hair, I would lose mine too. When that chapter of her journey began, I cut my hair off and donated 11 inches to Locks of Love.

A quiet inspiration spread from friend-to-friend. There was never fanfare, and every woman has her own story of why, how, when. Last night, conversations started based on, “Nicole, tell me your journey of how you came to make this choice,” and her story was powerful and unique. And then Sheree shared her jewel story. And Lynn and Annabelle.

Inspiration upon inspiration has built. When I look at my friends and their bald heads, I see pure, authentic beauty. I see bright eyes filled with peace, and I see confidence. My rough calculations indicate more than 50 inches of hair has been donated to Locks of Love.

I went to that little house last night in joyful anticipation. Lynn wanted to cut hers a little shorter, and so when the house started emptying and most everyone had changed into their comfy clothes, Lynn and I disappeared into the bathroom with Sheree and Natalie.

Sheree shaved my head. It was inspiration come full circle. She says my hair cut three weeks ago gave her confidence, and her willingness to follow her heart gave me confirmation of the nudge I’d been feeling. We laughed a lot and said things like, “You have a good-shaped head,” and “Your head is so soft, I just want to pet it all the time,” and “LOOK AT MY GORILLA-TUFT!”

About six months ago, a group of men and women met in that same little house.
Nicole. Brooke. Me. Lynn’s husband. Sheree’s husband. Nicole’s fiancĂ©.

We were going to Haiti together.
We talked.

I was impacted by their stories of why, how, when.

A lot of life has happened in the six months between then and now. The walls could tell you.
Bad news.
Good news.

But somewhere in all the chaos of life, beautiful things are being made.
The walls could tell you that, too.