In a cozy room on the sixth floor of a Capital Hill hotel in Seattle, I’m seated at the window watching snow and traffic and bundled pedestrians.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be speaking at the Search For Meaning conference at Seattle University. But now I’m focused on what’s outside my window. I’m letting my mind play with trivial questions that pop up. Too often I hush this annoying-little-kid part of my mind, or run roughshod over it, believing I don’t have time to play. Today I have time – no computer, no smart phone, no schedule. My presentation is prepared and rehearsed. I have the leisure to be diverted and to play with my kid-self and her questions.


street people photo

A block away there is a building under construction. So far it is eleven stories high, not counting the giant crane on top. On the ninth floor a man is working in one of the windowless openings in the wall. He is affixing wide strips of orange material around the opening’s edges. What is that material? How does it stick? What’s it for? Is it a sealant of some sort, for when the windows are put in later? And, more importantly, how is that man suspended there, nine stories above the street? After several minutes of studying this question with my kid-self (how IS he defying gravity?), I realize he’s standing on a tiny platform that juts out of the window space from the inside. Isn’t he afraid? I don’t know. I would be!


On the south side of the building two large bright-orange boxes made of metal grating slide up and down a narrow erector-set trunk. These are exterior elevators, each with their own operators, taking workers and supplies to and from whichever floor they’re working. I can see the safety gates slide – one half up and one half down – opening each orange box to disgorge or admit their cargo. How many people can fit into each car? Are all the workers men, or are there some female welders and ironworkers? How cold is it up there? Why do the elevator doors move vertically instead of opening horizontally? Do the operators get bored? Do they ever give in to the temptation to race each other to the top?


I love watching people work. In this playful mood it feels like spying. I love knowing they don’t know I see them, don’t know I’m watching and wondering what they’re doing, and why, and how each movement contributes to their task. There is a crane operator in a glassed-in cab at the apex of the crane’s 60-foot upright support – what’s the name of that part? – and the how-many-feet-long? working arm of the crane. For as long as I’ve been watching the crane its operator has apparently been sitting there, idle, waiting for the next task to do. Does he read a book in his cab? Does he do sudoku puzzles? Text his girlfriend? Then suddenly there is a little crane excitement: the horizontal arm spins fairly quickly around the supporting tower, then comes to rest exactly where it was before. What was that about? My favorite guess on this playful day is that the operator got bored and took his gigantic crane for a whirl. Or maybe he wanted to see the other 180 degree view of the city for a minute.


I make myself a cup of coffee, and then return to the window. On the street below, construction workers, now finished for the day, jaywalk across four lanes of traffic, their florescent yellow or safety orange vests and jackets and hard hats and coolers stopping cars that were on their way to somewhere. I hope now to see the crane operator make the perilous climb down from his perch – I’ve stared and stared, waiting.


But my attention is diverted by a woman in gray baggy pants and shapeless coat, her ankles bare above run-down moccasins in this freezing weather. Isn’t she cold? Why is she limping? Where is she going? What’s in those heavy bags? Does she have any friends? Is she sad? Briefly the slow-moving gray bag lady is surrounded by bright OSHA-approved colors, swallowed up in a surf of building-makers; then she is alone again like a cold gray stone deposited on the concrete by the headed-home tide.


I must have missed the craneman’s descent, because all is quiet now at the building-under-construction. That’s okay. What I really needed to watch was that woman, and her work of limping up the steep street. She needed my attention just now; she needed my prayer that she find warmth for her restless sleep tonight.


Tomorrow morning I’ll encourage an audience to notice – and maybe to bless – the many, many people deposited on the concrete of our society who are doing their work of surviving on the margins.


Sometime in 2012, a few women who have since dubbed themselves Seriously Fun Productions, headed by Diana Lindsay, realized they wanted to learn more about the local women they met in coffee shops, at workshops, at the gym, or choosing vegetables at the local farmers’ market. And how about the artists, the farmers, the full-time professionals, and the stay-at-home moms whose paths they hadn’t yet crossed? They knew there were fascinating stories everywhere. They decided to create an invitational version of TED Talks, focused exclusively on the stories of women who live on Whidbey Island.

Since then WOW – Women of Whidbey – has become an annual two-day celebration of the amazing diversity and sheer magnitude of great women who live on this oddly-shaped island of ours. The tickets are always sold out within a few weeks. I had never ordered one in time, and so had never gone to a WOW festival. Then last year, a wise friend bought a bunch of tickets the day they went on sale (maybe THAT’S how they get sold out so quickly!), and she offered me one of her Saturday tickets. (Thank you, Janice.)

So it was, that on March 12, 2016, I heard and saw my very first WOW stories. I was enchanted beyond anything I could have imagined. And, even more amazing for a confirmed introvert like me, I knew that I wanted to present my story too.

Here’s a secret that almost no one else knows (until now): that very night, on the drive home from the theater I began visualizing what my performance might look like. But a WOW!Story performance is limited to ten minutes. How could I summarize my twenty-five years of service in settings from slum streets to psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes to hospices to court rooms? In just ten minutes? But when I got home I grabbed my laptop computer, sat down with a cup of tea, and wrote out a script. It timed out at about eleven minutes! Then I put the script away, and waited.

In October of 2016, I was called by one of the “WOW Mammas,” asking if I would “consider” telling some part of my story, as a WOW presenter at the sixth annual WOW!Stories conference in 2017. Of course I knew my answer. But I held back for a dignified amount of time – at least a nanosecond or two – before I said Yes!

Then there was the conundrum of how to create the mannequin I’d need. It had to be life-size, life-like, androgynous, believable as I demonstrated a “street massage” from my years working in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It also had to have sufficient “muscle” that I could move my hands in natural ways through the sequence of massage. And it had to be light-weight enough that I could carry it easily. A tall order.  Two dear friends, Anna and Pip, worked long and hard to create “Jo,” the perfect partner for my performance.

My performance on March 11, 2017, on the main stage of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, was a high point of my life. I will never forget what it felt like to share my story, to connect with 250 people in the audience, to feel their collective attention; to know, as I left the stage, that Jo and I had managed to bring stories of the People of the Margins into the lives and hearts of everyone who watched.

A week later I was asked to repeat the performance in April, at the Healing Circles Center in Langley, WA. I arranged to have it videotaped in that more intimate setting (40 people rather than 250) , and the performance this time was followed by forty-five minutes of Q&A with the audience, which I loved.

So now I invite you to be a part of the audience at that April performance. Return to the Welcome page of this website, and scroll down just a tad, to see the video of the eleven-minute performance. And then, if you wish, send me with any questions or comments by using the “post a reply” space below this blog post, or by emailing me at  Jo and I look forward to hearing from you!