The title of this blog comes from a poem called “Work, Sometimes,” by Mary Oliver. She writes, “What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map, or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work ongoing.”

Most of the time, I love my life. I have dropped out. I stepped off the ladder of success, untied myself from networks of meaning, freed myself of hierarchy, status, income, and achievement. I have no deadlines, no quotas, no measures of worth. I decide what is good work and I either make it ongoing or I flounder and blame myself.  What is the good work? Sometimes it’s lying in the grass on a summer day, breathing in stillness and breathing out amazement. Sometimes it’s walking in the forest in a rainstorm. Sometimes I drive two hours to the Pacific Ocean and do the work of watching waves and mist and blown spray. Sometimes my good work is service or activism, going to meetings and being useful. Sometimes it’s photography. Sometimes it’s writing a poem or a story, connecting with my kids or my friends by email, or writing a status update on Facebook. Sometimes the work is being present with the great sadness: the suffering. Often the work is listening to the person who sits on the park bench or the streetcar next to me and has some grief or triumph to tell. I think we are all flotsam and jetsam and our main work is to touch each other, to pay attention, to be in THIS moment. Now. With whoever shows up.

I will say a little about who I used to be and what I used to do. I worked my way through university, going part-time, going at night, going in the summers, dropping out and going back for over twenty years. Finally, with borrowed money and perseverance, I earned a PhD in theatre history, specializing in the Queen Anne era. I taught at Smith College and was Chair of the Drama Department there till I went to Africa as a Fulbright Scholar. I was a full professor, a department head, a dean. I taught drama, Queer Studies, and literature. I ran creative writing and drama workshops for prisoners. I once had two bookshelves full of books I had written, edited, or contributed to and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of videos of performances. I let it all go.  I gave my furniture to an organization that helps victims of sexual trafficking, I gave my kids what they wanted of my stuff, I listed all my “read” books on Goodreads before I gave them away, I put my pictures on Flickr and threw away the prints, and with only what would fit in my car, I moved to Portland, Oregon–where I knew no one and had no identity or connections.

I chose Portland for the weather (I love clouds and rain), for the library, the rain forest, some proximity to the ocean, great public transport, a progressive vibe, arts and green and gay communities, and most of all for subsidized housing. As a result of a series of life-wrecking choices, I ended up with very little money, so that needs to be said: apart from a subsistence income called Social Security, I have no money. I had a little saved, but that is almost gone now. I have astonishing privileges, if I survey the planet as a whole. I have a car, a Mac laptop, two cameras, a TV and DVD player. I turned 65 in 2010, so now I have Medicare. And best of all, I have an apartment in subsidized housing with electricity, water, and off-street parking in a beautiful neighborhood in Portland. I get by, I have all I need, and I no longer work for a living. That frees me for the good work.

According to those who have known me best, I am ornery, rebellious, bone-headed and willful, but I have a sense of humor, a good mind, and a warm spirit. According to me, I’ve made terrible mistakes, I’ve caused harm, I’ve let people down, and for that I feel deep remorse. But I’m not a total fuck-up. I’ve done a few things right. I have a passionate nature and I’ve often fallen in love, but I’ve never sustained a love relationship.

I gave birth to two sons and adopted two daughters and reared them all as a single mom with a series of partners I didn’t stay with. I was not a good-enough mom; they deserved better. I was preoccupied with making a living, making art, making love, changing the world, and creating adventures. But I love those four people fiercely and continue to stay out of their way, to be present when they want me, and to cheer for them. Each is entirely himself or herself, each is independent and proud of it, and I admire them. All have carved out a way of life that suits them, gives them pleasure, and pays the bills. I find that triumphant.

I want this blog to be part of the good work, ongoing: a place for writing, pictures, stories, and chronicles. If it attracts a few people who comment and add value, hooray. If it amuses a few people, or touches a few people, that’s good enough. I’m not into stats, hits, or competition. I’ve had enough of that. This is just for good work, ongoing.

14 Responses to About

  1. Michael Baugh says:

    Your blog comes to me via a good friend and former pastor…Jett Brooks. You may or may not know her, that’s unimportant. She is a friend, whom I love and trust completely. She knows me, at least as much as I ever allow anybody to know me. What you write resonates with me for some reason, as does your picture. I like the ‘life-lines’ around your eyes.
    I too have “dropped out”, though from necessity, not choice. I won’t claim to be that enlightened. Life turned upside down in 2002, divorced in 2004, diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure in 2004, living alone now for 7 years. The dad of 4 beautiful daughters, who mean the world to me. Only one is mine by blood, though I have adopted them all. Unlike you though, I basically see myself as a ‘total fuck-up’. I don’t even really know why I am e-mailing you, except that I am learning to listen more to the voices inside me. At least the sane ones. I’m going to continue to read my way around this site.
    By the way…I was born in Portland and raised in Beaverton. I’m 56, and currently live in Tacoma, WA. I have been a lot of other places, but love the NW, basically for the same reasons you do. I’m not really expecting anything back from you, but as I said, I will continue to read my way around this site. Thank you.


    I do know Jett. I’m honored that she led you here, and I’m moved by what you say. Sometimes life kicks us in the head, and the wonder is that we survive at all. You don’t sound a bit like a fuck-up to me. It takes enormous energy to get out of bed when you’re dealing with so many losses. Thanks for poking your head in here. I admire your nerve in telling it as you see it.

    • Michael Baugh says:

      Wow. Not only a reply, but a reply quickly too. I applaud you. I’m glad you know Jett. She was Interim Pastor at our church from about 2005 to about 2008. I was a member of the search committee that chose her. It’s really funny how God works. She was my third choice out of three! I still kid her about that. But she was exactly what we needed. And I like to think exactly what I needed too. She has some real insight about me, and about the dark places my mind goes.
      It’s funny what you said about getting out of bed. Lately, there are days when I don’t get up till like 3 or 4 pm. Then I’m angry at myself because the day is over half gone. But then I ask “why?”. And I have no answer.
      Thank you for answering my post. I guess I would classify myself as a ‘outgoing extrovert’, but then again half the population could say that. I will continue to read from this blog. I’m interested to see where your words will lead my brain.


      Why get up? Or why be mad at yourself? I’m also interested to see where your brain will go. The great thing about a blog is that it collects perceptions we don’t expect from people we don’t know.

  2. Linda Anthony says:

    I got a lot out of reading this blog, including the response from Michael B.
    Both of you are ten plus older than I and It’s good for me to see where you all landed on your life path. I feel I havent accomplished enough for myself and Im passed middle age. I STILL have an ambition to get a Masters in Fine Arts and thats ALMOST starting at ground zero. Do I pretend that I am young and still have alot of years ahead of me and have every chance of accomplishing this goal for myself? Pretend there is no age discrimination so swimming up stream is easier? Where does one set their mind to keep going? I would like to be an accomplished Artist but what am I saying here? Accomplished by the amount of sales of art or accomplished by seeing that I am very well rounded in all the art mediums? I feel I have done things backwards, I was sucessful more in my younger years than I am now. Unlike Kendall Im not happy yet to look back and see all that I have accomplished. Im still waiting to look back and marvel at it all so I can let go of those books, let go of the photos, let go of the sentimental objects I keep saving thinking that I will pass them down to the family in hopes they will have the same value to them. I REALLY enjoy your blog. It makes me think. I may have sounded self-centered but Im really not. I would love to unburden myself with my posessions to help others. “Letting go” is something I have yet to learn.
    I would like to “Drop out” but I can’t. EVERYONE would say you are too young. work work work. My dream was to sell my art and social security when Im old enough.At my age that pole dangling that carrot at the end of the string keeps getting longer as the government keeps “raising the bar” on the age of retirement. Im done with working for corporations and making THEM money, thats not why Im there. Thank you for being here. Im was born and educated in the Pacific Northwest Oregon.
    I once caught a quote that was short but powerful to me and I will paste it here.
    Don’t cry because it’s over…..smile because it happened

    I hope you will plunge on with that MFA–precisely because of what Mary Oliver says, the name I chose for this blog: happiness is the good work ongoing. The purpose of the MFA is the work you do while you’re pursuing it. You may never get work related to your interests, but if you are happy making new work of your own while you’re in school, that’s an end in itself. Three years of being involved in your work, learning, growing, exploring: is three years of good life. You never know–you could die at the end of those three years, and you’d die happy. I did years and year of shit-work: secretarial work, house painting, dumb office work of one kind or another. But it was redeemed by what I did after work–the writing, the performing, the things I never made money doing. They were the real work. They still are. Nice quote.

  3. Donna says:

    I am searching around the internet about Lesotho because we are likely sending a group of boy scouts there for a yet-to-be determined service project in July/August this year….

    Your stories and photos bring tears to my eyes…

    Any thoughts you may have about sending (6)15 year old boys to Lesotho ? What good can they do?

    • Kendall says:

      This blog is here for just such a purpose. I’m so glad you found it. YES. The boys can do some good, and they can learn and be changed. July/August is mid-winter, so it will be cold. Snow is possible. I will write more to your email address.

  4. Bittersweet says:

    So I have found my way here. I have also learnt something about you. I have learnt that you have absolutely no fear and that you are a person of an enourmous heart,who wants to change the world, who thinks deeply. so deeply. I am astonished. I my life I skim surfaces because of fear. i am afraid of so much. You cannot imagine. I wish i was brave. maybe one day. meanwhile i will take some photos. but I cannot promise i will do that forever. the fear gets in the way of everything.

    • Kendall says:

      Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s going on, despite the fear. I have plenty of fears, and I don’t always go on. It seems to me that you are very courageous every day of your life, very brave just to get out of bed and do what you do. We don’t all start from the same place. I admire your photographs, as you know; and I admire your bravery in dealing every day with fears that (yes) I cannot imagine.

      • Bittersweet says:

        Oh dear kendall, but I am just stupid woman. I will try to get better- i am working on it. Blip people are inspiring. 🙂

  5. Bob says:

    Dear Kendall, I would like to republish your article “Women in Lesotho and the (Western) Construction of Homophobia” and I need your permission to do so. Hope to hear from you.

  6. Taylor Riley says:

    Dear Dr. Kendall,

    I’m a PhD student from the U.S., studying in the UK, and I am researching cultural knowledge about sexuality in South Africa and (hopefully) Lesotho. Your work is really the only of its kind that I have found in the last two years and I would love to have a conversation with you about lesbian life in Lesotho, so I can determine whether or not my fieldwork would be feasible there in 2015. If we could have a conversation via e-mail sometime, or even phone/Skype that would be absolutely fantastic. Let me know when you get the chance. Thanks so much.


  7. Leila says:

    Hi there,

    My name is Leila Hall – I am a 27-year old who was born in Lesotho, where I have spent the majority of my life. A few months ago, I picked up Singing Away the Hunger and raced through it in a way that I haven’t done for a long time with a book. I couldn’t put it down. I studied literature, and love books, reading and writing, but have always found it difficult to combine this love with the country in which I live, given that books and reading are not part of the everyday life of so many people, and I am always filled with questions and doubts about who it is who should be telling stories – that is, if an outsider can ever do somebody else’s story justice. I found that there was something so refreshing and so important about the fact that M’e Mpho Nthunya’s stories were written and published – it is a voice that is so rarely heard, and hers are stories that need to be heard. I would love to be in touch more and to share ideas. There are a lot of very positive things happening these days in Lesotho in terms of young people, culture and human rights. A local LGBTI organisation successfully held the country’s second annual gay pride parade this year (I wrote about the first one, last year, here – http://www.osisa.org/lgbti/blog/small-march-big-step-lgbti-lesotho). In September, there is a literature festival happening. Should you be planning another trip to Lesotho in the future it would be great to collaborate on any work or projects. My email address is leila.lesotho@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you. Cheers!

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