Written by Jessie Panazzolo
Joy and mastery are the words leading me through the year, wafting in front of me like a dandelion in the wind. I want to follow the spores curiously as they drift on currents, like a child in deep exploration. It is the childlike wonder I want to restore, the development of new skills and the practising of honed ones. I want to look in the mirror and not see a career, a job, or a uniform, but instead see myself. I want to see the way that I sparkle around the joys in my life, hear my own laugh and appreciate frivolity for what it is. I want to try new things and believe in myself as I stretch out my mind to new places.
I sat in front of a Lego set last week and I tried to build the model without instructions just to see if I could, and it turns out that I could make something more magical without the confines of regulation. But why don’t I see the rest of myself like that? The beautiful additions were never meant to be but improved the look and function of the cart I was building. My husband complimented me on the glowing lights that I adorned the cart with that weren’t in the brief but added both pizazz and functionality. Sometimes, I too don’t meet the brief, but some people want to be kept in the dark instead of encouraging me to glow.
I signed up for a woodworking class because the housing market wasn’t meant for me or my income or my industry. I may never have a workshop in my yard, but I can control my ability to gain new skills and meet new people. Occam’s Razor taught me that the simplest answers are usually the right ones and that maybe life is just as simple as doing the things that you want to do in the way that you can. I don’t have to wait for the course to start, I thought, as I purchased my first power tool and sat in my bedroom crafting a headboard from scratch. The perfect conditions may never come, and I am not the most perfectly skilled version of myself, but they never will be and I will never be, so why not now.
Somebody once told me that you have to go through life making shitty pots. A ceramicist will never make their best pot on their first try so they may as well get going with all the worse pots to get them out of the way. Each bad pot is a stepping stone to your very best pot and the small improvements to each one are important moments to celebrate. I am no longer looking to create or be my best pot because I see so much joy in the small changes that get made along the way, and in a way, every new pot is my best pot.
Last week a friend told me I was quiet which shook my identity to the core. Always considering myself to be loud, extroverted and verbose, I often approach social situations looking to make myself quieter, take up less space, and give voices to others. I sat with the notion that possibly I have spent my life shrinking myself and hiding away. Blinded by my love for public speaking, comfort with failure, and strong unmovable values, I realised that my loudness was in the strength of my words, not the volume at which I speak. Heated discussions, inappropriate jokes, standing up in front of audiences, and the way I advocate for those around me is my loud, and in other moments, I can sit back, observe and sit in the quiet. But so what if I am loud, extroverted or verbose? I have intrinsic value and permission to take up space, I am no lesser in my extroversion and no greater in my silence.
But Jessie, I hear you say, this is Lonely Conservationists and you have not spoken once about your life in this industry. Oh, but you are mistaken. For all the ways that I play and learn and grow and discover, the ways that I grapple with my identity, and the ways that I stand strong in my values- I am still the same me as conservationist me. This year I am shedding my unidimensional skin and revealing the multifaceted conservationist beneath. The conservationist who learns new skills to make an endless shelf containing a multitude of shitty pots. The conservationist who plays and explores and discovers to find the sparkles hidden in every day. The conservationist who can take up space without shame, because the world has a lot of space taken up by so many awful things, football fields worth of logged forests, birds filled with plastic, and backward and damaging individuals in power. The world may as well have more space taken up by those who have football fields worth of empathy and compassion, bellies filled with joy, and new-age leaders who empower and uplift those around them.
This year, being a conservationist isn’t about what is lacking. It is not about the lack of time, resources, money or rest. It is not about a lack of habitat or species or natural resources. It is about recognising the abundance. The abundance of people, skills, perspectives and ideas in the conservation community. The abundance of opportunities and resources we could glean if we worked together. The abundance of support and comradery that we echo across the planet. This year, we are more than just our jobs, we are whole, creative, intelligent people who are capable of great things. Once we realise that the big things are actually the small things, achieving greatness doesn’t feel so daunting after all.