For the month of December, I’ll be shining light each day on some extraordinary women I know. They represent various fields and backgrounds, and I admire each for their passion and strength. These are bold, beautiful, brave women — artists, businesswomen, union organizers, nurses, writers, teachers, movie makers, designers, reporters, and all-around badasses.
Elana Pirtle-Guiney grew up in a small town in the Santa Cruz mountains and now lives in Oregon, where she serves as Legislative Director to Oregon Governor Kate Brown. She spent eight and a half years fighting for a more just economy on behalf of working people at the state AFL-CIO, and previously served on the board of the Portland City Club bridging civic discourse, nonpartisan research, and fierce advocacy. She spends her free time trying to convince her wife and kid to move out of the city and get a hobby farm, can’t make a cocktail to save her life, but won second place at the Oregon State Fair for her brownies.
1. What did you want to be “when you grew up?” As a kid I was very clearly either headed into field sciences, or policy work, or psychology, or the rabbinate, or something to do with math, or…if you see a clear direction developing here let me know. In high school I decided that what I needed was a job where I could help people, make a decent living, and “wear cute business suits.” I waved a tearful goodbye to the sciences and every few years I still look back and wonder why the heck I thought the clothes I wore mattered.
2. What makes you the most proud of yourself? I think the little daily points of pride matter so much more than the big accomplishments. I love seeing my ideas reflected in other people’s work. It makes my day to have someone repeat back to me an idea I shared months before, adding to it and now calling it their own. I imagine it’s like what a gardener feels when their overwinter crops start to sprout – not the seeds planted in a greenhouse in February, but the ones placed in the ground in September and almost forgotten by the time they start to sprout in May. Seeing other people dig in on my planted ideas brings a joy like no other. But since you asked…I’m immensely proud of helping to tier and raise Oregon’s minimum wage, and piloting the inclusion of broader job standards in economic development programs.
3. What darkness have you overcome? How did you find strength? I’ve faced my share of challenges and set backs, but have been lucky enough to have had very few dark moments. I’d like to make a PSA about something that didn’t get too dark for me, but easily could have, and does for far too many people, though. About a year ago I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks. 10-20% of people who have had a medical provider confirm they are pregnant (usually around 4-6 weeks) ultimately miscarry. Data on depression after a miscarriage ranges from 10% to almost 60% of women, depending on how severe symptoms have to be to get recorded in a study. But we don’t talk about it. The thing that helped this not become a dark moment for me was talking about it. At first I couldn’t. I asked my wife to tell people. But once that barrier was crossed, once people knew, I felt like a weight lifted and talking kept making it lighter. There are some things in life you never get over, and at surprising moments the pain will always be there. We too often resign ourselves to learning how to cope. But I find that there is a strength in recognizing our ability to heal – not to get over it, but to do more than just cope; to get over the burden of the event and find a place where we can embrace the new versions of ourselves with one more scar, one more life experience. The stigma of dark moments keeps us all coping and barely getting by, side by side, when all we really need to do is embrace ourselves and each other for what we’ve learned from the pain.
4. Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.? Saturdays at 10am have changed a lot for me in the last few years. These days my favorite Saturdays are spent walking to a coffee shop with my kid for breakfast. We Airbnb a basement apartment in our house, so we try to keep our kid quiet on weekend mornings. If you’ve ever tried to keep a four-year-old quiet for an extended period of time you’ll understand how laughable this is. There’s a coffee shop down the street from us, though, that reminds me of Santa Cruz 20 years ago – random live music at unpredictable times, an eclectic menu that includes the latest health trends and every non-dairy milk on the market, and staff who are somewhat annoyed that you actually want food and not just a tea but are also immensely patient with the four-year-old. He insists we get “the news” on the way, read our paper while we eat, and take the bus home.
5. What makes you smile the most? Holiday meals. All my favorite holidays involve lots of food, a little tradition, and more people than fit comfortably in my dining room (truly, ask the 13 other people I crowded in for Friendsgiving this year). Any excuse to cook too much food and then bring people around a table to laugh, drink, and eat together makes me smile. All the better when those people wouldn’t normally cross paths, but spend the evening enjoying each other’s company nonetheless.
Bonus: What advice would you give your younger self? Bring your people with you. It turns out that 16 (and 18, and 25) year old me was so focused on my own personal goals that I didn’t focus enough on the amazing people around me. I was, quite bluntly, an awful friend. I have some amazing people who had the patience to stick with me, but it’s way harder to rebuild friendships than to nurture them the first time around.
Today’s #OneGoodThing is sharing this extraordinary woman and my friend, Elana Pirtle-Guiney, with all of you! We are stronger together, so let’s shine a light on our extraordinary sisters! If you’d like to participate or nominate a woman to participate, please send me a note or leave a comment! What was your #OneGoodThing today? Please share in the comments! Kindness is Everything.
1 year ago today: Lighting Chanukah candles with friends
2 years ago today: Adorable little note, MUSH and more
3 years ago today: Nervous, but a new face mask