By Daisha Versaw
Zombie Sock Hell
We were three hours into a two hour Zoom meeting when it dawned on me, we were in hell.
For fifteen months, our group had been engaged in a moldy sock of an argument that threatened to resurrect decades-old ideas—ideas already known to be harmful. Yet, there we were, caught in a never-ending tug-of-war, unable to toss that sock in the trash where it belongs, all due to who sits where in the hierarchy, the power of money, being civil, ego, and all the “isms” that stifle some voices and make others feel entitled to be loud.
The day after our meeting, I could not get out of bed. The morning I paused to admit my exhaustion, my friend, Erin, called. It wasn’t a long conversation. She was on the road, and I was home with the covers pulled over my head. She talked as she drove. I cried as I listened.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but her words reminded me of a passage in Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, by the poet David Whyte. Quoting something his friend David Steindl-Rast once said to him, he writes:
“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do here in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while… You must do something heartfelt, and you must do it soon.”
Those words, echoing and building on Erin’s, helped me notice how much energy I was burning on things I didn’t care about—like that zombie sock of an argument that refused to die. I had so little left for what was truly wholehearted. I needed to do something heartfelt and soon.
Around this same time, my friend and former teacher, Cindy Willard, shared a glowing post on LinkedIn about the Just Economy Institute (JEI), which was accepting applications for their 2022-2023 fellowship. Curious, I researched JEI and learned more about how they approach their mission to “educate, support, and connect financial activists who are shifting the flow of capital and power to solve social and environmental problems.”
I don’t think of myself as a financial activist, but I do believe our economy and broader world need a drastic shift to make it possible for us to better care for each other and our planet. Over the years, I’ve looked for my own small part in that shift through supporting small businesses and grassroots nonprofits, local investing, local food systems, and trust-based philanthropy. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned and been part of, but finding my way often feels slow, isolated, and meandering.
The idea of having more guidance and being able to learn and practice this work in community felt like the possibility of rain in the desert.
Make Them Endure, Give Them Space
In October of 2022, my cohort came together at Paicines Ranch in CA for the first of three week-long immersions. Coming from the Pacific Northwest and being a solid introvert, I couldn’t have been further out of my element than I was surrounded by dry dusty hills and so many new-to-me people. But if I had to sum up that week in two words, what comes to mind is the phrase “not hell” as Italo Calvino described in his novel, The Invisible Cities:
“The hell of the living… is already here… There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell, and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space.”
We are two-thirds of the way through our fellowship, and I’m already appreciating how being part of it continues to give me new opportunities to look up from the daily hell that surrounds us (from zombie sock arguments to much harsher realities) and recognize who and what are not hell. I’ve found so much that I want to endure, so much I want to give space to.
Raising the Canopy
Paicines Ranch has a vineyard where they’ve raised the fruiting canopy level so that harvesting is easier on the human workers, and so the sheep can graze on weeds and prune the vines all year round (vs. only grazing in the dormant season, which is common). Making this small change has improved soil health, biodiversity, and resilience in the face of drought.
The people and stories I’m connecting with through JEI have a similar spirit to that vineyard. They’re all raising the canopy through creative solutions, mending and healing, building new systems, showing up in love, investing in future generations, and working to shift our culture in ways that bring our collective reality into more harmony with humanity and nature.
I’ve loved learning from the regenerative approach of the Right Relations Collaborative, where Cúagilákv (Jess Housty), Kim Hardy, and the Aunties Council are transforming the way funding flows into communities, creating a visionary space that rightly honors the guidance of Indigenous leaders, and finding joy together along the way. I’m grateful to be gaining a deeper belief that we all belong here in this work, just as we are—from those of us who naturally calculate liquidity ratios to those of us who build relationships to those of us who are poets. And it’s been a total delight to find new opportunities to personally support things that matter, like the systems-change my friend, Christopher Williams, and their co-founders are giving life to through The COWRIE Initiative’s Bank Black USA program and beyond.
From Not Hell to Abundance
In March of 2023, our cohort gathered again at Paicines Ranch. In the time between our visits, abundant rains had rolled through CA, ending a 22-year drought. The earth’s response was breathtaking in ways we couldn’t have imagined in October. The previously brown hills rippled with beauty in every direction—lush green grasses, brilliant yellow swaths of common fiddleneck, and orange California poppies nodding on delicate stems. In the lowlands below the hills, the vernal ponds had come back, reviving some species that had remained dormant for years as they waited for better conditions.
Our cohort was transformed as well. October’s hesitant introductions became March’s joyful embraces. Our conversations held more bravery, more honesty, more soulfulness, and more laughter. We’d become a community.
I’m writing these words one full year after the zombie sock Zoom meeting that pushed me to do something heartfelt, but this isn’t a story with closure. It’s a story about changing seasons, gratitude, and the hopefulness of possibility. This time last year, I didn’t know any of these people who’ve become so important to me now, and that makes me wonder how many other people exist beyond my awareness who are just as creative, brilliant, dedicated, and kind. I’m wondering what else is not hell. I’m wondering how much abundance is dormant and waiting for time—or perhaps for us—to bring about better conditions.
Daisha Versaw is a story & strategy consultant based in Olympia, WA. When she is not fiddling with a system map, investing in local sauerkraut, strengthening a grassroots organization, or plotting a mutiny, you’ll find her teaching her three teen boys how to cook, wandering a beach or rainforest with her husband on the lands of the Coast Salish people, sharing a poem, or around the fire with friends.