By Karen Campbell
That’s my first response to a title like What. Women. Want.
We want more friendships that make us our best selves and love us at our worst moments. We want more opportunities to show ourselves and the world what we can do. We want to know that what we have done, are doing, hope to do will be appreciated more than criticized. And, of course, we want more time with the family we love (be they blood or chosen).
As a divorced woman now firmly (though really at this age little is still firm) planted in my late 50s, I’m often rebuked by my mother that “someday you’ll be old and know what it’s like.” To which I respond (regretfully not in my most gracious voice) that yes and I won’t have anyone around to take me places and remind me of what I keep forgetting. I never had children and there’s no dramatic reveal as to why… I just didn’t think I’d be good at it. What, it turns out, I was good at was friends and causes.
I’ve invested in everything from breast cancer to an AIDS hospice, from the arts to human rights. And by “invested” I mean time rather than money. I inherited the family trait of being better at accumulating great experiences that make for a stockpile of stories rather than gold. Usually, I also find a way to get friends involved in my causes which is why the Bayou City Art Festival in Houston had a steady stream of middle aged volunteers willing to give away a couple of weekends to welcome 300+ artists twice a year.
The Rose, also benefited a bit from my “friend-raising.” As a breast health organization birthed in Pasadena, Texas, at a time when most eyes were on urban cowboys, The Rose was led by two women more focused on the unfathomable number of women waiting too late to address breast health because of a lack of insurance. I served as their PR consultant for four years and, as a result, they gained decorators for their largest fundraiser, a shrimp boil; artists for their Pink Days where those who’d been called back for a second round of testing could shape clay or pick up a paintbrush to wipe away a few moments of their anxious wait time; and sometimes even employees when I passed along an opening.
Dorothy and Dixie are the co-founders and they are the kind of women I want to be. Unapologetic when it comes to demanding what is right and tireless when that extra bit of effort will take an idea from acceptable to extraordinary.
I’ve never been afraid to work hard. At 13, I donned the red smock and discovered my knack for adding a curly q on top of a cone and began the best marketing education I could ever receive behind the counter at Greenfield’s Dairy Queen. Five years later, I walked away thinking I’d never smell like a french fry again, only to have to return to grease-enhanced productivity as I hawked chicken nuggets in Old Hickory Mall while also attending Union University.
Internships at WBBJ and a local radio station revealed what was NOT my calling as I lisped my way through stories of Tennethee verthes Mithithippi sports scores. Working on the student newspaper and with the campus PR department, I learned that people could understand my keyboard creations much better and soon I was interning at a Christian publication in Memphis. Seminary and a masters in communications was next.
As I drove away from Greenfield in pursuit of higher education, I actually saw in the rearview mirror my mom waving in the yard. At that moment, I understood that while I always longed to know what was beyond the city limits of my hometown, I wasn’t running away. I was anchored. I was simply a kite ready to soar.
Soaring took many forms. I worked my way up to obituaries at the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I spent 20 years in writing and speaking about missions around the world and across the street. I learned about organizational systems and then applied what I was learning to turn my life upside down, leave a marriage, and a well-paying career and explore possibilities. I traveled (now to 23 countries and most every state). I’ve fought malaria in Tanzania and helped build national English curriculum as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica.
So now I’m back at the keyboard, looking out the window at the yard my mom waved from those many, many years go. What was supposed to be another quick visit home post-Peace Corps has turned into another investment. My current means of “investing” is looking for more opportunities for Weakley County in the realms of education, economic development and entertainment. As the communications director for Weakley County Schools, I’m committed to sharing the positive strides our students, teachers and administrators are making and thereby attract even more stellar educators. To do that we’ll need a quality of life that draws individuals and industries. So I’m volunteering with Weakley Arts Can to advocate for more arts in the schools and communities, and I’m working with fellow communicator Erica Moore with the County to launch Walk Weakley, a map and app that tells the ag, history and arts and architecture stories of our county.
Believing that we have tourist-attractive but barely publicized beauty along our backroads and a yet-to-be-fully-appreciated deep pool of talent at UTM and each of our 10 schools, I’m ready to “claim our quirk and make it work,” helping grow our local coffers (and thereby better support our schools) with tourism dollars.
Soon, I hope we see more murals, more family-friendly fun spots that make for a great day trip, and eventually more tourism dollars expanding opportunities for children and youth.
I’m also here to offer more to my family. Mom may not always enjoy my “helpfulness” but I’m here to ensure an 89-year-old has as much independence and fun as her ever-shrinking stature and memory will allow. Fortunately that commitment has coincided with my sister’s very unfortunate diagnosis of metastatic melanoma.
And that’s the last and greatest “more” that I’m focused on at the moment. More good days. More laughs. More story-telling. More bluegrass concerts because my brother-in-law loves the banjo, more festivals because my sister is drawn to anything made by hand, more out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall cafes. More drop-in visits from friends who are now family and who want one more chance to experience the love that I’ve been surrounded and supported by for these … sure I’ll be specific … 58 years.
So, yeah, more.
That’s what this woman wants.