Thursday, September 5, 2013

Old Friends

I've spent a lot of time since USC ended catching up with old friends. Some of those old friends are poems. Here are two, one in English and one in Spanish:

Wild Geese
By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Caminante, No Hay Camino
Antonio Machado

Todo pasa y todo queda,
pero lo nuestro es pasar,
pasar haciendo caminos,
caminos sobre el mar.

Nunca persequí la gloria,
ni dejar en la memoria
de los hombres mi canción;
yo amo los mundos sutiles,
ingrávidos y gentiles,
como pompas de jabón.

Me gusta verlos pintarse
de sol y grana, volar
bajo el cielo azul, temblar
súbitamente y quebrarse…

Nunca perseguí la gloria.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace camino
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar…

Hace algún tiempo en ese lugar
donde hoy los bosques se visten de espinos
se oyó la voz de un poeta gritar
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso…

Murió el poeta lejos del hogar.
Le cubre el polvo de un país vecino.
Al alejarse le vieron llorar.
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso…

Cuando el jilguero no puede cantar.
Cuando el poeta es un peregrino,
cuando de nada nos sirve rezar.
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Lessons Learned

The metaphor which I feels works out best for what my experience has been like living, working and serving in downtown Denver is a pressure cooker. Pressure cooking is an intense, and sometimes dangerous, way to get things done. And, by the end of my year, my meat was surely falling off the bone.

I realized, though, a more productive way to think of it was that lessons were falling off the bone. Lessons, even when costly, can validate just about any experience for me. I knew I'd learned a lot, but I sat myself down and wrote some of the lessons from this last year down. It was a good way to process and validate (and laugh at) the year. 

So, without further ado, here's the slightly edited, and not nearly comprehensive, list. I'm sure I'll be adding to it for years to come:  

What I’ve learned:

· Patience (And that it is both hard earned and given as a gift)

· Expiration dates are very subjective

· About addictions—to substances, to people, to control… 

· Church politics, and of the toxicity which becomes easily involved

· The realities of homelessness 

· Leadership is imperative

· As is a grounded vision (for an organization, for an individual, for a church)

· How to walk through snow and ice (and not bust too often) 

· How to have no control, and not be out of control

· The work to decide on and find self-identity is not work wasted

· How to pour candles

· The importance of feeling safe

· Basics of drug use and the effects of different drugs

· How to make lip balm, lotion bars and soap

· The names of native Coloradan flowers

· The very basics of gardening—and that weeding is cheap therapy

· Burning candles can up the temperature in your room by 2-3 degrees

· Enough random facts about beekeeping and worm farming to sound cultured

· Sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone is make them a cup of tea and listen

· It’s very economical to buy wine in boxed form

· 88 is not as old as you think it is

· Routine smoke/”sunshine” breaks with people 40 years older than you can restore your sanity

· If people refuse the “peace” you offer them, shake the dust off your sandals and move on

· There’s no “fixing” people

· Hospitality is a state of mind

· Ancient mystic Islamic poets can change your life

· Boundaries and learning to say no will give you freedom

· Composting, and that watching the steam rise off of healthy compost on a winter evening is magical

· Being aware of your expectations and that others may have different ones can make all the difference

· Creative work is good for the soul

· Even when you think you shouldn’t have to, ask for what you need

· Be as patient with yourself as you are with others

· How to balance trays and bus tables for 1,000 plus guests

· That a handful of corny jokes will serve you well in many situations

· That not all situations are well suited for “niceness”

· How to break up fights, kick people out and be a bouncer

· That sometimes, breaking up a fight will earn you a best friend

· Mental illness is real and rampant

· The simple act of learning and remembering names can restore personhood

· People are remarkably resilient

· That some of us need to speak up more, and some of us need to shut our mouths every once in a while

· “Follow through” is the key to engagement (and the inverse is true as well)

· People often just want to tell their story and be heard

· It’s ok to cry with strangers

· How to consistently make meals for 10 out of leftovers and expired goods

· Gummy vitamins are not just for children

· Living no more than 2 degrees of separation from the entire homeless population of Denver will be a bit much for your immune system

· Sometimes, you just have to turn off the ringer

· You can live off of less money and with less possessions than you think you can…no matter how little you already have

· Never seeing the sun will make you sad

· Succulent plants are surprisingly not very difficult to kill

· In a pinch you can use electrical cords yanked from the wall to resuscitate someone

· The full moon makes people crazy. Don’t try to understand it, just plan accordingly

· The realities of SS, SSDI, AND and the patterns they create

· Vulnerability is courageous work 

· Gratitude is the gateway to joy and sanity 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Guesthouse

I've read it at least 10 times this week, 8 or more times out loud for "reflection" at work this week, and I'm still not tired of it. The Guesthouse was a reflection from my first month at work, and it's stuck with me all year. I've had a copy of it on the magnetic board near my desk at home. I read it when one of my housemates was struggling with alcoholism. I read it on some of those Thursdays where I ended my work day with tears--sometimes from pure exhaustion, sometimes from the weight of the stories.  But also, I read it when I brought home a pink rose I picked off the back of a wall on the walk home. Just a couple weeks ago I read it when someone I knew was found a couple days dead in her apartment. 

The Guesthouse is the story of my year. A year of heartbreak after triumph after heartbreak. A year where often hospitality was all I had to give--and where sometimes giving that hospitality took all I had. But, I'm learning, that's what this being human is all about. So, on the eve of my last day, here it is once more: 


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(By Rumi)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Do Chamomile Tea, Spinach Containers, Toilet Paper Rolls and Mason Jars Have in Common?

What do these things have in common? Well, they are all a part of my improvised, gleaned from Pinterest and work, what-can-I-dig-out-of-the-recycling method of gardening. 

Yes, gardening. 

It's true, I have trouble keeping house plants alive (even when those house plants are cacti and succulents...). But gardening has intrigued me for a while. Last year when I had considerably more time and space on my hands (and a much warmer climate!) I was thinking about, and even planning, a garden. Then, of course, I decided to go on an extended trip to Thailand and Laos with a friend during planting season, and that was that. 

This year, trying to escape a winter that won't end (more snow coming this week!), and working at a place that espouses the many benefits of urban gardening, I decided I'm going to give it a go. 

I signed up to receive free seeds and transplants from an organization called Denver Urban Gardens. At EarthLinks we collected the applications for our participants and dropped them off for them. Since I was the one to drop them off, I just filled one out myself. I mostly asked for transplants (thinking if the plants were already in adolescence when I got them I would have a better chance of keeping them alive). I was surprised though at what seeds I had ordered when I went back a couple months later to pick them up: 

Kale, cantaloup, and lettuce. Kind of random, but whatever. Making stuff up as I went along I decided to imbibe my seeds. (Not with alcohol mind you.) My supervisor had passed along an article about a gardener who tried soaking his seeds for a day or so and how they grew a lot faster. I figured, why not?

I poured half the packets into some random jars I had on my shelves. I planned on planting them the next day...but didn't get around to it. In my memory the article had said to soak them for 3-5 days. After  a couple of days I reread the article and realized, no, they said 12-24 hours. Oops. I figured I better get some stuff and get them planted soon...

After church I wandered around Lowes looking lost for organic potting soil and seed starting mix. I finally found what I hoped was the right stuff and hauled it out to my car, quite proud of myself (for no reason really). Then, I waited a couple more days...Finally on what seemed an appropriate evening (by which I mean there was a blizzard blowing outside), I sat at my desk in my pajamas with the spoon from my coffee cup, some toilet paper rolls, and the soil and got to work planting. 

At work participants usually carefully place three seeds in a triangle formation 1/4 of an inch into the dirt with tweezers (or something like that). My wet seeds were clumpy (and I soaked way too many) (seriously, how many kale plants was I going for?) so I just kinda spooned them in here and there. 

Making it up as we go along, folks.

The seeds all planted and cosy in their spinach container green house!

Then miracle of miracles, 2 and a half days later: 

A baby lettuce plant!

I really couldn't believe it! They were sprouting already. Two rows of happy little plants. It's so amazing and surprising that I keep forcing David and housemates (and anyone else I have any kind of sway over) to come look at them every day or so. It feels like magic. 

This is my little set up in the sun in one of our front rooms. I water them with a mason jar with holes punched in the top. I had seen someone water the seedlings at work this way--and seriously, it's mesmerizing how the water falls out of there in little lines as you shake it. I've also got a couple of tulips that were free give-aways, and a mason jar full of camomile tea. Apparently you can treat your seedlings for root rot (?) or something moldy sounding, by spraying them with camomile tea. I don't really understand that, but, again, why not? I couldn't find a spray bottle so I just squeeze the tea bag over the seedlings and sprinkle it on there. Good enough for me. 

Look at them go! I even have two little kale plants coming up now. Who knows what those cantaloupe seeds are doing under the soil (but honestly I didn't have much hope for them from the beginning). I did open my seeds the other day to find lots of fuzzy mold growing on the side of the TP rolls though. Hopefully that's not too bad of a thing. I've been leaving the lid off and giving them a good dose of chamomile--so we will see. Who knows how this experiment will turn out!

I have another batch of seedlings soaking in water (...for probably about a week now...): okra and bluebonnet seeds. It's my Texas batch. I'll hopefully get them in soil by the end of the weekend. But, we will see...

Anyway, that's my new little project. I felt a little hesitant about it in the beginning, but then I decided, hey if I kill them all--it's ok. Gotta take some risks, right? Even if it's just with free seeds. 

Finally, this week in workshop we used a TED talk for our "reflection" time. It's got me even more jazzed for gardening. We all enjoyed it, so I'll share it here too: