Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just Post Awards (and a happy new year)


Edited at the bottom
As many of you know, Mad Hatter and I threw a big social justice wedding earlier this month. You can read more about it here and here. If this is new to you, take a minute to check it out because we are throwing another party and you are all invited.
Part of our ceremony included a pledge from each of us to continue to promote awareness to social justice issues and causes on the 10th of each month (our anniversary). And we can't do it without you.

We are officially launching our first Just Post awards. The concept is the same as the Perfect Post or ROFL awards, all we ask is that you choose one post from the previous month that speaks to you, whether it is raising awareness of a social issue, a call to encourage others to get involved on the side of good, or a post that explains how we got to here and what we can do as we move forward individually and collectively to raise consciousness about making the world a better place. (and if that's not a run on sentence then I don't know what is)

You know you want in. All you have to do is email me - girlplustwo(at)yahoo(dot)com - a link to the post you are nominating as well as your own blog before January 8th. I'll send you the button and then all we ask in return is that you write a post on the 10th sharing why you've chosen to nominate that specific post and link it back to Mad and myself. We'll compile all of the nominations on both of our sites as well as highlight a specific cause or issue of our own.

Since this is our first month doing these nominations, we'd also be thoroughly grateful if you were willing to promote the Just Post Awards on your own site between now and the 8th so we can reach out to as many people as possible. If you want the button, email me and I'll send it to you.
Edited to read: We want to include everyone who wants to be included. You do NOT need to be nominated to participate. If you wrote a post about social justice in the past month, send us your link. ALL ARE WELCOME. If you didn't write one, but was moved by another one, send that too. ALL ARE WELCOME.

And just think: how many weddings have you been to where the brides throw a party every single month afterwards? Free champagne, all year long. And we'll toast good together. I can't wait.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Off to buy champagne. I'll see you all soon.
And Happy New Year, everyone. I have no doubt that together we can raise awareness and goodness all year long, and that makes me feel all tingly inside. I can't think of a better resolution.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

where i find myself strangely curious

I used to cry easily. Since M came (ok, after the first 9 months when I cried non-stop) I found that I rarely cried - that a different level of calm has settled in. But lately, I've found that has been replaced with a new sort of reaction; one where I feel a huge surge of emotion as if I could break down sobbing in the middle of the street. And it doesn't take a huge tragedy to bring this on. A woman tripping as she walks. A child being rebuffed on the playground. An older man eating alone in a restaurant. (alright, that one has always gotten to me) and the surge of emotion is so swift, so strong, and so overwhelming that I don't quite know what to make of it.

Sometimes I think it's as simple as feeling heartbroken by this world. The pain and suffering, it feels close and around and far and everywhere. And in turn I simply want to weep.

But then the tears do not come. It's like my insides runs up against itself and bounce around and can't find a way out. And sitting alongside all of this is this otherworldly calmness about the things that used to upset me, the things I like to refer to as the overly dramatic series of non-events.

I don't really know what to make of it. In fact, I am not even sure why I am writing about it (and that might be an indicator I should listen to).

A pity party, is that what this is? I hope not.

Is it? Because, KC, that would be decidely NOT money.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Having your parents in your 800' house for an entire week teaches you many things. Least of which is discovering that you've continued to allow your kid to wear shoes 1 and 1/2 sizes too small for god knows how long. While I admit that I haven't noticed and have no idea how long this has been an issue, I guess I'd previously relied on the kid in question to alert me. (Perhaps all that falling down might have been an indicator?) It also means grandma bought the kid a new pair of shoes. Being a neglectful mother has it's perks.

So I was going through M's shoes this AM and she is convulsing on the floor in full throttle whine as I tried to weed out the other supposedly too small shoes, including a pair of velvet pink and purple fake-Chucks (which are pure money, by the way)

I took several pairs (unable to give up the stronghold on the fake-chucks) and put them all in a bag, and tried to explain to M that I was going to take them to share with other girls who need shoes of their own.

She looked at me mid-wail (one of my favorite things about her is that she can stop wailing on a dime), and said girlsnoshoes? Yes baby, some girls have no shoes. Do you mind if we share yours with them? Okkayymommy. And then her mighty preciousness took off her socks and put them in the bag girlsnosockstoooo okmommee?

Yes, baby, we can share those too.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

it's the old guys that really get to me

he stood,
stooped and slightly tilting
hair mussed, greying and thin;
digging through a bag of someone's discarded clothing,
furtive, proud,
his pants a bit too short, socks mismatched,
yet he smiles, suddenly to himself,
as he spies a hidden treasure
a muffler someone threw away,
gold and blue, and oh, wait,
a hat, a blue hat.
it fits.

he stands up straight, shoulders back
notices my gaze and says
hello darlin', would ya look at this?
pointing to his find.

nice, i say, and how are you this morning,
can't complain, he says
besides, no one would listen, anyways.

sleeping bag under one arm,
he tosses me a wry smile
and walks off to greet the sidewalk.

be kind to him today;
i say to no one and everyone
in particular.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a simmering pot

It's been fairly cold here. And when it's cold in California, everything goes to shit. Most of us don't own a coat or proper footwear. A bit of rain garners a "Storm Watch 2006" label streaked across local news. People actually talk about the weather unlike the rest of the time when we just take it for granted.

It burrows into the back of my head like a little bug every morning when I wake up and it's cold. Who slept outside last night? How many were unable to find shelter? I wake up, get coffee, and sit outside for a few minutes and wonder about it. It's a strange little ritual, I know.

And then, some days, well, some days are even worse. The days where you have to remove someone from a shelter, and you realize that you are not helping things at all. I've had to make these sorts of decisions many times over the years, and as a result I've been verbally and physically assaulted, threatened with litigation, harassed, and once, stalked.

It's no small thing to take away someone's basic needs. It's a last resort when it happens, but when a hundred or so folks are living together and someone insists on assaulting others, well, you've got to act on behalf of the community. But that doesn't mean I don't get how one reaches the breaking point in this type of reality, because brother, I do. I do.

Homelessness is not a perfect business, and running shelters require a lot of rules. That is why I am a fan of permanent supportive housing, but until we are able to provide more affordable housing, shelters are needed. They are truly a last resort.

I had to make one of those decisions today. And the guy, while totally blowing it in a big way, still needs a safe place to sleep. So I drove home tonight to my warm house, and my fridge full of food, and I'll still feel like an asshole, because someone is under a bridge tonight. He made sure I knew it, too. And while he may have thought I didn't care, I most certainly do.

I really hate having to make these sorts of decisions. And I wholly resent a system that has forced people into needing to live like this.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

son of the wave

Two years ago one of my closest friends was vacationing on the coast of Sri Lanka with her husband and 20 month old son. She was pregnant at the time.

Her husband had just come back to their bungalow after some morning surfing. She was just finishing changing her son's diaper when the water started coming in the door.

At first they didn't know what was going on. But as the moments passed the water still kept coming. Her husband unplugged the TV as they headed towards the back of the bungalow into the attached bathroom.

The water kept filling up, to their knees, their waists, their shoulders. In those moments they stood transfixed, their son above their heads, not sure what was happening. By the grace of god the weight of the water caused the bungalow to creak and shift and finally break apart. The last thing my friend remembers saying is You hang onto me, and I'll hang onto him. Don't let go.

And they were swept under water. She doesn't know how long they were under, but she does know that as the water receded she had no idea if her son was alive. Her husband had managed to grab the end of a clothesline, and that tiny cord held tight and kept them from being pulled into the sea.

When they all came up for air, my friend didn't think her son was breathing. Immediately afterwards he coughed up ocean and started crying. Save for some bumps and bruises, he was fine. In his tiny hand was his security blanket. He held onto it the whole time - something that brings tears to my eyes even now. Everyone had a job to do, to hold on, and he did his part. Her husband was miraculously fine as well. She didn't fare as well - part of her foot was missing, and her leg had a gash running from thigh to shin.

There was little time to waste. Everyone who was still on land was running, running, running into the jungle, onto rooftops, into trees. Some local villagers were assisting my friend - she couldn't run and her husband had the baby, but somehow they managed to scramble to higher ground before the next wave hit.

They stayed up on the hill for a long time. There were many gathered there and it sounded like everyone was in a state of disbelief. My friend needed medical attention, so after the second wave receded and they made their way to the nearest hospital. She was loaded onto a stretcher with three other women. She was given injections with unknown medicines and was taken for emergency surgery. This was a horrible place - dirty, chaotic, and filled with wounded and those who had died.

My friend's husband realized staying there was a very bad idea so he got on the phone and called the US embassy. Tranport to the main hospital in Colombo was arranged. This is all a blur to them so they don't completely recall exactly how it all worked out, instead grateful that it did.
When I first heard the news about the tsunami, I broke down crying. I knew where my friend was, and her deep love of the water, so I knew she could only have been in the thick of it. We waited for hours until her parents got a call from the embassy. They are alive was all they were told.

While I was watching the news and biting my nails my friends were busy surviving. They were evacuated with other Americans to the capital and to the main hospital. My friend had two more surgeries. They determined the baby was still alive. They had no money, no I.D, no diapers or clothes. My friend's husband had to beg for change to call home. They had no place to sleep, and nothing to eat.

Embassy workers took my friend's son into their home for a couple of nights. They had no choice but to hand over their son to strangers because they had no way to care for him in those two days - my friend was in and out of surgery and her husband needed to be with her. They were given diapers and clothing. People offered food. Those small graces helped a lot but it was not lost on them that they were the lucky ones - first for surviving, and second for being Americans. Things were getting done. Hundreds of thousands of others were not as lucky, some because of their citizenship, others because of their economic status. Others never even had a chance.

It took another week to get emergency passports and the money they needed to get out of the country. I was able to reach her in her hospital room during this time. I could tell she was in shock, her voice detached and small when it is usually strong and engaged. We cried together. I offered to come and she said no, that she just wanted to get out and go home. It took several more surgeries and the better part of a year for my friend to heal.

She gave birth 5 months later to a healthy baby boy. His middle name is Dylan, which in a translation I forget means son of the wave.

This didn't happen to me. And I am doing my best not to get into the gruesome details of what my friend saw and heard and endured. Because this is a post about survival, and about love, and about facing what life hands you and doing everything you can to stay afloat.

My friend's physical scars are mostly healed now. She still can't go to the beach, and can't celebrate her son's birthday without being gripped by panic and grief. She wonders why it is taking so long for the emotional trauma to heal, but is coming to terms with the notion that some things might never go away, and that she can live with that too. She calls me in those moments; she lives on the other side of the world so her night is my day, and I am here if she needs someone to listen. Someone who can never understand but who can hold the other end of the phone while she cries and then berates herself for not being stronger and will tell her to knock it off. Nicer words, maybe, but I can't bear her not tolerating her own grief. She has a right to it, god knows she's earned it. These things take time.

I am not sure I've ever known anyone braver. I always knew she was a warrior, but I didn't know she was a hero. If I am only ever half the woman she is, it's more than enough.

She doesn't read my blog, but I will share this post with her. I want her to know I remember two years ago when the world gasped for air. I honor her for her survival and grace and as she likes to call it, her bit of good luck.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

it's coming on christmas

Joni said it best. Thank you for sharing pieces of you with me, and allowing me to do the same.

Here's to getting even juicier. And to standing up for what we know to be true.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

falling for it despite myself

I don't often talk the work I am involved with at an agency level - the desire to keep that separate is important, yet at the same time, the magnitude of what we accomplish sometimes makes me feel all gooey inside.

We house hundreds of adults, families and kids at a time in assorted places and ways - and the holidays is an incredible push for us - a push to not only keep up with the colder weather, but to also try and infuse a bit of holiday specialness (as much as is possible given the circumstances). Every year we match community donors with clients or groups of clients to make sure everyone has fill out wish lists and get toys and clothes, adults get more practical stuff or gift cards to buy what they need.

It's no small feat to make sure that every single person is accounted for (especially in a population that can change day by day). We have a small group of staff who take on this extra charge and convert an entire warehouse into a staging area, keeping the flow going and the gifts coming and sorted and separated and back out to our programs.

Some of the more beautiful parts is how the gift is offered - women who come together in sewing circles to sew baby blankets and scarves and bed covers, with their personal tags and flairs, or the donations from other children - with personal notes attached in child crayola speak that is humbling and precious all at once.

For all my humbugery about the said holiday spirit - I am quite the sucker for it when I see it in action. I plan to take M over to spread a little toddler joy at one of the shelters on Monday - one can never start introducing your child early enough to some of the most beautiful people on earth.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


This morning I read Bub and Pie's post about another sort of crushing - the importance of being seen and validated for our work as mother and was really struck by how much I could relate - about how it's the hardest thing I've ever done, and how no one really notices, because it's what you are supposed to do. To use her words, it's simply commonplace.

While that may be true, I also agree it's incredibly important for others to recognize the labor that goes into our fruits. And I have not felt a lot of that - more often than not conversations are filled with have you tried this, or have you checked into that, a well-intentioned form of support that somehow further chips away at the root ofI am not doing these things right. (Not that I don't seek advice liberally, because I do).

I was reflecting on it again while driving between my office and one of our shelters when my phone rang. My parents are staying with us for the next week, a combination holiday and a lack of child care during the holidays forced their early arrival, and while I haven't much spoken of my childhood, it's easiest to sum it up by saying I never felt mothered. And more often than not, my adult relationship with my mother is tense and frustrating, a talking over each other sort of non listening yet vaguely critical yet tolerant sort of blend.

She called to ask a quick question about M, and then said some of the most important words she has ever said to me in my adult life: I was thinking this morning that you are a much better mother than I ever was. You talk to M. You listen to her. You don't get angry. You are a much better mother than I ever was.

I was taken completely aback - she's never said anything like this before and she'll never really know how much it meant for her to say it now, because it would be impossible to have that conversation without unnecessarily wounding her, and I am long past the point of needing to do that. By saying: I learned what not to do from how I was raised, or, I try to be the mother I wanted as a child - all of that would hurt, and I know now she is trying. And I know she tried all along.

So instead I said (and believe) this: Thank you. But know there is a tremendous difference between mothering at 21 and mothering at 35. I have no idea what kind of mother I would have been at 21. You did the best you knew. And she hemmed around the edges and said perhaps, and let it go. And I let her, because that is not my cross to bear.

I believe in synchronicity and our collective fine tuning. I wonder if I would have gotten that call today if I hadn't been thinking so hard about Bub's post. I'll never know.

But I like to think the universe is connected that way. That our energies are swirling and dancing around each other all of the time. And that our thoughts can move mountains. Or help each other climb them.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

where she unexpectedly gushes

Every night around 8pm and after spiders and moon we say Ok, M, it's sleepytime to which she says Ok mommydaddy and waddles off to her room and climbs in her crib (it's ridiculously easy to put her to bed and why we won the nighttime toddler lottery I have no idea but don't be a hater) and once inside she gathers up her blankets and books and lies down and then proceeds to ask for strategically placed kisses on various body parts from each of us.

There is an order I do not understand to the process - where she ponders the placement and the kisser and will sometimes change her mind mid-kiss - pointing to her cheek: mommy, here - NO, daddy. Pointing to her nose: Daddy, here - NO mommy. The whole deal takes about 4 minutes and when it is over she rolls onto her side, tucks her sweet hands under her cheek, and blows us kisses as we walk out of her room and shut the door. (I already said not to hate me. Stop hating).

I stand in awe of this child and how she is able to singlehandedly remove my heart and bat it around and nibble on it and then toss it back all giggly and sticky. She completely crushes me. And for some reason it's so personal, and so incomprehensible that it is tough to talk about, here or otherwise. Even as I type I feel the self edit blah blah blah baby blah blah blah love. I can't stand feeling like a cliche so instead I don't say anything at all. I don't pretend to love my child any more than any of you. I am not telling you anything you don't already feel. But damn if it doesn't feel unique and singular and only.

This kid utterly crushes me. I am crushed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

the ho ho-downer

It gives me pause this time of year - the triggering of the said "holiday spirit" that seems to encompass everything and everyone. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to knock it (really), and philanthropy is generally always a good thing, but why are we hell bent on it for only 3 weeks out of the year?

A grinch-ier sort might be tormented by the hypocrisy, but I really do feel it's unintentional. It's inherent to our culture, to remind ourselves one time a year that others are LESS FORTUNATE.

Our culture needs a smackdown, not the individuals and groups that are trying to do good things for others right now. I really do know that. I do. We couldn't survive without you.

But still.

The newspapers are calling: hey, we are really interested in how you are caring for the homeless right now. Really? Call me back in February, it'll still be freezing then. People are calling: we really want to come and serve food on Xmas. Really? How about December 28th? Or January 6th? We've got openings then.

And here I am sounding exactly how I didn't want to sound. It's the concept I am frustrated with, not the people. That on January 1st we are trained to get back on our own individual life-tracks with heads down and lights off. And I want to figure out a way to keep those lights on.

The Just Post nominations are one way I pledge to do that. Re-awakening my mission of advocating for affordable housing outside of my comfort zone is another. Taking a moment to visit some new friends is yet one more.

We really can stretch the love out all year round. We can beat the damn system. We can.

Join me.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

mangoes roasting on an open firepit

Two years ago we spent Christmas in the jungle in Belize. We had travelled there for the month of December while i was on maternity leave - thinking the jungle is as good a place as any to figure out how to become parents. And since we'd been there before we'd already formed a community of sorts - in fact, this trip was partially "business" as we were also scouting out (and found) the land we were looking for.

We had rented a tiny little place in a small village near the border of Guatemala. In our ignorance, we assumed Christmas might go by largely unnoticed. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Everyone was in the holiday spirit. Ancient decorations of unbelievable tackiness were everywhere, and while what we consider to be Christmas lights are somewhat the fashion all year round, I noticed everything was blinkier and brighter. I spent one afternoon helping a group of women decorate their house, and was amused to see the intensity with which they took the process - to the point of taking down the garland I had hung and rehanging it to their specifications after much discussion and measuring, or spending quite a while debating exactly which Santa cutout went on which door. One of them gently took away the blue blinking lights I was trying to hang around a hammock (a swinging blue hammock, people. I thought it was money) and hung them in a much better and coherent fashion on a mango tree.

The big event of the season was when Santa came into town. Everyone in the village made their way to the closest town and dressed in their finest holiday clothes. (red sarongs and t-shirts) and the whole town packed itself into a church meeting hall to meet the jolly good man.

J and I were surprised to see that Santa was white. For some reason, we'd expected him to be more representative of the population and talked a bit about how that might feel. The American Imperialism! The Capitalistic Hacks! The Atrocities Of It All! How Dare Whitey Force It's Image Everywhere! I mean, it's bad enough everyone portrays Jesus as white. But Santa too...The Outrage!

So at one point J turned to a friend and said doesn't it bug you that Santa is white? To which our friend replied You Americans - always seeing things in terms of color. When I see Santa, I only see love. He makes everyone happy. Who cares what color he is.

Consciousness raised.

community building

Stacy over at jurgen nation just gave birth. Have you heard about it? She gave birth to a vibrant 10 pound baby called indiebloggers; a new site created wholly to allow for community building for writers who don't easily fit into mommybloggers, SAHMs, SAHDs, or one of many other terrific communities that already exist.

And the really cool thing is that we moms who blog are most welcome to the party.

Her brainchild is simple - if you are part of a niche you are able to enter into community fairly easily - but if you aren't, where do you go? Who rallies behind you in support, in mirth, for better and for worse? It's cold out there, and everyone can use a warm place to go. And while we moms are lucky - our kids bind us to each other and allow for instant commonality, writers without kids need a place to go too.

Stacy is working to create just that - a place where anyone can contribute, where we moms who blog can go and kick it around with non-moms, and allow all of us to get perspectives from others outside our comfort zone. And hey, if you don't have kids, and have felt the same lack of niche feeling, well, heck, this place may be for you as well.

I like it already. Bravo, sister. Community building is a very, very good thing.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a free rambling song

We walk to our local farmer's market almost every weekend. It's the best way I know to get local organic produce, bread, and cheeses, and since we are trying to incorporate more sustainability into our daily lives this is our best shot - Whole Foods is nice (if you can afford it), but if they truck their organic free range stuff in from Argentina then I am still missing the point. It's hard to be sustainable in the city.

M dressed herself in a perfect combination - piratey fadiddle shirt, purple tights, striped pants, polka dot skirt and a green vest. She's cute anyways (what the hell, I can say that if I want to) but a child dressed like that dancing to the guy singing Angel from Montgomery is a complete show stopper. When it makes the farmers fork over free produce you know you've done something right.

Angel from Montgomery is one of my all time favorite songs. The lyrics, the rhythm, the longing of the voice, (no matter who sings it) make me long for a cowboy hat and that sort of hard living...the kind where if whiskey were an ocean I'd swim forever and never come up for air. So I was right there with her, singing along with the singing man and a few other assorted folks; a couple of kids, an older man, and some produce vendors. One of those moments that are so easy, and so perfect, you want to stay still in that space forever.

But songs end, as songs always do, and it's then it's time to move on.

Friday, December 15, 2006

secret superhero powers

A friend of mine from work (whom I adore and spend a lot of time with) has long believed that everyone has a secret superhero power. One attribute that makes them unique from the others. He notices that secret something, and will arbitrarily share that information with you - and whether you agree or not, that's still your secret superhero power.

Months ago he proclaimed my secret superhero power to be the speed at which I can get in and out of the bathroom. I mean, he's right - I'm quick. I don't dawdle or lipstick or look around. I am in and out and it's done (yes, I wash my hands - I know that's what you were thinking) but to him it's extraordinarily speedy, and has been a source of stupid bemusement to our group of mates. I never knew this sort of thing might be conversational fodder, but homeless hacks are weird like that.

We had a challenging conference call yesterday. Dealing with the feds is never easy, and when you've screwed something up - well, let's just say I'd rather be telling jokes to the dead, only because I am sure they'd muster up more emotion than any of these cats do.

My goal in these sorts of meetings is to take full responsibility while also explaining how bureacratic decisions made by folks who've NEVER SEEN a homeless person are not always, well, RIGHT or SENSIBLE. But I try and do it with a small dose of humor, a larger dose of self-depreciation, and of course, great respect along the way. It's tough when we are having to let them know we've blown it, but for some reason I can't leave it alone and also need to point out how it was a senseless objective in the first place.

And I fantasize in my head about asking the feds to come down from their tower, spend a day working at one of our shelters, and then come back and tell me if what they decided on a hill somewhere really made sense. I already know that answer. But that's a bit too insubordinate, and they've got a division that not only carries weapons, but can actually imprison you.

Not that I haven't daydreamed about being a political prisoner for the right cause, but since I have a kid now I've had to let that one go. Although I did almost get arrested once for contempt of court - I was at court with a client who was extremely mentally ill and they were going to imprison him rather than find decent treatment, and I stood up and spoke harshly to the judge, who asked me if I indeed would like to arrested for contempt. I actually thought it over for a few moments - I mean, what the hell, right, it was bullshit, but in the end I chickened out and apologized and was then asked to leave. I still kind of regret my lack of courage and conviction in that moment. But I digress - so let's get back to the story.

Anyways, somehow I was able to crack the veneer and the Head Fed jumped in and said that he understood what I was saying, that he appreciated my forthrightness, and would actually take our dilemma back to the head wizard and see if there was leeway (there is generally never any leeway). So we ended the call and my team felt rather victorious, which is not a feeling we ever associate with the feds.

At which point my friend turned to me and said that my real secret superhero power was that I communicate in a way that makes folks really want to believe in me. The weight of that is heavier and more complicated than rapid fire bathroom behavior, but for some reason, I like my new secret superhero power better.

So, my lovely sisters and brothers - what is YOUR secret superhero power?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

asleep on the couch

If you don't feel like being traumatized, feel free to stop reading now. Because I've got a bucketful of trauma down there. But I can't bear to keep this inside my head any longer. I've got to do something to get it moving on and along and through.

A two year old baby girl was killed a week or so ago in the area where I live. I only saw local coverage - so I don't know to what extent it was covered elsewhere, if at all. Her mother's drug dealing boyfriend decided that she was cheating on him, so the bastard took a sippy cup, but a lethal dose of GHB in it, and gave it to the precious, precious little baby girl to teach the mother a "lesson". The baby girl drank it, and went into horrible convulsions of horror and suffering.

By the time her mom arrived home, she was just about dead. She died shortly thereafter. The bastard was asleep on the couch. Asleep on the couch. Asleep on the couch.

The half empty sippy cup was found near the little girl. With the words GHB written on the side.

Every time I've looked at M this week, all I can see is the infinite preciousness and trust she offers me. She takes what I give her, she eats what I feed her. She drinks from the sippy cups I offer her. I have not been able to wrap my arms around how this sick fuck could have possibly done this to a little baby girl.

Asleep on the couch.

It's beyond me. And I cry for that precious, precious little girl, who so trustingly drank from what was offered her. And it scares me, the sadism and hate and cruelty in this world. In our neighborhoods. Towards our children. Towards ourselves.

Rest in peace, little one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

growing orchids in the desert

I was talking to my friend Chani a bit lately about building community in the community where I live, and why for all my efforts, I still feel so very much alone.

This came about when Chani mentioned her perception of my community building abilities in the blogging world, to which I deflected, pointing out that can't possibly be true since I have no community in "real" life - no village to help raise my child, no true and close shoulders to lean on, nowhere to curl up and safely cry. For me, it's always felt like this unhealed and childlike part of my soul that still yearns for mother. She reframed it a bit, speaking to how hard it may be to build a community in a place without the necessary ingredients. How does one grow orchids in the desert?

I still wonder which comes first. Is it the reaping that guarantees the sowing? Is it the earnestness with which you put out your intentions, hoping for like minded others to cosmically
intersect? Is it the patient and true of heart that slowly but steadily arrives to the communal fire when it's time for the burn?

I don't know those answers, and as I often do when I am answerless, tend to make it about me - if only I had more time for x, or was better at keeping up with y....but truthfully I know it cuts much deeper than that - to the place where I more deeply struggle - with expression, acceptance, love, and strength.

More often than not that reservoir runs dry, and again, I wonder which came first. The deepest parts of us need nourishing to thrive, too.

I don't have the answers. But I do know I long for a sacred place - where women come together, to debate, to heal, to grieve, to flow. A place where our truest selves can be put forth and honored like the incredible gifts they are. Where our idiosyncracies can be discussed and cherished. Where many women love my child.

And while I long for that place, I find tremendous joy in the blog world, the place where I have more honest exchanges with others than I often have in person. I wonder what my community would look like if you were my neighbors? What kind of potlucks would we have? Who would bring the wine?

I'd imagine our fire would burn long and hard. Or is that just a trick of the virtual world, that warts are edited and blemishes deleted?

I tend to think we would dance.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

going once, going twice

I just went over to Her Bad Mother's Auction and put some bids on some Fadiddly-do goodness and other assorted morsels of yumminess.

You should all check it out, outbid me if you want. I dare you. Clickity click click.

Not being able to comment obviously means multiple posts. I may need to work on this not being able to stand not hearing the sound of my own voice thing.

stupid ass blogger

For some reason, blogger won't let me comment at most of your homes today. Says I don't know my own password.

But yet my password works just fine on MY OWN BLOG and recognizes me on a mere one or two others.

So I am sitting here reading, and unable to say anything.

I never realized how much I like the sound of my own voice till right now.

finger licking good

It is my great honor and amusement to offer a ROFL nod to Jess of the oh so fabulous Oh The Joys for her November post Making-Chicken-with-Jesus. This oh-so-hilarious post encapsulated all of what I love about Jess' writing - her irreverent wit, her ability to laugh at herself, and her talent in making it all come alive in a post. It's almost like I was right there when it happened. I mean, not that she'd want me there...but I, well, oh never mind. I'll just sit here and picture it all going down (pun intended) in my head.

If this doesn't make you want to eat a bucket of breasts and thighs in the back row of a church I don't know what might.

MOTR and Izzymom host these nominations every single month, and every single month I get to spend a little extra time laughing. And there can never be enough laughing in the world.

Thank you both for keeping it going all year long.

Next month we'll be adding our own nomination shout out as Mad and I start offering our Just Post awards. You can read more on that here. Last time I checked there was some champagne left and I can still hear the music playing. You might even catch Mad hunched over the punch bowl. I keep telling her the party's over (for now) but she refuses to leave. Librarians are crazy like that.

Maybe I should tell her her husband called and wants to make some chicken tonight....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

my big fat social justice wedding

I can't believe how beautiful you all look. Radiant. Not a yard of pink taffeta in sight. And I see some of you have already found the champagne. Nicely done.

Let us begin with a reading:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
Kahlil Gibran; On Marriage

And allow Mad and I to exchange our vows:

I, Jenny Talia, vow to keep earnest in my desire to be socially conscious; to allow my heart to be pressed by the ills of the world, and to respond accordingly; not out of personal gain but out of a burning desire to live in a just world. I promise to remain steadfast in the face of adversity, to challenge and allow myself to be challenged, and to do whatever is in my power, whether it be by voice or time or money, to speak out and, in turn, be spoken to. I promise to hold all of you in my heart, ever mindful that we have all come together to raise the next generation of humans, and that we are dedicated to leave them a legacy of kindness and justice.

I stand in awe of each of you, for giving of your time and soul and heart, for joining with us to stand together, committed to making the world a better place. For recognizing and honoring that we are all one.

And with this prayer on my lips and tears in my eyes, I thee wed each and every one of you.

Thunderous applause. One hundred kisses. Popping of corks. Joyousness. Making of merry.

Now tilt your heads slowly downward....we have a party to attend. And much to celebrate.

Deezee has offered the most beautiful wedding toast. De, you brought tears to my eyes with this and I am so deeply honored. And on top of the toast, she volunteered to DJ our affair. Her choices are below.

For your listening pleasure:

Pink: Dear Mr. President
Cat Stevens: Peace Train and Where Do the Children Play
Broken Social Scene: Puff the Magic Dragon
Antigone Rising: You're the Reason
RHCP: Higher Ground
Michael Andrews: Mad World
The Finn Brothers: Won't Give In
Moby: We Are All Made of Stars
Pete Yorn: On Your Side
Badly Drawn Boy: Magic in the Air
Neil Finn: Human Kindness
R.E.M: Shiny Happy People

And sweet J-Dog offered a few of his own (in hopes of getting in on the (girl) action:

Sly and the Family Stone: Stand!
Soundgarden: Hands All Over
Marvin Gaye: Mercy, mercy me (the ecology)
Thievery Corporation: Richest Man in Babylon
John Lennon: Imagine
24/7 Spies: Valdez 27 Million
Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi
Bob Dylan: Hurricane
The Wailers: Get up, stand up
Digable Planets: La Femme Fatale
Above The Law: Freedom of Speech
Spearhead: Crime to be broke in America

I could not have picked better music myself. And I can't believe how well some of you much better than a rhythmless

Feel free to hum along as we open the presents...and more wine? champagne? sparkling water? Allow me...


Many of you left your wishes in our comments, and spoke of your passion for gay marriage, for womens issues, for non-violence, and for peace. Many of you promised to strive to be more mindful in your daily choices, and keep the fires of justice alive. Many of you expressed your willingness to participate without posting. I thank all of you for adding your voices to the choir.

Let's first hear from my Maid of Honor. Andrea wrote a post so succinct, so perfect, so exactly spot on in explaining how we've gotten to now, and many thoughts on what we can do. Andrea, I vow to incorporate your wisdom as I try to live a more sustainable life, committed to being more conscious of the world around me. I vow to get my over 2 planet usage down. I do.

Mouse takes Andrea's words and holds them up to the light. She reminds me that it is so easy to rationalize our own wastefulness, and that by living more consciously, we can live in more congruence with our souls. And how important that is. And how unjustifiable my own excuses may sound. I will do better.

Sin talked about using Christmas for giving, and if mass consumerism doesn't sit well with your soul, then she offers a few tangible alternatives for good. Sin - I've heard about the foster family organization already, and I plan to join in January. Thank you for reminding me.

Oh The Joys and sweet Jenny over at mamadrama wrote so beautifully about poverty and hunger and gave us all some tangible ideas for getting involved. Some are as easy as a simple click of the mouse. Some may take a bit of re-working old perceptions, but the challenge is just and the impact is kind.

bub and pie spoke with such love about wanting to care for other mothers in need. About how easy it is to forget what it might be like to be all on your own, and how scary that must be. And she is doing something about it.

Daufiero, in her wise and thoughtful way, reminds us that we must speak out. That we have a voice to use and we should use it wisely. That we have more power than we think. And that is it our responsibility to stand up. Bravo.

Wise Chani talks to us about the difference universal health care would make in the US. And about the burden of illness resting squarely on folks who are already struggling to get by. And true to form, she shows her passion for exploited laborers, and how we can get involved in raising awareness about globalization.

Tabba gives us her passion for foster care kids. And how a broken system leads to broken children and broken adults. And how this will continue unless we do something about it. I've seen this first hand a hundred times, Tab, and my heart aches for the kids who simply want a home.

Jo and Kiki (Kiki, your dress looks amazing, sister...perfect for a bridesmaid) both spoke so passionately about domestic violence, and not only about the price the woman pays, but the societal toll. Senseless violence against our sisters has gone on long enough.

Mammaloves wrote a tremendous piece on the right to choose, and what an incredible gift having choice can be. And the beauty of that is, we can all choose the right thing for our lives without needing to inform others how to live theirs. It's our choice. She then followed up (two presents!) by exploring her personal take on social justice and what it means to truly pursue justice for all.

Neen's gift included a wonderful story about some amazingly strong women. And she didn't end there. In true CWKTBH fashion, she stood up and committed herself to several different causes, and challenged us to do the same. Her gift will go on and on. And I am clicking those links. I'll try and keep up with you, girl on fire.

Brilliant KC shared her thoughts on race and color, and about how our role in raising our children to understand and value diversity is so critical. And it's up to us. She knows first hand what a color filled childhood is like. Hat's off, sweet friend.

Carrie took a stand at her grocery store and stood up for human rights. She will not allow homosexuality to be disparaged, overtly or not, and she is putting her money where her mouth is. You go, girl.

Em reminds us that basic human needs are so easily forgotten as long as we can meet them and yet so incredibly critical if we cannot. And how the USA has a ways to go in honoring the rights of all children. We need more lights on than off.

My friend Deb over at Organized Chaos reminds us to vote, and when we vote, vote consciously. She is passionate about addiction and our criminal justice system and has such compassion for those who are struggling - and does something about it every day.

Susanne and Julie both brought gifts from the larger social context. Issues that permeate all other issues of justice. And how peace and reconciliation are so critical. And how we all have the power to forgive, and to remember, and to change our world for good, starting within our own hearts. Julie spoke specifically and acutely about the need for spiritual and emotional intelligence in those who lead our countries. Pause while I stand and wildly applaud you.

Crazymum talked about her friend Rosie, and how her father taught her to value the lives of everyone by his actions. I so hope I can impart the same wisdom and compassion to M.

motherwoman brought us to the specific and current, by reflecting on the lovely Kim family, and the courage and honor they showed in saving their children. Rest in peace, Mr. Kim. Your story and your courage touched so many of us so deeply. I hope you died peacefully, knowing you gave everything you had to save your girls. You are my hero. Rest in peace.

SwampWITCH follows by reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas - and how it can be much more about giving than purchasing, sharing rather than consuming. That is, if we choose it. And it's not always an easy choice.

NotSoSage reminds us of those struggling with addiction; and how we can either offer a judgmental stance or a compassionate embrace. And how harm reduction is so much more humane, and less fearful, than many might think. I agree with you, Oh, So Sage...absolutely.

And last but not least, the two most lovely MOTR and Momish remind us to care not only for humans but also for the smallest and meekest of creatures. About how we should care for all planet dwellers, and how we can choose with our dollars to improve the lives of animals. And in their honor, the wedding feast is 100% vegetarian.

Or perhaps we should just eat some cake.

And there are a few of you who have promised a belated gift, and when you are ready to offer them, let us know and we'll bring out the leftovers and pop some more champagne. Life showed up this week for many and just because today is wedding day doesn't mean the celebration is over.

Edited to say: Gifts keep flowing. Please go and see what Nancy just dropped off - she's already grabbed some wine and headed out to the dance floor. More gifts to come. And sweet Meno with her giving heart for creatures of various shapes and sizes....these two sure know how to groove. And juli, who brings multiple gifts and words of wisdom and truth...And sweet liv whose words are so important, and her heart so true in it's pursuit. And Sunshine. who gives of her heart and mind daily in her very good work and still managed to take time off and join us for a late night cuppa....There is more to come.

In fact, I was just getting to that....take another sip, crank up the wedding music, and read on.

And now we have presents for all of you. Mad has created the most lovely gift for me, and I in turn, give it to all of you.

The Just Post Award is Mad's brainchild. It is a precious and amazing gift, and one that will keep our wedding party going all year long. We will celebrate our anniversary on the 10th of every month, and will do so by calling for nominations for the Just Post Award on the 1st of each month, and Mad and I will offer the button and list all nominees and nominators every month on our anniversary.

And in honor of my gift, I in turn offer one to Mad. Mad, my gift to you is in raising awareness of a social justice issue each month when we unveil the Just Post awards. I promise to highlight a cause or solution that is tangible for all of us. I promise to show all of us that a small group of committed individuals can, indeed, change the world.

So as our wedding winds down, please accept our invitation to join our ongoing celebration. And whenever you read or post about doing good in our world, share it with us. And I'll make sure to remind you. I am pushy like that. I am the bride, after all.

I truly don't have words to thank each of you for sharing in our celebration. This has been an incredibly joyous week, filled with excitement and energy and power.

I am honored to hold hands in this circle with you. And I won't be letting go.

And lastly, to Mad, my partner in social justice anti-crime, I thee wed.

Let the hot girl (brain) on girl (brain) action continue.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

a word from the wedding planner

If you are still planning on submitting your RSVP's to tomorrows soiree, can you send me the link before 8pm PST?

Girl (brain) on girl (brain) action requires a restful bride.

And moreover, I am terrified I'll miss one of your presents....

See you bright and early with bells on, all you social justice warrior women, you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

bird by bird (on my way to the chapel)

I can't believe I am getting married in two days. And to so many amazing and brilliant women. And especially to Mad. Mad, my fierce and lovely bride who has done such an amazing job of courting all of us all week long.

This will most likely be my last post until Sunday - I've got so many loose ends to tie up - finalizing the music, taste-testing all the champagne, arranging the flowers...

And it's not too late for you to join us. All we ask is that you write about a social justice issue that you are passionate about before Sunday AM. You can read the whole invitation here. Just make sure to share your link if you haven't already (you can leave it in the comments section here or at the original invite) and I'll get you on the guest list.

I can already picture it - a warm and sunny day (it's my wedding and it can be warm if I say so), dozens of radiant, powerful women all coming together on the side of making the world a better place. And of course...presents.

And on that note, let me leave you with something joyful to get you in the mood. Because social justice doesn't have to be discussed only in terms of all that is wrong in the world, but also sometimes, the things that are so completely right.

Right stopped by today in the form of a family that I worked with several years ago. Another family who'd fled Somali and landed in the US, a family with no connections and a son with a hole in his heart. They were living in a shed (and paying rent for the priviledge - can you imagine being THAT landlord?) and their son was progressively getting worse. The doctors needed to operate but would not do it till they could find a safe and clean place to for him to recover. When I met their son A, he had trouble breathing. Walking was hard. He was 4 but he didn't speak. He was a sick little guy.

Housing, surgery, another surgery, recovery, immigration battles, employment - it wasn't easy but they survived all of it, and we lost touch after they moved on. They stopped in today, and A. is a gorgeous, tall, handsome 8 year old. A soccer player who gets all A's. And boy, does he talk.
While it's not a commentary on a system broken, it sure felt really, really good to see a family who had perched on the brink and climbed out the other side.

Margaret Mead (and Anne Lamont) are right. It's bird by bird. It can be done this way.

Sometimes this is the only way we've got.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

something borrowed and blue

Mad has been doing such a wonderful job posting about social issues all week long. I read her eloquent posts, filled with facts and links and all I can see are faces. Little faces. I see stories in the her words of hunger and of abuse.

I was travelling through Mexico a few years ago. I was sitting on the steps of a church is some little town when a boy came up to me and sat down. He spoke a little english, and I spoke a little spanish, and we spent some time together, quietly sitting. After a while I mentioned that I needed to get going, that I was hungry. When I asked if he was hungry too, he said yes. We shared a meal and parted ways.

The next day I opened the door to my little hotel room and he was sleeping on a chair in the courtyard out front. Ernesto, I said. Que tal? He said he was waiting for me. I asked if he was hungry. Si. We had breakfast.
Ernesto and I hung out for several days. He never asked me for money. Never asked for anything, just seemed to want to follow me around. He'd sit on the beach while I sat and read. He waited outside places I visited. He'd step back in line with me when I'd come out.

I didn't mind the company - I was alone for a good deal of the time and was sorting some things out, and he was easy to be with.

When it was time for me to move on I bought him one last meal and I talked about leaving, and about our time together. I asked him why he spent so much time with me. And if he needed money, I would give some to him.

No, he said. I just like being with you. You are pretty, and you gave me food. We hugged goodbye, and for a moment, we both were silent. Ernesto was nine years old when I met him. I can still picture him, standing at the bus stop waving as the bus pulled away.

When I was in Cambodia earlier this year, there were hundreds of hungry children. Many of them begging, pleading, unrelenting in their pursuit. They knew tourists have money, that we leave more on our plates than they eat all day. They pursued us well. And I let them. It was heartbreaking. I knew they had a job to do for their families, that they were part of a system. Part of a means of survival. They were so young. Stomachs distended. Thin. Filthy. Heartbreaking.

Children not much older than M were up late at night, begging. We'd buy them food and milk and they'd take it and still press for money. Money needed to bring home. We gave that too, not liking the way it made us feel but knowing that no matter what the reason or angle, they needed it so much more than we did. It was relentless. And even though Mad posted about human trafficking today, I still can't bring myself to write about the child brothels and underage prostitution we happened upon. I am sorry, but I just can't. Maybe at some point I'll find words to do those little girls justice, but I don't have the vocabulary yet.

Luckily, we happened to stay at this guest house and learned about this place. We felt it was a way to contribute to a concerted effort being made in one small town. Good people run this place, and do good things.

It is unspeakable, the horrors of poverty. The desperation caused by hunger. The way a child looks at you when they need to beg from you in order to eat. The dimness behind what should be bright eyes. The littlest faces.

The wedding. The wedding. It is only 3 days away. You still have till Saturday to get us your gift. And we can't wait to see all of you there on Sunday. I plan on blowing a hundred kisses in all directions of the earth.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

interrupting my regularly scheduled programming

If you've been here before, or regularly, as some of you are, you'll notice something glaringly different to the right of this post.

Yes. BlogHer Ads.

I started inquiring about working with BlogHer a while back - interested in seeing what possibilities I might be able to explore as far as earning a bit of extra money. And the thing is, the extra money (or ability to earn extra money in ways beyond my work) is important to me because we so deeply want to move to Belize. We want to move to Belize, and we have no real idea how we'll survive. So I began exploring different ideas - things that might contribute to sustaining us that we can do FROM there, and that is a tall order. I can't build anything. I can't fix anything. I can't wash clothes properly in the river. But I can do this.

I can't tell you how ironic I find it that this is the week it all came together. I am not sure why I feel that this conflicts with my social justice wedding, or if it does at all, but something is colliding in my head and I couldn't stand not mentioning it to you. I have read other debates on the topic, and some have very strong opinions. I've always aligned myself more to the side of free will and personal choice, but I know that this is a hot topic for some. And I still want you to want to be here.

All I know is I have standards. And BlogHer fits those - by being able to designate what ads you are willing to host (social causes/family) by not yielding site or content control, and by being a part of a network of women. And if it becomes something other than I believe it is, I won't do it anymore.

But for now, I am checking it out. I am earnest in my desire to find creative and alternative ways to sustain my family so we can move to the jungle and raise M in the wild.

All I'll need is a good internet connection.

Thanks for letting me share this. Next I'll get back to my wedding plans. While the room is filling up with some of the most beautiful women I've ever read, we've still got room at the head table. It's not too late to RSVP.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

something old is something new

I am getting around to finalizing my wedding details. Like choosing a maid of honor...I have my eye on Andrea at Athena Dreaming, and I am hoping if I promise we can wear recycled eco-friendly locally sewn by consenting adults hemp garments then she'll accept.

The thing about Andrea is that she is much more environmentally conscious than I am. She thinks with her dollars. She thinks by NOT spending her dollars. She's got a test you can take here that will give you pause. And pause some more.

Aside from being one of the most articulate and brillant posts I have ever read in my life - the thing that struck me so deeply (so deeply that I just finished reading her entire post aloud to J, who after standing still in our kitchen for several minutes in awe asked me to email him the link) is that she is able to think comprehensively and strategically about the core issues that bind us. The ones that make us want to throw up our hands and give up. The ones that truly overwhelm. And she breaks it down simply. Energy efficient light bulbs. Choosing who you buy your gas from. How you get to work. And how you invest your money.

All of it, in part and parcel, can reduce the consumption we so easily and blindly participate in. All of it combined can make a big difference.

And she got me thinking. In my own meager retirement account I choose to only invest in green funds. I set it up that way, and feeling oh so very principled, chose less growth potential over supporting oil. However, in my 403b through work I am invested in standard mutuals. I tried pursuing the green route, but this carrier had limited options and was making it complicated, so I let it go.

I gave up, just like that. I mean, why not? It's not my hectare we are talking about here. It's someone elses.

I am shamed tonight. And Andrea, I am calling my account rep in the morning.

Because you are right, and it has to stop. Enough is way too much.

We've got a LOT more space at the reception. We are taking RSVPs here. And Mad is doing an amazing job courting me. Her words and intellect and passion continue to astound. I only hope I can mirror her majesty (pre-wedding jitters anyone) and make her proud.


In the midst of all my wedding plans I almost forgot that I owe Madame Chick a list.

A list of five things you don't know about me, or my kid.

Me first, me first.

1. I have a thing for latin men. Or maybe for men who speak spanish. One or the other.
2. My childhood crush was Mikail Baryshnikov. I waited outside for 2 hours after seeing him dance to meet him. He came out (all 4'9" of him) and I got to meet (and touch) him. I lived on that for years.
3. I cannot dance. A rhythmless ship. It's awful.
4. I got drunk and lost in Mexico once and to this day have no recollection of 8 hours, 2 car rides, a burro, and a border crossing. (there but for the grace of friends went I)
5. goat cheese and orange peppers are one of my favorite combinations ever.

The kid.

1. Her middle name is from a Bjork song.
2. She is a big fan of pickles.
3. She got her passport when she was five days old.
4. She has a strange affinity for trying on my bras. Over and over. And she puts stuffed animals inside them and walks around the house.
5. She will issue a fake cry or a fake laugh on demand. We are working on her fake surprise and fake sleepy look and will be soon adding them to her performance roster.

I tag Liv but she has more than one kid so I'll understand if she takes a pass.

And don't forget the big wedding this weekend. There are still spots on the guest list.

Monday, December 04, 2006

last night out as a single girl

You've all heard by now that I am getting married on Sunday. And you all know you are invited to marry us too. All I ask in return is a present. A present, you ask? A present about an social justice issue that concerns you, one that you want to share that will perhaps enlighten others of us to get involved. No issue is irrelevent if it matters to you.

You can find out more here and here. You know you want to be on the guest list. And Mad is promising girl (brain) on girl (brain) action. Librarians are wild like that.

So anyways, I figured since I am getting hitched (again, and to so many of you) that I might want to get out and sow my last few wild oats. Lucky for me, Columbia Pictures invited a bunch of us homeless hacks in the Bay Area to an early screening of The Pursuit of Happyness in recognition of National Project Connect week. Nothing says changing the world like a bunch of homeless hacks all in one theater seeing a free movie.

You should see this movie. Chris Gardner is an amazing human being. And his struggle to keep his family safe and housed is just one example of what thousands of families go through on a daily basis. Hands down, an incredibly moving film. Will Smith did an amazing job portraying Chris' story.

And while I don't want to be critical, I do need to say that I had hoped the movie would have made a stronger case for the broken system rather than focusing solely on how damn hard this man worked to save his life. I fear it might give the impression that anyone who's homeless can get their shit together if only they work hard enough. I wish that was true, but we aren't alone in this. It's a dysfunctional system with many layers and obstacles - not one easily overcome by many. Chris Gardner is an amazing human being, and what he was able to do in his life is inspirational and remarkable and humbling...but it's not only up to the Chris Gardners of the world. It's up to local, county, and state legislators to stand up in their communities and advocate for change. To increase the supply of affordable housing. To improve minimum wage and the cost of child care. To leverage non-profits to get the most comprehensive services possible. It's up to all of us to make sure everyone is housed, and safe, and warm.

Chris may have done it all by himself, but that is what makes him so heroic. I am no Chris Gardner. And in all my years of working with homeless folks, I've never met anyone else like him. He's extraordinary. But the problems still remain, and will remain, until we make housing a priority in every community.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A betrothal of cross cultural ideals and same sex beliefs

Mad asked me to marry her. She did. It's right back there a few posts ago in the comments section in black and white.

I mulled it over for about 20 seconds. Then I immediately accepted.

Before the naysayers chime in, with the you are both married (mine isn't legal and well, Canadians are cooler about the same sex thing) or the whole you've never even met each other thing (Russian brides do it all the time) and the how do you know you guys can stand each other in real life (yet to be seen but odds are high) and the what about your partners (my gut says both might be totally psyched about it)

Take a moment to think about it. About a union of minds and souls and hearts - where we are willing to stand up and commit ourselves to our common belief system, where we are willing to bravely throw caution to the wind because we know in our hearts that what we believe is so profound, so important, and so oriented towards bettering our planet that we are willing to run pell mell into marriage, and well, hell....our kids have instant playmates. Admit it, you are jealous already.

In fact, if I may take it one step further (and great liberties with the post in general) - our commitment will be centered on coming together to form a better world. Our commitment will be to give social justice a voice so in turn there may be change.

Margaret Mead summed it up best: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

So, perhaps that means we make this a group wedding. Let's get wild and drunk (figuratively speaking for those of you who abstain) on the idea that a small group of committed people CAN change the world.

It'll be a hell of a reception. If we are going to break bigamy laws, might as well do it right. Who's in? And if you are in, your wedding present to us will be to tell us the area of social justice you are passionate about, and what we can do about it. On your blog or in the comments, your choice. Just bring it on.

If you choose to join us, send me the link to your post and next weekend, we'll have one big social justice wedding and all of your vows will be included. And that means Mad only has to actually court me for a week. I am easy like that.

Oh, and the totally other cool part is I am betting that on top of being a passionate, brilliant, and socially minded woman, Mad is pretty hot, too.

I scored.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

far from tender

I was back in the Tenderloin yesterday doing a bit more research for a project I am working on. Every time I visit there, I am always struck by how desperate it is - it's filthy, the streets are filled with the homeless, with people who seem very ill, or high, or both. The businesses that line the area are a mix of converted SROs (a type of extremely low income housing) liquor stores, and porn shops. People are everywhere, yelling, talking to themselves, asking for money, working some deal or another.

Truthfully, it freaks me out - the lack of hope and the utter desperation is so loud it hurts.

I take note of those who are going through this district rather than living in it. They walk fast, head down, eyes averted. Purses clutched. They are going somewhere else. Those who seem to live in this area are slower, a bit more conversational. I too, am heading somewhere, and I am on the move.

We literally step over a few people as we go. One man is lying on some cardboard, bleeding from his head. I notice he has no shoes. We see two men dragging a third who can't walk - it's impossible to tell whether or not he is temporarily or permanently unable - it looks pretty bad either way.

A woman stops me - starts in on a convoluted story about needing a specific amount of change to get somewhere - I stop her, no need to sell me on your story - and hand her some money. I feel strange hearing her justify her begging, and stranger still as she yells god bless you three or four times as I walk away. I already know sister. I do. And I am sorry. I'd rather you were blessed instead.

We reach our destination and get to meet with some very good people trying to do some very good work. Ideas are tossed around. It gets us closer to where we want to be. We wrap up and head back.

On the way back to the car we notice a man in a wheelchair. He is doubled over limply, his head is at his ankles, a rope tied around his middle keeps him attached to his chair. He is in the middle of the sidewalk. People swerve around him, glancing maybe, but nothing more. I wonder if he is dead. He seems dead. I stop and say this is so fucked up. My friend says this IS so fucked up. But we don't know what to do. We stop and gently touch his shoulder, not knowing what the hell we will do after that moment. He jerks and groans and yells. It scares me, and I feel helpless. My friend quietly says Jen, let's go. There is nothing we can do. I leave, ashamed that I allow myself to buy that as an excuse, and ashamed I remain.

We keep going. I look back. He is upright now.

This IS so fucked up.

I notice this is my 100th post. That means I've been waxing on about drool and the streets for a while now. I don't know what is different between the time I started and now. I wonder how that man slept last night, and if he ever feels warm and safe. I wonder about that woman, and if she ever feels blessed.

I want it to be different than this.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Let me qualify the below by saying I KNOW how incredibly blessed I am. I know how easy my life is compared to so many others in the world. I have a roof. I have food. I KNOW. I am whining. I KNOW.

But damn, if some days aren't hard. Yesterday was hard.

Between M and the balance we need to work two full time jobs while only allowing her to spend part time in day care combined with laundry and figuring out what to eat and making an attempt to clean the house and being completely wrecked by my insanely high energy child who is into every single thing at every single minute like tonight when she ate a fairly large piece of paper and then cackled and hid under the table while chewing and swallowing....

while balancing a cell phone on one shoulder while I change a diaper while in conference call with important people discussing important problems and using my little finger to mute the phone every time M squeals so they don't catch on that I am not paying attention when I should be paying attention....

when I stop on the corner to give a panhandler my card and he tells me to go fuck myself, and I say if I could, I'd certainly be doing that instead of trying to talk to him, and while that cracked the facade briefly, it wasn't enough to convince him because he's stayed at one of the shelters at my agency and will never go back because we are assholes who don't care about the homeless....(ouch, brother)

while racing to read enough baby books and do bathtime and get her to bed on time so she can get enough sleep so we can start all over again....and then instead of doing something good for myself like god forbid exercise I fling myself in exhaustion on the couch..

i should perhaps join the circus. maybe they need another juggler. because god knows, if nothing else, I am a damn fine juggler.

And jugglers wear cute tights. And someone else puts their makeup on for them, right?

But clowns scare me.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Said American Dream - by Jenny Talia

ECR humorously tasked me to write about The American Dream, or better stated, my perspective on The Said American Dream.

First, let's get a generally proposed definition for the subject matter at hand.

Wikipedia (the source for all things accurate) defines The American Dream as a subjective term usually implying a successful and satisfying life. This term usually implies financial security and material comfort, but can also imply a dream of fame, exceeding social, ethnic, or class boundaries, or simply living a fulfilling life. Perceptions of the American dream are usually framed in terms of American capitalism, its associated meritocracy, and the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The term is not easily defined, and has subjective meaning to many who claim it. The American Dream is often associated with
immigration, as the dream of religious freedom, economic prosperity, and meritocracy has historically driven immigrants to the United States. The term is used by many modern Americans to signify success in life as a result of hard work (as in, "living [or pursuing] the American Dream").

Hmmm. I guess I can get behind the part about living a fulfilling life - but is my life truly fulfilled if yours is not? Is it ok that I am warm if it means you are cold? Fame and fortune, well, that makes me sit up a little straighter and start to itch. Then I get all prickly towards the parts describing capitalism and then laugh out loud when I read the part about it involving meritocracy, better known as a system of government or other organization based on demonstrated ability (merit) and talent rather than by wealth, family connections (nepotism), class privilege, cronyism or other historical determinants of social position and political power.

Ahem. If meritocracy is an actual part of The Existing American Dream, then I can shit tiny gold men and make them do my laundry.

PS. I do my own laundry.

(I shouldn't be so cynical. We are conditioned to embrace the ideals of meritocracy, and the practice certainly does exist, but concerning leadership in particular - status is exponentially easier to achieve through wealth, nepotism, class/race privilege, & cronyism than through a merit-based ascension through the establishment's rank & file. For every Frederick Douglas, there are 1000 George Bushes.)

I guess I'd prefer to re-define what we typically think of as the American Dream as Global Human Potential through Social Justice.

(Wiki-people) Social justice refers to conceptions of justice applied to an entire society. It is based on the idea of a just society, which gives individuals and groups fair treatment and a just share of the benefits of society.
Social justice is both a
philosophical problem and an important issue in politics. It can be argued that everyone wishes to live in a just society, but different political ideologies have different conceptions of what a 'just society' actually is. The term "social justice" itself tends to be used by those ideologies who believe that present day society is highly unjust - and these are usually left-wing ideologies, advocating a more extensive use of democracy and income redistribution, a more egalitarian society and either a mixed economy or a non-market-based economic model.

Social justice is also a concept that some use to describe the movement towards a socially just world. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of
human rights and equality. So a very broad definition of social justice is that "social justice reflects the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society" It can be further defined as working towards the realization of a world where all members of a society, regardless of background, have basic human rights and an equal opportunity to access the benefits of their society.


Now what does this all mean to me? I think people like C come to our country because we have acquired more of the world's resources, therefore making it easier to feed and clothe your family, and keep them alive than in many other parts of the world. But The Said American Dream comes on the backs of others. Unfair trade agreements, destabilization of other economies, and the ever loving desire to make a buck has crippled the world's (and our) economy. The Said American Dream lives on the backs of our domestic brothers and sisters - one in five children live below the poverty line in the US. Millions have no health insurance. There is not a city in the nation where minimum wage equates market rate rental housing. Tens of thousands of children go to bed hungry. In my county alone, there are 20,000 people who are currently unhoused. The average age of a homeless person is nine years old.

I have met hundreds of homeless or at risk of homelessness families who pursue the above with a vigor that startles me. They believe that with hard work, one can have anything. I think it is an honorable dream, and one that many of us have been fortunate enough to experience ourselves to varying degrees. But did it all come to us via our hard work alone? It didn't for me - money, stability and ethnicity all played a role.

ECR - Obviously this is somewhat sardonic and a bit scattered. In fact, I'd give myself a C-, or better, fail me for plagarism. I'll let you decide. Others, please feel free to disagree. That whole it's a free country thing does come in handy.

But if the argument is at least we aren't as bad as some other countries, I won't buy it. Because as the country with the most resources and wealth, we have the obligation and responsibility to be an example to others. To use our power for good. To stand up taller. To do the right thing. It doesn't matter if others are mucking it up worse.

So, in turn, ECR, and others - what is your perspective of the American Dream?

rising up

Sometimes people come back after their crisis is over, not as often as I'd like, so when I get the pleasure of hearing the "look at me now" stories I drink them up like sweet water. Yesterday brought one of those unexpected visitors.

C came to us with his son after fleeing Somalia in 2001. He was granted political asylum, but not much else. They were homeless, couldn't speak much english, and needed help. We were able to move him into to one of our projects and over time and with some interpreters, started to learn how we could best help.

C fled during the remnants of the civil war. He was only able to afford passage for himself and one son (of 5 children at the time) and missed his wife and family dearly. C immediately began taking ESL classes and looking for work. Not having any understanding of our social system or ability to speak the language was a barrier, but he took it in stride - all he cared about was getting his family out and safe. He took to our programs quickly, absorbed the help we could offer, was extraordinarily proud of his new place to live, and worked, worked, worked. He had to save $13,000 to prove to the US that he could support his family as well as pay for their passage. He also had to get all the proper approvals and visas and after 9/11, (his family is Muslim), things got considerably tougher.

Stories of all the domestically displaced Muslim families we housed in the years after 9/11 is another tale for another day.

C is so generous, surprising us with Somali delicacies, helping out when we needed some heavy lifting, and working hard to contribute to his new community. C would find other African immigrant families in trouble, and would drop them on our doorstep and translate their needs to us and implore us to help. He was a one man community builder.

C lived with us for over two years. We had committed to keep him housed until his family arrived and we could transition them together, because stable housing was one of the criteria he had to have in order to justify their arrival.

About two months before his family was granted aslyum, one of his daughters died. She had been sick, their village didn't have proper medical treatment, and food was scarce. In essence, she died because it took too long to bring them here. C was devastated, and yet he kept going. There were three children left to bring to his new home.

Finally, the paperwork was pushed and the stamps were stamped and authority was granted. His family arrived, and it was a joyous homecoming. His wife was so breathtakingly beautiful, I'll never forget the first time I saw her walking across the parking lot - orange sari flowing, her regal posture and shy and exhausted smile. His children were beside themselves, they'd had quite a journey and had spent a long time away from their father. Everyone was hungry, and needed to see a doctor, but were ok.

Very shortly after he kept his commitment to us and prepared to move out. He worked several assorted jobs to make ends meet. He'd saved money, but had spent most of it bringing his family here. He still needed help, but again small miracles ensued and a kind landlord was willing to negotiate.

That was 2 years ago. He's always kept in touch, but it's been awhile. He came yesterday to say helllo and to kindly offer me blessings, saying without us he would not have been able to rise up. That he is in touch with others we'd helped at the same time, and we learned one family has bought a house, and another has a son in college. He is working with another family to open a restaurant. And he says they owe it all to us.

Believe me, I know that isn't true. I know the truth is that they helped themselves. That they made the most of every opportunity and never wavered. That they brought community and joy and love and life to our country, and they've blessed us in knowing them.

He brought another family with him today, one he's stumbled upon recently, who've recently arrived from Africa, and one of the kids has some issues. He is 11, but he cannot speak. C thinks the horrors he's witnessed has taken his voice. And of course, they need a place to stay. In the for-profit world, this might equal customer satisfaction and a strong referral base. In ours, it's akin to bailing an ocean with a thimble. There is never enough housing and our arms are weary. But still they come, each with their own stories of trauma and hard times, and each with their exhaustion, shame, and a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

I learned long ago that even when it's thank you, it's never only about thank you.

And I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

a little wooden ring

A couple of you asked to see - and unfortunately the picture kind of, well sucks. But here you go. Note the trekking through the jungle dirty fingernails.

And no, that was NOT me sipping a bit of rum punch while pregnant...what kind of woman do you think I am?

Probably exactly the kind of woman I am.

A sip, people. Just a sip.

Monday, November 27, 2006

joining the union

This one's for Chani, who got me thinking.

We hadn't been together for very long before M decided to join us. And getting pregnant didn't make us want to get legally married - we are both of the mindset that we don't need a judicial system to help us define our love and commitment so the idea of a wedding or marriage wasn't something that we'd put on the table as a result of M.

However, her appearance made us realize we wanted to do something to communicate to the world that we'd become a family. We decided that we'd both change our names to a name that fits how we want to live our lives. We labored for months about the right name, and at one point were fairly well set on an acronym for a phrase we like: Truth and Love in Action. Talia sounded like a terrific last name until I (thanking the almighty) said it out loud in a sentence.

Hi, I am Jen Talia. Or worse, Jenny Talia. Nice to meet you.

And we were THIS CLOSE to filing the paperwork. I'll wait till you are done laughing at our stupidity before continuing. Needless to say we went with another option.

Anyways, we were trekking around Central America during my 2nd trimester, feeling the need for a trip before our world changed. While we were in Belize J-Dog started acting a bit suspiciously - disappearing for a while, hushed conversations, etc. I knew something was up but I had no idea what.

One morning he said he had a surprise. We walked over to the ocean and a catamaran was sitting on the dock. He had rented it to take us out into the Caribbean, complete with two old and salty Belizean sailor types. The day was perfect. Water a deep turquoise, visibility for miles. J-Dog asked me to sit down and be serious. I started to giggle and fidget.

He pulled out a piece of paper and a small bag. He had written the most beautiful words about love and partnership and about how he was committed to making this life with me, about how much he loved me and the baby inside, and invited me to make a family with him, for better and worse. He opened the bag and had some wooden rings inside, a few different and inexpensive pieces, yet they suited me perfectly. He said I could wear or not wear them, but knew I liked variety and wanted me to have choices. They were lovely, his words were lovely, and at one point he asked me if I would be his life partner, and I said yes.

He then stood up and yelled to the old Belizean men "She said YES! She said YES!" and they whooped and cheered and brought over a plastic tub of rum punch and toasted our happiness.

Simple, private, and perfect.

We've realized since that while this has made us happy, at some point we might like to have a celebration of sorts - not sure yet what we'd call it - that our friends and family can attend. We'd like to wait till M is a bit older, so she'll remember it and can participate. For now, we have done exactly enough to suit us.

That doesn't mean we don't have to defend our decision to family, or that folks don't get confused when I call him my partner or because of our last name, assume we're married and call him my husband. And none of it matters, because he is all of those things to me anyways. It doesn't mean it'll always be this way, or that we won't choose something else later. It just means we're playing it loose.

He’s the warmest chord I ever heard
Play that warm chord, play and stay baby
We don’t need no piece of paper
From the city hall
Keeping us tied and true
- Joni Mitchell