Tuesday, December 30, 2008

because this is what I do

It's what I've always done.  In times of great-freaking-out, I turn inward.  I tell you I am fine and I retreat. I stop writing, talking, commenting (have you noticed yes you have).  

Because I've done this to myself.  No one is making me move to the jungle.  But with less than three weeks at the only job I've really ever known, while packing up so much and taking so very little, trying to stay calm and present while ordering mosquito netting or cancelling subscriptions or unrolling canvas from frames or figuring out how to sell my car or you know, hey, any number of things.

I've never been good at asking for help. If you ask me I will say I am fine. Because I'm also terribly excited and life is really good.  Because we have no idea what we are doing and because we have a semi-decent plan.  Because I don't know what else to do so I do nothing because everything is done and there's so much left to do.  Because being quiet is easier. Because I want to drive off down a highway alone for hours on end. Because I am a chicken.  Because I am brave. Because I am both at a loss and full of myself.

So this is what I've always done.  Radio silence interspersed with hey everything is fine.  Liar, liar pants on fire but if no one is looking does it really count?  How will you know if I don't tell you.  Saying it aloud makes it so.  I am both amazon and little person.  I am purple.  I am circular. I am. Still here.

Because this is what I do.  

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

strange rivers

It's amazing how much I've forgotten. As I sift through the piles of memories, letters tied with red ribbons just like in the movies, ancient mix tapes and photographs, ticket stubs and etchings. It's all there, a piece of every person I ever thought I loved was inside these dusty boxes.

Moving means boxes, but moving in the way we are moving means very few boxes at all.  So everything must go and what doesn't go is downsized, my parents have agreed to store three boxes in their garage in perpetuity so we decided to each take one and keep whatever memories we want and the other is for M.  

So my box is full of half finished journals and trinkets from around the world, silly pieces of paper that mean nothing to anyone but me. But it's also filled with the people who've helped to shape me, who'd claimed to love me, who I spent short or long periods of my life with. I've allowed myself to keep one correspondence from each person, something to mark the relationship and the point in time and the rest I will burn in a fire before we go. And in all but one case I've kept my promise. Maybe two. It's my box after all.  

But tripping down memory lane has brought both good and bad, the memories I'd installed inside my brain seemed incongruent with some of the letters, the acknowledgement that I'd not been as kind as I thought I was and the one or two bits I'd never really resolved and unforgotten now have left me pondering. The what happened to started creeping around my brain next to the man I'd forgotten about so I went as far as google, a voyeuristic way of seeing how people from 20 years ago have fared and in some cases I've smiled broadly at my discovery and others prove elusive even still.  

This served to remind me of how much life has come before, of how deeply things were expressed and how true we thought they were and in some cases only timing stood in the way. How we are always searching and ever hopeful that you will see me as I see you.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

it's coming on christmas

Each year I try to deny the effects of the holidays, holding tightly to my belief that we should be grateful and kind all year long and not just one week a year. And every year something happens that cracks that veneer wide open. I can't help it, for a while I can withstand all the toys and the carloads of clothes and the homemade cookies but as we get closer and even if it's only during the holidays, the extra energy folks put into helping others moves me every single year.

This year is no different, as we welcome many new faces through our doors they often come bearing gifts, ones they've made for people they do not know. This year it was the kids who finally got to me, the ones who came with little bags of toiletries, toothbrushes, soap and shampoo for all. The kids had written notes on each bag and I wanted to share two of them with you.

Dear Person, I hope you can get a job and get wealthy (rich!!). I felt bad when I saw someone that was homeless at the airport. I hope that you won't be. From, C. This kid is cool - focusing on long term goals (rich!!) and being empathic at the same time. Good job, kid.

This one was more to the point yet ever hopeful. This kid is a dreamer and we all need more of those in our lives: Dear Person, I hope this bag will solve all your problems. From, A.

Short and sweet but perfect. And for what it's worth, me too, kid. Me too.

And to all of you, the moms and the dads and the daughters and the sons, I hope you weave your own magic this week and I hope you know I am thankful for you all year long.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

and now for a message from your sponsor

I've got a story for you but no time to write it, so instead I'll attempt to spread some holiday cheer. I'm elfin like that.

One of the best things about holidays is when family comes into town. When family is in town, we leave our child with them and go to the movies. If you have a chance to steal away this week I wholeheartedly recommend Slumdog Millionaire. It's easily the best movie I've seen in a long time.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008


It's getting close now.  In less than four weeks I'll be leaving the work I've loved for more than ten years and in a week after that we'll be saying goodbye to our little rented house, the one where we learned how to be parents and grew as a family.  Two weeks after that J will head out on the road, he and two others armed with a map, our earthly belongings and hopefully enough cash to bribe his way through.  Two weeks after that M and I will follow, she'll arrive wide-eyed and excited and I'll be a bit scared and we'll get there and we'll unpack and I'll freak out once or twice and then we'll wonder what comes next.

More often than not I am struck by the inability to really comprehend what all of this means, such massive changes piling themselves up on top of each other one by one.  

We've got a ways to go before then, we've still got way more possessions than will make the journey, our schemes to downsize are in motion but occasionally we stumble, I think we'll end up donating more than selling and fitting less that we think in the car.  But beyond the practical I find myself dwelling on the emotional, the last holiday, the last time we'll see so and so, the last time I'll walk through those doors.  I am excited and fearful, the unknowns outweigh the rest and all we've got is a rickety little template of hope powered by a gerbil and some string.

So we'll keep that gerbil happy, she's spinning and spinning and spinning, we need her to keep the juice flowing into the new year and if we are nice and never naughty perhaps her legs won't give.  

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Friday, December 19, 2008


We sat while they flickered, one candle for every death this year. We honor those we've lost every year in a ceremony with folks from all walks of life but mostly we do it because it gives those who lost a friend to the streets a place to mourn. We had more candles this year than last, more than the year before that. The table was full and they all flickered seperately almost as if each soul was right there telling us what they thought. More than 100 people came to pay their respects and in that moment like in so many moments all that mattered was this one thing.

But after it's over it's back to business, folks who came for the service climbed back in their cars but the ones who stay went back to their usual spots, wondering I am sure if one day they will have a candle too.

I remember the first year we did this, ten years ago now. I'd lost someone then, someone I'd loved who had nothing and no one to claim him and my inquiries fell on deaf ears because there was no one listening anyways There's no one to call. But that's okay because you are all my family now. But from his passing a tradition was born, one that honors in sadness so many each year but started because of him and because he mattered so much. So no matter what a part of me is with him on this day, I always picture him looking down on us and saying all that fuss because of me?

To which I say Yes Bob, all this fuss is because of you. And to everyone who has come since.

I still miss you, my friend.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm walking in when I hear them.  Two guys going off, tossing f-bombs and I think, the N word.  They aren't fighting but I arch an eyebrow at them anyways when I walk by.  I've got a wicked eyebrow arch.  One of them sees me and immediately snaps to attention and apologizes profusely.  He makes me laugh because he seems so genuinely contrite, this gangster dude all hyped up ma'aming me with a grin that could charm the icicles off Alaska.

I tell him and I mean it I don't care what kind of smack you talk as long as you aren't saying it to me but i don't think he believes me because on my way out he apologizes again.  I touch his arm and I say with every bit of the 38 years of seriousness I can muster I wonder how your mother might feel if she heard you talking all this hype and I arch my eye again.  Now he's laughing too and he says probably not so good and we both go in different directions, like we probably have our whole lives but for that one moment we were exactly the same.

Edited to say: it was more about me wanting to prove that I didn't care how he talked than whatever he was talking about. There's a dance that happens, based on a hard edge and the limits of our surroundings. It's funny how we both were preoccupied with perception.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

you know we'll have a good time then

We are eating dinner when the song comes on.  Harry Chapin's voice always makes me pause.  The cats in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon and as she's taken to doing more and more M inevitably asks what's this song about?

So we begin to explain, we stumble around a bit but finally get to the point. It wasn't quite as hard as explaining Coming into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie, what are keys mama, who is Mister Customs Man and why doesn't he like him mama....but we still muck around, partly or mostly because I fear what she might say and she does. She says exactly that. 

But mama, you are gone at work a lot.  Sometimes you come home late. I don't like it so is that like in the song and in that space a million puppies died and chocolate milk ran out forever. J's silent, he's not helping out with this one, he thinks I work too much too and besides this song was practically written for him and his dad and he kills him every time it plays.  

I tell her I am sorry, that I know it's hard understanding why I have to go to work every day and how one of the main reasons we are moving is to change this cycle we are forced to be on in order to make ends meet. I think of how so many families work 2 and 3 jobs and how some folks don't want to spend time with their kids but others truly cannot because they are working so hard to survive. And then I think of the precipice we are on and if we can make it work and if we can sustain it and realize once again everything we know to be true is about to change.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

a sheriff a baby and some pants

I first saw them at the beginning of the week as they wheeled the stroller into the enormous room chilled to the bone. I hear him before I can see him but I'd recognize that sound anywhere. The sound of the newly born.

The parents are ragged and distrustful, but the journey to here no matter how many wrong turns doesn't mean anything to a newborn. We bring them in and start to get them settled when I see the hospital bracelet still on her wrist. How old is he, I ask. 4 days, she says. M is with me and she's antsy, we've been here awhile now and she's finished her various tasks. After a while I tell her it's time for us to go and the mom hears me. She looks up at the baby's father She's not staying. We are the only family staying here. Her eyes dart around the room and she sees what I see, a hundred or so folks from the street milling around and then there's her.

M immediately blurts out we can stay too mommy it'll be fun and in that moment I feel like the worst person ever, I would never want her to stay there all night and yet somehow I've rationalized that it's okay for others, a hypocritical line I've somehow learned how to cross.

Two nights later I return alone, the little family is there again and now the baby has spent half of his life in the streets. It's a complicated situation, one that requires more creativity than usual and so we assembled a team and after about three minutes assessing the situation one of them looks at me with what looks like tears in his eyes. I'm making it my personal goal to have them in a better place by Friday he says. And sometimes the stars align because he does exactly that, even beating his own deadline by a good 24 hours.

Across town I run into another little family, this time a mom and her daughter who's exactly the same age as M. The mom has 1 day left to stall the sheriff from locking her out of her apartment, the clock is ticking and she's desperate and it's not lost on me how young she looks herself. The little girl is sullen, I lean down and ask her if she's hungry and she nods her head. She's having a bad day, her mama says. We've been on the bus so long she had an accident and we don't have a change of clothes. Now I see it, she's not sullen but embarrassed and she will not stand up no matter what. Want me to try and find you some pants I ask and she nods.

While I'm off hunting down little kid pants the mom gets the help she needs and the eviction has been forestalled. She'll have her place for another month and if she follows a few other steps maybe she won't be in this place again next month. We even find some pants. It's moments like this that make the most sense.

Too much cold and too much work has left me sick just as I was supposed to get on a plane. Now I'm home instead of going away and I'm not happy about it but given the week itself it still feels like we've come out ahead and sometimes that's just the way things go.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

November Just Posts


It all started two years ago with a wedding. Six months later we all opened our hearts on our anniversary and six months after that we collectively birthed a baby and named her Volunteerism. In between we took the Just Posts global by adding hosts from other parts of the world. And always, always there was you, faithfully writing and reading and joining us month after month. Two years later (and on our second anniversary! Love you Mad!) we sit here still.

So it's with sadness and also joy that we are announcing our collective stepping down as hosts of the Just Posts.

I have sincerely loved hosting our Roundtable every month for the last two years but after much deliberation and conversation with Mad and Su we've decided that each of us, for different reasons are ready to step away. For me, our upcoming move to the jungle leaves me uncertain, connectivity might be elusive and the commitment I feel in making sure the Just Posts are collected is great. These two variables together spells potential disaster, and as such I'd rather do the prudent thing and find this community a new home.

So we've decided collectively that our last Just Post Roundtable will be in January which means we'll have one more month to do it up right. If one (or two or three) of you is interested in keeping the Just Posts alive we'll be happy to hand our little village off to new caretakers, so many of you have been with us since the beginning so if it calls to you please email me and we'll talk about how great it is and how much we'd like to see the Just Posts find a new home.

I am sorry if this comes as a surprise to some of you, we've just wrapped our heads around it ourselves. But there is a season to everything, and sometimes fresh energy is exactly what a project needs to continue to thrive.

I hope this bit of news won't detract too much from the reason we all gather, the voices this month as always are loud and vibrant, spanning American politics to African ones and everything in between. And I'll have a chance to say it later but let me also say now what an honor and a pleasure it has been to be a part of the Just Post Community for the last two years. I'm a bit teary even writing this, what we've done here means that much.

Alejna with Making history and The bittersweetness of pants
Billie with Public Defenders under siege in Miami..and everywhere
Bipolarlawyercook with The guiltiest day of the year
Bon with The morning after
Chani with Don't let them take what's yours and Waging peace: Proposition 8
Defiant Muse with My hope for you and Equality for all
Em with What about this crisis? and Triple bottom line (TBL)
Emily with photos of a rally and Flying the banner
Emily with Resisting the urge
Erika with Equality is equality
Flutter with Helicopters make him cry
Girlgriot with Tannin', Tommin' and getting merry like Christmas
Gwen with A Hard Truth. A Soft Landing
Holly with Part of the main and Yes we can improve the health of our communities
Janet with Everything is connected and Something else for you to do
Jen with Turn of a phrase, mail call and A day like any other
Josh with What would it take, my brother?
Kyla with Heavy
Letters from Usedom with My African children
Mad with 1,385
Maggie, dammit with What are you Contributing with all that hate? and Violence Unsilenced
Magpie with Repurposed: hat and blankets
Mary with The Veterans
Monkeys on the roof with Summer cold
Mother Woman with Let them eat change
Neil with Another argument for gay marriage
Ngorobob House with Food for thought, mostly
Reya with The yin and yang of it all
Tanis with It's true: You can't put a price on stupidity
Zoom at KnitNut with Harm reduction in the context of real life

Mayberry Mom

I hope you'll stop and see how Mad and Su are sharing the news and if you are so inspired to take over hosting the Just Posts, please, please get in touch. And in between we should think about what kind of party we can have next month for our last Roundtable, if we are going out I aim to do it in style.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

spirity spirit

We were coming home close to M's bedtime when we decided to drive around a bit looking at the lights.  She sits in the backseat screeching stop daddy stop loooooooook every few moments as we careen through the darkened streets.  

Look mama, they have spirit!  The best houses get the moniker of Spirity Spirit!  

I suggest we drive through some nicer neighborhoods, assuming the richer folks will do it up. For what it's worth that was not the case, those fancy houses were bottled up tight.  Perhaps they save their cheer for the inside rather than the outside, I think as we drive. Or perhaps they are more energy conscious, the environment getting in the way of spirity spirit. In the working class neighborhoods, the ones near our house some folks have gone crazy, rooftops covered with Santa Landing Pads and bouncing Frostys and reindeer on the lawn with few baby Jesus' thrown in for good measure.  Our neighborhood, while not necessarily close does seem to do it up for the holidays. Halloween was the same, folks going all out.  It's kind of run down but it's perfect.  This outward display of emotion generates one of my own.

Our house isn't one of those.  We fall into the grinchy energy conscious camp with our one straand of low wattage holiday lights.  I wonder if it matters to M.  I consciously let that guilty thought pass.

The best house is the one where the folks have created a new version of the traditional two deer on the lawn.  This guy has ever so creatively placed one deer mounting the other from behind.  I can't help but laugh.  Now that's some Spirity Spirit. We drive past and I decide his house is my favorite one.  

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

about last night

I attended a somewhat fancy thing last night, something geared towards raising some money for those less fortunate as part of my work.  The place and people were lovely, but no matter what I feel at best like a stranger or at most like the woman who stands next to your table with her bucket of roses.  Roses, I say. Flowers?  And the nice people at the table, they size me up and nod.  A yellow one or two red ones, sometimes a brief shake of their head.  You can dress it up however you want but it is what it is.

One of the women there ordered very fancy champagne.  Being unmuzzled, I noted that I'd never actually had champagne of that caliber before and obligingly albeit with a brief look of shock, handed me a glass.  I held it in anticipation, the little bubbles and the crisp scent. I stood there amidst the din of drinks and laughter. I tasted it expecting fireworks, waiting for diamonds to sprout on my tongue.  

It tasted good but not as good as my 38 years of waiting might have suggested.  I wonder if I am lacking refinement.  I wonder if anyone really thinks about the Rose Girl, how she got there or how she's getting home. 

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

my girl is alright

Our seasonal program started this week same as every year. But it's my last time around the merry go round and as such I've promised myself to spend as much time there as possible soaking it in. It's my favorite week of the year, knowing we have a several hundred more spaces for people to come in from the cold and fill their bellies. For once, there is enough room at the inn.

M's been excited for weeks, she hears me talk about it and remembers her time there last year so in honor of it all I came home to collect her and we went back off into the night together to the big noisy shell of a room that we fill up with people all winter long. The first week is always a reunion of sorts, volunteers coming in with old towels and rain gear and other things they've collected and held onto till we are open for business. Then folks we haven't seen since last year file in like it was yesterday, some more ragged and some look the same and no matter what I'm smiling because it's not much but it's something and that matters a lot.

We got there when folks were still setting up and she immediately jumped in helping line up the sleeping mats. When she was done with that she moved on to making bedrolls with one of the staff, a process that with her intervention required extra patience and god bless him, he had plenty.

When she was done with that she sorted shampoo from soap and then helped the cook dish up late plates for people who aren't able to arrive till after dinner is over. Each person she worked with whether client or volunteer was so kind to her, they taught her the ropes and still made time to tease and play.

All along I'm watching her, regardless of my own comfort level I'm conscious of our surroundings and how things can turn on a dime but I also have faith in the goodness of people. Besides her being there is good for them too, not many kids come through here and for many of these folks human contact in general is in short supply. She's mixing with people of every color and age with one common denominator - each of these folks will call this makeshift project their home for awhile. And it's not lost on me that she's entirely happy here with people that most of us would struggle to look in the eye.

After a few hours she's done and it's time to go. We start saying goodbye and one of the guys asks us to wait. He guides her over to the middle of the enormous room and at the top of his lungs asks folks to listen.

Hey everybody listen up, this little girl here spent the last few hours taking care of us. She rolled blankets and sorted mats and helped with dinner and she's learning about giving back and we can all take a lesson from her so let's give it up for M and the room breaks out into applause.

She stands there looking at me with a shy smile on her face as the cheering dies down and a few folks come up and shake her hand or bump her little fist with theirs. I watch from the sidelines and I can't help but think this is one of the best moments of my life so far and she doesn't even know how amazing she is. I feel tears prick my eyes and she runs over and leaps in my arms and we walk out into the dark.

As we are driving home I tell her how proud I am of her. But I can't put into words exactly why because I realize in this moment she wouldn't understand anyways and if I make it a big deal then I'm the one calling it out. Because to her these folks are just like anyone else and she's just doing what comes naturally by lending a hand.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

whose woods these are

We drove through the cold and foggy night, winding down an unfamiliar highway through sporadic towns we do not know. The child was in the backseat happily ensconced in the magic that is the portable DVD player (judge me if you will but I couldn't care less, that thing is the moniest money of all) and we sat in front with the heater on low telling stories. You might think we'd be all storied out by now and to a large degree we are, as any couple who's been around for years we've already heard the good ones at least once if not four or five times. Tonight was different, we were telling ghost stories.

It's getting good and creepy when we come around the bend and the fog is thick. We see something off to the side up ahead and startled I say slow down and J hits the brakes. It's a person we realize but aren't saying out loud. A person standing so still he looks like a tree.

I'm scared now, my heart is racing and I lean behind me to push M's door lock down. She glances up from her video induced coma and lights flickering in her eyes she smiles and her eyes dart back to the screen.

Do I stop J says and we are just upon him now and I swear, I swear I see a knife. This man creature lifts his arm and it glints in the moon. I grab the phone and no service blinks back at me and I say what the hell is that we can't we need to keep going don't stop but J slows down even more as I am yelling at him to go. It's surreal in this moment, a premise for a bad slasher flick unfolds before us and I am just the girl in the car waiting for the guy not to be a cowboy.

The man is outside our window now, his face looks calm and eery, he stares right at me and lifts his hand and I start to scream. He grabs for the door handle and as he opens his mouth I see his teeth, they are filed to tiny points and am screaming go go go.

Ok none of that really happened. It's like April Fools around here. That's all.

PS. I told you we were telling ghost stories, one you might have heard had you been there in the car as long as we promised we'd be able to hermetically seal your child's ears with dvd earplugs before freaking each other out.

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