Finding my place

I have found my people.  Quite possibly the last place I would have expected to find them was in a research methods class, but that is indeed where I finally found them.  I feel a little bit like Gonzo must have felt in “Muppets from Space” when, after a life time of being the oddball alien that no one could quite figure out, he was suddenly surrounded by a whole slew of people who looked like him and thought like him.  (yes, I am a Muppets geek. I hope you are too.)

Today was the first “first day of school” that I have experienced in five years.  It was a strange yet exciting feeling to be a student again, pen and notebook in hand, reading over a syllabus.  I must admit I was a bit bummed to realize that my first class of graduate school would be a research methods class, but by the end of the class I was TOTALLY geeked out for the rest of the semester.

How awesome is grad school? Let me count the ways.

1. Being older, more experienced, and, well, adult, your professors are more like peers than they ever were before, only way more knowledgeable than your peers are.

2. You are focused in a subject area that you (hopefully) are really passionate about.  This makes learning much more fun!

3. Because most graduate programs are housed in larger universities, there is a wealth of information/research/resources at your fingertips, specific to your field.  Which is really exciting, especially when you’re in a really tiny field.

4. You’re surrounded by people that are equally geeked out as you about the topics you’re diving into.

Some (if not all) of this information may seem obvious to you, but here is why it is so exciting to me.  As an undergraduate student at a small liberal arts college, I was really interested in all the things I’m interested in now, but my professors were not equipped to teach me about these things.  Don’t get me wrong – they were excellent at what they did – but their interests and realms of experience just didn’t encompass my non-traditional interests.  Likewise, my fellow students looked at me somewhat askance when I tried to explain to them how exciting the field of community-based and applied theater was.  Even in the past week, during NYU’s “Welcome Week,” I only met students from other programs who were all somewhat confused by my program.  Now, suddenly, in my first graduate class, I am surrounded by people with similar stories.

So, like I said, I have found my people.  In the words of the community-based play I worked on in Tennessee a few months ago: I am home.

I wrote this two days ago, but due to my lack of home internet until now I am only just now publishing it.  I’ve just come from my second class of the semester, titled “Coping with Conflict: Drama as a Catalyst for Social Awareness,” and I am if possible EVEN MORE geeked out for this semester.  Yay!

Updates and other prose

These last few weeks have found me much absent from the blogging world as I’ve begun to be distracted by the pressing demands of getting myself ready for grad school this fall: finding an apartment in NYC, packing up my remaining belongings in Boston and moving them to New York, final visits with friends and family, figuring out financial aid, etc.  It has also finally hit me that I am leaving behind the beautiful small, green city of Boston for the congestion and concrete of New York, and I am experiencing the early stages of grief. Don’t get me wrong – I fully agree that there are many beautiful places in New York – it’s just that they are a lot harder to find than they are in Boston, and they are mostly unfamiliar to me as yet.

It has been an exhausting time, but I have finally dealt with some of the larger demands and am currently enjoying a bit of respite at my parent’s house in the DC area.  I thought I’d share with you a few little bits of prose and poetry that I’ve written over the past few weeks.

#1: A never-finished beginning to a blog entry written on July 26th:
I am on a New York-bound train from Chicago, swiftly covering the last few hundred miles of my journey.  As I type, a landscape of river and marshland flies by my window.  The scene is lit by the weak light of a late-afternoon sun in a partly cloudy sky, and the Adirondack Mountains are visible in the distance.  It’s a view that begs to be admired, drawing the eye away from any other task at hand.  The train is going at a bizarrely slow pace, as though the conductor was trying to prolong this vision.  I’d take a picture to share with you, but I’m afraid a photograph just wouldn’t do it justice.

#2: A few pieces written on August 1st, after a week of apartment hunting in New York. This will give you a real glimpse of where my mind has been!


is a difficult thing
when your world is turning topsy-turvy.
Body surrounded by concrete
Mind surrendered to technology
Ears filled with the cacophony of urban life:
people shouting
horns honking
trains rumbling
music playing.
This is the place in which I chose to study?

A Brooklyn Haiku

In a small cafe –
pricey coffee, ugly view –
Inspiration? Come.

Meditation on the Subway

Airless subway station
Hot summer day
Phantom trains rumble above/behind/below me
How deep do the layers of concrete and iron go?

This I know:
there is beauty everywhere, if you look for it.
I’m having trouble finding it,
in this moment,
Having trouble figuring out why I’m willing to spend
oodles of money
to live in this place
this jungle of grit and dirt…

But here comes my savior,
an unlikely hero:
immigrant with guitar in hand,
strumming and singing sweet melodies
to help me find the beauty in this world.

It’s no wonder that music is sacred.

Undercover spy shop? Or super cool free writing program?

Yesterday, while wandering around my friend Meghan’s Chicago neighborhood, I stumbled across this awesome storefront:

In case you can’t read all the tiny print, this sign is freaking hilarious.  It also happens to be a front for the super cool organization, 826Chi – the local branch of a national organization that is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” (excerpt from 826Chi’s mission statement on their website)

I’d heard rumors about this organization before, but had no idea how incredibly cool they were – I’m so glad I stumbled upon their store yesterday!  There is an actual store inside this building, selling all kinds of spy paraphernalia and other products, with the proceeds going directly to the programs that they offer.  I bought a compilation of writings by 826Chi’s students, a wonderful collection of funny, poignant, adventuresome stories written by 2nd graders up to 12th graders.  Behind the store is their classroom space, where they offer all kinds of exciting writing workshops.

Can’t wait to check out their New York branch – apparently it’s called “The Super Hero Supply Store!”

The Power of Hope

After almost two weeks of silence on the interwebs from one Dena Adriance, Wandering Story Hunter, I have at last returned from my most recent valiant adventure, emerging perhaps a bit worn and bruised but mostly energized by the affair.  (Can you tell I’ve been reading Robin Hood?)  That’s right, folks: I’ve spent the better part of the last week or so in the mountainous woods of central Washington, volunteering as a kitchen staff/mentor for the Power of Hope camp.

Now, it’s been several years since I last worked at a summer camp, and I can tell you right now that my body has most certainly aged since the last time I did so.  I’d forgotten just how exhausting it is to be on duty 24/7, on your feet several hours a day, ushering often ornery and sometimes stubborn teenagers from activity to activity.  I’m quite sure it wasn’t this difficult the last time I did this, especially given the fact that I was able to withstand it for whole summers at a time, let alone one puny week!  After several days of such bodily abuse, I returned to my friend’s Eberley’s place on Sunday evening only to find that I was so exhausted I fell asleep at 9:30pm…

Let me paint you a few pictures from my week.

Image #1: Before campers arrive, the staff build an altar of objects from nature.  Each staff contributes one piece: that piece represents their intention for the week.  For myself, I chose a flowing green leafy vine that I found at the edge of a stream.  My intention as a staff member: to nurture, nourish, and revive like the waters of the stream, to flow through the week providing support where it is needed, and to be a vibrant, soothing source of energy.

Image #2: The first morning that the campers are present, we create an intention tree. Similar to the staff altar, we announce our intentions for the week, only this time we write them out on colorful pieces of construction paper that we’ve decorated.  My intention for myself: to do the things that scare me.

Image #3: At the end of every evening, we walk the campers back to their campsite, a beautiful quarter-mile moonlit walk among the pine trees into a little nook of a valley.  There was a full moon last week, and most nights we were privileged to bask in its glow.  I find myself stopping frequently to gaze in wonder at the incredible cloud formations and the starry sky. Sometimes the moon was so bright that it was hard to see the stars, even though there were no city lights for miles.  I’m sure some of the campers thought I was crazy.

Image#4: On Theater Improv Night, groups of campers and staff are assigned a task: pick one prop and three words out of a hat, create a skit incorporating all of those things, and end with the line, “And that’s what the Power of Hope is all about.”  Twenty minutes later, everyone comes back together to perform a ridiculous, nonsensical, but hilarious set of skits.  We laugh a lot.

Image #5: In the mornings after breakfast, we hold a community meeting.  What are we doing well as a community, and what could we be doing better? This is when difficult conversations sometimes arise: some of the youth don’t feel safe because some of their things have gone missing; some members of the community are not feeling included.  How do we deal with these issues as a community?  Celebrations are made here too: the group is growing more respectful of each other’s needs, learning to accommodate and think of the group before themselves.  Later in the week, this becomes a place to talk about bigger issues in our home communities, such as various forms of oppression and how we might be able to contribute to change.

Image #6: Halfway through the week, the entire camp enters the Heart Circle, a sacred space, in silence.  This is a ceremony that was adapted specifically for Power of Hope and gifted to the program by Maori elders, in hopes that it could provide a needed space of healing from many of the social ills which affect our communities and our youth today.  The community stays in silence for as long as it takes (sometimes until 3am), for each person who feels called to step into the center of the circle and speak whatever will enable them to move into greater power in their lives.  It is at times heartbreaking, at times solemn, at times uplifting.  Ultimately, it is a safe space to let go of whatever is holding you back, and in some senses it is a lot like Fight Club: rule #1- you do not talk about Heart Circle; rule #2 – you DO NOT talk about Heart Circle; rule #3 – speakers speak as long as they have to.

Image #7: Doing the things that scare me. I taught my first-ever storytelling workshop this week, a true representation of the mantra, “Fake it till you make it.”  I’ve barely started to figure out this storytelling business for myself, so how can I teach it to others? Yet this is exactly what I knew I needed to do.  Four campers and four staff shared their stories with one another, and learned some of the basic principles to keep in mind when telling their stories.  As it turns out, I have more resources than I’d realized in this domain, and I think the workshop went quite well.   Much thanks both to Richard and Jules of EPIC International as well as Lynne and Lawrence of Portland Story Theater for teaching me most of what I know about storytelling!  I’m excited to continue developing my skills in this arena.

I could continue with many more images, but suffice it to say that despite the exhaustion, camp was well worth it.  I learned a lot, saw a lot of campers grow into more confident human beings, and met some incredible people.  Now, as with everything, there were struggles – as I told one frustrated camper, ultimately, we are all imperfect human beings, and all we can do is try our best to make things right.  Power of Hope is a microcosm of society at large, and as such many broader issues were present at this camp, but that is a topic for another entry.

The Power of Hope
is an organization based out of Seattle (they also have a branch across the border in Vancouver, BC), that is focused on helping youth to find the power within them to create art, live life fully, and foster change within their communities.  They operate out of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, home to many other awesome organizations. Though they run some programs during the school year, their primary focus is on summer camps, and they’ve really put a lot of thought into the structure of the camp week.  The first half of the week is focused on building community and creating a safe space for campers (and staff) to express themselves and to grow.  Gradually, the focus becomes one of greater societal change, examining the things we want to change and learning the tools we have to create that positive change.  The week wraps up with a lot of self-reflection and discussion about how to bring learnings back home, how to keep the “power of hope” alive within us, and what resources we can turn to throughout the year.  On Sunday, everyone parted ways with plenty of hugs, tears, and laughter.

And that’s what the Power of Hope is all about.

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Adventures in Seattle!

I couldn’t resist.  I’m normally so good at being a frugalista and convincing myself that I don’t need to spend money on things, but this time the urges just wouldn’t go away, no matter how many times I pushed them aside.  I had visions of myself zipping around the green hills and open shores of the island with my hair flying out behind me… I had to do it.

This afternoon I splurged quite a bit beyond my normally minimal budget to rent a scooter, and for two blissful hours I explored Bainbridge Island, in Seattle’s Puget Sound.  I have been coveting scooters for years, roughly dating back to the time I spent in India, when I got to ride side-saddle behind my male companion, as a proper female in a sari should.  This afternoon, with a brief lesson in scooter driving and safety (apparently scooters are much more similar to bikes than I had realized), I was off.

You can thank my self-timing camera and a happy accident of location for this lovely shot.

Oh, the freedom of a scooter on a beautiful island!  I saw some areas that were quite secluded, and I never would have gotten there without the wheels.  I want one for my very own, now more than ever.

Here are a couple shots from my adventures today:




This past Saturday evening, I arrived in Portland, OR, shortly after 8PM.  Having just spent 11 hours driving up from San Francisco, my rideshare deposited me at the Hipbone Studio, bags and all, so I could attend the Urban Tellers showcase put on by Portland Story Theater.  Despite the fact that I had been traveling since 8:30AM and was pretty tired, I was whisked into the darkness of the theater and spent the next two hours listening intently to the true stories unfolding before me.

Portland Story Theater is like a local version of The Moth (whose podcast you should subscribe to if you don’t already).  Their focus is on true stories, both personal narrative as well as historical events.  Urban Tellers is a workshop series in which “ordinary people” learn to tell their own personal narratives, and the showcase is where they get to present the results of their work.  The founders of PST, Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard, share my belief that through sharing our stories and connecting on that raw, human, level, we can break down barriers and build a better community.  They strive to do this in every work they present.

Lynne and Lawrence have also been my generous hosts in Portland, having spontaneously offered me a place to stay after I emailed them about PST last week.  The last few days have been full of wonderful conversation, lots of reflection, and excitement about my next steps.  I’m learning a lot about direct, simple storytelling, and have begun to think about my own stories.  Last night I got to sit in on the final post-performance reflection for the group of Urban Tellers that just performed, and tonight I will be sitting in on the weekly workshop of the group that will be performing in a few weeks.  I’ve connected with some wonderful people, and am looking forward to the rest of my week in Portland!

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon Coast

My store! They even spelled my name right!