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!

Here

Concentration
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?

Hope
This I know:
there is beauty everywhere, if you look for it.
Yet
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.

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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:

 

 

Great example of art and community empowerment!

Aside

A VERY condensed view of the mural - if you click on it you can visit a scrollable view!

Check out this beautiful project created by Allegheny College art professor Amara Geffen, along with many of her students, as well as high school students from the local community.  This is a wonderful example of sustainable art, being created of, by, and for the community, and bringing people together in the process!

Jonesborough: Week 1

First week in Jonesborough with EPIC International (formerly Community Performance Internatnional)!  Arrived Sunday night at long last and spent some time with Richard (Founder/Artistic Director), Jules (Playwright/Artistic Director), Jason (Set Designer) and Brett (Music Director).  I worked with Richard and Jules at The Bauen Camp several years ago, but it was my first time meeting the others.  We are all sharing a giant old Victorian house while we stay in Jonesborough for the project.

The Town of Jonesborough, as viewed at Sunset from the parking lot outside the theatre

So, what will I be doing while I’m here?  Richard named me “Production Assistant,” which is basically a nice way of saying that I’m the person who does whatever the heck needs to get done.  How did I begin my work on this project?  By sweeping.  The performance will be taking place in a big old gym/auditorium in what used to be the black school during segregation, and it has been boarded up for several years.  They knocked out all the drywall in the gym, so we’re left with the bare framework of the building – which looks pretty cool, but also means there’s a lot of demolition dirt lying around, and I got to clean it up!  Since that first day I have been able to jump in on all kinds of things both set-wise (painting, jig-sawing, building things) as well as production-wise (assisting the stage manager by being on book during rehearsals, creating the props list, helping actors work on small bits and pieces).

The show is going to be great – it’s a series of true stories about the people of Jonesborough, and who knew there was so much history here?  Apparently Jonesborough was the first town in Tennessee, and was also part of the short-lived 14th colony of  Franklin (never fully recognized by Congress).  It was also home to Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, and the Buffalo Soldier who put the American flag up on San Juan hill.  Currently, it is the home of the International Storytelling Center.  There are some awesome stories in this show, which are told through great music, an awesome set (see picture below), and the actors are the people who live here, the people whose stories (and whose grandparent’s stories) are being told.

Terrible picture, but a decent first glimpse at the stage in the making!

I’m bummed that I missed the story-gathering part of this process, but I’m excited to assist with putting on the show.  Luckily, Tuesday morning I got to observe a storytelling circle among 4th graders at the local elementary school.  This is part of a project that is running simultaneously with the performance project, and they are gathering stories from the students to put together in a play of/by/for the students that will be performed through the school.   It was really fun to listen to the stories the kids had to tell – some serious, some funny, some that didn’t make sense or ended with “ummm I forget. Can you come back to me?”  Next I will be helping out by reading through all the stories that have been gathered from students and working with Janna (the director) and Jules (the writer) to figure out which stories should make it into the play, and where we might be able to tie different stories together.  Woo!!

And now, I’ve run out of time because I have to go back to working on some logistical stuff and maybe even reading some of the kids’ stories before I go back to the stage and help with building things!  Crazy busy!

p.s. I also have to say a major THANK YOU to my roommate Zahra back in Boston, who helped me photoshop the new header image on this website, and who is still working on a few other images for me to add.  Thank you Z!!! It makes the website so much better!