Portland!

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!

Some overdue highlights from LA

Despite the fact that I have been in the Bay area for a week now, I just loaded my most recent photos onto the computer and realized how much I never wrote about LA!  So here are some highlights from my time there, for your viewing pleasure.

Also, please take a look at the (recently updated) Directory of Organizations page to learn more about all the wonderful organizations I’ve been coming across, as well as my new Photos page, where you can see the complete collection of photos from each city I’ve visited so far.  Enjoy!

Casa 0101 - a theatre company based in Boyle Heights, started by Josefina Lopez (of Real Women Have Curves)

The wonderful Boyle Heights farmer's market, complete with a young, hip group performing traditional Mexican music. That neighborhood is really undergoing a cultural revival!

ArtShare Los Angeles - another great youth-focused arts org. They offer classes in theatre, dance, and visual arts, focused on developing youth as professional artists.

Free movie by the Echo Park Film Cooperative's Film-Mobile! We saw a great movie (Hito Hata?) Filmed partially on that very spot 30 years ago.

Rizza, my new friend from couchsurfing, and I at the free movie in Little Tokyo (and enjoying our free Pocky snacks!)

Gratitude.

Venice Beach, CA

Gratitude seems to be a theme that life is currently bonking me over the head with, so I thought it was time to write about it.  My new favorite gospel song, which I learned during my brief stint in Mystic Chorale this winter, is called “Be Grateful:”

God has not promised me sunshine.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
But a little rain
Mixed with God’s sunshine
A little pain
Helps you appreciate the good times.
Be grateful….

This past Thursday, I went to my first couchsurfing event, a dinner at Cafe Gratitude – a raw, vegan cafe with all kinds of inspiration going on.  Lastly, I met two lovely ladies at a bake sale fundraiser yesterday who shared their blogs with me, and they both appear to do regular weekly gratitude reflections.  (You can find their blogs on my new blogroll on the right side of this page).

My sweet sweet bicycle, loaned to me by my new friend Chris off of Craigslist!

Thus, I thought this seemed like a good time for me to start my own tradition of gratitude-giving.  So here goes!

Things I am thankful for this week:

  • The kindness of strangers
  • The diversity of landscape in this country
  • The moderate temperatures of Los Angeles
  • My legs, and their ability to make a bike go “zoomzoom!” (see, Mazda? not everyone needs a car to do that!)
  • The internet, and the way in which it puts the solution to so many of life’s little problems at my fingertips.

Girl Power!

Catfish in Balmorhea Springs Pool, my campsite in the deserts of west Texas

Dear oh deary me! It’s been almost a whole week since I last posted!  Apologies for letting time get away from me – I spent the first 2.5 days this week traveling across the desert from Austin to LA and camping along the way – needless to say I did not have internet access, let alone could I charge my computer!  Upon arriving in LA, I checked into a hostel, which, while full of lovely international peeps, was a mite bit crowded and had REEEEEEALLY slow internet.  Plus I think I was catching up on sleep lost while on the road, and adjusting to the two hour time difference.  At long last, I have found a lovely co-op which has taken me in, and am starting to get settled into life in LA.

Ok, enough with the excuses.  Time to get you all caught up!  Today I’d like to spotlight one of the very coolest organizations that I checked out while I was in Austin: Grrl Action!

Program format: Arts mentorship program.
Art form(s):
Primarily theatre, but incorporates many different art forms.
Location:
Austin, TX
Community served:
Girls roughly between the ages of 13-18.
Mission:
To help teenage girls find voice and vision through the power of performance.

Grrl Action is an awesome program that focuses on developing artistic/theatre skills in teenage girls, and in doing so helping them to find their voice.  They are a subsidiary program of the Rude Mechs professional theatre company.  Two cool things about their program: 1. It’s a very safe space for girls to come together and explore things that are important to them, and 2. They have a great mix of girls – because of their connection with Rude Mechs, they get daughters of patrons of the theatre, but they also offer full scholarships and work with public housing, so they get girls from lower income backgrounds as well.  The girls learn a lot from each other and really seem to open up and blossom in the space.

A key philosophy shared with me by co-director Madge Darlington was actress Deb Margolin’s idea that, “Your everyday lives are worthy of performance. Everyone has a story to tell.”  I really connect with what this organization is doing because it resonates so much with what theatre did for me, but it takes it to the next level.  Theatre gave me a voice, it was an outlet for me to experience the world and learn to feel comfortable in my own skin.  Yet this idea that “your everyday lives are worthy of performance” goes a step further: it encourages girls to find the value in their own lives, to examine what they have experienced, learn from it, and create something beautiful to share with the world.

Cool news: a sister branch of Grrl Action is in the works for Boston!

Austin!

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Some of my more attentive readers may be wondering what I’m doing and why I haven’t posted about Austin yet… well the fact of the matter is, I’ve been too busy LIVING Austin to write about it.  I think that’s suited to the character of the city – it is a place to truly be lived in.  Over the last week and a half I have had the pleasure, with the aid of my dear friend Katie Visco, of discovering the most wonderful parts of Austin and the nicest people it has to offer.

Austin is a beautiful city, with lots of gardens, a beautiful river, and lots of nice people.  It is also unbearably hot and humid.  Despite that fact, I have managed to enjoy the best of it: swimming in Barton Springs, eating Amy’s Ice Cream, catching some good music, checking out the ubiquitous food trucks (I’ve never seen so many in one city!), perusing the food samples at the flagship Whole Foods store (it’s HUGE!), and just enjoying good company.  I have also, true to the mission of this trip, checked out a few great programs which I’ll post more about in the next few days: the Theatre Action Project, Grrl Action, and the Pro Arts Collective.

More than anything though, Austin has been a place to relax and reflect.  I’ve been thinking a lot about community building, what it takes, and what kind of environment it requires.  I have been very impressed by organizations such as the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans and the Pro Arts Collective here in Austin that serve not only as arts organizations but also as conveners, connectors, and active voices in their communities.  They promote and foster the arts in a variety of ways as well as providing a space for the community to come together.  I’m not sure that I really have anything further to say on that at the moment, it’s just something that has been on my mind.

At any rate, I head off in the direction of LA tomorrow, and will be on the road for a few days.  Hope to post once more before I leave.

The Beloved Community – How Close Are We?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

As any good City Year alum will tell you, one of the central tenets of Martin Luther King’s ideology was the Beloved Community: essentially, an ideal society in which extremes of inequality are eliminated, in which people of all races, creeds, and nationalities are fully integrated, living in unity with one another.

As human beings, we are designed to live co-dependently. We rely on the larger community for survival – each person has a role to play, whether it be growing food, making clothing, or providing services such as education or healthcare.

The problem is, in our modern society, we are bombarded with images and stories of hatred, of ignorance, and just plain criminality. We put up our guards to keep ourselves safe, but in doing so we sacrifice a little bit of faith in humanity. The more we give in to the stories we hear in the media, believing that our world is composed of people who are out to get us in one way or the other, the further we stray from the Beloved Community. How can we live in unity without trust?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we should throw caution to the wind. As the proverb says: “Trust your neighbors but lock your doors.” I just think it’s time to put a little more faith in our community.

While on the road, I am more than ever before at the mercy of strangers. I have relied on strangers for a ride, for a meal, for a place to stay, to loan me a bike in a new city, to give me directions… the list goes on (don’t worry folks – this is all with a healthy amount of caution and care – and I only stay with “strangers” who are friends of friends). The lesson I have learned is that ultimately, the vast majority of people in this world are helpful and friendly, when you let them be.

I remember reading a story recently about a woman in a hurry to get to work, who trusted a homeless man with the keys to her house so he could get something to eat. She realized after the fact that perhaps she should have been more cautious, and began to worry about her home being vandalized or precious items stolen. When she arrived home at the end of the day, however, she found her home in better shape than when she had left it – the man had cleaned her house and left a note of thanks. The note said, roughly, “Thank you for trusting me today. You have no idea how much it means. I was recently released from prison, and have received nothing but hatred and distrust since I got out. The trust you placed in me today has given me a new faith and hope to move forward.” Now, this is a very rough paraphrase, but you get the idea. When we place trust in others, amazing things can happen. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, when you have the whole community together, anything is possible, because our diversity brings all the necessary tools to one place.

So today, try placing a little extra trust in a stranger, make a new friend, do someone a favor…. help to build THE BELOVED COMMUNITY.

Goodbye Tennessee, Hello New Orleans!

As I prepare for my flight to New Orleans later today, it has just occurred to me that I will be making my first time zone change of the trip.  I’m not sure if this has any real significance, apart from the fact that I will be gaining an hour of my day today, but I feel that it is something to be celebrated.  A Next Step! A New Beginning!

This move also makes me nostalgic for the place I am about to leave. Tennessee has been good to me, in many ways, and I will miss it.  The community of Jonesborough welcomed me with open arms – they fed me, hugged me, loaned me bikes, gave me rides and free chiropractic adjustments, and generally made me feel at home.  Within days of being here I could walk down Main Street and recognize people.  I have also enjoyed the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, and the general feeling of being in the country – though I can tell you I will NOT miss the sound of the donkeys heehawing in the middle of the night!

An Ode to Jonesborough:

This town,
deceptively quiet
rolling hills and countryside,
is invaded 5, 6, 7 times a day
by trains.
Hurtling hulks of metal
barreling across the land,
blowing whistles incessantly: wooooot wooooot!

The silence of my oversized bedroom
in this extra large country house
is interrupted by loud hee-haws and moos
at all hours of the day and night.

And here I am,
stranger in this noisy/quiet community,
welcomed in as part of the village.

Forest Gump’s momma may have said that
life is like a box of chocolates
but I think it can equally be said that
life is like a treasure hunt:
You never know what you’re gonna get.

Pots of gold come disguised as ordinary people –
when we enter the theatre we become alchemists,
bringing out the gold in one another
through honoring our stories.
This is no bland small town America:
Jonesborough, proud home of pioneers,
Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett,
the gateway to the Frontier.
Holding strong against the tides of change,
holding fast to the stuff they’re made of.
Proud to call this place home.

Big Old Victorian House

Cool statue thing

Ancient Ford Truck

Cows! They were kind of angry.

Barn

Front Porch