A Place for US to Call Home

Inside the mind of a twenty-something Nyx.

Pre-Graduation Post

I wrote this post below a little while back on a plane ride out to New Orleans for Halloween. I have since done much processing and will continue to reflect given today was our official graduation. We have four more days together with fellow team leaders, and I will update again after that.

 

It has been quite some time since I last updated my post, and the happenings that have past since then have reflected how crazed things have been. One, I’m making a vow to myself to be more positive.

You’ll be happy to note that I am completing my term of service with NCCC on November 18, with our graduation date on November 13. I am completing assignments like crazy in the office and seem to have added supervisors as my graphic design skills are gaining attention throughout the departments. I am now single-handedly creating our yearbook- a monumentous task that typically has an assigned person, however that position is currently vacant. I plan on auditioning as a graduation speaker, and per usual have taken on quite a challenging end to the year (are you surprised?). Meanwhile, I have been in the process of job searching. I received notice of a position at NCCC headquarters in Washington DC as a program associate that was forwarded to me by my supervisor, the community relations department and our region director. I recently accepted a position with AmeriCorps City Year New Orleans as a corps member. I begin December 15 acting as a near-peer mentor in order to curb the drop-out crisis in education and to gain experience in schools so that one day I can complete one of my dreams: implementing confidence building curriculum in grades 4-7. I am currently on a flight down to visit my dear John (JD) for the first time in 104 days and scope out housing. I’m ecstatic. Today is Halloween, and tonight he and I will dress as Karate Kid and his girlfriend (the original version). Karate Kid is a movie that seems to be on TV in whatever hotel we stay in, but we never manage to watch it from start to finish. In this sense we hold a special affinity to it, and will hopefully complete watching it this weekend. I am excited and nervous for the end of this year. I am unsure of my horizon as is everyone else, but I have high hopes. I’m considering leading Bike & Build next summer and possibly doing another TL year in NCCC in Denver. I’ve made many amazing, beautiful friends through NCCC, and saying goodbye will be difficult. However, I’m looking forward to beginning something new both in terms of my career and my relationship. I look forward to spending time with my family in NC for thanksgiving and AZ for Christmas and cannot wait to see all of the people I love once more! Californians- I don’t know when I’ll see you yet but I can’t wait for that day either! With love, nyx

July Update

30,000 feet and climbing. I’m back on a plane headed back to Arizona for potentially the final time this summer.

My grandmothers memorial is tomorrow, and I have the privilege of reading my children’s book, which is in the process of being illustrated. I’ve decided that the proceeds will go to her foundation, but I’m thinking I may use some of the proceeds for bike and build as well. Maybe I’ll write a cycling children’s book also.

I’ve tried to sleep to no avail, and began catching up on Ethan’s and Katie’s blogs before we flew out. I spent the last hour reviewing old notes on my iPhone and exploring my life once more through my e-journal which, on this phone began my freshman year of college. Notes here and there- records about my life- everything from poems and dreams to reminders, a day’s schedule and grocery lists.

It’s amazing how much influence others can have on your life. Particularly people you care about deeply.

Now, I get to reflect upon this year. As you may or may not have heard, I am swapping jobs with another team leader, moving from the field with my raven two team, to the office as a Program Support Team Leader. I will be assisting more members of the corps with life after americorps, project development, and scheduling (which I felt destroyed my life so frequently on campus – exaggerating, but only slightly).

I’d like to explain my reasoning for this before you settle upon a feeling as so many corps members had:

First, it’s been an incredibly stressful year emotionally for me. Much like entering my freshman year of college at Berkeley, the start was really difficult. I did not anticipate some of the challenges, although I was certainly looking for a challenge. My goal for this year perhaps, was to be challenged. Challenge received.

The challenge I was not anticipating, however, was my grandmother’s. As you know, if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, my grandmother passed away on June 10, 2014 at nearly 5am, with the sunrise as if her last breath was leaving her body and starting the day for Arizona.

My grandmother was and is by far the most inspirational person I knew. I aspire to be like her more and more, encompass her positivity, give back to the community, participate in youth development, and give more love away than I could ever imagine.

Her death really shook me. The two weeks of emergency leave that I took did not do near enough justice for coping that I needed. When I returned to my team in the field, I had little direct support. Counselors were too tied up to talk to me, but my unit leader, Roger Kingston, helped immensely. He granted me the time and helped talk me through some of the grieving after he lost his father last year and five year old daughter to a brain tumor several years ago.

The emotional draining of this event really took away from my team. Our second split of our second round project with Sea Bright Rising in Sea Bright, NJ involved a lot of crazed running around and chaos for a team leader. And even if it wasn’t apparent to the rest of the team; I was incredibly stressed out. Work was not fun. And I have this theory in life, that I’ve developed since I was little, kinda dropped in high school and regained off and on in college. Some people think I’m crazy, but I have a theory that happiness is important, and one of my primary objectives in life.

Of course, happiness comes at cost. I don’t want to be happy and stagnant; I want to grow. Growth involves overcoming challenges, and often challenges are uncomfortable. Uncomfortable doesn’t often equate happiness.

Throughout NCCC, I’ve referred to both my experiences in Bike and Build and Camp Summit. Both were rewarding challenges, and both pushed me to grow – seek out leadership experiences and really overcome difficulties with work, with coworkers, and with organizations. But there is a difference when a rewarding challenge changes into neither reward nor challenge, simply unsettling discomfort.

Last round, I made the choice that if I was still unhappy after returning from break with my position on a day to day basis in the field, I would quit.

But I am not a quitter. I don’t like giving up on things, especially if I’m a role model for others within the program. So, after talking to Jeremy one day, who works as a Program Support Leader, we decided to switch positions. He was frustrated with his work, finding it no longer fulfilling as was I, so we traded places. Each of us wanted the other job- each of us are entering our new-to-us positions with fresh legs, and each of us will receive many rewards out of the change.

For me, I will be able to support more members with development- life after AmeriCorps- college applications, job searches, resume edits, etc etc. I will help develop projects and be able to provide field experience input on which ones need more development, which ones should have questions answered, etc. I will help with scheduling (one of my biggest previous transition challenges), and event planning. I will get the administrative experience to balance out field experience, and I’m excited to be on board for that.

Additionally, I will have the stability of being in the same place for the remainder of my term. Hopefully this will allow me to delve through my emotions and give my own Life After AmeriCorps thoughts.

Being in Maryland puts me closer to family members and friends on the east coast, or at least hubs in which I can visit them.

I know the next three months will fly by. I will miss my team as well as traveling so frequently (and am eager to find out where my team goes the last round), but I know this is the right decision. I will stand by it, and am confident that this was a good move for both Jeremy and I.

Here’s to Maryland!

June 16, 2014

Yesterday was Father’s Day.

It’s amazing what a phone call can do isn’t it?

I thought of the many people I knew who had lost their fathers or who never knew theirs, and I kept them in my thoughts today. I thought of other people’s loss- many many times I think to myself, you don’t understand! My grandmother was AMAZING, she was outstanding, exceptional, in both her family and the community, she was a superwoman!

But then again, I equally wouldn’t understand (or would understand) your loss of whoever it might have been- father, grandparent, mother, sibling, best friend.

 

My grandmother was not just a grandmother for me. She was an inspiration. She was motivation- I would call her each week and even if I had the worst week in the world, it was all “good things” and “good job” and I would get through it because who wouldn’t want to blow a grandmother like her out of the park? Who wouldn’t want to make her proud?

 

Today was a hard day for me. It was my first day back to work, although I had returned to housing Saturday. I’m definitely in a lull. I eat less, sleep less, feel… less. My eyes will well up at the slightest reminder or I’ll get bogged down by the smallest stressors simply because I already have a plateful, and it keeps piling on. And I ain’t even hungry.

I finally asked my Unit Leader for a pep talk- I kept thinking, I want to quit, I want to quit, I want to quit. And then it occurred to me that I needed to inform my leader that I was down- that I would expect the same courtesy as a team leader.

We talked about loss, and I bragged about my grandmother and her many accomplishments, and in return he bragged about me, how impressed he was with me and how far I’ve come at only 22.  Despite all the confidence I’ve gained and fostered, when I get down on myself, I get down. I tell myself its not that I can’t do it, its that I don’t want to or don’t think its a good use of my time, or that I could be happier elsewhere. All of which aren’t false I suppose, but the reason I chose NCCC was to foster individuals, to instill confidence in them so that they can succeed, so that someone out in the world is believing in them and they know it.

My unit leader told me, “Do it for your grandmother”.

And he’s exactly right. What better tribute? Why can’t I just commit to something and do it fully? Not rush through it, not quit, why can’t I commit?

This is my opportunity, and I need to remind myself everyday. Even though today is tough, what’s my goal in life? Where do I want to be?

And if my bottom line goal is inspiring young adults and instilling confidence in children, then I am exactly where I need to be.

And damn it, I can lead. And I am great, and I need to keep telling myself that until I feel it in my bones and wake up each day knowing exactly what to do, and enjoying the team puzzle on which I work.

June 10, 2014 – Transitions of a different sort.

I entered the room today.

The room.

The room with the empty bed

Indented by her body.

Her body.

The body

 

Just yesterday she was here.

Yesterday,

hooked up to a machine

filling her lungs with oxygen

pushing through liquid

Liquid that can’t clear out

because she’s not well enough to swallow her medications.

 

She’s not well enough.

 

That was yesterday.

Yesterday when she spent all day struggling

Struggling simply to breathe

Groaning when her caretaker would roll her on her other side

She called for us

Called for us.

And when we came we told her,

Begged her to know it was okay for her to leave

To go with Nanny and Aunt Clara and Flo.

 

We waited for her to depart,

watched her chest rise and fall

Simply waiting for each of her breaths

That sounded like a final breath

to be the final breath.

 

We sat outside and group hugged

My mom, my brother, with my father,

tears in his eyes saying he said his last goodbye

again

and that was all he could say anymore.

He was ready for her to be at peace,

After she had declared she was ready to leave last week

to “go home”

After we brought her back to the house from the hospital.

She wanted to go home.

Home.

Home

Here

 

Here in the living room, this morning

Yesterday

Two days ago, it was Sunday,

My cousin cried in the kitchen,

Alex and Uncle Mark kissed her goodbye.

 

Saturday-

Saturday, Alex arrived,

She had her flight booked the night before.

It was the soonest she could come.

We worked on a collage to memorialize her school

We painted her nails her school colors,

She smiled.

She said “thank you” and “good things”

and an ounce,

a sliver of me hoped

believed she’d get better.

That maybe I didn’t need to be here afterall,

that in a month we’d all laugh,

And I’d see her over break and we’d go to her school,

And I’d take her to Africa and we’d volunteer in an orphanage there

Just like I promised.

 

Promised.

Promised three weeks ago when I came out to visit her on emergency leave

Because I was having mental breakdowns in disbelief that I was going to lose my grandmother

One of my favorite people

One of my most inspiring family members.

My loved, my beloved Scooby.

 

One month ago, it’s April.

My dad is talking to me on the phone,

Explaining that Scooby isn’t out of bed yet because she had chemotherapy Wednesday-

Chemotherapy

The words spill through the phone as if I stumbled down the stairs,

Clunking and clanging through my ears,

Like someone banging on a triangle with a cowbell-

Ringing me back to that time in middle school when she was first diagnosed,

When we were too little to really understand

Until she had her stroke,

And her hair fell out,

And she failed to piece together a puzzle the kids I babysat could put together.

But she got better.

 

It’s April and I’m eating again to cure my worries.

It’s April and I’m having panic attacks.

It’s April.

April.

 

February and I’m hunched over outside an old school building in Mississippi,

Crying with my mother as she cries on other line of the phone,

Explaining how hard it is to watch the most gentle being in the world

in pain.

In a hospital because her kidneys have failed her

And she hurts.

And so they read her her book club books,

And she comments on how pretty the nurses are,

And asks her husband if he fed the dogs.

February and I’m crying.

 

Christmas, and I’m on the phone because I couldn’t be with them this year,

And she’s so proud.

She’s always so proud of all of us.

I smile as she struggles for words and then lands on “good things”,

I smile as she asks about my new job and my boyfriend and Texas.

I smile.

 

 

May, a year ago,

And we’re flying across country so that I can see her hometown,

So I can get to know her better,

So I can build my grandparents a cabin that they can visit and spend the last years of their lives in.

We’re flying.

Raleigh, and she’s ill.

We don’t understand it.

She seems okay.

The beach house in Ocean Isle and she’s seeing double.

She’s taking naps frequently, she’s lying around.

Her hands shake with arthritis as she struggles to hold salad tongs,

And I pray that she didn’t inherit Alzheimer’s from her mother.

I can’t bear to see her forget the people who love her so dearly.

 

April, a year ago.

I tell her I want to make a documentary on her,

I think she’s so incredible.

She seems opposed to the limelight,

But will do anything that will make me happy.

 

March, and we’re headed to her school.

We make our way to the cafeteria to pass out food to the low-income children.

They beam when she enters,

“Hello Mrs. Robey!” They welcome her with hugs.

“Hello beautiful” “hello handsome” “Good job” she says.

We walk down the halls, and children stare out windows to see her pass.

The teacher noticing the distraction encourages them to wave.

Twenty kids wave.

“Robey” lines the halls,

Images of rattlers and the values of Robey Elementary,

and here was Mrs. Robey,

The Mrs. Robey.

The one in the newspaper and on the website,

And did you know when I was a kid she was president of the school board?

Did you know she was the town’s first female mayor?

 

I cried as kids hugged her,

Watching her,

Shaking, hoping, one day, maybe I’ll be half the woman she was

For my family, my community, my grandchildren.

 

March and we’re walking at her school,

April, she walked a 5k with me, but needed to get going so she could see the kids in the choir,

And then babysit the neighbors.

May, and she’s dizzy, but “it’s fine”, Nyx wants to see Virginia.

I vow to spend more time with her in the coming years

We’re in the truck with Frances her sister, giggling as she struggles to climb up a dirt hill on Scooby’s property,

The four-wheel drive trying to engage its full potential.

Uncle Paul says he’s concerned, but Evelyn mentions Paul isn’t doing so well either.

June, and we’re talking on the phone about my bike trip.

July.

August.

September, and I’m calling to wish her a happy birthday from Argyle, Texas.

“Yes, it’s a really hard job, but I’ll be okay- I’m hanging in there,”

October. November. December. January.

“She doesn’t seem all that great, but it’s hard to tell sometimes with them,”

My mom’s voice reverberates through an iPhone as I stay up late talking to them.

February, and I’m in Mississippi, crying, wanting to be home, but wondering if its necessary.

She’ll get better.

March and she’s back home from the hospital.

April,

“Her breast cancer returned?”

“Yeah, no one told you? It’s spread to her b o n e s-”

April,

“It’s about five years with chemotherapy, 2 without,

but Mom and I think maybe she’d enjoy her life more off the chemo-

it really takes it out of her-”

April,

“We just got her a caretaker that she seems to really enjoy,”

April,

“She had to skip chemo this week,”

April,

I’m so scared, I’m crying.

April,

“Go see your grandmother, we have things covered here-”

 

May.

M a y.

May and I’m on the first plane out when its feasible.

I’m alone.

I’m here, and I’m alone.

She’s lying on the couch holding her head.

I meet Leighanne at the door,

she’ll be gone while I’m here.

Cousin Laura from Virginia was here last week, Frances will be here next week,

It’s so great to have you here, Nyx.

Is there anything I need to know?

“You know, just help her on the toilet, she likes to back in with her walker, and watch her on the stairs, she struggles to put on her depends alone-”

Her walker.

My heart races, and the record player stops and rewinds.

She keeps talking but I’m still catching up with the first thing she said.

“You know, just help … toilet… walker… stairs…struggles… depends”

My heart is breaking as I read to her,

Beg her if there’s anything I can do for her,

No, no, I just think I’d like a little nap.

Depends, one foot at a time, Scooby.

I flashback to the camp I worked at for disabled adults.

“Why are your feet so swollen?”

“It’s the… Bill?”

It’s from her kidney failures, he explains.

She walks with her walker scooting across the hardwood into the bedroom.

 

“When will I get better, Bill?”

” W h e n  w i l l  I  g e t  b e t t e r ,  B i l l ? ”

 

And we’re in the car on the way to her school, she’s well enough to walk today.

She’s done a lot of walking today, in fact we even went to Chico’s and got her new clothes.

The kids wave and the teachers warn, as the kids hug her, “Careful,” she’s very fragile.

They’re scared, the teachers- I see it on their faces,

And they bring meals at night so we don’t have to cook,

but I want to cook- whatever they want, I’ll make it.

Pancakes, Scooby? I can make your pancakes.

 

I tell her on the car ride home if she gets better I want to take her to Africa next year.

“But you have to get better, Scooby- we can’t go unless you get better,”

She lights up with excitement and she wonders if she’d be better off of treatment,

“Because,” she sighs “was fine few weeks ago,”

Why? she asks.

Why?

Why?

why.

 

I’ve been gone just two weeks.

Just two weeks and she’s back at the hospital.

Only this time, when she comes home,

it will be her last time in a car,

and the last time she comes home.

 

The call shortened her life from a few years to less than six months.

The text: we’re calling in hospice.

Hospice

Hospice?

End of life care.

Less than six months.

I cried.

I cried and cried and cried, in the dorm room next to my teammates’,

wiping away the tears when anyone saw me unable to explain just yet.

Well, if I quit- I can still do these things,

Or if I rearrange my schedule,

Or when I’m on vacation we can drive out there- Or- Or- Or.

 

I called.

Daily.

I want to come home,

I want to be there-

I can’t not be there-

You’re better off remembering her as she was, Nyx.

I can’t-

I called.

I called.

I don’t know, honey, if it were my guess, I’d say about two weeks.

T w o  w e e k s.

Weeks

Not months, not years.

Not even with full communication, just until she passes.

Weeks.

 

I’m coming.

When?

Tomorrow.

Group hug around me in the basement of a home the team is remodeling,

And the words stick to my mouth, unable to release them.

My grandmother-

I stop, and cry.

 

Home.

Home.

She holds on for her grandkids,

So that she can say goodbye-

So that we can say goodbye.

Crying with the realization that she won’t be there

At our wedding

To hold our children.

She’s in pain.

 

She’s in pain.

Morphene starts tonight.

Austin flies in.

Alex flies in.

We surround her-

It’s okay.

We lay our hands on her, begging of her to release her pain.

 

She holds out.

It’s Monday and we’re so sure she’ll leave,

So ready for her to be at peace,

To release the crinkle in her beautiful, emaciated forehead.

Her stomach bulges with internal chaos,

Her breast, swollen with cancer.

Her arms, bones, and skin.

Her nails, painted.

 

A mockingbird flies in through the chimney,

Calling.

Gemma our dog comes in and gives a sympathetic lick.

The windchimes ring.

The angels are calling.

And finally,

When everyone was asleep

She transitioned, so that no one would see her go,

So that it would be peaceful and gentle and beautiful

Just like Scooby.

 

It’s 5am and there’s a knock.

“Pam?”

She’s immediately awake.

“Your mother’s passed.”

NCCC – May 17, 2014

It’s been nearly two months since my last post.

Two months of chaos, and learning and thinking, despair and hopelessness mixed with endurance and longing. Two months filled. Filled to the brim of mixed thoughts and emotions and experiences of lows and highs. And after sharing to the point of nearly overindulging, of nearly exhausting myself with writing, I will give you the short version.

I spent the months of March and April between Cape Cod and Marshfield, MA working with Mass Audubon. We fenced beaches to protect endangered birds. We cleared back brush and installed a rope and post guide system for a sensory trail for the vision impaired.

I mapped and flagged my first trail and worked diligently with my crew to clear and complete it. We nicknamed it the “Ameritrail”.  When work ran out, we destroyed a pergola, we cleared a trail for the North River Watershed Association, and we edged the sanctuary property.

Our impact, although not always clear to the entirety of my team, was clear by the end of our journey in Massachusesets, to Raven 2, to Mass Audubon and to the community of Marshfield. We were making a difference.

Outside of work, I mediated my first conversation successfully. I mentored teammates and did my best to foster their growth. I saw my boyfriend and connected with a Bike and Build friend, Laini, in Boston.

And then I spiraled.

Towards the end of the round, when work began to run out, when things began to get really stressful, when life seemed to unravel. I spiraled.

Getting enough support seems to be a constant battle in NCCC, and when I didn’t feel like I was able to handle the pressures, and I didn’t feel like I was getting the support I so desperately needed, I ate. I relapsed in an eating disorder I worked so hard to get out of, in college but with some reminders from friends, I reattached to arts as a stress relief mechanism.

I seemed to be able to handle things until my world shattered with a simple phone call home.

“… Oh, she’s sleeping in, the chemo really takes it out of her-“

My grandmother had been rediagnosed with cancer. The breast cancer she had and had fought so hard to conquer, returned and spread to her bones. It had been a month of not knowing, which led to another month of worrying and panic.

Now I am here, in the “red room” of my grandparents’ home in Litchfield Park, AZ, assisting my grandmother in any way possible. The most independent woman I knew, now relying upon others for simple tasks, and I am enlightened again as to what is important in my life- what my priorities are or where they have been. I am enlightened once more to give thanks.

In a couple days  I will return to New Jersey where my team continues Sandy relief efforts. Three years later, and there’s still plenty of work to be done. 9 feet of floodwater in fifteen minutes is enough to destroy your home. Your home. That structure that you rely upon, no longer reliable.

Ephemeral

The sun dances on the beach
Playfully with the waves,
Chasing in and out of clouds.
A dark somber day threatening rain turns into an uplifting, joyous one in a second.
It grapevines down the shore,
Weaving between sanderlings as they run towards and away from waves.
A symphony of Canada geese flock by
As a barge moves through the channel
Tooting a low note on par with the whales far somewhere off the shore.
Like a pianist, fingers of sunlight jump frantically across the dunes,
Combing through the sea grass like hair, rustling it about with that ever present, invisible gale.

Further offshore sits a vernal pool
Toads quietly burrowed keeping their cool.
In the summer it vanishes into the air,
Leaving the morphed toads there,
Killing off the lowest tadpoles unable to survive
The survival of the fittest determining who can stay alive and the pool sits for now, in the winter it will freeze, and in the summer it will be no more. Returning in the fall and the spring to what it was once before.

Ephemeral
Transient
Fleeting
Momentary.

Moments.
These are the moments in which I will look back and see a period of growth, of fortune, of naïveté and young stupidity perhaps and of gratitude.

A spade foot toad burrows deep down. A plover fledgling successfully hatches it’s first young.
A white snowy owl swoops in front of me, it’s head turning, reaching, watching.

Crows drag their rear foot in the sand leaving prints, washed away with each far reaching wave as the tide comes in.
The rackline extending upward towards the dunes for the full tide.

Ephemeral.

I sit at a table, restraining my desires to check my phone, my email. To read a book or watch tv.
No it’s me and my meal.
My sustenance.
My nourishment.
Born again. Relearning how to eat after years of fighting an eating disorder.
I can’t even remember what it was like to eat normally.
What real hunger feels like.
Not the hunger that begs at the sight of something delicious. Not the hunger that tugs when I’m nervous or stressed, excited, happy, sad, overwhelmed.
Not the hunger that prods when I’m bored or when I’m eating just to eat, or out of habit.
Not the conditioned hunger.

The real, pulling slow growing hunger that indicates you’re human and your body is efficient and you control how much food you consume. The food does not control me.
I’m not helpless.
The feeling will pass.
Ephemeral.
The food disappears in the bowl,
I leave a bite to remind myself that food is plentiful.
No need to grasp. No need to strain.
Fleeting, it’s gone.

My feet hit the ground thumping
Down the road
Fear sits in my stomach as I round a blind corner, exerting to see car headlights peeking through the trees.
When will I get to the beach?
Miles.
Miles pass.
I call friends and they cannot answer.
A reminder from the universe to stay present.
A pressure in my ankle builds,
I feel my knees compress
Acting as they should.
My muscles remember.
My bodily aches remember
Mind numbing, extremity numbing distance.
I’m taken back.
Back
To a fleeting memory
Running with my mother along the coast.
Back
If only I could see water everyday, I thought, that goal is attainable and would make me immensely happy.
To be outside
To watch the waves lapse
And the wind rustle
And the gulls laugh
And the sun dance.

Oh to watch the sun dance.

These are the times where beauty flickers in an instant like a meteor.
And without stopping to enjoy it, it might just pass by, selfishly lost in it’s own beauty, unbeknownst, uncaptivated. Fleeting.

Ephemeral.

3/23/14 Round 1 weeks 1-2

Colors turn in a circular window surrounded by metal vacuum sealed. I’m reminded of astronauts, gravity, a movie I saw with JD. Rebirth.

I sit in the laundromat with my team the second Sunday we’ve been out on round 1, and I am so completely thankful to have them on my team. While some days I seem to be at wits end with stress, overwhelmed by the many tasks I need to get done for work, for me, for my team, and the many tasks I need to ensure others get done in order for our baby simply functioning multi-stepped sometimes two steps forward one step back device to turn into a well oiled machine. I’m excited for this to happen.

We’re certainly in the forming stage right now still. Each individual developing on their own level. I envision bar graphs in my mind in terms of development right now. Synaesthetically I assign different colored bars to different people. One corps member is red, blue, purple, hot pink, a neutral pinkish red, brown, neon green.

Each progressing differently. Each reaching differently levels each day in different categories. Each with their own struggles. I find it really incredible, and today I find myself in awe and pride of my team. I oftentimes wonder if this is what it’d be like to be a mother. If I’ll be just as genuinely happy and excited for my kids as I am for these kids of mine.

The weekends seem to go like this so far. When I have time to relax and take care of everything that piles up in the week, I am able to enjoy the pleasures more thoroughly. I wonder how I will be able to take time off when friends or my boyfriend or my family visits.

I talked to my mother yesterday. I had a wonderful talk in which I finally felt able to voice everything that I felt I could improve upon based off of past experiences. I voiced how frustrating it is to have 22 year olds act and talk like 16 year olds. But I know that this is just the beginning. That their development as well as mine is on track and beginning to bud. I listen to other TLs complain about their corps members or assistant TLs and I feel so blessed to have the ones I have. While we’re gaining trust from one another still, and still getting a feel for one another, I care about them all immensely and am so excited to have them in my life.

We spent the past two weeks on the beaches of Cape Cod minus the first couple days, which we spent in Marshfield. In marshfield we did invasive species removal, stomping down frag mighty’s, the equivalent of crab grass to suburban home owners I imagine. It’s a pain, encroaches on the marshland habitat. But with it’s beautiful, fluffy sway it’s hard to tell that the plant is so harmful. Its interesting how awful plants can be. So silent and peaceful and green. But really they’re destroying an environment, killing everything in their paths. Invasive plants are the navy seals.

Wednesday of our first week we headed down to the beach. Sounds glamorous doesn’t it? We arrived to a very eager sponsor. In fact we got out of the van, dropped off our bags and were back in the van on the way to the worksite. Did I mention our worksites were beaches?

Pros of having the beach as a worksite:
-It’s beautiful. Always. Regardless of the weather, the visuals are outstanding
– you get a lot of alone time. Even when you’re with other people, with wind it’s too difficult to talk beyond what’s mandated. You’re left to your thoughts and the sights. Basically my ideal setting

The cons of having a beach as a work site:
-it’s hard to communicate. We’re spread out along a beach and it’s windy. It’s hard to hear, straining to speak, and means a heavier reliance on phones which makes rule enforcement more difficult.
-it’s windy. Carrying signs gets difficult as they get caught in the wind.
It’s windy. What would have been a cold day, turns to below freezing. Glove use becomes mandatory to keep your hands warm but difficult when using twine.
-it’s sandy. Sand gets everywhere. Our van looks like a beach.
-it’s sandy. Each step is difficult. You sink down with each step forward, especially when you’re carrying heavy wooden signs and posts and mallets

Each day we returned to Long Pasture, a sanctuary along the upper “bicep” of cape cod (people from the area refer to Cape Cod as a flexing arm given it’s shape). Long Pasture sits at the end of a dead end road, dead ending at an estuary. Each sunset is beautiful and the conference room looks out across the river to a very stereotypical New England lighthouse.

It reminds me of the bathroom at my grandparents house in Arizona. They used to have a lighthouse night light, striped and along dunes like the one across from our sanctuary.

I learned a massive amount there. After learning about the destructive nature of frag mighty’s in North River Sanctuary, we learned about the destructive nature of people unfortunately in Long Pasture.

Long Pasture Mass Audubon has a coastal water bird protection program with which we spent the majority of our time working. Their program works to protect mainly four birds: the roseate tern, the least tern, the common term, and the piping plover- the one that we were most concerned with seemed to be the piping plover. These adorable little guys were migrating north as we worked to put up symbolic fencing to protect their nesting areas from people and other creatures. Piping plovers are extremely endangered and it’s largely our fault (surprised?). There are a few reasons:

– we walk on the dunes where they nest, tearing up the vegetation, mainly sea grass, and causing cliff erosion. Each year the dunes wane in size.
-we step on their eggs because they look like stones and the plovers’ nests are hard to spot (they scrape into the ground which looks like a faded footprint)
– we leave food on the beach which attracts other critters, drawn by food then drawn to the eggs

The first plover landed on the second to last day we were there, causing extreme stress and excitement for our sponsor/supervisor meaning the same for us. Without fencing up everywhere yet, they were less protected. We knocked out a good chunk of beaches and helped alleviate much of the work the sanctuary would have to do in the coming weeks. We were also fortunate to see a great snowy owl up close twice on the beach. It stopped and glanced back at us, checking us out. Apparently it was a rare sight and we lucked out in seeing it. It was truly beautiful, graceful, grand.

We also spent a day working with the sanctuary director, Ian in the woods digging trenches around a vernal pool. Vernal pools are small natural pools that were left by the dents that the glaciers made many many thousands of years ago. When the glaciers receded small pools were left behind. Pools that became home to the spade foot toad- a toad in Massachusetts very misunderstood, or under-understood rather.

Humans know very little about these little guys except that hundreds of years ago farmers in the area dug out trenches for agriculture which ended up draining the pools and desiccating the species. Surprised again? Haha

Here’s what we do know about these guys:

-they’re tiny
-they burrow, up to eight feet in the winter
-they use shallow vernal pools to avoid predators like fish and larger toads
-they’re in Massachusetts and extremely extremely endangered

So we spent that day building trenches around a pool so that when the tadpoles morph into toads and the toads head towards the uplands, the sanctuary can catch a few to study and to hedge.
Hedging involves taking the animal out of the native environment at a young age and giving it a push start basically. They will be place many in schools for kids to study and a few in their sanctuary to study and grow so they can reach sexual maturity quicker and hopefully, fingers crossed, have a higher turnover rate of eggs to toads the next year. It’s risky but given the amount of eggs each toad produces makes the process worthwhile.

I learned a lot away from North River. I learned that my team reflects me in many ways. I have to be careful of what I say, what I do or don’t do, because they look to me as a model. They mirror oftentimes my actions or encompass my phrases into their own usage. They take my feedback to heart and sometimes too much so.

I also learned a lot about my relationship. I feel a need for attention especially when times get stressful and when I don’t get that attention I feel like I’m better off alone. Or worse, I feel the need to reach out to people who I know will give me quick positive and reliable feedback, oftentimes guys who are romantically interested in me. Being in a relationship when times get stressful and the attention is not available makes me feel restrained because I can’t reach out for attention from others without feeling guilty.

I also learned why I feel this way, and it’s largely because I felt alone a lot of the time growing up. My parents worked downtown and my brother went to school downtown and when things got stressful, I was alone. I was either alone in a big old empty beautiful quiet house or I was alone in the gym or alone running or alone in a grocery store. I was alone. And that’s the main reason why I felt compelled to get my puppy Gemma my senior year. I couldn’t handle being alone anymore. I think that’s another reason why I gained such an attachment to my house as well. It had been my most reliable companion. So when times get intense, I figure, perhaps I’m better alone.

While I don’t plan on allowing this to define me or limit me, I find it interesting how it’s molded me, and quite informative for the future.

I’ve learned that I’ve gained a lot of patience particularly from my camp job that I’ve carried over. I’ve also learned that it really bothers me when people don’t take responsibility for things, but I’m still trying to grasp why that’s such a trigger issue. Blaming others perturbs me as well.

I learned that despite me getting stressed out, for the most part I have an incredibly positive team, and when the going gets rough I know they can support me as well as I can support them.

It seems that every other day is a high or a low, so I’m trying to get into the mentality that every day is a good day. Even the “low” days are learning days for someone and I’m grateful for them- learning to be grateful in the moment as well.

There are many days where I miss home. In fact while we were beaching there were cliffs far off into the distance that reminded me of the Californian coastline. Being on the beach daily reminded me of my old job at Kai. Working with Mass Audubon often reminds me of my brother. Everyday reminds me of Bike & Build and little things constantly remind me of my friends.

I’d like to end with one of my favorite quotes that summed up bike & build for me very well and has been kind of my running motto:

Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.
Sarah Dessen

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3/9/2014 End of CTI to Round 1

A big flame ball of molten orange and hints of pink, red. Like sherbert, it rises in the east over the trees. Trees that line a small creek reflecting the massive wall of clouds.  The sun permeates. Snow melts alongside, surrendering to morning.  Morning. Sleepy eyes rest upon the road in my passenger seat.

Pick a letter, he says. Now pick a number.

Car games become a skill, not yet second hand nature but slowly maturing on our third day of the road trip. Hot seat, in which you ask any question however silly or serious to the person in the hot seat, soon became just easy conversation.

Pick Three letters, now someone else pick three words with those letters, okay now person one, tell a story from your past using those three letters. (Troy goes first- Baseball: envious, steady pitching, he hit his tooth. Nolan next, Music audition for college: maniacal laugh upon acceptance, hierarchy of the university,  Rose third, Dog dragged mom: carnivorous choke chain around neck, insulin for diabetes). Would you rather….? What would you do if?

I began to get a better grasp of my corps members personalities. They were all unique and beautiful in individual ways. I enjoyed listening to their stories and getting to know them. Personal stories unfolded their past detailing the contours that have molded them into the people they are today. I wasn’t the oldest, but my position still made it seem that way. I listened to stories of family members with disabilities and tried too relate to their struggles after working at camp for disabilities. I was always trying to relate. I wanted so badly to be liked, but more so, in a trumping fashion, to be respected, and looked up to.

Camp. This is something that I continue to reflect on frequently.  At the time I wanted to quit, but I knew if I just stuck through it it would be so rewarding. Not just rewarding in terms of professional growth or even personal growth but also eye-opening. It was eye opening, valuable rewarding work with beautifully souled people that I’d consider doing again. My brain jumped around. It’s interesting how much chatter is up there when you’re forced to sit still and tackle a single task for several hours.

I thought of miss Vicki, and her adorable accent and Jenny, who despite her cerebral palsy, broken leg and sudden illness had one of  the most eager, happy, and positive attitudes I had ever encountered. Reflecting. Reflection. Mirrors. Can you adjust the right mirror? Up and to the side a bit. Other side, yep, thanks. Can you turn up the volume? Other knob nope other knob one more over down. Yes.

We have trekked from Vicksburg, MS to Perry Point, MD so far, now we’re off to another M state: Massachusetts. Perhaps after our eight weeks of living there, I’ll be able to spell it right without assistance from auto-correct. It’s been a while since I last updated you, per usual, and accordingly a lot has surpassed since my last reflection. As I sit in the row behind my driver and shotty, I’ll do my best to bring you up to speed.

We completed CTI (hallelujah!) and underwent induction, a ceremony to make us “official” Americorps members (we were told half-jokingly during TLT that this process is also when people can be officially fired- there’s no more grace period).  I will summarize the two briefly as to not overwhelm you entirely, through sensory information.

the last two weeks and a half of CTI:

Briefings: summary of our project, goals set, work, paperwork, work, stress, tears, memorization, practice, uniform, fix your pockets please, take out your keys from that pocket, don’t fidget, try not to say um too much; research, photos, photos, photos, tweaking, practice; now you’re smiling; step forward, speak, step back, wait nervously, watch our region director and program director smile, applause. Relief. Brilliant. Great job guys, I am so proud of you! Excitement. Relief. Immediately on to the next thing.

Constants: clean, clean! CLEAN YOUR DISHES! Send me your username and password for Red Cross. Pots do not belong in the coffee maker guys, come on. Postponed, later, tomorrow, cancelled. Why are we here? Finish your training. I’m so proud of you guys. You’re late. Get ready for inspection. We’ll leave at 8. Hey I know it’s 10, but I just got word we are now leaving at 6am. Cant’t be late anymore. Why did you join? Do you want to be here? Be packed and ready for work at 6. I can’t drive first, I am not getting enough sleep. I know I’ve asked you ten times but they need your username and password for Red Cross again.

Camp lake Stephens: ropes course, unity, teamwork, just. Get. Up. This. Rock. Wall. You have to prove yourself. Your whole team is watching. You can do it. Just do it. I like natural rock walls better, oh dear I’m becoming one of those people, I wish I could feel my hands, I wish I could feel my toes, noticing that I’m very self conscious as a leader, what’s up with him? Maybe he’s still getting his bearings, does he like us? Tension, communicating, hearing one another out, laughter, fun, cold, oxford, slow down please – slow down slow down SLOW DOWN PLEASE! This campus is confusing. Can someone back me up? Let’s do our one on one tonight. Why are you always so late? This is beautiful. Beavers. Marshes working. I followed him on his own excursion despite it being a one on one. I observed more than I talked. He showed me the beautiful chess table he made in high school. My god my corps members are talented. Lake. Sunset. 800 questions. Sleeping in the van.

 Gray center: classroom- cold, if you’re going to fall asleep we will kick you out, it’s a privilege to be here, safety, chaps that got caught yesterday, mechanics, Paul’s a pretty funny guy, Claire and I joked, I kicked myself for being borderline inappropriate, we named our chainsaw Charlie, he has a face. He almost fell on his machete! She laughed, Don’t tell me those things. I responded. Rut dadadada rut dadadada, PUSH IN THE CHOKE he yelled gesturing, rutdaVROOM! Falling! Tree falls Arm tiring, want to switch? Pulling privet. Privet privet privet for days. Ear muffs uncomfortable, fidgeting, when will this end? Disappointment that we will be be doing this. Fear I’ll lose my positivity on the first round, tired, driving, stressed, nearly falling asleep, music and 800 questions

Rounds: I hate wearing a green shirt sometimes, I feel like  Percy the prefect, where are the death eaters through all these woods? Roy the security guard is rustling through the woods  and it scares me. I don’t think southern region trusts their TLs or CMs that much, (after being filled in from past stories) ah, that’s why. Hey guys, can you not watch Wolf on Wall Street in the dorm common room, WHY ARE THE KITCHENS SO DIRTY ALL THE TIME?!, we need more space, please don’t be on her bed, please don’t let me find something, hey guys! I’m sleepy, smoking tree, obnoxious southern corps member yells out at me, thinking of Rachel’s five write ups the night befor. Please don’t let me catch anything. Please don’t let me catch anything. Please please please be good guys!

Induction: pack, clean, clean, clean, pack, formals, you need to actually check tire pressure not just check off that you took care of it, fill the spare, clean, put this tag on your bag going back to perry point, photos! Photo bombing, ravens! I’m going to miss you guys so much, wal-mart, sleep, professionalism in the workplace and I’m texting for work during the professionalism class

 

The morning to leave Vicksburg ended up extremely chaotic. After only 5 hours of sleep I awoke. I’m afraid I overpacked. I seem to do this too consistently and I hope the next round we go backpacking so that I can only bring a smidgeon of belongings. Do I need everything? The answer seemed to always end in yes. The one exception would be my  film camera which I had not used yet since being here, but looked forward to using it. I walked briskly to my van down in the parking lot in partial uniform- casual for road trips. I was suddenly not ready to leave, after being ready to leave for nearly four weeks. Funny how that works. I swung my van around and loaded my belongings and the team paperwork including papers freshly printed this morning, albeit a frustrating battle per usual with the STL lounge printer that never seemed to recognize the documents I needed, around 6:20. I ran back upstairs. In the bathroom I get a phone call. Of course, I thought. Our region director was requiring a meeting in Mary, the dorm room that raven corps members stayed in. Uh oh.

Change of plans, she said. She told us that the cleaning plans had changed and the bar was raised per southern operation’s request. Deep breath and directions. Frustration clouded the hallways, different storms above each corps members heads as suddenly our departure time was pushed back. Upstairs all the boys sat in the hall, legs outstretched, hunched on the stairs, one with a harmonica. I thought silently and humorously to myself that it looked like jail.

Our fleet manager performed the inspection for my kitchen and some of my rooms. He kept commenting on how miserable I looked. I didn’t know what to say. This was the second time something of this caliber came up from higher staff. I didn’t understand. I was fine, just tired and particularly frustrated that we were leaving much later than expected because of work that could have been done yesterday if we had been properly informed. He didn’t care. He persisted on making fun of me a second occasion as he went through the drawers with a flashlight looking for dust, marks, anything to demand more cleaning. It’s the name we’re leaving behind. I understood. You look miserable, he said, he mocked me exaggeratedly.

I couldn’t stand it anymore, I left crying walking away from the dorm. Kim followed and comforted. I was just tired. I wanted to sleep so badly. We were on the road finally at 9:30, expecting to have left two hours prior. Just six of us together in a fifteen passenger van while my two others headed to virginia for fire training.

Flash forward two days later, and we encountered laughter, sunrises and sunsets, breakfast at hotels, fast food restaurants where the only thing on the menu I can eat is French fries.

Today we paid over $40 in tolls. I had to stop for cash twice. The Jersey turnpike was the most confusing. We paid when we exited accounting for $16 of tolls. $4 into the Baltimore area, $8 into perry point. $13 crossing the bridge in New York. Another $1.75 into Connecticut.

We stopped at K-mart to get cash back in New York City. From afar it reminded me a bit of San Francisco- the density and rows of buildings and homes. The microcosms, the massiveness. W passed through the Bronx. Troy described different parts of the city briefly, pointing them out as we passed. When we went over the Hudson, we were reminded of the incredible pilot who landed his plane there a couple years ago. Disaster. Disaster availability sheet, gotta do that this week. Paperwork, song selection, my mind raced. It was a never ending job, the female TLs spoke in our room last night. Constantly thinking, constantly concerned.  Yet despite all of this, it still wasn’t the most stressful job I’ve ever had (thus far). I think  this is thanks in part to how much the organization’s staff cares about one another. The organization, at least for Atlantic region, watches out for our team leaders and we watch out for our corps members.

If this hasn’t been stated yet, I had my first corps member quit on me the Sunday before the week of induction. After a long talk – nearly four hours- he concluded that his heart was not in it and that he wanted to return home. We had a really great talk, and hit some  core, deep issues. Part of me grew sad knowing that this connection now strongly formed would be quickly severed through separation. Had I been too late in our one on one? I didn’t blame myself in the end and did my best to accept it.

I check my van every time we leave a gas station to  ensure I  have all of my corps members. Each time I think I come up short, counting only five people. That was correct. Our team was small this time. We had two team members missing for fire team training. One of which wouldn’t be joining us again this round as he’d be on fire team first round.

During our hand off call on Tuesday I informed the sponsor that we would only have seven total, six for the first week. She was neither here nor there about it. “Do we need any other tools?”

“I’d suggest waders or rubber boots.”

I asked her about inclement weather plans. There were few. “The only time I’d really cancel work is if it’s sleeting.” Despite the frozen ground, she still hoped the invasive species removal would continue. I was near tears on that one, petrified about the freezing weather. It was snowing when we spoke. Just need to keep positive. Cold was something I couldn’t handle. It increased my anxiety at the mere thought of it. It was deabilitating for me, it petrified me. My oversensitive fingers and toes knew Reynaud’s Phenomenon better than anyone else, and it seemed that no one else had sympathy. I questioned why I chose the Atlantic, fearing, dreading, dragging my feet.

As we pass through Connecticut, I am astonished at the snow that surround us, the frozen rivers, the increase of ice as we move northward. The gas price seemed to increase with the snow. And from a comfortably temperatures company van it was hard to feel the repercussions from either the cold or finances.  But with both tax day and outdoor physical work fast approaching, I’d meet them head on soon enough.

We arrived to Marshfield in the afternoon. Sue, the director at Mass Audubon North River Sanctuary greeted us showing us the lay of the place. I tensed. Was it selfish to get a room on my own? Would my team hold a grudge against me. “And this used to be the maid’s annex,” she said, as we walked up a narrow hallway to the rooms: one large bedroom, two small. Shoot, I thought. I wouldn’t get my own room.

We sat downstairs preparing for our team meeting, and I asked my team how they felt about me having my own room. “We figured you’d need your own space,” they said. They supported me. Relief.

We powered through a team charter laying out housing rules and detailing how best to communicate with one another. It was long-winded. Afterward we headed to Trader Joe’s to pick up dinner. Sleep encroached quickly. I was too tired to stay up past 9:30. We will work in the morning.

NCCC – February 10 – February 18, 2014

I’ve officially gotten through my first week of CTI, and am bowling through the second.

I wish I had more to report, however what I do have to report is that CTI is chaotic.

CTI is filled with corps members, TLs, and staff in close quarters. TLs and CMs with the privilege often of sitting through long training courses. TLs demanding that CMs are in the proper uniform (“Hey, no headphones in the class” “Take your hat off, please”)  and requesting they stay awake through sessions we struggle to stay awake through. That is without the aid of our cornucopia of other work.

This last sentence pains me. First, it’s frustrating to see TLs not sitting through trainings- planning, on their phones, emailing, etc. I understand the need, but it’s quite distracting for CMs and also not really fair to the CMs who aren’t allowed to do anything other than sit and watch. Secondly, its painful to see because it reminds me of the tons of work I need to get done.

There have been a few notable events during CTI so far. Notable for me:

One, because we have such low numbers this year, Field Team Leaders (what I am), will be reduced from 15 to 12, requiring three of us to step into a Support Team Leader position. This position pays the same, but is office based. After much thought especially in considering the Community Relations STL position (working with photos, journalism and recruitment), I decided an NCCC FTL position is where I still want to be.

I signed on to this position with the hopes of traveling, leading a team, developing as a leader and a person, and developing others by cultivating a nation. Perhaps a stationary position will be in my future next year, but I vowed to get out of my comfort zone when I left Oakland nearly a year ago, and that’s what I’m doing.

That being said, this has put off what project we will be doing as well as our team reveal.

Second, Jen, my UL is leaving for another job. She was placed in an uncomfortable position as our campus decided to move to Baltimore as her commute doubled (from 1 hour to 2 hours each way). Jen is an incredible woman and we’re incredibly sad to see her go. I was really looking forward to spending more time with her as my mentor and leader, but know Jason will do a great job as a stand-in. Flexibility is always the key word with NCCC. We had a dinner for Jen last week to commemorate her leadership with the Raven Unit, and will hopefully get to see her during some transitions. She’s always offered to continue to mentor us in a manner that won’t impede with the new UL whenever he or she steps in.

Third thing of notability is JD Scott.

JD Scott, if you’re not aware is my boyfriend. He visited this past weekend for President’s Day.  After a month plus of not seeing him besides a FaceTime screen, our first night together when he arrived was surreal. It felt like a dream.

This is my first true long distance relationship. My last one, being with Grant, who lived about a 4-5 hour drive away. JD lives about a 4-5 hour flight away.

We spent our weekend laughing through the boredom that is Vicksburg, MS. We went through art shops and small galleries, down to the levee, and to Vicksburg’s points of interest, which after a summer biking together didn’t seem so interesting. We reflected on how different it is to be in a small boring town with two people as opposed to an entire team of 28, but we relished every moment, every second.

Our time was pretty limited but it was well enjoyed, and I can’t even express how grateful I am to have such an incredible incredible boyfriend. My best friend (Susan)’s mom always say you need a man who can make you laugh and treat you like a queen and JD can certainly do that.

The fourth notable thing that’s happened in the past week was President’s Day. I had to say goodbye to JD that morning, and take my team to Tougaloo Rainbow Organic Farm in Tougaloo, MS outside of Jackson. The Organic Farm is small and managed by a married man in his late thirties with a thick Mississipian accent with a passion for dirt and a desire to teach his volunteers. We learned a lot about organic farming, some on mushroom culture, permaculture, and nutrients (NPK anyone?- Nitrogen to grow tall, Phosphorous for flowers, and potassium for roots). Our work was extensive. I did my best to give it 110% to put out a good image for my corps members: I will work just as hard if not harder than my corps members- I won’t lolligag and I certainly won’t spend my time on my phone all day or taking breaks.

I made sure to provide some supervision and snap some photos as well. And occassionally questioned whether I was acting as a true TL given my limited role in their work process.

Here are our quantifiables (what we did) for that day:

  • -40 bags of leaves and landscape trash were opened and added to compost pile (estimate of about 500-600lbs)
  • -2 cubic yards of compost were applied to Field (1) on (2) rows each 50′ in length
  • -Edged 85 linear feet of perennial vegetable and flower beds to distinguish beds from grass 
  • -Maintenance on 1/4 mile nature trail
  • -Cleared 420 sq. ft. of brush (mostly privet) and stumps(privet) for future sitting area (estimated removal of about 800-1000 lbs)
  • -Cleared Field #3 (aprrioxmatley 4250 sq. ft.) of pernnial grasses and weeds (estimate about 200-300 lbs)
  • -Cleared High Tunnel(20’x36′ ft) of grass and weeds as well as cleaned up seed pots and treys and stacked in appropriate places. 

 

I learned a lot about my pod members that day. First, they’re all incredibly hard workers. This is what I sent to my UL when she asked for it (I’ll use letters instead of names for confidentiality):

A: easy-going, will do what is asked, but doesn’t like doing hard labor (will do it though if asked),  from Chicago. Interested in Social Work- studied sociology, isn’t entirely sure what she wants to do after NCCC, but thinks its along the line of nonprofit work. Kind of runs with the cool crowd- sits with her friends rather than the pod at meetings unless I ask otherwise.

– eager to please; very new to everything NCCC is. Her favorite activity is hanging out with friends in her hometown in Oregon; loves this experience; a bit naive but very eager to learn and please; good worker; doesn’t always advocate for herself; really looks up to the TL

B:kind of gives off a coldness initially BUT one-on-one is good. I think part of it is he grew up in a very diverse background; I learned most of this tonight during a van ride from the grocery store one-on-one:

1. this is his first job (he’s 21)

2. he has like 7 siblings I think (his mom has 18 and his dad has 14)

3. he’s a middle child.

4. he LOVES wildland firefighting. That’s the reason he joined and he wants to do that after NCCC

5. he’s closest to his grandparents

6. he’s helpful

7. he’s a good worker

8. he’s spent his life between Missouri, Berlin, and Russia. He’s a first generation American

He kind of reminds me of Ken in terms of how quiet and unintentionally reclusive/antisocial, but actually pretty amiable and kind.

C:  nice guy; don’t know him too well but he’s a good worker. He is a second year CM from Baltimore and was on a USTL’s team last year

D:- a bit of a character; adorable. From Wisconsin; hard worker, humorous, but probably easy to tease. He’s got some sass. I don’t know a ton about Nolan, but he’s a good guy, and a good worker

E: funny, adorable, also a hard worker. He bought flowers and chocolates for everyone on Valentine’s, very attachable, good cook, from Chicago; likeable. Speaks up, quick to take things on.

All of my CMs are leader-quality I feel like. They can all be pretty independent, with the exception of a couple who would need to be mentored to that role I think (Rachel mainly). All get along very well.

Finally, today. Today I was stressed out for the majority of the day. I’m not entirely sure but it pushed me to eat dinner and lunch alone in my room and to spend 10 minutes today meditating. I get overwhelmed here I think. I need me time, and haven’t taken much of it while I’ve been here. This becomes even more limited with the constant influx of texts and emails, miscommunication between staff and TLs (where’s the meeting? Gym. Auditorium. Gym? Auditorium. Auditorium? Gym. Nope! Auditorium!- all in five minutes). constant work environment amongst TLs and waning quality and quantity of sleep.

I’m just ready to get through CTI I suppose.

 

On a brighter note:

I’m really proud of my Pod members. I know they’re just my pod members, but my goodness they’re quality. They all have major leadership potential and seem to handle things on their own already without me. I’m sure that will change and mold and improve even with time, but I’m excited for them and for this opportunity, and Friday night before team reveal Saturday, I plan to express that to them. I know we’ve been told several times not to get attached to our Pods (they’re already attached to one another), and I’m not saying I am, but I’m truly glad they’re a part of my unit, my NCCC experience, and the Atlantic region. We seem to have some pretty quality corps members this year.

First PT with the corps tomorrow running a mile and doing 2 minutes of pushups and 2 minutes of situps at the Military Park in the morning. Van wheels roll out 5:40. Goodnight guys. Thanks for staying in the loop.

NCCC January 28 – February 9, 2014

2/9/2014

It’s been quite a while hasn’t it?

In fact, impossibly too long.  And I apologize for this. As the last two weeks surpassed, I had a few issues going on in my life that I needed to sort through. One of which I feel very confident about.

 

So while I’m sure you’d love to hear all about my trainings- that I need to write my mileage down whenever I enter or leave my van- how to tape receipts to paper and record them on an itemized worksheet- what the responsibilities are of our corps members- I’d rather inform you about my personal issues. Because in the end, when I reflect upon this blog a few years down the road, that is what I would want to read about too.

 

But first, the itty gritty, or as we say in the south now: the grits.

 

I would like to note some more notable things that came and went during TLTL  We got our vans- mine, which I will attempt to name Baby Blue because I’m Baby Bird in our unit- is dark blue and the only van with steps on it, because it’s a handicap-accessible van.

 

Secondly, we watched Remember the Titans with Dave Beech, our leader of ULs (Dave Beech> ULs > TLs) to dissect leadership. He presented us with 8 “Universal Laws of Leadership”:

  1. Maintain absolute integrity
  2. Know your stuff
  3. Declare expectations (COMMUNICATE)
  4. Show uncommon commitment
  5. Expect positive results
  6. Put duty before self
  7. Get out in front

I doodled a lot during this movie, and realized how excited I was getting to get out in the field.

 

On the 30th, we did scenarios; we walked through seven scenarios as a unit and each TL got the opportunity to act as TL in these scenarios. The ones I did included talking to a girl who was depressed, and breaking up a same sex couple sleeping together in a room everyone was sleeping in. Scenarios helped me quite a bit in terms of confidence, and I think the things I needed to remember the most was: separate people, if multiple people are involved, bring it back to the rule book/ tell them you don’t want to do this either (“guilt the hell out of them”, Jen said), and be careful saying “I understand,” when you really can’t relate to them.

 

We learned delegation a bit better, which is important for me to learn, and has been a struggle for quite some time. Once again, guilting them is involved (“I have faith in you to carry out this task” “What do you want from this year?” “I see more in you” or the ultimate whammy “I’m disappointed in you”). As we talked today (2/9) Nadya reminded us that we may be the only family or the only person that a corps member really has so remember that as well. I, as TL, may be like a mother figure to them, or their only best friend. That hit hard today, especially as tears welled up in her eyes.

 

We also discussed potential awards and certfications. This was impressive to me.  I was unaware of these added benefits, so I’d like to quickly review them here for anyone who is interested in NCCC:

  1. ACE (American Council on education) provides the opportunity for NCCCers to receive their GED while here as long as they take initiative.
  2. College credit: As a TL you have the opportunity to get 6 college credits upon completion of certain reflection activities and passage of an exam. You receive undergraduate credit for Diversity in Service and Supervisory Skills- impressive on a resume and helpful for college if you do this in a year off.
    1. diversity in service can be worked towards if a TL or CM
  3. Nonprofit Leadership Alliance provides certification to become a Certified Nonprofit Professional. This requires completion of 17 components, 15 of which are fulfilled inherently in NCCC and the other 2 require college courses to complete with the option of graduate or undergraduate credit
  4. President’s Volunteer Service Award: for regular citizens it only requires 100 hours of community service for bronze, 175 for silver, and 250 for gold. For NCCC it requires 1800, 1875, and 1900 respectively (or the amount of required hours for this program plus the award’s regular requirements).
    1. The Lifetime Award requires 4,000 hours and can only be issued to second years
  5. Congressional Award recipients get a letter from the president, a certificate and a medal for servicing themselves and others. The caveat to this award however is you must be under 23.5 years old. You set and achieve four personally challenging goals building volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. It requires an advisor, and is tenure based (bronze is 10 months of service, silver is 12 months, and gold is 24 months), meaning I can only receive bronze this year, but if I did NCCC next year

 

Besides learning how to budget and gaining some confidence in finances, the rest of TLT included our “installation”, a ceremony to officially install us as TLs, and the drive down to Vicksburg.

 

The drive to Vicksburg February 4-6, 2014

The drive to Vicksburg was long and exhausting, but I enjoy long drives and this one was no exception. I must admit, I was very much excited to spend two days alone in a van by myself, but having envisioned a long caravan, ended up being rather lonely. I went the speed limit or under the whole way, and it was nice to not rush anywhere. To go my own pace, pull off when I needed to, and stop and eat whenever. But the nicest aspect, I think, was listening to The Book Thief on audiobook. It kept me awake and attentive, and was very well-written. Here are some thoughts I recorded on the ride down:

 

A dusting of snow like powdered sugar amongst old Victorian houses

Over a couple hundred years old, scattered between trees before us

Amongst the fog pillowing around, soft rolling hills covered in sticks

that act like trees pierced between powerlines

Somewhere near my family originating in Roanoke, Virginia

But yet I cannot stop to visit them, for I am on a mission from the government

 

(However I did get the opportunity to see my great Uncle Paul and his wife, Aunt Evelyn when I passed through Roanoke. We ate at McDonald’s and talked briefly)

 

I passed dilapidated houses and thought of Kat,

Her comment on them the first couple weeks of bike and build

and my equal fascination with old withering houses.

 

Occassionally I would hit the rumble strips on the side of the road

And was once again reminded of Bike and Build

How painful those were on your pelvic bones.

I thought of the last time I was in Virginia with my aunt and my grandmother, how much I enjoyed that time,  how infrequently I get that opportunity,

And I thought of everyone’s personalities: my Aunt Francis, Aunt Pam, Scooby, Laura, Paul, and Evelyn. I reminisced.

 

As we passed through TN, I recalled the blue shaded mountains we passed through in Alabama and Georgia, with Josh pulling us the entire day into Hamilton. The day we passed through Georgia, with Ethan at the front, passing a small lake and mountains, taken aback by how beautiful Georgia is- stunned.

 

We stayed the night at a Best Western, eating out at Cracker Barrel, hoping that whatever I ate doesn’t make me sick. It’s a constant struggle. We drove 20 hours total, and I thought about how unprecedented this was, how this was the first time NCCC has done something of this caliber, and how later I would learn this may be something helpful to tell disgruntled Corps Members (CMs) down in Vicksburg.

 

Vicksburg, MS

When we arrived to Vicksburg, we were thrown in immediately to the mix. There was no time to simply recover from the drive. Immediately the rules were pounded into us. By the time we got our rooms (some still fighting for beds, quickly realizing that many Southern region TLs didn’t want us here either), it was passed 9 o’clock.

 

The next couple days involved rules. Rules and preparation for the arrival for Corps Members. Policy differences were a constant source of struggle. Atlantic TLs were upset with Southern region staff, upset with the lack of welcome, upset ultimately because we were still exhausted. Southern region TLs were upset, I think probably because they thought we felt like we were entitled to this space. Why should they share it? Why aren’t we willing to go, go, go.

 

We got kicked out of the kitchen and moved to one in another building for the time being. Eventually everyone got a bed. Now we have a curfew. What time do we need to be home? Well at Atlantic….

Atlantic TL: “I have another question-“

Southern TL: “These questions are like pulling teeth!”

Southern Staff: “That’s just how some people learn.”

 

Back and forth.

 

Friday night many of us went out for tacos and margaritas, well-deserved margaritas. The opening ceremonies played in the background. We watched intermittently, admiring the outfits of countries as they walked through, disapproving of the dance. “This is exactly what China did!”

“Did they neglect to throw Stalin into their historical dance?”

 

I took Saturday to sleep in and unpack a little. I had new roommates: Kim, Kristal, Rachel and Emma in the other room. Emma is a very sensitive sleeper.

We had a noontime meeting to go over our TL-wide group charter, and I think we’re getting off on a better foot. Saturday night, I was informed that my beloved grandmother (Scooby) is sick and was hospitalized. She’s malnourished. Concerned, I became reclusive but several asked if I was okay and Alex stayed up with me watching Fantastic Mr. Fox and Sleepwalk with Me, two of my favorite movies.

So begins the personal:

My grandmother is in the hospital. Unfortunately, the reality of my grandparents gaining in age and approaching an end to life, really hit hard a couple of years ago, when my grandfather pulls out their will to review while the entire family is together for Christmas. Since then my desire to be fulfilling in my grandparents’ eyes, to do all I can to make them happy, to spend as much time with them as possible has waxed. In fact, leaving them this January was actually pretty tough for me, and I had a huge desire to return to Arizona after, and to live there, with my grandparents for several years.

Seeing my grandmother lose weight, become arthritic in her hands, struggle to open or hold things really hurt to watch. So to hear yesterday that she was hospitalized because she was not eating enough because she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone with making her food (she certainly wouldn’t ask for it) but doesn’t have enough energy to make her own food, was devastating.  Please keep her in your thoughts as she hopefully gets the rest and nutrition she needs in the hospital the next couple days.

————————-

The second is my relationship.

 

This has been a struggle for me. Many of my close girl friends are aware of the happenings, but nearly two weeks ago, I had to confront a fear: one that lingers everytime I enter a relationship, one that persists until finally, disregarded and ignored, it waits, dormant somewhere deep within me. The fear of “being stuck”- of being in a relationship without a means out if I so choose, of entering a relationship and thinking that this means marriage. I struggled for quite a while with the idea of a “boyfriend” versus a significant other, and concluded that I have matured passed requiring a title to my relationship, that I’m ready for a relationship just to be two people who love one another, no titles- no restrictions, just recognized love. However, I also recognize that other people do not have the same type of relationship in mind, and that’s okay with me too.

 

This is hard for me to type, I think because I have reviewed it so many times that I’ve moved on fron it. However, reviewing it is something I’d like to read back over in the future, because this is pretty monumental for me. My brother and I discussed it, and we both kind of came to similar conclusions: I am in a relationship, not because I need to be, but because I want to be.

 

This is the first time in my life, where I haven’t gone searching for anyone- where I am okay not being with anyone. In fact, it’s the first time where I’ve really pursued me, and no one else. Where I’ve given in to any substantially rooted instinct or desire and went after it for my own growth and development. In fact, that is why and how I came to end things with my boyfriend, move to Arizona, join Bike and Build, spend lavishly on me, volunteer for others, work in Texas for special needs, and pursue whoever I wanted. I got to be selfish.

 

So to consider being in a relationship again all strings attached was hard at first. Because I saw it as a limitation, and it took me some time to figure it out- over a week really. And it took some push (JD saying “figure this out” rather than “it’ll all be okay” ), forcing me to think about my fears if I wanted to be in a relationship, forcing me to realize that I could seriously hurt someone I loved dearly if I didn’t figure it out.

 

So, a week later, a couple long meditative walks photographing, talks on the phone with good friends, and reflection, and I figured it out. And somewhere in between, so did JD. While I was thinking I could just voice a fear and he’d be okay with it, he really wasn’t okay with it. And I had to be okay with that. Eventually, he apologized and extended simple support, which was what I was really hoping for.

 

It clicked, I think, for both of us.

 

On my end, I realized that a relationship didn’t have to limit my growth, and if it did, I could leave at any point. I choose to be in a relationship, I get to be in a relationship because I want to be. Just as we tell our CMs that they don’t have to be here, they get to be here.

 

I get the opportunity to learn and love an incredible, intelligent, handsome, creative man, and I want to be in this relationship. If the term “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” matter, then I can make a point of adopting those, but to me, he is my significant other. He’s more than a figurehead or someone I have because I need to feel a certain way about myself. He’s someone important in my life who I cherish.

 

And for the first time in my life I feel confident being on my own, and oddly enough I have a beautiful, wonderful relationship to confirm and foster that.

 

————————–

 

A third personal thing I didn’t think I’d bring up, but decided to now, is food. I did an eating disorders presentation for TLs and opened that door. Everytime I do, I never regret it. People seize my story as an open door to tell theirs to me, and I embrace and welcome that. I’m so glad I can provide that outlet, and so glad I can do some part in helping squash the mental health stigma. It’s another starfish thrown back into the ocean, as Jen would say. Even if the impact is small, it’s still impactful.

 

I’ve been struggling with food recently, and it’s an avenue I suppose I need to explore again. While I don’t feel I have relapsed in my eating disorder or anything along that lines, I continue to have an interesting relationship with food. I have two restrictions: one an intolerance to dairy, and one a potential allergy to gluten. This makes eating out, or having food prepared by others difficult for me. I’m also not one typically to stand up and demand accommodations. I’ll eat what is given to me, and if I can’t I’ll spend a lot of money to make that happen, or eat not so healthy things. Likewise, I get somewhat jealus or disheartened when I see people eat things I want to eat but can’t- namely desserts. So when I get the opportunity to eat dessert, I eat as much of it as possible out of fear I won’t get this opportunity again soon, or I buy as much available if its available, out of fear that I won’t get that opportunity again.

 

It’s an odd feeling I’m still looking through, and will have to revisit. I’m considering reading more on emotional eating, as I tend to eat more when I’m stressed. I’m gaining weight again, so that preoccupation with food, with appearance is a bit concerning to me. Certainly not to the point where it has been in the past, where in past years, on a scale of 1-10 it was a 9 or 10, now it is simply a 2 or 3. Some concern, but not overwhelmingly so. I just figured it might be helpful to flesh out some of these thoughts over a blog. Get it out in the open. Something to work on.

 

Love you guys. I’ll probably begin posting on a weekly basis from now on, depending on how hectic things get and schedule, so please expect a new blog post next week, if not sooner.

NCCC Apologies!

Hey guys, I know its been a while since I’ve updated you all, but I promise to get an update post out by this weekend. Meanwhile, I’m headed down to Vicksburg! Will be in Mississippi tomorrow.

NCCC- Thursday 1/22 – Sunday 1/26/14

1/22/14

I apologize for the delay again in blog posts, it’s been a long week, and as a result my blog posts will be shorter in terms of words per day probably, and more reflective I imagine- less detail oriented. Both a plus and minus.

I woke up again similar to yesterday – 4am freezing. 6 am freezing. I checked my phone- our UL posted on facebook that we would be working off of a 3 hour delay.

“DRU will be at 12:45.”

Around 12:30 an STL informed me DRU has been changed to 1pm.

Five minutes later it changed back to 12:45. This may not seem significant now, but it has built up with other actions that have resulted in TLs feeling that staff is being unprofessional in holding to the same standards as they hold us to. Changing DRU so frequently within 15 minutes of start time, ended up being a reason we asked staff during a later meeting to sending out texts to all of the TLs rather than simply the STLs. Anyway,

We arrive at DRU. Frantic, Stewart told me we’re going over the sheet of paper- the backside. We give our feedback to staff on our MLK experience. It was very casually done, and I felt good sharing my opinion of its benefit to the staff.

Our region director spoke after we finished. My quotations of her are paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact details.

“So it sounds to me like you didn’t get the service learning you were expected to receive.” We were confused. Adriana spoke up about it- “I think what we’re saying is that we still felt it was incredibly beneficial, but we wanted more information on the community. However, as a group we still felt we got the service-“

“I’m going to stop you there. Because I can only infer from what everyone has said, and it sounds to me like you didn’t receive the service learning.”

She then apologized for “stepping in it”, respectably owning up to the fact that there was miscommunication on behalf of the staff, “however, you should have been able to come up with a professional formal presentation. You’re all leaders.”

We were stunned. Some of us furious. It was unfair. I was upset for many reasons- we were half-heartedly thanked for helping with an intensive move on a day we did not have to work since the government was shut down and half heartedly thanked for working on our day off. Then we were reprimanded for not properly presenting our service project when we were not informed that it needed to be a formal presentation. Then, they informed us of the schedule, and that tomorrow, we would be completing the move. A move that wasn’t our job to begin with, required a lot of physical effort and would be completed in 9-19 degree weather. I was furious. I learned later that others shared the sentiment. I felt like I couldn’t speak without getting shot down when our director asked us to speak up if we had any harbored feelings. I wish I had more courage. I felt like a coward.

After sitting in the classroom for a few hours, learning about other specialty roles- following a sporadic line of thought lectured by a caffeinated and nervous counselor, we were exhausted. I was still unsettled by the fact that not once had anyone apologized that leader retreat had been stripped from us, and instead we were being punished with moving.

I already moved this year, I thought, more than once. In 2013, not including Bike and Build in which you move daily, I moved from California to Arizona, AZ to TX, TX to AZ, and then helped my family move all of our things from one house to another on New Year’s Eve. I was done moving.

Moving for me was another sensitive issue. It has become less so in the passing years, but still the act of moving is unsettling. Perhaps that is another reason why I pursued Bike and Build, to get over that. I want mobility. If there’s something I’ve learned from moving so frequently in the past few years, it’s to get rid of things you don’t truly need. It’s also an incredibly good method to find out what you truly value. There are certainly things I can live without, and then there are sentimental things that I’d like to have for my daughter someday, and then there are essentials. My camera gear, bike and computer always fall into the third category.

Now I think moving is less unsettling for the sake of it being uprooting, but unsettling because its so demanding when its not my own belongings.

That evening we had a focus group.

Our sentiments about the past week, particularly the joke of a financial training, came out unfortunately with that tone. After venting to the staff representatives, Thomas and I walked outside.

I ran and giggled, leaping through the snow. Genuine excitement. I laid dowm spreading my arms above my head and down to my waist. “Help me up!” Thomas offered his hand.

Shivering he was ready to go back inside. The sun was setting over the frozen Chesapeake bay. Thomas headed back in. I was alone, outside surrounded by a mixture of nature and civilization.

I snapped a photo: dusk with an angel in the snow.

1/23/2014

Thursday involved moving. All day with the exception of a beautiful two hour window in which we got our driving certification. It was a lovely time spent with Jason and Stewart practicing driving a 15P (15 passenger van). Everyone was frustrated I think, going between phases of having fun with everyone to being frustrated with Southern staff. They were packing things without the consideration of safety and it made many of us uncomfortable.

At some point one of us objected to the process- stacking chairs not tied down next to rolling tables on the back of any open-faced truck- their middle sitting higher than the sides of the truck. “Safety is not my top priority,” the man said.

Stunned some us stopped working. We weren’t comfortable with endangering the lives of the driver or the others on the road. I vented at lunch, at breaks, and then finally in the afternoon with our ULs during a UL/TL vent. The vent was brought on by a discussion ensuing after we were informed that, as a result of the focus group last night, our region director and the two directly below her will be present for a formal presentation that we will put on for them on our grievances.

At 7:30 am.

Tomorrow.

Originally the email that we received around 1pm said “roundtable”- an informal meeting with the region director and the TLs to express grievances. Such was no longer the case, we were informed by our ULs.

Once again we were misinformed. The afternoon was spent expressing those grievances- which we should voice, and which we should bite our tongues on. Which mattered, which did not.

When we got through the discussion, the ULs left and the next four hours, from 5:30 to 9:30 were spent crunchtime on this formal presentation. If we were asked to bring it, we were going to put our best foot forward and f*@%ing bringing it. We were going to crush it, show whoever we were proving that we don’t care what you throw at us, we’ll overcome.

1/24/2012

And so we did. Friday morning, we awoke early, leaving by van at 6:50 so we could get to the conference room with enough time to run through an even briefer run through than we did the night before. Last night we got the content down, decided upon execution, hands behind while standing, stepping forward while talking, who will go where. Now it was how we would rotate throughout the room. Were our shirts properly tucked?

The staff members walked in at 7:30 on the dot.

We brought it. I stuttered at some point, apologizing. Sometimes public speaking still trips me up. But after we sat down, two of the people I spoke with high fived me, subtly, offering their hand at their thigh. Our group covered the topic of communication, and the two other topics covered included presentation/training and unity. We did an incredible job, and we were incredibly proud of ourselves. We found out about this at 4pm the previous day, and pulled it off. Perhaps it was simply a test.

The staff commended us, and we held our heads high for the rest of the day. Our voices were heard.

Today was the day we would find out our units.

Units are like schools in Hogwarts, the ULs being the sorting hat of sorts.

Everyone anxiously awaited the verdict. We sat excitedly through lecture with our ULs, going through extra instruction examples and then were instructed to change into our street clothes.

Unaware of where we were headed, we followed the ULs’ truck in our 15Ps. We ended at the Elk Lanes Bowling Alley. We skipped and joked out of the cars and into the building, grabbing our shoes. “Guess you guys probably want to find out your bowling groups, right?” Jason said, taking out a pile of papers with our names and faces on them.

“Bowling group 1 (lanes 1 and 2),” he began calling out names.

I fell in bowling group 2. I rushed over there, looking at the other faces in my group. I had a feeling that I was in the group I expected initially: raven, but I was unsure now. Half of me hoped to be in Jason’s group, out of fear that Jen (the raven UL) may be leaving once we move to Baltimore. Her commute is long enough as is.

“Figure it out yet?!” Jason yelled, smiling.

The Unit STLs ran over, already preassigned to the units along with the ULs. Calvin and Jen came racing over to ours. Excitedly we hugged and took photos, laughing, smiles. Buffalo looked disappointed, their UL out on extended leave for an indefinite time. Moose looked excited as well, and FEMA already knew, their camaraderie already apparent.

I felt unsure.

“Raven has the best cheer!” Adriana said, explaining that when we do our cheers everyone will be jealous. Jen told us it’s pretty obnoxious, “we circle around everyone,” she began.

I felt like a group of ravens. Unsympathetic really to those who didn’t get the unit they desire, ignorant of Buffalo’s concerns. It didn’t quite sit right. I texted Ethan that I was in Raven. He congratulated me enthusiastically, and I relayed the message to Jen that he said hi. I went to the other units taking photos, photographing the walls of the bowling alley as well covered in décor. I felt unsettled.

We used to be one. The mandatory split felt uneasy almost to me. There was something joyous about being a raven. Jen was the most senior of the ULs, arguably most experienced as a result, and one who does incredibly well if/when you encounter emotional struggles on the journey. She was fun, and empathizing, and clever, coy, witty, intelligent. She was a raven.

When we returned to campus, we went over the flash drive until around 4:45. Thinking only of my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I asked Casey what time we’d be leaving. She was kind enough to offer me a ride to DC this weekend. I was meeting up with Danny who bussed up from North Carolina.

“5:30.”

I rushed to the kitchen, quickly whipping up my easy but scrumptious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I raced between kitchen and my room hurriedly packing my bag for the coming weekend, throwing things here and there. The room would be a disaster when I returned. I hastily packed up some cookies to pay Casey with for driving on the way there, and left some for my dinner-groupmates.

Two hours later I arrived to the Washington Plaza Hotel, after a nice talk with Casey about a variety of topics ranging from rap to diversity, to the social issues in NCCC.

I spent the next couple hours chilling in my hotel room. It was nice to be alone. I watched Oblivion, an intensive futuristic movie featuring Tom Cruise.

Danny got in around 11:30 roughly and we went out for dinner and a drink to Busboys and Poets (recommended by Casey), a socially conscious vegan/gf friendly restaurant, catching up on the past few months since we last parted in April. Exhausted, we returned to the hotel and crashed.

1/25/2014

Saturday brunch at the Commissary. It was pleasant to have smoked salmon again. Delectable. Danny could be hard to eat with on occasion- he was vegan and so eating out was challenging between the two of us. I felt finally as many feel of me- looking through yelp trying to find a place that would offer more than a salad for him. We had a successful brunch and hit the town.

We visited National Geographic museum- one that I thought we’d both enjoy with our common love of photography. They had an incredible exhibit -Women of Vision- women photographers. It was touching, inspiring, reinforced my desire to pursue photography as a social tool. Here is a link to the exhibit: http://wovexhibition.org/

It was emotional, causing me to cry at an image of a young Afghan girl, 11, covered in burn scars. Many girls in Afghanistan burn themselves to avoid being married off to older men. They were intensive eye-opening exhibits.

Another image that stood out was of a young boy, covered by monkey pox, staring into the camera lying on a primitive wooden table. His face slightly obscured by a blurred yellow line- the IV drip. He died shortly after. The photographer stated that the contagiousness of his disease did not hold her back. There was no way to convey the feeling of pain that the boy was going through, that his crying mother was going through, who sat besides the boy in the same room, with any more distance.

Emotionally evocative photography is rarely distant. It’s close to your brain, and its close to your heart.

I talked to JD about this a few days prior, about distance in social documentary photography. The comments becoming more and more apparent in these close images. The distant ones, intentionally distant, for instance to convey the connection of one’s religious practices to the vastness of nature. Distant in a larger sense, if that makes sense.

I highly recommend the exhibit.

Afterwards, we meandered down to the mall, chatting as we went, trying not to slip on the ice. We talked of relationships, fears, concerns for the year, for one another. It was nice to be back with a good friend. We walked quickly, complaining of cold hands and toes- something we could always relate over since he has Reynaud’s Phenomenon too. He pushed himself with one foot on the bare concrete, the other glued to the ice as if he were on a skateboard. He slid faster than I walked. I laughed. We visited the National Gallery for the brief last hour it was open that day, perusing impressionistic paintings. A couple asking us to take their photo in front of a sculpture. Van Goghs, Manets, Cezannes, Monets, Picassos, Renoirs. I paused for a long time at a painting of Mrs. Monet donned in a traditional summer’s dress with hat and parasol. Her son in the background playing. Wind sweeping through the field, chaotically stirring the air, lifting her pettiskirts and whisking through her hair. I felt it- the wind, his conflict. We left at close to a beautiful sunrise and I broke out the camera returning to the national mall.

We joked in Spanish, and spoke in valley girl mockery. His accent, even surpassing mine. We whistled the Rocky song on the way up the stairs to Congress. He shook his fist in a photo. The reflecting pool in front of the building frozen. Layoffs were looming in the military. There was a 20 in 23 chance he’d get laid off soon. I felt for him.

I imagined what my life would be like if the only job I’ve had after college was in the military. I attempted to fathom what it would be like to be in his shoes. I was often envious of the places he traveled to as a result of the military- his worldly view, and often from a very biased position to outsiders. We talked later at an Irish pub in downtown DC over a Mexican mule and an EIB- I forgot he had been to western Europe- Germany, Spain, Scotland. Katie studied in Scotland. They’d be going to Morocco in a few weeks.

I thought of the possibility of deploying to Maine in NCCC. I tried explaining to him the militaristic style of NCCC, but that it was lower-level/low-key. He didn’t seem to enjoy hearing it.

We traveled to other bars that night, tequila and ginger being my drink of the night. We checked out different places, and I increasingly noticed how young DC is. We ate that night at an Ethiopian restaurant, and for the first time I had gluten free injera. I didn’t realize fully, although I suspected maybe, that injera was not gluten free in restaurants. This was the first time I had Ethiopian in which my stomach didn’t struggle afterwards. Contented we stopped by the Churchkey on our way back.

We chose a table that was shared by another group, from LA as well from what we gathered. Unfortunately they exacerbated the stereotype. They were rude and crude. A girl, whose back faced us, constanly bumped into Danny without recognition or apology. She left for a few minutes and returned to my side, committing the same acts. We were appalled. After the girls left the guys made jokes about their conquers for the night. It was disgusting. By the time I slipped in to bed, catching up on texts, Danny’s heavy breathing indicated he was already immersed in dreams.

1/26/14

I woke up and Danny had stepped out of the shower. He informed me he has the stomach flu. “The Miller flu?” I teased.

“No, I’ve already thrown up four times. I tried fetal position and it helps momentarily.” He lays down on the bed, curled, his face pained. I empathized. His train wasn’t until 9:45. I offered to run down to CVS to pick up some medication for him. Returning I feel like a good friend, yet still unable to offer much consolation. Sometimes I’m excellent at this sort of thing. Sometimes I’m awful- unsure of how to act, or what’s appropriate, and how to avoid getting sick. I hugged Danny goodbye and wished him well before he grabbed a cab to Union Station. I thought of how long and painful a bus ride would be.

After he left, I worked on a poem for a bit. If you’re interested, I can email it to you, just let me know. It’s about personal beauty, a subject I often write and reflect upon. I headed back up to Busboys and Poets for brunch, waiting in the bookstore, looking at vegan cookbook recipes. “Hey,” I hear apprehensively.

I look up, confused by the long hair, I pause. “Rachael!” I jump up hugging my brunch-date, and my DC BnB teammate. We talked, conversation gaining speed after the initial “how are yous” back to the familiar territory of being with family, appreciating one another’s quirks, attitudes, beliefs, and similar interests. We walked together as it begins to snow. Rachael donning a large furry hat that I think she looks adorable in. She takes it off for the photo, apologizing for its obnoxiousness.

I felt tired. I felt bad that I wasn’t more enthusiastic. I hugged her goodbye as she walked off to her next meeting. She kissed me on the cheek.

I continued walking, smiling in the snowfall, appreciating its beauty despite the cold. Brick buildings surround me as I turn down a street headed for a local coffee shop. Rowhouses line, blocking or funneling the wind. Snow lies sweetly on grasses, covering sidewalks, mashed into a gray pulp from pedestrian traffic. There was something soothing about this atmosphere- the snow falling in little balls, like gentle soft hail almost. It reminded me of dip n’ dots. I laughed, pulling out my camera to attempt to capture the beauty. Some things are not capturable, and if they are, sometimes I have to let it go and simply appreciate it.

So I did. As I rounded Logan Circle and approached Asi’s café I smiled at passerbys. I shuffled my feet through ice, careful not to slip. I watched a man in his front yard cut wood, doing housework. It was too cold, I thought.

I thought back to a little girl in Perryville, the town neighboring our NCCC campus, watching her father shovel snow out front, disgusted, unamused. We joked. “Daaaad, can I go watch cartoons?” “Dad, if you can do it, why do I need to learn?” “Dad, I miss California.” “Dad, I hate living here.”

I drew in the café, enjoying my time alone to the best of my ability and catching up on a couple drawings to send JD. Around 5, I walked to Whole Foods anticipating the pick-up for the ride home. I perused the incredible gluten free and dairy free options held within, craving pizza. I splurged. Casey and Alex picked me up, and we hassled Alex the entire ride home, picking Stewart up from a Starbucks in downtown Baltimore. When I returned to campus, I ate some dinner (frozen pizza), and celebrated briefly with others in the lounge for Brittany’s birthday, escaping to the duty desk to journal. 6 am PT tomorrow.

NCCC – Thursday 1/22- Sunday 1/26/14

1/22/14

I apologize for the delay again in blog posts, it’s been a long week, and as a result my blog posts will be shorter in terms of words per day probably, and more reflective I imagine- less detail oriented. Both a plus and minus.

I woke up again similar to yesterday – 4am freezing.  6 am freezing. I checked my phone- our UL posted on facebook that we would be working off of a 3 hour delay.

“DRU will be at 12:45.”

Around 12:30 an STL informed me DRU has been changed to 1pm.

Five minutes later it changed back to 12:45.  This may not seem significant now, but it has built up with other actions that have resulted in TLs feeling that staff is being unprofessional in holding to the same standards as they hold us to. Changing DRU so frequently within 15 minutes of start time, ended up being a reason we asked staff during a later meeting to sending out texts to all of the TLs rather than simply the STLs. Anyway,

We arrive at DRU. Frantic, Stewart told me we’re going over the sheet of paper- the backside. We give our feedback to staff on our MLK experience. It was very casually done, and I felt good sharing my opinion of its benefit to the staff.

Our region director spoke after we finished. My quotations of her are paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact details.

“So it sounds to me like you didn’t get the service learning you were expected to receive.” We were confused. Adriana spoke up about it- “I think what we’re saying is that we still felt it was incredibly beneficial, but we wanted more information on the community. However, as a group we still felt we got the service-“

“I’m going to stop you there. Because I can only infer from what everyone has said, and it sounds to me like you didn’t receive the service learning.”

She then apologized for “stepping in it”, respectably owning up to the fact that there was miscommunication on behalf of the staff, “however, you should have been able to come up with a professional formal presentation. You’re all leaders.”

We were stunned. Some of us furious. It was unfair. I was upset for many reasons- we were half-heartedly thanked for helping with an intensive move on a day we did not have to work since the government was shut down and half heartedly thanked for working on our day off. Then we were reprimanded for not properly presenting our service project when we were not informed that it needed to be a formal presentation. Then, they informed us of the schedule, and that tomorrow, we would be completing the move. A move that wasn’t our job to begin with, required a lot of physical effort and would be completed in 9-19 degree weather. I was furious. I learned later that others shared the sentiment. I felt like I couldn’t speak without getting shot down when our director asked us to speak up if we had any harbored feelings. I wish I had more courage.  I felt like a coward.

After sitting in the classroom for a few hours, learning about other specialty roles- following a sporadic line of thought lectured by a caffeinated and nervous counselor, we were exhausted. I was still unsettled by the fact that not once had anyone apologized that leader retreat had been stripped from us, and instead we were being punished with moving.

I already moved this year, I thought, more than once. In 2013, not including Bike and Build in which you move daily, I moved from California to Arizona, AZ to TX, TX to AZ, and then helped my family move all of our things from one house to another on New Year’s Eve. I was done moving.

Moving for me was another sensitive issue. It has become less so in the passing years, but still the act of moving is unsettling. Perhaps that is another reason why I pursued Bike and Build, to get over that. I want mobility. If there’s something I’ve learned from moving so frequently in the past few years, it’s to get rid of things you don’t truly need. It’s also an incredibly good method to find out what you truly value. There are certainly things I can live without, and then there are sentimental things that I’d like to have for my daughter someday, and then there are essentials. My camera gear, bike and computer always fall into the third category.

Now I think moving is less unsettling for the sake of it being uprooting, but unsettling because its so demanding when its not my own belongings.

That evening we had a focus group.

Our sentiments about the past week, particularly the joke of a financial training, came out unfortunately with that tone. After venting to the staff representatives, Thomas and I walked outside.

I ran and giggled, leaping through the snow. Genuine excitement. I laid dowm spreading my arms above my head and down to my waist. “Help me up!” Thomas offered his hand.

Shivering he was ready to go back inside. The sun was setting over the frozen Chesapeake bay. Thomas headed back in. I was alone, outside surrounded by a mixture of nature and civilization.

I snapped a photo: dusk with an angel in the snow.

1/23/2014

Thursday involved moving. All day with the exception of a beautiful two hour window in which we got our driving certification. It was a lovely time spent with Jason and Stewart practicing driving a 15P (15 passenger van). Everyone was frustrated I think, going between phases of having fun with everyone to being frustrated with Southern staff. They were packing things without the consideration of safety and it made many of us uncomfortable.

At some point one of us objected to the process- stacking chairs not tied down next to rolling tables on the back of any open-faced truck- their middle sitting higher than the sides of the truck. “Safety is not my top priority,” the man said.

Stunned some us stopped working. We weren’t comfortable with endangering the lives of the driver or the others on the road. I vented at lunch, at breaks, and then finally in the afternoon with our ULs during a UL/TL vent. The vent was brought on by a discussion ensuing after we were informed that, as a result of the focus group last night, our region director and the two directly below her will be present for a formal presentation that we will put on for them on our grievances.

At 7:30 am.

Tomorrow.

Originally the email that we received around 1pm said “roundtable”- an informal meeting with the region director and the TLs to express grievances. Such was no longer the case, we were informed by our ULs.

Once again we were misinformed. The afternoon was spent expressing those grievances- which we should voice, and which we should bite our tongues on. Which mattered, which did not.

When we got through the discussion, the ULs left and the next four hours, from 5:30 to 9:30 were spent crunchtime on this formal presentation. If we were asked to bring it, we were going to put our best foot forward and f*@%ing bringing it. We were going to crush it, show whoever we were proving that we don’t care what you throw at us, we’ll overcome.

1/24/2012

And so we did. Friday morning, we awoke early, leaving by van at 6:50 so we could get to the conference room with enough time to run through an even briefer run through than we did the night before. Last night we got the content down, decided upon execution, hands behind while standing, stepping forward while talking, who will go where. Now it was how we would rotate throughout the room. Were our shirts properly tucked?

The staff members walked in at 7:30 on the dot.

We brought it. I stuttered at some point, apologizing. Sometimes public speaking still trips me up. But after we sat down, two of the people I spoke with high fived me, subtly, offering their hand at their thigh. Our group covered the topic of communication, and the two other topics covered included presentation/training and unity. We did an incredible job, and we were incredibly proud of ourselves. We found out about this at 4pm the previous day, and pulled it off. Perhaps it was simply a test.

The staff commended us, and we held our heads high for the rest of the day. Our voices were heard.

Today was the day we would find out our units.

Units are like schools in Hogwarts, the ULs being the sorting hat of sorts.

Everyone anxiously awaited the verdict. We sat excitedly through lecture with our ULs, going through extra instruction examples and then were instructed to change into our street clothes.

Unaware of where we were headed, we followed the ULs’ truck in our 15Ps. We ended at the Elk Lanes Bowling Alley. We skipped and joked out of the cars and into the building, grabbing our shoes. “Guess you guys probably want to find out your bowling groups, right?” Jason said, taking out a pile of papers with our names and faces on them.

“Bowling group 1 (lanes 1 and 2),” he began calling out names.

I fell in bowling group 2. I rushed over there, looking at the other faces in my group. I had a feeling that I was in the group I expected initially: raven, but I was unsure now. Half of me hoped to be in Jason’s group, out of fear that Jen (the raven UL) may be leaving once we move to Baltimore. Her commute is long enough as is.

“Figure it out yet?!” Jason yelled, smiling.

The Unit STLs ran over, already preassigned to the units along with the ULs. Calvin and Jen came racing over to ours. Excitedly we hugged and took photos, laughing, smiles. Buffalo looked disappointed, their UL out on extended leave for an indefinite time. Moose looked excited as well, and FEMA already knew, their camaraderie already apparent.

I felt unsure.

“Raven has the best cheer!” Adriana said, explaining that when we do our cheers everyone will be jealous. Jen told us it’s pretty obnoxious, “we circle around everyone,” she began.

I felt like a group of ravens. Unsympathetic really to those who didn’t get the unit they desire, ignorant of Buffalo’s concerns. It didn’t quite sit right. I texted Ethan that I was in Raven. He congratulated me enthusiastically, and I relayed the message to Jen that he said hi. I went to the other units taking photos, photographing the walls of the bowling alley as well covered in décor. I felt unsettled.

We used to be one. The mandatory split felt uneasy almost to me. There was something joyous about being a raven. Jen was the most senior of the ULs, arguably most experienced as a result, and one who does incredibly well if/when you encounter emotional struggles on the journey. She was fun, and empathizing, and clever, coy, witty, intelligent. She was a raven.

When we returned to campus, we went over the flash drive until around 4:45. Thinking only of my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I asked Casey what time we’d be leaving. She was kind enough to offer me a ride to DC this weekend. I was meeting up with Danny who bussed up from North Carolina.

“5:30.”

I rushed to the kitchen, quickly whipping up my easy but scrumptious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I raced between kitchen and my room hurriedly packing my bag for the coming weekend, throwing things here and there. The room would be a disaster when I returned. I hastily packed up some cookies to pay Casey with for driving on the way there, and left some for my dinner-groupmates.

Two hours later I arrived to the Washington Plaza Hotel, after a nice talk with Casey about a variety of topics ranging from rap to diversity, to the social issues in NCCC.

I spent the next couple hours chilling in my hotel room. It was nice to be alone. I watched Oblivion, an intensive futuristic movie  featuring Tom Cruise.

Danny got in around 11:30 roughly and we went out for dinner and a drink to Busboys and Poets (recommended by Casey), a socially conscious vegan/gf friendly restaurant, catching up on the past few months since we last parted in April. Exhausted, we returned to the hotel and crashed.

 

1/25/2014

Saturday brunch at the Commissary. It was pleasant to have smoked salmon again. Delectable. Danny could be hard to eat with on occasion- he was vegan and so eating out was challenging between the two of us. I felt finally as many feel of me- looking through yelp trying to find a place that would offer more than a salad for him. We had a successful brunch and hit the town.

We visited National Geographic museum- one that I thought we’d both enjoy with our common love of photography. They had an incredible exhibit -Women of Vision- women photographers. It was touching, inspiring, reinforced my desire to pursue photography as a social tool. Here is a link to the exhibit: http://wovexhibition.org/

It was emotional, causing me to cry at an image of a young Afghan girl, 11, covered in burn scars. Many girls in Afghanistan burn themselves to avoid being married off to older men. They were intensive eye-opening exhibits.

Another image that stood out was of a young boy, covered by monkey pox, staring into the camera lying on a primitive wooden table. His face slightly obscured by a blurred yellow line- the IV drip. He died shortly after. The photographer stated that the contagiousness of his disease did not hold her back. There was no way to convey the feeling of pain that the boy was going through, that his crying mother was going through, who sat besides the boy in the same room, with any more distance.

Emotionally evocative photography is rarely distant. It’s close to your brain, and its close to your heart.

I talked to JD about this a few days prior, about distance in social documentary photography. The comments becoming more and more apparent in these close images. The distant ones, intentionally distant, for instance to convey the connection of one’s religious practices to the vastness of nature. Distant in a larger sense, if that makes sense.

I highly recommend the exhibit.

Afterwards, we meandered down to the mall, chatting as we went, trying not to slip on the ice. We talked of relationships, fears, concerns for the year, for one another. It was nice to be back with a good friend. We walked quickly, complaining of cold hands and toes- something we could always relate over since he has Reynaud’s Phenomenon too. He pushed himself with one foot on the bare concrete, the other glued to the ice as if he were on a skateboard. He slid faster than I walked. I laughed. We visited the National Gallery for the brief last hour it was open that day, perusing impressionistic paintings. A couple asking us to take their photo in front of a sculpture. Van Goghs, Manets, Cezannes, Monets, Picassos, Renoirs. I paused for a long time at a painting of Mrs. Monet donned in a traditional summer’s dress with hat and parasol. Her son in the background playing. Wind sweeping through the field, chaotically stirring the air, lifting her pettiskirts and whisking through her hair. I felt it- the wind, his conflict. We left at close to a beautiful sunrise and I broke out the camera returning to the national mall.

We joked in Spanish, and spoke in valley girl mockery. His accent, even surpassing mine. We whistled the Rocky song on the way up the stairs to Congress. He shook his fist in a photo. The reflecting pool in front of the building frozen. Layoffs were looming in the military. There was a 20 in 23 chance he’d get laid off soon. I felt for him.

I imagined what my life would be like if the only job I’ve had after college was in the military. I attempted to fathom what it would be like to be in his shoes. I was often envious of the places he traveled to as a result of the military- his worldly view, and often from a very biased position to outsiders. We talked later at an Irish pub in downtown DC over a Mexican mule and an EIB- I forgot he had been to western Europe- Germany, Spain, Scotland. Katie studied in Scotland. They’d be going to Morocco in a few weeks.

I thought of the possibility of deploying to Maine in NCCC. I tried explaining to him the militaristic style of NCCC, but that it was lower-level/low-key. He didn’t seem to enjoy hearing it.

We traveled to other bars that night, tequila and ginger being my drink of the night. We checked out different places, and I increasingly noticed how young DC is. We ate that night at an Ethiopian restaurant, and for the first time I had gluten free injera. I didn’t realize fully, although I suspected maybe, that injera was not gluten free in restaurants. This was the first time I had Ethiopian in which my stomach didn’t struggle afterwards. Contented we stopped by the Churchkey on our way back.

 

We chose a table that was shared by another group, from LA as well from what we gathered. Unfortunately they exacerbated the stereotype. They were rude and crude. A girl, whose back faced us, constanly bumped into Danny without recognition or apology. She left for a few minutes and returned to my side, committing the same acts. We were appalled. After the girls left the guys made jokes about their conquers for the night. It was disgusting. By the time I slipped in to bed, catching up on texts, Danny’s heavy breathing indicated he was already immersed in dreams.

1/26/14

I woke up and Danny had stepped out of the shower. He informed me he has the stomach flu. “The Miller flu?” I teased.

“No, I’ve already thrown up four times. I tried fetal position and it helps momentarily.” He lays down on the bed, curled, his face pained. I empathized. His train wasn’t until 9:45. I offered to run down to CVS to pick up some medication for him. Returning I feel like a good friend, yet still unable to offer much consolation. Sometimes I’m excellent at this sort of thing. Sometimes I’m awful- unsure of how to act, or what’s appropriate, and how to avoid getting sick. I hugged Danny goodbye and wished him well before he grabbed a cab to Union Station. I thought of how long and painful a bus ride would be.

After he left, I worked on a poem for a bit. If you’re interested, I can email it to you, just let me know. It’s about personal beauty, a subject I often write and reflect upon. I headed back up to Busboys and Poets for brunch, waiting in the bookstore, looking at vegan cookbook recipes. “Hey,” I hear apprehensively.

I look up, confused by the long hair, I pause. “Rachael!” I jump up hugging my brunch-date, and my DC BnB teammate. We talked, conversation gaining speed after the initial “how are yous” back to the familiar territory of being with family, appreciating one another’s quirks, attitudes, beliefs, and similar interests. We walked together as it begins to snow. Rachael donning a large furry hat that I think she looks adorable in. She takes it off for the photo, apologizing for its obnoxiousness.

I felt tired. I felt bad that I wasn’t more enthusiastic. I hugged her goodbye as she walked off to her next meeting. She kissed me on the cheek.

I continued walking, smiling in the snowfall, appreciating its beauty despite the cold. Brick buildings surround me as I turn down a street headed for a local coffee shop. Rowhouses line, blocking or funneling the wind. Snow lies sweetly on grasses, covering sidewalks, mashed into a gray pulp from pedestrian traffic. There was something soothing about this atmosphere- the snow falling in little balls, like gentle soft hail almost. It reminded me of dip n’ dots. I laughed, pulling out my camera to attempt to capture the beauty. Some things are not capturable, and if they are, sometimes I have to let it go and simply appreciate it.

So I did. As I rounded Logan Circle and approached Asi’s café I smiled at passerbys. I shuffled my feet through ice, careful not to slip. I watched a man in his front yard cut wood, doing housework. It was too cold, I thought.

I thought back to a little girl in Perryville, the town neighboring our NCCC campus, watching her father shovel snow out front, disgusted, unamused. We joked. “Daaaad, can I go watch cartoons?” “Dad, if you can do it, why do I need to learn?” “Dad, I miss California.” “Dad, I hate living here.”

I drew in the café, enjoying my time alone to the best of my ability and catching up on a couple drawings to send JD. Around 5, I walked to Whole Foods anticipating the pick-up for the ride home. I perused the incredible gluten free and dairy free options held within, craving pizza. I splurged. Casey and Alex picked me up, and we hassled Alex the entire ride home, picking Stewart up from a Starbucks in downtown Baltimore. When I returned to campus, I ate some dinner (frozen pizza), and celebrated briefly with others in the lounge for Brittany’s birthday, escaping to the duty desk to journal. 6 am PT tomorrow.

1/22/14

I apologize for the delay again in blog posts, it’s been a long week, and as a result my blog posts will be shorter in terms of words per day probably, and more reflective I imagine- less detail oriented. Both a plus and minus.

I woke up again similar to yesterday – 4am freezing.  6 am freezing. I checked my phone- our UL posted on facebook that we would be working off of a 3 hour delay.

“DRU will be at 12:45.”

Around 12:30 an STL informed me DRU has been changed to 1pm.

Five minutes later it changed back to 12:45.  This may not seem significant now, but it has built up with other actions that have resulted in TLs feeling that staff is being unprofessional in holding to the same standards as they hold us to. Changing DRU so frequently within 15 minutes of start time, ended up being a reason we asked staff during a later meeting to sending out texts to all of the TLs rather than simply the STLs. Anyway,

We arrive at DRU. Frantic, Stewart told me we’re going over the sheet of paper- the backside. We give our feedback to staff on our MLK experience. It was very casually done, and I felt good sharing my opinion of its benefit to the staff.

Our region director spoke after we finished. My quotations of her are paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact details.

“So it sounds to me like you didn’t get the service learning you were expected to receive.” We were confused. Adriana spoke up about it- “I think what we’re saying is that we still felt it was incredibly beneficial, but we wanted more information on the community. However, as a group we still felt we got the service-“

“I’m going to stop you there. Because I can only infer from what everyone has said, and it sounds to me like you didn’t receive the service learning.”

She then apologized for “stepping in it”, respectably owning up to the fact that there was miscommunication on behalf of the staff, “however, you should have been able to come up with a professional formal presentation. You’re all leaders.”

We were stunned. Some of us furious. It was unfair. I was upset for many reasons- we were half-heartedly thanked for helping with an intensive move on a day we did not have to work since the government was shut down and half heartedly thanked for working on our day off. Then we were reprimanded for not properly presenting our service project when we were not informed that it needed to be a formal presentation. Then, they informed us of the schedule, and that tomorrow, we would be completing the move. A move that wasn’t our job to begin with, required a lot of physical effort and would be completed in 9-19 degree weather. I was furious. I learned later that others shared the sentiment. I felt like I couldn’t speak without getting shot down when our director asked us to speak up if we had any harbored feelings. I wish I had more courage.  I felt like a coward.

After sitting in the classroom for a few hours, learning about other specialty roles- following a sporadic line of thought lectured by a caffeinated and nervous counselor, we were exhausted. I was still unsettled by the fact that not once had anyone apologized that leader retreat had been stripped from us, and instead we were being punished with moving.

I already moved this year, I thought, more than once. In 2013, not including Bike and Build in which you move daily, I moved from California to Arizona, AZ to TX, TX to AZ, and then helped my family move all of our things from one house to another on New Year’s Eve. I was done moving.

Moving for me was another sensitive issue. It has become less so in the passing years, but still the act of moving is unsettling. Perhaps that is another reason why I pursued Bike and Build, to get over that. I want mobility. If there’s something I’ve learned from moving so frequently in the past few years, it’s to get rid of things you don’t truly need. It’s also an incredibly good method to find out what you truly value. There are certainly things I can live without, and then there are sentimental things that I’d like to have for my daughter someday, and then there are essentials. My camera gear, bike and computer always fall into the third category.

Now I think moving is less unsettling for the sake of it being uprooting, but unsettling because its so demanding when its not my own belongings.

That evening we had a focus group.

Our sentiments about the past week, particularly the joke of a financial training, came out unfortunately with that tone. After venting to the staff representatives, Thomas and I walked outside.

I ran and giggled, leaping through the snow. Genuine excitement. I laid dowm spreading my arms above my head and down to my waist. “Help me up!” Thomas offered his hand. Shivering he was ready to go back inside. The sun was setting over the frozen Chesapeake bay. Thomas headed back in. I was alone, outside surrounded by a mixture of nature and civilization.

I snapped a photo: dusk with an angel in the snow.

 

1/23/2014

Thursday involved moving. All day with the exception of a beautiful two hour window in which we got our driving certification. It was a lovely time spent with Jason and Stewart practicing driving a 15P (15 passenger van). Everyone was frustrated I think, going between phases of having fun with everyone to being frustrated with Southern staff. They were packing things without the consideration of safety and it made many of us uncomfortable.

At some point one of us objected to the process- stacking chairs not tied down next to rolling tables on the back of any open-faced truck- their middle sitting higher than the sides of the truck. “Safety is not my top priority,” the man said.

Stunned some us stopped working. We weren’t comfortable with endangering the lives of the driver or the others on the road. I vented at lunch, at breaks, and then finally in the afternoon with our ULs during a UL/TL vent. The vent was brought on by a discussion ensuing after we were informed that, as a result of the focus group last night, our region director and the two directly below her will be present for a formal presentation that we will put on for them on our grievances.

At 7:30 am.

Tomorrow.

Originally the email that we received around 1pm said “roundtable”- an informal meeting with the region director and the TLs to express grievances. Such was no longer the case, we were informed by our ULs.

Once again we were misinformed. The afternoon was spent expressing those grievances- which we should voice, and which we should bite our tongues on. Which mattered, which did not.

When we got through the discussion, the ULs left and the next four hours, from 5:30 to 9:30 were spent crunchtime on this formal presentation. If we were asked to bring it, we were going to put our best foot forward and f*@%ing bringing it. We were going to crush it, show whoever we were proving that we don’t care what you throw at us, we’ll overcome.

1/24/2012

And so we did. Friday morning, we awoke early, leaving by van at 6:50 so we could get to the conference room with enough time to run through an even briefer run through than we did the night before. Last night we got the content down, decided upon execution, hands behind while standing, stepping forward while talking, who will go where. Now it was how we would rotate throughout the room. Were our shirts properly tucked?

The staff members walked in at 7:30 on the dot.

We brought it. I stuttered at some point, apologizing. Sometimes public speaking still trips me up. But after we sat down, two of the people I spoke with high fived me, subtly, offering their hand at their thigh. Our group covered the topic of communication, and the two other topics covered included presentation/training and unity. We did an incredible job, and we were incredibly proud of ourselves. We found out about this at 4pm the previous day, and pulled it off. Perhaps it was simply a test.

The staff commended us, and we held our heads high for the rest of the day. Our voices were heard.

Today was the day we would find out our units.

Units are like schools in Hogwarts, the ULs being the sorting hat of sorts.

Everyone anxiously awaited the verdict. We sat excitedly through lecture with our ULs, going through extra instruction examples and then were instructed to change into our street clothes.

Unaware of where we were headed, we followed the ULs’ truck in our 15Ps. We ended at the Elk Lanes Bowling Alley. We skipped and joked out of the cars and into the building, grabbing our shoes. “Guess you guys probably want to find out your bowling groups, right?” Jason said, taking out a pile of papers with our names and faces on them.

“Bowling group 1 (lanes 1 and 2),” he began calling out names.

I fell in bowling group 2. I rushed over there, looking at the other faces in my group. I had a feeling that I was in the group I expected initially: raven, but I was unsure now. Half of me hoped to be in Jason’s group, out of fear that Jen (the raven UL) may be leaving once we move to Baltimore. Her commute is long enough as is.

“Figure it out yet?!” Jason yelled, smiling.

The Unit STLs ran over, already preassigned to the units along with the ULs. Calvin and Jen came racing over to ours. Excitedly we hugged and took photos, laughing, smiles. Buffalo looked disappointed, their UL out on extended leave for an indefinite time. Moose looked excited as well, and FEMA already knew, their camaraderie already apparent.

I felt unsure.

“Raven has the best cheer!” Adriana said, explaining that when we do our cheers everyone will be jealous. Jen told us it’s pretty obnoxious, “we circle around everyone,” she began.

I felt like a group of ravens. Unsympathetic really to those who didn’t get the unit they desire, ignorant of Buffalo’s concerns. It didn’t quite sit right. I texted Ethan that I was in Raven. He congratulated me enthusiastically, and I relayed the message to Jen that he said hi. I went to the other units taking photos, photographing the walls of the bowling alley as well covered in décor. I felt unsettled.

We used to be one. The mandatory split felt uneasy almost to me. There was something joyous about being a raven. Jen was the most senior of the ULs, arguably most experienced as a result, and one who does incredibly well if/when you encounter emotional struggles on the journey. She was fun, and empathizing, and clever, coy, witty, intelligent. She was a raven.

When we returned to campus, we went over the flash drive until around 4:45. Thinking only of my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, I asked Casey what time we’d be leaving. She was kind enough to offer me a ride to DC this weekend. I was meeting up with Danny who bussed up from North Carolina.

“5:30.”

I rushed to the kitchen, quickly whipping up my easy but scrumptious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I raced between kitchen and my room hurredly packing my bag for the coming weekend, throwing things here and there. The room would be a disaster when I returned. I hastily packed up some cookies to pay Casey with for driving on the way there, and left some for my dinner-groupmates.

Two hours later I arrived to the Washington Plaza Hotel, after a nice talk with Casey about a variety of topics ranging from rap to diversity, to the social issues in NCCC. I spent the next couple hours chilling in my hotel room. It was nice to be alone. I watched Oblivion, an intensive futuristic movie  featuring Tom Cruise.

Danny got in around 11:30 roughly and we went out for dinner and a drink to Busboys and Poets (recommended by Casey), a socially conscious vegan/gf friendly restaurant, catching up on the past few months since we last parted in April. Exhausted, we returned to the hotel and crashed.

1/25/2014

Saturday brunch at the Commissary. It was pleasant to have smoked salmon again. Delectable. Danny could be hard to eat with on occasion- he was vegan and so eating out was challenging between the two of us. I felt finally as many feel of me- looking through yelp trying to find a place that would offer more than a salad for him. We had a successful brunch and hit the town.

We visited National Geographic museum- one that I thought we’d both enjoy with our common love of photography. They had an incredible exhibit -Women of Vision- women photographers. It was touching, inspiring, reinforced my desire to pursue photography as a social tool. Here is a link to the exhibit: http://wovexhibition.org/

It was emotional, causing me to cry at an image of a young Afghan girl, 11, covered in burn scars. Many girls in Afghanistan burn themselves to avoid being married off to older men. They were intensive eye-opening exhibits.

Another image that stood out was of a young boy, covered by monkey pox, staring into the camera lying on a primitive wooden table. His face slightly obscured by a blurred yellow line- the IV drip. He died shortly after. The photographer stated that the contagiousness of his disease did not hold her back. There was no way to convey the feeling of pain that the boy was going through, that his crying mother was going through, who sat besides the boy in the same room, with any more distance.

Emotionally evocative photography is rarely distant. It’s close to your brain, and its close to your heart.

I talked to JD about this a few days prior, about distance in social documentary photography. The comments becoming more and more apparent in these close images. The distant ones, intentionally distant, for instance to convey the connection of one’s religious practices to the vastness of nature. Distant in a larger sense, if that makes sense.

I highly recommend the exhibit.

Afterwards, we meandered down to the mall, chatting as we went, trying not to slip on the ice. We talked of relationships, fears, concerns for the year, for one another. It was nice to be back with a good friend. We walked quickly, complaining of cold hands and toes- something we could always relate over since he has Reynaud’s Phenomenon too. He pushed himself with one foot on the bare concrete, the other glued to the ice as if he were on a skateboard. He slid faster than I walked. I laughed. We visited the National Gallery for the brief last hour it was open that day, perusing impressionistic paintings. A couple asking us to take their photo in front of a sculpture. Van Goghs, Manets, Cezannes, Monets, Picassos, Renoirs. I paused for a long time at a painting of Mrs. Monet donned in a traditional summer’s dress with hat and parasol. Her son in the background playing. Wind sweeping through the field, chaotically stirring the air, lifting her pettiskirts and whisking through her hair. I felt it- the wind, his conflict. We left at close to a beautiful sunrise and I broke out the camera returning to the national mall. We joked in Spanish, and spoke in valley girl mockery. His accent, even surpassing mine. We whistled the Rocky song on the way up the stairs to Congress. He shook his fist in a photo. The reflecting pool in front of the building frozen. Layoffs were looming in the military. There was a 20 in 23 chance he’d get laid off soon. I felt for him.

I imagined what my life would be like if the only job I’ve had after college was in the military. I attempted to fathom what it would be like to be in his shoes. I was often envious of the places he traveled to as a result of the military- his worldly view, and often from a very biased position to outsiders. We talked later at an Irish pub in downtown DC over a Mexican mule and an EIB- I forgot he had been to western Europe- Germany, Spain, Scotland. Katie studied in Scotland. They’d be going to Morocco in a few weeks.

I thought of the possibility of deploying to Maine in NCCC. I tried explaining to him the militaristic style of NCCC, but that it was lower-level/low-key.

We traveled to other bars that night, tequila and ginger being my drink of the night. We checked out different places, and I increasingly noticed how young DC is. We ate that night at an Ethiopian restaurant, and for the first time I had gluten free injera. I didn’t realize fully, although I suspected maybe, that injera was not gluten free in restaurants. This was the first time I had Ethiopian in which my stomach didn’t struggle afterwards. Contented we stopped by the Churchkey on our way back.

We chose a table that was shared by another group, from LA as well from what we gathered. Unfortunately they exacerbated the stereotype. They were rude and crude. A girl, whose back faced us, constanly bumped into Danny without recognition or apology. She left for a few minutes and returned to my side, committing the same acts. We were appalled. After the girls left the guys made jokes about their conquers for the night. It was disgusting. By the time I slipped in to bed, catching up on texts, Danny’s heavy breathing indicated he was already immersed in dreams.

1/26/14

I woke up and Danny had stepped out of the shower. He informed me he has the stomach flu. “The Miller flu?” I teased.

“No, I’ve already thrown up four times. I tried fetal position and it helps momentarily.” He lays down on the bed, curled, his face pained. I empathized. His train wasn’t until 9:45. I offered to run down to CVS to pick up some medication for him. Returning I feel like a good friend, yet still unable to offer much consolation. Sometimes I’m excellent at this sort of thing. Sometimes I’m awful- unsure of how to act, or what’s appropriate, and how to avoid getting sick. I hugged Danny goodbye and wished him well before he grabbed a cab to Union Station. I thought of how long and painful a bus ride would be.

After he left, I worked on a poem for a bit. If you’re interested, I can email it to you, just let me know. It’s about personal beauty, a subject I often write and reflect upon. I headed back up to Busboys and Poets for brunch, waiting in the bookstore, looking at vegan cookbook recipes. “Hey,” I hear apprehensively.

I look up, confused by the long hair, I pause. “Rachael!” I jump up hugging my brunch-date, and my DC BnB teammate. We talked, conversation gaining speed after the initial “how are yous” back to the familiar territory of being with family, appreciating one another’s quirks, attitudes, beliefs, and similar interests. We walked together as it begins to snow. Rachael donning a large furry hat that I think she looks adorable in. She takes it off for the photo, apologizing for its obnoxiousness.

I felt tired. I felt bad that I wasn’t more enthusiastic. I hugged her goodbye as she walked off to her next meeting. She kissed me on the cheek.

I continued walking, smiling in the snowfall, appreciating its beauty despite the cold. Brick buildings surround me as I turn down a street headed for a local coffee shop. Rowhouses line, blocking or funneling the wind. Snow lies sweetly on grasses, covering sidewalks, mashed into a gray pulp from pedestrian traffic. There was something soothing about this atmosphere- the snow falling in little balls, like gentle soft hail almost. It reminded me of dip n’ dots. I laughed, pulling out my camera to attempt to capture the beauty. Some things are not capturable, and if they are, sometimes I have to let it go and simply appreciate it.

So I did. As I rounded Logan Circle and approached Asi’s café I smiled at passerbys. I shuffled my feet through ice, careful not to slip. I watched a man in his front yard cut wood, doing housework. It was too cold, I thought.

I thought back to a little girl in Perryville, the town neighboring our NCCC campus, watching her father shovel snow out front, disgusted, unamused. We joked. “Daaaad, can I go watch cartoons?” “Dad, if you can do it, why do I need to learn?” “Dad, I miss California.” “Dad, I hate living here.”

I drew in the café, enjoying my time alone to the best of my ability and catching up on a couple drawings to send JD. Around 5, I walked to Whole Foods anticipating the pick-up for the ride home. I perused the incredible gluten free and dairy free options held within, craving pizza. I splurged. Casey and Alex picked me up, and we hassled Alex the entire ride home, picking Stewart up from a Starbucks in downtown Baltimore. When I returned to campus, I ate some dinner (frozen pizza), and celebrated briefly with others in the lounge for Brittany’s birthday, escaping to the duty desk to journal. 6 am PT tomorrow.

NCCC – Mon – Tues 1/20-1/21/14

1/20/2014

The morning was punchy. I talked to Kim at breakfast as if I was 10 second tom. “Good morning Kim! How are you?l

“I’m good, how are you, Nyx.”

“A bit tired.”

“Well maybe you can sleep in the car.”

“Yeah, maybe. … Good morning Kim!” And the conversation proceeded in that manner each time with a different attitude- one happy, another sad, sleepy, angry to be awake, etc. We giggled. I was reminded of Susan and our previous conversations that went similarly when we were younger- elementary school, middle school- erupting in laughter at hiccups and singing off key to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Today was Catherine’s birthday and everyone shouted happy birthday as she walked in for breakfast. “Oh yeah, good m-,” my voice trailed off recognizing I had said the incorrect greeting. Laughter. I couldn’t stop laughing about it before we left.

As we headed down the 94 towards Baltimore, excitement grew. I smiled. We were getting off campus, not just off campus- but out of state really. Heading to the district.

The sun glimmered in reds and purples, majestically rising from the ground through the forest of trees barren from winter weather- simply trunks and branches.

We arrived to a building crowd within the walls of a middle school in a DC suburb. City Year balloons strung from Timbaland hiking boots floated proudly at the doors. Twenty-somethings much like ourselves greeted us with “Hey! It’s You! You’re Here! That’s Great!” CLAP CLAP CLAP – on repeat. In the auditorium walls each speaker asked how City Year was doing, the red-jacketed individuals yelled “Fired Up!” We took up three rows in the center aisle of the auditorium. It was old. It reminded me a bit of San Pedro’s but well renovated. The school itself reminded me of a boarding school, towers, and breezeways executing passages through the buildings.

I felt like a celebrity. People commended us for our work. NCCC and Team Green was recognized. People took our photos, pointed and asked others. Publicity, I thought. We walked proudly, straight backs, conscious of our branding, of our A plastered on our shirts, jackets, and sweatshirts. We checked one another on uniform infractions. I made sure to watch my speech, to be extra polite. Taxpayers are paying my salary to be here. Represent the best, I reminded myself.

Many spoke about Americorps, about education, the importance of service and of Dr. Martin Luther King. The councilwoman was there, the CEO of CNCS (our umbrella government organization) and the president for Americorps as well as DC’s mayor and the United States Secretary of Education. It was an impressive board of speakers, sitting patiently, legs crossed, dressed in either City Year apparel or work apparel with the exception of the councilwoman clad in a dress suit. Speeches in hand, they approached the podium, all needing to reference their speeches on occasion, again with the exception of the councilwoman, who appeared to have something better to rush off to afterwards. All speaking authentically.

Banners stood on hangers behind them with sponsors and hashtag messages: “#makebetterhappen”  and “dreamliveson” with logos for twitter and instagram. I thought of how social media has advanced and how easy it is to have everyone contribute- to get authentic candid photos for an event so easily.

We broke out into our groups. My nametag had a gold border, which meant I signed up for construction. The gold/yellow group had to walk several blocks to reach our destination: Paul Charter Middle School. It was beautiful; I was impressed. The houses we passed were close together and all were brick. I thought of how rare brick was in California, and how I remembered feeling nostalgic seeing it growing up. It reminded me of my great-grandmother and great-uncle and aunt’s houses in Roanoke Virginia. It reminded me a bit of North Carolina where my aunt and uncle and cousins lived. I longed for brick on occasion, for the comfort of extended family in the same manner that I long for magnolias, that once littered my great-grandmother’s house- branches hanging low enough for full-grown adults to stoop.

A mural sprawled across the brick wall leading up to the middle school. Colors turned to leaves turned to recycling trees turned to giant fruits and veggies in front of their school turned to a hand multi-colored tan and white and brown in a camo-pattern. The entrance had a metal detector set off to the side of the doorway. I wondered if they used it regularly. I wondered what it was like to go to school here and what the kids were like, what there background was like. What was like to grow up in one of these brick houses? On the way back, Willie commented on the size of their yards. In Syracuse, most people have an average of 5 acres, he said. I responded that I was relatively used to yards that size, granted they were a little small, but they weren’t unusual to me. I focused more of backgrounds. What effect might yard size have on your perspective? Were you able to run about with neighbors in the street? Were you confined by fences in your backyard so your parents could keep a close eye on you- protect you from other yards, other people? Was your yard so small that you remained indoors? Or did you go to a playground regularly? Was your yard so large that you never met any of your neighbors?

On either of the auditorium sat two fish tank, probably seven feet long, and foot and a half deep and two feet wide. It was an odd side in my opinion. The fish were large and overcrowded but fascinatingly exotic in a middle school. They sat in clouded water and I felt sorry for them as I approached. The school was beautiful. After we met Jadon in the auditorium, a younger City Year employee, and Kiel, a sorry non-NCCC fellow who got stuck with our group, we headed to the hallway to build garden boxes. As Jadon, excited that he got the best group – NCCCers (which was confirmed by a couple supervisors who passed), predicted, we finished our garden boxes well before we were told to. For the next hour and a half we restained the garden boxes outside, listening to old R&B in the era of Marvin Gaye. Another organization did a slowed down version of the electric slide to a love song. We were the only mostly white group there besides City Year. I felt a bit pretentious, but I was happy to be there. I felt out of place and slowly realized I was exactly where I wanted and was meant to be: serving. I danced along as I walked, out of tune, and thought of stereotypes of white soccer moms. I was going to be that white soccer mom as much as I wanted to fight it.

When the staining was done, we stained other necessary things, and worked on a giant version of banangrams briefly. We moved the garden boxes over by the garden on the other side of the school, singing made up military chants about NCCC and team Green (the nickname for the TLs since they wear green). We enjoyed ourselves. We left confidently, and reflected on what we accomplished, chatting and getting to know one another better on the walk home. We reconvened in the original auditorium and after lunch divided once more into our individual vans.

Before we drove, we did a group reflection. There were a couple repeating themes: highs- getting to know one another better, getting out of the office, actually doing service; lows- only being put to use for a couple hours, not doing more. Upon further reflection, I think my low was not getting to know the community better- sure I got to know the City Year representatives, but I didn’t really talk to people outside of my circle. I talked to Kiel briefly, but he didn’t seem like he really wanted to talk. Another low was definitely not being there longer- of having work cut off after only a couple hours of service. I think all the TLs are itching to get our teams and do some real work.

The ride home seemed a lot longer. I switched off with Willie on DJing. This was something I really enjoyed- choosing songs that I think the whole group will enjoy.  Exhausted, NCCCers slumped down in lounges across 9H (our res. building). Eventually a few of us passed a soccer ball outside. Eventually it slimmed down to Alex, Sarah and I, passing and playing keep away, laughing. I sang camp songs enthusiastically. I was breaking out of my shell with some, being the silly person I truly am. Alex fell in goose poop. I couldn’t help but laugh. Eventually we went back inside. It was a beautiful day, with a high almost hitting 50. We cleaned up and watched TV. I edited photos, and after celebrating Catherine’s birthday with a surprise ice cream cake in the kitchen, I fell asleep around 9, listening to Local Natives as I drifted, eyes covered by an owl sleep mask.

The day after I had counted down all of your breaths down until
There were none, were none, were none, were none;
A hummingbird crashed right in front of me and I understood all you did for us.
You gave, and gave, and gave, and gave.

Ohhh, every night I ask myself
Am I giving enough?
 [x3]
Am I?

If you never knew how much,
If you never felt all of my love.
I pray now you do, you do, you do, you do.

Ohhh, every night I ask myself
Am I loving enough?
 [x3]
Am I?

Patricia, every night I’ll ask myself
Am I giving enough?
 [x3]
Am I?

Patricia, every night I’ll ask myself
Am I loving enough?
 [x3]
Am I?

Tuesday January 21, 2014

I had trouble sleeping last night. I woke up at 4:30, frustrated unable to sleep again. My body was noticeably colder, as I attempted to sleep in only one of my sleeping bags. I felt like a wimp.  I writhed, eventually falling back to sleep. I woke up at 6:30 right before my alarm, once again unable to go to sleep, but unwilling to step into the cold air that lingered outside of my sleeping bag. I checked my phone, our UL had posted on our team page:

Good morning, TLs. Just received word that we are closed today due to the impending deluge of snow we are about to get. Therefore, no travel to Camp Pecometh. The only thing we would like to keep on the schedule is the 9am Web X training with Kevin Jones which will be held in the Chesapeake room. After that, we are shutdown and vans are grounded. We will keep you posted on schedule changes for tomorrow. Enjoy your snow day, kids! Call us if you need anything.

 

I got out of bed, got ready and headed to the kitchen. I passed several people on the way “It’s a snow day in case you didn’t hear,” each told me hoping to be the first to tell me. I acknowledged. Tea. First things first.

I began to make a corn and onion omelette changing my mind as I completed the omelette, switching course to make crepes. It was a large breakfast: strawberry and banana with almond butter crepes and half an omelette. I was pretty proud of my culinary endeavor.

We walked to B15 for our webinar. The air had not yet gained coldness. People made fun of the “snow day” that lacked snow. We walked briskly. Troubleshooting the webinar took a while. We were on our own minus phone support. It began to snow. I ran outside and immediately took photos- selfies, landscapes, soon portraits as others joined me, scooping up snow to throw (naturally- we’re still kids). Laughter. One yelled out as a snowball hits her back, laughter.

Once the cold set in, we headed back in for our very brief webinar on CAP- the recruitment specialty role. A staff member from Mississippi was up to haul some of the furniture from 9H back down south. “So, if you don’t have anything to do, I’d love your help,” he said. We all of course agreed. I was begrudging and silent in my agreement. While I wanted to be useful of course, I was so over moving. I had done it very frequently this year. I don’t mind moving a bag sure, but 160 dressers and wall lockers and bed frames and mattresses is a lot. I watched the snow fall outside as  I rounded the corner with bed frames.

As we loaded frames and mattresses into the giant moving truck outside I thought of safety hazards. “Guys, try to not walk down the steps with heavy things! It’s icy!”

I was going to be that Team Leader I thought. I looked over a couple TLs who had stepped out briefly to smoke, after I asked one on his way out if he’d be helping. I was disappointed. “Just shows our work ethic,” Meganne, Moose Unit STL said to me, glancing in their general direction but acknowledging all of us. We had grown a bit closer. I hung out with her yesterday and find her company frequent and enjoyable. She migrates to me a lot I think. I like her.

As the truck filled and our duties for moving that day nullified, I joined a group in the lounge. We watched reruns of Friends, and I reflected upon the 90s and why Friends was such a likeable show amongst both genders, looking around the room. I searched online for transportation directions up to New Jersey. Kat invited me to go with her to her family’s cabin in the Poconos and I wanted to see if it would be plausible.

Kat and I talked over lunch. I made another delicious crepe- savory this time, similar in taste to the pot pie I made this Thanksgiving. Once again, I was both stoked  and proud. I missed Kat. We talked a lot. It was pleasant and refreshing to hear her voice. We picked up like old times and I missed our tight knit group.

I made Pad Thai for dinner, another culinary accomplishment given the limited ingredients, and apparently a good enough peanut sauce for Ken, who I offered a try to, licked the bowl clean. I was impressed and flattered. I was called adorable when I made a noise and a funny face tonight, and I felt people were beginning to appreciate me for me now. A few even caught on to how funny my laugh can be, but nothing like Bike and Build.

We watched Moonrise Kingdown in the lounge upstairs and I thought about Bike and Build Prom. Even showed a couple friends over dinner, mine and JD’s prom photo. They were impressed. I was proud. I love that movie, and was grateful to find that everyone who watched it appreciated it. Group environment helps thoroughly- one person laughing prompts more laughter.

Glenn suggesting making snow-cream afterwards. I jumped, giggled and skipped with excitement.  Whenever I do this I think of Kristen, a camper I had this fall who was easily excitable and would act in a similar regard. It sounded fantastic: simply snow, milk and sugar to create ice cream. “Snow cream”.  We ran outside into the cold scooping snow off one van parked outside, fresh, nearly a foot high. I mixed in almond milk and sugar for a delicious creamy frozen treat. I was impressed (a lot of impressing went down today- sorry for the overuse of this word today) and thrilled with the results. “This is the best thing I’ve learned from TLT!” I exclaimed. Some laughed. I mixed in gluten free cookies, then called JD with excitement.

NCCC – Thurs – Sun 1/16-1/19/14

1/16/14-1/19/14

Welcome back! I’m spacing out my blog entries for a couple reasons:

  1. I need more time to process some things from the day that I wasn’t able to figure out completely immediately.
  2. Its difficult to keep this up on a daily basis

Alas, waiting this long makes me forget what we accomplished in the previous days.

So, now that I’ve done that runaround, so begins Thursday.

Thursday, January 16, 2014.

Today we began diversity training. Diversity training is a long elaborate training involving a reflection upon how diverse NCCC is, or is supposed to be, the institutions in the US and how they don’t or do work with the diversity of NCCC.  We worked on an activity involving pipe cleaners- a tactile way for us to express facets of our identity. I focused on where I grew up, my physical and mental capabilities, my gender and my economic class. The activities of today stirred up a lot of emotions for some. I felt pretty comfortable with the identity that I’ve developed. Talking to people about how my eating disorder affected me is easy now, fluid, no longer really affecting me in the present. We talked about why diversity is important and how we can discuss and facilitate more awareness. I brought up the idea of an art gallery in conjunction with Open Mic Night to express one’s talent visually.

I’ve been on a visual track recently, and I think that is in large part thanks to JD.

I thought often of Dr. Seuss. One of our activities of the day involved non-verbal communication to group people after having sticker dots of different colors placed on our foreheads. We split up based on color, all relatively close together either given the restraint of the room or simply the tight-knit quality of our group. Some had multi-colored dots and they got shuffled around between groups, eventually placed into a category of their own. I felt compelled to bring them into a group, compelled to not ostracize them.

Afterwards we discussed the activity. Some were glad to be pulled into a group. One said he was happy being in a group of his own, finally feeling as if he belonged rather than placed between two groups.

I found it interesting that I felt compelled to simply drag people with me, to help them belong even if they didn’t want that help. It was a new awareness.

In the evening we broke out a game of soccer. My throat burned from previous asthma issues and the bitter cold of being outside in icy weather. The air was thin. I sprinted. Laughter. We called out to one another to let them know of each person’s availability. I thought consistently of teamwork, how it was forming, a constant topic during TLT. I felt the cohesiveness. I checked people, apologizing when I accidentally tripped someone. It was dark. Figures moved and a fuzzy ball flew through the air landing, disappearing. We laughed as the ball got lost in the night. People yelled, hooting as the ball flew through two stacks of sweaters that defined goal posts. My hands went numb and I peeled off layers as I my body temperature grew. I enjoyed the physicality, the team cohesion, the fun, the people.

 Friday, January 16, 2014.

Today is the second day of diversity training and we hit it off with different conceptions that we feel the ideal effective facilitator should encompass. Mapping out the adjectives and skills that a facilitator should possess we were able to narrow down key features that we individually felt like we needed to improve upon. For me, in all honesty it is perhaps modesty.

This is an interesting perspective for me. I’m not sure if this is the correct term for what I need to improve upon. I’ve never really labeled myself as overly-confident, narcissistic or even needing to boast my accomplishments. However as she was describing how an effective facilitator needs to leave their own opinions out of things, to remain neutral and not be the focus of the conversation, rather than the chauffeur, I reflected upon my own leadership style. I thought of how I liked to be the one who talks in front of groups I’m comfortable with. The one who tends to share her perspective even when its not called upon, but when she feels it may have something to add to the conversation. I guess, instead of modesty, my quality to improve upon is the insistent desire to talk.

We broke out into a group activity, at which point someone in my group told me to not change the subject. I was still on the subject, and interpreted it as Shut up. Instead of saying something, I glanced furtively at the other group members. A few gave me a look as confused as mine, offering a smile in silent support of me. A patch of heat spread from my chest to my jawbone and my cheeks as I felt the red disperse. The feeling of my opinion not being valued returned. I did not desire to speak for the rest of the day.

A desire to talk for me is an odd thing for me to analyze. I like to talk. So, what? I sit here this weekend listening to conversations and other leaders doing their own share of talking, perhaps on par with how much talking I typically do. I reflect upon past conversations, past discussions, even the ones we have in our diversity trainings. A need to talk.

I reflect back further- to relationships, to Bike and Build, to college, to high school, to middle school, elementary school. I think back to videos of myself and my family when I was even smaller. The need to talk. What are you thinking? I often ask people this question. Tell me what’s on your mind.  The need to know.

The need to talk and what it has developed into often in larger settings: the need to stay quiet, stems from a few places- deep seated roots.

I have an older brother. Growing up, I always felt that my opinion was lesser valued than his. I felt that he was smarter than I was, that he had more insight, he was more creative. My parents always called him an “old soul” meaning he had deeper knowledge about the world. He didn’t place his hand on the burner like I did when I was little, because in some past life perhaps he had already discovered heat. He knew to be cautious of dangerous things (unlike me), he never feigned illness to get out of activities he didn’t want to do (unlike me). He was never hollered at to stop banging on drums or to stop running in place because it was making too much noise. He knew, and therefore, I felt, his opinion was valued more than mine growing up. He got to pick the movies and the take out dinner options (I only ever wanted pizza) often and because he was older and a bit taller than me when we were little, he got to do more naturally.  So when I wanted my opinion to be heard I’d interrupt, I’d yell over, I’d dominate the conversation.

But at some point I got shut down.

Rather, at several points I got shut down.

I’d begin to tell a story. As you may or may not be able to recognize, I elaborate details- details that to some are very minor, but to me seem important to touch upon.  One night at dinner, I was telling a story and someone in my family interrupted me and basically told me that my story was too long. I interpreted this as Your words are not important enough to be heard in full.

I remember crying a lot when I was little, for not winning a game, for being teased in a manner that I felt like it had gone too far, but words, I felt and stories were my contribution to my family’s affairs. For if I didn’t have the wisdom of those older than me, and I didn’t have the excellence my brother had, then what was it that I possessed? I had been told I was cute, that I was intelligent (although I never felt that way to the extent of my brother), and energetic (always clarified that this could be positively connotated- that my energy can be put to good use). I liked to jump and run and laugh and think (“Daddy, what do you think those birds are thinking about?” I once said to my father driving home from church one day, pointing outside to the pigeons sitting on the telephone wire in the sky). So to hear that my story was too long, that my words were exhaustive and exhausting, or that my input was not good enough to contribute to the group, even if that was not the intention of the comment just my interpretation, was a shut-down for me.

As years went by my contributions varied between environments. At home they were not important. At least that was my interpretation. I remembered begging my mom to not move her work to downtown LA during a family meeting, having feelings well up, my chest and face redden as I predicted a downward spiral into depression as my best friend would be spending less and less time with me. And even though the decision was not up to me and done for the greater good of our family- or at least that is how it seemed at the time financially-  my input did not change the final decision.

Yet at school it was another story. I was an expert it was acknowledged in certain areas. In elementary school I still felt inferior to my brother, up until 5th grade. However, coinciding with when he left for middle school, I grew into my own. I became the top runner, and an excellent student.  I became the tomboy that everyone loved, even if this was simply my perception. I had friends. I played group sports. In middle school, I excelled in sports and drama. I got the roles I wanted in plays and the grades I wanted in school. I worked hard but people liked me.

However in eighth grade, confusion set in full and my confidence began to dwindle. I didn’t feel beautiful. I was upset about my home life and the physical changes to my body from puberty and the hints of an eating disorder fell into a full-blown bulimia. I didn’t want to speak up as much. I felt vulnerable, and the decision of whether I wanted to talk a lot varied from group to group.

In high school I listened more than I talked. Of course I talked about silly things, but I listened about deep rooted problems that my friends carried with them. I was the sounding board. I wrote more than I talked. I feared presentations in front of the class – self-conscious of my face, my acne, my body, wearing loose shirts to cover my stomach. I was a leader but I didn’t always enjoy the spotlight. I feared getting up in front of people during Key Club meetings as president, knowing they were staring at my acne and my belly rather than listening to my words. My confidence ebbed and flowed between groups. It rose again spring of my senior year with a new boyfriend, no longer dealing with boys who didn’t value me as much as I deserved. I was captain of the swim team. I was respected and loved and included.

Yet throughout the years, whenever I got injured (frequently) or sick (also frequently) I wasn’t typically taken seriously. I always seemed to have the freak accident that no one believed and as a result, again I didn’t feel like my words were of value. Instead of speaking up, I’d write down. I wrote poems frequently, reflections upon my feelings. I didn’t voice, I bottled. I’d vent in unhealthy ways- through binging and purging, through three to five hours of daily exercise, through panic attacks. It would emerge in the form of illness often. I wasn’t sleeping; I was depressed; I was stressed; I had colds frequently; my bones were breaking.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. I had met Grant, my boyfriend at the time, and talked to him nightly- unloading the contents of the bottle I had held, filled to the brim since as long as I can remember. I began speaking. I began venting. I began voicing. I told him my thoughts. They felt valued. I began expressing in classes more freely. I began building confidence in myself, in my appearance. I began my photography project and I began telling people intimate details about myself. I connected with people- let them in so perhaps they could find a path to healing.

I began to talk.

I spoke in public, I held opinions in groups and meetings that were valued and held in high regard. I began talking to friends about my personal life, acknowledging how much I could handle on my own and how much I needed someone else.

And after working in a special needs camp, I learned patience. Campers would interrupt me on occasion. Counselors would tell me things that I hadn’t really thought of before, that required further introspection. I would still vent excessively to some. Even now I still speak up in group settings that I feel comfortable with, telling elaborate stories, often personal. I constantly want to know what more introverted people are thinking out of fear oftentimes, that they are bottling feelings like I was, longing to help them by offering an outlet to vent upon.

So in diversity training, thinking of concepts I could improve upon, I eventually landed upon modesty. Modesty in the sense that my opinion although valuable to me, is not always appropriate, and sometimes it is necessary for me to step back rather than to step up. It’s a fine line that I’ve teetered between throughout my life, in waves that once tumultuous are since mellowing out. And like a seismometer, I simply need to monitor the potential aftershocks.

“Listen more, talk less,” Gin, our facilitator mentioned. I scribbled it down in large odd letters across my notebook. Listen more, talk less.

So as this weekend continues I am doing just that, and while you may not notice it since I’m going on a long rant about talking less, I am making an effort for the sake of my future team members and for bettering my leadership skills.

The rest of the day proceeded with a similar theme. I worked on a design that stemmed from an infinity design in which the c and o in “code” combined in an incomplete infinity sign. I flipped the sign 90 degrees, then flipped it on a vertical axis, placing a D between the two and an A without the middle line above the letters: a house. JDS Architecture.

Time passed slowly today. I listened to people talking at me rather than to me. The financial session in the afternoon was rushed as a result of a guest speaker needing to catch a flight. At some point the facilitator told a TL that her question wasn’t appropriate for this session. She was a nice girl. I interpreted it as shut up. Flustered. I worked on another drawing of mine, hydrangeas in a bunch focusing without focusing. Because of a confusion in time zones for a webinar, our next info session was delayed with an hour and a half hiatus. I watched as people messed around, watching their video projections on the large screen tv overhead as we waited in a skype-like conversation for the session to begin. They imitated synchronized swimmers, took photos of people taking photos of themselves taking photos in the video stream. I migrated to a few working on a crossword puzzle, and remembered how poorly I did on these. The day ended, and we settled into leisure. Some left for DC for the weekend. I worked out some loan issues and listened to a couple TLs play guitar in the lounge upstairs.

As night settled, several of us watched Moonrise Kingdom at my and Alex’s suggestion. Because of the internet, it paused a quarter way through. We switched to Death at a Funeral  and I grew self-conscious of the mentioning of gays in the movie as one of our TLs watching was gay. I went to sleep, negative emotions sitting in, wondering if that wonderful time of the month would approach anytime soon.

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

 

Today we went to Havre de Grace. I feel that a couple guys have grown attracted to me. In Havre de Grace we went to Laurapinn for lunch. I had an ahi tuna salad. Fish. Delicious. We walked as a group to a chocolatier, getting to know one another a bit better as we strolled, teasing each other as groups of our size do. “Move your cheeks, Nyx!” I was walking too slow for them in the cold that sliced through the air. I teased them about not being properly dressed. “Who’s upset they’re not wearing long johns now?!” I threw back smiling.

On the walk back from the chocolatier, I took photos. The light at this time of day was constantly inspiring to me. Our posse’s shadows reflected upon a mariner hangar’s wall advertising dry docking marina storage. Individuals in gray figures skipping along the golden wall. My camera froze; I missed the moment. Suzie waited for me. She had been on the phone with her sister, talking loudly in Italian. I admired her language capabilities. We talked of photography and small chat on the walk back to the car.

A new TL drove, recently passing the driving test. In a large vehicle we ran over curbs accidentally, blasting Shania Twain (a CD one of the gay guys on our trip picked up at the thrift shop we stopped in Havre de Grace). He happened to be in shotgun. “I really like this,” Suzie said. I loved how open she was. I thought silently about how I was not enjoying it. haha

When we returned I worked on a drawing for my ill Aunt Betty’s. Butterfly spread across the page, and eventually filled with color. Her name strewn across the page composed of butterflies.

A Sandra Bullock marathon played on TV as other TLs played bananagrams and scrabble on the table beneath. We watched Practical Magic and Blindside.

 

 

Sunday, January 20, 2014

Today was relaxing. I woke up at 10 and after making breakfast, whipped up gf/df chocolate chip cookies from a mix. I stared down skeptically at the less firm consistency of the dough in the plastic mixing bowl. Deciding I’d test it anyway, I dropped the dough by the spoonful on the baking sheets.

Twenty minutes later I am scraping the cookies off, stuck firmly to the sheets. Annoyed I wrap them up and put them away.

I spent the day being relatively productive- working on our two-hour Red Cross disaster overview, and making a delicious lunch, frying eggs like a pro.

In the afternoon as the sun set I walked outside to the post office to enjoy my favorite time of day. I dropped off the letters in the blue container. I walked over the grass and jumped, my phone’s camera at the ready. Geese dispersed in a synchronicity of flight. The sun set behind them, the bay in view, between the trees. As I walked home, deer fed on the grass. I whistled. They looked up, ears perked. Click.

The rest of the night was spent in the company of others journaling and relaxing. One TL, a roommate of mine, home from her weekend trip,  was excited to see me and ask me about my weekend. It was nice to feel so loved. Here’s to another week.

NCCC – Tues and Wed 1/14-1/15/14

 

1/15/14

 

It’s been a couple of days since I have written. I imagine that may be the case from time to time, or frequently in this crazed world that is NCCC.

 

First, I’d like to make the announcement that I had mentioned last week. We’ve been given the okay to talk about it, so on that note I will be spending the month of February in Vicksburg, MS.

Besides being incredibly far from the Atlantic region, traveling to Vicksburg presents quite a few challenges for both the Atlantic staff and the TLs.

  1. Each team leader will be driving a van down to MS individually. so that
  2. each team can drive up to their “spike” site ( the site where we stay during our rounds- changes every round). This means that our trip back could be from MS to ME.
  3. Staff will not be around from Atlantic campus 24/7 which means that
  4. We, as TLs will not receive the support we need all the time like we would here.
  5.  We can only pack what we need for our Spike site. So let’s say if you are in Maine and need snow gear- you pack both MS and ME gear in your small red bag. Yikes.
  6. There will be over 300 people on the campus, so rules will be harder to regulate, things will be more chaotic.
  7. Vicksburg has bars within walking distance (which means it’ll be easier to run into an underaged kid of yours drinking and having to catch them when you really didn’t want to, on the weekends).
  8. Vicksburg has a pool. We all know what corps members like to do in pools.
  9. Vicksburg is known as the party campus.

The list continues, but you get the point. When initially I may have been super stoked to travel across country to go train elsewhere, meet new people and see new faces, I am now less enthused.

 

While you let them simmer a moment, let me recap you from where I left off.

 

It was Tuesday January 14, and I was in a group in charge of icebreakers this morning.

I led everyone in a round of Head and Shoulders, a camp cheer that was one of my favorites at Camp Summit. Following, Mayra led us in an activity known as ‘Life in a Bag’ where we state what three things we would take with us in a theoretical bag. I took my family, including my dog, my laptop because its multi-faceted, and of course my camera. We did a similar thing on Bike and Build one day in Hot Seat with Cassie and JD, I think, where I asked them what they’d put in their bin. It was a little more limiting.

 

The day was largely spent in the company of Cole again learning more supervisory skills. However, he began by teaching us a bit about our new home state: Maryland. There we a couple things I think are worth highlighting:

–       Famous people: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman

–       Location of the largest breach in constitutional override when Lincoln shut down the legislature so that Maryland could not secede (a move done because of its proximity to DC)

–       Beautiful parks here

–       This year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry where the Star Spangled Banner was conceived.

 

Something else that he mentioned that didn’t necessarily relate to Maryland was the book 1491. This book talks about life before the colonists here in what is now the United States. He said it is estimated that 150 million people lived here before colonialism, and roughly 1 in 10 died upon contact with colonists. He said the Chesapeake Bay used to be lined with trees that have long since been cleared. This concept is something I’ve thought of a lot in California- what life would have looked like before Europeans.

I think often of how different the views would look- what San Francisco and Los Angeles would look like without infrastructure. I used to look back frequently with bitterness on how we have developed, often attempting to justify the modern lifestyle as it is one that I support more wholly than that of a hunter gatherer.

 

I drew a lot; I doodled and wrote in symbols and daydreamed. It had come to that point in TLT.  I was given another energy boost when we did a scenario response. In groups we came up with our best plan of action that we would inform our Unit Leader of  over the phone, then with Cole as our role UL, we told him our plan of action. I volunteered for my group and felt I had done very well. We were pointed out our faults as a group rather than individually, and made more aware of what our UL wanted. Whereas us TLs as a group are focused on our team’s health and morale, our UL’s priorities are in safety and work. It makes sense- we are accountable for our team’s sanity, they’re accountable for ours and our productivity as government employees.  Secondly, we had a tendency to downplay our emotions as TLs. Saying we were a little concerned about someone because they seemed a little depressed was not okay given that person had spent they last 36 hours wrapped up in a sleeping bag. And, if  we are losing our minds as TLs we need to let the UL know! This is something I know I need to work on as well.

 

We went over some key concepts again today, that I felt were rather rushed. However, once more I have a couple things worth mentioning:

 

  1. Stages of team development: forming, norming, storming, reforming, and transforming.
  2. The culture of a team comes largely from your team as a unit (85%) rather than your mission, etc. If you have a few people who are extremely negative in your team who are also influential, the culture of your team will also go sour. So to say NCCC has a culture is wrong. Instead it is to be understood that the culture lies within each team.
  3. Of a group:
    1. only 26% of people are actively engaged in work activities
    2. 55% are not engaged (think paper pushing)
    3. and 19% are activiely disengaged- to the point of toxicity.
    4. Q12 matrix. This matrix of questions determines which category above your team member, or employee will fall in
      1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
      2. Do I have the necessary tools and materials to perform my job properly?
      3. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday? (This is the single most influential question of these in determining whether or not your employer/teammate will be engaged at work)
      4. In the last week (on average people receive recognition once a year maybe), have I received recognition in the work place?
      5. Does my boss care about me personally?
      6. Does my job encourage my development?
      7. Do my opinions count at work?
      8. Does the mission of my company make me feel important?
      9. Are my coworkers committed to producing quality work?
      10. Do I have a best friend?
      11. In the past 6 months has someone talked to me about progress?
      12. Have I had the opportunity to learn and grow?

 

This matrix is particularly interesting when reflecting on how much control you have as a team leader over your members, the answer being a considerable amount.

 

During lunch I stayed for Cole’s informal financial loan info session.

For those of you who have a lot of student loans, this may be something to consider:

One, IBR: http://www.ibrinfo.org/ This is a site to help you reduce your payments on loans based on your income rather than how much you owe. This means you could make  $0 payments like I will be doing in the near future.

 

But Nyx, does interest still accrue? Yes.

So why would I want to do that? Because if you work in the nonprofit/government sector (any type of public service), you can use these payments towards your 120 payments. After 120 on-time payments or  after 10 years of working in the public sector (this includes grad students working as Teaching Assistants at state schools guys!), the remaining debt gets forgiven by the government!

 

This means if you work the next ten years in NCCC as a TL making a very meager income, and you make 120 payments of $0, the remaining balance is forgiven (whatever I owe now). Isn’t that impressive? I don’t know all the deets and I’m not a financial expert or am I giving any sort of formal financial advice, but you should really look it up.

IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

 

In the afternoon, the ULs came and briefed us on a few things.

1. TLT Retreat: next Tuesday through Friday we will be at Camp Pacomath nearly 1.5 hours away, bonding, working on a service project, training, and doing a challenge course.

2. MLK Jr. Day is a day on not a day off for us. It’s a national service day. This year we will spend it as a corps in Washington D.C. assisting City Year- another amazing Americorps program. I was hoping Travis, who works for City Year would be there. Sadly, Philadelphia is not a five minute drive to DC.

3. Wednesday January 15 (tomorrow) would be a surprise service day. We’re headed to a Girl Scouts camp to assist in various ways.

 

The rest of the afternoon was spent drug testing. It was quite an ordeal given the medical facilitators forgot  the needles first for TB testing and Tetanus shot administration, but then also forgot the cups for drug testing. When things got settled we filtered through lines, dancing impromptu, getting a little stir crazy and punchy, but ultimately getting to know one another.

 

It was a more laid back day, and a lot of being brain dead took place. I spent the evening drawing, an incredibly enjoyable task for me now. After receiving JD’s cornucopia of awesome gifts and drawings, it was time to return the favor. (And so it begins.)

 

1/15/14

I didn’t sleep last night, dreams came in bursts pierced by the ever familiar pain in my abdomen of eating something disagreeable. All I could think of was how the barley I had two nights ago was ruining my preparation for the next day. Would I be able to work? The pain pulsed; nausea penetrated. I felt awful. Every 15 minutes to a half hour I was up. Never again, I thought as I often do, never will I allow this pain to come again by eating something accidentally and then saying oh well. I need to be more conscious about it. I constantly told myself this. Whenever I ate something that wasn’t agreeable. I took Tums finally around 5:30 and was able to sleep for a full hour.

 

I got up hoping the pain would subside and eventually took a stronger probiotic based gas pill. It seemed to do the trick, I wasn’t hurled over in pain for the day, and found the day tolerable in that regard.

 

We headed through the woods of Maryland to this Girl Scout camp. Fog loomed. Visibility faltered passed 15 feet. We passed over a body of water on a bridge. The body of water not apparent until the drive home when the sky had cleared and sun penetrated falling into the water as night approached.

 

We passed by old houses. These always fascinate me as commonplace as they are on the east coast. Houses built that are at least 150 years old make me so joyful. I love seeing their crooked staircase and slightly leaning walls, their refurbished exteriors that perfectly relic their original era. We passed through a town right on the water’s edge in a marina village. The houses so near to the water, and the road so near to the houses reminded me a bit of the CA-1 as it winds through Malibu. When we got to a more rural area it intrigued me to see once more the vast plots of land people had, oftentimes with small 1-2 bedrooms on an 1/8 of the plot. This was something that didn’t occur too often in the places I had previously lived: Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Phoenix. I applauded them for maintaining such a small space, yet grew curious as to how their lives were lived. Some used the land for grazing, or livestock pens. Others simply had vast fields of neatly mowed grass. I thought about affordable housing, and what would happen if they spaced out houses evenly so that everyone had the same amount of land, the same size house, as an average. How would that look? How would people fare? Would cities exist in the same sense? What about job markets? Competition? My mind never finds finality and I grow captivated by the density of the fog, the depth of its translucency, the way it alters the look of things- seeming to soften the trees, the houses, the windows. It makes rivers look more idyllic and towns look sleepier.

 

We approached the camp and it reminded me a bit of Camp Summit- the weather, the tree types, the hills and cabins. I briefly stepped back to that place with mixed feelings. Half of us entered the dining hall and worked on various paintings throughout the day.

It was fun, we talked and connected, laughed and had fun. We accomplished quite a bit by 4 pm when the group stopped to reflect. Our reflection activity was roses and thorns. The vast majority of our group chose my rose as their thorn: a game of 20 questions that took over 2 hours. I was extremely proud of this game. I chose the word color, which doesn’t seem incredibly hard, but to their credit here is an example of some of the questions asked:

–       Is it tangible? No but it can be. It can be attributable to tangible things.

–       Is it liquid? No, but it can be attributed to liquids.

–       Is it a concept? Kind of

–       Does Obama talk about it? Yes actually.

–       Do you talk about it in college? You can, yes. I did.

–       Do you learn it in school? Yes, kindergarten actually.

–       Is it sharing? No

–       Caring? No

–       Friendship? No

–       Love? No

–       Are the Asians known for discovering it? Not necessarily. it’s not really discovered- defined maybe, but its not attributed necessarily to a specific group

–       Can everyone use it? No, depends. Everyone in this room can.

–       Is it in this room? Yes.

–       Can we use it alone? Yes.

 

The list goes on for a couple hours. Anyway, I thought it was a blast. My thorn was this experience:

While cleaning out brushes and painting materials by myself at the sink in the kitchen, I pushed the brush against the floor of the industrial sized sink, watching the brown and whites of the paint melt and merge together into a muddy liquid whose opacity decreases as the water runs through it. I stroke brush in wide choppy strokes remembering a time this winter sitting in JD’s parent’s dining room painting with water color, then again remembering a time this fall at camp painting a journal with unrestrained strokes. The stress of the cleaning transferred into the sorrow of not painting abstractly. For a moment I selfishly thought about how much of a drag it would be to get such a labor intensive project like this for 2 months with people who may hate you for a large period of that time.

 

I consciously stopped that train of thought, still watching the melting of colors, the oozing of opaque liquids mixing with clear ones. Trying to remember that I would be the influence on the team. I was going to be the person responsible for those engaged at work. I continuously thought back to an anecdote of a TL who worked like a dog but wasn’t a great leader otherwise, however he held him team together because they respected his tenacity and work ethic.

 

I made taco salad in the evening for the team with Jeremy. I still get self-conscious when I make accommodations for myself for food. I need to get used to that. I bet once I get my team I’ll feel better about that.

 

I’m excited to get my team. I realized today that even when the work is boring I’m most excited to have my team. Going to call it an early night tonight- time to catch up on sleep.

NCCC Monday 1/13/14

1/13/14

Monday funday.

 

This morning was incredibly difficult. I woke up to my roommates shuffling around preparing for PT around 5:40. I was late; I checked my alarm. It said I had turned it off? I had no recollection. I grabbed three tea bags on my way out in preparation for the long day ahead.

 

Our workday was filled with supervisory skills- two men came in and talked to us on what it means to be a good supervisor/manager. How do we deal with people problems? Organizational psychology fascinates me, as doe most facets of psychology.

 

We watched a neat ted talk on Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke on pasta sauces, actually and the food business. But the broader picture was that:

1. People don’t always know what they want (when asked what coffee people prefer they all say a dark, hearty, rich blend when in reality many people like sweet, milky weak blends).

2. One leadership style won’t cater to everyone perfectly; you’ll need to adapt. (There is no perfect pasta sauce, only perfect pasta sauces. When asked which sauce people prefer they said Italian- thin, runny. But when put into a taste test, some preferred Italian, many preferred chunky. This had never been offered as an option before- they offered it and Prego gained the leading edge on Ragu with the new product line. Ragu now has 36 different types of sauces).

 

We talked about what challenges we may have as TLs and how to address them. We did some role play and discussed our favorite managers and what they did best.

 

We also performed an activity that pointed out to us different leadership styles in a leadership compass.

–       North: The “what?”; results-driven, motivated, goal-oriented, sometimes cold, intimidating, unapproachable

–       South: The “who?” People person, into roles and connecting with others, finding out what makes them tick, but also wanting others to understand you as well

–       East: The “why?” Big picture visionary, into the reason behind things; not always good with menial tasks behind which easterners can’t understand the meaning; innovative, but not always able to execute these big ideas well

–       West: The “how?” detail-oriented, stick to the plan, organize, chart, graph; can be a control freak- trouble delegating tasks because they want to ensure every small thing gets done.

 

Which do you think I was? Which do you think you were?

I began as an easterner. I often come up with amazing ideas but sometimes lack the willpower to properly execute them. I can get overwhelmed. I love to better humanity and want to do so on a grand scale. However, I can also be a bit of a control freak; I’m very results-driven and goal-oriented, and some people find me intimidating. Along the same lines, I love figuring out people- why they tick as well as appreciating them. For me, I feel I am a pretty well-rounded leader and this activity was very reassuring to me. I’ve also worked hard to build up to this point.

 

I reflected upon my experiences at camp a lot this past fall and what I did right as well as where I could have improved and where I did eventually adapt while there. When we were learning about how to properly give compliments today,  I reflected upon camp again, deciding to write letters to some people I really cared about there as well as my own counselors, expressing my gratitude and appreciation for them.

 

We talked about the need for 5:1 positive to negative ration. Amping up positivity has many many benefits both mentally and physically. Giving and receiving compliments makes you feel better. Feeling appreciation and giving gratitude is mentally strengthening and strengthening for a team. I thought about the warm fuzzies at camp as well as shoutouts on our team and how integral they were to our organization. I thought how I would make something along those lines (or both of those things) integral to my own team.

 

Despite all of the negativity surrounding corps members- what to do with the bad ones, the ones who need the most motivation or give you the most grief, I still feel confident I will get plenty of great people on my team. And I secretly hope I can help everyone on my team develop and meet his/her full potential. Okay, perhaps it’s not a secret and perhaps it’s what every TL hopes for, helping everyone better society and gain something personal in the action. Perhaps its just the east in me on the leadership compass.

 

Dinner we had barley. I wasn’t aware it was barley so in the process of eating it someone mentioned they loved barley. I was bummed. Barley has gluten. About a half hour later, as we made our charter for the kitchen (general rules/norms for us to abide by that we discuss as a consensus) my stomach growled and bloated. I lay in bed finishing details for my blog. It’s time to call it an early night. Goodnight moon.

NCCC – 1/10-1/12/12 end of week 1

Last night I finished reading a memoir of JD’s about swimming. It reminded me of the cool water feeling upon your face after a long swim and the feeling of working until you lose all your form. I woke up with the sentimental feeling of being team captain. Of arriving to high school and being known by your team, liked even for the most part. Being president of a club, being known being liked.

As I went through PT this morning, as we competed in relays, my competitive instincts kicked in. My blood rushed as we performed wind sprints, and while I was pushed, I reflected on how this differed from high school or even the boot camp class I took in college. I was pushed but ultimately it was my decision. Not pushing myself beyond capacity, not pushing myself until I broke or beat myself up, doing so healthy. It was a nice and noticeable improvement. Although part of me missed the discipline I used to have- being able to perform at my best and push myself until I was even better than my best. Part of me enjoyed that. But I am beyond willing to sacrifice this for my personal health.

On Friday, I took a break from blogging. I know it’ll eventually get overwhelming to blog everyday despite it’s importance to me. That some days I’ll be too busy or too overwhelmed or not ready to speak upon different items. I hope you all can still follow me despite these breaks, just as you have now.

And on that note, let’s begin.

On Friday we talked about specialty roles primarily- roles that the corps members take on and decide upon what roles they’d be interested in taking on. This is twofold: it allows for building leadership amongst corps members (a main goal of NCCC) as well as delegating tasks that you have to take care of as a leader.

Of course, whatever needs to get done is ultimately the TL’s responsibility.

Today we talked about the POL- project outreach liaison. They’re in charge of helping set up ISPs, coordinating with sponsors, oftentimes organizing the project portfolio (a creative reflection upon what we’ve accomplished each project) as well as paperwork. We have also talked about the SLI- Service Learning Initiator- in charge of making sure service learning occurs, keeping the PARC (prep, act, reflect, celebrate) model in mind. Then we also briefly touched on the VST- responsible for vehicle inspections, safety on and off the job site as well as tools.

We went over the program office, which states we cover, what areas (infrastructure, rural and urban development, environmental stewardship, energy conservation, and disaster relief and recovery). We were quizzed on what we covered throughout the day in the form of a game show. I was the representative for our team.

Hands shaking, I slammed out answers, gaining a 10 point lead. I sat down, hungry. I forgot about how competitive I can be when I have a winning chance. I was excited. My blood pumped through my veins and my heart raced. The activity reminded me of academic decathlon and sports competitions.

            Friday went by quickly as we anticipated the weekend. The day ended with a fun activity that took up the afternoon: team building. Jason taught us the importance of different team building activities as well as many I had not learned before. He taught us different stages of team building (ice breakers, challenge, trust) and when it was appropriate to use them. He also taught us briefly how these could be utilized for mitigating conflict and allowing the team to see the importance on the activity and how to relate it to their team conflicts. I really enjoyed this activity. I thought of the Bike and Build icebreakers we did initially and how much fun they were and how close they helped make us. We played peek-a-who (guessing names of the person behind the tarp) and Speed Rabbit (in which one person in the center points to a person and states a word that implies activity – Elephant means the person he points at has to adjust his hands into an elephant trunk and the people on either side form ears) here too, two games we played on Bike and Build. It built camaraderie, but also pointed out the importance of key characteristics of team building- for example, communication.

            The weekend moved quickly. Friday night I stayed up drawing, and Saturday we went out as a team “community mapping”. We drove around the community mapping key things – hospital, bay, shops, restaurants, etc. that we can utilize in the future hopefully. It was raining and overall pretty bleak, but another fun teambuilding activity. We went out for lunch afterwards at subworks and I had a crab cake. It was delicious. Kristal, a native of Maryland, told me to compare these to the ones in Baltimore- apparently there they are even better. I look forward to the challenge.

            I spent Sunday photo editing all of the photos from the past fall and winter and posted many to facebook. I took a break in the afternoon to join some others on a trip to the Y. Many of us went swimming. Ken was nice enough to let me borrow a pair of his goggles. I accomplished probably close to 1600 yards in 45 minutes, and that was my all.  It was tough, after being sore from PT, my core wouldn’t hold together doing certain strokes. At some point towards the end, I did a 50 in which each stroke was a different stroke (one stroke breast, then fly, back, free). I’m sure the lifeguards were amused. I went to sleep late again, staying up drawing and journaling. I need to start to make sleep a priority.

NCCC – Thursday 1/9/14

 

Today was a rather boring day, and I apologize in advanced that this blog post won’t be more substantial, but the good news is, it will be substantially shorter than my previous posts.

 

Today we did what the schedule listed as “van training”. I was hoping this would entail getting behind the wheel of a 15 passenger van and driving. However, obviously, silly me, it’s the government, we spent the day in the classroom, learning how to drive before getting behind the wheel. Overall it was boring- what are reactions times, when to use high beams, going up hills and around turns and I think it was mainly boring because we watched an outdated  training video on the subject, filled out workbooks, and answered questionnaires to allow us to drive.

 

During breaks I made a point to introduce myself to the staff more thoroughly. I tried adamantly to get acquainted to LaQuine- our region director who asked us when she introduced herself to come by and talk to her in her office. Everytime I tried she was busy. I finally got a hold of her towards the end of lunch and talked to her briefly. LaQuine has been with NCCC since the beginning. I thanked her for allowing the program to foster, and bringing it to the point it is today. I empathized with her goals of having NCCC be as widely recognized as the Peace Corps; I heard her, and I felt her passion, desire, drive- the reason behind why she’s stuck around for nearly twenty year.

 

I thanked her for her care and all of the full-time staff’s genuine care for their corps members and team leaders. You can truly tell how attached they are to the program and how willing and zealous they are about getting people who are meant for this program through- helping them grow, developing them as leaders. I felt accomplished in talking to staff members and making my face known. I thought however silly this may sound, at least they’ll be a bit more sympathetic if I get in trouble for anything. At least they can say, ‘Oh Yeah! I knew that girl!’

 

I think the most significant thing today, as with many days were the anecdotes. I will list a few here for you all, so that perhaps they will also persuade you to be a better driver.

 

The first was one Jason told us, a personal anecdote:

 

Jason was driving a stretch of highway one day that’s not in his normal commute. He was visiting someone or returning from a trip when he came upon an accident that had just happened. The cop waved him on, he slowed down to ask if anyone needed medical attention and informed the police officer he could help. The cop said that it didn’t look good, but yes.

 

Jason pulled over, and crossed the street to the accident. One car was on the road, completely banged up, obviously swerved. The other flipped in a ditch.

 

He told us he remembered certain details: that it was on a Saturday because he had all of Sunday to worry about it.  That the truck was a red Ford, and the flipped car a purple dodge neon. He told us he approached the red truck first as someone else was at the purple neon, even though they didn’t appear to be doing too much.

 

“I asked for his name, and I’ll never forget this. I’ll never forget his name. It was Jordan.” He proceeded down the checklist. He said the first thing he noticed was his arm was blue and swollen and four inches away from where it should be on his torso, but that suddenly wasn’t his largest concern.

 

“I asked him his age, and he hesitated. That was enough for me to suspect an injury to his head. I asked him what he remembered last and he said that he was texting his mom on his phone.” He saw it on the floor of the passenger side and proceeded to reach for it. Jason said he told Jordan to not move, to not move his neck or back, to not worry about his phone. Jordan was so distracted.

 

Jordan’s mother happened to be passing by and saw his car, stopped and became hysteric. Jason had to deal with both involved including a man still trapped inside of the neon still and a hysteric mother simultaneously.

 

Meanwhile, not much had happened at the other car. Another person came. Jason asked the helper to keep Jordan stabilized, and Jason ran over. He couldn’t get to the side of the car where the driver was- he couldn’t look in, because it was crushed into the ditch. He climbed over the ditch and peered down to see the driver at a certain angle. He counted respirations. “Does anyone know how many seconds it takes to have one respiration on average?”

 

“Five to six,” a team leader offered.

 

“Close, three to five, but we’re in the same ballpark. Well this man, the number his chest rose and fell, was about once every thirteen seconds. Yeah.” He knew there wasn’t much hope for the man, but he made the call. A heli-vac arrived, “sawed off the top of the car, and had him out of there in about 4 minutes.” It was impressive. They got him to an ambulance. “But it’s never a good sign when the ambulance doors close and then the ambulance doesn’t go anywhere.”

 

 

He said the ambulance sat for fifteen minutes before leaving. When he arrived Monday to work, he searched the papers for any report. When he couldn’t find anything, he called the police department explained he had been there and simply wanted to know. The policeman had to leave to talk to his manager, when he returned,  he said something Jason would never forget: “That man expired.” Expired.  Expired. Jason said he later learned that this man was just a kid. He was a twenty year old kid who had just graduated from community college and was on track to transfer, “all because some kid thought it was more important to talk on the phone.”

The second story we heard was also incredibly sobering. It was even more relevant it felt. We watched a recording of it, produced in the early 2000s judging by the technology and clothing. It was a team leader at the Denver campus.

 

She fidgeted with the book she held as she began to tell her story warily. She warned that she might get emotional. As she told her story her voice shook.

 

She was driving back to campus from a spike, saying her goodbyes with her team to the sponsors, giving hugs. They got in the car. She sat in the second bench row in the van. Many were not wearing their seatbelts, she mentioned on several occasions. She said something along the lines of “I know, yeah, we should’ve been wearing our seatbelts. I should’ve been stricter about it. I wish I had been. None of us were really. They’re uncomfortable, it’s a long trip, but I should have enforced it.”

 

Her corps member was driving the van. The TL had gone in and out of sleep, curled up like most of the team preparing for the long drive home. She woke up briefly; the driver reached down to pick something off the floor. “It could have been the radio control, the heat or A/C, picking something off the floor- it takes a millisecond to happen.” She leaned down to pick something up. The wheel turned. The car swerved. She went off the road and into the gravel.

 

“I remember yelling- ‘Watch out!’ or ‘Whoa!’ or something like that. She went into the gravel and all I could think was Don’t brake hard! Please, but it was too late.” She felt the car tip onto two wheels.

 

“I remember saying, ‘Brace yourself!’ and grabbing on to whatever we could.” She counted the flips. Three and a half. She said you knew when you flipped because your head and shoulder were smashed into the ceiling. All because they didn’t wear seatbelts. She talked about how lucky she was to be there. How literally all that kept her alive was strictly luck. Lucky to be alive and standing, and talking. She then read a quote from the book she had been toying with. Her speech disrupted with a break in voice, penetrated with tears, glazed with suppressed emotion, grief not yet fully coped with- grief that she experiences everyday, unable to recover- unable to forgive herself enough to allow for the healing process to begin.

 

The room fell silent after the movie entered, and before the instructor reentered the room.

 

After training, Jason mentioned he was throwing out some climbing magazines and offered them up to TLs. I was the only one who bit. We chatted briefly about climbing and he seemed genuinely excited. I walked home and talked to JD as the sun set. Deer skipped off again and I retreated to the warmth of 9H, our residential building, where I made a meal with another TL in our dinner group. I felt slightly out of place, becoming self conscious again about my eating habits, my laugh while we sat in a group together in the TL lounge. It’s been about a week together, yet there are still certain new things. I miss Bike and Build occasionally- the instantaneous camaraderie. But as I sit with others, the same TL on my dinner group, a roommate, a guy who is incredibly fit but farts constantly, and the three guys I get along with here the best perhaps, blogging on my computer waiting to get rid of the jitters and stress from two cups of tea. I hope I don’t make this a habit.