Thursday, December 27, 2012

Don't Postpone Joy (Christmas Letter 2012)

I originally sent this as an email to my close friends, but wanted to share it with more people. Fittingly also, my Aunt Jerene gave us all these bumper stickers that said "Don't Postpone Joy," which ties right in to the end of this letter. 

Happy Holidays, all! This is my version of a Christmas letter... It's Christmas Eve and I'm with my family as I have been fortunate to have been with every year. Same as always, yet irrevocably different.

What a year 2012 has been. The year is split to me: LA/Austin, JVC/AmeriCorps, Urban Compass/Austin Learning Academy, and of course, before cancer/after.

I went through another depressive episode in January and seriously considered leaving JVC/LA before even half a year had passed. But through the support of my community, we made it through and some things changed. A big thing that changed is that I started dating again (or really for the first time) and spent a good six months in my first real relationship as an adult. He was a wonderful friend and companion, especially for what was to come with my family, and we parted amicably in August when we both left Los Angeles. My relationship with him taught me much about myself, love and relating to other people.

January to August, I was still living in LA completing my year as a Jesuit Volunteer and I loveloveloved those kids in Urban Compass. It's so hard to be away from them even now. I have even wondered if I may go in the direction of becoming an elementary school teacher--but a lot of things are up in the air right now, so we'll see. And I have a wonderful extended family in my Casa DK community--Sonia, Mike P, Mike H, Erica, Jackie and Kevin are incredible people that will always be in my life.

Travel was a big theme this year up until I moved back to Texas and thankfully I've been in the same place for a while now. With Casa DK, we traveled to Yosemite and Sequoia tacked on to retreats we went to. I traveled up to the Bay Area to see two of my dear friends from college and a lifelong friend from childhood over my "spring break." I went back to TX twice when Mama was first diagnosed. And the there was of course, the road trip from LA to Austin with my college roommate, Abigail. In short, we went from LA up the PCH to San Francisco/Marin, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, Arches and Canyonlands, small town Colorado, down to Santa Fe then back to Austin. It was an amazing opportunity and an incredibly beautiful trip. And Ab and I are still friends after ;) I have lots of photos on Facebook if you want to see!

It was right after I returned from San Francisco in April that Mama was diagnosed with cancer. It broke my heart. The whole family gathered in Salado the weekend before she started chemo and it just felt so wrong to not be with them. And then of course, when she started chemo the next week, it all fell apart. Her reaction to the chemo drugs is what the doctors realized after was as if she had overdosed. Though we can laugh at some of the stories of her month long stay in the hospital now since the pain meds made her say funny things, and it was truly the worst experience of my life. We were not sure she would survive. She almost didn't.

But she did. And in the months since she's been through so many rounds of chemo that I've lost count, and though the diagnosis is still that it is terminal, most of the tumors are gone. Not all of them, and it seems there is still a long road, but it's still good news. She's under the care of MD Anderson, one of the top cancer hospitals in the world and we are all grateful for her doctors. (And I kind of have a crush on her oncologist)

It was hard to leave LA behind--Casa DK and my students in Urban Compass the most--but it has been such a joy to be near family again. I always seem to move away thinking I will manage without them and though I have always found my way, it is incredibly difficult to be away. I see Mama usually about once a week and she says having her children near is part of her medicine. :)

When I moved back to Austin, it took a bit to get a job, but I ended up with AmeriCorps teaching ESL. Not what I would've imagined but it has been truly wonderful. The organization I work for Austin Learning Academy has three classes at the site I work with. Two adult classes: beginning and advanced ESL, and an early childhood class. I am a co-teacher/teaching assistant in all three and I'm really enjoying it.

Meanwhile, I've become involved in ballet folklorico at St Ed's again which has brought me so much joy. A big part of what was missing in my life in LA was dancing this much. My first performance back was beginning of November and I think it's been 6 since then...

Last week, in the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut, I felt such a loss of words. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to take action but felt paralyzed.

So I focused on my joy. If there is one thing this year has taught me, it is to embrace joy. This world is screwed up, to be blunt, and though we must still work to change it, we cannot do it without hope. And by finding our joy--through family, community, dance, love--we have hope. I wish for you this holiday season that you will find your joy. It keeps us going in the end.

Merry Christmas! I send my love and hope you are joyful in the light.

Love, Naomi.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Long Overdue Update

An update on life in Texas has been long overdue, so finally I am sitting down and writing.

On October 1st, I started a new job as an AmeriCorps member through the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, and my site is Austin Learning Academy. I've been doing a lot of different things, but my primary responsibility is to be an assistant teacher in 3 different classrooms--Beginning ESL for adults, Early Childhood class and Advanced ESL/Adult Basic Education class. We're still figuring out the best way to use my talents to aid the main teachers, but I've really enjoyed getting to know all the students. Because I started my AmeriCorps term a month later and still have to do 1700 hours of service by July 31st,  I have also begun helping with the ALA EL/Civics and GED night classes two times a week. On top of that, I also started teaching ESL at Posada Esperanza on Fridays, since ALA does not have instruction on Fridays.

Phew! If it sounds like I am insanely busy--it's because it's true. The nights I don't help with classes, I go to Folklorico practice. Weekends I also sometimes have practice or different AmeriCorps trainings. Other than that, I spend as much time with my family as I can, and am attempting to still make room in my schedule for other special people... or one in particular ;)

Though my schedule is crazy, I think I function better when I have things to do, so I'm glad to be busy. The new job has also not been very stressful at all so far, which makes being busy not as difficult. Still, I will be very glad to have a good long break for Thanksgiving next week! I have absolutely loved being close by to family again, and I can't wait to spend some good quality time with them (and lots of food) for Thanksgiving. :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I Voted for Barack Obama. Twice. (An Election Day Reflection)

1992 was the first presidential election year in my lifetime. I was three, and have no recollection at all. In 1996, I remember only the big pictures we had on the wall of my second grade classroom of the candidates, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole & Ross Perot. It was not until the year 2000 that I had some understanding of the issues, and as a sixth grader, was required to watch debates and be informed as homework. As an eleven year old, I still didn't understand a lot of the issues--my parents were voting for Gore/Lieberman, so I was rooting for them. We had an election in our social studies class, and of course in liberal Durham, Gore won. Of course, it was not so simple in the actual election. I remember my extreme frustration over the existence of the electoral college--it seemed to me an outdated system and I couldn't understand why we still used it (this is still true). I was growing into my tween years and this was one of the moments that I realized that life really wasn't fair. But I settled into the country with Bush as our president.

In 2004, I was fifteen and political. I had protested against the war in Iraq and the School of the Americas. I think I actually hated President Bush at that time (it was a time period of very strong emotions...). To be perfectly honest, though I do not hate Bush anymore (I find it a waste of energy to hate people), I think the damage he did to our country and our world are inexcusable, and I am truly in awe at anyone actually defending him anymore. However, Kerry/Edwards was not my ideal ticket--I liked John Edwards as a North Carolinian (this was before the douchebaggery became public knowledge), but Kerry was being celebrated for his Purple Heart, and as I was (still am) staunchly anti-war, this wasn't something I particularly liked about him. Still, in my mind at the time, he had to be better than Bush. The election wasn't nearly as close as it was in 2000. I remember walking into sixth period the day after the election and hearing Kerry's concession speech on the radio. Being the dramatic fifteen year old I was, I screamed "Nooooooooo!" and was in a terrible mood the rest of the day. My Civics teacher, we think, was depressed for a week.

Then came 2008. Through the primary process, it became clear that our strongest Democratic candidates were Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Therefore, our Democratic nominee was going to be historic--either a woman or an African-American. Barack Obama brought the message of hope and change--one that many of us as US Americans were very receptive to, especially given the previous eight years. I was nineteen years old, and this was my first presidential election to vote in. I got involved. I donated to the campaign. I have three Obama 08 shirts. I voted absentee from NC. And NC went blue that election. I felt privileged to be a part of it. When Obama made his acceptance speech, it was a moment that I felt that maybe the world could actually change.

2012. Four years have passed. Much has happened. A lot has changed for the better--Obamacare, the end of the Iraq war, lower unemployment, decreased national debt, beginnings of student loan reform, expansion of hate crime laws to include sexual orientation, significantly increased funding for VAWA, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act... Some things have not changed, or are worse. There have been more deportations of undocumented immigrants than under any other president. Guantanamo Bay is still in the business of inhumane torture. The US military, which Obama is Commander in Chief, has used drones to bomb in Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In some ways I am an idealist. I can be very cynical and sure that the world will never change, yet, here I am doing a second year in a full time volunteer postition, and why would I be doing that if I didn't truly believe that things could change? My idealist self is who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I believed in the change he promised. I felt hope that my government would actually work for the people. It hasn't been a perfect four years and I am not as gung-ho in support of Obama now in 2012. I don't agree with many of the choices he made re: militarism and perpetuating US world dominance, and this gave me enough pause to seriously consider voting instead for Jill Stein, the green party candidate, who is much closer in line with my ideals.

But when it came down to it, I voted for Barack Obama for a second term. The two party system is terrible (another post for another time...), but while I am working within this system, I did not want to take my vote away from Obama and risk Romney winning. So I thought a lot about why I did vote for Obama besides that he's better than Romney--why is he better than Romney?

I voted for Obama because he supports equal rights for women, women's reproductive rights, the DREAM Act, gay marriage, small businesses, a scaled income tax, stricter gun control, available healthcare and insurance for everyone (the Obamacare system is not perfect either, but again, another time...) and is working hard to improve lives of the every day US Americans (instead of JUST the rich--though it's not like he's ignoring them). I don't forget the militarism, and I don't approve. But I still have hope that things can change--though it is a US culture of violence that will need to be changed more than just by Obama's policies, to be truthful.

I voted early last week for four more years with Barack Obama. I may not have the blind optimism from before, but I still believe in that hope he promised, and I still believe he can help move this country forward. But it's not just up to him--we owe it to ourselves and future generations to be involved in our communities and in our local governments.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. 
-President Barack Obama

More election day reading:
What Has Obama Done So Far?
Colorlines: Obama & Wall Street
The Christian Left: Why I'm Voting for Jill Stein
Crunk Feminist Collective: Black Women Rock the Vote/Black Men Mock the Vote?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What JVC Taught Me

My last day of JVC/Casa DK/Urban Compass was August 3rd. The last few weeks were a prolonged goodbye--birthday celebrations for me and the Mikes, DisOrientation, blessings, goodbye parties... it was hard to say goodbye to everyone. The kids had varying reactions--some were genuinely angry with me that I was leaving, some cried, some didn't seem to grasp the situation. I fell in love with the children of Urban Compass and I miss them so much already. As they get older, they may not remember me, but I know I will never forget them.

As for my community and coworkers--I cannot imagine my life without them now. It has been bizarre having less contact with them in the last month and a half, but we are trying to still stay in touch and be involved in each others' lives, though obviously it cannot be at such a high level.

It's been almost two months since the end of JVC and I don't think I've adequately written about this year, so I present to you: What JVC Taught Me.

JVC taught me about humility. From the very beginning of orientation, we were warned that we would not be able to "save" our students/clients/the world with our work. And as much as I heard those words, I don't think I truly understood how small a piece of the puzzle I was until I had worked at Urban Compass for a while. Cerebrally, I knew the challenges and the struggles that my students faced, yet how could you be prepared for the stories they told? How could you be prepared to have a second grader tell you how she witnessed her uncle's murder in a carjacking? How could you be prepared to hear the story of a father's deportation? How could you be prepared to hear about the abuse? I was reminded daily of my humanity. There was no way I could just take these children out of the poverty and violence of their lives; there was no way I could even singlehandedly guarantee that they would make it to the next grade level.

But what I could do was commit myself wholeheartedly into my work at Urban Compass and give my kids my whole self every afternoon. I helped them with their homework. I listened to their stories. I encouraged them. I disciplined them when needed. I hugged them. I loved them--and that was all I could do. It's hard to realize how little control we have on other people's lives--but taught me an important lesson in humility. I will not save the world. But the world might save me.

JVC taught me about taking chances. Living in community, we ate meals together a few times a week. I'm not much of a cook, but to hold up my share, I started cooking more often. (Though, honestly, not nearly as often as other members of my community, but I did try to make an effort) Not every dish was excellent, but I started to have a few signatures that were even requested. I've always loved exploring, and living in LA for a year meant a whole new world to see. We made a LA Bucket List, and tried to knock off something every weekend. I went and saw Wicked at Pantages alone with Christmas money. LA has so many museums, and I loved exploring them. Moving to LA itself was taking a chance, and brought on a new mindset for me in my year in JVC.

JVC taught me about making connections. I have long made connections through dance--and this year was no different, even if I didn't dance as much as I would have liked. One of my favorite memories with one of my favorite students was a day we had a dance party in the classroom after homework time was over. Putnam and I went dancing a couple times, and I started actually letting him lead when we danced. I taught "Shackles," a dance we did in Heavenly Expressions at Mt. Level to my community. A fourth grader and I did the entire "Single Ladies" dance one day in the program (she knew it better than I did, I have to confess). The ladies of DK went to Richard Simmons' workout class, and sweated our butts off and had the time of our lives.

Besides dance, I learned to make connections other ways. Hayden and I sang duets occasionally; our best one was "Jackson" but I think "Another Day" was pretty good too. We had dinner as a community about four times a week, which I think was one of the most valuable aspects of our community. We'd recap our days, share our joys and struggles, laugh a lot and often get into deep discussions. This was one of the more informal ways we came together, while our support team, Shannon and Maria, had us come together more formally. Our support team came over every other week and we had structured time as a community--they facilitated conversations that needed to be had and brought out parts of us that we were more reluctant to show. I have learned there is a place for both of these situations in forming lasting connections. Sometimes you need to have structured conversations, but sometimes you just need to spend some time together, and laugh.

JVC taught me about faith. Once a week we did spirituality nights, and we took turns planning them, occasionally teaming up. We watched movies and documentaries, danced, prayed, wrote letters, poems and journal entries, read essays, listened to talks, faith shared, made resolutions, read the bible, meditated... We explored and expanded our spirituality both together and personally. The JVC Silent Retreat was in early May, and came at a time that I most needed to recharge my faith. Immediately after this retreat, I headed home to see my mom in the hospital. There were some structured activities, but in general it was up to us to be silent and listen to God and embrace ourselves as spiritual beings. At our final "DisO" retreat, different Casas led the group in prayer--and many were very powerful, all about making peace with the year and moving forward. It was a renewal of my faith that I could move forward and take this experience with me.

JVC taught me about perseverance. The first time I was in charge of a classroom was at age 18, teaching Vacation Bible School at Mt. Level in the 2/3 year old classroom. That week was one of the most stressful of my life and I was not too interested in teaching after that. Fast forward to the summer before JVC and teaching VBS at First Baptist--things went a lot smoother. I was teaching older kids (the same age as I would be teaching later at Urban Compass) and I had a better idea of what I was doing.

When I accepted the job at Urban Compass, I hoped I would be working with older elementary--age 8 to 10 or so, but instead I was placed in the K/1 classroom. I was very apprehensive about this, and I had a very difficult time at first establishing routine, rules and consequences. But as time passed, the job got easier. I became more comfortable and the kids started responding better to me. We had our bad days, but by the end of the year, I was much more confident in my teaching abilities.

JVC taught me about beauty. Through our exploration as a community, and mine personally, I found myself constantly encountering God's beautiful creation. As a community we traveled to San Diego, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. We went to the beach pretty often; the many beaches of the Southland area are all beautiful in their own way. One of my favorite places I found was the rose garden at USC. I fell in love with those gorgeous California roses and loved spending time there when I needed some time away from the house.

JVC taught me about compromise. I grew up in a big family in a small space, so I figured living in community wouldn't be too hard. Well, living in intentional community is hard. There's a lot of compromise that goes on, from taking turns cooking to taking turns doing the dishes, from noise levels to movie choices, from being chatty to being quiet, from diet restrictions to trying new foods, from keeping personal stuff in common areas to a minimum to hanging out in the common areas and intentionally spending time with one another... and then of course, what to do with the cat that just walked in the house. There were a lot of arguments. But when it came down to it, we were not willing to let these things come between us as a community, and we always managed to compromise.

JVC taught me about being silly. Taking on a full time volunteer job at a nonprofit that worked with children that live in the biggest housing development west of the Mississippi was a serious undertaking. Fortunately, children are silly, and brought out my silliness. Outside of work, as a community we also took time to unwind. A particularly memorable night was Halloween, when we bobbed for apples and ate donuts off a string... We threw and attended many house parties (that's how to have fun on a budget), many of which were themed, most notably 90's prom. We'd go to Yogurtland and only eat samples (dessert on a budget) and I began to perfect my rendition of Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" as my go-to karaoke song. And the only celebrity I really had contact with was Wayne Brady when we went to a taping of "Let's Make a Deal," where I touched his leg when he walked by. (Yes, that's my big LA celeb moment)

JVC taught me about hope. At the beginning the year, I started the quote wall at DK. I updated it pretty often, and when we left, there was only the bottom quarter of the door uncovered. These quotes were a daily reminder to us of what we were doing, and why we were doing it. They reminded us to hope. The stories that we told at the dinner table or during community/spirituality nights gave me hope too. Though the stories were often painful, I was hopeful knowing that my community and I were working to give others hope; we were committing our lives to people who needed hope.

My classroom, Room 203, gave me hope. More specifically, the sixteen loud and crazy 5/6/7 year olds that seemed to rarely actually be sitting down in it. I loved seeing the Aha! moments on my students' faces when a math problem made sense or they read a sentence perfectly. The resiliency of those children gives me hope that they will be able to break the cycle of poverty and violence they were born into. And when the fifth grade of 112th St graduated and sang "We Are the World," I found hope that these children will change the world.

JVC taught me about strength. JVC is no picnic--we are placed in difficult, demanding jobs, live with strangers, are far away from family and friends... As someone who already struggles with depression, there were times during JVC that my spirits got to an all time low, but each day I managed to get out of bed in the morning was a victory. I marched for Trayvon Martin and it was a rare monsoon rainstorm in LA--my umbrella broke and still we marched in the flooded streets; all I could think was it was the least I could do. I may have been soaked all the way through, but Trayvon Martin had been murdered, and I wasn't going to let the rain stop me from showing my solidarity.

The real test of my strength, though, came in early April with my mom's diagnosis. I didn't know how to handle it. I spent a lot of time hiding in my closet, because it felt safer in there. My community supported me. And I found strength from my mother. The first thing she said to me after she was diagnosed was "I'm a fighter, baby. We can trust God. I gave my life to him long ago, and I do have a deep peace right now. It won't be easy tho, I'll need my number one fan to cheer me." Those words came from the woman I am so much like both from genetics and because she raised me--and I knew that her strength was in me too. And she told me she wanted me to stay in JVC for the rest of my year--so I did.

JVC taught me about love. I fell in love with Casa Dorothy Kazel. I fell in love with Urban Compass. I fell in love with the City of Angels. I saw whole new worlds through my community's and kids' eyes. I found love as Ms. B/Queen Bee/Nay/Shanaynay in a city with so much to offer. I lived and worked in South Central LA, a fact that makes people gasp. People gave it up as hopeless. I found love in that hopeless place. And I found that it was hopeful. I found love in a hopeful place.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back in Austin

Here I am, just over a year later, back in Austin, TX. I am writing this from the North Austin Medical Center where Mama and I have been for hours as she is undergoing chemotherapy. We've chatted, worked on things, etc. but she seems to be comfortably sleeping next to me right now. A little less than an hour left for today, then two more (shorter) days.

I will write a longer post about my road trip from CA-->TX later, but I'll say now how much fun it was. It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We traveled from LA up to SF, partway on the PCH, stayed with a friend of mine, Alex, for a few days and got to explore the Bay Area. From there, we drove east through Yosemite and to Bishop, CA to stay the night. Bishop, CA to Las Vegas, NV for lunch, then on to Bryce, UT. Went to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in the next couple of days. Then drove east to Moab, UT, where we went to Arches and Canyonlands National Park. Then drove southeast to Salida, CO, where a family friend of Abigail's lives. We stayed there for a few days relaxing after all the exertion in UT and hung out in the cute downtown area. We also got to visit one of my best friends from high school, Kaytee, in Alamosa, CO where she is doing a new volunteer job. From Salida, we went to Taos, NM for lunch and shopping and headed to Santa Fe, NM where we stayed the night. Explored there the next day, then stayed the night in Lovington, NM and then Lovington to Austin, TX!

After dropping off all my stuff at my apartment, I went ahead and joined my mom and grandparents in Salado for the weekend. I've applied for one job so far (progress!) and been helping Mama with stuff. Last night we came back to Austin and I've officially started to unpack again in my old apartment. I have done a lot of research and found quite a few jobs I want to apply for--next is putting in the applications.

It's very strange being back here, but I'm glad to be. I came back just in time to come with Mama to this round of chemo, help move in my baby cousin Emily at UT and to pay my respects to a dear professor of mine, Dr. Shirley, who died last week. I love this city, and I love the people in it. I hope you will all continue to be with me on this journey as I figure out what comes next.

Friday, August 3, 2012

This is Goodbye.

This is the end. My last day at Urban Compass, in Casa DK, in JVC and in Los Angeles.

It's very sad to say goodbye. The next couple weeks will be spent on a road trip up through NorCal, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and finally back to Texas with my college roommate Abigail, to eventually return around August 19th.

It's so hard to look forward right now when I've spent so much time looking back in the last couple weeks. Such a difficult and amazing year.

Thank you to all of you that touched my life this year, I deeply appreciate your being with me on this journey.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

DisOrientation: You Got Off the Boat

DisOrientation is currently happening, meaning there is a lot of reflection going on--how life has changed in the last year, how to say goodbye, etc.

Something that has struck me is remembering the night of August 6, 2011. We had an opening mass for JVC Orientation on the beach and the priest spoke about the story of Jesus's disciples on the boat. Jesus miraculously walked on the water toward the disciples' boat during a storm, and Peter called out, "if it is you, Lord, tell me to get off the boat and walk to you" (on the water, as Jesus was doing). Jesus does, and Peter walks toward him. He then gets scared and starts sinking, and Jesus saves him and tells him he should not have doubted.

The priest took this story to describe the journey we were embarking in our year of JVC. That we would need to have faith to carry us through, but the fact that we were even there at orientation meant that we had gotten off the boat.

Toward the end of orientation, we each got a piece of paper to write a simple reflection of what we learned/would carry with us for the coming year. We wrote many phrases such as "AMDG" or from different speakers we'd had or activities we'd done. We hung them up on the wall at the retreat center. What had continually stayed with me that week was that I had taken this chance, I had gotten off the boat. I wrote "YOU GOT OFF THE BOAT."

We got to DisO today and the retreat center is decorated with many of the things we have made at retreats over this year, including those phrases. Why, I don't know, but mine is hanging on the podium. I hope it serves as a reminder to have faith, and get off the boat.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The Role of Men in the Fight Against Sexism

This is powerful writing asserting that masculinity does not have to depend on demeaning women. Favorite quotes:

Fuck society’s standards of manhood, telling us that we need to be tough, emotionless, violent, and sexist to be a man. 

Come on men, let’s break free. Let’s all stand together and say sexism will no longer exist in our name. It starts with simply listening to women and letting them speak about their oppression, but it ends with a unified fight.

Another powerful article on street harassment and what it feels like as a black woman. (Sidenote, on Saturday, Sonia and I were walking around and got meowed at. As in a man said "MEOW" when we walked by.) This article is about a woman and her harassment due to the dress she was wearing.

This video has been going around: an anti-domestic violence PSA inviting women to not cover up their abuse.

There was a shooting in South Central (a few actually) on 4th of July. This video on the story shows the press conference, in which the mother and stepmother of the young woman who was killed, speak. I've watched this video a few times in the last few days, and every single time I get chills. There is so much truth to these words:

For so long, we’ve upheld them in their wrong because they’re our brothers, our cousins, our family and we uphold them when they’re wrong and that’s why this is allowed to continue. How many of our kids have to die to uphold a war? A war that doesn’t exist; it’s in our minds, it’s in everybody’s minds. There’s no war. There’s causalities on both sides and nobody’s gonna win.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thoughts to Begin the Week

If you cannot do unto others
What you would that they should do to you,
At least do not unto them
What you would not that they should do unto you.
If you would not be made to work ten hours at a stretch in factories or in mines,
If you would not have your children hungry, cold and ignorant,
If you would not be robbed of the land that feeds you,
If you would not be shut up in prisons or sent to the gallows or hanged for committing an unlawful deed through passion or ignorance,
If you would not suffer wounds, nor be killed in war--
Do not do this unto others.

All this is so simple and straightforward,
And admits of so little doubt,
That it is impossible for the simplest child not to understand,
Nor the cleverest [person] to refute it.
It is impossible to refute this law,
Especially because this law is given to us,
Not only by all the wisest [people] of the world,
Not only by the Man who is considered to be God by the majority of Christians,
But because it is written in our minds and hearts.

-Leo Tolstoy

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spirituality Night: I Am poems

Tonight I led spirituality night focusing on spirituality from within. Our spirituality is intimately part of our beings, so what makes us who we are? The bible tells us: "love your neighbor as yourself"--and we must remember to also love ourselves. After introducing the activity, we had a fifteen minute period to write our poems, and then we shared. Here is mine:

I walk along the empty streets, the busy streets
I see faces staring back at me
My tendency is to hide
But I want to live my life with my arms open wide
Courage and strength
From the years and years of women gone before me
Shedding the darkness

I am Naomi
I am on a journey
Calloused feet of a dancer
Dreamer and cynic wrapped into one
Eyes looking skyward
Following the monarch butterflies
Simultaneously fearing and embracing
The change they bring
A Southern girl by birth
But home is where the heart is
And my heart is with the ones I love
I live
I love
I choose to live.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Emily, the Graduate

Emily in China for a summer program in 2010

My darling younger cousin Emily is graduating from Austin High School today. I've loved her from the start of course, but it was when I moved to Austin to go to St. Edward's that we became so close. She was in eighth grade at Fullmore, right down the street from St. Ed's. My first semester, I spent almost every weekend at my aunt & uncle's house, so I spent more time than I ever had with Emily. We bonded over movie and TV marathons, late night baking and awkwardness. The last few years I lived in Austin, I have truly treasured my time with Emily and how close we have become. I couldn't imagine missing her graduation, so here I am in Austin this weekend, to see my darling valedictorian baby cousin walk across that stage this afternoon. I am so, so proud of her, and I can't wait to celebrate her accomplishments! Em will be at University of Texas this fall, which is great for me, since I'll be back in Austin, so we will be able to see each other often :)

Cousins/BFF after her graduation tea yesterday afternoon :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Photo Post: Flowers

I've been having trouble writing in this blog lately and am writing more in my personal journal. So instead I offer photos I have taken of flowers in the last couple of months, because it makes more sense to me than words right now.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Women's Rights News Roundup

I love Planned Parenthood's tumblr.

A story of hope from a woman who suffered from domestic abuse, from the director of an organization I am very involved in, BPFNA

Why are professional athletes treated differently in cases of domestic violence?

An account of rape culture and slut shaming, related to Missoula, so called "rape capital of America"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Update

It has been a month since my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It has been a year since I got my tattoo. Despite the fact my mom was not enthused about my getting it, lately I am all the more reminded why I did. Read my story here.

I've been slacking on updates of my year in JVC, so I'll try to say a bit...

Personal News:
I've gotten really good at making guacamole. I went to the Trayvon Martin solidarity march in the pouring rain, which was a very powerful experience. I visited three friends in the Bay Area over Urban Compass Spring Break--Kristen, Victoria & Alex. I had such a great time with all of them. I got a haircut. I am also planning to move back to Austin in August, for sure.

Casa DK news:
We had a St. Patrick's Day Party, not many JV's were present, but still a pretty fun party--it was good to see how much we have expanded our social circle outside of JVC! CMC, one of the other houses also recently had a Hunger Games themed party. We recently traveled up to Applegate, CA for silent retreat. We drove up a day early to spend time at Yosemite and then in Sacramento. Then we were silent for three days except for meetings with our spiritual directors. It was a very moving experience--the retreat center was beautiful and I found an inner peace through silence (though nearing the end I felt like I was going crazy...)

Urban Compass news:
We went on two field trips in April. The older kids went to a kite festival at Santa Monica Beach, sponsored by Otis College of Design, where they were able to build and decorate their own kites, and then fly them on the beach! The younger kids went to a petting zoo in Montebello. They were able to ride a train, ride ponies and feed/pet the animals. Many of my first graders were students of the month in April--I was a proud momma! We are preparing our schedule for summer camp in July.

That was really choppy, but you get the gist. Here's some pics, not in order...

Kristen & I in SF

My darling babies Daveon and Desire

In front of the falls in Yosemite

Victoria & I in Redwood City

Alex, Alex's mom Jan & I on Easter in Walnut Creek

my boys, Cristopher, Daveon & Gabaree on the field trip

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Into the West (Annie Lennox & Howard Shore)

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say: «We have come now to the end»
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

And all will turn 
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass 
Into the West

Friday, April 27, 2012

8 years.

It has been 8 years since my dear friend Madeleine Grace Paterson-Watt died of cancer. I think of her every day and I will especially tomorrow, April 28th.

I will be traveling to Applegate, CA this weekend for a silent retreat, and tomorrow we are planning to spend the day at Yosemite. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate and remember her life than to be part of God's amazing creation she so loved. I will leave a crane or two behind for her as I did last year.

cranes at the altar at St. Ed's 4/28/11
Madi was a sister to me, and her family is still my family. I think of her and celebrate her life every day.

one of my favorite photos of madi
i love you, my one and only madi <3

The Story of the Flip Flop Necklace

Madeleine joined the angels 8 years ago. She is remembered still as one of the best friends I've ever had.

During the year she was sick, I sent her a card about once a week, to encourage her and remind her I was thinking about her. It was a very small gesture, but it made me feel like I was doing something, since I was so far away and couldn't do much.

The first card I found read something to the effect of "if nothing else makes you feel better, at least you can always buy shoes." It was cute, funny and somewhat relevant... The next time I went to buy a card I found one that said something like: "if you wear boots, you'll look good and be able to kick your problems really hard." And that is how Madi's shoe cards came about. I just thought it would be fun if every card had shoes on them. Why shoes? I was 14 and obsessed with shoes (full disclosure, I still am) and I guess that's why? All I know is that from then on, I bought every card that shoes on them, regardless of the message, so I could send them to Madi. I stocked up, and then once a week, I would cross out "happy birthday" or "happy graduation", etc. and write a short letter. They were the most random musings of my 14 year old mind, things I would tell my dear best friend. And always included how much I loved her, missed her, and hoped she would get better soon.

April 28, 2004, Madi departed this life. And I will never look at a card with a shoe on it without thinking of her.

I don't remember exactly how I came across them, but I found these flip flop necklaces that had ribbons on them for different diseases and kinds of cancer. A gold ribbon is for childhood cancer awareness. When I saw that necklace, I knew I wanted it so I could hold Madi close to my heart every day.

For years I wore that necklace. All the time, often, then occasionally. As the way sometimes things happen, somehow it got lost while I was in college. I searched my dorm, my house, but no luck. Though I didn't wear it as often anymore, it still was nice to be able to wear a little bit of Madi sometimes. Last April, I decided I wanted to replace it. It had been seven years, and there were no more awareness ribbon flip flop necklaces to be found. But I found a metallic gold flip flop necklace and got that one instead.

the new madi necklace
I think of my one and only madi every day. I wear this necklace often, but especially when I need some strength. She will always be one of the strongest people I've ever known.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God

Most of you know this already, but my mom has cancer. You can learn the full story, see updates about her and leave her messages at her caringbridge site.

My family has been a bit blindsided by this, and we are scrambling to find our footing. What is saving us right now, is the support of everyone around us. There has been such an extreme outpouring of love from people I know from every part of my life. Some are people I haven't talked to in years. And I am reminded just how incredibly blessed I have been in this life.

This is only the beginning of the long, tough journey we have ahead of us. The cancer may be physically in my mother's body, but we are all one body in Christ and I am reminded that we never stand alone. My amazing mother does not stand alone--we have all of you.

Have no doubt, my mama will be dancing at my wedding. And considering I don't have a serious boyfriend right now, this is not anytime soon.

I am struggling right now, my family is struggling right now, but I know we're going to get through this because God is always on our side. And mama is strong, and we are all going to be strong with her.

God is in control.
We've come this far by faith.
God is not through with you yet.
Life is hard. God is good. Let's dance.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Anyway (Mother Teresa)

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2012

since feeling is first (e.e. cummings)

since feeling is first
e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lessons From One Tree Hill (Part 4)

This one isn't so much a lesson, but a really beautiful way to think about those who have died.

Quentin Fields was a basketball player, he was also a son, a brother, somebody's teammate, somebody's friend. I didn't know Quentin Fields. I guess now I never will.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like if you weren't you anymore? If you were suddenly gone, how would your world react? Whatever you imagined is wrong. There is nothing romantic about death. Grief is like the ocean. It's deep and dark and bigger than all of us. And pain is like a thief in the night.
Quentin Fields was a basketball player, he was also a son, a brother and somebody's friend. I never knew Quentin Fields and I guess now I never will. 

Grief is like the ocean its deep and dark and bigger than all of us. And pain is like a thief in the night. Quite, persistent, unfair. Diminished by time and fate and love. I didn't know Quentin Fields but I'm jealous of him because I see how his absence has affected the people who did know him. So I know he mattered to them. And I know he was loved. 

People say Quentin Fields was a great basketball player--graceful, fluent, inspiring... They say on a good night it almost seemed as if he could fly. And now he can.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Trayvon Martin

This week I have spent more pissed off than usual.

Trayvon Martin is my brother. My son. My cousin. My friend. My grandson. My nephew. My boyfriend. My classmate. My godson. My neighbor. My student.

You wouldn't know it by looking at me. I'm white. I will never have the experience that people of color have being immediately perceived as threatening by the color of their skin. I would never presume to say that I understand how that feels. It's not possible. I was born white, by no special talent of my own. I didn't choose my privilege, but I have it just the same.

But I will never stop working for justice. Trayvon Martin is still my family, is a part of all of our families. Every day that Trayvon's killer is not brought to justice, a little bit of all of our souls dies. I implore you to not just let this news make you sad for a moment then you move on to your regularly scheduled life. We cannot sit idly by.

Trayvon was killed because he was black. That was the most threatening thing he had going on. For everyone who thinks we live in a post-racial society, I say, really?! I urge everyone to take a good hard look at themselves--because this didn't just happen in Florida, it could've happened anywhere.

Tomorrow I will be joining a march and rally in Los Angeles, in support for Trayvon Martin and his family. It has been one month since he was murdered, for walking while black. It's not okay. What kind of message are we sending--that someone can be killed for the color of their skin, and there will be no punishment? We cannot let that be true.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Being Ms. B

For the last eight months, I've had an alter ego: "Ms. B." My roommate Jackie has told me that she even prays for "Ms. B" as a different part of me.

This is what I hear a lot of every day:

"Ms. B! Ms. B! Ms. B! I need help! Can I go to the bathroom? Can I play with this? Ms. B! She said a bad word! He hit me! Ms. B! Ms. B! Ms. B!"

Every afternoon, I transform into Ms. B. We have fun, but there are rules. We get to play outside, do fun arts and crafts, have snack... but mostly we have to do homework. And it's not negotiable, not matter how much my 5 & 6 year olds cry about how they don't want to do it. I have to be tough on them, but it would be a disservice to them not to be. At the same time, I make sure each and every one of the children in Urban Compass knows that I love them, that I care about their success and happiness, that I am rooting for them.

We have many volunteers that come once a week; the kids are always sooooo excited to see them. They run and hug them, insist that the volunteers sit with them, play with them, tutor them. I used to feel a little ignored in these cases until I started reminding myself that I have a different role in this. They expect to see me every day. It's a given that I'll be there. I help provide a consistency that they don't have in many areas of their lives, and that is even more valuable. They're not as excited to see me, because they trust that I will always be there, and is humbling knowing I can be there for these kids this way.

Every single day I am amazed by these children. They are so strong, smart, funny, beautiful and incredibly resilient. These kids keep me going in the times of darkness.

I cannot hope to completely change their lives. I am such a small piece of the puzzle, I can only hope to be a positive influence on them. I can do small things, like show them they are loved, they are valued, help them with their homework, provide them a safe place to go after school, encourage them that the sky is the limit. I can only hope that maybe some of those small things might make a bigger difference somewhere along the line; that I can be part of some small change in the direction their lives go.

I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with these amazing children. They have taught me so much, and I am so proud of the progress they have all made. I love being Ms. B. These kids have so much love to give, and I am honored that some of it comes to me.

What I've Been Reading

I'm one of those people that gets so much joy out of starting a new book, that I read a bunch at once. I think I started 5 in the last month... I'm trying to finish at least one of them this weekend. (If you're curious what books I'm reading: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Wicked, The Magic of Blood, Latina, The Warmth of Other Suns)

And in the news:

A woman's heartbreaking experience with the sonogram law in Texas. (I marched against this last year)

We Are Not Invisible: 5 African Women Respond to Kony 2012

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner introduces a Viagra bill

The story of Trayvon Martin and the call to have his killer brought to justice

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spirituality Night: Closing Prayer

God, Our heavenly mother,

We come to You as humbly as we know how. We thank You for the beauty You have given us on this planet--the sky, the earth, the trees, the people, the love, the art, the generosity, the perseverance. We thank You also for the beauty of pain, of suffering, of fear, of exhaustion, of vulnerability.

We ask that You help us to always remember that we can still find You through the entire span of human experience, through the struggle. Be with us as we seek You out in our daily lives.

Be with us as we live in community. Be with us in our work. Be with us in our relationships with others. Be with us during the "life is good" moments, and in the moments we want to give up.

Thank You for showing us that we are all connected. Help us to always remember that we can always find common ground.

Guide us to the places we will find You, and guide us to find You in places we never imagined.

Bless our community and our work. Bless our families and friends that have paved the way for us. Bless the world and use us to heal the pain. Help us learn from everyone--for everyone can teach us something.

We must remember that You aren't through with us yet.

In Jesus' name,


Monday, March 12, 2012

Lessons From One Tree Hill (Part 3)

This is a series on the lessons that have come from the show One Tree Hill, one of my favorite shows. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Sometimes the beauty is in the attempt.

Lucas and Julian are sitting in the park despairing over the fact that the movie they were working on got shut down. Dixon, the crazy director, comes along and shares some words of wisdom:

"Here's the piece of the puzzle you boys are missing. Sometimes the beauty is in the attempt. We took a shot. We gave it everything we could, and we did it well. It just didn't work out. Now when that happens, you got two options. You can sit in a public park pouting and drinking cheap beer, or... you can celebrate the attempt! For the friendships you've made along the way."

I struggle with the fear of failure, of rejection, of being wrong. A lot of people do. I think that is why this moment in the show One Tree Hill was so powerful to me--to remind myself that life is all about taking chances. Sometimes things don't work out, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have taken the chance. Failure is part of the journey of life, and to live a full one, we will fail sometimes. And sometimes the beauty is that we made the attempt in the first place, and that's all we can really ask for.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Marching in like a Lion

I feel like I say this every month, but I can't believe it's March! I'm more than halfway through my JVC year, and it's gotten to the point where I have to start thinking about what comes up August 4th, but I don't want to think about this experience ending...

So in other news, February is usually my least favorite month but 2012 brought a different perspective. January was a very rough month for me and working through a lot of that gave me a newfound courage and passion to change things in my life. A big thing is that I put myself out there and took a chance, and am currently dating a pretty awesome guy.

Other things that happened in February: I attended a film festival at USC titled "Surviving the Intersections: Gender, Race & Sexuality", went to the Vagina Monologues, Urban Compass had a community event at the Farmer's Market, we had a bonfire at the beach, I got my fourth learner's permit, had a few parties with the other JV's... Went to a few museums, explored LA a bit, you know, the usual. We had a lot of parents visit this month--Erica's mom came one weekend, Putnam's parents came another weekend, and Kevin's parents visited this past weekend (technically March...).

A few photos:
Fair trade roses from El Salvador, from my dad for Valentine's Day

Two of my kindergartners, Cristopher & Desire

My Jennifer. This girl is attached to my hip.

Dockweiler Beach for the bonfire

Casa DK ladies getting their Mardi Gras on