musings of a malcontent

seattle native, teacher w/out a classroom, bookkeeper, drinker of coffee and red wine, a constant work in progress

Archive for the category “community”

You Have to Bloom Where You’re Planted

to share a passion with someone is a great thing. there’s no trying to explain WHY you like what you’re doing. there’s no need to explain frustrations and joys and sacrifices that it requires, because they get it. there’s no need to justify your motives because they are the same. I’m not sure exactly where my love of the ‘foodbank demographic’ came from. best I can figure, is it started when I was the event coordinator for a youth group I worked with for a while. we went on a trip down to the Dreamcenter down in LA. it was my first real hands-on experience working with the homeless and poor and relatively forgotten population. it moved me in ways I wasn’t aware of at the time. my job on that trip was also to keep track of kids, so my attention was split. but, the seed had been planted. my 3 hour shift on Mondays down at the foodbank is quite truthfully the most well-spent and rewarding 3 hours of my week and I usually look forward to it a lot. sometimes it’s hard though. there are weeks that are frustrating because the attitude of the patrons is bad, which makes me go down that road of “what are we here for, these people are all takers and are doing nothing to better themselves.” sometimes I spend time trying to explain to people who don’t understand why I’d want to be down there with these people, and as clearly as I may think I’m being, they just don’t get it which makes me wonder if I’m crazy for doing it. and some weeks, like this week, it’s uplifting and wonderful. I heard a quote from a radio host yesterday that I love. I’ve heard it before but in context to what I’ve been processing lately regarding the ‘foodbank demographic’ and such, it was very timely and worth repeating: “You have to bloom where you’re planted.” I’ve been planted in an area where there is this need. everyone has their things that get them excited, not everyone’s is this. but it’s mine. and so I must do it. one of the most rewarding parts for me has been meeting the fellow volunteers and the staff I work with down at the Northwest Harvest foodbank on Cherry St. it makes me feel like what I’m helping with matters, which is encouraging when I’m feeling down or uncertain about it. a student at a local college did a video for one of her classes on the foodbank, featuring 3 of the employees and loaded with pictures of my fellow volunteers and the patrons themselves. I thought it was wonderful and worth sharing. I truly love these people and what they do and they sum up how I feel but can rarely articulate myself:

I couldn’t get the video to post directly to my blog but if you click the YouTube link it takes you right there…


compassion & quotes

if you were to go into my apartment you’d find quotes written down on random pieces of scratch paper or the backs of things, scattered around in various stashes. i’m a notorious quote writer. as someone who likes to write, i can appreciate beautifully constructed thoughts. whenever i read i always have some sort of note pad and pen with me because there is ALWAYS something i want to remember. whether i like how it’s written, or what was being written was so profound or funny i don’t want to forget. often i find these scratch papers or journals or what have you, months or years after i’ve written them down. i found a small piece of paper w/ a quote that i copied down over a year ago when on vacation in Hawaii. it’s from a book called “Dark Hollow” written by John Connolly. he has a character named Louis who’s a career criminal but is sort of a good guys bad guy. the things he’s willing to do are just awful but he always does them in the name of good or in defense of people he loves or has sworn allegiance to. he can be crude, he’s violent, and he’s probably one of the most profound and deep and thought provoking characters i’ve seen created and written in a long time. he said something i wrote down and re-read last night and can’t stop thinking about it. it’s the thoughts and writing like this that make me like this author. yes, there are some swears, but if a book i read a year ago can still make me think, then it’s a good book. the book is in a series of books following several characters and everyone is full of stuff like this. they’re on the darker side, but sometimes life is dark and you have to deal with it.

“The nature of compassion isn’t coming to terms with your own suffering and applying it to others: it’s knowing that other folks around you suffer and, no matter what happens to you, no matter how lucky or unlucky you are, they keep suffering. And if you can do something about that, then you do it, and you do it without waving your own fuckin’ cross for the world to see. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

yes. i think so.

the dark side

i just heard a follow up to a news story from last week that made me so sad. Roger was 15, he was in and out of foster care since the time he was 3 years old, he had some emotional and behavioral problems, and Roger committed suicide last week by jumping off of a local freeway overpass during rush hour traffic causing a traffic jam that i now regrettably and ill-informed at the time, complained about having to deal with. i will never know what it’s like to be in that dark of a place. Roger’s story especially, hits home to me. i often wondered why it was that these sorts of stories made me feel so emotional and grateful, seemingly more so than the average person. Roger lived the life that could have been mine. the circumstances are slightly different but not so far removed that i don’t get this welling up of knots in my stomach. only 2 days after being born i was adopted and taken into a home. a home where i have been unconditionally loved, cared for, mentored to and invested in. babies come in 2 categories: the wanted ones and the unwanted ones. then, once in those categories there are choices. the wanted ones are cared for in the best way their parents know how and those parents make choices daily that will lead their child down the path that hopefully will work out to the child’s best interest. for the unwanted babies: the choice is: abortion, foster care, adoption. i was an unwanted baby that was blessed with adoption. i don’t talk about it a lot. but there are times when i’m in the grocery store and i see a woman who kind of looks like me and i wonder softly to myself is i could be related to her. it’s not that i’m daily sad about not knowing my biological parents, it’s that it’s a natural human curiosity. i’ve never met anyone biologically related and that’s ok. but i sometimes wonder what they’d look like and who’s eyes i have and who’s fault it is that my toes are weird. but if i never find out, i think i’ll be fine. because i have parents and sisters and an extended family and, this goes without saying, an incredible network of family friends and personal friends that would be there for me in a heartbeat if i needed anything. they love me. i’m loved. and i know it. i may get in my funks, and i may feel annoyed or get antsy or whatever, but i know what love is. i’m not sure that Roger did. thru no fault of his own he was ushered into this world of misfits, chaos and uncertainty and did the best he could to stay afloat. Roger had some issues. kids, specifically teenagers with issues, are not easy to deal with. it wasn’t the foster parent’s fault. it’s not one person’s fault individually. Roger reminds me of the food bank patrons. i feel like i talk about them constantly. they are a demographic with issues. food banks are all different depending on which area of the city you are in. we get a lot of homeless and people dealing with handicaps, whether they be mental or recovery handicaps or social ones.  i think, after processing this for a while, i think why i love them and feel so drawn to working with them, is, that they have lived in a dark spot much like Roger. whether they are there thru their own doings or not i don’t know and it’s not my place to judge. i just know that i connect with these people. like the foster parents care for the Rogers. it takes certain people to deal with certain people, if that makes any sense. in any place in our lives there are people who live in dark. my dark is a shade or two or twenty lighter than some people’s, but we all have places where we hide and feel lost in the dark. i don’t know what Roger was dealing with in his head, i probably never will.  i don’t know how it is to have no other options than to kill myself or to live on the street. and i probably never will.  but there’s always this little twinge inside me that knows that even at the ripe old age of 2 days old, my future could be so much different than it is today at the age of 29 years. we need to talk about this. we need to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable. suicide, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, bullying… we need to talk about our own discomforts, the things we don’t always want to talk about. my being adopted, isn’t a sore subject for me. but i’m guarded about it. but if i can tap into that and become a little less guarded, and use the things i feel about it to make eye contact and see others and help them in whatever dark spot their in, then i need to do that. everyone’s got their stories. use them. you might not be able to fix them, but just… reach out i guess, be available, or do something, however small to show that people matter. for the Rogers.

mondays @ the foodbank

beautiful crimini mushrooms to be savored & enjoyed by the “clients.”

my fellow foodbank volunteer peeps!

“rat lady” : kind of crazy, takes her rat everywhere with her, will talk your ear off.

encounters on Cherry St.

once again i’ve been reflective after my food bank shift. for me it’s just as much about the conversations and personal encounters as it is about the food service being provided. i got the opportunity to work the sign-in table on monday, which i enjoyed for the most part because i got to chat with people.  there are a few conversations and encounters that stick with me each week.  they are sometimes frustrating if i’ve dealt with a particularly ungrateful or mean individual but on the whole, they are great and give me a lot to think about. things like humility, my motives, compassion and a heartache that stems from both saddness and joy that i’ve met these people. here are some from this last week:

*i complimented her nails. we had the same dark purple painted nails. only hers had a pretty flower pattern on them.  she was a tiny little Phillipino woman who was MAYBE 5’1″. she had the cutest face. once she realized the color matched, she put her hands across from mine, our fingertips touching. so she could admire them. she made a little coo/squeal noise, grabbed and patted my hands and walked to the food line to get her food.

*he was dirty and had long wavy hair pulled into a ponytail. i asked him to please sign-in and asked him how his day was going so far. he said “better.” to which i responded “as long as it’s not bad, that’s good!” he looked at me and told me about how he’s doing better now that his meds are working and told me his nurse told him he’d live.  i said “well that’s great!” he then told me she’s the first person (i assumed in the medical community) that didn’t tell him he was going to die. he said everyone told him that and she told him “no you’re not!” i told him he’d better hold onto that nurse.  he told me she was his best friend pretty much now.  i was both happy and saddened by this conversation.

*me: how are you? … him: pretty good considering it’s a monday! … me: you know, i was just thinking that myself. …him: yeah, i don’t even feel hung over… me: well that’s good… him: know how to avoid hangovers?… me: drink less?… him: don’t drink at all. … to which he took his plastic sack, winked at me and walked to the food line.

*i complimented her scarf.  it was a head scarf.  she was muslim.  but truth is truth, it was a beautiful blue and white scarf. i told her my mom would love the pattern.  she misunderstood me and thought that i’d said my mom was muslim. she kind of stared at me a bit and moved a little closer and whispered, “YOUR mom is a MUSLIM?” you see, this woman was a very dark skinned woman (i’d say of maybe Ethiopian descent but i’m just guessing) which is why she stared at me. clearly i’m a dark blonde white girl.  i told her “oh! no. she’s not.  but she loves blue and white and your scarf is lovely and she would think so too.” i don’t know if it’s appropriate or not to compliment such things as head scarves or muslim women but i did (is it? anyone know? i’m not a very PC person so…). she grabbed my hand, gently patted them, smiled really big, giggled a little and said “thank you, bless you!” and then she walked to the food line.  smiling at me as she left my area.

*they were quite the pair. they were a true testament of endurance and working thru adversity, that’s for sure! i’m not sure how they managed but they did.  the one “in charge” was a small and slightly disabled woman with some vision issues but was for the most part, self-sufficient.  she was guiding a very tall blind and disabled woman.  the blind woman was wearing red glasses underneath a mask (like the ones used for diving or snorkeling) to protect her eyes.  she had a rope of some sort tied around her to keep her near her friend.  she was pulling a large polka-dotted suitcase (the kind on rollers) to put her food in.  they had a system for getting their food and for communication and they just made me smile from ear to ear and made me stop my complaining about my tiredness.  i was tired that day.  but they were more tired and still managed to go about their business and with sort-of-smiles on their faces. 

it’s these types of people who make me want to continue this, they make it worth it.  they overshine the ones who make me angry.  and as much as it drains me energy wise and emotionally some weeks and as much as taking 4 hours out of my day is financially interesting… it’s so worth it to me.  i try not to gush but i love it. sorry if these posts seem rather redundant… i can’t help it…

lessons from the foodbank

something was missing from my life.  something that was fundamental to my happiness, to what i felt i was made to do, and that is the food bank.  after my 1st tryst into serving the homeless and those who just need a help up, i was hooked.  i think i was petitioning to take youth kids to the union gospel mission downtown seattle to the point where the other leaders finally caved.  in hindsight, that particular site, the main men’s shelter downtown probably wasn’t the SAFEST of the places to take the youth to get a taste for this type of service, BUT, they have to start somewhere.  after that i dabbled a bit in other things such as campaigning and collecting to get socks to hand out to the downtown homeless alongside another group that was handing out hot drinks and coats or something.  i tried to help coordinate block parties in the “projects” district of seattle.  what was more of a flop than a success and left me feeling frustrated and skeptical of my fellow christians as to their heart for the homeless and down trodden.  it wasn’t until a bit later that i realized that it’s not everyone’s deal.  not everyone is comfortable in this area.  and for a really long time i was hurt by the lack of equal enthusiasm that i felt to help the people who just needed to be shown love.  i became jaded towards my friends and church community for a while.  but i know now that there are lots of ways to show that type of love that’s so unshakable you can’t help but be changed by it.  they had their ways, and i had mine. 

i’ve been at a new food bank volunteering now for about 4 months.  it’s the Northwest Harvest food bank downtown seattle and i’m there every monday from 12-3.  i LOVE love LOVE getting to leave work for 3 ish hours to go down there. it’s sometimes emotionally and physically draining but it’s the kind of drained that leaves me feeling great.  sometimes i get the boring jobs or the gross jobs but keeping in perspective that someone has to do it so it may as well be me that particular day.  sometimes i get to bag food or sort food or portion out food and sometimes i get to be out front interacting with the patrons of the food bank.  i’ve grown to really like my fellow volunteers and the people who work there as managers during my shift.  oh! there is another Jeanette believe it or not! she spells it the same and everything.  it’s a little unnerving how similar we are.  the more we talk and get to know each other, the more similarities i see.  i think, that she’s a pretty good glimpse of how i’ll be when i’m her age.  i would guess that she’s in her mid to late 40s.  maybe.  there’s another volunteer named Bob.  Bob volunteers about twice a week and he’s an older gentleman who loves to be there, loves to chat and loves to serve his guts out.  Bob is a retired teacher and football coach and he’s hilarious and such a positive person to work with.  there are sometimes groups of kids who come down to help so they can get their community service hours for school i think.  they are a little less enthusiastic about being there but i think every kids should experience this and see how blessed and lucky they are and if they happen to “catch” the compassion bug in the process, then they’re only better for it! there are a couple of groups from some local downtown businesses that send people down once a month which is cool.  Paul Allen’s company has a group that i worked with a few weeks ago. they were so surprised that i was there individually and not with a group.  but, i think for the most part, the weekly volunteers like me, are just there because they want to and it works in their schedules.  regardless of why people are down there, it’s a great group of people. 

and the patrons… oh the people who come thru! last week on the day i was there,  a little over 2000 people came thru the food bank.  i recognize some faces and some are new.  some are old, some are mean, some are the sweetest and greatest you’ll ever meet.  some are with kids, and some are on drugs.  some are there to scam and get as much as they can.  some are embarrassed they’re there and just need a smile back.  some are younger and some are insane.  and i love them all! i chose to not look at the negative that there is, so much as the good on the whole that is being done there.  yes, there are security guards there around the clock, and yes there are sometimes incidents but in general, it’s just people getting food and people giving them food. there is a lady who i’d guess is probably in her 70s who dresses to the nines.  i mean, she walks in thinking she looks goooood.  and she does. the last time i saw her she had on a very lovely flower skirt with her best silk striped shirt with a fur coat and a hat that has got to be vintage and worth something.  oh and the clip on earings, lets not forget the huge earings that look like they could double as chandeliers! i love her.  she has the sweetest smile.  some of them just need smiles and maybe someone to ask them how they’re doing.  usually the response is positive.  sometimes not and you get sneered at or ignored or grunted at.  or they don’t understand english enough to know what you’re saying to them.  but whatever, i still love it!

there was a gap of about a year or so where i didn’t volunteer anywhere.  i missed it.  and, as strange as this sounds, i feel more emotionally and physically and mentally healthy now that i’m back doing it.

spitting in the ocean

on saturday i will spit in the ocean.  it won’t make big waves, it won’t affect the other side but it will change the small world in which i can touch.  i’m excited to be volunteering again.  saturday i start at Northwest Harvest.  it won’t be any big deal in the grand scheme of what NW Harvest does, it won’t affect the hungry across the world, but it will directly impact those who receive what i’m doing.  i wanted to help at the food bank down in Seattle but my work hours don’t work well with when they are open.  so i’m working at the distribution warehouse.  my couple hours every now and then doesn’t seem like much.  but my act of spitting in the ocean will do some good.  and it feels really good.  i’m looking for more opportunities to spit in the ocean more.  to touch one life, or to equip those who can touch more than one, that’s what it’s really about.

walking pioneer square

i took many walks from the parking garage on 1st and Columbia in seattle south to Qwest Field where i worked.  this 10 minute walk took me straight through seattle’s historic pioneer square district and right into the stadium district.  oh the sights, smells and visual wonders my eyes beheld! this area isn’t noted for its class and safe-ness necessarily but during daylight hours i felt perfectly safe walking it alone.  after work, we always walked in pairs got a ride back to the garage.  i love people watching and these walks never failed to bring me some sort of blog fodder and treats for my easily amused self. 

i don’t think, that the current state of Seattle’s Pioneer Square is what the founders of the city had envisioned when they settled it.  the homeless community, the druggies, the sketchy bar patrons have definitely made their mark in this once picturesque district.  but, if you look through the ‘filth,’  you can still see what was once there.  the buildings still stand tall and grand.  they might not house the elegant banks or up and coming businesses that helped get Seattle on it’s feet but they stand nonetheless.  magic mouse toys, Elliott bay books, cutty sark nautical goods, doc maynards, Starbucks, various restaurants… these places now inhabit the buildings.  the buildings… i love looking at these buildings! i don’t know if it’s because my dad is an architect or what, but i love to look at the ornate architecture and the details that are there.  you don’t see much of that old style design now in the modern world of these glass and steel giant skyscrapers.  i think what i like, as a lover of the old, is the mixture i see on this walk of the old and the new, of the collision of the various types of people groups.  this area is the intersection of all the lifestyles and thoughts and cultures in seattle. 

the seahawks fans decked out in their blue and green jerseys and painted faces… the drug dealers… the homeless trying to make money or sleeping on benches… the bar owners trying to woo the (usually distraught from another seahawks loss) fans into their establishments… the shoppers… the people who come down to this area maybe once a year if that… the workers… the tourists… the seattle natives… the clean and the dirty… the fragrant and the smelly… the people on the underground tour… those waiting for a bus… the taxi cab drivers… all collide in pioneer square.

the girl crying on the phone in the parking garage because someone lied to her… the couple having a very loud and public lover’s quarrel on their way from a game… the couple who asked me for directions to the underground tour starting point… the man selling hot dogs out front of the bar next to the vacated J&M hotel bar… the bicycle police in their yellow and black jackets who smile at me… the drunk people who stand out front of the sketchy bar smoking who try unsuccessfully to try to get my attention on them… the book lovers lost in their own world of wonder inside Elliott bay books or compass books… the art lovers who pause at the various store front windows of the closed art galleries… the pedicab drivers pulling people from the stadium to wherever their hearts desire… the people with luggage trying desperately to make their train at the King Street Station… the men waiting outside for the Bread of Life Mission to open so they can get their meal and a warm bed… cute little old man who smiles gently and sincerely at me…

i love these walks! i’ll miss them.  i’ll miss my free employee parking too.  i think i’ll from time to time come down and make this walk, hang out with ‘my people’ whom i’ve come to love.  you need to look past the grime.  you need to ignore the often pungent smells and see the people.  all these people are there.  they all have a stake in this city.  and they all make pioneer square what it is.  i’m not saying they all should be there, i’m not saying the drugs and other such nefarious activities are a positive, but they are all part of the make-up that makes this place so eclectic.  i don’t know… it might not be what the founders had in mind, but it is what it is and it’s here to stay for a while.  evolution happens, things change.  pioneer square will change.  but for now, this is it.  and i love it.


What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is,

“What’s a kid going to learn

from someone who decided his best option in life

was to become a teacher?”

He reminds the other dinner guests

that it’s true what they say about teachers:

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his

and resist the temptation

to remind the other dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we’re eating, after all,

and this is polite company.

“I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor,” he says.

“Be honest. What do you make?”

And I wish he hadn’t done that (asked me to be honest) because,

you see,

I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking:

if you ask for it,

I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.

I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor

and an A- feel like a slap in the face.

How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.

No, you may not work in groups.

No, you may not ask a question.

Why won’t I let you get a drink of water?

Because you’re not thirsty, you’re bored, that’s why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:

I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,

I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.

Billy said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?”

And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,

I make them question.

I make them criticize.

I make them apologize and mean it.

I make them write, write, write.

And then I make them read.

I make them spell definitely beautiful,

definitely beautiful,

definitely beautiful

over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again.

I make them show all their work in math.

And hide it on their final drafts in English.

I make them understand that if you got this (brains)

then you follow this (heart)

and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make,

you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you,

so you know what I say is true:

I make a goddamn difference!

What about you?

in a perfect world

Upon first entering the café your senses are rushed with the sweet rich smell of everything chocolate.  Hand rolled truffles of all kinds sit on trays in little rows inside the glass display case.  Perfect balls of chocolate heaven resting in their paper wrappers just waiting for you to pick them to eat.  Bittersweet, cocoa beware, Aztec, kalua… delicious orbs that melt into your mouth taking you to a level of sweet culinary ecstasy rivaled only by that of the coffee beverages that are sold just feet away in the same establishment.  The café is warm and invites you in from the cold sidewalk.  The lighting is soft and the hardwood floors and soft chairs that your body just sinks into make for the perfect atmosphere.  As I sit and type, sip my coffee and gaze out the window at the cars passing by, the aroma that wafts into my nostrils is just fabulous.  My chocolate coffeehouse hideaway is like the hug I needed after my day.  It wasn’t a horrible day but I could have used a hug.  I feel better now.  Whether it’s that I’m not at work or that I’m taking some personal time to just write or whether it’s the coffee I’ve just had I don’t know.  It’s been quite the last few days.  I woke up this morning to find that 4 more arson fires had been set in my neighborhood making the total over the last 3 weeks 10.  Since moving into this area about 2 years ago, I’ve embraced it as my own.  Aside from the cul-de-sac house I grew up in, I’ve never felt like I belonged or really liked for that matter, the neighborhoods where my many apartments have been.  I love this area! So as I sit here and look out the window, I see across the street one of the businesses that was set on fire earlier last week.  I’ve walked past that guitar shop many times.  It makes me sad.  I don’t know whether or not it’s because my family has personally been affected by fire or not, but it’s angering to me that someone could do that to someone else’s livelihood.  I just don’t get it.  The barista guy working just sat down in a chair 3 feet away from me.  He’s watching a guy standing on the street corner outside the shop.  We started chatting, the barista boy and I about this neighborhood we both love.  He sits vigilant to protect his shop; I sit watching now too, writing and chatting with him and trying to figure it all out.  In a perfect world filled with nothing but chocolate coffeehouse hideaways and hole in the wall pubs and used bookstores and good people, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.  But like the book title that I once loved said, “Nothing’s Fair in 5th Grade” and so we sit vigilant and enjoy the people we love, the simple pleasures in life, and do our small part to better the world.  For better or worse, it is what it is.

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