Tuesday, December 13, 2011


He burrows his hands in the filth of an ashtray. There is a glass window, two feet, and a world of difference in between us.

He is digging for buried treasure: lightly used cigarette butts. The one in his mouth is dangerously low, on the brink of singeing his untrimmed whiskers. He plucks it out from between his lips and presses it fervently to the end of his newest find.

To no avail. Not enough sparks. So both cigarettes go out with a puff.

The rubber lining on these window panes is not enough to keep the curls of smoke from wafting in, with traces of street smells clinging to their coattails.

Inside the coffee shop, my elevated chair makes the height of our heads equal. We could almost stare into each other’s eyes.

But he is lost in a monologue to the doorknob.

And I? I have glued my eyes to the paper I am writing. And when that ceases to be enough to distract me, I simply put my head down on the counter and breathe in the smoke.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cats fur to make kitten britches

The sliding pocket door of the forbidden closet across from the bedroom
was my father's childhood lullaby.
The brown paper bag crackling behind closed doors
was his rooster in the morning.
And he and his sister asked their father what was in the extra grocery sack, but it was always
cat's fur to make kitten britches.

The jaundiced halo that ringed his Mama's head,
the extra naps, the untouched plates of food, the decaying breath:
It was all woven into rounds of circadian melodies,
like the songs she taught at the elementary school.
And if anyone showed concern about her health, they were told it was just
cat's fur to make kitten britches.

Until one day, when his sister came home from work
and there was nothing but those plates on the table,
fork and knife still stuck in the mashed potatoes, no car in the garage.
So she rushed to the hospital,
but their Mama never came home to wash those dishes.
And maybe the doctors could've caught the cirrhosis earlier, but it had simply been
cat's fur to make kitten britches.

And they ask me now why I never throw back the vodka or shotgun a beer
But in my family, there were too many secrets-
puzzle pieces that we're still gathering in the burial shroud,
the way normal children tuck wildflowers in their skirts.
And we track down whatever clues we can find,
the way normal children chase butterflies in the field.
Because we feel entitled to our own family history- that it should not just be
cat's fur to make kitten britches.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On making your own instrumentation:

"Now I want you all to remember that during the performance we just heard, there were NO instruments whatsoever. Anything you heard was done by these guys standing right in front of you," Shauna, the director of the Breman Jewish Nursing Home, addressed a kindly-but-sleepy crowd exhausted by noise and an effort to applaud.
I'm still not sure what struck me about that moment. By all appearances, it seems like a straightforward statement; and it's true, of course, in the most literal sense.
But someone alerted me recently to the fact that college is as much about learning how to simply live life and be a functioning member of society as it is learning facts and professional skills. So I've been on this kick recently of analyzing the value in the things that I do.
My existential mindset kicked in that day in snapshots that distinguished themselves, even as they happened:
"Happy Birthday Dear Beth, happy birthday to..." and the tears roll down Beth's face and onto the arms of her wheelchair with a smile that cannot be contained. We all lose it.
and then shortly after,
"Adam and Anne, a match made in heaven," our baritone teases his "Wheelchair Waltz" partner with a wink. We all smile knowingly at each other as we weave a pattern, slowly pacing our elderly partners up and down the dance floor in time to the blaring classical music.
and then later
Huddling together for an outside performance, our voices shaking and our toes numb, we somehow still manage to smile into the microphones.
and of course,
The strains and refrains of a final chorus echo over Cannon Chapel as we bombard sweet Tim, our incredible basstenorrangeboxer, with the traditional serenade for his 21st birthday, a night which he chooses to spend with, of all people, us.

It's the moments like these that I can't help but laugh about all we have to work through behind the scenes to get to this point. Tuning issues, ridiculous syllables, non-sequential runs, a relentless tendency to sing everything at warp speed- did I mention tuning issues? Then there's the extra rehearsals, getting lost and stuck in traffic on the way to anywhere, early morning admissions gigs (enough said), powering our voices through illness and five performances in one weekend, filling out those wretched (but necessary) "doodles" to work everyone's schedules together, and of course, the never ending drama of talking for hours about what we will wear in performance.

Last Sunday, we spent an hour learning individual parts to this sick arrangement of Bend and Break, in which the alto part jumps all over the place and we all switch lines a gazillion times and we're singing words like "Kyle"and "suh fih" and enough "jins" to far exceed our daily quota. We all went through phases where we wanted to throw in the towel, because it feels like this is getting us nowhere, and couldn't we be using our time on something actually do-able, and how many more times do we have to sing that high note, and doesn't anyone care if my vocal cords shrivel up and snap in half?
And then,
it was incredible:
we sang it all together
and all of it made sense.
And we're laughing as it comes together
because of course,
there are no instruments
and anything we heard just now
we made.
And we should've known this all along-
That even though we thought we had no clue what we were doing,
we made it work.
That even though we all felt unprepared,
maybe we were more prepared than we realized.
That it would come together
if we would.
And you can call me crazy
but I find a lot of parallels between
that moment
and my life.

I am sorry
for complaining about late rehearsals
and for being late to rehearsals
and for sleeping during rehearsals
(which there is altogether too much photo evidence for me to deny).
It is always, always worth it
to sing with you
and to work out life with you
and I'm sorry
that sometimes I lose perspective
in the moment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fall Leaf

I wrote your name on a fall leaf
as a reminder that even the end of a season
can be beautiful.

I tossed the leaf to the autumn wind
who embraced it in her outstretched arms
as she baptized us both in a blustery sea of change.

She entrusted me to the ground-
and your name, she lifted past the pedestals and the clouds
and maybe even past heaven itself

(Although I can never be sure, but I would rather say "I trust" than "I don't know")

So I wave to the leaf I no longer see,
entrusting my goodwill to an end
that I have accepted I may never know.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Also, more new experiences:

51. Removed a stitch from my own wound.

52. Napped for hours in a hammock.

53. Locked myself out of my fraternity room

54. Blasted nostalgic country music (Shania, Rascal Flatts, etc.) in my car

55. Ate granny smith applesauce: highly recommend.

56. Visited the Oxford Campus of Emory

57. Started a Bible study

58. Took a tour of Georgia Tech’s campus

59. Watched Rocky Horror Picture Show- first, last, and only time.

60. Read 5 books at one time

61. Ate alligator

62. Went to Hahn Woods

63. Ate a hotdog with relish, onions, chili, cheese, and sauerkraut at Emory’s historic Manuel’s Tavern

64. Swam in the Chattooga River, during a thunderstorm

65. Went on a safari

66. Knitted a scarf in 24 hours, start to finish

67. Met my Aunt Dana

68. Ziplined into a lake

69. Got a Bunco

70. Did real occupational therapy work

71. Got stung by a scorpion

72. Had my pants rip right down the middle in the back in public

73. Shopped at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. WHOAH.

74. Reconnected with the Venezuelan fruit “Guinep” in the good old U S of A

75. Enjoyed an evening at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Room and purchased books from there

76. Listened to the new albums of: The Fleet Foxes, The Head and The Heart, Josh Garrells

77. Went to a college small group

78. Made fried chicken

79. Went to concerts of: The Weepies, The Head and the Heart, Ray Lamontagne/Brandi Carlyle/Secret Sisters,

80. Missed a family gathering

81. Written a personal letter in another language

82. Learned sign language!

83. Cooked an entire meal by myself, dessert and all

84. Made culturally Jewish food

85. Was covered in Holi powder (Holi capture the flag!)

86. Attended/led a taise service

87. Rode a bike on campus

88. Got wisdom teeth out/used hard pain meds

89. Went to a Georgia Tech football game

90. Went to a braves game (1st time since 4th grade)

91. Performed some of my songs for people at college

92. Was an orientation leader

93. Led a small group

94. Chalked on Asbury Circle

95. Choreographed a dance to a music video J

96. Had laundry stolen from me

97. Ate Ethiopian food and Vietnamese food

98. Learned Greek dancing

99. Functioned on less than 3 hours of sleep

100. Shimmied across a dilapidated iron bridge

Reflections on SAS and Community

THIS IS GON' BE A NOVEL, Y'ALL. But I don't want to leave anything out. Scan for keywords if you're pressed for time.

It's been a couple of months now since SAS ended, and several people have been curious to know what I learned from the summer experience. So glad you asked.
First of all, I learned a few things about myself. I know now what limits I can be pushed to with clutter, mess, and dirty dishes before I have to step in. I know how Atlantans and rush hour affect my driving. I know where my personality is flexible and where it will not budge. I know that I am, self-classified, a "friendly introvert." So I guess you could call it a summer of self-discovery.
I also learned a lot through my internship. I feel like this blog was a place where I was able to process a lot of what I was experiencing through my work with the kids, the babies, and the adults. In many ways, I see it as a sort of verbal scrapbook that I can flip through, both now and later. And I know that if a time comes when my feelings- the urgency with regard to early behavioral intervention, the peace housed in altruism through infant care, and the indignation at mistreatment and undervaluing of the mentally ill and physically disabled- if those things begin to fade, I will have these snapshots to guide me back.
But I have yet to touch on some of the greatest, most practical eye-openers that connected with me this summer. My experiences at work were life-changing for me, but I recognize that the translation is limited since it fixates around the tangible encounters I had. What I learned about community and interpersonal interaction, though, can apply to anyone who is/was/wants to be engaged in a successful community. That should cover most of us. So here is the main thought, broken into a couple of subcategories:
The more I study people (and the more I am a person, which is always), the more I feel convinced that majority of our problems as humans are caused by a breakdown in communication. If you can eliminate misunderstanding, you can provide an avenue for positive change by actually working through rather than around an issue. I think Socrates would probably agree on this one, but I'm even talking about more than just discourse via the Socratic method. Confrontational discourse is often a necessary tool in conflict resolution, but I see it as more treatment of symptoms rather than disease prevention. Why waste so much effort working through life twice- once in rash decision and the other in retrospection? The most helpful part of understanding other people, then, is being proactive to observe them and learn their perspective. If you can affirm and support people in a custom-tailored way, you can build healthy relationships.
I made a couple of observations this summer that I think are particularly helpful to keep in mind when getting to know people.
First: THE WAY YOU EXPRESS AFFECTION TO PEOPLE MATTERS. (Would that I could've arrived at this conclusion through a door rather than banging my head against a wall until I made a hole large enough to crawl through.) In Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages, he outlines several (5, if we're getting technical) ways that people show and receive love: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and gifts (I would actually add a sixth: acknowledgement of presence/absence). The idea is that everyone receives and shows love in different ways and, for most people, the way you show love corresponds to the way you receive love. This summer it really connected in my mind that misguided efforts at showing love and care can be one of the most damaging mistakes in any kind of relationship, because if one or both sides fail to recognize the root of the problem, everyone inevitably burns out. Effective, intentional, personal efforts not only convey love but also indicate an understanding of the other person.
The second idea is this: EVERYONE WANTS TO BE KNOWN FOR SOMETHING. In my experience, even most less-than-favorable qualities people seem to want to be known for can be traced back to a deeper need for positive affirmation, as the Strain theory of delinquent behavior seems to imply. If you can affirm people where it seems most important to them to be affirmed, you can stave off most of the stress that comes from people feeling the need to prove themselves. Conversely, don't expect people to sell a product they're not advertising. You will only frustrate yourself and others if you rely on people to help you in areas that they don't even claim to be strong in. It's okay to go to different people for what you know they specialize in, whether it is making you laugh, going deep, or just telling/appreciating a good story. Not to say you should never push your friendships beyond their comfortable borders. But those uncharacteristic experiences should be pleasant surprises rather than expectations, in my book.
I think I will close with an idea that started forming surreptitiously in my mind this summer but developed much later, in fact just this past week, in my comparative literature class: Probably everyone would agree that some part of community must be based on love. Until last Wednesday, I had taken the concept for granted, never really stopping to analyze what "love" meant. When prompted in class to give a definition, though, this is what I came up with:
Love is allowing yourself to acknowledge the good in someone and then, knowing that the person will inevitably let you down, hurt you, and anger you at some point in time, Love is choosing to invest yourself in them anyways, in order to help make sure they feel supported in every way.
After this summer, I can say I wholeheartedly believe that a community grounded in understanding and Love will have the strength to overcome any adversity.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Blue Morpho Butterfly

By the time I arrive, there is only half of it left. I do not know how long it has been slamming itself against this window; I have only been around to witness the past five minutes of relentless masochism.
I know it must have started its journey as one of the most beautiful butterflies in the room, with royal blue coating the inside of its wings and owl eyes spotting the outside. But now, its wings have lost their sheen, the edges frayed, the pattern faded.
I look around me. The butterfly room at Calloway Gardens has every possible amenity: any flower, any tree, any fruit, any companion.
What have you seen of this world that makes you so unhappy? What could you even know of the outside world you are killing yourself for?
It rises and falls, a death ritual of tattered wings and frantic catapults, with an absurd silence that seems at every moment on the verge of betraying an audible gasp. It pauses only at brief intervals, alighting atop a pile of remains- its own, intermingled with fallen comrades- before starting back seemingly where it began. No progress, nothing fulfilling to show for its efforts.
I want to scoop you up, and hold you if nothing else. But you cannot afford to lose more of your precious, life-giving scales that slough off so easily at the first sign of contact. And I realize, I have no real solution, no real wisdom for you, butterfly.
I tear myself away only when I know I cannot bear to look anymore.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A poem I stumbled across in a coffee shop.

How I managed to copy this entire poem down and still forget the name of the author I will never know. All I want is to find more poetry by this man who can communicate with such piercing honesty an experience that resonates with me in a way I can't describe.

On Love and Loneliness

I have walked down enough silent streets,
Lost in the shadows of my own consciousness,
Afraid to love lest I lose the fantasies
that never really came true,
Afraid to surrender lest I lose some control
that I never really wanted,
Glancing from left to right in hope that joy
and freedom would envelop me.

Loneliness became a gradual companion
when I had not really known him before
And choice terrified me lest I be
only like everyone else,
Which in truth was all I ever wanted to be.
To be myself should be nourishment enough,
according to the wise and self-contained,
But for me it never seemed so from childhood.
Neither was admiration or the embrace
of loving strangers.

It was not beauty I sought,
in some current cultural vogue,
But a heart which touched mine, captured mine,
clung to mine at its very core and drew me
as powerfully to love in turn.
Forever it seems I sought one to love
without a backlog of private hurt and pain.
Without the invading fog that would somehow
mar our love and make it human.

Such never came and I searched the books
that told me what rightfully should be mine.
As the time passed I feared I might not love at all.
And the nourishment not given in childhood
might be lost forever.
When I did not want to live without such love and
seemed incapable of enduring the pain others
silently bear,
I traded loneliness for love, fragile, feeble, afraid,
But locked in my will and my heart:
to see as well as to be seen,
to listen as well as to be heard.

Love was not what I had been told or
what others projected upon me,
But my private gift which promised
to grow every day,
And slowly the loneliness lifted
beyond anything money or power could buy.
Now I am a man among men, loving
far more rationally and willfully
than I knew could exist,
In the massive, enduring, most significant
struggle of all,
that of loneliness and love.

-author i wish i knew

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Raw Ode to an Internet Advertisement

Don't read this is if you're not ready for honesty that will probably make you uncomfortable.

I see the curves, the shades, the skin of her body, and I die a little inside.
Some days, I sit naked in front of my mirror for almost an hour, turning this way and that to see how the light catches my silhouette, to reward myself with pride and attention for a good day, or more likely, to criticize my inconsistencies compared to her- to them- to what is desirable. My eyes bore into every scar, every hill, every valley of my frame and I wonder why it is that God didn't grace mankind with more graphic visibility for our emotional pain. I would like to believe that if every time a man's eyes bore into her body, a knife wound bore into mine- the way it feels it does- he would not, could not help but restrain. So many minds I can't understand.
My own, a lot of the time.
And men, so organically wired to feed visually off of stimuli, an impulse I cannot identify with.
And "hers." It keeps me awake at night, wondering how she can do this to us, her fellow women, when all we want is to be able to share a love and a heart with someone we believe will value them. How she can do this to the woman who has pledged to give herself wholly to a lifelong commitment of marriage she's been working through for over a decade, maybe longer? How can she do this to a generation of girls growing up in a world that convinces them that the best way to assert their femininity is to lord their bodies over men with sex and sensuality.
I have to wonder. Did she grow up insecure, too? Did her mirror reflect her face, or her silhouette? Does she know the pain of losing sleep knowing that somewhere, someone she loves or has loved or will love is choosing something else, someone else?
Surely she knows- I can use no excuse for a "different brain setup." We are women. We draw the parallels.
I try to believe in a greater purpose- a family to feed, a financial crisis that enslaves her to a cruel debt, an accidental photo shoot? I want nothing more than to hear an excuse so I can forgive us all, and ignore my own guilt, ignore the fact that as a woman I can trace the breadcrumbs of her mentality. Because even on my best days, I too am wired to seek out others to make them enjoy something I have to offer. I work for the approval of at least one guy I meet at random every day, maybe every hour. And most if not all days, I give little to no thought as to who that guy might be, and the fact that he may have circumstances in his life- commitments, struggles, someone special. Things that if I knew about, or even just thought about, would keep me from ever trying to charm him.
Lord have mercy on me for the way I become "her" nearly every day. All I want is the motivation to keep myself and others pure until my dying day. In the meantime, I wouldn't mind any reassurance that I'm not just spinning my wheels in a time and age where purity seems as though it is hardly maintainable and rarely desirable.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Y'all, I went to a real gym and sweated real sweat.

When Dad asked me if I wanted to go to the Wellness Center with him, I knew I had to make a decision. It's not that I hate exercising, or sweating, or being tired. But being out of breath sets my body into panic mode; it's the same reason I don't take hot baths.
On the other hand, my parents are trying to stay healthy and I knew that if I accompanied my father, he'd have one more reason to go. So I bucked up and took the plunge.
"That sounds great, Dad. Give me a minute to get ready," I called down the stairs.
Then the real crisis began: crisis of mind. I had never been to a gym to work out. I've exercised in my own home or outdoors, but this gym territory was foreign to me. I racked my brain. How could I make myself look the least like an outsider?
Clothing. This was a particular challenge since I usually just do abs in my pajamas. I dug to the bottom of my drawers and this is what I came up with:
A dry fit shirt, purchased two years ago for a wilderness trek I endured as a mandatory event for a class. Worn maybe twice.
A pair of sofee shorts, which appeared in my drawer after some sleepover and have been collecting dust ever since.
A pair of socks with a Nike swoosh on them, which I scavenged from the trashcan this past year on dorm moveout day.
My tennishoes, lightly used after five years of ownership.

My costume donned, I pulled my hair back in a ponytail that was higher than I've worn in years and silently wished for one of those elastic headbands that cool soccer girls wear. Or a sweatband at least. People wear those, right?
I walked downstairs and looked down at the snack I had set out earlier for myself. Two graham crackers. Better eat just one, I thought, since I haven't yet built up an immunity to stomach cramps.
I decided to bring my iPod, because from my observation, people who listen to music during workouts look much more intense. But I couldn't find my earbuds anywhere. My usual headphones, huge padded Sony's, would be a dead giveaway to my outsider status, so I snagged a pair of airline earbuds, straightening out the curves in the cord from where it had been shrinkwrapped, hoping no one would notice.
On the car ride over, I made a mental layout of the gym. (Before I was old enough to stay home alone, I used to go with my parents when they played racquetball, but I would just read in the Children's center. I intentionally left my book at home this time to eliminate the temptation.) I called to memory the location of the elliptical machines and my mind created the quickest mapquest route through the weights and the bowflexes, hoping my knowledge of the floor would make me look like a regular pro.

As soon as I stepped into the gym, I realized how silly I had been. Most of the constituents of the Wellness Center are 45-and-older New Year's Resolution members who are in too much agony over their own workout to be worried about anyone else's.
We only had about half an hour before closing, so I ran about 3 miles on the machine and did some abs. Totally fine. No one cared.

On the ride home, I contemplated what my own actions had said about me. There's the obvious: I care too much about what people think when most people are too worried about themselves to worry about me.
But I came to another conclusion as well.
Sometimes, I spend more time trying to give the semblance of proficiency than actually working to become proficient. Take the mornings where I debate with myself over whether or not to shower. I spend five minutes in front of the mirror trying to see if I will need a shower. I spend five more minutes washing my armpits and face, because they must be cleaned no matter what. I spend ten minutes trying to do my hair in a way that will not betray the grease. I spend five more minutes examining my reflection to see if I succeeded. I could've taken two showers in this amount of time.
If it's worth enough to me to try to look like I'm doing something, it's follows logically that the thing must be important to me, so shouldn't I spend my time actually accomplishing it?
After ruminating on these thoughts during the ride home, I'm ashamed to say...I still planned a trip to the grocery store just so I could be seen in public in my workout garb. I guess I'm a work in progress.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Still under the effects of Nitrous Oxide.

I am mostly curious to see if this post is coherent when I check back in later. But I also want to blog about getting my wisdom teeth out.
I was scheduled for 2 Pm today. I probably went into the OR around 2:30. It is now 4:30 PM, and the surgery lasted around an hour, so I am approximately 1 hour out.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas as it is colloquially known, was my pain assistant of choice. I could've gone under general anesthesia, but something about being totally knocked out didn't appeal to me.
When they put the chamber over my nose, I must admit to feeling like I was being executed. I did not die, though, as evidenced by this post. Instead, it felt like everything around me was a dream. The surgeon asked me if it was starting to feel right, if I was starting to get the buzz. "I don't know," I told him. "I've never been high before."
Regina, my bubbly blonde Southern belle of a nurse who granted me a warm blanket beforehand and patted my shoe every once in a while for reassurance, told me that people often say they feel light, or they feel heavy. I could identify with both of those, feeling my body become tingly but feeling nearly incapable of movement (although I could move just fine when I wanted to).
My expectations: feel silly, think everything is funny, laugh at everything, be embarrassed later on.
In actuality, I retained almost full mental capacity. The closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you are about to fall asleep. My eyes couldn't focus, and as the laughing gas had essentially numbed my body and the Novacaine had taken care of my mouth, it felt like a dream world where nothing has real physical repercussions. My reactions to any questions or commands were delayed, if they came at all. I stared at my empty reflection in the surgeon's glasses. "Who is this shell?" I wondered to myself, my mind racing but my eyes staring blankly ahead.
Determined to remain in control, I laughed only once, I think, when the surgeon asked what neighborhood I lived in. Rivoli Downs, I tried to say, but it came out "Illy ow" because the Novacaine had rendered my tongue and bottom lip completely useless. This struck me as funny, not because my words were silly (although they were) but because I had never had something to say and been physically unable to say it.
Really, most of the things that could be counted as silly that I did were things that I did in full knowledge of my actions. I was enthralled by my teeth in the little envelope they handed to me, and I showed them off to every passing driver on the way home, but I think I would've done that anyways. I watched myself eat in the mirror just for kicks, with my tongue rolling around, using my teeth to guide things to a place where I could swallow them. I called a friend just to share with someone how ridiculous I sounded with the gauze in my mouth. I even tried to tell a joke: the doctor told me beforehand that if I didn't have the usual 1/8 inch of bone between my tooth and my nerve, my lower lip could get nerve damage and feel numb for the rest of my life (I'll let you know once the allotted time period is up whether this is the case and if I am doomed to this embarrassing chin dribbling for eternity). When he finished the surgery, he told me I would probably be numb for about 6 hours. "Or forever," I tried to kid. But the words came out, "uh furilla" which did not have the comedic effect I wanted. By the time I got the right words across, the timing was all wrong. How frustrating.
The more time I spent on the gas, the more I became more intensely aware of the fact that this must be very similar to what it is like to live with a disability that only slightly impairs mental faculties but devastates physical abilities. Like my sweet Miguel, who can nod or shake his head to any question you ask but can barely squeak out what he's doing this weekend, not because he doesn't understand but because he can't form the sentences. It reminds me of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I appreciated the good will behind the childish tones they were using with me, but wanted to assure them that I could understand sophisticated vocabulary just as well. The jokes that were told were not that funny, the compliments about my teeth sounded only mildly sincere, the pitying looks seemed unmerited, and the repetition got old after a while. "You told me that five minutes ago" I wanted to say. But I only smiled and nodded, because I knew they just wanted to make sure it got through, and because I can't even say, "Thank you," much less a full sentence.
I think of how many people make themselves this way recreationally. Then I think of Lisa, copying those definitions out of the back of her genetics textbook because at age 35, she just wants to go to college and live in a dorm. I think I am going to be sick. But it might be the pain medication.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The adult wing knocked the wind out of me.

A post about how I learned more about what I didn't know that I didn't know.
The Frazer Center has a wing that helps adults with a varying range of mental disabilities receive job training and, hopefully, find purpose in life. The clients range from ages 22-72, most funded by Medicaid, all in some form of assisted living. All told, there are about 90 of them. Some are working off-site in grocery stores, factories, etc. Those on the more severe side of the spectrum remain at the center and do tasks around the facilities (sanitation engineering, gardening, cooking, waste management, and the like) to improve their self-sufficiency.
I look back on the week preceding my time with the adult clients with no small amount of shame. I was dreading this part of the rotation. My supervisor told me before I began that if it was too much for me, I didn't have to finish out the week. And before I even began, I had disgracefully prepared myself to take him up on that offer. By the time I entered the building for the first time, I had already built up walls to "protect myself" from the smells, the saliva, the general fear hinging on a stigma I had allowed to intensify over time.

I was wrong. Allow me to say again, I was wrong, and I apologize.

I had not known imagination until I met Micah, late 50's, mentally delayed, who is "studying to be a doctor." Every day, I would pretend to have a different ailment, and he would make up a cure for me. I even taught him how to "stitch me up" after I "got a gunshot wound in my shoulder." He would hum the Sesame Street theme song as he "cut the thread."
I had not known suave until I met Maurice, early 20's, Down Syndrome, who would bust a move with all the grace and agility of Michael Jackson, complete with sound effects.
I had not known true love until I met Charlene, early 50's, mentally delayed, and Martin, same age I assume, largely nonverbal cerebral palsy? who are "getting married next July." Charlene's face lit up every day when she heard Martin crashing down the hallway, using his entire body weight to thrust his walker forward and then collapsing onto it for every step. He would burst into the room and beam at Charlene as she danced around his walker and dodged his strands of saliva.
I had not known heartache until I met Vanna, a beautiful 40-year-old victim of surgery malpractice who has retained her mental capacity but cannot speak, swallow, walk, or use her hands as anything more than hooks. And Miguel, 35, who had just graduated from high school and was helping a stranger change a flat tire when an oncoming car crashed into him, impairing his walking, cognitive function, and speech. And Lauren, 32, cerebral palsy, who drove her power chair over to me clutching a 1980's genetics textbook on my last day. "Will you help me study this?" she asked. "I want to go to a college where I can study this so I can live in a dorm and do homework." I found a test in the back of the first chapter and started reading a sentence aloud, but I trailed off somewhere between the words "eukaryotic" and "diploidy." What do you do? What can you say? We spent a painstaking hour and a half copying definitions from the back of the book together, 15 minutes per sentence. I left that day swearing up and down that I would never take school or learning for granted again. But I know that in less than a month, I will start classes, and reminiscent of Peter, I will probably have complained three times before the first week is up.
Watching the clients crave attention, latch onto any morsel of conversation they can get (and wouldn't you, too, if every person you encountered avoided even your gaze, much less tangible interaction with you?) is like a mirror in which I see myself along with the rest of typically developing humanity. We are more sneaky about our need for validation than they are, of course, but we're all seeking the same end.
Being with the adults helped/helps me keep myself in check. I am humbled by their gratitude. I am honored by their trust. I am challenged by their boldness. I am uplifted by their joy.
I am going back on September 29th for Charlene's birthday. A promise is a promise.

My friend still walks.

He is probably 6' 4'', late 50's, gray hair, stocky. My headlights found him pacing the streets of my neighborhood nearly every morning since the first day I drove myself to high school. Some days it was just the two of us inching up the hill: me shifting gears in my plaid skirt, him shuffling determinedly in his sweat-drenched track suit. Every morning, like clockwork, a smile and a wave to start the day off right. I once considered writing him a Christmas card to thank him.

On a visit home from college this summer, I awake in a cold sweat, teeth loose and aching from clenching for hours as I labored through a bad dream. My dad strokes my hair. My dog licks my face. "It was only a dream," they reassure me. "Sometimes," I tell them, "it's not about the dream." The dream is just a reminder of uncertainty, of a lack of control over my own subconscious. Like a wolf nipping at my heels, it seems to slowly gnaw away my base, my security.
It exhausts and derails me, but it is a work day, and I have a long drive to campus ahead of me. So I get in my car, and I set out. I am almost to the exit of my neighborhood when I see the tracksuit, my friend, panting, still ready with a smile and a wave. A reminder that some things in life do remain constant.
My friend still walks, and I still stand.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When working with babies, leave your shoes and your assumptions at the door.

They say there is a first time for everything.
I guess you could say it was my first time really working with babies, but I would also add that this was my first time understanding the worth in working with babies. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has seen me stop traffic to watch a baby toddle along the sidewalk, but as much as I admire small children, they have always seemed frighteningly enigmatic to me- miniature people who don't know or understand societal conventions, and who are still unable to fully explain the logic behind their fear, joy, sadness and annoyance.
My first day working in the Rainbow room with the one-year-olds, Travis got scared that he was going to be left in the stroller in the hallway. The minute he reached up for me with that fear in his eyes, my biases all went out the window. I realized:
Sometimes, especially with children, you just don't get a rational explanation of fear; there may not even be a logical explanation behind it to get at. But does it matter? Fear is still fear. Joy is joy, sadness is sadness, and annoyances are annoyances- many times, you just have to deal with things at face value.
I have learned to find the joy in a baby's smile and extended eye contact, to allow a single successful teaching moment to sustain me over the day, to envelop myself in the warmth of a sleeping baby who has ceased its anxious squirming to find solace in my embrace.
I have sacrificed, at this point, probably every limb and appendage of my own to keep harm from coming to these children who walk in front of moving swings, crawl in the path of tricycles, tip out of cribs, and relentlessly attempt to eat the inedible.
I have overcome my anxiety caused by multi-tasking and noise clutter. I have overridden my gag reflex, which is no longer triggered by the various noxious odors that plague a nursery. I have calloused my sensitivities- to saliva, to abrasive noises, to congealed food. I have averted my propensity for napping (when you already spend 1/6 of your waking hours in a napping environment, you feel like a loser allotting any more of your time to sleep than you have to) by pursuing life-giving activities instead. I have broken down my fear of mess. I have built up my immune system.
But every minute is worth it. These kids really are just miniature people, with personalities and feelings, and they understand much more than we give them credit for. The children I work with have already picked up on social cues about propriety, relationships, you name it. The things they are learning now will shape them into the people they are going to be. Trust me, I've seen it- I started with the older kids, as you might recall. So this work, then, is the foundation for helping form a contributing member of society.
That being said, these children are not my own and will not, in all likelihood, remember my name in a week. Much like childhood fear, I cannot explain the force or logic that gives me pleasure in this seemingly thankless work. The day to day rejuvenation comes through small victories- a smile, a breakthrough concept, a rare hour where everyone is napping at the same time. But why do those things matter?
After spending so much time in a nursery, I cannot help but believe in altruism.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Grandfather's Hands

They are spotted with sun and age, calloused by time. They sometimes seek a stronghold in a passing chair or countertop. After 85 years, the fingerprints are nearly worn off and the nails are beginning to buckle at the tips.
But they make a masterful tool of a dull knife as he nimbly peels every scrap of skin off the potatoes we are preparing for dinner. As we work, he tells the stories.
Those same hands stayed steady and true in the face of a world war battle.
They still, without fail, grasp the tools of the task at hand, be it hedge clippers for pruning a tree or a wrench for fixing the plumbing or a grease rag for tuning up the car.
And they have managed to hold on to the Bible and the same beautiful woman for 60 years.

By the time we are finished, his pile holds five times again as many potatoes as mine does.
I glance down at my own hands, youthful and smooth. On any give day, they quickly type out college papers. They carefully turn pages in books. They glide over piano keys.
But for now they are spent- trembling, nicked and nearly bloodied from my blundering scrapes at relentless potato peel.
I decide I still have a lot to learn from my grandpa's hands.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shameless Plug!

I have been interviewing people I admire to see what principles they live, play, and work by. They will be collected contiguously on another blog, called Living and Learning.
For context's sake, I precede each list of life principles with a small descriptive passage about the person. Then it's just their words.
I highly recommend checking out what these people have to say. Your own life might be changed; I know mine has.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Never Lost.

Imagine yourself on a forest path you have traveled more times than you can count on both your hands and feet. You feel a certainty in your bones like the comfort of knowing you could pick up a conversation with an old friend after a year or two of absence; you could go down any of the offshoots of this path and be able to return again without trouble.

Then all of a sudden, your attention is drawn to the fact that you know nothing of the types of trees that surround you on this path, or of the history and the people that first walked this path, or even of the circumstances that made it possible for you to walk this path. You reel, an imbalance akin to the childhood memory of when you went to latch on to your mother's legs in the grocery store and found yourself looking into the face of a look-alike stranger instead.

In the midst of your newfound uncertainty, a soft voice covers your frantically pacing heart with the hand-knitted wool blanket of a poem that is "Lost" by David Wagoner.

Welcome to my life.


by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

-- David Wagoner


Thank you, Bobbi Patterson.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Internship Update.

I am now entering the second full week of my internship (just starting with the tiny babies!) at the Frazer Center, and I already feel a strong sense of identity there.
The Frazer Center hosts a vast array of programs, arranged by age group, in order to serve children from early infancy to pre-k. They also have a program set in motion to equip mentally and physically disabled adults with life skills and job training.
In order for me to experience all that the Frazer Center is offering, my internship coordinator has arranged for me to rotate every week to a different age group/section.
My first week had me working in the summer day camp program that is partnered with the Marcus Autism Center. For the week I was there, four of the eight children (ages 4 through 9) had high-functioning autism and the other four were typically developing peer mentors.
I was completely in awe of the staff, who worked tirelessly and resourcefully to come up with games, crafts, books, and lessons that would encourage good social interaction skills like eye contact, personal space, and conversation skills. Through a system of tokens and stars, we offered external motivation for "good choices." This worked for some, but not for all of the children.

One thing I would like to repeat that was wisely spoken by my supervisor is this: If you have met one child with autism, you have met ONE child with autism.

It was truly inspiring to watch how the teachers would accept setbacks in cooperation with the mentality that it was not the child that was broken but the method. When I asked them about their methods, time and again they would tell me that every child is capable of improvement, it's just a matter of finding what will motivate them. I was impressed by how little they allowed any personal pride to interfere with the ultimate goal: to help every child be as successful as possible. It didn't matter if they had to change the method a thousand times, they were going to work until they achieved the results they were looking for-- and they did.
I won't elaborate on every detail of the camp (it was largely how you would expect a summer camp to be: making snow globes and coloring and playing hide and seek outside and having snack, etc.) but I will give an example of this trial and error mentality.
We had a child, who for the sake of privacy will be called Denice, who was not motivated at all by the token or the star system, in which collecting all five stars resulted in trip to the treasure box at the end of the day. Denice had little to no interest in the treasure box, and once she had lost one star, she would completely check out for the rest of the day. On Denice's worst day, she earned 0 out of 5 stars, choosing to pout at the table for close to seven hours. By the end of the day, the teachers had formed a sort of isolation room out of tables and napping mats and put Denice in it with one of the teachers to contain her outright resistance and nearly violent misbehavior.
The teachers decided they could not disrupt the class like this every day- and besides, even the negative reinforcement was providing the attention she craved. (I am reading a book on autism written by the director of psychiatric services at Marcus and it claims that the drive for attention in autistic children can be filled by either negative or positive attention. I think this is actually true of most typically developing children...and many people my age, as well.)
So they decided that for Denice, the stars would be a prerequisite for going on the nature walk outside, her favorite activity. They also said she could gain stars back later in the day with good behavior if she lost them.
The next day, I am here to bear witness that Denice was an entirely different person. She asked ME if she could help me clean up. She participated in all the games. She played, for the most part, nicely with her friends. And while Denice is still not the model child, (there may or may not have been an incident since then with contraband splatter painting that marked the ceiling, the tables, the chairs, and about 15 feet of the floor) the teachers found something that motivates her enough to work well most of the time.
I have to say, I really enjoyed working with summer camp. Working with children that age can be exhausting, but it's so rewarding to watch them catch on to concepts and develop personalities. They really are just little miniature versions of people.
Oh, and if you're ever feeling down on yourself, hang out with kids ages 4-9. You will be to them the coolest thing since sliced bread. Try playing hide-and-seek. If your experience is anything like mine, you will have a trail of fifteen children peeking out from behind the trunk of a tree because they all want to hide with you, and it will be one of the greatest boosts to the self-esteem you will have ever experienced. Totally defeats the purpose of the game, though.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thank you.

This morning, I woke up in my own bed, in a house that smells the same as the night before my first day of sixth grade when I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the living room because we hadn't even put my mattress on the bed frame yet.
My mother, my father and my dog meandered into my room minutes after I roused, as if tipped off by some signal. All with sleepy eyes, all with cowlicks, all looking for a spot on my bed, which of course they all found.
One father's day back rub, one father's day sermon, and one father's day nap later, I awoke again, this time in my parents' bed, to the sound of something rustling outside.
Out the window, I saw my father's hands peeking through the tree branches that line the railing of our back porch. On a day dedicated to whatever he wanted to do, my dad chose to make time for putting out food for the birds-- excuse me, "his friends," as he will always refer to them.
I am now back in the fraternity house that smells like a mixture of feet and my apples-and-cinnamon Glade air freshener. One father's day lunch, one father's day dessert, and countless father's day gifts later, I can't help but think that my father is the greatest gift of all.
Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Experiences: A Running List

Be on the lookout for these. They are things that I have tried for (loosely speaking, in some cases) the first time this summer. I plan on having many. They will go back as far as the beginning of summer, and will run in relative chronological order, but not strictly.

1. Learned OIA Inductive Bible Study Method as training to be a small group leader with my best friend from college, Misha Sharp.
2. Jumped on a blob.
3. Spent 3 hours in silence.
4. Ziplined into a lake.
5. Talked with other MK's about life as an MK.
6. Made blueberry chocolate chip bran muffins.
7. Picked and found uses for loquats.
8. Sewed a dress from a pattern.
9. Cleaned out my closet.
10. Made refrigerator magnets
11. Watched a long string of chick flicks, including When Harry Met Sally, Sweet Home Alabama, PS I Love you, Notting Hill, Maid in Manhattan, and the like.
12. Drove both to and from Emory's campus in a day.
13. Watched the Princess and the Frog.
14. Got a mole removed without any moral support.
15. Sat next to the same random people on an airplane for both the going and the coming trip.
16. Visited my friends from Boston IN Boston!
17. Tried a black and white cookie, strawberry rhubarb cobbler, and lamb (not together).
18. Saw road rash.
19. Ate an entire jar of baby food (turkey&sweet potatoes).
20. Deactivated from Facebook.
21. Took/am taking daily herbal supplements.
22. Journaled every day.
23. Made garbanzo bean and avocado burgers, naan (assisted) , squash boats, and poppyseed chicken.
24. Cooked a meal for a group of 11 people.
25. Read the universal declaration of human rights.
26. Visited the King Center and the office for the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
27. Wrote a break up song.
28. Discovered a(nother) secret stairway on campus.
29. Took a historic tour of Emory.
30. Met Gary Hauk, VP of Emory.
31. Slept in a Frat House.
32. Put up a hammock.
33. Saw the tiniest praying mantis in the whole world.
34. Carried a five year old child up a long, steep nature trail.
35. Made a sock puppet, snow globe, pinwheel, and playdough.
36. Hid in the same spot 10 times in a row in hide and go seek.
37. Was abducted by children with hula hoops.
38. Conducted interviews with people I admire about what life principles they follow.
39. Played live with my brother's band, Flearoy.
40. Did Yoga from a Youtube video.
41. Debuted as a background vocalist in a song on iTunes for someone not blood-related.
42. Took the NYC subway by myself for an entire journey and seen subway rats.
43. Watched 2 siblings graduate within a month of each other.
44. Listened to the new Fleet Foxes album.
45. Shopped at Costco.
46. Spent over $40 on a concert ticket (Ray Lamontagne, you are worth it.)
47. Memorized a psalm other than 23.
48. Bought something at Last Chance thrift store.
49. Made sweet potato friends, apple chips, and a few trail mix concoctions.
50. Started a blog of my own volition!

The Trials and Tribulations of Residing in a Frat House.

When I check in by the front door of A.E.Pi, the assistant (AKA my friend Tim) hands me a set of building keys and a parking pass, which may at this point be monetarily worth more than my life. As an after thought, Tim hands me a bottle of Febreze "in case your room still smells like feet," he advises with an apologetic smile.
Upon unlocking my door, which I fortunately learn early on locks automatically upon closing, I discover I have somehow managed to land the largest room. It is roughly the size of my room and bathroom from home combined, large enough to merit two air conditioners, neither one of which are working at this point in time.
Two lofted beds stand out from the wall, I note to myself, but there is only one ladder and one closet. As I do not have a roommate, I do not fret over the logistics of this arrangement. The beds are anchored in to provide only two and a half feet of room between the mattress and the ceiling, which I cannot help but think might be strategic deterrence, but I choose instead to fixate on the fact that there are glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling directly above the pillow spot. I silently thank whichever frat star lived here last. Then I venture to walk under the bed. After a couple of somber minutes of reading fraternity "poetry," I revoke my gratitude.
I move the rest of my things in, actively choosing to ignore the suspicious stains on the chair that props open my door. I make use of the extra space and stretch a hammock from one side of the room to the other, hanging by the chains that support the bed. The dead roach I find beside my desk is flat enough that it seems to have been dead for while and therefore probably does not have a family, I tell myself as I slide it onto a spare scrap of paper and fling it into the trashcan.

We spend the afternoon at Andretti, the world of go-karts, ropes courses, and arcade games. Three details only on this:
1. I am surprisingly a speed demon at go-karting, coming in second in the first race and forfeiting the second because of a defective vehicle.
2. Walking a tightrope is every bit as thrilling as you would imagine it to be, even with a harness and a rope to hold onto.
3. The people you see winning massive amounts of tickets in arcades are not plants, as I always assumed they were. It's just that persistence sometimes pays off, as I learn on my 8th game of skeeball. I get the high score and win 469 tickets in one go round. We compile all our tickets and get a board game for the house.

Upon re-arrival to the house, we discover that the air conditioning is still not functioning anywhere in the house. This makes for an uncomfortable meeting on chairs and couches whose legitimacy is already in question from the stains and graphic drawings on the cushions. As we sit through two hours of Freedom Riders, we are conflicted between fascination with the movie and discomfort of the surroundings. I assure myself that I am sticking to the cushions because of the mugginess and not the prior state of the couch.
I decide a cool shower is just the ticket to surviving the end of a day so hot it left a macabre exhibition of worms roasting on the sidewalk. Not even the sight of the urinals grimacing at me from the back wall of the bathroom can dampen my mood as I march into the shower area.
Along the wall of shower heads in the bathroom hang four plastic partitions. They're not exactly fortresses of solitude, but they get the job done most of the time. Shower shoes donned, I venture into the back left corner, stepping over the hair-laced drain in the middle of the floor and opting to rest my shower caddy on the bench next to the shower. As I turn on the water, I reach back out of the makeshift cubicle for my bar of soap. The plastic curtain wraps around my body with a sickening "thwap." I gag, utterly repulsed at the thought of who else this may have happened to over the years with this very curtain, and try not to entertain the question of how many times they might clean these partitions. I think my memory blocked all traces of the next few minutes of vigorous scrubbing. My only indicative clues to its occurrence are my newly raw limbs and torso, which is enough to keep me from scheduling a clinical health examination.
You'll be happy to know they fixed the air conditioning that night. It was worth waking to a hypothermic state in an icebox just to know it was possible to remove my rings from my previously heat-swollen hands.
After the first day, I pretty much settled in. There are a few things I'm still getting used to. The fact that our rooms always sound like someone is in the shower right next to us, even when the bathroom is empty, for example. Or the battlefield of broken hinges on every cabinet and drawer, victims of multiple horseplay standoffs. Or the presence of a strobe light downstairs but the absence of any recycling bins. Or the compulsion to wear house shoes at every minute of every day. Or the internal conflict of getting dressed and undressed in a frat room, something I told myself I would never do (these circumstances, however, are exceptional).
But the truth of the matter is, it's all part of the experience, and so far, I've loved every minute of it.
Of course, my apples and cinnamon Glade plug-in helps a little.

The Little Internship that Could.

Once I decided I would apply for SAS, I began looking at where my placement might be for an internship if I were to be accepted.
As I am looking into occupational therapy as a career and must have at least 30 observation hours before I apply to any graduate program, I did what any sensible person would do: I googled "occupational therapy non-profit atlanta" and hoped for the best.
The first place that came up was the Atlanta Speech School. I don't need to go into all the details, the name is pretty much self-explanatory. I saved the link as a tab on my bookmarks bar and began to get hyped up over the idea of working there. Naively assuming that since I was free labor, I could probably just work anywhere, I stopped looking after that.
A few months, rough drafts, and kind-hearted peer editing sessions later, I submitted my application for SAS.
I found out about a month later I had been selected.
I was ecstatic. I manipulated the details of the program and the internship into a formal proposal, got in contact with a couple of different people at the Atlanta Speech School, and sent it in.
Two weeks later...
Strike one. I was devastated when the coordinator called to let me know they would not be able to provide me with enough work to fulfill my hours.
Slightly daunted but motivated by a pending deadline of informing my program director where I would be placed, I tweaked my proposal into a more heart-wrenching plea and submitted it to the Shepherd Center, where my brother was treated after a severe brain injury.
One week later...
Strike Two. I tried bargaining as the HR representative informed me that internships like this required a year's notice in advance. A year in advance, I had not even known where I was going to college, let alone what I would be doing that summer. I asked if I could just be considered a volunteer. I could, she told me, if I was willing to only work 3 hours every other week. That, unfortunately, was not in green zone for SAS. I thanked her for her time.
I called Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Eternity later...
Strike three. Still have not received a call back, even three months later. I'm not holding my breath on that one.
By that point, I was getting nervous. By the rules of baseball, I would have been out by now. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this was the real world, and I had to find an internship, no matter how many tries it took. I had a week to inform my supervisor.
I asked a friend whose father works in non profits, and she gave me the contact information for a Curt Amstrong, director of the first, soon-to-be-opened L'Arche house of Atlanta, an inclusive learning community for adults with developmental abilities and typically developing adults to live together. It wasn't quite occupational therapy, but at this point I would have been happy with a waste management job if it meant something secure. Of course, this was not even near there and I was excited at the prospect of working there. Curt was very receptive to the idea, but said he'd have to get back with me because he was going to be out of town a lot this summer.
I passed the deadline with my supervisor. I was given an extension, probably for good effort. Nice to know that still counts for something sometimes in the "real world".
When I returned from a week long camp at the end of the semester, I had strike four waiting for me in my gmail inbox. Curt would not be in town enough of the time to supervise me. I forwarded the email to my supervisor with the subject title:
Fortunately, however, Curt had provided me with a couple of contacts for directors of similar nonprofits to his work.
One of these contacts was Trace Haythorn, newly appointed director of the Frazer Center. Spoiler Alert: This is where I ended up working.
The Frazer Center is an inclusive learning community where people at all levels of ability and disability gather, learn, and flourish together.
They have two main branches:
First, the children's wing, which is the inclusive part. Children from ages 6 months to 5 years old and who function at every range of the spectrum of ability learn together in classrooms with people their own age. During the summer, there is a summer camp that functions similarly.
Second, the adult's wing. The adults all have some form of developmental or physical disability, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, sickle cell anemia, autism spectrum disorders, and other genetic anomalies.
They regularly work with physical, speech, and occupational therapists and have many connections to community members and organizations involved in such work. I REPEAT: THEY NEARLY SPECIALIZE IN WHAT I AM LOOKING TO DO IN LIFE.
I'm sorry. I know this is long, but I just had to show how God loves to laugh at me as I tap my watch and pace the room over things he's had in store for, well, who knows how long. What's that verse about God working in the 11th hour? ;)
Anyways, that is the background of how I came to be involved in what I consider one of the most perfect fits of my life. And I pretty much had absolutely nothing to do with it. Funny how this stuff works out.

The Scholars and Service Program (SAS)

In October 2010, I attended the fall retreat for the Emory Scholars program. I was expecting a good lecture on how to make Turkish food, some chilly cabins, a few new friendships, and a campfire with some marshmallows. I was not disappointed; all of these things were incorporated into the schedule. (Although I will say that the campfire was a little tame for me. I am used to instigating blazing furnaces in the backwoods of middle Georgia, not squirting some lighter fluid onto a pile of sticks in a stone fire pit. It's fine, I'm on the planning committee for next year. We'll fix it.) However, there were some unexpected joys, some of the most favorable in my memory being:
-goading the program coordinator, Daphne Norton into slipping off her brown clogs and tucking in her shirt to play Twister with us, though I did not win
-being goaded into playing Settlers of Catan, which I did win thanks to the help of a plethora of of ore and wheat, and the prowess of my friend Justin Groot
-and finally, learning about the Scholars and Service program, or SAS for short.

SAS is an orchestrated summer experience run through the Emory Scholars program that is meant to instill a sense of community in the participants both with fellow scholars and with the greater Atlanta community. Applicants submit answers to a formal short answer application explaining why they want to be involved in the community and what they hope to gain from the summer. Those chosen (usually anywhere from 10 to 15 people) live together for eight weeks during the summer in a fraternity house (which, happily, has been cleansed for the most part in the interim period between the end of school and the beginning of the program in June). During the working hours of the week, they work an unpaid internship at a non-profit in the greater Atlanta area, which they are compensated for by a stipend from Emory.
Monday nights the pre-designated cooking team makes dinner for the whole house and usually a guest speaker, who will speak on topics related to the program-assigned readings or Emory history of some sort.
Friday mornings and afternoons are set aside for field trips that promote social consciousness about issues like race, sustainability, and (of course) community.
Use of all other hours is generally up to the discretion of the people living in the house, with the understanding that the focus should be around building community amongst themselves. This is accomplished through cooking (food expenses are covered by a budget), game playing, self-designed social events, errand running, etc. Basically learning to live life together.
To ensure that everything runs smoothly, there are two "cruise directors", upperclassmen who have completed the program in past summers. They teach the ropes, encourage dialogue, and are generally helpful for questions like "How do I access our membership at Costco?" or "Who can I call if I locked myself out of my room ((by accident))?"
The overall program coordinator is one of the heads of the scholars program, but she works more with the formal gatherings (field trips, speakers, etc.). So the students in the program end up doing mostly independent (of adults) learning.

At the retreat, I was advised to do SAS as early as possible to form bonds that would last me all the way through college. So that is what I decided to do.