Sunday, March 30, 2008

Change is gonna come.

So one of the benefits to the Americorps position is that I'm officially considered impoverished. That might not sound like a much to you, but it's apparently an important part of the Vista experience. Part of the idea is to give Vista participants a fuller understanding of poverty and to link them to the communities in which they serve. I can see why people would have a problem with this. I've heard people to refer to it as "poverty tourism." And it's true, it's a year where many Vista's they can experience the symptoms of poverty without getting a full blown case of it. People say it's patronizing and that the year long commitment does nothing but reinforce the feeling of abandonment in many communities. The criticism is well founded. I'd imagine that a large number of Vista's have never experienced real poverty before and never will again after their year of service. I'll also admit that communities need real commitment that lasts more than a year and that a person who's going to swept away in 12 months isn't necessarily the best person to provide it.

So yes, the criticism is well founded, but it's feels like it's bathed in cynicism.

I'm sure that I've shown my share of cynicism in my day. In fact, I've pretty much breathed it for a while. But it's tiring. I've always kind of thought that those of us who gravitate towards the cynical mind set have high ideals and beautiful ambitions, but have lost the hope and energy to achieve them. When the odds become so stacked against us, and it seems there are no options left but to throw stones to mock the things that cause the pain. It's an expression of impotent rage and spiritless protest. It's an extension of doubt and insecurity. The only solution is to force yourself into motion, as Goethe says "Doubt can only be removed by action."

The fact is, that though the system has flawed, that the people who exist in Americorps are an inspiring group of people. It's a program that let's people share their ideals with each other and band together to do more than throw stones. People have pretty low expectations for the youth of our generation. But that's not something that's really new.
People have always had low expectations for the youth of the day, from the 50's and 60's where parents bemoaned their children's lack of "ducking and covering skills" and yelled at them to "cut their hair, get a job, and stay away from that damn Democratic convention." back to the Reformation where adults decked out in mercury coated wigs and repressive bondage gear(girdles) poo pooed this new concept of a God who let man into heaven based on faith alone that the kids were spouting("Ye Olde Martha," they'd say "They're just too cheap to buy indulgences and too lazy join there faith with good works.") and even stretches back to the dawn of history days when prehistoric parents shook their heads knowing that all of this fire and standing up straight would lead to nothing but trouble.

So it's really nothing new, but it's something that cuts as deeply and hurts as much in every generation. It's nothing new, but neither is the fact that every generation defies the expectations and creates something great. Americorps is a way of overcoming the deepest of low expectations and marrying hope and ideals to ambition and action. It's inspiring to know that there are people out there who are willing to take a year and turn their lives completely upside down to spend some time funneling their skills and abilities into something that makes a difference to individuals in a community. Changing something is hard. It can be a horrible and violent thing. An upheaval of everything we're comfortable with and an embracing of chaotic uncertainty. It's inspiring to know that there are people who actively seek out this challenge. That there is a group of people who would wade into some of the most dangerous situations and communities shielded only by there ideals commitment improve the lives of others speaks volumes about a society.

So yes. There is the question of "poverty tourism" and temporary(year old) aid. But to focus on that is to miss the entire point. The point is that there's a group of people out there who are using the best parts of themselves to enable the best parts of others. That there is a group out there who are willing to give up time,friendships,and comfort to effect even the smallest amount of change. That our hope and desire for progress is strong enough to withstand the loudest cries of doubt. That we are still able to care and act. That Americorps seeks not to help and bail out, but to enable real sustainable communities that continue to grow and flourish for generations to come.

So I still feel a little cynical. But it takes way more mental energy to feel that way. So I'm saying yes more and getting excited about my job. I'm seeing that things are actually possible as long you're moving in a direction(any direction). So that's good. I've learned a lot by wanting to be a part of something. I've learn a lot, but perhaps the best reason to reclaim idealism is that, as it turns out, cynicism is pretty boring to talk about at parties.

This has been pretty ranty, so here's a picture of a cat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


The most beautiful thing in Paris will be arriving there shortly.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


We occasionally try to break out of the ordinary and bravely try new things. To this end, last night we tried a new little Mexican restaurant in Uptown. On the recommendation of Gabrielle's coworker we trudged down Lawrence to the places official opening. According to the description we were offered, we assumed it was a cute new little Mexican bistro, some place that we could hang our hats and prove our multiculturalism. Gabrielle couldn't remember the name, but knew that it was authentically Mexican. It was a cold night, but we fought through the wind and snow, warmed by the knowledge that we'd have a chance to show the world that we knew how to pronounce items on the menu and that our cultural holism reached far beyond the Taco Bell mentality that so many espouse. We stumbled blindly through the darkness until we saw this sign illuminating the night.

Yup, so it turns out, Uptowns newest and up-and-comingest cultural revolution would be led by the El Pollo Loco corporation(A subsidiary of the Rand Corporation and Lockheed Martin). All of their food is "Authentic™ and Mexican™"

As we step inside to our new little bistro we're greeted by a wondrous site.

As you can see here, there appeared to be a sad, rather confused looking giant chicken roaming around. My guess is that he, like us, was tricked into believing that this would be a quaint new little cultural landmark for the community. Disappointed and down on his luck he had no choice but to take a job at the offending institution. It appears as if he's given up all cultural identity and has been given little choice but to cannibalize his own kind in order to stay afloat in godless capitalist America. He'd sold his dignity for 30 pieces of silver.As he looked around in horror at the commercialized and exploited bones of his ancestry, depression slowly set in, paralyzing him with impotent rage.

It appeared that tonight enough was enough. He worked up the nerve to stand up for himself and try and throw off the yokes of corporate repression. We couldn't hear what was happening, but it seemed as if Giant Chicken was finally ready to spread his wings and embrace the winds of freedom. Unfortunately, the mindless despot walked off without saying a thing.

When he returned he found the Giant Chicken speaking to the customers and fellow employees. GC was just communicating his struggles and his brave realizations about his place in the corporate machine. Unfortunately, Tsar Green Shirt returned and overheard the conversation. He loudly accused GC of spreading anti-establishment propaganda and labeled him as traitor to "the greater cause."

Next thing we knew, he was imprisoned. He, who's only crime was standing up for himself and regaining his identity, was taken away. No one said a word in support. No one, and I'm ashamed to say it, but not even I stood up for him(another indication of how indoctrinated we'd all become). He stood there like a man. A real man, more of a man than any featherless beast who watched slack jawed and agape. We watched in horror as he was "Reeducated" in the ways of the police state that is "El Pollo Loco". But even in torture, he screamed and yelled about the price of freedom.

Finally they led him away. Beaten and bruised and facing certain execution, he stood up straight and bravely marched toward has fate. We looked on in awe as the door closed behind him. His final words "Rise Up Brothers!" were followed by the sound of an axe. Then there was silence.

Finally Gabrielle bravely broke the silence.

"Is it weird that you can get a taco with mashed potatoes?"


Here's a video of Chicken going to educate the workers.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jumpin in'

End of day two at the new job.

This is the desk. There are many like it, but this one is mine. The chair is for sitting in and the filing cabinet is for puttin' things in.

This is the office. A charming little two floor house in Evanston that's only 5 minutes away from a Taco Bell.

This is the coffee cup and the plant. I'm not sure if it's real or not.
It's not really any of my business. I think it's best to let it mind its own life and not judge too much. Who hasn't been plastic and realistic looking?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Day

So today's the first day in the development office at the YJC. It's slow, but so far people have been very nice. I've spent the morning attempting to figure out exactly what I'm supposed to be doing here and exactly how I'm going to accomplish it.

As I snack on this Bean Burrito, I'm pondering the concept of new jobs.
Here's a list of important milestones that are key when starting a new job.

  • Learn Everyone's Name-This is an important step, and should be accomplished with all speed. Learning names makes you seem friendly, attentive, and professional. More importantly though, it gives you a handy list of people to blame your mistakes on.

  • Figure Out The Quickest Way To Get to Work-Promptness and rest are a hard balance to strike, one often has to sacrifice one for the other. But, if you find a series of shortcuts/back roads and worm holes, you can arrive at work on time, no matter how hung over you may be.

A quick side note. I'm very happy with my current commute. Not spending an hour on red line in the morning is a liberating experience. The Metra is quick(ten minutes) and comfortable.

Here's a picture of me riding the "El." I'm waving at the camera.

And here's the inside of the Metra. Notice all the extra room for bliss.

  • Become Friendly With the Office Manager-The Office Manager is the life blood of the company. They control all the important day to day things that keep you comfortable and happy. Plus, this is an important step towards scoring free pens and toilet paper.
  • Go "Number Two" in the Company Bathroom-This is probably one of the hardest obstacles to overcome at your new job. You're the new guy, you don't want to cause to much of a stir or embarrass yourself. But it's necessary. It's declaring that "You are Here" and that you're going to defile this place and treat it like your home no matter what anyone says. Usually this happens on about week three.
  • Figure out the Fire Escapes- They are a life line in case of emergencies and they are where the cool employees go to smoke on their breaks.
  • Find Out About Office Politics- You don't want to offend anyone or to start out on the wrong foot. Ask around, ex. "Hey, Barb. Why the hell is Jeanie so sensitive about abortion?" or "Hey, Barb. What's the deal with Ernie's wooden leg?"
  • Ask about Allergies in the Office-It's good to know what kind of emergency situations may arise, and it let's you know who you can threaten with peanuts.
  • Figure Out Where the Printer Is-There's no one more annoying than the person who keeps asking the same question. Figuring out this on the first day will avoid any repetition of questions and will allow you to pick up your anti-government rants quickly and without any fuss.
And Finally

  • Learn Birthdays-As you get to know your coworkers, they'll be happy you took the time to think about them as PEOPLE. They'll know you care. And, since the elderly are weaker than the young, it'll aid you in picking off stragglers as they become old and enfeebled.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I swear

Pre-swearing in.

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

Post Swearing In

Don't let my dower face fool you...the excitement is all in the hair with me.

Shake and Bake and I Helped

So, let's face it, February is never a very good month. It's short and malformed, and it feels like it was just kind of stuck into the calendar to justify more snow fall and rising heating costs. It's the month that gave us Janet Jacksons breast and the death of Mr. Rogers, the month that cheats us out of a holiday by lumping Washington and Lincolns birthday into the generic "Presidents Day". It's the month that gave us Toothache Day and took Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
It's rough and it happens every year. Chicago in particular has an extra dose of fun, as the weather has one last orgasmic explosion of white and wind.

But that's all behind us. It's March. A month named for the God of War, but more importantly, it's the beginning of Spring. It's a time of rebirth and reforming, a time for reflection and tons of other re-words. It's time to start over.

I wish I could say that the hair pulling, stress and chaos of the last month could be attributed to me making a symbolic stand. That is was the last throes of a violent birth, intended to bring the new year. That I was mad as hell and I wasn't going to take it anymore, that I was embracing change, that I was taking the future by the horns(the future is a bull...or perhaps an orchestra) and ripping it's throat out to mount on my trophy wall of vanquished metaphors.

But as it turns out, it was just a pretty crappy month.

The details aren't really that important. What is important is that shook up my life a little bit, quiting my old DePaul job, let War Heroes(the famous comedy group) die, and reordered my priorities. And, after all the shakin' and jumpin' about of the last month, the nervous vomiting of pancakes, and near meltdowns, I'm getting ready to start over. To be reborn and reformed(not religious way, I still get freaked out by large groups of people chanting) in Americorps*Vista.

Two hours from now, I'm set to be sworn back into the Americorps fold. I'm not really sure that it's the smartest thing, as Gabrielle and I were attempting to save money, but it feels more right than the majority of other options that are out there. It feels like it's an affirmative choice and that it'll force me out of the doldrums of data entry life. I'm the new Development Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator for the Youth Job Center of Evanston. I'm not overly sure what all this means, but I'm going to be doing grant research, donor contacting and a variety of other duties that are sure to be wonderful and stressful. I'm nervous about it. I'm not sure at all what to expect, but I'm ready to start and see where I end up.

I've been thinking about all of this concentration on service in my life. I think I was a little wary when thinking about it during my last Americorps term. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a way to gain the posthumous approval of my mother. That there was some weird self obsessed, psychological insecurity that drove it. But over the last few days, I've started to change my opinion of it. It's something that I do honestly enjoy, and it's a way that I can connect to a mother that I never really had a chance to know as an adult. I know, I know. That's babbly, but it's some sort of progress. So, I'll update later this afternoon, and not with the emoting dramatic feeling of this post.