Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not meant to be about anyone in particular. Only me and myself.

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn't it?
This isn't a playground, this
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on

-Mary Oliver, "A pretty Song"

I'm not thinking about anyone particularly who I've loved in the past or who I love now when I fall in love with this poem. More than anything its the last line. I've encountered a lot of grief this weekend, from a dear friend as well as facing that within myself once again, as always it seems lately. I'm trying to be very present and opened to my journey, to let my heart feel what it needs to feel in this place and moment, to learn and then to step back.

I feel like I'm coming into myself in a way I have not in a long time. Last year I came into myself by falling head over heels hard in love in a way I never thought possible. The year before it was a lot of discovery about what it is I am good at, where I fit into organizations and groups. Today... well I don't know what I'm coming into. We never do till we're through. 

I know that I am following my emotions, my gut, my opened and graceful heart, which raves and draws me to crazy places and things. But here I am. Here I am.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More Cooking

For several years now, every beginning of each semester and each time I move I say to myself, "this time, I learn to cook. This time I find time to make myself great food for dinner at least a few nights a week" and each time I say this, life has inevitably gotten in the way. Between all the homework a BA requires and all the jobs I decided to take on during undergrad, along with attempting to have a social life, learning to cook was simply not in the cards for me. And God knows how much I love spaghetti every day of the week. Well, finally I've found the time for all of this and have decided to put forth lots of effort and a bit of money into learning to cook myself some good meals that will feed me for several days in a row. Here's some of my recent creations:

Every week we need to share a community dinner as a house. My turn came up first, and we happened to have a huge squash given to us, so I made stuffed squash, which involved onions, parm cheese, pepperoni and such. It looked better than it ended up tasting... I think the squash was not nearly ripe, to be honest. But it was pretty!

Three-cheese grilled cheese with grilled onions, garlic and tomatoes. Along with Chipotle sweet potato fries.

This was a sauce I made with a tomato that grew in my garden, mixed with olive oil, asparagus, onions, peas and garlic.

And last night I made this bake with spinach-stuffed shells. Super good and LOTS of leftovers.

In other news, I'll be going to my DPSS meeting to prove that I qualify for food stamps this week. I'm looking forward to finally cashing on this - which I've probably qualified for for a long time but not been able to receive as a student. It will take a lot of pressure off my paychecks. Also, I feel like having experiences with the department of social services is probably an important life experience for any American who wants to work in the social service sector, as far as building awareness and empathy goes.

I've found a yoga studio that I like, with a slow flow yoga class. People are more friendly than in my classes in Minneapolis, in fact. They say hi, introduce themselves and chat after the class is over. I was at work the other week and stopped into the Women's Room (one of our services which provides safe space for women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness during the day) during their weekly writing class. I met the teacher and she invited me to some of her other classes, which are pay-what-you-can and at the Ten Thousand Villages shop in Pasadena (a really cool chain of shops that sell jewelry and crafts from all around the world made by local craftsmen and sold at fair prices. There's one in St Paul on Grand. Check it out, locals!). I decided to go last Monday and I'll be going back for sure. It was a lot of little old white ladies, really, but there were a few other younger women (its not a women-only group, that's just who shows up, apparently) and either way, I felt very very good being there. Getting the opportunity to write and share and listen to others. It felt very communal and welcoming. I'm so grateful to have these two things in my life, along with everything else that has been given recently.

Last night I went out with some friends in Hollywood. We went out dancing at several different bars and clubs, and were out till 4AM. This is not something I will do again for a long time. One of those experiences that are good to have when you are young and have stamina, but not something I can keep up again for a while. So tonight I'm at home, reading, folding laundry with the windows and door opened and listening to a Prairie Home Companion and thinking about a cool evening in St Paul Minnesota, sitting outside and having good conversations with friends. Feeling energized in a way you've not felt in the muggy lazy summer days by the cool splash of a fall breeze.

I think I will miss the changing of seasons this year. As Garison Keeler just sang "I'm dreaming of a long winter! One that will made me feel real strong!"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Psychiatry: An Industry of Death, aka adventures in Scientology

Some of my fellow interns were driving down Sunset Blvd in Hollywood the other week, and they saw something surprising on the side of the road (well, to be fair, it was probably one of many surprising or unique things on the side of the road in that town). It was this museum:

Yes. That does say "Psychiatry, an Industry of Death Museum." Further investigation led us to this video, . We also found out the museum was free. We were hooked. (Also, if anyone else in interested, please note you can watch all 14 of the videos shown throughout and see the entire museum virtually in this slide show... so everyone in Minnesota and elsewhere can feel the full effects we did!!) One of the girls who first saw the museum was told yesterday that it was run by the Scientologists, which made us even more interested. I just heard in an interview on NPR that anyone who has ever bought a book or signed up for a class about Scientology is counted among their ranks, so apparently now I may be considered a Scientologist by the church just for signing into the museum.

So there were three women with me who studied psychology, and at least one other woman who takes some kind of anti-anxiety/depressant. We were looking for a good afternoon giggle, more than anything else. The outside of the building has all of these billboards:

We walk in and the museum is connected to a group called the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (which ironically, I remember looking at with interest the last time I was wandering around this area of Hollywood - not much closer than the name, obviously). This commission we later found out is devoted to keeping people aware of the negative effects of psychology across the world. They run campaigns, file lawsuits and create projects like this museum. When we walked into the very clean, white and expensive-looking space, two men behind a desk greeted us. One took our cameras away and warned us of the violent nature of what we were about to see. We entered a padded room and watched the video above.

Now, don't get me wrong: abuses have happened in every realm of the world of medicine. And so little has been understood about mental illnesses over time that a lot of really insane and awful abuse has gone down. A lot of this abuse and the misguided "cures" were documented by this museum, which was actually really interesting. I was surprised to "learn," however, that psychiatry can be blamed for racism, the Holocaust and terrorism, as well as the deaths of millions of people every year. It also specifically kills artists and creativity. Yes, there is a huge gravestone commemorating the death of creativity in the section of the museum that describes how psychiatry has particularly targeted Hollywood.

Yes, I do agree that in a lot of ways the relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the price of treatments and the amount of diagnosis without true and good mental help is unhealthy and possibly just a way to get lots of money for things that could possibly be treated in other ways. (I think this can be seen in every form of medicine, not just mental health.) Very dear people to me have been very negatively affected by the misuse of treatments like shock therapy. However we all couldn't help but giggle and stand opened-mouthed at most of the claims that were made in this museum. Most of the people being interviewed only spoke a few sentences, and its very hard to know what the full context of what they were saying was. Also, as my roommate and psychology major Hannah pointed out, there are very few psychologists who would argue that the things that have happened in the past are awful and bad. In fact, she found herself agreeing what most of what the people being interviewed were saying, it was just the voice-over and conclusions that were being drawn that were crazy and outrageous.

Finally, we were going through this museum that guides you through with videos along with a middle-aged, quiet man. I was a little nervous as we were clearly disagreeing with everything being said that we were being offensive to him. But finally he spoke up saying "You know, I took Zoloft for a few months a while back. I felt much better and got right off it when the time was right." He then proceeded to tell us that he had a prominent anti-Scientology website, has won Emmys for his journalism and was recently listed as number 7 on the list of The Top 25 Most Crippling People to Scientology by the Village Voice. His name is Mark Bunkers and this is his website: . He pointed out a lot of things to us, like that a prominent Scientologist woman who was being interviewed was just arrested in Australia for covering up a child abuse scandal and that a particular man's daughter had started a recovery group for children of Scientologists.

At the end of the tour, he asked the two men at the front desk several questions. One asked if he had some time, and he said sure. They offered to show him some things in the "back room." We were ushered out of the museum. After finding his website, I sent him an email asking if everything went OK back there, because we were a little concerned, since he had just introduced himself and the guy said "Oooh. Hello," very slowly and carefully. I'll keep you all posted on what/when I hear back.

I really recommend watching at least the intro video on the website I posted, as it gives you a really good idea of what we got to see. It was epic and kind of amazing, in a fear mongering and interesting way. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Glamour, yoga class, cooking and gardening

I had a great great weekend this past weekend. It is probably a mix of culture shock, with lots of a new job in a new place and all new people, but I have really just been exhausted lately. Each night I hit the pillow and fall asleep hard and fast and sleep all night long. It's great, actually. I love sleeping when I'm exhausted more than anything in the world. I've been doing a lot of reading, biking and spending quiet time riding the bus, which is good for my soul. I found at least one yoga studio which I really liked and am trying another next week. Next step is to get back to writing, which I am really going to do soon. Promise.

Friday night we went out to Howl At the Moon, a dueling piano bar in Hollywood (Universal Studio City, actually, which is basically just a mall with movie theaters and expensive parking). It was SUPER fun. While everyone in Clover Valley was rocking out at my dad's 60th birthday party (which I hear was amazing) I was also rocking out, don't worry. We were dancing and singing along to live music all night, and we got there before 9 so we hit the early cover charge, which was much cheaper than it would have been. 

Saturday was quiet, then my roommates and I went to an event we were asked to volunteer at. It was a silent auction and dinner for a homelessness organization  in Glendale at the ABC Broadcasting studios. At first I thought it was a jeans and tshirt sort of volunteering, but then realized we needed to dress up a bit. Turns out we could have dressed up even MORE, which in some ways I wished I had, if not just to feel fancier. This event was MASSIVE. There were hundreds of people there, free wine tasting, free dinner and a silent auction which brought in about $35,000 in twenty minutes. We all got good food, some center pieces and felt very fancy afterwards. 

The next day I got to meet Oscar, the Academy Award, which is written about in the post before this. After the pool party where I met Oscar, four of us interns went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a crazy cool concert venue, and a very very fun concert. Plus, I got into bed by midnight on a Sunday, which I didn't expect from a night I went out to a concert. We were in a huge open-air theater with mountains all around, the Hollywood sign in the background, and the full moon overhead. Very cool.

Otherwise in life, I am developing patterns. The weeks are going by quicker. I am getting used to the work I'm doing and liking it more and more. I like that I work so independently, and have so much responsibility. I like that I manage people, and that I get to interact with clients and volunteers on an equal basis of working on my own. I like that I'm doing work that is good for people and the world. I like being busy. I like listening to NPR in my own office while I get tasks done. I like my coworkers. I like the city of Pasadena.

One thing I learned this week: if you are invited to a service fair at a private high school for Catholic girls, you need to bring a cute boy with you or no one will care about your organization. The Habitat for Humanity table was much busier than mine the other day...

This year I am learning to cook. I am using the extra time I have in the evenings to do things like this: homemade pizza with fresh basil, mozzarella, tomatoes and olive oil. 

Here is my garden on the patio. The flowers are growing really big and lovely, and the tomatoes are getting red and plump. 

Finally, the hanging plants, overlooking the windows and doors of the porch. Hopefully the shelves that don't fit in the apartment and take up too much room on the porch will go away soon so that my plants can have the best locale for sunlight and we can get some patio furniture out there!

And this is the Hollywood Bowl, where we saw the National, which is a pretty cool hipster band. They were amazing live, especially in that space. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet Oscar

This weekend we were invited to a pool party at one of the parishioners houses. This is not the first time its happened... I've actually been to quite a few pool parties in the last few weeks, compared to the rest of my life. The house was very old and beautiful and in the heart of Hollywood and I asked the homeowners if I could snoop around, and one of the men, Allen, showed me around. We walked into the living room and he picked up... well this:

Turns out his partner, who's grandparents bought the house I was admiring, is the grandson of Karl Struss, the man who filmed Charlie Chaplin and won the first Academy Award for cinematography. It's just hanging out in their livingroom. Maybe this is normal in Hollywood, since he was pretty nonchalant about it all. He also name dropped all the celebrities who lived near by. I proceeded to get very very excited and insist on some more pictures.

The reason everyone holds them the same way is they are really very bottom heavy and its really hard to balance it in any other way.

There he is: Oscar. Just sitting in the living room of this beautiful house we visited in Hollywood. It has just been one of those weekends...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day weekend

So it's hard to appreciate Labor Day weekend when you are coming off of summer vacation and have only worked a full week. However, I tried to be at least a little busy every day of the long weekend, while also getting the appropriate amount of rest time after how crazy I've been since moving here. 

Monday we went to Griffith Park and hiked a while. The park is huge and in the middle of LA and Glendale, houses the Griffith Observatory, the LA Zoo, a golf course, a merry-go-round and some mountains. We didn't really realize how hot it was on Monday till we were out in the sun on the trail going uphill, and by then we were already there. I'd say it was at least 95, if not in the triple digits and the sun is much hotter here in SoCal than Minnesota, obviously. The hike didn't last long, as you can imagine, and a few of us went to a neighbor's pool for a dip, beer and pizza afterwards. It was a near-perfect day, all in all.

The trail up the mountain. That's Ryan, a more adventurous type from Texas who took off running straight up.

This was a short cut on the trail that I also decided to take. It lead to a much steeper part of the trail, but got us to the top very quickly.

The city of Glendale from the top of the mountain. I promise you can see our apartment in this photo, but trying to describe where it is would be fruitless...

Here's my newly assembled bike! Its got 14 speeds and works fantastically. My ride to work includes a bit more than a mile of pretty dramatic uphill, but the way home requires no pedaling whatsoever, so I guess the trade-off works in the end. It's very lightweight and has road bike tires, which is a huge improvement from the bike I was riding around Mpls with for the last three years. I finally got out to explore Glendale the other day and found all the grocery stores, the yoga studio I'm hoping to go to and most of the main part of the city. I'm hoping that I can prove to myself and the world that it IS possible to live in LA with only a bike and a bus pass, and that my legs will be strong enough to make it up mountain streets for the next year!

Me and my roommate Sarah on Saturday night at a bbq at the Long Beach intern house. Compared to how hot it became Sunday, Monday and the rest of this week, Saturday was glorious. Felt like a real fall bbq, with sweatshirts, a fire, a bottle of beer and lots of great people around you, which is really all you can ask for.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Whirlwind, or the last week of August

As Reid, one of my fellow interns, drove me up to my apartment for the first time, I told him "I don't know what your house in Hollywood looks like, but this place is pretty amazing." Probably not the apartment itself - the building is older and they are doing updates in it, so we're one of the only occupied units - but the neighborhood is great. I live a bit out of LA, which on the one hand is kind of too bad, but on the other allows me to rest easier. We're about 25 minutes from Hollywood if traffic is OK and not much farther from downtown. It took 40 minutes to get to the beach on Saturday, but much longer to park.

Glendale feels pretty suburban, but there is a lot going on in the town here. Lots of shops and restaurants and places to go. Now that I have my bike I'll be exploring more of the city itself.

The first day, as I was alone in the apartment and unpacking my roommates started trickling in. We all went to In and Out Burger (a California food chain) to get to know each other more. Sarah is my roommate and from Alabama. She went to school in Memphis. Christina is from Northern California and has lived on the other side of LA county in Long Beach for the last four years. Hannah is originally from Bath, England, but moved to the U.S. when she was 7, though her parents have moved back. There are bound to be troubles, but so far we all seem to have similar temperaments and attitudes, which has lead to a smooth living situation. All three of them have cars in case something should happen and I need a vehicle.

My bike finally arrived! I bought a bike for a much reduced price from a wholesale website, and it came on Monday. It was about 85% put together and I had finish it up. No dealing with breaks or gears or anything, which I would have been terrified to do, and it was more or less pretty simple, until I got to the handle bars. Those took some working on and a tool from one of the neighbors who goes to the church we're associated with till I could get it set up.

We spent all day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with the group of twenty interns. It was very fun, but totally exhausting. By the end of the 13-hour day together on Thursday I wanted to say something to the effect of "I like you all a lot right now and I don't wanna ruin that with overkill of spending time together!" Everyone is very unique and I'm really looking forward to getting to know people better. We're from all over and have very different lives and very different reasons for coming, which means different expectations and therefore a lot to experience this year. There is one other man from Minnesota, who I happen to have a mutual friend with, but otherwise there is no one from the directly surrounding states. It's nearly half and half girls and guys, with slightly more girls, and we're all between the ages of 22 and 26. Some people are here to have a job and try to figure out what they want to do with their lives, others are here to have some spiritual discernment. I'm really excited to see how the dynamics and the year will play out.

Each of the four intern houses is associated with an Episcopal church in the area and we visited all the churches and saw all the living arrangements. Since the program is/was (that's another long-winded story) associated with Americorps, there is no religious requirement and we all come from very very different walks of religious or spiritual life. There are expectations for us to be a part of our host church communities, which I am OK with because it is very important to me that I meet and spend time with people who are not just in the program but who also live in LA. St Marks, our church, felt just like home. It is a big brick building with stained glass windows, a beautifully decorated altar and all the rest. The service was conducted in the exact way a Catholic one is, with lots of incense, hymns, kneeling, sitting, standing, the like.

Friday night we went to a Dodgers game as a group. I've never been in a professional game, and it has been years since I've been to any baseball game. My roommate Christina had to explain everything to me, while she pouted and tried to ignore the game because she's a Giants, not a Dodgers, fan. It was a pretty good game, without much action till the 6th Inning when they got 6 runs, including 2 home runs right in a row.

Saturday we all went to Target to get some of the supplies for the house we needed, as well as basic groceries. All the other houses are established with past interns just having moved out, so they had a base of food and all the necessities, while we had no food and were missing things like a dust pan. At this point, we're more or less fully furnished, besides a TV and patio furniture. And we have internet, which is an improvement, because for the first four days were were struggling to get anywhere without directions.

That afternoon we went to Venice Beach where we met up with other interns, swam in the ocean and walked along the boardwalk. Went back to the Koreatown intern house for a night of wine and therefore more loose getting-to-know-you time. Sunday was church service then finally some downtime at home for an early night before work the next day.

All three of my roommates are working at charter schools near by. So far, the food pantry has been really great and I'm feeling very good about the work I'll be doing and how it suits me, but I'll write more about that later. It's MUCH better than what I was doing at the Depot, which I can say more freely now that I no longer work there. I really really needed to leave that job and hope I never have to go back to working in a hotel again. Maybe I could wait tables, but the hotel industry, especially such a nice hotel, was ridiculous and frivolous. 

Pictures from the Dodgers game: