I’ve been volunteering at DMCW for 9 months now and when you’re a staff volunteer, you see the same people come through every week. First, you get to know names and faces. Then you learn things like how Stanley takes his coffee and how when Kim asks if you have noodles she means ramen noodles and nothing else. You learn that Jimmy prefers donations of black socks to white ones and that if anyone is mouthing off, Annie will most certainly have your back.
The longer I’m here, the more I learn not just about preferences and personalities, but about what happens on the other side of the street when our doors have closed for the day. I am only privy to seeing the tip of many icebergs, but it’s enough to keep me from living in comfortable ignorance of what lurks beneath the water where I float.
I can fill a plate, clean and bandage cuts, drive someone to detox, or offer my undivided attention and a hug. But all the love and good deeds in the world don’t change the fact that at the end of the day I’m the one sleeping inside when it’s below zero outside. I’m the one who can raid the fridge at night if my stomach is growling. I’m the one who can work. I’m the one with a car to take me to work. I’m the one who goes home to people who aren’t abusive or tweaking. What do I do with the privelege I carry as I attempt to live in solidarity with these nieghbors of mine?
There have been several times I’ve asked one of our guests a question, completely unprepared for where the conversation would go. Totally unaware that I just signed up to have my ears violated. I’ve had some real good sob sessions in my car lately as I drive and decompress from all the information I take in. I hate, hate, hate, HATE that most of the time all I can do is say, “I’m so sorry.”
I’m so sorry that your husband beat you until your eyes swelled shut and you could feel your mouth fill with blood.
I’m so sorry that you’ve been shot 9 times and can show me the scars scattered across your abdomen.
I’m so sorry that you’re finding it impossible to stay sober and it’s ruining everything.
I’m so sorry that 3 of your 4 sons died when they were just kids.
I’m so sorry that your fingers are frost bitten.
I’m so sorry that you were forced into prostitution and that you feel trapped and violated.
It feels like there are apologies constantly pumping through my bloodstream. All I know is that I cannot burn out, get cyncical, and angry. I cannot disengage. In this place where I live, contemplation and action are connected. Connecting to Love allows the community to stay engaged working for some semblance of peace and justice when the presence of pain is so thick and tangible. I believe this house is holy ground and these neighbors are immensely loved in the only way we know how: to show up, to see and listen, to stand together, and to know how they take their coffee.
God, I hope it’s felt and that it’s enough.
P.S. I know this is kind of heavy, but I promise most of the time there’s a lot of joy and good vibes all around.
I’ve been one busy lady. Good busy. But busy nonetheless. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of mental breakdown some days, but soaring high on others. I’m finding it hard to muster the energy to do the things I want to do when I’m done doing the things I need to do. And trying to remember that I get to do it all.
But OK, so this is what’s happening…
+ I took a road trip to the mitten of the United States last weekend with my friend Kory. Between cafes, breweries, ice cream parlors, and bakeries…we just ate and drank our way through Grand Rapids with Miss Bailey. That city is dope. And so is Bailey. I also got to see my godparents- Dave and Maria and little James, the newest additon to their family. They spoiled Kory and I with an amazing dinner at Terra, a farm to table restaurant. I tried mussels for the first time and I didn’t hate it. After saying peace to GR, we ventured to Detroit to complete the mission of the entire trip: to see one of my favorite paintings in person. We perused the Belle Isle Conservatry, bought succulents at Eastern Market, and stumbled upon a Luge race downtown (which is possibly the most quiet and bizzare sporting event to see up close). A personal highlight was making our way through the midevial art section of DIA via Snapchat and creating these:
+ I had the opportunity to play papparazzi at the Alzheimer Association’s Conference last week. The Alzheimer’s Association in Des Moines has been a huge support in the project I am working on and they have asked me to be on a project committee that creates social engagement events for patients and their caregivers. I am so pumped to be a part of that!
+ My Fridays-Sundays are spent with the DMCW, serving up food and loving our neighbors. I am unendingly appreciative that I get to be a part of this community, which is about equal parts insanely beautiful and hella challenging. But being here keeps me grounded in my values and beliefs about how life is meant to be lived and shared. For every absence I observe, there is an abundance to be experienced. One thing the DMCW does is serve breakfast and give out Whole Foods donations on Saturday mornings at Trinity Church before serving lunch at the Dingman House at noon. If anyone is interested in volunteering or cooking a meal, hit me up!
+ I’m nannying for one more month. Still applying for jobs and becoming increasingly depressed and frustrated by everything. BUT I’m looking forward to being a bridesmaid for one of my dearest friends in June and to being in Edinburgh for a TBD amount of time this summer. Also, I’ve taken up kickboxing again which has been a sanity saver and makes me feel like a total badass.
Uppercut. Hold the follow through.
One. Everybody, this is Evan. He is the most adorable wee Scottish lad I have ever met. I mentioned to his auntie that I missed hearing him come into the coffee shop saying, “Tay Tay!”…and then she sent me this. Be still my heart. Waaaahhhhhhh. I want to go back.
Two. This week was ArtForceIowa’s Holiday Hustle (I’m so good at naming things, you guys). The youths performed Christmas tunes, gave our visitors tours of the space, sold cards and shirts they designed and made, and exhibited paintings. Several sold their first paintings ever and were so proud! It was adorable. Cookies and hot chocolate were consumed. Snowmen were drawn. Holiday cheer all around.
When I got home my sweet, elderly housemate Norm asked me, “Do you feel like you can be yourself at work?” I love this guy. Who asks that? I laughed and said, “I do! It doesn’t feel like a typical workplace. I get to work with people I consider friends and everyone is very encouraging of being yourself.” And then my heart kind of exploded at the sound of my own words. ArtForce has been such a good family to come home to. I am one lucky lady.
Three. BUT my time at ArtForce is wrapping up. Well, at least my paid time. In January I will be very unemployed, which feels simultaneously like a world of possibility and world of unfortunate impossibilty. But perhaps there are friends out there sprinkled across the US of A who think “Hey, Taylor should come stay with me/us while she looks for a job in this new, exciting place.” Or perhaps not. But you never know unless you ask. So, if you’re such a friend, call me/beep me sometime. I can compensate for hopsitality with a variety of domestic and creative endeavors.
I’ve also been contemplating just working any job that will give me loads of overtime for the next 6 months and saving up to spend the summer back in Edinburgh where I can work the festival, travel, attend my MA graduation, and hang out with the people I miss so soooo much.
Four. I’m excited for this:
If you’ve never watched Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend on Netflix, I recommend it. At least until you get to the part about The Scrambler. Trust me.
Five. Yesterday I was enjoying a cup of coffee, like I do every morning. I’d probably drank half of it when I got this really bad side pain. I excused myself to the bathroom and suddenly felt my face burning. I caught myself in the mirror and BOOM. It looked (and felt) like I had suddenly developed severe sunburn all over my face. Then it spread. My neck, arms, and legs broke out into hives. The backs of my knees were swelling up. I was itchy and hot everywhere. My dad ran to the store for Benadryl. Bless him. And all was fine. But apparently we had started on a new bag of coffee that I had never had before.
So, please do not ever offer me Hills Bros. coffee. I am just thankful I didn’t randomly develop a caffeine or coffee allergy in general. That would make my life so sad and tired. But out of curiosity, does anyone know what could have caused this? I drink coffee…all kinds of coffee…alllll the time. I’ve never had this happen before.
Six. Awhile back my grandmother went through a break-up…so-to-speak. There was a man I called her “companion”. That was the most accurate description I could think of. Calling him her boyfriend felt weird. But they had been doing life together for as long as I can remember. When they stopped, I remember driving in the car with my grandma and she told me, “The other day I was sitting in Jester Park and I saw this deer. Just beautiful. We used to always go and watch the animals there together. I just wanted to pick up the phone and call him but I knew I shouldn’t do that. It’s just hard to change those habits.”
And as she said this, I felt something in my brain move. As if I could feel my own perspective widening. Here was this 70-something year old woman. My grandmother. She was describing her own feelings and life situation. And at the time, they were exactly the same as mine.We were going through the same thing. All of the sudden the 50 year age difference didn’t make any difference at all.
I have also found myself in pretty transparent conversations recently with middle aged women I adore. I feel like I have a lot of moms, which is great. They bring me a lot of joy. And honesty. They’ve opened up about grief, marriage, changes that happen with having adult children, hopes, faith, crises…the whole shebang.
And then when I stay at the Catholic Worker House, two of my house mates are guys in their 60s. And they’ve become dear friends who I admire deeply. Their life stories are already so incredible and they’re still living them. My boss is in his 30s and has an elderly lady friend that he regularly meets up with for oysters and champagne. He says they’ll sit and talk for hours every time. How fabulous is that!?
I don’t know…it’s all just got me thinking about how rare inter-generational living is in America compared to other places. It’s kind of a shame. You learn so much from people of all ages and you can develop wonderful friendships, too. Ones that give you wisdom and preparation for the roads ahead of you. All I know is that my life has felt much richer lately because I find myself spending quality time with people outside my own age range.
Seven. There’s a fascinating exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center. Go check it out and/or read about it here:
One. Last night I went to an astronomy class with Colyn and Hilary. It happened to be National Astronomy Day. We didn’t know. The room was surprisingly full and the lecturer was this old man named Vern who I immediately fell in love with. The amateur astronomer subculture is fascinating to say the least. It was kind of the best thing ever and we giggled through the entire program. I got to see the Andromeda Galaxy, the double star at the head of Cygnus (it looks like one star to the naked eye, but through a telescope you can see its actually two! One is gold and the other is blue), and a Globular star cluster (50,000 stars) through a giant telescope. Next Sunday there’s a viewing party for the lunar eclipse if anyone is interested in going?! This might become a weekly venture of mine.
Two. I’ve completed one week of Whole30. The first week wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be, but maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to eat pretty healthy since I’ve been home anyway. I’ve been surprised at how sugar is added to pretty much everything. It took me forever to find bacon that didn’t have added sugar! Most condiments have added sugar. Almond milk has added sugar. I saw that pre-cooked chicken breasts often have ‘caramel colouring’ listen in their ingredients. Um. Whyyyy. The hardest part so far has been giving up alcohol, actually. Which is kind of hilarious for me. I think my year of trying to keep up with the Scots and Irish really did me in. I crave a drink every night. Especially G & Ts. But, I’ve been sleeping great and pooping more. So that’s good, I guess.
Three. I had a job interview this week with the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison for an Arts Coordinator position. I should know after next week whether I was picked for a second interview. I have 15 jobs applications and counting out there. Send me all your good vibes and/or connections. But in the meantime, I’m starting to work at ArtForce a few days a week again and I’m super pumped to be back in that environment, to see the kids, and to keep my mind distracted for awhile.
Four. The other day I was picking up the ever adorable Vivian from school when I ran into my friend Alison and her daughter Corrine. Alison sent me this text later and it basically made my life.
Five. I’m going to rock the plus-one status for this dude in October (just booked my flight for LA today!). It will have been a year and three months since we’ve seen each other, which is the longest recorded gap in our 11 year history.
We’ll probably be like this only fatter.
Six. You can find this card at Ephemera in the East Village.
Seven. I’ve gotten to chat quite a bit with friends from Edinburgh this week and goodness. I miss them. Heart aching-ly so. I have to go back for graduation next summer. NOTHING CAN STOP ME. Because honestly, I don’t think Google hangouts can handle any more of this…
One. After graduating high school I started sending my bff Andrew postcards and various forms of snail mail. I’ve more or less kept it up for 6 years now. I’ve never once gotten a piece of mail from him in return…UNTIL THIS WEEK. Okay, so it wasn’t a letter or postcard. In fact, there wasn’t anything written anywhere. But he did send me this:
Commonly known as ‘The Man of My Dreams Pillow’ or ‘The Boyfriend Pillow’. I guess it’s my own fault for joking about getting one? If anyone wants to borrow this awkwardness, it’s all yours. And he still needs a name. Suggestions are welcome.
Two. NEEDTOBREATHE on the Riverfront was definitely the highlight of my week. I enjoy them even more live than I do recorded. It was the perfect summer night. The view. The sunset. The people. The dancing. Aaaaahhhhh.
Three. ArtForceIowa just completed the first week of our DSM Immigrant Heroes Video Production Workshop. My team, which had students from Ecuador, Congo, and Liberia chose Nancy Mwirotsi as our DSM Immigrant Hero. It was wonderful getting to hear her story. She is an intelligent and incredibly servant-hearted woman doing many great things for the refugee community in Des Moines. You can check out all the DSM Immigrant Hero interviews here.
Four. I really miss the time in my life when rollerblading was my main mode of transportation.
Five. This documentary is worth the watch:
Six. On a less serious note…this video is also worth the watch (if you’re a New Girl fan): http://video.gq.com/watch/the-new-girl-guys-moty-2012
Seven. Today as we celebrate Fathers, my thoughts are with those who have lost them, although they live on in memory and spirit. Since last Father’s Day, I’ve had two friends and a family member say goodbye to their fathers. I also began working closely with a population of youth that are largely fatherless, emotionally or physically. After hearing their stories, I realize some of them are probably better off without their dads being involved in their life. There is biology and then there is character. If you feel a sting of pain on this day for whatever reason, I’m so sorry. May you relish in any good memories you have of your father. Maybe you can still write him a Father’s Day card whether he’s around to receive it or not? That sounds therapeutic. Whatever your situation is, I hope that you can think of someone to celebrate today; I hope there has been some man who you admire that has been invested in your life. I don’t claim to have a clue what I’m talking about or what it’s like. Just know I’m holding you in my heart today.
The issue of clean water along with our overuse/waste of water as Americans (Oh, what? Yeah! That glass of water you didn’t finish and poured down the sink? That would have been saved and used to the very last drop in most parts of the world) has become a hot button topic. In recent years I can’t tell you how many campaigns and fundraisers I’ve seen to build water wells and develop water filters in under resourced areas. To be honest, the over saturation and lack of real exposure to the issue numbed me, as I’m sure it does for most people.
But then I saw how clean water impacted the hurricane affected villages of Haiti and the rural community of Lukodi, Uganda where I worked last summer. The University of New Hampshire Engineers Without Borders team visited over the summer and tested local borehole wells in Lukodi. According to the community members they spoke with, having clean water is top priority. Waterborne diseases from the community’s water supply led to severe illnesses (I’ve personally had a couple of waterborne illnesses and let me tell you-they are very debilitating). They found that roughly 80% of the community’s water supply was contaminated with E. coli. The team then worked to disinfect the wells and educate people on how to protect the water from contamination and fix issues that arise (“Offering a Helping Hand“).
Not only is the sanitation of water crucial to a community’s well-being, but the availability of it is, too. When our Ugandan friends would fetch water, they would carry a full jerry can (which is roughly 45 lbs when full) on top of their head and one in each hand. So, that’s like 135 lbs of water to carry! And most people have to walk MILES to get that. Some kids can’t even go to school when they have to fetch water. It becomes a huge day-long endeavor.
How do I let this change the way I view and treat water? I don’t take a shower every day. Call me gross, I don’t care. Unless I have excessively sweat or smell bad, I don’t need to take one. Now my goal is going to be to turn the shower water off in between my rinsing and repeating. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. It’s really the little things. I can water my house plants with the water I’m done drinking rather than toss it down the drain. I can shut the faucet off when brushing my teeth. I can avoid buying bottled water. And I can do my small part to encourage others in doing the same. Which brings me to (drum roll please)… The Water Ride.
The Water Ride is happening May 11 in Des Moines. Emily Boyd, Des Moines’ The Move Project and Des Moines Water Works are teaming up with wonderful volunteers to put on a bike ride where 100% (!!!!!) of the proceeds will go toward the $50,000 goal of building a solar-powered well and trench in a TBD location in Africa. There are 85, 40, and 20 (family friendly) mile bike routes to choose from. Prices go up April 12, so reserve a spot here. For additional information click here. Come to reach a personal goal, ride with friends, eat some good food, and do a small thing to make a BIG impact in a community across the world. Spread the word!
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Ever since I returned from Uganda I’ve been itching to find a way to more or less continue some of what I was doing there. I have a beautiful, wonderful friend who works with refugees. We ended up getting together a group of 6-10 women who meet once a week to learn about art. They range in age from 4 to 40 and come from all over the globe: Burundi, Congo, Nepal, Eritrea, etc. We look at famous art eras from history, eat, laugh, paint and most recently took a trip to the Des Moines Art Center. Next on the agenda is exploring the art of dance. Which, with a bunch of African ladies, is bound to be AMAZING. I’m always fascinated by which pieces the love and the reasons they hate others. I get lost in thought about how crazy it would be to see a Picasso for the first time EVER and learn that, “When you mix blue and yellow you get green,” as an adult instead of when you’re in 1st grade. But in turn, they teach me what art is to them, what art looks like in their country and their thoughts (while sometimes absurd and hilarious) inspire me. To me, the community IS the art. The relationship between the participants and the process of making IS the art. It’s all about the experience.
And we have so. much. fun.
I LOVE IT.