Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Big Issue North - I've been published!

An article I wrote was published in The Big Issue North!

This magazine is a social justice enterprise across England. It is published weekly by professional writers and journalists. Then it is distributed to vendors - places like churches, community centers, etc. These vendors have relationships with sellers. The sellers are people who might be vulnerably housed, homeless, or unemployed and looking to get back on their feet. They buy the magazine at 1.25 pounds off of the vendor and sell it for 2.50 pounds.

I've been a big fan of the magazine since I discovered its existence here, and have tried to purchase it from people selling it on the street. I learned about it when Carecent (the free breakfast cafe I volunteer at) was relocated to Trinity Methodist back in March temporarily due to construction.  Trinity Methodist is a vendor for the magazine.

Intrigued one Monday morning as I watched Joy (Trinity's Church Secretary) accepting shipments of the magazine, I asked her more about it. Joy was really helpful and put me in touch two of the editors of the Big Issue. I love love love the idea of writing as part of a good cause - whether it's creative writing therapy, slam poetry, motivational speeches, or this, a magazine that empowers people to improve their lives.

All I wanted originally was simply to know more about The Big Issue, because it was such a fab new concept to add to my growing list of Ways to Write for Good, but the editors asked if I was pitching an article to them.

This is one of those things I call a God-nudge. For a very long time, I've been saying I would like to try my hand at getting published in an online or print magazine. It was kind of an idle, Oh, that would be cool someday! type notion, but it stemmed from a deeper desire to continue honing on my craft. Here was an opportunity staring me in the face - I couldn't say no!

What commenced was a whole lot more work than I anticipated. Writing is fun and natural for me, but this was...something else. I pitched an initial concept that was rejected, but then I pitched the idea of writing about Days for Girls. (I'll be writing more about Days for Girls itself soon - I've been very involved in this program!) Then I had to research more about the international organization and our local group, interview the participants, and write the actual piece. 

Luckily, interviewing and research was made much easier for me because I was in the midst of preparing for St. Columba's own Days for Girls workshop along with the two women who run Days for Girls here in York. I went to a bunch of activities with the dual purpose of preparing for our own workshop AND I also got some information for the article. Beryl and Issu wanted to know what was going into the article, so the back-and-forth took a lot more effort than I originally intended. But it was a good learning

But now, six weeks after starting the whole process of pitching my first real piece to a real publication, it's gone to press! When the editor told me it was going to be published this week, I knew I wanted to buy like a thousand million copies.

In the end, I just got three. I went directly over to Trinity Methodist yesterday morning to pick them up, and it so happened that another editor from the mag was there visiting! It was fun to chat with him and some of the sellers.

It's exciting to see my name in print, I can't deny it. Having a byline feels deeply, happily satisfying. What's even more exciting is to know that the piece is spreading the word about an amazing cause (again, more about Days for Girls soon!).

You can read the first page here and the second page here. I can't find an online link (yet).

If you want to learn more about street papers, you can do so here. If you, too, have a good idea for a magazine like this, give it a shot! The editors were really encouraging and it was a very good experience.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Words that rest on my heart.

I read two quotes recently that resonate deeply with me. Maybe you know what I mean - that moment when you have read something that bypasses the cerebrum and goes straight to your core. Words that elicit an unconscious "Mmmm" of recognition or a slight arrest of your breath. If you have words that do this for you, I would love to know what they are - what words make you hum.

On the surface, these quotes are pretty different. But to me, how they feel when I say them aloud and let them rest on my heart, it's like looking for the beginning and end of a circle.

"Be patient and tough. One day this pain will be useful to you." (Ovid) 

Patience, toughness. Two words. If I could hold these in my hands, they would be glass orbs. Round, smooth, hefty. Patience and toughness.

"How often things occur by mere chance which we dared not even hope for." (Terence) 

Hope is lighter, a shimmering net between each of us and our own personal long, dark well of sadness.

Ethereal Hope gives birth to her daughters, solid Patience and weighty Toughness.

These words that oppose on their face, but are relatives to each other underneath. They make me hum with a recognition flowing from deep inside.

I learned this year about a crafting group called Peaced Together for women who have experienced trauma, and someone told me recently about one of their activities. The women make a weaving. In addition to choosing pretty colored fabrics, they must pick a piece of cloth that is ugly in order to represent hardships in their lives, and weave it in with all the rest.

What would the color of your sorrow be?

I feel when I read certain words what those women must feel when they look at their weaving. This is what I feel: A sense of life as looked at from the highest, most comfortable cloud.

My body: Arms that embrace, toes that squeeze the earth, wings to fly. My soul: Patience and toughness, weights to ground me. Hope, to help me rise up.

From this vantage, I see both beautiful ugliness and ugly beauty. Pain and patience, toughness and hope. I see an infinitesimal glimpse of what God must see in all of us to love us so much.

The hardship intertwined with happiness. The joy with sorrow.

Not at peace. At peace.

All of it, woven in different colors, different cloth. All of it, the same tapestry.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Purple Man

I met The Purple Man!

The Purple Man is a big deal in York. Everyone knows The Purple Man. As I passed him the other day on the street, I said, "I'm writing about you!"

He looked very intrigued (I didn't know he allowed himself to talk, I'd always thought he was a mime) and said "Oh? Why?" 

I said, "Well I'm writing about York's street buskers." (It's for another writing project I'm doing, not this blog...although now I am writing about him on this blog.) 

And he said, "Well I'll give you an interview."

He handed me his purple paintbrush and I held it up like a microphone. He told me that he started doing what he does 11 years ago when he made friends with a Syrian refugee whose entire family was killed in a bombing. He wanted to collect money for the orphans left by the carnage to have toys. So each year, he takes the money he collects and buys toys. Then he and his friend (who apparently also dresses up in purple and collects money elsewhere - who knew) actually go to the Syrian border and deliver the toys. 

What an amazing backstory to this York staple! 

Honestly, I was feeling a little flustered so I didn't ask him all the other questions that popped into my head as soon as I started walking away. Why did you decide to go with purple? Why this street always?  Do you get bored? Cold? Hungry? When do you pee? How much money have you raised? Deeper ones as well - what do you see in Syria? What do you think of the current conflict? How do you get the toys to the kids now? 

So many questions. I'll need to interview him again, if he lets me. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Harry Potter and the Year in York: Making Everyday Magic (Newsletter #5)

In the Harry Potter series, we read a lot about Harry's big ticket items - Quidditch matches, showdowns with Lord Voldie, and common room parties feature prominently. I'm not that cool. If I were at Hogwarts, I wouldn't be Harry, I'd be Luna Lovegood, sort of in the background just chilling with the Blibbering Humdingers, getting my schoolwork done, and wandering about exploring the castle.

Accordingly, my favorite parts of the book are when we learn about everyday life at Hogwarts; classes, mealtimes, and hanging out in the common room are all far more intriguing to me than jumping in the lake at a Triwizard Tournament. Probably this is boring for most people. Like, the books were written about Harry and not Luna for a reason.

But something Krissy and I have been talking about has been kicking around in my brain lately. The idea that everyday life, every day adventures - those are the most interesting. And that perhaps all of us should challenge ourselves to dig in and live that daily life a little bit deeper.

So, while I can't promise it'll be as fun as reading about breaking-and-entering into the Ministry of Magic, I figured I'd use this newsletter to try to conjure up an understand of everyday happenings here in York this year.

Sundays at St. Columba's: Sundays are the start to my workweek. I usually get into church around 9 am, either because I'm on the rota to steward or make coffee or to set up the Fairtrade stall that I run monthly. If nothing else, I usually sneak in a few minutes of piano practice then too.

The worship starts at 10.15 am and lasts about an hour. Many services are led by members of the congregation and each worship has a pretty different pattern. I usually really enjoy the hour after the service because it's everyone in the congregation hanging out drinking coffee. It's the only time I actually get to see most of the fellowship together. Depending on who leads coffee (and thus brings supplies), the cookies can be a big highlight too.

Visiting with Congregants: Sometime during each week, I aim to visit to a member of our fellowship who is homebound or ill. One of the people I've gotten to know most is an elderly woman named Mary. We had a rocky start to our relationship. She didn't offer me anything but water over the course of my two-hour visit (which indicates either a serious breach of British social etiquette or a deliberate and pointed snub), and seemed slightly suspicious of my presence.

Months later, and things have drastically improved. I really look forward to seeing Mary; last week, she offered me tea and biscuits straight away, and she showed me two photo albums of the dozens of foster children she cared for along with four of her own. I see visits to congregants as one of the purest and most essential forms of accompaniment.

Molly Visits!: One of my dear YAGM friends, Molly, came to visit me in early May. We spent a fantastic three days exploring, touring, talking, and eating delicious food. We visited Scarborough and Malton for a day too! After she left, I felt very lonely. After feeling like my truest authentic self for three short days with such a dear friend, returning to my normal routine was a little hard.

But the truth of the matter is that we all experience the good and the bad, no matter where we are in the world we are - Hogwarts, York, or Baltimore. I am so fortunate to have dear friends like Molly - I would much rather feel bereft at her parting than never have had her visit at all.

Ice Cream on the River Ouse with Rachel: Luckily, just two days later on a Bank Holiday Monday, my friend Rachel and I got together and strolled along the River Ouse. We got ice cream from the ice cream boat!

Bird-Watching: It has been marvelous watch spring come to Yorkshire. One lovely thing that I now do on my near-daily walks is check out the many families of geese. Waterfowl are a York staple because of the two large rivers that meet in York, the Rivers Ouse and Foss.

Seeing sweet tiny goslings toddle their way behind their overprotective and proud parents fills my heart with a tenderness I cannot put into words.Other people often stop to watch them, too, the other night I came upon a woman around my age who was anxiously holding up traffic to help a few wayward gesese get across the street safely.

The next night, I saw two geese families slowly and deliberately make their way from the River Ouse to Clifford's Tower, crossing two wide lanes of traffic as the cars sat patiently waiting for each tiny gosling to make it. It was like watching the Queen process; the birds had no sense that they were holding up peoples' progress. Their job was simply to find greener grass for their children to munch.

Still another evening, I spent nearly twenty minutes entranced by two geese families who were sharing a tiny sandbar on the River Foss. At just about the same time, both sets of baby birds trundled their way under their respective mothers' wings to settle in for the night. It took a very long time to get them situated. The mothers sat patiently, their wings unfurled slightly, as their babies fought for prime real estate underneath. One little head kept popping up between the mother's wing and body, staring out like a periscope at the world while her siblings tussled beneath her, and I found myself laughing out loud.

The goslings grow quickly, so that some of the spring's first-borns who could fit into the palm of my hand only weeks ago now are gawky teenagers. They look quite dinosauric, their long necks awkwardly bobbing up and down as they walk and peck at the grass.

Volunteering with The Island: I'm still very involved with The Island, which is one of the charities based out of our church. I spend every Wednesday evening helping with their Youth Clubs, and I volunteer each Thursday afternoon at Schools-Based Mentoring. Each week, ten mentors and ten mentees go to a local primary school in the nearby village of Clifton. It's walking distance for me, luckily. We do group activities to help the kids build their confidence and have 1-to-1 time, too.

My mentee, N, is so much fun. Mentoring has taught me the importance of being consistent for N - no matter what is happening in my life, she deserves my undivided and enthusiastic attention. Additionally, I've learned how to be more sanguine when she's having a bad day. I can't get anxious when I know that she's sad about something. I simply am there to be whatever she needs that week - someone to talk to, someone to draw with, someone to teach her cartwheels.

Because of a change-up in The Island's staffing, I've ended up leading the Schools-Based program for the last three weeks, in addition to my role as a mentor. We finished up this past week with a presentation to some of the kids' classmates, parents, and teachers that the other mentors and I planned together. Despite some stage fright from the kids, it went wonderfully. The best part was the little party afterwards where we could just hang out, eat cake, and do The Floss. (I think I've finally learned this weird little dance, thanks to about a thousand tutorials by ten-year-olds week after week.)

Working directly with children and families is what I would like for my career, in part because I've realized that things like mentoring kids (as well as activities Crafts with a Cause and Carecent) bring me such great joy.

Tuesday Coffee Mornings: My role at Coffee Mornings, which happen each Tuesday morning from 10 - 12.30 is essentially to set-up beforehand, make coffee, prepare teas, talk to people, and clean-up afterwards. I also am on the rotation to lead the post-Coffee mid-week service.

Easy enough. Drink tea, eat biscuits, sit around for a few hours.

But I find Coffee Mornings quite challenging. This is because the regulars who attend frequently gossip about other members of the church. They are not welcoming to strangers. They aren't interested in turning Coffee Mornings into a ministry of St. Columba's for the community.

We all have our Potions classes, right?

Besides using some Unforgivable Curses or throwing a crocodile heart at their faces a la Ron Weasley, I have developed another fun technique to cope. I simply use the petty/boring conversations as material for a hypothetical Britcom that I'm writing in my head. When I separate myself by seeing the negativity as potential for a humor-filled TV show, I feel much more cheerful and can chuckle inwardly. Am I a particularly nice person on Tuesday mornings, as I inwardly cringe/gripe/complain/make jokes? Not really. I'm like a Death Eater.

I usually do enjoy the midday Tuesday service, but when it's my turn to lead, I dread it. I've discovered I really hate leading worship services. This YAGM is definitely not going to be one of the 30% that become Lutheran pastors.

Zumba: I love Zumba! I'm not so good at Quidditch, to be honest, so when I discovered an affordable Zumba class in January I was really excited. The people who come are welcoming, chatty, and fun, and the teacher is so enthusiastic. It feels like a little community, and I look forward to Tuesday evenings each week.

One of the things I love about Zumba in general is its diversity and inclusivity. York is extremely homogenous, but our class still attracts people from all over the world. It doesn't just bring fit gym-rats, thank goodness, because I can't dance to save my life. My worst fear is that someone I know from outside Zumba will wind up in a class with me. It's not something you want to see. Fortunately, it's a very accepting crowd and Zumba emphasizes exercise for fun rather than precision!

Day Trips: Lately, I've had some lovely day trips. In the beginning of April, I took a solo trip to explore Malton, a small Yorkshire market town.

I went to Beningbrough Hall, an English stately home, with Derek and Isobel.

I visited the Goddards House, which is another National Trust property formerly owned by the Terry family, who were big chocolate factory owners here in York.

And just last weekend, I spent the day in Leeds, getting a stellar massage at John Lewis (thanks to Basma didi!), meeting up with a friend of a friend who has done amazing international work, and hanging out with my dear YAGM friend Grace!

My absolute favorite quote from Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows is this: "Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, and as he did so he felt more alive, and more aware of his own living body than ever before. Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart?"

Reading these spectacular lines makes me wonder how Harry felt once Voldemort had been conquered. Perhaps he felt that he didn't need the excitement of duels and battles or the wildness of dragon rides any longer. He just wanted the quiet joy of ordinariness.

When I read these lines, I am almost breathless with a sense of gratitude for own whole and healthy body, the health of the ones I love, and their presence in my life. These are the things that make life so special, and luckily for me, they happen to be a part of my normal existence. But that does not mean they should be taken for granted. Ordinary life is something to cherish, something to celebrate, simply because of the ability to live it. The every day - that is where the magic happens.