Birch Bark Poem: A Follow-up

I arrived at Greenlake on a warm, sunny morning. Scattered around the park, lovers cuddled on blankets in the sun, readers lost themselves to other worlds in the shade, and countless runners, bikers, walkers and roller-skaters worked to fine tune bodies into that ideal image. Surely, amongst this activity, I will find someone to give my birch bark poem.

I rode my bike to the park. This way, I could deliver the poem and make my get away with minimal amounts of confrontation. I resolved to circle the three mile lake one full time before making my decision. If I had enough bark, I would make poems for everyone, but because I had only one poem, the recipient had to be carefully chosen.

Seattle is a very busy city. Most people flit from one activity to the next, leaving very little room for a relaxed meander through the park. People appear so consumed with business and the waning hours of daylight productivity that they rarely stop to see the approaching fall glimmer a warm brilliance off the lake surface. I was looking for the pause, the moment when a person looked up from the book and smiled at the beautiful world surrounding them.

Finding this moment, or a person about to enjoy this moment, is a very hard thing. Another hard thing is picking out a complete stranger with which to give a love poem. Which cross section of Seattle population should I chose? Gender, Age? How will the poem be received? Will people think I am hitting on them? Can I get away before they try to respond? Am I pretentious to think people would enjoy this act in the first place? Doubts and insecurities filled my head and fogged my intentions. I felt voyeuristic and guilty. The poem was wrapped tenderly in my sweaty palm. I continued my search.

A man sitting on a park bench, reading. Mode of transportation: bike splayed behind bench. Reading a science fiction novel. Late 40's, early 50's, slightly overweight. Occasionally looks up to watch young female runners.

Old couple walking down the path. Women in wheel chair, man pushing. They talk and laugh, white hair catching sun filtering through the shade. Both wear thick glasses and talk loudly, responding quite often with "What?"

Young man in black trench coat. Greasy pony tail pulled away from face and falling midway down his back. A parrot is on his shoulder. Walking opposite direction of wheel chair couple. Thick headphones blare something angry.

Two female lovers on a blanket in the shade. Too far up on the grass. Intentions too easily misinterpreted. Will leave them to their cuddling.

Runners, bikers, walkers and roller skaters. Sweating, red, avoiding eye contact, listening to small devices and focusing on section of ground 10 ft in front of their path.

I was growing discouraged when I finally saw them. Two men were sitting near the community center, one on a brick wall and the other in a wheel chair. Resting between them was bag of rolls, most likely stale and past consumeability. They were feeding a flock of pigeons that had gathered at their feet. I guessed father and son immigrants from Somalia or Ethiopia, although both were older with the son in his late 50's and the father nearing mid 70's or early 80's. Nearing the end of my loop, I decided the moment was now or never. I pulled up on my bike with the roll of bark ready in my hand.

"Happy Tuesday" I said, extending my hand forward.

"Happy Tuesday? What's dis?" I realized the recipients spoke very little English. The son accepted the bark with questioning on his face.

"Happy Tuesday" I said again, smiling but nervous "A gift from me to you. Enjoy the beautiful day."

I rode away before I could see if they unrolled the bark and read the poem. I wasn't even sure if they would understand the words or know ee cummings was a 20th century poet. I was happy, regardless. Even if the poem didn't have the intended impact, I knew that I would remember the image of father and son sitting in the sun and feeding the pigeons. Their moment was a gift to me, a proof that life can be slowed down and even pigeons, cooing rats of the sky, can be cared for and enjoyed. I wonder if this Tuesday will stand out for them, as the day they went to feed the birds and were given a piece of bark by a crazy girl on a bike.


Love Poem Birches

While walking yesterday, I found myself in a grove of birches and stared amazed at the perfect white trunks of the delicate trees surrounding me. A little ways up, one tree was shedding a parchment of bark like skin during rejuvenation. I jumped, caught the roll in my hand and placed it in my pocket for later, sad that I knew so little poetry by heart to mark upon my pearly white paper.

This morning, with pen in hand, I resolved to write a love poem upon the paper. Without hesitation, I chose a bit from ee cummings. Being lover-less, I think I will walk to Greenlake and find someone that I think needs a love poem in their life, deliver cumming's words and ride away before questions can form.

if i love You
(thickness means
worlds inhabited by roamingly
stern bright faeries

if you love
me) distance is mind carefully
luminous with innumerable gnomes
Of complete dream

if we love each (shyly)
other, what clouds do of Silently
Flowers resemble beauty
less than our breathing

e.e. cummings

e.e. cummings

I found these quotes and would like to document them here. e.e. cummings is a master mind of art, beauty and love.

"Unless you love someone, nothing else makes any sense."

"Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness; the truth more first than sun, more last than star."

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter."

"To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting."

"The earth laughs in flowers."

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."

"We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit."

"I would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten-thousand stars how not to dance."


Book Review: Mountians Beyond Mountains

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

A biography on the life and work of Paul Farmer, a doctor in Haiti as well as the founder of Partners in Health. Paul Farmer is currently working to eradicate the world of Multiple Drug Resistant TB, AIDS and social inequality. This book will inspire and change you.

Quotes from Farmer:

"People from our background... we're used to being on a victory team, and actually what we're really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it's not worth it. So you fight the long defeat."

"I'm glad we came, because now we know how grim it is and we can intervene aggressively."

"The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."

Review and Comments follow.

Mountains Beyond Mountains came with an inspiring recommendation from my roommate after discussing my aspirations to work with international health. This book was a godsend, as my current unemployment and exhausting job search has left me wanting for something more substantial and meaningful in my professional career. After finishing this book yesterday, my palms were slightly sweaty, my heart was pumping fast, and I was ready to spend my dwindling savings on a one-way plane ticket to the impoverished country of my choice. I fought back the urge to strand myself in the third world and instead decided to look into a Masters Degree in Medical Anthropology when the time comes to pursue more education. However, step one of Katie's Plan to Save the World is to get into and finish nursing school. Step zero is to find a way to pay the bills and eat while still holding on to my soul. I submitted seven applications today and feel hopeful about Step Zero.

Paul Farmer has lead an inspiring although completely unrepeatable life. As standard to biographies, Mountains Beyond Mountains explores the childhood, education, and experience to find the formula that forms a person into a mover and shaker. This book also investigates the current work and life of Paul Farmer in Haiti as well as other countries around the world. Internationally, Farmer's organization, Partners in Health, works to eradicate the world of drug resistant tuberculosis and AIDS. On a personal and professional level, Farmers works to eradicate the world of social injustice.

While Farmer's life feels unrepeatable for the nine-to-five professionals we are sometimes forced to be, he carries a philosophy about his life that if applied in even small doses would change the world. Our lives encourage ambivalence toward those in need. We quantify our relationships with people in terms of the economic exchange we are forced to live within and out on a daily basis. Farmer's philosophy compromises the safety of calculated risk in our relationships and calls us to be more than ambivalent toward the people around us. At one point in the book, in regards to a medical intervention that many are claiming a waste of time and resources, Farmer responds, "The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world" (p 294).

Farmer exposes ways we are subject to unknown oppression of the severely poor and calls us to do something about it. For this reason, this book has the power to change the lives of every reader should we chose to let it. Although I am still two to three years out of working internationally, I want to make a point to devote a certain amount of time and money to organizations that make a difference in the lives of the poor and oppressed. I want to recognize the suffering of the people around me and do everything in my power to alleviate it, even if those solutions are not always rational or cost effective. As Margaret Mead says in a very memorable quote, "Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have."

How will you change your world?

I dare you to try.


The Funny People in My Life

Some things can't be shared on a blog. The extent of how great this weekend was is one of those things. But, I will leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes. The first is from Saturday night, given by my hilarious and incredibly witty friend Paul:

"Bono was illiterate. You know that song, 'Where the Streets Have No Names?' That was because he couldn't read any of the signs. As far as he was concerned, the streets had no names."

Thank you, Paul, and Happy Birthday.

The second was gifted by someone at my church:

"You can tell the people that don't have friends. They are the one's buying zucchini from the stores."



Ten hours and three times through "Becoming Jane" (why did I do it?), I finally arrive. I would be a catch, should merit still weigh upon one's needle-pointing skills.


The Dormition of the Theotokos

Today marked the end of a two week vegan fast celebrating the Dormition of the Theotokos: the day Mary, the mother of Jesus died. Yesterday there was an evening Vigil followed by a Matins service. Each service in the Orthodox Church has a different but equally beautiful mood and I have fallen in love with all of them. Right now Matins might be my favorite, or at least favorite enough to attend before the regular Sunday service of the Liturgy. I'm a fool for the Orthodox Church, it is true.

Being Orthodox, I spend about one third of my year fasting. During fast periods, we cut out meat, dairy, most alcohol, fish and oil; fasting means living on a limited vegan diet. At first, the fasts are agonizing. Many of the rich foods I eat also have addictive qualities. The first week is the hardest as I reset my body and appetites as well as my spiritual priorities. After several weeks of a vegan diet, I don't feel weak or famished like popular belief would think but fresh, clean, and healthy.

With that said, my favorite part of the fasting seasons is finally breaking the fast with feast. Even though today was the death of the Theotokos, our two week fast was over and we could eat whatever food we chose in our most festive of manners. Todd, Sarah and I celebrated our feast with a Central Market Supreme Pizza. It was about noon when we finally got the pizza home and made ourselves ready to eat it. While looking at my first piece of glorious melted cheese, cured meats, and buttery soft crust, I realized that you really can't have feast without fast. If you can eat whatever you want all the time, it becomes more difficult to set days apart as special with the food we eat. Instead of enjoying rich foods for the first time in weeks, our appetites are brought into the celebration through gluttony. Our culture tells us to celebrate through gross over consumption. In regards to our beloved holiday of Thanksgiving, holidays are special because I can stuff myself silly without pangs of guilt regardless of the painful stretching of my stomach that happens after each meal. Without the fast before our large festive meals, we set apart our celebrations with gluttony rather than enjoyment of withheld foods.

Since I have entered the Orthodox Church, holidays are just as much celebrations of responsible eating as indulging appetites. While I do eat large amounts of rich foods, I feel full and satiated after two slices rather half a pizza pie. Fasting has worked its way into my body and routine. Many times after I am done with my first feast meal, I feel ready to start another vegan fast to start the cleansing process in my body over again. Lucky for me, in more situations than not, the next Orthodox fasting period is no more than several days away.

A blessed feast day to all!


Just Too Much for an Introvert

I found this flower on a trash heap today. I like to think the garbage men found it and smiled
before throwing the trash away. I don't think they noticed.

I do believe the stars have been aligning oddly in Capricorn this week.

Aside from other odd interactions I've found myself engaging in that I am still working to put my head around (randomly being contact by someone 8 years past, talking with an ex-boyfriend for a long while in a car smelling of raspberries, meeting new people and nearly immediately deciding to live with them, betting a 6-pack of microbrew on the location of Glacier Peak), I was hit on in a local coffee shop today.

My lab partner and I met up to study for our lab quiz and prepare for our class. We stayed at the coffee shop for about three hours until we finally needed to go to class. While my friend was in the bathroom, the guy sitting next to me leaned over, slipped me a piece of paper and wished me luck on my test. Shocked, I wonder if he in fact dropped the paper off at the right table and that perhaps I should place it at a table with a more desirable female inhabitant.

It was pouring down an August rain and my friend and I waited until we got to my car to open up the paper and see what Mr. Coffee Shop had to say. It had a number and a note apologizing for the passive method of delivery; wondering if I could pretend he gave it to me outside the shop instead. I'm not the sort of girl to attract phone numbers and am left wondering,

1. Does he give his number out to everyone?
2. In a moment of nervousness, did the note in fact make it to the wrong table?
3. Did he listen in on our conversation for three hours to decide that I was interesting enough to receive his number?

Baffled, I don't know what to do with the note. I go between taking a picture of it and posting it on my blog to hanging it on the refrigerator. Maybe I'll call it eventually, but I don't remember what the giver looks like as he was sitting next to me and didn't do much to attract attention. If he brings any other book besides Moby Dick to a coffee date, I really wouldn't be able to pick him out of a crowd.

This has been a very stressful and confusing week for a borderline introvert dealing with reclusive tendencies. I feel just about ready to quit this socializing thing.


Art Therapy

Inspired by my recent move to Seattle and fueled by my lack of employment, I'm caught with an irresistible need to cut, color and hang little bits of paper from odd places. My projects for the summer have been decoupaging an old copy of Vanity Fair to a dresser (project pending), making the perfect bookshelf (pending), coloring and sending as many envelopes as I can to friends and family (pending), painting a mirror (pending), and hanging little paper flowers all over the place (finished). My completion ratio is not looking so great, but the projects keep me busy while I search for employment. I'll be moving again at the end of this month, so hopefully that will give me the revived energy to finish things I start.

Yesterday, my roommate put a name to this obsession that made me feel only slightly less crazy: Art Therapy. In the best way I can think, I share with you some of the therapy I have experienced in the past several months.

I have since finished this project. Old Dresser, 2005.

I was charging ahead on this project, until I ran out of money.
Another Old Dresser, 2009.

Letters Without Lovers: Starry Night, 2009.
Letters Without Lovers: I Picked You Some Flowers, 2009.

Letters Without Lovers: Sunsets and Sherbet, 2009.
My Roommate's Door.