Getting to Know Each Other

082015Begin here: thirty adults, strangers to each other, seated around a circle of tables. Where do you begin? A few chapter of Mike Rose. Plenty of nerves. A hearty dose of courage. Four questions that end with, What do you believe today? Belief, then. Begin with belief. It all unfolds from there.

August 20, 2015

Getting Through

081915Tired and exhilarated, hopeful and relieved, I arrived home from orientation with a hankering for gelato. It happens every year, the big ramp up for the day, the breathless rush of running it, the sense of miracle when it all goes off smoothly. Students arrived brimming with hope. They were surrounded by supporters — alums and advisory committee members and ACC staff and case managers and me and Amelia and Irene, all of us greeting them with all of our enthusiasm. They sit down cautiously. They listen. Across their faces flash fear and excitement, uncertainty and eagerness. Afterwards, tables returned to their places, pizza boxes stacked next to the trash can, paperwork filed back in our bags, I want to celebrate. My first year, I planned to meet Laurie and Mario and Chris for a margarita, but I-35 was a parking lot and by the time I got down south, the gathering was over. Perched on the upper deck of the highway, I cried. This year I arrived home and Chris was waiting for me in his pajamas. When I said gelato, he sped to the bedroom and changed back into clothes. But it was nearing 10 and the places were closed. I ate some chocolate and watched tv to wind down. So on Wednesday, the week half over, the next big class day ahead of us, we got that gelato. Chocolate paired with olive oil, a bench outside to watch the hip young world of East 6th Street pass by, we took it bite by bite.

August 19, 2015

Getting Started

081715The folders will be filled and stacked and carried and laid out, one for each seat around the big table. Inside a blue sheet with phone numbers, policies and forms to complete, assignments, a bookmark, a poem. We begin the night with Mary Oliver declaring again, Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? It is orientation, and around the table everything buzzes. They are here for the first time — excited and nervous, beaming to be seated there, peering at the door. You have earned your place, Amelia tells them. I had never been to college, Irene says. Now I am enrolled for six hours. My office is right down the hall, adds Adrianne. We want you to succeed, I emphasize. Empty pizza boxes at the back of the room. The kids singing songs down the hall. I hold up the books. Plato. Shakespeare. Anne Lamott. I am so excited, someone blurts out. I don’t want to talk over anyone else, says another. The room is too hot, then too cold. The markers are fresh. With seven minutes to go, Amelia says, Stand up! Turn around! Shake it out! And then we settle in before going. Afterwards one then another steps up to say thanks and see you Thursday. And J reaches for my hand. Thank you for making us feel so welcome, she says. And I remember again that’s all that matters.

August 17, 2015

Getting Ready

081615You look at the week ahead like a patch of ice you will cross but not without sliding a lot, not without a stumble, a fall, a spin that takes you in the wrong direction. And not without looking upward to be dazzled by the scenery. But focus. Balance carefully. Look ahead. Students and registration and phone calls and pizza and stacks of books and rosters and child care and parking. Somewhere in the midst of it, writing and exercise and eating. You care a lot about eating. So you head out early Sunday to the store and spend the afternoon listening to podcasts while you chop and stir and simmer. Veggie stew. Vats of salad. Jerk marinade. You ponder containers for carrying it all, seek the missing cap for the water bottle. Then fill a canister with granola, this one cooked with only nuts, toasting on low heat until the house smells golden. If you’re lucky, it will fuel you to the other side.

August 16, 2015

I Can Now Admit

072315This time of year kicks my ass. Interviewing applicants, twenty, thirty, forty of them, reaching and scheduling and inviting and welcoming and listening and explaining and testing and reassuring and then, hardest of all, choosing. It’s difficult to imagine a privilege greater than sitting down to hear someone’s story, the losses, the yearnings, the very hard things that kept them from what they wanted. They arrive with tattoos down their arms and onto their fingers, or in a nice blouse they clearly wore for the occasion, or with young children trailing behind to be entertained by cell phones while we talk. They laugh or fall silent with shyness or sometimes cry and cry. And it is an act of attention, of holding space, to be there with them, to really be present. And it tires. And so yesterday afternoon I stepped away early, came home, put on stretchy pants and lay down. When I woke two hours later the cat was snoozing at my feet. I ate tuna salad, cleared my in-box, watched Chopped, and went back to bed. This morning puttering in pajama pants I set tomatoes to roast at low temperature for three hours. They will turn sweet, so sweet, so slow and so sweet.

July 23, 2015

We Had a Picnic

061315We strung the balloons. We filled the coolers with ice. We laid out plates and forks and weighted the napkins under bottles of ketchup. We cleared enough books from the shelves that nothing is left stacked, and we laid them on end on a table for choosing. We bought hot dogs sealed in plastic and sunscreen and insect repellent. We greeted Michael in his orange hat and watched him pile charcoal in a chimney for the grill. We waited. They came. They came with children and dogs and sisters and cousins. They came with memories and nervousness and for a quick spin or the whole day. They looked for people they knew. They hugged us hello and hugged us goodbye. Their children played in the water and came back slick and cool. The sun climbed high in the sky and the temperatures rose. The park grew busy and full. The hotdogs were eaten, one by one. We packed up. We thanked our volunteers, left behind a few cakes for the group behind us. We retreated to the air conditioning. We counted our numbers. We slept.

June 13, 2015

Pics (Sans Paragraphs)

Because those busy, busy weeks were still full of images, full of stories I didn’t get a chance to capture.

 

Life on the Road

At the Clemente Directors’ Meeting at Bard College. Kind, smart, passionate people. A landscape that sits in my bones. A weekend to connect to the things that matter to me about my work. And a visit with Phil.

 

Life at Home

 

Life In Between

Hanging On Tightly

051915So I find myself on the other side. Weeks of work and travel and endings and goodbyes and then that long day that culminated in a standing ovation for our students who had finally finished, who had done it all and wore caps and gowns and red medals I placed around their necks. It was over. The hugging and the racing and the planning and the doing. At my desk in the next morning I was bleary, puttering through simple tasks, talking nonsense with Amelia as we struggled to stay in the office long enough to look respectable. And then I headed home. By the mailbox, gulf fritillaries hovered near the Gregg’s mist. The air was thick, the winds gusty with another storm blowing in. And yet this butterfly landed on the lavender flower and stayed. And then, when it had its fill, it fluttered away.

May 19, 2015

Graduation 2015

051815When I woke in the morning, 6am, I thought, It’s a free-for-all. It’ll never work. This is the year it all implodes. Maybe I think it every year, the tiny pieces impossible to hold all at once. How many platters of cheese? Are the programs on the seats? Do the medals go on the podium or a table to the side? Will there be parking? Will we overflow? Will no one show? So many things to go wrong that I forget what can go right. Here are 21 graduates on the stage: black gowns, mortarboards, red tassel hanging to one side. Here are the people who came out to cheer them. Here are music and applause and a hand to help us up the stairs. Here are speeches and congratulations. Here pride. Here accomplishment. Here such joy. Really, such joy.

May 18, 2015