Thursday, January 21, 2010
It's time for the EX:Change to be renewed!
It was a year ago today when I interviewed Art Garcia - #1 of 100 over the next 100 days. Now volunteers with EX:Change are transcribing interviews, editing videos, designing web pages, analyzing data. I’m one of those volunteers with both hope and determination to find excellent ways of giving the voices back to the American people as a way of keeping the dialogue and democracy vibrantly alive.
Thanks to the help and guidance I'm getting from the generous volunteers to the project, I've moved the blog to a new site. You can find it at exchange2pt0.wordpress.com.
Come check it out and tell any and everybody who might be intersted.
On we Go!
On we Change!
Friday, April 3, 2009
Just South of Division Ave.
Home a week.
I’ve slept for most of it.
And I’ve walked. Home again to the neighborhoods, to the stretches of bank on both the east and west sides of the Willamette River, and to the downtown streets – careful, clean and bustling. Aaaaahhhh. Portland, Oregon. Home sweet home, indeed.
Right there with me in my walks and in my sleeping dreams are the echoes of American highways, American landscapes, and American voices.
Out from summers across the 1980’s comes a memory of the nights that would follow a full day of sailing in a tiny SunFish on the wide and shallow waters of Lake Texoma – aptly named following its excavation at the border of TX and OK as part of the WPA in 1938. After a day of tacking and jibing atop 89,000 acres of Red River waters held captive by the Denison Dam, my body and mind would continue to sail in my sleep and through the next day. It’s the sea-legs, land-legs thing. The experience is a perfect metaphor for my past week.
In the company of memories, old and new, I took a short trip north to Seattle. Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is 10 degrees cooler than usual for early spring. Snowflakes have been dancing between raindrops, maintaining the crystalline white regalia of Mt. Ranier to the east and the Olympic Range to the west. I spoke with a few bundled Seattleites about Change. In their words I heard sustained energy and optimism, but also a re-emergence of what may be fatigue and may be fear.
Back in Portland, a conversation with a social services administrator began with words like uncertainty and holding pattern. This administrator, Mohammad, is a man who was raised Palestinian in Jerusalem. He immigrated in his early 20’s and is now a U.S. citizen of well more than a decade. Using his clinical and management skills he supports services to populations who benefit least from public enterprise. Most directly, he supports professionals who provide these services. “People are tired and fearful,” Mohammad said. “Our patience is being tested, and now is a time when patience for change is most necessary.”
One hundred days cover a lot of time. Enough time for Change to take on new meanings.
Marking time from the Inauguration of our new President, there’s a month of days left in these first 100. In that time it is likely we will have more to tell ourselves. Our sense of the content and possibilities of Change – our forecast for the endurance, creativity and conscious action that together and one-by-one we are ready to put toward its realization.
The rumble of the road and the vitality of the people and conversations along the way stay with me. They are becoming fundamental to the way I am making sense of this time – the way I am answering for myself the questions I’ve been asking. Like Nick said way back on January 29, “It’s Ex + Change and it equals exchanging points of view. It’s communicating and doing.”
He’s still right. This is our opportunity and it is our responsibility – together and one-by-one.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Near the Airport
Salt Lake City, UT
It’s a long way from Chicago, IL to Salt Lake City, UT – especially in two days by car – tiny car.
Fortunately, there’s been saving grace – lots of it. One certain sign of this abundance is the fact that I’m sitting here right now, safe and sound after so many miles through all kinds of weather and, in the instance of I-80 through Iowa or I-70 out of Denver, with all manner of giganto-truck traffic.
Two more specific forms of grace seem worthy of note – because giving words to such things is one small way I have for expressing the immeasurable gratitude I carry around lately.
First is the grace that shows up as THE WEST itself. From smack in the center of the American West, I sent an e-mail to the “friends and family list” this morning: 8:10 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time, Conifer, CO.
I'm sitting w/ a cat on my lap -- a cat the color of a dreamcicle— those vanilla/orange ice cream treats I tend to associate with the Sweetwater, TX segment of my childhood. mmmmm.
The cat is warm and purring and gazing south like I am out the wall of windows that opens toward the contagion of shadows rising into the morning sky. There they are, the Rocky Mountains – courage and endurance in igneous relief.
How lucky can one woman be???
I (…make that 'we') can see Pike's Peak from here. 'Here' being the beautiful high mountain home of yet another friend of a friend who generously offered me a place to stay.
Some of you will know that I'm early. Moving west across the top part of the country way faster than originally planned. Still getting great interviews and also very ready to get body, soul and auto back to Portland.
Given the self-elected fast forward on this leg of the trip, conversations have been more sparse. But they have been no less real. Sparse and real like the cities anchoring the sprawling canvass of land we’ve sectioned into the northern states west of the Mississippi. Sparse and real, too, like the smaller towns dotted on top of the broad brush strokes of plains, deserts, mountain ranges, plateaus. All of it the art of history and culture mixing in with countless eons of geologic ancestry.
In Chicago, my hosts were again most gracious: A graduate student and her mother, immigrants from Viet Nam in the late 90’s. Lien, the daughter, spoke of change in terms of her love of travel. She showed me pictures of Singapore and Oahu, of Toronto, South Carolina and LA. Lien gave few details of her family’s move to Chicago from Viet Nam when she was 12 years old. But, in modest and immediate narrative, she did describe the enormous personal challenge of living as the family’s generational bridge to English language and American culture.
From a life forged in extreme and constant change, Lien’s concern is for the preservation of what is good – safety, education and a reliable distance between bare survival and assurance that rudimentary needs will be met. In change, Lien’s concern is not for the ideal or optimal. For her family, there has been great relief and comfort in what most American’s consider to be the minimal.
On the road west of Chicago there were highway moments like these two:
-- The baristas in the York, Nebraska Starbucks – which, from my considered (if high-speed) observation, is the only Starbucks between Chicago and Denver. The two young women – the first an immigrant from Eastern Europe, the second a local girl – commented on Change relative to their feeling that the media have a very bad habit of exaggerating the negative. “We get the wrong picture and start thinking no one can be trusted and that the country is doomed,” the first barista said. “Good luck,” the second and quieter woman said. “We need this – to know what Americans are really thinking.”
--Down the road I got a bit lost. Confident by now in the mercy of the road, I took the exit for Mack. There behind the door of a weather-beaten frame building and beneath the faded Sinclair sign made true by a single gas pump I found an odd and kindly pod of family and friends. All sizes, few teeth, generous smiles and expert travel directions.
This was Mack, Colorado – the last stop for services on I-70 west of Grand Junction. At least some among the gathered souls were bikers, judging from the well-worn Harleys parked out front, and like so many in rural America they were working people out of work.
In the filtered light of the last day of winter, overused hands variously held mugs or gestured into the air above the Formica tabletop. The interest voiced from the collective was to have work and income as reliable as the coffee, conversation and companionship inside these frame walls. Here on the doorstep of the Colorado Plateau, work they said would be the surest sign of Change.
Every conversation on the drive from northeast-to-northwest has served as social punctuation within the larger narrative of the landscape. With each westward mile, the tangle of asphalt stitching together the East Coast slowly unwound to become a single thread of open highway. Except for stretches of dizzying truck traffic, the world began to feel less complicated and my attention began to register again the precision, beauty and drama of changing American land forms.
Time may not slow down as one travels from east to west in our country, but space, less cluttered, gives more room for listening to the particular moods and messages of prairies and summits and nuanced skies. Another bonus of sensational space and drive time -- A new collection road signs and “attractions.”
Maybe just a few examples:
-- I-80, just outside Kearny, Nebraska: A highway sign of the official green-with-white-lettering variety reads, “Road built with 47,000 recycled tires.” Who knew?
-- Just east of Lexington, Nebraska another official sign announces the opportunity to stop and consider the historic and contemporary artifacts collected in the “Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles.”
I stopped at that exit, but not at the museum. My interest pulled instead to the Sandhill Cranes resting in the farm pond next to the museum.
I’d been watching the Cranes for hundreds of miles by then – graceful birds feeding in fields and prairies, rising in small clusters, due to some startle or simply for variety’s sake to stretch their long wings into achingly delicate arcs. It was the time of day for concentrating on food and other ground-related activity, so flight lasted only a few seconds. Even in brief, the birds’ collective movement fulfilled a primal choreography of rhythm and synchrony that pretty much define words like supple and elegant.
The stay-at-home dad I interviewed in Omaha told me of these birds – of my good luck at driving across Nebraska precisely in the middle of the Crane’s spring migration pattern (http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/wildlife/guides/migration/migration.asp). After the successful photo op near the museum of military vehicles and before I got back on the road, I sent a text message to my very best friend – Sandhill Crane sighting! What a complete privilege!
-- Next, like telegraph signals across the late afternoon, irregularly spaced signs from western Nebraska into eastern Colorado show up to document random romantic icons of our country’s western expansion. Gothenburg, Nebraska boasts an “Original Pony Express Station.” And spanning the cusp of the Nebraska/Colorado border are a series of minor but notable remnants of the inescapably mythic “Buffalo Bill.”
-- Then, finally there was today’s drive through the magnificence of Colorado – the part that came after my breakfast with the dreamcicle cat. Early miles (like the first 150…) were pretty much dominated by gasp after gasp as the vistas shifted. The magnificence of the Rockies “Front Range” yielded to the red rock of the Maroon Formation which in turn gave way to Glenwood Canyon.
Tucked among these giants of topography was every Colorado ski area you’ve ever heard of or longed for. Then there were the coupled signs – 100 or so yards apart: “Leaving Colorful Colorado,” “Entering Utah.” Followed immediately with what might be my all-time favorite, again in official green-with-white-lettering:
“Eagles on the Highway.”
Now, I’m sitting in the parking lot of a Hilton near the Salt Lake City airport. I made a lucky guess – free WiFi here.
I’m writing. And I’m waiting for a call. I’m going to have company on the rest of the drive. My sweetheart has come here to bring me home.
Journeys like stories – like this one – always have their own ending. I can’t predict the next few days any better than I could predict any of the 46 before them. Still – right here, right now, there’s a particular crispness in the night air, a drawing near of the stars in this western sky.
Surprising as it is comforting, mysterious as it is promising, there’s something reliable as the Wasatch Mountain Range that inheres in sitting here waiting for a call that the plane has landed and no longer must I travel alone.
The saving graces I mentioned at the beginning of this entry? This is the second one: Companionship in all this change.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Corner of Pulaski & Leonard
West side of Chicago
It’s St Patrick’s Day. I just finished an impromptu interview with a Police Sergeant.
On St Patrick’s Day.
Except to add my thanks to the officer for his time --
ex-hippies do make the world go round!
PA Rte 6 W
I have a thing about hawks. It’s part ornithological (I mean, what cool raptors). It’s part romantic/poetic (their metaphorical range is considerable). And it’s no doubt part mystical. The mystical part could be embarrassing from the perspective of ‘woo woo’ attributes since I tend to take their appearance as very good signs.
If circumstances are dicey or uncertain in any way, the appearance of a hawk, especially on the wing, is for me an omen that clarity and good resolution are on the way. Oddly, that reasoning seems to help me accept almost any outcome as good, whether it’s what I thought I wanted or not.
I guess I knew hawks were everywhere in our country – this likely from info of the ornithological variety. Nonetheless, I’ve been surprised how often I’ve seen them in the skies of my last 41 days.
Hawks over LA. Hawks in the sunset between CA and AZ. Hawks over Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.
There were hawks over the hillcountry of Texas and then again in Mississippi – really, hawks over the highway in MS – can’t say why that surprises me, but it does.
There were others in between, but today I saw two pair in as many states. One couple circled above Long Island early this morning. The other pair lifted from the crossbars on a telephone pole into the sky of New Jersey and very near a sign that read, “The country’s cheapest gas.” $1.92. Wonder if I should tell them about Atoka, OK. $1.87.
Gas was well into the $2+ range in Suffolk County on Long Island. I’d heard the Jersey claim on a radio program sometime in the past 3 days, so I had planned to wait whether NJ boasted its alleged distinction or not.
From Long Island, I navigated a dizzying contagion of Parkways disguised as Interstate Highways and made it back to the George Washington Bridge…the span I’d crossed into Manhattan three days earlier. By the time I got into Jersey, I was near giddy with the persistent appearance of the letters “W – E – S – T” beneath the numbers on the highway signs.
Aaaahhhh. Headed home.
The rest of the day took me through considerable topography. Older, more worn down than the Rockies I’ll cross later. Ancient and beautiful starting with the Delaware Water Gap – a stunning rise in the landscape at the beginning of what I later figured to be the Pocono Range. Then through Jersey and Pennsylvania farmland complete with comfortingly enormous barns – red … the most comforting part, of course.
Soon I was passing the spot on I80W (…yep, WEST) with the sign reading, “Highest spot on I 80W East of the Mississippi.” Four modifiers would seem to make this geographic entity a pretty insubstantial thing to note, but it made me smile. A real Interstate Highway sign—one of those green ones—our tax dollars at work. Actually, as I’ve thought of it, the expenditure seems worth the attendant adorability level.
Now I’m in the forested hills of NW PA. Breathtaking! And about to hear a forester speak to the idea of Change. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A bench facing the Hudson
It’s Friday the 13th. My interview schedule has fallen apart due in large part to equipment weirdness. Symptomatic, maybe of it being Friday the 13th?
Whatever the case, I’ve given in and am now sitting in the 40 degree sunlight – all wrapped up and warm.
I’m looking at the Hudson River, the way the afternoon light shows off its silver and enduring majesty out beyond the fleeting traffic on the West Side Hwy. From this vantage point and to the north, the direction from which the water flows, the river is also unapologetically muscular – reliable and capable like a real working river. To the south, the Hudson’s personality shifts again. Down there the late winter sun scatters across the water’s surface – rippling between cloud passes like laughter at well-spaced punch lines.
I’ve been laughing like that. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember anyone I’ve listened to who hasn’t offered levity to the conversation. Lightness seems to make more room for bravery – for reliability, capability and majesty.
In response to one of my blog entries, a reader using the name ‘patrick’ wrote “You’re listening to people’s prayers.” He may be right. Honest and genuine reflection on the word change brings people to their hopes, and dreams – and to their courage. Today, I’m aware again of the profound responsibility in asking about and listening to these American thoughts.
The Manhattanites I’ve spoken with in the last 24 hours have all pointed to the inevitability of change. All three voices, across 40 plus years of age spread, have carried a noticeable peacefulness in the talk of crisis. Not passivity, but a sort of quiet relief that the manic push for fortune and celebrity, for money and things has been finally laid bare – revealed for what it is: A Siren’s call, the addicting diet of empty calories we suspected it was all along.
In keeping with the oft noted metaphor in the Chinese character that connotes both crisis and opportunity, the urgency of the country’s economic circumstances showed up in these New Yorkers’ talk of opportunity. Opportunity to shift the quality of life for those who have lived with little to nothing. Opportunity to enhance the quality of education for the children and youth who have had less access. Opportunity to improve the quality of our air by reducing the use and thus the polluting impact of petroleum-based transportation – specifically, by walking and supporting safe bicycle routes in the city.
Perhaps apropos to their setting near the Hudson River, there was another theme in these interviews: Water.
“New York City has always been about the water,” my generous host says. He’s lived on Manhattan for about 55 years. He takes me on a bike ride all through the city to show me the amazing progress that has been made on the island for accommodating bikes as real transportation options. He takes me to the river to watch the sunset.
“Trade, commerce, immigration. All of them depended on the water,” he said. “Then came the extension of the city in 1895 to include the five boroughs which happened primarily because of water – the need for its accessibility to homes and businesses and the development of sewer systems. The island had that infrastructure and the surrounding communities needed it. That cooperation and expansion really brought the city into its vitality as the economic and cultural center it remains.”
The 25-year-old foundation worker who walked along the river with me last night echoed the theme. “The biggest question for Manhattan youth in 10 or 20 years,” she said, “will be water. Where will we get it? How will we use and distribute it?” She followed these thoughts with stated expectation that the intelligence and skill of the youth she currently works to support will be entirely up to the task (http://www.robinhood.org/home.aspx). “It will be about the water – and it will be about creativity and confidence and persistence – the things that keep showing up in the ways we New Yorkers and Americans face change.”
The water. The American character.
Like the Hudson River, we’re enduring because we draw from a great range of skill, vision, and talent – muscular reliability balanced with laughter, all sustained in the constancy of flow.
Another poetic conclusion…but, it works – mostly because it’s accurate. Over and over, I’m hearing and seeing it. We really are this way.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
11th & E, NW
A small pastel bouquet of balloons – green, pink, yellow, white – just floated toward the sky between the Hotel Harrington and the ESPN Building. I can’t tell where they came from, and now can no longer see where they’ve gone.
Pastel balloons don’t really fit here. Compared with the communities I’ve visited across the South, more people here are wearing black and walking quickly. Every third one has a cell phone visibly in hand. The sidewalks are wide. The trees are tucked into small gaps in the concrete at regular but ungenerous intervals.
It’s a city.
Our Nation’s Capitol.
These are serious streets in a place of serious business, so there seems no good explanation for a pastel cluster of balloons. As if to beg the question, the helium nosegay dipped several times down toward the street before lifting from sight. With each dip, I wondered if the orbs bobbing between the fifth and sixth storey were somehow attached – a whimsical way of lifting attention from street level, of lifting the mood a bit.
My memories of DC, from my first visit with my sister and mom when I was 11, through the early 90’s when I came here regularly for American Psychological Association committee work and again over the past six years for work with the Institute for Tribal Government and the Office of Indian Education – those memories are consistent with what I see here today. Lots of grown ups – evidence of competence and focus. That’s a good thing. This place is for that combination.
Then came this morning. I stepped off the Metro and onto the National Mall. I looked west to the Washington Monument the east to the Capitol. Both, reassuringly, were still there and I found myself taking a deep breath – a relaxing breath. As I began walking into the city north of the mall I had a strong sense of something different – a slight shift in the feel of the place.
Efficacy remains everywhere in evidence; and pride – both in the clean, coiffed stretch of the Mall and extending across its skirt of urbanity. Yet even in its quicker city pace, even with technology so close in hand, there are more clusters of people chatting as they navigate the sidewalks. The line at Starbucks seems to move a bit more slowly without the usual tension/flip-outs of bureaucratic anxiety. And there are pastel balloons.
This morning on the Orange Line of the Metro a man in a suit stood up to take a photo of his 9 year old son, also in a suit, seated on the train and joyfully plugged in to his IPOD. I noticed the dad had earphones in too and offered to take a photo of the two of them “dressed alike.” This led to one of those perfect on-the-train conversations – the dad/son dyad from Boulder, CO and Bear Creek Elementary School.
Dad beamed as he described their day’s work: Attending the ceremony at the Capitol where they would accept for their school the 2008 James L. Oberstar Award – prestigious recognition given annually by The National Center for Safe Routes to School (http://www.bvsd.org/news/Pages/BearCreekOberstarAward.aspx). “Seventy percent of the kids at our school walk or bike every day,” Dad said. Son beamed. “It’s all about reducing our dependency on cars,” he said, “and about the kids teaching the whole community by example.” Son beamed. “That’s change,” Dad said as we all stood to get off at the Smithsonian station. Then he said, “We’re going to the Washington Monument, first.”
The dignified dyad stepped off the escalator. The smaller one skipped a step, then another one. They turned left, both of them winding up the cords of their earphones and, in unison, tucking them into their pockets.
Maybe the mood has lifted a bit here in DC. Maybe there’s a little more room for pastel balloons, for joy alongside agency in the face of challenges like sustainable transportation practices in urgent environmental and economic circumstances. Maybe the combined presence of joy and action is a key to the change Americans are talking about these days.