Tag Archives: community

What I Wish I’d Said To The Man Who Offered Me A Prayer

Would you like a prayer for anything today, ma’am? 

No thank you, I said. We wished each other a good day with a smile apiece and I dashed down into the subway station. I believe in saying no to everyone (except those people collecting signatures to get a candidate on a ballot). But, having worked these grueling street gigs before, I never ignore the person or withhold a smile.

On this morning, though, I was almost-late for a client meeting. When I flicked my eyes at the red fabric banners held up between what looked like white PVC pipes, I saw ‘Prayer Station’ in large white letters. Oh boy, I thought to myself, the evangelists are here! If I’d had extra time I would’ve walked to a different subway entrance.

As I caught my breath on the platform, waiting for my train, I wondered whose format was he using: Which church bought the red apron he wore, printed the flyers in his pockets? I smiled imagining the conversation I might have instigated. I’m pretty sure those weren’t going to be neutral, platform-agnostic, open-source-type prayers.

I sat down on the scratched-up wooden station bench, and a lump formed in my throat. It was a lovely thought, the prayer offering. A free magic service. How wonderful and beautiful and healing it could be to offer poems to subway riders. I pictured myself on that hot street corner, poems in hand. Pen ready for service. It’d be no different. A fragment of belief, a flash of communion with the deeper and higher and interconnected world.

And it hit me: A prayer for peace! I would desperately like to suggest he pray for peace in the Middle East. But I missed my chance. Now I felt regretful—was that crazy?

Who knows what these prayers do—they certainly haven’t ended the violence yet—but in a world so raw and rough, can prayers or poems really be superfluous? As a poet, I believe I’m obligated to believe in their magic and necessity. (Or at least in their possibility—even nuns and rabbis wrestle with belief.) So in his way, that young man got me to make my prayer, my wish. And I hope in this moment the feeling of a poem or a prayer grasps you, and you allow it to stay for a moment.

We are human beings, inventors of new forms of beauty and wonder. We conjured the sonnet and the prayer from nothing. That in itself seems worthy of a moment of thanks.


A note: This morning run-in happened in July, when every morning had new and horrible headlines about Israel and the Palestinians. It was a summer of terrible news and feelings of helplessness, and unfortunately, the need for words and deeds is no less urgent this fall. 

Bonus: If you feel hungry for some feelings and don’t see them anywhere inside yourself, let me invite you to check out Poetry’s app, a beautiful little gem to keep in your pocket. When you open it, you hit the Spin button and two wheels spin past each other, matching moods and subjects and generating a list of poems to explore.

In Which I Re-Insert Myself Amongst Fellow Natives In Los Angeles And Learn How They Are Going To Save The World

Ahh, nothing like winter in Los Angeles. Nights are cold and clear, there’s a faint whiff of fireplace smoke in the air, but the days are warm, sunny, and feel much longer than their east-coast counterparts. This particular return to my native L.A. has been a great chance—because I have more time and no terrible head-cold, for once—to explore some of L.A.’s off-the-beaten-path-of-consumerism aspects.

Over the weekend, I had a nouveau hippie double-header. On Friday night I went with friends to a Salon at a co-op house called Synchronicity. It really took me back to the days I went to parties at the college co-op houses, and the salons friends and I started in Chicago and New York years back. Overcrowded couches, kitchens with lots of signs about chores and rules taped on them, a guy doing fire poi in the backyard. I tried taking good pictures but mostly failed. But this photo from their site should give you a good idea:

Synchronicity gathered in their Los Angeles backyard

Synchronicity houses 12 people, some gorgeous citrus trees, a jacuzzi, and a recording studio in what looked like a converted garage or guesthouse. Apparently the house’s success has inspired at least half a dozen other co-housing groups to blossom on the very same block. The vibe was upbeat, some of the music was freaking fantastic (what were those sisters’ names?!), and one of the house members, a music teacher at a citywide organization, was on cloud nine because his housemates were holding a bake sale to recoup what he’d lost when his wallet was stolen.

The next day I got to see a Synchronicity-type setup on an even larger scale. I signed up for one of LA Eco-Village‘s regular Saturday tours. I brought a friend (who lived in one of the aforementioned college co-ops) with me, as did almost everybody else on the tour. I guess we were nervous about being kidnapped? Actually, I’d been really eager to see the place after reading Jennifer Chen‘s article about it in Bust magazine (sorry, no online article available). I’d had no idea it existed!

LA Eco-Village has a forty-unit apartment building, a second smaller building, a learning garden, and a mission to support all its’ residents efforts to live with as little ecological impact as possible. The tour, the group’s history, their mission and challenges were all fascinating and complex. Which explains why the tour is two and half hours long. Here’s a photo slideshow of some of the delights that caught my eye:

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The big, difficult question is whether one would live in a place like this. The price is right (rents are stabilized), and these are full apartments, so for better or for worse there’s more privacy and no regular communal cooking. There are monthly meetings that use a consensus process, and new residents face a two to six month getting-to-know-you process, which is probably also both for better and for worse for all involved.

It was an uplifting, inspiring example of the kind of mini-reality (communal, spontaneous, democratic, beautiful, affordable, green) you can create, though, when you refuse to simply slot yourself into the systems and choices (real estate, lawns, grocery stores, cars, individualism and accumulation) that you’re given. The woman who led our tour studied bio-ethics—she’s no slouch!—and has spent some sixteen years working with her neighbors to make LAEV’s dreams into realities, one small initiative at a time.

The result is impressive, and yet they are one oasis in a vast, polluted city. When my friend and I wandered through Koreatown to find lunch, I felt like I was transitioning between parallel universes, and I felt deeply grateful  that I’d been allowed to visit.

Partially-read book review: The Circle Of Simplicity

Look, oh friends, where I’ve been all morning. Post-shower, post-breakfast, I didn’t have it in me to sit down at the old laptop just yet. I was sleepy, sure, but I was also nervous because I have to return a library book a.s.a.p. — some other patron has requested it, and so I can’t do my usual renew-it-six-times-until-I-get-around-to-it routine — and I’ve been wolfing it down like it’s a cake that’s about to spoil. So I took my green tea to the community garden to camp out for half an hour, to get a few more pages in. You know, until the mosquitoes drove me to insanity. But this is a perfect day, warm but not humid, sunny but not hot, and the mosquitoes must all be napping, and I read and chatted with other gardeners coming in to water their plants and walk their babies for an hour and a half. 20130731-113334.jpg

“What are you reading?” asked JoJo, a fellow gardener, a public school teacher and expecting father asked when he came in to water his plot. I showed him my book: The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the good life, by Cecile Andrews, which caught my eye on a recent borrowing spree at the library. (Its first blurb is from the one and only Juliet Schor.) “Does she say you should join a community garden?” he said with a smile. “I think she’s going to,” I replied.

Andrews’ premise is, in a nutshell, that we’re not well, we hard-working Americans. We’re tired and cranky and lonely and sick and divorced and a little desperate. And it’s because we’ve been sold on the idea that we should follow a certain formula: success in work + success in building a little castle = happiness and success in life. But the big TVs and cars only separate us from other people, and working to buy those things separates us from our true gifts, passion, and drains our energy for life. Not to mention the toll this all takes on the poor planet, which we’re squeezing dry with all our successful widget-producing and comfortable, affluent living.

Re-thinking your priorities, finding your own truths about what you want in life, and connecting with other people— at the grocery store, on your block, at the playground or church or temple — are some of the big-picture remedies she suggests. The more involved you are in authentic relationships, and the more time you spend doing things that give you pleasure, fulfillment, and purpose, the less time you spend numbed out in front of mediocre television (this book was written in 1997, before TV got a lot better) or shopping, worried that your clothes aren’t good enough yet.

A lot of her anecdotes and analyses might feel familiar to a reader who is already exploring these ideas, but she’s very astute at identifying subtle factors: for example, the way wide streets and the fact that we don’t build front porches anymore make it harder for us to have casual contact with our neighbors. Even in New York, where we live in close proximity, many neighborhoods have seen their hangout cafes, or their community-based grocery stores, replaced by big chains. This book will make an outstanding introduction for anyone interested in just exploring their own doubts and questions about their lifestyle for the first time. In fact, I think it makes an excellent read to start with before jumping into Juliet Schor’s Plenitude (check out Treehugger’s recap here), which is less philosophical but gets down to the brass tacks of sustainability and personal economics.

“Simplicity Circles,” a cross between a book-club and a consciousness-raising group, are part of Andrews’ vision toward helping people change their lives. You can’t change without support and community, she says, and you can’t have community without laughter. That’s partly what I hope to do with this blog — laugh at the foibles that come along when trying to make deliberate change, and to share them with others. I’m thinking about putting a little note inside the book when I return it to the library, so maybe the person who’s waiting for it so eagerly will invite me to join theirs.

UPDATE: I picked up the book again over a late lunch, and came across this spot-on description of gardening:

“My whole life experience has taught me that the intellectual life is superior to the physical life, particularly the life of nature. So it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I started gardening. I had always thought that the reason you gardened was to have flowers around, so it would look beautiful. I didn’t realize that gardening was an end in itself.

 

In fact, I was astonished to see how much I loved weeding—it was almost a mystical experience. I would start weeding and become totally absorbed. Down on my knees among the tall flowers and plants, I felt different, I felt expanded. I wouldn’t want to stop, even though I knew that, after all that bending, I probably wouldn’t be able to walk the next day.”