Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Concrete Divide

I have spent the past month and a half since my last blog trying to come up with something important to say; and today I realized that I do not, as a matter of fact, have many important things to say right now.

One of the few important things I want to say is THANK YOU to everyone who has sent books and prayers and notes. Jason's classroom library is blossoming and wonderful. We have been so humbled by the response we got! And we are excited to pick up some more boxes when we go back to Fort Wayne for a brief visit this weekend. Jason's day-to-day is surviving by little victories, baby steps in the right direction, tiny breaths and glimpses of hope. You all know as much as I do what a gifted teacher and loving person he is; the students are starting to see it as well.

When I was in high school and hopelessly devoted to blogging every single day, I was obsessed with thinking and dreaming up some really funny story to open with, a really passionate argument, a twist to tie the story and argument together, and then a witty, compassionate ending.

I'm afraid my days of such writing have come to an end, and I came to that conclusion today.

I tried to re-evaluate my motive for surging back in to the blog world, and I think that more than anything right now, I need an outlet to express myself (as cliche and lame as that is); and a reminder to myself that yes, I do, in fact, love to write. Even if no one reads it.

With that being said, here is my life, currently. Mostly questions; not so many statements. Certainly not profound, probably not very clear...but the result of my brain having a lot of time to turn over on itself lately.

The past month and a half have been very quiet days. Jason leaves at approximately 6:20am every weekday, and returns sometime between 4:15 and 6pm...which leaves quite a gaping hole in my day. In a way this isn't entirely true, because I spent from 8am-12pm in classes everyday; but, the afternoons have a very distinct quiet and isolation to them. Time that previously was filled with almost-daily meals with my family, being lazy with J, running around with my brother, planning a wedding, and hanging out with wonderful teenagers has now left me to my own devices.

I am really enjoying being back at school. My mind has missed the challenge and responsibility to learn, grow, and be stretched. I am also glad that online classes didn't work out; because I really enjoy some of the interesting people I have had the chance to meet. Many students at my school come from all over the world---Romania, Russia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Spain, South Africa. This has provided for great conversation in the classroom, but I have been slow to make any real friends seeing as they are all a little apprehensive of a white, 20-something, married girl from some weird Indiana city in their classroom who always happens to be reading a book for 'fun'. I suppose it is a curious situation. It has slightly stifled my ache for companionship during the day and greatly satisfied my need to be productive, but I still feel like an outsider in many ways.

Something I am learning about the city is this: it is full of bodies, and full of strangers. Such a big place is the perfect location for anyone who desires to live in anonymity. There seem to be, as Sylvia Plath might say, little bell jars over every resident.

Walking down the street, riding the train, living in a building with hundreds of other people--all of these are very, very solitary actions. No one speaks, no one makes eye contact. Concrete: The Great Divide. People are apprehensive of one another, moving past each other without speaking, personal, silent. I haven't quite gathered a solid thesis on it yet; but I am working hard on some theories.

I have caught myself submitting to the proverbial 'rising of the walls' around myself . After a couple of experiences of having frightening-looking men make dirty comments to you on the street or stare at you on the train, hearing gun shots late a night, and witnessing homeless people do wild and obscene things, one starts to adapt their behavior. Don't look people in the eyes but walk with your head high and shoulders straight. Don't flinch or look when they say things. Don't be too nice or say very much.

It's unhuman.

And one starts to understand why the prophets went to the desert, the wilderness, the outskirts. Why God removed his people out of the chaos for save them and save the world.

I'm learning a lot about the differences between life in Fort Wayne and life in Chicago. Jason can smile at people, be kind and gracious and warm, dress as nice as he wants to--without the fear of being misinterpreted. As a woman, I am learning how this plays out entirely different for me. I can't smile at people or they will think I mean something more. If I am kind or complimentary, it is, again, taken as something more. I have caught myself being weary of wearing makeup or anything more than sweatpants to school because of the looks I get. So, what do I do? Go on the defensive; making cunning replies to comments and turning stone-cold to strangers? Or try to hide and blend in to avoid the uncomfortable situations? I'm not stating this to create a platform for feminism or to claim things are unfair for women; its just something I have observed and felt. It's not right, and it's not true everywhere.

I know I run the risk that I am potentially behind melodramatic, but these have been my almost-daily experiences out and about in the city. And the biggest question of all has been how to live out my faith--being kind, being patient, being loving, giving my life away---in a place where everyone just wants to be left alone. The mother-hen in me is crying out for people to love on, and people for Jason and me to live life with.

There have been little victories. Two different girls have separately sought me out after class this week; and after just a couple minutes of small talk started to tell me all the struggles and situations in life and asking my advice without even knowing my name...two beautiful chances to share the love of God; two tiny cracks in the bell jar of private worlds.

The city is chaotic, solitary, busy,exciting rustling, enchanting and terrifying all at once. I love that we are spending our first two years of marriage here because of how much Jason and I get to depend only on each other; our trust of each other and God is strengthened in little and big ways. We get to explore and learn and get lost and find our way and find each other all over again everyday. We get to learn how to make each other laugh in new ways, to help each other remember to feel deeply and breathe and take it one day at a time. It is a new world, a new life, a new mystery. So until I unravel the secrets, until I find the answers, I am learning to follow the advice of Anne Lamott:

Be brave, be kind. Breathe.

...and wait and pray for the bell jars to break.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

one man's trash is another man's treasure...

Hello everyone! I have been meaning to write this week; but our week has been pretty busy. In the mean time, I wanted to share something that I probably already emailed to a lot of you. I am copying and pasting an email that Jason sent out this evening.

He explains his request much more efficiently that I could, but I would like to ask you to really go take a look at your bookshelf or magazine pile. Books have a way of hiding in our shelves after awhile and we can forget their presence. In the process of merging our book collections we had lots of duplicate copies of books, so we have started the collection of books already! I remember being consistently disappointed with many of my teacher's class libraries because they didn't trust us with their most beloved books...this is a great way that Jason can offer these students a huge variety of literature they may have never been exposed to before.

So, without futher adieu, here is Jason's email...and for visual, a picture of Bartleby with the book he was named after. :)

"Good evening to you all,

I am writing with a request. For those of you who have been reading my journal letters on my teaching experience, you will already know what I am up to this year. And if you have not been and would like to be, just send me a reply letting me know and I'll add you to the mailing list.

But this year, and for at least the next two years, I'll be teaching on the south side of Chicago for Teach For America. TFA serves low-income, mostly Title I schools (where over 75% of students are on reduced or free lunch) where the students in high school are as much as four to five years educationally behind their peers in higher income neighborhoods. Our goals for the year are for our students to improve at least two grade levels in a single year, while also showing 80% mastery on state standards for the given grade level.

I will be teaching 10th grade English Language Arts at South Shore School of Entrepreneurship, which just so happens to be American Literature. School begins the 2nd of September and I am so excited to start the school year and meet all the students I will be working with. And here comes my request.

So far I have just asked support in the form of prayers. Along with the previously mentioned goals for the year, I also have a huge personal goal of getting every one of my students to READ this year! So many of today's high school students have made up their minds that they do not like to read, despise the books they are forced to read in their high school classes, and look forward to being finished with school. I want to change that.

By forming Reading Clubs on Wednesdays in which every student in every one of my classes will spend time in class reading whatever they want, and then discussing it with their Reading Club groups, providing students with choices as to who they can research and read for their major writing projects, integrating classic and contemporary writing, magazine articles, websites, newspapers, and other current writing publications, I want to show my students that being able to read and write has real world significance - that the written and spoken word carry power and influence!

Not wanting to take up too much more of your time, I will just say that several other reading and writing activities are in the works for this year. And to really see the vision I have for my class carried out, I really want to have a quality classroom library for my students.

What I am asking is for you to see if there are any old books or current magazines lying around your houses that are not being used, and if there are, would you be willing to send them to me to help supply my classroom library?

Not only would it be greatly, greatly appreciated by me, but anything you send would go directly into my classroom for my students to use for their Wednesday reading clubs, as well as other opportunities for free reading time. Magazines like Time, Newsweek, People, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Paste, interior design, art work, drawing, video games....etc., etc., etc., would be awesome! And for books, I am not only looking for "classics." Most of my students will be on a wide-range of reading abilities, so books for young adults or middle school students are great! Just about anything will work. Judy Bloom, Nancy Drew, Jerry Spinelli, and Gary Paulsen are not at all out of the question.

Thank you all so much for even taking the time to read over this email and anytime you spend searching your houses. Again, anything you send will go directly to my students, and if you are not already on my newsletter mailing list and would like to be, just let me know!

I love you and appreciate your support (in whatever form it comes in) more than I can properly express.

May God bless and keep you all,

6151 North Winthrop
Apartment 202
Chicago, IL 60660"

Friday, August 15, 2008

For now, Glenmerle

So, after I posted last night, I broke down and took some very bad pictures of our apartment with my cell phone. They are anything but high quality, but atleast you now have sneak-peak of what our humble abode looks like.

Our kitchen table!

One end of the kitchen! We don't really have any pictures in our frames right now, so don't look at that. Another shot of our red drop-leaf kitchen table that is perfect for just the two of us, but then opens up to seat eight. Love it. Bart loves those big, thick windowsills--he watches the street all day.

Our refrigerator! For the first time in my life I'm learning how to use ice cube trays. I know, silver spoon. Those jars are filled with flour, rice, coffee, tea...I love them. Yes, Jenn, that's you and me on the fridge :) And, yes, that painting on the fridge is a watercolor that I did. In March. Don't laugh, it was my first one.

Our kitchen! Not very clean when I took this picture. Please pardon the Griddler still on top of the microwave from dinner; that's not where it belongs. And that's Bartleby wandering around. The black thing on our wall is chalkboard that we write to each other on. I wish the color came out better, because that little table on the right is so beautiful. We only have one outlet in our whole kitchen, so we had to be creative about what we plug in! No, that's not a door at the end of the kitchen. There was a huge housing shortage after WWII, and a lot of the apartments in Chicago at that time were cut in half and made in to two apartments. That's our cut-off :)

Our apartment has amazing storage; we have three big closets. This is the one in the foyer, our winter coats, scarves, hats, suitcases, tent, sleeping bags, and both of our bikes fit...almost. That's the back tire of the RoadMaster sticking out just a smidgen. And, of course, I had to be urban-chic and purchase re-usable grocery bags...conveniently located next to the front door.

The 'nook'. That chair on the right is heaven for your behind. Our kitchen table came with six chairs, so you will see them randomnly dispersed throughout the house. A lot of the things that Jason is taking to his classroom at school are piled up over here, so it looks a little cluttered right now. Don't mind the random birdcage that I haven't found a place for, either.

Our two bookshelves! Yes, over 500 books found homes in our living quarters. Hardwood them! We both agree that that clock reminds us of elementary school.

Another shot of the living room. Jason was working diligently on Teach for America. He's working so hard, I'm so proud of him. I love how the desk faces the window, so there is a really pretty view while working.

This is the view of the living room look out from the kitchen. The lamp makes it look like our ceiling is on fire.

On to the bathroom! I just wanted to show how cool the old tile is, and the old furnaces in every room. This rug is so wonderfuly squishy on freshly-showered toes.

When you sit down to do your business, John Lennon is there to wish you times of peace. Again, the only outlet in the bathroom...sort of oddly placed.

Our sink! Water pressure is an adventure in our little world of communal living.

Full bathroom shot. The light has one of those pull-down-cords, which makes going to the bathroom in a slumbered state at 3am quite an adventure. We have one of those old-school medicine cabinets behind the mirror.

This is the 'welcome piece' in the foyer. Jason and I actually bought it for 2 dollars at a rummage sale, repainted it, and put new hardware on it. You can't see the chipped-paint effect very well. This serves as an awesome storage place for keys, wallets, change jars, and our favorite pictures. The piece on the wall up above says, "hope".

Our beautiful old-school stove! I know it looks dirty in the picture, but I actually just scrubbed it down. That's just how old it is. The numbers on the temperature gauge for the oven were all worn off except for two, so I had to use a sharpie to write them back on :) And if anyone knows who gave us this adorable owl tea pot, we would love to know so we can write them a thank you card! There was no name on it! We would love to thank you, Mystery Gifter!

Edit: We discovered the identity of the Mystery Giver. Maggie Paino, we bestow our highest gratitude for the beautiful owl tea pot. Our lives will never again be the same because of your gift of well-made tea.

Random shot of the side of the refrigerator. You can see our calendar, tickets to the Coldplay concert in November, and our list of the AFI's Top 100 Movies that we are currently watching one by one. The piece of paper bottom right is the AFI's list, and then the rest of that dry erase board is our own list that we are making as we watch each film.

Our couch in the living room! Contrary to what the picture paints, our couch is dark brown and not an awkward purple. We were so happy to get our Beatles posters up! That chest is actually painted to match the vanity in the hall. It's stuffed full of blankets and pillows; and on top is a little tray with coasters and our scrapbooks.

Our front door, where guests are promptly greeted by James Dean and the old gumball machine. It used to be in my Pau-Pau's office at home; and it takes pennies! We have yet to find any gumballs at the store, but I'm on a massive hunt.

Last but not least, another shot of the living room from the foyer. That is a double-door closet on the left that has been very useful.

There you have it, our living quarters. Maybe I will take some better pictures later when it's not 10:30pm, and not on my camera phone. :)

Happy Friday!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

the next chapter

Because I can't figure out how to move these pictures to the bottom of my post, here are some pictures that I borrowed from the wonderful world of the internet to show you of our neighborhood.

This is a view of the street east of ours, but it looks just like ours.
Cubbies fans, eat your heart out. We are only about a ten minute train ride to Wrigley. This is an almost-aerial view of our community, Edgewater.
One of the coffee shops just around the corner
The bike trail that runs right by our apartment
...and right by the beach!
A lot of the houses and apartments in our community are coverd in beautiful ivy.

One of the gorgeous churches on the main street.
This is the Episcopalian church we visited last Sunday. The homily was wonderful, and the church was just beautiful on the inside.
Our main street, Broadway

Ah, hello blogworld, dear old friend. It has been several years since our aquaintance has been frequent, but hopefully the old match will light again.

It has been a few years since I have graced the xanga world with my writing presence, and so much of my life has changed and grown since I was last a frequent composer of words. Once I began my job in youth ministry two and a half years ago, it seemed that sermon outlines and newsletters received all of my writing attention.

Because of this single-minded mission, I'm afraid that my writing may be a little dusty and in need of some moth balls. I remember in high school I could sit down at two in the morning and write a 12-paragraph blog packed with wit and hooks and insight with amazing ease...even though my reading is at the highest it has ever been, the typewriter in my mind needs some new keys and a little grease.

As I was saying, life has changed so drastically in the past four years. Four years ago, I was packing everything I owned in to my Jeep Wranger--the soft-top windows bloated from the excessive amount of clothing and books--and making that ceremonious drive away from home and towards Atlanta. I listened to Rascal Flatt's song "Moving On" on repeat for the first hour of my drive. Then, as the sun began to rise it warmed my melancholy, nostalgic heart and I sang Dixie Chicks at the top of my lungs for the next nine hours (you guessed it, Wide Open Spaces. It's a right-of-passage, give me a break). My heart was so anxious and nervous and excited and unsure of what the future held.

How could I have known that I would leave Atlanta with a healed heart towards my broken past, a friendship with Missy that I could not live without, two years of some of the most hilarious memories, a renewed confidence in myself and in other people, a fresh look at God? I could never have dreamed all that I would learn and see and experience.

And now, four years later, I just unpacked a bloated U-Haul (a little bit bigger than my Wrangler) as a young woman married to the most wonderful, selfless and adventurous man in the world. Four days of unloading boxes, alphabetizing and organizing over 500 books (not an exaggeration; I counted), multiple trips to the dumpster, moving furniture from room to room, hanging Beatles posters and picture frames...and just like that, a new chapter of life has begun. What lessons will be learned, friendships made, experiences treasured...well, that is yet to be revealed. I have never been so excited about a new chapter of my life, because I have never before had the love of my life by my side, hand in hand. He paints the world in so much color and love and renaissance.

On more of a basic note, we love our apartment. We live in a neighborhood called Edgewater; a very diverse community. Our street is lined with old brick apartment buildings, beautiful trees, and is generally pretty quiet (except for the occasional car driving buy blasting Spanish radio, TuPac's greatest hits, or Beyonce). The 18-mile bike trail that runs along Lake Michigan starts on our street, and it takes us approximately 10 minutes to walk from our apartment door to the beach. We have already taken our bikes for a journey along the lake several times, and we haven't required the service of our car since last Tuesday. Loyola University is two blocks north of us, and provides a wonderful resource of bookstores. Down on the corner is a meat market, and just one block west is an awesome grocery store with a delectable produce selection, our bank, a pharmacy, a branch of the local library (one of the first things we did was get our library cards), and the red-line train that runs straight downtown. There are all sorts of coffee shops, Thai food restaurants, Mexican markets, and used bookstores within a four block radius of our apartment that we are anxious to explore.

We live in a one-bedroom apartment on the second story of our 12-floor building. Our living room and kitchen windows face out on to the main street, which bring in the breeze from the lake and a beautiful blanket of natural light. We have all hardwood floors, antique fixtures, and a surprisingly limited amount of outlets. There is an old-fashioned elevator with a gate that allows you to see the walls as you ride up and down, and our landlord is a sweet older woman from (formerly) Yugoslavia. Her name is Patricia, and she starts cooking up all sorts of Slavic dishes starting approximately at 11am. Since our apartment is slightly above hers, we can faintly smell chicken and cabbage in our closests in the early afternoon. It brings a sense of homey-ness, I suppose. As soon as we have access to a camera (mine is out of commission), I will post some pictures of our apartment. Bartleby, our cat, is all settled in and finding all sorts of mischevious things to do and get in to (including dive bombing on to our bed from the windowsill at four in the morning).

Jason's first day of school is September 2nd, and I'm sure I will write more about it in the coming days (since this post is getting a little lengthy). I am in the process of starting online courses in the next couple of weeks, and I have put in my resume at the Boys & Girls Club down the street. They currently only have positions in their finance department, but I thought atleast I would start looking around for some options.

As stated before, this post is getting a little lengthy, and I have no desire to scare off any readers on my debut. There are so many things to write about, but the hours are so many and time will allow things to be told.

For now, happy Thursday! We are sipping our coffee and working on things that require being worked on before heading off to a concert in Garfield Park tonight.

Mercy and peace,