Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day at the Dump with My Mom

The DC Dump is a marvel! Situated off a shady, manicured road behind Catholic U in the Brookland neighborhood, it’s like a sanctuary for the junk-burdened like myself. Even in the blazing 102 degree July heat!

Mom and I are greeted upon entry into the vast concrete waste station by a smiling concierge in a neon vest who inquires about the nature of our junk. In our case, on this virgin trip, we have a little of everything. So we follow the cones through the maze of drop-off areas, organized by junk type. First stop paint, where the workers wheel a cart out to the Subaru and load it up with a half-dozen rusty cans of various whites, antique to ceiling to pure. Next stop, electronics; but I decide I can’t part with the ’82 Trinitron quite yet and vow to return with the obsolescent Gateway and a few dead monitors on the next trip.

The third and most important stop is paper, where Ivan happily relieves me of six bulging boxes of corporate history. Smiling he assures: you won’t miss this stuff, and I know he's right. Then he empties each file box into the mouth of the shredder and pulls the lever; and I listen to it churning and chomping away. A stack of empty boxes remains, and Ivan's colleague comes to retrieve them for cardboard recycling. It's a smooth and specialized operation.

Final stop is the dumpsters, where the bona fide junk goes, including my circa 1950 water-guzzling toilet. Another worker helps me pull unload it from the Subaru and heave it atop a pile of old suitcases, broken furniture and dead mattresses.

I slam the hatchback, brush off my hands, thank the guy profusely and wave as Mom and I pull away. I can't believe how light I feel, despite the oppressive heat, having shed a couple hundred pounds of dead weight!

Then there are the feelings of dismay associated with having accumulated all that crap in the first place(I've never considered myself a pack rat!) followed by a silent vow to keep life light and simple from here on out, at least over the next two years, in the Peace Corps. (With the 2-bag 100-lb travel weight restriction, I really have no choice in the matter.)

And there’s one more thing I feel (besides heat exhaustion) as Mom and I are directed out of the sun-drenched complex: pride in my city for getting its junk act together and providing such first-class waste service to the citizens.

Huh, I may miss DC after all.

On the way home we drive by the mural wall to visit the Dali Lama.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

As I unclutter my life...

Today I focus on being present to what I am doing in the moment...which is everything! Making a million tiny little decisions on what stays and what goes. Room to room, chore to chore, thought to thought – bumping into myself going and coming. Bumping into Mom who herself is inert with confusion.

She gives me moral support and encouragement to toss out my ten years of corporate accumulation: pre-Paperless Era bank statements, receipts, warranties, summary reports, training course binders, contracts, two boxes of travel info, maps, brochures, organized by state and country. It’s all on the Web. It’s a different era. It makes me feel old.

But I decide I am the Peaceful Warrior, combating clutter and the status quo. And most importantly, letting go of some picture perfect transition. All my ducks will not be in a row – I’m never gonna make it, no matter how hard I try. In fact, my wallet was stolen in the Target yesterday; so I’ve got new tasks to add to my to-do list, including: DMV!

The Peaceful Warrior relinquishes to the Gods of Chaos.

The Peaceful Warrior is going to the dump today with her mom. First load: old toilet, 5 file boxes of paper, 8 rusted cans of paint, my 1982 Sony portable Trinitron, hefty bag of three-ring binders.

As I unclutter my life I make space for what’s really important.

(That sticky note mantra has been tacked to my wall for the last year; now I think I know what it means.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Definitely Won't Miss the IHOP

“Even a simple word becomes superfluous when our lives are changing, and even more so when we are changing too.” Jose Saramago.

I agree, at some level words can’t speak to the feelings of both loss and excitement I’m experiencing in the midst of this change. But as a ‘change agent’ I can’t let this opportunity go without a little commentary.

I’m leaving for the Peace Corps in a few weeks – T minus 28 days and counting. (Is there an emoticon for Heart Palpitations?)

I’m definitely counting, not just the days, but the litany of chores I have to get myself outa dodge. Flipcharts of to-do lists hang on my dining room walls – three pages of them, with just a few chintzy items scratched off. I must ready my house for the tenants; organize my finances so Uncle Sam doesn’t come after me in Mexico; shut down SeeChange and get closure with my clients…

I’ve done this before – I could write a book about it and maybe I will: Gettin’ Outa Dodge: An Escapist’s Guide.

But I don’t think I’m escaping this time; not like before with Brazil which had a desperate, adrenaline-infused quality about it, not to mention a man at the hot center of it. Pfew.

My life in Washington right now is good: I’m pretty happy, financially stable, creative and productive, spiritually engaged, and even in some relative state of peace. This is the BEST time to leave.

Mom’s in town to help with the transition – if I can pull her off the sofa and away from Rachael Maddow to start sorting and sifting through my accumulated junk.

We’re going room by room. I’m not even much of an accumulator; yet it’s important to have someone with no stake in the game telling you to LET IT GO.

Letting go of the old and making space for the new – that’s one of the keys to change. You gotta make ah-space.

But the stuff is easy – it’s the people and the connections and routines that are harder. Yoga class with Alice on Fridays and with Chantelle on Sunday mornings, her sweet readings and lavender aromatherapy rejuvenating me for the week to come. And Marvin the Cheeseman at CW who calls me 'Anita' and has my Canoa Kids taped to the wall behind the counter. And Rock Creek Park.

I definitely won’t miss the IHOP.

Friday, July 16, 2010


It’s 5 am – maybe no one felt it but me – in my own Epicenter of my own quaking world.

My house is crumbling at its very foundation. Or my boiler is exploding. My boiler is exploding – those HVAC guys yesterday were right, said it needed to be replaced – 35 years old and way past its due. Could it explode, in summer? Shit, I’ll never make that bus to the Peace Corps now. I'll be dealing with the aftermath, the ever-expanding transition to-do list. No, the tree removal is starting – but this early? The poor old elms are coming down – and the massive trucks are rumbling down Park and getting into position.

Amazing what can swirl through the mind in the 10 seconds it takes for the tremors to stop.

They stopped. Surely someone else felt that. No one in bed next to me to confirm or deny, for better or for worse. I text Jake: Earthquake? I text Karin: Did you feel that? No response, too early. A dream image pops into my head: her parents, my legs, a syringe stabbing into the flesh behind my knee. Painful. Thankfully it fades as I try to make it out.

I crawl across my bed to the window: all’s quiet down below. The sky behind the trees is slate blue. The cars are all lined up neat as Matchboxes.

The trees are coming down today.

I Google ‘earthquake Washington dc July 16 5 am’ – I get back hits on Haiti. It’s been exactly 6 months and 2 days since their disaster - still suffering. I track ball around – meetings at the Press Club today on the Haiti quake. That was a 7.0.

What about mine?

The trees are coming down today. No one’s moved their cars.

I’m angry at this city for letting this happen. I feel the heat rising on my skin and throw-off the sheet. They could have treated the trees last year, two years ago; but instead they put all their energy into chopping. And three more old ones are being hacked to the ground today.

Yesterday, finally, after a year of waiting, then two months of panicked bitching, they injected the remaining trees, including the one in front of my house, a 45-year old – to try to save them. But I have a bad feeling – an entire limb of mine is dead and the leaves are brown and crumpled and falling from the sky, dropping the disease everywhere. Why did they let this happen?

Why did I?

Finally, 2 months ago, I panicked and called a block meeting. But it may be too late.

Chopping is easier than care and feeding. Or maybe it's like some treeman to me: just the cycle of life.

But I'm not ready to let go yet. I say...

> Somebody should be minding the store – our canopy of trees – their beauty, age, grace, carbon-dioxide, cool green shade.

> Instead of riding around on sleek Seguays with Thinkpads and fancy GPS software that maps our dwindling urban forest.

> Do something.

> People drive our majestic block, a cross-town thoroughfare – a gateway to Rock Creek Park on the NW corner of Mount Pleasant. People walk dogs and push strollers beneath our canopy – cyclists and runners zoom by.

> Now it’s becoming barren – the rowhouses on the hill exposed, blazing in the sun, naked.

> It’s been two years since the first elm came down on our block – and Dutch Elm disease has been a known killer for ages – a non-profit grew up in our city, Casey Trees, to address just this problem.

> Do something. Last year they came to treat and instead they chopped. Why, we don't understand.

> So as citizens, we have to watch and push, push, nag, call, meet, call, check, nag, worry, get pissed OFF.

> And finally they arrive and inject - some of the wrong trees - and leave the stumps to rot and spread their disease.

> With all this bumbling I begin to see: the somebody that should be minding the store is ME.

Now I wait for the trucks to come to begin their euthanasia – removing the disease limb by limb – on lower Park Road – the epicenter of my world.

Ah, the radio report. It was a quake, not the boiler or the trucks, or the worries in my head – but a 5.3.

There's a man in a tree with a chain saw. Now I hear the mulching machines sucking in the limbs and spitting them out as dust.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Clicking off Time

She used to compare herself to others, women in her age group, mostly, and in her younger years, junior and high school, girls in her grade. But now she competed only with herself; now that she was forty-something, the new thirty they said, but despite the rhetoric she knew she’d crossed a line. Was this softening competitiveness evolution, or avoidance?

She paced along the rocky perimeter trail, hopping a pine root that looked like a snake across her path; she had snakes on the brain from the moment she entered the forest and heard the animals scatter in the brush. That poem at last night’s reading planted the seed, stabbed snakes hanging from sticks. She felt her toe catch on the root and bobbled forward.

“C’mon, pay attention,” she heard herself say aloud, but softly, so not even the birds could hear. Talking to herself was also becoming a privilege of middle age, she noticed. A bright male cardinal darted across her path, and disappeared into the dense foliage; a washed-out rusty colored female followed.

She was her own coach now, encouraging herself to keep the cadence, relax her shoulders, and use the arms like pendulums, like the Foucault pendulum in the Smithsonian that swung tirelessly, forever their teacher said, on its own even, back and forth momentum, clicking off time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Freedom Parfait

Yesterday we celebrated our freedom.

My dearest friends John and Peter had their annual 4th of July barbecue. As usual, I was the only female amidst a roomful of fit and lively gay men – a gender balance that, living in Washington, I find delightfully rare. But we had some new and diverse energy in the mix this time: a Venezuelan man I’ve been seeing for about a month, a naturalized American citizen, as well as my friends’ adopted son Issac, and Mate, an exchange student from Hungary who’s staying in Washington for the summer. As we gathered around munching chips with guacamole and waiting for the coals to heat up, it was this inquisitive young man clutching his video camera who asked:

What does this day mean to you?

It’s was a poignant question – I’m a sucker for a good question - and got a tiny instantaneous crush on this youthful mop-headed visitor.

Hot dogs, said Redhead Bill.

Singing Ethel Merman show tunes in bed, said his partner Neil. (Followed by a few bars of There's No Business Like Show Business!)

Freedom, I responded to Mate, taking a more serious tact. From oppression…to self-govern…to self-express. To go your own way – and a willingness to fight for it. (To sing show tunes in bed.)

It sounded all too patriotic - and all of us agreed to wave Issac's little American flags as Mate's camera rolled - though I contend we are anything but a flag-waving bunch.

It's just that Freedom has a very personal side to it – and that’s what’s on my mind these days – as I set off to join the Peace Corps mission in Mexico in just six weeks!

It's a decision that's been weighing heavily as I try to begin to let go of all I have here in Washington. Though I know how fortunate I am to be able to exercise my freedom to go – to make this shift in my life – to cross a border and be accepted into someone else’s country (not to have to swim across or scale a wall!) To be supported and encouraged by my friends and family. To know I’m leaving so much behind – yet trusting that it will be here for me when I return.
And yet, while I wouldn’t give up my freedom for anything, I feel the weight of it at times – the sense of obligation to do something useful and profound and liberating with it. And so I uproot myself once again and go to Mexico – because I CAN.

And why else? Perhaps I hope to discover some deeper freedom – a kind the forefathers have nothing to do with – some freedom from my own internalized oppression. Letting go of the old ‘supposed to be’ ways.
Hombre, if I could do this in the Peace Corps, if I could bring my best, most open and true Self to this adventure – I WILL be free.

Back to the Hungarian kid … born in 1990, not long after the Berlin Wall came down...I wonder what freedom means to him. He’s here in the USA for the summer, being welcomed into a loving if not unconventional American home, teaching film at a youth camp, and wandering the streets of Washington with his handheld camera.

What might he have to say about freedom by summer’s end… or just after he’s eaten his first bite of Bill's red, white and blueberry parfait?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Citi-Zen Engagement - America Speaks Up!

On a sweltering Saturday in June, 3500 Americans convened in 19 cities across the country to face the truth about our ailing economy and voice their opinions about the solutions. Just as most every household in America is engaged in a personal process of belt-tightening, so, AmericaSpeaks organizers and an array of budget experts contend, must America be.

Down on the floor in Philly, as an area facilitator, I was responsible for supporting 15 tables of citizens in their deliberation process. I zipped around the ballroom floor with my headset on, answering questions, trouble-shooting problems, and calling-in experts on the collaborative technology and complex subject matter, if and when needed. And I had a chance to witness democracy in action - not the staged 'town hall' antics that characterized the health care debate last summer. Not the screaming, arguing talking heads we see on TV on Sunday mornings bombarding us with ideology. This forum was the real deal - characterized by informational presentations, group discussions, argument, deliberation, differences, and ultimately, decisions.

The process was infused with rigor and neutrality: from the development of the Budget 101 guidebook posted on the website and distributed to each participant, to the comprehensive efforts to bring a representative demographic into the room, to the structured facilitation provided at the helm by Carolyn Lukensmeyer, AmericaSpeaks Founder and President, and down to each one of the trained volunteer table facilitators. Even the care the organization took to generate funding from
diverse sources on the left and right al
lowed this to be a truly open forum.

Of course the attacks and skepticism still came - from both sides - liberal economists, Move-on, Tea Party - all protecting their rice bowls and the status quo.

But it didn't matter. These folks had work to do - and work they did - taking 8 hours out on a summer Saturday to hole up on ballrooms across the country and make hard choices about our country's budget. The paid politicians aren't even willing to d
o that! (Dr. Alice Rivlin, former budget director under Clinton, pointed this out from the pulpit, during an afternoon break, after I watched her work with Table 30 through their spending decision process.)

It was electric!

I watched enamored, almost tearful, as tables of folks of all ages and races and political persuasions conversed debated and ultimately thrust their hands up in the air to cast their votes. These were tough decisions with complex pros and cons, as evenly outlined in the guides. As a facilitator I was to remain agnostic - but I wasn't sure how I'd vote on the carbon tax or VAT if I had to.

When the day was done, and they had completed their work, the participants walked out of the room tired but energized and
smiling, and each was handed a full report, hot off the press, documenting the decisions THEY made and ideas THEY generated that very day - thanks to the powers of brilliantly-orchestrated technology.

This process, in my opinion, was not about the economy; it was about something much bigger - change in mindsets - from jaded to engaged, from ideological to informed, from victim-hood to empowerment. This process helped citizens get a taste of what real democracy is like - and it starts with them.

I was so fortunate to be part of the experience. As an organization development professional, Our Budget, Our Economy was a chance to test the limits of collaboration and renew my belief that underlies my work: that the answers truly lie within the people. As an American, it was a chance to see what democracy could look like if our leaders actually had faith in the peoples - and the people had faith in themselves.

For more info on the findings, and to get engaged, go to: