Tuesday, April 16, 2013

why I volunteer

Yesterday, I took a different way home from work and drove past Oak Tree Corner. Oak Tree Corner is housed in a yellow Cape Cod, situated on a busy corner in Oakwood, the yard full of happy little trees and bright flowers. There’s a sign on the side that reads, “a place for grieving children.” This is my sixth year of volunteering there.

Oak Tree Corner was founded in 1996 as a place for grieving children and families to find some sort of comfort. Volunteers, or group facilitators, gather twice a month and lead groups of children in activities designed to facilitate discussion about their grief. I work with the youngest group, the Littles, usually aged 4-6, though there are also two other groups, the Middles and Teens. The parents meet in a separate group, led by another volunteer. All volunteers go through an extensive and, at times, emotionally exhausting training before leading these groups.

Whenever new volunteers start at Oak Tree Corner, they just observe on their first night. It can be overwhelming. Sure, there’s the training, but there’s always some anxiety, especially just starting out, when faced with a group of grieving children. “Will I say the wrong thing?” (Probably not, especially if you let the kids do most of the talking, which is what you’re supposed to do anyway.) “What if someone cries?” (Surprisingly, this hardly ever happens.) “I can’t do this.” (Yes. You can.)

After group, the volunteers gather to share their experiences from the night. On nights when we have new volunteers, the old volunteers take turns sharing why they decided to volunteer with Oak Tree Corner. I always say some variation of the same thing. I heard about Oak Tree Corner from a co-worker. I’d been looking for a place to volunteer where I wouldn’t be relegated to answering phones or stuffing envelopes, ideally working kids, and this seemed perfect. I was a bit nervous that I would be dealing with children in the midst of the grieving process, but it’s been life changing. It really has.

As I drove by Oak Tree Corner yesterday, I really thought about my answer to that question. How rote it’s become and how it’s the real answer, sure, but, since I’m emotionally closed-off with near strangers, it’s not the real real answer. It’s not the cheesy, gooey-center-of-my-heart answer.

I like my job but, most days, I don’t usually feel like I’m really making the world a better place. On the best days, I get to offer someone a job. That’s a good feeling. But, for the most part, I’m not changing lives.

Yesterday, some asshole blew up the Boston Marathon. I, like most people, followed along in horror, on Twitter, on Facebook, on the everlasting suck-cycle that is our news media, my stomach sinking as each new piece of information came in. Yet, in the aftermath of this terror, Patton Oswalt posted the following on Facebook:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

And I thought...THAT is why I volunteer. I want to be a part of Oswalt’s vast majority. I want to make the world a better place, in my own tiny way, even if it’s only by volunteering two days a month. It’s often difficult to measure our successes at Oak Tree Corner. It’ll most likely be years or, you know, NEVER before we know if anything we say or do benefits the children we work with. But I have to believe it does. I have to believe in trying to make the world a little brighter, in doing my part to tip the scales to Good. I have to believe that Oak Tree Corner, this small shining light, is really just one of many, a million stars brightening the night sky.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

We should BUY A BAR.

Lately, I’ve been trying this new thing where I write a post and then let it sit for a day (or at least half a day) and revise it later. It’s much different than how I used to post things to my blog. I would just open Blogger, spew my word vomit into a draft, MAYBE read it a couple of times, and then hit publish.

So now I write something and try to forget about it for a bit. Which is nice. But it also leads to a new problem. I now catch myself just writing any old thing, really letting the stream of consciousness thing get away from me, and thinking, “oh, don’t worry about what you’re writing right now, Future!Jennie can fix it,” which is great and all, at the time, but I eventually turn into Future!Jennie and wish I hadn’t left a mess of words on my hands.

I guess, if nothing else, Future!Jennie is at least a day or two smarter than me, so that’s something.

This is a common occurrence, really, and not just with writing. I pretty much live my life by a code and that code is, “I’ll worry about it later.” AND BOY DO I. Here are some things I’ve worried about in the last 24 hours:

1. Whether Max sleeps too much.

2. What Phoebe's meows mean. Is she in pain? Hungry? Lonely?


4. Whether pulling a muscle in my neck while doing NOTHING means that I have a debilitating illness of some kind.

5. The stray(ish) cats that live in our neighborhood, namely one gray cat with giant balls (important detail) that used to hang out in our yard who I haven’t seen since the beginning of the winter. :(

That the deer who came back to our street are too cold at night. I wanted to put out some blankets but Joe wouldn’t let me. HE THINKS THEY LIVE IN A CAVE.

7. That I’ll bite into a carrot wrong and chip a tooth.

8. That if I can’t log into our bank accounts, it means someone has hacked us and stolen our identities, not that I typed my password wrong.

That River Song is going to show back up on Doctor Who

Life, The Universe, and Everything, obviously.

Aren’t you glad you’re not me right now? One might think, that if someone was prone to worrying about everything in the world, she might be more responsible about planning ahead and not procrastinating on everything in her life, but you’d be wrong. It’s the procrastination that leads to excessive worrying but if I didn’t have all this stuff to worry about, how would I spend my time? Productively? Perish that thought!

Last night, on my way to volunteering, I was complaining to my mom about how my day was so busy and I had to use my lunch break to put together my volunteering activity. She very wisely pointed out that the only reason I’d had to use my lunch break was because I’d procrastinated. I could have very easily come up with an activity over the weekend or last week or FREAKING WHENEVER, but did I? (No, obviously. Weren’t you listening just now?)

I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, I used to put off doing my homework each night until the last possible minute, and sometimes that minute was after bedtime, when I’d then sneak into the bathroom next to my bedroom and do my homework in the light of the bathroom nightlight. I can remember standing in line at school in the morning, waiting behind the other kids, to hand in my spelling book or whatever, and quickly finishing the assignment WHILE IN THE LINE. WTF?

I guess it’s comforting to know I’ve always been this way and will probably always be this way and it’s OK, because it’s who I am and I’d probably be even worse at being someone else. So I’ll just continue to let Future!Jennie worry about everything and deal with the consequences later. It’s probably not healthy but at least I’m not alone.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

working on my backwards walk

Everything seems to be making me super nostalgic lately and I don’t know if it’s because I’m listening to music from high school and college and watching old favorite TV shows or if I’m doing those things because I’m suffering from extreme nostalgia.

We went to see Frightened Rabbit last Tuesday, LIKE YOUNG PEOPLE, even though it meant we’d be out late on a school night because: Frightened Rabbit, OK? The concert was at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, and, not being huge fans of Bogart’s (the now defunct Southgate House being far superior), we went anyway because: FRIGHTENED RABBIT, OK? Bogart’s isn’t that bad, really. It’s just very cave-like, kind of like a hobbit hole but darker and dirtier and with stickier floors.

I looked up directions to Bogart’s the day before the concert, not because I didn’t remember how to get there (though...I didn’t) or even needed to know how to get there (Joe always knows how to get places) but because I wanted to see how long it would take us to get there from our house, so I could plan plenty of time for dinner, drinks, etc. Planning! It’s what’s for dinner.

As I so often do when looking up directions, I went to street view almost immediately because I like to pretend the tiny, yellow guy is me and I’m actually visiting those places. As soon as I set his/my sights on Bogart’s, though, I was hit by a wave of extreme nostalgia.

My Photoshop skills are unparalleled.

I don’t know where it came from. I’ve seen a handful of concerts at Bogart’s but I didn’t realize it was a place that held much emotional significance for me. I saw Spoon there, before I met Joe, though I found out later that he was there, too. We saw Andrew Bird there a few years ago, but my most vivid memory from that concert was that I was really sick and hopped up on cold medicine and I whined the whole time until we left early. I still feel bad about that.

I’m not sure when we stopped going to so many concerts. We don’t have as much money to spend on them now that we have a house, because it turns out having a house is basically like having a giant, needy baby. And we really only go to concerts if they’re on a weekend, our reasoning being that it’s irresponsible to get home on a school night after midnight, especially if something important is going on at work the next day. The repercussions are worse now if I stay up too late or have that extra beer. I’m busier at work and have more responsibilities than just showing up.

So maybe that’s it. I was just feeling nostalgic for another time in my life, that time when it felt like I had fewer responsibilities, more freedom to do whatever I wanted and could say SCREW FUTURE!JENNIE AND HER DUMB, WHINY FACE without too many negative consequences. Yet, when I woke up on Wednesday, I wasn’t all that tired. Work wasn’t any more of a struggle than it normally is. And I was happy to realize I could still go out and act like a young person during the week.

And as I stood at that weeknight concert, listening to Frightened Rabbit play a setlist not all that different than the one they played when we saw them a few years ago, I thought about how much my life has changed, what with the marriage and the house and all of my friends squirting out babies, but also how I’m still very much that same person I was then. I’m still a total weirdo, I still hate standing the whole time at concerts (my feet get tired! everyone is taller than me!), and I even have the exact same concert wardrobe that I’ve always had: hoodie, jeans, chucks. So maybe getting old won’t be all that bad. At least I’ll be comfortable, you know? (See above, re: chucks).

This entire post was just an excuse to post a Tennant GIF.