Sunday, November 17, 2013

Project Sleep In

On Friday, November 15, 2013, four MSW students from HPU participated in project "Sleep In." The students spent one night, from 5pm - 7am in the single women's homeless shelter. Here's a few of my experiences/observations:  

The women seemed cold, and unfriendly. As if a smile would indicate a weakness of some kind. A behavior I might expect from incarcerated ladies. The lights in the bathroom were bright. An odd kind of bright white light. It reminded me somewhat of some kind of institutional lighting.  “Where’s the toilet paper?” I asked, once noticing that there were no toilet paper distributors in the bathroom stalls. “You get it at the front desk,” the woman answered coldly. I retrieved the paltry amount of TP from the front desk and as I washed my hands, noticed the woman was washing a pair of underwear in a little container with soap and water. She had the routine down, like a well-practiced monotonous chore. I looked for the hand towels as I gently shook my hands dry. “Wash one, wear one she muttered. We ain’t got no hand towels neither.” The woman barked as she rang her undies dry. “Ain’t no budget for shit like that here.” She seemed irritated with my ignorance. It was then that I realized I’d never seen people wear their troubles on their faces like the women do here. Not even in the townships of South Africa. I was pretty much speechless and had never considered hand towels (or more than two pairs of underwear) a luxury or something to be budgeted for. As the “boss lady” yelled “lights out!” promptly at 10pm I couldn't decide if this shelter functioned more like a jail, or if it was more militaristic. It sure has a lot of rules, of which I had already unknowingly violated by plugging my cell phone into the outlet by my meager mat. Cell phones can only be charged in the office. Strike one.
People and places tend to have a spirit about them. As I saw a woman who must have been about 8.5 months pregnant waddling in right before the lights went out collapse onto her cot in utter exhaustion, I sensed that this place had a spirit of absolute destitute. It wasn't misery, per se, as several women displayed an attitude of perseverance, but the reality of the living situation seemed to become much more real once the lights went out. Something about darkness seemed to enhance the disparity of the situation. Some women cry, some take the stoic route and some women pace. There were no rules about walking around after lights out, and many women who appeared to be suffering from obvious mental illnesses took to walking around the crowded dorm like bunks, for hours. Pretty unnerving.
While I felt a coldness, I also observed pretty remarkable tiny acts of kindness from some of the women. Two women assisted my friend Nicole check her mat for bed bugs and helped her disinfect her sleeping area. Another older woman (about age 75) comforted my friend Paola when she was visibly disturbed by the sleeping arrangements.  She reassured her that everything would be OK and that there was nothing to be afraid of. The most heartwarming act was observed when Nicole and I were bringing more items into the shelter from my car. Nicole was hungry and stopped by the vending machine. A friendly women we had met at dinner asked Nic if she wanted a soda. Nicole said she did, but that she only had fifty cents and the sodas were eighty five cents. The woman pulled out the last dollar bill she had in her pocket and bought Nicole a soda and said, “Tonight you are our guest. The soda is my treat to my guest.” Typical. A homeless woman has one dollar in her pocket and what does she do? Shares it with someone who has even less. This is a behavior I tend to see a lot of. More than people would believe. But it still made me cry. And as I laid in the darkness on my mat, I felt extreme guilt about how much I just wanted to go home to my own clean, bed bug/lice free, air-conditioned cheetah bed. I knew these women probably wanted the same, but a place to call home was not in their foreseeable future.
The next morning I drove my friends and fellow classmates home from the project. I felt like a zombie. I felt like I was sleep driving my way home. My body felt tired and achy and I wondered how I would ever make it through five hours of classes later that morning. I hadn't slept a wink and my neck was so stiff and sore from my crappy inadequate mat that all I wanted was a hot, clean shower and then to solve all of the world’s problems by lunchtime. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where Are You Christmas? Oh, There You Are...

It seems every Christmas season, sometime throughout the December month, I am allowed a few quiet moments when the Christmas Spirit pulls a sneak attack and punches me directly in the face. Seemingly to redirect my attention from the overwhelming hustle and bustle of shopping, wrapping gifts and etc., to refocus on the more sacred aspects of the season. It happened to me again last night while at a dress rehearsal for an upcoming Christmas concert with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. I (as a saxophone player) only play on two (of about 10) pieces. In past rehearsals the director graciously rehearsed those two pieces first so I could play, and then immediately bail out. Until last night I had not heard the entire program.

Almost immediately after agreeing to play in this neighboring community group, I regretted it. Rehearsals are about a 20 minute drive from Ogden and basically a royal pain in my neck. While looking at my calendar and seeing an evening commitment every night until Christmas, I was feeling over committed, stressed out, tired and experiencing some Christmas crankiness. I was especially regretting this commitment last night when a bad address to the concert venue sent me on a wild goose chase all over the Layton/Clearfield area. I was nearly half an hour late to the rehearsal and as I took my seat in the back, was feeling so angry and upset about the situation, I actually felt a few hot tears of frustration welling up in my eyes. I sat there in silence, allowing my little tantrum to pass, half listening to the program, half running through the mile long list of Christmas still to do's, regretting my inability to say no to stuff like this.

And then it happened: Christmas Spirit. Boom! The first few songs I observed the group playing were kind of "pop-ish" in nature, such as Charlie Brown Christmas, a Jingle Bell rendition and a few others. And then the most beautiful cello solo began on this piece "Stille Nacht." It was so beautiful it sort of shook me to my emotional core. Performed by an extremely talented high school student, I closed my eyes to listen more closely, and it could have been Yo-Yo Ma performing,  I wouldn't have known the difference. A flawless, slow Silent Night piece that reminded me to knock off my Christmas whiny-ness/craziness and redirect my attention where it belonged, on Baby Jesus, selfless giving and kind thoughts and deeds towards others.

Those tears of frustration quickly shifted to subtle warm tears of Christmas Spirit joy and thankfulness and I soon realized I was exactly where I needed to be. Not shopping, not home wrapping gifts, fluffing the Christmas tree, cleaning house or anything else. I was meant to be right there, enjoying the raw, pure talent of others, and helping further the "Christmas Spirit," for others.

Here's a link to enjoy that wonderful Christmas piece. Click on play, close your eyes and allow yourself six minutes of pure, uninterrupted Christmas cheer. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Today, for like, the millionth time, I was running late and barely caught the bus. As I climbed onto the bus, wet hair, no make up, totally disheveled looking, I saw a girl on the bus who I just want to kill. As in rip her perfect looking face off. I can't understand why I feel such dislike for this woman that I hardly know. Only because she is beautiful? And appears to be perfect in every way?

As I hurriedly board the bus everyday, I always see her comfortably seated, snacking on a nutritious breakfast, reading her scriptures. Her outfits are always so cute, hair and makeup is always done, nails perfectly manicured and for all of the aforementioned reasons, I can't stand her. I've talked with her a few times on the bus and she filled me in on how perfect her life is. Although probably five years younger than I am, she's married, a homeowner and loves her perfect job and feels it's the best career move she's ever made. She sees herself retiring from this company. My life, in comparison, has been... a little less organized. I like my job...but it's a job, not a "career" by any means. I'm not married, with no prospects nor do I own a home...or anything for that matter.

And then, early this morning, as I sat on the dark cold bus brushing my wet hair into a pony and applying my make up, I realized something important: I have *got* to stop comparing myself to other peeps. Like, *have* to. This chick may appear perfect, but I've learned from hearing many a peeps stories that everyone has their stuff. And I may not be where I want to be in life right at this very moment, but I'm getting there. I've got a five year plan (it changes daily, but it's there). I have discovered that "inner peace" that comes with acknowledging my weaknesses. I have purpose and direction in my life and I know my worth. It's a good life, and seriously, I AM GOOD ENOUGH. So, let's do this.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Labor of Love...

I participated in a small concert today at the Ogden Botanical Gardens. I say "small" because there was maybe, like...10 peeps in the audience. Admittedly, I didn’t want to be there either. It was 100 degrees in the middle of a busy Saturday. It was hard for me not to whine and feel an extra amount of crankypants. Sitting in the extreme heat, I wondered why the scheduling committee arranged for our band to play during the very last hour of the Arts Festival, when everyone was already gone. The view from the saxophone section was of several overheated senior citizens and the few remaining arts festival peeps tearing down their booths.

I felt annoyed. I felt hot, frustrated and kept wondering why I keep showing up for stuff like this because I have absolutely zero free time in my schedule.

And then, the music started. We had too long of a play list to finish it within the hour we were allotted, and promised the minuscule audience they could hear the rest of it at our next concert.  As soon as the last applause ended, I bolted. I couldn't get to my air conditioned vehicle soon enough. So when a hippy looking "bro" approached me en route to my air conditioned "mecca," I was in little mood for chit chat. And then he said, "Hey...thanks for playing today. I can't remember the last time I heard live, it was great to hear your group today." I thanked him and climbed into my car and cranked on the AC. 

I sat there for a moment...waiting for the cool air and then I looked up and noticed several band members, at least twice my age, hoofing it back to their cars. As I asked myself why one band member would drive all the way from SLC for this, the thought hit me: we are all here for the same reason: love. Don't judge how this sounds because it's abso-frickin-lutely true. It's a labor of love. These peeps aren't here to perform for large audiences, or to even be acknowledged. They LOVE the music. And so do I. There's a reason I very rarely miss a rehearsal. Not only a sense of duty and obligation to this group, but because I always leave better then I arrived. Whatever is going on in my hell-uh busy life seems to go on hold for a few hours of "music therapy."

As I drove home, a small part of me wondered, what if we didn't show up to play today? Would it even matter? Well...yeah. Kind of. It mattered to the few peeps that were there not only in the audience, but those who were performing.  I then reflected on all the time I spent alone in the "practice studio" I created in my basement, in practice rooms from Interlochen all the way throughout college and basically any small area where I could sit or stand to practice my saxophone. I quickly recalled that I did all of that primarily alone. No one was there to hear me practice...I did it because I love it, and wanted to get better. And it has given back to me. I was lucky enough to pay for a good majority of my undergraduate education on a music scholarship and intend (fingers crossed) to also pay for my graduate program with a similar music scholarship. 

That's basically it. Just a little reminder rant about loving your art. Find something you love, do well at it, and carry on. I also vowed to stop the whining about feeling too busy and overwhelmed to participate in things that really matter, regardless of the size of the audience and remember why I do what I do. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lesson Learned. Thanks Train Buddy.

This morning was an especially chaotic and crazy Wednesday. It all began by tripping over my cat, Smokey, who I know is plotting a mutiny against me with my other cat Pouncer, as I ran out the door.  I was in such a state of disarray that I unthinkingly dashed out of my warm house into my already warmed up vehicle, minus one very warm "George Costanza"  puffy coat. Without any coat at all for that matter. I failed to realize this until I pulled into the train station (already 7 minutes behind schedule). As I began the foot race to catch the train, I felt angry and upset at myself for starting the day off so poorly and cursed my failing memory of important a coat.

Because I was a teency bit late, I failed to score my usual one seat Hilton suite on the train, fully equipped with a small table AND a power outlet for my laptop and/or smart phone charger. It's like Heaven. Curse you college students for being more on time and organized than I this cold Wednesday morning! I was officially seat-less and had to scrounge up any available seat that I could. So I popped a squat across from a gentleman dressed basically in rags, who was apparently carrying his entire life around in a very used plastic Wal-Mart grocery bag. I gave him the once over and quickly avoided eye contact. I started to gently message my left temple in an attempt to rub the developing morning caffeine withdrawal headache pain out of my throbbing brain. I also quickly started to fumble through my jumbo sized purse in search of those coveted noise canceling headphones, along with something...anything to read.

Before I had the chance to block any incoming conversation, the homeless man asked, "Where's your coat?" I looked behind me as if there were a small chance the man was addressing some other person behind me. When I realized he was talking to me, without looking up I mumbled, "Oh...uh..I forgot it this morning." I could feel the man's unrelenting gaze and sensed the silent judgment I knew he was inevitably passing on me for  how disheveled and unorganized I must have appeared. Although I was trying to avoid further conversation, the man said, "That's too bad. It's going to be a cold today. want mine?" "Want your....what?" I asked. "Coat," said the man as he gently pulled at the collars of his ultra- light and tattered wind breaker jacket. This kind, gentle offer took me so far back, I needed a moment to regroup. My brain couldn't process that this person, who had literally nothing, just offered me, an unorganized discombobulated stranger, the shirt off his back. I didn't know what to say. "" I replied. "My office isn't even a block away from the train stop. I'll be fine. Thank you though." He smiled, gently nodded and then opened his plastic bag and became distracted with its contents. I however, was transfixed on what had just happened.

As I looked away, I felt a few hot tears welling up in my eyes. I took a quick glance at the other peeps riding the train this morning. I never really noticed or paid attention to how many affluent men there were riding the train. A sea of dark suits and subdued ties. Warmly bundled in wool coats, scarves, hats and gloves. Warm shoes and socks, and I wondered if any of them had ever even considered to offer their coat to someone without one. I know I honestly never would have. The thought hadn't ever crossed my mind to go without a coat for one day so a stranger could stay warm. But then again, I've never gone without either.

Why did it take the generosity of a total "less fortunate" stranger to remind me how fortunate I really was? Does going without really reaffirm how fortunate you are for what little you have that you would feel obligated to share it with others? I guess so.

Thank you "train buddy" for teaching me a lesson of gratitude and of selflessness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Here's to quiet moments...

Rachel and Baby Owen
Saturday was a special day in Sooz world. Aside from all the other goings on of a busy Saturday, one of my "besties" Rachel stopped by for a special Saturday visit. She lives in Logan so any "Rach time" I get is pretty rare and cherished. I jokingly tell Rach that I will journey up to "L-Town" for two reasons: the birth of any new babies and when she offers me a free message. Other then that, she comes down here to "O-town" occasionally to visit her parents (who live around the corner). Oddly enough, my house was empty Saturday afternoon. Rachel didn't bring husband Dave or little Owen, so for the first time in a long time, my friend and I had a chance to really chat. No matter how long we go without chatting, we pick up right where we left off as if time stood still since our last interaction.

Rachel is one of the very few friends that I attended elementary school with that I am still in contact with and remain good friends with. Throughout high school Rach dragged me to Seminary in the early morning hours and overall was a wonderful example of stellar superstar friendship.

Since we graduated, life obviously moved on. I dashed off to college and world travels. Rach finished message therapy school, bought a house, got married, had Baby Owen (who is now three and can sing "Twinkle" in French) and is expecting Baby #2 (John or Jane Doe) on Halloween day.

Spending a few minutes with her on Saturday was a real treat. Baby Doe must really like Auntee Sooz because the baby was moving around and I could feel the movement when I touched Rachel's pregnant stomach! It was amazing. I told Rach the Baby was trying to give me "knuckles" or a "fist pump" from inside the womb. The baby loves me the most already, I can tell.

It wasn't until after Rachel left and I had a few more minutes alone with my thoughts that I started thinking, "Look how far we have come Rach!" From our elementary/ Jr. High mischievous adventures, driver's license celebrations, first car triumphs, high school and college graduations, wedding days, homeowner successes and now babies. It's kind of hard to believe we are where we are in our lives. Like, grown ups or something. Through any big or monumental achievements I have accomplished thus far, I needn't look to far to see Rach around somewhere offering some kind of silent smiling support.

The enclosed photo is of Rachel's first pregnancy with Baby Owen. I took this photo for her when I was working as a photographer with Lifetouch Portrait studio. That was a really fun day and a super fun photo shoot.

So here's to you Rach and your "years of diligent service" of friendship. I couldn't be more excited to welcome Baby Doe (formally known as Baby X) into this world with one Mother of Baby/Diaper party.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sooz and the City

I thought that my last week as a clerk at the Second District Court in downtown Ogden would be chill. It's not. Not only am I cleaning out 5 years (literally) of old office decor and unused office supplies from the "Sooz Suite," I'm also working really hard to not leave ANY work behind for clerk that is replacing me.

On Tuesday, Sept 6 I will be starting my new job at the Matheson Courthouse (located in downtown SLC) at the Guardian Ad Litem's Office (Direct translation = Court appointed attorney for children and/or incapacitated persons). Aside from the dreaded commute, I am really excited to work in an office that advocates for little children. As far as I can tell, the job will entail basic clerical responsibilities including some light drafting of pleadings for the attorneys. It's a really small office filled with passionate folks eager to protect and defend the tiny innocent little victims of unfortunate situations. I feel a little nervous and anxious to get started and be a helpful part of the team. I feel like I have first day of school butterflies again!

I'm not sure if my car will know what to do when we drive to the train station Tuesday morning rather then pulling into the old familiar parking lot at the Ogden courthouse. My departure is bittersweet. There are many aspects of the court that I will really miss, and there are many I will not. New opportunity is exciting and I am feelings a rekindled sense of ambition. I am ready for the new adventure!