Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cocoa the Bear and the smell of coffee

I’ve been thinking about writing about this weekend and what it means to me all day, but it just isn’t ready yet. It’s still coagulating. And when I tried anyway – sitting down at my laptop in a café, finally able to breathe and get away from the throngs of visitors that have descended upon my town like some kind of spontaneously materialized sneaker-wearing species – I just freaked out.

I’m also distracted, because there is scattered energy in Boulder right now, as thousands are here for the Bolder Boulder and the Boulder Creek Festival, and there is a tilt-a-whirl and screaming neon lights in my work parking lot, and event booths with non-compostable cups, and a man in a suit using both a typewriter and an iPod in this coffee shop, and all of this… makes me unable to write what I want to right now.

So I’ve decided instead to just post a picture and, much like in a children’s book, to point out and explain an object in it.

I created this today. It is a love seat in the bay window of my apartment, for reading, writing – or eating green grapes and cherries, which is what I did this afternoon, trying to get used to the feeling of sitting inside of a floating box of glass, in front, in back, and to the right of me. Like a glass peninsula bubble.

For the past 17 months I’ve lived in my apartment, I’ve done essentially nothing with this particular space. See photo below of nothing:

Looks like it would be good for plants, right? I once put a basil plant in there, named her Priscilla, and promptly killed her in two weeks.

“Aren’t basil plants easy to take care of?” my friend Ashley asked when I told her of Priscilla’s untimely demise. Yes, they are. I am just very good at killing things, or else I like to think my plants can be as independent as I am and not need my attention for nine days straight. Regardless, Priscilla made it onto a few mozzarella and tomato sandwiches, and then she got brown, and we parted ways.

What I’d like to point out about this love seat area that I am so proud of, is Cocoa. The Car Accident Bear.

Cocoa was given to me by a hospital nurse in North Carolina, right before my ex, Ian, and I accidentally moved to Colorado. The tag is still on him; I have her name written in there, so I can remember her. (If you Google your name, Crystal Wainwright, and find this: hi.)

The nurse bought this for me from the hospital gift shop because I was waiting hours for an appointment I’d made much earlier. I really needed to know what was going on with me and I was being completely ignored. I thought I had an ectopic pregnancy, which is scary, and something Dr. Google was sure I might have, due to my very specific symptoms. I was also typing on my laptop writing an article for my newspaper section, since I was using work time to be at the hospital, and I was randomly bursting into tears worrying about myself.

I’m guessing that the frequent vacillation between hardened concentration and whimsical emotion probably made me look like I was in the wrong ward of the hospital.

The nurse who was overseeing the waiting room noticed my pain or insanity and gave me this bear. It turned out I didn’t have an ectopic pregnancy, I named the bear Cocoa, and got my article in on time.

I played with Cocoa so often the last week I was in Wilmington that I even started taking sentimental pictures of us on my old flip cell phone, long-arm-coming-out-of-side-of-the-photo style.

When Ian and I got into the accident, Cocoa was on my lap and I was sleeping. After the car stopped flipping around in the air and landed right side up, Cocoa had migrated to my feet, and he was covered in the cold coffee that had been sitting in the cup holder.

I’d like to say I took him with me to the hospital, but I honestly don’t think that I did. All I took was my cell phone, and when they put me on the hard board-like thing and loaded me into the AirLife helicopter, I managed to clasp onto it even as they cut my sundress open to put sticky electrodes on my body to monitor my heart. Even as they stuck needles in me, and moved me from board to moving thing to MRI machine to hospital bed.

The only reason I was able to remember my cell phone was because it was my link to Ian, who had been separated from me minutes after the accident and taken to a different hospital. It was the thing that would connect me to him – it was Ian as the only way I could take him with me – and I knew that even in my delirium, and I held onto it like it was the only thing that could bring me back to any place I recognized.

I retrieved Cocoa from the wreckage just like everything else that highway patrol had collected and taken to a facility operated by an impersonal man who charged us $300 to retrieve our own belongings. Cocoa was fine, except he smelled like coffee beans, which I like to re-phrase as "cocoa beans," for effect.

And so there he sits, the protector of my love seat area. I smelled him today, but he doesn’t smell like coffee anymore, like he did for about a year after the accident. But he was fine, and I was fine, and Ian was fine. We were all fine. And so, I really didn’t mind the smell. In fact, I liked it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Musings on pride and bronchitis

So, I have bronchitis, and this spurred me to buy a chick lit book.

I mean, there was nothing else I could really do. I watched three episodes of LOST. I slept for over 16 hours. I can't go to a movie theater because it's rude to go to a place where people expect silence and fill it with the sounds of you hacking up a lung.

I finally went to a coffee shop because I needed to get out of the house and I'd heard that coffee dilates the bronchial tubes. This guy kept staring at me. Usually I interpret that to mean he might find me attractive, however today I think he was concerned that I should perhaps be in a hospital and not sitting across from him appearing as though I might have The Swine Flu.

I'd read 314 pages of this book yesterday, and saved the last 60 for today, finishing it at the café. I am unable to share the title because it resonated with my life so much that if I were to name it, someone could easily research it and find out one of my secrets. Plus it's somewhat embarrassing to resonate with a book that has a picture of a charm bracelet, complete with lock and key, on the cover.

The thing is — I enjoyed it. The book made me think about the subject of pride. One of the things I've been struggling with recently is my intense, unperturbed Leo pride. I read once, "The Leo woman’s pride is always at stake, and no matter how loudly she roars, her ego is delicate and fragile."

I used to be a person who spouted her emotions at unsuspecting loved ones at any given opportunity. Sometimes I wonder if people back in Maryland and D.C. would even recognize me now. I recently visited a friend in New York who met me in my early college years, and he told me that I've changed so much — that he can tell just from the way I talk about things and myself now — and I took it as a huge compliment.

But in addition to the more positive aspects of my growth since coming to Boulder, I've turned completely around and instead of upchucking my frustrations at people I'm involved with in an annoying and theatrical emo manner, I now keep them hidden and pretend not to care if they hurt me. Especially if they really hurt me.

My ex, who was a long-term recipient of my emotional upchucking, called me today and said: "Amy, I know you're trying to 'hippy' the bronchitis out of you, but I think you should stop trying to scare it away with patchouli and go get some medicine."

I am lucky he still talks to me, let alone calls and makes me laugh, or rather, make noises similar to laughing but sound more like the last wheezes of a dying animal.

What's ended up happening is that I've exchanged putting fem-angst lyrics in public journal entries in a passive-aggressive attempt to equate them with my life, for hardened smiles, for "it's fine," for the idea that not letting someone see you cry is a victory. And I'm not sure it's much better.

Someone just wrote to me, "Pride is the mirror image of shame." Once I get over my initial proud defensiveness triggered by this statement, I interpret this to mean: I have feelings that I am ashamed of. And so I use my pride to mask them, as a defense mechanism. Because I can swallow them easier if they come in the form of pride.

What is the point of pride? What do you end up keeping at the sake of what you end up losing? Isn't pride just a squeezing in of yourself? And, how do you know when it becomes suffocating?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lessons from the Rocky and journalism as a calling

John Temple, former editor, president and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, has a blog.

And in it, he recently wrote this wonderful post for editors, and I have to link to it here, because I relate to the following quote on a soul level:

"Almost everybody in your newsroom got into this business with the hope of fulfilling some type of higher calling. You need to connect with that desire, feed and encourage it and show how new approaches to reporting the news can do just that."

Yes, yes, resounding yes.

From a similar standpoint, these are some words from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver who spoke to journalists at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, quoted in a column published in the Daily Camera:

"Journalism is a vocation, not a job. Pursued properly, journalism should enjoy the same dignity as the law or medicine because the service that journalists perform is equally important to a healthy society. I really believe that. You form people. You form the way they think and the way they live their lives. So journalists have a duty to serve the truth and the common good."

I believe journalism is about informing, sharing, connecting, educating and helping. I believe it is a public service. And I believe it will never "die," because I know there are others who feel the same way. I believe that it is a calling, and callings have suffering, hard work and dedication threaded through them.

"The best journalism does not just fill the human mind with facts. It touches the heart. It roils your gut. It moistens your eye. It kicks you in the nuts. Objects can’t do that, only people." (Steve Buttry)

I believe that journalism, at its best, comes from the heart.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Denver Green Festival: Poo, Progressives and Class Distinction

Note: This article was also published in elephant journal and can be found here. I did not, however, write the very first line ("Nothing like...") in the elephant's edited version. I am nevertheless grateful for their publication.

"Is this also made of poo?" I asked Dr. Karl Wald of his business card after he handed it to me.

I don't normally inquire if people's business cards are composed of excrement, but Wald had just told me about his business, Mr. Ellie Pooh, a green paper company in which all of the products are composed of 75% elephant dung and 25% post consumer paper.

The products include stationary, cards, scrapbooks and journals, which also showcase artisan packaging.

"This way, we can give more value to the poo," Wald said.

And yes, his business card is made of poo.

I encountered interesting, innovative and ecologically sound companies and ideas such as this all over the Denver Green Festival, which took place the weekend of May 2-3 at the Colorado Convention Center. The festival is organized in five cities around the country and strives to open people's minds to the various ways they can "go green" in their local community.

The Denver festival featured hundreds of speakers, educators, panels and exhibitors. All companies present were screened to ensure their business exemplified social justice and economic sustainability, said National Program Director Karri Winn.

Over 1,200 volunteers helped keep the convention running smoothly. There were even middle-school age volunteers at trash stations, pointing out what could be composted and recycled. 95-96% of discarded materials at the event will be recycled or composted, according to Winn.

Which is a figure I think is awesome. Just being at the festival was inspiring in and of itself, seeing how many companies are aware of their environmental impact and doing their part to lessen it.

I talked to an adorable woman named Kate Adams who owns the Denver-based Sweet Pea Pockets. Adams takes vintage coffee bean sacks and antique grain sacks, some with 100-year old seams, from France and Hungary and creates beautiful bags out of them. She sews handkerchiefs on the insides for artsy pockets, and layers fragments from her drawings, photos and old French letters to print on cotton twill fabric for the outsides, making each bag unique. They are truly impressive.

Sweet Pea Pockets design: an 1800s French letter layered over cyanotype print

Better World Books was also present, which supports book drives, collects used books and ships all their books out carbon neutral. And my absolute favorite California-based cracker company, Mary's Gone Crackers, Inc., was there giving out a generous amount of free samples. Their crackers organic and made in a gluten-free, wheat-free and nut-free facility, which makes this peanut-allergic writer very happy. Bryant Terry, exuberant author of Vegan Soul Kitchen, did two presentations, got me excited for vegan food and gave me some delicious cooked collards with raisins.

Festival attendees were just what you might expect they would be, and people-watching proved to be quite enjoyable. The Onion held a scavenger hunt in the exhibition hall, and the sights listed were easy to find: a granola bar, Obama campaign items, an aging hippy, someone texting while walking, an advocate for the vegan lifestyle. At the Stop Global Beer Warming booth, the "global" part of the company's name was purposely crossed out on the banner to signify the purpose of the product, spurring one man sporting a bandanna and beaded necklace to ask, "Does this suggest that you don't want to stop global warming?" to which the company's representative quickly responded that this was definitely not the case. And at a panel featuring investigative journalist Greg Palast, a video was shown in which George Bush appeared, a sight which caused the gray-haired woman in front of me wearing earrings resembling gigantic dangling peaches to shiver uncontrollably.

The discussions and panels boasted an impressive line-up, including Democracy Now! host and journalist Amy Goodman, sustainability educator and biodegradable-factory-builder Gunter Pauli, and actor/activist/writer Mike Farrell. Some speakers more than held my attention; some were predictable and I found myself guiltily wandering back to the exhibition hall halfway through their talks. But the discussions that I found to be the most interesting were the ones that explored the issue of race within the green movement.

It's an idea that might make you furrow your brow at first, but the panels "Thinkin' Green, Living Bling" and "Verde, Verdad: Keeping It Green, Keeping It Real," got into the subject in a no-holds-barred way. There were a lot of young people in these panels, and the energy in the rooms — particularly in the former panel — was enough to fire me up even as the festival was coming to a close.

Panelist and writer/artist/vegan Afya Ibomu helped to bring home the somewhat controversial idea that the "green movement" is too often thought of as a "white people movement."

"There's a problem with the government not teaching green to people living in the hood," she said. "And it's hard when you have McDonald's and Coke in schools in these areas, because how can you talk about green in a realistic way in that environment?"

Zakiya Harris, creator of the Bay-area Grind for the Green, emphasized that the green movement needs to be community-centric and culturally-relevant, and audience members brought up important points such as reframing the green movement to fit each community, whether it is rich or poor. Think about it: poverty-stricken people used to bring bottles and cans to recycling centers for 5 cents a pop. That is still "green," even though we may not think of it as such.

A picture I took of a bottle sculpture at Arlie Gardens in Wilmington, N.C.

The panels made me realize that rethinking green is an important part of eliminating class distinction within the green movement in order to further its expansion.

"'Organic' means rich white folks who go to Whole Foods," said panelist and founder of the Pan African Arts Society Ashara Ekundayo. "I might not be able to go to Whole Foods but I can go to King Soopers and buy the organic seeds and grow my own vegetables. It's just a matter of teaching people how to do it."

Denver Regional Programming Director Sarah Moss, who spent bonding time with the panelists in "Verde, Verdad," said that the best part of the festival to her was building relationships.

"It's — this is who I am, who are you? And let's figure out how we can work together," she said.

The bonding-for-change spirit evident in these two panels — even though organic cotton T-shirts and recycled grocery bags are grand — was the part of the festival that inspired me and represented the most energy, spirit and vision for change.

If you missed the festival — shame on you. But, you'll be able to catch discussions and panels live online at the Green Festival TV and radio portions of the website.

The green festival is affecting my eating behavior already. I followed my Saturday attendance with a trip to City O' City, a vegan-friendly cafe in Denver offering gluten-free pizzas. I started my Sunday with a vegan tofu scramble Sunflower brunch in Boulder and ended the weekend with a vegan dinner of brown-butter sage Andalusian pasta and coconut cream pie at Watercourse in the city.

I just won't be making my own poo business cards anytime soon.