Friday, April 20, 2012

Why write?

[ Optima typewriter ] by shexbeer
[ Optima typewriter ], a photo by shexbeer on Flickr.
My day job in casting is ending in a month, and I've no idea what I'm doing next.

Which, if you know me, is not unusual, but as I edge closer to my 40th birthday, it becomes more clear that I want my doing to align with my being. Last night, my dear friend and housemate discussed my future. He sprawled on the futon, a hold-over from poor post-collegiate days, I sprawled on the couch opposite, a plate of cheese balanced on my stomach and a glass of red in hand.

I reiterated that I don't want to take another casting job (and now I'm publishing it!) - it's too easy to let a year pass without pursuing what I really want, and as much as I enjoy my current casting gig, NO other job is like it. Instead you have a small budget, an even smaller staff, with high expectations to cast unicorns (Ivy-league smart AND stripper-hot women who want to be on reality TV!) for an unknown, untested, unchartered show.

I want to write. To blog about life, about living in Los Angeles without a car, the community/communities you encounter when you engage with the city by sidewalk, bus, and train. To talk to people on the street, to record their stories and bring their lives into focus, to recognize neighbors across the multiple neighborhoods that make up LaLa Land. To, as Walt Whitman wrote in the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass "love the earth and the sun and the animals. Despise riches. Give alms to everyone that asks. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote (my) income and labor to others, hate tyrants, have patience and indulgence toward the people ... (to) go freely with uneducated persons and the young, and with the mothers of families."

Anyone hiring for that?

"Why write? How justify this mad itch for scribbling? Speaking for myself, I write to entertain my friends and to exasperate our enemies. I write to record the truth of our time as best as I can see it. To investigate the comedy and tragedy of human relationships. To oppose, resist, and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a global technocratic police state, whatever its ideological coloration. I write to oppose injustice, to defy power, and to speak for the voiceless.

"I write to make a difference. 'It is always a writer's duty,' said Samuel Johnson, 'to make the world better.' I write to give pleasure and promote aesthetic bliss. To honor life and to praise the divine beauty of the natural world. I write for the joy and exultation of writing itself. To tell my story."

~Edward Abbey, from "A Writer's Credo"

Monday, April 16, 2012

Collection: Online Connections & Monks in the Sun

A lurker on design sites, I love when bloggers post about their personal collections: a set of stacked books and framed photos, meaningful tchotkes and postcards, an indoor garden gnome and succulents, that when they look at them, day after day, they feel "home." 

The top of my desk/hutch has become that for me, an oft dust-covered collection of books I loved to read and now like to look at, a bracelet I bought in Rwanda, the carvings I brought back from the Congo, the Goddess of Pristina that an English language student gifted me on the night of my last class in Kosovo.  

Hanging above this collection is a print of Monks in the Sun, a piece I instantly connected to when I saw it on the blog Wu Feng Road, a lovely space where Jeanne-ming illustrates stories of her childhood as the daughter of Quakers living in China. After reading the post about her relationship with a boy in Taiwan who broke her heart when he became a monk, I commented that I felt drawn to the piece, and would love to buy a print.

In one of those instances where I'm thankful for the internet and how it connects rather than separates, Jeanne-ming replied to me in an e-mail.  She had followed my comment to my blog, and had connected to "Are You There God, It's Me, Rebecca," one of my stories of growing up as a Christian, and struggling with what that meant in my current way of life and thinking.  She offered me the print of Monks in the Sun as a gift for sharing my writing.  I was suddenly overwhelmed at how small the world could be, to connect via our blogs.

I've yet to find a proper frame for it, so for now it hangs by a string, which is, perhaps, the best way for the simple life of monks to live in my life.  I was drawn by the idea of living in a state of prayer, contemplation and community, and that in that state, there are so many expressions of individual lives, made clear in this beautiful piece by their unique facial expressions. 

I'm always curious - what do you see?

(Monks in the Sun, by Jeanne-ming)

Believe in the Beauty of Their Dreams - Help Purchase a Sewing Machine for the Women of the Congo

The women of the Action Kivu sewing workshops are graduating! Excited and ready to begin their own businesses, 60 women in eastern Congo, ranging from teenagers to mothers of many children, will graduate this May.

This is momentous for these women, many who chose to attend the program to avoid prostitution on the streets of crowded Bukavu, one of the more horrific options in a place of few choices available to women to survive and feed their families.  Now, with a glimmer of hope and a better future, each one of them will graduate, trained in sewing and designing skills, and armed with a sewing kit.  But it won’t happen without your help!

Each kit costs $175.00 and includes:

•One pedal powered Singer sewing machine ($150.00, and most useful with the lack of electricity in remote village areas)
•One bolt of fabric to begin business ($15)
•One pair of sewing scissors ($5.00)
•One tape measure, plus oil for the machine ($5.00)

Your donation goes directly to the graduates, who have worked so hard towards self-sustainability and helps them gain immeasurable pride as they provide for their families. No donation is too small!

We saw the results with our own eyes on our trip to eastern Congo this year, when we met Nzigira, age 20, and Tantine, age 18, two of the graduates from last year’s sewing program in Mumosho. Parking our truck on the main village road, we wandered down a dirt path, beneath the green of banana trees and lush foliage that surrounded small homes and thatched huts.  Approaching the women’s workspace, we were confused. A pedal-powered Singer sewing machine sat out in the open, situated in the corner of a maze of wooden beams that we soon realized formed the frame of a future house. The only sound was the occasional whirring of the machine’s needle, the chirping of birds, and the chatter of curious kids who’d followed us, pied-piper style, as we’d wound our way into their world.

Nzigira and Tantine have set up shop in one of the corner "rooms" of the construction site. They run their business there, protected by a roof, but otherwise open to the air, sun, rain, a few chickens and one duck who roam freely through.  Nzigira’s uncle is building this house next to his current thatched, round hut, and has offered the space with a roof over their heads for the women to work. However, when the house is finished, the seamstresses will have to find another location to run their sewing shop.

Nzigira and Tantine decided to team up when they met at the sewing workshop. Both hard workers, they recognized in each a partner, and told us that two are better than one. That adage has proven true; they’ve needed no marketing for their work, as word has spread through the local community about their talent.  Women buy fabric and bring it to the makeshift workspace, where they take measurements, press fabric with coal-heated irons, and pedal power their designs into beautiful blouses and skirts, for wedding parties and daily wear.  They live at home with their parents and family, who do not work, and from their shared small business, in which they charge a mere $4.50 for a complicated blouse, they meet their families’ basic needs.

They are ever grateful for the Action Kivu supporters who helped purchase their sewing kits for graduation, and offered a blessing for those who helped them: "May you live as a lake, being replenished and refilled, never dying."

Donate today, and know that you are making a huge difference in one woman’s life. No amount is too small. 

Want to know more about the women? Read the story, hopes and dreams of Ernata, a graduating student, here.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

- Eleanor Roosevelt

(Photos by Cate Haight)