Musings of a Chicago-Born New Yorker

Volunteer

Why Is It Not Warmer Outside Yet?

I’m feeling ranty and bitchy and several other things right now. I need Spring. I neeed it. I must have it.

And because it is something that is natural and all that, I have no control over it. So I continue to wear my should’ve-been-Haz-Mat-ed by now scarf to combat the cold air. And I continue to sweat it out in my radiator-heated apartment because I don’t want the landlord to do what he’s been doing all winter and come over and turn down the heat just in time for it to get really cold outside again.

When I was in Chicago the first weekend of March for a wedding, I got sick with what may have been the flu. But it was totally worth it because I wouldn’t have missed this wedding for anything. This woman has been like a little sister to me for 7 years, and I was so pleased to attend her wedding. She made such a beautiful bride.

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The bride and groom with her parent’s. I wish I had a picture of the whole sanctuary because of the hours of hard work we put into decorating for the wedding the night before!

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Totally random selfie wearing my mom’s hat in my old bedroom in Chicago. This is what I’d look like as a hipster, y’all.

And because I’m a crazy person obsessed with organ and tissue donation, I didn’t go to the doctor even though I might’ve had the flu.

Because what if I tested positive for the flu, then accidentally got hit by a bus two days later? I wouldn’t be able to be a donor because of the confirmed flu. But if I was just sick, and the sickness was resolved, but never confirmed flu, because of my age and overall health, they probably would let me be a donor. I would make a great donor, should I not live to the age of 75. And now you all have a glimpse of just how deep my crazy goes.

Do you know why I got so sick? Because Chicago is even colder than New York right now. Today it finally felt a bit like spring, but it’s going away again. It’s supposed to snow on Thursday, then again on Monday. I just can’t.

My cousin is in town visiting, but she was sick too. I felt so badly that we didn’t do more while she was here, especially after the year she’s had. In fact, the day we flew here was the one year anniversary of the day she got her diagnosis of lymphoma.

It’s not lucky to get cancer, but she was lucky. Lymphoma usually has no outwards symptoms until it’s too late. But the lymph nodes in her jaw swelled up something horrible and they caught her cancer super early. She got chemo and knocked cancer on it’s ass.

Since that time, we have both agreed that breast cancer gets so much play and the leukemia and lymphoma cancer society needs better PR. And we agreed to she needed to step outside of her comfort zone and live more. So she got on a plane for the first time and flew with me and Easy from Chicago to NYC.

Considering that exactly 365 days ago, I was holding her hand while her doctor drilled a hole in her hip to extract bone marrow, we could’ve been doing literally anything and it would have improved the memories associated with that date. She leaves back to Chicago today, and I’m crossing my fingers that she keeps trying new experiences and embracing life.

In completely unrelated news, I finally read another romantic comedy-type novel recently. I’d been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, but a boring-as-hell book about Rastafarianism (which is a religion with a nothing-boring-about-it history) curbed that urge for a bit. I read a book recommended by a blog I love, Single Infertile Female. The book is Party Girl: A Modern Fairy Tale.

As a new New Yorker, this book had it all for me. I found myself wishing for two things: 1) the book had a happily-ever-after ending and not a realistic-for-the-millenials-who-are-craving-this-type-of-relatability ending and 2) that I had the main character’s ability to make friends. I’m not saying any more than that because I want you to go read this book for a fun 20-something-in-NYC read. I promise you’ll enjoy yourself.

While we’re on the topic, I feel the need to say, yet again, how unsuccessful I am at making new friends. Out of all the people I’ve met since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve managed to schedule four outings total, only three of which actually went somewhat according to plan. These people are funny, sweet, clever, good-looking, and genuinely nice folks. That’s everything I want in a friend. Maybe they’re just ALL not that into me.

Two of the outings were for Restaurant Week. I went to Delmonico’s Kitchen and Nobu. My mouth still waters in memory. I forgot to record anything at Delmonico’s, but I did get some amazing pictures of my good at Nobu.

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The tiny bit of Spring weather I was given today has given me renewed interest. I think I’m gonna try one more time each with all the people I’ve met, then after that I’m moving on and trying to meet even more new people.

At least I still have my volunteer work. Oh, that reminds me! I do have one friend. We met at the soup kitchen I volunteer at. But his home life is super crazy and it’s been hard for us to be real friends outside of just grabbing a drink after the soup kitchen. But still, we actually talk on the phone and I even know the names of people is his life.

Because of my awful memory when it comes to names, I really consider someone a friend when I can start naming names of people who are important to them. Not the best measuring tool, but it’s accurate.

Today is the day I start volunteering with The Reciprocity Foundation. I’m very glad I’ll be able to get this started after having such a great experience the other week. They do such amazing things, and I cannot wait to be a part of it. I’m diving right in helping with resumes and college applications. It’ll be nice to keep those skills sharp for some point in the future when I apply for grad school and when I apply for a promotion at work.

Speaking of volunteering, the woman I work with at the home for new mothers is finally getting all the pieces into place. She has steady hours for her new job, she found a 24 hour day care that will work with her as her work schedule changes, and the baby is doing well. She’s finally ready to start looking for apartments. It’s heart-warming to see people whose lives have actually improved from help given by others.

Some of her help is from private citizens, like the program that allows her to stay at the home. But she also gets government assistance that helps her buy food for her daughter that she chose to give birth to rather than abort. I’m about as pro-choice as they come (meaning I have no issues with late-term abortions), but I know that choice means respecting someone’s choice even when they have no way to take care of the baby they have decided to bring into the world.

This woman sought out all the help she could and put in a lot of hard work to make a life for herself to support her child. In a few years, she’ll have a degree, years of work experience that she can springboard into a real career, and a stable home for her daughter. That’s something to be proud of, and it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, since the weather won’t cooperate to keep me that was on the outside.

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Accidental selfie taken while trying to use my phone to check my lipstick on the way to work. Beautiful sky, but will it stay that way? Will it?!


I’ve Found A Way To Do Something

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard something about gay marriage and America’s march towards full equality in that respect. Getting a marriage license issued doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a big ass step in that direction.

At the beginning of this month, I wrote about how I’ve been feeling a need to get more involved in the LGBT community. Giving a lump sum each month to HRC wasn’t enough anymore.

The question was how to get involved. I started with the HRC website, but all that gave me was an option to give more money each month, buy some of their gear, or bug my politician via e-mail. All of those options are just fine, but I was looking for something a little more personal that I could do that didn’t involve a webpage.

HRC’s Annual Gala was earlier this month. I had the option of getting involved with that. But unfortunately, I don’t have $1200 lying around, so that really wasn’t an option for me.

Then I noticed that HRC has local-ish chapters that have potential for volunteer opportunities. All I had to do was submit my e-mail address (again, yes again) choose my preferences from some categories available, and someone would contact me regarding opportunities.

All that came out of that was an e-mail asking for more money, and a promise that someone would contact me shortly regarding my chosen preferences.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the money. If I were, I wouldn’t be giving them money every month for the past 5 years or so. It’s more about the website being setup primarily for fundraising. It was quite frustrating to get beyond the money to something more hands on.

So I left the HRC website, and got down with Google. Google totally knows my life.And yours if you talk to me. Maybe that’s why I struggle make new friends here.

If you e-mail me your trip itinerary, Google sends un-requested push notifications to my phone reminding me of flight arrivals and even suggesting the quickest way to get there from both my home and office. Kinda creepy, kinda awesome.

Anyway, Google came through in my quest to find an LGBT organization in need of my volunteer skills.

I found The Reciprocity Foundation. They are this amazing organization that works with LGBT youth and young adults.

For me, it’s an amazing volunteer opportunity. It’s right in line with the other volunteer work I already do because I really feel very deeply for people who don’t have a stable home life, the homeless population in particular.

The Reciprocity Foundation works primarily with people who are ages 15-23, identify as LGBT, and are people of color. They seek to help participants go from foster care or shelters to stable adults who are prepared for success.

I met with one of their employees today and I loved what I heard. This place seems like such a good fit for my passions and skill set. They take a holistic approach with their program and work on the inside as much as the outside of program participants.

I got the impression they don’t really have someone there now who is able to focus on things like college applications, GED training, interview prep, etc. Those things are right up my alley and  I’m excited to get started.

They told me that I would need to prepare myself for the possibility of becoming a resource not just for educational but also emotional support for these kids. They said they can’t predict when they will come out of their shell and suddenly want to share and bond.

I am not volunteering to lead a group therapy session, but if a connection happens and I’m in a position to help someone, I certainly am open to that.

They have an event tomorrow that I wish I could be a part of, but unfortunately, it’s right in the middle of my workday. It would have been a great opportunity to meet some of the program participants, other volunteers, and successful graduates of the program.

I’m supposed to touch base early next week with them to discuss next steps. Hopefully, I can get started right away. Their normal hours work with my current work schedule, so I won’t even have to shuffle things around to make it work.

I’m really not sure what I envisioned myself doing when I decided to get more hands on and involved in the LGBT community. I think I thought it might have more to do with gay marriage rights, but this is unexpectedly better.

I get to help a disadvantaged population. Most of these kids have been through a lot and haven’t had a real shot at getting prepared for adulthood. From what I’ve learned today, they are so talented and amazing people, they just need someone to step in who cares and who can point them in the right direction.

Usually when I pick up more volunteer opportunities, things that take up my free time, Easy isn’t so happy about it. His initial reaction to this wasn’t great, but he came around. He even told me to offer up his services if they ever need a musician for a fundraiser.

He knows how passionate I am about this, and I think more than anything, he’s happy I found a way to focus my passion.

I’m very excited. Did I mention that?


I Can’t Do Nothing Anymore

Recently, my sense of justice has taken a hit. I’m speaking specifically of LGBT rights. I really cannot explain why, but recently their issues have taken precedence over other rights issues in my mind.

I think I got close to the tipping point when I came across an article published on my birthday last year. Michael J. Klarman from Harvard Law School wrote an Op-Ed article entitled Gay Rights May Get It’s Brown v. Board of Education.

I’ve noticed that black people sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to LGBT civil rights struggles being compared to those of black Americans. The only argument that resonates with me is that under most circumstances, you can’t look at someone and tell they are not heterosexual, but you can’t hide blackness.

There are many fallacies to that argument. Black people don’t always look black. Gay people don’t always blend in. And someone seeking to discriminate usually doesn’t have to search too hard to make it happen.

That being said, the comparison to Brown v. Board of Ed really made sense to me. It was a landmark decision that altered the future of black people in this country. All Michael Klarman was saying is the gay community was on the cusp of getting their version of a Supreme Court ruling of that magnitude. They were on their way to getting a ruling that would alter the future of LGBT people in this country.

At the bottom of the article, it mentions that he wrote a book called From the Closet to the Altar. At the time, I barely noticed that line and moved on with my life and my birthday celebration.

Then around Christmas, there was another article in the New York Times called Utah Ruling Means No Respite for the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage. They have a quote from Michael Klarman in there. It’s only one sentence, but it stuck with me for some reason and before I even finished reading the article, I went back to his line and read it again.

Then I went to Amazon and bought the Kindle version of his book. I’ve always enjoyed non-fiction as long as it was on a topic I actually cared about, and so I really enjoyed reading this book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but some part of the book brought tears to my eyes. Some of the people he talks about went through so much and fought so hard, but the fight isn’t over yet.

Also, he mentioned Nate Silver. Nate Silver is basically a rock star in my mind. He’s the most amazing statistician. He was over at the New York Times doing politics, but now he’s at ESPN with his first love, sports. Nate Silver has a model he created that predicts exactly when the states will cross over to 50+% approval of gay marriage. Anybody wanna guess who’s last?

After reading this book, along with the time I spend at the soup kitchen where I volunteer, I have gone from feeling supportive of gay marriage and LGBT rights to feeling even stronger. I want to do something about it. I want to have an active role in improving the lives of people who cannot marry the person they love today. My 2 year anniversary is in 2 days, and there are people who currently live in places where they can’t have that yet.

For years now I’ve donated money to the Human Rights Campaign. I signed up with one of those street volunteers they have out asking people for credit card information and a monthly donation.

Usually I give those people the side eye and keep it stepping, but even though I hadn’t even heard of this organization, their message resonated with me, so I signed up. That was almost five years ago, but it’s not enough anymore

This weekend, HRC is having their annual gala at the Waldorf Astoria. But those tickets are around $500, so that isn’t the way I’ll help either.

I’m going to keep looking for a way to get actively involved with the cause. Something other than buying a t-shirt with a rainbow on it or dancing in the streets during a pride parade. I haven’t done either of those things yet, but I think I will this year. As long as it’s along with something more substantial.

When I think of people defending “traditional marriage,” my feelings are hurt. How could a grown man being in love with another grown man and wanting to make it official for their family and their future be bad?

Heterosexuals aren’t doing a great job with marriage. The divorce rate is awful and when some people are on their third marriage, or getting an annulment because they made a decision to marry after 24 hours, the argument of a rock-solid institution being taken apart by gay marriage doesn’t fly.

Then there are the arguments that the bible is very clear about sodomy being wrong. The bible is very clear about a lot of things, but our interpretation of it over time changes.

For instance, when you sin against your home, do you go to the priest, slit the throat of a young goat, flick the blood of that goat on an altar then rub in on the earlobe of that priest? The bible is very specific about that too.

My point is that quoting one part of the bible as immutable when you eat shellfish, openly disrespect your president, and don’t celebrate three chosen festivals each year is a bit hypocritical.

It’s been hard for me as a Baptist to reconcile how I feel with the teachings of my religion. The church I attend has yet to mention the topic, like at all. The husband loves that church too. I don’t know what I’m going to do about that, but for now, I’m keeping my ears open for any sign of intolerance.

Because I’m a black woman, I know making discrimination go away is frankly impossible. But just because something is hard isn’t a good enough reason not to try.

When I was younger, if I saw an interracial couple, specifically a black man with a white woman, it upset me. I was a teenager at the time, so what the hell life experience did I have to feel so strongly about it? None, that’s what. I’ve dated guys of every race, so I was being such a damn hypocrite.

What changed it for me was moving to an area where there was more interracial couples than other types of couples. After making friends in the checkout line with the hundredth cute biracial kid, I got over myself and my gut reaction to that type of couple. Looking back on it, I feel like such as asshole.

My family raised me to see color, and I’m glad I was. I just wish I wasn’t raised to judge color. Who am I to have an opinion on how someone else lives their life? I keep coming back to that question because that’s the crux of my issue. Who are you to judge? None of us are in a position to judge someone else’s life. If you are living your life and you’re not hurting someone else or making their life worse, live on.

I am at the point where I feel that so strongly, I want to actively stop other people from infringing on other’s happiness.

I was walking down the street to work today and I saw a couple with their children. It was a black man, a white man, and two small children of indeterminate race. I two men were holding hands and making flirty eyes at each other. I noticed a lot about this couple, even down the color coordination of the family’s outerwear.

But you know what I noticed most? Their comfort. I don’t know if they’re married or not. And I don’t care. What I care about is that they are as free to live life openly as the husband and I are. They aren’t hurting anyone. In fact, looking at those two children, I’d say they are helping a lot of people. Those kids were healthy, happy, and full of life.

Any kid would be lucky to belong to that family.

Y’all just give me a few weeks. I’ll be back with a real plan to help make a difference for families like that one. I’m sure there’s some version of this family just waiting for the opportunity to thrive. Maybe they’re in Utah. Maybe they’re somewhere else. This Op-Ed Column I read in the New York Times today by Frank Bruni titled Love, Death, and Sochi reminded me that this isn’t just a domestic problem.

Like so many other stories, I was left feeling frustrated with tears in my eyes. I have to remind myself that as awful as I feel today, there are people who have been in this fight for decades. I have to have strength if I’m going to sustain to help progress move forward.

And strength is something I have no shortage of. I have strength. I have resolve. I have passion. Now, I just need a work assignment.

Google will help me figure it out.

I also have loyalty and confidence.

Pretty soon, I’ll also have a plan.


Now We’re Back On The Same Page

New York living is expensive y’all!

Imagine going to Starbucks every day for a week. You’re feeling all hyper and caffeine-alicious, but wonderfully satisfied. Then you realize that bottle of water, plus some fruit, plus a couple of those new yummy chocolate croissants, plus that tempting sale-priced Holiday blend coffee destined for your French press at home have all conspired together. And you are now $150 poorer than you were 7 days ago. And this is just from a coffee shop!

Now imagine that everywhere is Starbucks. Everywhere. Anything you do more than once in a week suddenly suck hundreds of dollars from your budget. Budget,say what? That thing that just frustrates you because no amount of planning can account for what you have no choice but to do when you lose your Metro card you just added $112 dollars to? Yeah, budgets.

Okay, I’m done with the stream of consciousness run on sentences for a bit. I think I’ve made my point that incidental costs alone make New York living expensive.

All of this was just based on my own experiences. But I’m not here alone, the husband is here too. He’s had the same challenges I’ve had coupled with the frustration of not working as much as he’d like.

We knew this would happen. We came to New York so he could spread his musician wings, open up a new market, and ultimately work even more (hopefully) than he was in Chicago.

That type of thing doesn’t happen overnight.

So it’s been a rough six months, financially at least. There were definitely some bumps along the way.

I had to stop drinking Starbucks every day. You won’t like me when I’m decaffeinated.

The husband unilaterally decided to postpone grad school. Again. That’s all I’ll say on that topic for now.

And the cats have taken to terrorizing the entire apartment building because they got used to having free reign of stairways during their months in exile at my parents’ house in Chicago.

Getting used to having no space anymore that counts as an escape for alone time, I’ve claimed some Saturdays as my own where I hang out in Greenwich Village, sometimes with the folks from the soup kitchen. Sometimes, I’m just by myself, hanging at Starbucks, drinking a mocha and watching Hulu on my phone.

But now things are evening out, at least they appear that way.

The husband is getting more calls for gigs, and offers to head out-of-town to play as well. So far, it appears he’s been able to maintain his musical connection to the Midwest while developing roots on the East Coast.

This weekend, he’s headed to Haiti for a music festival, then he’s back playing multiple gigs in NYC and some of the most popular jazz clubs in the city. Then he’s off to Midwest and out West for a month and some change to play there.

All of this has of course boosted his morale. It’s a nice feeling to know that the people like you, they really like you. And they want to pay you to stick around and do more.

On my end, I’m starting to hit a groove at work. I’m finishing up a work project that I’ve put a lot into and I’m hoping to see some real returns on it in the coming months. It’s all about getting more active participation in the donation process on all sides.

New York City provides some interesting challenges to organ and tissue donation that I just wasn’t experienced with coming from the Midwest. But I think I’ve risen to the challenge and if anything, it’s made me more committed to this work and I’ve dug deeper to find new ways to make it happen.

One thing I always tell my staff is that every time we speak to a family regarding donation, it’s an investment in today and tomorrow. Whether or not a family who has lost a loved one decides to have that person become a donor is irrelevant in this way.

I tell them that we want to make sure we are caring for these families at this difficult time and letting them know that our desire to help people get transplants never diminishes our compassion for their loss. Every time a family hangs up with us, they should feel positive about the conversation.

When we do this consistently, we are doing a small part to contribute to positive public opinion regarding donation. And we lay the groundwork for the family to say yes next time. If a family decides to donate, but they have a bad experience, they’re not going to want to repeat it. If a family decides not to donate, but they have a good experience, they may reconsider next time (depending on their reasons for saying no in the first place).

At my old job in Chicago and at this one, I have encountered families that have heard from us multiple times. They have been unfortunate enough to lose multiple family members in the last handful of years. It just so happened that these family members that passed away were all eligible for tissue donation. And when they hear from us, they have to make that decision about donation, and it’s a unique decision every time they decide.

I am finally starting to feel like I’m getting through to people regarding the importance of this. As America gets older (and sicker), more and more people will know someone in need of a transplant.

Just like with gay marriage, knowing and loving someone affected by an issue makes you more likely to support it. To me this means that in coming years, people will be more open to donation. I want to make sure that when that happens, those who have already lost loved ones and talked to us have a positive feeling towards the organization I work for.

It’s our jobs to make something positive come out of a sad situation and give people a chance to live on through others. We can’t do that unless we’re constantly taking care of public opinion regarding what we do.

I definitely didn’t mean to go on such a long pro-donation ramble, but I just feel so passionately about this. And considering the fact that all I do in NYC is work, volunteer, church, and sleep, it’s a big portion of my life here.

I’m looking forward in the near future to do more that just that. Now that the husband is working more, I at least get to go out to his gigs because they usually let me in free.

But even though I’m not out at amazing restaurants and cool clubs all the time (or, couch, ever), I’m really doing okay.

The time I spend away from home is so fulfilling, and really a lot of fun.

At work I’m saving lives with the click of a button, and co-workers are crazy and fun in the best way possible.

At church, I’m growing closer to God. And I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going on with the young adult ministry, it seems like it could be fun.

At one of my volunteer things, I get to tutor (which y’all know I love) and play with a new baby.

At the other volunteer thing, I’m hanging out in the Village, and becoming part of a really amazing family of good people who just like being together and making someone else’s day a bit better.

Since the second I signed the lease on our lovely little brownstone apartment, I’ve loved living in New York. But since things have evened out a bit more, I love it even more.

Now if I could just figure out the best way to navigate the public school system here so we don’t have to move one day when we have kids…