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Trusting my pace, in a Portland summer

 

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Do you struggle sometimes? I’m guessing you do. I struggle sometimes. I struggle with life in general (existential ponderings have always been a part of my daily life) and also with this Dream Into Change Practice. (When is it going to “take off?” What exactly is it, in elevator-pitch format? Shouldn’t I be farther along on my path to self-employment and right livelihood?)

Does any of this sound familiar? I think a lot of it is basic human stuff, and some of it is First-world-smart-creative-young-or-middle-aged career angst in 2015. Part of what Dream Into Change means to me is that I support others along their paths. Part of that support is my sharing my own struggles and vulnerability… as well as celebrations and, sometimes, hard-won insights.

Where I’m at right now, which I would like to share in a spirit of camaraderie and uplift, is that sometimes I struggle with “productivity.” There are many things I think I “should” be doing to build this practice. I should go to more networking events. I should be working harder to write my book faster. I should be working on putting together more workshops, and digital products.

I’m doing some of this stuff. And I feel excited about it… most days, at least.

But I still get down on myself for falling into these early twenty-first-century traps we are all susceptible to, like excessive screen time, not exercising as much as I “should” be, not eating or sleeping as well as I “should” be, and not working as hard as I “should” be.

Right now, though? I’m accepting things—and myself—as they are. As I am. My life is pretty freaking amazing, all things considered, and why do I need to be in a big rush? I really believe in savoring the journey. So… this summer, I’m doing that. Especially in a Portland summertime, savoring is essential for our wellbeing. We wait all year for this languid, warm weather. When I go to networking events, I sometimes run into people who seem hard on themselves for not doing enough. When I observe this in them, I can see that I don’t want it for myself, even though my mind and heart frequently fall prey to it.

So, what I’m focusing on right now is opening a warm, joyful space for magic to show up for me.


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I’m sleeping late when I can. I’m eating delicious food. (Yeah, probably more of it than is optimal for my body. I’m accepting that imperfection in myself… most of the time. Did you know, for example, that Portland just welcomed its first all-vegan cheese shop? How can I not go and support that wonderful new business?) I’m taking time to go to the beach. I’m taking time to eat the fruit that dangles from all the trees and vines these days. I’m making time for delicious sensuality with lovers. I’m taking time to cultivate and nourish my primary relationship with my amazing partner, who is doing beautiful things in his own life that I am honored to support. I’m checking out books from the library. I’m listening to gorgeous music.

 

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I’m also keeping my day job as long as I need it, which affords me the stability to do much of the above. I needn’t judge the fact that I have had it for twelve years.

And… by nourishing myself in all of the above ways, I find that I do have the energy to respond to wonderful opportunities when they arrive. For example, I took a chance just last week to submit a piece of writing to a website called Inspire Me Today. While bicycling home from work that day, I began to compose the 500-word submission, pulling over to the curb on three occasions to jot down key phrases. I sent in the piece, titled Trust the Open Space. I received an auto-reply, which let me know that they had received it, that the process was competitive, and that they would let me know within two to three weeks whether my piece would be published. The next day, however, I received an acceptance email: the site will publish my writing on August 17th!

Had I been pushing myself hard with long to-do lists every day—and collapsing into bed, exhausted and disappointed for having completed less than 100% of them, which has often been my M.O.—I doubt I would have had the energy to make the submission.

So… it’s summer. I’m enjoying myself. And I’m still making progress, at a pace that feels satisfying, if slower than what I have sometimes wished for.

I hope you are finding the right pace for yourself in your own path, for this season and beyond. I’d love to hear any stories that relate to this topic, so please feel free to comment.

Interview: Mike Farmer and his Living End Saloon vegan pub dream

1052431_10151465635870636_331821505_oI met Mike Farmer about fifteen years ago. A friend of a high school classmate of mine, we first connected over our shared geeky love of progressive rock music. (Mike was even in a prog band at the time!)

Over the years, from a distance of 3,000 miles, I observed as he met and fell in love with his partner Marya, bought a house in Washington, DC, and, eventually, went both vegan and car free.

Since then, we have played “vegan tour guide” in each other’s cities, and stayed in touch online. I have also enjoyed following his travel blog Adventures in Veganism.

A few years ago, Mike told me he was starting to dream up a vegan bar in DC. I loved the idea! I knew how much he loved vegan food and various libations (always carefully paired) and as DC’s vegan restaurant offerings slowly increased, I thought his idea of a punk dive bar with international cuisine sounded like a perfect complement to the other options available.

Fast forward to now: It’s happening! He has just launched a crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo to kick-start the business. I strongly encourage you to watch his promotional video and consider contributing to the effort… and in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this interview he granted me, talking in depth about his motivations, plans, hopes, and fears as a culture-shifting entrepreneur:

Mike and the Vegan Black Metal Chef at the Indiegogo kickoff party
Mike and the Vegan Black Metal Chef at the Indiegogo kickoff party

When, and how, did the idea to open this pub come to you?

The idea came to me about five years ago. I hung out in a vegan friendly dark dungeony bar in Adams Morgan, Washington DC, called Asylum. On their buy-one-get-one-half-off Tuesdays I’d get up to six plates of their vegan wings while listening to punk and watching skateboarding or surfing videos on Fuel TV (I neither skateboard or surf, but I loved it). I was in heaven. 
Also, I traveled the planet quite a bit, and have always loved trying the local cuisine. Since becoming vegan, I’ve been able to veganize many of my favorite international dishes, as well as having perfected my tofu scramble recipe over a period of about nine years.
 Then I thought, What if I created a bar that had a fun gothic feel to it, similar to Asylum, but was completely vegan? I could serve international pub comfort food that I’d experienced around the world, veganized, plus a fantastic brunch.  I hate to sound like the person who feels so accomplished after making one good meal that they decide to open a restaurant, which is sort of how it is with me, but I’m also on a mission.
 At the end of the day, I want to build the sort of place where I would want to go, and hope everyone else will, too. I’ll add that, sadly, Asylum closed and reopened as a barbecue place, but at least I was able to buy a bunch of Asylum’s old decor.
 When people get bit by the vegan bug, they just want to go out and change the world, and this is how I want to do it.

What aspects of your life shifted to enable you to pursue it now, after several years of dreaming about it?

I work in IT by day and a bartender by night, which has allowed me to save a good chunk of money thus far. But it’s not enough. So I’m doing a crowdfunding campaign now. I have many locations in mind, but most getting rented before I’ve managed to save enough money to have a shot at it. As well, property prices are rising so quickly that I may very well be priced out of the market before opening anywhere here in Washington DC, so I need to do this soon.
 Also, I can keep working away at saving for it, keeping all my ideas in my head, and dreaming about it forever, but it’s never going to get done that way. Ready or not, I’m now starting to take the larger steps I need to in order to make this a reality. It’s time to hit the power button.

Obviously you’re just at the beginning stage now, with the crowdfunding campaign just starting.   But what obstacles have you had to overcome already? 

All obstacles thus far have been internal. I’m scared, I’m out of my element, I have so little knowledge of this industry. I sometimes feel trapped not knowing how to even begin. But I really want to do something meaningful with my life, and I’m pressing on. I keep reminding myself of the phrase: “Nothing ventured…”  If I may offer some words of encouragement to anyone reading this: It’s scary and complicated at first, but take the first step. You may soon realize that what you were fearing isn’t nearly as dreadful or difficult as you thought.

What further challenges do you foresee in the year ahead?

Once open, I will be the owner, manager, bartender, barback, repairman, dishwasher, conflict resolver, accountant, inventory clerk, and other duties assigned. It’s a very unglamorous job, but I know it will have great rewards.

What is your dream for this pub?  What sorts of impacts do you hope to have, on your city, on veganism in general, and/or on any other population?

My goal is to help save animals, save the environment, and save my neighbors who are suffering from diabetes, cancer, and other diseases whose condition can be improved by diet. 
One thing I really want to do is to work with local food assistance organizations and invite their clients to PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) Food for Life classes at the bar when not open for business during the weekday. The classes teach how to cook delicious and affordable nutritious meals. A friend of mine is certified to teach these classes, and he seems on board with the idea, too. In these classes I’d also like to provide info about how our local farmers markets double the value of some food assistance vouchers.  Imagine the win for the farmers, the customer, the animals, the environment, not to mention our healthcare system. 
Also, I hope my place will be a gathering place. I want justice focused non-profits to hold their events there in the hopes that they will understand the intersection of the justice they’re seeking and the animal, environmental, and food justice The Living End is focused on.

When did you go vegan?  What inspired you to do so?

The first spark came when I adopted my cat Burbank in 1998. I began questioning having a companion animal while eating others, so I wanted to start reducing the amount of animals I consumed. My now ex-wife and ex-girlfriend were not supportive of this at all. Then I met Marya. In 2007, less than two years after meeting, we bought a house together. Within a few days of moving in, she said, “I think we should make our house vegetarian.” It was a bit more than what I was aiming for and a bit of a surprise, but after not getting any support from my previous two relationships, I couldn’t refuse. 
We still had cheese plates with a bottle of wine several times a week, and once I remembered enjoying it so much I proclaimed loudly “I’m never going vegan!!!” Then… Marya read me aloud a line from Carol Adams’ book “The Sexual Politics of Meat” that tied government control over women’s reproduction with animal agriculture’s control over animals’ reproduction in the production of milk and eggs. As we’re feminists, that really hit us hard. 
Then, in summer of 2008, I participated in the Sticky Fingers/Compassion Over Killing Vegan Hot Dog Eating Contest. I was disqualified in the first round, but Compassion Over Killing gave me a bag full of vegan goodies and some pamphlets and magazines. I took them home and read through them, then said “Marya, I think we’re going to have to go vegan.”

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I’ve been working as a defense contractor for 26 years. And, let me tell you, defense contractors get paid rather nicely. If I didn’t care so much about making such a difference in the world, I’d just keep my head down, stay where I am, and watch the world go by. But, as I keep reminding myself: “We’re here for such a short time, how can we not spend it making a difference?”

www.thelivingenddc.com/about/

Amtrak petition update

My lunch and dinner on board
My lunch and dinner on board
Santa Barbara train station at dusk
Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Well, I had hoped for a quick and easy victory. To gather 15,000 signatures from around the nation and the world, to present them to Amtrak’s CEO, and to be told, “Yes! We have heard you, and we will commit to carrying vegan meals on board all long-distance Amtrak trains, no later than the end of 2015.”

It would have been so awesome!

That’s not how things have unfolded thus far. But the campaign continues, and I’m seeking your help.

First, a campaign status update:

On February 12th, my Change.org petition hit 15,000 signatures. I was ecstatic at the response, and at that milestone I decided it was time to “present” the signatures to Amtrak’s CEO, Joseph Boardman. On February 16th, I sent him the following email:

Dear Mr. Boardman,

I love to ride the train!  I have taken short trips in the NW corridor on the Cascades, and I’ve also taken three long-distance journeys in the past 15 years, one on the Empire Builder and two on the Coast Starlight.  I appreciate rail travel for many reasons, and I would love to see Amtrak thrive into the future.

I’m writing to you today with a request.  Perhaps, by now, you have seen the petition I started on Change.org, about three weeks ago: www.change.org/p/joseph-boardman-offer-vegan-meals-on-the-standard-dining-car-menu  Since then, more than 15,000 people have signed, from all across the USA.  (Even some international Amtrak riders have signed.)

We would all like to see vegan meals (strict vegetarian: no animal products) offered on the standard dining-car menu of all Amtrak trains.  We appreciate the vegan offerings in the lounge car (notably the packaged vegan burger) but the dining car is an important part of long-distance train travel, and many of us have had trouble trying to order our meals 72 hours in advance.  If you could offer a vegan entrée option on the standard menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you would help many vegans—and others with dairy allergies or other dietary restrictions—to enjoy and choose rail travel that much more.  Further, as many of the petition’s hundreds of comments show, many non-vegans would like to have this option available as well. (I’m pasting below a few of the comments; you can view them all on the Change.org site.)

I applaud your efforts to reach out to a new, younger demographic by increasing your Facebook and Instagram presence, offering the Amtrak residency, and other initiatives.  Updating your menu to appeal to this demographic would give you another great opportunity for positive media coverage and increased ridership.

I request that you make this update to the menu no later than the end of 2015.  (Of course, sooner would be better!)

I hope to hear back from you within the next few days, and I look forward to sharing your response with everyone who has signed on to this request.

Thank you for your time!  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Maren Souders 

Portland, Oregon

A few selected comments:

Shawn Gould, Santa Cruz, CA:  “I don’t want train travel to become extinct. It needs to stay current. Offering vegan options is one way to show the public you care about their needs and train travel belongs in the 21st Century.”

Amy Shields, Birmingham, AL:  “I often travel with vegan and vegetarian friends and family members, and I know how frustrating it can be to try to get a decent meal away from home. People who choose not to eat meat or other animal products for any reason – health, religion, ethics, etc. – would greatly benefit from expanded menu options.”

Joyce Fineout, Fairview, OR:  “We, love, Love, LOVE the train! But we also love the benefits that a vegan diet brings to ourselves and to animals! Please, help us balance our love of train-travel AND our compassionate lifestyle! Make vegan meals a regular part of the travel experience of all of us! Thank you!”

Amber Kerr, Mountain View, CA:  “Vegan meals aren’t just for vegans. They can also be beneficial for people who have other dietary restrictions (such as keeping kosher or halal; lactose intolerance; or food allergies). They also can, and should, be a part of every American’s diet at least sometimes – vegan meals are often healthier and better for the environment. And they certainly do not need to be more expensive or less appealing than the other meals on the menu. Adding vegan meal options makes good business sense as well as being a matter of fairness and accessibility. I am a frequent Amtrak rider (on the Capital Corridor line to Sacramento), and I often order a meal during my three-hour trip from San Jose. I would certainly order a vegan meal if one was available.” 

On February 19th, I received the following response from Amtrak’s VP of Customer Service, Thomas Hall:

Dear Ms. Souders:

Thank you for your email correspondence to Mr. Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak.  Mr. Boardman has asked me to respond on behalf of the Corporation.

As the Vice President of Customer Service, my department is responsible for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage program, and I appreciate you contacting us regarding the availability of vegan meals on our trains.  We have been hard at work on our special meal programs.  I’m sure that you will be interested to know that we do currently offer vegan compliant meals on our long distance diners and Acela Express First Class services.  We have, in the past, offered vegan meal options on our regular menu without a special request (as we do with vegetarian meals).  Unfortunately, the customer response was quite low and resulted in excessive spoilage which drove our expenses unacceptably high.  In an effort to control expenses, we have included the vegan options in our special request program and they are readily available with the normal 72 hour advance notification.  Passengers can make a vegan meal request at the time of booking by calling our reservation number, 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245), which is available 24 hours/7 days per week. 

As information, our current vegan offerings include the following options: 

Dining Car

Breakfast- (Advance notice not required)

  • Continental Breakfast

o   Cereal w/soy milk

o   Fresh fruit

o   Grits (prepared with water only)

o   Steel Cut Oatmeal served with soy milk or raisins.

 Lunch and Dinner-

  • Garden Salad (Advance notice not required)

o   When served with Light Italian or Balsamic Vinaigrette dressings

  • Garden Vegetable Bean Chili

o   This vegan chili combines tomatoes, pinto beans, white beans, onion, carrots, corn, red & green bell peppers, lima beans, zucchini, garlic, scallions, and a blend of spices.  Served with Orzo pasta.

  • Spicy Udon Noodles w/ Coconut Curry Vegetables

o   This vegan Asian style pasta uses wheat flour noodles with vegetables (baby corn, snap peas, roasted red pepper strips, broccoli, garlic, and scallions) in a Thai style red chili coconut curry sauce with toasted sesame oil.

 Café Car

  • Vegan Burger
  • Roasted Red Pepper Hummus w/ Pretzel Crisps
  • Fruit and Nut Trail Mix

We continually strive to improve our Food and Beverage program and we know this amenity is important to our customers, especially on our long distance service. We are also under enormous pressure from our stakeholders to eliminate the losses associated with food and beverage and must do everything that we can to keep expenses under control.  We constantly re-evaluate our programs and will continue to search for alternatives that might allow us to provide vegan choices as regularly available menu items in the future.  Customer feedback is very important to us when making decisions regarding the service we offer, and please be assured we have taken your comments and those who signed the petition under serious consideration.  Every decision we make is implemented wholly with the purpose of ensuring the financial excellence Amtrak requires to deliver intercity transportation into the future with superior safety, customer service, and efficiency.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to send us your comments and we appreciate your support of Amtrak service. 

Sincerely,

Thomas Hall

Vice President Customer Service

I appreciated his acknowledgment of the petition—and was interested and concerned to read that they had experimented with on-board vegan options in the past—but I was not satisfied with the lack of acknowledgment of the current difficulty in ordering ahead, nor with the lack of a commitment to making a change within the timeline of this calendar year.  So, on February 23rd, I replied with the following:

Dear Mr. Hall,

Thank you so much for your prompt and detailed reply to my email.  I know you are very busy, and I appreciate the time and consideration you took to reply.

I can certainly appreciate the various pressures–financial and logistical, and probably others–under which Amtrak operates, particularly in regards to food service.  I am very willing–and excited–to do everything I can to help reach a win-win situation for both vegans (and others with dietary restrictions) and Amtrak’s bottom line and smooth operating procedures.

I was not aware that you had tried offering vegan meals on the standard dining car menu in the past.  I’m very surprised to learn that the demand was lower than it apparently is for the current non-vegan vegetarian items on the menu.  I wonder if perhaps the particular offerings were not as popular as alternative vegan offerings might have been… and also whether enough time has elapsed since that trial period that a significantly higher percentage of travelers might now be interested.  (The popularity of the Change.org petition, as well as my anecdotal personal experiences and discussions with others, suggest to me that it’s likely that would be the case.)

My problem–and that of a number of others who commented on the petition–with the 72-hour request protocol is twofold: 1) It is inconvenient, because sometimes people plan trips less than 72 hours ahead, and even when they do, they may not remember, or realize, that they need to make a special meal request in order to have vegan options in the dining car.  At this point in the restaurant industry, many diners expect that vegan options will be available without making special arrangements, so they may not think to do so.  2) In my own most recent experience–and that of several others I have spoken with–I did make the appropriate request at least 72 hours in advance, but the meals were not on board when I arrived.  (In my particular case, this was apparently because of some sort of logistical problem with that train or its tracks, such that the train had not made the planned commissary stop.  However, I received no notification of this, so I was quite disappointed to discover, upon arriving in the dining car for my first of three meals, that I would need to order side salads and baked potatoes in lieu of the chili and pasta I had anticipated.)

I would love to continue this discussion, either by email or (preferably) by phone, so that we can generate some win-win possibilities for action.  I am more than happy to do any legwork I can; I am well connected to many vegan communities, and would be happy to research food-service options or seek out others who might be willing to offer cost-effective, or even pro-bono, consulting to Amtrak in order to update the menu offerings. I really want to reach an outcome that will work for everyone!

Thank you for your consideration.  If you are willing to talk by phone at some point, please let me know your availability, or feel free to simply call me at [my personal phone number]. 

~Maren

It is now March 8th. I have not received a reply.

I am not giving up on this campaign, because I care deeply about animal rights, and I believe that vegan options should be readily available on all Amtrak trains.

However, I can also empathize with the plight of Amtrak as an institution, and the position of Mr. Hall as an employee. They are both under tremendous pressures, both to simply keep Amtrak alive (ever since its inception in 1971, there have been continual Congressional efforts to defund it out of existence) and to run it in a fiscally responsible and logistically smooth way.

I am quite certain there is a way to meet all of our needs here.

I am turning to one of my favorite tools—Nonviolent Communication (NVC)—as I brainstorm the next step in this effort. One of the foundational NVC principles is that we all have common human needs, and that in any conflict or challenging situation, it is possible to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs, if we all pay close attention to what those needs are.

So, I pulled out my handy-dandy set of Grok feelings & needs cards, and wrote down all the needs I could think of, for four parties:

  • Myself
  • Vegans in general (as well as vegan supporters and other plant-based dieters)
  • Amtrak as an institution
  • Mr. Hall individually

I noticed that there were three needs that seemed to be shared by all four parties:

*Consideration

*Ease

*Help & support

Other needs for Amtrak and/or Mr. Hall:

Balance, appreciation, acknowledgment, to have one’s intentions seen, structure, security, understanding, respect, to be heard, and—perhaps most importantly—efficiency.

Other needs for vegans and/or me personally:

Integrity, equality, health, hope, inclusion, respect, to be heard, dependability, compassion & empathy, contribution, meaning & purpose.

So! My question—for myself, and to all of you—is, How do we proceed, recognizing all those needs?

I have considered a few strategies:

*Seeking more petition signatures

*Personally sending more emails, or making phone calls, myself

*Encouraging petition supporters to contact Amtrak reps directly (hallt@amtrak.com, joseph.boardman@amtrak.com; needless to say, please be respectful and polite if you choose to contact them this way)

*Seeking media attention, either in vegan publications and/or mainstream media

*Seeking out people, committed to the cause, who could offer direct logistical help to Amtrak employees and decision makers in implementing these new meal plans.

I think all of these could be useful strategies (particularly the last three) and I am in the process of determining which might be the most effective—and efficient—uses of my time and energy. I am open to input as I move forward; I wish for this to be a community effort.

So I ask you, dear reader: What strategies would you prioritize? And/or, is there some way you are personally willing to get involved? Do you know someone I should contact?

Let’s get this done!!

Mourning and Celebrating Marshall Rosenberg

220px-MarshallRosenberg1990Yesterday, I was saddened to learn of the death of someone I have admired and respected tremendously. Marshall Rosenberg lost his battle with prostate cancer on February 7th, at age 80. I feel confident in saying that his loss is felt around the globe.

Marshall created a process he called Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the 1960s. Over the next several decades, he spread the word about it by writing books, recording audio and video tutorials, and giving his humorous and transformative interactive lecture in person on multiple worldwide tours.

He also used the process of NVC directly, for self-growth and conflict resolution. He worked in prisons, facilitating dialogues between willing victims and offenders. He facilitated conflict resolutions in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians. He worked with members of warring tribes in Nigeria, again facilitating healing dialogues. He worked with “high-risk” high school students in the USA.

The number of lives he touched, and hearts and minds he inspired, is truly countless.

I was introduced to his work in April of 2002, here in Portland, Oregon. The nation was reeling from the events of 9/11. I was perusing the local alternative weekly paper, and my eye caught a small ad containing the quote, “Every judgment is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” That sentiment both jarred me and resonated to my core. I knew I had to attend the lecture it advertised.

My friend Michelle and I went to the lecture, and we both walked out with our minds transformed. Neither of us has ever been the same. We quickly read his seminal book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and then we began to co-host a weekly practice group based on the book. When that practice group came to an end, Michelle and I decided to carry the principles of NVC forward in our personal relationship explicitly, by meeting regularly in a format where one of us would talk about the ups and downs of our week, while the other would listen empathically. These get-togethers were tangibly richer than other “hang-out” times I had with other friends. We each felt truly heard, and our friendship deepened. More than ten years hence, we still meet regularly—now by Skype, since we are separated by distance—and we follow the same format. Our friendship has remained deep and rich.

Later, my commitment to NVC principles led me to start up my Happy to Listen practice, embark on an East Coast Empathy Tour, and volunteer in a maximum-security prison, helping to teach NVC skills to violent offenders.  All of these have been among the most meaningful activities I have undertaken in my life thus far.

If you are unfamiliar with NVC, I humbly encourage you to read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (almost certainly available at your local library, but also worth purchasing as a reference and/or to share with friends) or to take a look at some of Marshall’s videos or peruse the offerings at the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Thank you, Marshall, for the gifts you have shared with us all. Please know that your work will continue, through all of us you have inspired.

Waking up to palm trees

Santa Barbara train station at dusk
Santa Barbara train station at dusk

This winter I’ve been battling a mild depression. (You, too? Seems like it’s been going around.) Somehow in the fall, my mojo started to falter. I think it all started in late September, when my partner experienced some serious setbacks in his efforts toward self-growth and serving his community. I did my best to support him through circumstances outside of his control, but I was disheartened to witness the way things unfolded and seemed to compound over time.

Meanwhile, I was struggling in my own practice. I hit a slump, where new clients were few and far between, and my energy dragged when I thought about taking the actions I would need to turn things around.

My social life slowed down, too. I had been so overwhelmed with social commitments in the summer and early fall that I told myself I needed to slow down, and take more alone time. But when I did that, it also contributed to a feeling of loneliness. I wanted more connection, more nurturing touch, more of the emotional and mental synergy that comes from connecting with others.

And, since I live in Portland, the weather got colder and rainier with each passing week. And darker. (And darker. And darker.)

A typical NW winter scene
A typical NW winter scene

I found myself struggling to enjoy the life I’ve worked so hard to craft. Each day I would hope things would get easier, or that my spark would return. Each day, those things did not happen. (Instead, I fell into a rut of junk food and zoning out on computer time.)

I know that I am not alone in this. I know that our culture (and climate, for many of us) tends to isolate and depress us. Even (perhaps especially) those of us who are idealists, who want to make each day of our lives meaningful, for ourselves, for our communities, and for the world at large. When we have lofty goals and high ideals, it can be all the more depressing when a day goes by without any “breakthroughs” or exciting progress toward the world we are all working to create. And when a week, or a month, goes by and those things remain scarce, it can become very disheartening.

I thought of writing a blog post, here, to share my struggle and to let anyone reading know that if you’re going through this, you are not alone. And that we all struggle, and we can all get through it. (And, that if you’re going through this and want to talk to a practitioner who can listen and “get it,” without trying to fix the problem or put a Pollyanna-ish life-coach spin on the situation, that I am, as always, Happy to Listen. 🙂 )

But even that seemed a bit too much of a downer for a blog post on a site called Dream Into Change. I wanted to offer some glimmer of hope. But I needed to find it for myself, first.

I had hoped, this winter, to spend a few days in San Diego, which I have done each winter for the past three years. I had intended for it to become an annual tradition, and even to increase to twice per winter or more at some point. I love that hit of sunshine and warmth—and the magic that is Balboa Park—in the middle of the darkness that blankets my otherwise beloved Portland during the cold months.

Fountain in Balboa Park
Fountain in Balboa Park

But this year I was feeling short on money, which only added to my depression. I didn’t think I could justify the trip. And, for that matter, my energy was so low it was even hard to get excited about the prospect of it.

One day, about a week ago, though, I read something online about San Diego, and I felt a pang of wistfulness. I missed that place! Maybe I could just do a web search for flights, and see what it might cost. Couldn’t hurt to look, right?

One thing I am discovering about myself is that once I get the idea of a trip into my head, it is very hard to walk away from it. When I search online and find options that are too expensive and/or inconvenient for me, rather than giving up, I am spurred to think more creatively, to see if there might be a way I could make it work.

In this situation, I discovered that the inexpensive direct flight I had become accustomed to taking had been discontinued. I thought about taking the train, since I vastly prefer it to flying anyway, but dismissed the idea because I didn’t have much time to take for the trip, and the round-trip cost would be prohibitive.

But San Diego had gotten under my skin. I was not willing to give up, once I had decided I wanted to go. I kept looking. I finally realized that I could use some of my carefully saved Amtrak mileage points to take a first-class ride—sleeper compartment and all—down south, and then catch a one-way flight back for only $100. Yes. This would work!! I searched Airbnb, and found an affordable house in the exact area I like to stay, just north of my cherished park. Everything was coming together! Within a couple of days, I had booked the whole trip.

And as I type, I’m sitting in the Amtrak Coast Starlight Sightseer Lounge car, just south of San Jose, looking out the spacious windows at sunshine and Spanish-style architecture. When I awoke this morning, I peered out the window of my berth and saw palm trees.

And I am thrilled to report that my mood has improved about 100%. I look forward to enjoying three days in San Diego, catching up with friends, hitting my favorite vegan restaurants, enjoying some contemplation in the beautiful cactus garden, and taking a break from the bleak. Getting my mojo back!

Me on the train
Me on the train

I would love to hear from any of you, if you have favorite spots to visit, or a spur-of-the-moment trip that lifted your mood, or another “trick” besides travel that snapped you out of a funk… or even just a shared lament if you’re finding yourself in a dark place at the moment.

Portland workshop: Effective communication skills for vegans & vegetarians

Vegetarian-Thanxgiving-dinnerThe fall and winter holiday season is upon us.

Vegan/vegetarian advocacy (or even simple social “defense”) can be challenging throughout the year. But when turkey and ham dinners with family, friends, or coworkers start happening, it can be especially stressful and frustrating.

Whether you expect to be dodging snide remarks or jokes from relatives around the turkey, or you’d like to talk persuasively about veg*anism to your co-celebrants to encourage others to give it a try, this workshop can help. We’ll be talking about using NonViolent Communication (NVC)* tools to build connection, rather than divisiveness, when talking about these charged topics.

We won’t be talking about fact-based, point-by-point rebuttals to anti-veg*n statements, since there are plenty of online resources for that. We’ll be talking instead about how to get in touch with our own feelings and needs around animal rights, environmental concerns, and/or health, and conveying them–if and when we choose to–in a way that is more likely to encourage openness in our listeners, rather than argument or defensiveness. The goal of the workshop is to increase the potential effectiveness of our persuasive conversations, while also decreasing our risk for the anger, bitterness, depression, and burnout that sometimes go along with living by a certain set of beliefs that many of our loved ones may not share.

The venue is small, so attendance will be capped at six participants.  There are two events: November 22 and December 13.

*Disclaimer: I am not a certified NVC instructor. However, I have been involved in studying, using, and facilitating the learning of NVC for the past twelve years, in a variety of online and in-person capacities.

Reconnecting to my Portland roots

MAX to GreshamLately I have been feeling disconnected. Disconnected from myself, disconnected from my community… and, without realizing it, I think also disconnected from my adopted home.

I was a newcomer here in Portland in 1990. Since then, we have been awash in more and more newcomers every year. I welcome them all. However, I sense that over time, our city’s institutional memory has been growing weaker. People may come here because they have heard the buzz, or they are seeking a young, fun, and creative culture. When they arrive, they may not know how things were around here even as recently as the turn of the millennium (pre-“Portlandia”) much less back into the 1980s, 1970s, or earlier.

I’ve been reading Willamette Week’s 40th anniversary issue these past few days, and I’m finding it very poignant at this point in my life. Their anniversary issue each year is always the same week as my birthday, which makes it a nice touchstone for me. And, since I just turned 42 this past week, their age is similar to my own. I’ve read their “alternative weekly” religiously since I arrived here (though it gets thinner each year, as print journalism shifts).

What struck me about this 40th-year special edition was the sense of connection and rootedness it rekindled in me for the hometown I eagerly adopted 24 years ago. Something about this place—its climate, its culture, its populace—stood out to me when I was thinking about where to go to college. I intuited that it would be a good fit for me, and I was right.

When I got here, I wanted to learn about local history, culture, and politics. I immersed myself in those things right away. In 1990, Barbara Roberts was poised to become Oregon’s first female governor. I wished I could vote for her, but my 18th birthday fell two days after the election. Still, I volunteered for several progressive ballot measures—and against several regressive ones—during that campaign season. My home state of Virginia did not have the initiative process, so it was all new to me. I loved it!

Barbara Roberts

Reading WW’s retrospective helped me to remember some of the culture I stepped into when I arrived. The MAX light-rail line to Gresham had just opened four years earlier.  (Now we have a light-rail network throughout the region.) Bud Clark was still the goofy and avant-garde mayor. Lloyd Marbet was working to shut down the nearby Trojan nuclear plant.  (I remember the “Leaking Trojans… Cause Accidents” T-shirts.) The city was still reeling from the racially motivated killing of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw. Gus Van Sant was artistically documenting the grit and seediness that still permeated the place, with films like “Drugstore Cowboy” and “My Own Private Idaho.”

Trojan nuclear plant

In the early to mid-1990s, I experienced firsthand many of the events covered in the story. I remember when the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, for example, successfully campaigned for bike racks on city buses. I remember when US Senator Bob Packwood’s sordid history of sexual harassment became public, disgracing him and ending his political career. I remember when former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt, whose progressive policies and strong leadership had cast a long, hopeful shadow across the local culture, similarly fell from grace when his sexually abusive relationship with a teenager, from many years prior, surfaced.

bus-bike-loading

I remember when the City Nightclub—the first all-ages gay dance club in town—was forced to close. My bisexual first boyfriend had regaled me with tales of his experiences there during its heyday, so I had felt some small personal connection to it.

I remember when the Pearl District—which had housed that nightclub—changed from a mostly deserted warehouse area to a bustling example of urban renewal (for better or worse).

I remember when Stumptown Coffee quietly opened on SE Division Street.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

And I remember many more things.

Over the years, I have noticed that many of my closest friends—and almost all of my long-term romantic partners—have been Portland natives. They are a rare breed—growing rarer every day—and I think my invisible pull toward them reflects something about my resonance with this place, its culture, and its history. I love all the new energy from all the other newcomers since me… and at the same time, I really appreciate the opportunity this Willamette Week retrospective has afforded me to reminisce, reconnect, and soak in the gratitude for some of the events and people who have shaped this unique city.

I welcome feedback, from Portlanders old and new, as well as people from other places around the world. How has your connection to your own sense of place changed—or stayed the same—over time?

The gifts of giving

This is a follow-up to my last post, regarding my intention to give away 365 things this year, one every day.  I’m almost two months into it, and I wanted to share how the experience has been so far.

In a word: wonderful.

There have been more benefits than I had initially expected.  My main goal was to lighten my load, physically and psychically.  That has been happening, and I love it.  But there have been other benefits, too.

For one thing, it has been a pleasure to see how happy people have been to receive these items.  One of the first things I gifted was an essential oil diffusing candle set.  (I had always thought it was a lovely thing to have, but after two years I still hadn’t used it, so it was clear to me that someone else should be enjoying it instead.)  After the recipient came to pick it up, within a few hours he posted on Facebook to all his friends that he was having a lovely relaxing evening with therapeutic scented oils in his new diffuser.  What a pleasure to know that someone’s life had been enhanced by this transaction, at the same time that my life was being simplified.

Another gift was a vegan book about health, and a friend of mine claimed it and came to pick it up at my workplace.  When she did, she met my vegan coworker, and the two of them started chatting about food and health and being vegan in Portland.  Spontaneous community building!

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Another surprising benefit involved my own receiving.  It wasn’t my intention to receive anything in return for any of these items (after all, the whole point was to reduce my possessions) but a few cool things have come my way nonetheless, and they have been fun surprises.  When I gave away a green velvet tunic, the recipient said he wouldn’t be home when I dropped it off at his house, but I could leave it on the porch. He invited me to bring along a container to fill with grapes from the arbor at his house.  I did, and they were delicious.

IMG_2191

On that occasion, I also used the gifting opportunity to go for a beautiful bike ride to his house, which was about 25 minutes away from mine by bicycle.  I enjoyed the warm sunshine and fall foliage.  When gifting other items, I’ve taken more bike rides, traveling to sometimes unfamiliar parts of town, and appreciating new-to-me bicycle infrastructure and beautiful views, including a rainbow on a cloud over the river near sunset.  In some cases, I have stopped at restaurants or gone to parks in parts of town I don’t generally visit, because dropping off these items (by bike or car) has taken me out of my way.  What a gift!  On the other hand, I have also met close-by neighbors I never knew I had.

Meanwhile, one of my hopes had been to metaphorically “clear space” for my businesses (Dream Into Change and Happy to Listen) to grow with new clients.  I was pleasantly surprised when two new clients contacted me within six days of my beginning this gifting venture.  Coincidence?  I don’t know, but I’m happy to receive it as a part of the whole intention.

I’ve got ten more months to go (assuming I can continue to find that many more things to give!)  I look forward to more magical unfoldings as the year progresses.

How about my readers?  Have any of you ever undertaken such a project?  If so, what benefits – expected or unexpected – did you find?

Giving away 365 things

I have too much stuff.

It’s a common lament in today’s First World, but lately I am feeling more and more palpably the weight of my possessions and clutter.  They eat into my space.  Not just my physical space (I’m typing this on my laptop in the one clear spot on my kitchen table, surrounded by stacks of paper) but my mental and psychic space.

About a year and a half ago, as many readers know, I set an intention to begin living in a warm climate – specifically, the beautiful city of San Diego – between December and March of each year.  I would do this by quitting my “day job” of ten years, and transitioning to full-time work in my Happy to Listen empathetic listening practice and/or this Dream Into Change coaching practice.  This coming December was to be the beginning of that new way of life.

It’s not going to happen this year.  I still have only a few clients, not nearly enough to transition away from my full-time day job. There are many reasons for this, but I’m starting to think that my attachment to my stuff may be a part of it.

When I began visioning this new way of life, I pictured myself living nimbly.  I would own few possessions.  I would rent out my condo here in Portland, and rent a room in San Diego, and travel lightly (possibly by train and/or bike) between the two cities.  When I think about that now, it is hard to imagine myself moving so nimbly and lightly.

When I feel myself overwhelmed by physical objects in my space, somehow it seems to shrink my time, as well.  I find myself escaping the chaos into the Internet, and before you know it, hours have gone by, and I need to sleep.  I haven’t used that time to see clients.  I haven’t used it to do the behind-the-scenes work necessary to build up a thriving practice, either.

So I think it’s time for me to clear out this clutter.  I am going to set a new intention to move to San Diego next winter, in December of 2014.  That gives me about 15 months to get things going.  And my first step will be to give away at least one possession per day for the next year.  365 possessions.  They may be large or small – mostly small, since that’s mostly what I have – but I will give away one per day, on average.  (I’ll probably take time off for vacations and maybe weekends, but when I do, I’ll give away more things on other days.)  My plan is to post these items on local free websites and/or Facebook pages, and anything that is not spoken for I will take to a thrift store or put in a free box.

Yes.  This feels good.  Let the lightening begin!

Hitting the sweet spot in Raleigh

At the Wake County Courthouse
At the Wake County Courthouse

Well… the tour is wrapping up!  Today we’ll be boarding a plane back to Portland, the East Coast Empathy Tour on its way to becoming a memory.

Yesterday, in Raleigh, I found the sweet spot.  At the suggestion of my aunt and uncle, we headed for downtown near the lunch hour, and I set up my sign on the steps of the Wake County Courthouse.  The sun was shining, the temperature was pleasant, and people were out and about.

Within seconds, I felt at home.  People smiled at me, gave me thumbs-up, and shared words of encouragement and appreciation.  It was great to be back in the flow!

The first woman who approached asked me what I was doing.  I told her, and she said, “Well, I’m homeless right now.”  She paused, then continued, sadly.  “Ain’t much to talk about, being homeless.”  I was surprised to hear her say this, because in Portland I found that homeless people tended to talk with me at length.  But she seemed sincere, so I nodded and said, “Well, I’m happy to listen if you ever do feel like talking.”  She nodded in acknowledgment, and went to sit with a friend.  Then she called over to me, “Show him your sign!”  I did, and he seemed to approve.

A minute or so later, an older couple walked by and seemed delighted to see me.  A few minutes after that, they came back, and the man said, “I’m so glad you’re still here!”  They wanted to talk about what I was doing, and take my picture to post on Facebook.  This is exactly the sort of response I love!  I hope that by sharing the photo of me and my sign with their friends, some new people will be inspired about the idea and power of empathy.

Then a man walked by and studied the sign for a bit.  He asked a question to clarify what I was doing, and then shared that he himself does something similar.  He works in some sort of ministry, approaching people on the street who have lost hope, and helps them to believe in themselves and find ways to move forward in life, following their hearts.  He spoke for about a half hour, and at times his explicitly Christian sharings bordered on proselytizing.  Not surprising, given what he had told me about the way he spends his time.  But although I did not agree with everything he said, I enjoyed experiencing his positive energy, and found some of his personal stories of overcoming major life challenges to be engaging and inspiring.  I always enjoy connecting with people who seem lit up by life, love, and purpose, and this man definitely was.

After he left, a young woman stopped by and asked if I would be there every day.  No, I said; unfortunately today is the last day of my tour.  She looked disappointed.  “But I’ll be here for another half hour,” I offered, thinking perhaps she could come back.  She said, “Oh, no – I’m fine today!  But some days…” with an expression that said she could really appreciate the value of having someone to talk to after a rough day at work.

An elderly woman came by, pushing a cart.  She puzzled over what I was doing, and then said she knew what she wanted to talk about.  “I want this war to end.”  I smiled sadly and nodded.  She went on to say that she believed President Obama was doing a good job, and trying really hard.  Then things turned a bit surreal.  She mentioned that she had recently written to his cousin, who would probably pass along her message to the President.  Then, the two of them would probably invite her to go on an important political road trip with them, probably around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when all the residents in her group home get the holidays off.  She was looking forward to the trip, and added that she would need to stop by Goodwill to get a good suitcase for it, probably no later than September.  I listened to all of this, nodding supportively.  She reiterated that she wanted the war to end.  Then, apparently satisfied that she had been heard, she walked on.

Shortly before I wrapped up, a man came up on a bicycle.  He said he was a busker, and had been playing his accordion in various cities along the East Coast, most recently Savannah, which he had really enjoyed.  Based in upstate New York, he was a bit concerned whether it was legal in Raleigh to simply busk on the street without a permit.  I didn’t know, so we said goodbye and he pedaled off to inquire elsewhere, carrying the accordion on his back in a large pack.

In between all of these interactions, I was touched by how many people just smiled and said encouraging words.  I had come full circle in this tour: the experience reminded me both of Portland, and of my first day on the tour, in Boston.

I have learned a few things about how to do on-the-street empathy:

The size and scale of a city is important, and finding the right public spot is key.

Weather can play a big role.

But, region to region, people are people.  And it seems clear that people in today’s world appreciate the value of empathy.

I am deeply honored to think that I have been able to play this particular, tiny role in hearing people who have wanted to be heard, inspiring people who hadn’t been expecting to be inspired, and bringing to consciousness people’s innate appreciation of being heard in a supportive, warm, non-judgmental way.  I don’t know what the future holds for me, in terms of continuing this on-the-street work; I will be listening to my heart over the next few weeks and months to see if I want to continue it on any kind of regular basis, in Portland or elsewhere.  But this tour has been a wonderful experience.

I want to take this moment to thank each and every one of the people who have supported me in any way, and there are too many to list by name!  Some people contributed money.  Some people opened their homes to me and/or Brian to offer lodging (and in many cases, amazing food as well).  Some people shared my campaign and/or blog postings with their friends, or on Facebook.  And many, many people offered encouragement and moral support throughout the process.  I am grateful to all of you, and thrilled to see what we have all brought to pass.

Until the next step of the journey…!