July 25, 2010 - 9:10 PM
Announcing another fabulous weekend!
Bend, Oregon, is a beautiful little city on the Eastern side of the Cascade mountains. Officially, Bend is "high desert" terrain, which means scattered pine forrests, dry grasses, and hot summer days. It's also volcanic territory, with distant mountains offset by incredibly dramatic extinct volcanoes, rising alone or in groups against the sky. It is gorgeous, rugged terrain, with some of the best camping, rock climbing, rafting, and mountaineering in Oregon.
One of my best friends, Nathan, is from Bend. Many times during the past four years my friends and I have taken advantage of the incredible hospitality of his family and taken weekend trips to visit.
This weekend my friends Madeline, Devin, Lesley, and Stephanie loaded up for a camping adventure and drove the two and a half hours up into the Cascades along the McKenzie River, climbing through the dense, lush forests of the western slopes until crossing into the rain shadow of the Eastern side.
Mountains always feel like home to me.
We camped in a truly fabulous location, between the slopes of Mount Bachelor and South Sister. Sparks Lake is a gorgeous lake, surrounded by well-maintained trails and closed to motorized boats. It was crowded with kayakers, canoers, hikers, swimmers, and an astounding number of mountain dogs boating, swimming, or hiking right along.
The area around the lake was all old volcanic rock. We found outcroppings of pumice stones, as well as huge formations of volcanic stone. Somehow the area was shattered into ravines and small canyons around the lake. This sometimes meant a two-foot step, and other times involved climbing ten feet down into a canyon, only to climb up the other side a mere eight feet later. It was exhausting and exhilarating, carrying our camping gear and putting to use some of the rock climbing skills I've learned over the last years. I've never seen terrain like it before.
The camping itself was wonderful. Swimming in the lake during the day, hot dogs over the fire at night. Mosquitoes and stars and huge mountains looming on the near horizon. We told stories, took naps, collected firewood, and explored. The lake was shallow and calm, with ducks, geese, and a startling flight of migrating cranes.
The experience was bittersweet because it was also my farewell to Nathan. He leaves next Saturday to spend a year teaching English in Japan. At least a year. He's been an incredible friend of mine these four years, and I'm so sad to see him go. But with an adventure like this to end our college years, it still seems like a continuing story, rather than a bookend on a friendship. Plus it was another memory of adventure together.
This weekend also reminded me of my passion for outdoor adventures: for physical challenges, for moonlit nights and days without knowing what time it is, and for the kind of close bonding that happens when you're alone without the electronic distractions of our modern lives. I love the Eugene and Oregon communities for the passion for outdoor experiences: for the UO Outdoor Program and the vast number of UO students who spend weekends in the wilderness, experiencing all that this place has to offer in the way of beauty and adventure. One of my reasons for coming to the UO was the chance to build new outdoor skills and experiences. It's also a reason I'm staying. I hope to have many more stories like this in the years to come, although it is impossible to know what I'll have time for when my graduate program starts. For now, it was a beautiful weekend with good friends. Yet another fabulous adventure.
July 23, 2010 - 10:32 AM
My first day of graduate school is one month from today. One month from this moment I will be sitting in my first class in the Conflict Resolution Masters Program (CRES), beginning two years of study in Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon.
I can hardly wait.
The anticipation was increased today when I received an update from the CRES program, including additional information about scheduling, book lists, and the long-awaited list of Cohort 6 CRES students.
This is the sixth year of the CRES program at the University of Oregon, and the cohort of twenty-seven Masters students will be my classroom peers and partners in study for the next two years. Significantly, we share a full compliment of courses for the summer term (August 23rd to September 17th) and for Fall term. This group of people will be my primary academic peer group for the next two years.
We all provided the program with short autobiographical pieces and a photo to distribute to our new professors and to one another. This list arrived today. I've been busy since reading through people's stories and looking at the pictures, trying to imagine our future friendships and the ways in which we'll be able to help and inspire one another.
We are an interesting group. About half of us are recent graduates of various undergraduate institutions. Close to half are married, and several have children. Only eight of the twenty-seven are men. Many are Oregon natives or transplants (which is how I now consider myself), but others come from the East Coast, from the Southwest, from Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Germany. Three are getting married this summer. One of my future peers gave birth to her second child on July 7th. One was a fellow member of College Democrats during my first two years at the UO. Another graduated from the Honors College with me.
We were asked to share our interests, and these range from outdoor pursuits (biking, hiking, camping, sleeping in treetops, and one fellow rock climber), to their families, pets, reading, and espresso. I love to imagine these people agonizing over their profiles, like I did, trying to weed through an entire complicated life story to choose a final few facts about what I do and who I am. I love that a member of my cohort chose to record "espresso" as an interest.
But, of course, the most interesting portion had to do with why people are interested in conflict resolution. Again, the answers were across the board. Some of the younger cohort members have a developing interest, based on their experiences in peer mediation, sports or business conflict resolution, or a general interest in social justice and peace. Others are arriving with a good amount of previous experience, either in the justice system, mediation services, or with international experience in dialogue facilitation and mediation in conflict situations.
I'll be blogging about these people extensively over the next two years. I can't wait. On August 20th we have our program Orientation, at which I will meet these people in person. We will meet our professors, learn about program structure and expectations, and have our first cohort meal at a faculty member's home.
I can't wait. These people will, I hope, become my friends. I can't wait to report the stories we'll have together!
July 18, 2010 - 3:51 PM
(Please see previous blogs about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program if you're new to the blog)
Participants in Inside-Out classes have, for years, consistently reported two reactions from their experiences: that they have been profoundly changed, and they don't want the class to end.
Inside-Out rules prohibit ongoing personal contact between inside and outside students. This means that the outside members cannot visit, call, or write the incarcerated students from the class. Ever. However, the Inside-Out Program has held several leadership groups over the years in which, for programmatic reasons, inside and outside individuals meet on an ongoing basis for a continuing period of time.
Turned Inside-Out magazine is another example of "programmatic contact" being acceptable within the program vision.
Nationally, Inside-Out is expanding to include a host of new instructors, classes, universities, and correctional institutions. Within this larger field of expansion, Oregon is a hotbed of Inside-Out activity, statewide and at the UO. We have some of the most active instructors nationwide, including a sociology professor, Michelle, from OSU who has taught the second-most Inside-Out classes nationwide. At the UO, the Honors College is providing institutional and administrative support, which has led to my internship, a steadily increasing base of professors who are involved in and supporting Inside-Out, and a vision of continued involvement in a program that invites students to step outside their normal experiences and peer groups for true dialogue and partnership in learning.
In light of all of this, I am delighted to announce that the Inside-Out alumni at the University of Oregon are launching an exciting new project: a book club/book study held at Serbu Youth Corrections Facility.
This summer's group is a pilot project, bringing together myself and three other outside students with eight youth offenders enrolled in the Phoenix Program: an incarceration and therapy program designed for offenders to help them reintegrate into society. They youth are ages 14-17, and all have the equivalent of felony convictions.
We held our first full meeting on Friday. We gathered in a classroom in the larger "pod" of the Phoenix facility. Staff members, who had pre-approved the program, could see us through the windows, and the youth who had chosen not to participate were visible moving around the pod and in their rooms. One staff member sat with us in the room.
We spent most of our two-hour meeting on Friday getting to know each other. We used ice breaker activities to allow every person the chance to talk with the others. We shared funny stories or facts about ourselves. We answered questions like "what animal would you most like to be?" "where is your favorite place in the world?" and "If you could return to any moment in your life, either to change it or simply to live it again, what would you choose?" The youth were wonderful. Funny and sweet, and generous with their stories and their willingness to listen.
Then we worked together to write up some rules for dialogue, such as respectful listening and strategies for reminding each other to take turns talking. We had a conversation about the difference between discussing and arguing, and stated that we would invite discussion of the reading material: that we would definitely disagree sometimes. That this disagreement was a goal, not a problem.
Then we introduced the material. As a group, the UO leaders had decided that graphic novels (long comic books) would be a good way of ensuring interest in the subjects, equalizing the playing field, and allowing us to read some new material. None of us had much experience with graphic novels. So we asked for advice in selecting age-appropriate material. We asked friends, and I went to the public library. We selected three options and went to Serbu on Tuesday, presented our idea, and asked the youth to pick which novel we would be reading. They selected Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vohn, which is a story of a post-apocalyptic world in which all the men and male mammals in the world have died, leaving the women and a single man and his monkey. It deals with questions of gender, leadership, power, and creativity. It is also beautifully illustrated, and the writing is extremely good.
Next week we wills start discussing the novel. But we left this week with a knowledge of each other, with a basic conversation already begun about who we are and what we're interested in.
We, as outsiders, are not going in as mentors or teachers. We are not going in order to help or change the youth, at least not as a primary focus. We're going to talk about interesting ideas and to hold dialogue with the youth. We hope this will create an ongoing interest in education, literature, and the topics we study together. But we are going in to benefit as well: to learn about literature and ideas from the kids, to participate in dialogue, and to put to use the things we've learned.
I'll keep you posted as this project progresses. We'll be meeting every Friday for five weeks. Then, if all goes well, we will be reconvening in September, with a larger group of alumni participants.
This is something to be excited about. As a participant, as a leader, and as part of the national program, I am extremely excited by what we are creating. The whole Inside-Out community is watching.
I can't wait to see what happens.
July 17, 2010 - 3:27 PM
Friends and readers, this was another fabulous concert-going occasion. As you know if you've been reading my blog for long, I love music. I have since I was really little, listening to my dad's classic rock band and believing he was a rock star. I learned to dance from my mom, how to recognize good music from my dad, and watched my sister go far and away beyond me in singing. High school was all about music, mostly in the form of band class and the marching band. Trumpet and French horn for four years makes you appreciate classical music, jazz sound, and the creative ways you can create music from the basic instrumentation available.
Now I'm out of the music business myself, except for writing the lyrics for the occasional song with my dad. So music is something I consume, rather than creating myself.
I listen to music for hours every day. While I'm reading, writing, studying, talking on the phone, walking around Eugene. And when I get the chance, I take the time to head to a concert.
This weekend that meant going up to Portland with three friends, meeting four more, and heading to The Crystal Ballroom.
The name of the band is The New Pornographers (which should explain why I didn't title my blog with the band name). They're an indie-rock band from Canada, sort of a Shins-esq sound with lots of guitar and some truly beautiful lyrics. Niko Case, the lead singer, has a beautiful voice, especially backed up by the male vocalists.
I really appreciate bands that include both male and female artists. I grew up listening almost exclusively to male singers (The Who, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, the Eagles, the embarrassing but enduring Jimmy Buffett, etc.) but have a growing appreciation for female vocalists. Independant rock has a growing variety of bands that utilize a mixed-gender group to give a fuller, more developed sound. The new Decemberists album includes new female vocalists. Stars as well. Rilo Kiley is one of my favorite artists, with totally awesome female vocals.
Anyway, The New Pornographers are one of my favorite bands these days. I liked them anyway, but when my friends suggested we all go to see them, I started listening up on their music. Three obsessive-compulsive weeks of music study later, I know most of their lyrics and got to sing along at the top of my lungs at the concert.
The Crystal Ballroom is a fabulous venue. The floor is actually bouncy somehow, which means that when a full audience grooves, the building grooves as well.
Summer is a great time for concerts of all kinds. Eugene doesn't attract as many shows as during the school year, so venues are free for smaller shows and local bands. Several of my friends are working on individual projects or are part of larger bands. I love seeing live music, whether it's a group I know well or just something happening live at the Saturday Market. Whatever the case, it's a way to fill my passion for music and for living a musical lifestyle.
As for my music right now? I always blog while listening to something. Right now it's "The Bleeding Heart Show" by the New Pornographers off the Twin Cinema album. I highly recommend it. They ended their concert with it, so I guess that's as good a place to sign off as any.
July 12, 2010 - 10:19 PM
This city is a strange combination of empty and busy during the summer. Most of the college students clear out, so suddenly there are extra parking spaces on campus, free tables at the near-campus hangout spots, and an alarmingly short list of the normal crowd around to call. But at the same time, there are music festivals, Saturday market craft fair/farmers market days, and a general overflowing of sunlight and natural beauty after months and months of rain.
Almost enough to get a bike-o-phobe out on some wheels to see the town.
So here's to my summer success #1 (...dramatic drumroll, please...) I have started riding my bike.
Now, if you've been following me for a long time, you'll know this isn't a small statement. Bike riding has been a lifelong fear/general no-go for me. But it's gorgeous outside and it turns out that you can see an awful lot of the city really quickly if you've got a good bike to dash around with. If you're not crippled by fear.
So last week I put on my helmet, carefully wheeled my bike out of the backyard, and went for a ride. It isn't a habit yet, and I'm still a bit afraid I'll tip over every time I saddle up, but it's a real improvement. A whole new world of transportation awaits.
Another great thing about all the heat and beauty is that it is the perfect time to lean back, relax, and read a novel. Preferably outside, with trees overhead and grass under you. My weekends have involved quite a bit of this recently, making up not only for the months of rain, but also for the long, long stretches of nose-to-the-grindstone homework and thesis writing. I'm what you might call a chronic bookworm, and have been known to stay up until all hours of the night reading, only to wake up early to finish a book. It's a family thing: the women in my family read like we dance or eat ice cream. It's part of the joy of living.
Perhaps I'll put up a list of summer reading later. For now, I'll just say that I've torn through eight books since the summer has ended, and I've enjoyed it hugely.
I've also encountered a whole new genre: the graphic novel. I have to admit, I was highly skeptical at first. For those of you not in the nerd world, a graphic novel is like a long comic book. Much of the story is told through the use of art and graphics to express the nuance and mood of the action. The most famous example currently is Watchmen. I'm halfway through that one, and think it's incredible. But I've read three others already, and am really excited about the new genre. Some are far from comics: I read one called Stitches that is a nonfiction memoir about a boy's troubled youth and the history of trauma and family instability which he escaped from.
When I first started reading graphic novels, it was kind of like reading a short, fragmented book. I would read all the words on the pages and then go back to look at the pictures, the way you might do when reading a child a picture book. But a friend of mine patiently showed me how to look at each panel to see the way the words and pictures interact, and how I'd been missing half the story in my rush to read the words.
Now I might be what you'd call addicted. How long has it been since I had a new kind of book to read?
As a final answer to the question "what happens in the summer," I'll diversify a bit. Summer means a new routine, a new way of filling time. In my house, it means being outside a lot because we don't have air conditioning and it gets darn hot in here during the day. It means being by water if possible, preferably the Willamette down by the Autzen Footbridge. It means watching movies, heading out of town for weekends, cleaning house and emptying file cabinets. It means lots of wonderful local fruit.
Also, it means changing the people you hang out with. And that means new activities. I'll have some video up soon, but for now just close your eyes to set the scene. Imagine a beautiful, hot day, with trees overhead. A bunch of people scattered on the lawn in my backyard. Listening to music. Turns out that music is coming from a fabulous live band: Big Tree, stopping by my backyard on their way across the country, straight to us from New York City, with 30 gigs in 35 days in between.
It was great. They were great. The lead singer went to elementary school with my roommate's friend. And so we had a band in the backyard.
That's what happens in the summer: inexplicable and exciting things. Stuff you might not have time for in a normal school week, and activities that need a lot of sunshine and space. People coming together to fill in the corners in normal Eugene social lives. Bands in backyards, bicycle riding against all odds.
It's a good summer so far. Hope yours is as well.