Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get Going

Since moving to Portland, I have faced lingering depression. Away from the community that provided me with structure and purpose, I am trying to learn on my own how to be myself and proudly declare my intentions, values and desires.

I had great dreams of scanning the east coast and drinking in the culture of Catholic Workers there. Strangers becoming friends, new land becoming home. And now, I am in Portland, a familiar city, waiting for my friends to call, sitting at home unemployed, suffocating with self-pity. My plan was dying, and I mourned. I didn't have a job so I wasn't getting money, which meant my traveling would have to be limited. Underdeveloped. Unsatisfying.

I decided last week that I can't sit around like this anymore. With each second I am not moving, it is one more second I am wasting my journey on remorse. So I emailed the Tacoma Catholic Worker to request being in their company in September. When I pressed "send," I felt a resurrection of exuberance. I felt purpose coursing through my veins. I remembered the adventure I lusted for, and felt it just weeks out of my grasp.

Yesterday, after weeks of waiting and hopelessness, I was offered a solid job. I turned it down. The decision was quite counterintuitive to my original desires of saving money while earning an hourly wage; yet I understood at the very moment the job was offered that I didn't want a job. I didn't need the few months of pay. In actuality, I needed to stop worrying about doing things "right" and start taking care of myself. And that meant to stop delaying my travels and get to it. I knew I had the funds, the connections, the capability. In declining the job offer, I had finally gathered the strength to immediately take care of my own wellbeing instead of characteristically stalling for anticipated comfort.

I believe I made the right decision, but I am still so wrought with confusion. Should I really be saving money? Should I strive for my great nation-wide adventure? Can a local adventure be just as exciting and exotic and worthy?

The biggest struggle I am facing now is: Were these past six weeks just a giant waste of time?

I'd like to believe they weren't. My Pollyanna optimism would say in response that I learned a lot about myself: that I need community more than I thought, that I have the ability to conquer fears and discomforts, that I can face challenges on my own, that it is difficult to be in a new culture after two years, that I still hold such high expectations for my life and guiltlessly compare my "achievements" to others. And my realist and/or pessimist side would woefully moan: it was all a waste, you could have traveled sooner and instead you just sat around and felt sorry for yourself. Go now, but you have 6 weeks less to do it.

I guess either way, I used six weeks--whether they were useful remains to be seen. I have to forgive myself for being melancholy and dragging myself down. Any additional time spent on thinking about my loss of time or my seemingly unnecessary sadness will hinder my travels even more.

But I am heading out of Portland because I know I deserve to have my adventure. I don't want to sit around dreaming about it, or earning money for it--money can't buy me a better experience. I want it now. I'm sick and tired of waiting for scenes in my life to miraculously start without my provocation, or waiting for permission from others to partake in the life I want.

So I'm preparing to head out. Not much longer in Portland. Soon I'll be on my way and I'll have stories and meet people and use the youth I have been temporarily blessed to enjoy. Get me out of self-pity and get me to joy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Dumpsters

I had the opportunity to dumpster dive while in Los Angeles. I was invited often during my last months, yet for many reasons I declined the offers. But the ideology behind dumpster diving was something I truly respected. In its best form, dumpster diving or food salvage or urban gleaning seeks to liberate food that has been unnecessarily discarded. Once gathered, the food is shared among community. The work is really what we do at the Hippie Kitchen: bringing forgotten and discarded men and women to community.

Sadly, or quite possibly luckily, I never had a reason to go search for free food. I was always provided with an abundance. But when I took a three week house sitting gig, I was confronted with the prospect of buying food. Since I'm trying to save money for travel and am still unemployed, my budget to spend any money is quite limited. I was not looking forward to spending it on food. The dumpsters remained my option.

The Internet proved a useful tool, once again, to educate me. Dumpster diving is a nocturnal activity. It's advised that a diver doesn't start until at least an hour after the store closes. Many places will have separate bins for food stuffs, or compost bins that look like dumpsters. There were a litany of excuses one could use if confronted by a store manager or, God forbid, a cop (many were "I'm sorry," followed by leaving, or a form of this response). And I should prepare to get dirty--wear long sleeves, pants and shoes.

On Wednesday, I skulked and whined and moaned. I was nervous to do it without familiarity of the process and all by myself. I scoured the Internet for more tips and hotspots around Portland, and hoped there would be meet-ups or groups already formed. There weren't as far as I could see, so I tried to form my own. I scrolled through my contact list and called my friends I thought would be interested.

Lo and behold, Karen called me back. Lovely Karen who, while we were at the University of Portland, became one of my few allies in social justice and peace effots. Preparing to leave Portland in less than two weeks, she heard my message and decided, "You only live once." She came over and gave me shoes to wear, as I only had sandals at the time. We loaded up. Armed with flashlights, a few bags, and NPR on the radio, we drove into the dark, suburban night.

It was disappointing. We traveled the roads of northwest Portland and its suburbs, and found that all of the suburban markets used trash compactors. We stopped at at least ten locations ranging from bakeries to cafes to fancy markets (ie: Trader Joe's, New Seasons). After the slew of trash compactors, we grew desperate. Our fear of approaching the dumpster took flight and we found ourselves tempted to look into each dumpster we saw, hoping for a treasure trove of unwanted food. But no. Leftover suburban food, it seemed, was to be fed to the hungry and effective trash compactor. After driving for 1 1/2 hours, our enthusiasm and excitement was slaughtered. We gave up and drove home in our clean clothes. I fell asleep at 1am, defeated.

The next day, I was determined to find food and feeling much less anxiety toward confronting the green, metal bins. Another UP ally, Valerie, RSVP'd for a Thursday night session. For the second night in a row, I peeked under the dumpster lids of Portland markets. Valerie and I made a few stops, only finding some oranges and apples in a Trader Joe's compost pile. Feeling less defeated than the night before, yet still unsatisfied, I dropped Valerie off at 12:30am and made my way back home.

As I crossed the Willamette River into northwest Portland, I decided once more to see if there were any stores that donated food via dumpster. I didn't want to go home empty-handed. I couldn't even find the dumpster at a second Trader Joe's, but a market nearby had an open dumpster right in plain sight. I parked, hopped out of the car and expected to see nothing, or a lot of trash. But right on top was a large bag, full of bread. I balanced my torso on the edge of the dumpster leaned my head in, and pulled out the bag only to reveal more food. I was ecstatic. Checking the hardness of the bread, it was clearly still good. I reached in the dumpster once again to liberate more food.

Driving off, I was motivated. I cruised for more dumpsters. At another store close by, a line of three dumpsters were carefully situated between the concrete walls of two buildings. It seemed to good to be true: the area was well lit and the dumpsters were wide open. I peered inside the nearest bin and saw, underneath a few garbage bags, dozens of bananas. I tried to balance my weight on the dumpster as I had done earlier, but I couldn't reach the bushel. I took a step back and stared at the dumpster for a moment, wondering what to do now. Then, quickly and instinctually, I climbed in and stood on top of the garbage bags.

I'm sure I looked like a frightened fawn learning to walk. I lifted my knees and kicked my feet in my attempts to maneuver in the metal compartment. At some point, I stopped caring about propriety and cleanliness. I was already in a dumpster, mingling with trash bags. So I started making room my myself to dig down and get the produce. Chucking bags in other dumpsters, pushing, tugging, smiling the whole way. My adventure was set to the soundtrack of the market's reeled music still serenading the empty lot. I conquered two of the bins and retrieved two dozen bananas, nectarines, cantaloupes, apples, grapefruits, onions, roses and a single potato.

As I piled the food in the back of the car, I felt more than a sense of real accomplishment. I confronted my fear of failing at new experiences and anxiety of facing challenges alone. And I came out unscathed. In fact, at the end of night, I realized my strength and capability.

I drove home, proudly unloaded my find, took a long, refreshing shower and went to bed. At 1:30am, I feel asleep happy for the first time since arriving in Portland.