On the Difference between Finding Community, Creating Community and Joining Community

written at world cup roasters at powell’s city of books

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I arrived to Portland just over a month ago and am grateful for how this city does prioritize a sense of community and camaraderie: Sunday night potlucks, music jams, AcroYoga meetups in parks, biking alone and then suddenly finding oneself surrounded by bikers. One of many. Yet I came here with the intention of joining three distinct communities: AmeriCorps, a writing group, and “the” or “a” yoga community.

The first was easy. It is where I put most of my time and where I was sort of handed a community on a…compostable platter. I realize now that I am used to being handed communities on platters (Wesleyan, with its wealthy campus, just happened to be a silver one). My yoga community was there for me to join in New York and for me to create at school. These communities were abundant and, while I put a lot of effort into creating and joining them at the time, I forget about them now, as they are established and rather than still being a part of them, I am now seeking community elsewhere. I was an English major at school and part of Girls Write Now in high school so my writing communities were relatively implemented for me.

And now I am searching.

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I remember a pivotal phone call I received from a friend my sophomore year of high school as I lamented leaving all my NYC communities and returning to school, where I felt like a lone ranger. It’s funny to think about now, as I’m in a similar boat, though this time school is what I sometimes lament leaving (though don’t get me wrong; I am above all thrilled to be here!). Walking out of the student center and checking my voicemail, I heard her response to my predicament: “You’re a yoga teacher. You’re you. Create your own community.”

Now, as I sit here in Powell’s City of Books, looking out the window over Northwest Portland on this rainy Wednesday morning enjoying my second cup of delicious coffee and catching up on blogs, I am reminded of these words of wisdom and how they shaped so many of my experiences.

Today, the Wednesday after my weekend of “failed” attempts to find a yoga studio to teach at regularly and a writing group to join, Gala Darling published a post entitled, “Stop Waiting to Be Picked; Choose Yourself.”

There was something in the title that sounded familiar to me. And with that familiarity came that Third Chakra comfort of knowing myself and the potency of what happens when we fully commit to starting something. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are some gems from that piece, which I would like to keep with me:

You could spend years refining your book proposal, honing your elevator pitch, or mastering your demo, when you could simply be CREATING. Making more stuff, trying new things, growing as an artist and as an entrepreneur.

It doesn’t matter what you do: you know your audience, your clients, your people, better than anyone. You know their needs, and you know how to help them. So don’t let someone else’s lack of vision get in the way of serving them. Do what you need to do!

I agree with Gala Darling, but at the same time, the critical thinker in me still believes that community and helping hands are vital. With AmeriCorps, I am serving at a community school and that, combined with being raised by a single mama makes me know one thing at the core of my being: it takes a village. That “it” for me now consists of me creative and professional passions: writing, yoga, applying to graduate schools and service work. But this can be extended to whatever we all do. It all requires balance. So, without further adieu, here is a revitalizing three-pronged approach to the different ways we find ourselves In Community:

FINDING COMMUNITY: This is when we join a community that already exists, but is loose in its formation…like a potluck group or generally-structured meet-up. We stumble upon it, but we don’t decide right then and there whether or not we are going to join it. It doesn’t feel like totally our own and that’s okay; it doesn’t have to. Sometimes it’s nice to simply be a part of.

JOINING COMMUNITY: Found that community that already exists that you want to be a part of? Join it and become an active member. In my experience, there are few things more comforting than realizing we are one of many and not alone in our passions.

CREATING COMMUNITY: This is what me and my wellness-enthused friends R and L did at Wes when we created WesBAM!. We innovated because we saw a lack and our ability to fill it. We created the community we wanted to be a part of. It’s like the piece of advice I received when I contemplated writing Yoga U: “Write the book you want to read.” This one is very much in line with Gala Darling’s advice above. This takes a lot of work. A lot of help. And an abundance of creativity. But it’s possible!

And above all, thank you for letting me write the post I needed to read this morning.

Namaste,

S

Dating Yoga Studios

written from the albina press café on 50th & hawthorne

As a person, I don’t really date…I tend to just fall into relationships with best friends. Me and the dude get to know each other really REALLY well, have a ton of friends in common and then add other stuff into the mix and poof: love.

Well, nothing is ever just “poof,” is it?

But remember this is all ONLY an analogy (does it have basis in reality? depends on how well you know me). 😉

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Since the fetal years, I’ve been in a relationship with the 92nd St Y, the community center my mom is a director at. This was also the first place I found and fell in love with you. At the Teen Ashtanga class when I was a junior in high school (preparing my first romantic relationship) and then at Sandi Boerum’s Sunday evening flows. The relationship got serious and changed conditions until I was ready to soar, full-fledged, into the next one: Pure Yoga. Pure and I never dated. Going to five-plus classes a week from the start, we straight-up COMMITTED. Then came Three Sisters. Then my highly uncomfortable noncommittal fling with the yoga passbook (the first time I yoga-dated) and then Laughing Lotus (again, a VERY close and intimate relationship).

Welp, New York and I are on a break. Seeing as I’m unsure of when or if we’ll get back together, I have started dating yoga studios here in Portland. Since arriving here, I have been to four different yoga studios (more detailed post with reviews on those to come) on a casual basis. “New Student Specials,” it turns out, are the first dates of the yoga world. I take a few classes, see what I like and don’t like, and then move on to the next one. There isn’t one that I’m fully ready to commit to quite yet, but I am testing the waters, keeping an open mind and learning so much about myself and what I value in my own practice in the process. In a way, it is like I am learning what dating is all about: dating oneself, understanding what I value and the compromises I am and am not willing to make.

image from my "first date" with the bhaktishop in pdx

image from my “first date” with the bhaktishop in pdx

And at the same time, I find security in the knowledge that one day, I will find true love in a yoga studio that I can call hOMe.

Weekend Recipe: Vegan Springrolls by Zoë

Sunday was absolutely fantastic…a true day of rest. After brunching with the fantastic J, illustrator of Yoga U, me and A, my roommate, went to the Lake Oswego area to meet our friend (and amazing yogini) Zoë. During our initial AmeriCorps picnic, Zoë made these seriously amazing springrolls (she’s vegan and gluten-free so they were too). Yesterday, she taught us how to make them to and, via this blog post, she will teach all of you! Enjoy!

For the springrolls:

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Ingredients

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cut up into small cubes
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Carrots, cut into thin strips
  • Zucchini, cut into thin strips
  • Medium-sized Chinese rice paper
  • 1 mango, thinly sliced length-wise
  • 1 avocado, thinly-sliced length-wise
  • 1 red onion, thinly-sliced length-wise
  • Spinach

Directions

  1. Sautee tofu with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos cut up into cubes. Let it sautée on low for a while.
  2. Prepare all ingredients as specified above on a cutting board.
  3. Take out a plate (or multiple if you’re like us and made these communally) while boiling water. Put boiled water in a wide pan/pot. Dip each piece of rice paper in the hot water fully and then immediately take out to lay on the plate.
  4. In each roll, lay out the following on the far side of the rice paper: 4 pieces tofu, 2 pieces carrot, 1 slice mango, 2 slices avocado and a small handful thinly-sliced onion. Lay out 4 spinach leaves on top.
  5. Fold rice paper over like a burrito and tuck in the sides on the way.

To make the dip:

Combine about 1 cup nut butter w/ juice from 1 lime, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and agave nectar to taste!

Take to a party, to the lake, to a bonfire, to the deck, to a shower…ENJOY! And thanks, Zoë!

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P.S. Photo and video cred all goes to the fabulous roommate Amy!

Portland: First Impressions

Initially, I planned to write a blog post about all the places I’ve been in Portland so far: coffee shops, bars, yoga studios, etc. But it just wasn’t coming out naturally. Yes, I’ve been to too many “places” to count so far (a byproduct of having out-of-towners visit you when you still feel like an out-of-towner yourself). But the underlying truth of it all is that Portland so far hasn’t been about places; it’s been about impressions. Of this city. Of the people in it. Of the weather. Of the spirit. Here is a compilation for those wondering how it’s going in Stumptown.

Now, for some vignettes…

1. twyla tharpe man on bus

Yesterday: I am taking Trimet home from the elementary school I am doing my service at. I am reading The Creative Habit by the choreographer Twyla Tharpe. A young-ish looking bearded redheaded lanky man wearing plaid is holding his four-year-old son. Everyone offers his son their seats (like, everyone – In New York, some people don’t even realize the person right in front of them is pregnant. I was guilty of that once and, appalled with myself, it was the moment when I realized it was time to leave for a bit). He declines the offer except for when the person sitting next to me gets up at her stop. He leans over to see what I am reading. “I had dinner with Twyla Tharpe once,” he says. Realizing he is talking to me, I exclaim, “Really?” “Yeah, she was flirting with me in San Francisco – it was before I had this guy [points to his adorable son with toddler-sized TOMS]- and she took me out to dinner. She is amazing.” We talk for the rest of the bus ride, until we are no longer strangers.

2. man who commented on my bad outfit

First week in Portland: I am living out of a suitcase at a commune right off Hawthorne Boulevard. The 25-year-old married couple that run the commune have two children, three chickens, a tomato garden and a momo cart (a Nepali food truck that they bike – rather than ride – around the city). The house is always flooded with people so I am waiting as long as I possibly can to do laundry. One day, I emerge wearing a poofy yellow dress that makes me look like a cupcake and, because the mornings are about 20 degrees chillier than the afternoons here, I put a purple sweatshirt on over it. I now look like a vanilla cupcake with food coloring gone wrong. On my way to Oui Presse, a man carrying his own cup of coffee nods in my direction and exclaims (it is 8am in the morning on a Saturday), “I LOVE your outfit!” I think cupcakes are just hipster enough for this city.

3. how many hipsters does it take to refill a carafe of coffee?

My first morning in Portland: I wake up so excited to buy my own cup of coffee in Stumptown, a city known for its coffee! But, because there is a Stumptown in NYC, I decide to get it at Blue Star, a donut shop on Hawthorne instead. I go to the drip machine and the dreaded sound emerges. It takes me about five minutes to get the attention of the man who is attentively decorating the freshly-baked donuts. When I tell him the coffee is out, he informs me it will be a 10-minute wait for more. But he does it with a smile so I take it as a sign from the Universe that I’ve been drinking too much coffee anyways.

4. everyone smiles

When I first started taking the bus, I got creeped out because everyone just smiled at me as I walked on. Between that and the fact that I work at a bizarrely happy school, I think I am learning a new type of samaritan etiquette here: be happy and other people will be happy back.

5. spider on my effing bike

During my first week here, my roommate (from Chicago) pointed out how freaking overgrown everything is. The trees practically bleed into the streets. And, while beautiful, it makes it hard to walk mindlessly or fast (clearly, this is medicine for me) for fear of bumping straight into a tree/branch/plant or – and this is the worst – a SPIDER WEB. I never thought of myself as arachnophobic, but I think that’s just because I was never really around spiders. Here, it’s hard to know when one is going to get hit by a web. Anyways, fast forward to Monday: I enter the bike room to take my bike to the shop and then give it a good ride (it is my second day with a bike here) when I see it. A SPIDER WEB. Entangled throughout my front tire! And up to the handlebar! I didn’t even know this could be possible! I immediately freak out (i.e. I start Snapchatting everyone and their sister; I am a product of my generation). I decide to woman up and remove the bike from the rack anyways, but as I do, THE SPIDER CLIMBS UP THE BIKE. I flip out and stand, staring at the spider, until a nice neighbor named Sam comes in and offers to do the deed for me. Thank you, Sam, for enabling a spider-free ride throughout the many bike lanes (there is practically one on every street; it’s a bike utopia here) in Portland.

6. farmer’s markets or… “haha, my figs are more local than yours!”

After going to the People’s Coop Farmer’s Market last night and having numerous vendors wax poetic about just how local they were and how vegan they were and how mindful they were, this is kind of all I have to say about farmer’s markets in PDX:

Oh, and my mantra for this whole experience still rings true three weeks in: Portlandia is an understatement.

It’s a Special Day with Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade

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Today was a special day. I woke up with a pep in my yoga practice, which was centered around feeling free. I followed that practice with my bus ride to the fabulous elementary school I serve at and, as I marveled at how many more trees there are here in Portland than in NYC, I decided it was time to simultaneously regress and progress with a new read: Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade, the first-ever cli-fi (climate change fiction) book for kids!

But let me backtrack. 

Since the seventh grade, my dear friend Antonia (though she, like Josie, shortened her name to Toni when she was the protagonist’s age) has been the most avid biker I know…and one of the best writers. I actually owe so much of my love of writing to her, as she is the one who drew me to Girls Write Now. Often, Antonia would bike from Brooklyn to the Midtown Manhattan offices of our writing workshop. Once we went to separate high schools, I never saw Antonia without her bike. She is a Brooklynite who wears her geographic identity in how she skillfully uses her handlebars. When we were in college, I visited her in Oakland (the Brooklyn of the Bay). She biked to where I walked and, sitting on the outskirts of Lake Merritt, she told me about her internships with environmental organizations and how she wanted to pursue climate-improvement work as a career.

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Fast forward two years and Antonia Bruno and her parents have published a book that makes my heart sing with the sheer joy that a generation of readers can truly believe that they can make an impact in the world and change the environment for the better. Josie is Ramona with sass, joie d’vivre and a fierce desire to save the world one bike ride to school at a time. She is a fourth-grade community organizer who spends summers in Ecuador and school years in Brooklyn (who says we don’t write our own stories first?). Her “weakness” is uncontrollable laughter (which in my book is a quirky blessing) and her strengths are too many to count. 

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Reading this first book in the series Josie Goes Green on my way to a bilingual school (did I mention that Josie is bilingual and the specks of understandable Spanish in the book convey that?) made me wish that Josie could be a role model for the kids that made my heart swell as I saw them walking/skipping/running down the hallways. Kids with their whole lives ahead of them and a limitless capacity for making change in their generation. Words cannot describe how proud I am of my friend, a writing partner of mine and AUTHOR of this insanely cool new series. 

This review (if you can call it that) but skims the surface of all there is to know about Josie and her group of friends. Find out more:

P.S. I am writing this after returning from an 8-mile bike ride around Portland on a bike I just bought today, using the residue of yesterday’s Super Moon as my guiding light home. I like to think that Josie had more than a little to do with that. 😉

Those Summer Reads

Disclaimer: This is a long post. I have taken the whole summer to write it, to put thought into every book I read, beginning with the adult fiction and ending with the young adult fiction (going back in time!). And bear with me; this is the first big chunk of non-required fiction I’ve read since before undergrad. Enjoy!

While this is not true in life, when reading, I find myself again and again returning to my first love: young adult fiction. In many ways, this blog is about me learning what it means to be a full-blown grown-up, having been out of teenage-hood for over four years at this point. Yet why do I find myself returning, again and again, to books that leave permanent, gorgeous, wrenching imprints on my heart? 

Because there are parts of being a teenager that are timeless, the age itself encompasses a liminality that I find myself drawn to, especially during a time like this when I embody the space of my own many transitions. The words of Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars; see below) both haunt and inspire me: “our own little infinity.” At 22, I find myself grateful for having experienced many infinities, that leaping into the unknown. 

And so this summer fiction-wise, I read a relatively even blend of literature about people younger and literature about people older than me. It is almost as if, in order to get into the present moment, I return to the past and gaze into the future and try to mediate the practical and figuring-out muck of adulthood with the drifting-away innocence of what it means to slowly grow up with meaning.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

A person by the name of the protagonist in my own life left that book on the kitchen table one moment and the next, I found myself using it to try to decipher the male psyche with Waldman’s highly observational piece of fictionThe Love Affairs of Nathaniel P chronicles the inner monologues of – you guessed it – Nathaniel P in relation to – you guessed it again – his love affairs. Reading this novel was like watching a particularly gory episode of Game of Thrones yet not being able to look away. While physical violence wasn’t this protagonist’s modus operandi and the setting was far from fantasy (the setting is the Brooklyn literati scene), reading this novel was, at times, brutal. I did not want to believe that someone could actually think this way about women. Yet my friend J (this book got passed around plenty) had an interesting take on it: how much of what Nate thought was actually his thoughts? To what extent did Waldman paint his thoughts as what he thought he should be thinking? Is this meta enough for you? Regardless, form your own opinions. I most definitely deem it a worthwhile read!

Graduates in Wonderland: the Two International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

I finished Nathaniel P on my plane trip to Chicago five days after graduating from college. When I was in Chicago, I picked up a copy of BUST magazine where Graduates in Wonderland was recommended with a five-boob rating (I heart BUST). I downloaded it to Kindle and started reading this book comprised of emails between friends, starting right when they graduated from Brown. Not-so-coincidentally, I started reading it on the plane to Italy, my first international trip post-grad, and reading it definitely inspires the longing sensation of wanderlust, but also a contentment with where life already is and the many unexpected twists and turns it tends to take. This book also made me realize the power of freaking email and how much of our lives we share with one another via the modern-day pen-palship. It made me think of all my friends that are in different countries now, particularly M and K who are teaching English in Gaza and Spain, respectively, and how much we are learning about one another’s post-grad experiences through what we type. 

Breathe by Kate Bishop

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For this piece of total chick-lit with soul, I think I will sum it up by sharing some of my favorite quotes from this yoga novel (honestly, it should become its own genre at this point):

The spirit must be soothed before connecting to its destiny. – Nancy

My first instinct was to try to guess what he wanted to hear. The urge was strong, but instead, I took a deep breath and spoke from my heart. No frills, no embellishments, no projections. – Alex

My point is that our teachers ignite something within us that feels like love. It’s because we’re recognizing the divine within ourselves, and the closest thing we can compare it to is the ecstasy of romance. – Nancy

Just keep showering and eating salads, darling. – Nancy

Small choices add up to big change. – Alex’s Mom

Boundaries aren’t for isolation, they’re for containment. Just keep deepening your roots, darling. – Nancy

This pose is about trust. Trust in the roots that support you, and the depth of the well you draw from. And if the wind blows, just sway with it. Don’t be afraid to dance. – Galen

[She had an] ability to see what needed to be done, to see what people needed, and to do it without drama or recognition. She truly was a humble warrior. – Alex doting on her Mom

You have to be knocked off center in order to find center. – Galen

I could feel my tight grip on life and the people in it relaxing. – Alex

Always challenge what you think you know and when you think you don’t know, know you don’t. – Galen

Not a consuming idealizing sort of love. A love that supported my own growth, and his. A love that spoke the truth. A love that was patient and honest. And fun. – Alex about Andy

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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There are some books that move us. There are some books that make us laugh. There are some books that provide that delirious sense of escapism to lives not our own. There are some books that inspire us to write better and there are others that remind us of how small our lives are compared to the vastness of literary ones. The Fault in Our Stars did all of these “side effects” (to use a phrase Hazel and Augustus tossed around in their dialogue) of reading and yet it accomplished none of them because the impact this book made on me and thousands – perhaps millions – of other readers represents an infinity that will continue to make me cry for a thousand more little infinities. And to find out what I mean by that, well, you must read this book. Required reading for life and for all the living we do until we die. After I finish writing this post, I am tempted to watch a TV show before I go to sleep, but I just finished The Fault in Our Stars this evening and I want to fall asleep with it still, unencumbered, untainted, lying gently in my heart, with the tears I shed for this book drying organically on my cheeks. Like wanting to finish my day with the taste of the finest dark chocolate on my tongue, I want to preserve the multitude of feelings this book gave my soul until they inevitably evaporate in the tastebuds of everyday life.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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This is a book that deals with Big Issues. Child abuse. Body image. First love. Flirting. Bullying. Race in middle America. Attraction. Family. Unfinished love. And so many more. Rainbow Rowell (I am still curious what this is a pseudonym for; it must be something amazing) chronicles the lives of two teenagers in a heart wrenchingly eloquent way, in a way that made me react out loud to the ending of every single chapter. This book is a fully embodied read. At times, I was made to feel like I was the character speaking at the time just from Rowell’s use of the art of writing about proprioception. This book thoroughly changed my perception of the power of Young Adult literature. The below texting convo between me and my sister summarizes how I feel. So deeply worth the read. At any age.

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Nesting Granola: DIY Recipe

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Now that I’m all moved into the new place (yippee!), I decided it was time to start nesting (i.e. time to use that oven and get the kitchen smelling like coconut). One of my intentions for this year is to make my own granola and last week, during a fetching cleaning supplies errand, I also picked up oats and honey in bulk from Costco. Last night began my granola DIY-ing and lucky for me, I found a mix-and-match ingredients BuzzFeed article (honestly, this was the best BuzzFeed article I’d read yet!) so that I could truly make it my own. 

Here’s the recipe I concocted:

Nesting Granola

Ingredients

  • 3 cups oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • sprinkling of salt
  • 1 cup thickly shredded coconut
  • 1 cup raisins

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT the raisins. Stir til your arm gets pleasantly sore!
  3. Spread out ingredients in a baking sheet evenly (make sure the baking sheet has tall-ish edges).
  4. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take out and stir oats.
  5. Put back in the oven at 300 degrees for another 20 minutes (50 minutes total baking time).
  6. Let cool COMPLETELY in the pan.
  7. Break up the granola with a spoon/spatula before returning it to a large mixing bowl. 
  8. Add raisins and stir evenly.
  9. Store in an airtight container.
  10. Enjoy with greek yogurt, almond milk, plain, or a base of your choice!