Monday, October 26, 2009

Philly, PA

I went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over the weekend. Dirt and grime crawl up the stone of the old buildings. What is admirable is Philly's ability to not cover up its imperfections, but rather highlight them, truth spread across the city for all to see. It's the truth that I enjoyed. The stark reality of the current times hits the traveller with brute force. From the moment I walked into the subway terminal, I saw people taking shelter, their homes now becoming the tile in which I was standing upon. I saw a man lying on a drain in the streets, the rain water collecting beside him. These ill-taken realities are met with the breathtaking views of one of the oldest cities in American history.

I raced atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, my heart racing beside that of Rocky Balboa, the song "Eye of the Tiger" drumming in my ear. I overlooked this beautiful land, contrasting blues of the sky with blues of the glass buildings. Contrasting reds and yellows of the Autumn leaves with the reds and yellows of the signs sprung throughout the city. This glorious collaboration between man and nature. As if they were working together to build something so great. The tall buildings were alongside the clouds, both overlooking the land below.

I ate Pat's King Cheesesteaks, ensuring not to make a "misteak" with the competitor down the street. I sat in coffee shops and drank spirits in old pubs. Independence Hall had me relive history. How could a building with rooms so simple produce things so great? Greatness doesn't come from royal grandness, but rather tattered desks covered in papers and frivolous writings. The spirits of men standing up for liberty and justice for all lacquered the walls. I was enamored with the tale and wanted to relive all the lessons from my fourth grade classroom.

The Liberty Bell rang proud. It's crack symbolizing the endless journey to mend the broken and stand for freedom. We met girls from Sweden and decided to venture with them throughout the day. They were here on exchange to help nanny for families in Western Pennsylvania. They were a delightful addition to our party and made conversation lively and new.

A treasured view became my reward as I climbed a fence to view the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River. The freedoms withheld by large bodies of water always tend to attract me. It's endless out there and the water keeps shifting. The water doesn't claim you as its owner, but rather invites you to ride alongside. It reminds me of times spent with my father on our sailboat riding Strawberry Reservoir or Bear Lake, the wind guiding us towards our next destination, not knowing where we'll end up but sure of the excitement that lies within the present journey. Let the water carry me and the wind guide me towards my next adventure.

Empowerment. Ka-lu, Ka-lay.

I've never been a very political person. I've always fell in between places. Lucky to be born with such privilege, I'm able to sneak through the cracks without doing any action of my own. Being apathetic to the causes, I've sort of just existed. How cowardly I have been, to let others do the work for me while I sit and reap the benefits? I mean it's easier, right? To not have an opinion. To be okay with the injustices surrounding me just because I can live decently. But this is unfair to my peers and to the future. This is unfair to the decades of work laid forth by generations before me. This is unfair to my self, to the Henry inside.

DC has been a wake-up call to me as an individual. I've been able to stand up for my beliefs, act upon my civil duties, and challenge the injustices surrounding me. My work being done in the ACLU has given me access to people with such passions the provide me with empowerment. I've been able to see colleagues fight for DC Statehood, broadcasting their battle across DC public television. I've seen court cases on the freedom of speech/assembly for citizens marching on Adams Morgan. I've been exposed to issues of police misconduct, issues surrounding ex-offenders, looking towards justice. Controversy stands behind many of these issues, but in the end it is about my freedoms as an American. It is about resisting stagnancy in hopes of creating a better tomorrow.

Just today I was given the opportunity to view a public hearing on the proposed 'Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act' in DC. Hundreds of people came to speak to the DC city council bearing their testimony as to their reasonings behind whether marriage should be allowed among LGBT partners. Both parties, for and against the bill, were present. It was awe-inspiring to see such passion on the issue. Stories about a brother who has seen his siblings marry and just wishes for that same right for the person he loves. Stories of pastors who have been hurt by the council members focusing on LGBT issues when more pressing issues are at hand, like job-loss. Stories of DC residents wanting to hold the hand of their partner, not out of protest but for compassion. Each story rang out speaking to the power of democracy.

I was able to march on Washington a few weeks ago. The energy surging through my feet, through the streets. Each person there to be heard. I walked for equality. For justice. It was democracy in action. Tens of thousands walked beside me, marching towards those steps, the steps I saw on the old School House Rocks episode, the steps of the capital. It makes so much sense for love to be deemed equal. To see same-sex couple's families, families just like mine used to be, fighting and playing and walking the streets gave me hope. Hope of a better tomorrow where I can stand among many, stand among those trying to be next to normal. I stand within the margins prouder each day. To be fearful is to allow the downtrodders to trample. Take the reigns and act! Although the road is uncertain and the rope slick, I know there will be a destination. As I pass the threshold of identity, it becomes clear, just be ME. I need to choose dignity and happiness over my desire to please others, because in the end, babe, I just have me.

It's a gorgeous day. Ka-lu, Ka-lay. The sun is beating against my cheek. Colors surrounding me roar endlessly, cascading into my veins. The Autumn air devours the pigments of the colored leaves and sweeps them gently into my lungs. I want to bottle this up. Bottle up the color and the sounds, the sweetness on my lips. It's a beautiful day in DC.

The sky draws her happy hands downwards, her fingertips brushing by my chin. Beaming, I close my eyes, waiting for her to say, "buddy, I'm proud of you."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pictures. Half way through DC.

I've reached the halfway point of my semester in DC. Here are a few pictures commemorating my journey.
In front of the White House.

Friend J. Behl and I overlooking DC from the Washington Monument

Nighttime monument viewing is absolutely breathtaking.

This man is my favorite.

Beautiful East Coast autumn colours.

The actual Constitution of the United States.

Friend, Katie's drumming performance at the Kennedy Center

Equal Rights March on Washington.

Friend, Riley, and I. Someone didn't get the "act cool" pic memo.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Home is where people laugh

While in DC, I've created a sense of home. It lies within the little everyday similarities that evoke a place of calm. The moments where I forget I'm even somewhere I'm not used to being. The times where my leg muscles turn to pedals on my bicycle, the pushing becoming part of my ligaments. The novels that have turned into cinematic features, the act of page turning lost under the vale of imagination. The quiet place, the one I'm not afraid of. The times where I can scream at the top of my lungs, just because I can and no one is too close to noticeably hear it is me. The coffee shop that gives me animal crackers. The cold. The heat. My bedside glasses. My pillow. And maybe it’s not these material things I’ve mentioned that create a home, but rather the comfort they hold. The pearls they hide in the depths of their throats. The realness. People provide this as well for me. The people I've met here create normalcy in a place so far away from the geographical sense of what "home" means to me. It’s nice to open my self up to others, to expose my inner needs and wants. To explore a place, newly discovered with fresh eyes, with others. A place with Sunday dinner and laughing.

Spirits soar. The sky limitless, yet the ground providing support.
People laughing and loving. Couches indented after hours of conversation.
Secrets being told. Difference being understood.
The rain. The rain pours the same, our coverings helping the dry stay unmoistened, but the tears still linger far back in the eye. Speech sacred.
The routine of the week, broken by the spontaneity of the moment. Creating happiness in the fall breeze. The wind blows quick, then slow, against the window. I look out. The sky calm. Warmth reward as I turn my head back to friends.

Breathing feels good too. And the sun never comes out without a smile. It’s a home in a sense. This place and that place. The clouds providing my roof.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Places to Go in DC: Pizzeria Paradiso

Pizzeria Paradiso $$
2029 P Street NW

I must start off by saying that I am somewhat biased in my review of this restaurant because I am now working here. IT IS JUST THAT GOOD! Take off your coat, those slickers you've been carrying around and warm up to some good stone-oven baked pizza and beer. With over 150 domestic and international beer selection you're sure to try something you like. I personally enjoy the Pinkus Hefe or Pilsner. But might I also recommend the deliciously robust, yet not too sweet, Local Brooklyn. It's goes perfectly to guzzle down all the incredible pizza made with the finest ingredients from the Pennsylvanian-made Mozzarella to the New-York salami. It's all good here.

If you're a newbie to rustic traditional made pizzas, try the Cuatro Farmagi (Four Cheese). For the more adventurous type, try the delectable Di Mar (Of the Sea), where the cooks top off the pizza with mussels straight from the Atlantic. There is something for everyone here. Lots of beer and a cool atmosphere. Happy Hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Plus, you might even drop by on a night that I'm working. :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How I Got Here

So, some have been asking, "How did you get to DC?" Well, my friends, let me take you on a little adventure.

The May flowers brought graduation. Four years gone in the flick of a tassel. Daunting and exhausted, my undergraduate left me worn and confused. I needed a break from Utah life, a journey away, far away from what I was used to, I felt bottled up in a place that wasn't meant for me. I wanted to fly. I wanted to soar. Do something extreme, different and challenging, perhaps even stupid. So I decided go far! How about Asia, I thought.

Deciding on programs dealing with International education, I applied for all programs Asia-specific and English-teaching, both of which I had little experience in (took one Japanese class and taught English in the Czech Republic for a month), so basically I was going at things pretty blindly. But I had confidence regardless and set my mind to it hoping that it was what I really wanted to do. I applied to three companies, The JET (Japanese Exchange Teaching) Program, Interac, and ILP (International Learning Program). I was convinced that I would get one of the programs, leaning towards Japan I was hoping for JET, the most prestigious out of the three. I got an interview from all three and was excited as can be.
My first interview was for the JET program. It was a wet day in Utah and I had dressed in a newly-purchased suit to the interview. It was being held at the Guest House on the University of Utah campus, just a few minutes from where I was living at the moment. I went in confident and collective and really nailed the interview, well, most of everything besides the Japanese speaking part. But I had confidence in my abilities regardless and went forward hoping for the best.

The second interview was for the Interac Program, another Japanese English-teaching program, this one located out of Provo, UT. It was a group interview and it was sort of odd being there because most everyone else had recently got back from a mission and were fluent in Japanese, which furthered my handicap in not speaking the language. Ultimately, my interview went well, but again, without speaking the language I was unsure if I was qualified for the position.

The third interview was with ILP. This seemed to be the most inexperienced of the English-teaching companies. This program specified that teachers work in Taiwan. The interview was held over the phone. Everything went well. They cared less about whether or not I knew the language of the land, which gave me more confidence that I could get the teaching position.
Well, things crumbled, sort of. I received an alternative position with the JET program and because of the rampant loss in Japanese jobs, the percentage of teachers staying in Japan because of American job shortage, and other reasons, I was told that it was very unlikely that I would receive a position with them at this time. Any other year may have been different, but this year was special and they didn't have as many positions open than they thought they would have. I was devastated, but understood that higher qualified applicants that knew the language were likely to get a position before I did. Bummer. So I awaited the two other positions hoping it would be different, but, it came to be that all companies shared a similar situation. Interac and ILP both said that they had reached capacity for hiring for the fall semester and I was out of luck.

So, my grand vision was lost. I lay still and confused for a few weeks not knowing really where to go from here. I felt like I needed that escapism in order to reach my true self. I needed time away so that I could look into life from a different lens, a different location, that would change my perspective, forcing me to grow and learn. I was set in making this a reality. In grasping this idea of going somewhere, anywhere but here, I received word of opportunity with a program existing in DC. It was called the Hinckley Internship Program through the University of Utah. It was an opportunity I had always wanted to take advantage of during college but hadn't found the time to do so. I decided, no time better than the present.

I applied for the program and got in. The next step was finding a job. I worked with Hinckley to send in applications to a dozen or so organizations in DC. My first three being Amideast (A middle-eastern relations firm), NPR and the Smithsonian Art Museum. All three very different. I wasn't especially qualified for any of these positions, well, maybe I could have been if competition in the area wasn't so fierce because of the recent economic situation (everyone just trying to get a foot in the door), so I ended up with another organization on my list, that of the non-profit, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU.

It wasn't a top-selection on the list, but hey, I made my goal: To be somewhere else, discovering new things. And I am doing just that. My days consist of constant concentration and thought. I'm filled with scenes I haven't experienced before, I take deep glances at the world around me with more detail, examing the way people here move and talk differently than I'm used to. I examine my own psychology and have been able to write more frequently about my thoughts. It's just what I had in mind and it's something I need. More than anything, I appreciate the way different scenery challenges me. I am faced with meeting new people, making new friends, and discovering new things. It's cool to think, now that I've been in it a month, that I can do these things. I've already made a great group of friends. I've found spots that I can call my own. And my experiences have been plentiful.

So here I am. In Washington, DC. Trying to take it all in.