Last Thursday, the Portland Sea Dogs had their first game of the season. It was a sunny, but frigid evening, but the stands were full and the team was ready. The field looked like any other baseball field: four white plates, neatly mowed grass, the geography of the game a tidy perfection. Rick Anderson has worked as the head groundskeeper for 20 years, and it’s not simple work making the field game-ready for all 142 games. It takes weeks to clear the snow from the field each spring. It requires the entire Hadlock Field’s staff to pull the 180 square foot tarp across the field when it rains. Anderson and his team paint each base with special white paint, shape the pitcher’s mount according to regulations, and ready the field for each game and practice.
Before the field became what it is, Anderson was growing up just yards away in housing complex for Parks and Recreation employees. His childhood home was torn down years ago to make room for more sports (an ice-skating complex), but he returns to his home turf everyday. His work is this field, and I imagine its grass and clay and dirt work their molecules under his fingernails and onto the soles of his shoes, the proof of hard work in servitude of the game.
Well, basically, it’s readying the field for games, as far as making sure everything is safe and pretty aesthetically it looks good. We always work the mound daily with the clay. We mow daily. We prep bullpens, we drag the infield dirt and we do all the maintenance on the turf like fertilizing. We have an irrigation system that we monitor the water levels. We pretty much do that all daily. We are making sure the playability is the best it can possibly be. We’re at a high standard. They have big investments with the ball players, so we have to be right on. We certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt due to a groundskeeper error. We are very technical and we keep on top of everything all day, every day. But you know, we take a lot of pride in what we do. It’s just enjoyable to be working in this type of atmosphere.
I grew up approximately 50 yards from this ballpark. My dad was in the Park and Rec business for many years and the house went along with it, we maintained the greenhouses as well. It’s just funny that I ended up 50 yards from where I grew up.  The park complex is gone and there’s an ice arena where it was.
On the left, special paint used on bases.
I just like the game. It’s just a fun game. Baseball people are good people. It’s a lot of strategy involved. Just the raw talent that you see. That’s what I get out of it. Seeing the players come through and move through the system is very exciting. I say we work with the players because we’re here everyday. And just to see the advancement and make their goal. And to think, hopefully, I might have been a part of that.
It’s a good feeling, just being outside. And you really feel like you are part of the team. There’s nothing better than after we’ve done all our work and we overlook all we’ve done, it’s like a painter with a raw canvas and when you are all done, you look and think, “This is what we achieved.” And it’s beautiful.
I think one of the biggest accomplishments with this job is when we have to deal with the snow. Unfortunately we had to do several snow removals. And it’s very difficult because you have to be careful. You don’t want to do any damage because you don’t have time to repair the damage. It’s very tedious. Where do we put the snow? There’s no place to put it. So we literally have a couple of snow blowers and we take it out a bucket at a time. It’s like trying to move the sand from Mount Desert, Maine with a teaspoon. It takes a few weeks to get it ready for the opener.
Work-wise, it’s achieving the most playable conditions you can accomplish for the players. Life-wise, obviously, it’s my family. It’s tough for them, because doing this for 20 years, you give up your summers. They have to be patient and put up with a lot. Thank God I have a great family. And that’s most important to me.
On the left, soil amendment used in the composition of the field.
One of the lessons, I would say, it’s just keep up with your people skills. Work together and be positive. There’s so much going on in the world, you don’t need any more negativities. And I like to interact with people and keep everything on a positive note. It’s very important to me to communicate and communicate well. And just people in general, treat them well.
Keeping my family happy and healthy and spending time with them. Try to do the best you can and provide and have good relationships with your kids and wife. That’s where I’m at.


From left: Mike, Jodi, and Obie.
Jodi Theriault is practicing her routines for her first bodybuilding competition, the OCB Pine Tree State Bodybuilding, Figure and Bikini Championship. She hisses through her teeth as she moves into each position, a series of flexed stances that shows the definition of her muscles.
Mike Foley is Jodi’s nutritionist, helping her tone down even further in the week to come. Starvation is a common term in his vocabulary, a necessary part of the sport. Obie Philbrook is her posing coach, fine-tuning her movements for the upcoming show. He knows bodybuilding well – he is a gym owner and former Mr. Maine – and while he still coaches, he has plans to become a counselor. He is moving on or away from bodybuilding.
Jodi ends each of her sequences in what is commonly called “the Crab.” Her arms are bend at an angle from her torso, legs in a squat, her mouth in a grimaced smile. Her abs are rippled and pronounced, the result of hard work and  – as Jodi, Mike and Obie jokingly agree ­– a bit of insanity.
 Jodi- It helps calm me. I have really bad anxiety so I work out and I run and I lift all the time. I feel a lot more calm after. It’s almost like I go through withdrawals if I don’t work out. You release certain endorphins, like I used to get really bad headaches and no medication could cure it, and the doctor now tells me to go for runs. And it gets rid of my headaches and loosens me up.
 Obie- Bodybuilding was very important to me; it’s always been part of my lifestyle since I was probably 20. It gave me an arena and environment of acceptance among peers. As a child, I was bullied. And the gym was probably the first place that I was able to find acceptance and create friends and have interest in common. Bodybuilding was my avenue to finding myself at the time.
 Mike- I like the fitness lifestyle. I work with a lot of different athletes and I like the individual endeavor. It’s important if someone stays in great shape all year, like someone doing a race. You see thousands of people running Beach to Beacon, and you could think, “Why are they doing that?” Because it’s a personal challenge.
 Jodi- I started when I was young, I was always playing sports like soccer. And I went to college and came home from college because I flunked out, so I decided to get my life back on track. So I started back at the gym. Then I had my son and started teaching kickboxing. Then I got pregnant with my daughter two years later and I stopped teaching and kept working out. Then two years later I had my son Maverick, and Tony Fournier at Fournier’s Gym was getting rid of the spin bikes. And he said, “Who’s going to teach it?” And I said, “I will.” I did three classes a day. I work seven days a week there and also at World’s Gym. I came into the upcoming event thinking I was going to do the figure competition, which I was comfortable with. Then I heard I would have to hide certain muscles, and I said, “Screw that! I’m going to go do bodybuilding.” And they told me I didn’t have enough time to prep, and I took it as a challenge. And I was doing it on my own for a little bit, until Obie saw a picture of me and said I have to come over to his gym. Which is good because Obie helps me find my own style. It was really important to me to show where I am comfortable on stage where I can show my personality. The most important thing for me is to have fun up there.
 Obie- I feel like I’m moving on to other things. Bodybuilding has always been part of me, and fitness and working out and training and being healthy will always be a part of my lifestyle. Competitive bodybuilding will no longer be in my life at this age and beyond. I’m enrolled in school, trying to get my LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor). And the reason for that is to provide a future for myself and my son. I think that’s my big priority right now.
 Mike- I’m probably more passionate about it now than I ever have been in my life. Like,  January 22nd marked 18 years where I’ve worked out every day. And since I do nutrition for a living, I just always eat right. I follow bodybuilding as a sport. I think when I was younger, I was always looking at bodybuilding magazines, and I love all sports. I just love working with competitors.
 Jodi- Well, I ran a half marathon and my son was four at the time, and he came up to me and said, “Mom, why don’t you win?” Because I always tell him he can win. I told him that I race because I like to race. And he said, “But you could go faster and try harder and win.” And ever since that day, I’ve never lost. I always try to come in first. My son is always at the finish line waiting and he has my medals around his neck.
 Obie- At forty-one, I finally had a child. I never thought I was going to have a child and I have a great little son called Sebastian and I consider that an achievement. You know that and trying to be a good dad. And if I can feel I’ve been a good dad, then it’s an achievement. In the sport of bodybuilding, I was able to finally qualify as a professional. I’ve done a ton of shows around the country. I finally graduated college and now I’m going back hoping to achieve my masters. Lot’s of small achievements and a few major ones.
 Mike- Probably my kids. I look at it like bodybuilding, like I love working out. I don’t know if I’m going to compete again, I could care less. But I like to eat good and work out. That’s what I do. I don’t think of it as a great achievement, it’s just how I live. You work to get the best you can.
 Jodi- I think strength is the ability to push yourself to a limit you think your body was never able to reach. Today, you’ve reached your goal and tomorrow you can take it a little further, go a little harder. Strength is pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do.
 Obie- Strength, I feel is synonymous with endurance. I think I’ve had to be strong to maintain my ability of forward progress. It would be so easy to just stop everything and continue just being a gym guy. And I just feel that my ability to move forward is my strength. And it’s hard to be so busy and try to accomplish so much.
 Mike- Strength can be defined in so many different reasons. I always think strength is basically someone not saying something back or talking back. I think it takes strength to be an overweight person walking into a gym, more than it does for a competitor to walk on stage. There’s one guy I know who works out at the gym and he’d blind. Or the Beach to Beacon, you see all the in-shape guys and the Kenyans, but I always get more inspired by the people in the wheelchairs. I don’t know if I would do it if I didn’t have my legs. You look at people who have a lot of personal challenges. Jodi has three kids, people say it’ harder to be in shape if you have kids. Well, you either get there or you don’t.

Left, an image of herself that Jodi keeps in her purse. It’s from her first fitness competition, before she began bodybuilding.
 Jodi- My children. My three children are my world. People say “Oh you are teaching them that it’s not okay if you don’t go to the gym and this and that.” But if you go to my house, you’ll see I have the most junk food ever. A lot of people think that because my lifestyle- I’m addicted to the fitness, I’m addicted to the gym- I don’t push that on them at all. If they sign up for something, they are not going to quit. No. They are going to finish that season, and if they don’t like it, they can stop. But they will not quit. It’s the only thing I am adamant about.
 Obie- My little guy, my son. I guess I’ve always felt there was something missing. Now I’ve got that, and he is very important to me. Providing a future filled with the right way to do things, appropriateness, educating him, and bringing him up the best I can is probably the most important thing to me.
 Mike- I’m lucky to be able to do a job I love. I see about 200 clients a week. Working out and being in shape is something I don’t really think of as being important, I just get up every day and work out and eat well. It’s important to me, but it’s not all I do. I think really almost anyone will say their kids are their most important thing in our live. If someone is in great shape, but it’s the only part of their life their good in, they are missing it.
 Jodi- I have learned that being carb-depleted and starved makes me feel bi-polar. Seriously, I’ve been really crazy. I have flipped out at every other trainer at the gym and it’s been something little and stupid. And I’ve apologized and they’ve understood. We understand the training process. But I’ve never pushed by body to this limit in my entire life. I’ve never had a weight problem, and I’ve never had to diet like this. I have a lot of clients that are heavy and they say, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand.” Well, now I understand. And they’re right. I understand the loneliness, I understand not being able to go out with your friends because your meal. And I understand that for the first time, and I’m able to call them on the phone and push them through it and motivate them.
 Obie- Probably not to be so selfish. I think if I look back, I can identify some narcissistic behavior. And I think I’m a little older and a little wiser and I can take a step back and see how self-destructive that might be. So, being able to move forward again and try to develop a self-identity that is more constructive, and not taking away from other’s and myself.
 Mike- I just think so many times, you look at so many things you go through. Like, I had a brother that got murdered. I just think you look at life as so precious and so short, and you never know what’s right around the corner. Really, it’s what the people who are closest think of you. I see a lot of clients and if they like me then that’s great, but what’s more important to me is what my kids think of me.

To learn about the upcoming event or how you can cheer on competitors like Jodi at Saturday’s championship byclicking here.

Originally Posted on MaineToday.com - PHUC AND SUE TRAN – CO-OWNERS OF TSUNAMI TATTOO

It’s a busy Saturday at Tsunami Tattoo, and Sue is answering phones while Phuc* tattoos. Married for twelve years, they lead busy lives: with two jobs each, a daughter, and another baby on the way. Phuc begins the afternoon with two clients: Hans is beginning a new tattoo of a woman atop a wild boar and Brian is touching up his tattoo of a Japanese dragon. When I ask each about their tattoos, both shrug and tell a vague story that amounts to, essentially, they just liked the way it looks.
We choose a lot of things in our life because they are beautiful to us. There are people, places and things whose beauty we resonate with in a powerful and personal way. They become our friends, our homes, and our art. Sometimes, we choose to make them permanent. Watching the familiar and loving way Phuc and Sue talk to one another, I think about the things that are created to be permanent, like tattoos and marriage.  They remain permanent when we agree to reaffirm their inherent beauty, to recognize the extraordinary combination of two magnificent designs: ink and skin, person and person.
*rhymes with “Luke,” in case you were curious
 Phuc- Being true to myself; living and working with integrity. Not wasting any moment of my day doing things that I don’t want to or have to do.
 Sue- I find honesty and integrity to be important to me. And a good work ethic. It’s not that I hold others to that standard, but for myself – it’s what’s important to me. And family.
 Phuc- Let me backtrack! It’s such a vague question. It’s like “what do you do?” That sort of question. I’d also say my wife is very important to me, daughter, my friends, things that are beautiful. I think, I hope, I try to go out of my way to experience or see things that are beautiful or pleasing everyday. I think that’s why we are here on earth, we were given five senses and I hope those five cylinders are firing all the time. Eat some good food. Hear some awesome music. See something beautiful. Hear a funny joke. Think about something important. Say something nice.
 Sue- I would say for me, it’s learning a new level of patience and openness. We have a two-and-a-half year old and it sounds very stereotypical to say “Oh that takes a lot of patience.” It’s not that she tries my patience, it’s just sort of allowing myself to stop and just allow her to explore. You know, we lead a pretty fast-paced life, we have a lot of balls in the air all the time, and I’ve really been trying to teach myself – even if we are running from one thing to another – if there is something that is a cool moment for her, to stop and let it happen for her. And just be patient about it.
Phuc- There were a couple things that happened to me: like family illness or things where I felt afraid to do them. I have a great therapist, and I saw him and said, “I don’t want to do this. It’s terrible and it’s scary.” And the response was “Tough shit. You gotta do it. That’s it.” He literally said that. You have to do things that kick you in the ass, to do things you don’t want to do. I think I’m constantly doing things that are going to make me feel uncomfortable or that are hard. I think it’s really easy to not do those things. Our natural disposition is to avoid doing the hard things.
 Sue- I think that goes back to what you were saying in the beginning about experiencing beauty, and experiencing pleasurable things. But, I know you Tran. And you push yourself to experience things that are also pushing your envelope, or scary or intimidating. And you do it, and you never complain about anything! You find the silver lining or the learning moment in those things. And it’s really inspiring.
 Sue- It’s very interesting. The more Phuc and I know each other, and we know each other’s backgrounds, we realize that Phuc being raised by a refugee family from another culture was very similar to me being raised by older parents, at least in ways our households were run. My parents were much older when they had me, and both of them were raised during or after the depression. It was a very similar set of rules and values and expectations. I credit my parents for giving me focus and a really good work ethic. And integrity.
 Phuc- I think to amplify something that you said, Sue, is that I think you can look at the way that you were raised and hold two very different feelings about that. It can create a lot of cognitive dissidence when you think, “My parents instilled me with a lot of great qualities and morals, but at the same time were super abusive and terrible.” And that’s a really hard thing for people to come to terms with and acknowledge and hold in some sort of psychic space. That’s not my answer, though! I would say that I learned really early on, because I was obsessed with comic books and the idea of self-actualization and the idea of creating your own identity. I think in some in-articulated way, I figured out that I can wear a leather jacket and combat boots, and now I’m a punk rocker. I just totally ditched this one thing, put on the trappings of another sub-culture and I’ve got this free ride into the punk scene. It was amazing! And if I put on some nerdy glasses and a cardigan, I get to hang out with the library geeks? Okay! I think that’s really empowering for me. And it’s part of the tattooing thing. Oh, I was born with this body and I want to decorate it a certain way or have it look a certain way. I think it’s empowering to be able to do that. But I do that with everything, I thinker with it.
 Sue- Oh, endlessly!
Phuc- I think psychically, emotionally. I’m constantly customizing and fine-tuning.

Left, Phuc, “loupes the needle”– inspecting it for any flaws, which could cause infection.
 Phuc- I also teach Latin and Greek at an independent school here in Portland. I love interacting with people. I love teaching and teaching young people. And I love Latin. I’m lucky to have two awesome jobs doing what I love to do.
 Sue- When I’m not here, I work for public broadcasting doing fundraising. It’s a mix of development and marketing. And, it’s funny, because I went through this phase maybe ten years ago where I thought, “Wow, maybe I should go into the corporate world because I could be making three times what I make at a nonprofit.” Ultimately, I realized that it’s really important to me to feel really good about where I’m working and what I’m doing. That has meaning for me. I work really hard, but I want to know I’m working for something I believe in. And I believe in public broadcasting.
 Phuc- Sue’s not the type to toot her own horn, but she was the president of Buy Local, and I think she – along with the rest of the board – really put Portland Buy Local on the map. You made it important and powerful.
 Phuc- Tattoos don’t mean anything to me. I love them because they look awesome. And they have meaning, but I think for me: do they mean something? Sure. Do they mean something to me? No.  If you have a print of Monet or Renoir, is isn’t about what it means, it’s just beautiful to look at.
 Sue- I agree. It’s definitely more of an aesthetic thing that I’m drawn to. We do see people who come in and they want to fit thirty years of life into a two-by-three inch portion of their body. That’s really a lot or pressure on the person getting the tattoo and the tattoo-er.
 Phuc- Yeah, and nobody would do that to a shirt or a pair of pants. You’d never say, “I want to get a skirt that represents life and what I’ve been through.” It’s the permanence, but everything is permanent and impermanent. I’m impermanent. When I’m dead, my tattoos will be wearing me. My tattoos will be around and I’ll be joining the Force.
I first met Sue and Phuc when Phuc was speaking at TEDxDirigo. See his talk by clicking here.
Find out more about Tsunami Tattoo by clicking here.

Originally posted on MaineToday.com: Jeanette Parks and Arthur Klein- members of Young at Heart Chorus

I recently stopped by a Western Massachusetts community center where Young@Heart Chorus members were rehearsing for their upcoming shows, including one on March 24 at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. At the rehearsal, octogenarians belted out contemporary and classic rock-n-roll hits, from the Beatles to Arcade Fire. Bob Cilman, the chorus’ director and co-founder, is sculpting the feeling and energy of each song. One woman, dressed in a sensible cardigan, is practicing her solo of Bananarama’s “Venus.” It’s a sexy song and Bob tells her to loosen up a bit. “One Coors Light will be all I need!” she quips. The other ladies giggle.
Therein lays the charm of the Young@Heart Chorus. It’s about finding the rock-n-roll lifestyle in one’s “golden years.”Founded in 1982, the chorus has created a theater show, been featured in a full-length documentary and taken its members around the world. Jeannette, 84, sings James Brown’s “I Feel Good” with Arthur, 88. Arthur tells me that there are moments as you age that simply don’t feel good. But sometimes with the chorus, life just feels great.
 Jeannette- It means my life! Because I’ve lived these 84 years and I’m looking to get 6 more. 90! Or a hundred! I would love to reach one hundred. If it’s the Lord’s will, I will. Because I have good health, I only take a little medicine. One pill. And I used to not take any medicine! I love action. I love music. And since I’ve joined Young@Heart, I’ve loved the singing and the rhythm of the music just moves me! I love the dance.
 Arthur- Well, for one thing, it’s something for me to do. It’s a whole new form of life for me. I’ve got, like, 40 new friends. It’s like a family because they are always there for you.  If you are sick or don’t feel right, there’s always someone in the group who will help you or that will be there for you. We go on tour, and there’s somebody to take my walker up the steps for me or find an elevator. There’s always somebody looking out for me. It means a lot for me. I’ve been in it about four years now. I’ve lived in Brooklyn, Long Island, I’ve lived in Florida for about 20 years. I worked as a hair dresser until I was almost 85. And then I couldn’t do it anymore, my back and shoulders gave out. I never knew rock and roll before! My kind of song was Frank Sinatra. And when I experienced rock and roll I couldn’t get enough of it! And my children all like rock and roll, so we all sing it in the car sometimes.

Jeannette and Arthur practicing their duet.
 Jeannette- I feel like I’m sort of floating in air. And when Bob tells us to put ourself into the music, I know what he means, because you sing with your feeling. And, it gives me somewhere to go, things to do, things I’ve never done before, places I’ve gone that I’ve never been. I never would have gotten to go to these places, and it means a lot to me. I look forward to getting up and coming to rehearsal.
 Arthur- It’s funny. Before I go on stage, I’m very nervous. I don’t seem to have the confidence. But once I get on stage, it’s like I’m hypnotized and everything stops for me except the audience and what I’m doing. It just comes out pretty good.
Jeannette- Rock and roll means getting up and doing things with other people. The music, the rhythm, the beat of the music gets me going. Get’s me on the move! It makes me feel younger. It makes me feel like every time I feel the beat, I gotta move!
Arthur- Rock and roll spirit is to just live your life. Like the song “Live Your Life.”  I have a song called “It’s My Life,” it was the first one that was given to me as a solo. And, it’s exactly my life. It goes: “It’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t gonna live forever. I just wanna live while I’m alive.” And that’s it! I just answered your question. That’s rock and roll.

The chorus practices and performs with a live band.
 Jeannette- When we are performing, we put ourselves into the music, into what we are doing. It just behooves me to just be here and present because I’m looking forward to doing my number.
 Arthur- Well, I’ve never been to Portland and I don’t know the people in Portland, but we just came back from Japan and we didn’t know what to expect there, and the day we performed in Tokyo, it was a holiday and we didn’t know it. It was a holiday for older people, so we just fell into that particular day, and it was quite an experience because there were people there in walkers and wheelchairs and they just wanted to get up and dance and sing with us. And I assume that the people in Portland will be the same way. There will be older people who want to get up and they can do anything they want to do. We have a lot of youngsters that come, too! We have groupies that come over. We even get letters from them. I assume wherever we go, we have a full house. And everybody seems to be happy and everybody seems to rock and roll together with us.
 Jeannette- What’s important in my life is the way that I live. I treat people the way I like to be treated. It just means the world to me because I just love doing what I’m doing. We should just treat everybody the same, because we are all the same children of God. I just love the people here, I’ve just met so many people. And everybody has just been so nice and gentle to me. I’m a people person, and we have all types of people. We all get along.
Arthur-  Right now, is to live the next day. Because at my age, you don’t know when it’s going to happen. Getting up, coming here, singing, being out with my children. I have a nice little condo here in Amherst. Just living my life the best way I can, and just rocking and rolling until there is no more life.
 Jeannette- To treat everybody and to get along with everybody. Because we are all sisters and brothers. And I can get along with mostly anybody.
 Arthur-  You know the older you get, the wiser you get. And when I was young I thought I was the greatest, nobody could be better than me. I took people for the way they look, not the way the sounded or were. But now, being with the group and going to a lot of countries or states, visiting with people and seeing different types of people, I’ve learned that we are all the same. The group is all types, all religions, and we get along beautifully. And, as a result, I’ve learned that people are people and it’s not their outsides it’s their insides that counts: what they think and what they dream and what they say. And that’s the important thing, and the group has taught me all that. The longer I live the more I’m learning about things like that.
 Jeannette- I’ve learned that age is a number. It’s how you feel. If you treat your body right, your body will take you along way. I’ve learned if you don’t take care of it, it will run down on you. With aging, you don’t have to stop or lock yourself away. Keep on moving and exercising and you will stay super!
 Arthur- Aging isn’t as easy as people think. It’s hard to age. It’s hard. And you have to live it the best way you can. But there are things that I used to do that I can’t do now. I can’t move fast, or turn fast, I can’t catch a ball. I used to golf a lot, I can’t do that. I don’t know if I can say this, but aging sucks!
 Jeannette- Well, when I wake up in the morning, I wake up ready to go! And I don’t have pains. In the morning, when I first get up, the Lord wakes me up. We don’t wake ourselves up. The Lord wakes us up.
 Arthur- One of the favorite moments is coming here. Another is being with my children. Being with them in Florida is a great moment for me. Those are my moments, just being with my children and getting along and coming here and doing on tour. And having everybody applaud!
For more about the Young@Heart Chorus, click here.

Originally posted on MaineToday.com: Shawna Houston- origami artist, stagehead

Shawna folds paper stars to cast wishes. She’s been through a lot in her twenty-five years: an uneasy family history, a transient childhood, and struggles with grief and social acceptance. The tiny origami stars came into her life to help her focus and to cope. In under 30 seconds, she maneuvers tiny strips of paper into the shapes of stars. Many of the stars are placed in capsules that you can buy from Portland’s Hilltop Coffeeshop. Some stars, the special stars, are folded from paper with strangers’ wishes written on one side. Watching Shawna fold her stars, I wonder if the stars are the answer to some of Shawna’s own wishes. Perhaps every turn of paper between her fingers is an intention for something better, something good and solid and real.
For a really long time, being normal was important. I grew up really oddly, I had sort of a hard childhood. So the only thing I wanted for a very, very long time was to be normal. You know, white picket fence, settle down and have kids. Recently,  that’s something I’m not going to be able to do. So, I’m trying to find a new thing to want. Some things that have been really important to me my entire life is to be responsible, to be an adult, to have the requirements of: you have a house, you can pay the bills, you can buy your food, and you don’t have to borrow money.  That’s always been really important. I’ve been doing that since I was 17 or 18 on my own. So lately, what’s been really important to me is finding things I can do that I don’t hate. You know how some people do jobs they just hate so they can have money? I stopped doing that about two years ago, and I’ve been looking for jobs that I don’t hate ever since then. You would think that is easy. It’s not. Things that I love are writing and creating, I love working with people in creative endeavors and I need to keep that in my life.
I’m learning a lot of things about relationships. There are a lot of books about relationships, and just family and friends and strangers on the street. There’s so much of our interactions that are biological. And you would think it would be environmental. So many things that affect the way you say “Hi” come from your brain. Which is fascinating. And weird.
There is a comic called Gunnerkirgg Court, and I read a lot of web comics. One of the characters makes a thousand origami stars for her best friend. So, I looked it up on YouTube and tore up notepaper on my desk and tried to make one. It’s incredibly hard. So I decided to try to start getting better. My biological mother died in the spring of 2009. I stopped being able to read and I started really making origami stars. It’s a grief condition where the center of your brain that does comprehension doesn’t connect. I could read and read out loud, but comprehending a paragraph or a book was incredibly difficult.  By that Christmas, I had thousands of the stars. I would knit and make stars, and switch of whenever my hands got tired. I had to drop out of school, but I did go back to school and I did get a degree. I had all these stars and I didn’t know what to do with them and I had given them to everybody I knew, whether they wanted them or not.
I was working as SPACE Gallery as an intern and volunteer, and there I met Kris Johnsen and Bryan Bruchman who started Portland Pins:  gumball machines filled with little capsules. Inside the capsules are pins you can put on your jacket. And next to the gumball machines are little circles and instructions to draw whatever you want in the circles and then leave the paper in the box. And they make that paper into pins. Which, I think is great. It planted the seed for my machines. So, I bought some capsules and started handing them out to people and I started the blog and raised money on Kickstarter to buy machines and supplies and fund a website. So I still have all of that money that I am trying to put to use. Last night I started to build the website and you should be able to post your wish and it will go right to the website. That’s the goal. The idea behind the bubble gum machine is that it raises awareness for the website and you put your wishes on the website and the reason I want your wishes is that I write them down on pieces of paper. I fold those wishes into stars and then I save those stars. The stars in the bubble gum machine don’t have wishes. The stars with wishes on them get saved and put into a jar. And when I have a thousand of them, I’m going to auction off the jar to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s research or to family’s who have suffered a loss from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My mother died from ALS and my sister and myself both had a hard time. So that’s the goal, it’s a long road.
Better! It calms me down. When I couldn’t read, I would get anxious. Since my biological mother died, I stopped being able to sit still in any capacity. So when I went back to school, I came up with a portable way to take the stars and the knitting with me so that I could knit during class, because I couldn’t pay attention. I started noticing that I could concentrate on things when my hands are busy.  It calms me down.
It’s been really interesting to see the response to the bubble gum machine. Here at Hilltop, I have to refill once a week. And if there’s two thousand capsules in them, that’s a ridiculous amount. One day I came in here and there was a little girl who was sitting at the table and had like 15 of them, the little capsules. And she had an older woman on her right, and another generation on her left. So, probably mom and grandma. She was telling them which colors they could have and why. I see her occasionally, she has a little bag she carries and there’s a bunch of stuff in there and there’s capsules in there as well. That was interesting because I have so many of these stars that it’s annoying to me. Since I put them machine there, I’ve made over two million stars. For me, they are annoying, but to other people they are great. I go to the same laundromat, and I’ve gone to the same one ever since I moved there. So the woman who works there, her name is Pam, and she knows me really well at this point. And I have her two of these capsules filled with paper stars and I ran into her last week, and she said “You have to come here and tell me where you sell these! You told me you sell these in a coffee shop.” She had been opening up the capsules and handing the stars to people who looked upset. She’d just give them an individual star. She’s been doing this since I gave her two capsules, and she was down to her favorite three stars that she didn’t want to give away. So I gave her a jar of them so she could give them out individually.  She opened my eyes to the fact that people really do like these, they aren’t just annoyances that I find under the couch when I vacuum.
For more about the Wishing Star Collective, click here. 
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