Monday, July 27, 2009


Tonight was our last Spirituality Night... and to many people's surprise, I was incredibly sad. I started this year, by making fun of these silly nights and requirements that JVC had us do. Why spend a random hour on a Monday night, sitting around with my roommates in my living room, with candles lit, being "spiritual"!?

My love for Spirituality Night and all the other dumb things JVC had me do this year is just one way of measuring the changes I've undergone this year.

My community... our ability to mesh together and love one another, despite all of the odds placed against us, which erica from Phoenix apparently enjoyed reminding one of us at every retreat, is something I'll take with me forever. Yes, our house IS different. We are all "so different"... and you know what? I freakinnnn love it.
All of us, with our distinct personalities, synched together like peanut butter & jelly... or like salmon & mayonnaise, if you will.

So this last post-- i thought it was only fitting that I close this with a shout out of admiration to the wonderful 6 people I have shared this year with. They're an inspiration- each one driven to affect social change in some shape or way... I'm so lucky I got placed in this Apartamento, this tiny-ass apartamento which has absolutely zero personal space, and which we all rant about at some point every week, this apartamento that I will miss dearly and love, because of all of the wonderful transforming that took place inside these walls...

Apartamento MLK... let's go out and spread what we've learned (like agenda meetings and small stipends...)

Goodbye JVC, HELLO law school.... it's time to get started with changing this world. To my readers- peace and love. I'm officially closing this blog; I won't have any more time to blog given that I'll be holed up in a library studying all the time... but I leave you with one last quote...

"Go and Set The World Aflame..."- St. Iggy of Loyola

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Office.

I recently saw an episode of "The Office," a show all of my corporate world friends tell me reminds them SO much of their desk jobs. Curiosity crept up on me, and I decided to see what I had been missing out on...

THe show's hilarious. HOWEVER, I'm so thankful my life does not resemble that show in the least bit. I hope it never does.

I'm especially thankful that Michael Scott has nothing to do with my real life supervisor, J.

J is the most flexible, considerate, and encouraging person I have ever worked with in my life. We have a great realtionship, I call her "Boss" and she calls me "Missy"... We meet weekly, to go over any questions I may have, as well as for her to make sure I am on task with everything. Those meetings, she says, are for me to come to her with questions.

I can never complete a task with her noticing and not have her thank me, or go so far as to tell me what a 'GREAT JOB!!!!!' I did. When I've made a mistake, J never yells, patronizes, or talks down to me. She always tells me it's ok and not to worry. Because of her constant coolness, J knows that I feel comfortable telling her anything, even if I pressed "50" instead of "5" on the copy machine and wasted 45 pieces of paper.

This year, there have been moments where I've gotten upset over a client's situation, and I've kept myself strong throughout my appointment with the client, and when the client has left, I've just ran into J's office to vent and cry, and J per usual listens... and tells me it's ok. She's been that person I can complain about the state of the world to in the office, the person I can complain to about working with a certain difficult client, or just say, "MAN. Sorry I was late today!" and she'll say, "MISSY! That's ok! I don't care what time you get here as long as you get your work done."

Most importantly, J has believed more in me than I have in myself, certain times. Her faith in me is through the roof, and she constantly is telling me how great I'm going to do in the future. Her encouragement and motivation makes my own motivation grow and grow... making me think I am capable of things I am not even aware of yet.

One day, when I am hopefully on top of some company or organization or firm, I hope my style is like J's... to be supportive and motivating, to react calmly and cooly to "mistakes!", to be stern when needed, but to never let the person under me think that they cannot trust me.

THIS one is for my boss and for those people who just believe in you, and make your world easier. They're in many ways responsible for your successes... some day I hope I can pay back that debt to all those teachers I've had.

I'll give J a call and say "BOSS! GUESS WHO!?" and she'll say.... "MISSY!!!!!"

Monday, June 22, 2009

The City of Angels? Really?

I know I've neglected all of my loyal readers out there for a few weeks. It's almost the end of June, so time is tight... there are bags to be packed, squeezing in those last minute sightseeing trips, and hosting all those summer visitors...

I finally made my way to Los Angeles last weekend. Where do I begin? First and foremost, I have a theory that LA must have been nicknamed the "City of Angels" in an effort to attract unknowing tourists to an otherwise filthy, large, polluted and smoggy city.

Warning: If you love LA and are possibly a resident of LA, stop reading this entry... now.

LA is a HUGE city. It is NOT a place you can walk through, get by without a car, or see in its entirety in a day. On top of the size, there's filth, graffiti, and run-down shops everywhere. For a second, I kept thinking I was back in my San Francisco neighborhood. Hollywood BLVD is the farthest thing from glamorous, same with the Sunset Strip.

A visit to the Chateau Marmont, following in the footsteps of Britney & Lindsey, started with a snooty waiter showing us to the famed patio in the historic hotel. It's a go-to place for A-list celebrities, and yet, it reminded me of nothing more than the patios of a couple boutique hotels in South Beach.

THIS is the Chateau Marmont?? I thought. THIS?? Located on this filthy street? with this tiny patio? There's no bar! There's no pool!

(Disclaimer: To be fair, the chateau is a beautiful hotel in an of itself, but you won't find it very different than a few hotels on Ocean Drive.)

A stroll through the Hollywood Hills is nothing more than a stroll through a hill filled with burnt and dead grass, coloring all of the hills dark yellow, instead of the majestic green you always pictured...

Finally, arriving at LAX, one of the busiest and most disorganized airports in the US, I sat at the gate, awaiting impatiently to board my plane... desperately yearning to get back to my San Francisco.


The whole experience in LA made me realize how *lucky* I am to live in San Francisco during this year of service. While San Fran has a ton of homeless people and social justice issues are easy to find, the city in and of itself is beautiful. You can walk the whole city. It's small and compacted- each neighborhood offering a different flavor. It's CLEAN! It provides the escape I've really needed sometimes, working in a (many times) depressing field.

I've struggled at times this year feeling like I haven't clicked with good ole, fun-loving, hippie hip San Francisco... but this weekend, I realized how much San Francisco has played a part in my experience with service this year. It's provided the outlet I need sometimes. When I've felt frustrated or stressed out, and I'm walking home or downtown, I have felt like San Francisco has really embraced me and wrapped it's peace-and-love arms around me..

So this one, this one's to San Francisco, the City of MUCH pain & MUCH comfort... May many more experience it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


As a Jesuit Volunteer, it's only natural that I would contemplate social justice throughout the year, like a mini-Buddha. Through my contemplation, several questions have obviously popped into my young mind:

What qualifies as social justice?
A quarter given to a homeless man? a day in a soup kitchen? a week long missionary trip in a 3rd world country? a year as a volunteer? a lifetime of activism? I've come to the conclusion that the main difference in some of these experiences lies between acts of charity and acts of justice. Some say charity is giving a resource (time or money) to fix an immediate problem, like giving money to a homeless person or providing them with a meal. Acts of justice seek to change social structures- and this can be a bit more vague. It seems there is a gray area in the middle, as many people willingly give the most time and money that they can, even if it does not procure a huge social change, I still consider it acting for social justice. To me, the largest difference between charity and justice lies in attitude and perspective. How is a certain experience serving you? If by giving a quarter to a homeless man, you are acting in a way to maintain your role as "giver" and his as "taker", as the "have" and the "have-not," then I think your act is charitable. If you are giving him a quarter because those are the only resources you have, and you believe that as a human being he is entitled to food, and shelter, then social justice is at play...

I think it's a mistake when we are unrealistic about what we are giving- if giving food to one person satisfies your supposed hunger for social justice, or if you believe by spending a week in Mexico in an immersion trip you know what it's like to be poor. We must always remember our place in this world, and our privilege, and how there is no "us" and "them"... we are all one and the same.

Justice cannot be achieved without solidarity.

If social justice is so great, why isn't everyone working towards it? Why is it so difficult to achieve?
I think instead of questioning why social justice is great, (as I think most people would agree that achieving a world in which justice is present in all forms of society is a great thing) I will question why more people don't join the fight. The best answer I can come up with is because it's difficult. It's far easier to take on a job that does not force you to think about how there are no answers... the road hasn't been laid yet. Some argue that working for social justice is fruitless, exhausting, and frustrating. "What is the point?" many will say. For this question, I refer to the ever so important Starfish Story that many of you have probably heard:

A man was walking on a beach where there were hundreds and hundreds of starfish coming up on the shore with the tide. At a close distance, he noticed there was a man who was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. The man said, "You've got to be kidding. There's gotta be thousands of starfish out here. It's not gonna matter!" The other man picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and said, "It mattered to that one."

I think it's important that people working for social justice not only not get discouraged, but also view their discouragement as another social injustice. The fact that it is often so difficult to achieve fairness in this world is an injustice in itself. We may not change the world over night, but we can make it a teeny tiny bit better if we each do our part...

We don't need to become public defenders or social workers to be working for social justice. Challenge yourself. Pick up a piece of trash from the street. Buy from a local business. Recycle. Compost. Buy a local journal/magazine/literary piece. Tell one person about one social injustice that you learned about recently this week. Pick a cause and promote it. Vote.

.. pick up a freaking starfish and throw it back in the ocean.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Single Soul

San Francisco was a circus this weekend. It was the annual "Bay To Breakers" marathon on Sunday that takes place, where the runners don't matter half as much as the partyers. Costumes required? Yep. Booze all day? Yep.

Needless to say, the weekend was spent in preparation for the loony event...putting together costumes, searching high and low for those perfect Lady Gaga pants, or that wolf mask you can't seem to find anywhere... as well as taking it easy to physically prepare yourself for the wreckage on Sunday.

Simply put, on Sunday, I have never made so many friends in such a short amount of time in my entire life. The ease of the conversations flowing left and right was tranquilizing... no hang-ups, no worries, everyone is just having a great time. I met several people throughout the day, but specifically, one person I met stood out in my mind that I just clicked with instantly.

It just worked. We became friends automatically, and it seemed like we had been friends forever. The conversation was flowing nonstop, and we could not stop laughing. The encounter made me think about how in so many of my other friendships, while I may have known them for a long time, the likeness of spirit does not exist. Time does not automatically deepen a friendship or bring it to a whole new level. Time, actually, has nothing to do with it at all.

As I explained to a best friend over the phone, the ability for each of us to spot each other across a room and just by looking, know if something is wrong, or what our mood is, is invaluable. This kind of connection does not always come through time... I think there's a greater being at work in a friendship like that.

I believe it was Aristotle who said, "A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies." No offense to Aristotle, but I think I'd like to make an amendment and say that a good friend* is absolutely a single soul or spirit dwelling in two bodies. We can be friends with others for various amounts of time, but time does not define your relationship, the sharing of spirit does. Who are the friends that you feel half your spirit resides in? These are the friendships that you'll be hanging onto with dear life forever...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Last week, I spent 4 days, Sunday-Thursday, on a silent retreat in a remote retreat center about 45 minutes from San Francisco.

I was nervous- unsure what to expect. Ugh. Was I gonna be bored?? Will I receive a life-changing spiritual enlightenment at the end of the experience? Will it be torture, or pure bliss?

As we entered into silence through a washing of the hands (very "Last Supper"esque), I smiled, feeling liek we were playing a game. Whoever talks first loses!!! NOT ME! NOT IT!!!

Eventually, I found myself craving attention. I wanted eye contact, a hug, a friendly pat on the back, a smile, SOMETHING to show that I was being acknowledged. I longed for laughter, for a friendly conversation.

Each day we met with an assigned Spiritual Director for an hour, during which we were permitted to speak. I found myself overly chatty during this hour, and instead of talking about spirituality, I tried to make the conversation casual, just wanting to talk and laugh.

By far the hardest part was eating in silence. As a Latina, meals are a very celebratory part of my day. To eat in silence was painful for me, I stared down at my plate as I ate... like I was part of a jail. Or a detention center. Something scary. I found myslef watching others eat, looking outside, just wanting to desperately share a conversation during my meal and have some time off! Oh, sweet desperation...


I broke silence a number of times during retreat by either phoning home or talking to one of my roommates. The challenge was too big to bear.

At the end of retreat- while others spoke about finding God in the silence, and having a sort of revelation about their faith or life through the silence, I continually asked myself, what did the silence teach me? What did I learn from being quiet?

I learned how dependent my happiness is on my contact with others... I learned how much I treasure laughing and conversing with people I care about. I realized just how important sharing a meal over a chat is.

The protagonist from Into The Wild who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness to live a life of solitude died only after 3 months. He maintained a journal, and in it he wrote, "happiness is only real when shared..." After his yearning to be one with nature and solitude became realized, he tragically learned that real happiness only comes about when you're with others...

The silence made me feel alone, and it was through that loneliness that I realized how important living in communion with others is to my overall happiness as a human being.

Friday, May 1, 2009

10 months...

It's officially MAY. I've reached the point in the year where 6 months ago I said I would be freaking out...

I find it so hard to believe I landed in this foreign land almost 10 months ago.

At times it seems like I have been here much longer than that, that time is dragging on. It is hard to come home to a small 4-bedroom apartment, which you share with 6 others. A tiny room which never has belonged to you. The lack of furniture in my room causes my roommate and I to live in a mess of clutter...

...nothing has a place in this temporary lifestyle. There have been moments where, while surprising given the nature of the program, my life has become a bit routine.

Work. Rush home. Gym? Dinner. Shower. Bed. Work. Rush home. Gym? Dinner. Shower. Bed.
and so on...

The lack of time to just do nothing takes a toll causing me to feel worn down, and I think, "UGH! I can't believe it's only MAY."

There are other moments where I feel like I cannot believe May has come so quickly...

It was only 10 months ago where I boarded a plane, flew across this country nervous about what would await me, who I would encounter, what lessons I would learn...

Looking back at all of that past anticipation and nervousness, I smile at how silly it was to get scared when everything turned out fine.

I have already been here for 10 months, and now, sitting down with someone homeless to talk is easy for me... I've become a pro with stalking doctors in order to get supportive letters for social security applications, I've learned how to keep track of each of my 16 cases. I can give you details about any of them, without cheating, off the top of my head, unlike at the beginning of the year where I was constantly confusing clients and their diagnoses, doctors, and paperwork.

Only 10 months, and it's easy to overlook how much we have learned in this process at our jobs, and how much better at them we have gotten. While I have come closer to mastering the Social Security application process, the real value is how as Jesuit Volunteers, we've become accustomed to interacting on an even field with the homeless, or those typically seen as second-class citizens.

At the beginning of the year through the first-half, interaction with the homeless was not easy. The otherness that was automatically created between us, between provider and receiver, Giver and taker, was hard to ignore. It is difficult to help someone because you are a fellow human being, versus helping someone because it's you are superior. I would feel nervous, choose my words carefully, trying to respect their privacy but also trying to understand their situation as best I could. Walking on eggshells alot. While I felt I needed to hear their painful stories for my own good, my own social awakening, I did not want to trivialize their pain by acquiring any kind of selfish benefit through their difficult telling of it... even if my social awakening was a necessary condition to working for social justice.

It made me feel bad to want or crave their stories, to want to feel their pain too.

Their stories of extreme heartbreak, trauma and disaster, automatically isolated me.

As the year has gone on, this constant interaction has sort of caused all of these hesitancies to die down when I am sitting down with a client... after a while, the eggshells disappear. There is not enough time to feel awkward or isolated, or to not ask the questions that need to be asked. Conversations have become second-nature. Laughing has become second-nature, and many times, I forget we are in a work office, because it seems like we are two friends sitting down and talking. At the same time, discussing my client's mental problems for so long has caused me to not react with such shock anymore.

I have heard so many painful stories, it is hard to flinch at this point anymore. Before coming here, I had never met someone who was suicidal. Now, I've met so many, it's hard to look at them differently or react suprisingly.

Have I forgotten the pain that is there and become numb, or, did it never leave us and we've learned to live with it all along?

I think that when you erase the shock factor of a painful story when two people are sitting together, that wall that is placed between both of you comes down. They have lived with it for so long, it is part of them. They forget their stories are shocking, until they tell them to a complete stranger all over again. I tell myself that by not tearing up at every meeting or by not putting on a sorrowful face with them each time, we stop feeling sorry for them and we start being in solidarity. I am not ignoring their pain, but more than ever, I am embracing it.

I think that before, I was so focused on the shock of their pain, that their PAIN was driving my ambition to seek a better life for them. "They deserve a better life beacuse they've experienced such trauma..." I would say...

Now, it's more, "They've ALWAYS deserved a better life because they are a person, and everyone should have a roof over their heads, despite their traumas."

When that wall comes down, their pain stops being the focus of the conversation, and instead, they themselves become the focus. Their lives, their humor, their personality comes out... they as people.

"Treat the person, not the disease" would apply...

The approach to interaction with the homeless has become easier and freer... it's something I forget was difficult 10 months ago. I hope I never feel scared or uncomfortable to sit down with someone who I feel is different than me, economically, culturally, socially, etc. I want to grasp on to the easiness of the conversations that flow between my clients and I forever... the common thread that ties us all together as human beings is easy to overlook and forget sometimes, it's easy to alienate others and isolate yourself, but it is in standing with others that are different than you, who's lives you wish to better, that real change is made. You can't know how you're affecting other people's lives who you never interact with... no textbook can teach that. The only way you'll learn is by going out and talking to those that you want to be directly affecting...