Ch-ch-changes! Worcester's Activist Scene and Sex Positivity

It's only been a few months since I last posted, but there has been a whirlwind of changes in my life.
- I left the love of my life after five and a half years so that I can continue to grow as a person
- I moved away from the Piedmont area and will be moving to the Lower Vernon Hill neighborhood, but still in Worcester
- Started working with Next Step Living as an event rep, enjoying talking to people about energy efficiency all over the region

Because I feel like I am no longer rooted in a neighborhood (for the moment, anyway), I have not been very involved in the activism scene. Is there much of an activism scene, still? WAFT (Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team) is fighting for a city partnership tonight at City Hall to help alleviate the foreclosure crisis in the area and to keep people in their homes. And PRIDE is next month - besides the parade/celebration, where is the GLBTQ community? I want to surround myself with sex-positive people who do not shame me for enjoying sex as many times as I want, with whomever I want, however I want. I feel that this is where my passion lies for the time being.

Coney Island Now More Vegetarian-Friendly

We are extremely happy that Kathryn, the owner of Coney Island, seriously considered our request to provide more vegetarian options. Although she does not know much about veggie dogs, she was willing to pan-fry (away from the grease of the meat-dogs) the veggie dogs that we brought - free of charge! It was great to again be able to order at world-renowned Coney's, including Polar root beer and a delicious huge half-sour pickle. We were told that she is planning on providing veggie burgers in the next couple of weeks.

My journey through flexi-veganism has been interesting. It's difficult to describe my diet (no red meat, no dairy, and preferably lots and lots of fruit and vegetables), especially when I was in Florida for a week. I was grateful to be able to participate in Habitat for Humanity's Build-a-Thon for AmeriCorps members at the Lake-Sumter Habitat affiliate. I learned how to hammer properly, use a saw, and watched as the 25 of us raised walls and built a roof of a brand-new home, causing the tears of pride and joy from the selected family and now new homeowners. However, the Southern food made me yearn for Worcester! The individuals that prepared our meals did not know that there was a difference between vegetarian and vegan - I had to go buy a separate meal a few times for lunch (leaving the build site for a trip to the store) because cheese was sprinkled all over my veggie wrap. I try not to be difficult - veganism is not a special diet, really. However, a skimpy iceberg lettuce "salad" is not enough for dinner. Pile on the veggies! But please, don't forget the protein - soy, beans, hummus...

Experiencing Life

Lately, instead of being a passive observer of life, I have been taking life by the horns and enjoying the ride. However, reflection is important, especially since I am on the edge of another one of life's precipices - the end of my year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA.

Music is one of my passions. When songs get me dancing, I forget about everything and just get immersed in the amazing feeling of bliss. I have been trying to go to all the shows I can - I cannot get enough live music, even from bands that I have seen a bunch of times. I do not have the musical aptitude of the musicians, but I am very much appreciative of their talents. I support the local music scene - I like to pay to see bands and to purchase CDs.

I am very proud to be co-manager of DIY Wormtown Promotions / Wormtown Ska Promotions. The show on Friday night was incredible, blurring the best of the Worcester music scene with the amazing sounds of Providence's the Copacetics and Brooklyn's the Forthrights. The Raven was the perfect space for the show, with a huge stage and an even larger dance floor, which filled up with grooving bodies as the night went on. Big Mama Lu's acoustic reggae blended into the funky jazz of the Freedom Project, which segued into the Copacetics ska and rocksteady Forthrights.

I have also been working on my networking skills and strengthening the relationships that I have built. I am always up for conversation (especially over tea). It is interesting to see how we are all interconnected, that the "6-People-Away-From-Kevin-Bacon" theory is very true. The more that I get out and about and introduce myself to people, the more I feel like I am at the center of a large spider web, with everyone I know spread out and connected with each other in their own ways.

During my year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at the MetroWest/Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity ReStore, I have learned many things, including what I am interested in pursuing as a career: 1) Volunteer coordination and 2) Community outreach.

Power Shift? Or Are Things Still The Same?

With the death of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and looking at the other fairly recent deaths of the Old Guard anti-American way of life, I am wondering if there is an impending power shift... or even despite the disappearance of these important figures, that the way things are will remain entrenched...
- 2013: Chavez
- 2012: Libya's Gaddafi
- 2011: North Korea's Kim Jong-Il
As well as Cuba's elder Castro, Al Qaeda's bin Laden, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. I am sure that I am forgetting some other very important, but lesser known, demise of power players. Is Syria's dictator next?

Are we on a threshold of something new, something that we are unfamiliar with and therefore cannot sense, or something old? Is the Arab Revolution dead, will it be resurrected, or spread to other parts of the world?

Thomas Friedman's 2003 book Longitudes and Attitudes: The World in an Age of Terrorism reminds me that thinking of the world as a collection of states and that those states (and the international organizations like NATO and the UN that they are a part of) are no longer relevant. A national leader is no longer very powerful - movements of people and their dreams are gaining strength. We are watching this happen in Syria, as we did in the rest of the Middle East in the past two years. We even rose up a little bit, the 99%. Even though the movements seem to be dormant, they are bound to bubble up again - we can no longer be contained.

A Little Bit of Activism, Community Organizing and Civic Engagement

The activist inside me has been dormant for the last year, especially during my year of service. There are many things that I cannot do as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, such as protesting (another year of missing Amnesty International's Get on the Bus), becoming politically involved, "direct service", etc. I have not been "organizing" a large community; I have been meeting with individuals one-to-one and bonding over tea, building personal relationships. I have not cheered for any cause, lately, except for my own well being - no letter writing, petition signing, blogging. I have, however, donated money - recently to help an activist jailed for the Tar Sands blockade, but much of my money have gone towards local musicians.

Like most people, I have changed, grown, what-have-you. I have always been curious about global issues, especially anything regarding human rights. However, my focus has changed from the world itself to my local community and the people in it. The organizations that I am a part of (Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, Worcester Interfaith, Pernet Family Health Service) are focusing on youth jobs, especially jobs that are right around the corner. They are also focused on leadership development. Everyone has the ability to stand up, talk about what they believe in, and have the support of others to take action. You can change the world by changing yourself and providing the tools so that others can change themselves.

I look forward to becoming more involved with the new people I have met and the organizations they work with, as well as advocating for the neighborhoods and organizations that have become a part of me.

Speaking of neighborhoods:
The Worcester-Crompton Rectangle is now open, every day 10-5 (weather permitting)! This is the 6th year that the community has built and maintained the ice rink in Green Island - thanks to the Carpenters 107, Holy Cross students, Pernet Family Health Service and the neighbors. Free skates, free hats and gloves.

If You're Into Live Music, Check Out The Raven

Hidden within the Village of Piedmont is the Raven, a medium-sized bar that many Worcesterites seem to avoid. It is a gem that I urge music-lovers to discover.

I do not frequent the bar scene. I cannot tell you who makes the best drinks or which bartenders are the friendliest. I can, however, attest to how the Raven treats Wormtown Ska Promotions (and Wormtown Promotions), the bands that we have worked with, and the show-goers. I am a patron of venues that have live bands performing. I have a few favorites, including Nick's (a small German cabaret-style venue that showcases jazz, blues, world music, etc.) and Beatnik's ( a funky venue with a motto of "be you"). I am not pleased with some other venues, including Ralph's (although many touring bands make an appearance there) and Hotel Vernon (though it is easy to book and has $1 drafts). But nothing beats the Raven when it comes to putting on a show.

At the Raven, there is no Sunday Blues night, no karaoke, no kitchen, not much of a "regular" bar crowd except for a handful of neighborhood folk. If you are looking for a typical bar experience, there are many bars in Worcester that cater to those needs - the Raven is not one of them.

If you are looking for amazing sound, a big stage and a huge dance floor, as well as ample seating and affordable drinks, the Raven is right up your alley (the historic Congress Alley, actually).

Chris Bettencourt, the owner of the Raven, is open to any music genre and is willing to work with bands and promoters to put on a great show. He opens his space for birthday bashes, high school garage bands (all-ages shows can happen on Sundays), community events, heavy metal nights, techno raves, and everything in between.

Wormtown Ska Promotions is back at the Raven - 258 Pleasant St, Worcester MA - with a ska/punk show for the holidays on Friday, December 28th featuring Survay Says, A Minor Revolution, 4 Shades of Black, Llama Tsunami and the Pants. 18+ $8, 21+ $5, 8pm.

Change In The Air

It has been months since I last posted. Time to get back into the swing of things. Feels like I've been absent not only from the blogger scene, but also from the happenings in Worcester. This is what I've been up to lately:

- The Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center (PSNNC) is celebrating a new, exciting year on Wednesday December 12th, 5:30 to 7:30. Join us as we congratulate Mary Keefe as she steps down from executive director into her new role as State Representative, and as the Board steps up to fill in her shoes. Learn about what we are planning to do in the future and let us know what you'd like to participate in. Meet and mingle with the neighborhood while listening to local Jazz and munching on finger-food. We are also sending out our annual appeal, so don't forget to donate if you have the ability to do so.

- Habitat for Humanity will be moving into the ReStore so that all of the MetroWest/Greater Worcester affiliate will be under one roof. As a result of this consolidation, we have shuffled staff around - we are in need of volunteers more than ever. To celebrate our awesome volunteers (and the customers, too), we are having a volunteer appreciation potluck during the Holiday Hootenanny! Everyone who reads this blog should check out the ReStore's holiday event on Saturday December 15th 10-5pm, which will showcase two bands (Original Jelly Roll Soul - RI jazz and Hip Swayers - Worcester folk), craft vendors, children's activities and a store-wide sale. If you have not been to the ReStore in a while, you need to see all the hard work the volunteers have put into it. I guarantee that the ReStore's appearance has changed drastically.

Wormtown Ska Promotions is bringing Punk/Ska to the Raven on Friday December 28th - $5 for 21+, $8 for 18+. Skank your hearts out to Survay Says and Llama Tsunami, as well as A Minor Revolution and Four Shades of Black. Tune in to Woo Ska's "Wormtown Ska" radio show every Thursday night/Friday morning 12-2am on 91.3 WCUW.

AmeriCorps*VISTA - retrospective

I am currently half-way through my second term as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, a year of national service (40+ hrs a week) at a non-profit organization, with a stipend and a chance to pay off educational debt at the end of the service year. The purpose of VISTA is to eliminate poverty through the capacity building of the non-profit.

My first stint as a VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) in July of 2008 was at Pernet Family Health Service as a general "capacity building specialist". I had just come back from the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO), full of enthusiasm about VISTA and what I was capable of doing. All the logistics of training and my role in the organization was understood, yet I was able to go down my own path. During the year, I fell in love with community organizing - capacity building of people. I helped cofound a neighborhood group, led and participated in three leadership trainings, revitalized the community computer lab (with the help of my wonderful boyfriend), managed an IT team of volunteers that did an inventory of everything IT at the organization and who also worked on a database project - but I also did the boring, office work that VISTA normally handle such as updating job descriptions and writing down processes.

Currently, I am the Volunteer Coordinator at the MetroWest/Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. I manage volunteers - recruit (and hopefully retain), train and recognize them. I have enjoyed this role because I enjoy working with and helping out people. However, three and a half years after my original VISTA training, I felt lost in the whole AmeriCorps tsunami. The government did not allow me to attend PTO again, thus I did not get to be refreshed on the purpose of VISTA, like the other two VISTAs now at my Habitat affiliate. I was not trained in the ways of Habitat or how VISTAs are supposed to function as part of Habitat. Half-way through my service year, I am now undergoing training that I was supposed to have attained during my first month. There has been a lot of growing pains at the affiliate I am involved with - we have a new Executive Director, a new ReStore manager, a new Host Site Manager for the VISTAs. I was lost in the shuffle. My VAD (VISTA Assignment Description) was a carbon copy of the VISTA/volunteer coordinator before me - there was no thought given to what role I might play with the talents that I have or what more the organization needs. I had to train myself in the ways of the ReStore and learn about Habitat for Humanity on my own because I did not go through an on-site orientation. This lack of direction has actually given me the ability to forge my own path. I can focus solely on the volunteer program and respond to both the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers. I am now realizing that VISTAs do a lot of preparation for the organization (read: capacity building). I am in the office much more often that I would like - I would rather be out on the warehouse floor working with volunteers and customers than hiding behind the scenes, creating a program that will be implemented later.

During both of my terms of service, there has been many shades of gray and lots of uncertainty. However, I have enjoyed my time and have learned a lot about myself, while also getting paid (poverty level wages, but hey, it's better than nothing) and reducing my student debt. I now know that I want to create connections and build relationships, to network with new people and have them network with each other. I believe in the organizations that I have helped out. Although the VISTA program was not what I expected - no direct service, but more behind-the-scenes office work - I came back for a second helping.

RIP Carl Rasmussen and Worcester

I never really knew Carl - I've heard him play a couple of times on different street corners. One particular memory that stays in my mind was when he was strumming his guitar outside of Hotel Vernon on a Wednesday mid-day. He was singing about the infamous Kelley Square. We talked about Worcester. I was still fairly new to the city.

Carl is how I picture Worcester - gritty, DIY, lots of soul. Carl reminds me of the run-down three-deckers, the empty downtown, the old mill buildings transformed into communal art/science spaces. I saw the spirit of Worcester on Thursday night at the Raven during the celebration of Carl's life.

I wish my step-daughter, who just turned seventeen, was able to attend Carl's benefit with us. Carl made an impact on Kat, a teenager who seems to be very impenetrable. She has had quite the difficult life, something I heard that Carl also went through, something they can both relate to. She looked up to Carl; she wanted Dead-Wrong's artwork as her first tattoo, she wanted Carl to teach her how to play guitar. I wonder if she will ever learn how to play, if she'll ever find inspiration in someone else.

* Carl's Obit
* The Music of Carl Rasmussen and his band Dead-Wrong.

Ghosts From the Past

I received a text from one of the men I was with a long time ago - ten years - which triggered an avalanche of bottled up emotions and forgotten thoughts. Very unexpected. I decided to wallow in these strange feelings for a few days, delving more into them by reading my online journals (still open to the public, despite how embarrassing and too-much-information I typed for a fifteen/sixteen year old). It amazes me how well I wrote back then and how I describe each experience with such detail. Reading the roller-coaster of my adolescence makes me realize how much I have changed over the last decade. My dreams and taste of music are fairly the same, but the people I surround myself with has differed greatly. I am no longer a cutter or go from boy to girl to man to man. I feel that since I have moved to Worcester and moved in with a wonderful man that I've been with for four and a half years, I have been less depressed and less anxious, much much more content with myself and my life.


It has been a long time
since I have heard
the echo of your voice.
As I listen,
the butterflies in my stomach return.
The same butterflies
that fluttered wildly
when I first heard that voice
at the age of fifteen;
a lost and troubled adolescent
thrilled by taboo,
excited by the comforting voice
of an older man.
Your voice made me tingle
during those treacherous years.

Your voice has brought back
a flood of unwanted memories
that I have turned away from
in recent years:
All those other men
I sought affection from
and ran away with.
All of them touched me,
but you bruised my soul
in the way that I craved.

I no longer seek that pain.
The part of me that was missing
is now filled with the love beyond infatuation
of an older man
that now that I think about it
reminds me of you.

I am on the other side
of that dark tunnel
your voice guided me through
until I heard nothing but silence
when your voice abandoned me
at the time I needed
to strangle your throat
in the way I wanted
you to strangle me.
I am on the other side now
and I am going to
muffle your voice
so I can crawl out of the shadow of my past.

I want your voice
to go back to the grave
it came from
that I dug out
for the memories your voice conjured.
I want to rebury these feelings
so I can move on with my life. Again.