Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pursuing Possibility

Walking on a sparkling Sunday afternoon through Manhattan's East Village, I stumble on what looks to be a community treasure, the First Street Garden. Through the fence, I see a poem painted on a wall:

"In the name of the Bee, and of the Butterfly, and of the Breeze. . ."

I read a nearby sign, which says the poem, by Emily Dickinson, is painted by children in the neighborhood as a poetry outreach project.

Two weeks later, I'm chatting with a middle-aged woman who calls herself Megalicious. We're sitting at a relatively new tea joint in Soho called In Pursuit of Tea. It is nearly literally a "hole in the wall," beautifully rustic by design, with just enough space for essentials: a counter to prepare tea and display a few homemade treats. Seating consists of two wooden planks atop short, rough-timbered logs. Outside a bare wooden sign hangs high. It says, "TEA." First appearing as a "popup shop" a year ago, I can still count on one hand the number of times I've been here.

The name "Pursuit" seems fitting. One has to be paying attention to notice the sign. It's easy to walk right by this treasure of a teahouse without ever seeing it. On this Saturday afternoon, an eclectic mix of patrons wanders in and out of the open door as I sip "Wood Dragon," a tea steeped from roasted Oolong twigs with a sprinkling of leaves. The fragrance is sweet without being cloyingly floral. I'm enjoying the cool breeze and amber hue of the brew when this woman arrives and orders the very same tea.

Seeing me pour from a large paper cup into a tiny porcelain one, she asks about it. And so begins our conversation. She picks up a tiny cup from a nearby tray, pours tea into it, then sips and smiles, lingering with the beauty and aroma. Introducing herself with a chuckle, she says, "call me Megalicious," adding that her first name is Meg. She hands me a flyer for a gathering in the neighborhood. She says it's to talk about changing regulations, which prevent many people from living here legally. It's organized by "Soho/Noho Action Committee."

She speaks of local history, mentioning painters including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, who flock to this area in the 50's seeking studios, which can fit their large canvases. Now, she says, "you can only legally live here if you are a 'certified artist'." She says even this categorization applies to certain types of artists and excludes many forms of expressive arts. She goes on to advocate that anyone who wants to live here ought to be able to do so.

Just then, I gaze out the window across the street, noting the reflection from the large-paned industrial windows that speak of a bygone era, aware of its interior now re-purposed. I overhear the woman serving at the counter tell a customer that if they need a restroom, to go across and down the street to Bloomingdale's. This store is also relatively new to the neighborhood, having arrived a few years ago. The complexity of this context leaves me grateful for the simplicity of the tiny cup in my hands. I place it down and pour. I offer Megalicious the new Potluck Tea Party card. The design includes a stunning background of blue sky with various shapes of white clouds. She smiles. We continue sipping in silence.

A few days earlier, I'm sitting at Baja Fresh, a chain eatery, in Times Square. I'm enjoying a hefty serving of black beans and rice on a compostable plate. The price is right at $2.99, especially considering the fixins bar is free. Sitting on a tall barstool at a small-ish round table, I'm facing a bigscreen TV. A baseball game is on. I note the uniforms and recognize a name, then a face. Ortiz. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. The other team? The NY Yankees, playing with "home advantage." As Ortiz steps up, bat in hand, I notice two guys, maybe late 20's, at a table to my right. They're also munching and watching the game.

One man on base. Then, after a swing goes nowhere, he tries again. He takes his time. We all pause for a breath. Then, I watch as ball meets bat meets sky. It soars and is quickly gone. Ortiz rounds the bases as the Sox score two runs. I sense a resonance though it takes a moment to register. Then it comes like an electric surge through my body. Seven years ago, I'm watching the twelfth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. David Ortiz hits a two-run homerun and the Sox come back from a 3-0 loss to the Yankees. Watching in a friend's livingroom, we jump to our feet from the couch. "Yeah, go Sox!" The Red Sox go on to win the Series. Both moments coincide for an instant, which brings out the juice of now being a whole new ballgame. Different context. Different connection. Yet something remains the same. What is it?

I turn to the two guys watching the game and ask, "are you routing for one of these teams?" One answers in a hushed tone, "the Red Sox." I ask if he's from Massachusetts. He says, "I'm from Rhode Island" and asks, "how about you?" I say, "not from there but lived there a long time." We all nod our heads to acknowledge this connection, unrecognized until now. Something in this exchange satisfies. Naturally, we return to eating and the game.

Three days earlier, I board BoltBus to Boston. Arriving just in time at 7am, I'm the last passenger to get on. I hadn't planned for the A-train to go local, delaying my carefully planned arrival time. Stepping up, my eyes register that there are no empty seats. And not all are filled with people. The seat beside every person riding solo is occupied. Scanning the bus, I see bags, laptops, knapsacks, and other such items scattered among these seats. I ask a woman sitting in the one directly behind the driver, who looks to be in her 60's, if I might join her. She quickly moves her pocketbook from the seat. I take off my shoes, place my knapsack on top of my shoes and my sock-covered feet on top of the knapsack.

The driver gets on. A fellow who seems like he's also a driver for this company sits in the other front seat. They chat, then as the bus pulls away from the curb, the driver announces, "This is the bus to Boston. If you're not going to Boston, come to the front row. Otherwise, we'll be in Boston in four and a half hours if no traffic or construction. So relax and enjoy the ride."

My ears scan the bus. A sea of voices is speaking louder than is comfortable for me and louder than I recall on past rides. This includes the driver and his buddy who resume their conversation after he makes the announcement. A young couple behind me are speaking loudly enough to be heard more than several rows back. The woman beside me, reading The New Yorker, astounds me in her capacity to focus amidst the myriad streams of conversation around her. I do my best for a few minutes. Then I put on sound "protection" headphones, which I use on daily subway rides. The difficulty is that wearing them for long periods of time hurts my ears. Imagining over four hours of this is agonizing. I notice myself growing increasingly agitated.

I close my eyes and attune to the flow and rhythm of my breathing. I check in with where I'm feeling tension, my shoulders and neck. I breathe into the sensations while maintaining awareness of my body as a whole. Feeling centered, I take off the headphones, turn to face the young man and woman behind me, and introduce myself. As I speak to share my concern while affirming their freedom and our mutual partnership in riding together, my body feels the resonance of this same dynamic many months ago on another bus at another time. Same and yet different.

This time I notice the tension is nearly gone, and I'm able to speak more comfortably. Sharing that the volume at which they're speaking is, for me, distracting and uncomfortable; I ask if they might be willing to adjust their volume. The woman looks annoyed while the young man responds with genuine empathy and understanding, "I'll give it a shot." His tone indicates willingness even as it registers mild irritation. This mix of emotion is subtle and encouraging to register. I sense this as a visceral tingling sensation, one of shared presence. It's enlivening. Not necessarily seeing eye to eye yet able to hear and respond authentically and with care. I smile and, say, "hey, thanks alot. I'm glad we're finding a way together." He nods his head with a hint of a smile to acknowledge this shift in connection.

I turn back and sit back down, facing the front of the bus. I check in again with my breath and sit silently for a few minutes. Then, leaning in towards the driver, who's still chatting with his buddy, I interject, "Hi." He stops speaking. I continue, "I'm kinda uneasy right now because it seems a bit loud on the bus, at least for me, especially because would like to rest. Would you consider asking passengers to be mindful of volume during the ride when comes to conversations and using electronic devices?" He responds, "I usually don't do that." Then he says to his buddy, "is she talking about us talking?" Then he asks me, "are you noticing something being a problem?" I reply, "yes."

He says, "I don't like to tell people what to do." I say, "I understand that. I wouldn't want to do that either. I see it more as working together." I affirm his authority, and the importance of freely choosing. I also mention the importance of safe and respectful, adding, "I've noticed on previous rides that when a driver states this precaution, asking people to be mindful, it's pre-emptive, preventing problems down the road." At this point, the driver's buddy says to him, matter-of-factly, "hey, just announce it. She's right."

The driver picks up the overhead mike without delay and says, "hey everybody. I usually don't make this announcement." He pauses then continues, "when using your cellphones or listening to music, be . . ." He pauses again, then adds, "be mindful of your fellow passengers and keep it down. You can still use your phone and whatever. Everybody have a pleasant ride." I thank him, and sit back, closing my eyes and soon falling asleep. As I'm dozing off, I'm aware of the woman beside me continuing to read. I wonder what she's reading. And what she's feeling.

When we arrive in Boston, I thank the driver and he says with a friendly grin, "hey, no problem!" I laugh and move on.

A week earlier, I'm watching a new movie called, "The First Grader" at the Village East Cinema. I heard of the movie from Sam Feuer, its producer, when he stops by on Mother's Day for Potluck Tea Party in Central Park. "Enthused" is an understatement for how he feels about his first production. He encourages me to see it and "spread the word." Days later, I post an announcement of this on Sensing Wonder's new Facebook page.

Weeks later, tired of editing in IMovie, I go online and read that the film's director, Justin Chadwick, says in an interview with CBS News that online word of mouth "is completely vital. The only way that interesting films that haven't got a big studio behind them survive is because of people spreading the word."

I make a mental note as I return to the task, putting final touches on "Growing, In Brooklyn," a musical slideshow of a recent Potluck Tea Party, which is also the first one held in Brooklyn. I'm planning to upload it to youtube and then share it through various social media along with the now "old school" method of an email "distribution list." I don't know precisely how any of this works. The Web seems inconceivably complex. And yet, staring at a single frame, it's clear what is the next thing to do. This frame. How many seconds? This transition. How long does it last

Learning as I go. Diving in. Trying it out.

Now, watching, "The First Grader," I'm drinking in the arid setting in rural Kenya, and the increasingly multi-layered unfolding of its lead character, 84-year old Maruge. He has survived brutal torture in colonial days decades earlier at the hands of the British. He is learning to read for the first time beside fifty kids in a ramshackle schoolhouse in the countryside. Conflict ensues as educating a man his age is not the intention of the government when it announces, "Free education for all."

Later, advocating for the teacher of this class with government officials, he states,

“We have to learn from our past because we must not forget and because we must be better.”

He adds,

"We reap what we sow with our children."

Back in Boston, heading on foot to the bus station in the late afternoon, I'm walking through a Greenspace, which has grown as part of the aftermath of the urban renovation project known as The Big Dig. I walk by a slew of kids and adults moving very strangely. As I get closer, I see what's happening. A whole lotta hoola hoops are twirling around hips and torsos of all shapes and sizes. I see a sign that says, "FIGMENT Boston - Free Participatory Arts Festival."

I keep walking along the footpath, noticing all kinds of unexpected displays of human creativity. Lots of kids are lying on the ground with adults joining them. They're all staring up at the sky, and looks like they're watching clouds float by. Since I'm on the move, no time to ask. I keep walking, soon passing by a big metal geodesic dome. Someone's draped inside a long blue cloth hanging from the dome's frame and twisting about as if preparing for a circus act. Nearby, three women are powering what look to be music amps with a bicycle-like contraption. Across the way, a fellow in a tent is drawing on what looks to be an IPad, projecting the screen image of a colorful animated-on-the-fly fish on the tent wall. Back outside, five sailors walk by in crisp white uniforms and stop, posing on request for a photo.

Later, I read on FIGMENT's website, that it is happening in three cities (Boston, New York City, and Jackson, MI) and that

"FIGMENT intends for everyone who comes to the event to be a participant, so that FIGMENT itself can be seen as one large collaborative art project. No one is a spectator. We are all connected and we are all creators. . . FIGMENT is completely free. It's a grassroots effort, organized and run entirely by volunteers as a gift to our cities."

I keep going and soon arrive at South Station for the bus ride back to NYC. This time travelling on Peter Pan Bus Line, I arrive with plenty of time and boarding, sit beside a passenger towards the middle of the bus. Conversations are happening all over the bus. Amazingly, everyone is speaking at a volume, which feels comfortable all around. I sense a calm humming throughout my body. The driver gets on, welcomes everyone and announces precautions for the trip including being aware of fellow passengers. As we pull out and move along, the rhythm of the road and the changing scenery is all it takes to settle in.

I close my eyes, content to go along for the ride.