Listening Is an Act of Love–StoryCorps & On Being

“Dan Rather once interviewed  Mother Theresa and asked her what she says when she prays to God, and she said she listens. And when he asked her what God says back, she said he listens.”

Dave Isay tells Krista Tippet, On Being April 17, 2014


storycorps_logo_10_yearsI didn’t know that StoryCorps and Facebook began the same year. That’s what I learned while soaking in the tub this morning and listening to one of my favorite radio programs–On Being, also born in 2003.

My ritual is to take my computer into the steamy room, set it on the toilet, and play the 60-90 minute long conversations Krista Tippett shares with her guest. “On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” says the website.

KristaTippetQuoteSome of my favorite past programs include conversations with Desmund Tutu, Parker Palmer, Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, and Thich Naht Hanh–and lots of others poets, writers, theologians and scientists.

This most recent show features Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps. He was 21 and planning to begin medical school when sidetracked into a different life. He stumbled into story as central to well-being.

Yet he comes from a family of listeners, you might say–and students of the human condition: He had planned to join a long line of psychiatrists, and his grandma wrote the advice column–for 50 years–at The New York Post. Continue reading “Listening Is an Act of Love–StoryCorps & On Being”

Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call

 “Bless those who challenge us for they remind us of doors we have closed and doors we have yet to open.”

Native American Prayer


Tjessica-chanayhis week I want to tell you more about a woman I mentioned in the post about the documentary,  A Place at the Table: Jessica Chanay, Deputy Director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, has worked in the “anti-hunger field” for 14 years–but she’ll soon be moving in a new direction.

On June 10, Jessica will begin a training with Teach for America, and by September she’ll be teaching social studies to kids in Detroit.

“I want to find out what else I’m made of,” says Jessica, smiling. As she approached 50, she began to reflect on her life and on the idea of comfort. “It’s not that I want to be uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be asleep at the wheel.”

Jessica was a kid who dropped out of school early, joined the service and then found herself struggling to feed two kids. Now she hopes to be a positive presence for students, a guide for those who might be  struggling to keep themselves going strong.

OregonHungerTaskForce 3“I want to be part of the movement of creating a support structure for kids.”

She says she doesn’t feel that she is leaving the social justice field, only changing focus. And she’s not someone who’s trying to be a hero either. As we talk I think these kids–and the colleagues she touches–will be fortunate. She listens. She’s curious.

The thing about her is that she’s “been there” when it comes to struggle. She knows what it’s like to drop out of school, and she knows what it’s like to walk into the welfare office and file for Food Stamps, meet a different case worker rather frequently, and feel that people are looking at you as if you aren’t as good as they are. Continue reading “Doing What We Do: Jessica Chanay Follows the Call”

Julia Alvarez & Sarah Kinsel: “Being a Poet is a Political Act”

“How do I know what I think

until I see what I say?”

Joan Didion

Julia Alvarez spoke at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland, the final event of the 2014 Arts & Lecture series–and I left inspired.

She spoke of story and of possibility. She spoke of how books change lives and the best writing surprises the writer. She believe to live as a poet is a political act. It means stepping out. It means making choices that often won’t fit nicely onto a resume. It means writing about what matters and revealing what won’t stay hidden any longer.

She told about her arrival in 1960 to New York City and showed a photo of her sixth-grade self. Her family fled the Dominican Republic after her father’s involvement in an attempt to assassinate Trujillo–the cruel dictator who reigned for more than thirty years over that island country bordering Haiti.

Before We Were Free
by Julia Alvarez

She wasn’t a reader back then, but she had grown up surrounded by story. In New York, she had a teacher who encouraged her to write down stories of the family she dearly missed.

“Then you won’t be lonely,” her teacher said.

Julia also met the library–and began to read books.

Once she began to study writing, years later as a graduate student, Julia Alvarez would realize she already knew about plot, character development, setting and climax because her family had taught her the art from at an early age through the oral tradition.

“People say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, my family was a small village,” she said, beaming a black and white photo onto the back-wall of the stage, a huge gathering of people. Her father was the youngest of 25! His father’s first wife died–not of childbirth–after bearing ten children. His second wife bore fifteen.

I kept leaning forward, closing my eyes, taking in her words Continue reading “Julia Alvarez & Sarah Kinsel: “Being a Poet is a Political Act””