pancakes, parks, practical humility

Not every idea is a good idea.

I am a fearless brainstormer, so I suppose I would know. If it takes 100 ideas to find a good one, I will crank them out. I will suggest hovercrafts, paper plane deliveries, and real-life choose your own adventure novels without any sort of hesitation. I love ideas probably because I love imagination and getting to use both is like being set loose in a playground or a zoo (or a playground zoo, which sounds equally dangerous and exciting).

When I moved to New York City in August, I tried to keep my ideas to a minimum. I tried not to imagine too clearly what my life would be like – the ways I would serve and love this new place. Because I have lots of thoughts about what it means to love a city, and I’ve lived in a few. Every city (and rural, Midwestern town) has its own heartbeat – its own way of doing things and its own resistance to doing anything differently. I was not surprised to hear New York City’s heartbeat pumping rhythmically in public transit and peddlers and power struggles. There is definitely a New York state of mind and I am still not sure what my give-and-take should be in adopting it.

Either way, I live here and because I live here, I want to love well here.

When I move to a new city, I want to be intentional about knowing needs before trying to meet needs. But that takes a lot of self-control and I’m not always awesome at that. Which is why I stopped at the corner of Parkside and Ocean Ave to ask the small crowd gathered there if they would eat pancakes in an hour if I brought them back to the park.

The back story on this pancake idea is as long as winter darkness, so I’ll spare you. The short version is this: I want to love my community, want to get uncomfortable, want to serve intentionally… and I got antsy about it. I threw the idea out to a few people and I had both yeah-sayers and nay-sayers. The idea for pancakes in the park came because pancakes were part of a far-off-probably-never dream that required much more structure and probably some sort of involvement with the FDA. When I shared the idea, my friend said I should just start somewhere.

The park at night seemed like a good starting place. I could flip the (chocolate chip and maple) cakes in my apartment and take them over to the park in my bike basket. What the cakes lacked in fresh hotness they would make up for in sweet deliciousness.

I’ll admit, it was a haphazard plan.

The idea was like a battering ram and I was convinced it would knock down the barriers I still feel in this community, convinced this idea let me serve my community (and convinced that service would make this place more home).

I love pancakes, so that’s clearly not the problem. I also love parks (anyone would be crazy not to in the city), so that isn’t what made this idea fall flat.

The problem with pancakes in the park is that I stopped imagining too soon. I stopped being persistent about the process of knowing my community, thinking I could still love them well with an idea that made sense to me.

After the little group at the park laughed at me and I laughed at myself, we had a good conversation about the neighborhood and then I ran home whispering a pep talk about not giving up. It’s good to get practically humble – to realize you are holding a battering ram up against a mountain that isn’t supposed to move.

It is good because when you let go of a bad idea, you are free to think of something else – something better. Sprawled out on thrifted and sidewalk-swiped furniture, a new brainstorm happened and new plans are in the mix.

Pancake Mondays is going to be a thing that will still legitimize my Christmas ask for a griddle, but the action will happen much closer than the park. I’m hoping to host a monthly or weekly gathering of neighbors and friends for pancakes in my apartment instead. We’ve met many of the people on our floor, but have yet to get beyond the “nice to meet you” pleasantries and what way is better than a regular invitation to the best meal of the day served at night?

So far, I’ve got a roomie and an incredibly supportive boyfriend on board along with several other friends who want to join the party. I’m not sure, it could still fail and that’s okay. Practical humility is what you need if you want to serve your community well. There will be bad ideas before there will be good ideas and sometimes good ideas turn sour.

I haven’t completely given up on distributing food to strangers, but I have a new strategy for that as well. Patrick once carried around a container of my homemade cookies while running errands and he ended up offering them to the cab driver, the rental car attendant, and his neighbor. They seemed to like the gesture, at least no one laughed at him. So, I have thought about baking batches of cookies and then distributing them to friends to carry in their bags to give out when an opportunity arises.

Of course, all this is to be continued (including my ongoing humility lessons). I will keep learning to put down the battering ram and hold my ideas loosely.

Regardless, something will get baked and I think I’ll be able to find people who would enjoy it.

Occupy Life: copy shop and pancake batter

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space and we make our statement big and bold, whether we’ve got picket signs or not. Read here or here or here or here or the original post here for more.

“And this machine – whoa. I gotta take a minute.” Pause to breathe, “This machine is so amazing. It could probably cut through… a whole body (which would never happen because this protective plastic part has to be down). Seriously.”
Ryan stares at me, midway through my “training” at the copy shop, so that the magnificence of this cutting machine sinks in.
“It’s just that, well, I think this is my favorite machine in this whole place.” Pause. “Look at this huge stack of cardstock… we’re gonna cut it.” Pause for effect, “Are you ready?” Pause, “Oh, this is so great!”
He pushes green buttons, the guide moves, then the blade, and then … slice.
“Ah! Wasn’t that amazing? Whew! I could like go run laps that was such a rush!”

Meet my new friend and co-worker Ryan. A more delightful first day of training I have never had – his excitment oozed about everything from invoices to the newest printer – the 9000. I was immediately swept up into the banter and decided that we would be friends.

I typed my last email at my first job at about 2:55, rushed to pick up the obligatory black polo shirt for my second job at the copy shop and in between let the dog out for a quick romp, cleaned up the kitchen, and grabbed an apple for the road. Always moving, always learning, and always occupying this space called life.

As I was learning my way around the computer stations and printers, my friendly new co-workers shook off any first day nerves I had. And, I’m going to be honest, Ryan gave my awkward identity a run for its money. I’m not sure how this works, but awkward fits really well for him. I didn’t think his excitement about the cutting machine weird at all – instead, I kept trying to find reasons why he might need to show me again.

At one point, during the the explanation of all the paper types, he stepped up onto a cardboard box. From his perch, he continued without pause until I said, “Um, are you on your own little platform, there?”
“Yeah, I kind of like it.”

And that was that. I didn’t mind.

When Ryan thought I’d had enough training, I left for the night. I didn’t need to turn on the radio on the way home, I was still amused by the copy shop goings-on when I pulled into the driveway.

Then, round 3 of amusement began. My cousin Vince is always ready to hash out philosophy or politics or religion – pretty much all the topics that people are supposed to stay away from we hit head on. And I love it.

Tonight, we tackled the Christian message of “don’t,” country music, and pancake batter, amongst other things. The pancake batter is for tomorrow morning, but he thought we’d pull out Aunt Shirley’s recipe and save some morning rush. Well, turns out our approach to conversation is like our approach to cooking: completely different. Vince is super methodical and I’m a loose canon. I under-melted the butter and only partially measured the baking powder. Every time I turned around he was gesturing wildly and sighing about my lack of precision.
“There are recipes for a reason, Caroline.”
Well, I’m not saying that any of my recipes can ever be replicated, but just to test things out I suggested we make a pancake tonight (chunky butter and mysterious baking powder and all). It worked.
I could be making it up, but I think Vince even said with an approving nod, “It’s good.”

Today happened, every minute of it. I wouldn’t subtract a moment and that’s good because, well, I can’t.

I’m occupying life.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy