The cool thing about being an RA is that you can accidentally affect someone’s life at any time.

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This job will wear you down sometimes. There is a constant sense of responsibility for the well being of the people around you that you can never really let go of, not even when you are with your best friends–but at some point, random moments will remind you that it’s worth it. There will be times when that very vigilance, and the constant effort you put in to reach out to every person, may pay off in odd and profound ways.

My first year as an RA, I became good friends with one of my quads of my first year boys. All four of them are great guys–and I’m still somewhat in touch with each of them. But what I didn’t know was that one of the biggest impacts I would have would result from meeting their friends.

One of their very good friends was a guy I’d originally thought was a concert attending, drug-taking rebel who would hate authority figures such as myself. I was right on all account but the last. He became a huge supporter of me, specifically chose to live in my hall the next year, and became a good friend of mine, as did his roommate, who I would also never have met otherwise. As an RA, you become a visible figure in the community. Sometimes, random people will find out about you, and decide that they want to be in your life. It is amazing.

We have a facebook page where people anonymously post scandalous things. Originally lighthearted, things had started to become more serious. I responded carefully and with feeling to a recent post confessing that the poster was struggling with depression, and even worse, suicidal ideation. I asked in a later comment if the poster could keep us updated on how they were doing, and offered to take them to coffee at the school cafe.

To my absolute shock, I got a message a few days later. “You might be shocked to hear this, but I was poster XXX,” the message read, “and I’d love to go out to coffee with you.” It was from a guy I vaguely knew, a close friend of those first year boys from the year before. He had attended one of my community builders, which we had bonded over, but other than that, we’d hardly talked.

We went out for coffee and talked for three hours. It was an amazing conversation. When we first met, he seemed shaky and on the verge of tears. When we left, he was almost chipper, laughing. There was relief in the air. I don’t want to pretend our conversation eliminated his problems–his suicidal ideation continued, even got dangerously worse at points–but I developed an amazing connection with someone who was struggling to connect. He still sends me messages asking me what’s up and inviting me to coffee.

And that is why I do this job.

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The Home is Where the Kitchen Is

On my first day at Lewis and Clark, I was so excited that my dorm had a kitchen–that is, until I saw the kitchen. When I first walked into it on that fateful August day three years ago, I deflated. I melted into a disappointed little puddle. It wasn’t just that it had the width of a bowling alley–no, I think what got me was the fact that it was completely and totally empty. I checked every cabinet, above and below. I looked in the fridge, the freezer. I checked the drawers. I just couldn’t quite believe that there was nothing in this kitchen.

There was nothing in that kitchen.

But not for long. Soon, there were dirty rice makers, salsa chunks and ramen noodles down the sink, dirty dishes casually strewn everywhere. Most people kept their dishes in the kitchen, but the extra available dishes hardly made up for the stealing, the inconsiderateness, the ever-renewing mess. I remember buying myself a little food with my small personal budget, only to find myself cleaning my own dishes that someone else had left dirty with my own damn food in the sink.

When I became an RA, I furiously determined that my kitchen nightmare would never happen again.  “This kitchen is MY kitchen,” I muttered furiously. “It’s going to be a nice, functional hub of community, dammit!”

And it really was. Often I’d come home to the smell of spicy curry my residents made in big pots to share with each other, or plates of cookies, or home-cooked loaves of bread.  It felt like home, it smelled like home, it tasted like home. But still, the sink was full of dirty dishes. 

This year, I’m aiming for the sun; I want to have a beautiful, well-stocked kitchen that builds a sense of belonging kitchen AND stays clean without me doing dishes every night. Stay tuned, folks. kitchen

Getting inspired by cafes to make a better kitchen

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Cafes are beautiful places. They are filled with quaint tables, steaming mugs of bitter drink, laptop laden students…I can’t help but feel camaraderie with the baristas and the other patrons from the shared participation of the customer in some of the small work of transporting the drinks, garnishing them to taste, and busing them after one is finished. No matter how many times you visit a restaurant, you will always be a guest. In a cafe, you participate and thus, you can belong.

Sometimes, dorms have a lot in common with restaurants. The dorms are, in a real sense, a service package; students pay exorbitant amounts of money so that they may live in functional rooms and be guaranteed certain benefits and services as a result. Like restaurant waiters, we must listen to our residents and show them how carefully we have listened by being responsive. Often as an RA, much like as a waiter, our residents will forget or not realize how much our work contributed to their experience. Sometimes the tips don’t reflect the effort we put in, or even our successes.

There are many lessons about humility, patience, and dedication that come from the solemn kitchens and dining rooms of restaurants. And yet, when we can, we want the dorm to have the soul of a cafe and not a restaurant. Cafe’s afford their patrons a degree of liberty–the customers may come, may go, may order, may sip, may loiter, may reorder and reorder. But in exchange, the customer will do little tokens of service for the maintenance of the cafe.

It is in this spirit that I have decided to have the plastic dish busing bins in my new kitchen as part of the organization system. 

The rules will be simple; our kitchen will give you its heart. It will be beautiful and full of food and charm and nourishing support, and in exchange it will ask you to gently wipe its counters, to bus your dishes to the bin instead of leaving them in the counter or on the sink, to gather in groups and to wash the dishes with soapy water when they are full.

In return, you will belong.

Go home Steve, you’re drunk.

This is a photo taken by my friend Sarah. We were on rounds when we discovered Steve.

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Go home, Steve, you’re drunk! And your bird is dead!

It goes to show; you’re not always on duty, but you’re never off duty. In this case, I was also actually on duty. So maybe, it doesn’t really show anything.

Life lessons from the RA battlefield; so deep.

12 ways to spice up your cake baking life

Let’s get our cake-tivity on. Get it? Like, creativity, but with cake!

Okay, not very funny, but I’ll make it up to you:

With cake.

Or rather, cake-spiration. Nope, that one isn’t any better. Well, some fun with your cake. Play with your food. Your residents will love you for it, and you can even pretend that you did it *just for them* without any regard for your own cake predilections.

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