Sunday, July 14, 2013

Last Thoughts From FEMA Corps

I feel like there’s not a lot left to say, in terms of having a final FEMA Corps sum-up catch-all blog post. Most of the things I could say have either been said already in this space, or else they’d just feel redundant being expressed here. So let’s throw out a final list, say, of a few things that I’ve learned in the past ten months.

-Horrible puns are a never-dying form of entertainment. (my team may disagree with this.)
-The South is green and full of funny bugs.
-There’s nothing so pathetic as a team that has lost its cohesion.
-People, specifically Americorps people, are capable of astounding acts of friendliness and generosity, made all the more amazing by their apparent and complete lack of seeming put-upon.
-Communication may just be the most important thing there is. If you can’t talk about the important things with your family, friends or team members, you might as well not be talking about anything at all.
-There’s a ridiculous amount of talent in the Corps, stuff we only see occasionally. Artists, painters, writers, musicians, football players, Frisbee players, swimmers, martial artists, EMTs, jugglers, the list is almost endless. They’re everywhere. Americorps got a good group together, here.
-Building off that, it turns out that people who want to spend a year doing community service are generally pretty awesome individuals. Sean, Rii, Jimbob, Ashvin, Michella, Badger, Tommy, Michael, John, Malinda, Katrina, Chelsea, Shaun, John Joyce, Joey, Christina, ‘Bama and everyone else… thanks for being wonderful, and thanks for being my friends.
-There’s nothing more important than leadership when you’re talking about an Americorps team, and there’s nothing more painfully evident then when it fails.
-If you can’t fit it into a red bag or your backpack, it’s probably not necessary for you to live, at least in the lifestyle we take pride in.
-Your van is your home. Treat it accordingly.
-If you don’t make an effort to understand or interact with the people around you, you’ll have a shitty, lonely experience. That’s just how it works. You’re responsible for your own social outreach.
-Bloodless language beats you down. By the end of the year, I was speaking in a ‘initiative’ and ‘moving forward’ and ‘not as good as we would’ve liked’ FEMA/NCCC/generic-corporate timid linguistic jambalaya like everybody else. It’s so hard to say anything straight out in this culture.
-Sometimes, when you join Americorps, you meet the president. Sometimes, when you meet the president, you look like an utter goon. Sometimes, when you look like an utter goon in your most-publicized photo with said president, it gets promulgated all over FEMA Corps, and NCCC, and FEMA too, and you have to explain every time someone sees it that that’s just the way your mouth works when you smile and you simply are not good at pictures. So it goes.
-There’s nothing cuter than Amerelationships. Dalton and Katrina, Joe and Tiffy, Malinda and Chris, I’m looking at you.
-A lot of things you’d never consider eating, or at least would have quite a bit of distaste for, become your dietary staples and even enjoyable because that’s what’s on the damn table tonight, eat it or don’t.
-I can’t wait to be cooking and buying everything I eat. Seriously.
-Getting an account with a local Mississippi bank in the early days of the program was a really dumb idea. Get a national bank, for crap’s sake.
-There is always time to throw the Frisbee around.
-My housing wasn’t my housing until the Battlestar Galactica flag was up on the wall.
-I used to think that FEMA Corps was secretly an indirect subsidy for Wal-Mart, since that’s generally where our groceries come from (or someplace else really cheap). Now I know better. The federal government is really using us to prop up Extended Stay Motels.
-Oatmeal’s a pretty awesome breakfast food if you do it right, and also if that’s the only thing the motel provides in the morning, so like it (see above).
-I read, at some point during the year, this funny and instructive little catechism: when liberals think of government, they think of Social Security and Medicaid. When conservatives think of government, they think of the IRS and the DMV. After working with FEMA for eight months, well, let’s just say I can see both sides of the argument pretty well now.
-I’ve said this before on here, but here it is again: Never, ever, ever will I buy a house or live in an apartment that would be flooded if anything less than a tsunami came through my municipality. Put me on a hill, I’ll risk the lightning strikes. At least you don’t have to muck and gut the home and make sure every last particle of mold and every granule of damp plasterboard and wood is removed from your empty shell of a basement before you can even think about rebuilding after one of those.
-There’s nothing that just slowly sucks the life and the energy out of you like having nothing… whatsoever… to do at work.
-The Upper End is a shitty bar, but it’s the only game in Vicksburg, so sometimes you just have to go anyway. Unless, that is, you want to go to a casino and leave in the morning owning nothing but your pants.
-If you want something done right, bloody well do it yourself or give it to one of the competent people around you to do. Anything else is a waste of a task.
-You could not pay me to live in New York City. Seriously, if I was offered a good job on condition of moving there, I would turn it down in a minute unless I could a) work from another state or b) there is no b. Nearly five months was far, far more than enough to convince me of this.
-Personal space is a finite and negotiable commodity.
-Leadership is communication. If you’re not communicating, and well, you’re not leading.
-There’s nothing more nightmarish than driving through Manhattan, after a hurricane, with no power in the city, lit only by reddish flares, when you have no earthly idea where to go because you’ve never been here before and your housing is in New Jersey.
-Atlanta is an awesome city, New York is horrible, Frederick (MD) is pretty nice, Vicksburg (MS) is charming, Anniston (AL) seemed cool, Emmitsburg (MD) was alright and Hartford (CT) would probably have been nice if we had been there for more than a day.
-There’s no geek-out moment quite like the one where you notice you’ve been driving from Frederick to Winchester, VA daily… and that you cross Antietam Creek and the Potomac River in the process… as you go down the Shenandoah Valley… past Harper’s Ferry and just a hair away from Sharpsburg and Gettysburg… yeaaaaaaaah. All the Civil War history you could possibly ever want, well, you’re driving through it.

Final Five, the important ones:

-Living on a ship is awesome.
-Sometimes, you meet the most wonderful and important people in your life by total random chance.
-If you want something done right, bloody well do it yourself or give it to one of the competent people around you. Giving it to an incompetent person only wastes time.
-Having said that, you can only do so much.

-I’ll never forget this year, this place and these people.  


Alexandra Murray said...

This was a beautiful post. I love your blog and it has given me so much insight and inspiration to lead a team this year. Thank you for documenting so well, you're an incredible writer.

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Ryan Rakhshan said...

Andy! I'm leaving for fema corps in vicksburg in 10 days. I'm from frederick md. Your beautifully poetic blog and Nick's incredibly informative blog have proved invaluable to me. Did you by any chance stop by frederick coffee company when you were in town? A very good friend of mine served coffee to some fema corps members in uniform a while back. I was wondering if that may have been you.

Andy said...

Hi Ryan,

That's awesome! I'm glad I was able to be of some help. Please feel free to let me know if you have any other questions beforehand. You're going to a darn good campus. I don't know how much of the staff is still there--they have a pretty high turnover rate from what I remember--but at the time I was there, they were very good at what they do. I liked Frederick a lot; it didn't hurt that my team was there in spring, but the downtown was fun (and the area near the canal was very pretty), the library was awesome and my baseball-fan roommate wouldn't shut up about the Orioles affiliate. I did not visit the coffee shop, although if it was in April or May, odds are I know the people who did.

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