Superheroes Anonymous 4: Saturday

Note: This is one of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

Today was the first full day of Superheroes Anonymous 4. In spite of the rain and various other logistical snafus, we had a fun and productive day and night, and we’re looking forward to meeting again tomorrow.

I started my day this morning at 5:35 am. After two days and eight hours on the Greyhound bus, sleeping on an actual bed was amazing. I slept like a baby for the precious few hours that I had available to me. After a shower and some basic morning yoga, I met up with Zetaman, and we all got together for an early breakfast.

Breakfast was good. We have a variety of backgrounds, personalities, tastes, and so on, but we always seem to have good conversations. Sometimes it’s serious talk about the work that we do; other times it’s completely ridiculous and hilarious banter that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Either way, it’s been good to eat and work and play alongside a group of interesting and genuinely good-willed people.

Our work for the day started at 9 a.m. with a two hour shift of volunteering at the Oregon Food Bank. I had vaguely assumed that this food bank would be bigger than anything I’d seen before, but I was deeply surprised and impressed at the scale and sophistication of it. It was literally an entire massive warehouse filled with donated food that was being received, processed, stored, and delivered to people in need. Some of the volunteers remained in a small area up front to bag food while the superheroes and another batch of volunteers walked to the other end of the warehouse to box some food.

As we headed to the back of the warehouse, we walked among isles of three or four storey tall shelves stacked with palettes full of food. There were several forklifts available to move and lift the palettes, and several different work areas and types of food on the shelves. Our tour didn’t include a detailed explanation of the entire process, but it was a very clean and efficient-looking facility, and they were clearly able to handle large amounts of food.

When we reached the back room, our volunteer coordinator explained to us that we would be boxing food that had been donated. Believe it or not, the food was actually loaded onto a conveyor belt, and it was our job to grab food as it went by and pack it into boxes. At first, it seemed like something from an I Love Lucy episode, with random cans and boxes of food cruising by in front of us as we tried to box them all. But soon, we got in the groove of the work, and it all went very smoothly. Our superhero team was spread out pretty evenly among the different volunteer positions. Skyman was taping together boxes and bringing them to the conveyor belt; Dreamer was one of the people checking for damaged or recalled items; the Irishman was doing some heavy lifting at the far end of the conveyor belt; Civitron was taping shut the filled boxes of food; Zetaman, Apocalypse Meow, White Baron, Victim, and I were on the conveyor belt itself. When Blue Blaze made it out there, he joined us at the conveyor belt too.

It was a simple process, but really quite impressive in its own way. If I remember correctly, we boxed about 12,000 pounds of food, which means that each of us individually helped in providing over 400 meals.

This was a great outcome. Everyone I talked to during and after the event seemed to be having a good time and glad to be able to help the community in such a direct and concrete way. The volunteer coordinator was very personable, helpful, and grateful for the help of all of today’s volunteers, whether they came as superheroes or simply came to help. We took the time to thank him and the Oregon Food Bank itself for the work that they do.

After lunch, it was time for the CPR and first aid certification course offered by Red Cross.

The course was very educational and empowering. Not everyone took it because a few people were already certified or about to be certified through some other means. But most of us took it, and it was quite an effective and informative class. The instructor was very down-to-earth and also seemed quite happy to see a group of superheroes taking the course simply because we want to be able to help others. It was a very good course, and I feel like I learned quite a bit in just a six hour course. I feel like Real Life Superheroes in particular should take this course, but so should just about anyone. Even if you don’t have a high risk job, or a job that puts you in contact with the public, training in first aid and CPR can mean the difference between life and death for someone in your life who is suffering from a medical emergency.

After the Red Cross training, we went over to an event in the park that was gathering winter coats for people in need. Their goal was 500 coats, and the donations we brought them were just enough to put them over their goal.

For a while during the coat drive and our dinner, the fate of our night patrol was uncertain. The rain had picked up again, and between the rain and the hectic conference schedule, we felt less than fully prepared for a night out on the streets. At first, we planned on going ahead with the patrol. Then, we decided that we should cancel it. Finally, at the last minute, we ended up going ahead with it.

On the whole, I feel like the patrol was a success. At first, we just came across various people of Portland who were out for a night on the town and not really in need of what we had to offer. We had a few conversations of varying quality with passers-by, ranging from occasional explanations of who we were to brief encounters with people who just found the spectacle of costumed people amusing. When we got to a certain area of town, though, we really started coming across people living on the street who could make good use of our food and toiletries and other supplies. Socks were a really popular item, and we only had a few pairs to go around. Water and chips were also popular, followed by the delicious brownies and cookies that were left over from our meet-and-greet dinner last night.

Since there was a big group of us, and a big group of people to serve in one area, we spontaneously decided to split up. This lead to some of us scurrying back and forth as we figured out who had the supplies that each person wanted. Some people were casual and nonchalant in their acceptance of our supplies, but others showed a mix of excitement and genuine gratitude. I had a few short but interesting conversations with people, and I saw other people in our group of superheroes doing the same.

People living on the streets are just statistics to some people, but I feel like it was important for us to talk with them, and interact with them as fellow human beings, and offer what help we did have to offer. It seemed like we were all touched by the seriousness of these people’s situation and the importance of outreach to people in need. Skyman in particular seemed taken aback by the whole experience – especially when Zetaman gave away his own jacket to someone in need!

This jacket was a very nice (and very new-looking) blue hoodie with a custome Zetaman logo. I already knew that he was a genuinely kind and generous guy, but I’ll admit that I too was moved when I saw him giving this jacket away. He explained that we were out of socks, and that the person he was giving the jacket to had no socks and no means to stay warm. He also said that when the night is over, he and the rest of us would be going back to a warm, dry place to sleep, whereas this person would not. But hopefully, they should be a little better off now that they have a brand new hoodie.

All of us have contributed in our own ways to making this conference a success. However, I feel like Zetaman deserves special recognition – both for this act of kindness and for working so hard with Apocalypse Meow and others to organize the event.

What impresses me the most, though, is that as I see it, all of this is only the beginning. All of us face a variety of problems back in our home communities and in society in general. All of us respond to these problems in different ways. But if more people of conscience would just decide to overcome their apathy and inertia and get more involved in their local community, then we could solve these problems together.

With that written, I need to go to bed! But I’ll have more news soon. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who made this conference (and my attendance here) possible. I’ll be writing a more detailed thank you in my final installment of this SA4 series, but in the meantime I just wanted to express my gratitude. This has been a good weekend – and hopefully we have many more good weekends, and weeks, and months, and years to come.

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Superheroes Anonymous 4: Arrival

Note: This is the first of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

I’ve arrived safe and sound in Portland, Oregon for Superheroes Anonymous 4. The conference really doesn’t get started until tomorrow, so I don’t have much to report yet. I did, however, want to write a brief entry about my arrival and first impressions.

When my bus arrived in town, I took Portland’s lovely Max Light Rail out to a spot that would be more convenient for meeting up with the others. Zetaman met me in the parking lot of the Max station, and we went together to our first event: an informal barbeque and meet-up.

I feel the night went well. We spent a little time discussing logistics for the next two days, but mostly we just socialized and got to know each other better. I’d never met any of the others in person before, so I feel that eating together, and relaxing together, and being wacky and wild and real with each other, was a good way for me to start getting to know them.

I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy this weekend and enjoy working side by side with these people. Not everyone was able to make it into town in time for the barbeque, so there are still more people for me to meet. Even so, I like the fact that we all have serious reasons for being Real Life Superheroes, yet we can all have fun together too. It’s good team bonding, and good preparation for the coming two days of very active working and learning.

With that said, I’m off to bed. Look forward to more news once the conference has officially started!

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Superheroes Anonymous 4: Prologue

Note: This is the first of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a Greyhound bus here in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. After two days on the road, I’ll arrive in Portland, Oregon for a conference called Superheroes Anonymous 4, where I’ll be spending about two days in the company of fellow Real Life Superheroes. Considering the amount of time, energy, and support that has gone into making my trip to this conference a reality, I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on what it is and why I’m going.

A Real Life Superhero is just what it sounds like: someone who wears a special costume or uniform, adopts a special name, and goes around providing various forms of community service.

Some of us are self-appointed urban guardians, conducting neighborhood patrols to prevent crime and ensure the safety of people in our communities. Some of us are charitable volunteers, offering our time and energy and money to people in need and the community organizations that serve them. Some of us are activists or advocates, choosing one or more social or environmental causes to organize around in our community. Many of us are some combination of the above, or choose our own way that is hard for others to define. At the end of the day, we are people of conscience who love our communities and have chosen a bold new way to serve and protect them.

When I first heard about Real Life Superheroes online, I knew immediately that it was right for me. It was what I had been trying to do with my life for years without fully understanding how to put a name to it. However, I definitely understand the initial skeptical response of some people. Why superheroes? What’s the point of adopting a superhero name and dressing up in a costume or uniform?

Really, I can only speak for myself. Some people’s approaches are very different than mine, and some don’t even like to be called Real Life Superheroes. For me, though, what it comes down to is the difference between despair and hope.

For about ten years, I was what most people would call an activist. It started when I was a college student and continued well after graduation as I decided to stay in the Carbondale for the long haul. I would join community groups, organize community events, and speak out about political causes that were near and dear to my heart.

This was an intense way of life. At first, it felt very empowering and rewarding. I learned more about the world, I met wonderful people, and I felt like I was starting to make a difference. But as time went on, it started to seem more and more like an endless struggle. There were so many problems in our community, and even more in the world beyond it. I had a growing sense of urgency about what needed to be done, but a diminishing sense of what I or anyone else could do about it.

For a few years, I sank into a rut of despair, without the time or energy or hope necessary to do much in my community. But then, I came across this Real Life Superhero movement, and something clicked.

Superheroes are archetypal figures of inspiration, empowerment, and hope. Most efforts to increase community involvement focus on some combination of guilt (“If you don’t help this cause, you’re not a good person!”), anger (“Look at what they did to that forest!”), or fear (“The world will end if you don’t help this cause!”). This may work in the short term, but it leaves people feeling guilty, frustrated, afraid, and ultimately powerless. It emphasizes the idea that we’re surrounded by troubles, and that we’re constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by these troubles.

The Real Life Superhero approach to community involvement, on the other hand, is rooted in the idea that each of us can become a beacon of hope and an agent of change in an otherwise bleak and apathetic society. Real Life Superheroes are everyday citizens just like you who have simply chosen to go the extra mile and do some good in our community. We have no superpowers, and some of us don’t even have any fancy gear or special martial arts training. We also don’t have all of the answers to the problems facing our community. What each of us does have, though, is our own unique set of skills, experience, and passion that we bring to our work. We see some problem or need in our community, and we take simple and direct action to resolve it. It’s that simple for us — and it can be that simple for you, too.

Learning about and talking to Real Life Superheroes from around the world has been an amazing experience. Embracing the superhero archetype and becoming a Real Life Superhero myself has given me the renewed energy and vision that I needed to start being active again in my community. Taking action, in turn, has been the antidote to my despair, leaving me with a sense of hope for the future. Now, instead of seeing community service as a “chore,” I look at it as an adventure.

And THAT is why I’m going to Superheroes Anonymous 4. I feel inspired again, and I want to follow that inspiration wherever it leads me. I also want to meet up with other people who feel the same way and see what we can do in the span of two days to learn together, to grow together, and to serve the people of Portland and beyond.

I realize that most people don’t “get it” the first time they hear about it, and some people will never “get it” at all. This approach to community service certainly isn’t for everyone, and I don’t recommend it for everyone. But I find it profoundly inspiring. Other Real Life Superheroes find it inspiring, and many people in our communities find it inspiring too. As long as we’re doing good work and inspiring others to do the same, that’s the important thing.

However this weekend’s conference goes, I hope that this spirit of inspiration will continue, and that more and more people will discover their inner superhero. Even if you don’t feel a need to adopt a new name and costume, know that you have the power within you to make a difference for the better. And stay tuned for more updates on Superheroes Anonymous 4!

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Hero Fest 2010 Thank You

Hero Fest 2010 was great! We had three bands, five or six different information booths, brochures from other groups not in attendance, and plenty of people from the community out to enjoy the day’s events.

While it’s still fresh in my mind, I want to say thank you to all of the people who made this festival possible.

First of all, a big thank to our musical acts: Amphetamine Gazelle, Magilla, and the Parsley and Sagebrush Dynamic Duo. Amphetamine Gazelle got us started with some high-energy music; Magilla offered an impressive combination of original material and superhero-themed cover songs; and Parsley and Sagebrush offered a great folk perspective on heroes with their earthy and social justice oriented tunes. I was sorry to miss out on some of Parsley and Sagebrush’s set, but glad that they were able to play a few extra songs!

I’d also like to thank Aur Beck of Advanced Energy Solutions for providing solar power and overall logistical support for this event. His company’s Mobile Solar Power & Training Trailer is a wonderful resource for our community and region, and he also helped us haul tables and chairs and people to and from the event.

My thanks also go to Leaf Lad a.k.a Jon-Paul Diefenbach for all of the help carrying around tables/chairs, transporting people, and offering his overall support for the event. (Hopefully I’m not spoiling your secret identity!)

Thank you to all of the people from Gaia House Interfaith Center, Peace Coalition / “Raging Grannies”, Green Earth, and Art of Living who came to provide information booths, and thanks to other groups who provided information for us to have on hand. Group turnout was lower than expected due to the Labor Day weekend, but those who made it helped the festival serve its purpose of offering ways for people to get involved in the community.

Thank you to Scott Thorne of Castle Perilous for offering a free comic book to everyone from Hero Fest who wore a costume. We took a group trip over there during the festival and had a good time checking out the comic book characters that helped inspire the Real Life Superhero movement.

Thank you also to Sarah Miller for offering yoga and joining in the mask-making at the arts and crafts table. We weren’t able to entice people into sharing in the yoga asanas, but it was fun to hear about Haruman, the original yoga superhero, and do the Warrior 3 asana while people sang a superhero song.

Finally, thanks to everyone else who attended or helped with Hero Fest 2010. This may have seemed small and simple to some, but people seemed to be having a good time, and I feel like this was a happy and successful start of a new Carbondale tradition. Next fall, with a full year to prepare, we will have more community groups, more bands, more costumes, more activities for children, and more of that great positive feeling of community togetherness that we shared today!

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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