Monday, 23 April 2012

april 23, 2012

community is never an easy thing to navigate. the experiences of beauty and belonging are interspersed with high drama, judgment and betrayal...but, i think it's still a worthy project to commit your whole self to.

not long ago, i was having a conversation with my sister, who is a teacher, a mother and married to a man. she owns her own house, she's straight, she's got progeny...for all intents and purposes, this is a deeply successful human being.

as i've mentioned before, our relationship has been under strain the last year or so. she makes a lot of assumptions and doesn't speak up about what she wants until the moment has already passed. i find her hard to read and harder still to trust because she's not transparent and she gets angry with others when she doesn't stand up for herself. needless to say, the conversation we were having wasn't going very well. she was using her reasonable straight person voice to tell me all about my life and then was confused about why i was offended.

most of the hurt feelings have faded, but there was this one thing she said that absolutely floored me. she said, "well, it's not like you have any responsibilities." this is her view of my life because (a) i don't have any children and (b) she has never been part of a thriving community.

not only do i run my own business and art career, but i have responsibilities to dozens of people in my life. i have a partnership and a D/s dynamic to nurture, i care for people's cats and dogs, i cook for people who are ill or injured or are new parents, i scour the social media universe for worthy stories to write on and then work really hard to get all the facts and angles right, i do community organizing for a handful of local groups - most of which i founded or co-founded, i teach youth about poetry and politics, i donate money to art and community-based projects, i babysit, i volunteer as a mediator, i step in when i see a potentially violent argument happening out in the street, i offer to be a reference for people looking for work, i support and listen to and run errands for my friends and, when i can, i help an elderly friend with her farm. when i bow out of these responsibilities, it creates strain and difficulty. in some scenarios, that leads to greater isolation or struggle.

this isn't to hold myself up as an example; rather it's to show all the invisible, relentless work that it takes to hold together a community. and it goes both ways. in return, i've received food and lifts and care when i'm injured or ill, i've always been sheltered when i needed it, i get help when i'm moving, i've received oodles of vegetables from the garden beds i've tended, i have shoulders to cry on and offers of help with my projects, i get awesome feedback on my artwork as it develops and i've been loaned money to help me through tough times.

when we agree to rely on each other, it means undertaking commitment. committing to do the work of relationships. some of this is spinning, some of it is weaving and some of it is mending. while my sister sees my life as care-free and unstructured, it's just not the whole picture. there is so much more to the story.

there's this amazing series of "how to" posters by a group called syracuse cultural workers that was released in 1998. one of them is "how to build community". i thought i would post the text of it here tonight in the hopes of inspiring greater weaving and mending! making yourself available means more connections are nurtured and tended. there are some great ideas below!

♥ be the love that makes things better

turn off your tv
leave your house
know your neighbours
look up when you are walking
greet people
sit on your stoop
plant flowers
use your library
play together
buy from local merchants
share what you have
help a lost dog
take children to the park
garden together
support neighborhood schools
fix it even if you didn't break it
have potlucks
honor elders
pick up litter
read stories aloud
dance in the street
talk to the mail carrier
listen to the birds
put up a swing
help carry something heavy
barter for your goods
start a tradition
ask a question
hire young people for odd jobs
organize a block party
bake extra and share
ask for help when you need it
open your shades
sing together
share your skills
take back the night
turn down the music
listen before you react to anger
mediate a conflict
seek to understand
learn from new and uncomfortable angles
know that no one is silent, though many are not heard
work to change this

if you're interested in ordering the poster, you can find it here.

1 comment:

  1. The scope of the things you do never ceases to amaze me! Have you ever seen Fantasia 2000? The final animation is about life, death and renewal. At the end, the Mother Nature figure is flying over the burned landscape, drawing forth new life and helping to sweep away the ashes of destruction, leaving behind this green, lush trail of living, blooming, growing things. You're kind of like that :)