Yesterday, as usual on a Friday morning, I got the kids off to school, worked out, made myself a veggie/goat cheese omelet, boiled water for my yerba mate and sat down to write a Feel Good post. I’ve come to rather enjoy my Friday rhythm. Whatever I’m writing is usually light (if I write at all), it’s the time of the week when I wrap up loose ends to ensure a work-free weekend, and on this particular Friday, I was to introduce the second Home Work project — one that I’ve been totally excited about — so the day was almost certain to be a good one.
By noon, however, when I still didn’t have much to speak of save for a few properly sized photos and a paragraph or two I’d probably end up scrapping, I started wondering what I could possibly be stuck on. This was easy writing, after all, and around subject I happen to love.
By two, when I still hadn’t produced anything publishable, I decided to get out and clear my head. Circumventing the annual spring Maya Festival enveloping the whole neighborhood to my left, I hung a right and headed toward the cemetary. On my ten-minute walk, I passed:
- a cluster of older gentlemen who looked to be talking weather or shop or maybe fishing considering the pile of crustacean parts at their feet
- a grade school boy peddling his kindergarten-aged sister home on his handlebars (no helmets, you might have guessed)
- a mama with her year-old baby peeking over the side of a deep, woven basket strapped to the back of her rusty cruiser
- a half dozen preschoolers kicking a mostly-deflated soccer ball (attended by no one but street dogs)
- no less than thirty children under age ten walking home from school in happy, adult-less packs
- a pair of mamas who looked to be sisters hanging laundry, their babies waving at me from the dirt at their feet
- the three young guys who run the tienda closest to my house, hunched together on fruit crates, watching Twilight with subtitles.
- the same jovial fella perched on the curb I pass every afternoon who flashes a friendly, toothless smile when he sees me coming
- two tiny abuelitas who live on my street, their embroidered white dresses a tidy contrast to their wrinkled, tropical tans
- a proud cook’s grandkids busy at play in a water spigot next to her sizzling taco cart
Back home again, it was a little more clear to me why I was having such a hard time writing about cultivating community, of all things. Because what I see in the street every day here — a people happy not because of money but because of connection, a people still largely untouched by the propaganda of fear, and an easy way of life known to many of our parents but quite foreign to the children of developed nations — has taken what I once intuited about local living; what I once aspired to as a campy quest for theoretical sustainability and grown it into a driving passion rooted in the belief that thriving local communities are not just essential to but the essence of a thriving culture, and how do you sum up your heart of hearts in a few measly paragraphs?
I guess you don’t. I guess if true change is what we’re after, we each offer what it is we have to offer, trust the rest to the greater good, tuck our ideals in our back pockets and roll up our sleeves, just like they do.
Home Work Project #2: Cultivate Community
If project #1 was wide open, this one is downright bra burning. The only rule I propose is that you take on something you’ll enjoy and not feel overwhelmed by.
Just to get your creative juices flowing, here are a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Invite your neighbors for tea or libations or a pool tournament or gunny sack races.
- Organize a junk or clothing swap. Clean out your garage or craft closet or toy explosion and make a sizable “things I can be happy without” pile. Put up signs and spread the word amongst the neighbors. You could totally have my stash of embroidery hoops and leather scraps in exchange for your sifter and vintage tins, if we were swappin’.
- Be the one to convince the homeowner’s association to install speed bumps and allow street ball because your patient, well-presented argument makes more sense than theirs.
- Find someone elderly, bake for him and listen to his stories. You never know, he might need time with your kids as much as they need a neighborhood grandpa.
- Get together with your crafty friends and yarn bomb something.
- Go to the park, engage with the other moms and invite them over spontaneously without apologizing for the state of your house.
- Find someone with a green thumb and ask for advise and cuttings of their plants. Better yet, invite them to your yard and get their two bits about your garden.
- Barter goods and services with someone whose work you admire.
- Promote a neighborhood clean up or green up day. Maybe you pick up trash, maybe you make sure your neighborhood receives all recycling sevices available or create an apartment-wide compost pile with signs showing how to use it.
- Leave random notes in people’s mailbox telling them what you like about them. Make people wonder.
- Promote a neighborhood Easter egg hunt or a first of spring bonfire.
- Find out about abandoned spaces near your house that might could be used for pick up ball games or community gardens or kite flying every Sunday.
Or, if you’re barely treading water yourself, attend someone else’s shindig or simply swap kids with another mom while you get your groceries. Kids are the ultimate when it comes to brainstorming and often come up with clever, simple ideas, too. Here are a few more:
- your first name and location
- a brief description of your undertaking
- a photo that captures some part of the process or story
My own plan is admittedly ambitious, but only because I’m kind of on fire about my own community right now, you gotta go with it when you’re feelin’ it and I finally don’t have a baby on my hip:
- I’m going to host a potluck brunch for all the lady friends I’ve met in town so far (I love a potluck almost as much as I love brunch almost as much as I love connecting my people).
- We’re going to get involved with our teeny tiny farmer’s market, offering first kambucha, then yard eggs, then whatever else we can get to grow.
- I am going to find out who’s in charge of the market and offer to promote it around town every week.
Here’s what our farmer’s market looked like as of last weekend. So far, someone is selling sunflower sprouts…
someone else has vegan cheese…
and a family from Germany is selling fresh-baked bread…
There were also some metaphysical something or another and a few gypsies lightening their load…
…and that’s…about it. The competition’s pretty fierce, but I think we’ll manage.
I already smuggled my kambucha mushroom over the border and I now just need to find a couple of giant glass jars and keep working on the right blend of gingery and bubbly. (Anyone out there brewed THE PERFECT kambucha?)
As for yard eggs — Hunter has agreed to help me build our coop this month (truth is, I’ll be helping him) and we’ve met a guy who breeds chickens for cock fighting, so we’ve got at least one source for hens! No idea what our coop will look like yet, but thankfully, we’ve no neighborhood association to answer to, and there’s certainly no shortage of inspiration around us in the make-do-with-what-you-have department…
So, whether your greater motivation is economic and political restoration…
A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members – among them the need to need one another. The answer to the present alignment of political power with wealth is the restoration of the identity of community and economy. – Wendell Berry
a desire to share the load and joy with those around you…
One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.― Jean Vanier
or the acquisition of age-old wisdom…
Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering.― Rachel Naomi Remen
I have no doubt there’ll be a whole lot of good that comes of this project and that we’ll each gain even more than we give.