Still whirling from the thrill, flurry, million-feeling core connections and life-altering epiphanies of my trip to New York, I’m back home in my neighborhood… for me, the stage of my work and of my own heart’s greatest learning. Even though I know reaching out, developing my business in graphic recording/community-building/muraling is important and that I can (and do) rove *anywhere,* I also know deep in my gut that my most potent and powerful time, learning, growth, and relationships are in my neighborhood, with my neighbors.
I work a lot at “de-programmifying” this thought–untangling and dissolving the hard feeling that I “should” be doing this, and remembering that this is simply who I am, what I love, and what I WANT to do. I’ve been roving since I was a little kid growing up in Florida–shooting between neighbors yards, mapping the streets, collecting a huge stack of business cards, hunting treasures in old ladies’ garage sales in Barefoot Bay (the retirement community where Dad lived), or in the rustling stretches of Florida scrubland surrounding Mom’s house.
I’m curious about who lives around me, and I also know how valuable and transformative connected neighborhoods are…
Anyway, I’ve been feeling neglectful of those relationships lately with all my travel–Chicago & FL (December) and now NYC. And, coming home, I struggle with the logistics of how to reconnect and, well, just making the time and summoning the energy to do it, especially with the not-so-walk-friendly weather that’s turned everything white and frozen outside everyone’s doorstep.
But as so often happens, when my heart has the will, the world has a way of backing that up…
* * *
Having spent yesterday and this morning catching up on lost time with my delightful boyfriend, I’m back in my hood. It’s bitter cold out and I’m sitting in my car in the snow-filled street… probably texting.
A man and then a woman walk by, toward the corner. They’re too bundled up for me to recognize, which I don’t. No one else is on the street. I observe, without observing much.
Then I get out of the car, ready to hustle into warmth, when I hear my name ring out from across the intersection in a full-throated, scratchy, familiar voice. I turn and realize I’m being called by Tara–my neighbor four houses down, who I met through Laray a few months ago. Tara is one of the most natural connectors, hubs and hosts I’ve ever met.
I run over and meet her brother, who she’s accompanied to the bus-stop despite his protests (“You can go on back now” — “No, I’m not going until you’re on that bus!”). She asks where I’ve been and have I gotten her texts? I hadn’t, but am touched when she tells me she’s been texting me holiday wishes… and, that Kendale (a young artist into sociology who lives next to Tara) has also been asking where I’ve gone.
I feel guilt, familiar, burning …which Tara immediately whisks away like so much dust with her hearty laughter and fresh burst of the hospitality I know her for: “What are you doing right now? Are you hungry?”
Truth is, there were a lot of things I could be doing, but I wanted to do this. And, I was hungry. So I followed her down to her house, which is now much emptier than before since her friend Myeshia and Myeshia’s three kids have moved out. We catch up and soon, Tara jumps up to let her friend in.
In walks a man aged around 40-45, who she introduces as “Bubble.” Tara and Bubble go way back, and I can immediately feel the sense of friendship/love between them, and a kind of protector spirit from Bubble towards Tara.
I notice a gift again in Tara for celebrating/promoting others’ gifts and business when she says, “Bubble is a mechanic and if you ever need something for your car, HE’S YOUR MAN.” (I first noticed Tara’s gift for celebrating others when she posted my mural/Aprilart Studios postcard on her fridge and promised to tell everyone who comes in her house about me.)
As we chat over beer and gin, Tara dishes me up some fresh neckbone. She smiles big when I say I’ll try it and that no, I’ve never had it before. Turns out, the stuff is delicious! And it’s meant to be eaten with the hands–even better!
Bubble has a quiet manner and an easy smile. He says at one point in our winding conversation, “The world is always in balance. When someone dies, someone new always comes into the world. One goes, one comes. It’s a cycle.”
“Hm…” I said, digesting this huge, elegant concept. Then, curious, I ask, “Where did you get that from? I mean, did it come to you or did you hear it somewhere?” “Oh, I just always thought it. That’s what makes sense to me and I believe it’s true.”
I sit, delighted and moved by Bubble’s profound insight into the workings of the universe, and at his beautifully clear way of giving it voice.
* * *
Eventually, belly full of neckbone meat and a little bit of warm gin, I must head home.
Tara hugs me and I thank her for the food. We update our phones so I’ll be sure not to miss her texts again. Bubble insists on walking me out, and I get his number too with his promises to charge me a very reasonable rate. As I walk down the snow-covered, empty street in the cold night air, Bubble stands in the middle outside Tara’s duplex, watching until I climb the steps to my home and get inside.
The other day, I got a familiar reaction when I told a new friend that I live near 33rd and Clifton:
“That’s one of the more dangerous neighborhoods, right?”
“It’s a great place,” I respond, quickly and with some defensiveness. Then I add, a bit more calmly and with a thrill as I realize it’s true, “I’ve never felt more protected in any other place than I do there.”
And I wasn’t making that up, giving lip-service for the sake of de-labeling this place that most of Indy calls “bad.” I meant what I said. Bubble’s act of protection and care–and that which I witnessed in Tara earlier with her brother–was one of so many that I can recall since moving here and getting to know my neighbors. Unlike how I and most of us have been trained to see it, this is a place of immense caring… much moreso than most “good” neighborhoods where I have lived, where the “to each one’s own” mentality I mostly grew up with seems to rule.
Now writing this, I feel again such appreciation for the spirit of protection and caring that has flowed forth with even the tiniest-seeming scratch on these relationships from stranger to friend.
I also feel heartened by how much connection won over everything against it this night–snow, cold, and my own internal urge to isolate–and yielded so much–a new friend and mechanic to call, a new food tried, and conversation about universal balance and lives lived that will continue to thrill my soul.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* What are “Roving Notes”?
Recently someone reported scrolling through my blog and not quite understanding it. So I’ll explain…
These Notes are an attempt to capture, reflect on, and share my own journey in practicing the art of living as a creature of community.
In them, I focus mostly on stories about my neighborhood, my neighbors, and the abundance of gifts, caring, and world-changing action I discover around me as I push myself past my own habits of isolation, fear of strangers, and belief in scarcity. Sometimes I travel my larger community of Indianapolis and the world, and like to write about that too! I welcome and love stories of others’ roving and what you think about mine.
I write these notes because a) I’m a writer and my life is better when write; and b) because I believe that community, re-igniting citizenship, and neighborliness and democracy is a practice, not a program… a way of living that, through practice, becomes habit… and perhaps through sharing and storytelling, can become a new reality beyond my own hopeful mind and heart.
My journey has been influenced by a movement known as Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), founders John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, and the neighbors and staff of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. It also draws from the work of Margaret Wheatley, Peter Block and others who are too many to name here. The word “Roving” comes from my friend Deamon Harges, the original “Roving Listener” of Tesserae Learning (www.tesseraelearning.org) and a Fellow with the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute of Northwestern University (www.abcdinstitute.org).