15 January 2013

We Can Always Dream

In a few days, I will have lived in Holly Springs for five months. It's a relatively short amount of time but some things are becoming clear.

I arrived gung-ho about establishing an artist retreat/education/conference center. My daydreams, en route on the train, were filled with the sights and sounds of an international crowd sipping wine while collaborating in my kitchen to create a Kenyan guest's favorite dish....or lounging around a late night fire in the backyard, listening to a new song, written by a visiting songwriter from Montana and talking about Life.

I imagined local painters and dancers and textile artists dropping by, interacting with whatever artist happened to be visiting; the rich exchange of ideas and new art forms birthed and sprouting -- and all of it playing out in the space that I would call Home.

I imagined Holly Springs becoming a come-to place in the minds of artists and creative, progressive free thinkers from around the globe. I imagined strands of connection unfurling between Holly Springs and other locales around the southern U.S., creating a web of art-and-spirit based enterprise that would transform this part of the country.

And some or all of this may come to pass some day. Who knows?

But it's not likely any of that will happen soon. Not in Holly Springs.

I heard a theory the other day suggesting there's a kind of historical momentum here, as in other small towns that thrived on the backs of African slaves in the antebellum South. In their heyday, the dance steps of these communities involved Whites waiting for Blacks to serve the next round of drinks and Blacks waiting for the tinkling bell that cued them to serve.

In these late days, in towns like Holly Springs all over the South, post-bellum, post Reconstruction, post Civil Rights struggle, the tinkling bell is long gone. The gloved hand that rang it is clenched in self-consciousness or fear or bigotry. The Black feet that shuffled in response are steadfastly planted in obstinate refusal to serve anyone and shackled by regret and old grudges. Neither group knows what to do in the 21st century.

I've learned of a handful of creative initiatives in Holly Springs, each being shepherded by a single individual or a small group; but there does not appear to be any coordination of these efforts. Each operates independently and it's yet to be seen whether any of them will succeed. I have my doubts. One local entrepreneur hopes to open a coffeehouse on the square, intending it to become a community hub where students from Rust College, artistic types, intellectuals and others will hang out and interact. Given the seemingly deep-rooted racial segregation that I observe, I have a hard time imagining his dream coming true.

I hold a fragile commitment to be an agent of change in Holly Springs. Fragile because I know next to nothing about how one does that; and because my doubts are substantial about the possibility of a newcomer reversing century-old trends in community.

I am assured by friends who live elsewhere and even guests I've hosted here through CouchSurfing.org, that I have "the right stuff" to help transform this place but I do not see clearly what they see and I am often burdened by a sense of myself as a perennial outsider.

Still, the song "Morning in Holly Springs" chose to come into being through me and my premier performance of it at our holiday Open House was well received. This could be the harbinger of power and purpose to come. I can only keep going, continuing in my usual way to show up and ask questions and offer to serve. Who knows? We can always dream....