14 February 2013

Is This the Way?

Gradually Falling Asleep in Apathy of Unconsciousness
Artist:  Paulo Zerbato
Now and then, needing a quick, short-hand description of what I'm doing in Holly Springs (for example, responding to the question I am asked most frequently these days: "What brought you to Holly Springs?), I have used the term "community development." It's a little embarrassing hearing myself say it, aloud, to a witness. 

It sounds so ... focused and intentional. 

People who do "community development" have "talking points"....don't they? Buzz words or keywords or boilerplate verbiage, for use in interviews and conversations, press releases and web page copy

They know what they're doing and they can talk about it, explain it. They have clear objectives. A game plan.

A mission statement.

The term implies a confidence and commitment and....a clarity that I do not have. . 

The ground shifts. I've been here for almost six months now. People and relationships come into sharp focus and then fade. Routines are short-lived and driven by an ever-changing set of circumstances.

Life is always like this but I feel it with a particular intensity in unfamiliar environments. In a new town or a new job/gig the learning curve is steep because there are fewer reliable points of reference. Climate, geography, speech patterns, food, social protocol, fashion, population density...everything is unfamiliar. Everything is being learned. 

At Wal-Mart last night I noticed a couple things:  first, the line at the gun counter was really long. Second, I was the only person in line to checkout who had neither candy, flowers, a stuffed animal, a heart-shaped balloon or anything pink or red in my basket. When I saw all the Happy Valentine's greetings on FB this morning I thought "Oh! I get it:  yesterday was the day after the State of the Union address (guns) and the day before Valentine's Day (hearts and flowers)."

I move around in the environment, noticing, observing, making connections. 

It's what we all do, all the time. But I left one place where I was noticing, observing and making connections and moved to a new place where I am noticing, observing and making connections. Naturally, the question arises, for people in the old place and the new place, "Why did you move? What are you doing?"

The Wikipedia entry for Beck  outlines his many years of hard scrabble. The boy paid his dues! There's not much explicit information about the motivations. What would he say about why he was doing whatever he was doing at any point in his career? What underlying desire sustained him through the hardship? What was his mission?  

I can say that I came to Holly Springs to help launch a multi-faceted project, largely art-centered, toward a variety of ends, including the revitalization of Holly Springs, MS. I can say that specific project has been tabled for now; still, some of the objectives attached to it remain in play. Thinking about it today, I realized that wherever an objective was in alignment with my life mission and innate passions, it survived the derailment of the original plan.

Example:  I wanted to host artists from all over the world in a retreat space where they could work on their art, share the work in exhibition and performances and/or lead classes and seminars while in town. I wanted departing guests and audiences to say "I had excellent food and conversation. I learned something new."  There are no artists in residence and no classes or performances scheduled; but I am making delicious food, planning a garden, practicing "presence" in my interactions around town, advocating for arts-integration, and studying the history of this place--all of them activities I would be engaged in if the project was still in motion.

I don't know how to do community development. It scares me to think about doing it. If it consists of telling the truth in meaningful conversation, of being silly or brave enough to try new things, of "being the change" every day and cheering other agents of change, of becoming better and better at listening, of finding the courage to stay in motion while the environment lapses into inertia...

We can say I'm doing community development. But it's really no different from how I live anyway.