Tuesday, January 6, 2009

waking up. the reasons

In this moment, I'm feeling inspired and excited. I've been incredibly introspective for a while now. Most of you who've known me recently would not have recognized the person I used to be and vice versa. It's called- change, life, and pain but its the same for all us in some way. Our bodies and minds are temples of experience. Today I taught classes to the youngest kids in our school. It was full of hugs and smiles from fresh eyes and open hearts. And of course, always some tears. Most of the kids live in my neighborhood, I see them at the store and on the street. My students come from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Many of them are immigrants, some from split families; many are on scholarships. School is a safe place but I can only assume they experience the same sadnesses I do when I look at my community. Its not a matter of poverty but the hopelessness and lack of human compassion that disturbs me.

I've been to places that I was told I should never go as an American. I was told about the crime, muggings, poverty, and lack of humanity. But what I saw in Athens and Mexico (I only wish my experiences were broader) were communities full of life and love. People who helped each other and overcame whatever differences they had. Mothers leave their babies in strollers on the street as they go into the shops nearby, knowing that the old man sitting on an old wooden rocking chair near the Butchershop door will be watching. I've seen street festivals where drunkenness isn't a bitter escape but a celebration of life. I've left my bags unguarded and unlocked on the bottom of a ferry with a pile of hundreds knowing they would be safe. I pitied the other foreigner I saw, the only person on the entire ferry with a backpack on. He was me, three months earlier. I hear similar stories from friends who did peace corpus and a friend who spent a year traveling throughout India working in orphanages.

When someone blames this city's issues on poverty or race, I get angry. Fear and disconnection is the reason that more than half the city's population lives in suburban sprawl and shops at strip malls. Sadly what I see this city lacking is culture. Not culture based on making money or feeding egos or sustaining some silly scene, but culture that enriches life. People who smile and hug each other, people who acknowledge that they are neighbors. Shared resources, shared food, dancing, loving, bikes, acts of kindness.

Sure it's easy to say, well if you don't like it leave. That's what people have been doing for the last 40 years. The first time St Louis had population growth was 2007. I think I was in that 2%. This month 8 people I know who have contributed in some way to the community left town. I can't blame them. I may be be in that group sooner than I think. Perhaps it is a sinking ship but if that's true then so is the whole country. St Louis is a microcosm of everywhere else.

So what are the options then?

I've spent the past few years, experimenting with different ideas and roles. Figuring out exactly how I wanted to contribute to society and this city. Teaching has taught me a lot as has my involvement with various community organizations. Friends and my creative work has been helpful guide as I've worked through depression and pain after a loss of a close friend to suicide. I was also mugged in this city and was an eyewitness to several horrific events. But I'm not ready to give up and I hope there are a few others out there who are in the same place as me. If not, I'm tired of waiting around. While yes, momentum does die eventually. Fighters regain their strength and step up but none of us are superhuman. For real change to happen we have to be open with each other and ourselves.

Something to try-

Every so often I like to think about breathing and what it means. I invite you to stop for a moment and take a breath. Think about it. The action of breathing. How does it feel? Is your nose cold like mine as you feel the air pass through your nostrils? Put your hand on your belly. Take another breath. Does is go in or out as you breath? Do you notice your heart beating? I notice mine. It feels good to remember that I breath and my heart beats. I hope it feels good to you too.

Reading Art and Upheaval by Bill Cleveland.
He's giving a talk at Left Bank Books this Friday, 7:30pm in St Louis.

Also reading Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority by Macphee Reuland (AK press)

1 comment:

  1. emily what can one say? i love your blog. i like this article a lot and could not possibly elaborate on this subject any better. oh and that photo of you above is very sweet..<3 monica