Over the course of the last few years I’ve gone through a very rough patch and struggled keeping up with friendships and my work in the community. I had built up a lot of resentment towards anyone doing anything remotely interesting or fulfilling as I felt I was rotting away inside from doing work that just paid the bills. The work had lots of merit on its own and I do believe it was a case of me being involved for a short time to accomplish a lot of truth-telling to these organisations, however it rotted away inside me and I became judgmental and increasingly unhappy. I’ve had a hard time pinning down what it is I did actually want in life. I think I just wanted a break from life and thankfully we were able to take a three-month hiatus recently with family, friends and nature in America.
Throughout my time of depression, having a new baby (which brought about coffee dates with other new mums but not much real socializing or dreaming about what life could become), I spent a lot of time washing the dishes, listening to podcasts. The Moth podcast from New York was one of my regulars*, listening to folks tell their true stories in 5 minutes in front of a live audience. It brought me laughter and I wept into the dishwater a few times, but it made me feel connected to the larger sphere of humanity in my loneliness. There was often a small fragment of each story or each session I could relate to, something that tweaked a string of my own tightly bound heart, loosening it up ever so slightly.
Last year, before I quit my day job which was supporting our family, before everything went into storage and before we ventured west with nothing but questions to ask ourselves, I had an encounter that got the wheels of my rusty mind moving. A young person was stabbed down the road from my work and ran into what use to be a working class Irish pub, seeking refuge and a bit of space to get his mates on the task of revenge. It was the first week of this new French gastro-whatever-eatery (I asked whether it was a new goth bar when I first walked by) and a hasty employee took to Twitter to make some horrendous statements about blood on the floor, etc. The Twitterverse exploded, attacking this employee, demanding a boycott of this new business. A friend of mine organised a protest outside so I wandered by after work to see what was happening. A handful of protesters stood outside with banners about ending social cleansing and the business owner was standing outside talking to them, looking a bit worried. I first chatted with my activist friend, not defending the idiot employee, but telling him that I did feel for the business owner, having grown up in a well-provided-for middle class home (dad worked his way out of the working class but we were very much still with one foot on either side of the gulf, I was just sheltered from many of the difficulties) and explained that I understand the short-sightedness of businesses cropping up, wanting to fulfill their own dreams, stepping on the toes of the long-term residents who may not feel welcome in their cafes/shops/galleries. I understand why it happens but I don’t excuse it. He was interested by my story, as a trusted friend, and it seemed to open him up a bit.
I then talked with the owner who apologized for his former employee who no longer was working there. As he explained, he welled up with tears, telling me that his brother had put his family’s home on the line for the business. If it failed they’d lose their home.
Just this brief 10 minute encounter with two polarised individuals left us all asking what can we do. I proposed holding a public discussion on gentrification and what it was doing to our community. Both agreed they’d like to take part. I came away from it bouncing, beginning to cry, knowing I could still be of use in my community. My head was spinning with ideas. But the time wasn’t quite right. Nor was the idea of getting people together in a shouting match, further dividing those who were at odds with one another. It needed to stew a bit longer.
I’m not sure if the idea came while sitting with my toes in the lake or while crocheting a terribly-done blanket with knots in the wrong places (it’s symbolic of my life, okay), but it struck me: telling our stories makes us more human in the eyes of the listener. Storytelling. Giving a voice to those who feel oppressed and unheard. Engaging the hard to reach listener.
A few short weeks later and I’m experiencing a ground swell of support for the idea of starting a storytelling project in E5. I am transformed inwardly. I’ve found a purpose again and a lifeline, a way to integrate myself into my beloved community. I’ve still got a zillion questions about life, but I think that’s the direction I’m going in from now on: questioning, learning, never fully knowing.
I’ve decided that growing up is less about becoming adult and more like becoming an inquisitive, creative, engaged child.
* I’ve actually got a Skype chat scheduled with the Community Program co-ordinator at The Moth next week!