Reflections on Storybombing

“I’m just going to call you Banksy,” the woman said smiling as she walked away as I snipped A2 map_adthe black cable ties from the iron fence on Rushmore Road. The woman had come out of her house near where a story shared by Sharlene had been displayed. She, like me, had no idea that the site of her home use to be an Adventure Playground in the 80s, teeming with young people doing things any insurance agent would get a fluttering heart over. She was like everyone else who had spoke to us about the project: delighted.

It was late Spring when the idea occurred to me: Storybombing. Turns out that’s a word that a) doesn’t exist, b) doesn’t sit particularly well with older people who were children during the war, c) people just don’t really ‘get’ due to not even knowing about ‘yarnbombing’ from which I adopted this new word. At any rate, people eventually came around to the notion and Co-conspirator Valerie and I ended up displaying over 40 stories across Lower Clapton for 10 days. We couldn’t have been more pleased- and surprised- with the results.

Stories were hung from shop windows (such as Elliot’s story about his favourite toy shop), community centres (June and Vera, originally from Jamaica, who have been active members for over 20 years), park benches (Sue who shared about a dark and difficult time), fence railings (a young Frances who remembers the old 38 bus being retired at its terminus), from bushes, in playgrounds, at a church, in front of homes and at a school. We couldn’t have done much more to hit different areas of our community more comprehensively. Even the majority of stories hung on public property remained for the duration of the street exhibition, though technically we were flyposting.

There were some interesting encounters with a couple local businesses which I will only disclose because I think they’re fairly representative of where our ‘regenerating’/’gentrifying’ community is at just now, and a big reason this project came about to begin with. Interestingly they both involved the same story, written by my own other half, regarding a social squat he was a part of several years ago. His story told of how these disused spaces had been reclaimed by a collective of people wanting to give an open space back to the community. There were classes offered for free, a free shop, a place to get a free hot drink. The space had two homes on Lower Clapton Road; one is now an upscale hair dresser, the other an estate agent.

I first went into the hair dresser and was greeted by people who represent the new face of Hackney. They would not, and could not as they maintained, entertain the idea of anything being hung in their windows as it was prohibited by ‘policy.’ I was welcomed to put the story down with their magazines, sure to get lost or to be taken away. I protested but they absolutely would not budge and, I felt, thought it was beneath their image to do so.

So off I trundled to the previous location, a newish independent estate agent, and was greeted by a nice enough guy. I explained the project to him, but he seemed to immediately recoil at the fact that the shop had not long ago been a squat. He wasn’t as into the irony of the situation as I was. He interjected to begin telling me about how community-minded they were as an agent: helping people find housing (affordability another topic!), offering advertisement for trades people and a community board. He welcomed me to display the story on the board, along with a litter of business cards and job adverts. I queried whether he would indeed be happy for people to come in off the streets solely to read the story, and he assured me it would be fine. It definitely wasn’t an exercise in openness on their part as far as I’m concerned, but it was better than nothing.

Both of these new businesses were so enamoured with their appearance they refused to compromise in order to do a good deed for the community and take part in something bigger than themselves. Ten days in the great scheme of things was too much for them to display a well-designed A4 in their window, though it would have brought them potential business and engaged residents who would never feel the welcome or ability to utilise their services due to financial constraints. It was so disappointing but sadly, a fair indicator of what our community is up against. Pair these encounters with the lack of response on the council’s part, though they are asking people to share stories of living in Hackney as part of their consultation, it doesn’t look great. On the flip side, there was also a lot of really good energy from other businesses, some long-time, some newer, so let’s not let a few rotten apples spoil things.

Removing the stories on the last day it really felt like we got away with something wonderful. I am already beginning to think about next year. If there were 42 stories in 2015, how many might we get for next year! My hope is that these stories will initiate conversations about Lower Clapton & Homerton’s past, current situation with mid-day shootings taking place as people dine on crepes, and where we go from here.

People who couldn’t visit the exhibition on foot have been able to view the entire tour online, and you can too. It’ll be left online to be viewed indefinitely. So check it out at http://arcg.is/1M68bCo

Reflections on Storybombing

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar

I’ve learnt, mostly thanks to this adventure of parenthood, that we humans are hard-wired for routine, both diurnally and seasonally. Being from southern California where the seasons are slight (I enjoy celebrating Christmas in a tank top and flip flops at the beach, thank you very much), seasons aren’t something to which I’m accustomed. We seldom benefited from a true rainy season even. Santa Ana dry winds and heat versus milder overcast days are what have forged my weather (in)tolerance for the most part.

Britain has introduced me to changes in weather, trees colouring then losing their leaves in a noticeable manner, distinct differences in light levels, and yet even here the seasons aren’t dramatic. Even so, I’ve come to identify more with annual changes both in myself and in the world around me. Come spring my body begins to unfurl like a new shoot, reaching towards every minute of sunlight (past 7am at any rate; I do not approve of 4:30am sunrise any time of year), feeling that invitation to grow more and achieve more in the long days. Winter can send me reeling a bit with the draw to the indoors, yet this has been helped by an energetic child who needs fresh air every day possible.

We can reflect on our days, when we work best, when we begin to tire. Times for creativity and times for hard labour. As a woman I can see changes in my monthly energy cycle and where I can best channel my efforts either looking towards a creative week or a more reflective few days. As a Mom I see these cycles most clearly on a minute scale from my child. She is a schedule stickler.

We’ve come to protect sleep times as otherwise the fallout is dangerous and has a knock-on effect for days to follow. We learned early on that children respond best to routine as they feel comfort in knowing what to expect next. When changes approach they need fair warning. I thought I’d be much more of a hippie free spirit when it came to parenting but she has taught me that there can be freedom in structure.

What’s the point. One of my biggest struggles for my whole life and most definitely on a spiritual level for the last few years since I’ve begun sharing my life with one other and now two other humans, has been discipline with my time. Spiritually this has meant that I’m feeling rather disconnected from the larger community of Jesus followers as I am particularly wired for community when spiritual practices are in question, struggling with an individualistic or personal faith, and also that I feel a disconnect with God. It’s been further impaired by being unable to find a church group where I have felt I could fully dig myself in for a variety of reasons.

My church background is varied. I’m a great friend of and critic of the church. As a community of people owning up to their own brokenness and enveloping others who have that same realisation, brilliant. As an institution of power, not so much. I grew up in an American Baptist church where my fondest memories are of the youth group which I got into nothing but trouble with and of the assistant pastor during my childhood who always gave me gum. I quit going to church when I was 16, basically as soon as I could get out of it, then I returned when I was 18 and my boyfriend started treatment for an aggressive cancer. You probably could have knocked my Mom over with a feather when I asked her to buy me a Bible. What I received was a lilac women’s devotional Bible. I marked it up most memorably when I read Paul’s seemingly misogynistic comments about women and that there would be no sea in heaven. Way to insult an aspiring marine biologist and opinionated woman. Again, future post.

In university I started going to an ’emergent church’ service which was part of a rather Baptisty congregation. People danced a bit and moved. They clapped. I could close my eyes and see angels, it was so fresh and gave me so much hope that following Jesus could be creative, fresh and fun. Unfortunately my college friends left when the annually cyclical nature of the messages became a bit tiresome, and they went to a Reformed congregation which could not be more different. It was staunchly Calvinist, violently homophobic, obsessed with having answers to prove our faith. Ah, yes and women were to remain perfectly silent, except perhaps for in childbirth which they seemed to think you should definitely partake in. It was the homophobia that sent me running for the hills when they laughed about a local gay-welcoming church burning down. I went to the next most obvious place: a charismatic megachurch congregation an hour away.

I was the least positive person in history about spiritual gifts including tongues and healing. It offended every inch of me, even though I had dabbled in witchcraft as a teen and welcomed spiritual manifestations like this where that was involved. It took time to break down my walls and open me up to something like this happening in a church and in Jesus’ name. Eventually I came around and spent the next several years seeing legit miracles and a lot of hype which I fell for hook line and sinker. Then humans worked their own dis-miracles on me and my entire construct of church crumbled. The pain of betrayal,fakery and harsh judgementalism rocked my faith, coupled with burnout thanks to some personal stuff which the church did not help me through and my exhausting efforts to assemble a bunch of wounded Christians who hated church but loved Jesus. And here we are.

What you might notice has not featured in my spiritual practices is tradition or liturgy. I could tell you, of course when it was Easter and Christmas, otherwise every day was the same. We had our own routines in church services but they seemed more spontaneous than scripted (although most were in fact quite timetabled). I could not get my head around sitting in a service and saying the same words each and every week or singing, God forbid, prayers from some heavy book. Now, I can see the poetry in it, and I can sense the comfort of the expected. My last two churches have been a crazy, fairly liberal Anglican church with an incredible sensation of peace and a fairly ethnically and theologically diverse United Reformed Church. Both welcome you with service sheets full of prayers and responses.

I’m not sold 100% on the rigid liturgy of these churches as they impose a hierarchy on who can do and say what when. They don’t allow everyone to contribute equally and on the spot. But there’s room for premeditated worship in my heart now. Knowing people through the ages have said the same words and that someone will say those words in another language on the same day bring me joy and that connectivity I’ve been missing. I just wish there was a contemplative, charismatic, left-leaning church for me and my like-minded pals. Too bad we’re rather scattered or we could form one.

This brings me to the crux of the post today. Finding myself a bit lost in the scale of the year, aside from the warm sun on my back, I am lacking the fluid connection to the larger gospel story as celebrated year-round. This is not something I’ve ever been good at. Lent? What the heck is that?! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT touch my chocolate! Pancake day? Sounds good to me, but what is the story behind it? I can’t help but feel that I’m being robbed of a reflective and mighty tool to keep me woven into the story of Christ and Christians throughout history and worldwide by not observing the seasons of the Christian Calendar. I am human, and therefore I am habitual, governed by seasons, by the sun and the moon.

So for the next year I’m going to endeavour, hopefully not too pitiably, to follow the Christian Calendar and to blog about it. I hope to explore it in relation to my spirituality, to creativity, to womanhood, to activism and whatever else tickles my fancy when the time strikes. I’d like to invite you to join me. Follow these new adventures via my new blog which I’m drawing a complete blank on for a creative title… vickieschellert.wordpress.com. I feel all grown up and exposed having a blog bearing my actual name! Please follow me on over and let’s see where this goes!

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar

Crumbling Lintels

wonky window
image courtesy http://myowntimemachine.com/2012/09/21/foto-friday-there-was-a-crooked-window-that-had-a-crooked-wall/

The lintel is wonky and every time we stick our heads out, it threatens to crash down on us. Those on the other side gaze up from under the sun with wary pause, afraid to look in and suffer a blow, the wall tumbling down with billowing dust and red brick.

The lintel is wonky and cracked. The pressure on the frame below became too much, cracking and sagging and crumbling. Hairline fractures turn to splinters and give way to cracking glass which held its place but not for long.

The lintel is wonky and chipping away with plasterwork meeting the ground below. Gaping holes begin to form in the surrounding walls, wide enough for a small finger; for daylight. The cracks spread upwards, outwards, with masonry disappearing, weeds assuming its place.

The lintel is wonky and giving way. The glass is now gone, giving way to birds and breeze. Floor boards warp ‘neath the puddles as clouds reflect their migration. The new air fills our lungs and outside voices dance in our ears.

The lintel is wonky and descending quicker, as children’s’ bouncing balls shudder the wall like a joyful jack-hammer fuelled by laughter. The tree sprouting from between crumbling floor boards stretches towards widening gaps in bricks, hungry for light and sky.

The lintel is falling and we all stand watching, aware that all that’s kept us from one another is history.

Crumbling Lintels

Beyond Sunday School

The thought of Sunday School for me evokes memories of white-skinned flannel figures wearing robes and cloths over their heads hung on a board perched haphazardly on a wooden stand. We children would gather around and look at the figures moving around the board stiffly as the teacher gave us a lesson based on some Bible verse or story. Zacchaeus would haunch over in a tree, Jesus would hold his hands to the sky, Paul would always look wise with his grey long beard. Did I mention they were all white? I also vaguely recall making crafts though I could not detail what was made nor what it represented even once. A lasting impression Sunday School left on me: an impression that it was boring and I’d rather have been sleeping.

There was a BBC documentary not long ago looking at the history of feminism (a subject that would have undoubtedly been derided within the walls of my former Sunday School, given their theology on the subject), visiting societal happenings involving women within Britain over the course of the years, touching on slavery, suffrage, representation and outright women’s rights. The presenter visited a working town set up in the Midlands in the 1800s or so where the workers spent long days in one mill or another, starting employment at an early age. The presenter began to tell of a woman whose name escapes me now who set up a society to ensure that children were granted an education during the great Victorian era of charity. From the presenter’s point of view, while it was not a strike for women’s rights intentionally, the organiser and the other women involved in this community activism made gains for the rest of us as they began to step out of the shadow of their husbands, to become figureheads in communities and social classes. They were empowered themselves as they began to perform charity for the poor around them.

The presenter, obviously not coming from a church background herself or just not that interested for the purposes of this documentary, didn’t dwell long on the ins and outs of these charitable organisations, however, she did make mention that these schools were the beginnings of Sunday School. The thought had never once occurred to me what the history of dull flannel graphs might be, but as a person greatly interested in the social justice side of my Christian faith and that of the church as a whole I found this provoking, particularly given my misgivings about Sunday School.

Sunday Schools were put into place as a means to educate an illiterate public of poor working class children and adults. It did have at its heart the aim of creating a more ‘moral society’ as people would learn from the scriptures themselves and cultivating ‘Christian behaviour’ was to be part of the classes, so there was a strong agenda of conversion which I’m personally not all that keen on given the way it’s been abused in the past and presently (homeless people should never have to sit through a sermon in order to eat). However, a new endeavour as set up by Jesus-followers to ensure that every individual is granted the access to knowledge equally is powerful in my estimation. It evokes in my mind the Genesis story where God puts Adam and Eve in a garden with a multitude of trees to eat from, perhaps here representing paths of life-giving choices they could make. They were also offered the opportunity to throw it all away and take a (mis)adventure into the unknown. They were given equal access to each choice, and Sunday School as originally established also gave children and adults who were never granted an education the opportunity to have more choice in life. It’s beautiful, it’s hopeful, and it’s risky. Unlike modern Sunday School, by the way.

Let’s ditch Sunday School as we know it. Not to recreate some whimsical, formulaic achievement from our past, but to achieve something greater.

May the church remember its spirit of adventure in investing itself fully and hopefully in the lives of others. May the church embrace creativity rather than stifling and boxed-in religious practices. May the church find new and exciting ways again to release the world we are part of from oppression, whether through giving us all equal access to knowledge and truth or doing something else equally empowering, both for the deliverers of such charity and recipients alike.

Beyond Sunday School

Brushes with Tipper Gore, or Music Appreciation

I was only 12 and had no idea what it meant let alone felt like to be horny. Yet there I was, in the line at Warehouse Records shyly palming Two Live Crew’s controversial single, wrapped up tightly in its shrink wrap sleeve, boasting a black and white label warning me that what I held was highly inappropriate. Mom was waiting outside in the car, a move I was surprised she accepted willingly, as I said I wouldn’t need long. I must’ve bought a Tiffany single alongside the offending merchandise in order to justify my time spent in the store.

After returning home I promptly tore into the crinkly plastic wrap that stood between me and everything Tipper Gore and the American Family Association railed against in that day. Oh sweet explicit lyrics here I come. I ejected whatever was in the double cassette player at the time, likely a blank cassette used to record from the radio and put in the single, turned the volume down and pushed play with a ‘thunk’. The crisp white noise of the cassette reel came over the speakers ahead of the song. And then, the naughty boys of the crew chimed in, merrily talking about their (s)exploits followed by a super catchy bass line, then, ooh… that’s exciting, groaning and moaning in the background and finally, the chorus got right to it: “Me so horny, oh oh, me so horny.” My gyrating bottom set to dancing and I giggled like only a mostly-innocent but aptly curious and rebellious pre-teen could. I would find a place to store the cassette, the most censored music I would ever purchase, and camouflaged it in Precious Moments type propaganda.

Music has always held an important place in my growth, as it has for most teenagers, songs, albums and musicians acting as shrines set up along my life path to mark passing events, preferences and moods. I never quite understood growing up why older people were stuck on the music of yesteryear. My parents listened to old-timey gospel tunes that caused them to slap their knees and sing embarrassingly out of tune. On occasion they’d also listen to what we called back then ‘oldies’ and a small part of their imagination seemed to flit off back to the soda shop which was an actual thing for them, not just a set for a film. Now, when I turn to an oldies station the music of my youth- MY YOUTH!- the 80s and 90s makes an appearance. Grunge alongside doo-wop for goodness sake! I am old and have no idea how I ended up here. Either that or ‘old’ is just something being brandished about by those young’uns like Britney Spears and …. Oh wait. She’s old too.

For the most part, the music of my teenaged years is pretty much all I listen to these days. I’ve gone through periods of re-acquaintance with recent music in sync with hard moments in life, yet the exploration of new music has very much become peripheral to everything else in life. I am those older people, set in my musical ways, shocked yet relishing the fact that at least the oldies stations recognise our contribution to music’s heritage, even if I don’t perceive it to be so long ago. To be fair, the hipsters are all about the 90s now which is kind of embarrassing, but then I did that when I was 16 and wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. Deadheads are kinder and more embracing souls than I am.

Brushes with Tipper Gore, or Music Appreciation

Slammed shut

There was a college picnic planned for the day my dad died and I was determined I would be there. I turned up a little bit late considering I’d driven the 2 1/2 hour journey that Sunday morning in a daze, having not slept particularly well the night before after taking the nurse’s call from a deep sleep. “Is this Vickie?” she confirmed. “Yes,” I replied blearily, sitting up in my parents’ bed which I was using after graduating college. Dad was in the hospital so obviously didn’t need it, and he didn’t live there then anyways, and mom preferred the guest room at that stage.

“I’m very sorry, Vickie, but your father has died.” I wasn’t overly surprised, though I had been prepared for him to live for some time longer in a relatively vegetative state, only communicating via nods and the occasional grunt. And through his eyes; He always communicated through his eyes- Such regret, such sorrow, but always that tiny little beam of sunshine in the corner of his iris that was my daddy. I had resigned myself some weeks before to being his carer as my mom shouldn’t have to shoulder his burden after what he did and it felt as if my sisters had washed their hands of him telling me he was my responsibility since he left them at an early age and had put me through university.

To be honest, what welled up alongside the tears that began cresting from my eyes was relief. The saga of my dad’s sin we’d wallowed in for years was nearly over. The ball and chain of having to be nurse to him, putting everything I’d worked towards over the last couple years on hold indefinitely, was brought to a sudden yet not surprising end at that moment when I answered the phone. He just died. He didn’t let us know he was going to leave, although it was inevitable it would happen. He just did, as suddenly as a heavy book being slammed shut somewhere in the middle.

Before hanging up I asked the nurse to call his girlfriend and let her know. I despised that woman, more as a scapegoat over the last few months’ unfoldings, but still, she deserved to know and to grieve. I would not invite her to the funeral, but she needed to find a way to say goodbye.

I got my mom up in the room down the hall and told her he was gone. She cried but I could sense the room fill with the same relief I’d experienced. The same for the calls to my sisters who took it a bit harder being so far away. Yet there it was. Finished.

As planned, I woke up that morning and somehow put myself together, knowing I’d cry most of the way down the Pacific Coast, then pull myself together for a bit of a distraction, however I really hoped that people would ask and hug me and let me let loose the hot angry tears and emotions I’d bottled up for most of the last five years. He was gone, he was a bastard, and I missed him. But I had missed him for years, even when I was sitting beside him.

People didn’t really know how to handle someone rocking up to a merry summertime picnic with such grievous news. It was almost like they doubted it really happened. Why would I be there of all places if my dad just died. The driving, south and back north, that was the most cathartic part of the whole day. It most always is.

As the smoke from his life cleared, we worked our way through the funeral details, the service to be held at my mom’s church, his most recent place of attendance and the only place who accepted him whole-heartedly, while challenging his destructive behaviour. We would have him cremated, put into a box – nothing too fancy – and transport him through airport security and across six states to take his place in his state of birth, beside his mom who he lost the year before. She was his first and probably his greatest love, undoubtedly the one woman for who he had unswerving devotion.

Slammed shut

Ubuntu

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. – Desmond Tutu

Ubuntu