Finally, at the end of the day, on 10 x14 watercolor paper, with a handful of unfamiliar, trashy pens, too tired to resist, I sit down to write. Until now I’ve been pushing words out of me like that hot air gust in the doorway of a department store in the city. Pushing it out, pushing it out, that kind of writing. The kind where I have to make up something to say, just to be able to say I am writing. That’s the perspiration part of the creative craft.
What’s been missing is inspiration. And while it’s foolish (and impossible) to wait for inspiration, it is possible and sometimes necessarily to arrange for some. During my three week dry spell, I filled my life with experience. Not artist dates, not soulful hot baths or solitary treks in the woods. Experience. I threw myself into a community project that seemed to need me. Both the throwing and the project stirred up so much in me that I finally was driven to the page to express myself. Then all I had to do was listen and get it down.
Here’s my week: I spent four days cleaning out a local foods market that went out of business. I was on the board of directors, part of the group that had been helpless to do anything but watch it fail. A latecomer to the process, I still don’t know the whole story of why it failed, but I now know many other useful things to take with me going forward.
I know that I love being in food stores around foodies, hearing the stories of passion and commitment to produce sustaining and sustainable foods right here in the dirt we build our houses on. Those people are still here even as the store is closing its doors. There is still a need for a central community space for us to meet and inspire each other and work together to heal and strengthen our shared place.
On day two of this extravaganza of clearing and wheeling and dealing, of organizing and connecting people to things they needed, of trying to make things right in any way at hand, of being there and being the person everyone came to for direction and decision, before I could stop myself I blurted out to two other board members as we sorted through craft items and spice jars, “I could have managed this store.”
And I would have had fun doing it. And I would have allowed others to help me. I would have said yes to anyone who had an idea they wanted to bring to the community space. I would have said yes to baking heritage wheat bread, yes to having groups of school kids coming in and making pastry dough, yes to people using the basement for a meeting space, yes to health clinics, yes to political meetings, yes to business lunches. I would have picked a few staples items that customers could count on and always have them in stock. I would have told the Board we needed volunteers and welcomed them.
Why did I not step up? Because I didn’t hear the call until that moment, closing it down. I didn’t fully understand the strength and resources of the community until I met them coming in to pay their last respects and to shake their heads and ask their questions and voice their disappointment. And I didn’t fully know who I was capable of being or where my inspiration would come from until I found myself having fun in the midst of that great failure.
It might have turned out differently. I might have hated and regretted every minute of that herculean effort. I might have said to my partner, “Next time I’m about to volunteer for something like this, remind how much I’ve hated this.” But instead I said to myself, “Keep your antennae tuned for the next great possibility for this amazing community, because when the idea strikes, you’re going to have what it takes to pull it off.”
R.I.P. Barrels Community Market. You started something good in me, no doubt in others, too. May we overcome our brief defeat, learn from our mistakes and have the courage to create more wonderful, living things from what we have been given.