Monthly Archives: June 2013

For the northside tree planters

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Because 90% of running is more of a mental battle for me (i.e., think about anything other than how far you have to go, how hot you are, how much you want to walk instead of run, etc), I find it helpful to latch on to a somewhat complex or deep stream of thought to occupy my mind between miles 1 and 2.5, which is typically when I get distracted or tired or whatever. I find that one of the best ways to do this is to listen to instrumental music, which doesn’t distract me with lyrics yet helps free up some creativity in my brain.

I was running in the woods and I started to think about being remembered.

I would consider myself a borderline archivist; I try to record everything. Jason used to refer to me as a mental exhibitionist. I take photos and post them to Instagram. I maintain three blogs, all covering different subjects and areas of my life. I post updates to Facebook and change my profile picture to suit the seasons. I’m not as integrated as some people are (never used Twitter! And! I don’t mean to.) but I think that I do use social media more than most of my peers.

Why, though? Oh, certainly there is this aspect of feeling much more comfortable sharing myself with the anonymity of a computer screen. After all, I get to think about what I say before I say it. I don’t have to worry about having a bad hair day or bad complexion day or whether or not I’m slouching or standing up straight or god knows what else. And for the record, I am slouching a little bit in my chair while I write this.

But I think I’m realizing that there is another aspect of this, a sub-conscious desire to be memorialized. There are people I don’t see every day or even every year, and I feel like I want them to be able to see me and my life as we evolve. And even though it’s public, in some ways I do it for me. I will go back and look at old photos when I want to remember something. I will go back and read old blog posts. I will go back and trace the lines from who I was then to who I am now.

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Sometimes, I’m awed and overwhelmed by the sheer speed at which we as human beings change. Maybe it stops at some point? I don’t feel like Jason has changed much physically since we met. He has changed in other ways, but he still looks the same to me.

However, I look at photos of myself from when we first met, or even photos of myself from our wedding day, and I am kind of amazed at how I’ve changed. Not just hair length or color or the type of clothes that I wear, but something that is a result of years of tiny, imperceptible change. The distribution of weight in my face. The fine lines quietly circling around my eyes from smiling up at a thousand suns. The settling of my bone structure, the slow forming of muscles from running ten miles a week and pushing wheelbarrows over our bumpy lawn.

And for whatever reason, I try to capture myself in transition.

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Last Saturday, my sister came down to Milwaukee and we hopped in my Honda Civic and made our way down to West Allis to get our noses pierced. This isn’t something on my bucket list, something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. I almost did it back in February when I was visiting a friend in St. Louis, but I’ve sort of shrugged it off since then. My sister decided that she wanted to do it, and it sounded like a fun (albeit slightly rebellious) adventure to have while I was still in my 20’s. So, we went. We had someone shove a very sharp needle into the side of our nostrils and then sat in my car with bleeding holes in our noses cackling like hens and taking smartphone photos of ourselves because, wow, look at us! We are new and exciting now. It was a lot of fun, and I’m already happy with the fact that I decided to do it. I don’t have any regrets, even if it makes blowing my nose somewhat challenging now.

As you recall, almost two years ago I chopped off the bottom 2/3 of my dreadlocks. It was a necessary and somewhat relieving change. Since then, I’ve been letting them grow out and felt happy with how healthy they are – hardly any loose or thin spots anymore. My hair grows faster in the summer, because apparently I’m part plant and need a good dose of heat and humidity, so I’m anticipating they’ll be even longer by the time fall rolls around.

The funny thing with dreadlocks is that they can’t necessarily be measured in length. That counts for something, but anyone with dreadlocks knows that the ultimate indicator of growth is weight. All of those millions of little hairs that you would normally brush out or fish from your tub’s drain stick around when you stop combing your hair. They get woven or tangled or mysteriously enmeshed with your locks. They pull hats downwards and lie billowed against my back and slowly sink towards the nape of my neck when worn in ponytails. I’ve never tried weighing my dreads before, but someday I would like to. Maybe when they get really long again.

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It’s both strange and fascinating to see photos of me (or mostly my hair) show up in random places all over the internet – Pinterest boards, Tumblrs, dreadlock websites…I’ll be searching for something and suddenly, there I am. Some stranger is inspired by me, and I get passed around the interweb for a few weeks or months. It doesn’t really bother me; I’ve never seen photos of me connected to anything negative or derogatory.

I’ve had a few articles from LHITBC reblogged by other bloggers. Which, honestly, that’s nice. A big part of what I wanted to do with that space was not simply to press “record” at any given point but to show that you can live in the city and grow a garden and cultivate good community and be a person of faith. Mostly, people are interested in my gardens – which is cool and funny considering 50% of what I’ve done this year has been riddled with bumbling mistakes. But hey, even that could be a lesson, could inspire someone.

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We used to sing worship songs about being legendary. Legendary for God, of course, but legendary none the less. I’ve had (and probably still have) somewhat deranged fantasies about being some sort of revolutionary. When I was younger, I think it was mostly being revolutionary for my faith – I would be some sort of crazy off-the-wall worship artist. Or, when I moved to the city, I imagined that people would write books about all of the intense stuff I did for people in poverty. When I took on a more liberal view about our system, I dreamt that I would lead some sort of charge against institutionalized racism or economic disparity. I would guerilla garden and free people from their dependence on the local Pick’N’Save’s overpriced produce section.

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And this has been a humbling year. It has been a year of mistakes, a year to learn the limits of what I can give and to accept that giving beyond that is not really giving. To understand that the cost of being a revolutionary is steep, and to realize that there is nothing wrong with just being a woman living on the north side of Milwaukee.

I gently reach out and try to find my boundaries, the things that define me. Ideally, I would like to live fully within them; not falling short and doing too little, and not constantly rioting outside of them by doing too much. I feel pretty level and balanced most days. I weed my garden and help manage a community garden and I have lots of amazing relationships that I try to invest in. I devote time to becoming a better person; to prayer and worship, to running and yoga, to sometimes just sitting still and breathing slowly. In my marriage, I walk the narrow lines of honesty and devotion and more and more I think I’m getting it right and I feel like we are changing and stretching together. Which is a nice feeling.

I do not want to make history anymore. I like to record things, but I want to hold that desire loosely. Because someday the phone I take pictures with will be obsolete. The words that I’m writing will sound juvenile. The person that I am now will not be around tomorrow. And just because I don’t record every moment of every day doesn’t mean that it wasn’t important. That it wont’ be remembered.

So as I ran through the woods on the north side, I looked at the little trees and remembered how, back in the 80’s, many volunteers came to this park and planted baby trees to try to heal the land. Most of them were children from the area, who would all be adults now. As I ran, I prayed a prayer of thankfulness for people I will likely never meet, for the people who planted these trees and made this park beautiful again.

I don’t know their names. I don’t know what they look like.

But I think that God knows these things, and I think that he treasures them. Somewhere out there are two grown men who may see each other once in awhile and say, hey, remember that day we planted trees on the north side? Remember how hot it was or how wet the ground was or how you put the tree in upside down? Remember your ugly shirt or your funny hair?

Or maybe a father takes his son to this park and says, look, look here. I was here. And here. I planted this tree, and that one. I changed something for the better by doing a very small act.

I think that’s a beautiful thing to strive towards.

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