art and hospitality

Last week Anna Broadway wrote this delightful piece for Books and Culture about composing haikus at work.  As web editor for a company, much of her cubicle work involves writing short emails, and one day she began sending them in haiku form. 

Broadway admits that many of her poems might make real poets shudder, but she keeps at them anyway.  Her explanation resonated with me: 

"...while I want more really good poems to be written, I can't shake the notion that any art form—in order to thrive—must exist at all levels of society, even if quality of execution ranges widely."

Removing fear and the pressure to be perfect allows you to play with art forms, at any level, and recognize that you are honoring the imago dei as you do what you were created to do. 

That's part of why our family attended the Blackford County Arts Center Open House and Dedication over the weekend.  Our friend Dan has been instrumental in turning a hundred year old storefront in the next town over into a community space for art, music, and writing classes and events. On the morning after the school shooting in Connecticut, Dan and Jack spent several hours clearing debris out of the space, preparing it for renovation. In an email promoting the Arts Center, Dan wrote:

"During that time, many debated gun control and mental health awareness and other issues. I felt that the best thing I could be doing where I live is working to provide a place made for the appropriate expression of anger, frustration, alienation, and more--a place where a person could come and transform his or her pain into something positive: pottery, music, painting, poetry. I believe that our communities need these places as much as ever."

Investing in local community doesn't always come naturally to me - I live inside my own mind far too much, and I'm not a very social person - but I am trying to be more intentionally involved where I can.

Anyway, this is a long introduction to the fact that I've written an essay about creating and fostering the spirit of creativity - about how hospitality makes art possible.  It's about my experience visiting Paris at sixteen, and about my life in Indiana now.  The essay, "Barefoot Places," is up at the Art House America blog today, and I do hope you'll read it

 (PS - There you will see a picture of teenage me, wearing a beret, wishing to be a bohemian.)

do we stay, or do we stay?

Maybe we could live here?

The search for a house to buy has left me in all kinds of emotional places this summer.

At the beginning, I felt stable and steady, ready (after two years of renting) to make a commitment to live here for at least five more years - the longest commitment to a place I’ve made as an adult.

As we made offers on our first house, and then our second, the possibilities excited me.  In the first, we would have been right next to campus, committing to the student community, planning to host students in the extra bedrooms. In the second, we would have been moving to a nearby city, near some of our best friends and next door to a community garden.

When we didn’t get the first house I was mildly disappointed.  When we didn’t get the second house I cried.

Making our third offer, on the little old bungalow with a lot of land, I was cautiously optimistic and ready for the work that the house and property needed.  Then the inspector told Jack, “This house was built to destroy itself,” and I sighed, but my eyes stayed dry.

I began to wonder, though, if we just weren’t supposed to be buying a house.

Last week we walked through a house that’s pretty perfect for us.  It fits our aesthetic, being a 90 year blue farmhouse with a bay window and a sweet attic bedroom, and it’s in perfect shape.  It’s in a great location, across from preschool and down the street from the public library, and still within bike-able distance from campus. The price is right - actually better than right.

But for some reason its very perfection has landed me right back in my old existential quandary.  

See, this house has no challenge.  It’s too good.  We move in, and I’m like, “What now?”   

I don’t think I can last here if we move into this house, and just keep raising our kids and teaching our classes and investing in our church.  I could do it for three years, maybe, before I died of boredom. I love my life, and I'm thankful for it, but I also want something harder. Not that raising kids is easy - it’s completely exhausting - so maybe by harder what I mean is riskier, something to force me away from the complacency I so easily fall into, some work to keep me from acedia.

Dad suggests that my next “adventure” doesn’t have to be related to my house - that it can be relational, for example, or that I can venture into writing more. And those are good things, and I wonder why they don’t excite me like they used to.  I know there’s a good chance that I’m just avoiding the discipline of the quotidian mysteries - that I want to be challenged by something big but not by the daily work of intentional parenting, personal bible study, and practiced writing. 

Or maybe raising children is too emotionally demanding for me, and so I shy away from more emotional investment. The challenge I want now is a physical one.  I want to dig and compost and plant, or I want to tear down walls and learn how to put up drywall.  I want to make a hospitable place for people, a physical place,  while my heart it seems is not that hospitable.  I want to do something with my hands this time, something that restores beauty and provides for community.

But maybe the riskier thing is the emotional thing, the faithfulness to daily work sort of thing. And if we buy the good little house, that’s what I’ll decide I’m supposed to do for now. And even if we don’t buy the good little house, I do know that’s what I’m supposed to do.  I just wonder if I could do more, too.

Java Cafe in Phnom Penh is my very favorite coffeeshop
So here is the one crazy thing we’ll explore first.  It’s an old red brick building in “downtown” Upland (we have about one block that counts as downtown, and it’s very in need of revitalization).  Right now the building is used as four apartments.  We’ll walk through it Monday, and see if we could imagine ourselves living in a second floor apartment, renting some others, and remodeling them one at a time, maybe even eventually remodeling the first floor into a coffeeshop or an artist’s collective.  That’s something I could stick around for, and we have all the right friends to help us with it.  I can imagine community being strengthened as we and our friends work on it together, and community being developed as we help bring life back to this little downtown, and  beauty being restored to an old building whose time isn’t up yet.  It’s the kind of idea that’s been fascinating to me for a while now.

I also imagine financial disaster, and being stuck with an unsellable building, and wanting to move overseas and not being able to. But you know, owning a coffeehouse has been in my life plan since I was seventeen.  We at least need to investigate our options.

An existential crisis of this sort is a luxury, and I know that.  Most people in the world have to work too hard just to have food and shelter to have any energy left for these top-of-the-pyramid problems. But if you had asked me at 17 if I had a life verse, I would have told you, “To whom much is given, much will be required,” and that I’d been blessed “to be a blessing”.  

Whichever way we go, I will not be complacent with the blessings I've received.  I hope.