MORE THAN WORDS: THOUGHTS ON CITY PRIDE

photo credit: CIMMYT via photopin cc

photo credit: CIMMYT via photopin cc

I’m torn. There are two conversations going on about my city. One is taking Instagram pictures of sunsets from rooftops, writing its love across the sky in the same pen and ink that has been used a thousand times over. The other is tracing its tough-love approach in the dingy windows of humming orange-hued streets, giving shape to critical messages this city hasn’t seen before.

It’s a dichotomy and yet a duality.

Surely there’s a more productive middle ground between critically tearing everything apart and blindly praising the shit out of it all. Before you pick a side, consider creating your own somewhere in the mindful middle. Take a little cheery optimism from column A and combine it with a realistic, thoughtful eye from column B.

A city’s people are the true foundation of its structure. We have the ability to affect great change–or not. It’s your choice. When the ground shakes, it’s the citizens that hold everything together.

Regardless of your preferred consistency of the concrete, don’t forget to pour it. Build something with it. Get your hands dirty. Words can be powerful tools for rousing rabbles, but if the rabbles never rouse –if all they do is recite the same racket and then relax–then all we really have here is some pretty window dressing and fragrant flowers planted around a weak foundation.

Get out there and make a ruckus, Fort Wayne. Not with only your voices but also with your hands.

IN DEFENSE OF THE EVERYDAY

photo credit: K8monster1 via photopin cc

photo credit: K8monster1 via photopin cc

There’s something to be said for celebrating the everyday. Several writers and artists have based their works on that very idea: that there is value in highlighting the common–the ties that bind us rather than those that make us exceptional.

Why, then, are we as writers so preoccupied with chasing down the next huge story? Or worse, rehashing those stories to the point of sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher? “Wah wah wah, I covered the same story everyone else did, proving my legitimacy as a writer, wah wah waaahhh!”

Where are the stories about everyday folks? I’m not talking about the “Fort Wayne Famous” people whose names and faces fill the lime light time and time again. I’m talking about people like your neighbor, your kid’s teacher, the woman volunteering at the Embassy Theatre every weekend–it’s those stories that inspire us and reinforce our sense of community.

Reality is constructed through our representations of life in art, culture, and words. If we’re ignoring the everyday, that representation isn’t very realistic, is it?

Now, this isn’t another prescription for “Write what you know.” Rather it is a call to celebrate the stories we may not otherwise hear because they weren’t “high profile” enough. A hidden gem is still a gem, beautiful and captivating. It just takes a little work to unearth it.

GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: BE PROUD OF YOUR FORT WAYNE ROOTS

Anita and Chris Homco were kind enough to lend me this photo of Fort Wayne's flag (yes, the Fort has a flag) hanging outside their home.

Anita and Chris Homco were kind enough to lend me this photo of Fort Wayne’s flag (yes, the Fort has a flag) hanging outside their home.

Preface: It’s no secret that I love Fort Wayne. I grew up in a tiny town full of the same type of people with the same background. When I moved here in 2008, Fort Dub instantly felt like home: somewhere that finally fit, somewhere I could stretch my legs, and somewhere I could love that might show me a little love in return. That’s why I don’t understand people who don’t appreciate and respect the city as much as I do. And so here’s the thing…

I’ve interviewed scads of people who went to school in Fort Wayne, grew up here, or lived here at some point in their lives. A disturbing number of these folks act like they’re ashamed of their roots, downplaying them or preferring not to mention them at all. When they tell their life stories to others, they’ll say they grew up in California or graduated from IU or Purdue (as opposed to IPFW).

How sad that must be to feel as if you have to construct an identity instead of embracing the one you built over the course of a lifetime. Rather than feeling as if you have the power to influence the perception of a place, the place is given the power to influence the perception of you.

But you, my friend, are not powerless. All it takes is a little bit of honesty–with yourself and the world–and respect for your own history.  “[C]hange your leaves, keep intact your roots,” urged Victor Hugo. The leaves cannot prosper without a healthy root system.

That analogy works for the city of Fort Wayne, as well. All of you who have moved away to different cities, states, and even countries–you are part of the city’s root system, part of its history. Acting like that’s something to be ashamed of makes you a blight on the tree. And maybe you don’t care about that… but then, I ask, why are you still reading this post?

How can we foster a sense of pride in Fort Wayne if people aren’t willing to go to bat for it? What happened to leading by example? And who says you can’t make a name for yourself in the world while being proud of your Fort Wayne roots?

The city is going through a rebrand of sorts. We’re investing in our downtown, communities, and citizens. We have more people than ever trying to make this a damn good place to live, work, and play. We’re working hard to change things from the inside; how about a little help from the outside? Imagine the boost these efforts would receive if former residents dropped this act of shame and instead adopted the attitude of brand ambassadors–not only for Fort Wayne but also for their own identities and histories. Give credit where it’s due. Anything else is a sham.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

TEN DOLLARS WORTH OF HOPE

After work yesterday, I saw him standing there on the corner of Wells and Superior. Even though the bright afternoon sun washed over him, he looked cold, as if he had been standing there for hours. He held a small cardboard sign with something written in faded ink. My eyes couldn’t make out the words. People motored by without even a glance.

Some invisible force tugged on my heartstrings. My car was suddenly parked in the empty car lot next to where the man was standing. I reached into my wallet and grabbed what little cash I had (I never carry cash, so even a little was a miracle).

“Good afternoon, ma’am!” he cheerfully said as I walked up to him. Fumbling for the right way to start the conversation, I blurted, “Do you need some money?” He stammered something I didn’t quite understand before acquiescing with a “That’s mighty nice of you, ma’am.”

“It’s not much, but it’ll buy you a warm meal or two,” I said as I handed him two five-dollar bills. Without even looking to see how much money was there, tears welled up in his eyes.

His voice cracked as he told me how he used to work full-time at the local General Motors plant making almost $20 an hour. Then the economy tanked, and he was laid off. He has been looking for work ever since, he said, but no one will hire him. I told him that I understood and hoped things turned around for him soon.

“God bless you, ma’am. Thank you. Thank you,” he said with a smile. He watched me get in my car and waved as I drove away.

Does this story sound familiar? Reflect back on the first time you extended your hand to someone just for the sake of it. Remember the power in that genuine expression of goodwill and compassion. That small moment of a single gesture. Now consider passing it on to kids around the globe.

My friends at Impact 52 are Kickstarting their first children’s book about one girl who experiences the power of that moment for the first time. Linnie Mae’s New Friends tells the story of “a young girl who, through a volunteer experience, learns that ALL people are people.” It’s a terrific picture book filled with images of my “second-hometown” Fort Wayne. I’m so excited for Aaron Brown and his family for the positive, compassionate message they are spreading.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith Wharton

Frustrated Volunteer Finds Pet Project

Impacts–positive or negative–tend to create a ripple effect on their surroundings. I have been impacted, and this guest post is my story.

Impact 52

When I moved to Fort Wayne in 2008, I knew I wanted to be involved with some type of community-minded group, but I had no idea where to start. Naturally, I looked to the internet. I found a few organizations that seemed to fit my interests and abilities, but every attempt at becoming involved was met with one wall or another.

One organization let me invest several hours of my time in their volunteer orientation process only to never contact me again. Another presented me with so many hoops to jump through before I could actually volunteer, it seemed easier to just donate money (which I did and never heard a word from them). Several other organizations never responded to my inquiries at all.

How frustrating for someone who just wants to help her community and make a difference!

That’s why I was elated to learn about Impact 52, a…

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