On knowing your neighbors


On Thursday, after a long morning meeting with TCDP editor Mary Turck about the story I’ve been working on since February (finally done — hooray!), I was at home working on final edits and decided I should probably double check to see if I had forgotten about any major deadlines. Sure enough, looking back through my email I realized that I had promised TCDP arts editor Jay Gabler that I would write a preview, with photos, of the new Michele Spaise show at Intermedia Arts, which was to have its opening reception the next day.

Having only a couple hours before rehearsal for the play I’m in (Ex-Gays, which opens this week), I literally ran over to Intermedia Arts to take a quick look at the art. Out of breath, I met the artist soon after I arrived. Michele Spaise was at work for the exhibition. Though most of the art seemed to be hung, she had a group of photos on a table that she was examining.

After I introduced myself, Spaise took me on a tour of the show. I was struck by her sense of calm, her quiet energy. She told me that all of the photographs in the show were taken from the place where she lives — Whittier Cooperative, on Blaisdell Avenue.

It took me a moment to realize that I had just run by there. In fact, I usually walk by Whittier Cooperative a couple times a week on my way to Marissa’s Supermarket. There are always children outside, playing. I’ve felt, as I’ve walked by, that there seemed to be a strong sense of community there — people seem to know each other, not just at the building, but along that whole block.  

Spaise explained to me that the show was all about her personal journey living at that location, and the bonds that she’s found with the people living in her building. The show is about healing, and community, and having a sense of place.

Part of me wishes I could have a more rooted sense of community. I’ve never really been one to know my neighbors. I usually don’t go to block club parties or neighborhood meetings, unless I’m writing about them. Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, or because I’m so busy, or because I don’t stay in the same place for very long, but I definitely have never had a strong sense of being part of a neighborhood.

Still, I feel that being from and living in Minneapolis, particularly South Minneapolis,  makes up a large part of my identity. I’ve tried to live other places but I came back. I like the people here. I like the arts scene, the trees, the lakes. People here are a lot nicer than they are in Chicago, where I lived for three years. Plus, Minnesota has a strong history of being supportive of artists.

But lately, I’ve been feeling sort of down on Minnesota.  There’s this awful gay marriage ban the legislature deems important for the people of our state to vote on, and the Republican legislature is embarrassing all of us by their willingness to throw poor people under for the bus for the sake of millionaires. 

This play that I’m in right now, called Ex-Gays, is about a fictional camp where people learn how to not be gay anymore.  It’s a satire, but it’s scary how close to real life it is.  Just this week, Truth Wins Out published a story about an undercover reporter who was a client at Michele Bachmann’s husband’s clinic to be “cured” of being gay. People really do hate gays that much that they use the veil of fake science to “cure” people of something that is not a disease.  The clinic has received state and federal support, according to the article. 

It makes me think that maybe I don’t want to live here — if we pass this amendment, if arts support continues to dwindle, along with funding for education, health care, etc. Maybe I should find someplace else to live.

Or maybe Michele Spaise has the right idea. Perhaps I’ve been thinking too broadly. Perhaps it’s too much to try to search for your identity in the state you live, or even the city. What I really should do is start smaller, by meeting the people on my block.