Posts in cincibility
Primary and Secondary Purpose

At a recent celebration of a past teacher of mine, a keynote speaker told a story of a purpose.

A city dweller had purchased land on a whim in the countryside and had forged a connection with the farmer next door. Knowing little about farming, but having an insatiable interest in growing things, he bought the land and got to it. It was hobby project, not his livelihood– a summer home of sorts, but one that brought him such joy to experiment in planting crops and flowers.  And as it happened, the farming adventure led to a friendship with a seasoned farmer next door who was willing to offer practical advice, lend tools and assistance, and guide the city dweller in his fantastical efforts.

Years passed and the farmer’s wife passed on as well. Now much older, unable to care for the land into his old age, or keep up with the maintenance of the farmhouse, and the farmer found himself preparing to move into an assisted living home in the coming weeks.  His beloved land was was being auctioned off as well as the farmhouse and most of its possessions.

The city dweller purchased some chairs from the auction and went one day to collect them from the house. The farmer, happy to see his friend before his move, remarked that he was grateful that someone he knew and cared about was taking the chairs. Surprised by this, the city dweller inquired why this was. They were nice, solid chairs, but certainly not heirlooms pieces.  What was it about the chairs?

The farmer said that the chairs primary purpose of course was for sitting and that they were very good and sturdy for that purpose, and that over many decades those chairs had served he and his wife well in that regard.  Sure, they had some knicks and scratches and marks from time, but their remaining days certainly outnumbered his own. Their significance was not in the primary purpose of the chairs, but their secondary purpose. And that was that they brought he and his wife together each night, to reflect on their days, which turned into weeks, which turned into years, and their lifetime together.  The chairs provided a space for togetherness, for pause and conversation over a lifetime.

He said the chairs held memories of his young pregnant wife, of her as a new mother nursing their children, of them watching storms dance across their fields together as a family. He said the chairs were where he became a grandpa, nestling a new grandchild and meeting each other for the first time, completely enamored.

The chairs held precocious children (and numerous more grandchildren) in pouty time-outs, and children nestled on grown up laps reading stories next to the Christmas tree, and children’s coloring books and crayons which often missed the pages and made their presence known on the wood. The chairs had been the backbone of forts and caves and castles through the years with linens and sheets and blankets and doilies strewn across the top. They’d been the trusty accomplice, a partner in crime to reach the top cabinets in the kitchen where the treats were hidden from sight. The chairs held the occasional household cat over the years – and stacks of books and magazines that were read or sometimes just collected upon them to keep the cats off.

The chairs, he said, had held friends, tipsy from summer porch beers and eyes wet from laughter, and sometimes held them safely until the next morning when they’d gather their senses and keys and head home. The chairs had held his wife, sick, with an afghan blanket around her as her remaining days dwindled. The chairs held visitors paying their respects after his wife died, friends who had travelled near and far to share a memory, and to hold his hand.

The farmer remarked that the chairs of course we’re just a place to sit, and that the city dweller would find them to be adequate for that use – sturdy, reliable. That was their primary purpose of course, sitting, but their secondary purpose was to gather and that they had served him well throughout his lifetime.

I listened the speaker telling this story, shifting uncomfortable in a folding plastic chair in a high school gymnasium and wondered about this notion of primary and secondary purpose. How many objects and things are utilitarian, and we miss the underlying secondary purpose of their everyday existence in our life? How many people are utilitarian, and we miss their underlying secondary purpose of their everyday existence in our life?

We talk a lot about the purpose of jobs and Starfire’s approach to helping people with developmental disabilities in becoming employed.  We’ve been successful in this work – helping well over thirty different people find unique jobs that fit their skillset and their limitations.  From IT to marketing to gardening and hospitality services.

The primary purpose of any job is to earn a paycheck and to fill up one’s time, to have something to do.  But the primary purpose of employment isn’t why we’ve supported people with disabilities in finding a job and working to help them keep it. The secondary purpose is the driving factor behind this work of finding work.  The secondary purpose of working for many people with developmental disabilities is more important than the primary. To fill one’s time is fine, necessary even, but not if that time is filled with meaningless, disrespectful, devalued tasks.

Do we find jobs just to find jobs?  The answer has always been a resounding no. The secondary purpose of work and Starfire’s work of finding employment has been in the nature and potential of relationships.  In becoming a coworker, having a role within a team, being needed, being known, making a contribution, and perhaps in some places, and perhaps over time becoming a friend.

Sure, a chair is a place to sit. But the farmers story tells us that its secondary, and perhaps true purpose, is providing a space for human connection.

Sure, a job is a place to earn money.  But perhaps its secondary- and true purpose in relation to our work of community building- is providing a space for connection as well.  An additional avenue for people with developmental disabilities to be known, be seen, be valued, be accepted, be challenged, be needed, be respected.

Guardian of the Light
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-Campfire Girls Award ~ 1925

I found this proclamation at an antique store a few years back and immediately purchased it to bring home to the Starfire office. It isn’t widely known, but Starfire’s origins date back to Campfire Girls here in Cincinnati before our inception as “Starfire” in 1993. As our history tells, the scouting organization was inclusive to people with and without disability – a vision of inclusion we hold still today.

Through my investigation, it seems that the Guardian of the Fire award was given annually to a leader who exemplified the values above. And we love the wording and imagery it creates.

(We’ve subtly used the campfire as a central image of connectedness and goodness a few times, too.  Like in our video here)

Over the years, Starfire has given awards to recognize leaders of inclusion in Cincinnati.  These awards have been given to outstanding volunteers, paid staff, family members, and people who disabilities who have given back to the community in some extraordinary way. This year, we are proud to bestow the inaugural Guardian of the Light Award to recognize a person in the community who has furthered the work of inclusion, heightened the imagination of what’s possible in our communities, and lives these values through action.

This year, Starfire will recognize Cary Brodie, who has shown a deep and consistent ethic of inclusion. Cary has been working to restore a half acre of woods in Madisonville that was given to the Park Board by Myron G. Johnson Jr. in 1972.  The land had fallen into disarray, overgrowth, and a de factor trash dump.  Cary, along with neighbors, spearheaded weekly cleanups, removal of invasive plant species, and land clearing to make it bird friendly again. In doing so, Cary has brought together dozens of neighbors from all walks of life – young and old all willing to work towards the vision of a beautiful restored space in the neighborhood.

Before and after photos of the changes in Johnson Woods.

Before and after photos of the changes in Johnson Woods.

It is because of her vision, and her hard work and inclusive spirit, that Starfire bestows the Guardian of the Light Award:

It shall be thy task to keep the newly kindled fire alight;
To know the earth, the sea, the stars above; 
Hold happiness; seek beauty; follow right; 
Offer a friendly hand to all who ask; 
And, day by day, 
Lead sister feet along the golden way—
The road that leads to work and health and love.

Join Starfire at our 2019 Annual Celebration Friday, September 20, as we honor Cary and all those who have built inclusion this past year!

Buy tickets (kids free!) to our 2019 Annual Celebration >>

All photos courtesy of Johnson Woods Bird Sanctuary on Facebook

The World of Lolita, a Japanese Street Fashion

 When Carole and I became community building partners I had never heard the word “Lolita.” Beyond the word there is this beautiful culture that I was completely unaware of. If Carole were to relay a story of her first time telling me about Lolita she would probably laugh remembering my attempt to repeat what she said. She would continue by telling you about how she patiently began introducing me to a world and culture that she is so passionate about.

If you have never heard of Lolita I will try my best to introduce you in a few words. The dresses are inspired by Asian culture and have a vintage flair. It is also referred to as Japanese street fashion. They have sweet, feminine details like lace, frills and ribbons. Accessorizing is also important. Shoe choice, tights, jewelry and hairstyle pull together the look. It’s not a style that you would wear to a job interview or to school, but rather to express a feeling of joy and happiness through fashion design. Each dress is a work of art.

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The more I thought about Lolita the more I realized the unique power within the community.

Our job as community building partners is to meet people who share similar passions with Carole. It’s obvious as soon as two Lolitas meet each other. They have a powerful sense of self and a desire to be independent of how society defines beauty. This deviation from society’s definitions allows for a more inclusive world - I had never heard or seen anything Lolita related, and wherever we are, whoever we meet, I am welcomed by someone new who is thrilled to introduce me to her passion. Creativity radiates from their soul. It is beautiful.

So began my journey in collaboration with Carole to create regular, inclusive events among this fashion world that would hopefully draw beginners and experienced fashionistas alike. Carole worked to create a Facebook event, a tea party and lunch, that drew in three interested women. The second event drew in five women. It is Carole’s leadership and sense of self that brought these women together. Often it isn’t easy to leave your comfort zone and meet up with people you don’t know. Our brains can be pretty unforgiving imagining all of the things that might go wrong. But she persisted. We planned events that didn’t go as planned and she was willing to come back to the table, brainstorm, and keep working toward her goal. She has been successful in making multiple new social connections, and it is due to her intentional networking that the connections continue to grow into closer relationships. 

What we learned in collaboration with each other are lessons that can’t be taught in a book, at a conference, or in a class. It takes bravery to meet people and experience that unique joy you feel when you connect with people who share your same passion. People are waiting to be asked about their gifts. Don’t be afraid to ask. What if Carole hadn’t brought these wonderful, brilliant women together? What if I had never learned the word Lolita? That one word has enriched my life and I’m better because of it.

cincibilityKatie Anderson
Timeless Way of Building – Italics Only
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Christopher Alexander’s book, The Timeless Way of Building, is one of my very favorites.  It is primarily seen as a book about architecture, but is also a book about a way of life.  Alexander wrote the book in a beautiful way, with one or two lines in italics that sum up the general principals of his thinking, followed by un-italicized prose that dives deeper in the specific applications to architecture and design.  He suggests reading the italicized parts first, then going back and re-reading the entire book, which can be accessed in it’s original form, but digitized, here: https://archive.org/details/TheTimelessWayOfBuilding/page/n2

At the risk of breaking up the pattern, I was interested in a version that was italics only, for ease of reading, and so converted the PDF to the following document, and edited out the un-italicized portions.  I told a few people about it and they asked if I could share it and there seemed to be interest, so here it is!

In the transition from PDF to text, some of the translation ran into trouble, so I reformatted any typos that popped up.  In particular, commas were translated as “y” or “-“…and there were many cases where “p” was interpreted as “f.”  I think I’ve caught all of these, but it is possible a few remain.  If you discover any of these in your reading, please email me at tim@starfirecouncil.org orteevee999@gmail.com and I’ll make the edits.  There are also a few italicized lines that I edited out as they referred specifically to pictures in the book, which were confusing as I read them.  I think there might have been only 3 or 4 instances of this and I left any that referred to pictures but also contained narrative included.  If you have better ways of thinking about this or suggestions  – add the pictures? – that is welcome, especially if you are willing to work on it.

Enjoy and please remember that this is no replacement for reading the whole book.  This is simply a way to get started into it and I created this in deepest respect to Christopher Alexander and the content, which never is far from my mind as a constant inspiration.

Here is the link to the PDF:

Timeless Way Italics Only

enjoy!

Moving Boulders

In 2011, I was at a conference around disability and inclusion in Toronto.  On the day I arrived, I walked into a shared hospitality room for conference attendees.  There was a young woman at a table by herself, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down with her.

I introduced myself, but she didn’t respond verbally, so we sat there together while I drank my coffee.

A few minutes later, an older woman came in who knew her and joined us.

The older woman pulled out a laminated piece of cardboard that had the letters of the alphabet printed on it.

She introduced herself to me, and I introduced myself to her.  Then she used her hand to guide the hand of the young woman around the letterboard, slowly spelling out an introduction.

We had a nice little conversation, with the older woman alternating between responding herself and guiding the hand of the young woman to respond and participate in the conversation.

Over the first two days of the conference, I noticed how these two women went to sessions together, and how the older woman would spell out answers and thoughts by guiding the young woman’s hands.

It was a new experience to me, and while I’m not proud of it, my perception and understanding at the time led me right into judgment.

I perceived the older woman as some kind of ambitious staff, showing off and manipulating the young woman, who to my eyes, was clearly nonverbal and autistic.

It seemed incredibly bold and supposing of her to commandeer this young woman’s body and essentially force thoughts and conversations that, again, in my limited understanding of the world and autism, clearly weren’t there.

Why on earth would someone pretend like a person with an intellectual impairment could think through a conversation?  And why would they take it to the extreme of typing out fake conversations?

It perplexed me and went against what I thought was the reality of the situation.  I was sure of it:  This was some kind of pushy political correctness.

On the morning of the 3rd day of the conference, however, these two women came into the session I was in.  We all went around the room and introduced ourselves, and the older woman introduced herself as the mother of the younger woman.

I was stunned.  All of my judgment crumbled.  All of sudden, I was no longer witnessing an ambitious staff who was showing off and pretending something was there that wasn’t.  I was witnessing a loving mother doing her damnedest to bring her daughter’s voice into the world.  I was seeing a level of patience and devotion that I couldn’t even fathom.

I spoke to them a few more times throughout the conference and was grateful for the example of both of them.  I started to ask myself how much it mattered whether or not the mother was actually spelling out the daughter’s thoughts.

After all, she was simply helping her daughter participate in healthy and positive conversations.  She wasn’t spelling out “Can I buy some drugs?” or “Do you want to fight?” or anything dangerous.

I left feeling like my judgment of those two was totally misplaced, and with a deep appreciation of that mother’s intention and attention to her daughter’s social presence in the world.

Two years later, in 2013, I watched the film “Wretches and Jabberers” as part of a local film festival.

The movie follows two men, Larry Bissonette and Tracy Thresher, as they travel the world. They are both autistic and use typing as a way of expressing their thoughts. In the first few scenes of the movie, they flap they their hands and pace around rooms and repeat phrases that seemed typically “autistic” to me.   Soon though, they begin typing to each other, and share profound, insightful and relevant thoughts that reveal their underlying intelligence.

My mind was blown.

Up until the moment they started typing, I never assumed that anyone who was autistic was also intelligent.

I thought back to that mother and her daughter, typing out her thoughts, willing her voice into the world as best she could.

A few months after I first watched the movie, Larry Bissonette actually came to Cincinnati for a visit.  We were fortunate to host him at Starfire and 30 people showed up on a Saturday morning to hear Larry’s thoughts on the movie and the world.

Larry told some of his story, and in between typing on his iPad, would stand up and pace, or move his hands or say a few phrases over and over.  He did that a few times throughout the morning, and then would return to typing.

He and his facilitator, Pascal, told the story of how Larry studied and practiced a sort of mindful, meditative focus that allows him to move his fingers enough to type out his thoughts.

They described starting with Pascal’s hand over Larry’s hand, and over the years, moving Pascal’s hand up Larry’s arm.  Over 20 years later, a simple touch on Larry’s shoulder was usually enough to help him focus on typing.

In the movie, Larry seemed most happy with his painting, which he does in a swirling playful style, using his fingers to create landscapes and scenes with lots of different colors. He showed pictures of his paintings and took questions from the audience.

One of the first questions Larry fielded was if he prefers to communicate with typing or through painting.

I will never forget his response.

Pascal touched Larry’s shoulder, and his body seemed to settle in.  He began typing:

“Painting is like flowing water, typing is like moving boulders.”

I’d never considered before the movie and that visit with Larry that not only were autistic people intelligent, but they were also aware of the struggle of being trapped in a body that didn’t regulate itself the way mine does or that most people’s bodies do.

I, like nearly everyone else throughout history, just assumed that these people were autistic, and that being autistic meant that you were just a person with random behaviors detached and unconnected to human thought.

In a way I considered autistic people almost non-persons. People who weren’t really human at all, but some sort of broken, confusing combination of random actions and behaviors.

That visit and that movie had a big impact on me.

I started to believe that a better, more respectful and hopeful way forward was to assume that everyone had the same degree of awareness, however they showed up.

I also started to question why I needed to have a certainty that someone was intelligent and fully present in order to treat them with dignity.

After that visit from Larry, I went on a sort of “autism apology tour,” telling autistic people I knew that I was sorry if I had ever treated them as if they didn’t matter or understand.

I remember a few people kind of nodding and walking away or giving me some sort of affirming noise, which left me convinced that there are more people like Larry in the world.

How many people are trapped in the social ramifications of autism, surrounded by people harboring these outdated assumptions about them?

Larry’s metaphor continues to be one of the most powerful things I’ve ever learned.

Can you imagine what it would be like moving boulders every day, just to get your thoughts across?  What must it be like to experience a total lack of understanding by everyone around you?

Larry went from being someone who I previously would have completely dismissed, discounted and disrespected to somebody that I think of as a black-belt-ninja-Jedi-master-badass-boulder-buster who has honed and disciplined his body and mind in a way that is deeply admirable to me.

In 2015, I was fortunate to visit a few autistic people in Madison, Wisconsin, and their support staff.  All of these people are learning about this emerging story of autism, guided partly by the work of Martha Leary and Anne Donnellan (Autism: Sensory-Movement Differences and Diversity).

Through that visit, I came to understand some people on the autism spectrum as having more of a physical disability, in that their brain doesn’t regulate itself or the body in the same way it does in neurotypical people.  That dysregulation appeared in the way that we see autism:  repetitive movements in the body, which may be a way of the person attempting to regulate, or in some cases, taking a well-earned rest from the grind of “moving boulders.”

Shortly after that visit, a blog post titled “Why I Left ABA” was published.

Reading it was shocking, linking to articles and videos where autistic people describe scary and abusive methods used on them to control their minds and bodies.

I couldn’t help but contrast Larry’s approach, which he chose and committed to of his own volition, to that of ABA therapy, which is forced upon autistic people, sometimes by their own parents in their confusion and hopes for anything that might help.

To me, it seems to be the difference between freedom and coercion, between safety and danger, and between dignity and degradation.

Over the past few years, I’ve been privileged to hang out with a few families who have started down this new path early in their child’s story.  They are investing in Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) and a brave and burgeoning community of families is emerging here in Cincinnati as a result.

Here’s a 60 Minutes story on the first explorers in this world:

And you can check out some samples of the progress people are making here.

They describe it as life-changing.

Young autistic people speak through their letterboards or tablets, typing out their thoughts, slowly “moving boulders” and showing us a brighter and better future.  They talk about hopes and dreams, and they describe the hurts they’ve experienced.

Some of them describe their time in ABA as a form of torture.  Some of their parents have expressed a deep regret in subjecting their children to it, even for a few years, not knowing anything else was possible.

These families still face incredible headwinds. They are footing the bills for RPM themselves because, unlike ABA therapy, RPM isn’t covered by insurance.

And they tell stories of being discounted by therapists and teachers and other social workers, who consider RPM to be a form of voodoo, or, like I initially did with that mother and daughter in Toronto, a fake kind of exploitative puppeteering.

Their judgment is rooted in the same place mine was: in the faulty and mistaken social assumption that autistic people are unintelligent, and in the related and even more disturbing cultural assumption that it is OK to ignore or treat people we perceive as unintelligent poorly.

I recently sat down with an impressive young man who I have come to admire deeply.  It’s impossible not to notice how he moves around a room, with a quick slight dance.  He sometimes twists a length of string in his hand.  His eyes look around the room while we chat and he doesn’t speak in the way that most of us do.

But the words he types are clear and critical for us to hear.

He is concerned for the future of our planet and hopes each one of us can find small ways to make a difference before it’s too late.  He, like Larry, he is deeply intelligent and thoughtful.  Also, like Larry, he faces a world that judges him from the outside, and is quick to ignore him.

Somewhere in one of our conversations, we talked about faith and I asked him if he practiced any particular religion. He responded by typing out that he places his faith in people truly listening to each other.

He then typed “I have noticed a connection between people who easily believe in God, but have a very hard time to believe in me. LOL. ”

I was struck by how profound that insight was, and also how heartbreaking it must be for him, and what a tragic loss it would be if we can’t find a way to create the space for this brilliant young voice to be heard.

In one of our conversations, he typed to his mother “This guy gets me.”  I don’t think I’ve ever had a better compliment.  I’ve worked hard to let go of my own misperceptions and assumptions, and it’s an honor to have that recognized by a black-belt-ninja-Jedi-master-badass-boulder-buster.

Snapshots

“I hope, wherever you come from, 
there is someone who holds your story. 
Someone who remembers you when you 
were knee-high to a grasshopper.”  
–excerpt from “Who Holds Your Story” by David Pitonyak  
 
As a writer, I tend to notice, document, hoard interesting bits of human lives into my brain, and save them in a private stock pile like a squirrel. Small notes in my phone for later, scrawled reflections or observations in the margins of agendas, notebooks. In my phone is a running tab on observational human behavior that I found interesting, troubling, curious.

There was the man at the YMCA who swam wearing multiple gaudy gold rings and splendid gold chains tangled in his thick, salt and pepper chest hair. Back and forth in never ending breaststrokes, his jewelry would catch the sun in the overhead pool skylight and glint across the lanes. 

There was the exasperated mom I overheard in a coffee shop lamenting to a friend that her daughter was going to lose her full ride if she didn’t get her shit together and get over that eating disorder phase.

The single mom at the airport force feeding a breakfast sandwich to her three children, alternating bites like baby birds in a nest as the TSA line inched up. 

The post on a neighborhood Up For Grabs Facebook page offering used, natural deodorant, with the disclaimer that it caused a rash. 

While these anonymous observations are collected innocently for no apparent reason, other than what it shows me about the curious nature of humanity, there’s a distinct difference in documenting lives of people we know, people we support, people we provide services to more intimately. 
 
One of the more challenging conversations we’ve had at Starfire over the past year is the importance of storytelling and the delicate line we must tow in telling someone else’s story. The question of “who holds your story” tugs at me and is especially important for nonprofits to consider.  Are we crafting people’s stories to fit our own purpose? How do we, as nonprofit leaders, as social media marketers, as fundraisers and donor relations professionals and grant writers, as public relations professionals, share a story that is honest and truthful and respectful and genuine?  How do we tell the truth of the matter, give real life context, without violating the depths of someone’s personal experience with trauma or pain? 


Furthermore, should the holder of someone’s story be a human service organization? Is a family’s story held sacred when it’s also needed for grant reports and to leveraging funding? Where is the line? How do we know if we’ve crossed it? 
 
Starfire uses “a secure online database powered by University of Cincinnati Center for Clinical & Translational Science and Training” to document and measure the outcomes of our work. That’s how we put it in grants. Of course, this is important to do: is what we say we are doing getting done?  Are people with disabilities becoming more connected to the community?  Are people with disabilities finding jobs? Are creative projects being launched?  Are we taking people with developmental disabilities lives seriously with our time together?  But there’s also the real story of our work that documentation simply cannot tell. Things like: spontaneity, intentionality, beauty and creativity. Or the opposite – intolerable experiences like getting tangled up in “service snafus” or emergency respite or litigation. 
 
Internally we wrestle with how to share this work – the behind the scenes work of Community Builders, the brave first steps in creating a project, and the new work of supporting families leading creative projects in their own communities. We send emails and newsletters and produce Annual Reports, produce videoslead trainings, launch podcasts, and write blogs. We make a commitment each time: to honor each person’s story truthfully, delicately, and with the expressed permission and participation of those sharing their lives with us. Because these stories don’t belong to Starfire. Sure, our fingerprints are all over the scene, but they aren’t stories that we as a nonprofit organization can hold. These stories are held by people – as ordinary as you and I, stories that are held by moms and dads and brothers and sisters, coworkers, neighbors and friends. A snapshot in time celebrating the struggle of making something good, something more, happen together in the world. 

 

Related Posts:  

Case Files and Memories 

Beer   
 

Bonsai

How it came to be decided that bonsai might be a pursuit is a longer story.  But, we found ourselves one morning Googling bonsai, and given Becky’s previous work with fairy gardens and love of plant life in the miniature, it seemed like a good next step. Community building work is often slow, long haul work.  We don’t fully recognize our efforts until after some time when the long view comes into focus.  There’s research, trial and error, meeting new people whom we hope will become friends or advocates, and there are small successes, some failures, and some days suspended in what’s next apprehension.

Every once in awhile though, community building is fast, go now work, and those are the days I love.  After series of Facebook messages, an email and some texts the week before, and we found ourselves on Wednesday afternoon waiting to meet Lemual outside of the Krohn Conservatory.  We agreed to meet at 12:30, to walk and talk together while checking out the bonsai display there.  Being Butterfly Show season in Cincinnati, I paid admission for the three of us, and let Lemual lead the way, observing both his and Becky’s fascination for the ingenuity of the landscaping outside, the variations of cacti and the dry air of the greenhouse, the misty coolness and the vibrant colors of the orchid room.

bougan

bougan

Eventually we meandered into the bonsai room.  Lemual’s thoughts on gardening and cultivating trailed like the vines of the bougainvillea: green sprouty fingers folding into colorful flowers, his words tumbling from one idea to the next beautiful reflection and thought on plants and growing.

He thumbed through his Instagram feeds showing us potters who specialize in bonsai containers, boutique bonsai stores in Florida, pictures of pretty plants he’d seen and snapped just because of their colors or something interesting about the way they looked.

beckyLemual

beckyLemual

The purpose of bonsai, we learned was two-fold: beauty and appreciation of beauty for the viewer of the bonsai, and an exercise in effort, patience, and creative design by the grower. To start, one only needs a bit of material, a shoot, a seed, a small tree or shrub, and lots of patience over time.

It reminded me of community building work. To start, one only needs a bit of source material, an idea, a seedling if you will, a passion or interest. From there, the work continues over time, designing, pruning, growing.

training

training

We paused in front of the Texas Ebony. The tag read In Training Since 2008. I asked Lemual what “in training” meant and he explained that the bonsai is never finished. Because it is a living, growing thing, all trees are always in training, making small adjustments, cuts, and crafting a design over its lifetime.

Much like the Texas Ebony, I’ve also been in training since 2008 with much more growing, pruning, patience, and designing to do. Bonsai, like community building, is never a finished piece of work. Even though Becky is employed part-time as a data clerk at SAF-Holland, volunteers at GreenAcres once a week with the garden education team (logging the most volunteer hours of any volunteer in 2015), is on the Dirt Crew at the Civic Garden Center, is getting connected to Hamilton County Parks invasive removal species team, is a reoccurring guest (and potential future member) of the Monfort Heights / White Oak Ladies Garden Club, and considering joining the Greater Cincinnati Bonsai Society, the work of community building is never done.

Because we are living, growing things, we are always in training, making small adjustments, cuts, and crafting our design over our lifetime.

invasive

invasive

becky garden club

becky garden club