A little life update from the Tietjen's

So... I never send Christmas cards. Even though I love getting them, but we haven't ever actually sent one out. And now that its WAY past time, and I couldn't even write a Christmas blog, I just decided to give a little family update here. And NOT call it a Christmas card. or an epiphany card, or whatever else. Just a simple, "Hey, here's what the Tietjen's are up to!" kind of card. I mean post. 

I am also including the photos we had taken of our children FOUR months ago and only now just got around to getting together. I mean, these beautiful faces have been locked in the computer for months. They aren't online, or printed or nothing. Nope, this girl right here actually convinces her housemate to take his nice camera, do a quick photo opp with the kids and then sits on it for months. Because yeah, I am apparently that lazy? busy? unmotivated? tired? feel like the pictures are for me so who really cares anyway? Who knows, it's probably a combo of all the above. But here they are, and who knows, now that I gotten this far, I MAY just be motivated enough to get them printed. 

Did you know we don't have any pictures printed and framed in our house of our family? Seriously, I am the worst. 

And these kids should live in a frame. They are the pieces of my heart that live out loud in the best way. They are uncontainable in their passion, fierceness, ideas, creativity, demands, energy, and kindness and frustrations (mostly at each other). You never have to ask them what they are thinking or feeling, they share it all with essays of words. (You can't have two parents who communicate as much as Paul and I and not grow three kids who are just as passionate at communicating.)

Paul and I continue to grow as parents (and spouses) in our knowledge, understanding, learning from mistakes, insight and time with these kiddos. They keep us challenged and humbled. Noah is the protector of the bunch, Caleb the inventor, and Lu our helper. Their hearts are big, their minds are always wondering and their bodies always wanting to explore. For us, we find it critical to learn how to teach them good practices that will help them stay that way. How do you care for yourself and others in a way that respects all life and gives glory to God? This is a guiding theme for us. 

Oh Noah. He is known among his friends as the "Hype Man". His passion serves him in uplifting his teammates, classmate and friends. He is a fierce lover of reading, football, baseball, basketball, legos, spoken word, hip hop, and his family. I can't believe he is 11 and in the 5th grade at Yinghua Academy, which he LOVES. Noah thrives with the Chinese language. Noah's football team also won the championship this year and it was well celebrated. He continues to grow and yet still remains this sweet, innocent young boy who loves to be silly, snuggle and cook with me in the kitchen. 

Aaahhh Caleb. Where I find it easy to describe my other two children, this one just can't be defined in any one word. He has this natural ability for learning, knowledge, reading, math, science, foreign languages, creating and inventing and basic athletic skill. He is wise beyond his years, has a voice that can be heard across town, loves to laugh and play. He makes difficult tasks look easy, he forgives faster than anyone I know, and wants to know everything. Caleb also played football for the first time this year, and also joined the baseball and basketball team. 

Both boys play for our neighborhood leagues and also participate in the local Boys to Men Club which give them a space to hang with their friends, learn life skills, earn some money and volunteer in the neighborhood. 

And then there was her. Eleanor. She is so goofy, and incredibly kind. I have never met anyone who is so concerned for the well being of others quite like this little one. She loves her stuffed animals, her brothers, reading, puzzles and all things artistic. She hasn't started any extra after school activities, but her time will come. She is thriving at Yinghua and loves speaking Chinese. This spunky brave little girl is growing at a rate I am not completely happy about. While I can't wait to see what an incredible woman she will be, I am taking every opportunity to sew, color, do puzzles and snuggle with this little bean. 

Paul and I continue to do what we do. We still live in our little bungalow on the bluffs of the Mississippi with our community garden project right next store. Paul is in his sixth year at Ameriprise which affords him the ability to travel with his band 100 White Flags. This past year Paul also started his three piece blues trio, GOBO which has played a few local fairs around town. He also took the time to help coach Caleb's football team, and assist with Basketball. And for Paul it was a year unmatched as both his Bronco's and his Cubs won their championships in 2016. Needless to say, sports took over a bit over here. Whoa.

I continue to travel and speak. This summer was full of great gigs including the National Youth Gathering, Luther Hour Ministries, and the adult gathering on Mackinaw Island. I love writing for Gatherhaus, an online community that promotes intentional living through simplicity and purpose, and our local paper. I am also working on two new book projects which will hopefully final first drafts this year which I will pitch to publishers. I started working at the kids school two hours a day to bring in a steady income. It's not much but I can't believe how much it eases the pressure of my works of passion. Writing is not a lucrative career, and the anxiety of turning it into one was too much for me last year. Now, I am able to approach my work with the question, "What do I need to say?" NOT "How can this make money?". This distinction is critical to my creative process and the integrity of my work. I have already discovered profound peace in my work with this shift. 

And though the Garden may appear to by my project, it really is a family/community investment. I am honored to be apart of it, proud of what it is becoming, and love my time in that space. We strive every year to grow and improve our outreach and effort. We hosted multiple events last year, grew a TON of food and experienced high community engagement. We are confident this year will be no different.

Thank you all for doing life with us. For following us on this journey. For your interest, your kind words, your time in the garden, showing up for the kids games, donations to our ministry, and booking either Paul's band, or me to speak at your event.  No man is an island, and what good is our heart and soul if we can not share it with each other. 

May we all continue to grow in knowledge, wisdom, understanding, love and compassion. And hopefully in that, be challenged to participate in the restorative and justice work of humanity showed to us by Christ Jesus. 

Happy New Year!

To hold a story

I have talked about Mr. Roosevelt here before. He is my neighbor who lives with his daughter across the street. 

Last week Mr. Roosevelt and I were visiting on his stoop. We were laughing and joking about kids, cars, life in general. You know, all the things that African elders and youngish white girls have in common. (I can claim youngish if I am speaking of my spirit right?!)

"I have a book for you." He says.

"Is it a good book? This girl ain't got no time for crappy books." I jest.

"It is." He chuckles.

To which he then takes pause while he looks me in the eye longer than necessary. Mr. Roosevelt gives a smirk, slowly nodding his head, he takes my dirt covered hand in his worn one and says, 

"This is a book about my hometown. Where I grew up and lived. It's about the south, and our struggle and our reality. It's pictures and stories and..." he paused. He looked straight through my eyes into my heart and said,

"I have come to know you and I know that you can hold this story. You are someone I can share it with and you will respect it."

He nodded again in recognition, that yes, we could do this together. We could do life equally together. He could share a part of himself with me. A part of his life, his blood, his skin, his history, his story and it wouldn't be shunned, denied, excused away or met with guilt and shame and narcism. 

Mr. Roosevelt went inside and brought out this book.

He told me I could hold on to it for him for a awhile. He didn't want me to rush through it. He wanted me to absorb it. Digest it. Consume it. 

He wanted the images and the words to leave its finger prints on my very soul so that I take it with me everywhere. That his history wouldn't be lost.

We are building a bridge together Mr. Roosevelt and I. One that can hold two very different experiences and accept them both. That each story can be held with respect and honor and recognition. That through listening, we would learn and grow and discover understanding that deepens our compassion.

To hold each others story in a way that honors the life and experience of another human being.

What would our cities look like if we could hold each other in that way? To cultivate those kinds of relationships and conversations? To surrender our own perspective and realize that we each experience a different kind of reality and truth? That we have much to learn from one another? That our histories can teach us how to learn from our mistakes? 

If we can be blunt here? I think in general, we white folk don't do a very good job at this. We have a tendency to input our truth and our reality and our perspective into the lives of those who have greatly different experiences than our own. We can not tell them what is true or not. It would be very wise of us to start listening more without objection. Without justification. Without reasoning away hurt. 

Friends, lets learn to hold each other's stories with respect and honor. But not just our friends, but also the stories of those who have been left vulnerable. The stories of injustice. The stories of our African brothers and sisters. The stories of our Mexican neighbors. Our LGBT sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. The people who suffer from mental, physical, and emotional trauma. The stories of those who worship different than you. Look different than you. Speak different than you. Spend money different than you. Dress different than you.

What does it look like for us to hold each other with respect?

Public Consumption

I'm kind of over social media. I'm just done. Exhausted by it. Drained from it. I even feel crippled from it, not quite remembering what it feels like to live without it.

I know I know, I will most likely at some point come back to it. That's fine. I am not against it. But for now, I'm just kind of done being publicly consumed. I mean we put the pieces of ourselves out there to be absorbed, to be seen, to be evaluated and measured and consumed. 

Right? I have a fun day or special moment and I write about it and put it out there for you. Then you take it in and like or don't. Comment on it or not. Either way, you consume it because I put it out there to be taken. I get it. 

I get that social media connects us. It can inspire us and educate us and teach us. There are so many good things about it. I am not anti-social media. (The irony of still writing a blog and putting myself out there is not lost on me. Trust me. The difference however is this place isn't about the likes or comments or measuring. This feels a bit more genuine because you choose to come here and spend time with me.)

But, for real, I am way out of balance. My whole feels likes it getting consumed at a rate in which I can't keep up and there isn't much of me left.

I keep thinking, I don't remember what it feels like to simply live my life without the lens of sharing it with you. Every moment to have a picture, but not just a picture, an Instagram worthy photo. And not just a Facebook post, a crafted, witty, moving post. And not just a few words for twitter, something that will stand out and catch attention. Ugh. I am tired just writing about it. 

I miss moments that are simply for me. Or to simply share with the people in the moment with me. And that's on me. 

It's also really easy for me to twist that whole strange public space into something dark. A place where I start to weigh and measure my worth. How do you respond to what I share with you? How much do you like it? Or don't you? How much attention do I get from this? If I share these types of stories, then you respond more, so I start to "perform" for you. Giving you what I think you want from me. Then it gets weighed and measured again and I am left with a false sense of self and security and I couldn't believe I went there.

I started to see it for what it was, me needing you to acknowledge my worth and existence. Then I thought, Damn how did I get here? I never wanted to be here. 

So I left. 

The other piece of this is all the media that surrounds our current complicated race, ethnicity, political, systematic, religious problems. (NOT that they didn't exist before, but many the internet has a way of enhancing all of our issues.) I was being consumed by info; posts, opinions, articles, videos, comments. I was turning obsessed and not in an edifying way. No, I was simply consuming it and it was taking over my life, turning my heart against people, and deep judgement was winning over building bridges. 

I couldn't do it anymore. I had to leave. I am consumed enough in my daily life by the people who live in my house and on my street. I already have so many things that need my time, attention, respect, understanding, patience, and ability to show up. Where I struggled to have boundaries before, living in North Minneapolis has demanded that I start to figure this out, otherwise there will be nothing left of me before too long. 

I am consumed almost from the time I wake up till I go to bed. I have no more space for social media and its all consuming ways. I came to a moment in my life where I thought, 

For now, do I want to show up in my real life, or show up in my electronic life?

So I choose my real life. 

I still struggle with, "Oh man, I want to share this online!" But it causes me to ask why? Why would I share this? Is it so you see me? Is it so I can make myself look good, or smart or educated or servant hearted? And why do I need you to know these things? Is it not enough for my me to simply have this experience? Or is it not enough that I might know these things are true?

Does your opinion of me matter to me more than my own?

And that's when I knew that I had started to loose my deep waters. 

And I need to get them back. 

So I hope you can forgive my lack of presence online, outside of this space. This feels like the closest version of online relationship that we can have. 

I debated on even writing about this, but since I have been active on all forms of social media, and now I am clearly not there, I thought you deserved to know why. 

I mean, we're in this together aren't we?

If you need me, respond here, or email me or give me a call. I'm not hard to find. 

Or you can always meet me out in the garden. I'll brew us some coffee and we can pull food from the ground and share in the life giving force of being connected together in the earth. 


I am for you

I feel like we make a lot of mistakes over here. Our selfishness often gets the best of us and we can't see what the other people in our home need from us. 

If I am honest, in the shades of night before I sleep I am saddened by the way I have treated my children earlier in the day. Most often, the loathing starts quickly after I have already misstepped. My remorse can be great, and I think, what kind of example am I leaving them with?

I often take my insecurities out on my kids. Or my impatience with them is biting as I am the one who over scheduled herself. I will use shame to get them to do things, and if we were measuring my parenting success by my tone of voice, I would come up grossly short. 

We may do a bunch of stuff well over here, but man oh man, we sure do a bunch of stuff not so well. 

And it's not like is a competition with other parents. It's just real life. Two screwed up people fell in love and had babies and didn't work through all their crap before they decided to raise more humans. Whoops. 

So at this point, we have a choice right? Pretend like we have our shit together which causes tension because pretending will always pushing against the real rawness of our soul. Or own the fact that we screw up. Admit it. Embrace it. Confess it.

Which we do all the time with our children. We confess our missteps. Our wrong doings. Our sin. Or we confess that we stand behind our choices that they don't understand. The rules we put in place that they don't like. The choices we make on our families behalf. We push hard to make sure they have the reasons behind the information.

With all the ways we hurt our kids by our mistakes, or they feel jaded because of our choices and they don't understand, they put up walls to protect themselves from us. I then have to figure out a way to get around the walls or bring them down. 

So you know what I do? I say to my kid every day,

"I am for you. I am going to screw up, but I will remain here and fight for you. I will say the wrong thing, but we can talk about it because, I will stay till you know I am not going anywhere. You are not going to like some, or most, of the choices I make for you, but you need to remember, I am for you.

"I am your advocate. I am on your side. I am rooting for you. I am for you. I will walk every step with you. You are not alone in this. You have me. Whether you want me or not. Whether you like e or not. Whether I am the last person on the planet you want to see right now, I see all of you. The big beautiful personality you show the world, the scared parts you try to hide, your inflated ego that masks the insecurity you are struggling to figure out. As you navigate these waters of self awareness and identity, I see you. And I think you amazing. And nothing will keep me from cheering you on, for being the lap you need to curl up on even when you are 16. For getting in my car and rescuing you, or standing by and calling out to God as you battle yourself in self discovery. 

Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Appropriate or not. 

I am for you."

The tears in the fabric of our relationship are coming. You will need to pull away to discover who you are. I am going to screw up in this. You are going to screw up in this. We are going to hurt each other. We are going to hurt ourselves. 

But nothing will keep me from showing up. Every day. Rooting for you. Standing for you. Fighting for you. Being for you.


Her spirit teaches me

Friends, tonight I was putting my daughter to bed. Her brothers were still at football practice and since they all share a room, I had this rare time of just her and me laying in her bed and talking. 

Our heads were together as she was speaking, her hand holding mine, and her whole body curled into me. She was retelling in great detail about a struggle she had today with an old friend and a new friend at school. 

"I wanted to play with my new friend because we don't normally do stuff together. But that choice made my other friend sad and she started to cry.

When the teacher came over to ask what was wrong, in between her tears my old friend told the teacher I was the one who made her cry. Then the teacher looked at me because she thought I did something wrong. So I said, 'It's OK! We got this. We can figure it out. Please let us talk about this on our own. Otherwise we won't ever be grown ups who can work through our problems."

I sat stunned by her intelligence, her awareness, her consciousness of self and others. I took in her soulful eyes and her sweet smile and it was then that I knew.

I don't think I was given to her to lead the way. 

I believe she was given to me to teach me how to be a good human and love fiercely. To see people and do the hard work it requires to live in peace. 


Finding my truth

He is not my knight and shining armor. 

He is not my prince charming.

He is not even my best friend.

He's not hearts and flowers and rainbows.

He's not my captor or my savior. 

He is not my everything. 

He isn't candy hearts and sweet nothings in my ear. 

He is most definetly not my yes husband.

He isn't my better half or a fix to any daddy issues I might have. 

But he is... my truth.

When I was a young woman trying to find who I was, he could see me. I mean honestly, truly see me. The hidden pieces, the secrets, the madness in my mind. He could see who I was pretending to be and who I was hiding. He could see me struggling to be what everyone else wanted while loosing myself in the process. 

He could see me before I knew me.

And he loved me. 

He looked at me and spoke softly, "I see who you are and who you could be. I love all of you. I love the light and the dark in you. If you never change, I will continue to love you. Either way, I am in."

I am starting to think I might feel lost my whole life. Looking and searching and rediscovering and redefining myself. I often feel adrift and wandering. I wonder if I will ever find my center, or peace in the process. My dreams shift and change and my passions are vast and wide. I carry the same struggles, never really letting go, always dragging my baggage a little behind me. I also live as a kid in a candy store, wanting all the things, loving all the things, wanting to try all the things. All the dreams, all the projects, all the ideas, all the music, all the art, all the books. It is impossibly hard to live with me.

He is the truth who keeps me grounded. He is the truth that speaks into my madness when I have lost my way. He is the truth that calls bull crap when I start to pretend to gain acceptance again. When I throw excuses at him, or try to lie, he calls me out and brings me back.

When I am lost or confused or stuck in unhealthy patterns, he is my true north.

He sees my brokenness and says, I love you.

He is in the thick of it with me when my weaknesses take the strength out of our life and says, I still have patience.

When I have given up on myself, he says, I'm not done believing in you.

When I pull the blanket over my head and want to stay in bed all day, he climbs in and says, I feel it too, but we are at least in this together.

We don't see each other as the polished and fancy versions that can be captured in photos and tag lines. We aren't sugar and spice and everything is perfect and nice people. We're kind of gritty, dirty, sarcastic, reality folks. The kind that can own our vast disfunction and say, Hey, we're doing the best we can.

Our version of romance looks like having the perfect way to snuggle on the couch so we can be touching from head to toe, but he can still reach his scotch on the table.

It looks like him scratching my back every night because he knows, HE KNOWS me and how it relaxes me and is my favorite thing at the end of the day. 

It looks like him showing up every night to his family because he chooses us again every day.

It looks like each of us having "going out time with friends", because we both understand that we can't be everything to each other. We still need our tribe of individual and independent friendships. 

Romance for us looks like hard truths, commitment, and even when we are excruciatingly annoyed with each other, which we can be often, it still says, "I don't like you right now, but I still choose you."

That is my truth.

He is my partner. He is my champion. He is my biggest advocate. He is my wise council. He is my listening ear. He is the one I have vowed to create a life with. To be together and create family together. He is the one I come home to, no matter where I have been. No matter how long I have been gone, he is my home.

He also doesn't understand all of me, but accepts me all the same. He knows on a very real level that I will always live in a bit of madness. That my issues at this point might never be overcome.

And yet... And yet... he stays. He loves. He gives me truth. He gives me home. He gives me space to be me and wrestle with myself. He doesn't give up. 

We have this intense partnership that involves honest conversations, hard truths, accountability and lots of passion. We love big and we fight big. We don't agree on much and have very different opinions about things. Our marriage is a meeting of two driven, powerfully spirited people with lots of thoughts, deep emotions, and a million ideas. This was never a "you complete me" kind of thing. It's more a "Wow I think you are incredible and I would like to know you and love you for the entirety of my life" kind of thing. A choice to stay and build on the life and love we had when we started out.

We are what I like to call "full folks". We are full of it. All of it. All the time. Drive. Passion. Commitment. Ideas. Love. Anger. Wonder. Fear. Regret. Hope. We got it all. 

Both of us. It's a very full relationship over here.

Much of our life feels steeped in a battle. We fight for peace in our neighborhood. We fight for open communication and healthy relationships with our children. We fight for our marriage. We battle for contentment while pushing hard towards dreams. We battle to find truth in politics, art, religion and culture. We battle to be true to ourselves and to each other. 

Which is why him being my true north, my steadfast one, is the best version of  romance I can come by.

So to my sweet and opinionated and passionate husband, I love you. Thank you for choosing me. Every. Day.

Happy 14th Anniversary. 


The tale of Ms. Murphy

Mr. Roosevelt is a sweet old man who lives across our street with his daughter Sharlonda. Over the last couple of years, I see him walking to his semi parked down the street, or sitting on the porch enjoying a drink in the late afternoon. We wave, we say hi, we do neighborly things. Mr. Roosevelt always has a smile for me, and me for him. 

Yesterday I was getting out of my car, and he timidly called out to me to come over and chat with him.

"Ms. Danielle, I grew up in Alabama on a farm pickin cotton. We was poor, the whole lot of us. We spent our days as kids pickin cotton and hauling wood and whatever chores were needed. All us kids needed to work, so we didn't do no school. Then one summer Ms. Murphy from MN came down to teach the whole lot of us to read. We didn't even know how to spell Cat, and she gave us that. She would take us to the marches for Dr. King holding my hand the whole time. She told us this was history. This was our story and we needed to be there. She taught us to read and write and what was important.

I wouldn't be a truck driver today if it weren't for her. I wouldn't be able to provide for my family and put food on the table without her. I hoped when I moved up here, I might be able to find her. All I knew was her name was Ms. Murphy and she was from MN. I was never able to find her to say Thank you. I want so badly to say thank you to that lady who changed my life.

For two years I wanted to say something to you, but I was embarrassed and felt kind of shy about it. I see you all the time working out there in that garden, playing with those kids, teaching them to plant and work and grow food. I see you smile at everyone who comes by, stop what you're doing and visit with them. 

You remind me a whole lot of Ms. Murphy. You two have the same spirit. You got this openness about you, this way that wants to give back.

So I never been able to say thank you to Ms. Murphy from MN, but I want to say thank you to you. It feels kinda the same."

And what in the ever lovin crazy world does one say to that? 

I know I don't feel that way.

I know I don't see myself that way.

I know what I do feels radically different than that.

And yet. 



I have been so deeply touched by this story. A story of love and devotion. A story of people seeing other people. And I mean, really seeing them. Not looking past them. Loving them. Sacrificing for them. Devoting time and care and kindness to them. To humanity. To a cause that draws us closer together, instead of pushing us further away.

I so desperately always want to be apart of that kind of love.

Now I know that every day I can strive to be more like Ms. Murphy.

That we all could.

And I am going to do whatever I can to start solving the mystery of Ms. Murphy, so that my friend Mt. Roosevelt can say thank you. 

The unseen things...patience with humanity

My son shyly approached me the other day. It was a moment that I knew held emotion and weight by the way he awkwardly didn't even know how to be in his own skin. He was uncomfortable and then, unable to keep it in anymore, he said,

"Mom I am scared of spring. The weather is nicer now and spring means storms. Storms mean lightening and thunder and tornados. I feel dumb because I'm scared of storms and they still bother me. I'm too old to be scared of storms. I don't want to be scared but I don't know how not to be."

It is the stirring of the unrelenting chaotic current that lies underneath our demeanor. 

I know it. 

I know many people who know this feeling well. 

It is the anxiety of what could be, what has been, what might happen. It is the unknown, sometimes based in reality, other times rooted in fear.

I forget sometimes how deeply effected my son was by that day 5 years ago. How that struggle stays with him as he tries to learn how to do life with this wound. 

I think about how already he is worried. I watch as his eyes follow the clouds. How he sneaks peaks on my phone to check the weather. I notice how he plans time with his friends around the weather to not expose his fear or weakness to the people around him. 

His fear and earth shattering experience through the tornado has altered him. 

It makes me wonder about all the others out there who are struggling with a fear, a demon, a ghost, a moment, a person. It makes me wonder how they change their lives to work around this scar in their own existence.

We all have them, yet we feel pressure or shame or anxiety about the timeline in which we should be healed. We have these moments that redefine who we are because these moments never leave us. We simply hold them differently.

Yet from the outside, it is easy to forget that someone else would have an internal scar that I can't see. I only live with your coping techniques, and the sad reality is most often we forget or don't understand so we cast judgements on one another. 

The wind was picking up and tossing and throwing items around the yard and my oldest son wanted to come inside and stop playing catch with his brother. He was embarrassed and so didn't explain why he wanted to come in, he simply left, to which it caused a rift between the brothers. There was angst and some name calling and lots of frustration. 

I saw it and knew. I knew it was  based in fear and panic, lack of communication and embarrassment (shame). It was all about deflecting and hiding and projecting. 

I think it's easy to forget the pain and scars others carry. I wonder how our friendships and relationships could be stronger if we held each other more gently and had patience for the healing process. 

I am no one to judge you and the process of how you carry your struggle, your wound, your scar.  We are all mostly simply trying to navigate our lives and emotional healing is a beast that takes much longer than expected to tame. 

I'm his mother and I forgot his scar. 

I want to take this moment with him and remember to hold him well, but also to reflect and remember that most around me carry scars as well. I am not responsible for all the pain and healing in the people around me. However, if we are in community and relationship as we say we are, then I deeply want to be a vessel for healing and peace. And in order to work towards that beautiful gift, we must be patient with one another and grant understanding. 


A reason why it hurts...

Sometimes it's hard to find the words to explain what it feels like to live in the tension of the ghetto. A few months ago, I found these words stirring in my heart.


We are explosive because there isn't time between the raging war and moment of peace to process all that is happening.

To navigate our way thru the war zone of emotion.

To settle fear down and release it before the next moment takes us.

It's why we are explosive, on edge and angry.

We don't have time to settle that rage to see that it hurts us and find the healing that lets us be free.

To hear and listen and understand.

To be a people of peace.

How art challenges life

My husband started taking pictures of and picking up empty Newport cartons. Not just once. As in All.The. Time. And not just when he was alone. He would ask me to pull the car over and then spend the next 10 minutes walking back and picking up the few he saw on our drive home from work. They were in our car, in the kitchen, the garage. We started carrying plastic bags to carry them when we would take bike rides. He called it “The Newport Trail” and Gatherhaus covered the story. (Go over and read it real quick. It’s good. Then come back.)

He was convinced that highlighting this one specific item of trash would be a way to bring awareness to our neighborhood’s chronic littering problem. And it is a huge problem. On my street alone, I can fill a tall kitchen trash bag with the garbage I find just on one side. One half of one block fills one trash bag. I would call that a serious problem. More than the littering though are all the large pieces of furniture, toilets, cars, and mattresses that get dumped here. On our neighborhood Facebook page, people take photos of soiled mattresses and claim, “St. Mattress visited us again today!”

It’s out of control.

So out of control that by living here, it becomes apart of the landscape. Something you don’t notice or is so chronic that you fall into the mindset that you can’t really do anything about it anyway. It’s just the way it is. This is exactly the mentality that Paul set out to change.

Recently I went for a run and without even realizing it, halfway through I started scanning the ground. I passed up bags of garbage and a few of the highly noticeable teal Newport's and the awareness kicked in and guilt took over. With Paul highlighting the discarded Newport cartons, I unintentionally started looking for them. The catch is though, by looking for and noticing the Newport's, you became keenly aware of the other trash around. Once I started noticing the amount of trash on the ground, I was faced with a choice. Continue to actively ignore it, or do my part in helping eradicate this social and environmental problem.

Two things weighed heavy on my heart.

  1. Can picking up trash really affect and change a culture?

  2. Can one person really make a difference against such a vast and large issue?

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point” addresses the first issue in a very poignant way. It is the idea of “The broken window” theory where when a neighborhood has a home with broken windows, it lowers the expectation and quality of life for its residence. When windows are broken, people have less respect for the space, so who cares if you break another one?

“Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, were Tipping points for violent crimes. Address the smaller issue, and you can change of the culture of the larger issue.” pg. 114

In chapter four he address the power of context wherein you start picking up trash and planting community gardens, (cleaning up the broken windows) the atmosphere of the culture shifts for the positive. According to Glawell and New York mayor Giuliani this theory proved to be true. So then the issue becomes, can we start a movement of cleaning up and shifting a violent culture of North Mpls by cleaning up the trash?

This begs the question, can one person create this kind of awareness and change with an art project? To that I am inspired by Tyree Guyton of “The Heidelberg Project”. One man who started an art movement on a street in Detroit by using the trash he found to create art. It started small, but over three decades later, it has become a key player in the culture of art and awareness.

Each movement must start somewhere.

Each movement must start with someone.

If we deeply and inherently believe that one person can make a difference, then it takes the courage of one to start speaking up. It is up to the rest of us to make up our minds and stand with them. When we stand together, then no one is alone. When we stand together, act together, speak up together, then change is possible.

I want a neighborhood that has respect for ourselves, each other and our streets. I want a neighborhood free of needles and condoms and broken glass.  I want a neighborhood safe from violent crimes. I want a neighborhood that believes we are better than what we currently are. I don’t want to be the city dumping ground anymore. I want our children to grow up with compassion for the environment. I want to believe that we can make a difference. I want to believe that art can inspire life and be the catalyst for change. If I want it, then I will stand with Paul and write about it. I will pick up trash. I will teach my children and the other kids on my block to pick up trash. I will carry garbage bags with me to continue picking up garbage wherever I go. I will raise my voice in this fight. I will do my part to raise awareness.

I want in on the movement.

I am inspired by my husband’s effort to call attention to an issue that is often overlooked. While the call to action to change the culture of garbage in North Minneapolis seems almost impossible, a change must start somewhere. It must start with someone, so why not start with Newport's.


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