To be honest, 2011 didn’t start out the greatest for me. I had just come back from living at Dancing Crane Farm, which is now under new ownership, but was an organic vegan farm and education center nestled in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While there, I participated in an internship/work exchange and lived in a small community based at the farm. I came back to the Grand Rapids area not planning on staying long. I planned on continuing my adventures at the Agape Community in western Massachussetts. Everything was all set up, they were expecting me in early February, when a friend of mine offered me an invitation to help form a communal household in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I remember asking myself why I would travel half way across the country to live in a community temporarily when I could be living in a more permanent community here.
In November of 2010, I took a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, south of Louisville, Kentucky. Just before leaving, I finally broke off what remained of an old romantic relationship I hadn’t been able to shake. While in Kentucky, I spent my time hiking in the woods, studying, fasting, thinking and praying about what I should do next with my life. After a period of anxiety, I realized that I could be happy with whatever option I chose. When I came home from the monastery I was completely broke, and had to sell some of my possessions just to feed myself. I was so desperate that I got a job working in a plastic injection molding factory until I could save up enough money to be more comfortable.
I met with the group of people who were planning on starting the communal house, eventually named the “Garlic House” or the “Vegan House”. None of them had any experience living that way. They all thought it would just be fun and easy. I knew better, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. We signed a lease and moved in on January 1st. In the end, there was really a lot more conflict than I had anticipated, but it wasn’t something that I was unfamiliar with in the communal setting. But overall I think we accomplished a lot of good things with the house. We managed to maintain (somewhat) regular potlucks and communal meals. We shared our resources, our friends, and our company. I was able to build stronger relationships with my friends Heidie and Jes, and had some interesting experiences with a couch surfer named Ben.
Shortly after moving in to the Garlic House I quit my job at the factory. I decided to suck it up and ask for my old job back at the library. That meant a lot less money, but I could walk to work, have more time to pursue other endeavors, and not feel like an ass for spending my days manufacturing plastic. The only problem was that I had quit my job there previously so that I could travel to the UP. I had been promoted before I left, but when I asked for my job back, they offered me the entry level position. I painfully accepted. It seemed like I was going backwards with my life. I had already been there and done that, yet for some reason I persevered. I couldn’t help wondering if I had left something behind that I had to go back for.
Since I was only working 20 hours a week, I started volunteering at the Heartside Gallery & Studio, another thing I had done before I left. I was put into the ceramics studio, something I had relatively no knowledge about except for a few classes I took in high school. But I managed to teach myself a thing or two about clay, and got to spend a lot of time with a woman named Bertha. I consider her to be more of a grandmother than a friend. She has really made me feel like a member of her family. I got to walk her back to her house many times during the summer, where she showed me her breath-taking urban garden. She had cherries, strawberries, peaches, and many tropical plant cuttings all growing from containers in a run down old parking lot. It was one of the most beautiful and inspiring things I have ever witnessed.
In early April I began volunteering at the Blandford Nature Center Farm. I learned a lot more about farming and sustainability, and got to experience the inner workings of community supported agriculture. I was able to meet and get to know the farmer Aaron and his wife Heather, and had a lot of fun with my good friend Korin on the farm. I ate the best cauliflower, sweet corn, and cantaloupe I have ever eaten. Aaron also gave me my choice of all the produce that didn’t sell at the Farmers’ Market.
In 2011, I also renewed my passion for art. This was something that I had left behind years ago. Four years ago to be precise. That was when I dropped out of art school. This year something clicked though. I realized that I had a natural talent for art, and because of that I should develop it. If I don’t, it will be like I’m wasting the gift I was given. I picked up where I left off at art school this past year, and started renting a studio at Dinderbeck, a local artist collective.
Also, I started hanging out with this girl, Mandi. I think she’s rad. I can’t help but think that the reason I stayed in Grand Rapids was because of her.