It’s been two weeks since we left our home in Bloomington. We had a few days of planned down time with family in Wisconsin and then a few more days of unplanned down time when a small college engagement in Pennsylvania cancelled due to last-minute COVID restrictions on campus.
During the last two weeks, we’ve learned to slow down a little. We no longer have any rooms to paint. No punch lists of repairs to do before selling the house. No lawns to mow or leaves to rake. No closing documents to sign or inspections to schedule.
So, we’ve slept in a little. We’ve read for fun, played a few board games and I’m pretty sure our dog Bailey has walked more in the last 10 days than in her previous 10 years.
There has been plenty of learning. We are living with fewer things. I am down to three pairs of shoes, four pairs of jeans and two fancy shirts (I probably could have gotten away with one). We are learning how to manage with just one vehicle. We are watching the night time temps to make sure our water lines don’t freeze and my cousin-in-law Bob gave me a detailed lesson in how to drain the black tank on his travel trailer. Mildly horrifying.
Perhaps COVID has trained us in some ways for this change, as we are keeping in touch with friends and family through phone calls, texts and Facetime chats. We can feel the rhythms of our life shifting gears.
But as we unplug from our usual routines, we find ourselves plugging in to a new community. We are meeting new people. Hearing new stories. Getting the lay of the land and understanding how a month-long residency will flow.
Our first few days in Parkersburg, we installed our American Stories exhibit in several locations along their Market Street arts district. Some in storefronts. Some in entryways or galleries where people can socially distance as they view them.
We’ve filmed an introduction to the exhibit, finalized media outreach and started gathering studio stories, asking people when they have found strength in the midst of struggle. And already in the process, I’ve started seeing what I love about this process…
One man wrote his response in verse and when someone else saw it, they said, “I’ve been wanting to do a spoken word event in town but I didn’t know who to reach out to…now I know I can ask Curtis.” A woman walked in the door and mentioned she had been a part of one of our studios in Washington D.C. three years ago and as we visited, she pulled up her Facebook page, showing that she still had the photo as her profile picture. Another man talked about his mother who was diagnosed with cancer. He mentioned that very few people knew this about him but that it was an enormous part of who he was and what he was dealing with. He thanked me for the chance to talk about it.
David runs the oldest natural food store in the state. Mandy dresses up as Cinderella or Elsa and sings for young children with terminal illnesses. Each story opens new doors. Each person has new ideas. I can already tell that a month won’t be long enough in one place, but even as we plug in we are stirring up new connections in the community.
At the end of it all, we will take down my exhibit and hang theirs in its place. As we drive out of town in early November, 100 of their portraits and stories will stay behind in the storefront windows of Market Street. And we will project them on the exterior wall of an historic theater. I can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait for them to see it.
When we take the time to share openly…when we take the time to listen closely…we start to see ourselves and those around us in new and transformative ways. We build community.