Thursday, September 10, 2015

Community in Theory

The following is a reflection written by Leslie Carranza, one of this year's Volunteers in the McKinley Park Community

Up until this point, I have struggled with one of the most prominent – and arguably the most important – tenets of Amate House: Community. Whether it's one of the other tenets that is getting in the way, or some part of me that is hard for me to share, I have been much more of a lurker in my house than a participant.

Of course, fostering a sense of community during Amate House’s Orientation was as easy as ice cream (since it's become a staple in our grocery budget and weekly routine, it seems much more relevant than pie). Our community rocked the team building exercises and came up with a realistic and thoughtful manifesto that resonated with the intentions we had for the year. Spirit animals, love languages, and the proper pronunciation of main street names quickly became inside jokes and things we would laugh about together at the dinner table, and really any other time we were all in the same room. I thought I was becoming a part of a community, and for the most part, I was. Orientation was vital for planting the seeds of community living, but much like the plants in our front lawn, those seeds need to be watered regularly.

Once we all started working at our sites, community living (and watering plants) took a back seat to other responsibilities. Fortunately, we have only been flirting with “dissues,” and the meals have been mostly vegetarian. As a collective, we have been pretty considerate with keeping most everyone in the loop when going on outings and inviting people over. Any issues I have been having with community living would not be with my community itself, but myself as a part of it.

Being just short of a hardcore introvert, I quickly get drained by excessive social interaction. Phone calls in general increase my blood pressure, and it doesn't help that I am naturally soft-spoken. After a long day of administrative work, my back and joints want nothing more than to plop into bed, read comic books, and maybe skip dinner in favor of more sleep. Reading, however, is not a social activity. So far, the ongoing challenge I face is the conscious decision to live in common with my housemates, sharing lives of support, challenge, and friendship. Up until this point, most of my communal living experiences have been mostly with people I didn't much care to get to know very well. Coming into Amate House, I knew I would fall back into my same ways if I wasn't careful.

I know intentionality is ongoing. Treating each other with charity can be as easy as sharing a giant bag of Skittles, or as difficult as accepting the fact that homemade salsa isn't quite as utilitarian as a pizza for the grocery budget. Gentleness may mean not speaking fluent sarcasm or verbally assaulting each other when work has been rough and a housemate is feeling incompetent in their new and challenging position. Respect, of course, is snaking the shower drain when you don't really have to – like when your hair is clearly not long enough to contribute to the mass that nearly resembles a ferret – but you take the time to do it anyway. However well-intentioned, theories can only do so much good until they are put into practice.

Never did I think that interacting with people my age would have to be so deliberate. The intentional creation of community may very well be one of the most daunting tasks I have ever challenged myself to accomplish. This past month has really pushed me to consider if I can live up to the expectations I have put upon myself, and so far, it helps to think that I don’t have a choice. In the obvious sense, I do have a choice, but in theory, I could very well stay the sort of person I have been in circles of friends and remain the observer (having studied the art of ethnographic fieldwork, I've gotten pretty good at it). However, I would be wasting my time as well as that of my community, the references that have spoken so highly of me to get me into this program, and the educators that saw potential in me where I did not see it in myself. If I don't at least come out a more compassionate, considerate, and holistically joyful person as a result of intentionally living and sharing with my community, then I will know that I didn't put as much into Amate House as Amate House and my housemates are putting into me.