Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 10, 2007

10:48 am Sunday morning. Yesterday was busy. We worked in the studio in the morning and hit on something big. The flurry of energy gathered even more strength when Thomas Sevcik, an advisor, came.
We’ve been talking about assumptions, judgement, and the suspension of both. We talk about what we think about the residents here, and what we think they think about everything—what we think they need, what they want, what kind of help. Really problematic. Anyway, the idea we’re talking around is interesting. We’ll see.
We met Dinah “the tick lady” yesterday. Not too long ago, she had huge lumps all over her chest—they were ticks—hence, the nickname. The Rural Studio built a structure for her. She’s got all these blue tarp covered mounds on her property. Collections of stuff, of wood, of who knows what else. Her dogs agitated when we pulled up to her property, and she yelled at us from the back. “Who’s there? Who’s out there?...who is that came to see me and my dogs?”
I hesitated. John introduced himself, and then summoned the rest of us to come on back. She was striking. She talked and talked. The cadence of her speech made sense, was familiar, but its substance was scattered. She fixated a lot about dates. “They came and delivered that, I supposed to get that three weeks...let’s see...Sunday, it’d be three weeks since I was supposed to have got that.” She had a bunch of mail in her lap and was surrounded by her dogs. She talked about them, too. She had 32 puppies not too long ago, but they all went somewhere or another. I stood and listened to her for a while and then we went on. She thanked us for stopping by her jungle.
From there we went to Ca-John’s. We’d been by before and seen the Confederate flag outside—Ellen and I had explained how sometimes it’s a symbol of Southern pride, that it’s not a pro-slavery, anti-black symbol. That’s always a tenuous argument anyway, and in this case it didn’t hold at all. Inside, there were flags everywhere. There was a xerox copy in an acrylic box frame featuring various versions of the Confederate flag­—all that was expected, but the more I looked, the more I found evidence of that thinking ran much deeper. A bumper sticker tacked up on the wall read “Don’t blame me, I voted for Jeff Davis,” as if that election were in 2002. A business card taped under the glass counter called for Confederate sons, a recruitment campaign of some sort.
The proprietor’s wife saw me taking pictures and invited me into the employees only section. It was a bar/music hall. Absolutely horrifying. I took my time looking around in there. The most disturbing thing was a framed cartoon of a white man standing up on a little raft that read “I used to be a badass, but now I’m a coon-ass.”

Friday, June 8, 2007

June 8

9:07 am Good God, it’s hot here. Cold shower and you’re sweating by the time you dry off. Let’s see...we got into the building we’ll use for our studio. It has air! We worked yesterday afternoon on our project. We started by listing all the possible purposes for what we’ll do. We narrowed down from there, and kind of came up with “Doing graphic design for the greater good to inspire change.” Then we defined who our audience was, who we’re seeking to inspire. We threw out a bunch of ideas and narrowed it down to “influencers” (like Oprah). I think of influencers in the Blink fashion. So some are kids, some are housewives...anybody who is a connector. We’re still working on what our project will be.
We’ve come up with a bunch of different ideas for the project, but a lot of them are really patronizing in my opinion. There’s a feeling among some of us that something is wrong here in Hale County. That they need something, they just don’t know what, and we’re the very ones to give it to them. But nothing is wrong. People are here because they want to be. Or because this is where their people are and have been for generations. I think we need to leave all of that alone.
We met John last night. He’s a young psychiatrist who was living in Southern California one day and decided he could work wherever he wanted. He travelled around the Southeast, wanted to land somewhere rural. He met people and asked people and eventually he landed here in Hale County. He bought a farm a year ago, with a wonderful old farmhouse. The Rural Studio students are designing buildings for his property where some of the most needy patients will live. Housing will also be designed and built for medical students who will commit to work and live on the property for a year during med school. He said med school does a great job teaching the technical components of medicine, but a really poor job of teaching the human side. So this is his solution. Pretty incredible.
He had a hard time getting the land. People are skeptical of outsiders who come in and want to plant themselves. It’s insular here and that’s sweet. It takes years for the locals to really trust a person like him, or Pam.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

June 5

8:01 am I had a great night sleep last night. I have every night since coming. Yesterday we drove around more of the county and saw Rural Studio buildings. We went to see the Butterfly House, and the Glass Chapel made out of car windows. Four women and about 12 kids sat underneath the chapel playing cards, laughing, staying cool. We met AJ in front of his house, the Carpet House, so named because of its exterior; old carpet squares stacked one on top of another make up the outside of the building. I asked AJ what he thought about it. “I love it. I think it’s so awesome,” he said with a huge grin.
Further around that same area—kids, old men and women, a mama dog and her pups—looked like nothin’ doin’ us, anyway. We came back around 3:30 and took naps, long ones. Last night we hung out on the porch with Joe (RS graduate, still here to finish up the Lion’s Park project) and learned a bit more about the way things are around here. We had beers and cheddar cheese and wheat thins for supper. Today we’ll meet Pam.

June 3

We walked and drove today. All around Hale County, and the next one over. We woke up and ate food from the supermarket. I made coffee (thank you Dana, for having the foresight to ground it in SF. I have two pounds of whole beans). We looked around town and at some Rural Studios buildings. We took a million photos. We ate at Magnolia, and had the last meal they’ll ever serve. They closed shop for good today after the church crowd.
The rest is in the pictures.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Night One

June 2, 2007
I am at DFW awaiting flight 1218 on American to Birmingham, Alabama for Project M. On the first leg of the trip, from SFO to here, I spilled coffee in my lap. I went to the bathroom to clean up and discovered I’d started my period. It’s fine. My face lotion with Vitamin C and SPF 15 and my African shampoo got confiscated because they were too big (must be 3 oz.; the lotion was 4, the shampoo was 5).
10:35 pm I am in the bottom bed of my bunk at an as yet unknown address. I’m in Greensboro, Alabama, at a house being refinished next to HERO (run by Pam Dorr). No rooms—just two floors. We built the IKEA bunk beds tonight. It’s 10:40 SF time, so I’m whipped. Especially because I woke up at 4:30. Sagrika from Dubai; Dana from Michigan (now SF); Ben from Georgetown, TX; Nate from DC (now NY); Tim from SF (after RISD); Ellen from Boston (now NY); and Laura from New Jersey at MICA. Of course, John is here, and Adam from Volume. Ages range from 21 (Sagrika) to 30 (me). We’ve got a 29 year old in there (Nate) so I’m ok.
Five of us drove together from the airport. Chatty for an hour, then silent for a solid 7 to ten minutes. Three of us sat erect in the backseat peering out the windows with our hands pulling the seats in from of us. Where the fuck are we.
Twenty minutes later—Main Street. We went to CVS and the supermarket. We ate at a Mexican place around the corner. We came home. This is the Deep-ass South, for sure. Two kids, then four were hanging around the house. They were in and out. I asked the younger one what his name was. He wouldn’t look at me or say anything. I finally understood it was Shawn. His older brother DeMarcus told me. Their sister, Lamisha came over later, and their friend from down the street, PeeWee. I talked to them about school—it just let out on Wednesday. Just in time for them to focus their full attention on us. I asked Lamisha what her favorite subject was. Science, she said, without hesitation. I asked her what she liked about it. She shrugged. I asked her what she learned about—animals, the body, disease, weather, the stars—she shrugged again. A few minutes later, she told me she wanted to be a doctor.
It always comes back to that—to them—for me. (I know that so certainly now. After studying design and working in that field for a year. It feels so good knowing that.) That [chasm in opportunity? widespread, mutually agreed upon indifference?] is what I’m here for, I mean that’s why I’m alive and thinking and working and doing. To pay attention to that and move it around, bring it above the surface, show it, write it­— to tell it so that it is exposed and work until it ultimately shifts.