My season of discontent: the “political” — is personal, is conflicted, is connected, is community

I think it was Bill Moyers who recently said that “the news is what they keep from us, and all the rest is publicity.” Well, that way of talking about news strikes home. I too, have had “news” that I’ve kept from you, all the while writing this blog! And it’s not the first time this has happened.

Sometimes it strikes me, and always with the same kind of wonderment — how I may be consciously looking and dealing with one set of challenges and meanwhile, another set of challenges lies just under the surface, germinating, even fermenting in secret, since it can’t yet be addressed in the open. This fact that I sometimes lead two lives, one for the public, and the other very very private, troubles me, since I am a “double Sagittarian” (Sun and Ascendant), a sign known for its commitment to transparency and truth-telling above all else.

Over the course of my nearly 69 years, I’ve had to learn other values, including those of discretion, compassion, and empathy. And in order to learn them, I’ve had to open my heart — and that, it turns out, is an ongoing process. Each time I think I’m “open,” something zings in from outside to make me flinch. It’s what occurs after that, that counts. Will I close up again, or will I learn how to open even wider. The first is so easy, and reflexive, reactive. The second, much harder, feels ultimately mysterious, even miraculous.

So, during these past six months, I’ve once again led a double life, which only now am I able to make public. I say that with some relief, since the hidden set of challenges has required that a great alchemy coalesce within me. Never have I attracted a conundrum of such complexity in terms of harmonizing different levels of both myself and the various circles of influence within my community. What I have been going through reminds me very much of what Occupy is going through now, in its efforts to integrate and harmonize with the homeless, the police, and those who seek to, or who cannot help but, create chaos in the midst of an already historic movement dedicated to non-violence. I too, am dedicated to non-violence, and during this period of time, have had to become acutely aware, once again, of the difference between my fiery, combative personality and my harmony-seeking higher self.

Yesterday and today I emailed the following letter to members of my community. It speaks of the current challenge that faces the GANG garden, a neighborhood garden commons that I started on my private land three years ago.

Dear Neighbors and friends of the GANG Garden

Perhaps you have heard the scuttlebutt: that the educational activities associated with the garden are “on hold” while we work out problems with the city. It’s true. Back in June a complaint was filed with the city due, at first, to the fact that smoke from the first (and only) firing of our new, lovingly-designed-and-constructed-by-SPEA-students cob oven wafted into a neighbor’s house. One thing led to another. The city got involved. The garden, which had been flying pretty much under the radar, went under the microscope. It was determined that one law was being broken and another law placed the garden “in a grey area.” These are:

A City zoning regulation that any “structure” must be at least 25 feet from an intersection. Both the wall that surrounds the cob oven, some vegetation, the woodpile, and the cob oven lie inside this 25 feet jurisdiction

While community gardens are okay in areas zoned residential, the educational activities of the GANG garden place it in another category that requires a “conditional use” be granted.

As you can imagine, I did not welcome this new attention placed upon the GANG garden. In fact, as a result, we scratched the final two workshops of this season. (Unfortunately, the final workshop, “Putting the Garden to Bed” went into the Co-op Newsletter before I could stop it. If anyone wants to help us Put the Garden to bed on that day, we’ll do it then, not as a workshop, but just as neighbors. If you don’t know how, I’ll help show you.)

Over these past five months I have been in regular communication with Tom Micuda of the Planning Department to see what we could do to resolve these difficult issues. Tom and I each appreciate the role the other plays — Tom to make sure the laws are enforced while working cooperatively with all involved for the fairest solution to any problem; me, A.K., as agent provocateur, here to challenge the city to look at its old laws in the light of new realities. Our relations have been cordial. Tom has graciously allowed me enough time to absorb the impact of this complex challenge on the GANG, its neighbors, the neighborhood as a whole, and its relations with the city. I have agreed to the following:

Remove the wall, the roof, the tables,the woodpile, cut back some vegetation, and destroy the cob oven (since it cannot be moved without structural damage, which would endanger any firing.)

Beginning in 2012, cut back the workshops to three per growing season rather than six to eight.

Limit the number of attendees from outside the neighborhood (as well as the number of cars).

Additionally, the SPEA class partnership project, or some educational partnership project per semester, will remain, with extremely limited parking privileges. In those semesters where there is not an education partnership project, one more workshop would be allowed.

The construction of the wall and the cob oven represent literally hundreds of volunteer hours. Quite a few more volunteer hours will be needed to remove what is happening at that corner. Removing the wall will require eight men to make the job easy and safe; if fewer, the job will be more difficult and less safe. . . The oven itself will be destroyed with hammers and picks.

These activities will take place during what we are going to call a “Ceremony of Impermanence” on November 20th. Please save that day and be there with us as we perform the first phase of this wrenching transformation. Details to follow soon.

For this winter, we will construct a temporary fence for that SW corner where the wall and cob oven had been. In early spring, we will construct a beautiful, formal, arched gate that spans that space diagonally, 25 feet from the corner as measured by Tom Micuda and myself one hot September afternoon.

We welcome your ideas for the design of this gate.

While it may seem amazing that one neighbor’s complaint could cause all this commotion, be aware that this is the currency of community, this sometimes conflictual intersection between the perceived needs of individuals and the perceived needs of the group as a whole. How we work with these kinds of archetypal situations determines the tenor and atmosphere within which we live our lives together in shared space and intention. It is in the spirit of cooperation — with this neighbor, with the city, with each other, with the continuing evolution of the GANG garden and the neighborhood as a whole — that we move forward. Hopefully, in this manner, we continue to evolve in our understanding and compassion for each other in these exciting, and difficult, times.

Blessings to all!


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0 Responses to My season of discontent: the “political” — is personal, is conflicted, is connected, is community

  1. Susan McElroy says:

    Good that you are at a place now to put it all out there. I see you are getting a lot of support and movement moving on all this. These are earnest, challenging days!

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