Is a decent life an unaffordable luxury in today’s economy? Raleigh is my Home, where my heart is tied to a fantastic husband, cute corgi, and beautiful space. As a child I could ignore the negative parts of it, but as an adult turning on the news each night, I find myself thinking what in the world is going on? When did we become so negative? Are we really going to stop investing in our community? Our neighbors? Ourselves? Is hate our new social currency?
Being an adult is hard. And watching the news doesn’t make it easier.
“What is the sum of us?” is a question I’m sitting down to discuss with this week’s local art teacher and fellow fashion lover, Robin Floyd. Besides being a prolific artist, Robin is one of my oldest friends. We grew up together in Raleigh and have maintained a friendship over decades of living. We’ve both traveled abroad, crafted, thrown parties together, and were briefly roommates before meeting our husbands (whom we both think are pretty awesome). I honestly hope it continues for the rest of our lives.
As an elementary art teacher by training, Robin brings an enthusiasm and wonder to crafting and art. I selfishly have always thought I benefited from her positive energy. When I would be in the factory or shop bent over a machine doing production design or trying to turn out another 100 or 1,000 or 200,000 pieces for a local brand by Friday, art teachers use their abilities for other ends: to add beauty to children’s lives. I would stop and turn around to find Robin there smiling and telling me how she used painting or hand sewing to teach kids about math that afternoon. She’d mention the latest art exhibit downtown, or the ballet or play I hadn’t seen yet. One piece of art. Touching one life. In one moment. Now.
How she sees herself and others has pushed me in many ways outside of my comfort zone, and her friendship has lent lightness to my steps. Making and sewing costumes weekly for kids at Raleigh Little Theatre on Tuesday evenings simply to put a smile on kids’ faces. Throwing Game of Thrones or Firefly parties. Cosplay. Disney bonding. Singing Christmas songs together. Trying a new restaurant. Podcasting and doing traditional hand embroidery. In these ways, art creates incredible wealth and power from beauty, but it also has a heart…a wonderful heart. Sometimes making special things without judging the bottomline can seem shallow to a tradesman, but isn’t the absolute purpose of money to improve our lives? Are we not better living in a world with beauty in it? Caring? Moments of joy? Is there not a balance to strike between paying the bills and making our hearts lighter?
Right now Robin is focusing mostly on geekcraft as you can see from this cool video arcade game skirt she’s hand sewing for herself, but you can catch her at the local Smith Magnet Elementary School teaching and making a difference in our kids’ lives in little ways almost every day. She also moonlights in local productions and events all across the Triangle during the year.
Which brings me to my part of blog: it’s impossible to go through 20+ years of friendship and not have some dark moments. Robin and I haven’t always had it easy. We’ve both come from middle class backgrounds, but while money helps, it doesn’t change the underlying problems people face. I like to pretend I’m the first one to go through a particular emotional crisis and our millennial generation is the first one to hit this social news speedbump, but that’s perhaps a little egotistical of me. In the 1980s, my parents struggled with many of the same issues in Raleigh today, asking how do you make a difference in broken times. Being involved in their local church, they tried a number of community outreach things to make a difference. Mission trips to Haiti, inviting neighbors over for dinner, being involved in several non-profit startups that friends pioneered, such as Building Together. As a child, I thought we must be super rich because we gave so much back to others in our community; as an adult I’ve had conversations with my mom about how hard things actually were, and my parents weren’t rich; they just chose to act. They were two parents struggling on one income trying to put my dad through grad school while my mom, at times, homeschooled both of us and traded housing for maintenance to make the bills. We had home-cooked fresh meals because we couldn’t afford to eat out. A thrifted closet my mom turned into a library for me because I loved books. Sketching flowers in the backyard. Spending afternoons at Building Together while she painted the school walls so lower income kids would have somewhere safe in downtown Oakwood beyond the bullets to study. I thought it was an adventure. She worried we didn’t get enough.
Which brings me to today. Many of us are here today because our parents, flawed and imperfect, stepped up. In the midst of taking care of themselves, they found a little extra room at the table for us. Or those around us. Even though my parents’ marriage didn’t last, that positive legacy lasted beyond an evening around the table or a Saturday downtown feeding soup or welding a saw and hammer. The city and country I live in, for better or worse, is their legacy to us. As adults we now get a seat at the table of making their creation work. Not everything our parents tried worked; not everything we try works either. However, I would venture to say that looking at their track record…acting over time beats not. And investing in children the most. The Building Together school in downtown Raleigh was in my opinion one of the most successful things my parents cared about.
Local investments over time seem to be the most effective. It’s an art I see Robin investing in every day.
It’s good to ask ourselves if we’re willing to try to make a difference knowing it probably won’t go perfectly. What flowers will we plant in the sidewalk cracks of our lives? Can we have the patience it takes to wait years or decades to see the fruit of our efforts?
Reaching out to the kids in your community and giving them the joy of making things for a hour or two may be a great message you have to share. How do you want to spend your life?
Next Week: Art Designing Buildings With Liz Templeton