Several years ago I used to live in Washington, DC. It was an important time for me — I grew a lot, built a social community, fell in love. So going back recently to visit was quite a trip in more ways than one.
It was fantastic to see some old friends and reacquaint myself with the city, but to be honest it’s also just bizarre on some levels to visit a place you used to live. The people have changed (is it just me, or is DC a little whiter overall now?), the physical structures aren’t the same as when you left, and you don’t quite remember the intuitive feel for the city that you had before.
But there are comforts, like good food you remember (my favorites from this trip were DC Noodles, Red Rocks pizza, and China Chilcano (an embarrassingly foodie restaurant of Jose Andres, but also delicious).
A highlight of the trip was when my partner and I went on a self-guided walking tour of the H Street corridor, which was fascinating since the area has gone through so much change (a.k.a. “gentrification”) over the past few years. DC has many of these self-guided walking tours throughout the city, and I’d definitely recommend doing one to get acquainted with the area if you visit.
We even had a chance to stop in the Newseum, which was one museum I never managed to make it to while I was living in DC. The exhibit on Pullitzer Prize-winning photographs was breathtaking, and even their bathroom is amusing, with odd (but real) newspaper headlines covering the walls:
Going back to DC definitely brought up some nostalgia and the bittersweet sense of no longer belonging, but it was an important reminder that all life is change, and that the next adventure isn’t always about going to a new place — sometimes it’s about returning to somewhere you left in the behind.
Last winter I attended a powerful march for #BlackLivesMatter in Oakland. When I came home I started to write this piece on the need for more intentional compassion in the racial justice movement. While the piece didn’t end up coming out until this past week, I still stand behind the position that we need to explore implicit bias through the lens of compassion and lovingkindness. Many thanks to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship for publishing the piece and uplifting the intersection of Buddhism and social justice!
I’m not sure I can say that my life has ever legitimately been in danger — much less that I know what I would do if kidnapped in the everyday process of doing my work. But these are some of the things that Addario talks about in her memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.
What is perhaps most compelling about Addario’s memoir is her relentless pursuit of her passion: visually documenting some of the world’s most intense conflicts and humanitarian crises. We see what it takes to rise to the top in the cutthroat environment of aspiring photojournalists, especially in her early career.
My Southern black grandmother grew up on a farm in the years before they migrated to San Francisco as part of the Great Migration. I’ve heard her talk about her childhood family life a number of times. Her stories of growing their own food, the backbreaking work of caring for their own livestock, and the necessity of older children taking care of the younger ones always felt so removed from my clean, amenity-rich life growing up in a quiet California suburb.
Her stories have also always felt disconnected in my mind from the permaculture and urban farming movements of today. These sustainable lifestyle choices seemed branded by (often white) liberals in a way to which I sometimes still have a hard time relating. Living in Oakland it’s hard not to see the ways that urban homesteading and urban farming can be tools of gentrification and displacement if not integrated into the full richness of the community fabric.
But my grandmother’s experiences growing up and the modern permaculture movement are not supposed to be separate. While I don’t consider myself a part of the permaculture movement, I know that its participants aim to live off the land in a more sustainable way, particularly when it comes to growing one’s own food. The deep wisdom and reliance on the earth that black folks, indigenous peoples, and many other communities of color have cultivated for centuries is permaculture.
On my way to work there is a stoplight that used to stay green for ten or so seconds after the “stop walking” hand finished blinking. This week something changed, and now the light turns yellow immediately after the hand is done flashing. The first time I went to the intersection after the change I almost walked into the middle of the street on a red light, because I was so used to being on autopilot going through that space.
Since encountering the change I’ve noticed that my quality of attention is quite different at that intersection. I watch. I look more at the cars and the people walking by. I pay attention to the new rhythms of the street. The space feels unfamiliar in a slight, nagging way. I am there in a sense that I most normally am not when encountering that corner.
I say this to point out how we can become so used to the physical and social dimensions of our neighborhoods without even realizing it. What we’re accustomed to goes far beyond the timing of traffic lights. Perhaps we’re used to the homeless men and women hanging out on certain street corners where there’s a liquor shop. Or maybe we’re used to seeing a long row of trees down the sidewalk when we round the corner on our home block. We might be physically passing some of the same people everyday as we move through the dance of our lives.